While here in Adelaide the leaves are starting to turn shades of crimson and gold and markets brim with autumn produce, in Paris, April heralds the first glimpse of spring. Parisians shake off the weight of their heavy coats, and on the street is a sense of celebration and renewal. The length of the cold, dark winter only heightens this feeling of rebirth and lightness, and makes springtime all the more precious. My friends in Paris tell me that this winter has been particularly long with lots of snow, the most since 1945.
Printemps (spring) may throw off the cloak of winter but it also brings sudden April showers and changeable weather. Blue skies can turn grey in a flash so it’s wise to pack an umbrella and a trench and if you are visiting at this time of the year. Plus it can still be quite chilly. It’s actually a good excuse to buy a trench when you arrive, when boutiques are stocked with the new spring and summer collection.
Locals come out to promenade in the city’s parks and gardens, the first bulbs push through the soil, and trees begin to blossom. Dogs scamper free without their coats and buckets of daffodils and pretty blooms sit on the footpaths outside florists. There is a feeling of freshness on the café terraces, waiters have a spring in their step, and romance hangs thick in the air. With that first taste of spring comes the promise of things to come and there is talk of May long weekends away in the countryside; plans are made for les grandes vacances, the long summer holidays ahead.
For me, it’s the new spring produce that most defines the season. Heavy winter dishes are rubbed off chalkboards and replaced with lighter spring menus, and the oyster season is over. Soon, locals will head to the open-air produce markets to buy vibrant green peas, snug in their jackets, along with the first bunches of slender green asparagus that are followed by fat white spears. Take a look at this fabulous entrée of ‘asperges fraîches, vinaigrette’ that I was served with crab salad last spring at Marius, an excellent fish restaurant deep in the 16th arrondissement. It’s not far from Roland Garros stadium, which hosts the French Open tennis tournament annually in May and June.
There’s nothing like biting into your first, sweet strawberry of the season, and then there are the new spring cheeses: Brebis sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrénées and beautiful fresh chèvres made from the milk of goats who have dined on wildflowers and the tender green pastures of early spring.
If only it was a tad warmer, you could almost have a picnic.