Corner anyone in France and ask them what the first thing is that comes to mind when they think of Normandy. Will they answer “The cream/butter/cheese/crepes/Calvados!”? Maybe. Will they answer “D-Day!” or “French liberation!” Uh…probably not. “Le Mont St. Michel”? I’d be shocked. No, the first word that typically comes to the lips of any self-respecting French person in association with Normandy is “rain”.
Of course, for the purpose of this website and its primary intended audience, all French person enunciations are translated into English. Glad to get that out in front here. OK, continuing…
Yes, Normandy is notorious for being one extremely rainy place, and not without good reason. I cannot offer any statistics (and it isn’t as if anyone reading my words here would really want to trudge through them, anyway), but after nearly 8 years of part-time residency in Pays d’Auge — Normandy’s finest area, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise — I can say with authority that anyone coming to the region unprepared to deal with the wet stuff has their head in the clouds.
Oh, don’t be afraid to laugh. Sure, that crack was a little on-the-nose, but that doesn’t mean it is undeserving of your smile. Really, is it wrong that so much of why I enjoy writing is the opportunities it presents for entertaining myself?
My Missus and I planned to head over to the regular Saturday farmer’s market in Lisieux, and no grey skies or drizzly misty rain or unseasonal May temps (for non-Normandy France places, anyway) was going to keep us from doing so. There were Orbecs to be had — reason enough to throw on a slicker — and other delectables as well. Fresh-pressed apple juice..cream so magical it should come with its own fairy tale..a tub of those remarkable slow-cooked potatoes with lardon that make me want to do handstands, somersaults, cartwheels, and other gymnastic acts I no longer have any hope of completing. We would not be daunted.
Arriving in Lisieux, My Missus headed to a parking lot in which we usually have success, and slipped our tiny rental car into the last visible spot, skirting just ahead of some noodnik who was just a little too interested in his phone at just the wrong moment. Survival of the fittest, baby. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that our rental was an itty-bitty Fiat Panda on this day, a “car” that wouldn’t survive collision with a good-sized rodent let alone any vehicle on the road.) So soon enough we were walking — singing? — in the rain, the market in our sights.
Overcast skies and dark clouds are lousy conditions under which to take photos (color photos, anyway), so at first I figured I wouldn’t be adding to my collection of market photos. Still, I had our Olympus TG-1 in tow (a “tough” camera, a possession of my father-in-law’s that My Missus came to when he passed on about a year ago) and megapixels are really cheap, so I resolved to snap, just to see where my eye fell on such a day. Tentative at first — no matter how alive and colorful a bunch of radishes seems, there would be better Saturdays for that kind of image — I shortly found myself firing at every marginally interesting umbrella that fell within view.
Only once before can I recall spending more than a minute-and-a-half considering umbrellas, that being back in the first semester of my first year of university (1983, nosy reader) when I wrote a one-page essay for an Introduction to Creative Writing class on the necessity of having one on a rainy night walking around midtown Manhattan (lest one fall victim to those in the hands of others). I have owned umbrellas, of course (though I don’t think I’ve actually ever paid for one), and I have never had a bone to pick with one (though I never think to grab one when leaving my dwelling on a rainy day), but other than that long-ago-lost five-paragraph throw-down I have never paid them much mind. Perhaps, then, this is why all of a sudden on a rainy Saturday Normandy morning I was finding umbrellas to be so devastatingly curious.
At first I just waited for the umbrellas to come my way, content with serendipity’s role. Before much time at all had passed, though, I was on the hunt, leaving My Missus to take care of our market needs.
“That one is boring so I won’t bother.” “That one must’ve come from some trade show or other.” “Wow! that is one big-ass umbrella!” “Strange the high percentage of mostly-broken umbrellas people seem content to continue putting to (hardly good) use.” “I wonder, is the fact that her umbrella matches her purse and shoes intended or a just happy accident of fate?” “Funny how I don’t know what My Missus’s umbrella looks like…I wonder if she is wondering where I am?”
The mind, once focused, can be a powerful, dangerous, slippery place, indeed, and there are puddles everywhere!