La bise

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Winds on Lac Léman by Calimo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Whoever decided to name the north wind ‘la bise’ had a good sense of humour. Certainly it puts colour in your cheeks and is perhaps a poetic metaphor for the double-cheek kisses – les bises – the French are known for.

But the wind that is blowing down Lake Geneva from the Swiss Alps to the Jura at the moment is not a kiss but a face slapping, chill-your-bones blast that has me swaddled in a huge wool scarf and cap pulled firmly down to my Canadian nose as I bravely step forth. And still my head aches as I make my way into its cold embrace.

La bise is just one of several winds that blow around le pays du Léman. For someone who grew up by the Great Lakes, this lake is not that big – although a quick Google tells me it is one of the largest in Western Europe. How many winds could one lake have? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the 12 different winds that regularly soufflent upon us, from the Joran to the Rebat. Surely this is why Lake Geneva is so popular for sailing.

I have always loved the wind. It stirs my romantic soul and makes me feel a bit more alive than when the air is too still and warm. But a lively breeze is one thing. The bise, and its evil cousin, la bise noire (the black kiss), are something else all together.

When we lived in Lyon, it was in horror of the wind. We also felt the bise there – although most people called it the Mistral. The worst was le vent du sud – the south wind – reputed to bring on terrible headaches. I thought this was a meteorological effect until I learned that it brought the foul smell of gases from the refineries to the south of the city. And then there was the hot, dry Sirocco, blowing all the way from the Moroccan desert to leave a layer of red dust on our car.

When the north wind blows as it has this week, rattling the roof and causing our wood-frame house to shiver its timbers, I remind myself how much I love living by this lake, sandwiched between two rows of mountains, riding on ferry boats and seeing the little kids out learning to sail in summer. They call their tiny sailboats ‘les optimists’.

I am inspired by their optimism to note that the bise often brings bright blue skies along with the cold. That the days are already getting longer. Soon winter’s icy kiss will be nothing more than a bit of colour in our cheeks.

How do you feel about the wind?

La pluie

 

La pluie

It has been a long, dry summer here in France. The earth is parched, the fields bleached by the sun. Normally the final days of August and early September bring a few big storms but so far they have missed us. This morning, the rain has rarely been so welcome.

La pluie is not something we often rejoice over here in France. It is not like the English rain, so light and prevalent. When it rains here, it pours. And generally brings with it a mood that is like the weather – maussade (pronounced: moh-sad) Meaning gloomy, dull, sad.

Perhaps that is why I used to confuse the verbs ‘pleuvoir’ and ‘pleurer’. To rain and to cry. I may have once told my husband that his mother was raining. Things could be stormy when she was around, so it may not have been entirely unintentional.

Long ago I gave up on trying to find the logic behind the attribution of gender in French. No matter how you try, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right. I find you have greater success if you let your instincts rather than your memory guide you. Somehow la pluie feels right. Rain must surely be feminine, just as wind – le vent – is masculine.

I love the smell of rain. I love the way it sounds upon the roof. I love to sit outside on my balcony and watch the patterns it makes across the sky over the Léman, as I did in this photo from last summer.

Perhaps what I love most about the rain is that it forces me to sit inside and ponder it. Curl up and read a book, enjoy the comfort of being warm and dry inside. And some of my fondest memories of childhood are running around outside as the skies opened up after a hot dry spell.

J’aime la pluie.

Et toi?