Le Boum

There I was being all smug, talking to some friends about keeping warm in winter.

“We have one electric heater that we huddle around,” said Angie. “The house is freezing.”

“We tend to just stay close to the wood burner,” said Chris. “And wear lots of sweaters.”

I told them about our fabulous heating: blistering hot radiators, scalding water on command. How both Eric and I are lightweights when it comes to surviving the cold.

But when we got home, the heating had stopped working. We worried that we’d run out of oil and figured it was time to switch to the alternative – using the old wood-burner system to heat the radiators. Problem is we’d never used that part of the system before.

We bought fire lighters and scavenged wood from around the place. It’s been a while since we had fuel delivered – the stuff is damn expensive – and this being a lean month we got all enthusiastic about heating with wood.

“We can take turns stoking the fire!”

“It smells great, the woodsmoke, doesn’t it? So cozy. And it doesn’t cost a thing – there’s nothing but wood around here.”

The fire was good and strong but the radiators still weren’t getting hot. I got a little nervous when Eric was standing in front of these pipes and valves, twisting and turning them. What if something went wrong and steam and hot water came spraying out?

We left the 19th century behind and were sitting in the kitchen in front of a space heater when an explosion shook the barn.

The part with the heating system was full of smoke and we called the sapeurs-pompiers (firemen). Luckily we’d sprung for their annual calendar when they came around a week or two ago. But had our donation been enough? I wondered if they had a telephone system like Domino’s, where they know your house (and the amount you gave) by the phone number. If it was under a certain amount, maybe they’d take their time coming?

They told us to get out of the house. We figured we weren’t in much danger – these buildings have stone walls a couple of feet thick. But we were pretty shaken up.

A firetruck arrived, blue lights flashing. The guys all trooped into the barn with flashlights. The smoke had cleared by now. The wood burner had blown up – sending the cast iron doors flying across the room, spraying the barn with hot water, steam and ash, and making a fuel delivery an absolute must. No possibility of heating with wood now, ever. Not with the old system anyway.

Six or seven firemen stood around the exploded burner, surveying the damage. They chuckled but were sympathetic, and they pointed out how lucky we were not to have been in the barn when the thing blew up.

I thought they’d leave at this point, back to the station house to play cards or eat cassoulet. But then another fire truck turned up, and a police car. Our neighbors were all coming outside to see what had happened. The Chalus firemen had to say their hellos to the St. Mathieu firemen – lots of handshakes. By now there were about fifteen firemen hanging around.

Angeline next door said, “Offer them something to drink.”

I asked if they wanted some coffee or wine.

“Aperitifs! Aperitifs!” a couple of them shouted.

“Some wine?” I asked again.

Their leader shook his head. “Le whiskey?” he asked. “Ricard?” I said we didn’t have either of those.

“Forget it.” The French have standards, and this was not a wine occasion. Then they went back to hanging out. The St. Mathieu firemen, who’d been first on the scene, had to show the Chalus firemen the exploded wood burner. Everyone stood around laughing and talking for another ten or fifteen minutes. By the time they left, they’d probably forgotten why they were even there.

And I know a lot more about heating than I ever intended to learn.

19 thoughts on “Le Boum

  1. Non Je Ne Regrette Rien

    jesus christ you 2, be CAREFUL! well at least you can still use the oil portion, boilers can be expensive. btw, I see wood burners all the time on leboncoin … maybe you can find a replacement there.I don't think one can claim a true country experience in France without a freezing winter story or 2 to share. congrats, you've made it! xx

  2. amy

    Our neighbors have loaned us a few electric heaters kpf, luckily the oil burner still works so we'll call to get some fuel delivered for that tomorrow. You're right Kim, I knew there was some essential element missing from my French experience. At last!And absolutely, a bottle of whiskey for medicinal/secours purposes seems like a must.

  3. amy

    You may be right Wunderle – it sounds boring but it's a common experience, trying to stay warm? And a good chance to use a smoke machine.thanks Jeff, not exactly warm but at least the sun is out.We are so lucky Kim – it's balmy this week compared to a week or two ago.Cynthia, ours was pretty mild compared to what you've been through. I hope this week is easier, capped off by a glorious show next weekend.

  4. Wreckless Eric

    Lightweight??!!? I spent nine freezing winters in France in houses with no heating, dubious wood burners from the scrap yard that caught fire to the hardboard and pallet-wood walls, damp-inducing gas bottle heaters, a stone brick that burned a hole clean through the mattress… I'm no stranger to this shit, you just met me during a period of central heating and sanity. I've kept quiet about my darkly unheated past but now we're married it can all come out! x

  5. Bob_NJ

    im very happy youre BOTH ok. you BOTH know that. it would have been very easy for Mr Fixit there to be in the barn trying to repair the nasty thing. sounds more like Amys luck though. please take care.

  6. amy

    Tell Bob, Eric – tell him it's not only me who has "interesting" luck!We are entertainers after all, Ed – I imagine they're still laughing about it down at the station house.Some ancient family law Luci, that says at least one member of your family must be freezing cold at any given time? Now that your heating situation's improved it's up to us to pick up the slack.

  7. amy

    Andy yesterday Eric was describing to me a new central heating system that burns "pallets" (I thought he said). I imagined a big ferris wheel contraption that would intermittently shove one of those wooden things they use instead of boxes now into a fire. I thought, I guess that's a good reuse for those things…turns out he meant "pellets", tiny combustible balls that will heat the whole house. Never thought I'd spend most of my waking hours discussing heating…Ah yes Rosie, i've read of your love/hate relationship with the woodstove. Now I'm beginning to understand.

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