Feeling the chill in Provence

The south of France, Provence; synonymous with steaming hot summers, mild winters, endless sunshine. But some locals can recall the days when the Géant de Provence - the Mont Ventoux - was covered with deep snow throughout the winter season, and the ski resorts on its north- and south-facing slopes were constantly busy and profitable enterprises, despite their proximity to the Mediterranean, from late December through to early April. Such a perspective is only open to those of advancing years – to the younger generations, things often seem to be today as they must always have been…

The viability of the Mont Serein resort has increasingly been called into question during the 90s and early part of the new millennium. Dubya and his friends in the oil industry may have constantly denied the reality of climate change, but those on the ground were witnessing a combination of decreasing precipitation and gradually increasing mean temperatures over the years - with the inevitable effect on relatively low altitude ski resorts in the southernmost foothills of the Alps.

Privileged to have a rare sight early last summer; the Mont Ventoux is one of extremely few habitats in the world where Orsini's Viper can be found. Apparently so rare that they are going for 3,000 euros on the black market these days. Greed - the stupidity that justifies destroying the habitat of other species and, ultimately, our own...

So does this year of bumper snowfall levels mean Dubya was right all along? Unfortunately not. The expert consensus is that, sadly, this is just an idiosyncratic hiccup in the trend... a warmer climate is on its way, but sometimes accompanied by harsher winters, erratic extremes of weather.

From the slopes of the Ventoux yesterday, the snow-capped peaks of the southern French Alps in the distance. Click for full size photos...

Uncertain times ahead then, on all fronts – climatic, economic, political. Following the relative stability of the last couple of decades of the 20th century where we took much for granted, the world faces growing threats; ecological, feeding a rapidly expanding population, a global financial and economic system that demonstrably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the political pressures and conflicts that inevitably follow, often as a direct consequence.

I’ve lived in several countries, the UK, France and Thailand, and for short stints in Spain, Belgium and Italy, for 50 plus years now. A large chunk away from the country of my birth. All increasingly wealthy and prosperous, at least for a growing section of the population. But does that prosperity equate to a sense of comfort and long-term security? Maybe once, less so today, in my case. Sure, we can’t do without it (money). But in all the places I’ve lived in or visited, those countries where I’ve found people to be generally satisfied with their lot haven’t been the richest ones. Far from it, in fact.

How about you? Is it just an age thing, increasing scepticism, a nagging feeling of uncertainty? Or is there something in the notion that maybe we’ve got our priorities at least slightly wrong in the West? Anyone else notice the increasing lack of respect for others, not just for strangers but for family too, in Anglo-Saxon cultures? ‘Kids today’, eh? Short-term selfish priorities overruling the longer-term, winning at all costs rather than competing?…


Is all this something that chronic travellers pick up on more easily, because of regular contact with people of different cultures?

Would be interested in your thoughts!

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7 comments:

Hoo Don said...

Places where people are happiest with their lot, I think you know my answer. Thai villagers, who appear to have very little in terms of money yet they are pleased to offer you food and what little comfort their habitats hold. Time is of little importance to them, get up when it's light, sleep when it's dark, fill in the gap between.
Wealth and prosperity does exist in Thailand, mainly Bangkok. Last years demonstrations by the rich Bangkok elite showed a western style win at all costs, feed the World but get fat on the profits approach. The happiness I saw in Thailand last month didn't come from the mega rich Chinese hotel owner, who constantly paced up and down the lobby wondering where all the tourists were. The happiness I saw came from poor villagers who shared food and drink, sang songs and who for once went to sleep way after dark. If I am ever down to my last brass tack, I know which streets I want to walk. Money talks, happiness walks.

The FrogBlogger said...

Nice thoughts, couldn't agree more, but for us without the money we would be walking straight back to where we hail from... and for those with tentative roots in Thailand it would be a long walk!

Off topic, I looked at doing the reverse trip by car once! Would be an adventure, but given the conflicts in certain countries along the way, I think Gulf Air was a sensible compromise...

On the respect thing, Thailand definitely one of those countries where kids still seem to have oodles of it for their parents, family, teachers, community... and it seems to happen without being shouted at.

Susan said...

Hi Peter – be careful not to develop GOGS (Grumpy Old Git Syndrome) :D You are at a dangerous age.

There does seem to be a lot of talk about respect on the street, but not much understanding that it needs to be reciprocal to be a truly positive thing.

The FrogBlogger said...

Thanks for reminding me Susan :D

I think it's a feeling that's been made worse by spending time in SE Asia - the concept that it is an honour to repay your parents for looking after you would be unthinkable, alien, in most parts of Europe/Oz/US these days...

Susan said...

Forgot to say – I'm green with envy at your lovely snake.

The FrogBlogger said...

A professor from Le Mans University was taking us around, showing us where the snakes could be found in a very tiny area on the north-facing slopes of the Ventoux. I think it was the one in the photo that was pregnant...

Sadly a 'dévalcart' (freewheel go-cart) track has been laid in recent years, encroaching on part of the snakes' habitat.

Susan said...

Yes, I thought the silvery grey colour might indicate she was female. A male would be a more rich brown I think. She certainly is quite strongly marked for a female though.