Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back to Business

The end of August. The end of summer. What summer?

Many of us in Europe are asking this at the moment. Throughout most of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and eastern Europe too, we have had what is possibly the wettest, coldest summer in more than ten years (at least as long as I have been here). To make it worse, when it has been warmer, the humidity levels have been so high, it has been excruciatingly unpleasant. Add that to lack of sun and you get a stuffy, oppressive warmth that you cannot relieve because it's still raining and the doors and windows have to be closed. In one word..yuk!

We had the most glorious, dry spring with long days of sun and warmth, but it doesn't help because that's when we were all at still work. The two holiday months, July and August - those months when everyone with a family, or anyone who works in education, is obliged to take their time off - have been a complete washout.

We have, however, managed a few brief days of sunny escape. Sadly, both these interludes were cut short, but nonetheless, I have already posted the photos, so you can see that we made the most of them.

Northern France was a surprise I will not forget: its emptiness, space and stunning vistas reminded me so much of parts of South Africa. We were terribly disappointed when the clutch on the van packed up two days before we were due to head home, so we had to limp back to Zeeland early.

My trip to the south was also cut short. What was originally intended to be five days there plus one day returning dwindled to a weekend visit to my sister, including a mad dash to Toulouse and back. We then had to leave early on Monday for them (my sister and brother-in-law) to catch the ferry on Tuesday morning. A misunderstanding about dates that was wholly my fault, but disappointing all the same.

Still, I did at least have two days of sun, although even there it wasn't as hot as I was expecting or hoping for it to be, and it has certainly given me a desire to go back. What a beautiful land it is. I am also completely intrigued by the still medieval customs and habits of the rural French paysan. It feels like stepping back several centuries, and I love it. The sunflowers; the Bastide towns on the hilltops; the ancient, pale or golden stone farm houses and barns, and the sense of both a populace area but one with huge spaces as well.

The visit to my former employer, Roger, at his gorgeous old farmhouse in the department of l'Aude, gave me several new insights into the character of the place, the people and their customs, not to mention the canny (and sometimes downright fraudulent) way they turn the agriculture subsidy systems to their advantage.

This is a subject that often gets my blood up, as France receives as much as 80% of the EU's agricultural subsidies and has everything its own way. On the other side of the Channel, large numbers of English farmers have gone out of business and had to leave their farms due to EU agricutural policies that have killed their generations-old way of life. I love France, but on this subject, I can get very heated very quickly - especially when I see how they abuse it.

Anyhow, at least we have been able to get away, if only very briefly. In the interim, I've made desperate attempts to paint my barge between the downpours, only to have my work ruined by hail or heavy rain. All told, though, I don't really feel I've had a holiday, and now it's time to go back to business and prepare for the new school year. I think I'll try and go away at Christmas for a week or so. Perhaps that's a better idea!

For now, though, all the best to all of you, and apologies for the slightly jaded sounding post. I promise the next one will a return to my normal cheerful enthusiasm! I'll leave you with some photos of Zeeland last weekend, when we took a lovely walk between the showers.

The only way I could get both Koos and Sin in the same photo

Zeeland scenery in the evening light

The harvesters are out. Amazingly, they have had a great crop this year!

Luxury coffee Belgian style, accompanied by a glass of advocaat and cream on top of a small scoop of ice cream. Sinfully divine...


  1. Dear Val,
    It was strangely the opposite here in our part of Canada- a late, wet spring, and then the most glorious and beautiful of summers I can remember in ten years. I can count on my fingers (and don't even need the toes) the days when rain got in the way of anything, and in fact do remember so many people lamenting that their flowers and lawns did not have enough of the wet stuff. As I type this in the mid morning, it is a lovely sunny day out climbing to 28C. The next few days all look about the same, still, after eight weeks of this joyful weather that we like to think is a typical Canadian summer. I do fell for you, as we had that pitiful weather in 2008, right through the two months, and I do recall thinking it did not feel like much of a vacation.

    I can't help but think of "Les Ch'Tis " when you mention northern France- I gather you had your parkas with you. ;) It sounds really beautiful and I'm sorry your time away was cut short. The nice thing for you is that a change of scenery, language, and culture is so close at hand that lots of weekend trips are easy possibilities. I would take advantage of that just to right the wrong of feeling like you never got away.

    We've actually gone nowhere all summer, waiting for the first time ever on a year where I will not be tied to a school calendar, but the days have been lazy and just right in their nothingness. I am looking forward to my back to business, because the one thing it does not involve for the first time in 21 years, is work.

    Love your photos- they make me long for Europe again.


  2. quite the opposite here, too! we have had the most wonderful summer, and still today we have 26C!
    ian and his friends only stayed a few days in the netherlands and have since visited both zagreb and split. now they are in budapest.

  3. 1st of is global warming...thus, the colder it is....(huh?)

    Secondly, GREAT photos!


    Who is that guy with the little cup of belgian something? :)


  4. Hi Val,

    Oh, this summer went by very very fast. Fortunately, we avoided most of the triple digits common in August. However, 95 is still hot. I just said to myself getting home from work today, "I am so tired of it being hot". In just a few months, I ll be wishing for it. Funny how that is.
    Enjoyed your photos.
    What is advocaat? It looks delicious.

  5. Anne Marie, thank you for your lovely long comment! I do rather envy you your sabbatical,and would love to do the same myself. I can only be glad for you that you've had such a lovely summer. I just hope it will be our turn next time around.

    And Ingela, if there's any chance summer next year is not going to be good, I'm coming to Vaasa! I now understand why you don't need to leave Finland in the summer!

    Dan, the warmer it gets, the colder I feel!...and thanks for the compliment about the photos. Him in the last pic? Ah...ummm....just someone I have spent the last ten year with..and only the most important person in my life....that's all :)

    Grace, I'd give a lot to be tired of the heat! I was even thinking of turning on the heating this evening! As for advocaat, it's a sort of liqeur made of eggs and alcohol! It's very yummy, I must say :)

  6. ooh that does sound yummy.
    ughh, turning on the heat!! oh boy, it was so hot today, made doggie mama a little cranky ;). Still hot right now. Fans going. Does sound pleasant though, having temps cool enough to have that decision for the heat.
    Growly June :(. kiss for Sin.

  7. I'm hoping the mild summer (can you really call it mild if it's been raining like crazy?) means that we have a mild winter.

  8. I agree total washout of a summer...still waiting for the sun, which I hear MAY appear in the next few weeks...northern France sounds lovely - I haven't had much of a holiday this summer at all! ;-(

  9. Hi Val, August Bank Holiday was a complete wash out here. When I get to the end of a rotten summer like this one, I feel like I have been deprived of something, there is a yearning for something elusive. Perhaps it's just down to lack of Vitamin D due to lack of sunlight! Good to hear from you x

  10. Grace, pleeeeeease send some of your heat over here. The nights in Holland are already showing signs that autumn is on the way.

    Stu, I wish I shared your optimism and is 'mild' a euphemism of some sort ? :)

    String and Fran, you share my feelings of deprivation, I see. It's been awful hasn't it? Maybe we all need a dose of vitamin where's that sun lamp I used to have?

  11. can do...will do my best. Another tooo hot day. Always easier to put clothes on for warmth, than stripping down, and still can't cool off.
    please share in the warm hot days @the world.

  12. I must admit I was in the dark about the summer not being as lovely as appeared in your generous photos. Likewise, I am wholly ignorant of the seeming favoured french farmers, of the negotiations there when the UK are not on the euro and this technicality might be a reason why, a parsing of the hairs, and yet this should not be.

    Back to the grind...a cool autumn, October rains, dark evenings, eyes adjusting to the lack of light, light on the trees like the leaves a memory.


  13. It is very odd we too here in Ireland have had very few summery days and yet the farmers have had a brilliant harvest with over 2.2million tonnes of grain; our beef cattle are in great demand so prices are up there too.
    I never bought into or accepted the climate warming proposition. Climate change yes of course for nothing on this planet or in the universe is ever stationary. Even the land masses on this earth are moving, albeit very slowly, Ireland is moving northwards, the US is drifting westwards at 1.7mm per year and the moon is drifting away from planet earth at 1.0 mm a year t'sch t'sch!
    Such is life :)


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