Wednesday, April 21, 2010

a look back at a (handwritten) journal from the first stay in France: Poitou-Charente 12/28-12/30/99

On 12/28, Tuesday, we found out from the BBC via our shortwave radio that this is "the worst storm in living memory" in France, with winds up to 200/km per hour, and up to 9 million people without power. We walked around our hamlet (6 houses and a bread oven) and then ventured out to the bigger roads... they were blocked by trees utterly uprooted. By French law, the owner of the tree is responsible for clearing the road, and there were many people who couldn't even begin to move their trees. So everyone began to pitch in with saws and axes and hauling... our kids had first to go and see a little newborn lamb, and then they pitched in and got serious about a large tree limb. We did all that we could without a chainsaw, and then our neighbor (and friend and landlord) said, "it's time for an apertif." We had a drink and then lunch, and a nap, and then went the long way around to search out candles. The third place we tried still had candles, so we bought some for us and our landlords, and got the few groceries we needed. We found a fax place and a "conjugaison" book for Jim's classes (see note above). Charley is teaching Kate to make biscuits and Jim to make turkey risotto. On 12/29, we took a longer drive, looking for more "bougies" (candles). We drove and drove. We bought two loaves of bread from a boulanger who bakes over a wood fire. In some places, we saw no signs of a storm, but in others, it was horrible. The winds created the same damage as a tornado: beautiful parks and riverbanks destroyed, whole crops of trees, intended to be harvested across a lifetime, gone overnight. Limoges was lively and bright, and we stopped in a brasserie (duck confit, sandwiches and a gisier/gizzard salad) and in a bookstore for French/English facing translation books. The journal entry below confirms that we only spent money on absolute essentials!

On 12/30 we woke up; still no lights. The fog was so heavy and the wind still so strong that as we drove to the bakery, we scared entire flocks of birds that had not seen us until the last minute. The lights came back on for us at 5:30 p.m. We heard the television news: places as far away as Anger and Saumur and Paris were still flooded... pigs and cows were drowned... other places in France were still out of power. Older people, isolated and alone, were growing depressed. People need to hear voices, to see people. We took a walk... we scared up some pheasants. Met a walking couple and learned a new phrase: Ne t'inquiete pas, il sera parfait. ((Don't worry, it will all be perfect). We read Rudyard Kipling aloud... at bedtime..."Stalky & Co." These are terrific stories about a schoolboy. [Reading aloud in France was one of our rituals, and calmed everyone down before we all slept].

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