I don’t really want to say this, but sometimes life in Geneva can be a bit slow. I mean I, personally, really like watching the hedgehog do her long-legged stroll through the garden in the evenings. And I am thrilled by the redstarts teaching their children to fly. (Henry, the cat, shares both these interests.) The snails gathered around the newly sprouting dahlias protected by their blue chemical circles are a constant source of suspense and worry; and the neighbour’s bamboo shoots pushing up vigorously through my newly-mowed lawn arouse feelings of vague disquiet.
Despite all this, there are moments when you just need a little more action, and so you cross the border into France. Now life in the French countryside is not exactly Niagara Falls either. For example, there is no waxworks museum starring Justin Bieber or fire alarms going off in your hotel at the crack of dawn; but there are casinos, outdoor markets, water parks, strikes, and malls.
A Sunday or two back, for example, I awoke to an unfamiliar noise. It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. It was a Mothers’ Day Stock Car Race. Taking place on a patch of wasteland down by the Rhône River it buzzed its way through the day. I don’t know if mothers were driving or watching or at home with pillows over their heads, but it was loud and cheerful and a complete anathema to our Swiss Sunday rule that we cannot disturb the neighbours by cutting the grass.
French Sunday morning markets are also completely charming. Shunning the supermarket, and with pockets full of euros one approaches with an open, friendly, giving, attitude. This is rewarded by the Candy Man, the Vegetable Man, the Bread Man, the Roast Chicken Man all awaiting you with open arms.
The Cheese Man is an especial favourite as he saws you off great chunks of ancient Beaufort and brébis and cheerfully philosophises that for a produce that tastes so good, money is entirely irrelevant.
The Fish Man explains how his trout are stocked in a pure mountain stream that comes from a tinkling mountain spring, and the fish swim to his door in the morning happy for their filets to be taken to the market.
The Pirate-Gypsy Provencal Man in his fedora and golden earring behind his mounds of olives and tapernades looks way more wicked than any waxworks Johnny Depp pirate.
Bags full and pockets empty, you start to leave, but are hailed by Swiss-village acquaintances who are refreshing themselves on benches under a shady tree with local wine – the light bubbly sort suitable for breakfast. So you join them for a glass.
You finally make it home—completely satisfied and exhausted with your delicious purchases and all the social excitement.
You prepare a plate of bread, cheese, and paté forestière; pull up a lawn chair: put in your earplugs; and settle in to see what the redstart chicks and the bamboo shoots are up to.