After so many years here, we are used to the intensity of the thunderstorms following a period of hot weather. We batten down the hatches, secure anything that might sail away and put under cover plants that might be shredded by the hail that often accompanies a storm.
Last Thursday, though, it caught us unawares. A menacing black cloud arrived almost without warning, and the storm triggered off forceful gusts of wind. The walnut tree opposite our kitchen door writhed about madly, and a mini-tornado lifted up a pot of geraniums and neatly flipped it upside down. Garden chairs went bowling off down the path. And the power gave out for five hours.
The following morning, I spent about an hour collecting sticks and leaves that the wind had ripped off the trees. No other damage, fortunately.
Doing the washing, vintage style
At first, we thought the serial power cuts on Friday morning were the sequel to the more major one. Actually, the culprit was our washing machine tripping the circuit in its death throes.
The wet, soapy clothes stalled in mid-programme had to be removed and dumped in the bathtub for serial rinsing and then wrung out by hand. I gained an inkling of how women in the not-so-distant past felt when they had to do the washing by hand at the village lavoir (wash house).
Of course, it wasn’t so difficult for me as it was for them. First, at home they had to soak the linen in powdered ash and hot water in a stone or wooden tub known around here as a bugadier. The tub had a drainage hole at the bottom. We have one in the corner of our kitchen.
Then the women loaded the washing into a barrow or basket and took it to the lavoir, which could be downhill and some distance away. There, they rinsed it in the clear water, slapped it against the stones provided for the purpose, rinsed it again and then wrung it by hand. After all that, they had to transport it home and lay it out on bushes in the sun to dry. No wonder they only did the main wash a few times a year.
Après l’effort, le reconfort
Luckily, the weather had improved in time for our work day at Teysseroles on Saturday, the local chapel that is currently being restored. We have postponed the usual June fête to September, but an open-air mass will take place at the site next Sunday, weather permitting.
The team is no longer allowed to touch the chapel itself, since specialist artisans are carrying out the work under the supervision of Bâtiments de France. But there is plenty to do in the churchyard and the surrounding area, not least tidying up after last week’s storm. We were pleased to see that the bell tower has now been completely restored.
Fourteen people (10 French, three Brits and a Swede) turned up, armed with brush cutters, chainsaws, loppers, rakes and a variety of other murderous implements. They must have heard us several kilometres distant. Within three hours, we had the place looking immaculate.
Just as my back thought it couldn’t take any more, it was time for lunch. French people are always very good at putting on an impromptu meal. Someone had brought a grill and some sausages, the rest of us contributed salads, pâtés, cheese and cakes. Naturally, there was an apéritif (made from walnut catkins – a new one on me), wine with the meal and coffee afterwards. All in moderation, of course.
This was something of a departure for us, not having attended any kind of social event with more than six people for well over a year, and then only on very rare occasions. However, we were outside and more or less respected social distancing with separate tables.
It was good to be with other people again. There was surprisingly little talk about Covid, that subject perhaps having been exhausted by now. Among other things, we heard from Philippe the best places to find girolles mushrooms in the area, how there used to be “mushroom wars” between hamlets in the past when they contributed to people’s income and how Philippe and his father were shot at by an over-zealous proprietor on one occasion. Our good-natured lunch, punctuated by lots of laughs, continued for two hours.
The government ended the compulsory wearing of masks outside last week, but they are still obligatory in shops and other closed public environments. I hope this isn’t premature. The curfew ended yesterday. Fingers crossed that people don’t go mad again this summer, otherwise we will be back in lockdown in the autumn.
On a lighter note, next Sunday I’ll be continuing my occasional series of interviews, Ma Vie Française, this time with a lady who leads a double life. Tune in next week to find out more.
In the meantime, stay safe.
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