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Postcard from Provence

With lockdown more or less over, we made a dash to the other side of the Channel and are currently languishing in the Vaucluse département, home to the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape et al. Mont Ventoux, known to cyclists the world over, is staring at me as I write, only providing a shield from the sun in the early hours of the morning before the heat hits. Exercise here, recently so highly prized (the French were allowed no further than 1 km from home to exercise during their lockdown), is necessarily limited to a gentle morning stroll around the village to collect bread from the boulangère. In time it may be possible to acclimatise but, looking at the locals, I wouldn’t bet on it.

France went into lockdown before us, of course, and came out earlier as well so, if we in the UK are fortunate, what I am seeing is a glimpse into the future. We are welcome here – I know plenty of people with concerns about this but it is the Parisians they fear most here it seems. The UK, until Covid, condoled with for its apparent decision in the 2016 referendum, is now pitied for its government’s failures in the wake of the virus.

We avoid large supermarkets and shopping malls but the smaller local Intermarché is well stocked and the SuperU has an excellent meat counter. People who frequent these spacious shops have long been using the sanitiser at the door and they were wearing masks before this became a legal requirement on Monday. There are inconsistencies, of course: you can’t be expected to wear a mask in a café, for example. Wine tasting through a face mask, anyone?

We are lucky, not just because we have made it to Provence at the start of what promises to be a glorious summer – no heatwave this year by the look of things but plenty of sunshine and warm evening breezes. Whereas the wine festivals, as well as the Avignon Festival, have all been cancelled this year, there are outdoor events to enjoy and outdoor markets to soak up the local ways of life. The regular summer Friday evening market here has expanded and, as well as the arts and crafts, food and wine stalls, there is now a small live band performing outside the two café/bars. The evening farmers’ market a few miles away is quieter than usual but for us that means less queuing to buy the local seasonal produce; currently Coeur de Boeuftomatoes are in season as well as figs whilst strawberries are still just available (Carpentras is rightly regarded as the best place in France to grow strawberries and, unpatriotic as this may seem, they are sweeter than any I have had in the UK).

Everything and everyone here works on Provence time, a slow-living pace of life. After the stresses of lockdown, it’s a welcome change.

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Is this some good news about the lockdown?

Wine stocks have been running low recently. After the dry pasta and paper products flew off the supermarket shelves, it was the turn of the wine aisles to empty and it wasn't long before many people realised they didn't really like what they found there. Rather than give up wine (although, apparently, some people have done precisely that), it soon became clear that wine merchants are in the category of permitted business so many of us saw huge spikes of trade, especially in the run up to Easter weekend. As I say, wine stocks have been running low.

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