Saturday, 20 October 2012

Where's Noah's Ark when you need it? (3 of 3)

For Parts One and Two click on links.

Greater Buenos Aires, 1984

Dramas caused by poor drainage systems on main arterial roads to and from the Argentine capital continued at least to the end of the last century.  The bus services were good and frequent, as were the trains – but with disinvestment and the exponential rise in population breakdowns became more common, long queues at bus stops a daily chore, and relatively inexpensive taxi services flourished.  Traffic jams were a fact of life as people sought other ways to get to work – and though the drainage may have improved since those days, the public transport infrastructure has not. 

Back in the 1980s my sister had a little Fiat 600 which served her well for her complicated commute from the northern suburbs of the city to the western outskirts – some 30km/19 miles, which took about 45 minutes every morning. 

(These are all pictures from Google)

One rainy Friday morning, the last in May of 1984, she was caught up in a flash flood when she embarked on her usual route which included Avenida General Paz, one of the principal westbound avenues.  There had been bad flooding in the neighbourhoods leading to this road following heavy rain, and water was gushing towards it from all directions. 

As water swirled around them traffic was at a standstill for two hours, and she had reason to be thankful that the distributor of the Fiat 600 was high up in the engine and she was in no danger of stalling.  The rain was coming down in torrents, angry motorists sat on their horns because it was each man for himself, trying to squeeze into any corner that would give him an advantage.

(This is the bus I used to take to school every day - No. 68!)

She was at last able to inch her way onto an uphill slip road heading she knew not where, and it was nearly lunchtime by the time she stopped at a bar to make a phonecall – it was pre-cellular phone days.  She was in an unfamiliar part of Buenos Aires, and did not have a street planner with her, so could not reply properly to her boss when he answered the phone demanding to know where she was and what time she would be getting to work.  He lived in a higher area and had experienced no problem getting to work.  This reinforced her resolve to get to the office somehow.

As she returned to her car she realised that she would be heading towards an area where the flood seemed to be rising, so she turned the other way to the centre of town, which was the complete opposite direction to where she wanted to go.  An hour later she hadn’t proceeded very far, but the water was still steadily rising.  Suddenly she saw a traffic island ahead which though virtually submerged had a mound of rubble on the top.  She coaxed the Fiat onto it and decided to sit it out for a while.

The water swished about in waves as other, bigger cars floated and swayed this way and that around her perched as she was on what could have been a roundabout.  With typical sang froid she calmly unscrewed the top of her Thermos containing hot soup, and unwrapped her apple, proceeding to have her office lunch as she watched them.

 At about 5 p.m. the water level at last started to drop, and she bumped off the traffic island roughly in the direction of home.  On the way she and her noble little Fiat were able to help shunt a few bigger cars out of deep pools of water; with no buses running there were long queues of damp looking people at the bus stops, so she stopped at one and offered some women a lift in her general direction, which they accepted gratefully. 

When they parted company they showered her with blessings and thanks, with good wishes to all her family, and one of the ladies even said “…and may God bless your mother-in-law too.” 

“I’m divorced”,  my sister replied, “so let’s leave her out of this.”

 She finally got home at 6 p.m., never having got to the office.  Her round trip that day had been nigh on 200km/124 miles and had taken nearly 11 hours.  Then she remembered that it was the last Friday of the month and payday, which she had missed.  There were no credit cards in the Argentina of those days with only cash being accepted in shops, so she was forced to spend an extremely quiet weekend…

 Near Valencia, Spain, Year 2000

My parents retired to a garden suburb some 20 km west of Valencia and lived in what was to me an unlovely but practical concrete house with a very nice swimming pool.  They were very comfortable there, but as I said before in this series of posts, they were not given to monitoring their property for signs of wear and tear – with the exception of my father’s acute concern for the excessive contents of the cesspit, which I’ve told you about in my series The Spanish Villa (see link in left margin). 

The building itself received little attention after it was checked when they first moved in.  It had a flat roof, where the former owners had held parties, which had some remedial work done to it to ensure it was properly sealed, and that was that.  The problem was that the house was surrounded by pine trees, whose needles dropped gently, fragrantly and insidiously all year round down the drain pipes, unbeknown to or ignored by them.  They were never checked, and one winter when there were unusually fierce thunderstorms, my parents learned the hard way that they had been blocked by pine needles for some time.

With little warning, parts of the roof in different parts of the house caved in.  I have described this before here  in April this year towards the end of the post, but as it’s my theory that readers seldom click on back links (!),  I’ll cut and paste what I said then:

…During an unusually fierce downpour sections of the roof all round the house caved in and the house was flooded.  They were on their own at the time, but six wonderfully kind neighbours came to their help with squeegees and floor mops; over several hours they cleared away the swirling muddy water and set up plastic tubs to catch the rain falling through the various holes in the ceiling.  Eventually it was all repaired, but to save money they had not insured the property or the contents, so it was also a financial blow to them.

The real damage however was to their morale, particularly my father’s, who was terribly distressed by it all and it is possible that it may have triggered the Parkinsons disease to which he succumbed the following year.  Mum just got on with things in her practical way, carefully segregating the books which had been damaged and propping them up (open) all over the house, and once a day doing the rounds turning all the pages to help in the drying process – a bizarre sight when you visited.

Dad had enjoyed sorting out his papers and his books in a particular sequence of his choosing years before, and up until that point had known where everything was.  Now he had to start from scratch, and everything was water stained.  It was heartbreaking to see.

Wonderful thirstquenching blissfulswimming bodycooling spirithealing and respect inspiring…. WATER.

Do you have your flood stories to tell?


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Visit to a mirror shop

A Chinese Circus visits Bristol



Mariana said...

Caroline! Floods follow you, my gosh! I'm sure you go everywhere wearing rain boots just in case! But I've got something to tell you: even when your tale about your sister's car happened a long time ago, BA stills turns into a giant lagoon every time heavy rains come, specially during the summer, and I think it's probably even worse now, due to all the garbage people throws in the streets and that the storm drains are blocked and nobody ever cleans them... that and the fact that, although we don't see them, the streams that run under the city are still there!!!
Anyway, I'm here to leave you the link I promised you on my blog, I think you're gonna like it:

It's a show about Argentinean Spanish and why we talk the way we do; It's rather interesting as well as fun!



Lonicera said...

Very naive of me - there was I thinking that these floods were a thing of the past! Love the link you gave me, it's like a video dictionary for me - I've listened to one of the episodes already.

Joyful said...

I can't imagine living in those kind of flood conditions year after year. I know many people have no choice. Even here we get backed up culverts and drains finding it hard to cope from time to time but nothing like what your photos show.

I do love the photos of shots into mirrors reflecting various scenes. Very lovely.

Lonicera said...

Thanks for the comment Penny - I'm sure your experience is better because Vancouver has high rainfall and someone planned it properly when they were laying down the drains...

Coral Wild said...

It has been wonderful catching up on your flood postings Caroline.
We've also had lots of rain recently and flash floods in many places, but apart from having to drive over some 30 kilometres of bad, slippery, mud roads on my last safari in Zululand (and fortunately not getting stuck!!)I have managed to miss the floods myself:)
I love your mirror photos.

Lonicera said...

Thanks Sue - I forgot that your everyday life consists of facing muddy roads in the rainy season, when the only decent way to travel is on hooves.

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