Feu! Fire! Scary mystery solved here at home
Thursday, March 23, 2023
Jackie, getting ready for work, in a photo from a few years back, with our Angel, Smokey. Notice the old table and the bench. Read today about a mystery surrounding their disappearance. Reading via email? Be sure to click through to the blog for the whole story and photos.
TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: "rester bouche bée"
: to be speechlesss, stand gaping, stunned
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...by Kristi Espinasse
On Saturday morning I came downstairs eager to check on some homemade bread. Earlier, I'd transferred the dough to the pan and put the sourdough miche in the oven. If I was blissfully unaware of the shocking scene outside, it is because our shutters were still closed.
Our kitchen had a comforting aroma of levain when I took the bread out of le four. Then I went to open our giant shutters to let in the morning light. I slid open the heavy glass door, reached for the latch on the shutters, and pushed open the volets. What I saw next took my breath away.
Black soot and ashes everywhere. Our wooden table for 10 had disappeared into a pile of ashes. Poof! Clay pots lay broken and scattered. The luscious green plants that had been inside them were nowhere to be seen in the charred mess. Je suis restée bouche bée. I stood speechless.
What? When? Who? Why??
My first thought was, Had Jean-Marc left a discarded log near the table? But that idea flew when a more fearful scenario gripped my mind. Did vandals do this? Were they leaving us some sort of message? Would they be back tonight?!! The thought gave me chills, especially as Jean-Marc was away for the weekend. It was just Mom and me at the house. A feeling of vulnerability took over along with the idea to decamp chez Jules...far from this creepy, helter-skelter scene.
Should I call the police? Or maybe the fire department? As I stood trying to figure out what to do next, our collared doves flew in for their usual morning treat. There was nowhere to land (at least not on the table where they took their breakfast), but the sight of these peaceful, innocent birds brought an initial relief. Still, I couldn't shake the fear that something sinister was behind this troubling scene, which made no sense to me:
I got out my phone to record a video for Jean-Marc, and as I recounted the order of events I remembered the strange commotion from last night. Jean-Marc had just come to bed to fall immediately to sleep. I too was falling asleep when some loud noises woke me, around 11:30. Was that Mom? I wondered. (She lives in the room directly below us.) But no, the noise was coming from the other side of the house...
“Jean-Marc, I hear something!” I whispered. My husband got up, still very groggy, and went downstairs. A minute later he was back. "Ce n'est rien."
"Il n'y avait pas de loup? No big bad wolf," I said, jokingly. I felt bad for waking him as he was leaving for the mountains at 5:30 am. So when I heard the same noise again, a few moments later, I didn't bother him. I now realize that must have been the second part of the table collapsing from the flames! All those heavy clay pots were crashing to the ground.
Jean-Marc woke before sunrise and did not see the rubble on the other end of the front porch as he headed to our car and began his journey north. By the time I discovered the damage and got Jean-Marc on the phone, he was already in the Southern Alps.
"There was a fire on our front porch and our table is completely gone..." I began. I also told him we had lost a work of art, un travail orfèvre! The hand-cut and welded bench made by my belle-soeur, Cécile, had gone up in flames, too.
Jean-Marc was speechless. “What happened?”
”I don't know!" And then, remembering my initial hunch, I said: “Did you put a log there?” for my husband sometimes removes a log (if it is too big, or the fireplace is too full).
Was that a no? Or an "Oh no!"?
Jean-Marc began to realize his mistake. "I had put a wedge of palm tree into the fireplace, but the piece was too big. I swear there wasn't one spark on it when I set it on the table!"
"You set it on the wooden table?" Je suis restée bouche bée...
After a moment of silence what happened next was a small miracle: 18 months of do-it-yourself marriage therapy kicked in, and thank God it did or I might be back in Arizona by now! The two of us managed to remain calm and understanding. Of course I was upset about the removed-from-fireplace log being placed on the wood table. Safety is a touchy subject in our marriage. But I understood Jean-Marc when he said it was an accident. How could I fault him when I once set a tortilla on fire in the oven (after wandering off from my cheese crisp in-the-making?). I was a kid then, but as an adult I have forgotten to turn off our oven more times than I'd like to admit.
Back to the porch fire, a few random factors led up to this accident. My husband was tired and suffering from a bad back. When he pulled the "log" out of the fireplace (checking that the wood had no sparks), he set it in the most convenient place: right outside our door, on the table. When I went to close the shutters I did not see the log (I was busy noticing how my husband had put away all his swim gear--towel, goggles, maillot de bain...) which had been splayed across the table. This clutter-free table made me happy, and I closed the shutters with a smile on my face.
Meantime, a tiny spark was slowly coming to life inside that palm tree wedge. It was a very dry wedge, too, as this piece of potential firewood was retrieved from our felled palmier that died three years ago. That little invisible spark became a flicker that, licked by the night's gentle breeze, became the flame that took down our farm table and prized bench.
We hung up the phone, Jean-Marc and I, after a calm, diplomatic, loving, and forgiving conversation. Five years ago, the conversation might have been different. But with each passing year, and daily marriage work, humility and gentleness grows.
"Let's turn the page," Jean-Marc suggested.
"Ok," I accepted.
We agreed to get a new or used table and, more importantly, to heed the lesson On the Danger of a Hidden Spark (whether hidden in a log or in a marriage). Be attentive and put it out before it burns down the proverbial front porch. Remember only ever to fan the flames of love.
P.S. Have you ever had such an accident? Please share your stories in the comments. Merci d'avance!
For 15 years this farm table was the center of get-togethers, projects, and more.
FRENCH VOCABULARY / LANGUAGE COMPREHENTION
(Click here for the sound file)
rester bouche bée = to be stunned
la miche = round loaf of bread
le levain = yeast, sourdough
le four = oven
le volet = shutter
ce n'est rien = it's nothing
il n'y avait pas de loup? = there wasn't a big bad wolf?
le travail d'orfèvre = work of art
la belle-soeur = Cécile
le maillot de bain = swimsuit
une bisette = a little kiss
tout est bien qui finit bien = all's well that ends well
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With one of Mom's doves. For the story, see the Instagram post here
Bye for now and remember, Tout est bien qui finit bien. All's well that ends well. Jean-Marc, wearing one of my hats, trying to make me laugh. Can you see Lili the cat in my arms?
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Oh wow! Thats a lesson indeed...in many aspects. On the plus said, apart from fact nobody injured (not even when discussing the part of the log in the incident!), the metal bench frame remains intact and your bel-sour might be able to reconstruct the bench with some new planking - whew. The table is no longer a table but there does seem to be a small amount of wood remaining, which could be salvaged and either incorporated into new table or made into a frame for a photo of you two still together after many adversities! Bon courage!
Posted by: Lorraine | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 12:27 PM
That is scary! Thank goodness the fire didn't spread! I once left a sink running while rinsing out a bathing suit at my husband's father's beach house. We were there with our kids spending a lovely couple of weeks. Once of the children began crying downstairs and I ran down to see what was the matter forgetting the running sink which spilled over to the floor and leaked through the downstairs dining room ceiling! OOOFFFFF!
My father in law was very understanding and I offered to pay for the damage but he said it was an accident and he had a list of repairman that he kept on hand so I was very grateful!
Posted by: Eileen | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 01:09 PM
In such situations, I have learnt it’s often good to apply a few thoughts :
1. What’s funny about this?!
It made for a good story today and an amusing one at that!
2. Well clearly, I obviously didn’t need that anymore and something better must be on its way :-)
3. How can it get better than this? How is always a great question for the brain as it starts to imagine better solutions … like maybe a gorgeous new table that
you and the doves will love even more.
Love is always the most important :-)
Posted by: Kristina | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 01:23 PM
You scared me big time with this story. How can you stay so calm and stoic when it could have catch your house... And no smoke smell? I always been against and frightened by the lousy French habit of shutters: they cut too much the inside-outside world in two. And the insurance wants you to close them tight when you leave, a great giveaway that you are not there for intruders to know.
Anyway... I would also suggest for you to change the title of the story to "Au feu!" because "Feu" by itself is an order to shoot [at someone], also the mention of someone who passed away, like "feu Monsieur intel".
We love to read you every week here in California. We plan to be back [after 2 years absence] in our house in the village where you started this blog, and I'll pass by your former house on my hike to the next Medieval tower. Great memories for me.
Posted by: Emmanuel | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 01:54 PM
Oops, "untel", not "intel".
Posted by: Emmanuel | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 01:56 PM
I am sorry for the loss. Tables are important in a home that practices hospitality like yours. One Christmas I had a candle with some greens on the buffet table in the kitchen. As we sat eating our Christmas dinner, someone said that they smelled something burning! I couldn't believe it b/c all of the food was out of the ovens and on the kitchen table. Running in, the middle of the table, the candle, the greens and tablecloth are in flames!
Thankfully, it was not the food in the oven that was burning. It was a "wholey" tablecloth after that ;)!
Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Valerie Porter | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 02:16 PM
My Most Recent mishap - while transferring salmon from pan to plate I spilled some pan juices onto the burner. I wiped them up but didn’t realize how oily the liquid was. The next morning, my pot of oatmeal was suddenly engulfed in flames. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to throw some baking soda on the fortunately small fire, which was immediately snuffed out.
You are so lucky that your porch didn’t catch fire!
Posted by: Anne | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 02:20 PM
I was baking chicken in a Pyrex baking dish & decided to add water, a big mistake. The baking dish exploded & chards of glass everywhere, including my leg. I was able to rescue the chicken, amazingly. That probably wasn’t a good idea. I learned my lesson the hard way.
Posted by: Angela George | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 02:29 PM
You are so lucky that the house, trees, door mat or any other object did not burn. I agree that it was surprising that you did not realize that a fire was happening. Although, my husband and I were not woken up when police and ambulance came down our driveway (evidently without sirens but definitely with lights glaring) and we did not wake up. BUT I did wake up when I heard someone in the house. A policeman and was in our living room (he got access with the key from our lockbox) and came in. I asked what he was doing and he said someone pressed their emergency pendant. Well it was my mother in the attached apartment. Thank God, she wasn’t really hurt, but had fallen and couldn’t get up.
On a fire note - I had a party and had candles burning in various rooms. Almost everyone had left and I smelled smoke. Well the candle on my dresser had started my dresser on fire. A friend wanted to throw water on it and I said no because it would ruin my solid oak dresser. Yeah! Well needless to say, he did and of course the fire ruined the dresser. BUT my father was able to cut out the burnt area, insert a new piece of wood and voilà it looks pretty good, even if you see the fixed area.
Enough…I am glad that it was only your table which burnt (which is replaceable) and that all is well between you and JM.
Posted by: Kathleen | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 02:40 PM
Quelle catastrophe! Mais
mille mercis que tu
vas bien 🙏
Posted by: Cindy | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 03:02 PM
Oh my! That was scary. Thank God it wasn't the house or your mom's hideaway! You taught us at least two good lessons. Plus Jean-Marc may have a chance for a lesson in humility. If I'm following this correctly, Cecile your very talented sister-in law made the table. Does that mean she's married to JM's brother? So JM will be the one to tell Cecile about the "feu pas" [pun intended]? Just wondering...
Posted by: Diane Heinecke | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 03:39 PM
This post really struck a note with me and you've asked for comments relating to our own lives.
So here goes.
I hope what I say doesn't offend you but I really feel for you and understand.
I appreciate your introspection, kindness and generosity of spirit, giving benefit- of- the- doubt and understanding, because I seem to share those qualities and have a similarly inclined husband.
But in light of one who also lives with someone who does stupidly dangerous things and is too proud and fragile to admit it, we are walking on eggshells...and ashes.
We have to be careful not to explain away an adult's responsibility.
Withholding a humanly justified response or explaining it away, especially in such a dangerous situation, in order not to disturb the monster, is exhausting and distructive to your self.
You have every right to be outraged by an action that could have ended in catastrophe and Jean-Mark has every responsibility to own up to it as an adult.
Here, as I see it, Jean Mark should be the one baring his soul, pleading forgiveness for such thoughtlessness. In my opinion, not dismissing it and 'turning the page'.
Love doesn't mean sherking responsibility and then forgiveness for not taking responsibility, does it?
Will he arrive home to a cleaned up terrace or will he be the one to pick up the mess/near disaster he caused?
Jean marc is so fortunate to have an angel for a partner and should thank you every day.
Posted by: Maria | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 04:07 PM
The biggest, most extraordinary, monumental, mind-blowing part of the story is the immediate forgiveness and understanding. Your example (again) is phenomenal. ❤️
Posted by: K. J. Laramie | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 04:13 PM
How beautifully you handled this situation with an important approach …no blame. I am sure Jean-Marc is feeling bad enough on his own. And, it can be fixed. Perhaps Cécile might be able to repair her gorgeous bench? Maybe she can make you a new table as well. Her work is so creative and unique. (The tables in the wine shop are amazing!)
My feu mishap was bringing firemen to our door when cooking with my wok. The smoke set off the fire alarm, which is directly connected to the fire department. Now I turn on two fans, close the two sets of French doors to the kitchen and open the outside kitchen door. I actually had to throw a flaming wok pan out the door once before it set off the alarm. But oh, the stir fry is so good!
Posted by: Chris Allin | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 04:29 PM
Bien fait Jean-Marc & Kristi ! Fanning the flames of love and forgiveness ♥ True love (and this what it looks like) is beautiful ♥ And thank goodness those flames didn't burn your house down!
Posted by: Beth | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 04:37 PM
The Danger of a Hidden Spark (whether hidden in a log or in a marriage)
Great metaphor, Kristi!
Sorry about the loss of your table and beautiful bench. Fortunately, there was nothing else combustible about, or it could have been much worse.
Posted by: Teresa | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 04:57 PM
Feu pas—that is brilliant Diane! And Cécile is Jean-Marc’s sister.
Posted by: Kristin Espinasse | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 05:17 PM
We were living in an RV, and my partner had grilled something for dinner. At the end of the evening, he put the ashes in a paper bag and started to put it in the "belly" of the RV. (This is a storage area underneath the living area.) I stopped him, expressed my concern about the possibility of a remaining spark. We had a bit of an argument then about how super-vigilant (paranoid?) I am about fire, but I finally convinced him to leave the sack of "dead" ashes on the concrete pad instead of in the RV. Later that evening, I smelled smoke. We went out and found - sure enough - the bag smoking and starting to burn. He doesn't argue (much) with me anymore about fire safety!
Posted by: Anna Johnston | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 05:37 PM
Oh, yes, I've done something similar. Cleaning out the fireplace one winter many years ago while in our old house I decided scooping out the ashes was taking too long and I could speed up this chore by vacuuming out the fireplace...after all, all the ashes looked quite cold.
So, I began hoovering out the fireplace then the family room and while doing so I noticed a smell like something electrical burning. My vacuum cleaner was smoking! It didn't take more than 2 seconds for me to realize that not all the ashes were cold! I quickly took the vacuum out to the middle of the backyard and took out the bag that was smoldering, grabbed the hose and hosed it down!
I left the vacuum cleaner itself outside all the rest of the day to make sure it wasn't on fire before I brought back into the house.
Suffice it to say...I went back to the slow scooping method of cleaning out the ashes after that!
We have a gas fireplace here in the new house. 😄🤣
Posted by: Deborah | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 05:41 PM
Along with a heightened awareness of safety issues, enjoy getting a new (perhaps recycled) table. I'm sure Cecile would be willing to create a new bench if you order one from her. Very glad no one was injured and the house escaped the fire.
Posted by: Marianne Rankin | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 05:49 PM
What a sad event. However, what an amazing escape from having the house burn!! It could have been a real disaster. I end up becoming very attached to things like the table that have been the center of family activities or the hand crafted aspect. The realization of the possibilities would be the manner I would deal with my emotions.
The other way I deal with the loss of "things" has been what my German hostess said back in 1965 after a favorite vase was broken "It's just a thing. I walked out of east Germany with a child holding my hand, and a baby in my arms after the war, leaving everything else behind and know that it's people who are important, not things"
Posted by: Carolyn R R Chase | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 05:52 PM
I remember sitting at that table having your lovely tomato tart in 2010 when the kids and I visited you in Provence. A friend burned her deck by accident because of a smoldering cigarette. Fortunately her house had metal siding and she was able to catch the burn before the house was affected.
Posted by: Buffy | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 06:25 PM
Bravo, Maria! Vous avez raison! On a eu un grand feu en octobre 1991 à Oakland-Berkeley en Californie et poof! Toute la communauté était complètement brûlée! Vingt-cinq personnes étaient morts! La raison: quelqu’un a laissé brûler un feu de camp. Quelle catastrophe ! Quelle tragédie!
Posted by: Joanne | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 07:05 PM
Great story, hope you find a table as lovely as that one. I do remember it well when I visited your place Mas du Brun for a wine tasting in 2015. I once cleaned out our wood stove and filled a plastic bucket with the ashes and set them out on the porch. It was a very cold snowy windy day and I was very busy inside with important phone calls. My husband came inside to let me know I was burning down the house, I waved him off while on the phone, “yeah whatever” thinking he was being dramatic, seeing a bit of smoke coming from the bucket or something. Only a bit later to find the ashes had a few hot embers that burned through the bucket and proceeded to burn a hole the size of a basketball in the wooden porch. It was scary to think how bad that could have turned. I cover the hole with a big metal planter now but I am reminded to be a lot more careful with the ashes.
Posted by: Dawn John son | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 07:22 PM
Wonderful finishing line, Kristi. And Cécile can always make another one, bringing you all closer together. There’s a silver lining in every cloud.
Posted by: jim stewart | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 11:00 PM
Kristi, I so appreciate your openness of your heart every time I read your post! This must have been such a scary moment that literally took your breath away. I'm so sorry for the loss of your memory-filled table and more. Your story reminded me of the time when my husband put the the previous night's hot ashes (he thought that they were cold enough) from our wood stove into a grocery bag! NO one noticed until our then 2 year-old son was running through the house saying, "smells, smells!" The bag was just starting to get engulfed. My husband immediately lifted it up and threw it out the window onto the snow. Huge lesson for us beginner cabin dwellers, and marriage of course. I was so stunned about what my all-knowing husband could be capable of! Well, a lesson for me, was a realization that anyone could make a very interesting mistake, and that I have a responsibility to do what I can do to deal with a situation when I can. Thank you for sharing your brave and beautiful heart, Kristi!
Posted by: KC | Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 11:53 PM
Oh my goodness! That could have been so much worse! Thank goodness. We did have something like that happen. My husband and I were living with his parents while our new home was being built. His mom was famous for her popcorn and we were playing cards and she was starting to make popcorn when we lost electricity. We all eventually went to bed. When I got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom I turned on a light and still could not see anything in the kitchen. My Mother in law had left the popcorn pan on the burner and when the electricity came back on the popcorn popped and then subsequently burned all the way down and was starting to burn through the bottom of the pan. When I saw the smoke I screamed to wake everyone up just as the smoke alarm finally started to sound! Lost the best popcorn pan in the world, and imagine the burnt popcorn smell for quite awhile, but thankfully nothing worse!!
Posted by: Sandy Wirth | Friday, March 24, 2023 at 04:45 AM
Forgiveness, works so well in marriage and friendship. Glad it was only the table....Love to your mate as he must be feeling terrible.
I almost wrote suzfunaway1 in my gmail, haha. An omen?
Posted by: Suzanne Dunaway | Friday, March 24, 2023 at 09:10 AM
Where was "Smokey" the bear when you needed him?
Posted by: barbara michels | Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 12:06 AM
Posted by: Kristin Espinasse | Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 06:57 AM
I am so thankful that it is only the table that burned on an apparently Mistral-free night. So thankful.
Posted by: Muriel | Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 03:07 PM
...enormous thanks for this poignant post with its sweet admonition to be aware of those crucial moments of choice we all have as we relate to one another!
...beaming much admiration, respect, and, oh yes...beaucoup des bisettes!!
Posted by: Jann Forth | Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 04:21 PM
Be careful in taking advice from an angry and resentful person. (I'm confident you can identify to whom I am referring.) Here is someone who doesn't want to forgive issues and seems to be on a mission to punish her partner. Perhaps events in her life justify such a posture, but the end result will be to poison the relationship. Mistakes, even serious mistakes, should not be used as fuel (pun intended) to humiliate your partner: to make them "plead for forgiveness."
If your goal is to retaliate against your partner, then follow her advice. If your goal is to maintain a loving relationship, follow what you apparently learned in "marriage therapy".
Posted by: Ron | Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 09:16 PM
Before I got this, I happened to be thinking about a family in Connecticut. Something like five people in three generations lost their lives when someone put a bucket of ashes on the back porch or just outside the back door. It was Christmas Eve.
The ashes were still very much alive, but the family was left grieving.
Ron, I see your point but I also see
the complainer's point. Grudges and retaliation ARE bad, and so is enabling. We have all made big and small mistakes. It makes me want to pause a moment. Glad everyone is safe.
Posted by: Leslie NYC | Monday, March 27, 2023 at 03:38 AM
Thank you, Leslie, for this reminder about the danger of ashes. And I appreciate your response regarding grudges and enabling and mistakes. Everyone’s point is understood and respected. Thank you for finding the words.
Posted by: Kristin Espinasse | Monday, March 27, 2023 at 07:34 AM