In the water-gardens at St Didier-sur-Chalaronne
In this blogposting...
* AGM XXXIV
* La vie en FranceAllez...
...will take place at 1100 next Thursday, 26 July, at the café in Saltwell Towers - which is, of course, in Gateshead's Saltwell Park.
In true, anti-Olympic spirit, there will be no opening ceremony.
Nevertheless, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
LA VIE EN FRANCE / LIFE IN FRANCE
BEAUJOLAIS IN SUMMER
Summer has come to Beaujolais again…
The landscape rises and falls, lifts and heaves and dips and folds its way to the horizon - friendly blue hills to the west, grey, forbidding and more distant peaks to the east; the almighty Alps behind which the sun rises and breaks its life onto the lazy water-meadows of the Saône.
These are the weeks of hope and growth here in Beaujolais. The vine-growers and winemakers, whose handiwork patchworks the slopes to the west, pause and look to the sun and the dew to plump up the grapes for a good harvest after the nightmare of last winter.
And it’s a deeply and purely azure sky that looks back down on them.
There should be a special, vowel-soaked and evocative name for the intense blue of Beaujolais’ midsummer skies, dappled and ruffled - but undisturbed - by stray fluffs of cloud.
Here below, apparently empty villages are dozing and snoring in afternoon shade behind closed doors.
Farmers’ fathers are tinkering with tractors and trailers, pretending to have something to do.
Plane trees, and birches and poplars, planted by Napoleon to provide shade for marching soldiers, parade neatly and precisely along road edges, members now of the arboreal armed forces - marshalled to protect overheated citizenry.
Beige carpets of ripening wheat fill the spaces between copses of alder and laurel; between trickling streams and meandering farmtracks. There are flat fields striped green and deep crimson by maturing salad-leaf lettuce.
Maize and the stems of sunflowers seem to have grown a little each time you cast them a glance; it seems that, almost within minutes, the bright and businesslike yellow of their cobs and flowerheads will be the visual fanfare that announces high summer to Beaujolais.
Swallows and martins and swifts have nested in the eaves and arcades of ancient streets and happily feed their young just inches from the heads of passers-by, who stop and smile in wonder at their precocity, single-mindedness and total lack of fear.
Louhans - where the swallows nest...
Lizards - dashing, dun-coloured darts - disappear almost before they are seen. Cats and their owners snooze to the splash of garden cascades that are draped in water-hawthorn, mares-tails and water-hyacinth. Butterflies - white and cream and orange and red and coat-of-many-colours - chase and dance across the garden from firethorn to rose to jasmine...
Village streets and squares - window-sills, roadsides and any available empty space - are crowded and startling with the intensity of summer colour; the villagers have turned winter inside-out with flowers.
Pensioners pant and gasp on their bikes, today’s baguettes and croissants safely bought and slung across their shoulders in backpacks or dangling dangerously from handle-bars in plastic bags.
Later, rested and revived, they will gather in countless groups on shaded patches of urban gravel to play petanque, sip coffee and drink wine, in one order or another. The soft summer air - the breeze-borne birdsong - will somehow complement the clack of play, the groans of defeat and the laughter of victory, as it has done for generations.
Children, free now from school until September, re-acquaint themselves with discovery, growth and each other, spreading out along riverbanks and into fields and woods on their bikes and forgetting what time it is.
A solitary red Citroën - as small as a ladybird - will meander pensively between the hedgerows, woodlands, rivers and farms, making due allowance for the twisting unpredictability of Beaujolais’ lanes and byways. Utterly alone and seemingly going nowhere.
There are days and nights of rain right now in Beaujolais and sometimes it’s heavy rain, too. But it doesn’t seem to dampen living things; there is still shower-soaked Bastille Day dancing and singing in the streets of little towns tucked into the folds of hills and fuelled by, amongst other things, wine and beer and joie-de-vivre.
This is where the generations mix and shamelessly indulge each other with smiles and kisses.
Spectral barges as big as towns murmur and groan as they pass under Montmerle bridge on their way home to Marseille or Antwerp - but hesitate a while to watch the Bastille Day fireworks and listen to the gasps of wonder and awe from the people crowded onto the riverbank. As they look up, their faces are bathed in the colours of national celebration.
Tomorrow, Beaujolais will once again watch the Saône from the west as it wafts and drifts and sparkles; and as it creeps menacingly and enticingly south towards Lyon where it dies by giving its life and vigour to the Rhône.
The countryside will sigh and groan under the weight of sunshine and showers and of ripening vines, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, pears and cherries - the promises it makes to us of the coming autumn.
Smug chateaux and country houses, shuttered against envious and overly-deferential outsiders, will show only a snatch of roofline or, here and there, a turret or a tower above their skirts of trees.
Keeping a respectful distance, express trains will unsettle the lower orders with a momentary hurricane of sound and vision as they pass far too quickly from Lyon to Paris and back.
They don’t know what they’re missing.
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