Twilight at Wivenhoe Sailing Club on the River Colne.
‘It was one of those autumn mornings which are devoid of melancholy, when the weather seems to be cleaning its house. A broom of wind sent the clouds above flying briskly and kept the fallen leaves scudding along the pavements, the trees looked as if they were being stripped to let the rains get at them better.’
Rebecca West (1957), The Fountain Overflows
I swap 27c for 8c in a single flight. Blue for grey. Sun for, well, grey. One long traffic jam en route to hotel from airport (Friday night and the start of a holiday). Stepping around junkies to get out of the car at the hotel. Hotel has double security doors (natch). It’s also hosting a judo championship. A big, boisterous, international crowd. Dinner confirms autumn – vegetable potage with cheese croutons, tarte tatin and a nouveau-red-not-Beaujolais. Soundtrack: university students and local workers excited by the holiday/ the food/the weekend/ sex. The sky and the Seine meet and resolutely refuse to part during my visit (quite rude, but very Parisian, I feel). So, I walk. My body is protesting head to toe clothing – my feet complain loudest. Really. Boots after six months of sandals. Blisters. I go to a café near the Jardin des Plantes. It’s Paris, I’m a tourist, the waiter treats me accordingly. I return his contempt and receive his respect. Result. I am arrived. Walk on – and, in the evening, to the theatre for a one-man show. It’s amusing. He’s needy. Everyone leaves smiling. Take the metro to dinner. It’s a provencale affair: soupines, ratatouille, polenta, dessert a l’aix, nouveau-red-not-Beaujolais and two glasses of Noix de Saint Jean (as it’s autumn). Soundtrack: drunken birthday party and upset French rugby supporters. Back at hotel, rouse reception to let me in. They do so, languidly. I say goodbye to my fifth bed in fewer weeks, step over a floral delivery for the room next door, and it’s farewell to Paris at the Gare de Lyon before sunrise.
I love this time of year. Autumn is the best season by far. I have a personal interest, mine and my sister’s birthdays fall here. So, it is the start of my own new year (though I would also put in a vote for March 25, but that’s another post right there). I am a child of the northern hemisphere where this is the start of the academic year and a time I associate with new beginnings. Why celebrate on January 1, in the middle of winter when it’s still dark and cold and there’s nothing new except the number? It’s an abacus new year, is what that is.
So, when does autumn officially start? August 24 is when. That’s my new year’s day. In the following week fall the birthdays of three people I love dearly, a real cause for celebration. By September 1, I’m in full free Fall mode. This year, here on that date, the weather shifted to make way for the new season. The wind, blowing so strong that last week of August, dropped to a cool breeze. The sea came down off its high horse, the haze of humidity cleared and the sun pierced the view. Suddenly, colours are more intense, light is brighter and vistas are sharper. The sun and the sea are closer now; the one has warmed the other’s heart and we move effortlessly from land to water and back.
From my bedroom, I can now see the coast of Turkey in clear detail over a newly-ironed Aegean. Even at night, the lights twinkling in that village opposite, outside Europe, appear to be only one or two streets down from the windmills. In the evening, as the sun sets over the yard and darkness falls, it’s still a pleasure to sit outside in the yard with my glass of Akakies. But now I entertain the idea of a jacket when that cool breeze blows smoothly through the bougainvillea. Night time is a joy – no more need for the fan or the ritual cold shower before bed – it’s now the right temperature to sleep under a sheet with the windows wide open.
From long before, this season brings back memories of blackberrying, rambling through hedgerows and scrumping apples. It recalls the smell and taste of my grandmother’s bramble jelly and my mother’s apple pie (still, and always, the best-ever-in-the-history-of-the-world-no-debate-full-stop). It reminds me of Hallowe’en before it was hijacked by Hallmark and Bonfire Night before home fireworks were frowned on by Health and Safety Committees. The crispness of leaves as we kicked our way to school and home again, the crunching of home-made toffee apples, the starched-stiffness of new school uniforms; all this I remember with fondness. As autumn passed on, and my sister’s birthday came and went, there was the surreptitious countdown to Christmas, yet December 25 still seemed an age away…
Autumn, always a joy.