Dents-de-lion

Dent-de-lion or pissenlit

Who knew that dandelions are so named after the French words for lion’s teeth? Dent-de-lion. This is one of those light-bulb moments of French learning when you suddenly feel rather smart.

The ubiquitous yellow flowers that most of us consider as weeds are commonly known in France as ‘pissenlit’ (pronounced: peess-ahn-lee). Literally: piss in bed. Apparently this is because the plant has diuretic properties. It’s official name is Taraxacum.

I’ve heard of dandelion wine but never tasted it. Thank god. (At least I assume so: can anyone correct me?). I have enjoyed the bitter tasting dandelion greens in salad. They are called lion’s teeth for the jagged edges of their leaves.

Dandelion greens

At the moment in our area dandelions are everywhere, along with many lovely plants of intense yellow flower that seem to reach a fever pitch in spring like daffodils, forsythia, colza (rapeseed).

Colza, aka rapeseed

Here they are like waves of gold on the gentle slopes in neighbouring Switzerland.

I love their bright splash of yellow, their hardy nature and even their blowsy Afro-style heads when they go to seed.

How do you feel about dandelions?

Giboulées de mars

The sky grows dark. The wind picks up. The temperature drops. A few fat drops blow down at an odd angle, turning to freezing rain. Just as quickly, the sun pokes through the clouds. A few minutes later, the patches of wet are drying on the ground.

And then the cycle starts again. Sometimes several times a day.

March is famous for its ‘giboulées’, less thrillingly known as showers in English. They can happen anytime as we transition from winter to spring. I’ve even seen this unstable weather last almost until summer.

I don’t mind it so much. It reminds us that better days are coming. It brings needed water for the gardens. It seems, in a world gone mad, an entirely normal rite of passage in the change of seasons.

If, as the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers, it all happens a lot earlier in France. Some of the flowers are already out in the lower altitudes of the Haute Savoie, and things are much further along in the south.

According to Météo France, our venerated weather experts, the giboulée phenomenon is due to a contrast of colder air above and warmer air below, and the instability of the atmosphere in between. Here you go with the whole story explained in detail (in French):

As you can see we take our weather seriously around here.

This situation of instability strikes me as somehow fitting. As the Brits waffle over whether to stay or go, on what terms and when, as improbable skirmishes and political polarizations seemingly become more extreme around the world each day, I watch the skies above at their most turbulent and enjoy this meteorological drama. It seems safer and far more predictable than the human kind.

Just a few more days until it’s officially spring, mes amis.

What does the change of seasons mean to you?

Battre son plein

One month into Spring, nature has reached fever pitch in our corner of France.

The greening of fields and trees is perhaps one or two shades away from its most intense. But the pink and white blossoms on the trees are in full bloom, the fields are intensely yellow with dandelion and rapeseed, every plant is either burgeoning or bearing signs of a bud. Flying insects go about their business everywhere and bump up against the windows in the sun.

The birds do not seem to sleep at all (and I am often awake to hear them). I’ve no idea if these are normal birds, perhaps twittering all night long to protect their young, or night birds. There are a couple of nests in the eaves. Whatever they are, I don’t remember ever hearing quite this much nocturnal peeping before.

It’s a wonderful time of year. In a couple of weeks, the farmers will have plowed the fields for planting, the blossoms will be off the trees and the sun will be high enough to send me scurrying for a hat.

‘Battre son plein’ means to reach a crescendo, a culmination point. The expression is often used to describe an event, like a party or fair (la fête bat son plein). It is thought to find roots in the description of the tide reaching its maximum point before going out, but this is not certain. Some say it has to do with music, others with the moon.

Whatever it is, my heart is beating along with it.

Along with it beats the rest of French life. Macron has called in the military to remove the ‘zadistes’ or squatters from the ill-fated Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport/agricultural development (more on that later). The students are blocking a dozen universities; trains and planes are still regularly cancelled. And this week, following the worrying military strikes in Syria by France, Britain and the US, it was announced that Macron has taken steps to withdraw the Legion of Honour awarded to Assad by former president Jacques Chirac. Why he got it in the first place is a mystery.

As our spring season reaches fever pitch, across the pond snow shovels are still in active duty. And down under, I hear a collective sigh of relief at the passing of the summer’s heat.

Whatever weather is at your door, may you enjoy it while it lasts or herald what’s next.

Happy days!

Au printemps

Spring has been taking its sweet time in making an appearance. Normally the signs are visible by mid-March but this year Easter came and went with nary a blossom. It’s not surprising that the longed-for season of renewal is dragging its feet – winter came in with a bang far later than usual. But this week, enfin! The unmistakable signs of le printemps are here at last.

The birds are the first ones to announce that something is up. Even before we sprang forward by an hour, I could hear them twittering away in the predawn dark. Now there is a flurry of activity going on in the eaves and in the branches at all hours.

 

Hello yellow
Le jaune de forsythia

Forsythia is the first floral sign of spring. Hello yellow! I love it for its brief, joyful burst that heralds so much to come. Its intense yellow hurrah will only last a few weeks at best. It’s joined by bright daffodils and a softer yellow wild flower that grows around the base of trees. Wish I knew its name.

Next: the rain. It has been pouring on and off for the past couple of weeks. We had an actual thunderstorm yesterday. I could feel winter’s cold breath blowing madly against the warmer spring air. It’s colder again this morning so winter may have won the battle but spring will win the war.

Around town, all the signs are there too: the year’s first ‘braderie’ or rummage sale is coming up this weekend and – joy! – the local restaurant by the lake is open again. It closes from October to March as it specializes in local lake fish. Can’t wait to have the season’s first plate of filets de perche, the tiny fish that are cooked ‘à la meunière’ and served simply with a butter and lemon sauce.

Restaurant du Port

But first, there is the obligatory post-winter régime to rid ourselves of excess blubber. Signs have sprouted in the shops promoting ‘cure d’amincissement’, ‘détox’ and ‘minceur’. As for me, I find that it helps to eat less. So I’ve cut out my sweet and salty treats for now and am upping the ante with a bit more exercise.

Another sign of spring is the sudden onset of wardrobe renovation. I went down to the charity shop in the village and splurged on several second-hand finds. Someone who is just my size and has excellent taste must live around here. Then, given that I’d only spent a few euros, I splashed out on a brand new pair of summer sandals online. Oops. Can’t wait to take these babies for a trot.

Les sandales

Now the schoolkids are on holiday for another two weeks. Easter vacation is their last official break before the summer. There has been talk about reducing the (in my opinion, ridiculous) amount of vacation time between the Toussaint, Christmas, Winter and Spring breaks (each of which last two weeks). The mere mention of such a change in the sacrosanct French school calendar has various unions gearing up for action.

Speaking of which: across France, strike season is gaining momentum as the SNCF continues it movement, or lack of. More on that later.

What’s your favourite sign of spring?