Roses, Coffee And Underwear
Another week has passed in the depths of rural SW France, and as usual it’s been a whirlwind of activity.
This week the country launched into the next tier of its re-opening plan, and this one was a biggie. We can now sit and drink coffee outside at a café again, buy socks at the grocery store and purchase underwear at the weekly open-air market. Dangerous activities that have been banned for months (for our own health and safety naturellement) but are now once again gloriously free for all to enjoy.
The liberation has been intoxicating, so much so that even Mother Nature seems to feel it.
In our little rural home the vegetables and flowers in our garden are bursting with growth, and the grounds teeming with an extraordinary amount of birds and wildlife. And all around us roses are blooming in every color and scent imaginable to man. I can barely recall a May with so much life, or perhaps I just haven’t noticed it so keenly as I do now. Deconfinement makes the senses grow stronger?
Our only stall seems to be our travel plans that have run into a classic case of Scandinavian hard-headedness (not me this time). A small, but stubborn inconvenience in an otherwise flawless week. Betwixt the heady musk of roses and comfy new underwear, I have to admit I barely notice it at all.
The Re-Opening Of France Continues
It’s been a monumental week for re-opening here in France.
On Wednesday tier 2 of the French deconfinement plan was released, which meant restaurant & cafés were allowed to open and serve outside for the first time in ~7 months.
It was a massive change and the jubilation of it was palpable throughout the country. Terraces booked out almost the very moment they opened, as local French streamed en masse back to the food culture that is so much a core part of their identity. Months of eerie quiet and closure erased, life returned to the streets, and the first feel of a real shift back to pre-Pandemic normality. It was utterly glorious.
Dad and I took advantage of it too.
Back before COVID came and crushed all normal life, we used to have a coffee at the village square where we go for our weekly open-air market. It was a decrepit old place with paint that flaked off the walls and years of spiderwebs in the corners. The owner looked much like the café , a thin and wiry man of indeterminate age, who seemed to run on nothing but espresso and cigarettes. He rarely smiled, but he served decent stuff and knew all his customers by rote.
Surprisingly the café was renovated during lockdown, likely the first touch of love it’s seen in 80 years thanks to the government subsidies that kept it going through the closure. And this week it opened to grand fanfare, a fresh blue sign and welcoming tables spread as far out on the sidewalk as they could possibly go.
The owner was as high-strung and thin as ever, but greeted us as soon as we arrived, cigarette-in-hand, and was quick to prove he’d lost none of his usual touch.
Deux café longs? He shouted out, as soon as we sat down.
Not surprisingly he remembered us. He might even have cracked a wee smile behind that mask of his. I certainly like to think he did.
We Can Buy Underwear At the Grocery Store (And Market) Again
Of the many dizzying rules that were enacted during the 3rd French lockdown, the most confusing one was probably the whole underwear and socks thing.
I can’t quite recall exactly when it all started, but sometime last year the fact that you could buy “non-essentials” at the grocery store became a massive thing.
First it was the bookstore owners, who logically complained that it shouldn’t be legal for folks to buy books at a grocery store, when they themselves were not allowed to open. égalité and all that. Several weeks of indignation and protest followed, supported by flowery and impassioned speeches which eventually led to debate in the government and….naturally…new and shiny regulations. It was decreed that the book section would be closed off in all grocery stores. Voilà…problem solved!
Of course that was only the beginning.
The bookstore victory woke up the underwear store people, who suddenly realized they were being taken advantage of too. They joined together in fervent protest and several weeks later the underwear section promptly disappeared from our local store too. Then came the sock guys, followed by the shoe folks, the fabric stores, and so on.
By the end of the lockdown the majority of the non-food aisles at our local grocery store had been sectioned off with the equivalent of crime tape. Even the poor souls selling underwear, socks and fabrics at our weekly open-air market had to close up shop. I guess if the French government tells you that clothing your nether regions is “non-essential”, then so it must be everywhere. Well, apart from Amazon, of course (?!)
In any case, this week all those complex rules finally unraveled and the sale of clothing was magically reinstated. The tape at our store was removed, vendors returned to the open-air market and fannies everywhere rejoiced. Operation liberation underwear complete.
But Our Summer Plans Are Still Not Firm
I regretted the decision to call almost as soon as I made it, not because I expected a different answer, but rather exactly because I didn’t. The border police lady on the phone was polite enough. Factual and direct, as you expect of all Scandinavians. And helpful in the let-me-repeat-to-you-exactly-what’s-written-on-the-website kind of way, which of course meant she wasn’t helpful at all.
You see Denmark has rather strange COVID border rules at the moment, which I had naively hoped were less ridiculous than they sounded on paper. According to coronasmitte.dk you can only cross into Denmark without mandatory isolation from an “orange” country (e.g. France) if you are resident in Europe aaaaaand (here’s the kicker) you have been vaccinated in Europe.
Which of course makes zero sense at all.
So, if you are resident of France for example, but have been vaccinated in the USA (as Paul has been) then that’s a hard no-go, even if that vaccine is totally legit and has been approved in Europe by the EMA. Nor can you get your US vaccine somehow entered into the French system and use that to cross the border, since your vax was still not done in Europe and we will know, tsk, tsk (I was offered this joyful little snippet for free, without even asking). Oh, and we can’t (naturally) give you any idea of when any of this might change. Didn’t you read the website?
Ahhhh yes, I do love my Scandinavian brethren, but sometimes they can be royal pain-in-the-a** sticklers for the rules.
So yeah, our summer plans are still very much in limbo. Much like a desert mirage I can clearly see them, but they keep fuzzing out into a blur and moving just beyond our grasp. I’m still hopeful, especially as the EU just (this week) ratified their decision to let in vaccinated tourists this summer. Surely Denmark will eventually honor this too? It’s just a question of when…and how?
Anyway we will end up traveling somewhere, but just don’t have a fixed route for Scandinavia, at least not yet. Hopefully soon….
May Is Blooming Wonderful
May is the month of roses in France, and OMG are they wonderful!
Back in January when dad I visited Camon, one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” renowned for it’s blooms, we decided we would come back in May for the big reveal. Usually there’s a Rose Festival there this time of year, but of course COVID shut it down (yet again). However the blooms were not to be stopped. We went early Tuesday morning and were met with the most incredible assortment of roses, a palette of colors and scents climbing across the old stone walls of the city. It was well worth the return, and a truly sense-delighting visit.
Back at home, our own roses have also opened up, and the flowers that adorned our many cherry, apple and apricot trees have now metamorphosed into the beginnings of juicy fruit. Our little potager is filling out with herbs and vegetables, and the area around it is a melody of sound with birds chirping and frogs croaking from the pond down below. We even have a hedgehog living in the back of the garden, and a family of grouse in our hedge. The garden is more alive than I’ve seen it in years!
Of course the weeds are also carrying their own, many of them approaching 6 feet tall requiring daily toil to keep in check. And the blooms have encouraged aphids in the millions as well as other destructive bugs.
We’ve been working hard to get our garden eco-friendly, so this year we bought ladybug larvae. Apparently they have a voracious apatite for aphids and will readily take care of them for you, eliminating the need to spray with either soapy water or chemicals. Super cool, no?
In any case, I’m excited to see how they work out.
We’re In A Good Place
Can you believe it’s been over 3 years that we’ve living in France?
Admittedly it hasn’t always been easy, as all such big changes in life are and the Pandemic certainly hasn’t helped either. But for all its fear and destruction the SARS-COV-2 virus has done one thing for us. It’s forced us to sit still and dig deep in a place where we never really expected to do so. And from that came something even more extraordinary. The realization that we really, truly love it here.
Perhaps its the roses making me lightheaded, or the wine I drank with the neighbors tonight, but I do believe I’m happy.
I truly hope, my dear blog readers, that you are too.
This week was a lot about roses for me, so I’m curious my friends. Do you have special memories of roses? Or places you’ve been with flowers that you can still smell or see in your mind today? I’d love to hear your stories. DO comment and share below!