Gosh, it’s hot here, and in Nice we’re not even on a heatwave alert, like much of France. The cicadas, which apparently don’t start their racket until the temperature reaches 28C/84F, seem to be singing all the time. Even though we have plenty of windows, there just aren’t enough breezes. The leaves on the palms and citrus trees outside are still, still, still. Like proper Azuréens (that’s people from the Côte d’Azur, in fact, though it sounds like a race of aliens), we have the shutters down and the windows shut on the sunny sides of the apartment to keep the heat out during the day. When I open them again in the evening, I always put my hand on the glass for a few seconds. The residual heat on the window-glass is a source of wonder.
In this heat you don’t want to do much cooking. We eat a lot of Japanese noodles mixed with carrots and cucumbers, bean sprouts and sesame seeds, but the noodles cook in less than a minute. We turned to them after the recent death of the rice cooker.
When I first met Joel in London about 33 years ago, he owned a Peugeot 304, four brown and white flowery mugs, and an electric Sanyo rice cooker. The car, in which he transported the rice cooker from Nice to London, had belonged to his grandfather; the rice cooker to his sister Michele. Both were already pretty old when he got hold of them. The Peugeot was smashed one night in about 1984 or 1985 by a drunk driver in Shepherd’s Bush; the mugs broke one by one along the way, and the rice cooker … well, it’s my fault. I should have left well enough alone. The rice cooker became unusable, finally, because I thought the exposed filament in its twisted, black-and-white fabric wire was really a risk too far. I bought a replacement plug and wire, and sliced off the connecting bit for the rice cooker, which I thought could be easily wired back in. It couldn’t, of course – too old. Joel was blue-in-the-face furious, not-talking-for-days angry.
Whereas I thought I was sensibly preventing sure death by electrocution, he thought I was typically wading in shouting and waving, where no wading, shouting or waving were required. He wouldn’t agree, but I think he might have been having a little grief reaction: that one last piece of his youth, gone. There is no longer anything physical in his life that predates me.
Of course there are bits and things and stuff that existed before we knew each other, and that we have now – my mother’s portrait, for one; Joel’s grandparents’ stone Three Wise Men sculptures for another, but they weren’t ours when we met: my mother and his grandparents were still alive then, and it was long enough ago for us to never imagine the day their important things might become ours.
On the day I went to get the new rice cooker wire, I took my bike to Mistral Bricolage, the DIY store. I figured it closed at 12.30pm for lunch in that hugely inconvenient South of France way, so I was rushing to get there. I was cocky. I turned off the road onto the pavement a bit too fast, and bam, the wheel caught on the slippery stone, and wham, down I went, my right knee taking all my falling weight. No one was there to notice, because the damn shop had already closed at noon, and I cried in frustration and pain behind my sunglasses as I limped home.
Joel’s reaction to finding me torn at the knee, pushing my bike and snivelling was equally blue-in-the-face furious. This was compounding my senseless shouting and waving with irresponsible speeding. Not only had I forced him to consider his distant youth, but to reflect upon a possible future in which his wife had got herself killed in a pointlessly stupid bike accident! If only I had lowered my estimation of the risk of electrocution and taken no action, all would have been well.
The other side of it is, of course, that Joel’s a bit irritated with himself that he didn’t assess the risk of electrocution. If he’d done so, and replaced the wire with more attention than I’m capable of, perhaps the rice cooker would have gone on for another 30 or 40 years, and I wouldn’t have had another scar on my battered old knee.
In any case, the Sanyo rice cooker has gone. Long live the new Philips rice cooker! If it’s any good, it will cook mountains of good rice, and perhaps it too can become a metaphor for youth, life, marriage, pain, death, age, grief – and enduring love.