After seven months overwintering at home in England we arrived back at our house in the south of France yesterday. We’ll be here for just over two weeks on this first trip of what will be a total of sixteen weeks here this year, and already I can see that we shall have to spend quite some time cleaning both inside and out, and doing a fair bit of gardening. They have obviously had a very wet and windy winter down here in the Roussillon. The Tramontane, that north westerly wind that Joanne Harris described in Chocolat, blows winter and summer alike, and this winter it has covered everything in a layer of fine sandy dust and has piled the leaves up against locked doors. It looks too, like the rain has fallen by the bucket full, as our flowering Oleanders are shooting well, the lemon tree has hundreds of buds on it, the vine already has the tiniest clusters of grapes forming, and even the bird of paradise, sheltered in a protected corner of the garden looks like it will give four huge flowers this year.
Our postbox, in typically French fashion, is set into the front wall of our garden. It has not escaped the ravages of either the Tramontane or the winter rains. Usually all it contains when we empty it on a first visit is a pile of junk mail, and the odd bill thankfully already paid by Direct Debit. Most of the contents had got wet at some point, and that inevitable sandy dust had then stuck to them. It didn’t take long to go through it all, throwing most of it in the bin, but there stuck face down to a flyer from a local estate agent was a dirty, damp postcard from Cuba!
The godson, (you’ll remember him, he was with us on our recent trip to Paris) had gone travelling on his own to Cuba last September. He loved the country and its people, but his experiences there were not all good. One night he woke up in a field miles from Havana, covered in insect bites, no wallet, no passport, no iPhone and his white Converse trainers taken from his feet. His drink had been spiked in a bar! The next few days were a mixture of Cuban hospitality and kindness from the hostel where he was staying, a British Embassy where the telephone lines were constantly down, and a sorry tale of trying to get money to him through the Foreign Office in London. Suffice it to say that all was eventually sorted and he was able to enjoy the next ten days, albeit on a temporary passport, paid for in Cuba, with money sent out by his parents through the British Foreign Office, and immediately removed from him on his arrival in London, and nothing but a pair of flip-flops on his feet!
We were here in France when all this happened, and were in touch with his parents and the British Embassy in Havana, so know how stressful it was for everyone. But like many young people he is quite resilient, and was determined that this unfortunate story would not totally spoil his view of Cuba and its people.
It didn’t! That dirty damp postcard sitting in our postbox for six months, having taken the best part of a month to get from Cuba, and suffering from the effects of the southern French wind and rain, told us he was continuing to enjoy his trip despite the setback. A reminder that all’s well that ends well in Cuba, and hopefully here too in the South of France after the winter winds and rain, we are set for a summer of pink flowering Oleanders, a tree full of lemons, a vine heavy with fruit, and those birds of paradise flowers all resplendent in their sheltered corner of our garden as the Mediterranean sun blazes down on us all. Happy days to come!
P.S. The message on the postcard asked if we knew who the two men were? We knew that one was Fidel Castro. The other we discovered was Ernest Hemingway, but perhaps you already knew that!