Monday 26 October 2015

The Deluge, by Carol Drinkwater

                                                           The Deluge,  Gustave Doré

Some of you may have read about or seen on the news the appalling floods that hit my homeland of Cannes and its environs in the south of France at the beginning of this month. We were there; we had driven down the day before to spend a quiet week together, olive harvesting and writing. We arrived late on the Friday evening and woke to a sunny Saturday. I swam and pottered in the garden enjoying the autumn colours and the swelling fruits on the silvery trees. It was during dinner at about 9pm that it began to rain with cracks of distant thunder and flashes of lightning somewhere off in the distance.

‘Oh, I love storms,’ I cried. Little did I know what was to come.

It drew closer and the sky grew black. The force of the falling rain surprised and then begin to worry us. The rain slanting towards the front of the house from the direction of the sea began to creep in under the French doors. We ran to gather towels and bank its flow. Such downpours, when they come, last twenty minutes, perhaps half an hour at most and then they move on out to sea or just rain themselves out. This one didn’t. The water kept falling. We have a flat roof, such as those in Greece or north Africa, and we remained at the dinner table in the candlelight -  that upper level of the house did not lose electric power so we weren’t at that stage aware of the severity of the event – listening to it drum and tap dance on the roof.

We were astonished. It kept up its force for over two hours. I went outside to confirm that the dogs in their stable were not freaked and found I could not reach them. Our olive farm is on a hillside overlooking the sea and the water was cascading down from the summit. It flooded down stone stops that descend to the foot of our land and sounded like Niagara Falls. I began to be afraid.

Finally, it was over. By now it was midnight and we had discovered that the floors of the kitchen and guest loo on that level were swimming in about an inch of water. Michel, my husband, thought a pipe had burst.

But he was wrong.

The following morning we awoke to a glorious sunny 25C day. Of course, the land was sodden and steaming. We began to take stock. It was then we realised the extent of the damage. Every room that is built into the mountainside, into the rock, at the rear of the house had been infiltrated. The water had come in through the walls, had actually seeped through the walls and plasterwork.

On the Friday, the day we arrived, the decorator had completed a four-month redecoration of the whole house. The new paintwork was bubbled and flaking. I could not believe it. Books, paintings stacked like card packs on the floor – all were water-stained or ruined.

The lower house was without electricity. Upstairs, I switched on the television for the local news. We were the lucky ones. Cannes’ streets were a river more suitable for white-water rafting that cruising by in a convertible. Seventeen were dead, more than twenty missing. Homes had been crushed; folk drowned in their vehicles; others pushed out to sea and drowned in the swells. The homeless numbered hundreds. Our president, François Hollande, was there on Monday morning assessing the damage, allocating funds, meeting with the destitute.

We cleaned up our mess as best we could. Our electrician set our fuses and boxes right and, other than the artwork lost and the walls which will all need to be stripped and redecorated when thy have dried out, we got on with lives but I cannot say we were not shocked.
Our olive trees, at least, were looking sprightly and well-fed.

This deluge - on the third day of this tenth month - has made Côte d’Azur history. The like of such had never been seen before... or perhaps once during the early part of the twentieth century… People talked of nothing else.

It set me thinking. We read on a daily basis about the horrors taking place around the world. A tsunami, a flooding, an earthquake... but until you have been a victim of such you never really comprehend the extent of its perpetration, its human impact.

Being a writer, and I have no doubt that every HG reading this will agree, one immediately begins to think ‘how can I use this, where to put drama of such an epic scale into my story?’ And it has already found its place in the early stages of the novel I am at work on.
But, of course, I am not the first to use a deluge as writing material...

The Story of a Great Flood goes back to the Bible. Genesis 6: 5-8
God is angry with Man and decides to wipe him and his animals out, regretting the creation of them. However, Noah, a six-hundred-year-old man, finds favour with the Lord who suggests he builds an Ark and take a pair of everything with him... well, you know the story.

When I was travelling through the eastern Mediterranean I came across some very interesting thoughts on the story of the Great Flood, which is also narrated in several other texts with slightly varying details. The Epic of Gilgamesh is probably the other popular and well-known example in our western culture. However, so many cultures have written about a Great Flood in their ancient history that scholars have asked themselves whether they have all taken from each others’ sources or whether there really was one devastating deluge that flooded the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
The scientific community is divided about the historical authenticity of such an event. Most archaeologists and geologists recognise that there were many major floods and they devastated substantial civilized areas, but the majority do not hold that there was ever one single deluge that in the last 6,000 years covered a major portion of the inhabited western world.

However, when I was in Crete ferreting out olive clues and studying the Minoans who were worshippers of the olive tree, terrific seafarers, sailing far and wide in the commercialisation of their liquid gold and the perfumes they created from their oil, I heard a fascinating theory about the unexplained disappearance of these people who were wiped off the face of their island with no explanation and no trace.

Santorini, classic name is Thera, is a neighbouring island one hundred and ten kilometres north of Crete in the southern Aegean Sea. It, along with several other smaller islands in its archipelago, is all that remains of one far larger island destroyed by an enormous volcanic eruption. The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, the Minoan eruption, which occurred some 3,600 years ago. In other words at the height of the Minoan civilization.

Here is where it gets really interesting. The volcanic eruption is fact. The theory that accompanies it is that the force of the eruption left volcanic ash deposits that were hundreds of metres deep and could have caused a tsunami that rolled all the way to Crete and literally swept away the entire Minoan civilization. When I first heard this some twelve years ago, I thought it fanciful, unlikely, and then I was in Syria. I had the good fortune to travel for a short while with a guide who was an archaeologist. He told me that inland of Latakia on the Syrian coast, towards Aleppo, which is just south of Turkey, south of Mount Ararat where Noah’s Ark was situated (and was supposedly found in 2010), deposits of ancient volcanic ash were discovered. The provenance of these, geologists have traced to Santorini. That is a distance of some 1,600 kilometres. Some explosion, don't you think?

                                                Santorini in relation to Crete, to its south

The tsunami that rolled from the volcanic eruption to Crete crashed onto the land, destroying all in its wake. It brought about a massive disruption in the weather patterns and caused rains, deluge and flooding.
                         Mount Ararat in Turkey where explorers claim to have found Noah's Ark

Why did the dove bring an olive sprig back to Noah? The olive tree is, has been for over 5,000 years at least, the cornerstone of the Mediterranean kitchen. It provided sustenance and medicine. The people respected its value, its importance, and it was great deal taller than the vines or the wheat, both of which would have been wiped out by the weather.
As the floods subsided, the canopies of the olive trees were no longer submerged. They were visible, accessible. The sight of them, the ability to pluck off a twig from a branch was proof that the waters were lower than the tree tops. The rains were subsiding. The worst was over. The world was returning to calm.

                                  The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, Thomas Cole 1829

As I said there are several different variations of this tale, including my own humble version, but the fact is that such a monumental event did take place in the Aegean Sea and its impact was experienced, lived through in the Middle East.

It makes our deluge of a few weeks back seem like a shower, but it does give pause for thought. And it certainly offers material for the next novel.


Shelley said...

Very interesting post, Carol. Thanks!

Unknown said...

My brother was in Cannes that week, but fortunately his plane took off just before the storm started. Wonderfully described, thank you for sharing. xxx

Grier said...

Scary! An intriguing read on the powerful and destructive force of weather.

Liz said...

Interesting article, especially the connection to the olive tree/branch. I always learn something from these pieces.

CJ said...

cataclysmic events around the globe on a regular basis it seems..thanks, Carol, for your account of the storm..interesting story about the disappearance of the Minoans..I have learned quite a bit following your travels..

Unknown said...

Very interesting always bring history alive..and I learn something new...

Clare Mulley said...

I always think of the olive branch as the symbol of peace after human conflict, but it was perhaps also the peace after the storm then. Thank you.

Carol Drinkwater said...

Yes, Clare, that is believed to be the origin of the olive 'peace' symbol