The water had risen to the level of my deck when my friend and neighbor Laurent came by and said, “Well, now you’ve had it all!” He was referring to my season of more or less natural catastrophes, starting with finding myself in a charming but utterly uninsulated 300-year-old house whose stone walls turned into a frigo at the first sign of winter, which came in about October. Then there was the complicated death in November of my cat Hopey a little over five months after I lost Mesha. (One left, a knock wood incredibly resilient and buoyant minimum 18-year-old Siamese, Sonia, whose wailing at the cold seems to say, Are we back in Alaska (her birthplace)?) Soon after I lost Hopey the mice seemed to sense it and multiplied; Sonia, my once-champion mouser, seemed to be ‘en retrait’ (retired) as they’d run before her eyes without her batting a lid. I ultimately caught six, if you count the one who mysteriously found his own death in the toilet bowl. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I was without phone and Internet for my first two months here. The other problems — the flies besieging the house and infiltrating the stones by daytime, the slugs crawling under the door at night, the huge spiders coming out after midnight (and looking larger silhouetted against the stones) — I’ve long since forgotten.
But perhaps I’m misleading you on the context because to tell the truth, until it actually infiltrated the ground floor, rising to about 15 inches, as a city boy I found the Great Flood of 2008 very cool. I even jokingly cast my fishing line out the upstairs window for the farmer and his pal to see. They thought that was funny. i was less enthused about the swimming motions the farmer made in return. If the flood was sudden it was not unpredictable; they used to flood the plane (my house is the only house on the water side of the road, with about a hundred yards or meters separating me from the Veziere) every year. When the water gets too high higher up the road, they let out the damn, and voila moi qui se trouve dans le mud. But this actually hasn’t happened since the Great Flood of 2002, which starred — to judge by the number of times the story has been repeated the past two days — my landlords, who dismissed the suggestion by a representative of the mayor who came by that they check into a hotel and instead simply holed up on the second floor watching television. (Which, by the way, opened Monday’s weather report with the news that my department was on Orange alert.) (Bayrou is coming, Bayrou is coming!) This year only one alarmist townsperson came by with that suggestion. Bernard, the mason who does a lot of the work on the house, which he’s known all his life (used to play here when horses still inhabited the bathroom), said I didn’t even need to bother to turn the electricity off because the outlets are high up.
Monday evening, when the water was just starting to lap over the deck, and the brother of Bernard’s friend had invited me to his surprise ‘apero’ (apero in quotes because it ended up lasting until about three in the morning, about a half hour before Nicolas, the host, had to get up to go to work in Sarlat at the foie gras canning factory, and partly because Bernard wouldn’t leave until I’d finished the 4th whisky and coke they’d poured me without my cognizance), anyway I was debating Monday evening whether to put Sonia up in the attic or simply barrage the second floor stairs so she couldn’t descend. She ended up sleeping through it, it being the water which, by the time Bernard and Stephan dropped me off, had risen to the foot+ level, causing greatly hilarity on the part of B & S as they watched me slog to the front door.
Tuesday I decided to hoof it to the market in neighboring Le Bugue — if snow and icy roads hadn’t stopped me from going out to get a haircut in Anchorage 18 years ago, a little inundation wasn’t going to stop me from walking 12 K to the market. Fortunately, Laurent happened to be pulling his van out to go to work in St. Cyprien just as I was starting out, so he offered me a lift to Le Bugue. On the way back — I was loaded down but impatient to get back to the house to see if the water had risen to the level of the outlets and wondering whether I’d get electrocuted standing in the water, so I decided to walk back, hoping maybe I’d run into Laurent on his way home for lunch — after I’d walked about 5K, a British lady picked me up. “You aren’t the one who lives in the house with the water lapping at the door, are you?”