Suggested Song: All Day and All of the Night, The Kinks.
Suggested Drink: Negroni Sbagliato: Prosecco, Campari, Sweet Vermouth.

Ignorance is bliss.
– Thomas Gray

The summer shutter system. Bill’s apartment in Aix-en-Provence.

It’s August. Provence is baking, as per normal, and most likely where you are too, whether normal or not. There’s a daily regime here for the hottest weeks of summer. Open the home early to the cool dawn air. Run, market, yoga, and whatever other physical activities that demand that daily check mark get checked by mid-morning. Keep lunch copious but light. Salad, veggies, and fruits from the morning’s market crawl are perfect. Shudders close against the mid-day sun and remain so through the Saharan afternoon; windows open to any hint of circulation. Fans in every room. Nap, write, read through the day. Maybe there’s a good matinee at the dark, cool cinema. One can hope.

I sit at Le Forum with Canadian Dave and drink a cold pint of Kronenbourg. By 6 pm the sun has tempered from scorching to toasty.  Tables under the large terrace parasols are at a premium. The water-misting fans feel heavenly. Kat, another two beers please.

This is the bewitching hour; dusk on the urban Serengeti. Beasts old and young emerge restless to mingle and run. Children shout and play tag, their parents order Aperol spritzes and stay in view. Gazelles nimble past in flowing white linen. Teens huddle in clumps, the boys here, the girls there, subtle (but not too subtle) glances pass between.

August is not conducive to creative, high-throughput production of any sort, at least here in Provence. Our natural cooling system labors with the challenge, the mind struggles to focus, and anyhow why insist? We all need the reset, a hard reboot. Europeans understand this and vacation en masse. France runs at half tempo. Luckily, Le Forum will keep its taps on and parasols open.

Time to fill

With free time comes options. Access to the world is as easy as a lift of the laptop screen. The BBC, New York Times, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, San Francisco Chronicle, France24, and La Provence keep me on top of all developments, from global to local, essential to superfluous, by the minute. Online media produces an astounding, unrelenting volume of news coverage.

Henny-Penny, by J. Austin Miller

Competition for cyber readers, viewers, and listeners is hyper intense. Alarmism and fearmongering deliver the ears and eyeballs. Fox News is the undisputed master of this Henny-Penny shuffle in America and has the numbers to prove it: more viewers than its two closest competitors combined. This summer’s bombardment from the outlets is particularly dire. Wars, weather, disease, … this just in, the sky is falling!! (and cue foreboding music).

There is a choice: plugged-in anxiety, or blissful oblivion.

In the August heat I choose to be oblivious. You should consider it as well. Conscious ignorance pairs nicely with the summer downshift, and there is little merit in agitation; it will only make you hotter. On Le Forum’s terrace one can debate China’s Taiwan invasion plans, or instead make a claim for the best market stalls or Provence rosés. Something like this:

Bandol or Palette?

For rosé? Well, yeah both excellent, but frankly I’m loyal to the Coteaux d’Aix. I’m thinking that the local strawberries are just past their peak. Have you noticed?

Definitely, but the Cavaillon melons are in full sugar. I just follow the bees to find the best stalls. Speaking of which, the Saturday market at Place Richelme is exceptional this summer.

Yeah, I guess, but the marchands at Place des Prêcheurs remain mes préférés. And anyhow, Claudia, the girl with the stall offering the amazing legumes farcis, …  too cute. Now let me tell you about my new recipe for Italian bruschetta ….

Kat, 2 more beers please.

So which sounds more relaxing? Something like that, or a lengthy discourse on how to dodge Chinese space junk?

There are a few things you can control at the moment: where you shop, what you eat, with whom you share time. There are a lot of things over which you have absolutely no control this August. Here’s a short list:

  • An untethered Putin
  • An emboldened Xi
  • A politicized Supreme Court
  • Prices shooting up
  • The economy slowing down
  • A stock market in free fall
  • The US west in flames
  • The US east under water
  • The first wave of Monkeypox
  • The next wave of Covid
  • A falling Chinese rocket booster
  • The SF Giants (they are playing horribly)

This August I will focus on topics of interest within my minuscule domain of control. As for the relentlessly alarmist, 24/7 news dump I’ll choose obliviousness.

Filling time

Taking the no-news pledge for a slow summer month is easy enough. Filling the free time; that’s the pickle for the news-cycle obsessive. It’s a particularly vexing cornichon for me.

It helps to have a new project, something not on the standard calendar. I’ve chosen Italy and primed my enthusiasm with a jump across the border this week. It’s a seductive country in all manner of ways: the landscape, weather, architecture, food, people, and daily rhythms to name a few. All were on full display for 2 days in the seaside town of Ospedaletti, less than a 3-hour drive from my home in Aix (how lucky is that?).

A plate of fritto misto. Playa79, Ospedaletti, Italy

Freshly inspired, a new Italian recipe collection has been started (after the market crawl this morning I made a tomato bruschetta; simple and delicious, like the best Italian dishes). Any Italian films at the art house cinemas in Aix will get a viewing. And I’ll see what my friends at Book and Bar have in stock for authors. An Umberto Eco tome would soak up the spare hours (and days, and weeks…) nicely.

But perhaps the most fun will be a language course. Duolingo is free and fun and I’m on Lesson 3. When I tap out there I might ask Kat from Le Forum for a few lessons. She’s a native. August is looking better. I’m feeling clueless. How’s your summer winding down?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence