The Chateau, The Flood and Me

17 09 2016

A few years ago I saw a story about an Australian couple that had bought and were attempting to restore the 14th century French Chateau de Gudanes.  They recently shared a Vogue article about the Summer at the Chateau. I got lost in the stunning photography and found myself drawn back to the story over and over. It seemed so different than my life in flood-soaked Louisiana.

The photos showed antique chairs and a settee outside casually placed around a fire pit with a glimpse of the Chateau’s weathered wall; colorful summer wildflowers placed in front of a crumbling fireplace or artfully placed in a vintage china bowl. Centuries old bedroom furniture comfortably arranged in a room ravished by time; broken windows opened to a stunning summer mountain view unchanged by time; a stairway lit only by candlelight. As I explored this beautiful, other-worldly place, I found a blog post written by the new lady of the manor. She wrote of the Chateau as a real, living thing and she told of the gifts, as well as the difficulties that she and her husband had experienced in trying to bring life back to the crumbling structure.

She wrote of friendships that have been forged as people from all over the world were drawn to restoring this old structure that had survived wars, droughts, famines, and time. But it was her short mention about the frustrations of hitting government bureaucracy that made me see similarities in my seemingly unrelated Louisiana life. It’s clear in her writing that she doesn’t want to complain about her frustrations because it’s obvious that she comes from wealth and privilege to be able to not only buy the Chateau, but to attempt a restoration on such a grand scale.

My home did not flood, so I too come from a place of privilege. The waters crept close, but the house stayed dry unlike my neighbors a block away. I have a bit of survivor’s guilt and know I can’t complain. But loss and sadness hit me anyway.

 

 

I’ve lived in my home nearly 30 years. The people that own businesses around me are my friends. The family that owned the best Chinese take out—whose children I watched grow up—will not be reopening, nor will the drugstore, or the dance studio in which a generation of little girls twirled and danced. My hardware store and garden center, where I bought my Christmas trees, my birdseed, and who helped me with my garden was swept away forever. My gym is gone, as are the three grocery stores I frequented. While it’s just an inconvenience to find another place to shop, I don’t know what happened to the people who worked there, that I knew by face and smile only. Did they lose their home and car along with their job? Or were they lucky like me?

trash

House after house, street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood. Photography by my daughter, Jade Th’ng

 

trashpile

Photography by Jade Th’ng

 

books

Photography by Jade Th’ng

wheelchairs-copy

In front of the nursing home where my mother use to live. Photography by Jade Th’ng

There has been progress made in the weeks since the biblical-sized flood hit south Louisiana. The trash piles that contained people’s lives in the front of their homes are starting to be picked up. By spring the trash piles will all be gone and new growth will erase the brown stained yard that’s left behind. But right now, spring seems a long way away.

Like the Chateau owner, I have many, many, friends frustrated by bureaucracy. Everyone is desperate to get normalcy back into their lives, to get back home. Only to be bitch-slapped by insurance, or FEMA, or this or that agency. They’re told their claims are being denied, or to start over, or to fill out this form, or go to that office, or to wait in that line, or to be put on endless hold.

So I continue to go back to gaze at the Chateau’s photos. I’m an art director, so I understand it’s the contrast of the time-damaged walls with the exquisiteness of hand-crafted antique furniture, or beautiful flowers next to crumbling brick, that makes the images so powerful.

I’ve now walked through friends flood damaged homes. I’ve seen the contrasts in their lives. These home are in the process of being restored too. I see their precious, salvaged items scattered out on tables in gutted homes. I’ve seen made up air mattresses replacing bedroom furniture on concrete floors. I’ve seen temporary privacy walls shielding bathrooms that have working plumbing. Like the Chateau, my friends’ homes are trying to come back to life.

Expert historians, artisans, and just plain folk are drawn to help restore the Chateau. The job is much bigger than the Australian couple can accomplish by themselves. Across the world in my beloved Louisiana, volunteers, faith-based groups, friends and family are helping each other try to bring lives back to normal. It’s bigger than any one person, or one family, or one town, or even one state can accomplish.

Life in south Louisiana is in a new normal. Many things we love are gone forever. They will be replaced with something new. It will take time, and patience, and money. Restoration has a timeline of it’s own. It may take another generation to see the fruits of our labor. But it will eventually be restored, just like the Chateau.

If you’d like to contribute to Louisiana’s flood recovery these are organizations that I trust.

Together Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Woman’s Hospital (where I work)
GoFundMes
A friend, Trent Bland and family
A musician friend, Joey Decker and family
Where my daughter and parents went to High School
For McKinley Senior High School students

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