jeudi 14 janvier 2010

Sliced sisal

Morning light through the mist over the field

"I gave someone the link to your blog," said my sister, "but, you haven't been posting much lately." Caught.

I am, in fact, way behind. This is not my fault. I have been busy. I have been exerting self-discipline with a no-Internet, no-blog rule in effect until I finish my work. The problem is there is no end in sight to my work, so I find that I must make a very small exception and catch up because the memory card on my camera has photos going back to Christmas morning that I haven't downloaded and placed neatly into labeled, dated virtual files in my file tree, the tea partiers have been shuffling off to Washington for a week now, and I never even finished the Christmas breakdown. For that, we can say "all's well that end well" and thank heavens we have more than one car and a Thule roof carrier.

It's not that I have more to do now than I did before Christmas. I don't. I have exactly the same amount to do. It's just that on Monday, January 4 (I remember exactly), my day on the couch in front of Eurosport that could easily have stretched into two or more (with lots of self-loathing for loafing) came to an end with a phone call. It was the carpet layer calling to schedule the wall-to-wall sisal installation for the prettily named petite maison (prettier than the petite maison itself by far). At last. I had rather been hoping not to hear from him for another month, at least. It had already been months.

Those of you who have followed these journals since at least last spring might recall that I was seized one day with the very sudden and particularly urgent need to paint the guest rooms, not unlike Mole, when he felt the need to go home, walking along with Ratty (see Wind in the Willows, Chapter 5, "Dolce Domum" excerpts here). Feeling that my domum was not so very dolce, and expecting a house guest shortly, I set to work. As is always the case, once the walls began to look so much nicer, it was apparent that the floor simply had to be fixed up, too. Sisal. It had to be fresh and clean, bright and cheery, welcoming and add to the usable surface of the house by making you actually want to go and use those rooms, rather than never, ever open their doors for fear of bothering the spiders, their usual occupants with rent control rights.

For one reason and another, the sisal installation could not be done in time, and the story petered out. Worse, my husband set up shop (wood shop) in the larger of the two rooms, not as yet painted, to make the smaller balcony the workers renovating the house decided was too expensive -- along with the rest of the house -- for them to do in the contract we had all signed one fine day, more than a year and a half ago.

And I miss the house the way it was, dilapidated and worn.

His work progressed as rapidly as working 13 hours a day at the hospital and having his kids every other weekend can allow, and then adjusting for weather, shorter and shorter days... and I had to relaunch the sisal installation or lose our deposit. Having done that, it was only a matter of time before the installer actually called, which he did right before Christmas. 15 times one day. Not leaving a message, I could avoid acknowledging the unidentified calls filling my "missed calls" folder on He didn't have to know that I had programmed my phone with his number and "poseur moquette" came up on its screen when he called. On Monday the 4th, I simply had to pick up. We exchanged seasonal greetings, which I brought quickly to the business at hand.

"Mais, ça fait des mois et des mois depuis que je suis venu chez vous prendre les mesures!" He wasn't going to get down to business that fast. First, we had to discuss why it had taken months. For someone lounging on the new couch we had just picked up in Paris, one of two wood and leather supposedly art deco style sofas from RocheBobois, we are told, although there is not a ticket identifying them as such on them, in front of the TV, I was feeling in the mood for efficiency.

"Oui, c'était compliqué," I said, hoping the complexity of the situation to which I referred would set him off. It didn't. So, the whole mess came out: the first quote, followed by a second, more expensive, for reasons that escaped me. A lot of "bon, vous savez" to avoid speaking of having had my foot operated on twice to remove all traces of melanoma, the second one not going anywhere near as swimmingly as the first a month earlier, and then my husband's having turned the space into a wood shop, the project dragging on and on. No, it wasn't all the fault of the store, and, no, it wasn't at all his fault. Mea culpa. Now can we set a date?

"Vous me dites quand, Madame. Je vous propose la semaine prochaine. Vous me dites quand ça vousu arrangera le mieux." Next month? No, next week, he had said. Then it didn't really matter; any day would be too soon.

"Quand vous voudriez, Monsieur."

"Alors, mercredi? Ca vous ira, mercredi?"

"C'est impeccable." Perfect. I practically bolted off the couch and raced to the rooms to receive the sisal floor covering. All of that would have to come into the house, and I would have to plaster and paint the room I had never done. Time to get cracking.

Of course, like any reasonable person, I am capable of down-sizing my expectations and finally accepting that I am never going to finish on time. Wednesday the 13th was coming too fast, with too many other things to do between time, like pick up a sofa bed we'd also picked up on eBay, along with the chair, the two leather couches, and (so far) 7 antique Thonet bistro chairs for the dining table, with 3 more arriving soon. Every time another blob of damp plaster hit the floor below my ladder, joining those I had already smushed under foot all over the tile floor, I saw visions of plaster-encrusted sisal.

Mental note: get plastic drop clothes and tape them firmly in place for finish plastering and painting.

Tuesday the 12th, my cell phone rang.

"Oui, allo?"

"Bonjour, Madame, c'est l'installateur de moquette. J'ai un peu de temps là, et je voulais savoir si je pourrais passer commencer cet après-midi." It's the carpet layer, I can come to lay your carpet now. I looked around at the mess. I considered. It wasn't like it was going to be that much farther advanced the next morning.

"Bien sur." Certainly. Come right on over. "Je dois vider la pièce, mais cet après-midi ou demain matin, ça ne change rien. Allez y."

However, rather than beginning with the guest room, the orange one, I had emptied out onto the lawn, damp between snowfalls, he started in the bathroom. As I worked, I could hear him laboring in the adjacent bath, sounding for the world like something else with all the grunting and moaning. He must have a breathing problem, I thought. That's it, a breathing problem, from all the carpet fibers and -- the glue. That's it. Don't think about it, don't think about it -- plaster.

Then, he swore quite pointedly.

Mental note: see what could have gone particularly wrong later.

At 3:30 pm, they headed home, leaving the orange room undone, and all its contents covering the lawn.

Mental note: put all that away again, and do not complain when you have to remove it all again tomorrow. It's not worth it.

I went back to plastering, and then I got my camera to take pictures of the lovely new sisal in the bath, when it caught my eye. I didn't need that mental note. There it was, a "v"-shaped knife slash in the sisal, just near the toilet and the shower stall. I bent down to look more closely at what I saw quite well already from the grandeur of my 5'-4": it was cut clean through to the backing. I touched it, and fibers came up effortlessly.

Mental note: glue will not be an acceptable solution. Prepare to be determined and hard-nosed.

I hate that. I really, really hate that. But, not one single thing that has been done by others on this house so far has been done without a blunder, if it has been done at all. Not one single subcontractor has done quality work, with the exception (I hope) of our faithful plumber.

I told my husband when he came home to help me pick up the first car from the garage and take the second to its appointment (they just called to say we need new disks and pads, on top of everything else, which includes my husband's most recent run-in with a decorative parking post near the train station, but we won't talk about that).

"Il va proposer de la coller, mais ça n'ira pas. Il faudra le refaire car ça ne tiendra pas."

"Crois-moi, c'est comme ça que ça va finir." He meant with glue, not getting it redone.

"On verra. J'appellerai le magasin." Already, they weren't there yesterday as promised. It snowed. He swore the roads were closed, by order of the mairie where he lives. He'd give me his address; I could come and see. No, thank you. I pointed out that the workers were working away on the apartments in the old school across the street, and what a shame it was that he was losing a day's wages.

I called the store this morning at the opening, just as their van pulled up outside the house at 9 am sharp. I didn't get the woman in installation, but the person who answered told me to be sure to fill out the part for my comments and any problems when I sign his work form, and I hung up and went out to say good morning.

"Madame, je l'ai réparé. Ce n'est rien." Of course it's nothing. On the phone the day before, he had told me, "Vous ne vous inquiétez pas," he'd take care of everything. Good as new. Vous ne vous inquiétez pas, Madame. If that's not the cue to start worrying right away, I don't know what is. I followed him into the bathroom to look. It was worse.

"Ne le touchez pas, Madame. Je viens de le coller. C'est parfait." Perfect is usually not a subjective term. It looked like he had piled the fibers on any which way, pressing them into the glue he had apparently used underneath. I touched it, gingerly.

"Ne le touchez pas, Madame. Ne le touchez pas." It's my sisal, and I will touch it. "Ca va aller très bien. Ce n'est pas possible de le refaire car la colle est trop forte; c'est de la bonne colle, Madame, la bonne colle." To distract me from the sliced sisal, he had changed to vaunting the quality of the glue. I tried to communicate with my expression all the doubt I felt.

"Je vais quand-même le marquer sur le papier à la fin, dans le cas ou," and here I forced myself to look up from the floor his assistant saw diligently preparing for the sisal in the room next door, where I had gone to escape the sad sight, "ça ne tient pas," and it isn't, I am quite sure, going to hold as he kept repeating it would. He was scared now. I felt badly. Really.

"Mais non! Non! Je vous donnerai mon numéro. Vous m'appellerez si ça ne va pas. Voyez, je n'ai pas l'intérêt de faire ça," he stuttered, really nervous now, adding, "Je vous l'ai déjà donné, voyez que j'ai bien voulu." All of which really only amounted to telling me to call him if it started to come apart and not report it to the store. No can do.

"Non, je dois l'indiquer au magasin sur le paper car c'est avec eux que j'ai fait le contrat."

"Ah, oui, bon, d'accord. Notez-le sur le papier --"

It was time to put him out of his misery and leave him to finish. I'll deal with the store and let them handle the situation. It is, after all, their responsibility.

Mental note: mention the missing separator bars at the two doors, where the sisal changes direction from the bedrooms to the bathroom.

Vous ne vous inquiétez pas, Madame. On s'en occupera...

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