Here we are in September again. How did that happen? Surely Easter was only last week. Actually, I don’t mind. This is my favourite month of the year, perhaps because I was born in September (cards and presents welcome). We have found it to be one of the most pleasant months here weather-wise. An early morning nip in the air is often followed by mellow, even hot, sunshine, but the heat has lost the fierceness of high summer. For many people, September spells la Rentrée, a particularly French institution.
Back to school
No doubt many French children don’t welcome September, following two months of freedom. Tomorrow (3rd September) is la rentrée scolaire (back to school). Even during the summer holidays, however, you couldn’t get away from the lurking phantom of school. Ever since the second week in July, the supermarkets have been announcing “La Rentrée” and stocking everything you need from cartables (satchels) to stylos (pens). It’s a bit like shops in the UK stocking Christmas cards in October.
Not only children and people with jobs are ruled by la rentrée. There’s also a rentrée politique, when a new parliamentary session begins. The Président, Premier Ministre and deputés (MPs) pack away their flip-flops and swimwear for another year to get back to work, usually a week or so before the schools.
Every year, la rentrée politique is preceded by the political parties’ universités d’été, or party conferences, when party members and activists get together to discuss their policies and projects for the forthcoming year. This year’s rentrée politique was marked by the not-so-surprise resignation of Nicolas Hulot, the environment minister. Another agenda item to add to those already awaiting Emmanuel Macron 16 months into his presidency.
Rhythm of the year
La rentrée is when things return to normal. The holidays are over, but if life were one long vacation it would probably pall after a while. Come September, the markets empty of tourists, parking spaces become available again, the supermarket no longer appears to have been invaded by a plague of locusts and the volume of traffic eases. But, horror of horrors, the quincaillerie (hardware store) in our village closes for the whole month for congés annuels (holidays). If we want a washer or a tube of mastic we have to go to Villefranche.
There’s also a certain poignancy in the air, since it means that summer is drawing to a close, but I like the varying seasons with their promise of changing activities and different produce.
More than anything, la rentrée is one of the stepping stones in the current of French life. The next one is Toussaint (1st November), followed by Noël and the Nouvel An. These little islands punctuate the rhythm of the seasons. Sometimes they have a religious origin, sometimes they mark an historical event, like le Quatorze Juillet. This is something you come to know and look forward to if you’ve lived here for any length of time.
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