Monday, January 07, 2008

Smoke Free France

January in Lourmarin is a strange month. Half the shops are shut, the one main café is closed and its possible to walk down the main high street without encountering anyone. Last year it was bitter enough for the fountain to freeze and when the mistral blows it’s so bleak and barren that staying in and watching a rerun of At Home with Victoria Beckham begins to look like a positive use of time.

The Parisians have boarded up their maison secondaires, the Brits have jumped on the last Easyjet home leaving just the permanent residents - the hunters, the farmers, the bar owners, the vignerons and us - the market traders. Because of our nationality we will always be outsiders but for a couple of winter months we belong to an exclusive club of all year round residents. Near strangers kiss us in the street - presumably they are just pleased to see anyone at all, even if they are English - passing acquaintances embrace us as if we’ve been on a solo voyage around the world as opposed to just back to England for Christmas and as for the scene in the tabac this Sunday - I might as well have been at a close friend’s wedding, nibbling on assorted crudités, I certainly had little or no chance of getting the paper. Instead I learnt of the 3 wild boar which had been shot near our house in our absence, that the local garagiste had a car for sale that might suit us, and that everybody thought that Sarkozy’s new beau was, to paraphrase, “a right old tart.”

Meanwhile Tanya and Elodie were waiting on the terrace of the one open café. Last January, despite the same winter camaraderie, this was the one habit that distanced us from everybody. While the remaining population of Lourmarin huddled inside the café, we braved the icy air and sat outside. People shook their heads as they opened the door and the warm cosy scent of Gaullois drifted out. This year though the terrace is full and every smoker is sporting the enormous puffa jackets they got for Christmas. France has finally gone non-smoking and for everybody it’s a real pain. The French have as much affinity for the cold as cats water, and their lower lips quiver like lost children as nicotine pins then to the freezing terrace, meanwhile Tanya and I pace up and down looking for a spare space, and the bar staff wince as they ferry drinks outside (before of course stopping for a cigarette - at least it is easier to get served.)

Bonne Annee.