jeudi 16 avril 2009

A la bourre

The coast at Kersaint

I've let far too much accumulate before writing. That's what I do here, right? I write about stuff. But, when lots of stuff happens and I don't write about it, there's too much, and I have so many other things to do. It's high season in the garden, and it calls to me to fix all the things I didn't do very well before, take care of the maintenance regardless of whether I love what's there or not -- it's better taken care of --, and breath a sigh of resignation for the presence of the unused tools and scaffolding of the workers, who haven't been back since the fateful discussion with *Joaquim back in -- now what month was it? I just went to look. March. It was only March. The middle of March at that. It feels like it has been months and not just one, nearly to the day.

When I left off, two weeks ago -- and never have I been absent for so long --, I was heading to Brest to see my sister-in-law and help her with the design for a building she is putting in the place of an old "hangar". It looks more like a large garage, but the French call it that. My brother-in-law hung himself there, the day after New Years in 2006. She thought she would have it razed long ago, but somehow, it stayed, just like she did in their house that she thought she would need to leave. I remember telling her that it takes time to grieve, something as a doctor with a specialty in psychiatry she knew better than I, and no decision needs to be taken quickly. Time provides the answers. The house was her project with my brother-in-law; it was their home with their daughter and his son by his first wife. Don't run from it, I said.

We returned in May a year later, with one of my husband's sisters and her husband to help paint the kitchen, walk in the gorgeous, wind-swept rugged countryside near Brest, see the progress of her plants and eat meals together in the kitchen as the work of the painting allowed.

Nearly two years later, I returned with my laptop, photos of buildings I love that have something to do with the project she envisioned -- as well as the toit végétalisé that I wanted to convince her to put on the wood cabin portion--, and my own CAD drawings. The roses looked healthy, the natural slug trap made of the bottom of a water bottle set into the dirt and filled with beer, covered with three small sticks in teepee form hadn't yet captured a menace to her plants and charmed me no end, and the camellia looked enviably better than mine. See the previous entry. The slate tiles were installed in the kitchen, notes of what to buy at the grocery store and snippets of other things she didn't want to forget chalked there above the sink. My brother-in-law's work bench had found it's way into the living room, where it reigned from its position of honor, magnificent in the living room, while it had only been useful in the hangar.

She let her hand run along the streaks of pink and white paint.

"Cette rose, ce fut quelque chose qu'il préparait pour la chambre d'Odile, non?" She nodded and said what it was.

"On me dit que je devrais enlever les traces de peinture." We looked at them together.

"Non. C'est de l'histoire. Ce fait parti de lui." She looked up at me and nodded.


"C'est vriament beau ici." I meant to sketch it before I left and have another of my husband's brothers use it for the model for a table for our kitchen, made of rough-hewed old planks fit together without much hardware. I'll return soon and do it then.

We went to their Decathlon and bought Odile's first kite, which Léo taught her to fly in a big parking lot at the Moulin Blanc, the marina in Brest, a few days later. It rained between. They wanted to go to the beach, but Christine preferred to be able to sit at Le Tour du Monde, Olivier de Kersauson's bar, or the temporary one, set up along the dock while the real one is renovated, and have a cup of coffee, listen to the wind in the riggings. I thought the beach sounded good, too, but so did tea. de Kersauson is something of a local hero in French sailing and local legend, and she told me how another of our sisters-in-law was practically hopping up and down in anticipation of seeing him there. She had to settle for someone else, whose name escapes me, but who thrilled her none the less. We both preferred the temporary café, set up under a tent with windows looking right over the port.

When I showed the pictures to Audouin earlier today, he said, "Avez-vous vu le Géronimo?"

"Non, je ne pense pas. Au fait, on ne l'a pas cherché."

"Mais, on ne peut pas le rater. C'est le trimarin de de Kersauson, le plus grand au monde." I guess I wasn't paying attention. It was there, or it wasn't, and I couldn't tell you which it was. I have seen these phenomenal boats in port in Brest. They are a vision to behold, but I was paying attention to the kite and the kids.

Driving out of the parking lot, Christine started, "Mais, il y a des toits végétaux là!"

"Où?" I asked, preparing to make a U-turn in one of the parking lots alongside Océanopolis.

"Juste derrière," she pointed to a couple of log-cabin style buildings with grass roofs.

"Tu veux que je fasse demi-tour pour qu'on puisse les voir de plus près?"

"Oui. Tu peux te garer là." That little bit of fortune did it. Even better, a friend of Léo's stepfather helped design Oceanopolis, and they can ask him about the grass roofs, so it looks like the toit végétal is a fait accompli! Funny how these things work sometimes.

Another day, we went looking for a galavanized tub like the one I had seen in her cousin's garden. Her husband told us he had found it at Espace Eméraude, and we went to both of the ones nearby without any success, but I did find a likely black plastic tub for the frogs. Even better, it looked like it might serve after inserted at the end of the raised planting bed under the downpipe for the gutter on the petite maison. I could use it to collect the rainwater that otherwise falls into the planting bed, creating heaps of moss and nourishing a stinging nettle patch from hell.

Returning home, I spent a full day reading in bed, mourning the Finistère, and the next, Audouin, who had taken the week off from work because he had his children, suggested that we attack the fish basin.


Then I thought about it. It was nice out. It had to be done. And, I had bought the plastic tub and brought it all the way back from the end of the earth for the frogs. Along with a blue child's net especially to catch the frogs, which I saw in a souvenir shop in Portsall, just before finally heading home on Saturday.


It was hell. My back still hurts. We yanked, hacked, cut, hauled, lifted, and finally emptied that damn basin. At one point, I nearly fell down laughing. There was Audouin, cutting away at the matted roots of the reeds to remove a rock that had been completely encased. He reached in and removed -- the cupid holding its dolphin.

"On dirait une césarienne! L'obstétrician coupe et sort... le cupidé et son dauphin. C'est comme un uterus! Ha!" I was delighted with the irony of the moment. He looked up and grinned. Alas, the camera was not in reach, and I was tugging at the other end of the huge mass of roots we had just hauled out.

Once we had it all out, it was evident. There they were, the cracks. Tiny vertical cracks at fairly regular intervals around the basin; they appeared to align with the joints in the concrete blocks behind the painted concrete lining. The first one I saw corresponded with the area where it was always especially wet on the north side of the basin, and it was the likely culprit since it was the only one that was more than superficial when we scraped it open to repair. I had wondered if the ground behind that area was wet because it was in perpetualshade, or if it were because the leak was there. It was the leak, and probably the former didn't help much. Moss always accumulated in that spot.

As for the frogs, there was no way I was going to get them, being much faster than I am, even equipped with a net on a stick that kept getting caught in the reeds, until we removed all the reeds. They'd have to go first, and we'd have to drain the water and catch them in the muck at the bottom. I was looking for 5 fairly big ones. I got 2 in a heartbeat. The third was slier, but couldn't withstand my net. We had to look for the other 2.

"Là! Il y en a dans le parpaign."


"Dans le trou du fond, à gauche. Baisse la tête et tu la verras. Ca bouge." I crouched down and looked. Sure enough, there in the back of the hole was a little breathing mass of dark, the same color as the muck. All I'd have to do is get on my knees, place the net at the entrance to his lair and reach in to make him move, possibly scooping him into my net.

"Tu l'as! Elle est là. Là!" I saw him. He was right at the edge of my net, but in Audouin's excitement, I got distracted and let him slip away.

"Elle est là! Là, à côté du piedestal. Tu la vois?" Yes, I saw him. Two eyes poking up through the surface of the dark green-brown muck. I repositioned my net on top of the bulge, and I had him. "Tu l'as? Tu l'as eu?"

"Oui." I've got him. I went and set him in the tub with the other two, and the black goldfish that came here from someone else's disgusting fish pond. Another red goldfish died. A smaller orange one is swimming in circles in a plastic container somewhere, up in the kids' room.

The fourth wasn't easy. We both suspected him of being in the muck under the old stone sink from the bottom of the garden that Audouin hauled up and gave a place of honor in the fountain turned fish pond, which rested on three concrete blocks at either end. We had both seen him there. This time, he had moved to between the stone sink and the pedestal of the old three-tired fountain capped by a cupid holding a dolphin that Audouin had hacked down to a single fish bath type affair.

"Je l'ai." I stuck the net on one side and pushed from the other, closing off his escape route. Ineffectively.

"Non. Elle est là," he pointed to his side of the pedestal. En effet.

I tried again. It took a few tries before I had him, following his muck-wake until he was still and slapping the net down where it ended.

"Celle-là est vive." I could barely keep it from squirming and leaping out of the net in my hands. "Elle est petite aussi. Ce n'est pas la dernière. Il doit y en avoir d'autres. C'est un bébé de cette année. Les 5 que j'ai vu sont plus grandes." I released it into the tub and returned to scooping muck out with a water bottle with the top cut off until Audouin refused to carry another pail of the muck away. Grève.

"Mais," he argued, "il fait nuit." He had a point.

The next morning, I saw movement in the muck over by the filter tube. Arming myself with my blue net, I struck and came up with the 5th larger frog. That made 6. A short time later, I heard Audouin shout that there was another one. It scarcely seemed possible. We had been scraping up the muck for hours while it managed to stay hidden.

"C'est dans le trou du filtre, ou quelque chose. C'est sans fond. Je me doutais bien qu'il y en aura encore là-dedans -- je l'ai." He straightened up with his hands cupped around another small frog, another baby from this year, or maybe last, if they grow slowly. I don't know that much about frogs. He slid it into the tub with the others, while I started to wonder if the tub really was large enough for all these frogs and the clumps of reed I had saved to put back in the basin. It gave them a place to hang out in the sun.

All seemed well until yesterday, when I didn't see the frogs. Not once all day. They had been hanging out, just like they did in the basin up until they disappeared. Completely. With the exception of one of the little ones, who has a favorite place to hang out already.

"J'espère qu'elles sont pas allées dans la piscine," said Audouin just now, looking somewhat despairingly into the tub while the basin fills slowly with water. It sounded an awful lot like it might be considered my fault. I think he'd have squished them all if it weren't for me, or thrown them over the wall below. But he knows they just come back if you don't carry them over to the bras mort of the Seine, across the fields. So much for my nature lover.

"Je les vois quelques fois, sautant du basin. Elles vont je ne sais pas où, chercher probablement à trouver à se reproduire. Puis, elles reviennent." He looked doubtfully at me. "Vraiment. Je les vois de temps en temps, sautant à travers le gazon vers les plates bandes. Elles reviendront."


If they don't, I tell myself, it will not have been for want of trying, and, it will have been by their own choice. Maybe I need to put steps back up into the tub for them so they can get back in. Actually, they'll go straight to the basin. They can hop back in there, and it's already refilling. Slowly.

The first thing is to see if the water level holds. It dropped fast before, several centimeters in a day. If it doesn't, then we can start to put the rocks, the plants and some of the muck we saved in buckets back in. The argument now is what to put in the old stone farmyard sink. I argue for it to be just the way it was, covered in moss and grasses. The frogs loved to hide in the grass, soaking up the sun on their moss beds. Audouin wants to plant nothing in it this time, placing pots of pretty flowers there instead.

Still, that's better than his idea of making a rock garden in it, but I am still opposed. I learned to love its natural quality. He is starting to want it to look like the people's garden in Méricourt. The one with the nains de jardin.

The second argument is the sturgeon I want to put in there. I saw him at Florosny the other day. He is nearly 10 years old, dark gray with delicate light gray veining on his head. He is about 60 centimeters long, if not more, from the tip of his snout to the tip of his long tail, and he loves to be pet. This, it appears, is a characteristic of sturgeons. Audouin is convinced the basin, at 2.70 meters across, isn't big enough for him.

"Mais, Cédric dit que c'est parfait."

"C'est parce qu'il n'arrive pas à s'en debarasser."

"C'est vrai que quelqu'un l'a commandé et a désisté, mais pourquoi mentirait Cédric si ce n'est que pour le voir souffir? Il y en a chez lui, et ils les aiment bien. Il dit que l'aquarium chez Florosny est trop petit et ça lui fait du mal à le voir comme ça. D'ailleurs, il sait qu'on ne peut pas le prendre tout de suite car on est en train de réparer notre basin et l'eau doit rester dans le basin 2 mois avant de pouvoir l'installer. S'il y est toujours --" I let it drop there. I will have the sturgeon if I want the sturgeon, and he is still there in two months. And, I will name him Horatio, unless I learn that he is a she.

I left that day with a suffering carp koï. He gave it to me for free, since neither of us thought it would make it.

It didn't.

The work...

And, here are my photos from my last day, before I took the highway back home. It was my day to go back to my old haunts, from when I lived in Brest for a year from August 1987 to July 1988. I'd go back to live there.

* Speak of the devil. Guess who just called? Pshaw. He says they are returning in June, and tried to side-step the whole issue of the work that actually remains to be done. Now he's supposed to come next Saturday at 2 pm to discuss it all. I'd better get that contract to my brother-in-law for his comments. J'en ai marre.

Stick that in your translator.
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