04 March 2010

Monsieur 100 000 volts

I'm going to call it Gilbert. Not with the English pronunciation but the French one: [zheel-BEHR]. It is lighting our lights (and computers, freezers, and the rest) this morning. It's a 100,000 watt generator that ERDF brought in last night and hooked up to the transformer on the light pole out back.

Why Gilbert? I'm naming it for Gilbert Bécaud [bay-KOH], a famous French singer and songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s. He electrified audiences at the Olympia music hall in Paris — when Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel wasn't singing there. Bécaud wrote the music for and made a hit out of at least one song that is famous in the English-speaking world: What Now My Love. It was performed by dozens of American and British singers. In French it was called « Et Maintenant (que vais-je faire ?) ».

Dites bonjour à Gilbert, notre « groupe » préféré.

And he was such a performer that he was called Mister 100,000 Volts. We are hoping our generator is a good performer too. The word for generator, by the way, is funny in French. A generator is called « un groupe ». Not like a singing groupe, but a groupe électrogène. I don't know why it's called that.

Anyway, now that Gilbert is out back temporarily lighting up our lives, it's time to think back. We had prepared for the storm, but we weren't prepared for the damage and the inconvenience of it all. We didn't realize that all it would take was one tall tree falling on our hamlet's power lines to put us in the dark for four days.

Early Sunday morning, these were our sentiments exactly.

Late yesterday evening, as Gilbert was going on line, Annick the mayor told me that there is an English power crew working down in our village, and German crew working over in the village called Châtillon-sur-Cher upriver. The scale of the storm damage has turned repairs into a pan-European effort.

I was convinced until yesterday that our big chest freezer would be all thawed out and everything ruined. Because the freezer is « plein comme un œuf », or as full as an egg — I moved as much as I could from the smaller freezer to the bigger one when we didn't have electricity Sunday morning — it had the critical mass to maintain the cold, I think.

Two plums trees in our yard were ripped out of the ground
by the winds. We'll miss those sweet, juicy plums this summer.

The wind started blowing at about 2:30 last Saturday morning. It woke me up. We had closed every shutter on the house, but the wind sucked at the windows and whistled under the eaves. I lay awake for a while, listening and worrying.

Luckily the big evergreens in our yard stood up to the winds,
unlike this pine out near the edge of the vineyard.

At about 4:30, I looked at the clock radio. I closed my eyes and heard a familiar beep — the sound the cordless phone makes when it loses or regains power. I looked back at the clock radio, but the time display was dark.

When I got up at daybreak, the wind had died down a little. I opened the bathroom shutter to survey the scene. The big linden and cedar trees near the house were standing. Whew! Then I saw the two little plum trees out by the garden shed lying on their sides. They had been ripped out of the ground.

The other day I mentioned in a comment on Walt's blog
that I had seen a pair of purple panties hanging from a branch
in the woods out back. The panties were still there Sunday
after the windstorm blew through. These French, eh?!

I went and opened the shutter on the kitchen window, on the other side of the house. Everything looked fine out there, until I looked down. What were those big brown things on the driveway? Oh my god, they are roof tiles. There were two or three of them. The wind was still blowing, and it didn't seem safe to go out there. We might get hit by a flying tile.

Another pine down out in the vineyard. I can count at least
25 trees down within a few hundred yards of our house.

On Saturday, Walt had cut some wood for the stove and stored it in the garage. That was necessary because, with our boiler on the blink for almost all of February, we had burned through all the wood that he cut last summer. On Saturday I had cooked a dish of baked beans so that we would have food on Sunday even if the power was out. So we had heat and food.

Our next-door neighbor's house and trees looked fine, but at the next house after his Walt saw that a fir tree had blown over in the front yard. A little later, Daniel, the owner, was out trying to move it, because it had fallen on one of his cars. Walt went and helped him. The car was dented but not badly damaged. They were able to move the tree, which was not a huge one.

Our neighbors lost this apple tree and two others.

I went out to see if I could help too, and that's when we saw that at least 10 roof tiles had been blown off our roof. There was a big hole up at the peak of the roof, above the attic dormer that sits over the kitchen. Walt took pictures and I'm sure he'll post some. We didn't know if it was going to rain, but if it did start raining we would have to scramble to do something to protect the ceiling. We have tarps.

At noon, I tried calling a roofer who has done good work for us in the past. The phone rang 20 times and nobody picked up. I didn't even get an answering machine. The winds continued to diminish in intensity, and all we could do was wait by the fire. And eat beans.

"Spiderman" Christian Lucas repairing our high, steep roof.

At about 5:00 p.m. I decided to try the roofer, whose name is Christian Lucas, one more time. This time a woman — his wife, I'm sure — answered. I asked for him, and she said he was out doing dépannages — emergency repairs. I told her that that was why I had called.

She took my name, address, and phone number and said she'd call M. Lucas on his cell phone. He'll come by your house after a while or he'll call you tonight, she said. Not much more than 30 minutes later, he drove up in his truck with all his ladders on top.

He was up on the roof in a flash, like some kind of Spiderman. Most of the loose roof tiles were still up there. They had been sucked or blown loose by wind currents and air-pressure differentials and had just slid down the roof towards the gutter. Of the two or three on the ground, only one was broken. These are heavy, thick concrete tiles that are about 8 by 15 inches in dimension.

Monsieur Lucas and his assistant taking down
the ladders, after a job well and quickly done.

Christian Lucas had a tile in his truck that would replace the one that was broken. It's not quite the same color as the others, but nobody will ever notice the difference. It didn't take him more than 20 minutes to put all the tiles back in place and pronounce the roof repaired and water-tight. These tile rooves are amazing.

How much do we owe you, I asked him. Oh, he said, what about thirty euros? We gave him forty and counted ourselves very lucky. It was a miracle. We didn't have any more worries about rain. And it did rain on Monday.

We'll be heading to the Polyclinique in Blois in just a few minutes. Is it OK if I say that that's a big pain in the butt? More tomorrow, if possible.


  1. In the midst of all the significant events happening in La Renaudière, I find it refreshing to contemplate a bit on the mystery of the Purple Panties in the woods. Not too much, mind you, but just a bit...something frivolous and naughty to cause a little grin.

  2. amazing that a roofer came so quickly but that heater man took forever! and the panties weathered the storm...lol
    glad ur freezer made it..yes, as a hurricane veteran, i can say that if it's packed tight, it has a better chance

  3. We worried and missed you but M. Charles Henri and Cheryl reassured us. We are all happy to have you back on line. Will you replant 2 more plum trees?

  4. Your quick roof repair amazed me. There's a lot to be said for roof tiles, I guess. If they blow off they're easier to replace than a metal roof.

    We're glad you're back and in fine fettle.

  5. I can see the dark hasn't obscured your sense of humor, or did you put it in the chest freezer for safekeeping?

  6. LOL @ chm.

    I have the poem "The Night before Christmas" in my head now, except it goes something like:
    "The panties were hung on the tree branch with care..."
    When you mentioned them on Walt's blog, I had no idea they were so meticulously placed.

    I cannot imagine the sense of relief you must feel to feel like you have rejoined the world.

  7. What counts is watt counts.

  8. Ah, ohm sweet ohm! Glad things are lightening up, so to speak. I join the musings about the purple panties in the woods...


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