Have We Heard The Last of The Four Seasons in France?

Speaking on France's most intellectual public radio station, France Culture, to mark the 300th anniversary of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, writer Aurélien Bellanger meditates on the possible end of the seasons in France and the link to climate change.

300 years after the first performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, during this time of global heating, the Italian composer’s concerto feels as though it might be cut in half, for lack of seasons. 

Article source: Aurélien Bellanger, "Le réchauffement climatique ou le triomphe de la mi-saison". France Culture (La Conclusion) 09/03/2020.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), France is located in the planet’s temperate zone. This basic categorisation is a throwback to a simpler time — the weather-lore of former generations: the dates of the grape harvest and the rain gauges consulted every morning by our misty-eyed ancestors.

This innocent planet we inhabit resembles a big wooden ball that keeps getting smoother the closer you get to the equator — the Sahara and Australia are like pieces of emery paper; the rainforest is like the first great sweep of the sander. Here in France we are right at the top of the ball, clinging onto Scandinavia as if it were a trapeze, desperately trying to bend our knees to stay within the blind spot at the crook of the articulated arm that supports the sun’s great milling machine. Only the Mediterranean coast and Corsica remain exposed. However, most of the French territory still avoids being put through the mill — it is covered with splinters of vegetation and rings of water that clasp the sky’s outstretched hand.

Between the two main acts of the astronomical year — winter and summer — the deep grooves created by the equinoxes and solstices introduce the breezy interludes of spring and autumn which surprise and soften the Earth’s orbit. 

Instead of poring over Tycho Brahe’s never-ending charts to theorise his discovery of elliptical orbits, maybe Kepler could simply have paid more attention to the rhythm of the seasons in European countries, that peculiar kind of distortion which makes the seasons bulge beyond the confines of the Earth, just like chestnuts cracking open. Kepler would have understood that everything can not be tied up in a neat little circle, that time does not always flow by at the same speed and that it slackens during the intermediate seasons of autumn and spring.

Nothing is more moving than those winter days that return to haunt the spring: the Ice Saints of May and hailstorms or sleet in March, encapsulating the vanished winter as perfectly as any snowball.

Nothing compares to the beauty of an Indian summer snatched away from the autumn, or those November days when blankets on terraces begin to sizzle like gas heaters.

At times like these you can tell that the Earth’s movement is not completely regular, that it has its own languors – that moment when a stone thrown up towards the sky slows at the top of its parabola.

Ultimately, this is what those chilly spring days and and warm, cosy days of autumn are all about – brief moments of weightlessness and inertia, a slight chink opening up between the hemispheres.

Yet, it is clear from all the mild winters we’ve been having, and the habitual heatwaves of the summer, that this pleasant quadripartition of the year has broken down. The fruit is starting to rot in the bowl .

Seen from here, the Earth does not seem to be moving towards the two distinct seasons of the tropics, but towards something infinitely more frustrating.

Seen from the perspective of a former temperate country, it barely seems possible to talk of global warming. It’s not that French people are climate sceptics, it’s more that the French weather is in denial – it seems to be playing completely out of time.

The muddy River Seine beneath our windows is almost ready to burst its banks – once again, like every year, we are living in dread of that once-in-a-century flood.

What we are currently witnessing is not global warming, but a terminal rallentando of the seasons. Should only two of them remain, it won’t be summer and winter, but rather spring and autumn – or just one season of endless rain.

Seen from a former temperate country, global warming looks like the triumph of the intermediate seasons.

So when I see a humongous Will Smith in a Moncler puffer jacket on a billboard in Place de l’Opéra, I feel sorry for the Italian puffer giant.

It wasn’t the moraines of France’s largest remaining glacier, the Mer de Glace that made me realise the full extent of the ongoing climate crisis, but the sight of a bizarrely overdressed American movie star.

I have always felt far too sorry for capitalism. I wish Total had already completed its industrial transition and Renault had switched to 100% electric vehicles.

Oh how I would have loved to wrap my arms around that Rimowa suitcase by Dior, attached to its marvelous little helicopter, from which you could just see yourself leaping straight onto the summit of a black diamond ski run.

Alas, the snow has all but disappeared across this sodden continent, and hovering above the Alpine resort of Luchon, in what appeared to be a moving tribute to Pierre Rabhi’s Legend of the Hummingbird, a brave little helicopter was recently prevented from delivering snow in an effort to save the ski season.

But the seasons are doomed, the summer is rotten and the life is draining from the soil.


Translated by Barbara Lepeltier, Eugénie Dufeu and Léa Glorieux.

Editing by Sam Trainor.

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