"I am afraid to look. How bad do you think it will be?" Dear Daughter has just moved to the front seat for the final ten minutes of our six hour drive to our apartment in France. She is referring to the flood that recently occured in our village - the worst in ten years.
In late February, we heard that the village was under water…not all of the village but just one section…our section. I quickly started scouring the French news sites for information and in the process learned the French word for flood, "inondation". Using this word and the name of our village, I saw a horrifying video of flood waters rushing through the street behind our apartment and watched chairs and tables from the little bar behind us float away.
This was not completely caused by nature. There had been heavy rains earlier in the month and the tides had been a bit strange but what caused this mishap was a terrible decision. Up river, a smaller village was under threat of flooding. So, the leaders of the towns met and agreed that the lock gates were to be open. In their minds, this was crucial to helping the neighboring village while only causing minor flooding in ours. They miscalculated. For three days, our little section of the village experienced flood waters of over one meter or nearly 40 inches! It was devastating to the small businesses that surround our little section of town. Occupants had to be evacuated and later I read that the local businessmen had a screaming match with the town leaders.
Our apartment is on the third floor of the town's major landmark building, overlooking the river and within close proximity to several restaurants and shops. We knew that the apartment would be fine but worried about those on the ground floor. There would be no way that they could have escaped the flood.
Surprisingly, the village looked wonderful and it is clear that the city leaders are trying to make sure that the damage does not impact the town, especially on the verge of tourist season. The sidewalks have been repaired and flowers have been planted. Only a few damaged trees are still visible in the town park. However, upon closer look, we realized that every restaurant in the flood's path has not yet reopened.
Across the street from us is a Michelin 1-star restaurant. The chef is one of Brittany's best and a lover of the region. While he serves haute-cuisine, he is also happy walking across the street to the simple brasserie on Sunday mornings carrying little bundles of morsels for the owner and sitting down for a quick kir with friends before beginning the lunch service. This he told me once was for him. About 18-months ago, he turned over the restaurant to his son. The son has been carrying on the tradition well and stamping out his own spot - completely renovating the design of the dining room. What was once comfortable and elegant is now modern and chic. Dear Daughter loves the new design…us, "old folks" miss the old space. Regardless of all of this, the restaurant kitchen was destroyed during the flood. Hundreds of thousands of euros in food was wasted. The father has been very outspoken about his feelings over the disaster and its cause. The son says he will enjoy the new kitchen. You cannot see in the windows. They are covered in dark paper with a handwritten note that tells us that if you that curious, then send a letter. They are closed because of the horrible flood. Their website says that they will reopen in June.
Next to them is a simple bar/brasserie, which also serves as the town's tabak (or cigarette vendor). Their sign reads that they are also closed due to the flood and they are working hard to reopen as soon as possible but they do not know when that will be. Daily, I see workmen entering both establishments.
Across the street from them is a brasserie that just changed owners last April. A couple from Paris bought the place, kept the name and some of the menu items and then literally, "jazzed" up the place. I have been there only once but it definitely had potential. Now the menu boards still advertise food that will not be made for quite some time but I still see a work taking place inside.
These people will not give up. I have no idea how much the government or insurance will cover their damages, but this is what they do and they will not let the flood ruin their businesses. They will overcome. The small grocer is open. The hairdresser is, too. I can still post a letter at the post office. A few businesses moved up to the main street of town, out of danger from future floods. It is a bit quieter in the evenings but during the day, I see the progress being made.
The entry to our building looks like a war zone. Mushrooms are growing in the hallway even with dehumidifiers and heaters running around the clock. The ground floor apartments are uninhabitable and while I haven't seen anyone working on them, I see little pieces of progress being made each day.
But the main character of this post isn't the Michelin-starred chef, or the grocer or the town leader. It is the owner of the small bar that stands directly behind our apartment. I will call its iconic owner, "T". To get to our place, you have to walk past the bar. It isn't seedy and only rarely is it open late. Sometimes on the weekends, we can hear T on a microphone but we do not know what he is saying. The man is probably my age and looks decades older. He chain-smokes. He is open when he wants to be and closed when he wants to be. He will chase out drunks. He also is the neighborhood watchdog and I have seen him on a number of occasions protecting what he believes needs to be protected.
We do not visit him enough - purely because of our limited language skills. Of late, we have tried to stop in and have a beer whenever we are in town. Dear Daughter is enamoured with his newest dog, Hunter, as she was with is previous one, Monsieur. We are trying slowly to build some sort of relationship with him…slowly…we have had the apartment for seven years.
The interior of his bar was completely destroyed. The small wooden fence that he put up around the exterior that served as a small terrace was washed away along with the chairs and tables. The flower boxes that his wife set around the fence are long gone. When we arrive on Monday, the windows and doors are shut but we notice a workman's truck. T has handpainted a sign that indicates he will reopen on Thursday. We watch the people going in and out this week but we never saw T. We see his car; we see Hunter. But we see neither T nor his wife. Last night, work was going inside until quite late. It seemed as though many in the neighborhood had stopped by to lend a hand or to have a beer.
Today at 11am, he reopened. No fanfare. He just opened the doors. The fence has not been replaced. There are no tables, chairs or flowers outside. I finally see him shortly before 4pm, sitting on the curb outside our apartment. "Ca va?" I ask. He looks up and says "Ca va". I was supposed to be going for a run but I realize that he wants me to see inside. We walk across the street and into his bar. There are no tables and chairs. The bar is in place along with the tv. It looks completely different but not in a bad way. He tells his wife that I am here…the American. She comes from around the bar and kisses me on the cheek. We go through some pleasantries…is our place ok…how long will we be here…are we on holiday? She asks if I want a coffee. I say no and try to indicate that I am going for a run. She seems a bit dismayed and I assure her that I will be back tomorrow. She tells me a little about the flood - how high the waters come. Then T pops up with a question, "You like?" I tell him that I do and ask him if he likes the new place. He shakes his head no but then smiles and says that he does. I am not sure if he does or not. However, this is his life.
As I wish them a good day and tell them that I will be back tomorrow, his wife says, "We were the first." It took me a moment to understand what she is telling me. It is important to them to reopen…to be the first to reopen. Regardless of chairs and tables…the bar is reopen.