“For heating, there’s a proper English stove,” our new landlord proclaimed proudly. “We had to order it special from the UK.”
This ought to be interesting.
“It takes a little bit of planning, but if you figure things out right you can close the flue when you go bed and still have hot coals in the morning,” he continued.
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” my husband, Mike, observed. “I’ve done a lot of camping.”
With those words of confidence, we were on our own.
Welcome to the 1800s.
We moved in at the end of November, Thanksgiving Day to be precise. We were just grateful to have a house. As it was warm on moving day, we didn’t really think much about heating until the sun went down.
However, by that time, it would have taken too much effort to clear a path to the fireplace, so we bundled up in scarves and coats, ate a Thanksgiving Dinner of breakfast cereal and headed to bed.
The next morning was brisk, but we were hard at work so it wasn’t until that evening that we decided to try our hand at making fire. Cavemen did it. How hard could it be?
In addition to the logs in the woodpile, we had procured kindling, fire-starter cubes and a lighter with a long neck–all the tools needed to start a hearth-warming blaze. Unfortunately, instead of a blazing inferno, we started with a house full of smoke. Once the fire got going, it still took an hour to heat the house.
I had always associated a fireplace with leisure. The crackling of a fire creating an ambiance of comfort and coziness. It was the sound of the holidays, snow days, and romantic getaways. Now all I wanted was a source of continuous heat that didn’t make my hair smell like a campfire or the smoke alarm go off.
We didn’t get the hang of things until the spring. When the next fall arrived, we started regularly smoking-out the house again…until Mike discovered the right combination of flue levers and firestarter. (For those interested, he found that he had to start a small fire first to warm the chimney so the smoke would rise up instead of into the house.) Now we had a warmer house and fewer smokey evenings. During the day, I just always wore a coat.
You may wonder why we didn’t install some kind of electric-heating system. The fact of the matter is, we had two wall-mounted electric radiators near the fireplace. However, the cost of electricity is so high, we had been warned not to use them unless we wanted to pay through the nose.
Good thing Provencal winters are mild.
The real expat life.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao