Fifty Shades of Grey

July 3, 2012
Not even the rainy weather could deter these tourists from admiring la belle Tour Eiffel from the outlook at Trocadero Gardens.

C’est penible – it’s horrible; it’s awful
la météo – the weather report
Météo France – France Weather, the French national weather bureau
grisaille – grey (and dreary) weather
temps pluvieux – rainy weather
le moral – morale
la pluie, toujours la pluie – rain, rain and more rain
lunettes de soleil – sunglasses
un maillot de bain – a bathing suit
une terrasse – a terrace, a patio
un accessoire de mode – fashion accessory
un parapluie – an umbrella
Paname – an affectionate French nickname for Paris
SNCF – France’s national state-owned railway company
ensoleillé(e)(s) – sunny
desinations ensoleillées – sunny destinations
se changer les idées – to clear one’s head; to take one’s mind off of things
réchauffer le cœur – to warm the heart
le paysage – landscape
la crème solaire – sunscreen
une robe d’été – summer dress
le soleil – sun
spontanément – impulsively, in the moment
un boucle – a loop
un boucle à véloa bike trip; a bike tour
les champs de lavande – the lavender fields
se faire du bien – to do one good (me faire du bien – to do me good)



« En juin, trop de pluie, et le jardinier s’ennuie. »
(“Too much rain in June and the gardener languishes.”)
– French saying

This spring and summer has been one of the rainiest that Paris has seen in a very long time. Day after day, I wake up, throw open the window and look hopefully up at the sky, only to be greeted with endless clouds of grey and an unrelenting rain that continues to fall without pity. C’est pénible.

From April 1 to June 21, Paris received 330 mm of rain.  In June alone, the city recorded 98.5 mm of rainfall – nearly twice the normal average for this time of year. Last week, Météo France confirmed it—this June has been one of the rainiest Paris has seen in the last 50 years. On June 21, we hit 48 days of rain since the beginning of spring.  June 24 marked 49.  I’m starting to feel like I’m living out some kind of alternate and, sadly for me, much less racy version of Fifty Shades of Grey – or rather, Fifty Shades of Grisaille.

All this temps pluvieux has not been good for le moral.  “Je n’en peux plus de ce temps merdique !” my friend Jen texted me the other day in despair. (“I can’t take any more of this sh*tty weather!”)  It’s a sentiment shared by many. I have a new appreciation for the lyrics to the early 90s pop song by French group Au P’tit Bonheur : “J’veux du soleil ! J’veux du soleil ! J’veux du soleil !” (“I want sun! I want sun! I want sun!”)

The city’s inhabitants, at first certain that the “spring rains” would eventually pass, are now starting to despair that summer will ever come.  Après la pluie, le beau temps, the French like to say. (“After the rain comes good weather.”)  Mais il est où, le beau temps? they’re now asking. (“But when is the good weather going to get here?”)  Instead all we’re getting is la pluie, toujours la pluie.

Businesses are suffering too.  Retail sales are down, with store owners complaining that they’re losing big on the walk-by traffic from the leisurely strollers that they usually get at this time of year. People are a lot less likely to splurge on a pair of lunettes de soleil, a new maillot de bain or the latest summer fashions when it’s raining all the time.  Ditto for the local restaurants and cafés—nobody but the most die-hard of smokers wants to sit out on a terrasse in the cold and damp. On a humorous note, retailers are noting an increase in the sales of comfort foods, like tea and hot soups, and this season’s must-have accessoire de mode is none other than the trusty old parapluie.

Thankfully, all is not lost. The advantage to good old Paname is that it is effectively the central hub of the SNCF, which means that all trains pass through the city on their way to any other destination in France. This makes a wide variety of destinations ensoleillées only a short ride away. Those that can are fleeing the city for sunnier climes, impulsively booking last-minute tickets and hopping on trains to head south to Marseille, Avignon, Nice… anywhere that promises to deliver a little bit of desperately-needed sunshine and fresh air pour se changer les idées and réchauffer le cœur.

As I write this, I’m on a train headed south to Aix-en-Provence with my friend Margaret, watching the sun-kissed paysage roll by outside the window.  I’m arriving armed with a bottle of crème solaire and a suitcase full of robes d’été, in eager anticipation of soleil, soleil, soleil and the plus 30 temperatures that the local météo is promising for the week ahead. Two more victims of this year’s unseasonably wet weather, Margaret and I booked the trip spontanément, so we’ve got no particular itinerary mapped out other than our arrival and departure dates. It’s lavender time in Provence though, so a boucle à vélo across the champs de lavande isn’t out of the cards.

Regardless of what we end up doing, I’m absolutely certain of one thing – a few days in the sun will me faire du bien !

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