After the warmest year on record in France, a cold front has moved in. My apartment relies on individual electric heat – piddly little units to warm each room. Penny pincher that I am, I rotate: turning the one on in the living room where I work during the day; switching on the one in my room at night.
That leaves the hallway, kitchen, and bathroom to glacial conditions. This does little to motivate me to start cooking more, though it’s perpetually on my to-do list. And going to the bathroom feels like a courageous expedition. Seriously, I don’t think ice in the toilet bowl would surprise me.
(These rooms, of course, do have their own little heating units. The one winter I treated myself to a toasty apartment, my astronomic electric bill made my blood run cold in my warm body so I reverted back to piecemeal heating and bulky sweaters).
Still, I’m not minding this winter so much. The sun shines much more frequently than I ever remember. This is the season that habitually conjures the dreaded grisaille (unending gray skies), yet here we are often with sun! I like the artificial light lamp I gifted myself for my birthday, but honestly, there’s been enough of the natural stuff that I’m not certain I needed it.
Tonight I took a brisk walk to the butcher’s. I called around 4:30 just to check they were open – one never knows during this holiday season. I reserved a roasted chicken (yes! I’ve just learned recently to reserve coveted items at the butcher and boulangerie ahead of time so they set them aside!)
I headed out the door soon after to catch the last light of the day; some stunning pink played across the baby blue sky.
When I arrived at the butcher’s 15 minutes later, there was already a small line. But I was asked immediately what I needed.
“I called and reserved a poulet roti?” I said. (Even after all these years, many of my statements still come out sounding like questions in French. Will I ever be sure?)
“Oh.” the butcher says. “There’s a problem.”
I’m used to problems in Paris, so I’m prepared for whatever it may be. But he reveals it’s not my problem this time! He explains to the woman in front of me that he’d forgotten this chicken had already been reserved. There wasn’t another one for her.
Wow, the power of the reservation! She accepts the refusal without incident (we’re all so used to hearing non ’round these parts, I guess) and leaves.
When it’s my turn to pay, the woman at the cash register says, “Poulet fermier, 17.50, Madame.”
Uh-oh. So I do have a problem. I didn’t order a poulet fermier. I got a poulet ordinaire.
Now I prefer my chickens happy – free-range and fermier. Often I do pay the premium for them. Tonight, though, cheapskate ways won out and I went with the ordinaire. A plain-old, still-tastes-delicious 6.50 euro ordinary chicken.
“I missed this one for nothing!” the butcher says, picking up the happy chicken, already wrapped in its to-go bag, staring out of the shop as if he might call back the woman who is now long gone. He doesn’t seem miffed with me, though. And everyone says it’s no big deal when I apologize for the confusion.
“Here’s your ordinary chicken, Madame. Bonnes fêtes.”
As I strolled back home, I heard lots of snippets of conversation on the street. Sometimes I mostly look around me when I walk, but other times, it’s passing words I pick up on.
-“We’ve been through worse, Madame,” says an old man stopping a woman with a cane on the street.
-“People are anesthetized by their work,” says a pair of friends sitting on a ledge.
-“Persimmons are supposed to be eaten hard,” the fruit man says to a woman asking if she can get some softer ones.
-“I know kakis,” she replies with a slight edge, “and you don’t eat them hard.”
These all felt very French, these lines, and the thought made me smile. Ah, another year living in France. Another year ahead.
I’ve been working through the holidays, but I have just a few things to finish up tonight and then I’m taking a short break (hallelujah!) to begin the new year.
My beau, who is also working during the fêtes, is coming over later. We’ll eat an ordinary chicken, watch a random movie. But the lesson that most encapsulates my past year is that, with love present, any moment, any thing, can be special.
And hey, I might turn on ALL of my heaters tonight.
Happy New Year!