Friday, July 10, 2009


When the movers came two summers ago, they unpacked our worldly possessions before they left. Glasses, books, photographs, all came out of their layers of paper and were put (more or less) in order. Or at least in an order that could be ordered.

But what, asks the person who has moved more than once, became of all that packing paper, and all those boxes? Did the movers take all that away with them?

How perceptive of you to ask. Indeed they did not take the paper and boxes away with them.

The experienced mover looks horrified. But what did you do with them? There must have been mountains of cardboard and paper! Did you set them out by the curb, to be taken away with the recycling?

We did not. There is no recycling truck that comes by our house. Because we live in the smallest, least grand house on a street of Very Grand Homes, Homes whose Very Wealthy Owners do not wish to be reminded of the smaller things in life, our recycling bins are at the far end of the lane, a kilometer away. We load up the car and drive our empty bottles and orange juice cartons down there.

Then what did you do with all those boxes and all that paper? The experienced mover is puzzled and concerned.

We put them all in the unfinished portion of our (illegal, off the books, don't tell anyone I told you we had one) cave. And then we forgot about them.

Until about a month ago. That's when my moving lists started, and that's when I started going down to the basement and thinking about what needed to be packed with what, what given away, what returned to its rightful owners. The now damp and moldy boxes, filled with damper and moldier paper, gazed at me reproachfully. We belong to you, too, they said. What will you do with us?

I brought showed them to C. The boxes perversely refused to meet his eye. To him they looked just like boxes, not like a Problem for the Wee Hours.

Still, he thought about it for a day or two. Then he suggested that we move the boxes back to America and recycle them there. After all, the truck pulls right up to the curb in front of the house; what could be simpler?

I accepted this solution for a few days. We'd just have the movers pack the boxes and then cope with them on the other side. Then one day I was doing the laundry and heard a distinct tsk behind me. I turned. The boxes looked at me balefully. Such a waste, they said, such a waste to move us back, the movers will probably wrap us in more paper and put us in more boxes. All because you can't think what else to do. Mmm. So wasteful. French people must have boxes to get rid of. What do they do?

I went back upstairs and thought about how many trips down the hill to the bins it would take before we had gotten rid of all the boxes. I figured half a dozen. If we carried a box or two upstairs each time we went to the basement, and then, each time we walked up the hill to the car, took a box or two with us, and, each time we went out, dropped a box or two at the recycling, well, it would be doable, wouldn't it?

I carried a few sample boxes upstairs later that day, and then to the car, and then, after I'd collected the girls from wherever they'd been, we left the boxes (flattened, of course) by the recycling bins.

They stayed there for three days, through two rain storms and one wind storm. Twice I drove by and they were in the middle of the lane.

Then in one Wee Hour I had an idea. It would require fewer trips to the car and the recycling and would finish off the problem in a matter of hours.

Reader, I burned them. May God and Al Gore forgive me, I set the boxes and paper on fire.

Not in the house--don't worry--but out in the garden, behind the Burning Wall. In our part of France, it is still legal to burn your garden clippings, your yard trash. People do it constantly and every garden I've been in has at least one spot and sometimes several that bear the telltale ash heap. Jules had Olivier built us a small wall at the bottom of the garden, over the leechfield, to pile our olive clippings and leaves and pulled weeds to be burned. It is, ironically, one of the few things that Jules has done since we've lived here that I know without a shadow of a doubt to be entirely within both the law and custom of the country.

And so, early one morning when C and the girls had gone out--I did not wish to implicate them in my sin--I began dragging boxes up the stairs from the cave, through the kitchen, and down to the bottom of the garden. And I set them on fire. Small fires; I never let them get very big. (Front page of The New York Times: Côte d'Azur destroyed by out-of-control garden fire; American woman says she didn't mean to.) Trip after trip down the stairs, up the stairs, through the kitchen, down the garden hill. I was covered in soot and mold.

After a couple of hours the boxes were gone. There may be a hole in the ozone with my name on it, and for my sins, I'll recycle that much more fanatically, I promise. But by lunchtime I went inside, found my list, and drew a line through the item Moving Boxes.

When we unpack in Washington, we'll put the recycling at the curb.


  1. It's true that the recycling bin pick-ups never include anything left outside the bins. It's only for stuff that fits inside them.

    All other stuff need to be taken to the nearest "dechetterie". It's a combination dump/recycling center. You throw the waste into huge bins for metal, cardboard, garden waste (lots of grass clippings end up there), etc, and the "for burning bins" for the hopeless stuff.
    Batteries, old paint, used oil and all kinds of bad-news stuff can also be properly disposed of there.
    I just thought I'd write about this in case anyone in France reads this and is facing a similar situation.
    Here's other info about the system:

    Sounds like you did the best you could with the info and ressources at hand, though.
    Best of luck with the move.

  2. Thanks for the dechetterie information: we knew that the option existed, but--at least in our region, at least what we were told--we needed a special card to be able to use the local dump. And in order to get the special card we would have had to take our file of cartes de sejours and tax information and so forth to the mairie and then wait a few days to be issued a card...and then drive 30 minutes to the nearest dechetterie...Well. Another time.

  3. Good grief! That's pretty harsh! Around here, you just have to show some proof that you live in a neighboring village (a facture with a name and address on it, for example).

    And 30 minutes away hardly seems local.