I was foaming at the mouth when it happened, but I cut her some slack because the French are like that, a nation of high-strung poodles.
At one sink, I brushed my teeth and next to me at the other sink was one of my new friends. Nolwenn is classic French, slender, dark-haired. Think Audrey Hepburn and Gigi.
"Good morning," she says softly, musical notes in her voice.
The only sound from my direction was water pouring from the faucet. She started washing her face. This went on for minutes, me brushing, and her caressing her skin, water running.
Then, suddenly, she reached her hand across me, her length of arm all in my personal space, and flat-handed the lever of my faucet. In my sink. Shutting down the water. On a dime.
I cut her a sharp look.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she said.
That was no apology. It was an Ecology strike. These Europeans are serious about conservation.
I am American, but more than that I am a Midwestern American. I live in Michigan. Our neighbors are Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin.
The Great Lakes states.
Rust belt America.
Call us what you will. The reality is we have water up the ass.
Twenty percent of the fresh water in the world is in the Great Lakes. That world includes France, Spain and all of Europe. People can’t live without it.
So I’m a luxurious mid-westerner; keeping the water running while I brush my teeth is in the fabric of my life. At home, there is plenty more where that came from.
Maybe that’s wasteful, but look, the water goes down the drain to a treatment plant, then back to the Great Lakes. When a river floods, it soaks into the ground into a reservoir, and finds its way back to the Great Lakes. Since the world began, always the same amount of water in one place or the other.
We have water. That’s why it made no sense that the State of Michigan government cut off the City of Flint’s good water.
I didn’t say all that to my French friend. I didn’t have to. I am in the 1%, if you catch my meaning. I have water, and you, Frenchie, do not.
Finished cleaning her face, she turned the corner to go up the stairs, and I flipped the lever back up. Water rushes out, and I rinse my mouth.
In March, one thing enquiring minds at Can Serrat wanted to know was, “Is there hot water?”
There was not always, but I was good with that because a few years ago my dermatologist told me my skin was so dry I did not need to shower every day. Every other day or every third day was good enough.
On the showerless days, I wash the strategic, animal parts of my body, reapply deodorant, wipe over my extremities with a wet cloth, spread on body lotion and I am good to go. The tempermental water heater was my problem only every few days.
Still, every day, this question from my housemates who envision themselves under a Costa Rica waterfall. “Is there hot water?”
On the inside of the shower door, there is a note that says to please shut the door to save the warm temperature. A version of the word caliente/hot is there.
I practice these words to myself, saying them like an enchantment, whispering for my ears only, “Agua caliente.” Hot water. “Agua caliente.”
Words spoken into the universe. Mothers in Flint watched the water, hot and cold, and whispered to themselves, "bad water."
One morning at Can Serratt, hot water comes from the faucet, and I get my chance to say the words I practiced.
The first time they came out under my breath.
"Agua caliente, si."
“Uh?” goes the first person, from England.
The next time I feel more confident.
“Agua caliente, si.”
“Hot water?” that one asked, surprised.
In time I am fairly shouting.
“Agua caliente, si.”
“Bueno,” the Columbia said. I wish her all the magic that Marquez left behind.
It was good to communicate; it works, language works.
I have never worked in a restaurant, but the kitchen at Can Serratt looked like one when all at once everyone started cooking their contribution to the Saturday evening meal.
One peeled potatoes, and another decided to bake a cake and another declared his love for aubergines.
The second weekend, Bravas was the main attraction. That's potatoes, served on a platter with tomato sauce, yum. I ate this first in the bar.
People stood over two big skillets filled with hot olive oil, and chunks of potatoes bath in it, tanning on each side. Someone else is whipping up a red pepper dip, and another grilling the bread for it.
Silently, I looked for a way to get in, to come in off the bench and be a player. I wanted to participate, but how?
I ran for my bottle of Vermouth. It’s sweet wine, served over ice with olives and oranges, green olives and orange oranges sliced thin; 20 percent alcohol. I have one here at my elbow right now.
I offered the Vermouth, which they love, but contributing drink felt like not enough with so much food perfume in the air.
I watched how they do this group love, waiting for my opportunity. And suddenly, I saw it.
The buffet against the wall had two low shelves holding serving dishes. I grabbed a platter and brought it back to the stove. “Here,” I said.
“We’re gonna need a big one,” the Croatian guy shouted. So, I clambered back for one.
I have contributed. From that point on, in my mind I am an important part of my community. My contributions wax and wane, depending on my personal agenda, but I now have a place.
The City of Flint, once a powerhouse for GM, helped make the State of Michigan, and now it shows us what the State has come to be.