Mid-July Heat, Sunflowers and Fêtes, SW France
The air smells like burning electrical wires today. It’s acrid and hazy and feels so heavy that it rests on your chest like a giant stone. I write this in the dark, enclosed like a hibernating bear inside the house, shutters closed and hiding from everything outside. We’ll likely be like this until after sunset when finally, blissfully the heat will release us again….until tomorrow anyway.
In between all of this our garden suffers. The leaves on our flower bushes are burning, fruit is dropping off the apple trees far before it’s ready and the grass is so dry and brown it crunches under our feet when we walk on it. Even the local farmers must adjust and have started working their fields at night, their floodlights hovering like alien vessels throughout the dark.
We are in the very depths of summer in SW France, but it’s much more than that.
We’re in the middle of one of the longest and hottest canicules (heat waves) we’ve ever seen which is burning up all of Southern Europe, both figuratively and literally. The electrical smell in the air is ozone and the haze a combination of that and the many wildfires that are burning just a few hours NW of here in Les Landes. It’s not good.
Like all things though, life goes on and beyond the insuffrable heat there are moments of cooler brightness.
The sunflowers are in full display, their fields like blankets of gold that reflect so very beautifully, especially in the early morning light. Our lavender is bloom and has become a village of activity for insects seeking nature’s last food, from bees to (my favorite) the hummingbird hawk-moths. Some things thrive, even now. On clearer days the Pyrenees break forth to line the horizon and call my soul. Stripped of their winter coat they are grey and rocky now, yet still so very impressive. And at night the villages wake up to festivals and music, a flurry of activity after the silence of the day’s heat.
This is SW France in mid-July, and it’s what I have to share today. Enjoy!
It’s Hot….Really Hot
As many of you probably already know Southern Europe is in an unusual, prolonged heat-wave, and it’s not about to end soon.
In France the canicule started early this week and has been building slowly ever since. As of today 37 departments are on orange alert with the peak expected to hit on Monday. There’s a good chance we’ll either see or exceed 40°C (104°F) which is well beyond the norm. It’s hot…really hot!
What’s perhaps even more astonishing is that these same temps might be reached in the UK early next week as the heat dome moves north, an unprecedented forecast that would break all records (and incidentally, match a theoretical model that predicted it in 2050!). The Met Office has issued a red alert and posed the coming days a “danger to life”. Insanity!
On top of it all is the lack of rain.
It’s so dry in our area that the ground has started to crack and it’s prime to burn from even the smallest spark (an experience we had a few years ago, and hope never to repeat!). But this is also true throughout S. France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. In Les Landes they’re currently fighting one of the biggest fires they’ve seen, with over 10,000 hectares already burned and 12,000 people evacuated. Similar fires are burning in Portugal that has already seen more fire activity this year than in all of 2021. And in Italy the River Po is so low it’s triggered a State of Emergency in 5 parched Northern regions.
It’s all so tragic, frankly and I do worry what the future will hold.
It’s Not Stopping Summer, Though
Despite the crazy heat and fires Europe is more popular than ever, especially since the EURO dropped in value (have you seen the US:EURO exchange rate recently??!). Beach locations are mobbed, and there’s so much demand for air travel that airports are struggling to manage the crowds. If you can drive there in 8 hours or less, airlines are actually recommending you do that instead of taking the plane!
Thankfully our little corner of the earth is NOT a tourist destination. Not even close….
We’ve just got locals and Fêtes de Village (Village festivals), which are very much a “thing” all through summer. In fact every single commune in our area, no matter how small will offer one starting in June and going through Sept. Some even last days and will include things like church mass (almost always), pétanque competitions, a flea market and various outdoor activities. The finale is always a huge night-time event of live music, food (almost always a 3-course meal that doesn’t start until around 9:30pm and rarely ends before midnight!) and then a DJ that rocks everyone through the early hours of the morning.
They’re crazy, lively events!
We’ve been to several over the past weeks, including a superbly small commune (of only 80 people) just down the road whose fête is so popular they regularly sell over 500 tickets (!!). The event lasted well into the night with a dinner of steak/frites (the steaks were grilled over a huge, earthen grill), and a live brass band that rocked so hard they had people dancing on the benches for hours.
Eh oui, the essence of summer in the French countryside. Don’t let anyone tell you nothing happens out here!
The Sunflowers Are Thriving
One thing I can say about France in July….the sunflowers are frikkin’ gorgeous!! Fields of them erupt all over the valley at this time of year, and we get at least 3 glorious weeks with them before they start to droop and die. It’s perhaps my favorite visual of summer and I never cease to be amazed by it.
Some fun facts for you:
- Sunflowers are rotated with other crops, so you’ll never see them grown in the same place two years in a row.
- Sunflowers only “follow the sun” when they are young. As they mature and the heads get larger and heavier with seed they will simply stay static facing East. Oh and it’s the STEM that creates this heliotropic motion during the young growth stage, not the head.
- Sunflowers are not harvested until they are dead (truly dead), so our fields of pretty yellow things will become fields of ugly brown just about a month from now. Not many Instagram-pics of this latter stage, you’ll find….
For right now at least, the sunflower fields are beautiful and a photographers dream for those attracted to yellow as I am, like a moth to light. I haven’t managed as many pics as I usually do (bloody heat), but I have been able to sneak out a few times and happen to have a field right next to the house which does the job in a pinch.
Like everything here in summer, you have to take advantage of those precious outdoor moments when you can.
The Tour De France Is Rocking Too
I’ve been pretty frikkin excited by the Tour de France this year.
For those of you not “in the know” it launched in DENMARK this year with the first few stages covering some of the my favorite areas from Copenhagen to Roskilde and more. My fellow Danes, who are pretty hard-core cyclists (there are 5 times more bikes in Copenhagen than cars, just to name one statistic) came out to support the riders en masse and the crowds were so enthusiastic that the French commentators exclaimed they’d only ever seen their match on the most popular mountain sections of the Alps and Pyrenees.
Oh, and the Danes have been kicking butt too. We’ve had three Stage winners so far, and happen to be wearing the yellow jersey right now too. Who knows, J.Vingegaard might even win??
Next week the Tour comes through our area, as it does every year on the way to the Pyrenees, so I may swing by to see it in person, or I may not….depending on the temps. Word has it tarmac surfaces are forecasted to reach 60°C (140°F)!!! and will have to be doused in water before the riders pass, just to ensure they won’t melt (which means that I certainly will). So likely it’ll be a cool drink, air-con and watching young men with massive thighs do crazy things from the comfort of my own TV screen.
Yes, I think I’ll take that second option…
We’re Keeping It Cool(ish)
It’s baking out there right now.
The garden is eerily quiet and still, all life hiding from the brutal heat. We water a few items in the morning, but most of it just has to fend for itself. I imagine years from now many of these plants will be gone, burned by the sun, replaced (hopefully) by others from lands far away that have adapted to manage these hotter months. It’s the future I thought we’d never see in our lifetimes, yet we’re looking at it now.
Admittedly my Scandinavian body struggles through all this.
I sit on our summer terrace for a few sweet moments in the morning, but then hide inside for most of the rest of the day. Which sometimes leads to rather strange thoughts much like I expect polar explorers might encounter during long, dark winter months (a type of summer darkness craziness?). When it all gets too much and I start imagining I’m in some kind of alien universe, I brace myself against the blinding outdoor light and creep over the boiling earth to our above-ground pool for a sweet, sweet cool dip. I float in there until my fingers wrinkle, enveloping my body in the magical coolness, fantasizing about snow and rain.
Best darn purchase we’ve made all year, that pool.
Then it’s back inside to artificial light until happy hour, sunset and if we’re lucky, enough drop in the temps to venture out for a last look at the burning orb that baked our day. Perhaps we’ll go out this evening for some music or perhaps not, but we’ll soak in that view while we can.
For tomorrow, the oven bake starts again…