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!
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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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety