July 27, 2011

Le Mistral

The bell tower on the chapel in Ramatuelle is made of wire. I was rubbernecking it when the local gendarme (with his well-fitting uniform, stance and serious stare underneath his sunglasses) asked me if I needed help. No help, I told him, just wanted to know why the bell tower was a wire one. He replied in a hushed, insistent tone: "le mistral." After he said it, he looked at me like, where on earth does this girl come from not to know that. It was akin to not recognizing a very traditional symbol or icon of a religion in a town where there is no variance in faith, where there is not even the knowledge that other faiths exist. Le mistral is almost holy in this region of the South of France. Spoken about like the uncontrollable natural phenomenon it is, but also like a mystical force or body. It has a presence. And it changes things here in the south of France.

Le mistral is responsible for the light, the clarity of air, the self-willed sunshine that all grace this portion of France. The number of days of sunshine here is remarkable. And after a mistral, the mountains in the distance come into focus, as if they've suddenly jumped forward, a little closer across the sea. In these pictures, you can see them clearly when often they are just foggy outlines in the distance. Sometimes they hide completely, even on clear days. These photos were taken just after a mistral.

A mistral is a strange phenomenon. It is a gathering of winds that comes hurtling from the Alps south, over towns like St. Tropez, and then out to the sea. Anyone who has spent time in the south of France knows about it and knows the strange sensation of a perfectly clear sunny day mixed with winds that feel like a storm is brewing - no, like a storm has arrived, without any of its normal symptoms or signs - no clouds, no thunder, no rain. When a mistral is expected, people react. Boats don't leave the ports. Children do not swim. Every year there are children who, on their rubber rafts, are taken out to sea by the mistral. The winds are hurricane strong - sometimes 80 or 90 km per hour. It seems counter intuitive on some level, but le mistral determines the climate - those back-to-back sunny days are due to the winds that force the sun to shine and which clear the air. The mistral is powerful and feared, but it is also a porter of good health, believed by many in the south - taking away toxins and pollutants. Le mistral also makes water very cold for swimming. It blows away the warmed surface of the water and leaves just the colder depths. One weekend you will swim here and the next you will be shocked by the iciness as you dip a toe in.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful.

D1Warbler said...

Wonderful prose and photos -- as usual. Such a combination!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...