As Jean de la Fontaine (and before him, Aesop) so rightly observed, some of us are cicadas, chirping away merrily without a care in the world; others are ants, ceaselessly scuttling and toiling for the good of all. When it comes to Europe, the division is clear: the ants, virtuous and dour, are in the north, where they endlessly churn out Mercedes, while the feckless cicadas laze about on the beach down south, piling up debts and paying no taxes. It’s very easy to know which part you’re in because in the north it’s always raining and in the south it’s always sunny. France, which straddles the divide, applies this rule quite consistently, having fixed the Loire as the demarcation line. Few people north of the Loire watch the weather forecast, as they know there’ll be a big black cloud above the spot where they live. In the south, people only watch it in order to gloat.
However, due to the occasional aberration, it has been known to rain in the south. This has to be lived with, unjustifiable as it is. Over and above the trauma, it can cause disorientation, since you’re no longer sure where you are – Antland or Cicadaland? Fortunately, there’s a rough method of knowing, whatever colour the sky is – the roofs.
You might well find a few ants who, hoping to brighten their existence, adopt a red roof, but the reverse is unlikely. On the whole, it’s slate in the north, tiles in the south. The roofs in Provence, you might think, need no looking after because cicadas, concerned only with singing all summer long, can’t fix a roof to save their life. Well, that may be true enough when the tiles are recent, but after a few decades, they start to crumble and crack. On the left is the roof on our garden shed, built (not by me, don’t worry) in 2012. On the right, the roof over our study, formerly a garage, built circa 1920.
‘Have you noticed,’ said Mrs. B. one day last summer, ‘those patches of damp on our ceiling?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I think they might be due to the garden on our roof.’
‘We’ve got a garden on our roof?’ Mrs. B., who keeps up to date with gardening trends, was impressed that we had a living roof. All the same, fearing for the plaster on our ceiling, we decided it ought to be removed. As luck would have it, our friend Bruce was visiting at the time, so after waiting for the roof to be in the shade, we climbed up and scraped the garden away. Then we replaced the tiles that were already broken, plus all the ones we broke ourselves when replacing the ones that were broken.
If you’re doing this, it’s wise to wear gloves, as I found out to my cost when a splintered tile dug itself into my finger. With great fortitude I stitched myself up, just like Matt Damon in The Martian, then donned a couple of Mrs. B’s gloves, which not only protected me but won me the Most Fashionable Roofer Award.
The tiles were the curved type, known as canal, which are very easy to place because they just slide under one another like playing cards. The technique was used in ancient China around 2000 BC, and the Romans adopted it throughout the Mediterranean, so Bruce and I were pleased to be carrying on the tradition. According to Mrs. B., in olden times the tiles were made on people’s thighs. This seemed plausible, since they look the right shape, tapering as they get towards the knee. After a little research, though, I discovered it’s a myth – in fact they were moulded round a block of wood called a gabarit. Which is only logical when you come to think about it: what if you ordered a batch of tiles and got a mix of George North and Cara Delevingne?
Having fixed the roof, Bruce and I retired to the garden (the one that’s where it should be), where we opened a beer and sat back listening to the cicadas. Which was all very enjoyable until I looked up and noticed that the entire house was circled by a column of ants.
This post (again in the nick of time) is part of Phoebe’s All About France link up.