Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Silent Night

Yes I changed the background. I hope no one gets nauseous.

Winter in a summer resort area can get… well, sleepy, frankly. Arcachon boasts over 100,000 inhabitants (residents, guests, and tourists) in August but less than 10,000 in December. Imagine driving down a residential street after dark and seeing lights on in only a few houses on each block. Now imagine the few people in those houses being somewhere between 70 and 200 years old, with a strong determination to stay well below posted speed limits while driving. Welcome to my world.

Even empty, some of the local haciendas have some interesting looks:

Neighbour's House
Not really empty - note baby Santa climbing on balcony.
My favorite
Or, the more traditional structures in the old part of town...

Winter doesn’t officially start for another two weeks. In Canada, at least my end of Canada, winter fires a number of warning shots over the bow (starting in September) to let you know it’s on the way.  Here it rains at night and the days are mix-ups; some are good and some are not, and some are both. The temperature remains stubbornly high although it often looks like hell outside. I’m starting to understand why so many of the trees are either not turning yellow or not losing their leaves if they do. The locals tell me a few good frosts are required to get the leaves to drop, although they also admit that doesn’t always happen.  So much for a winter wonderland.

On Sunday, Ann insisted on a nice walk along the ridge of the nearby giant sand dune (see previous blog somewhere) in spite of the hurricane conditions (high winds and rain).  When the sugar mama wants to go for a walk, all lesser activities cease.  A good time was had by all…

The walk was concluded with a glass of wine at the local seaside bistro although Ann was disappointed no oysters were available (read into that what you like). Entertainment was provided by the local kiteboarding fraternity. Nothing is more restful than watching grown men try to kill themselves in gale force winds. Sorry, no pictures would do it justice.

Ignoring the lack of proper Christmassy conditions, the town has put up religion-inspecific holiday decorations and lights. I give them some credit for not lighting up until December 1st. While on a recent excursion into rainy Bordeaux, we happened upon the local holiday market, complete with a surprisingly good Pere Noel and trees for sale…

I was amused by the fact that the most popular tree was about 1 metre tall (lower left). I suspect most Bordeaulians live in apartments where a 1 metre tree is to scale.

And speaking of the holiday season, I’m personally having trouble adjusting to the approaching solstice and gift exchange (my apologies to those of you who attach more meaning to it than that). The problem relates to the missing indicators: bitter cold, snow, super-saturation of gift ads, television Xmas specials in November, 16 hours of darkness, the frenzy of social events, and panic knowing I still have nothing for Jesus Jr. (my spouse has a birthday on December 25th which adds an extra dimension of complexity to the season). The Xmas specials and ads might still be there if I chose to pay attention to the local cable feed or local radio stations. We've dodged the strain of double-booking complications by avoiding making any friends who would invite us to anything. The French holiday warning indicators are somewhat different. First and foremost it rains. The second indicator is more rain. The last indicator is more ...French. The mailman, garbage men, and firemen each drop a note in your mailbox to offer you a ‘free’ calendar – a token of their appreciation for your patronage over the past year. One of the lads at the golf course suggested ten or fifteen euro per calendar will eliminate the likelihood of disappearing mail, garbage being dumped on your sidewalk, or any mysterious incendiary devices appearing on your doorstep. Remember, it’s the season of giving.

I still have the gift buying panic but take some solace in the misplaced optimism around possibly finding something new and creative in a slightly different consumer environment. Wish me luck. Whatever I do choose must fit into tiny spaces for the cross-ocean flight X2, since we need mostly empty bags to bring back our ski gear currently residing at chez in-laws (French for "Ann’s parent’s house" – I’m improving). Suggestions for Ann’s gifts will be greatly appreciated.