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?

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!

 

Blogus interruptus

As the sun sinks slowly in the west, we find our heroine melting in a puddle of perspiration. Will she cool off with her paramour on a beach somewhere? Drown her sorrows in a bucket of champagne? Or disappear into a shady corner of the garden and hibernate until winter?

Stay tuned for further adventures of life in France when temperatures return to normal…

Bonnes vacances à tous!

 

Le temps d’une pause

Versailles gardensHere in France our summer siesta has begun.

This year more than ever, we need a break. I’ve written before about the fact that la pause estivale is sacrosanct in this country, about how they roll up the carpets while just about everyone goes on summer vacation.

Between the bracketed holidays of Bastille Day on July 14th and le 15 août – one of many religious holidays inscribed in the French calendar – not much will move around here. Hopefully, not even the crazy people who want to kill us.

For me, too, it’s a good time for a break. Time to step back from the routine of normal life and breathe a little. Stare at the sky, watch the grass grow. Think about some things, stop thinking about others.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a memoir about life in France. It’s been slow going as it spans almost thirty years and many different places and experiences. Recently I began work on what I thought was the final edit – and realized I am still in need of some major restructuring. So it’s back to the drawing keyboard.

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back – you see things completely differently. If I hadn’t got some space between me and that draft, I might not have seen the cracks and the flaws.

Like this picture of the formal gardens in Versaille. It took me a moment to see the other, surprising image there.

I’m hoping a blogging break will help me gain perspective and see a lot more happy faces, Including all of yours.

Hope you are heading off somewhere nice or otherwise enjoying life this summer. Please tell me all about it!

Bisous et bonnes vacances!

Les cieux

IMG_1773‘Sky’ is one of those French words that sounds completely different in the plural form. Le ciel, les cieux. So it is with the skies above us and the summer season – they are transformed into something other worldly.

The advent of summer often finds me outside staring at the sky. So much is going on above our heads and at this time of year it captivates my attention.

thumb_IMG_3739_1024Our house is on the flight path into Geneva. Lac Léman is like a highway for air traffic in and out of the neighbouring Swiss city. Planes landing make me feel relaxed and somehow happy, as if the homecoming were my own. Planes taking off are noisier and more intrusive, yet they often circle so high above us that the sound is very far away, a distant reminder of people setting off to see the world.

I lie on my reclining chair (oh, the wonders of this reclining chair, as good as the dentist’s only without the pain) and watch the silver bullets above. Sometimes it seems the planes are playing tic tac toe as their white tails criss-cross in the sky.

thumb_IMG_5412_1024The birds in these parts are a treat. We had dinner by the lake the other night and these little ones provided quite the spectacle. Although they were with some ducks, I am convinced these are baby swans. Any ornithological experts care to weigh in?

Above us, the constantly circling hawks are mesmerizing. They coast way up high on currents of air, emitting strange high-pitched sounds. Although I suspect they are hunting for prey, it is relaxing to watch them circle and soar. At ground level, swallows swoop and dip into the pool for a drink. Little green and yellow birds flit and peep in the garden.

The clouds have been especially amazing this year. The turbulent weather pattern this spring and early summer has brought constantly changing skies that are a wonder to behold. Each glorious day must be savoured; in winter we often get dull days of fog and cannot see the mountains just across the lake.

Something magical happens to the light around Lake Geneva at this time of year. It glows as if lit from within. Although I am a morning person, we get amazing sunset views.

thumb_IMG_4303_1024What does the sky look like where you are?