France has been “reconfined” since October 30, four days before the American election. This lockdown is less strict than the first; the French government was trying to find the sweet spot between decimating the economy and allowing the virus to rampage unchecked. “Nonessential” businesses are closed, but, fortunately for us, the government has decided that Leroy Merlin (pronounced Luh-roi-mare-lan), the French cousin of Home Depot, and the city dump are considered essential, and so the renovation staggers forward.
Fortunately, our workers had no interest in the American election. Far from being completely flattened by the experience, they were hugely amused. Foreign to them was the urge to self-medicate with Tylenol PM and sleep away the day, or speed-hike up the steep hills that encircle Collioure, hoping to induce heart failure and thus get put out of the misery of waiting for the results from Pennsylvania.
Before work on the ground floor could begin, however, Jerrod and I had to move ourselves and our stuff upstairs. Living on the ground floor wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, the kitchenette had a stove top but no oven, and the bathroom had a wobbly old electric toilet that sounded like a plane taking off when flushed, but we didn’t feel like we had to exercise extreme domestic creativity just to get through the day.
Upstairs, in the about seventy-percent-completed premier étage, there is a toilet that doesn’t rock when you sit on it, but there is no kitchen. There is still, however, a large unfinished shower in the master bathroom, and that has become the kitchen pantry. The coffee maker lives on the edge of the bathroom sink. To cook something, we have to load up a basket of food and cookware and troop downstairs (by the exterior staircase, since there is still no interior staircase). Jerrod salvaged the stove top from the kitchenette counter and set it up between two chairs in the backyard. But the dishes still need to be washed in the master bathroom, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s the smell of food in a bathroom.
Still, it’s all good! Every morning, we throw open the doors to the terrace and shout, “But look at this! We live in the south of France!” So what if the bathroom always smells like three-day old clam linguini!
I’m feeling particularly rugged these days, since I’ve just accepted an enormous construction flaw. I, the daughter of an engineer with her rising sign in Virgo, have fully embraced the imperfection that is French construction. Perfection is for assholes, or so saith the great performer Taylor Mac, and I am determined not to be an asshole.
Do you remember the jolly post I wrote about how insouciant (a word that comes to us from the French, of course) the guys were about tossing up the walls on the premier étage? It was the week after the first confinement, and they arrived early and stayed late and, when they lost the plans, they sort of interpretive-danced their way around the space, measuring with their hands and dashing off a pencil mark on various walls and floors, and it felt all so inspired? Do you remember that?
It turns out, to erect a perfectly straight wall it’s more useful to have a framing square and a plumb line than joie de vivre. The guest bath and the master bath share a new wall. A new, crooked wall. A new wall that is off by about three centimeters. How do we know? Because the tiler laid down the tile in the master without compensating for the error. He began at the new crooked adjoining wall between the baths, and when he got to the other wall, the final tile had to be trimmed in such a way that it advertised rather than obscured the mistake. It might have been one thing if that final tile was behind the toilet or the sink. Instead, it’s right as you walk in the door. If you’re looking down, you’re liable to suffer an attack of vertigo.
At first, I thought: This is unacceptable. It must be redone. There is imperfection and then there is a lifetime of dizzy spells if you happen to catch a glimpse of crooked tile every time you saunter in to take a pee.
We summoned our contractor Pascal and showed him. He summoned his subcontractor, Antoine, and showed him. They stroked their chins and murmured in French. Their clever solution was to drywall the currently plumb wall at an angle, making it crooked, so that it matched the lines in the crooked tile. The room would be transformed from a square into a parallelogram.
Which struck me first as a great idea, then a terrible one. Why make matters worse? Why not just accept the imperfection, and the story that went with it? Generally speaking, the French don’t like to be wrong. I told Pascal I thought it was a good idea, a clever idea, a brilliant idea! Then bought a festive bath mat, a few baskets, and covered the whole thing up. We spoke no more about it. “Imperfection” is pronounced am-pear-fec-si-own in French.