When we visited California this summer I found, in one and then another of the houses we borrowed, a couple of books about the cookery writer Julia Child. They were her memoir My life in France, written with Alex Prud’homme (2006), and Julie and Julia (2005), whose author, Julie Powell cooks, over a year, all the recipes from Julia Child’s book Mastering the art of French cooking (which could also be found in the Aptos beach house).
Julie Powell lives in New York. She goes back home to Texas for Christmas. It’s always nice to go back to the folks’ house, she writes. There’s no mildew in the bathtub, and you can shower for as long as you want and the water will stay hot. There’s a queen-sized bed to sleep in, no roaring semitrucks passing in the night, a hundred channels on the television, and broadband on the computer. On Christmas Eve we jack up the air-conditioning so we can light a fire.
Even if my energy-efficient soul is in revolt, I know what Julia Powell’s family are thinking of with the fire.
In the late 1990s we moved to a house, here in Belgium, with a little old metal stove. The people who sold us the house tried to claim that the stove was a mere content of the house, not a fixture or fitting, and to take it away, but we won the argument. (Compared with England, what’s odd in Belgium is that aspects of house purchase, like this, are still debated on the day the house changes hands.) That Christmas, Daughter and Son wrote letters to Father Christmas. We lit the stove and used it to propel their letters up the chimney.
Not long after, when the stove was lit again, we saw that its metal exterior was glowing red. We were unnerved. We never used the stove again. We unfixed it, or unfitted it, and left it in the cellar. I’m afraid that the people who bought the house from us probably chucked it away.
Son is grown-up now. We spent last Christmas with him, in London. He had a dog basket in the fireplace and a nice fire on his TV screen.