vendredi 12 février 2010

The summer room

Winter morning in the summer room

That's the name that came to me for it as I froze to death painting the exterior wall between the windows, snow swirling just beyond the panes of glass, at the point the farthest from the radiator. The best way to be warm in this room is to remain on the top step of the ladder. The heat is all up at that sloped ceiling. Thinking about using it as an office felt discouraging; all I kept thinking about was the heat bill to keep it comfortable. When it was a bedroom full time, it wasn't so bad because when you're in bed, you have the radiator by you, and you are nestled under the quilt. It's different when you are sitting at a desk, or in a chair.

You're only going to want to use this room when it's warm out, myself said to me.

"I know." I laid my hand flat on the cold wall and sighed.

The Summer Room, myself added.

"You know, I kind of like that name. The color is like summer, too. Bright. Maybe I'll just stay in my own bed in the winter."

I have other reasons to want to just stay in bed. Too many. All you have to do is browse the last couple of posts to start to get an idea, but that would be so little of it. Today is a hard day. If you take the baseline of my quality of life being absolute and unbearable incertitude about whether my son can pass the baccalaureate -- familiarly called "the bac" -- at the end of the year and his feelings about that, how little he does to actually take the situation in hand, or how little he feels he really can do to make a difference in the outcome, and then add the K2 of home renovations with unreliable porters and too little money and too much time alone on the rock face because there really are things you can't do by yourself, the machine that measures the cardiac rhythm of my soul is beeping frantically.

And I am supposed to leave to ski for a week in a little more than one week and enjoy it. I know I am going to be fantasizing about finding a little apartment in the valley and building chalets and new stores for the city, until it starts to rain and reminds me how awful a valley enclosed by high peaks can be in dismal weather.

That's life, right? Just ask them out there in Whistler.

And then there's the Tea Party, which we are asked to consider taking more seriously as a political movement, the legitimate flip side of the Obama movement. Those who believe in the individual and no government to help govern a complex society, and those who believe in the power of the individual, too, but feel the necessity of a wise and mature government to help regulate and govern society. With Greece's self-wrought melt-down (the Americans of the EU by personal debt standards and Tea Partiers for all their ways to get around the need to pay taxes and declare income), Europe is having a similar debate.

But this is only making me feel worse. Much worse.

How do all these people stay calm talking about it on France Inter? I tuned in, and there was Joseph Stiglitz being interviewed this morning with an excellent simultaneous translation. Really. Listening to him, I felt pretty sure his home doesn't leak water, his windows don't run with condensation, the walls aren't crumbling with moisture, the woodwork is solid, and it is appointed with discriminating taste and dusted regularly. It didn't hurt that he's looking pretty good in European eyes for having been the lone voice crying out against banking and investment deregulation during the Clinton administration. And here I was, thinking, Wait! Can't we just blame the Republicans? We have to blame Clinton, too?

I braked to a stop at an intersection, and then crept forward to peer around the cars parked along the curb to my right to see if there was a car coming. At that very instant, a low-slung Hyundai SUV came barreling out past the last car and slammed on his brakes. He was yelling and gesturing before his window was all the way down.

"Mais regardez ce que vous faites! Vous avez un stop!" Really? I hadn't noticed that I had come to a full stop at the big red octagonal sign before lightly touching the accelerator to inch forward, only to have to stomp on the brakes or be knocked into the corner garden wall. I pressed the electric button to lower my own window and shouted over the top of his epithets.

"Monsieur, si vous ralentiriez vous auriez déjà moins de problèmes."

But, he didn't want to hear about the speed at which he was devouring this residential street. He didn't have a stop sign, I did, and to hell with the fact that it is not possible to see if a car is coming as fast as he was if you don't move forward a bit. I and anyone else who might have the misfortune to be in his path could wait until hell froze right to its very center without budging an inch or risk the consequences for their vehicle.

The car behind us beeped its horn. Still yelling, his window rolled up and his car moved off. The car behind him waited to let me go, but since I had the stop sign, I gestured for him to go ahead. The car behind him was absolutely not going to not let me go. I waved and moved on through the intersection, wondering how much more most of us can take.

I know I am right at the end of my frayed rope, and I hadn't even welcomed the workers, due at the house in an hour and a half, back for more misery. Worse, my cell phone was up next to my bed. No way to call my husband, probably sitting next to a woman with a sonogram probe up her vagina, anyway, and cry.

Right on the stroke of 10 am, Baccarat barked and my cell phone (yes, up beside my bed) started to ring. I was finishing the list of items needing to be completed by the renovation company before we could consider the contract satisfied, so I ignored it. Georges' face appeared at the panes of the French door.

Here we go, myself said to me.

"Here we go."

I proposed a cup of coffee, noting that there was no sign of the real laborer, José, and that Georges was moving with his air of not being about to do any work at all. Snippets from our conversation Tuesday came and went in my mind. I didn't want to help him out here. I wanted to make him get to the heart of the matter, which was that he was here to talk and not work, after all, and he wanted to wiggle out of their commitment by any crack open to him.

We looked at the shutters to determine which do and do not function properly and moved on through my list, including the problems with both French doors they had made and installed for the bedrooms, the water that runs down the wall of the end bedroom from the roof when it rains, the two decorative window rails they have let sit out of doors and unprotected since September, 2008, the drooping gutter that sends a torrent of water to collect at the corner of the house, the gate that rubs against the brick pillar, the missing door handles and lock. The list was long, and most of it puzzled him. How could it be?

"Bon, Georges, normalement si on veut qu'un projet soit réussi, il faut le finir rapidement. Si non, tout ce que vous faites est abîmé par le fait de n'être fait qu'à moitié."

"Mais, Madame Sisyphe (no, he used my last name), vous savez, ce projet, depuis le début --"

"No, Georges," I cut him off aussi sec, "nous ne sommes pas ici pour rediscuter pour le nième fois le triste parcours de ce projet et son maudit début. C'est fini ça. Nous avons renégocié le contrat avec vous pour en faire un nouveau, et tout ce qui précède ce contrat ne compte pour plus rien. Nous avons pris des choses sur nous pour vous alléger vos engagements et vous donner plus d'argent, et n'oubliez jamais," I looked at him extra fixedly here, "que Joachim est venu voir ce projet avant le premier contract qu'il nous a fait signer lui-même. Que vous dites autre chose ne change rien aux faits, et nous n'en discutons plus."

He started to speak and then stopped and let his gaze drift out to the other side of the gate, to where he surely preferred to be at that moment, and where his partner for the day was hovering. That didn't mean I had been acknowledged right. It just means that Georges doesn't really bother arguing, which is what he had really come to do -- quelle surprise! He looked down at the ground at our feet, where a powdering of snow still remained from yesterday.

"Il fait froid," he said.

"Je remarque aussi que vous n'êtes pas venu pour travailler comme vous l'avez dit mardi, mais pour discutailler encore. Ca veut dire quoi ça?"

"Mais il est gelé," he protested just a little too feebly.

"Oui, mais il y a plein de choses que vous pouvez faire par ce temps," and I began to point them out, one after another, while he wished he could win his point and carry the day. Whatever it was they want, to walk away, to get more money. I'm quite certain it isn't just to have more time to finish, not with the reference he made to the "bands and stuff" in the brickwork on the ground. Hell, I'll end up doing that myself anyway, if it's anything like the brick pillars.

"La brique? Vous voulez qu'on vienne avec la brique?" Quelle question. Of course I wanted him to come with the brick. He had told me Tuesday that he would be coming with the brick. He had told me when he walked in the house that the brick was at Point P, waiting.

"Je sais, Georges. 7 m3 et 2 mètres linéaires d'angles."

"Vous les avez appelé?" he asked. I nodded. Yes, I had called them to verify.

"On va prendre quand même la bétonneuse," he continued, adding lamely, "elle prend de l'eau." As though the cement mixer hadn't been sitting in the wet for going on three months of inactivity already. This was not a good sign, but I didn't see what I could do. We had been considering it a hold of sorts on them. It's the last thing of theirs worth anything on our property, but I couldn't stop them from taking it. It isn't the real hold, anyway. That's sending the lawyer's letter, all ready and waiting at his office, and filing a complaint, which I thought I'd mention again very soon and followed him to the cement mixer. "Madame Sisyphe, on va s'en sortir oui ou non? Oui ou non?" and he heaved a great sigh.

He wasn't giving up. His job is to make me their accomplice, win me over to their way of seeing things. His partner's is to rough us up with his verbal assaults, although having run into a wall on that, they are reduced to Georges' pathetic, but fairly effective, efforts to stonewall.

"Bon, Georges, je dirais que cela dépend de vous. Il n'y a qu'une réponse qui satisferait et c'est à vous de l'assurer par tous vos moyens. Et pour cela, vous auriez jusqu'à la fin du mois de mars et pas un jour plus, alors dépêchez-vous de vous organizer pour pourvoir le faire si non, il reste l'appui juridique." Basically, I told him that there is only one acceptable response, and that is "yes, we will get it done" and that for the end of March, or they will face a lawsuit.

"Mais, Madame Sisyphe, "un procès ne sert à rien."

"Oh mais si, Georges," a lawsuit certainly can be useful. "De vous servir un procès serait fort regrettable, mais c'est le dernier recours et nous n'hésiterons pas de vous amener au parquet si vous ne nous donniez pas satisfaction. C'est à vous de jouer." No. More. Ms. Nice. Woman. Not even noticing that I had lost weight, despite my winter coat and huge scarf (I guess I really did lose some weight), can get them out of a lawsuit if they don't start immediately and finish for the end of March. Two conditions.

He extended his hand, not at all convincingly, "Je vous appele."

"Quand?" He looked a little off-balance.

"Cet après-midi, demain -- j'en parle avec Joachim, et je vous appele."

I accepted his hand, but I also knew that shake had just sealed the start of a lawsuit.
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