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France Springs Into Life

I love March. Rural France suddenly springs into life again as the temperatures rise. Here in Creuse we normally have long winters that last from early November until well into March. However, this year we swapped long for intense. The four weeks of le grand froid, the big freeze, were painful with temperatures down to minus 19 degrees C, and three weeks without them going anywhere near zero. January and February are usually quiet enough in the countryside, but everyone practically disappeared this year. Caiti and I visited Paris during the cold snap and life seemed to be hectic and carrying on as usual up there, despite the chilliness. That’s certainly not the case in the paysage. It’s a time of hunkering down and keeping the farm and the fire ticking over.

But that’s finished now. Tractors are rumbling round the fields again, the cows are back in the pasture, lambs are gambolling after their mothers – although not here yet.Our two ewes are still holding out. We’re pretty sure they’re pregnant, but time will tell. We’re very excited about the thought of new arrivals. The crocuses and daffodils, which had unwisely stuck their heads out before the freeze began, are having another go at flowering, despite being a bit battered. Our three lakes have thawed out to the wild ducks’ delight. There are a dozen or so on each one most mornings now. Our carp feeding schedule is back on track. Every other day Chris and I are out lobbing carp pellets into the water. The dog and all the cats stick closely to us to hoover up the ones that go astray and land on the ground.

People are coming out of hibernation too. Posters are going up to advertise soirées choucroute (cabbage dinner evenings; they’re massively popular but you won’t ever catch me at one of them!), randonées (walks) and belote (card game) sessions. Even a few fêtes are being organised. Gardeners are out repairing the havoc the cold has caused and old ladies in their blue nylon overalls are ferociously polishing the windows and watering the flowerbeds. Protestors are getting more active too. There are several big strikes lined up for March, including the first one since autumn affecting schools.

And the politicians have come to life. France’s presidential elections – la présidentielle – aren’t so far away now. (Round one of the voting takes place on 22nd April, and the second round on 6th May.) The campaign got off to rather a lacklustre start. So far there’s only one poster up on the wall outside Nouzerines mairie. But the debates are starting on television and the candidates are warming to their themes. They’re covering the miles to win votes.

The recent Salon d’Agriculture (farming show) in Paris suddenly brought out the inner farmer of most of them. They’ve all come up with campaign slogans. Despite denying vehemently at first that he had a slogan at all, Nicolas Sarkozy has clearly opted for La France Forte (strong France). François Hollande’s mantra is Le changement, c’est maintenant (The time for change is now). (Not that he’d give me change from five euros – I had an email from his support team asking me for a €5 donation. I can’t even vote in the elections!) Marine Le Pen tells us that she is La voix du peuple (the people’s voice) and François Bayrou maintains that Un pays unis, rien ne lui résiste (Nothing can defeat a united country).

The other candidates’ catchphrases are all suitably vague and jingoistic – Aimons la France (We love France), Pour une France libre (For a free France), Le vote juste (The fair vote), Prenez le pouvoir (Take power). Only a few are unsubtle like Nathalie Arthaud’s Une candidate communiste (A communist candidate) and Philippe Poutou’s Aux capitalistes de payer leur crise (Capitalists must sort out their own mess). Voters generally are rather wary after the assorted financial crises they’ve been through lately and may take a lot more persuading to throw their hearts into the elections this time round. The candidats will no doubt rise to the challenge.

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So spring 2012 looks like being an extra lively one in France this year!

I’m Stephanie Dagg, author, editor, fishery owner, alpaca and llama farmer – oh yes, and mum and wife too. We live in the rural heart of France in Creuse, an area famous for its hazlenut cake and extremely elderly population. We’re truly Europeans having lived in England and Ireland before coming here. I blog about our daily life as expats with all its pleasures and perplexities, and fun and frustrations at www.bloginfrance.com. You’ll find my many and mostly free ebooks here on my Smashwords page www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SJDagg.

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