lundi 28 décembre 2009

Les encombrants, Dolce domum

Waiting for the collection of "les encombrants"

I went to sit down on the broken-down, hand-me-down leather sofa and realized right before my hind-end hit the terracotta tile floor that there wasn't any sofa there anymore. It was out on the sidewalk, waiting for the truck to come and collect our and everyone else's encombrants. The things we don't want anymore that won't fit easily into our cars to go to the dump, but that encombrent -- "Occuper à l'excès au point d'embarrasser, d'obstruer; être source de gêne par le volume, le nombre", or to occupy excessively to the point of blocking movement; to obstruct; to be a source of bother in their volume or number -- our homes, garages, attics and basements (for those fortunate enough to have such a thing) and our esprits.

The floor was hard, and cold. Sam laughed, over where he was working at the dining room table, at the same time I did.

"I forgot the couch wasn't there anymore," I said. He grinned and bent his head to his notepaper, or his iPhone and text message. I was almost giddy with delight, remembering that it is gone, never to cause me embarrassment in the English sense of the term ever again.

It was once a lovely leather sofa. Buttery yellow with navy blue edging. It came from La Maison Cap, a chic furniture store not far from the Etoile in the 8th. Its companion, the same model with a bed inside, went to the Versailles dump near my sister-in-law's home years ago, not long after she offered us this one, to "tide us over". A seven year tide.

I scrubbed it clean, but the worn leather still showed black in the cracks. It had an overall grayish cast, except the back, the part never seen. Forever dingy. But I knew it was clean, until it wasn't anymore. I gave up when the back cushion nearest to the television collapsed entirely from the weight of kids trying to get as close to the screen and make themselves as comfortable as possible. The other back cushion was nearly perfect. It only made the scrunched one, the entire sofa, and the living room look that much worse.

I covered it with a lovely chenille throw the cats ruined with their claws. That was a year ago. It helped me for a few weeks, until it didn't anymore.

I put the ruby wine red chenille throw over the back of the other hand-me-down armchair, like the brown one the cats slept on and covered with their fur, collapsing the back cushions of the armchairs under their weight.

I worried about the renovation and talked bravely about the planned interior renovations and getting rid of "that", gesturing to the ruined sofa, with the air of transforming it and the entire living room into La Maison Cap's or Roche Bobois' showroom, all for me and a flow of friends coming to enjoy the effortless mastery of casual elegance. Inside, I knew: it was likely to be far less impressive, and not soon enough, nor would it be so easy as I implied, not even kidding myself.

Nor did I entertain hopes that I would ever be able to maintain the living room of my dreams; it would soon be covered in pet hair and vomit, beaten and worn down by people whose only interest is comfort in front of the television, trodden through in motorcycle boots and sneakers covered with wet leaves and sand from the workers' never-ending construction site. The cats would scratch it. The younger dog would make herself comfy on the furniture just as soon as we were out of sight, or she thought she was out of sight. The spiders would continue their home building projects, the dust would settle, endlessly, ever thicker, and all I'd see would be my compromises and lack of inspiration and confidence, as through the perpetually dirty windows darkly.

I stopped entertaining. I couldn't bear it any longer.

I sent a Facebook message to my stepson, after thoroughly perusing the Roche Bobois Internet site. He promptly replied with the prices. I typed "" in the address line of my Internet browser.

The compromise was on.

I found thousands of sofas, and followed them over two weeks, showing the contenders to my husband. He was game. He'd already accepted the piano (due in January) and turned it into my Christmas present in his mind (one very major Christmas present). He knew the sofa had to go. We decided which ones we liked best, and I wondered at myself for filling the house with furniture before I emptied it and plastered and redid the woodwork. I continued to scan the new arrivals on eBay every day, and then we found the paired wood and dark leather sofas from Roche Bobois, some years before.

"J'ai trouvé quelque chose que tu aimeras." He looked up from his game of Solitaire or Mahjong on his laptop over the tops of his supermarket-bought reading glasses, the eyebrows expressing interest. Probably relief, too, that I was in the used market with such enthusiasm.

"J'arrive," he said, not sounding at all put out by my request for him to cross the room and join me, where I sat at the good end of the sofa. His promptness and courtesy, I thought, were promising, and he looked down at my computer screen.

"J'aime ça," he declared, sounding every bit like I had found just what he liked. "Attends, il y en a deux?" I nodded. There were two. He asked me to follow them, and less than a week later, they were ours; tomorrow evening, they will be in our living room. I will have to cover them with plastic when I finally tear out the ceiling and plaster the walls, but without them, I might never have gotten motivated. With them in place, I have an idea of where we are going and of what the interior might ought to look like. Without them, all I had was a feeling of defeat, like the old sofa that's out by the street, waiting for les encombrants to come and take it away.

I don't even mind the dog vomit on the rug so much, although I really do need to clean it up now.

If you will excuse me.

Wind in the Willows

Chapter 5 - Dolce Domum


The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found.

The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm of grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly and sympathetically, "What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do."

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came. "I know it's a — shabby, dingy little place," he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: "not like — your cosy quarters — or Toad's beautiful hall — or Badger's great house — but it was my own little home — and I was fond of it — and I went away and forgot all about it — and then I smelt it suddenly — on the road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat — and everything came back to me with a rush — and I wanted it! — O dear, O dear! — and when you wouldn't turn back, Ratty — and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all the time — I thought my heart would break.— We might have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty — only one look — it was close by — but you wouldn't turn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O dear, O dear!"


Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself and dusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, running to and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaring up the chimney. He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Mole promptly had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in dark despair and burying his face in his duster. "Rat," he moaned, "how about your supper, you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I've nothing to give you — nothing — not a crumb!"

"What a fellow you are for giving in!" said the Rat reproachfully. "Why, only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quite distinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines about somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! Pull yourself together, and come with me and forage."

They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard and turning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing after all, though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines — a box of captain's biscuits, nearly full — and a German sausage encased in silver paper.

"There's a banquet for you!" observed the Rat, as he arranged the table. "I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting down to supper with us tonight!"

"No bread!" groaned the Mole dolorously; "no butter, no — — —"

"No pate de foie gras, no champagne!" continued the Rat, grinning. "And that reminds me — what's that little door at the end of the passage? Your cellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just you wait a minute."

He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared, somewhat dusty, with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm, "Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole," he observed. "Deny yourself nothing. This is really the jolliest little place I ever was in. Now, wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look so home-like, they do. No wonder you're so fond of it, Mole. Tell us all about it, and how you came to make it what it is."

Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and forks, and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom still heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related — somewhat shyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject — how this was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was got through a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and a bargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and a certain amount of "going without." His spirits finally quite restored, he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and show off their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetful of the supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckered brow, and saying, "wonderful," and "most remarkable," at intervals, when the chance for an observation was given him.


The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple — how narrow, even — it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.


Listen to Jennifer Mendenhall read it all aloud on NPR.

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