Yes, that is news here. It has not rained since before Christmas. Somebody said today that it had not rained since the start of December.
What is certain is we now lurch from periods of extreme rain as in November to complete drought as in January. The local farmer, Jacques, has been watering his onion seeds, and gardeners more knowledgeable and diligent than me have been watering their flowers.
Now that I have finally got somebody who is re-doing the terrace outside my bedroom, it looks of course as if we are to have some rain and even perhaps snow.
I have to excuse my usual obsession with the weather, but it takes my mind off the nightmarish theatre in Westminster, which could potentially ruin my life in France. Even if my carte de séjour finally arrives, no-deal Brexit would mean no certitude that my health costs in France would continue to be covered, let alone whether I could continue to live here if the exchange rate goes down again.
Give me one reason why we should be optimistic about the future in this world. One reason to take my mind off Brexit, Trump, South America, the Middle East, the destruction of the planet … …
postscript on Monday
After another night of violent winds, the surrounding hills were covered in snow this morning..
I only learnt yesterday evening that there was going to be a lunar eclipse this morning. I did a trial photo in the evening, just after the moon had risen.
Test photo in the evening, soon after moon rose
Then I was up again at 4am, feverishly reading up at the last moment how you take photos at night, before dressing up for the cold night.
It was a magnificent full ‘red’ moon, hanging out of the lightly clouded sky, above the dip in the hills called le Col de Mouzoules. It appeared to have its own brilliant white halo. The eclipse was to happen around six, but already by 4.30 the moon was taking on a strange aspect
I rushed to get my camera and tripod and went out into the sub-zero night. What a pity it was so cold; the clouds had disappeared and the whole sky was a carpet of twinkling stars, though the moon had lost its halo.
Slowly, over the next hour, you could see the shadow caused by Earth gradually moving over the moon. Difficult to describe but the effect was magical. Even more difficult to photograph without experience and lacking an appropriate telephoto lens. I popped outside several times to have a try. I got some shots before the eclipse became total – but then I could no longer see where the moon was through my camera lens. (My efforts were not helped by having an extremely dirty lens, as I discovered later!)
Meanwhile my friend Dessa was doing the same thing, a few kilometres away – with an iPhone! Here is her take on the full eclipse.
Oh well, I have another three years in which to master the art of lunar photography before the next total eclipse.
You are not well? they ask. It’s only a cold, you reply. Nothing to write home about.
But how all-encompassing a cold can be, shutting down one’s ability to function. First that ominous shivery feeling, a general malaithe sore throat, the blocked nose, the headache. All coming out of nowhere, in a matter of hours.
And the nights. One night after another, when all the symptoms rush in, competing to stop you sleeping. Worst of all, when the cold moves to the chest, hours of coughing and coughing., unable to quell that deep tickle. Sitting up does not help. Nor does wandering round the house. Raiding the fridge has lost its appeal. Reading is too much like hard work. Even music is irritating.
Then the days are long, tired out after the sleepless nights. Quite well in the morning, thank you. But come evening the coughing takes a hold, and you approach night with no pleasure.
Well, my little cold only lasted a week. But what a long week. Then at last yesterday I turned the corner. My head cleared. Lots of coughing and nose-blowing to clear the system out, and now I am back to normal.
This seems to a particular strain which is doing the rounds locally. My friend, Margaret, had a shorter version last week, and today I witnessed Dessa (who came to lunch today) becoming overwhelmed.
But it was only a cold. And now mine is on its way out. So tomorrow: back to normal life.
Let’s switch our attention for a moment from the surreal shutdown of government in the States and this evening’s nail biting key chapter in the bizarre and lunatic Brexit, and consider the tiny rural backwater in France where I live.
This month Bréau-Salagosse was the first commune in the Département du Gard to merge with its neighbour, Mars. We are now officially the commune of Bréau-Mars.
It makes absolute sense when you consider that the population of Bréau is little more than 400, while that of Mars is under 200! There are of course even smaller communes amongst the 35000 plus French communes: over 3000 communes have less than a hundred inhabitants (while at the other end of the scale there are over 40 communes with populations of more than 100,000). But at last there has been some effort to rationalise some of the smaller ones: some 622 have merged to create 237 new ones.
I wondered whether France would ever dare reform its communes. They have existed for centuries but were given their modern status and functions after the French Revolution. In recent years their importance has diminished, with the recently created ‘communités de communes’ taking on many of their jobs. But still, suggest to a Frenchman that the day of the communes is over and you can expect a strong reaction. People hold dear the idea that they can go and seek the help of, or complain to, their maire (mayor). And of course all births and deaths are recorded in the mairie, and marriages – like our daughter, Jude’s, and friends Charles and Pierre’s – are also celebrated there.
Our new commune Bréau-Mars makes obvious sense, but I don’t think its creation will lead to much financial saving, at least in the immediate future. Both mairies (council offices) will remain in use, as will the two village halls. And at last week’s first meeting, it was clear that this new but still small commune will have five deputy mayors!
I attended this meeting and witnessed what was clearly a prearranged exercise. The former maire of Bréau, Alain Durand, remains maire of the the new commune, and his Mars counterpart, Jean-Jacques Derick, becomes his deputy. Then the outgoing maire-adjoints from the two communes were solemnly nominated and elected maire-adjoints, scrupulously in order – first maire adjoint from Breau, second from Mars etc. (It all took for ever as for every election each councillor went out of the room to complete the ballot paper!)
I was not well placed to take photos, but these at least show I was present for this – minor – historic occasion. (My photo of Alain being draped ceremonially in the French tricolore sash is blurred because Laetitia, the secretary, got up in front of me at the crucial moment.
One good outcome of this merger – once the GPS systems catch up with the administration – is that I need no longer have arguments with couriers who insist I live in Mars. Our road, Pied Méjean, used to be the boundary between the two communes. Now both sides of the road are in the same commune.
And now, I must get ready to watch Channel 4 News, in the run-up to The Vote.
Just a footnote to the earlier post about the amazing January weather. It has still not rained since before Christmas, the sun is still shining, but we had a relentless icy cold northerly wind for a week – so violent that once again my eucalyptus, where Chris’s ashes lie, lost three branches again.
Today we were back to sun with no wind. A glorious day – except I have got my first cold for several years! Sat up most of last night and feeling a bit sorry for myself.
I came back from England to find that I had been missing a prolonged period of glorious weather: sunny days with that very special bright sharp winter light, cold nights.
Luckily this lovely weather looks like staying with us for some time. Because it is a dry cold, it is really exhilarating to go for a walk, and in the sunshine midday temperatures rise to the mid-teens. But the cold nights mean that my bassin remains frozen over.
Wednesday’s experience of day surgery – or chirurgie ambulatoire– was relatively stress free. The visit to the Clinique St Jean in Montpellier was to have the thermocoagulation treatment agreed on a month ago.
First the ritual of repeated bétadine (antiseptic) showers – head to foot – the evening before and the the morning. And then, because I would not be able to drive myself back, I had the usual VSL (ambulance taxi) trip to Montpellier. My driver was Sonia, the photography and drone enthusiast who is responsible for my entering the world of drones. So we had an amiable trip down, discussing photography and techie subjects.
Then, suddenly into the world of hospitals as I was ushered up to room with half a dozen beds in the day surgery wing and handed the usual pile of paper clothes to change into. But someone has performed miracles: instead of the usual too small outfits with immodest openings at the back, I was given a far more fetching set of garments. The trousers were, literals huge, like giant pyjamas with a drawer string to hold them up. And the top was an equally generous-sized tunic which amazingly went all the way round – no acres of flesh to bare to the world. (Instead, when the anaesthetist wanted to put electrodes on my skin, she simply tore little holes into the paper!)
I even enjoyed the inevitable wait near the operating room, lying on my stretcher in front of a television where there was a fascinating program about the Big Bang (pronounced beeg bong in French). I was disappointed to be collected by a porter before the end of the program.
Dr Dhenin, the surgeon, was again reassuringly polite and friendly, as were the nurses assisting, who went to great lengths to accommodate the mobility problems of my shoulders when I was stretched out on the operating table on my front.
The disconcerting thing about day surgery under local anaesthetics is of course that you are only too aware of the lack of dignity of lying on your tummy while the surgeon performed on the base of your spine. But the whole procedure was rapid and painless (helped by some additional cocktail in the anaesthetic, I suspect) and soon the surgeon was shaking my hand and saying he would see me in a month.
Then, after the usual boring hour or so in recovery before being allowed to go, and then back home in the VSL. That was perhaps the least pleasant part of the day. It is difficult to describe my symptoms, but for the rest of the day until about midnight I felt distinctly unwell – distressed, restless, unable to concentrate or do anything, and more aware of the misbehaving lumbars 4 and 5 than usual. I imagine it was a reaction to the anaesthetic, but it is the first time that has happened to me.
Luckily by morning I felt back to normal. It now remains to be see how effective the treatment has been. I now know of four people in this area who have had this treatment (which I had never heard of before). Of these, three said it made a great improvement, though the effect only lasts a year or two.
When Margaret heard I was to spend New Year’s Eve on my own, I found myself invited to a small dinner at her friends Danièle and Jean-Claude.
It was an amiable, low-key event, but with good food (almost as good as Margaret’s!). Poppy could not attend because they have an overexcited terrier – a rescue dog, so with no early training.
I think my days for surviving four or five hours of dinner leading up to midnight, followed by an hour winding down afterwards, are perhaps numbered. I take my hat off to the French; they have a stamina I don’t have for long meals.
Margaret and I attempted a bit of Auld Lang Syne at midnight, without great success, not least because of our inability to remember all the words. Instead, we gave in to the local practise of going round the table, kissing everybody and wishing “Bonne Année”.
Jean-Claude holding forth, Danièle, far right.
Table presentation is important here - especially the glasses... ...
What I find just as exhausting is remembering to greet everybody with “Bonne Année” or “Meilleurs Voeux” for days – no, weeks afterwards. The next day I was in Montpellier for my thermocoagulation injection. As I was wheeled into the operating room, I met the surgeon, Dr Dhenin, who held out his hand and said “Bonne Année” – I had to struggle to extract my arm from the blankets to respond. And I noticed that the woman next to me in the recovery room said “Bonne Année” to every new nurse or assistant who attended to her.