jeudi 22 avril 2010


The absence of fish

If I said Not me, my fish, that would be 50% true. We're all stressed, but my fish can't do yoga.

Not that I do yoga, although I should do yoga, but there isn't a yoga class here. Or, someone told me there is, once, but I don't know now. I can think about yoga, though.

That helps.

A little.

It happened quite suddenly. They went to their condo and wouldn't come out. I could see them peeking out from the edges, sometimes, but from one day to the next, they had amscrayed from sight. It was puzzling.

I went to see the experts at Truffaut, and I described what I saw: no fish, lots of fast-forming algae, and sunshine. Sunshine increases the alkalinity of water, which, in turn, favors the formation and growth of algae, which absorbs the carbon dioxide released by the fish through respiration and, so, the water becomes more alkaline still.

It was the algae that puzzled Audouin and I. We had had a lot more since the fall, and the recent stretch of uninterrupted sunny weather couldn't explain that. Anyway.

I went home with a product to lower the pH, and the fish jumped and swam for joy. For about a day, anyway, and then the pH was right back up there a little "too high" and the fish were back in their condo, the old, flat stone sink set on concrete blocks, the cells forming 9 amply-sized studio apartments with a stunning view into their own watery, internal courtyard set against the roots of the clump of reeds. What did I do? Why, I bought three more (rather expensive) fish and brought them home.

They didn't seem to mind.

Until today. And, then, I did a little Googling, using various combinations of search words, including pH, goldfish, water, sunshine, and so on. One source that came up linked an increase in the pH of water to concrete dust. Bing!

What had we been doing this week? Sawing concrete, that's what.

Yes, the mason was able to get to us this week, after having to put us off twice since he thought he'd make it here last Thursday. It's always exciting to see something that has previously only existed on paper, and in your mind's eye, start to take form. This time, it's preparing the old entry stoops for brick paving like the entry court, the new paths from it to these doors and on past them to the terrace in front of the guest rooms in the "petit mason" (no, not that the mason is small, but the mason, as in "house") will be.

Once the renovation company returns. If they return. I doubt it. I think they will move on to playing a game of chicken with us, preferring to lose the remaining 50% on the final contract sum to returning to finish and be paid, and betting that we won't really sue them.

It makes me so mad I could spit. Particularly the bit about not being able to apply the patina they swore up and down they could, and which was written into the final contract, which Georges feigned surprise about, as in "Mais! Ce n'est pas possible, Madame!"

"Alors, pour quoi votre cousin nous l'a juré depuis que vous avez fait la chaux qu'il pouvait et pour quoi donc vous avez signé un contrat disant que celui-ci serait fait?" He had no answer other than his you-caught-me idiot grin. I've seen it too many times before not to recognize it.

That was the same day they installed the old mail box from 1868 back into the street wall with natural color chaux, and I asked them why they hadn't mixed the pigment into it to make the ocher color.

"Ce ne pose pas un problème, Madame. On mettra la patine et vous ne verez pas de différence." I had accepted his reassurance that once they applied the ocher patina all would be well with mistrust. There was nothing they had been doing that had been anything other than un peu pas très bien. Voir pas bien de tout.

When I pointed out that they had specifically agreed to applying the ocher patina all around the house to deepen the color on the walls that had come out too pipi yellow, he answered, "Mais! Vous l'avez vu autour de la boite aux lettres? C'est un massacre!"

It wasn't until after they left that I went to look. It was a massacre.

They weren't supposed to apply it to the natural chaux. They were supposed to use the pigment in the chaux, and then add more in the patina. If necessary. But, it wasn't only that. It was the way it was applied. Un massacre, and we might have to live with it, or try to get someone else to fix their work.

So, Tuesday, the concrete dust flew. And it was Tuesday that I went to Truffaut with my aunt. We bought the stuff specifically for fish ponds to bring down the pH, and it seemed to make the fish very happy. By the next day, it was sailing up there, somewhere above 8 again. Only, there is a flaw in my reasoning. They had stopped being active and retired to their "hiding" place in the condominium before the weekend. It wasn't the first time they had done this. When it happens, it is as though some chief fish acting as the president of the homeowners' association gives the order and they scoot off at once and make themselves scarce for a lengthy meeting. I imagine them sitting around tables with little bottles of perfectly pH balanced water and laptops with Excel spreadsheets glowing on their screens in the watery board room. Some of them are very bored.

Anyway, it was making my aunt nervous.

Which was making me more nervous than I ordinarily am about their disappearances. I have tested the pH at least 10 times a day every day since Tuesday, and it stays up there, on the alkaline side, stressing the fish. The concrete dust settling on the surface of the water and dissolving there can't be helping, but the real culprit is more likely the nearly endless stretch of sunny weather we have been having.

This evening, they were out. Including the new veiled shubunkin and the veiled white koï carp. I call him "the ghost". There is also a larger koï, who is a beautiful, beautiful blue (a very prized color for koï and shubunkins, which you can tell from the price, ack!) with orange spots near his head.

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