Wednesday, 23 July 2008
A Week in Provence
We've been on holiday in Provence. It was very relaxing and our hosts, friends of the Frenchman, couldn't have been more hospitable. But it was far from peaceful. I'm used to city noise; the hooting and honking and wailing sirens (often police cars filled with hungry looking I'm-late-for-lunch types) and the general hulabaloo of Paris, but I'd forgotten how noisy it is in the countryside.
Around 5am it started; magpies squabbling outside our bedroom window making a bizarre and persistent strangulated noise. I don't know what they were fighting over, and neither did our hosts who have to live with the avian alarm call, but it was the same fractious dispute every morning. Then to breakfast and a briefest moment of quiet before the sun hit the top of the pink laurel bush and the male cicadas began their rasping mating call. What a racket. Talk about making a song and dance about a bit of nookie, but then I suppose they do have short and otherwise uneventful lives. I always thought they rubbed their wings or legs together but apparently they make the noise by flexing the muscles on their underbelly. They can hit over 100 decibels which is one hell of a noise to make while working out the abdominals. Our hosts said the cicadas themselves are deaf but this may be something of a myth. Apparently a French researcher made the pivotal discovery that female cicadas may indeed turn a deaf ear but only to the sound of cannons being blasted at them. Not exactly on a par with Charles Darwin but fun to try, I imagine. If you haven't a cannon handy you can shut them up apparently by staring them out. Since I have a horror of insects I was not about to get up close and personal with one let alone several thousand. The cicadas kept it up until sundown and l'heure d'aperitif - in this case a Ricard and water - somewhere approaching 9pm. Provençales are very fond of their cicadas, known locally as cigales, and call it the Cigale's Song even though it's possibly the least musical thing I have ever heard and even less harmonious than French pop music, which let's face it is saying something. It obviously presses buttons for the insects given their astonishing rate of procreation, though at those noise levels it's no wonder they have hearing problems.
Our hostess has a soft spot for the cicadas and tried, in vain, to persuade me they were "rather beautiful". In the eye of the beholder, I thought. God knows I've spent enough time in enough grim places with enough of their bug cousins to have got used to them by now, but I can honestly say I've never met an insect I'd want to take home to meet the parents.