Grilled Onions And Peppers

I did not write the food entry I had in mind yesterday night, and my excuse for that is as valid as it will ever get : I couldn’t get back into my apartment until a late hour, for the seventh floor of our building was on fire.

Important forenote to reassure everyone : no worries, I’m fine, Maxence is fine, everybody’s fine, and the apartment’s fine!

Coming home from work, I went to the grocery store to run a few errands. When I got to the foot of the stairs that lead to our apartment complex, it started to feel like a scene from a movie. I saw the firemen’s truck, I saw the thick water hose, I saw that it was leading up the stairs, I heard someone say “C’est au 2” (“It’s at number 2”), which is our building number, I climbed up the stairs, seemingly in slow-mo (but then again I was laden with plastic carrier bags, which may explain the slowness of my ascension), until I reached the top, looked up, and saw flames and thick smoke coming out of the windows of the seventh floor.

A crowd of people was looking up from the bottom of the opposite building, and I walked through them, muttering “ohlala, ohlala, merde, merde, merde” under my breath, until I found a fireman. I asked if I could go back to my apartment, on the third floor – I don’t know what I was thinking. He looked at me with a smile – the international smile of “I don’t know what she’s thinking” – and said “No way, miss. You don’t get back in there until the police or the firemen tell you to! And it’s going to be a few hours…”.

My neighbors had tried to call me, leaving me a cryptic message, not wanting to break the news to me on my voicemail : “Um, this is Stéphan… Um… Say, would you, uh… call me back? Um… Yes, call me back. Uh… Bisous… Allez, bisous.” I called them back, and we sat at a nearby café for a while, awkwardly surrounded by my grocery bags (anyone cares for a clementine? or a roll of toilet paper?), I called Maxence, who was having dinner with a friend, we went back for fresh news (haha), saw a couple of neighbors being taken away, oxygen mask and all, and went to have dinner. Side note : apparently, we are the kind of people whose appetite is not in the least affected by that kind of otherwise traumatizing event. This may account for why we get along so well!

Around 10:30 pm, we returned to the building and talked to the visibly shaken superintendant. The fire had finally been put out, but the sixth, seventh and eighth floors had suffered considerable fire, smoke and water damages. A few tenants, who – unlike Clinton – had inhaled smoke, had been taken to the hospital, but there was thankfully no other injury to report. We were allowed to go back into our apartments. Stéphan had been preparing dinner when the fire broke out, so he had had to leave mid-vegetable-slicing. To relieve the tension we joked about going home to the smell of grilled onions and peppers.

Walking up the stairs was quite an experience. The doors had marks in chalk from the firemen who had made sure no one was home, the stairwell windows had been smashed, the water hoses were still in place, there was water and ash everywhere, and firemen were walking up and down, the very picture of exhaustion, smelling heavily of smoke and burn.

I stepped into our apartment, and relief washed over me. It was a haven of normalcy, quiet, immaculate, exactly like we had left it the morning before, down to the unfolded laundry and crumpled sheets. (What, did I expect the firemen to fold my laundry and make my bed on top of that?)

For the better part of the night, these same firemen lugged out the calcinated debris from the damaged appartments, using the big communal trash bins. When I left for work this morning, I was confronted with this sight : a mountain of stuff, some too scorched to recognize, some heartbreakingly identifiable – a shoe, a ceramic bowl, a guide book to Brittany. A surreal snapshot of somebody else’s home and life. I think it is the image that stroke me the most in this unfortunate event.

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