AN HONEST WOMAN

I’ll become an honest woman yet! Believe me, it isn’t easy but today I made a giant step.  Those of you following this blog with any kind of continuity probably already know that I am given to stealing… corn. That may sound strange. There are people who steal money, who steal their taxes, who steal jewelry, who steal children… people can steal anything, ideas are stolen, wallets and identities are stolen, dreams and art are stolen. Anything that is and has an owner is up for bids and anyone that wants it, is a potential thief. Some people enjoy stolen goods more than something they had paid for with hard earned cash: it’s the thing and the thrill all rolled into one. So I steal corn. The corn is there, it belongs to someone else, I enter the field and steal it. I have done this ever since I began coming to Salies in the summers and since I have been living here, I have continued.3

The reason I steal corn (every thief that prides him or her self on being an honest-to-goodness filcher will have a “reason” for doing what they do which in their mind justifies the pilferage) is because there is nowhere around here that sells it, at least not fresh corn, in spite of the fact that this is Corn Country, in capital letters. There are plenty of little cans and medium cans and big cans of sweet corn in the supermarket, but I don’t eat canned corn just as some people don’t pay their taxes and others don’t do an honest day’s work because there is plenty of money around for the picking.

Around here, all I have to do is walk out of my building to run into a corn field; I can’t drive a kilometer on the road without passing three or four, ninety nine percent of which are planted with fodder corn. Fodder corn is the worst kind of corn imaginable. However, I have found that if it is picked very, very early, cooked somewhat longer than its tasty cousin (sweet corn) and slathered with butter, it can pass for a meager excuse of good old american brand sweet corn like what granma used to buy at the corner stall in the market. That is how much I like corn!

So ever since I began coming to Salies, and more so since I have lived here, I have been stealing corn. I very quickly learned how to tell the tenderest ears without husking them, and would never take more than two or three at a time (I’m a proven liar, too, because I count 5 ears in the basket). I also learned howOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to know when a field would not yield any more edible ears. If you consider that I have been coming here since 2007 every summer and lived here since 2010, that adds up to quite a bounty of corn!

When I checked into internet to see what I could find about fields of sweet corn, I discovered that some people have turned this stealing corn into a business. In Bristol, Conn., for example, there was the following on the news last August 5th:  “A thief or thieves who knew what they were doing stole 20 row of corn right off the stalks at a Bristol farm over the weekend.”  It wasn`t me, scouts honor! Apart from the fact that I was nowhere near Bristol on that date because I was climbing up the Machu Picchu mountain in Peru, I doubt very much that I could have carried, hidden or consumed 20 rows of corn.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, two years ago I was driving to Navarrenx, which is about 35 minutes from Salies, for an appointment with my osteopath when I spotted a field of very green fresh-looking corn. It was the month of September and all the fields of corn were beige and dry with the cornsilk so black it looked as if it had been charbroiled already. The kernels 11themselves had lost any juice of which they could have once boasted, and wouldn’t have looked appetizing but to a cow or a pig. So a field of corn stalks that were upright, bright green and frankly inviting, was like a red flag. I quickly turned the car around (the field was on the other side of the highway) and pulled into an uneven dirt road that ran between a field of utterly dry, unappetizing corn and this miraculously tempting stuff. There were the ears, sticking right up as bright and perky as a puppy’s, and who was I to resist what I judged to be a late or perhaps second crop.  I picked a couple of ears and went on my way to the osteopath. That evening I husked the corn; the kernels were shiny and plump, much shinier and plumper than anything I had picked so far in Salies. I pinched one and tasted. It was sweet! Not really believing I had been that lucky, I pinched another one and popped it into my mouth: like honey!  I had discovered a field of sweet, tender corn! 2

That was the year of 2012 and all through the month of September, I ate magnificent corn. Then, one week when I drove back savoring on the way the corn I would have that night, I found the field harvested, there was nothing but shreds of corn stalks and a few crushed ears lying destitute on the earth. The bonanza was over; I accepted that I would have to wait another year, but I knew now where the field was and never again would I have to eat fodder corn no matter how young and tender.

In 2013, I anxiously awaited August when the young corn plants in MY field would begin to sprout, but nothing happened. Nothing but the disorderly ground cover was growing in the field. September rolled around and I had to admit that whoever was responsible for the field was not going to plant my good corn that year, so I went without.

Hope springs eternal, however, and this year I began watching again from July on. Towards the end of July, right before I went to Peru, I was rewarded with a sight that warmed my heart and made my mouth water: tiny sprouts of corn plants were beginning to break through the earth and open up to the sun. My corn!  I calculated: by the time I got back from my trip around mid August it would just be beginning to form substantial cobs, not ready for picking yet, but promising nonetheless.6

Sure enough, by September the corn was edible and I began harvesting my share. However, as I knew now that it was sweet corn, and I knew I would be wanting to take quite a bit, maybe even share with friends, I began thinking that I would like to find the owner and pay him or her and make a deal to be able to pick to my heart’s delight. I started watching for signs of someone tending the field. I wrote a note, placed it in an envelope and planned to leave it tied to a cornstalk, but the fact that I had put my phone number in it asking the owner to call me made me nervous, so I just carried it around in my car in case I ever found anyone. That way, at least, if I was caught stealing I could prove my intentions were good.

But September progressed and I ate corn at least twice a week and shared with friends, and no one showed up to beg permission from or pay for my harvest.

Today, October 1, it suddenly occurred to me after lunch, that the corn I had picked last week was very ripe and that the harvesting would probably happen soon and that I had better get my last batch in before this happened. As I drove, I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario: a field completely devastated and with not an ear of corn available, all gone -as I knew it probably did- to Green Giant for canning. Visions of an ear of corn dribbling butter passed through my frenzied mind as I 5drove as fast as possible, as if that would get me there in time.

Finally, I approached the field and my worst fears were semi-confirmed: they were in the process of harvesting the corn and had cut about half the field. I looked in dismay, but decided there was still corn for the picking. Turning around, I pulled into the usual dirt road. It was going to be difficult because the corn nearest the edges of the field had already been cut, so I would have to walk quite a distance to get to the stalks still standing. Plus anyone, from anywhere could see me (before it had been easy to hide amongst the tall corn stalks so that no one could see me while I hustled my load. As I 9pulled to a halt I observed at the far end of the field, quite distant from me, but visible, the harvesters and the trucks for loading the corn. It was obvious they would see me if I got out of the car and walked into the field, so I backed out onto the road again and went past the field looking for another access. There was one on the other side, not as wide or well formed but it was a path the car could get into; from there I would not be as easily seen. I was about to pull in and risk the walk across the field when suddenly I realized that here was my chance, the one I had waited for. Amongst the small group of men gathered at the foot of one of the loaded trucks, I would undoubtedly find the proprietor of the field and I could pay for my corn: I could become an honest woman. So, instead of pulling into the protected pathway, I drove back to the dirt road and turned in and drove all the way to the back of the field where the men were gathered. They were standing next to 10the truck loaded with corn and turned to watch as I approached. In my poor French, I asked who the owner was and the first man directed me to a nice looking young farmer who smiled as I picked my way over the clumps of plowed up field to where he was standing. By the time I got there I was laughing at myself: there I was, a 72 year old blond foreigner traipsing across a harvested field to tell this unknown man that I had been pinching his corn and would like to pay him for it. It was quite a laughable matter! But that is what I had come for and that is what I was determined to do.

First I asked if I could buy some of the corn that was on the truck, then I explained that I had found the field two years previously and had helped myself to some corn; that I was very disappointed the year before when there had been no corn (they were all smiling widely by then) and extremely happy that this year there had been some. When I finished speaking I couldn’t have felt sillier, but their eyes were kind and jolly. The owner proceeded to tell me that, today, the corn actually wasn’t his to sell anymore because it belonged to the taller gentleman at his side who was going to truck it to Green Giant (Geant Vert). I smiled and said that I had imagined as much as the corn was very good. Yes, he confirmed, it is special corn for Green Giant.

“But it is you I want to pay because it is your corn I have been pilfering all along.”  By this time, I felt we were good friends all of us, crazy about corn each for his own reason, and I was actually enjoying the meeting, their faces were so open and sweet, like the corn. The owner asked if I had a bag and I said “yes”, it was in the car. We began walking back together.

“Are you going to plant corn again next year” I questioned, as if now I too were part of this business of sweet corn and Green Giant and friendly farmers who were willing to listen to a crazy lady telling them she had been helping herself to their corn without blinking an eye or looking annoyed. He said he didn’t know, that he would decide around January or February.

“Oh” I said, taking out my cell phone; “Would you give me your name and phone number so I can call you and see if you are going to plant next year” (I didn’t add ‘so that I can come and steal some more’ because I didn’t think it would sound too good). He immediately gave me his name and phone number which I registered under the name of CORN.

When we got to his van, he pulled out a small plastic bag which I immediately qualified as too small. In my car, I had a sack I usually carry Salomé’s stuff in when she goes to her caretaker that I produced without a quiver (I wonder now if he thought20141001_183636 about how much corn I was going to pinch carrying a sack like that around). We went back to the truck, he climbed up and began filling the sack as I watched. Finally, when it looked as if I wouldn’t be able to carry it, I called out to stop. When he handed me the bag, I had been right: it weighed a ton! I put it down and asked how much I owed him for this corn and what I had snitched previously but, even before I asked, I knew deep down that he wasn’t going to let me pay, as turned out to be the case.

I said ‘thank you very much’, I said ‘I’ll call you in February’, I said ‘Thank you’ again. Mr. tall Green Giant picked up the heavy sack and said ‘I’ll take it to your car’. And I drove off with over 20 ears of corn.

So crime pays, but coming clean pays more, at least in corn, and today I am an honest woman who is calling all her friends to offer them corn on the cob, last batch for this year, honorably filched near Navarrenx with the help of its owners.

EPILOGUE

The next day, at our coffee gathering, I become very popular:  20141002_101125

AFTER THE BALL IS OVER….

After the ball was over, Bonnie took out her glass eye,
Put her false teeth in the water, hung up her wig to dry;
Placed her false arm on the table, laid her false leg on the chair;
After the party was over, Bonnie was only half there!

(Parody, that my father used to sing, of the original song)

It is Tuesday morning and Salies is still in the process of cleaning up the mess. “Mess” is what “fun” is called after the party is over.  The last empty plastic glasses, the last multicolored streamers, the last vestiges of confetti are being swept away by water;20140916_095848 the streets are being hosed down by water from the fire hydrants and it looks as if it had just rained. So much so, that Josée, one of the ladies I have coffee with every morning who will be 92 this November, took one step outside and rushed back upstairs to get her umbrella; it wasn’t until she got 10 yards from her house that she realized something was wrong because her neighbor was cracking up with laughter. It made for fun as we 20140916_100049sipped our morning brew.

The Fête du Sel had passed and would not be resurrected until next September.

The Fête wasn’t the only thing that had passed. A lonely bell in the church tolled solemnly announcing the demise of a local faithful. I listened to the measured dongs and remembered the verse of John Donne: Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.  Hemingway popped to mind as a borrower of the verse for his book, For Whom The Bell Tolls. Donne, Hemingway, the unknown person from Salies… one is inevitably led to contemplate the body’s mortality.

I remember when I was about 50 noticing that I had arrived at what I was given to call the “Rice Crispies” age, when everything started going ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’; some years later I left the cereal’s music behind (probably because things inside stopped moving) and arrived at a time defined by the somber thought that if you wake up in the morning and nothing hurts, you probably died in your sleep. So far, I’ve had no problem: if it isn’t my hip, or my back, or my neck, or my ankle, or a knee, or the ear that’s been crushed against the pillow too long, then it is usually the hangnail I pulled the evening before because I was too lazy to go for the manicure scissors.

I tend not to pay much attention to these things as the beating I have given this poor body would merit much worse, so I am generally grateful. This morning is no exception. I can feel my left ankle which means it will probably start hurting before I have arrived at the Café. A muscle in the front part of my upper right leg has been cramping up at night since I can’t remember when, probably due to a pinching in my lower spinal column, and is sore this morning. The good news is that I am alive and, so far, nothing is out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, I am led to think of mortality, my own to be more specific. More than fear, this awakens curiosity in me. When and how will it happen? Where will I be?  Will it be sudden or will I have time to say my goodbyes and distribute or destroy my possessions? Will I live to be 92 like Josée? Will I have all my marbles, or gradually lose them like my mother?20130523_103337-1

As with all else in life, these questions will only find their answer when it is too late to do anything about them. I have heard some people voice a desire to go quickly, without any forewarning. The wife of a friend of my mother died this way: she went in her sleep, an anorism, and never woke up. I am not sure that is what I would like. Immediately I think of my things, my papers, my books, diaries in which I have written things I would prefer no one read…private things that I would really like time to get rid of before exiting.

Last year my half brother who lives in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain had a stroke; he survived and apparently recovered all his faculties. This year he has just published his memoires, dictated to a good friend who authored them. Will I be that lucky? Will I live to see what I am going to do with all this information on the family that I have dragged up and put in my computer? And, what in the world will I do with it if I do live that long?

And there you go, in the interem of thinking all these thoughts I have arrived at the Café. My friend Josée is there, without her umbrella that she has returned home before coming, and my friend Eliane one, and Eliana two, and Isabelle, Bibi and Gegé 20121209_102422and Jean. I sit, releasing Salomé to make the rounds of the tables hoping for a croissant and receiving at least a caress. Bernadette brings a cup of steaming coffee and a glass of water that she places in front of me.

Jean is telling a joke. Usually I don’t understand jokes, but this one I get; it ties into my theme for the morning: mortality. It seems that three youths save the President of France, François Hollande, from being killed, so he tells them that each can have anything he wants. The first asks for an expensive car and Hollande immediately orders one for him; the second asks for a Kawasaki motorcycle and it is produced, but to Hollande’s surprise the last youth requests a State Funeral with all the trimimings. Hollande, puzzled, asks him why.  “Because when I tell my father that I saved Hollande’s life, he is going to kill me”. I laugh heartily, not only because I am conscious of how unpopular Hollande is politically, but also just from the joy of being able to understand a joke. I look around the table at my friends; they are all laughing and they are all very much alive. There is no doubt that NOW is much, much better than anywhere I can ever travel in my mind, and NOW is all there is anyway.

AND THE BELLS WENT WILD…

“To be empty, to surrender, to be lived by the Tao

—this isn’t some lofty goal that can only be attained

after years of spiritual practice. When you really go inside

yourself, for the love of truth and question even one stressful

concept, the mind becomes a little saner, a little more open.

And you begin to see that there is no objective world out there.

It’s all projected. You’ve been living in your STORY of the world.”

-Byron Katie

Eleven o’clock Saturday morning, September 14th, the bells in the ancient church in Salies de Bearn go wild with joy. For fifteen minutes, without stopping, they proclaim that the world is wonderful and festive and ready to enjoy the Fête du Sel, the Celebration of the Salt, in the town where salt has been a way of life for centuries. That means that the traditional Mass sung in Bearnaise (the ancient language spoken by the people of the Bearn which is like a mixture of French, Spanish and something totally unknown) has finished and the faithful will be exiting the church and joining the already festive crowds in the street.

According to the legend, some hunters were chasing a wounded boar but couldn’t find him. A few days later they returned and came across the dead boar who had fallen into a swamp and become encrusted in salt. Thus the source of the salt was discovered and began being exploited over 500 years ago, and the town of Salies grew up around the Source (which today is under the paved over Place de Bayaa).

20140914_124604     No sooner have the bells begun to chime, ringing out over the countryside, than youth bands -dressed in the traditional white with light blue trimmings- begin to play the Bearnaise march for the spectators that have been arriving in waves since nine a.m. this morning.

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We’re having a late summer. The sun is already beating down, scorching the skin; the sky is blue and nary a breeze rises to cool the perspiration that begins to form. It is going to be hot, but the Fête does not risk being rained out, which is something to say for a year that has been the wettest in the last half a century.

Since yesterday, the streets and alleyways that wind their way to the Place de Bayaa (the central plaza, where the original source of the salt was) are filled with artisans hawking their ware.

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Tables offering up spices and local pottery, knit goods and copper kitchenware, wooden scuptures and fancy wire jewelry, homemade bakery and typical berets, foie gras and fruit flavored nougat, barrels cut for use as side tables or flower potts and every shape and smell of cheese imaginable, household decorations and knives for everything from hunting to use in the kitchen line each and every passageway.

20140914_12425020140914_124421And people, people that have walked, or bussed, or biked or driven in to be part of the Fête, mill around stopping here and there, buying something or not, listening to the bands, drinking a morning beer, having a breakfast of raw oysters and  “frites” (the inevitable french fries) or simply standing on a corner, leaning against a wall, trying -as I am- to take it all in. 20140914_123734

I stand in a shower of sunlight, stopped in my tracks by the joy of the bells and the youthful cheer of the band. I can hardly breathe as gratitude wells up in my chest and bursts forth as tears that I don’t try to wipe away. How could life ever be sweeter? And I remember a phrase of Byron Katie: “Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does”. Oh yes, I can vouch for that.

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Salomé tugs at her leash, leaning in the direction she knows to be home. Poor thing; she doesn’t like parties of any kind and a “fête” is the worst kind from her small and vulnerable viewpoint. 026 So many feet to step on her, so much noise to wound her delicate canine ears… nothing could make it worth while, not even the variety of new doggie smells. 20140914_123104

So we walk home, wending our way between people and stalls, out of the noise, past the meters long tables in the Bayaa being set for 800 people and then some, past the Grignotine where I will lunch with a group of friends later in the day, up the narrow passageway that leads to the parking lot of the Place de Temple and down the avenue to our house.

20140914_123230Later, after Salomé has been fed and informed that I am leaving and she should take care of the house while I’m gone (upon hearing this she lowers her ears, turns around and struts off in a dignified but offended manner that tells me she is anything but pleased), I return to the merriment which has grown into a humongous crowd of people of all ages milling about the Bayaa (the main plaza) and adjacent streets to the brass and percussion instruments of half a dozen bands all playing at once in different corners.

20140914_125232A human circle has formed in the center around a group doing one of the traditional dances. I skirt around them and make my progress going back and forth looking for tiny spaces in which to advance between the bodies. 20140914_123411Most people have a beer or a glass of wine in their hand and are merrily talking away to someone else who also holds a drink.

20140914_123332In a while, I will meet up with a group of friends, half English, half French, for lunch. We will be thirteen, a number that includes two English couples, two French couples and two gay couples (one masculine and one feminine both duly married now that France passed the law allowing gay couples to marry) and me, the thirteenth which, in my book, is good luck (my parents married on the 13th, my husband was born on a 13th and so was my daughter).

20140914_125612Dozens of youngsters of both sexes, guided by master chefs, hurriedly prepare the meals of their guests in the makeshift outdoor kitchen. The serving of three courses to so many hundreds will go slowly, of that there is no doubt, but today no one is in a hurry. With the music and the wine and the food which will arrive -probably later than sooner- the voices will become louder and louder; one will have to shout to be heard. There will be singing, and even dancing on the chairs before the meal is done. Ohhh, it will be merry.

20140914_143327And when the last piece of cake has been eaten and the last glass of wine emptied and the final cup of coffee consumed people will begin to leave. Slowly the long tables will be emptied as the guests wander slowly out of the Bayaa and towards the surrounding streets. There, looking for shade from the afternoon sun, they’ll lean against a wall and chat while they wait for the parade of floats that circles through the streets of Salies showing off the imagination and creativity of the surrounding towns. Each float is pulled by a tractor from a farm nearby the town; each float has chosen a theme and been adorned (tractor and all) in accordance, with all its occupants dressed in the motive of the theme. This year there will be floats representing the Cannes Film Festival, a festive town wedding party and a night out in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. The children that accompany their parents on the float are in charge of showering everyone with confetti as the procession progresses down the street in front of the standing audience. 20140914_160829

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20140914_160633Absolutely everyone will come out to see the floats; they are considered the most important regional festivity of the year and a tremendous amount of planning and money goes into creating the best and most ingenious display.

The floats take, usually, three to four hours to go around the whole town, so it will be dusk before it is over. I will not stay for all because Salomé is home alone and I will be tired from having celebrated all day long.

It will have been a good day, of that I am sure, and by tomorrow the town will have been swept clean of everything but the confetti which will continue to give testimony that Salies once more celebrated the salt of its soul.

SALIES ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF SPRING

Salies this Sunday

Salies this Sunday

Ok, so it isn’t the first Sunday of spring, but it is here. The sky this morning was soooooo blue! Naturally, it has been washing itself clean for the last five months with industrial amounts of water, how could it not be blue? So, after having lunch I took a long walk about town just tuning into the beauty one blink after another and, of course, recording it in bright technicolor on my smart phone. 20140406_143817 When I got home, the desire to share these pictures made me think immediately of my (sniff, sniff) long forgotten blog. Oh, I have so abandoned this space… I would like to say “I’m sorry” and I would if it were true, but it isn’t. I have been up to my eyebrows in research, rising every morning at 6 a.m. in order to have at least 120 minutes of concentration time on the computer before the day’s occupations and duties begin to fragment the expanse of hours. 20140406_143737 Recently, however, when I am walking down the streets of Salies, or washing my dishes, or standing in the shower, or applying my makeup before leaving for coffee in the morning an idea for a blog-post will pop into my mind, the first sentence will begin writing itself as it always does, I will feel the longing to sit and once again take up the long silenced voice that some years ago found itself in this oh-so-kind-and-welcoming space… but immediately the mind will say “No! Concentrate on the task at hand, don’t take the time now to write other things; get on with the work undertaken or it will forever vanish and you shall have spent the time in vain…” and I will believe my thoughts, and lay aside the inspiration for a better moment (with which it will vanish like drawings in the sand), and promising myself there will be time later on, whenever later-on might be.
20140406_144015 And the truth is that, until this moment “later-on” had not come. But today it was impossible not to share the photos on this post so I came home, sat down at my computer and… REALIZED I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN HOW TO CHECK INTO MY BLOG AS THE AUTHOR!!! I could open the page as a visitor (and be asked if I would like to subscribe to my own blog) but I had no idea how to access this page where I might add another post, or a picture, or look at the info as to visitors or past posts or anything. I sat here, my head full of images and empty of code name, pass word or even the magic click that would get me to where I could check in. IT HAD BEEN THAT LONG!!!! 20140406_144149 Finally, I did the logical thing which was to open Explorer and write WordPress.com and “enter”. Of course, that was what I needed to have done in the first place and the friendly space to fill in “user name” and “password” opened up. That was a relief, but I still had to remember or guess the two items to type into the open spaces. It took three tries to finally find myself inside.20140406_151330 What a relief! I was home again! And… not surprisingly “home” had completely renewed itself and was totally different from the last time I checked in. Better I am finding, for it is easier to add photos which was the whole purpose of this post,20140406_145113 and I don’t have to figure out how to arrange them amongst the words of the text. It is like coming home again, like being in a so familiar and loved (and loving) space. I don’t want to go away for so long ever again… but then…20140406_151051 there is still so much to do on my new (well, no so new any more) project. But I will, I will… I want to promise myself not to stop this again, even though now that the sun has once more dained to shine on this beautiful corner of the earth I certainly shall want to go out more, and walk-abouts will be a requisite for the soul… but I shall write, even if only briefly, even if only to share some of the beauty that my eyes are so gifted with every day. I promise myself this I will do.
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WINTER AND SPRING

 Back there around the end of October (on the 29th) I wrote a blog entitled “The First Day of Winter”. It sure as hell felt like it back then. The following day, I received an e-mail from a very dear friend who lives in Acapulco (where it NEVER feels like winter) telling me that I was mistaken because winter didn’t begin until the 21st of December. Continue reading

MOULES-FRITES

The day began cloaked in grey; high, even clouds covered the sky from side to side without a break. In the beginning, before being fully awake, it was hard to distinguish through the window if the day was cloudy, or the sky was just waiting for the sun to turn it blue. But yes, that day it was clouded, just as had been predicted the day before. Continue reading

MY TOWN: SALIES

THE CLIMATE. Yesterday while I was working with a client over Skype a storm burst upon Salies, and burst is the word. Nothing announced it. Just suddenly there was this resounding slap of wind and rain against the side of the building and I turned to see literal sheets (cords, in French) of water blocking the view of even the closest trees. Continue reading