Floods and Acting the Eejit

Faire le Zouave.

Il fait le zouave = “that fella is acting the eejit” = “that young man is acting like an idiot”.

From Wikipedia: The Zouaves were a group of prestigious light infantry regiments linked to French North Africa between 1830 and 1962, as well as some units of other countries modelled upon them.

Apparently they were very disciplined soldiers up to the point they were a bit ridiculous.  As in, so they had so much discipline there was no brain activity encouraged and they ending up behaving like eejits.  So Zouave came to mean eejit.

We have major floods in France at the moment.  There was a big problem this week where the Seine river level rose quite dramatically in Paris and the authorities didn’t realise in time.  Reason being that the various sensors installed on the river were blocked with branches and the like so the readings for river level increase rate weren’t very accurate.

Hence the levels rose very quickly and people weren’t expecting it and unfortunately weren’t very well prepared.  Cue lots of danger, wet furniture and teeth gnashing.  And experts navel gazing on the news saying things like “oui et bien we rely too much on technology, all anybody had to do was check the level against le Zouave”.

So as we were laying around in front of television yester evening your’s truly said to one’s darling significant other “what on earth is that Suaaave thing?”.  He patiently explained that one of the traditional ways of keeping an eye on river level in Paris is to use the Zouave.  Le Zouave being a statue on le Pont d’Alma on the Seine river in Paris.

The poor divil’s feet, knees and face are key indicators of which Parisien public transport systems are currently affected by the floods.

  • If his feet are covered, the “voie sur berges” are closed.  (Le voie sur berges is a road which runs just above water level right beside the river and would generally be a short-cut).
  • If his knees are covered, it means that no boats are allowed on the river.
  • The metro is flooded when his face is covered.

Note: I am not sure if that is completely accurate – he was raised by about thirty centimetres when they rebuilt the bridge in 1970 and descriptions vary alot on the internet.  But you get the idea.

If statues could talk he’d probably have a lot to say.  Including sensors are for eejits.  Put a sensor on my ass he’d probably say.  And then he’d say glug glug glug.

So in reading about it in French newspapers, I came across a portentous article in le Figaro written in March this year investigating the probability of doom and Armageddon in the form of the flood of the century (figaro article).  If you are interested in knowing why French farmers are fishing for salad then read on (sorry, clickbait ahoy me hearties!).He talks about the last major flood in 1910 and the different accounts of it.  How the public transport system closed down, with the recently built Metro going out of action.  They went back to using horses (who all subsequently died from exhaustion).  The photos are incredible.  The big question on the author’s mind is whether Paris is properly prepared for another major flood.

So he goes through all the measures taken to prevent the same issue arising again.  After the 1910 flood, the powers that be starting putting in place lakes and reservoirs nearby to absorb excess water.  In general the French are pretty efficient when it comes to learning lessons.  Nowadays it is the prefet “Secrétaire Général de la zone de défense de Paris” who is top beef for flood crises.

The headquarters for crisis management is in the basement of a building subject to flooding.  So they have evacuation plans if water levels go above six metres.

So this week, the water level went above six metres.  Ho hum.  I can hear la Zouave laughing mirthlessly underwater from here.

Le Monde has done a few articles about the farmers in the Seine valley.  It is heart breaking stuff really.  Their fields are very close to the river banks and a lot of them saw their land turn into lakes.  Some might say “well they knew there was the risk” but when you read their stories you realise they are not stupid, they are just like anybody else trying to eke out a living.  A lot of them are asking for state compensation which will probably create a “polémique” (controversy).

So it got me thinking about the people I meet at the market.  They work very hard.  Up at the crack of dawn and doing heavy manual work they are no shirkers.

In one Le Monde article the interviewer asks the farmer surveying his lake-field why people are wandering around with little fishing nets.  A bit surreal indeed.

So the farmer explains that it is because the workers are saving the fish – carps who are swimming around the salads.  He sighs and says ” I hope they (the workers) don’t squish everything, you know never we might be able to recover some stuff”.  He had just explained how they had paid all their bills and were literally waiting for the harvest to make the money and balance the sheets.  His employees are probably out of a job soon too.  But they are still saving the little fishies.

And I am thinking…that takes some strong mental attitude in this day and age to plug away at such a hard job without even having to deal with random floods.  Fair dues.

So now the farmers have asked the state to declare “l’état de calamité agricole” so that they can benefit from a fund called the “fonds national de gestion des risques en agriculture (FNGRA)”.  Because apparently they can’t get insurance against floods.  The government has launched an investigation to see if they can justify declaring a state of agricultural emergency.  It all seems quite well organised to be honest.  Lets see how it all pans out.


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