Friday, February 25, 2011

Ami 8

What day is it? I can't keep track anymore. We get up every day, put on painting clothes and attack another part of the house. We'd hoped to have the place up for sale by February (they say that and March are the big months for home buyers looking) but it wasn't ready. We're getting close now. Starting to put things in boxes, to "declutter". We're both envisioning a moment, not far off, where all we do is maintain the house. Follow each other around to tidy up - "Don't put that cup there!" I'll screech before lunging towards the coffee table with a bottle of ammonia and a rag. Eric will follow me around with his paint can and brush, dabbing at scuffs and marks on walls and woodwork. We'll have finally arrived, ie become just like our neighbors.

I don't see much right now - except to stand in store aisles staring at cleaning products and wood treatments. When we watch a film I'm examining brushstrokes and beams on the screen, wondering what color they used on that tongue and groove, debating beeswax vs. linseed oil. And I don't talk much, except to groan. Am I too ...mature for this? It's probably like moving your own stuff - there comes a point where you think "no way am I ever doing this again. Next time, I'll let the professionals handle it." But who has money for that? I console myself that there's honor in it, crawling around with brushes and rags in a place you've lived for a few years, a place you thought you knew. Seems you don't really know a place, not til you've undercoated or scrubbed every square inch.

And an old French house? It's only a step or two above cave dwelling. Rocks heaped together with dirt. Wood that's practically decomposing. Angles that barely intersect they're so acute. And that's just the layer from the 19th century. Before plastic was invented. When the modern stuff came in, they embraced it with a vengeance, pasting vinyl onto anything that didn't move.

Maybe I've gotten off too easy all the other times I've moved from other places I've lived. That film The Great Escape, where they dig and tunnel and bide their time so they can get out? It's sort of like that, only hopefully no one dies in this one.

So this post is a brief postcard from a home improvement show you'll never see on TV. When Eric & I were touring the US in November, we were obsessed with HGTV and "House Of Bryan," where a macho builder and his ballerina wife were working on their dream home. There was all sorts of cutesy Venus and Mars stuff, where he let her have her way ("but honey, I neeeed the biggest fridge freezer ever made or everything's just going to suck so much " and it was implied that she gave him sex in return for keeping the little lady happy. I swear they even mentioned him having a man cave. We thrilled to every male and female cliche. Like I said, we'll never be a TV show, we're too much like a transgender version of Adam, the hapless apprentice. Not to imply that Eric isn't thrillingly macho when he's swinging a hammer. But then, so am I.

Every day I see this car, parked in the exact same spot in the next village over. Compact, red and beige mismatched panels and doors, black and white zebra print upholstery - Ami 8. I park next to it if I can, just to get a closer look. In another life it would be my car.

ami 8

In another life, I'd be a lady in a chic raincoat and scarf, driving my Ami 8 to the boulangerie, instead of a sad excuse for a shabby builder with permanent asscrack on display. The trees are almost all burned. So are the gloves.

gloves and matches

And when I want to get away from all the dust, I know where to go. There are plenty of places in rural France where I can feel completely alone, just me and the countryside. But for a particular, almost-urban thrill, I found the place to search for the meaning of life in the vortex of a spin dryer (one probably even big enough for Sarah, wife of Bryan) - just me in the car in a car park that is the anteroom of the loneliest laundromat in the world.

loneliest laundromat in the world

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Learning To Burn

It was a beautiful day in SW France today. A perfect day for burning things.

I needed a change from building, painting, trying to make the house look good. Mick had been around with the chainsaw and this weekend he'd come back with little bundles of sticks, fire starters, and a canister of gasoline.

With a garden full of felled trees, chopped ivy and branches, I thought all it would take was heaping it all up, pouring on some gas and tossing in a match. Who knew that destruction was such hard work?

There's an art to burning. It's hard work keeping the fire going when most of the wood is wet. The center of the pile burns, leaving a lattice work of scorched and untouched branches and Mick showed me how you have to keep moving things to the center.

Angeline our neighbor watched me over the fence, amused. "Amy, Amy!" she called. She was asking if we read the paper. I wondered if this was a good time to talk about current events or the weather but what she was trying to figure out was if we had any newspaper lying around. It seemed a little beside the point what with a whole yard full of stuff to burn but I didn't want to argue so I took her offering of the Sunday paper, tour a couple of pages off, twisted them up and shoved them in.

After a while, I was sweating and cursing as the fire threatened to die for the third or fourth time. "Amy, Amy!" I looked over my shoulder and Angeline was passing an old shovel full of burning coals towards me over the fence.

It must have come from their woodburner. She'd gone to all the trouble of scooping it out in the living room, carrying it outside and up the garden steps. I thanked her and dumped it on the fire, determined to get the thing going again so she wouldn't be disappointed. As I poked more branches in she urged me on. "De sous, Amy! De sous!" In? Under? On? I thought it meant beneath but when I tried that she kept shaking her head.

The fire got roaring again and then suddenly it was the most important thing in the whole world to keep it going. Hunching, bending, grabbing and shoving branches and trunks, clawing bunches of ivy - I couldn't stop. I thought of things I could or should be doing, productive things, but none of them mattered anymore.

I thought of civilization. Culture, books, art, music, machines - hadn't we come a lot further than this? Wood in fire. Must not let it go out. Keep it burning. To burn is to live.

Angeline had gone back into her house. Mick and Eric were safely inside the studio. I thought of Maria Schneider and Tura Satana, two bad-ass babes who died this past week. How each in their own odd way made being female more complex and interesting. I grabbed a twisted branch and plunged it into the fire. Then I kicked it in with my boot, as hard as I could.