France is famed for its holidays, and in particular the summer Grands Vacances when the cities empty and coastal town populations swell up to tenfold. Traffic fluidity is classified like a traffic light: green, orange and red plus the ominous black – noir, for very very bad traffic. Traffic on the autoroute ends up being the top item on the Friday evening news, with one poor reporter posted out by the A6 out of Paris which links up at Lyon to the A7, l’autoroute du Sud. (Funny how they never report on the auroroutes running north out of Paris.)
The biggest chassé croisé weekend of all, when July meets August in the middle of the holidays, is normally classed noir dans le sens des départs et retours (traffic out (Friday) and back (Sunday). It’s the busiest time on the roads in France in the summer, when all those lucky enough to take all or part of July off – the juillistes – vacate their holiday dwellings, chased away as such by the aouticiens – those who holiday in August, and basically coming across each other en route.
No doubt the juillistes were glad to pack up and go home this year, having spent a very wet July holiday almost wherever they were in France.
And no doubt the aouticiens were doing a (not rain) dance to see August 1 bathed in blue sky:
Unfortunately their dance did invoke the rain to come back with a vengeance, and August continues to be mostly soggy.
It’s hard to believe that back in April the news was full of the worry with the prospect of drought and a canicule (heatwave) with worried farmers showing stunted lettuces to the camera. Since June I think they’ve been more worried about waterlogged fruit and crops destroyed by hailstones.
Normally for a sure bet on rain free blue sky in France you’d brave those A6 and A7 autoroutes to head south. But not even the great South has been spared, with those expecting blue sky lamenting the amount of free showers they were getting from the energy-zapping dull grey sky. However it looks like the Med has recovered, with temperatures back up to “les normals de saison” (what they should be for the season) and much drier skies.
But why stuff yourself into a car and drive for 8-10 hours when you can hop on a TGV high speed train and be down in the south of France in 3 hours and 15 minutes?
You get off the TGV in France’s second largest city, Marseille, walk out of the station onto an esplanade and…breathe. You shoulders go limp as you’re hit by the view of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city (Marseille’s Eiffel Tower equivalent) and contemplate the blue sky spread before you. The blue sky, the sunlight infused with…light… Pure heaven.
In case you’ve been missing out on blue sky this summer, here’s some more, with just a wisp of cloud:
Grapefruit, mackerel and quinoa salad
Pierre has a cousin in Marseille, and sometimes we go down to squat her box room when we need a shot of blue sky.
She has coeliac disease, and has adapted her diet herself by cutting out gluten and dairy as unbelievably her doctor doesn’t believe that her condition is affected by diet. Although he has observed the improvement as a consequence. (And yet French doctors recognize spasmophilie as a condition, getting panic attacks and the like, which no other doctors anywhere else recognize as a condition, go figure).
On one visit I very much liked a simple quinoa salad she prepared with grapefruit and which I’ve adapted here by adding flaked smoked mackerel fillets (you can leave them out to make it vegan). I used red and white quinoa because it was what I had in the cupboard, but black quinoa would make it far more dramatic.
To supreme the grapefruit segments would be better, but I cut it in half and scooped, and it’s important you keep whatever juice comes off from hacking the grapefruit. If you supreme it, crush a couple of segments for the juice.
All the flavours meld together for a fresh, light salad. Just what you need when it’s 35°C outside.
Serves two as a main or four as a starter
For the salad:
– 80g quinoa
– 1 red onion
– 2 tomatoes
– 1 pink grapefruit (reserve the juice that runs out)
– one smoked mackerel fillet or other mackerel fillet, flaked
– a handful of pumpkin seeds
For the vinaigrette
– 3 tbspns olive oil
– the juice from the grapefruit (crush a segment if you need more)
– a pinch of salt
1. Cook the quinoa as per the packet instructions.
2. Chop the red onion finely and put it in a bowl.
3. Chop the tomato finely and put it in the bowl.
4. Cut the grapefruit in half and scoop out the segments, using a serrated knife and a spoon. Put the segments into the bowl.
5. Mix in the quinoa, flaked mackerel and pumpkin seeds.
6. Pour over the vinaigrette and mix well.