When we decided to move to France it was in part for the weather. Not that I was expecting to be wearing shorts and flip flops every day, but simple pleasures such as eating al fresco would be made possible. What I wasn’t prepared for were the cold dark winters with very little sunlight.
We first arrived in September eight years ago. With no kitchen in the house, we set up a temporary summer kitchen outside, and thankfully we were blessed with pretty much perfect weather up until mid-December, just up to the point the kitchen was installed. Throughout the arriere saison the sun shone every day it seemed. The nights were cool so we had no problems sleeping.
Christmas came and went, and with the usual frantic activities and I didn’t pay too much attention to the weather. Then something happened, or rather nothing happened during January and February apart from dark grey clouds looming overhead.
In January I still had the cheerful optimism that it was a temporary blip – we were in the south of France after all, but then dark clouds stayed. More rain, more clouds, I starting to feel really glum. Was this Seasonal Affected Disorder I’d heard about? When the sun did appear I became incredibly upbeat, but in a slightly unhinged sort of way, so I realised that I probably was missing the sunshine. Our neighbours seem to spend their whole day indoors, there was nothing on to distract me, which made me realise I just needed to deal with it by almost hibernating too – this was probably a natural rhythm for human beings, hunkering down, conserving energy, waiting for spring.
When spring did arrive after months of rain, the garden exploded into life, summer was on its way. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was managing the heat. Being British, my first instinct when it’s sunny is to throw open the windows to let the air and sunlight into the house. Unfortunately this is a bit like opening the oven door and sticking your head inside. I slowly began to understand why our French neighbours would keep their windows and shutters closed all day and then open them up at night. This was really difficult for me to grasp, not conceptually, but just because it was so ingrained in me, this desire to let the sunshine in. I’m still slowly getting the hang of it after nearly eight years.
Dining al fresco has also changed since living here. In the UK the diners grapple for the sunniest spot to enjoy their meal. In France, you quickly realise that being blinded by sunlight whilst sweat pours off you during your meal, is not a pleasant experience. So I now ask to be outside but in the shade. Sometimes when I’m at home even the shade is too hot, so we eat in a dark shuttered room!
We’re very lucky to live here in all weathers. Even with February’s dark gloomy days, there is quiet comfort in sitting in front of the fire reading a good book or watching a film, knowing that the fact that everyone is in the same boat, just a little bit depressed waiting for a glorious spring to arrive.