Winter Arrives in Provence

Winter arrived yesterday morning, announcing its presence with thunder, lightning, rain and hail at 5:00 in the morning. It’s cold and windy now, though I suppose if you are reading this from Paris, London, New York or Chicago, it probably wouldn’t seem very cold to you. After all, we’re expecting a high of 39 degrees today. But it’s cold to us, believe me. Until now, we’d been enjoying unseasonably warm weather and the outfit pictured at left was about as bundled-up as you needed to get to spend the day outside. In fact, over the weekend we saw several people taking walks in short-sleeved shirts.

It’s officially winter now, though, and the Mistral is giving us a little taste of what’s to come with 35mph winds today. The Mistral, in case you didn’t know, is a freezing-cold, katabatic wind that comes whistling down from the Alps and through Southern France. If you ask the natives, though, they’ll tell you that it comes to us all the way from Siberia. All the Riviera’s problems seem to come from Russia lately; if it’s not the mafia, it’s the wind.

The Mistral supposedly comes in three-day cycles, though these can run concurrently. At speeds that average 60-90mph and have been known to reach 150mph (correction: kilometers per hour – will I ever get used to the metric system?), it’s not surprising that Peter Mayle described it as a “brutal, exhausting wind that can blow the ears off a donkey.”

Having your ears blown off is just one of the dangers of this driving wind. Side effects attributed to the Mistral read like the disclaimers at the end of your standard prescription drug ad: headaches, insomnia, mood swings, irritability and depression. In fact, an old French law stated that anyone driven by Mistral-induced madness to commit a crime would be acquitted, even if the crime were murder. I wonder if those Russian mobsters realize that one is no longer on the books…

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