27th October 2010. Walking into town this morning to pick up the bread from our current baker of choice, I noticed that our local florist had a larger than usual display of flowers and potted plants outside. The star of the show was clearly the colourful presentation of beautifully trimmed chrysanthemums in pots - and that reminded me that this weekend is a good one to avoid on France's road network. Chrysanthemums are the traditional offering at the graveside and this weekend is Toussaint (All Saints - 1st November) - a public holiday. On this day, it is customary to visit the family tombs and graves, wherever they are. Toussaint conveniently falls on Monday this year and, like so many salmon returning to their natal stream to spawn, many will be making, or at least trying to make, a long week-end out of it - notwithstanding shortages of petrol..
Normalement at this time of the year, the autoroutes and routes nationales across the country are heavy with traffic as Mamy et Papy return to their ancestral village d'enfance to pay their respects at the family tomb. Unfortunately, this mass migration brings with it a heavy toll of road accidents as septuagénaires and octogénaires, unaccustomed to driving long distances, take to the highways in droves. Be warned..
It should now be obvious why it's never a good idea to offer French friends chrysanthemums..
I've just returned from a late afternoon walk with the pooch around town. It's thronged with tourists - mostly French - as it's half term and Toussaint all in one. Lots of white-faced black-clad Parisians (black being the new black) were much in evidence, bumbling about and swamping the chocolatiers as they indulge in the heady delights of a chocolat à l’ancienne or a tasse de chocolat à boire moussé à la main (below) at Cazenave.
Just as the carpet of yellow leaves underfoot signifies the approaching cold days of winter, the arrival in town of the hot chestnut man with his "little locomotive" with its blue mist of smoke rising from the smokestack is another sure sign that winter's here. There's nothing quite like a paper cone of marrons chauds to warm the hands on a cold evening.
Further proof - if further proof be needed - here:
This is final piece of evidence - Exhibit C your honour - by Rachmaninoff is something my father would play. I think Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 (with Geza Anda) was the first classical record he bought in the fifties. Despite it being played to death on Classic FM (if you live outside the UK and need a post code to make the link work - use SW1A 2AA), it still retains the ability to hypnotise by its sheer lyrical quality. However, Amy Cheng's interpretation of the 2nd Movement takes the honours in my view: