The dead of August

Nothing says a French city in the summer like the sound of suitcases being wheeled out of doors, bumped down steps and along pavements in the early hours. The town empties with remarkable efficiency. Half the shops close for the month of July, the other half close for the month of August. The half that do open, open halfheartedly, getting little done and closing early. In winter, it’s a lively provincial town with competition for custom. In summer it’s a sleepy village. When nothing useful can be done in town, it doesn’t matter. A château together with its gardens, lakes and geese happens to lie directly alongside the main shopping street. We drift over the cobblestones from one empty film set to the other, from the deserted village to the fairytale castle. We feed the fish with yesterday’s baguette, spot herons and watch the lime tree seeds twirl through the lazy hazy afternoon. If you really know France well you’ll have me on a map by now. In any case, it’s good respite from the extra paperwork generated by moving here and there. Not that form-filling and photocopying can really be classed as action. Not like what’s happening where we’ve come from. And frankly the action taking place in the Levant right now… let’s just say I’m glad to be out of the loop. I’m glad that the kicking, squirming baby inside me isn’t kept company by the squirm of fear in my gut. I glimpse lengthening rows of dead, far away on the other side of a screen. I lose count of the number of euphemisms for war, hear the cascade of poised, planned outcry, and go back to watching the lime tree seeds on their gentle descent through the air. The suitcase wheels are coming back, a little slower than when they left, but they are all coming back. It’s a new year in a French city.