“I’ve learned some things, these years in France,” I said to Eric.
“You couldn’t drive a manual car when you got here,” he said.
I put a chicken into the oven to roast. “Why, four years back, I couldn’t even roast a chicken!”
I thought about all the other things I’d learned. How to speak French, the difference between brebis and chevre. I’d never heard of grèves and I thought France was all shabby chic and women with scarves tied just so. I had no idea there were so many kinds of slippers, or knives. That neon yellow safety vests are for driving, orange for hunters.
How to tell a baguette from a batard, a financier from a religieuse.
Survival skills, like drinking coffee black – not because it’s more sophisticated but because most of the milk is that long shelf-life kind. I didn’t know how to steam and scrape wallpaper, but that’s a must to know if you’re living in an old French house and don’t want to walk around permanently depressed.
“You know one other thing I’ve learned?” I shouted, clomping into the kitchen with an armload of logs. “This time last year, I couldn’t build a fire!”
But now I did it easily, the first fire of the season – piling the smaller bits of wood into the wood burner, planting fire lighters, getting it going and then adding bigger logs.
A few minutes later, when the thing was really roaring, the room started filling up with foul-smelling smoke.
I checked the chicken – that was fine. I opened the wood burner and it was perfect, like a picture from Country Living magazine. But the fumes were making me queasy. I walked outside, looking at the chimney silhouetted against the sky, to make sure the smoke was coming out alright.
Back inside, it smelled like a hazardous waste site. I looked at the side of the woodburner and screamed.
Plastic letters, like you put on a refrigerator, THANK YOU spelled out by friends in the summer. I’d looked at them just that morning and smiled. It hadn’t occurred to me to take them down – now they were melting and burning, the cheery colors dripping and running together like something in a horror film.
And suddenly Eric was lunging in fearlessly with a paint scraper, removing the molten mess and flinging it onto a pile of newspaper.
But then I already knew he was my hero.