Before the weather changes too much–and it’s very summery here today–here are the street style photos I’ve gathered over the past two months.
Some “trends” include white dresses, like the one above. Though a printed sheath dress like her friend’s, with flat sandals, is very popular as well. And note the two girls on the left with their short skirts, tucked-in tees and white tennis shoes–another look among the younger set.
Metallic accents are everywhere. In the top photo, the woman in white has metallic accents on her bag and sandals. The dress below has gold leaves all over it. I saw so many women in versions of this dress, some long, some very short, some, like this one, short in front and long in back. There was a woman at the market in a long, Greek goddess version of it, and she walked as regally as the dress deserved (and disappeared into the crowd before I got my phone out).
The woman was so crisp on a hot day. Slick chignon. somewhat structured straw bag, perfectly pressed dress and ramrod posture. She brings me to another trend: crisp and tailored.
While we’re on people doing their own thing, here are a few more. I admire their confidence.
Color is another trend, especially red.
Which brings us to white pants. If the fabric is lightweight cotton or linen, they are worn loose.And if they’re denim they can be more form-fitting.While not a trend, per se, these women managed to look cool despite the heat. Loose dresses rule!Which looks appeal to you? Are you wearing similar styles?
The roosters that live in the shade of the woods along the riverside wake me long before dawn. They are joined by the caws of another bird, something big and wild. Do herons make noise? I don’t know a heron from an egret or anything else that’s big, with long legs and lives near water. But they are neighbors.
I slip through the darkness to the living room to open the windows and welcome in the cool night air. It’s in the mid-60s Fahrenheit, but it feels icy and delicious. When I put on my glasses, I can see the stars, so many stars. But since I glide through the house in the dark, glasses are of no use and I don’t bother with them. I know where the furniture is, where the window handles are, how many stairs and how big they are. The familiarity is comforting.My kid got a summer job, detassling corn, of all things. I grew up in the Midwest, and most people I know detassled corn in the summer. One of my siblings back home almost choked from laughing when told the news. In French it’s called castration, which is what it is, but somehow more brutal to say. The fields are a long drive away; my kid and several friends joined up to carpool, or co-voiturage. I drop my kid off at the meeting point, or take my turn driving over the rolling hills, as vineyards give way to vast fields of wheat, sunflowers and corn as we head west. There are few cars on the road at such an early hour. The kids are groggy and silent. I feel like we’re flying through paintings by Monet or Jules Breton.
The sun still hasn’t peeked above the horizon when I’m en route home, but it’s light, the world wrapped in a pale pastel veil. One morning, fog unfurled across low-lying fields, stretching luxuriantly like a cat.
The colors of the sky grow more vivid, all purples, oranges and yellows. Then the sun appears, nearly blinding me as I drive straight toward it, the road a ribbon unspooling across the patchwork of golds and greens. The whole world now is golden, the delicate paleness has vanished. Within minutes, the gold, too, is gone and the sun, alone in a deep blue sky, nary a cloud in sight, delivers its frank, sharp rays that divide the landscape into stark overexposure or inky shade. I am home before the sun has climbed high enough to hit the east side of the house. I quickly close the shutters to keep the interiors a cave-like cool. Even though the heat wave is past and we have perfect summer weather, we don’t have air conditioning and use old-fashioned methods to keep the house comfortable. My friend, Merle, serenades me. He boldly follows, keeping a two-arms’-length distance, never more nor less. Merle is the blackbird who lives here with his wife (merle is French for blackbird, and a good name for an excellent singer). He’ll get his own post when I manage to get a flattering photo of him. He comes close, but not close enough for my phone’s camera.Maybe it’s that Europe is so far north–Carcassonne is about 43 degrees north, like Yankton, South Dakota; Niagara Falls; Pocatello, Idaho; Vladivostok, Russia. Summer days are longer than what I grew up with, though not as crazy as in Belgium or even farther north, like Scandinavia. Appreciating the dawn requires getting up really early, made all the harder by the fact that it’s still light at 9:30 or 10 p.m. And those evenings are yummy, too, as the day’s warmth fades but not so much that the cicadas stop singing. Bats swoop back and forth, dining on insects, almost in time with the cicadas’ metronome.
Some friends came for dinner with the foster children they care for. Kindergarten and first grade, brother and sister. As night fell, we reclined on the chaises longues to look for shooting stars. The boy asked to hold my hand. Then he had a better idea. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable, he said, if he were on the same chaise as me? He snuggled into the crook of my arm. His sister, jealous, claimed the other side. We scanned the skies, but the boy was a little afraid of shooting stars. He told me about monsters. Did I believe in them? No, I told him, you don’t need to worry about monsters. He said sometimes he believed in them, sometimes not. I listened to his five-year-old ideas about the world and hoped he would remember this moment of magic, the stars dancing, the night birds in concert with the cicadas, the light blanket of a summer night’s warmth enveloping us.
It’s increasingly easy to get around French cities on two wheels. More cities offer rental bikes and bike lanes are expanding. Mopeds, or cyclomoteurs, are another popular choice. I like their candy colors and retro style.One reason they’re popular is that you don’t need a license. Since you can’t get a driver’s license in France until age 18, lots of teens find mobility on mopeds, though there’s still a test for driving them. Usually there’s a sea of cyclomoteurs in front of high schools.The podcaster Oliver Gee of the Earful Tower and his lovely wife Lina did a heart-shaped (kind of) tour around France on their cute little red scooter for their honeymoon, and even stopped in Carcassonne. If you’re a francophile, you should check out his podcast and YouTube videos.
I can see the convenience, especially in a large city, where going across town by bike or public transport could take a long time, or if you have to go very early or very late. There is somebody with a puttering moped who goes through our village around 4 a.m. Sometimes when I’m lying awake with the windows open, I can hear the motor buzzing its way closer and closer, like a mosquito that you kind of make out in the room and then realize it’s coming in for your blood as it nears your ears. The moped moves beyond our house, sputtering as it struggles up the steep hill before it descends on the other side, out of earshot. Why so early? What does the driver do? Probably works in a bakery in town–that starts early.I keep hearing about electric scooters and have spied one so far in Carcassonne. Manual scooters are more popular. There’s also an outfit that does tours on Segways. I used to think it would be great to have a moped to tool around town. Not where we live now–it’s too far and too hilly and the roads don’t have shoulders. I don’t need to go anywhere at 4 a.m. Long ago, I met a colleague for drinks in Paris and he offered me a ride on his moped. It was terrifying. In Paris, drivers turn left from the far right lane and stuff like that. Not my colleague, but cars. The folks with a ton of steel around them to protect them if they happen to run into anything.
That brings me to the Twizy, which is a great name for this thing. Made by Renault, it’s called a quadricycle. Seats up to two people and even has a tiny trunk (considering the trunk of my Aygo holds one bag of groceries, I am used to a small trunk). Plug-in electric, with a maximum range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). It’s expensive for what it is (€7,000 for the basic model), but I think it’s cute and interesting. Meanwhile, it’s hot here. School has been canceled. National exams for ninth-graders have been postponed, throwing families’ summer travel into chaos. The heat wave is called a canicule, which has to do with dogs–the dog days of summer, which is when Sirius, or the dog star, rises with the sun. Enjoy this analysis by a weather forecaster. While I definitely appreciated a dip in the pool late last night, it isn’t as bad as all that. This region is built for heat. Thick stone walls insulate interiors like caves. Shutters blunt the greenhouse effect. Everything just slows down and activity is shifted to morning and evening. Surprisingly, I haven’t noticed the cicadas, who start singing when temperatures rise to 25 C (77 F), the music of summer around here. Yesterday, we were at 34 C (93 F) and today we are supposed to hit 38 C (100 F).
It’s hot. The glare of the sunshine, the sharp shadows, the heat mirages wavering up from the asphalt. I don’t mind, because it’s summer, and summer is always too short. What I do mind is cooking when it’s hot.
Our kid had a friend over for a few days and I made a Moroccan chicken pastilla (yes, I’m on a Moroccan kick after all that yummy food in Casablanca), and the next day we made pizzas. Both pastilla and pizzas are cooked in the oven. And the day before, I had made a cake because a bunch of friends were coming for coffee. Too much oven!
We are back to regular summer programming. That means salad for dinner. When I ask French friends what they do for dinner, they say “soup” in winter and “salad” in summer. While I have seen some French salads that involve cold pasta tossed with raw (or canned) vegetables, more often it’s a salade composée–a composed salad, in which the ingredients sit nicely next to each other, like neighbors, respecting each other’s personal space.
BTW, the word for lettuce is salade, but a salad doesn’t always have salade in it. And there are many kinds of lettuce–laitue, chêne, romaine, batavia, scarole, mâche, cresson, mesclun….There are the famous French composed salads. Salade niçoise, named after the city of Nice, has tuna, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, anchovies and olives, often served on a bed of lettuce.
Another is salade lyonnaise, named after Lyon, with bitter greens like frisée (frizzy!), lardons (bacon chunks), and a poached egg.
And a salad that doesn’t have a special name but is a classic found in many traditional restaurants features cold, cooked green beans, cold boiled potatoes, and either tuna or lardons.
All these would be served with a homemade vinaigrette. Homemade is SO quick and easy, and without all the nasty chemicals. One part vinegar to three parts olive oil, a finely chopped shallot or clove of garlic, a little salt and pepper, and maybe a little Dijon mustard. Put it in a jar with a tight cover and shake. Voilà. Change the kind of vinegar (balsamic instead of red wine, for example) and it’s very different. Sometimes I make it with rice wine vinegar and a mix of sesame and peanut oils. Here’s what we do: clean out the fridge. Anything goes. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, ham or other charcuterie, leftover steak sliced thin. We’ll call it the Salade Composée du Carnivore, because he is the specialist, arranging everything artfully. Either drizzled with vinaigrette or just splashed with olive oil and vinegar.Every few days, I make a big bowl of chopped salad, involving whatever vegetables are in season, plus some kind of vegetarian protein–beans and corn, beans and rice, quinoa, lentils, etc. It is good, but not as pretty as the French variety.
9:30 a.m. (9h30 as the French would write it), and the cigales already are singing. After a brief rush of cars between 8:30 and 9, only a tractor rumbles through the village. Even the birds, who had been very vocal at 5 a.m., have quieted down, taking shelter in the shade. The only sound is the thrumming of the cigales, like a heartbeat.There’s a special kind of quiet that descends on villages in the south of France as the temperatures rise. It isn’t all that hot–low 30s Celsius, which is the upper 80s, flirting with 90. It’s summer hot, but not disagreeable. No humidity. Day after day of cerulean skies have dried the ground hard, the grass has gone dormant brown, the hydrangeas (hortensias in French) are wilting. The lavender, however, is happy, exploding like fireworks. Its enormous clouds of flowers are home to some irridescent beetles and many bees. Lavender honey is prized. However numerous, the bees are no match for the racket raised by the cicadas.
I run around the village before it gets hot, darting from shade to shade, feeling the coolness coming off the stone walls, feeling the heat, like a blanket dropped on me, when I step into the sun. Not a breath of wind. From afar, I spy a mother returning to her car, having deposited her child at the before-school daycare. The school year doesn’t end until Friday. There is no air conditioning in classrooms. Or anywhere. You get used to the heat better that way. The kids undoubtedly will be taken to the now-trickle of a stream to occupy the afternoon. Sometimes the wind carries their munchkin voices all the way to my house. They give their vocal cords a good workout. When our kid was little, I would accompany the class on these outings. Although I love children and spent only a couple of hours at a time with the class, I would need to rest afterward and would always be reminded that elementary teachers are not paid nearly enough for the work they do.
A dip in the water does a person good, especially after dinner, to cool down before going to bed. In the evenings, the birds come out again. We have a blackbird, whom I call Merle (merle is French for blackbird), who trills away, either in the tree above the table where we dine al fresco or from the peak of the roof, his beak pointed to the sky. He is an accomplished singer and I enjoy his concerts immensely, even at the crack of dawn. I have illusions/delusions about making friends with him, coaxing him closer. He seems unafraid and lets us get to within about a meter before he flies off. He has been a resident for a couple of years; at least I think it’s him. He hops along under the laurel bushes by the clothesline, making a racket on the dry leaves, but seeming to think I don’t notice. It reminds me of when our kid was little and would open the corner cupboards in the kitchen and hide behind them, feathery toddler hair sticking out above. If you can’t see me, I can’t see you, right?We’ve been promised thunderstorms this afternoon, but the sky is cloudless. Promises of rain at this time of year are rarely kept. A few days ago, the sky darkened in the distance and we heard thunder rumble, and we took in cushions and such just in case. Not a drop fell. It’s the season of kleig-light sunshine, so raw it looks artificial. With it comes sharply cut shadows that are like a world apart, so dark after your pupils have squeezed to pinpricks from the overdose of sunshine that you suddenly are blinded by the comparative blackness. No nuance, especially in the hard-scaped heart of the village, where the streets are too narrow for cars. The ancient houses’ thick stone walls and closed shutters create cool caves of comfort, perfect for la sieste after lunch. Back in the day, winegrowers built refuges, called capitelles, out of stacks of stones. They still dot the vineyards, though I hesitate to enter, because spiders and snakes.Our summer diet of tomatoes has begun, with real, French-grown variétés anciennes finally appearing at the market. Tonight, pasta à la caprese (with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, maybe a little green onion, slathered with olive oil, served tepid). The stove and oven are on vacation. And you?