Il fait du vent? asks S, looking out of the kitchen window, into the dark garden. Enough light spills out to see tree branches close to the window, moving a little. P says that yes, it is windy. He, after all, has ventured outside as he came to the train station, to pick me up.
I'd forgotten to make an early reservation for the TGV from Strasbourg to Paris. All seats on TGVs have to be reserved – c'est obligatoire – and I discover that a lot of people are travelling on New Year's Day and clearly prefer the morning trains. The only train which is not complet is one that leaves later in the afternoon. I then have to get from Gare de l'Est to Gare St. Lazare, not a great distance, but I have to change at Chaussee d'Antin la Fayette and because of some strange squiggles on the metro map that resembles zig-zags of lightning, I get off not at St. Lazare but at Havre Caumartin. This is not far away, but it's dark and I don't recognize where I am. As well as a small rucksack, I'm pulling along my case-on-wheels, with shoulder bag tied to it. Also I'm wearing all my winter clothes – thick jumper and padded gilet over my jacket and Paris is ridiculously warm - so I have to stop and take off my jumper and stuff it in my bag. But after asking the way, I discover it is not far to Gare St. Lazare, and I just make the 18.50 train which is a fast intercité to Le Havre, first stop Rouen Rive Droit, arriving just after 19.00.
Huh, I say, that's not wind. That's just some god breathing, maybe giving a little sigh now and again.
Or perhaps a demon, says P, always liking to scatter a handful of darkness into a conversation to throw people out of any possible complacency, to keep them on the qui vive.
But, he concedes, maybe for you Scottish people, that's not wind, but for us sensitive Breton types –
Of course they have winds on the continent, but much more frequently than happens on these islands, there are days of stillness, serenity, pure balm for the soul. And when it rains, even if it's heavy, the rain falls straight down, with an admirable lack of guile, the directness of its attack making you feel that your opponent is worthy of your attention, making the game enjoyable to play.
The next day, for example, I set out to walk to the city centre under a blue sky, bright sunlight. On the way I pass a splendidly arranged épicerie, with displays of mostly orange fruit, dazzling to the eyes. Clearly care has gone into the colour selection, dark
yellow grapefruit with tinges of pink, next to orange with green, then yellow-green apples with blushes of pink.
But by the time I reached the bridge over the Seine, plump and purple clouds had glided towards the river and fired a fusillade of raindrops at it, water to water. I had not brought an umbrella but I sheltered under the bridge, until it passed. No wind, the rain fell directly downwards, no deception, or sleight of hand. And, just as it was leaving, a sheet of mist, illuminated by sunlight, shone across the river, a pearly halo. This weather was a belle-lettre, a love song, clearly, to its sister water, the wide Seine, with its moored cargo of boats.
The second song came when I was sitting outside a café in the Place Jeanne d'Arc. Sheltered by a canopy, the rain leapt and tumbled in the street and when the canvas canopy shifted a little, the gathered rain emptied itself like a sower flinging a handful of seeds, a sheet of water with a fringe of pearls.
And even the roan pipes that conduct water from rooftops into drains, have turned into water creatures, returning water to water, in an ongoing cycle – how lovely, these artistic touches...