Le soleil

I have a love-hate relationship with the sun.

Here in France, le soleil is associated with all things bright and beautiful. Sunny days. Warm weather. Long vacations. Joy.

Sunshine is all that is expansive, generous, extroverted.

And I have every reason to love it. The sun rules my birth sign, Leo. Being born under this most powerful of stars, on the first day of the hottest month, my heart is said to be ruled by the sun. Perhaps it is part of my contrary nature but instead of worshiping the sun I fear its power and flee its effects.

In the throes of too much sun I am closed, ungiving, introverted. When at last it sets and darkness falls, I marvel at the moon. Am liberated by its soft cool light.

My aversion to the sun begins in my head but it doesn’t stop there. My eyes feel it first: they water and squint. I must wear dark glasses and shade my face to avoid migraine. My skin suffers most: quick to burn, slow to tan, it comes up in itchy red patches if over-exposed. And as the temperature creeps up, my inner thermostat goes haywire, turning me into a red-faced demon, permanently sticky and evil tempered.

My cupboard is filled with potions and sprays to protect me and my unfairly fair skin. SPF 50 abounds. Most of it renders me even whiter, makes me even more miserable as I sweat beneath the layer of supposedly grease-free protection. Despite all my efforts, hat and glasses, I am outdoors often enough that by midsummer I sport a light tan.

Like any good French citizen, I watch the weather forecast with an eager eye. What can we expect? Will it be a good day, an even better weekend? The stick-like character on my TV screen points and gestures and explains, as I’ve posted about here, the fickle nature of the weather, the inexplicable arrival of clouds and rain. Or the hoped for row of bright yellow circles that means happy days ahead.

For most of us, that is. I for one am thrilled to see the summer heatwave reach an end. We are back to cooler mornings and, even on the hottest days, the sun seems to have lost an edge. It sets a little earlier, giving us a chance to cool the house before going to bed.

My husband experiences the sun like most of his countrymen: with unfettered joy. Its absence depresses him. Not because he likes to be hot or to get a tan but rather because of the light.

Our house is designed to take advantage of the sun, with large windows providing a maximum of exposures on all sides. It seemed like a reasonable idea when we had it built: the Haute Savoie is a mountainous region with cold winters, and we do have a rather nice view. But the reality for me is different. Now we have covered all of the south-facing windows with solar screens and sunshades. When husband is away, I keep them drawn and live as much as possible in the dark. As soon as he returns all is exploded open. The sun floods in, along with the flies. I sweat and I swat and we do battle over the windows.

For all those who worship the sun, this summer has been exceptional. Even the UK, with its near-permanent rain, has had its share of hot and sunny days.

But I worry. Because it seems pretty obvious that this is not a one-off but a disturbing trend. The hottest summer on record. Wild fires in Greece and California. Dry periods with not enough rain then flooding when it comes all at once. Climate change is happening and the sun is leading the attack.

So it’s decided: next year we get air conditioning. I don’t want to add to the planet’s problems by burning more energy but in order to survive the summer I will need at least one portable unit to make work and sleep possible during the onslaught months from June to August.

This attitude is decidedly un-French. As I’ve shared before, most people here hate and fear ‘la clim’ far more than the sun or the heat.

How do you feel about the sun?


  1. Carolyn Bois · August 16, 2018

    Sun is great as long as the nights are cool. We have had the same thoughts – air conditionng before next Summer.

    • MELewis · August 16, 2018

      Reassuring to know I’m not the only one prepared to take the AC plunge! It’s the combination of sleep deprivation and not being able to get much done for several weeks running…

  2. Dennis · August 16, 2018

    I actually thought this would be a post about a place in France I’ve been to several times. When I see “Le Soleil”, I always think about Argeles Plage near Perpignan.. I guess because the the camping ground was called “Camping Le Soleil”. What a beautiful place, so close to the Pyrenees.

    I totally understand what you are saying. I personally like summers if they are moderate with a couple of rainy days that allows us to cool down. But this summer was even for a German summer way too insane. That was a subtropical summer and I felt like a ghost (waking up,walking through life very slowly to save energy, being an observer but not an actor lol). I’m not made for this type of humidity. Sleeping was impossible, which made it worse. The humidity was already exhausting, but when you can’t even get proper sleep, it just gets worse.

    Right now it cooled down here in the North of Germany too. It was long awaited. We had the first rain after many months of drought. I ran outside and felt happy like the dude in the “Singing in the Rain” video. Rain never made me so happy 🙂

    I don’t know if I can take more summers like this. This was pure insanity.

    • MELewis · August 16, 2018

      I fully sympathize with the sleep deprivation and zombie-like behaviour! Interesting that even in northern Germany you are feeling the heat. I must say we’ve been lucky not to have too much humidity — that has got to be the worst! As for the name ‘Soleil’ it is nice that you have a happy memory of that campground from the southwest. (Love that area near the Pyrénées by the way…) I think we can probably find many examples of ‘soleil’ in names around France though… 😉

      • Dennis · August 16, 2018

        Yeah, zombie-like is actually the better name for it 🙂 We had many days with 36 degrees and humidity. It felt like 44 degrees lol. Very exhausting summer. Friends, family, everyone said it was the hottest summer they ever experienced. I totally agree.

        Yeah, same about “Plage”… I wondered why so many places carry the word, but then I realized it means “beach” and it started making sense 🙂

        Back then, the holidays in France helped me to become the best student in French class. Too sad that I forgot almost everything I learned. That didn’t happen with English because I have read so much English articles in the internet. I should have done the same with French :/ Now my French is only sufficient to introduce my self 😀

        Salut, je suis Dennis, j’habite a Lübeck, c’est pres de Hamburg! Somehow I never forgot that 😀

      • MELewis · August 17, 2018

        Lol. Ca serait facile à remettre à jour. Ecouter des émissions télé ou discuter en ligne? Encore mieux venir en vacances! 🇫🇷

      • Dennis · August 17, 2018

        I think I need to start from scratch, because I did not refresh it for 15 years or so. But if I do, this time I will definitely do what you said. TV, YouTube, chatting… commenting… all that helped me with English. I need to do that too with French. Right now my French isn’t even sufficient enough anymore to reply in French :/

  3. M. L. Kappa · August 16, 2018

    You’re just like my husband! And I’m like yours… I joke that we’ll end up in two different countries, ie. he’ll move to Finland or somewhere. Perhaps our solution would be to swap husbands?🤣🤣🤣🤣

    • MELewis · August 16, 2018

      Ha, ha! That would probably go against every rule of ‘opposites attract’. But it would sure make life easier… 👏😆😂

  4. Susanne · August 16, 2018

    I am also a Leo and, like your countrywomen, a sun lover. I DON’T love the humidity of central Canada and miss the moderate coastal temperatures of Vancouver Island. We gave up years ago and got A/C being fed up poaching ourselves in our own juices at night as we tried to sleep.

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      Wow, Susanne, that’s quite a few points we have in common! I could never have lived in TO humidity without A/C. France has always been resistant but I sense that is beginning to change. We’re fortunate to live in an area with not too high humidity and usually a breeze, but the solar effect still heats the house up. Poaching in your own juices about describes it! 😭

  5. George lewis · August 16, 2018

    Love the sun and love to sweat when I exercise outdoors. The humidity, not too much.Glad to see that Europeans are being dragged , kicking and screaming into the 21st. century by getting air conditioning. When are you going to get really with it and get whole house air like North America has done for the last 50 years?

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      I would take a minor revolution in house building for the duct work to be installed. Forced air heating and air is just not known here. I keep hoping we’ll get there one day but thirty years later…I have my doubts!

  6. Kiki · August 16, 2018

    This is such a timely post; and I underline every word you write, although even with protective factor 50 I’m still ‘out’… I always say I love the sun but the sun hates me. I’m a natural blonde (with brains, thank you very much!) and as I said before, maybe here maybe somewhere else, just walking down the 50m to get my mail and climbing the stairs up again totally exhausts my strength. Coming back from 10 days of ‘ideal weather’ in Devon, UK I had a lot of washing to do and with temps of 33°C+ I felt immediately in need of a cool holiday…. 🙂
    I’m not a fan of AC but I love the one we have in our car. With our travels of well over 1000km to UK and 700km to Switzerland we cannot imagine the ‘torture’ of not having this device. In our stone house (great in summer as in winter…) we used a few times a fan for working and sleeping but we try to get by without as it doesn’t really do anything good to your health.
    We were so relieved to hear last week that we had a ‘big rain’ on Wednesday but if one wouldn’t know, it might still not have rained more than 3 drops….. The garden and plants, even some trees look like Serengeti desert, or American prairies, not a green stalk in sight, one of my rhododendron has shed ALL its leaves. I couldn’t understand it, had I given particular love in form of extra water but I guess that the Linden, in whose shade the shrub is planted, probably sucked all the precious water with its huge roots. The poor thing looks horrendous and although I continue to give it extra water, I don’t raise my hopes to any pick-up of the former beauty….. Consumption of panaché is high, as is lemon water, sparkling water and any cold drink.

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      I dare not show any pictures of my lawn – it looks like fried rice! Air conditioning in cars is a safety device as far as I’m concerned. I would either faint without or crash when some flying creature came in through the windows! 😩

  7. Victoria Blake · August 17, 2018

    I feel very similar to you. I’ve never tanned, basically I turn the colour of a salmon and then peel and go back to being white with the odd added freckle. I can’t stay out in it for any length of time without feeling ill. I don’t live with any outside space so the heat this summer in London has been horrendous. Heat also does something to my ability to think, brain turns to mush really once it’s in the 30s. Thank God it’s cooled off!

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      Oh, I know what you mean about the brain fog! My brain just shuts down when it gets too hot, there is nothing to be done but take a cold shower (or jump in the pool as we are lucky to have one). Also the skin issue: even tanned mine has white marks all over. Glad to hear it has cooled down now!

  8. acflory · August 17, 2018

    Commiserations. I have olive skin and rarely burn, but I too hate the sun. Here in Australia we get heat waves every summer and the temperature climbs up into the 40’s. I can’t imagine living through our summers without aircon, yet when I was a kid, we didn’t even have a fan. Things are changing, and not for the better. I don’t think aircon is unreasonable, certainly not when things are likely to get a whole lot worse. 😦

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      Thanks for the moral support on the AC, Meeks! I can’t begin to imagine the heat waves you guys get down under. But you’re right — we’re all like prisoners on a planet spaceship that is heading into a scary new world. I try not to focus on that but it’s beginning to seem undeniable.

      • acflory · August 19, 2018

        It does, doesn’t it? I keep thinking, even if all those climate scientists prove to be wrong, isn’t it worthwhile to at least try to do something before it’s too late? Just seems like such a no brainer to me. :/

  9. Osyth · August 17, 2018

    I’m a four seasons girl. A heatwave is welcome but only as a wave, then I want it to stop and drift into Autumn and all her jewelled glory which is welcome in turn to rust into Narnia and thence melt back into the heady verdancy of Spring. And so it turns. My father was lecturing on climate change in the 1970s. Very unfashionably and to my embarrassment he advocated nuclear power over burning fossil fuels. Do we think he had a point? I’m allergic to sunscreen by the way and therefore have my own particular and probably peculiar dance that is danced in order to profiter du soleil ☀️

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      I always remember my sister, who is very cautious in the sun and putting chemicals on the skin, dressing my nieces in sunsuits at the cottage – basically like old fashioned bathing costumes that covered most of their bodies. We laughed back then but now it seems almost…sensible. *Sigh* I can only imagine your pater was way ahead of everybody on the climate science — and nuclear issue. As for the seasons, I have a terrible tendency to always wish for what comes next without enjoying what is here and now. Working on that, while indeed looking forward to some crisp fall days!

      • Osyth · August 18, 2018

        I get eczema which from the sunscreen which then cooks in the sun and makes me swell … more blimp balloon than Edwardian Bather by the sea 😂

  10. Colin Bisset · August 18, 2018

    Moving from London to Sydney has made me appreciate the loveliness and power of good light but when that sunshine is accompanied by stultifying heat then I’m totally with you – our blinds remain down and we yearn for the cooling southerly wind that usually ends a stifling day. You’re right – it’s light not heat that energises. I love your description of the soft, cool light of the moon… And yes, the extremes that are becoming normal are very worrying indeed, especially when governments like Australia’s pretend it’s just a normal cycle.

    • MELewis · August 18, 2018

      Thank you, Colin! Yes, it’s the light for sure, and we do sometimes get dull grey days in winter that can be depressing if too long without sun in between. Yet that makes me think of another light with a strong emotional pull: the grey winter sky with the promise of snow! Who knows what we’re heading for with climate change….it all feels like too little too late, even if the Paris agreements were supposed to prevent the worst (before the US pulled out…). Did not realise that Australia’s government were in denial! 😢

  11. Heide · August 22, 2018

    I join you in loving the sun as a concept but mostly sticking to the shade. Not only does direct sunlight literally hurt my eyes, but like you I also turn lobster-red within minutes of even casual exposure — so I join you in worrying about this troubling trend of endless sunny days and canicules. Don’t sweat the A/C too much, though: It probably still does less environmental damage than a lot of other things people take for granted (like eating lots of beef and riding scooters). Plus, it’s good to be decidedly un-French occasionally. 😉

    • MELewis · September 18, 2018

      All very good points, Heide (why am I only seeing this lovely comment now?) Surprisingly, summer is lingering on and we are still feeling quite warm in the afternoons, even those the mornings are refreshingly cooler! Next year, AC for sure! 🙂

  12. chezperrier · September 17, 2018

    I like sunshine but I don’t like excessive heat. I’m also fair but I can become tan, sometimes after an initial burn of the season. My French husband is completely different: he tans in 15 minutes and our daughter has taken after him. We were in and around Montpellier last August and I felt like the sun was out to get me and following me like an interrogation light. Swimming in lovely, cool water can make all the difference, though – slathered in number 50 sunscreen, of course. Looking forward to autumn!

    • MELewis · September 18, 2018

      Oh I am with you on fall! I’m even looking forward to a few soggy days as our garden is still dry as a bone. What’s nice at this time of year is that I can actually sit outside and enjoy the sun without feeling blinded by the light! Funny, though, I would have thought by now the sun was less strong but even sitting outside at 6pm I see tan marks after a few minutes.

      • chezperrier · September 20, 2018

        I would honestly be very happy if it was fall all year round. I love the peacefulness that is in the air, the quality of the light with the sun lower in the sky, and the sunny cooler weather. Colorful leaves? Yes please!

        We currently live in San Francisco which is typically very foggy in August, so some autumn sunshine will be welcome! (Not stiflingly hot.)

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