Février, le plus court des mois,
Est de tous le pire à la fois.
February, the shortest of months,
Is nonetheless the worst of them all.
But here in Provence, February is a time of celebration. The 2nd of February (which coincides with Groundhog Day in the US) is considered the end of winter. It is called la Chandeleur, or Candlemas, and traditionally people make crêpes, or fine pancakes.
These are thought to represent the sun, whose return is eagerly awaited after the dark days of winter. As a bonus, holding a coin in one hand while flipping the pancake is supposed to guarantee you a prosperous year.
The parking behind our apartments has been taken over by La Fête Foraine, or Funfair, also known as La Foire aux Manèges. Here you will find everything from small carousels or manèges for the tots to les montagnes russes, (roller coaster), also known as Le Grand Huit. For the young and fearless, there is the highest ride in Europe, at 60 metres high, spinning at 120 km/h (about 75mph).
While scary rides have been thrilling us for generations, this one does give a nod to modern life, reminding you to empty your pockets of keys and cellphones before braving the trip. If fast and furious is not your style, you can enjoy the more traditional pleasures of la barbe à papa (candy floss/cotton candy) or les pommes caramelisées (toffee or caramel apples).
The weather has begun to warm up: on Tuesday we ate lunch on the balcony, and on Wednesday we did a beautiful all-day ramble with friends along the hills behind the seaside town of La Ciotat, including a picnic just outside a mountain refuge.
Being close to the sea, almond trees (l’amandier) were already displaying beautiful creamy flowers, Rosemary bushes (le romarin) their delicate blue flowers and herbal scent, and gorse (l’ajonc) bursting with bright yellow flower darts.
Here in PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) there are festivals which celebrate the return of spring, including the colourful citrus festival at Menton and the mimosa festival at Bormes-les-Mimosas.
Beautiful branches of feathery yellow mimosa are on sale in the market, and fill the room with a fresh, piney scent.
We blocked out the weekend to go to Bormes and enjoy the celebration first hand. However, we woke on Saturday not to a glorious, fresh, sunny day, but instead to SNOW!
So the mimosa festival will keep for another year, and we plan to hunker down and treat ourselves to a raclette: cheese melted at the table, rather like a cheese fondue, served with a selection of side dishes including potatoes, and of course, a glass of red wine to warm the heart.
At least February is a short month!
© 2013 Valerie and Trevor White