Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deux décas

The winter that C and I began dating, I decided to buy a toaster oven. We were both living in campus apartments for graduate students. The apartment kitchens came with a range and refrigerator; any other kitchen equipment was up to us. I had brought plates and bowls and utensils and, I think, a hand mixer West with me the year before, when Madame Mère and I had driven from the right to left coasts. Why I decided that I would acquire a toaster oven I no longer remember.

Why isn't important, because I didn't buy one. I didn't buy one because, on the day that C went with me to get one, he stopped in the kitchen appliances aisle, turned to me, and said: Why do you need a toaster oven when I already have one?

Just like Bogie and Bacall, I know. But when we began deciding that we didn't need duplicates of household appliances, that's when we knew, I think, that we were heading towards setting up housekeeping. That was 18 years ago.

We didn't bring the toaster oven (we had replaced it in the meantime with a newer model) to France because, of course, American kitchen appliances don't work in French kitchens. Different electrical current or voltage or, at any rate, a different-looking plug. (In our relationship, I'm then one who knows where the train is going; C's the one who understands how it gets there.) Nor did we bring a coffee pot. We're not big coffee drinkers--C has always abjured hot liquids, and I drink tea all day long. But what we found when we moved here was that we could order a petit déca--a tiny decaf espresso--in a café, or after dinner out, and that we enjoyed sitting over it, enjoyed the whole quiet coffee ritual.

So we started looking at espresso machines. There are about 139 varieties on sale, everything from gorgeous Italian-designed stainless models that do everything but hand you a fresh croissant with your coffee, to lilac plastic machines that take up less space on your (already small) kitchen plan de travail and stick to handing out espresso, neat. Last summer we made several trips to Darty, the French appliance store, to examine various models, and we talked to our friends for recommendations. It was a long process because C likes to make decisions carefully, and because we were espresso machine novices (how many bars? how much pressure? capsules or not, and if so, what kind?), and because the local Darty is 45 minutes away.

The summer turned into early fall while we were still trying to figure out bars and pressure and capsules. Another element began to sidle into our espresso maker conversations: the plug question. None of the machines we had seen would work in an American kitchen. They were all wired (or magicked, as I think of it) for European kitchens. So if we bought a European machine it would be inutile in our Stateside life.

We came over in the summer of 2007, after more than a year's worth of planning and conniving and cajoling. C's contract brought us for two years. The moment we arrived--from the hardship-posting heat of Washington, DC to the lovely dry heat of our hillside, with cool evenings and open windows and no mosquitoes--we learned that several of C's American colleagues had been able easily to extend their two year contract to four or even five years. Et voilà, we thought, and we settled in for the duration. Happily ever after in our village, at least until the girls could finish lycée and go off to university.

And then. The economy collapsed.

We stayed the course.

It collapsed again.

We did some figuring, and stayed the course.


And then we started rethinking the espresso machine.

We've struggled for months now with the decision. C's contract won't be renewed; he could stay on, but on very different terms, and there wouldn't be a job waiting in America when he got back. We would have to move house, move village. I don't have the right visas to work in Europe, and, even if I did, my collection of diplomas doesn't mean a whole lot in France. The girls will be ready to start high school next September; if we're going to make a move, this seems the time to do it. So we're going home.

We'll go in the summer, as we came, and try not to notice the difference in climate too much. Life at La Bastiole will go on til we close the gates and hand Jules the keys. We are sorry--no, we are heartbroken--to leave this good life. The saving grace is that we've had this moment, and that the four of us will have it to remember together.

Today is C's birthday. Later this afternoon I'll pick up the gâteau aux trois chocolats that I ordered from Gilbert at the boulangerie, and we'll have it tonight for dessert, after some salad and linguine with truffle sauce (wish us luck with the truffle). The first birthday of his that we celebrated together was in my graduate student apartment, without a toaster oven; after that year, and ever since, we've shared the toaster oven and everything else, and we've come, on our best days, to think the same thoughts without need of speech, and babble the same speech without need of meaning. Next year we'll mark this day on a different continent, in the same time zone and even area code as much our famille éloignée. But it will still be the four of us, and, even more, the two of us, at the table, and that thought is what makes leaving La Bastiole bearable. That, and knowing that if we start the research now, by next February we might have bought an espresso machine. Then after dinner we'll have deux décas and remember this.


  1. Oh, I am so sad for all of you. I know how special your life there is and I will miss living vicariously. So glad I got to experience a bit of it. I'm also glad you'll be closer, but am not so selfish to celebrate it.


  2. So sorry to read that you'll be ending your adventure in France.

    Have been a silent reader of your blog for a while now, but had to chip in.

    Hope you can all make the most of the time you have left there. And take a bit of the French way of living back to the states with you.

  3. What sad news! I am so sorry. I enjoy living vicariously in France through your stories.
    Happy Birthday to C.

  4. I just found you and now you're leaving.
    I've read through so many of your old posts this last couple of weeks and so many of them made me think "YES! That's SO true." and "Wow! I wish I'd written that!"

    Thank you for the record of your impressions of French life. It's been a pleasure to peruse.