mardi 16 février 2010

Send in the rats


Well, at least the unpleasant odor is explained with ease, even if it's origin isn't so easily treated, and I know that I knew, but why doesn't that help?

It's just disgusting to think that your floor, the surface on which you walked and set your furniture and lamps, on which the children sat occasionally to play a board game and the dogs curled up on their cushions in the past days, is only as little as 3 cm above the bit of brick masonry and chunks of damp chalk cut from the cliff to create a plateau when the village was made. There are even bits of soaked wood. The rat slab itself varies from 2 or 3 cm thick to as much as about 8 to 10 cm.

And I thought the carpet was a problem. It wasn't anything.

Yesterday, I started telephoning every mason in the Yellow Pages in the surrounding villages, determined to get someone local, with a local reputation to protect, careful to point out that I need someone who can get here quickly for a job of small proportions. The return calls started to come in, and the first mason came by in the early evening, followed by a second. A third comes this evening, and a fourth tomorrow. All of them say they can do this in the next couple of weeks.

The second, a man happy to sit on the sofa and chat with me about everything that he, with his "8 dizaines d'années" -- "vous savez ce que ça veut dire, Madame, oui?" Yes, 80 years old --, and I with my good several fewer, he from Udine in Italy and I from the United States, he dreaming of my country, I dreaming of his, had in common, returned this morning with his son, Giuseppe. The cat was still in my arms, while I spent my last few minutes under the covers, when the phone rang. And then they were in the house before I had my jeans on.

"Je suis désolé, Madame. Vous voyez? J'ai pris mon portable ce matin pour pouvoir vous appeler." He was referring to the troubles he'd had the previous day. I wasn't at all certain he had the address right when he hung up the phone abruptly to drive straight over to see me. It was good enough for him that we were the neighbors of his good clients, the people four houses further along the street on the other side. They are also colleagues of my esteemed husband. I had spent the next few minutes after I raced up to wash my hair and make myself look like my husband might actually be the colleague of these people he respects going in and out of the house to watch for him. I was too late on my last trip out. An elderly man in a dignified black cap was just disappearing behind the house as I crossed the little unfinished courtyard. I opened the gate and made a sign with my arms, hesitant because perhaps it wasn't he, but he was driving very, very slowly.

I followed, still making signs with my arms that I was the person he was seeking. And then he disappeared up around the slight bend at the entry to the village. I went back inside and left a message for him, which he returned fast enough. I dare say he doesn't drive, like many elderly men I have the pleasure of knowing, as slowly as he walks.

"Mais, Madame, vous êtes au 30?" he asked.

"Non, Monsieur, au 12."

"Au 30?"

"Non, non, Monsieur, nous sommes au 12. Un, deux. Nous sommes juste en face du chantier de l'ancienne école, vous la connaissez? 4 maisons avant vos clients, mais sur l'autre côté de la rue."

"Ah. Bon. Je reviens, je reviens tout de suite."

"Prenez votre temps, Monsieur. Il n'y a pas raison de vous presser." I glanced at my watch. 5 pm. No, there was no reason to hurry, especially not since the other mason was scheduled to arrive à l'instant, which, thankfully he did.

I wonder if he noticed that I was rushing him just ever so little. When he had done, I saw him to the gate and watched for the little burgundy red Peugeot I had seen carrying the profile in the dignified black cap. A little red car approached from the right with an elderly man at the wheel. I waved nearly imperceptibly. He frowned at me as he drove by. I recognized him. A sour neighbor.

I went back to watching. A laborer's white van came out of the rue de l'Eau, and then another little red car came down from the bend at the entry to the village, driving slowly, looking for something. I made a bolder gesture, and he approached, smiling, followed just behind by the neighbor for whom he has done so much work. She waved to me and smiled, as he climbed down from his car.

"Bonjour, Monsieur. Je suis navrée que vous avez eu de mal à nous trouver," I apologized, extending my hand. "C'est Madame dans la voiture là."

"Oui! Je l'ai vu. Elle était juste derrière moi," he said, quite delighted by the serendipity of being followed to our house by his client, our neighbor, and my husband's colleague's wife, a head nurse at the hospital. "Je vais lui dire un bonjour tout à l'heure." I ushered him through the unfinished gate and brick pillars.

"Voyez, Monsieur, il n'y a même pas ni de numéro ni de sonnette."

"Vous êtes bien au 22?"

"Non, Monsieur. Nous sommes le 12."

"Le 22?"

"Non, Monsieur, le 12." I showed him one finger on one hand and two on the other.

"Ah! Mais je cherchais le 22!" He laughed merrily, as though it had been a very amusing experience. Good humor, I made a mental note, but possible issues with communication. However, once he described his professional history in the area, and detailed his long friendship with the Langlois of Moosesucks, involved in construction and deeply ensconced in the bedrock of the local social foundation depuis toujours, I figured he is good at one thing: business. He'd get his numbers right and be very clear about that once we got down to business, which we began to do this morning, after more family history, our discovery of our shared love of the mountains and our spouses shared strong preference for the sea, as well as our adoration of nature in general and animals in particular (Baccarat was lying with her elbow across his foot, and they had also saved a cat, who now sleeps on his wife's face, just like our Wisp, from starvation) and I was not mistaken.

"Ce n'est pas grand, Madame, mais il faut le faire correctement." So far, I was in agreement with him. "Vous avez une manivelle?"

"Je vous démande pardon?"

"Une manivelle. Savez, un levrier, pour faire de l'argent," and he chuckled conspiratorially, leaning towards me and setting down his coffee cup. I laughed.

"Oui, bien sur, je commerçerai tout de suite à faire de l'argent," I joined him in the fun. I'd make the money myself to pay for the project.

"Vous voulez un devis détaillé?" he asked. Did we want a detailed estimate.

"Quelque chose assez précis, oui, quand même, car on n'aime pas trop les surprises, mon mari et moi."

"Vous n'êtes pas 2 ou 3 milles près, non?" I must have looked alarmed because he narrowed his eyes just a little, to show me that he was teasing me.

"Non, non," I joined in the fun, "plutôt 20 ou 30 milles près." Ha ha ha. Ha. I was hoping not even to pay 2,000 ou 3,000 euros total! So, knowing that demolition costs nearly as much (or more) as construction, I am tearing my own rat slab out and excavating to pretty much the level needed for the insulation, slab, sheet of waterproofing, the wood subfloor and the finish floor thickness.

If you'll excuse me, I am sure you understand that I have my work cut out for me, and Sam and I are leaving for Chamonix one week from today. I might not even get to be here while they are working, and that is a disappointment for me.


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