Book signing and spring festivals

Well here we are, one week away from the solstice, and summer has yet to put in an appearance. A day rarely goes by without rain at some point, and the mountainsides are clothed with green instead of the usual brown, making the area more resemble Wales than the Riviera. It’s not actually cold; the temperature is usually in the low 20s and when the sun appears it’s very hot, especially given the high humidity. But the “gran caldo” (great heat) that normally lasts from June to August it ain’t. Everyone is talking about the weather in a most British-like fashion and remarking how unusual it all is. There’s the usual strain of gentle kidding that largely characterises the Italian sense of humour. Yesterday I passed a couple of locals in the piazza and one asked me if there was any water left in England. Naturally I replied “Of course not, it’s all here”.

Needless to say, the garden loves this weather; warm with plenty of rain and not so hot as to dry things out. The tomatoes and peppers in particular are going mad with growth and fruit. It has to be the best growing season for years.

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Notwithstanding the weather, village life is getting more eventful as the summer visitors arrive. They seem not to be in as large numbers as usual but this can probably be put down to the economic climate as much as to the temporal one. The piazza always has a knot of people sitting under the trees and chatting, sheltered from the rain by the lush growth above, while children play ball games around the parked cars, with remarkably little damage evident. The other evening the local osteria (pub/restaurant) put on an outdoor disco, which for once gave the church bells some serious competition. We had no need to actually go out to enjoy the full effect; just open the balcony doors. Fortunately these events rarely run late and by just after midnight it was all over.

Yesterday morning we went off to Valbonne, between Nice and Cannes, for a book signing. Valbonne, although a French town, has a large and very noticeable English ex-pat population with a history dating back a century. In the 1930’s a British woman, one Winifred Fortescue, bought a small house in the Proven├žal countryside near Grasse and set about improving it. She recounted her experiences with the local artisans and with local life in a series of books that were in their time best-sellers, but up until now nobody has told the full story of her life, both in Provence and in England. Maureen Emerson has spent many years carefully researching Winifred Fortescue and her friends and has bravely self-published a new book; her first. The signing took place outside the English Bookshop in Valbonne. Here’s Maureen signing a copy for our very own Riviera Woman.

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I announced in our Calendar the 46th “Battaglia di Fiori”; an ancient agricultural spring festival celebrating the rebirth of nature in spectacular style. Last night Ventimiglia was unusually full of people lining the streets to see the colourful floats pass by; floats often depicting gruesome scenes of lust and carnage, but highly colourful, with flowers making up a good part of the construction. I don’t know where all the people came from; the weekly Friday market is busy but this went way beyond, with the whole of the town centre full of people of all ages.

We found a good spot by the simple device of stopping at a restaurant for pizzas and picking a table right by the roadside where the floats, brass bands and drum-majorettes would pass. The event was typically Italian; noisy, good-natured and with that overall air of barely-managed chaos that this nation does so well. But managed it was; things do seem to get done in spite of there seeming to be no central direction. This is typical of Ventimiglia itself; it’s gradually but quite rapidly lifting itself – apparently by its own bootlaces – from being the “faded frontier town” described by the Rough Guide to a thriving and increasingly pleasant place to come and shop or simply to discover. I could go on at length about the merits this area has to offer – but maybe another time…

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At the end of the evening – as with most things Latin – was a pyrotechnic display. There was no information about where this might take place, but Ventimiglia has no large open spaces and we couldn’t imagine fireworks being let off in narrow streets, so the beach had to be the place. We positioned ourselves in a likely spot along the promenade and were pleased to find we’d effectively chosen the best seats in the house. It was a pretty standard display; one’s expectations tend to be high after living in Italy for a while, and although perfectly well done this wasn’t the most extravagant we’d seen. One interesting feature – for me at least – was the fireworks thrown out over the sea, at first seemingly as if by accident. On hitting the water they burst into fountains of fire. This isn’t something I’ve seen before.

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