It’s that special time of year again, when the long summer days come to an end and we start looking forward to cosy winter nights. In English we call it that “back to school” feeling, but the French have a much broader term: “la rentrée”, which literally means “the return” (have I ever mentioned how much I love French words?). This covers both the start of the new academic year (“la rentrée scholaire”) but also refers more broadly to the return to work after summer, because in France (as in much of Europe) many people take the whole of August off. It’s the return, after the interlude of summer, to the old routines.
Except it’s not just the old routines: some things have changed. Children have moved into new school years, or into entirely new schools. It’s a common time of year to change jobs. September is the biggest month of the year for fashion magazines, as the new season starts: Vogue was so huge this month that it wouldn’t fit through the letterbox, and I had to fetch it from the post office. And the primordial nesting instinct kicks in, too, as we start to prepare for winter. We clear out closets, put away summer clothes, get the garden ready for winter and generally get ready for shorter, colder days.
All of which makes this a time of year associated with transition. As at New Year, it’s a period when we’re particularly aware of what has changed since last year, and what has stayed the same. Some things are old and familiar; others are new and exciting. As an unabashed neophile, I love it. With so many other things in our lives changing in September, it’s an opportunity to try new things and generally experiment. In my house we’re finally replacing that tatty sofa bed, so we’re prepared for people who come to stay this winter. I’ve been a bit more adventurous than usual and bought some new makeup. And I’ve been trying new things with my photography.
In particular, I’ve picked up my Nikon DSLR, which has been a bit neglected lately. During the summer I left it at home when we went on holiday, choosing to take my Sony full-frame digital camera which I’ve done for several years now, which is much smaller and lighter, instead. But I’ve been doing a bit more food (and cocktail!) photography lately, and the Nikon’s size and weight don’t matter when I’m staying at home. I’ve also been trying new presets for processing my images, and as the days get darker I think it might finally be time for me to figure out how to use artificial lighting. If I am brave enough.
In short, rather than lament the passing of summer, I’m trying to look at the coming of winter as a time of change and opportunity. That was always how the start of a new school year felt, with a new classroom, new teachers, a new timetable and sometimes entirely new subjects. But you don’t have to be at school to feel that sense of new possibilities; even when you school days are behind you, you can still choose to be open to new things in other aspects of your life. Vive la rentrée!