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Thursday, November 6, 2008

French workmen

After unexpectedly beautiful summer and autumn months, it is now winter. Although we live just at an altitude of 350 meters, the iciness from the nearby high mountains has been perceptible. Until the end of October temperatures up to 25 degrees were no exception, but then, the winter sets in and cannot be lifted. The skies become grim and gray again and thick clouds continuously discharge water, hail or snow.
For several weeks, our lives are limited to the kitchen, because there is the cuisinière à bois (woodstove), that keeps the space warm and it can be well used for cooking too, provided that we regularly toss a block of wood on the fire.

Our winter wood supply unexpectedly arrived just before the first frost.

Last spring our 'new' cuisinière à bois -after five happy days- caused a chimney fire. Very witty. Lots of smoke, fire and firefighters that were very helpful in removing the centimeters thick layer of slag left in the device by the previous owner. The ramoneur (sweep) had said so: get that stuff out, but we did not expect any undesired results that fast and that serious. Meanwhile, Ruud has removed all of the slag from inside and the cuisinière burns like never before. With the kitchen door closed it can become choking hot in the kitchen.

But outside the kitchen it is less pleasant. The worst are the bedrooms. It is great for mornings to awake with a frozen nose and be able to enjoy the heat under your winter duvet. Less fun is knowing that you have to get out some time. After long minutes back and 'one more second' I gather al my courage jump out of bed. I even consider doing what the French people did for generations: skip the daily wash, but I don 't, because for you know it, you're in police detention for your mandatory monthly cleaning.

In short, it has been that cold lately, that we decided to use our last earned money for a stove in the living room. After playing the Inter Distribution out against the ramoneur, we decided to take on the ramoneur. Not because he was so cheap, but he would take care of the whole job: delivery, placing, installation of the heavy stove, and installing the legally required eleven-meter-long tube in the chimney.

Our ramoneur, Frederique Malherbe, is a handsome man with coal black eyes, always impeccably dressed in blue overalls and always accompanied by his less handsome but ever so friendly aide. They never arrive on the agreed date. Doesn't matter, but the result is that they always arrive at a totally inconvenient time at the door. When the children run naked through the house, for example, or if Ruud is in the toilet, a fact even noticed by the neighbors. So when you make an appointment with a French construction worker count on him to arrive at least three days later and at an entirely different time setting. Really, Dutch punctuality has no meaning. Worse still, you're really fit in with the French if you arrive to late on dates or (better yet) completely fail to and show up unannounced weeks.

Anyway, on their last visit they came to check the chimney. I just happened to be in my evening dress chopping chips from the wall when that happened.

The ramoneur threw an evocative glimpse in the chimney and removed some crumpled newspaper from 1967. And then the whole lot came down on him, grit, soot, bird nests, really everything. After much cursing in the local dialect he got his head out of the hole and I finally saw him as I had always thought ramoneurs should look like. He stood up, wiped the dust from his overalls, looked up from Ruud and back to me and said: "c'est bon." Thanks heavens for that.

This means that in the not to distant future our stove will be placed. Of course it will arrive unannounced, unexpectedly, suddenly, abruptly as thunder at a clear blue sky, like the real French workman do.

ooh la la, black turns me on

posted by Maartje Heymans at 12:00  |  send a comment

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