In Switzerland, the foehn wind has been even more ferocious than usual, while the rain has been coming down in deluges. It’s the same in the south-east of France, where a severe weather alert is in place for 15 departments. In Saint-Blaise in the Alpes-Maritimes last night, a 32 year old nurse went outside her house to have a look at all the damage caused to the garden by the storms, when she was swept away by a wall of mud. She is survived by her husband and two children, who were rescued in time. In parts of the Rhone valley on Monday, wind speeds of up to 160 kph were recorded.
All along the coast roads in the Cote d’Azur yesterday, many of the tunnels were blocked by the storms, which also caused many flight cancellations at Nice airport. It’s all a big change from what the weather people were saying a few days ago, that the month of October in the south of France was the warmest on record since the met station at Nice airport was opened in 1943. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this month; November is the only month of the year when more rain falls in London than in Paris. I’ve vivid memories of being in Paris one November; it was St Elizabeth’s Day towards the end of the month and it was an unbeatable sunny day, warm and luxuriant, the sort you’d get in the middle of summer. However, this year, the long term forecasts for December and January are very bad, with lots of storms and snow, and this applies as much to Ireland and the UK as to France.
But even though the weather has been so unpredictable on the Cote d’Azur this year, and the figures for the tourist season have been so disappointing, this year’s wine harvest in Provence is truly spectacular. A total of 88 per cent of all wine produced in Provence is rosé and the best of those rosés are truly scrumptious. A mere eight per cent of Provencal wine is red and an even smaller amount, four per cent, is white. But this year’s harvest is more than 10 per cent up on last year’s.
The wet and mild winter, followed by a warm and dry spring, then hot weather in July and August, finishing off with the Indian summer in September and October, has produced some outstanding wines in Provence this year. The rosés are lovely and aromatic, while the whites, if you can find them, are fruity, and the reds are deliciously full-bodied. Provence produces close on 200 million bottles of wine a year and the 2014 vintage is going to be long remembered. Another drinks related story is also topical. The distilling season for armagnac has started in the Gascony region of western France; anyone who knows armagnac as opposed to cognac will much prefer the former. Anyway, the distillation season, known as the Flamme de Armagnac, is well under way and lasts until January.
All kinds of strange things are going on at the moment in France; its economy is in the worst state of any country in the Eurozone, apart from Italy, and with all the bad things going on in the economy, all kinds of other bad happenings are occurring with bizarre frequency. Last week saw the fire at the Maison de la Radio in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. At the same time, Canal +, the noted TV channel in France, has been busy celebrating its 30th anniversary. Since it started, it’s delivered some amazing innovatory programming in what had been a stultified media market, and these days, French viewers have the choice of close on 60 channels, all based in France, as well as newcomers like Netflix.
But the radio centre in Paris is an amazing circular building, built in the 1960s, but remarkably modernistic. It houses all the Paris based State run radio stations. For the past few years, the biggest renovation job in France has been going on there. Last week, whatever happened, the building caught fire in dramatic fashion. No-one was injured but it made for some spectacular footage. Another very strange happening in the last week or two has been the number of small drones seen flying near some of France’s nuclear reactors. They aren’t supposed to pose any danger. Three quarters of French electricity is nuclear generated, although the present government want to reduce that by 25 per cent in time. Amazingly, France has 58 reactors producing power at seven sites across the country.
On another technological tangent, it looks like France’s public call boxes are going to be phased out. By law, Orange has to provide one such phone box for every commune, and two for every commune with more than 1,000 inhabitants. But about 100 rural communes in France still have no mobile coverage and the pressure is on to provide satisfactory mobile coverage all over France, so that all the old phone boxes can be scrapped. It’s the same here in Ireland; where we live in Dublin, several old phone boxes are still in working order on the street, but I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone using them.
Also in France last week, it was revealed that the membership figures of the Front National are at an all-time high, 83,000. But its recent successes threaten to engulf the present government. There’s more international pressure building on France, too.
The first of the two warships that France has contracted to build for Russia has been ready for some time and sources in Russia are adamant it’s going to be delivered this month. The official French response has been to shilly-shally and fudge the issue; I suspect the Russian sources are the correct ones. But whether it leads to any bust-up with France’s allies is another matter. The western response to the crisis in Ukraine has been so weak and feeble that the French handing over a completed warship to the Russians will probably pass with scarcely a murmur. It’s interesting, to note, however, that NATO says that this year has seen three times as many incursions into European airspace by Russian military aircraft as happened last year.
While the west is weak, Putin is as sharp as ever. But if you’re into more peaceful excursions, 91 boats left St Malo last weekend for the race to Guadeloupe, a great test of sailing skills and perseverance.
However, back in France, thank goodness for the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who seems to have good social commitments. Just the other day, in Cimeiz, near Nice, after a long running rent dispute, a 98 year old woman was evicted from her home, together with her handicapped daughter. The elderly lady was dumped in a local hospital, while the daughter found herself on the street, literally, with a few belongings stuffed in plastic bags. The mayor of Nice rounded on the authorities for the way in which they had dealt with the matter. The elderly lady was found a place in a state-run care home, while the mayor ordered local social workers to find social housing accommodation for her daughter. The two were lucky; if this happened here in Ireland, they’d probably both be still out on the roadside.
Also in Nice, the Provencal mountaineering guide, Hervé Goudel, who was killed by extremists in Algeria in September, has been made a posthumous member of the Legion d’Honneur. I’m not sure how much use an award like this is to someone who is already dead.
Here in Ireland comes the not unsurprising news that the three richest people here have as much wealth as the poorest 40 per cent of the population. The government has made an almighty hash of setting up Irish Water to start charging people for the water they use. Last Saturday, the biggest protest for at least three decades was organised in every town and city in the Republic and such is the strength of public feeling on the issue that if the government doesn’t just scrap Irish Water, they’ll lose the next general election in double quick order and we’ll find a new government made up of Sinn Féin and independents. The scale of the fiasco is unbelievable and all the government is doing is digging itself deeper into a hole. Now, it’s offering so many concessions that the amount of revenue the new company will raise will be miniscule-was it worth all the trouble? The fighting Irish, having been so quiet during the years of austerity, have finally redeemed their reputation.
Interestingly, while people have been agitating so much about the planned water charges, there’s been a totally silent reaction to the petrol price situation. The price at the pumps has fallen by about 10 cent a litre over the past three months, while the world price of oil has collapsed by 25 per cent! Quite astonishing, yet the way in which everyone is singing dumb on the issue, is even more amazing. So many scandals emerge here and produce the same reaction. It turned out the other day that treatment for diabetes in the public health service is absolutely diabolical. Diabetic patients need a check-up every four months, but in practice, many are waiting for up to three years. As a result, hundreds of lower limb amputations are being carried out that are totally preventable.
In the UK too, the political landscape looks very uncertain, unsettled and therefore deeply interesting. What’s going to happen in the next general election there is anyone’s guess, with the latest suggestion being that a Labour/SNP coalition could happen. But talking of the UK,I must commend the current series on Radio 4 about German. It’s brilliantly presented and produced and gives very clear insights into German history. This week, it was fascinating to learn how western Germany was rebuilt from all the rubble a mere decade after the end of the Second World War.