I thought that yesterday, as we drove home from the local village with fresh bread. Autumn is really here: all the trees are red, gold, yellow, throwing their leaves onto the road in front of us. France has become a fraught, older ‘woman of the world’, throwing one last drunken ‘soirée’ before the lonely slam of Winter. She’s piling on her jewels, strings of rubies and gold chains, wrapping round and round her big bosom, as she leans forward into our space, spilling cheap champagne, desperate for us not to leave yet. She’s talking too loudly, her perfume’s too strong. She’s painted her toenails Tangerine, clinging to the last cotton dress of summer, her last green lace petticoat.
She’s straining to throw bright sunsets, ignoring the bite of chill in the air, laughing hard at our more introspective moods, which lower on us as the darkness comes sooner.
France has a population of 60 million, and her visitors number 76 million a year. She’s busy, receiving them all, mostly from June-September 30. And now her season is over. Shops close, restaurants close, hotels close. You can’t hire a canoe, a horse, a caravan. It’s done. Shutters are being locked shut, signs brought in, tables outside wiped and stored away.
But part of France staggers on, wobbling in her high red suede heels. She wants more fun! She wants more people, more noise, more love! She throws her thin, fire-coloured confetti, and watches it whipped away by the wind. Her streamers are damp, hanging low between the lampposts, and the runs in her stockings are worse than ever.
But she wants to go on. She’s still beautiful, still tempting, yet the effort is almost too much. Her trees are such a perky red now, and the yellow is almost neon; every day the view seems brighter. But there’s an edge to it; greys, browns, even blacks are creeping in from the side, as last crops are gathered, and soils are turned and left bare for Winter.
We can feel the season changing, slinking lower. The sun isn’t warm till midday, then cooling again by 4 or 5. The fat ponies next to the supermarket carpark are hairier every day, while the last geese have flown past us to Africa (something so mournful about their sound):
A fortnight ago there were flocks every 30 minutes in the late afternoons, calling out their farewells; today was the first time we’d seen any for days. But no honking. They knew they’d left it late.
Tiny birds are flying in and out of the Barn eaves, searching for a sheltered nook. ‘Barry’ the resident bat hasn’t been around much- has he hitchhiked with the geese? Smart bat.
The old farmer down the lane has spent days gathering up his walnut crop; I watched his knotted hands struggling to transfer the small nuts to his basket. He’ll wash them and dry them on racks, then either press them for oil, or eat them during the coming months, like a squirrel. His neighbor further along has piled higher than his head the timber he’s gathered from the forest. In fields all around us, stacks of wood remind me that the temperature gets down below zero; while we two can survive for now, hugging up to the draughty fireplace, feet up on the concrete hearth, it’s not much fun. ‘15’ is beginning to rebel against the leaking bathroom, the weak shower you take sitting down in the cold metal bathtub, the hopeless toilet cistern. Hot water pipes bang, moan and knock; a poor soundtrack to the party the French slut is trying to coax out of us.
We’re sleeping a lot, under two quilts each; lights out by 10.30, cold noses tucking under the covers, not awake before 8.30 or 9. France wants to dance, but we’re beginning to hibernate. I can’t believe my Australian friends are swimming in the ocean! And neither can She. Clad in rusted velvet, rings of crimson, flashes of brass in her décolletage, France is desperate to celebrate one more time, with wine, cheese, and smoky kisses, trailing up to an unmade bed at dawn. But it’s almost over Honey, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
C’est la Vie.