Chauffage en panne

I’ve faced iffy radiators before. During my semester abroad in Nantes, only half of the radiator in my drafty room actually radiated heat. The result: My room was always three or four degrees (Celsius!) colder than the rest of the apartment. My host mom’s solution: toss me an extra blanket…

So Saturday afternoon, when I started feeling chilly and touched my radiator only to discover it had gone glacial, I suspected it wasn’t because one of my housemates decided to get all environmental and turn off the heat in the dead of winter.

After some minor investigation (all of the radiators were indeed cold and hot water refused to spring forth from the taps, despite the fact that the hot water heater controls were all as they should be), we concluded that the chauffage was en panne and immediately telephoned Maurice to kick his landlord butt into gear.

Maurice promptly called the dépanneur, but, it being a weekend in France, he got no response.

Because no one works in France on the weekend.

This would mean no heating or hot running water until Monday at the earliest (assuming the French repairman would promptly come when solicited).

As this realization sank in, we tried to make the best of the situation. I immediately closed all the shutters in the house, submerging us in darkness in an attempt to retain as much heat for as long as possible. And Ashley, Lyanne and I kept our spirits up by playing “Chez Cara, coiffeuse pour les femmes” in the kitchen (a.k.a. I washed everyone’s hair salon-style with water heated by the electric kettle).

Chez Cara, coiffeuse pour les femmes

But Sunday morning we woke stiff in our beds with frigid air nipping at our noses—it had snowed in the wee hours of the morning.

We spent all day sitting huddled in the kitchen (slightly warmer due my successful first attempt to bake my mom’s infamous banana bread in France) and feeling like smelly hobos (since we were wearing too many layers—and hats and gloves to boot).

And we spent all night sleeping packed like sardines in Lyanne’s bed (still in all our layers and covered in all our blankets) in an effort to maximize body heat.

Monday morning dawned gray, rainy and cold and found us more enthusiastic than ever about starting the school day: Even though we were groggy and grumpy and unprepared for lessons, we knew that we’d be warm.

Four hours later, we arrived back Chez Maurice at the start of the lunch break. As usual, we piled into the kitchen to fight for stove space, but this time we also had to navigate around the repairman who was tinkering away with the hot water heater.

Repairman (man, man, man)

We munched our lunches and exchanged worried looks as he muttered things like “Oh, c’est grave…”, “Mince!”, “Elle est vraiment malade”, “C’est tout brûlé!”, and “Oh là là.”

The culprit

Eventually he was able to relight the open flame that lives shut up in a metal box on the wall and apparently (and somewhat disconcertingly) heats all of our water.

Friendly fire

Later that evening I sat on my floor with my back against the burning radiator, rejoicing as it slowly but surely made my room livable again.

Ecstatic and warm



  1. I love the Chez Cara hair salon! (I hope someone washed your hair for you, too.)

    1. I had washed mine the night before when the shower was still toasty, so I declined the spa treatment.

  2. Linda Fredricks · · Reply

    Contente que tu tu rechauffes maintenant!! Bravo pour l’esprit et la creativite de ” Coiffeuse Chez Cara”

    1. Merci! C’était très amusante comme activité 🙂

  3. Ashley · · Reply

    When I read the part about feeling like smelly hobos I nearly spit my coffee all over the computer. So true (and hilarious).

  4. […] last week’s repairs after the complete break-down were only a quick fix. On Tuesday a plumber arrived without warning to entirely replace the heating […]

  5. […] real cold, and to make matters worse the apartment was having trouble with the calefacción. But always one to enjoy an unfortunate situation I took on the chilly house by finding and wearing an Atlético de Madrid hoodie that […]

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