My Provence - Mistral, Wind of Wrath
can blow for days, will chill your bones and can
turn people insane.
I am talking about the Mistral, a fierce wind ruling
That is also my Provence.
can blow for days, will chill your bones and can
turn people insane. I am talking about the Mistral,
a fierce wind ruling over Provence.
Mistral is a cold wind born on the Massif Central,
the eroded remains of a massive volcanic range in
the center of France, north of Provence. Mistral
gushes down the Rhone River reaching as far as North
Africa across the Mediterranean Sea - a pump flushing
away any low-pressure system threatening Provence.
in Provence never talk about the weather. No need
as Provence is sunny 99% of the time. However, they
will talk for hours about the Mistral.
will tell you it blows for 3, 6, 9 or 12 days. They
are convinced it comes in multiple of 3 days.
Mistral can blow furiously in winter - till March.
The rest of the year, it will cool you down in a
very welcome way. It will also save your trip to
Provence, as whenever it blows it will not rain.
its worst, in winter, it will find its way - any
available way - to chill your bones. No zipper ever
protected me from the penetrating Mistral.
of locals lived with the Mistral and developed proven
methods to protect and shelter their property.
through Provence, you will notice heavy stones scattered
on old tiled roofs. They are used for ballast to
prevent uplift caused by Mistral. You will also
notice fields bordered on the north side by large
trees to prevent wind related erosion. Traditional
houses have blind walls exposed to the north. Tightly
planted cypresses are grown along exposed roads.
Mistral is much more than its effect on nature;
it drives locals insane, it dries the skin and cracks
lips. It blows steady then comes in gusts.
Mistral threatens trees that are not deep-rooted
and cars can be pulled in the ditch. While walking,
I remember being forced to a halt trying to resist
years ago we planned a major renovation to our home
in Provence. I should have started the work in October
but the house was booked. By mid November when the
house became available, it was too late as I wanted
to be back in Canada for Christmas.
started gutting the house in January. Then the Mistral
started. According to locals, it was one of the
worst they had seen in years. Everything froze in
the house, including a radiator that exploded spraying
the walls with black mud accumulated in the pipes
after years of use.
could not get enough protection, wearing sweaters
over sweaters, wool hats and gloves and still freezing
to death. The house offered little protection as
I had a gaping hole in the wall I had opened to
install a French door.
few valves from the watering system froze in the
garden. I was not ready to understand Provence might
get cold in winter. I remember the Mistral toying
with me while trying to carry gypsum boards in the
house. I learned to hate the Mistral the same way
locals do in winter.
Mistral is fought. One fights to walk, to temper
its effect, to prevent it from rushing through doorsills,
stairways, vents and chimneys.
gets tired fighting every second of the day. One
gets tired of the dryness, its constant howling
and its sudden gusting roar. Nights turn into nightmare
as furious ghosts travel the sky, shake the house
from roof to floor and rattle the loose tiles on
Mistral never stops invading. It engulfs the narrow
streets with a piercing scream. It engulfs the trees,
bending each branch to its will.
spring, on market day - held each Friday in Carpentras
- Elsa and I were walking in the packed streets
toward a fruit store. Its owner is a colorful woman,
very witty with multicolored hair ranging from blue
to purple and pink. As usual, she was managing a
large crowd in front of her store facing the town
Friday she is allowed to push her store into the
street. She then protects her goods and patrons
with an awning. A gust of Mistral lifted the awning.
Its heavy steel stiffener crashed down on the strawberry
baskets, missing her head and that of a few customers
by less than an inch. She disappeared under the
awning. We were very concerned and ran to her to
offer help. We were met by a loud "Sacre Mistral"
(Damn Mistral). Lots of shoppers agreed. Life went
on. Everyone is used to "Sacre Mistral".
I told her she should fasten the awning to the wall
but she went on with her business, concerned with
the few minutes lost selling vegetables and claiming
she was used to it.
Mistral is soothing from spring to fall. Clearing
the sky and the dampness of the summer days. The
Mistral opens the horizon. It contributes to growing
the best grapes and to keeping Provence sunny. On
a hot summer day when the Mistral lifts, you will
feel the need for a light sweater - a pleasant rest.
and I, it seems, are wind lovers. We live on a wind-swept
plateau in Quebec, beside the highest working farm
in all of Canada - on top of owning our place in
Provence where the Mistral is king.
© Philippe Guerin, 2006
all rights reserved
on Provence - in My
Provence - Tamed and Wild
left Provence years ago. Settled in Quebec and forgot
about Provence. Two years ago, I renovated our home
in the heart of Provence and felt the area was reaching
me deeply. Thus my need to share my experience and
vision of Provence.
also traveled extensively for my work and have always
tried to understand the culture and people I visited.
I never failed noticing that people and places form
a rich ecosystem. That is the core of my words.
My dog Bongo