Environment: Making it better wherever you are
How to Handle an Invasion of Ants
While having lunch today, I relished my salad with a delicious book, “A Year In Provence” by Peter Mayle. I love reading travel stories. This book takes you through the author’s experience of buying a house in Provence and the accompanying challenges. I’ve been on this journey with Peter Mayle for the past few weeks, through his wonderful writing, and thought you’d like to read about one of his humorous encounters with his plumber and an invasion of ants. Here is the story, which in keeping with the traditions of Provence, you should try enhancing your reading pleasure with a vintage glass of French wine, a good chèvre, and a chunk of crusty bread.
I arrived at the house to find a small conference taking place around the electricity meter which was hidden behind some trees in the back garden. The man from Electricité de France had opened the meter to read it, and had discovered that a colony of ants had made a nest. The figures were obscured. It was impossible to establish our consumption of electricity. The ants must be removed. My wife and the man from the EDF had been joined by Menicucci, whom we now suspected of living in the boiler room, and who liked nothing better than to advise us on any domestic problem that might arise.
“Oh là là.” A pause while Menicucci bent down for a closer look at the meter. “Ils sont nombreux, les fourmis.” For once, he had made an understatement. The ants were so numerous that they appeared as one solid black block, completely filling the metal box that housed the meter.
“I’m not touching them,” said the EDF man. “They get into your clothes and bite you. The last time I tried to brush away an ants’ nest I had them with me all afternoon.”
He stood looking at the squirming mass, tapping his screwdriver against his teeth. He turned to Menicucci. “Do you have a blowtorch?”
“I’m a plumber. Of course I have a blowtorch.”
“Bon. Then we can burn them off.”
Menicucci was aghast. He took a step backwards and crossed himself. He smote his forehead. He raised his index finger to the position that indicated either extreme disagreement, or the start of a lecture, or both.
“I cannot believe what I have just heard. A blowtorch? Do you realize how much current passes through here?”
The EDF man looked offended. “Of course I know. I’m an electrician.”
Menicucci affected to be surprised. “Ah bon? Then you will know what happens when you burn a live cable.”
“I would be very prudent with the flame.”
“Prudent! Prudent! Mon Dieu, we could all perish with the ants.”
The EDF man sheathed his screwdriver and crossed his arms. “Very well. I will not occupy myself with the ants. You remove them.”
Menicucci thought for a moment and then, like a magician setting up a particularly astonishing trick, he turned to my wife. “If Madame could possibly bring me some fresh lemons - two or three will be enough - and a knife?”
Madame the magician’s assistant came back with the knife and lemons, and Menicucci cut each into four quarters. “This is an astuce that I was taught by a very old man,” he said, and muttered something impolite about the stupidity of using a blowtorch - “putain de chalumeau” - while the EDF man sulked under a tree.
When the lemons were all quartered, Menicucci advanced on the nest and started to squeeze lemon juice back and forth over the ants, pausing between squeezes to observe the effect that the downpour of citric acid was having.
The ants surrendered, evacuating the meter box in panic-stricken clumps, climbing over one another in their haste to escape. Menicucci enjoyed his moment of triumph. “Voilà, jeune homme,” he said to the EDF man, “ants cannot support the juice of fresh lemons. That is something you have learned today. If you leave slices of lemon in your meters you will never have another infestation.”
The EDF man took it with a marked lack of graciousness, complaining that he was not a lemon supplier and that the juice had made the meter sticky. “Better sticky than burned to a cinder,” was Menicucci’s parting shot as he returned to his boiler. “Beh oui. Better sticky than burned.”
If you’d like to read the rest of Peter Mayles’ delightful stories of France, then head to your nearest used bookstore where you may find a copy, “A Year in Provence”, published in 1989 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
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