Ah Bien, c’est vous! Tant mieux pour nous ! (Ah, good, it’s you! So much the better for us!) It’s mid-winter in the South of France and you are wondering if you really need that coat you put on this morning. It was cold then but at 10 a.m. it’s 54 and climbing. The sun is shining in a vibrant, blue sky and makes you ask, “Is this as bad as winter gets?” Oh no, don’t be fooled, it usually turns cold again before the start of March. Our first December here, we thought our thermals were excess baggage. Then February arrived and proved that it does get cold in the south of France. The denizens of Paris, shivering in the snowy sleet, may envy us when they see Perpignan’s warm days but we sure have chilly nights. Most of that misty morning haze you saw is actually smoke rising from the many chimney stacks of our village. Besides, the “winds of winter” are still with us – later today you’ll be glad you brought that coat! (However, there is some sunny warmth here – check this scene out!)
We’re so glad you found your way down to the gardens. We have a huge job to do here clearing away the winter grass invading our asparagus bed. Oh, hey, we thank you for a chance to stop, stretch, and have a chat. These plots are “les potagers“, (kitchen gardens) set apart from the village. Here, generations of French people have raised food and flowers. Once, every house in the village had its own plot, and this one right next to ours belongs to our next-door neighbors in the village. Over the centuries, gardens have changed hands so not every house has a potager. Some are just a few yards wide and others are acres. Many farmers in our village earn their living working the rich soil laid down by ancient rivers that flowed to the Med.
Since we didn’t know when you’d stop by, we left that note on the front door for you. We often leave one for La Poste (the mail) and our neighbors have assured us that our French is, ah-hem, charming! (Apparently the one that we thought said, “Please leave packages next door,” actually reads something like “If we be not, be giving packages neighbors please.”) Sometimes I wish I could hear our French language “faux-pas” (false steps or mistakes) the way they do. Well…maybe not!
As we stand at the garden gate, you look back across the field of winter grass rippling in the breeze. Beyond it, the village sits, framed by the distant Pyrénées Mountains. It could be a postcard. You see daffodils blooming, a quince bush packed thorn-to-thorn with cherry-pink petals, and bees buzzing around the rosemary flowers. Those distant dark patchwork fields are the neatly trimmed rows of dormant grapevines. Snow capped Canigou drowses dreamily against a pale blue sky. (This is the scene)
It is a restful time here, with many restaurants and campgrounds shut. Bare trees and bushes make a sharp contrast with the first flowering bulbs of the season. Paper whites, crocuses, and grape hyacinths lift our spirits on those few grey days when we get some much-needed rain. Along the roadside, almond trees bloom and their porcelain white flowers with pale pink centers are as delicate as any Japanese screen painting. They whisper a quiet promise of spring to come, but the real stars of this season burst into joyous yellow celebrations. These are the Mimosa Trees. ( This one divides a dirt track – beautiful!)
Look toward that sandstone bluff topped by the church. See the splashes of bright, sunny yellow? Mimosa! (Look carefully, you’ll see a few more!) Now you spy a row of trees at the edge of the village, waving flowery bouquets of golden joy. These wild beauties release a sweet scent that floats like honey on the breeze. Large and small, blooming, billowy, graceful trees dot the plain and hug the roadsides. It seems like everyone takes some home and treasures these little pom-pom flowers that brighten the winter days. They make us smile with their pledge that the warm weather will return. Just as you are about to leave, a neighbor walks by, carrying a huge bunch of Mimosa branches in bloom and she offers you a branch of these bright fuzzy flowers to take home. “Merci!” you say and she smiles saying “Je vous en prie,” which literally means, “I beg of you”, but is used in everyday speech as, “You’re welcome” or “please”
As you head out to enjoy the rest of your day, you will see them all along the rivers and roads. May you share the gift that Mimosas bring and see beauty everywhere as we head into the final winter days. Until we can share another day in the south of France, take care! A bientôt, nos chers amis! (See you soon, our dear friends!) But do be careful when you come visiting next time – there is one last blast of winter but we’ll share a warm treat when it’s time for Late-Winter in the South of France.