The Winds of the Pyrenees Orientales: Background information when reading Rat

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A Novel

by Fernanda Eberstadt

Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt X
Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Mar 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Beyond the Book:
The Winds of the Pyrenees Orientales

Print Review

"The Pyrenees-Orientales is the Command Center of winds. Here they all congregate, quarrel, barter and rule. There are said to be 119 different winds in the Pyrenees-Orientales. (If you could sell wind we'd be rich, people used to say in the days before the foothills got sown with rows of gigantic new turbines, without bringing a marked improvement to anybody's fortunes."

p.27 of Rat.

Here are five of those winds:

The Tramontane:  Dry, cold and often violent, carrying air from polar regions. In summer it brings clear blue skies and relief from the heat.  In winter it just brings cold air. If the weather over the Mediterranean Sea is perturbed the Tramontane can cause heavy rain: Quan plou de tramuntana, plou de gana - When the Tramontane rains, it really rains.

The Narbonnaise: A north wind resembling the tramontana. If associated with an influx of arctic air, it may be very stormy with heavy falls of rain or snow. It is especially violent in the region of Perpignan where it blows in a succession of squalls for several days. Cold in winter, hot in summer, always dry, it is followed by good weather.

The Marin: A warm marine wind from the Mediterranean Sea. It blows from the south-east bringing banks of low humid cloud.   Sea mist can be dense on the coastal plain. The wind causes heavy rain in coastal areas in winter. In summer the clouds tend to dissipate, but they can hang around for days smelling distinctly of salt.  The wind can be strong, even violent, bringing the heavy rain well inland.

Sirocco: A south wind.  It brings hot dry air from Africa - which can be uncomfortable in a particularly hot summer. This wind blows only rarely, and then only for a few hours. If you find everything for miles around covered by a fine film of sand, you can be confident that the Sirocco has brought it from the Sahara Desert. It may last for between half a day to many days. Many people attribute health problems to the Sirocco. The dust carried by it can damage mechanical devices and invade buildings. Winds with speeds of almost 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph/55 knots - hurricane force) are most common during the autumn and the spring. They reach peaks in March and in November.

Autan: Some days before it blows, a calmness descends, characterized by crystal clear air.  During this period the Pyrenees may be seen from 150 kilometres away.  As farmers say when this happens - "the Autan wants to blow". The noise of this hot dry wind causes insomnia.  It is sometimes known as the Vent des Fous (the wind of the mad) as it can blow for up to nine days on end, allegedly driving people mad. It is also known as the devil's wind and the wind of death.

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the March 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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