How does the weather know it’s lockdown? After a lousy October, when our plans to do some good walks went sadly awry (we are fair weather walkers), President Macron announced on Wednesday evening that France was going back into total lockdown. And so the past couple of days have been radiant, just as they were during the spring confinement.
For us, this isn’t too much of a hardship. There’s plenty to do in the garden, and we have even eaten lunch outside twice in a row, which hasn’t happened at all during the rest of October. But I do feel for people who are now confined in small spaces without the opportunity to get out and about.
The number of Covid cases has spiralled in France during the past few weeks. A curfew failed to do the business – after all, the virus doesn’t come out only at night – so a new confinement is sadly necessary.
We can go out only for essential purposes – shopping, medical appointments, etc. – and each time we have to complete an attestation de déplacement dérogatoire, a form saying why we are out, when we left, who we are and so forth. We can walk only within a 1 km radius of the house. Well, we did it before. We’ll do it again.
The SF (Statistics Freak to the uninitiated) tells me that, weather-wise, October was the worst in our 23 years here. That’s going some. It has usurped the crown from October last year, which itself was pretty grim.
We have a subjective scoring system for the weather: plus is good, zero is indifferent, minus is bad. October could muster only five pluses. And we had 14 minuses. Torrential rain early on in the month, which caused such damage in parts of Provence, contributed to the total of 164 mm, more than twice the average for October.
Halloween in France
Today of course is Halloween, when some believe the spirit world is closer to our own than on other days of the year. In fact, the French don’t have that many Halloween customs (although I have written about a few in previous years). Toussaint itself (1st November, All Saints’ Day) is by far the more important occasion and is a public holiday in France.
A few Halloween customs were imported from U.S. in the 1990s, such as costume parties and trick or treating, which in France is called un bonbon ou un sort (a sweet or a spell). Because of where we live, we have never been subjected to trick or treating here in France, which is just as well, since I found it desperately tiresome when I lived in England. And some French people think Halloween is too commercialised.
However, myths and tales about fantastical beings and ghosts abound in the country areas of France. Parents invoked tales of the Drac, a mythical beast like a dragon, to ensure their children behaved. Other tales were told by neighbours during les veillées, evening get-togethers to carry out shared tasks such as shelling walnuts.
I came across the following tale from Cantal, the mountainous area a couple of hours from here, which we love so much. I’ve already shared this with my author newsletter subscribers, so if you happen to be one of those, you can tune out here. Happy Hallowe’en!
The Infernal Huntsman
A castle once stood near the village of Malbo, high above the Cère Valley. The baron was a brutal and dissolute man, who loved hunting and drinking. He ignored the peasants’ pleas not to trample their crops and set his vicious pack of dogs on them.
Sensing old age approach, the baron muttered, “Give me another thirty years, and the Devil can take my soul.”
The Devil appeared and granted his wish. The baron considered this a fair exchange and expected to continue his debauched lifestyle uninterrupted in Hell. For thirty years, the baron dedicated himself to hunting and carousing. He lived so long that his cronies thought he was immortal.
But one night, after a particularly savage hunt, he fell dead in the act of raising his goblet to his lips. The servants laid out his body and set two men to watch over it for the night.
A fierce gust of wind roused the guards, who were dozing on their feet. They rushed to the window, but the woods were still, and moonlight reflected off the motionless leaves. All at once, a stag appeared, careering across the plateau, pursued by a pack of slavering dogs and a throng of ghostly riders.
Behind them ran a man dressed in red, carrying a whip and a sword: the baron. His face was twisted in a ghastly grimace, and his every step was laboured, as if lead weights were attached to his boots. The guards turned to the bier, where the baron’s earthly body lay, cold and unmoving. Shivering with terror, they crossed themselves and slammed the shutters closed.
The baron was buried in haste, but he and his ghostly pack are condemned to hunt on the high plateau every night at midnight. The villagers close their shutters and turn their faces to the wall, for the dogs tear to pieces all those who look upon them.
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