Valentine's Day is past but an unusual love note lingers in today's story....
Also, a book you might love: Amour: How the French Talk About Love. Find it in the "Books" section" here.
TODAY'S WORD: LA PANCARTE
: banner, sign
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
The last moments before Jean-Marc flew to New Zealand for his wine mission were spent fixing our plumbing--or trying to. Ever since we moved to this 1960s villa in 2017 we've been walking a fine, crooked line with our abominable système d'évacuation WC. It all boils down to the snaking path of our canalisations, the stubborn corners of which create blockage from a build-up of papier toilette. Repairing the problem could involve ripping out our floors to locate the crooked pipes and reroute them. The demolition involved could be extensive and I don't want to destroy our floors. So we have remained as stuck as our bouchon as we tiptoe around the problem, being soucieux with we put in the toilet. Easy for us, but try getting family and guests to behave...
(While we are here, dear reader, and just to add to your French vocabulary....Here are eight things not to toss in the toilet: lingettes humides, cotons-tiges, serviettes hygiéniques, cheveux, préservatifs, mouchoirs en papier, couches jetables et emballages de produits hygiéniques.)
"I think one of the kids' friends tossed a tampon in here," Jean-Marc suspects after our pipes become clogged again (as evidenced by water rising unnervingly close to the toilet rim).
"Well, we don't know that," I say, defending la coupable. I like to think people think before tossing just anything into a toilet, but my husband is right: the truth is many don't! We have discovered everything from plastic Q-tips to chicken bones in our toilet bowl! (Regarding the bones, for years I pinned the blame on a senior family member but, come to think of it, the latter happened when several workers were renovating our house, stopping at noon for lunch...poulet rôti???).
While we know better than to flush feminine products, I was astonished when our plumber advised us not to put le PQ in the cuvette. Well then, what did he expect us to do?
"Prenez une douche," he suggested. "You might take a shower after. It's what I do...."
I tried very hard not to picture our plumber following his own advice. Meantime, our toilet is located in a separate room from our salle de bains, did he really think we were going to hop on over to the shower to rinse off? Honestly! Sometimes I think France is still living in le Moyen Âge.
LE DEPANNAGE/THE REPAIR
What with this non-flushing fiasco, Jean-Marc and I have become part-time plumbers in the 7 years we've been here, with one of us manning the garden hose and the other on standby beside the toilet. Removing a heavy metal grate from the back porch, my husband feeds le tuyau as far into our pipes as possible then releases a jet of water whilst inside the house I listen for the familiar glug, glug, glug of I'm not sure what. Then comes the call, VAS-Y! TIRE! With that, I flush the upstairs toilet. then hurry down the stairs to pull the chain on the other WC. (Ideally, one person is stationed at each toilet, but often there are only two of us here. Even so, I don't like to ask guests for help with this particular chore...)
When my sister and the kids visited last summer, Jean-Marc reminded me to tell my family NOT to put TP in the toilet. “But they'll think we are barbaric!” I argued. (For being so anti-barbaric I was rewarded with a grizzly midnight shift during the family visit as Jean-Marc and I snuck out to the backyard and pumped the pipes when all the toilets became stopped up!)
As the years passed, and our pesky plumbing problem persisted, I began dreaming of one of those Totos or Japanese toilets with the built-in water jets. But at 3000 euros a unit (and not all plumbers know how to install them) I researched other options. As stressful as this situation is, it's brought forth a few discoveries. For one, I've found The HappyPo--a portable douche that allows you to skip toilet paper altogether. And let me tell you, even if we move on to another house and the perfect plumbing system I will forever have my HappyPo with me in the WC! And you should too! This douche à fesses portable is especially helpful for those suffering from petits soucis (such as hemorrhoids).
At D-12 hours until his departure for New Zealand, we hang up the towel and agree, whether we believe it or not, that the plumbing is somewhat fixed again. So while Jean-Marc finished packing his bags, I had a nap. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than I heard my husband ripping piece after piece of tape... a familiar sound! Noooo.... He can't possibly be using duct tape (his solution to everything from broken bumpers to ripped hammocks) to fix our plumbing problem? My mind was alive with images and scenarios of our duct-taped toilet (???) until, exhausted, I fell to sleep.
When I woke up I'd forgotten all about the tape until I entered the bathroom. And there, taped to the wall and also to the door, a handwritten pancarte. (So that's what he was doing...) The first word was giant and in red: "ZERO" and the next words were in his characteristic cursive: ZERO papiers, serviettes...dans le WC. Merci d'utiliser la poupelle. Sorry. Merci." ZERO toilet paper, pads…in the toilet. Sorry. Thanks.
I found the all-caps, red-lettered note jarring (not to mention it riled my aesthetic sensibilities to see a sign like that at home). Finally, deep down, I didn't want this to be the last message I see before my man leaves (to think we once exchanged love notes!). But my emotions were overcome by amusement on noticing a slight error in the text. In the haste to tie up so many loose ends before his departure, my husband had scribbled a "p" instead of a "b"...so that poubelle (garbage can) read "poupelle".
(Pardonnez-moi for all this toilet talk, dear reader, but I can't stop laughing over the accidental exactitude of poupbelle--for isn't that where the plumber was suggesting we put the toilet paper? And didn’t it all add up to that?)
Back to the handwritten pancarte. Ah well, it wasn't the love letter of times past. And though I planned to rip it down as soon as my husband left, I've decided to keep it posted on the bathroom wall, that all-caps plea in Valentine-red ink. After all, it is a lively, caring, and protective sentiment all the same, one I can hold on to. Now if only our WC could learn to let go....
After 48 hours port à port, door to door, Jean-Marc landed in Christchurch. I leave you with a few pictures from his bike tour with longtime pal Bernard. Bernard and Jean-Marc began their biking adventure on the West Coast of New Zealand
Mille mercis to readers sending in a donation for the first time, and to those of you who regularly contribute to my journal. Your support means a lot and keeps me on track posting this weekly letter.
Gaby & Steve T.
la pancarte = sign (read a 2008 entry from the healing village of Lourdes, France)
le WC = toilet
les canalisations = pipes
soucieux, soucieuse = careful, mindful
un bouchon = a blockage
le coupable, la coupable = the guilty party
le PQ (le papier Q) = toilet paper
le poulet rôti = roast chicken
prenez une douche = take a shower
le Moyen Âge = the Middle Ages
le dépannage = fixing, repair
la cuve = tank (of toilet)
la cuvette = toilet bowl
le tuyau = pipe
vas-y, tire (la chasse d'eau)! = go ahead, flush (the toilet)!
la poubelle = the garbage can
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