mardi 30 novembre 2010


Frost-sugared rose

I cannot imagine how the fish comprehend winter. It is a miracle of the minor order to see them below the thin layer of ice that gradually thickens if the weather comes from the east and is not slowly warmed again by the Gulfstream's most northeastern tip, the North Atlantic Drift, as they swim about, very, very slowly. They have no warm coats.

We are, right now, feeling the ebb of the Drift and the grip of the polar temperatures, freezing everything from Finland to Moosesucks, which is a hopeful sign, since I just confirmed the reservation for the hotel in Argentière for January and spent an hour or two yesterday researching collapsible, lightweight and relatively inexpensive travel containers for dogs. Baccarat was 2 months older when she made her first hotel stay at l'Hôtel de la Couronne, and the armchair legs felt her teeth despite her Kongs; the hotel instituted a per diem charge for dogs the next year, although they were still more than welcome. We paid, despite her behaving better than most other visitors and restricting her misbehavior to sleeping on Sam's bed while we were on the slopes. Fia will be just 5 months old, and I will be a wreck if I don't find a way to insure that she cannot inflict damage while we are out, which quite ruins the point of the trip and makes the expense of tolls, gas, hotel and lift tickets an additional gall.

It had occurred to me to make her a bed in the bath or the toilet, but in the case of the bath, she'd very possibly set herself to scratching the door and crying or barking to get out and join Rapide. Besides, housekeeping will want to clean the bath, and they'd have to get her back in again. Not difficult, but I'd have to talk with them, and, besides, why should they have to deal with that? The toilet is out. I read somewhere that small, high-ceiling places make dogs crazy. And, how nice is it to spend your morning and afternoon curled up around the porcelain God?

So, I Googled "crate training" and lazily perused various posts. I also wanted to see if everyone agreed that you really have to shut them up for as long as 4 hours at this age. I miss her.

In one, there was a photograph of just such a travel kennel. Encouraged by my new knowledge that such a thing exists, and not wanting a huge, unwieldy wire cage or plastic Vari Kennel I have no idea where I will store once home, I clicked on the icon on my toolbar and went looking. Et voilà, there they were, at the bottom of the page, under all the dog houses, two collapsible, not terribly expensive travel kennels. I got the tape measure to determine the length of a sleeping, full-grown Lab (Thank you, Rapide), and found that I would need the size L of the more expensive one, the size L of the less expensive one being inadequate. Not that she will actually need it full-grown, but what's the use of buying something I will only ever use a very few times when I travel with the very few puppies I will ever have at my age (Fia will likely pass after my 60th birthday. Isn't that a happy thought?)? Now, I just need to find the courage to order it, and the AC adapter from Dell for my laptop to replace the one Fia bit through a few weeks back.

I am sure she did not do it on purpose.

Dogs are not an inexpensive pleasure for the responsible mistress. Either they fly with you (poor dog), get kenneled (poor, poor dog), or you reduce your luggage to make room for them in the car, having the appropriate vehicle for their size and number, and get everything necessary to insure their comfort and your peace of mind (poorer owner). We like them to have the chance to run and play in the snow, too. Labrador Retrievers might be famous for being water dogs, but snow is another passion. They come, after all, from Newfoundland, and unlike the fish, they do have warm coats to protect them from the cold in the water and the snow. They are, after all, not cold-blooded.

Such a concept. Nature is truly worthy of our amazement.

Happily, I do have warm coats so that I can do the work in the garden I ought to have done when the ground was still in the mud state, and not the frozen state. The real problem is the fingers, which freeze stiff when grasping the scissors to finish the pruning of the lavender, and the pruning sheers for all the shaggy bushes to which I still have not gotten. Ski socks in Wellies are quite effective for warding off frost-bitten toes. Log-splitting may be done in minimal clothing year-round, as it warms you up in a jiffy.

You can see how motivated I am to get the drawings done so that we can get on with our various renovation and construction projects, when I'd rather dress like Charlie Brown and get out in the garden in order to feel I have been of some use, and those projects -- at least one, anyway, have become urgent, if not for my sense of self, then to keep the water out of the "petite maison", which the roof, despite the presence of the construction sheeting, is no longer able to do in the least.

Not to mention the water that has been seeping into a corner of the Summer Room (nice name for a sorry room) and soaking the new sisal floor covering and plaster, ruining both. I discovered that the elbow at the end of the downspout had fallen off, directing the water from the gutter directly at this corner of the building. I had been telling my husband for years that the thing ought to be torn to the ground and rebuilt for all it is weatherproof and solid, but as long as he sees four walls and a roof containing space that presently serves a purpose, he cannot abide demolishing the (inadequate) structure and replacing it with (correct) new construction. This is beyond depressing for an architect or builder who knows anything about building.

Here, imagine this. The original part of the structure in question was a small garage, whose walls are made of a single row of brick.

"Mais la brique c'est un matériel de construction. Il y a plein de bâtiments faits de brique," he complains, when I suggest that it is depressing to think of tearing the roof off the petite maison and bearing a new roof structure on walls that aren't even sturdy enough to carry it.

"Oui," I allow, "mais jamais un seul rang de brique pour soutenir non seulement son propre poids mais aussi celui de la toiture et le poids qu'il doit pouvoir supporter."

In other words, walls may be made of brick as a structural material (in the old days; we'd never do it now), but they were composed of more than one row of bricks, and the bricks were laid in both directions, interlocking, to provide strength and stability. Our wall enclosing the garage is composed of a single row of bricks, laid lengthwise along the direction of the wall. The inside is covered with some sort of cement mix, used like plaster, causing the hopeful to not actually see the truth.

He looks at me doubtfully. I know I have not won. I do not know how to carry the argument, except to tear the whole thing down with my own hands one day, while he is at work -- or on duty at the hospital so that I get the benefit of two --, and suffer the consequences later.

There is also the question, though, of the slab. You can be sure that it is not haunched, and building appropriate walls and a roof structure directly on it, as is presently the case, would be unwise.

And, then there is the garage we must have. This morning, my motorcycle failed to start, and then so did his, when he tried it afterwards, and he ended up driving a car to work, leaving late and knowing he'd suffer the snaking traffic all the way to the hospital because the battery on my bike can't stand the cold and the damp. I'd kissed him goodbye and started the coffee machine when he reappeared, putting one set of keys on the wainscoting ledge and taking another.

"Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" I knew.

"Ta moto ne démarre pas," he said from inside his helmet. I knew he hadn't left the lights on again; I saw the bike when I returned from walking Rapide just minutes after he had gotten home. "Je vais essayer la mienne."

So, you ask, why didn't he take his in the first place, and why had he taken mine the day before? Because that's another horrendous expense in waiting. His clutch is going and needs replacing. Besides, my bike at half the weight and cylinder is better than his in freezing conditions, where you can take the black ice like Casey Stoner entering a curve. He'd be on his side on the ground with his.

Neither of us seriously thought his would start, either, after several days at rest in the bottom garden in sub-freezing temperatures, but he headed off with the keys, only to return and start the bouilloire for some hot water.

"C'est pour quoi ça?" I asked. I knew this already, too.

"Le neiman ne tourne pas."

The starter. It was frozen. I gave him a kid's plastic cup he could leave down below in the event the hot water worked. Neither of us believed it would. I took my cup of coffee and followed him out into the garden to watch from the edge of the top terrace. He poured the hot water on the starter, got on the bike, turned the key and hit the starter. It cleared its throat. He waited, one-two-three, and I heard it strain again. Silence. I counted, one-two-three, and I heard it go once more, and then nothing. He reached for the shredded scooter cover he uses to protect the seats and controls, and I watched his silver helmet bob across the bottom garden and rise up the steps, praying I had remembered to clean up any dog poop Rapide might have left down there. At least, I thought, it would be frozen, which helps.

"On a vraiment besoin d'un garage," he put me on notice.

"Je sais, mais on ne peut pas faire un garage clos et chauffé," I defended, to which he made a sound of deprecation somewhere in this throat. "My ass," he'd have said, had he spoken in English. As it were, I heard that, even though he said something quite different, like "Attends voir," or You just wait and see.

"Au moins ça protégera les motos de l'humidité," he grumbled, seeming now to accept that really, we couldn't build a proper garage with the possibility of even minimal heat. Do they make electric blankets for motorcycles? "On va revendre la tienne," he added.

This did not upset me. I have been saying it for more than a year. It is the world's most undependable motorcycle. The battery fails more often than it functions, and you usually need to hit the electric starter two or three times to get it to turn over, going a long way each time to drain the battery, which then doesn't have adequate time to recharge if you are only going so far as to the hospital for the day. Add freezing weather and damp, and you are screwed.

"T'as pensé à la coupe circuit?" I asked. I never think of the button that shuts the motor off when I am in a temper, either. Especially given the track record of this motorcycle and batteries.

"Ah, je n'y ai pas pensé." He headed back out toward my bike, where he had left it the night before, up by the telephone booth (how quaint) next to our gate, turning his head to see what was behind him as he stepped onto the slab where the new entry pavement is supposed to be installed, and still hasn't been because the new entry has not been built (are you surprised?). He hadn't expected me to follow. I thought he could use the encouragement.

"Quel est le button encore?" I pointed to the red one by the accelerator. "Oh." He hit it, turned the key -- not a light lit up. Dead. I followed him back into the house, where he reached for a set of car keys.

"Tu as besoin de rouler aujourd'hui?" he asked. No, I didn't need to drive any longer distances today. The Fiat would be fine. Besides, I thought, it has a better radio to sooth the savage beast in the traffic he was about to hit.

"Prendre la BM," I said, and closed the door behind his silver, unhelmeted head, watching it cross the lawn again to the gate.

"J'ai du être à l'hôpital il y a 25 minutes déjà," he muttered, not grumpily at all and not turning his head. Merely stating the fact that a garage would be the best way to insure that no one had to wait for the doctor, or that he'd be forced to start the day in the worst possible of ways: behind schedule.

I knew this already, too.

It's time to pick a project, any project.

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