We had a storm the other day and suddenly, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the power went out. This happens fairly often around here, but the outages only last a short time. Sometimes we get ‘micro-coupures’, just long enough for me to lose whatever document I’m working on, and to have to battle to recover it while rebooting the box that connects us to the whole wide world. All the while cursing and swearing at EDF – Electricité de France – that public utility company par excellence.
What was not typical this time was that our coupure de courant lasted a good long while. For almost 24 hours we were in the cold and dark. Not just me but our whole village – that’s about 1,000 people in the dark. Like many French households, ours is 100% electric, so we quickly ran out of heat and hot water, not to mention light and any means of cooking. We do have a fireplace, though, so as the evening grew dark, I scrambled for firewood, and lit as many candles as I could find.
It would have been romantic, even a real adventure if I’d had anyone to share it with. As it was, husband was away skiing (and probably warmer than I was, the bum), kids were off blithely pursuing higher education in the neighbouring Switzerland and the UK. I was left holding down the fort with cats and dogs. Wondering, how on earth did we ever survive without modern means of communication? My phone and laptop soon ran out of juice. Even the land line was disconnected as all our phones require electrical power.
There were no streetlights to provide the ambient yellow light that usually filters in to our house even at night. No blue light from screens lighting up with notifications, no flashing red message lights, no blinking of batteries recharging.
We were dans le noir — literally and figuratively.
Of course, nobody knew anything about what had happened or how long it would take to fix it. I drove into town but everything was closed, and on the radio there were reports of what had happened far away in Brittany, dans le Finistère, where the storm had hit hardest. Nothing about our little corner of Lac Léman.
It was spooky, even eerie. And I wasn’t just cold. I was bored.
For entertainment, I grabbed a LED flashlight I use when walking the pups on moonless nights and began making shadows on the walls. The light bounced off in interesting ways and made a pattern on the walls and ceiling. When that got old, I dug out my trusty Itty Bitty Book Light, a wonder of technology that has saved my bookworm soul in more than one hotel with no decent reading light. Snuggled under the covers, I read until bedtime. Which came even earlier than usual.
And then it was morning. Any residual heat was long gone. I looked longingly at the coffeemaker, and grew resentful at our induction cooktop. For a moment I considered hooking up the gas bottle to the barbecue to heat some water, but the high wind and pounding rain made that unappealing. It would be quicker to get dressed and go into the city, I decided. I had a job to finish for a client by noon, and hopefully the power would be back by then.
As I was leaving, my neighbour beckoned from her yard. She was also home alone but unlike me, was stuck in the drive behind her electrically powered gate. I offered to help her climb over the fence but she decided to sit it out.
We live in a gated community, but fortunately someone had been able to figure out how to open the main gate. I stopped at the nearest gas station and got a lovely, hot, steaming cup of coffee, then went to work at the business centre in Geneva.
Just after lunch, I got a text message from the security company informing me that my alarm was once again functional. Hopefully the burglars hadn’t noticed our momentary lapse.
All was back to normal by that evening. In the end, we were lucky. We had no flooding, no medical emergencies or small children to worry about feeding. But how vulnerable we are to wild weather, and how ill-equipped to survive even one day without modern conveniences.
How’s your weather been? Have you been in the dark lately?