Not to be outdone by our trendy neighbors to the north, Languedoc Roussillon has its own fearsome wind, La Tramontane and it shares many characteristics with its more famous Provencal cousin, Le Mistral.
Both occur in valleys when polar air sweeps down from the north: the Tramontane gains its strength between the Pyrenees and the southern end of the Massif Central, the Mistral blows between the eastern end of the Massif Central and the western side of the Alps.
Both are described as cold, dry and violent and when the winds persist they are said to affect the brain as well as the climate. Stay away from the hunting grounds.
Literary references abound: the Mistral of course, shares its name with the great Provencal poet, Frederic Mistral and shows up often in the literature of the region from Marcel Pagnol to Peter Mayle. The Tramontane appears in Victor Hugo’s poem, Gastibelza:
“Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne
Me rendra fou”
The poem ends with that last line in the past tense (m’a rendu fou), it has made him crazy. In 1954, Georges Brassens turned the poem into the lyrics of a popular song with the same title.
The wind is usually dry, but when it comes with a small meteorological disturbance over the Mediterranean, rain rides along with it. Friday night they arrived together for the first time since I’ve been here, bad timing. I was already feeling a little sorry for myself, having been laid up for the past few days with the annual Christmas cold. This is not your ordinary cold. It always arrives around this time of year accompanied by bouts of self pity alternating with a feeling of exclusion, fueled by fits of Jewishness, unhappy memories and extreme antipathy toward social gatherings of any kind. In other words, time to listen to Leonard Cohen.
And now the wind and rain are battering the windows and rattling the panes and I know I have to close the shutters, something I hate to do. I mean I’m already sick and feeling lonely and now I have to seal out the rest of the world. I’m not usually claustrophobic, but this was a special confluence of circumstances. Closing the shutters could be fine with a warm fire in the fireplace, or a warm woman in your bed, or maybe even a fine Armagnac in a warm snifter. Far be it from me to hope for all three. But I was shut out, left with tea, aspirin and a movie from iTunes. The movie was good: Sarah’s Key with the always-wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas but when it was over the shutters were still closed. Sleep was the only remedy but hard to come by, it was too dark. I read about half of a Magdalen Nabb mystery, then fell asleep. For about an hour. Read a little more, turned off the light. This pattern continued through the night until I finally dragged myself out of bed around 9:00 and started opening the shutters. It was still windy, but not nearly as strong as last night. There was a light shower, but brighter skies to the east. I went up to the terrace for a broader view and found a better day.