Thursday, 26 August 2010

Summer's Back - With a Vengence

The météo tells me it's thirty-eight degrees celsius (100F), but the car thermometer stubbornly stays over forty (104F) on the drive into town.  Thank heavens for air conditioning.

I hunt for shade to park the car at Leclercs and the hot strong wind from the north west hits me as I get out.  By the time I reach the welcoming cool draught through the supermarket doors my damp hair is sticking to my forehead. 

I linger over the freezer cabinets and wrap the ice cream inside three layers of cool bag. The aisles are full of autumn clothing and reminders to sweep your chimney before winter.

The papers tell us we have the highest level of water restrictions - no use of hoses to fill pools or water the plants, not even from one's own well.  As I drive home I see the family that built a pond in their front garden in the spring busy filling it - with a hose.

Monsieur F has harvested some of his maize for silage: the green flow shoots from the funnel above the harvester into the tractor-drawn wagon that crawls alongside.  The maize that's left cracks and pops in the heat.

We hide indoors and close the shutters but there's nowhere now in the house that's cool except in front of the open fridge door.

Vita lies on the tiles at my feet, occasionally sighing.  I'll go for a swim in a while and enjoy that brief moment as I drop in when the water feels almost cold.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Hanging a Picture so it Looks Straight


Not a single ceiling, door, beam, mantle, tile, stone or shelf is horizontal.

Nor window, shutter, door frame, post, wall or corner is vertical.

Monday, 16 August 2010

August - South West France

Supper on the veranda wearing long sleeved T-shirts and sweaters.  We thought about eating inside.

Later, watching television wrapped in a dressing gown against the cold draught from the open colombage, I thought about making thick, heavy curtains.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Harvesting the Beet (continued)

Because I didn't really understand what they were planting in Monsieur F's field in the spring, I posted a question to Total France.  This is what Colebags told me:

It's jolly hard work, very labour intensive and not yet automated (here at least).

Picture a small group of itinerate workers (on minimum wage paid via cheque d'emploi service) standing around a table in an open sided barn in February, temperature near freezing. A lorry reverses in and tips its load of baby betterave onto and against the table. The workers trim the beets, no conversation allowed until a brief coffee break, then on again with the pile of beet gradually diminishing until lunch. Assorted packed lunches and friendly chatter until it's time to start again. The group continue to work until 18h30, it's dark and bitterly cold and at no time have there been chairs to sit on apart from in their own vehicles at lunchtime.

Trimming the beets is considered easy money compared to planting ....

The people I met were embarking on a year of planting and harvesting, following the seasons and the various crops, they are back in the region now to harvest melons. They were happy to work, knew the farmers well and didn't complain.

The farmer and his wife worked along side during the morning, leaving the others to continue without them in the afternoon, a couple from Morocco, a single man also from Morocco and a young couple from the north of the region who lived in an old van with two dogs, a cat and a wonderful zest for life!

We have the utmost respect for the people who work in the fields, it is a jolly hard life.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Harvesting the Beet

Monsieur F is finally harvesting the seed from his sugar beet. Over these last weeks the brown floppy heads have lain heaped in muddled rows in the hot sun waiting to be collected.

A thunderous vacuum cleaner, the great green and white harvester with its giant red threshing blades creeps slowly up the slope beyond our cherry tree, dust and debris spewing out behind.  The tractors with their trailers wait patiently for their cargo at the top of the field.

Eric was building the pool house in the spring when the roots were being planted. A row of women sat nattering on the back of the drill, wrapped in winter coats against the chill air, dropping each small plant down the chute to the ground as Monsieur F's tractor crawled across the field - no faster than the harvester today.

The crop is the seed.  The roots will just lie in the field, to be ploughed up and left to rot down over winter when they will sprout a fine array of white, flat mushrooms.

Wikipedia tells me that one kilogram of beet seed yields over 100,000 seeds, enough to plant a hectare of ground.  Many millions of seeds are being harvested, enough to plant many, many hectares next spring - I wonder where?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Summer Romance

We have Vita back for company.

Over the last three weeks she has been too engrossed to spend time with us.  Much enamoured of Guccio (he who, like last summer, stays with us while his master dances tango near the Pyrenees) she has spent her days bringing him presents (shoes, pieces of wood, chewed plastic bottles, Mr Bear, windfalls), licking his ears, dancing round him in the shade of the apple trees while he lies back and gently grumps at her and, in the evenings, taking him out to night markets where humans sit at long tables in the dusk eating badly barbequed meat and chips (slipping the occasional dog-sized morsel), drinking rough wine and shouting to each other and passing friends across indifferent music played too loudly through tinny speakers.

He and his master left yesterday, first thing.  No shared pleasure of prepared meals. No tango music floating around the swimming pool. No decision to be made on where we go tonight.

She races ahead of  me as we set off down the garden.  But no, they're not there.  The cottage is empty and quiet.

Guccio last summer