mardi 19 janvier 2010

Bleak house

The wood stove


As in, "I'm never going to finish, and I have to paint and get the floor in the "petit salon" and plaster that room and paint it and get Audouin to do the wainscoting -- all before the piano is delivered, which I have to take care of soon or Monsieur will start to be unhappy that it is still in his studio and taking so long, and he will think that maybe I am not so very serious and perhaps not such a good customer -- and get a new rug for the living room and figure out how to arrange the furniture and a rug for the dining table and there's the kitchen and the bathroom and the toilet, and I have to get wood for the stove and pick up something for dinner and get to the airport by 8 pm and we're going to eat so late and I will be tired tomorrow and I don't know how I am ever going to be able to get this done and he's going to not want to spend the money, and the piano that he doesn't even want but sees as a big useless expense, which maybe it really is because who said you need a piano anyway? Hunh?"

This is a sin, if I remember my catechism. It's what can lead to suicide, and that's bad. It's what faith and prayer are meant to ward off.

Does talking to myself count?

As in, Stop. Don't. One thing a time. You'll get it done; first this, and then the next project. You'll be happy with the result. Your marriage, that's another story, but aren't you just a little too spent to try to figure that out right now, too? Let it go. Just keep on, and, tu sais bien, one must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Sisyphus happy. Sisyphus happy.

Sisyphe is not always so very happy. Sisyphe sometimes feels despair and fatigue that she wishes she would not. She imagines rising, high up on the top of a mountain above a vast valley, and from there everything becomes clear. She knows who she is, and what she is doing. Her life makes sense and is in harmony. Sometimes, she can feel this. She is there.

It does not last.

There are little victories, small accomplishments. Busy, busy days that yield a net progress. Yesterday, the wood-burning stove was installed. The heating oil arrived and so did 5 cubic meters of fire wood, in 1 meter lengths, requiring splitting and then chopping into fourths to fit into the chamber of the stove. The truck pulled up and dumped its load unceremoniously on the wide area of sidewalk in front of France Telecom next to our gate.

"That's 5 cubic meters?" I asked myself. It looked like a bit less, but Monsieur Ceylan wasn't staying around to verify it with me, not like the guy who delivered to our neighbors, came to see us and suggested we call him when we had the date for our installation, since he'd only need 2 or 3 days notice to deliver, and then never returned my calls. Consolation: our neighbor discovered that his wood was a little bit green.

"C'est que du chêne, du bon bois," he told me, "2 1/2 years," he added, standing a little taller. The installer looked at it with doubt in his eyes.

"Et, c'est un peu humide à l'extérieure, mais l'intérieure c'est sec, du bon bois," he repeated. "Vous devez le savoir. Ca c'est votre travail aussi." You should recognize good wood when you see it. That's part of your work, too, he told the installer, and harrumphed. Hein. I was feeling really doubtful now, but I had hands to shake, au revoirs to make and 5 cubic meters of wood to get off the sidewalk under the wandering eye of my alcoholic neighbor, who lives in the trailer down on the other side of the field, and waits for her young son to get off the bus at our gate. I picked up a log and tried to meet her eye as it traveled off to the side. Fix the other one, idiot.

I talk to myself a lot.

One log, a second, third, tenth, and each time I smiled courageously at her as I shouldered through our gate just beside her, and she looked back at the still large pile of wood. I was not going to say My son will be home soon to help me. Why should she need to know this? And, then, 2.5 cubic meters later, I heard the gate and saw his helmeted head atop his red Canada Goose parka covered body -- this weekend's eBay find -- coming up the steps.

"Sam, I need your help bringing the wood into the courtyard."


"Actually, I need your help now."

"You want me to work, and --" he had other needs to which to attend.

"That's true, I do, but right now I need your help right now." I heard grumbling. I would have liked to have heard a bright and cheery voice say, "Sure, Mom. I'll be right there." Where are those kids, who say that?

The second 2.5 cubic meters went much faster with two, but there was that little chip of stucco we lost as the pile neared the top of the base of the house. I longed to hear, "Sorry, Mom," rather than, "You can get that fixed." It's true. When and if they ever return, they can fix it, but it is better to be more careful and imagine what can happen when a large log hits a corner of more fragile chaux.

"Ce n'est pas très costaud," said my husband later.

"Non," I sighed.

"Et je suis allé voir le bois. Ca n'a pas l'aire de 5 stères. A la louche, je dirais un peu moins, 4.8 maximum."

"Je sais. J'ai pensé la même chose," I sighed again, tired. I was still trying to get the fire going again, without the kindling we needed. I had run to the boulangerie, intending to head on to the supermarket for the groceries and cut firewood of an appropriate size until we get ours in order, only to discover that I had left my bank card and papers, everything but my checkbook at home. I'd have to find sympathetic people and plead my case, Please, please may I write a check, even though I don't have my identity card? Could I truly be in France? Everyone was delighted to oblige me, but, now, I was late. I tore off my plaster and wood chip-covered sweater and jeans, threw on a dress, ran a brush through my hair to remove the mountain-woman residue, grabbed my keys and headed to the airport to pick up an old friend, arriving from the UK.

When we returned, Audouin had moved the furniture, pushed here and there and piled up in the corners for the installation of the wood stove, which, surprise, surprise, the two guys said was the hardest they had ever done (everything here is always the hardest anyone has ever had to face), into a semblance of welcoming order that looked intentional.

I looked around, "Où est la petite table basse?"

He looked triumphant. He had seized his opportunity, "Je l'ai mise là, dans le coin entre les deux canapés," exactly where he wanted it, "et les livres, je les ai mis dans l'entrée, dans la place des boites," which, I noticed, had come to live on the coffee table that was now supporting the reading lamp and phone, as well.

"Bon, on prendra une table basse pour pouvoir posser nos verres et les apéros."

"Mais pas de livres. Je ne veux pas de livres sur la table basse." I turned and looked at my friend, translating, "He doesn't want coffee table books on the coffee table."

Why, oh why, is marriage so hard?

At least the home fire will burn at last in the hearth if the others have, as so often happens, cooled. Maybe the tiny warmth from this littlest of stoves will shake the chill, enough.

No, it takes more than that. Time to go to the grocery store. I am here, and not in Paris with my friend, because the installers cut the satellite dish cables when I asked them to take down the old rake antenna from the chimney, and I had to wait for the satellite guy. After all the care they took in cutting the electrical wire to the motor someone had installed up there in an effort to get the chimney to draw (epic fail), you'd think they'd have said, "Madame, il y a une parabole là-dessus. Veuillez qu'on la coupe vraiment?" But no, they cut, and now we finally have a larger, round dish to replace the little rectangular one we got on a special offer. The one that cut out every time it started to rain, like in the middle of the Wimbledon finals, or anything we particularly wanted to see.

Tonight, we have a dinner party with old friends and our guest star, the wood stove, burning brightly in the hearth and, perhaps, kindling the home fires.


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