Storms, Magic & The Unexpected
It’s been a wild week in SW France.
We’ve had storms and rain so intense I thought I was back in the Nordic homeland. Days of nothing but grey, and biting wind every time we stepped outside. And poor Polly couldn’t understand why we were torturing her with such horrible weather. We’d get to the door for our morning walk, she’d stick her nose out for a sniff and then look at us with the kind of deep, guilt-inducing disappointment only a doggie can muster. Why mom, why would you do this to me?
All this obviously has killed any plans we had for the week.
So, no Christmas markets, no outdoor activities, not even a long walk around the neighborhood. Thankfully we have lots of candles (a Danish requirement for grey winter hygge), a warm house, and plenty of stuff to bake and eat. A kind of mini-isolation that may not be what we planned, but is probably a good thing given that we still (hopefully) plan to get away soon.
Because COVID is brewing up a storm too!
Cases are through the roof now, locally too with nary a place in France not in the red. I’ve been trying to guilt the Universe into changing that trajectory, but clearly my evil eye isn’t doing the job and my success is going just about as well as the dogs. Why Universe, why would you do this to us?
Storms, wind, rain and grey. One must try to see the silver lining and retain hope. In any case, that’s the theme of todays blog post.
COVID In Europe, A Christmas Peak?
Chatting to the pharmacist a few weeks back, he told me top French epidemiologists are predicting our current wave of infections will peak right around Christmas. Trajectories are certainly trending that way.
It’s been a wild week, probably the wildest of the 5th wave in France so far with infections ramping to around 50,000 cases a day (up almost 30% from a week ago!) hitting the same highs as last October. It’s not good and has put France solidly in the “red” zone (the CDC even issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice), but a glimmer of hope remains. Hospitalizations, although still rising, have not reached that same peak and hospital ICUs are still managing to keep within operating levels. It’s gotten worse, but we’re clinging on, my friends….
Vaccination and booster rates remain a key factor. The majority of those getting really sick are unvaccinated (based on the data), and Delta is still the dominant strain, despite the rapid spread of Omicron.
For the latter the truth is that scientists still don’t know enough to predict anything specific. They’ve sequenced Omicron, they know all it’s mutations, they can describe all its nooks and crevices, but they still have no idea what any of that actually means. Currently the biggest test-case of Omicron is happening in Gauteng, South Africa where infections are ramping like crazy but severity seems lower, at least for now. This is a very good sign, but we can’t read too much into it yet, at least not until more cases have come forth. Also initial laboratory tests show a mRNA booster shot can neutralize the mutant (Pfizer specifically) which is another good sign, but it’ll take weeks before we know for sure.
Glimmers of hope, but no-one really knows yet.
In France the government is holding steady, declaring the peak of the current wave to be nigh. Only a few new restrictions were imposed over the past week (specifically closure of nightclubs, re-introduction of work-from-home, mask mandates in schools etc.), but nothing mind-blowing, and the bigger items were not touched. Borders remain open and, for the time being, no general lockdowns planned.
Fingers crossed it continues.
Don’t Mess With Santa Claus
Traditions run strong in all parts of the world.
It’s our Universal need for ideas that bind us, as well as our spiritual need for imagination and joy. And perhaps nothing exemplifies that quite like Santa Claus. Julemanden (as the Danes call him) is real of course, lives in a cozy house in Greenland (although Americans seem to think it’s the North Pole), and is assisted by plenty of naughty nisser. These are all well-known and irrefutable facts, and anyone who says anything else is clearly just a big, silly Grinch.
So, earlier this week when an Italian Bishop in Sicily claimed otherwise, it caused (as you might imagine) quite the outrage.
The “bah humbug” deed went down in a speech after a religious festival, where Bishop Antonio Stagliano causally dropped that Santa Claus didn’t exist, adding that his red suit was merely a marketing scheme from Coca Cola. According to Italian newspapers it left little children “frozen” in their seats, parents bewildered and aghast, and created ripples of shock throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. Within hours support for “Babbo Natale” started trending on twitter, local Facebook groups went into meltdown and memes had multiplied like rabbits. One might even imagine the local Don had a word or two.
Bah humbug! Italian bishop stuns children and infuriates parents by saying Santa Claus does not exist. #BabboNatale https://t.co/ov31x9kXRH
— Wanted in Rome (@wantedinrome) December 11, 2021
The effects were so titanic that the Noto diocese was forced to apologize mere days later, although they tried to wrap it up in a misunderstanding, rather than actually coming out and saying they’d erred. Either way, World Santa Balance was restored and together with it the hopes and dreams of all kids (and kids-at-heart) alive today.
If you didn’t know the story, now you do.
It’s An Exotic Time Of Year
Our supermarket is ramping up for the final pre-Christmas push.
Oysters have made their first appearance, as have just about every type of seafood and fois gras. But perhaps the most interesting of the lot, at least from a foreigners perspective, are the rather unusual displays of exotic fruits.
The latter are a very southern thing, part of the famous “13 desserts of Provence”.
For those not familiar it’s a custom of many delicacies that dates back to the writings of Père François Marchetti in 1683. Apparently a large array of desserts were rather the norm back then, although the exact number of 13 was never mentioned. That seems to be more of a modern thing from the early 20th century, possibly linked to Jesus and 12 apostles.
These days it’s a very traditional layout, although the exact ingredients do vary slightly from village to village. Always present however are 4 different types of dried fruit (representing the 4 monastic orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians), Dates (symbolizing the gifts from the 3 Magi), particular types of cakes, fresh and dried fruits, and nougat .
I have no idea how entrenched this custom is in our area, but I always find it amazing when our little rural Carrefour suddenly fills up with pineapples, kiwis, dates and other not-at-all-very-French things.
It’s a sign that Christmas is here, and the joys of the holidays are soon to be.
Our Winter Sun Is Back
Today was the first day in eons (or so it seems) that our winter sun returned.
Paul, Polly and I walked the village loop this morning, soaking in the warmth and beauty of the sun stretching across the hills. The ground was wet and heavy with mud from the week of rain, puddles of water still unabsorbed, filled with the last of the fall leaves. The air was crisp and bright with an edge of hope. And in the background the Pyrenees were heavy with snow (the storms were so intense this week that many of the roads closed), glistening and beautiful in the morning light. Soon the ski resorts will open up and the slopes will come alive with life and laughter. It’s a lovely thing to think of.
If the stars align and the Universe approves, we’ll be crossing those mountains next weekend. I won’t say exactly where we’re going or how, not yet anyway (I don’t want to jinx it) but there’s a lot of hope in that trip and not just for us. If this week is anything to go by, the storm is behind us and there’s only clear skies ahead. Let’s hope so, eh?
So, my dear blog friends I’m curious. Now that you know about the unusual fruits and dates of S. France, is there anything exotic or unusual that you eat for Christmas or your own Holidays? I always love food talk, so please DO share and comment below!SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Bob McLean says
Not a smooth move to dis Santa Claus. What a boneheaded thing to say. And then they wonder why church attendance is down. I mean, that’s certainly not THE reason, as “reason” is the reason. But still. Boneheaded.
Nothing really exotic or unusual for the holidays – fondu served with roasted potatoes, ham, sausage, apple, bread, roasted cauliflower, and sliced pepper. Perhaps I’ll add roasted brussel sprouts this year.
Fondu is quite exotic, at least for me. How interesting!!
Kathryn Hall Allahyari says
Slices and cleverly cut chunks of Watermelons must be present on the tables spread among the gathering of family and friends on December 21st, when Iranians celebrate Shab-e Yalda, the Longest Night. The rich red watermelon pieces will sit next to towers of pomegranates, plates of dried fruits, bowls of sunflower, pumpkin and squash seeds & dishes of a variety of nuts with pistachios in abundance. Stories will be related, family tales repeated by the older generations, and “fortunes” will be told from random openings of a thick tome of Hafez’ poems – the line that the subject touches on the page will be the kernel from which his fortune will emerge. Much laughter, singing, and eating will continue until the wee hours! A great way to spend the longest night of the year!
Sounds absolutely delicious, and wonderfully festive! I love the idea of story telling & fortunes, I had no idea of this tradition in Iran. Thanks so much for sharing.
Exotic foods? For me, living at the very far northern end of Idaho, USA, it is Italian Chestnuts! Yummy Imported Italian Chestnuts are roasting right this very minute! They smell heavenly and I need to go turn them! Ciao!
Italian chestnuts! Now that’s something I’ve never even tried.
Here in south Louisiana seafood gumbo is a Christmas Eve tradition. I have always enjoyed your blog and especially enjoy it now that you’re in France. I see similarities in the old Cajun traditions I grew up with and the French traditions, which makes sense since my ancestors came from France. Thank you for sharing!
Rutabaga! I know, I know, it sounds yucky but it’s really good, really!
I would never have pegged you as a rutabaga gal (but I do also like it).
Chey (WA coast) says
Christmas is big tons of popcorn from my far away uncle. pickled herring, and pepparkaker ginger cookies.
Yummy! I love those ginger cookies too.
Michelle Powell says
Just wanted to say, your photos are getting better and better: really quite lovely. Signs of brighter days ahead is stunning. Thanks for them. Hugs to Polly.
Thanks so much for the compliment 🙂
Tons of Chex Mix for the Cowboy! Anything sweet for me! Loved that fall photo Nina!
I saw you making a big batch of it on your blog. Looks delish!
Linda Sand says
During my childhood in Illinois my mother and grandmother always made Arabian Date Nut Roll. I have no idea where it came from or why but I sure liked it. They also made divinity if weather conditions allowed–something about humidity, I think. And the type of fudge made with Marshmallow Creme. In Dave’s family it was lefse buttered, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, stacked two high and cut into pie shapes. I’m sure glad they were still making it when Dave and I were young marrieds–tasty stuff.
I’m drooling just reading this! Sounds absolutely incredible.
Pauline A Conn says
Just two of us now, but in these Covid times our RV park is offering a plate full of Christmas sweets and savories to any who ask. Pick them up in the kitchen and take them home to share. This in place of our normal huge community party with glorious amounts of delicious food and dancing. On Christmas Eve the 2 of us will enjoy exotic meats and cheeses -Gorgonzola, Huntsman (if I can find it) ripe Brie, etc. And rutabaga is part of my Christmas past- from my Northern Minnesota German/Norwegian mother. My father was shocked and responded that rutabaga was cattle food!
Craig MacKenna says
Merikay and I are awaiting a big California storm that folks north of us have called an “atmospheric river”. The nice thing about southern CA is that between storms, the sun shines and temperatures rise into pleasant ranges. Years ago, we were visiting Paris on a business trip, when my favorite Philips co-worker informed us “in Paris the sun shines 5 days by year”.
Pauline A Conn says
Many years ago I lived in Vittel, France for the winter. We didn’t see sun for 3 solid months. Ugh!