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It’s cold here. High-humidity cold. It seeps into your skin like a nicotine patch. It’s as persistent as a senate filibuster and as welcome as a letter from the IRS.

Today we were supposed to be under our favorite palapa in Puerto Vallarta, slurping margaritas and wiggling our toes in warm sand. You know the story. Instead, with hardly two weeks to adjust, we trundled off to live for three months in an eighty-year-old French farmhouse, constructed of solid masonry that retains cold like a numismatist collects stamps. Outside, a grousing heat pump tries to salvage heat from air that has none. Inside, eighty-year-old radiators, once bristling with steam from an oil-fired boiler, now circulate lukewarm water from the heat pump, warming the air with a whisper rather than the shout of ancient fire.

Thus, today we meet the second of five words that I’m using to describe our French experience: cold.

Louise, Mimi, and the French stove

Louise, Mimi, and the French stove

We have defensive measures. A butane stove, disguised to look like an antique French coal burner, occupies the living room. Its viewing window discloses flickering flames within and its output, while effective, is no doubt illegal by most building codes, since it has no chimney. Wotthehell: warmth trumps asphyxiation when desperation is as clamorous as ours.

Another defensive measure: two hot-water bottles, provided by our hosts and enclosed in cozy sweaters. We fill them with the hottest water imaginable and slide them under the covers when we retire in the evening. They’re an ancient remedy but remarkably effective. I wrap my feet around mine and within minutes I’m as content as a colt in clover. Blissfully, the heat lasts all night.

The water bottles

The water bottles

Then there’s the bathtub. The water heater here has all the enthusiasm that the heating system does not. Hot water from the tap is scorching and almost immediate. I fill the tub, grab a magazine (never read a Kindle in the tub!) and I’m good for an entire afternoon.

January is drawing to a close. Back home in Portland, daffodils and crocuses are emerging. The days are getting longer and the nights are getting warmer. The cold won’t last forever. The way I figure it, the temperature here should be just about right when we leave in late March.

But hey: we have our stove, and our water bottles, and our tub. Margaritas and warm sand? Where’s the adventure in that?

The barnyard at dawn

The barnyard at dawn

(At top: The view from inside the car in the morning.)

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