Letters from Armorica- The Workshop (14 Mai 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I am amazed and astonished. As a journeyman former, I am used to managing and applying forces beyond the knowledge of most men—and yet until to this day I have never appreciated the force available to the women of a village when properly moved.

Mme. Pôquerie came to the shop last Vendredi with another saucepan for me to harden, and finding me at the counter she naturally asked after Amelie; and after assuring her of Amelie's good health I happened to grumble a bit about the nursery she is planning. Mme. Pôquerie gave me quite the look and began to remonstrate with me in the most vigorous terms. (I have noticed that my neighbors are unstinting in both praise and censure when either is justly earned.) How could I deny her, the mother of my child, her joy in preparing for the coming arrival? It was only a few more months—did I not not wish to be ready? Fool of a man!

The flow continued for some moments until I explained that the nursery was my only workshop, as Amelie had forbidden me to work in the parlor after one of my experiments had smashed a pitcher that had belonged to her mother—not that I was complaining about that, I hastened to say, for she was quite right to do so—but that if I was to continue to harden pots and other such-like small chores, I needed a place in which to do it. Didn't she agree? For I could not do such work in the nursery. What if I were to smash the baby's cradle? Or worse yet, the baby?

And Mme. Pôquerie stopped, and blinked at me, and considered, and asked me several searching and intelligent questions about how much space I would need. I was able to state my requirements most precisely, for this has been much on my mind.

"Bon!" she said at last, and marched out of the shop, and I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I thought nothing of it until this morning, when a large team of men from all over the village, including Marc and Onc' Herbert, appeared at our door to begin construction.

The shop is at one end of our home, with the storeroom behind it; I had contemplated adding a workroom behind the main part of the house off of the storeroom, filling in the inner part of the "L", as it were. But my neighbors had other ideas. My work as a former was part of my business, and should be treated as such. A good workman works in the open, they said, where his customers can see, for he has nothing to hide; and in any event, and with the baby coming, my new workroom needed to be convenient to the shop counter.

I know what my father would say about a former working "in the open"; for he is most jealous of the secrets of his "art". But I have discovered that it is no good arguing with my neighbors about this kind of thing.

In short order, then, and with my help, for I was put to work tout de suite, the party cleared the space next to the left of the existing shop and began construction of a second shop, complete with counter, equal in size to the first and communicating with it by two doors, one in front of the counter and one behind it. No design work was needed; for they had the original shop right to hand, and anyway, I was assured, they all knew what was right and proper, having done this before. The main difference between the new shop and the old is that the space behind the counter will be my workspace, rather than being filled with shelves and cupboard.

The whole whirlwind has left me quite breathless. It is not at all how things would have been done in Yorke, as I know quite well. In Yorke there would be the summoning of the architect, and the choosing of the draperies, and all manner of visits to furniture makers and rug merchants, and delights of condescension to the artisans one determined to favor with one's patronage. The process would take weeks or even months before construction began. And yet here we are, less than a week after I first mentioned my needs in public!

The work is not quite complete, of course. The roof is not on yet, and I must order glazing for the windows, and a wood-burning stove; and M. Pôquerie, who is the village's cabinet-maker, has promised me a stout workbench and some storage bins and the like. But structurally the new shop will be completed by the end of the week, and my order for the items not available in Bois-de-Bas will be on its way to Mont-Havre. The painting they are leaving to me—for it would not do for me to have la gross tête, as Onc' Herbert slyly told me.

We shall have to pay for it all, of course—for the materials, I mean, and the skilled work. (The unskilled work I shall have to repay, clearly enough, the next time a work party is called.) It astonishes me that they have done the rest on credit. But my neighbors have a shrewd notion of how much I make per pot, and how many pots remain unhardened in Bois-de-Bas; and if they don't yet know what else I can do they are certain that a man who can harden saucepans must have other valuable capabilities.

For my part, I am much moved by their friendliness and their confidence in me. Amelie tells me I am being most foolish. Am I not her husband? Of course they have confidence in me, for she is no fool, you know, to have married a worthless layabout, and everyone knows it.

She said this to me just now, as she sits by me, knitting by the fire. Knitting by the fire! What a marvelous thing.

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photo credit: samwilson.id.au Plough plane and a drawer side via photopin (license)