15 February 2012

Weather, elections, and prices

The big news in France remains the weather, because it has returned more or less to normal. There's still some snow in the east — in Alsace, for example, and the mountains near Switzerland — but that's normal over there. Our thaw has happened here in Saint-Aignan, and we had what felt almost like warm rain showers yesterday afternoon.

They are saying that the recent cold snap was the wintertime equivalent of the grande canicule — the great heat wave — of the summer of 2003. It was the polar opposite of that event — pardon the pun. In a comment, CHM mentioned the winter of 1956, which is famous in France as one of the coldest ever — many thousands of olive trees down south in Provence were killed by the freeze that year, for example.

There's not much snow left out in the back yard.
It's time to think about the 2012 vegetable garden.

The winter of 1985 was the last time it was as cold in France as it has been this month, according to reports. I wasn't living here in 1985, but the people who owned our house back then have told me that the bay laurel hedge around our yard froze completely and died back to ground level that winter. Temperatures went down below minus 20ºC, compared to the –10 to -12ºC we had a few days ago. Minus 20ºC is a few degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Tire tracks in the mud and the remains of the snow

Other news: rumors are that President Nicolas Sarkozy is going to declare his candidacy for re-election on the TF1 news tonight. One journalist described the build-up to his (expected) announcement as a case of faux suspense. (I won't even put those "French" words in italics.) The timing of Sarkozy's announcement fits a pattern; previous incumbent presidents have waited until late January, February, or even March to declare themselves candidates for re-election in May.

Presidential election campaigns have never dragged on and on for months and years the way they now do in the U.S. That's the trend here now, however. Last year the Socialists held a months-long primary campaign that was thrown for a loop by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair in New York and resulted in the nomination last fall of François Hollande.

Hollande, by the way is the former domestic partner of the 2007 Socialist candidate for president, Ségolène Royal. Royal and Hollande lived together for decades and have four children together. She got 48% of the vote against Sarkozy in the second round of presidential voting in 2007.

The view out the back door yesterday afternoon

The other big news is the price of gas/petrol and diesel fuel at the pump in France. The average price of diesel fuel (called gazole or gasoil) nationwide hit a new record of 1.41 euros per liter. That's the equivalent, at today's exchange rate, of $1.86 US per liter, or $7.05 per US gallon. About two-thirds of the cars in France have diesel engines. Nine years ago, when we arrived in Saint-Aignan, the price of diesel fuel was only about 85 eurocents per liter.

For gasoline (essence in French), the average price is about 1.65 euros per liter, or $8.25 per US gallon. That's premium; regular is slightly lower, of course. People interviewed on the news say that fuel for the car is becoming a luxury item. Prices in Paris are a lot higher than they are out in the country, and prices in the supermarket filling stations are lower than prices at name-brand service stations, especially the ones along the autoroutes, where tolls too increased significantly last month.

Luckily, our lifestyle doesn't involve much driving, and we almost never take the autoroutes, so we don't pay tolls. We fill the tank of the little Peugeot with diesel fuel about once a month. I feel sorry for people who have to commute long distances to work by car. They say fuel is even more expensive in Italy than in France.


  1. I'm going to read the post later (in a rush this morning!), but I have to comment on the new banner photo... great!! Love seeing your house from this perspective-- didn't really realize there was another house so close in that direction. Si pittoresque!

  2. Very nice new banner.

    Walt, a really hard freeze that killed the hedge back to its roots would give you a few lazy Septembers.
    Would it be worth it?

  3. What a charming photo as a header for your blog! I always enjoy your choices for that space, but this is especially wonderful. Happy day!

  4. "Faux suspense" -there's a lot of that in politics. I wish our elections were simpler. It will be interesting to see if Sarkozy will be successful this time. He reminds me of Bush somehow. He would not get my vote.

    Now weather gives us vrai suspens, non? I'm glad your laurel hedge recovered since it adds good flavor to our cooking.

  5. Callie en profite pour faire le tour de la maîtresse du jardin.
    She must loves the fact that she can sniff around now that the snow has melted and the temp is bearable.

  6. I remember 1985, the year we moved into our house. We moved in March, so the renovation work was underway in January and February. Several of the old radiators sprang leaks during the thaw and we had to replace them -- an un-budgeted item.

  7. So much going on and I wonder where it will all lead. Thanks for breaking down diesel and gas prices. I haven't quite mastered figuring between liters and gallons. Unbelievable how expensive it now is. I had been having second thoughts, but I'm again glad we don't have a car here in Sevilla.

  8. Mitch, sometimes I think how nice it would be to live in a city where we wouldn't need a car. As it is, we keep an old car and don't use it that much.

    Ellen, the winter of 1985 must have been brutal.

    Carolyn we like the hedge and the privacy it gives us. I'd hate to see it die back. But then I don't prune it!

    Thanks for the comment, Maggie.

  9. The Beav, there's some grass over there by the garden plots that Callie really likes to munch on. She knows what she likes and I'm sure she's glad it's not covered up by snow any more.

    Judy, that other house is the summer place for our friends who live most of the year in Blois.

  10. I, too, am surprised to see another home adjacent to you.

    When I was growing up, I hated to see the grass a larger percentage than the snow. Sledding and snow men were the oddity. We didn't get much snow then or now in Eugene. This winter has been bad for you and bad here for the ski areas.

    Mary in Oregon


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