Thursday, November 10, 2011


Rain has been a major preoccupation this week in Alba: we’ve had nearly a foot of it.
Il pleut: it’s come down hard – in buckets, you’d say in both English and French. It’s been pouring, as we say – or raining spouts, as they say. (Il pleut des trombes) The French find it amusing that we English speakers complain it’s raining cats and dogs; I hope you find it amusing that here in France it rains ropes (des cordes), and, if things get really bad, it comes down like a cow pisses (comme vache qui pisse).
Over the past week we’ve had it in ropes and buckets and cats and cows. In a village full of farmers and broken down old houses, you feel torn between happy for the crops and sad for all the cooped-up stonemasons, and of course irritated you left your laundry out on the line.
But then on Friday morning we woke up and began to feel nervous. We live right next to the River Escoutay, which, on most days is barely more than a cheerful trickle. But early Friday morning there was a lull in the rain, and we realized the roaring we heard was the Escoutay. It rose and rose. On Saturday night, my husband filled up sand bags for my mother-in-law, who lives on the ground floor and didn’t sleep much listening out for the river to stop roaring and begin to clank, which is how you know it has rolled all its rocks right up into to the back yard and is about to flood your kitchen.
Luckily, the river subsided, and the rain died back down to a drizzle (which the French describe in diminutives of il pleut, as if we were saying “it’s rain-ish-ing” – il pleuvine, il pleuviote, il pleuvasse).
Lying in bed with the sound of those drops falling and falling on our skylights has made me realize how much country living is full of listening for rain; it has made me nostalgic for a French expression that died away as we and our language have drained out of the countryside and flooded into cities, with their clothes dryers and indoor jobs.
The expression is ecoute-s’il-pleut (listen-if-it’s-raining). It was what people would call a river like the Escoutay that runs slow and lazy until it roars up into your back yard, or a mill that didn’t work too well in the dry seasons. By extension, it was used to describe the a kind of lazy person who sat around waiting for a stroke of luck, or who was too busy listening for the rain to get out and get anything done. Or someone like me, who’s waiting for the sun to come so she can get those wet clothes in off the line.

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