Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The déchèterie, and other waste matters.

Something happens to you when you come and live here. You find you become rather preoccupied socially with two particular topics of conversation.

The primary thing ex-pats, as I have reluctantly deigned to admit I am, talk about is septic tanks.

France is currently undergoing a drainage revolution, which may prove as culturally significant as the one involving the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the tumbrils. ( Incidentally, a bladed paper cutter here is known as a massicot, I once referred to one as a guillotine and was corrected in a manner that seemed to me somewhere between embarrassed and frosty...). After all, what would rural France be without that delicate aroma of dodgy drains? ( and before you pick me up for smug anglocentric intolerance, Storm Jameson, a more cultured francophile than I could ever be, made the same observation in 'The Hidden River'). And will it affect the flavour of the cheese?( Possibly interesting question, which came first, the smell of the drains or the smell of the cheese?)

Similarly, the corrugated aluminium vans, the rickety 2CVs and Renault 4s tied together with bits of string in which I hitch-hiked my way across the country twenty-five years ago, also one of those things which made France so, well... French, have more or less become a thing of the past. This is thanks to the passage of time and Alain Juppé's spoilsport juppette measures, and also perhaps the tendency of their elderly drivers to assume they still had priorité à droite when joining modern dual carriageways in the path of large articulated lorries, which might have accounted for the demise of a few (vehicles and drivers).

So, yes, where was I? The modernisation of the sewerage system. This is a brave but Herculean attempt to bring the treatment of all of our waste water, wheresoever its origins, up to a satisfactory norme by... well, a certain date. This date keeps changing, because the enormity of the task, and an entrenched attitude which, in my more genuinely intolerant and smart-arsed moments, I have described as 'if it ain't broke don't fix it, and if it is broke don't fix it either', keeps being brought home to those who are trying to effect the change. We attended a meeting at the salle polyvalante, (or as it has sometimes been called the Poll Sallyvalante) on the matter of the new measures.

A bright young lassie from the new body that has been set up for the purpose, gave us a very conscientious Powerpoint presentation, and then opened the meeting to questions. These varied from 'why can't I just mix it with the cow slurry like I've always done?', to 'will I still be able to sell my dilapidated house to a commonsensically challenged English person?' ( ok, I've interpreted that one a bit imaginatively...), to, perhaps the most pertinent, 'who the hell's going to make me do anything about it anyway?' This last received a general laugh from the floor and a sententious lecture from the Mayor on the subject of citoyenneté. Frankly, though, give a French country person, or anyone else for that matter, a choice between citoyenneté and not shelling out several thousand euro on a new septic tank, it's fairly likely what they'll go for, revolution or not.

However, it gives the rest of us incomers something to chew over, so to speak . Is yours an old style fosse, or a toutes eaux model? Will the main drains ever make it this far? How long can we afford to wait for the tax break to get it done? Especially perhaps the English, who, let's face it, are somewhat fascinated by matters lavatorial... and perhaps the Scots and Dutch, who are concerned with saving the pennies, and the Germans, who like to have everything organised and in good order... am I falling into superficial national stereotyping again? I don't quite know what to say about the American; he seems fairly exercised about it too...

I had no intention to expound at such length on the last subject, but perhaps that gives some idea how it gets to one... The other matter we converse on animatedly over our foie gras-free and veal-less dinner tables and 2000 Bordeaux is the déchèterie, which was supposed to be the main subject of this post. Am I convincing you yet of the glamour of life in la belle France?

The dechétèrie is the municipal tip. (It used to be spelled with two 't's, an orthography the signposts to the older sites still retain, but obviously the Academy made a new ruling.) The newly opened one at Hénon is so clean and well- ordered you could eat your dinner off it. When it opened, our refuse bill ( we get that separately from other local taxes) more or less trebled, with a note attached explaining the cost of the project accounted for the increase, so we accepted it and decided we'd best get our money's worth. So it has become THE place to hang out of a Saturday morning.

It is beautifully landscaped, with banks of roses and lovely views.

(Our old BX is the car on the furthest left, with the boot open. Tom's taking out a sheet of old plasterboard, I think)

There seems to be a policy of employing people to oversee the workings of the place who have mild learning disabilities. This isn't a facetious remark, but the apparent fact, and they're very good. They have pride in their work, and also something of a mentality that loves and strives for good order, doing things properly and according to rule, and enough determined bossiness to make sure everyone keeps to it. So put your stuff in the right container, OK?

As well as the large open area for garden waste at the bottom of the site, there's one for paper and another for cardboard boxes, one for plastic and one for glass (oops, looks like a bit of plastic found its way in there...)

anything with wood in goes in wood,

and anything with metal in metal.

There's a special one for all kinds of tyres,

and everything else goes into tout-venant.

I was drawn to the variety of forms, a recurrent delight in old-fashioned 'gear and tackle and trim',

and the visible history and range of domestic design, in everyday items,

textiles and papers,

and the curious intermingling of organic and mineral matter; the interesting possibilities of rust.

So I took the camera with me a couple of times and asked the fellow in charge if I could take photographs. His reaction was one of slightly embarrassed puzzlement dawning into pleasure that someone else had an interest in the matter of his work, and afterwards he kept looking at me and grinning. (I had a similar reaction from the driver of the crane-lorry that brought building materials last summer, when I began taking pictures of the vehicle's lifting gear in action, a rather shy awareness of pride in the job. I was much shyer about wielding the camera then, too.)

Another customer, though, seemed convinced that my motives were other, and pursued me, asking a couple of times if I was conducting some kind of an enquête. If I had the quick wit and imagination and lacked the conditioned ineptitude for that kind of dishonesty, I could perhaps have said yes and developed the theme. But I'm more often on the receiving end of wind-ups than the instigator of them, and simply told him, emphatically, no, I enjoyed taking pictures of unusual things, and had no wish to annoy anyone... the camera has given me a different view on life to be sure, and apparently gives others a different view of me. I'm still not confident about pointing it at people, however.

So there you are, how to succeed in conversation and the cool place to be seen on a Saturday morning in our social circle, don't miss out!


Jean said...

What a wonderful, funny, interesting, well-crafted, beautifully illustrated piece.

Thanks for the tip about 'guillotine' - I didn't know that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your nice note, I never thought I could handle the technology of establishing a blog but this 52-year old woman seemed to sail through it without the need for college-aged sons to step in and do it.

I have been keeping an online journal for years, I will be moving some of it here from time to time.

Thanks for adding me to your blog roll, I'm just figuring that out.

Anonymous said...

Love this post!
So enjoy this glimpse into your corner of France.

Jean said...

Lucy, I read your comment on AutumnMoon's beautiful new blog, to the effect that you are wondering where you're going after a while here.

Somewhere deep, thoughtful, beautiful, spontaneous and always interesting as far as I'm concerned. I don't know if you really have lots of time and space in your life to think deeply and at length, but you certainly make me feel as though you do; such thoughtfulness and spaciousness and playfulness.

Lucy said...

Ah Jean, and I must say it's nice to have you back in circulation a bit more!
I can't be doing with too much agonising about blogging on blogs, and I'm not really agonising anywhere. I love doing this and would find it very hard to stop now if I tried.
I suppose the irony is,when you start you do it without any imagined readers in mind, but long for them, when you get them I suppose you feel very eager to please them, and sometimes I worry if this affects what I do and don't write. And as everyone knows, inspiration comes and goes.
I hope I manage a reasonable mix of different things, from the frivolous to the confessional, and I think I'm blessed with a really excellent mix of commenters, who are nice enough to be encouraging!
And yes, I am also very lucky to have a decent amount of space and time to do it, which makes me very admiring of people like you, who fit it into much more demanding lives and do it so well.
Zephyr and Autumnmoon - thanks again.

Catalyst said...

Ooohh, that looks like a great place for a scavenger!

Fire Bird said...

There is something so satisfying about taking stuff to the dump, isn't there... Not unlike - well, taking a dump, not to put too fine a point upon it...
I enjoyed the first part for the laughs about French life, and the last for the photographs.


Anonymous said...

Jean has voiced my thoughts exactly! You have such a way with words and you are also a great photographer. Fabulous story about life in your neck of the woods. (Have to look up a few of those French words though.) Next time husband goes to the recycling and waste depot, I think I must go exploring with my camera too, though it's not as clean and well-organized a place as yours.

Granny J said...

A remarkably well organized -- dump! Which makes it an even more interesting place to photograph the ordinary in its final throes.

herhimnbryn said...

Ah, the Septic tank. Guess what we have?
Living in the Hills, means Septics...such a joy! Especially when your Beloved digs it out ( to renew the blue metal in the leach drain)bang in the middle of summer!He realised later that a contractor would have taken a w/e to complete what he did in three months.
Septics are endless topic around supper tables here.....c'est la vie.

Your writing and images always enchant Lucy. Thankyou.

leslee said...

This was fun, and enlightening. Great photos! Somehow our trash here in the US just isn't as pretty. Maybe if we had a word for it like the déchèterie...

Lucy said...

Catalyst - well it would be, but actually those containers are quite deep, and clambering down into one might be rather dangerous as someone might throw something on top of you. I daresay if there was something you really fancied you could ask to have it retrieved, but you'd probably be heavily tutted at for such irregular behaviour! I rarely sse anything intact enough to really make my fingers itch, and anyway, these days I'm a reformed character and refrain from scavenging activites too much...
TG - I have actually had that very thought and voiced it before!
ML - thanks. It's true this is an exceptionally good one.
GrannyJ - 'final throes' is right; there's seldom anything intact or salvageable there, but that kind of makes it interesting. A bit sad too, I guess.
H - when it comes to septic tanks, leave it to the pros! The cheap way of getting them emptied was always to have the farmer come and do it and of course it was always just mixed with the slurry ( illegal, and now they're cracking down a bit). We could never bring ourselves to do this,being English and uptight, as it felt like a step of familiarity too far with our farmer somehow... Three months in an Aussie summer sounds like a real ordeal. Stories abound... Anyway, nice to know folks on the other side of the world are having similar conversations.
Leslee - yes, I suppose it is quite a pretty word!

Avus said...

I want to rescue that bicycle and restore it!

robinstarfish said...

What beautiful trash! Our refuse collection acreage is euphemistically called a "sanitary landfill" which in truth equates to "filthy dump."

I have taken a camera once or twice, but swarms of flies and flocks of hungry gulls mysteriously did not translate to beauty! Is there no dust in France? ;-)

meggie said...

Great post! And wonderful pics.
It seems our wastes get crushed before taking to the dump, so I am not sure if they have anything left to see! Although our waste collection bins are supposedly recycled- organic waste, recyclables, such as paper & glass, & then the household waste.
There used to be a wonderful shop, called Junkastic Park, which sold on junk others may wish to recycle usefully. Council closed it down- no one is sure why!

Lucy said...

Avus, you just can't help yourself can you?
Robin - there is indeed plenty of dust in my house, but curiously little at the tip...
Meggie - Junkastic Park, great name! Perhaps the council closed it down because it was a cover for something...