EVERYTHING CHANGES

oznorYes… 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) oznoropened 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 sdrand 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 cofthat 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.

cofAs 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 davnotebooks 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.

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AND THE SKY DID FALL… ON SALIES DE BEARN

870x489_bearn1Since a picture is worth 1000 words, here is my little French town this morning. This is the street leading to Rose’s Café where I have coffee every morning with my friends. It is obvious we won’t be having coffee this morning or perhaps many a morning to come.

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This is the center of town, La Place du Bayaa; the small semi-circle of plants in the foreground surrounds a fountain which is now under water. Tomorrow this plaza would be full of vendors with our Thursday market; there will be no one tomorrow.a-salies 2

Another view of the Place du Bayaa: the Bakery where I sometimes buy croissants, next to it the real estate agency owned by my friend Loic who rented me the apartment where I live. To the left is the Eyeglass store, completely under water.sdr

This is the road I traverse daily leading to the pharmacy and the small supermarket. It is also where Salomé’s beauty parlor is, something she will not be sad to hear as she has an appointment for a shampoo and coif on Friday which I doubt will come to pass.

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At some point I considered buying this house which is still for sale. Today I am thankful for my second story apartment.

 

 

 

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The parking lot I walk through daily with Salomé and now Loli; Salomé wonders why we are not going to the coffee shop today for a cookie.oznor

The river, having loosed itself from the shackles of its banks, completely ravishes parts of the town rushing through and carrying with it cars and anything else not tied down.la-rue-elysee-coustere-ce-mercredi-matin 2

The Saleys River has left its bed and gone on a rampage through the village.

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Compare the photo above (from internet today) to the one below taken by me on a brighter day. Notice that the buildings are the same although the angle of the photo is different. Observe that the bridge that appears below has completely disappeared in the photo above and there certainly won’t be anybody eating on the veranda of the restaurant with the red shutters.20140815_152631Now compare the following two photos, the first taken by me at a better moment, the other from internet today.20140406_145414le-saleys-mardi-soir

And last, the main street going through Salies

 

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I have now been able to walk through town; the water has receded and left a brownish yellow mud all over everything. There are large water trucks washing the streets as best they can. People drag mud stained objects from their stores and restaurants, their offices or homes and place them in piles beside the doors. Someone is on the phone with the insurance company. Most places have had more than four feet of water and mud in their places and everything is ruined; it will take weeks to clean it all out. I do not want to take pictures; I feel it would be rude.

The owner of the Grignotine where I often eat gives me a kiss on the cheek; I ask if there was much damage. She shakes her head and grimaces, her eyes are sad. The owner of the Café I go to every afternoon, the one that has the most delicious icecream, is hauling stuff covered with mud out into the street; her café offers a book-Exchange service for free, and they are now all books that no one will ever read again. I peer into the darkness in her café. The degree of destruction is unbelieveable: nothing is left untouched except the ceiling.

On my way home, I head to my friend Isabelle’s house. I have crossed my fingers that she managed to stop up the door well enough to avoid the water from coming in because she has just spent the better of two weeks doing a thorough cleaning of her house and she was so proud a couple of days ago when she announced that all was done. No. She has not escaped. Her son and his girlfriend are slushing out the mud and the contents of her kitchen -all brown and filthy- are standing by her door in the street. I don’t stay long: I have the dogs and can’t help.

Slowly I head home, the weight of the disaster weighing on my shoulders. I feel sad and tired, very tired.