vendredi 19 septembre 2008

Stealing a moment

Le chantier aujourd'hui
The worksite today

It's a glorious day. After another été de merde, [trans: shitty summer (sorry, that's how we say it over here)], September is doing its best to make up for all the clouds and wind. Blues skies, cool mornings that warm with the sun, evenings coming sooner.

Georges and José finished removing the old stucco from the part of the house that we'll strip bare, and then they attacked the plaster of Paris around the window and door openings to be able to remove first the metal shutters for sanding, and then the windows, avant que le froid n'arrive [trans: before the cold comes (we're more polite about that)].

Audouin came home and asked how they were doing the shutters.

"By hand."

"You're kidding. That's a lot of work."

"They're not using a sander because the metal is thin, and they don't want to remove any of it. So, they work with sand paper for metal and wire brushes."

He looked at me. I wondered if a defense of stone age techniques were required, but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie if he didn't press the issue.

People do still work with their hands. It's the best way to feel your work.

The window decision redux

Yesterday, they started removing the windows to sand them. That has been difficult for us. It's not an easy decision to resuse the old windows and restore them. They are single-paned, naturally, so they are not especially energy-efficient, but many are fairly easy to restore, and they belong to the house. It isn't easy to throw them out; someone would likely recuperate them from a yard of old building materials and put them to use.

When I first walked the job with Joachim (remember him? I can't forget. Neither can my brother and Stephanie, I'm sure), he thought they were worth recovering, except three, which he thought should be rebuilt completely.

Then, he returned once the job started for real on September 1 (a Monday this year, coincidentally) and started wondering about changing them for thermally insulated new windows.

Merci, Joachim.

I brought it up with Audouin, who said, "Bon, oui, peut-être on devrait le faire. Oui. Bah, je ne sais pas. [trans: Well, yes, maybe we should do it. Yeah. Ah, I don't know."

We were absolutely undecided and indecisive.

Money. It's more expensive to replace the windows. Decision. We had made one. Why make another? Loan. We had negotiated and signed it. Were we really going to add to it, or compromise by putting in low-quality windows. Experience. Mac used to always put single-paned windows into our renovations of old houses, and we had storm windows made for the winter months. We have the metal shutters we close every evening. We also face south-south east and are protected from the northerly and westerly winds by the chalk cliff behind us, across the road. The walls are not insulated beyond the insulating qualities of 16" of brick and silica, plus several inches of real stucco on the exterior. We do not heat excessively, preferring sweaters and breathable (not stuffy hot) air.

The issue floated the time they removed the stucco.

Op là, on y va, we restore.


The windows

So, then, today was reassuring. All while they were sanding the shutters, Georges kept asking me about the windows.

"Madame de Floris, alors, c'est lesquelles qu'on remplace? [trans: Mrs. de Floris, so, which ones is it that we replace]" He must have asked three times every day, upping my confidence factor by zero percent.

"Um, that one, and the one above, and the one over the entry, in the end bedroom. I think." What did Joachim say? What did Joachim say?

Sanding away at the French doors from the living room (which is entry/kitchen/dining/living room all at once, unfortunately; the house is small by US standards), I stopped to peer at the result. Georges ran his hand over the smooth wood, with traces of the paint here and there and said, "It's good wood, in good shape."


"Is it oak?" He nodded.

"Je pense, oui."

That's Georges on the left, and José on the right.


Georges and José

Georges is around 34, and he and his wife have a little boy, Samuel, who is two years old. He loves that we both have Samuels. I do, too. His wife is Brazilian. I told him she probably speaks better Portuguese, then.

José is older. He is 58, and his wife lives in Portugal still. He only sees her a couple of times a year, when he can return for vacations. His village is Esposende, between Porto and Viana do Castelo, and his house is 1 kilometer from the ocean. Audouin says it's too cold to swim because the Atlantic there is even colder than in Brittany. You may think Maine. They have a daughter who is 28 and works in construction, on bridge construction crews, I think.

"She didn't really like school," he told me.

I am so lucky to have two really nice guys working on the house. I actually like having them around. I gave them the smaller room and the bathroom in the petite maison to use as they wish, the garden for lunch, and we chat a bit every day. Today, we got onto divorce, the universe and life after death before we all had to get back to work.


The state of life, young truants

We got onto divorce in part because there are some kids we have noticed aren't going to school, and who all have, in one way or another, unfortunate family circumstances. One hangs out and talks to them when they are near the sidewalk and the gate. I don't know him. Maybe he just actually spends his entire lunch period watching the workers.

Another I do know, and I like him. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his father here while his little sister and brother live with their mother, "I don't get along with my mother," he told me.

And then there is Brandon. I hear all sorts of things about his family. It's noisy at their trailer-turned-cabin down on a plot by the Seine, which they aren't supposed to be living on since the zoning regulations changed, but the village doesn't give them a hard time because it has decided that there is no point pressing the point. They get their electricity by arrangement with the old man who lives next door in a sort of cabin house of his own, to which he has right to full services since his presence there predates the newer regulations.

The mother has an eye that looks off somewhere to the side of you when you talk with her. They are what we refer to in impolite society as "trailer trash," but it's hard to look at a kid and think of him that way. What choice had he? It's already considered beauf [trans: no class] to give a child an Anglophone name. It's becoming more and more common in the lower classes.

"They hear the names on television," say the French who would never adopt such a practice.

Brandon is getting to be big for his age. The second boy is small for his, and repeated a year. He says he does well in math and won a prize this last school year.

These two boys play together, or frequent one another, despite a pretty big difference in age at 13 and maybe 9, along with Romouald's little brother and sister. The little brother is a munchkin. It's unreal.

The other day, I drove up with Sam as they were walking upu the street. Romouald and Brandon, quite the surprise there -- he must be learning from the other kids, -- stopped to kiss me hello (faire la bise, the kiss on each cheeck that younger children offer to adults with whom they are acquainted, and women friends and male and female friends off to one another; guys shake hands, unless it's their parents), and then headed on up the street.

"Be nice to them, would you Sam? They don't have it very easy. Your kindness could mean a lot."


"Sam, please."

The other day, Sam came up from parking his scooter down in the lower garden and said, "Mom, you know that kid you asked me to be nice to?" I nodded. I sort of knew; there were three. "Well, I just saw him running away from his mother, who was chasing him and yelling. He ran off across the field. I think she was drinking."

"Which kid, Sam."

"The blond one, the one you asked me to be nice to, Romouald." Romouald is not blond. Sam said he was. I asked if he had tried to help or to find him. He said he had gotten far by the time he had put his scooter away.

"Well, if it happens again, keep an eye out and see if you can help at all." I decided to talk to Romouald about it when I'd see him next.

That was the other evening, but he was riding his bike around so happily that I decided not to torment him with prying into his life.

Today, I drive up from the bank to see about the insurance papers for Sam's driving lessons and the grocery store, where I bought lot sof cleaning products to (yup, it's not happening yet), and I see Romouald walking up the street toward me.

"It's a holiday for you today?"

"I missed the bus."

"You missed the bus the other day." The nieghbor drove him to school. His father leaves at 6 AM and sets an alarm for his son, who misses it. Maybe he doesn't really want to go to school that much. "You know, you can come tell me, and I will drive you to school. Don't make it a habit, though. I can take you now."

"No," he thanked me, "I only have another hour of class."

"You can go for an hour. Your teachers will appreciate that you came at all."

"I finish at 1:30, it's almost 1:00." That was true. There wasn't much point anymore. I shook my head.

"How do you get home when you finish early? There's no bus, so you have to stay at school all afternoon?" He nodded. "Maybe you prefer not to go to school Friday since there is no one to take you home?" No, no, he said. I wondered and asked about the other day.

"Oh, no, that wasn't me. That was Brandon who ran away from his mother." He told me what happened.

"His mother brings him to the bus every morning and picks him up, but he didn't want to get in the car. He ran off, and she went after him," he hesitated, "He shouldn't have done that, but --"

"Does he talk to you? I mean, I know that there is a lot of yelling there, and maybe it isn't very nice for Brandon."

How much do you say to a kid? How much do you let go on before you ask, before you say something? We have heard that Brandon has an older half-sister by his mother, and that his father was accused of attouchments, or sexual abuse. It is said that she was removed from the home and put in a foster family in neighboring Bonnières. I have never asked for confirmation; I have never been uncivil or impolite with his mother when I have seen her at the bustop by our house, or met up with her while walking the dogs across the field towards their cabin. I have waited for confirmation or denial of the story to come in its own time, but it makes it hard to listen to the cries and shouts when you walk by with the dogs.

When it is quiet, which it mostly is, I walk by listening for sounds. When there are shouts, I stop a moment, and wonder.

"No," he said, but he looked at me to say, "It isn't very nice, though," and added aloud, "Brandon hasn't gone to school for two days."

"Ah, bon? And why not? Is he sick?" I knew he wasn't. Romouald would never have said anything were it only that.

"His father doesn't want him to go to school."

"Ah, bon? And how do you know that? Is that what Brandon says?"

"No, the neighbor," and he gestured with his chin over by house where their apartment is, next to the bar-restaurant, the one commerce in this village of 400. I wasn't delighted when the bar portion opened. It's nice for people who want to stop for a coffee, but it attracts the locals who have nothinng better to do than pass their time at the counter, tipping back demis, des petits blancs et Ricards. I see them, and when I have reason to be recognized -- often because of the dogs -- I hear the speech get thicker and thicker. Go home. You should go home.

"The neighbor told us," I nodded. "Can I help you carry your groceries?" He stooped to pick up some bags as I said it was ok, but he picked them up anyway, and then went back for the rest.

I offered him lunch, but he said he could eat at home.

"What will you eat?"

"Oh, I have some purée I can make. I did the shopping."

"How? Where? It's far." The fire-sale store up in Freneuse, next to Bonnières, where his school is. I asked how he got there.

"My grandmother took me, yesterday. She lives in Mantes." I asked again if he didn't want to stay for lunch, but he said no. I showed him the picture of Baccarat's brother, her and Rapide's sires, Baccarat as a puppy. When his eye stopped on the picture of Irish Coffee de Trévira, he beamed, "That's Rapide!"I laughed.

"No, that's her grand-sire!"

"He looks just like her," he said. It didn't even occur to either of us that Rapide is a Black and Irish Coffee a Chocolate Lab.

"Well," he looked at me and smiled, "I've got to go make my lunch."

"I'll call you in the morning to get you out of bed." He laughed. "Better yet, I'll come tap on the window and make sure you're up for the bus. Go to school." Of course tomorrow is Saturday, and not everyone has school Saturday. Sam does. The Lycées do, but not the middle schools, and since this year, the primary schools no longer do.

He headed out the gate. A car stopped, and a hand reached out to give him a high five. It was the nearly twenty-year-old school drop-out of the alcoholic family up the street. His younger brother repeated a grade twice, failed a third time, and drifted out of school. The mayor uses him to help drive the tractors in the field below. Hopefully to give him something to do and keep him out of trouble. How will Romouald go?

The boy with the glasses appeared to look through the gate, just as the car and Romouald moved on.

My moment is over. I have to clean the house and work on my drawings.

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