Amidst a time when a lot is going on in my life, and where there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, I have chosen to write a piece based on a nostalgic feeling I had the other day while I was eating toast with Kiri cheese on it, to remember my favourite month in France, the month where everything seemed to slow down and, contrarily to nature, nights seemed longer and days shorter.
August was always my favourite time in France, especially in Grenoble. The city would empty itself of people, running away to long holidays in the south by the sea, or into the mountains where the haze of city pollution would disappear, making way for fresh air and blue, blue skies. The weather was always hot, often muggy, the humidity broken up by spectacular thunderstorms that would throw bolts of lightning through the sky, sometimes right to the ground in front of you, rain would pour for an hour and then before you knew it everything was clean and clear and silent again. For a few days. Afternoons were for drinking coffee and/or cold pints of beer “en terrasse” of a bar somewhere in Place du Trib, or the Champollion or L’Excalibur if we are talking many many years ago. Mornings were for sleeping and/or working, watching the news and eating a light lunch, napping for a few hours in the heat with the shutters closed. Reading books and writing poems and stories, listening to music and watching series on TV until it was time to go out and grab coffees and beers and see what the night had to bring us.
There were the days of lying by the pool in the hot sun, or hiking up the mountains to the cooler air, or just driving (or walking) up to the Bastille and having a picnic or barbeque up there, looking over the city and waiting for night to fall and the stars to light up the sky. There were days of hiding in darkened rooms, waiting for the day to go away, listening to Type O Negative and Sisters of Mercy and The Cure with some Slayer thrown in there, wondering what kind of parties the night would bring. There were afternoons spent at friends’ apartments, eating late lunches of pasta and vegetables and cheese and yogurt and fruit, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, chatting about life and relationships, love and anger, and where we would be in 10 years time. There were afternoons spent in my apartment with my best male friend, watching American crime series and talking about how we were going to change our lives and go away somewhere special and start over. There were those afternoons when we would go and watch movies at the cinema, just to get away from the stifling heat and sit in the cool of the air conditioning.
And then there were those August nights, mostly spent going from one bar to another, to someone’s apartment, to some area outside in the city, by a statue or a fountain, in a square, surrounded by other people enjoying the summer night. We would grab bottles of wine and beer, and sit in different spots around the city, daring ourselves to get up to some kind of mischief, looking for parties in different apartments, ending up dancing the night away at the Dock or the Mark XIII, or just standing on the bridge over the Isère, feeling the light movement under your feet and singing to the breeze. I remember one night, during one of the infamous electrical storms, just after watching The Craft with a friend, standing on the steps of the St Louis church across from the FNAC, watching the lightning hit the ground right in front of us, and instead of feeling scared, just feeling euphoric. Nights that would end at 5 or 6am, when the sun would start rising over the mountain tops, and the air would feel fresh and clean for about 10 minutes until the heat and the pollution would kick in again.
I miss those afternoons where everything would shut down for three hours after lunch, where you could walk around in silence and just hear the tram bells ring from time to time and some cars drive by. I miss those days of eating warm bread just out of the oven, nabbed from the still-closed boulangeries at 5am, I miss those days when it felt like nothing else really mattered and when there were no real responsibilities, well not until September started again, and with it school and university and jobs and real life. And so now, until September starts in a few days, I will continue to dream of August nights in Grenoble, of real French food, of time spent with friends of long ago, who are still friends of today, of cheap wine and laughs and mountains and magnificent thunderstorms, of dubbed TV series and of music that I still love today…