When our house was flooded in September 2009 during a terrible storm, we went through all sorts of problems.
Problems that go along with flooding of course. A very unpleasant experience but at the time, we didn’t feel too bad. Life is not always pleasant and we had not lost too many things after all.
Life has taught us not to worry too much about material damages. This is a very positive lesson learned from fighting cancer.
But up to a certain point!
Flooding was one thing. You can’t beat a storm.
But the second flooding in my den... could have been avoided if only someone had not forgotten to turn the water off when he changed the sink in the upstairs bathroom.
They never said anything but I noticed something was wrong as soon as I came back. Trust me. I am a photographer and I see things that most people miss.
The ceiling looked weird, kind of bumpy. Since it had been completely redone after collapsing because of the flood, no one could fool me, especially not the contractor.
Before the ceiling collapsed, we had had enough time to empty my den and to pile up my somewhat damp but otherwise safe books in another room.
This time was different.
When I came back, I noticed a lot of greyish dust around. I decided to start cleaning what I thought to be the remains of some heavy refurbishing.
Then I heard about the new flooding from my cleaning lady.
I had to clean and sort my books again. I found a nice program to sort books on the web... And I started to remove the books away from the shelves. Tiring but almost fun. Duster in one hand, computer ready. Checking the books, cleaning them and then sorting them on the landing.
It looked like a lot of fun at first since I very rarely get out of the house in Belgium. Popeye was a little bit worried by the extent of the job!
I kept going and going and going... Working, working, working.
My nights were great. I slept like a baby. Wait, babies don’t sleep. I slept like an old cat then.
Every morning, back to work. The bookshelves were chaos. But I was finding old friends. So much fun.
Until yesterday when I got close to the place which had obviously been flooded twice... Most of my oldest English books section.
Some books were «glued» together. I started to get worried. Since I was classifying them as well as dusting them, I started realizing that some were missing!
Yes, there were books missing! Definitely missing.
You see, I’m crazy about books. Take me shopping for clothes, I probably won’t care unless I really, really need new clothes.
But never let me go into a bookstore... which is something I will do anyway behind your back.
Books, I love books!
I love used books. I love new books. I love books.
I was a mouse in a previous life. I lived in a very old bookstore, eating books and liking them so much, licking my moustache with delight just the way I sigh with pure happiness and delight every time I’m reading a very good book. (I no longer have a moustache, thank you.)
I started to read quite young. Books became very precious. Whenever life was no bed of roses, I’d start reading a book. I survived because books were there, opening a new world for me. And protecting me from reality.
I belong to the kind of people who don’t really need to travel because they have already been to so many places through their mind.
I am so grateful to those wonderful writers who taught me all about life, all about others, all about myself, after all.
And so back to me sorting and dusting and cleaning my beloved books. Yes, quite a few were missing. I found out more or less which ones. It was quite easy actually but I won’t tell you all my secrets today. It broke my heart. Most of them were very old books (bought when I was much, much younger). Some I had read again and again.
And I knew very well where they ended. The dustbin. The men who fixed the ceiling again probably thought that they would be too much of a proof someone had been clumsy. Off to the dustbin they went.
There are so many books on my bookshelves that they imagined I wouldn’t notice. But I did. And I miss them...
You see, when my brother died suddenly, I had to go through sorting his stuff. It was such a harrowing experience that when I came back to our home, I threw away all the small trinkets and souvenirs I had brought back from travels or bought on a whim. I did not want to put my men through what I had just lived. Just in case.
But books, books... you don’t throw books away. You pass them on to the next generation and the next and the next (hoping they will read French, Spanish and English, of course) or friends... Books keep on living a long time after you are gone.
Do you remember the first thing the Inquisition did all over Europe with priceless scrolls and books? Do you remember what Nazis did as soon as they came to power? They burnt books because books are somehow like the human soul. They represent ideas and beliefs. And ideas and beliefs are what life is made of, to start with.
Ray Bradbury wrote a very interesting book about the whole process. It is called «Fahrenheit 451». Read it. It is gripping and absolutely frightening (but not scary).
Well, one of the books they threw away was my beloved Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’.
One of my life companions.
They did the worst thing ever. They threw my books away.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*