Just Merveilleux

Life at № 42

Canicule, the dog days of summer

canicule

From the latin canicula which means “small female dog”, the other name for the star SIRIUS. Classically it meant the period of time when Sirius and the sun rose and set at the same time. A period of intense heat from July to August. Now it just means a heatwave during summer.

The weather prediction service has Mazamet at 30 today. My outside thermometer reads 32. You can take the boy out of Spain, but the heat follows him. There’s a record today of 41 degrees in Bordeaux. More records predicted for the following days.

I’ve opened the windows and closed the louvered shutters. The high ceilings help. The attic floor is hot. It must not have been fun to be part of the staff of this house when there was staff. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. British novelists have a knack of glamourising the whole upstairs/downstairs thing (as in Downton Abbey), when the reality was something quite other. I’ll take some pictures of how staff lived 100 years ago because our staff quarters are all mostly untouched since then.

Their quarters were divided between the very top and very bottom of the house. They had their own staircase that connected the two sections. Staff was expected not to use the grand marble staircase. Their five bedrooms were in the attic and from the marks on the floor there were two beds per room. That means it took a live-in staff of ten to run the place then. They had a communal living room. All bedrooms lead off from there. In the corner there was a curtained-off toilette area composed of a sink, a mirror and a bidet. The rest of their areas were in the basement. There, by the woodstore and cave they had their own kitchen, a w/c- and for some reason, right under the stairs is another bidet. I imagine it must also have been curtained off then. It doesn’t look like an easy life at all. Just the going up and down must have been exhausting. Imagine doing it in this heat!

 

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24 comments on “Canicule, the dog days of summer

  1. Hariod Brawn
    June 30, 2015

    For pity’s sake man, get yourself a butler at least!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      June 30, 2015

      I wish! Mike was raised in Welsh methodist lands, “if we can do it ourselves, we should do it ourselves.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn
        June 30, 2015

        How terribly demeaning! How on earth can one be expected to enjoy a D’Artagnan cocktail of a morning if one has to mix it oneself?

        Like

  2. Helen Devries
    June 30, 2015

    The last house we had in France had a similar system…the servants’ rooms were over the kitchen area and a door led to the ‘family’ part of the house…a door with the bolt on the ‘family’ side. And such miserable, poky rooms against the elegant bedrooms on the other side of the house…

    We were there in the ;last great heatwave to hit France…I kept the windows as well as the shutters closed until late evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      June 30, 2015

      We’ve got the bolts too! And on every level because of the service staircase. It’s a bit shocking, isn’t it? An unashamed presumption that they’ll steal.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Helen Devries
        June 30, 2015

        In the house before that there were no servants’ quarters as the chap who built it was paranoid that the jacquerie would rise and murder him in his bed…so they arrived in the morning and left at night.
        He was also petrified of the risk of fire…so the kitchens were in the outhouses with the rest of the domestic offices and the food had to be carried across the courtyard.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. davidprosser
    June 30, 2015

    It doesn’t bear thinking about, up and down stairs all day in this heat.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  4. docatheist
    June 30, 2015

    E, you might try a trick I use: Turn the refrigerator/freezer off during the day. It’s compressor throws off far more heat than one might imagine, making the kitchen swelter even without cooking. I take from it what I expect to need later in the day, so the doors won’t be opened while it’s off. Eggs, even after prior refrigeration, keep without going bad outside the fridge, despite summer heat. Butter keeps for quite awhile. Fruits taste sweeter. Vegetables do fine. Just keep the fresh produce out in the open air (not in a plastic bag where moisture accumulates and breeds fungi).

    I’ve one other little trick with disproportionately large effect: The boxy thing in the middle of my computer cord throws off more heat than the laptop itself. I keep the boxy thing hanging just outside an otherwise closed window.

    You’re probably already aware of LED lightbulbs, yes? Compared to incandescents and even CFLs and other fluorescents, they really do run cool and bright. They’re also far less fragile and longer lasting, so well worth the small investment.

    I hope this helps. If not, I can share a few tricks from my childhood, growing up in the sweltering American South.

    Like

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      July 1, 2015

      They don’t sell incandescents in Europe anymore! It’s The Law!
      Thanks for the tips- we got a bit of a reprieve because the wind started blowing yesterday afternoon and is still blowing now.

      Like

      • docatheist
        July 1, 2015

        Ah, that’s the best: A nice summer breeze, turned up to clear the heat.

        Like

  5. acflory
    June 30, 2015

    Ten staff? Good grief. You know I’ve often thought the invention of all those labour saving devices was a cosmic joke on women [sorry, I know that’s sexist]. Instead of decreasing the domestic workload, they’ve merely made it possible for one person to do the work of ten. 😦

    That said, I’d love to see those photos. You have an historical treasure in your upstairs and down!

    Like

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      July 1, 2015

      Did you know that until the 1920’s, women of the lower middle-class and up could not dress themselves? It was physically impossible because the fashion from the mid 19th century forward required heavily boned corsets which were laced at the back. A corset was de-rigueur (in Europe) as a sign of social standing and elegance. Not wearing one created the automatic presumption of a woman being lower class. That meant having a maid was an absolute necessity.

      And you’re right about labour saving devices! For me it’s funny and has been quite a change because my grandparents still live ‘colonial style.’ Their cook only cooks, their washerwoman only washes clothes, there’s someone who comes to do the ironing three times per week. They live in an undeveloped country which means life there is similar to what life was like here before the war.

      Like

      • acflory
        July 1, 2015

        That’s almost funny, Pinky – fashion as a determinant of emancipation! And maybe I’ll stick to those labour saving devices after all. You’ve made me realise being colonial has its drawbacks. Many years ago I had the odd cleaner but always cleaned the house /before/ they arrived. Eventually I realised that perhaps my behaviour was a touch counter-productive…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        July 1, 2015

        Mike did exactly the same thing. It’s funny how much childhood influences those things. I grew up ‘ringing’ the kitchen when I wanted someone to bring me water. What for me was natural for him is offensive 🙂

        Like

      • acflory
        July 1, 2015

        -giggles- that’s equality for you.

        Like

      • roughseasinthemed
        July 1, 2015

        Everyone seems to do that. My mother did it to my extreme annoyance. I even had to tidy my (tidy) bedroom because ‘the cleaner’s coming tomorrow’. Fair enough if it had been full of junk all over the place but it wasn’t. My partner insisted on cleaning the days before the cleaner came until I finally convinced him of the ridiculousness of it. She only dusted and vacuumed anyway, so when he’d done all that, there was stuff all to do.

        Now we just live with the dust 🙂

        Like

      • acflory
        July 1, 2015

        lol – yes! I don’t believe in dusting until I can write my name on the piano.:) Much more better.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. theoccasionalman
    July 3, 2015

    So YOU’ve taken all the heat. We’re unseasonably cool, and expecting to continue that way for a few months, which isn’t that bad for the summer, but bodes ill for the coming winter.

    Like

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      July 3, 2015

      It’s come from Africa. Today it was 35 degrees. As revenge I think we should send snow to Kenya next January.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      July 3, 2015

      Are you still in the midwest?

      Like

      • theoccasionalman
        July 3, 2015

        Yes, but the company just announced an opening in Texas. I had a phone interview yesterday, so we’ll see how that plays out over the next few weeks. I know that changing homes and jobs after just six months isn’t ideal, but if it gets me out of another winter here, I’ll jump on it.

        Like

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        July 3, 2015

        Anywhere near Austin? Either way, you’ll be in more latin territory, I think that’ll suit you well. That warmth is good for you.

        Like

      • theoccasionalman
        July 3, 2015

        A few hours from Austin, I think. Closer to Fort Worth. And yes, the Latin sensibility is more my style than the super-closet that is central Illinois. I swear, if one more guy comes out to me while forcing me into a vow of silence . . .

        Like

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        July 3, 2015

        I know the feeling well. By the time I left Illinois I was very very ready for Spain. I’ve rarely been in a place where people overcomplicate their lives to such a degree. There’s something quite Ibsen about it.

        Liked by 1 person

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