As August slowly roles by the fatigue has well and truly set in. We start the growing year, if we have a mild Spring, in early March. After a Winter of cutting wood, clearing and fixing all the broken stuff around the Domaine it is great to fill the polytunnel full of tomatoes, couregettes, cucumbers and of course basil basil and yet more basil. We are frisky and full of the joys of Spring, the first germination is cause for celebration. Arriving in the markets with a van packed of bright green young plants is both a pleasure and the source of great pride. Returning home with a virtually empty van and a money bag bulging from sales is very satisfying. Having enough money to buy some decent food, a few new clothes and wine that doesn’t come out of a petrol pump is an added bonus after a lean Winter.
That energy and bounce sustains us through April, May, June and July, but then something changes. The markets are still full, but the faces unfamiliar. The size of the clientele changes, there are a lot more bigger people, not taller, well apart from the Dutch, but definitely larger. Shorts and summer tops barely covering red glowing skin. We are all sunburnt, but the locals have what we call bronzage agricole, that is deep sunburned arms, and from the neck up, while the rest of the body stays a shocking white. The markets are full of grumpy, over hot people who are more likely to carry a camera than a shopping bag, dragging round children who would much rather be in the pool than in town. It is the market as a spectacle, not as a commercial and social space. Actually that is not totally fair, usually there is in fact two markets, the early morning market, when the remaining locals descend to stock up on their food, and the mid to late morning market when the visitors arrive after a leisurely breakfast. Instead of packing up at midday the Summer markets drag on until one or one thirty. You don’t make anymore money, you are just there for longer.
The Summer heat begins to get to you, in the Spring the heat is so welcome, basil for example needs between 25C and 32C to germinate, so the early sun is a delight. By mid August however the constant heat begins to drain the energy from you. Physical jobs have to be done early, or late, as the blistering sun that hits after 11 makes hard exertion difficult, if not dangerous. Watering is pushed forward in the mornings and pushed backwards in the evening. It is not unusual for us to be still watering at nine in the evening.
Mid August, usually around the 14th the light tweaks, the sun is lower and the monochrome burnt browns of Summer take on a deeper and more vivid tone. Autumn is on it’s way it seems to say. But it is being a bit economical with the truth. The heat remains, the only difference is that now there is more marins, the sticky humid sea winds that the mosquitoes love so much. Brief storms, with amazing electrical intensity break over the Corbieres, with 10 minute bursts of tropical rainfall that washes off the hard baked land in about the same time as it takes to fall.
The villages of the Hautes Corbieres are full of tourists streching out there last days of their holidays before the inevitable return to the cities of Northern Europe. The arrival of Ryanair all those years back transformed the loo of the Minervois and Corbieres, ruined deserted villages were reborn, well for two months of the year , the houses renovated- terraces punched into roofs, swimming pools dug into gardens. As you drive through the villages you can tell which houses are lived in by locals ad which are maison secondaires, or lived by Northerners by the size of the windows. If the windows are small the it is a local house, the inhabitants hide from the sun, if the windows have been enlarged it a clears sign that it is a house has been bought by someone who is seeking to escape from the grey skies of the North.
Parking is a nightmare, for ten months a year everyone has their own particular place. It can be quite a hot issue in small villages built in the time of horses and not Dusters, where you park your car. Fights have been known to break out, in Maisons the Mairie has spray painted one of the more contentious parking places with the names of the “owners” of each space. But I have to say I prefer our visitors parked than on the road. The Hautes Corbieres is a drivers’ nightmare, spectacular certainly but a tad hair raising. Narrow roads wind down gorges, visibility is minimum due to cliffs, so cars pop out at you from nowhere; often on the wrong side of the road..Bicyclists and motor bikes spin round tight corners. And my favourite is camping cars. Camping cars might have transformed the retired lives of many hundreds of thousands of cold climate pensioners, but they terrorise the lives of rural inhabitants. A truck driver needs a heavy vehicle license, but a huge camping car driver just needs the means to buy or rent their mobile death trap. The end of map reading with the advent of the GPS means that journeys are no longer planned, just destinations decided. A timid and inexperienced driver no longer chooses the easiest route from A to B, a computers tells them where to go, be it on the Auro Route of along a narrow cliff sided gorge. The white knuckled look of terror on some of the drivers you bump into in the Hautes Corbieres is a clear indication to me that reintroducing map reading could well do wonders to avoid cardiac problems for many mobile home owners.
It is not that I am tired or grumpy or anything, but I will be glad when September arrives.