Yes… disaster hits and everything changes. The flood has changed Salies. The hoarders have been forced to throw out all they have hoarded over the years, the car owner who was saving up to buy a new one but has put it off because the old one still worked, must now go and choose what make and color he/she wants. The coffee group that met at Rose’s Café where I went every morning has dispersed some going to the Casino and others to the La Pause Gourmand in town (the only two functioning of six cafés); my friend Isabel has stopped coming to coffee altogether. Three places to eat of the fifteen there were before are doing good business. People mill around the center of town and once a week the Mayor offers music and things to eat and drink around the Hotel de Ville. Some restaurant owners have been obliged to take that long needed vacation and don’t hope to see business-as-usual at least until September. Only one of the five bakeries has remained open. Of the six hairdressers only one is open and can’t handle the load. Unfortunately for Salomé her beauty salon (the Toutou.net) opened last week and she has had her summer coif. The banks are closed and for cash one has to go to the only supermarket open on the outskirts of town (my usual market around the corner shows no sign of opening soon) or to the next town. The one café open in town has gotten a temporary license to sell liquor because the two bars will be closed for another six months, so it has now turned into an all-service stop offering coffee, ice-cream, beer and wine, a daily menu consisting usually of a quiche-Lorraine or a Croc Monsieur and salad, the daily news (both newsstands are closed) and a place to leave and pick up your dry cleaning. It is where the book-club meets and where the English-French language exchange convenes twice a week. The two Bio shops –one fresh produce and the other dried goods- have been wiped out and who knows it they will reopen. The Tourist Office is closed as is the auditorium and the large gallery where Salies hangs its expositions during the various art festivals of the year.
The help that has poured in has been unbelievable (C-Discount, an Amazon-like internet store, donated an extraordinary amount of refrigerators, freezers, micro-wave ovens, washing-machines, and toaster-ovens, along with mattresses and chairs); people have given so much clothing that they have now stopped receiving donations. Those who were not affected dragged everything usable out of their storage rooms and offered it to the victims, and helping hands came from all over the region to join in with the cleaning, washing and gutting of the affected houses and shops. Most of the immediate work has been done now and people wait for insurance companies to come and settle, hoping they’ll get enough to replenish their losses and fearing that they will get next to nothing. Someone was told by her company that they would not replace any of the kitchen ware lost because it was insured against breakage but not against flooding. When she asked what she could do, they said that she should plug everything in and hope it stopped working in a few months and then the insurance would cover it. Absurd but true: ‘Fine print syndrome’. And after the insurance comes the wait for the overburdened plaster, paint and carpentry companies to show up at each person’s house or shop. The estimate for everything to be fixed is over a year.
As for myself, it is the second time in less than 12 months that the Universe has seen fit to plop the past in my lap. First it was my ex-husband’s letters and mementos which I wrote about some time ago. Now the flood has dredged up my journaling notebooks, jottings from all the years of my transition from my first life to my second: 1991-2010. They were in the storeroom in the basement, in a cardboard box, and there they would have stayed, abandoned and mostly forgotten had it not been that the storeroom flooded. A quarter of the notebooks were wet, so I pulled out the dry ones and contemplated throwing the whole smelly mess out. But as with the letters, I didn’t. I hung the wet notebooks on the contraption I use for drying clothes when I can’t hang them outside and daily went through the arduous chore of unsticking page after page so they could dry and be read. Through this salvaging the past has surfaced and now all the notebooks are in a dry market bag in my apartment. As with the letters, when I get back from my trip with my granddaughter I plan to re-read them and, as with the letters, I am sure they will inspire me to continue writing my life.