Travel, temperature and twang.
As Europe slowly returns to some semblance of ‘normal’ I found myself on the move recently, travelling up to Germany to cover an international conference and interview some of the participants. Knowing that all Covid restrictions have now, as far as I’m aware, been lifted in the UK, I was interested to see the reality of the situation here in France and in my destination of Germany. All three countries have had their problems with the Coronavirus and all three countries have responded in slightly different ways, so it was interesting, to me, to see how they’ve handled the transition away from restrictions.
Here in France, we had been required to wear masks on public transport, but this requirement was lifted the day I travelled (Monday 16th May); a timely change since the first leg of my journey was by train, travelling down from our local town in the Perigord Vert to the city of Bordeaux, where I would board my flight to Frankfurt and beyond. In fact, there are almost no restrictions remaining in France now, the one exception is that you must still wear a mask to visit any medical facility. Beyond that, nothing is required. This is in contrast to Germany, where there are a number of restrictions still in place. You do need proof of vaccination or a certificate for a negative Covid test within 48 hours of flying and this is for any destination throughout mainland Europe. Having said that, nobody ever asked to see my proof of vaccination. In fact, until I got onto my Lufthansa flight from Bordeaux to Frankfurt everything was pretty much as it had been the last time I flew, about three years ago now! The rules change once you step onto a German plane – Germany still requires that a mask be worn at all times on any form of transportation. It also has to be a medical-grade mask, with FFP2 being the main recommendation. They’re not the most comfortable of masks, particularly when the weather is hot and you have to wear them for long periods, but it’s a small price to pay really and does seem to reassure people. Interestingly you do still see a lot of mask-wearing on the streets in both France and Germany, though we’re starting to see less in France. The incidence rate is still quite high here and we’re seeing a seven day average of around 25,000 new cases but this is significantly lower than Germany, with a 38,000 seven day average. According to the latest stats I’ve seen the UK is now down to a seven day average of around 10,000. The situation is definitely improving and, hopefully, we’ll all be able to enjoy a proper summer for the first time in a long time.
Speaking of summer, it has definitely arrived here in rural France. We had temperatures in the low thirties centigrade last week and it really felt hot. Thankfully, we’ve now returned to more seasonally appropriate temperatures of 22C but we’ll be back in the high twenties next week and it’s looking like summer will be a warm one. Of course, that’s one of the things we came here for and the French countryside in the sunshine is hard to beat. A couple of weekends ago we went to the Floralies, in the beautiful village of Saint-Jean-de-Côle, which is about a 20 minute drive from us. It’s recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Given that just about every village you stumble across in this part of the country tends to take your breath away it’s hard to see what makes this one that much better than the others, but it is extremely pretty. The Floralies is a flower show and a really lovely event. The centre of the old village is cordoned off and given over to a variety of nurseries and traders selling a wide range of plants. What’s particularly nice is that, this being France, it’s edible plants that take front and centre for this event. The French aren’t averse to a little bit of prettiness around the garden, but the priority is growing food. We stocked up on strawberry plants, there’s a phenomenal range of varieties here, and bought some artichoke plants (because, one day, I’m going to learn how to cook them…) and a variety of herbs. We also bought a dragon made out of recycled oil drums but that’s a story for another time. This was a really enjoyable event, as these small, French festivals so often tend to be. There wasn’t a “lifestyle” stand in sight; nobody selling the latest gardening gloves or this season’s must-have water feature. It was all about the plants and perhaps having a small glass of something in the sunshine.
So to the music and what has been buzzing around my head in recent weeks. I’ve been up in Germany so I asked some German friends who I should be listening to. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s quite a lively Americana scene in Germany and I’m hearing an increasing number of good bands playing some really enjoyable music. First up is New Horses, a five-piece that seem to have started out in 2001, with the name Slow Horses and fronted by singer Gaby Schmidt, and they released six albums under that name, the last being in 2014. Some time in 2019 the band changed their name to New Horses and aquired a new singer, Sina, – they have a Facebook page and website and are clearly still a very active unit. They’re a cracking little band and, with interest growing in country and Americana throughout continental Europe, it would be nice to think they might make it down into South-West France sometime. They’ve certainly played festivals here under their old name.
My friends were amused to find that I hadn’t heard of the German country band, Texas Lightning. This Hamburg based band were Germany’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2006, with a song called ‘No, No, Never’’, which placed 14th in the contest, though it did go on to top the German charts as a single. My friends’ amusement came from the fact that I didn’t know about a German country band, that entered the Eurovision Song Contest, called Texas Lightning and fronted by a ukulele-playing Australian! Putting those factors together you can see why they would consider them memorable. The state of Texas made the band members honorary Texans back in that same year of 2006 and though their Eurovision song is a fairly forgettable, John Denver style country-pop song, they do a good job on the various classic country covers they feature in their set and Markus Schmidt offers up some nice twang on his telecaster.
Having listened to Texas Lightning I was reminded of another Texan weather connection and was moved to dig out my Texas Tornados albums. What a band that was! Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez all together in the same group; tex-mex twang at its twangiest! Though Freddie Fender and Doug Sahm are no longer wit us the band are listed as still active, with Doug Sahm’s son, Shawn, stepping in to become the new frontman alongside original members Flaco Jiminez and Augie Meyers.
Next month sees more elections here in France, when the country goes to the polls to select its Assembly members. There are two new parties who are expected to be the front runners in most departments. President Macron has taken what remains of his En Marche party and renamed it the Renaissance Party, entering into an electoral pact with the centre-right Horizons Party and the centrist MoDem Party. Similarly, a new left wing coalition grouping sees Jean-Luc Melenchon and his La France Insoumise allied with the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Greens. Should this left wing grouping win more seats than Macron’s own alliance he would be faced with appointing a new Prime Minister from the opposition parties, likely to be Melenchon himself, and an Assembly that will make it difficult for him to pass his new policies. It should be very interesting. À bientôt.