Faire des vagues

I caught the wind making waves in this field and the sky above it yesterday. Usually I am the one making waves around here…it is nice to have company.

‘Faire des vagues’ is one of those rare expressions that works as well in French as it does in English. To make waves, to rock the boat.

The wind also makes waves in water, and we get our share of those on Lac Léman, aka Lake Geneva (although don’t call it that to certain purists for whom ‘le Léman’ is much more than the international city!) This area is known as the Arc Lémanique and includes the entire ‘arc’ on the Swiss side from Geneva to Lausanne all the way to Montreux.

From whence the group Deep Purple wrote the song that defined a certain period of my youth…

The wind has died down today and with it the waves. I can almost see the smoke on the water across the lake. And am waiting with baited breath for a new season to begin.

Bonne fin de semaine!

Autour du lac

A month ago this blogger was steaming like a microwave ready meal.

Summer – long awaited, much anticipated and gloriously welcome – came upon us in June with an inferno blast that lasted until mid-July. After that things got spotty weather-wise, with alternating days of clouds and cooler air interspersed with sweltering waves. Now, at last, I sense a change in the air. It’s still summer, but we are over the hump and heading towards those golden late summer days.

Hot weather is all very well if you’re on holiday. After all these years in France, a land where most people distrust air conditioning, I’ve learned to live without A/C for those weeks when the ‘mercure’ rises beyond my comfort zone.

It’s work that’s the problem. My get-up-and-go gets up and evaporates at plus 30 degrees Celsius. So I decided, quite simply, to ease up. My clients cooperated by slowing down the orders. And somehow my blogging break turned from two weeks into five.

It’s been wonderful! I’d been feeling in a bit of a rut for awhile blog-wise, so the break was most welcome. I stepped back, stared at the sky, reorganized my closets, worked on my memoir (more on that later) and set myself a few different goals.

One was to go to the lake more. I realized after a month of summer that I hadn’t once dipped my toes in the lake. We are lucky to have a pool at our house, and to live in an area of mountains and lakes very close to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). When it’s really hot it’s just too easy to cool off in the pool. But the experience of swimming in the soft water of a lake is completely different, soul soothing, and one of my absolute favourite things.

So I set myself a challenge to go there every day and swim or just savour a moment by the water’s edge. It has pushed me to discover every ‘beach’ in our area (in French, ‘la plage’ is often a grassy stretch of a swimming area by the lake). New to Instagram, I decided to post a picture by the lake every day for a month. If you’re interested, you can follow my doings here.

Another was to try stand-up paddle again. I managed to get up on a board twice on Lake Annecy. Husband even joined me the second time, and for a newbie did rather well (he’s atrociously fit), only falling in twice.

And, just recently, I celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday. Which probably explains why I feel like reconnecting with my inner child. The one who loved nothing more than the barefoot freedom of summers by the lake.

So that’s my summer so far. How’s yours been? I’ve missed you guys!

 

Droit de passage

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There is a law in France that stipulates that private property owners must guarantee a ‘droit de passage’ – right of way – to the public who wish to access the waterfront bordering their property. ‘La loi littoral’ states that a band of 3.25 meters must be accessible along the shore to allow people to walk along the water’s edge.

The law is not always enforced, but it seems that in our corner of Lake Geneva, there has been a recent movement to ensure access. So it is that we set out on Sunday on one of the sacred rituals of French life – la promenade du dimanche. A walk along the lake to discover if what we had heard was true.

Our village, like most small towns in France, publishes a quarterly newsletter. It always starts with a short editorial from Madame la Maire, usually a lecture on how we all need to be better citizens (less wasteful, more law-abiding). This pontificating annoys me but presumably not the French: it seems they are like school children who expect to be told off by the teacher.

The recent edition contained a short mention that it was now possible to walk along the lake all the way from our village to the scenic town of Nernier. Une belle balade, it said, to be enjoyed by one and all.

As soon as I read this, off I went to look for the path; predictably, I could find no trace of it. This generally happens any time I try to explore new territory in France. Husband is much better at finding his way so this time we went together. We both enjoy the outdoors and had set ourselves the goal of doing more fun things together.

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Down we went to the port des pêcheurs on Sunday morning and still found no trace of where to begin our walk. There is a wall with a few metal steps leading up to a concrete dock area but this is part of (presumably) the fisherman’s yard. There is no sign indicating anything. We peered around but seeing no one, did not dare to enter. So we went around the property to a small path that seemed to lead in our direction. This soon ended in a field which led us up and away from the lake. The only way to get back to the waterfront was to cut through a rather muddy farm field, which we did, taking large pieces of the field with us as souvenirs stuck to our shoes. We ended up back by the lake and began walking along the shore. This was so overgrown as to be barely passable in spots. We ducked to avoid branches and stepped over wet stones, trying not to slip. Eventually a path of sorts emerged, with small signs for hikers.

Along the way we observed many old properties that were either abandoned, windows boarded up and no signs of life, or simply shuttered for the season. Some of these were magnificent old houses fallen to ruin; others more recent with high fences and more money than taste put into creating Disney-like landscaping.

The lake was calm and beautiful in the soft light of early spring. Swans and ducks circled peacefully. There were no boats or signs of human activity on the water, although we did pass several other people out walking.

I wondered how this happened? High waters? Natural erosion?

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All along the waterfront we observed a strange kind of algae, which had dried to a sort of white vermicelli. It was everywhere.

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One couple we spoke to said that the reason you had to start from the fishing port in our village is that the private property around the Château is closed off to the public. Hmm. A rule for the plebs and another for the nobility? I think I’ll suggest that to Madame la Maire as a subject for her next editorial.

Still, it was a beautiful walk and fun to discover so much of the unseen side of the lake.

Do you have a favourite Sunday stroll?

 

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?

Se sentir bien

thumb_IMG_3421_1024 This is a postcard from my morning run.

Pictures can capture the beauty of this place but not the way it smells. Close your eyes and join me on a virtual tour around our corner of Lake Geneva in the Haute Savoie.

Take a deep breath. The first thing you will notice is the lake smell. Wet, musky, a hint of freshwater fish. Lac Léman is just a few hundred metres away, and on days with a bit of humidity in the air it feels like you are breathing the lake.

There is a large farm field between our house and the lake. As we pass by it the smell of fresh-cut grass rises – heady and pleasant. Then something stronger overrides it. Manure has been spread to fertilize the land and its odour hangs heavy in the air.

The road crosses through the woods and the air changes. Suddenly it is cooler, denser. The smell of wet leaves and spices tickles your nostrils as you are surrounded by myriad shades of green. If you hear a rustle up ahead don’t be surprised. Sometimes a deer will cross – un chevreuil in French. I am always caught in amazement to see them so close but they are gone before I can get my camera out.

The road turns up towards the Château de Beauregard, stately on its perch above the lake. The trees thin out and you can see a few brown and white cows grazing in the neighbouring field as the forest smell mingles with a grassy note of dung.

We continue up the road until we reach the village centre. The bakery emits a warm, yeasty advertisement of bread just out of the oven.

Cutting across the main road, we cross behind the church and up through residential streets. There is a sudden sharp smell of onions cooking in someone’s kitchen, reminding us that it is almost lunchtime.

thumb_IMG_3432_1024A leafy green hedge with tiny white flowers gives off intense bursts of crisp musk. Then the houses give way and we are in a field of yellow. Colza, rapeseed or canola, in full flower gives off a perfume that is delicate and honeyed. We pick up speed as we pass it. The sheep next door give us a curious stare.

Now it’s back down through more houses to the main road and home. We come to the roundabout where traffic flows from Evian to Geneva. Fumes of diesel exhaust are like grey ashes in the nose, an unpleasant reminder that the city is not far off.

To feel and to smell are two different sensations but in French they are described by the same word: sentir. Every time I go for a walk or a run around my village, there are so many things that smell wonderful, or simply memorable. Most importantly, je me sens bien – I feel good.

How do you feel?