Dans le noir

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?

La bise

640px-bise
Winds on Lac Léman by Calimo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Whoever decided to name the north wind ‘la bise’ had a good sense of humour. Certainly it puts colour in your cheeks and is perhaps a poetic metaphor for the double-cheek kisses – les bises – the French are known for.

But the wind that is blowing down Lake Geneva from the Swiss Alps to the Jura at the moment is not a kiss but a face slapping, chill-your-bones blast that has me swaddled in a huge wool scarf and cap pulled firmly down to my Canadian nose as I bravely step forth. And still my head aches as I make my way into its cold embrace.

La bise is just one of several winds that blow around le pays du Léman. For someone who grew up by the Great Lakes, this lake is not that big – although a quick Google tells me it is one of the largest in Western Europe. How many winds could one lake have? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the 12 different winds that regularly soufflent upon us, from the Joran to the Rebat. Surely this is why Lake Geneva is so popular for sailing.

I have always loved the wind. It stirs my romantic soul and makes me feel a bit more alive than when the air is too still and warm. But a lively breeze is one thing. The bise, and its evil cousin, la bise noire (the black kiss), are something else all together.

When we lived in Lyon, it was in horror of the wind. We also felt the bise there – although most people called it the Mistral. The worst was le vent du sud – the south wind – reputed to bring on terrible headaches. I thought this was a meteorological effect until I learned that it brought the foul smell of gases from the refineries to the south of the city. And then there was the hot, dry Sirocco, blowing all the way from the Moroccan desert to leave a layer of red dust on our car.

When the north wind blows as it has this week, rattling the roof and causing our wood-frame house to shiver its timbers, I remind myself how much I love living by this lake, sandwiched between two rows of mountains, riding on ferry boats and seeing the little kids out learning to sail in summer. They call their tiny sailboats ‘les optimists’.

I am inspired by their optimism to note that the bise often brings bright blue skies along with the cold. That the days are already getting longer. Soon winter’s icy kiss will be nothing more than a bit of colour in our cheeks.

How do you feel about the wind?

La pluie

 

La pluie

It has been a long, dry summer here in France. The earth is parched, the fields bleached by the sun. Normally the final days of August and early September bring a few big storms but so far they have missed us. This morning, the rain has rarely been so welcome.

La pluie is not something we often rejoice over here in France. It is not like the English rain, so light and prevalent. When it rains here, it pours. And generally brings with it a mood that is like the weather – maussade (pronounced: moh-sad) Meaning gloomy, dull, sad.

Perhaps that is why I used to confuse the verbs ‘pleuvoir’ and ‘pleurer’. To rain and to cry. I may have once told my husband that his mother was raining. Things could be stormy when she was around, so it may not have been entirely unintentional.

Long ago I gave up on trying to find the logic behind the attribution of gender in French. No matter how you try, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right. I find you have greater success if you let your instincts rather than your memory guide you. Somehow la pluie feels right. Rain must surely be feminine, just as wind – le vent – is masculine.

I love the smell of rain. I love the way it sounds upon the roof. I love to sit outside on my balcony and watch the patterns it makes across the sky over the Léman, as I did in this photo from last summer.

Perhaps what I love most about the rain is that it forces me to sit inside and ponder it. Curl up and read a book, enjoy the comfort of being warm and dry inside. And some of my fondest memories of childhood are running around outside as the skies opened up after a hot dry spell.

J’aime la pluie.

Et toi?