dimanche 13 juin 2010


Water lilies

Paralysis. In the house, anyway. Industry outside the house in the garden. If I were really going to call a halt to the work, I was going to take full advantage of it to at least do some of the annual work in the part I can do, and for which I need little to no help, and no workers: the garden.

Not that I wouldn't love some of each. Help and garden workers, that is.

June comes and the evenings stretch out until nearly eleven o'clock, offering those additional hours we claim we really need and want all year long to have a hope of getting everything done. I can tell you that for all those extra hours, more would be needed to get anywhere near getting everything done, and the rain's arrival, just as things are beginning to look rather inviting in the garden, doesn't help. You can have all the flowering shrubs you want, but without sunshine it is only dull; under the pouring rain, the invitation is off. The rain invited itself to Roland Garros and wrecked havoc with the early matches, making putting a roof over center court the main story.

The rain also invited itself into our garden, making watering everything unnecessary, but making enjoying the work impossible. If it gets hot, it will soon rain, and when it rains, it will pour.

My husband took his book out into the garden to read after returning with the baguette. I heard him sniffing, so I knew he was out there, and I peeked around the corner to see him in the deck chair in his motorcycle boots, black jeans, a sweater and his Northface jacket, suitable for skiing, looking for all the world like a man getting to be of "a certain age".

"Tu veux un foulard et un chapeau aussi?" I asked. He turned his head from Ken Follet and smiled.

"Il ne fait pas très chaud, tu sais." Yes, I knew it wasn't exactly hot out, but it wasn't cold, either. I looked at my light, 3/4 sleeve t-shirt and feet in sandals, and back at him.

"Il fait plutôt doux. T'es en train de tomber malade?" It was at least 20° C out. Was he, I suggested, possibly getting sick? He shook his head and came in to help set the table.

"Déjeunons-nous déhors?" he wondered, clearly hoping not, "parce qu'il fait un peu frais. On serait peut-être mieux à l'intérieur." Would we eat outdoors, he wondered aloud? Because it was a little chilly out; we might be better inside. I shook my head again, half tempted to go and get the thermometer and take his temperature. He carried the plates out to the table.

"Tu n'as pas froid comme ça?" he asked my son, who was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt and shorts at lunch. "Il ne fait pas très chaud."

"Non, ça va bien," said my son, and we all gazed at my husband. He looked at his daughter, who was wearing a light sweater over a sleeveless top. She raised her eyebrows enough to suggest that she was fine, as well. Was he going to ask anyway? He had removed his jacket.

"Nous allons tous très bien," I told him with a smile to suggest that he might be crazy, if he weren't sick. "Il fait plutôt doux, tu sais. Tu ne veux pas que j'aille te chercher ta veste?"

No, thank you, he said. I'll be alright without my jacket, he added, drawing his shoulders together for comfort.

It has been a long week for all of us. Between the temperature shifting from 33° C to 14°C in the space of an afternoon, sunshine giving way to drenching rain, his long days and the nights on duty, a concert in the middle of the week in far-away Paris, my guests, and Sam's upcoming bac, the worries that accompany being parents, and the worse ones that attach themselves to being in the situation of not being the parents of the same children, each enjoying the benefit of his or her own point of view and the certainty of its superiority, there is ample reason and opportunity to fall victim to an early summer cold, or depression anyway.

If you are I, that is. The one who is actually going to worry, because, and finally, it is easier than loving, which is all, some would say, that you really can do. I prefer concrete solutions. Real progress. Outcomes.

But, then so did my husband. For the "petit salon", at least. The kids, well, kids will take care of themselves, wood, on the other hand, cannot saw itself, sheetrock cannot install itself.

I worry about both.

But, that's not all. With guests coming, it was necessary to visit the guest rooms and take stock. The sheets to be washed, the towels placed in the armoir in the bathroom, the spiders -- alas -- to be vacuumed up. Maybe I would also move the table from the little room into the other, larger room, where it could serve as a desk. I tried (half-heartedly) to move the moving box filled with stuff from where the table would go. It wasn't budging. Forget the table. But -- what was that along the wall on the sisal carpeting? The new sisal carpeting. Was it -- mold?


My eyes raced up the wall. There were -- blisters in the paint.

Blisters. In. The. Paint. The brand new paint job, finished in the winter, the paint ordered on-line from Flamant, and applied over painstakingly repaired walls. So, the shower was leaking again, but how could it be? We had just caulked it. I dialed my husband's beeper. I knew he was seeing patients. I was seeing red.


"C'est moi."

"Oui?" He was using his most pleasant voice, so the patient wouldn't imagine it was his wife. His wife sounding very, very aggravated.

"La douche dans la petite maison, tu l'as réparée, non?"


"Bon. Elle fuit à nouveau."


"La douche, elle fuit."

"Comment le sais-tu?" he asked very politely, giving away nothing to his very patient patient.

"Il y a de la moisissure le long du mur -- le nouveau jonc de mer -- et des cloques dans la peinture." That's how I knew it. Molded sisal carpeting along the wall adjoining the shower stall and blisters in the paint just above it is a pretty certain sign of a leak in the shower on the other side of the wall.

"Ah bon! Tu es sûre que ça vient de là et pas du toit?" I sighed. Yes, I was absolutely positive that this water damage did not come from the leaky roof, covered with the roofer's tarps until he can get here and replace the whole damn thing, which is what I told my husband.

"As-tu installé un bac sous la douche quand tu l'as installée?" I asked him, making sure to sound menacing.

"Ah, non."

Ah, no shower pan. That could do it.

"Je vais appeler le plombier pour qu'il la voie. Je n'en peux plus de cette douche, et on ne s'en sort pas." And not only the shower, but what appears so often to be ample opportunities to lose my mind in this house.

"D'accord. C'est bien."

So, what did I learn? Always call my husband and announce things while he is seeing a patient.

The very next morning, nearly on my way out, the plumber arrived. He did not think a shower pan was necessary, since it sits on a concrete slab, but he did point out where the caulk was cracking. Already. If new, professionally applied caulk didn't do it, then we'd talk about tearing everything up and installing a shower pan.

On his way back from the truck with the caulk and an assortment of other tools, he stopped to chat. We know each other very well, for a plumber and a homeowner. It's normal with this house, and ideal to stay on best relations. We talked about this and that, and then, suddenly, he said something that triggered an unpleasant memory: Georges (don't ask) calling me out to the spot just under the window above the entry toilet, where he pointed into a hole he had dug, and there was the sewer pipe, with a big hole in it.

"Je me suis dit qu'il était toujours plus humide dans cet endroit, alors je me suis permis de creuser, et j'ai trouvé ça, Madame Sisyphe!" He sounded so proud; he was saving us from our ignorance of a broken sewer pipe at our main toilet.

Imagine that. My worker, who is so very, very busy, had time to notice that it seemed unusually wet in this particular area right next to the cement mixer and the bags of chaux piled up, the monceau of sand, and not only to notice, but to dig a hole to see why. My, my, imagine that. Mon oeil, I had thought at the time, asking him to fill the hole back up, the all the popos and the pipi traveling just under the surface of the dirt right next to the house.

That was more than a year ago. I told our plumber about it, and we set to digging, and there it was, the broken PVC pipe.

"Et oui," said the plumber. It's really broken. He poked around some more and pointed out that there was a leak. A leak?

"Oui, ça fuit de quelque part," he looked up from the hole and up the wall, "il n'y a pas un autre toilet là haut?"

Yes, there is another toilet up there on the second floor, just above this one, but it has been condemned for several years, precisely because we couldn't stop the water from running into it. We headed upstairs to look. There was the soup spoon my husband had jammed into the mechanism in the wall to stop it from running. It was quiet. Avoiding looking at the black mold all over the walls in this space, the door to which remains sealed like the ark of the covenant (sort of like the dirt placed back over the broken sewer pipe), I glanced at the sink, filled with green stuff, the plumber's eyes tracking with mine (how did he know where I was going to look?), just as a drop of water hit the algae and then another and another in rapid succession.

"A-ha!" cried the plumber.

"Ah oui," acknowledged the homeowner, "je l'avais oublié ça. Pourriez-vous mettre tout ça dans votre planning? Je voudrais tout arracher, et vous pouvez couper l'eau. On verra pour leur remplacement, le lavabo et le toilette, une fois que j'aurai trouvé une solution pour ces murs." He smiled compassionately as we gazed at a crack, spreading into a hole in the wall behind the closet across the small bedroom.

Maybe this part of the house will just fall off, taking this moldy half-bath and the "petit salon" with it.

"Je reviendrai après le déjenuer réparer le tuyau," he said, and we said our good-byes, I heading up to Normandy for the afternoon, he heading to have lunch and return to repair our sewer line.

The next day, there was a much larger hole, and there in the bottom, the pipe, broken in at least 3 places. It had poured the previous afternoon. He'd had to stop. The following morning, he returned and took me to look more closely at the affair. He pointed to a round cap on a vertical pipe, telling me that was an access to the pipes, in case they became clogged. Normally, it sat a good 30 cm above the place where it had come to rest. Did someone, he ask me, drive a heavy piece of equipment, a truck perhaps, over the area? Because, something very heavy had squashed it flat and broken the pipes. I looked at the gate, not large enough for a small car, let alone a truck.

"Non," I shook my head, looking back to the mess at my feet, "seulement la bétonneuse." Just the cement mixer. And, maybe, years ago, his employer's digger, when they had dug the trench to lay the pipe to connect the rest of the house -- the kitchen and the showers -- to the sewer line.

What did it matter now? We were paying.

And we'll be paying for the millwork, too. I am going to have to make a set of drawings for the millwork in the entire lower house, including all the details, and get it priced. We need professional help, or we'll never get ourselves out of this.

Or, I'll never be happy.

Along with that, pricing for the entry, the walk and patios, and the main bath. Choices -- bad, sad choices of the compromise sort -- might have to be made.

And, I'll never be happy.

At least the sewage is running contained in nice plastic piping now.

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