18 August, 2009

Cassidaine by night.

We were none of us very hungry, having just returned from the fête votive of one of the nearby villages. (The fête votive is the annual excuse for amplified music, varying degrees of inebriation and flashing lights. It’s the party thrown for the locals and the summer interlopers, and, nearly by definition, it includes the basic retinue of carnival attractions—the squeaking bumper cars, “fishing” for little yellow ducks, the great big bouncy thing, where one is tied to too few security ropes and proceeds to defy gravity and spectator expectations).

Sprawled across the woven couch on the roofed part of the terrace, we were wondering in a desultory way about dinner, when the storm hit. What is it about summer storms that manages to startle, even stun? Do we, any one of us, imagine that growing things can survive a whole season of utter aridity? Why are we surprised when the sky finally breaks open? The rain was steady, the lightning and thunder less so. Through it all, we squinted into the unblinking brightness of the descending sun. The world around us was filled with the dazzle of light refracted through millions of raindrops. And the storm, despite the sun, just wouldn’t quit. I suddenly thought of the far drier place I’d just left. While I was there, Cassis had strikingly beautiful weather; while you do have to be ready for a certain degree of sultriness, there was none of the steamy, heavy air which I knew would be upon us as soon as this heavily backlit storm left the valley. And while the valley does tend to cool rather quickly after dark, it is different in Cassis.

The nights are far slower to release the day’s warmth, but the Cassis locals and visitors adopt beautifully. Spaghetti straps, flimsy silks and tank tops adorn freshly showered and powdered bodies; the men are encased in light cotton and car shoes. All are ready for the evening’s stroll, and Cassis is ready to assist. The ice cream shops stay open until late, and you expressly skip a sit-down dessert for this exquisitely cold pleasure, walking and nibbling at a cone. The night market is open several evenings a week, offering jaunty straw fedoras and the quintessential summer blouses, light as a swallow of Perrier. One night, I caught the Nocturnes Literaires, a sort of traveling sidewalk book show, set up before the gently rocking boats and complete with a dozen authors on hand to sign their works. Another excuse to parade, chat and browse. Evening is the time we all need to recuperate from the day’s labors and ardors. Between kayaking, hiking, swimming, biking, soaking up the sun and the almighty "sieste primordiale" (in the words of my Cevenol neighbor), there is enough to be recovering from. I am already planning next year’s visit to Cassis.

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