Various people had warned me about winter in Calafou, but I figured that since I am accustomed to Austrian winters, I would be able to cope. I think I’m beginning to see the point, but I still expect that I can cope.
First of all, for the last few weeks it has been noticeably warmer outside than inside, which suggests to me that this building was not necessarily originally constructed for cold weather – or maybe the original owners just didn’t put much effort or money into the construction of workers’ quarters. Either way, staying reasonably warm clearly requires a bit more effort. The first response is obviously to increase layers of clothing, but I came prepared for that. Leaving the door open to let in warmer air would sometimes seem to make sense, but that plan is still complicated by Maula, the feline warrior queen, who still strenuously objects to the presence of Ginevra and Hester. We have developed a few more regular routines so that Ginevra can spend at least a little time exploring outside, but Maula still keeps coming up with astonishingly cunning attack strategies. One day when I was sitting outside drinking tea with a neighbor, both of us watching for Maula as Ginevra was happily smelling all the plants, Maula managed to sneak into my flat and attack Hester, who was peacefully sleeping on the pillow on my bed in the back. Not only was I not happy about having to clean up a large puddle of cat piss under my bed, but I just felt thoroughly frustrated. Hester doesn’t even go outside. She poses no threat or even a mild challenge to Maula’s dominance. What is the point of attacking Hester?
In the meantime, I have a bolt on the door to lock it from the inside and a latch to keep it closed when I am outside. I have also rearranged the plants and barricaded the neighbors’ door so that Maula can’t hide there. I keep a squirt bottle full of water next to the door, and other people helpfully try to distract Maula with food, if Ginevra is outside. All of this helps, but just leaving the door open unguarded to let warmer air in is still not an option.
At one level, I genuinely sympathize with this feline psychopath. There are various places where she can go inside, if she wants to, and people make sure she is fed (usually a plastic container of dry food outside), but she essentially has no human of her own, no warm soft places especially prepared for her. Of course she resents the pampered Austrian princess and her fat, fluffy companion, who have their own human exclusively devoted to them, a human who gives them nice soft food every morning, lots of blankets and soft places (with heating pads and hot water bottles as needed), and even acts as a luxurious lounge for them to stretch out on in front of the heater in the evening. What kind of behavior is that for an anarchist colony? I understand that, but as the human responsible for Ginevra and Hester, I won’t let Maula annihilate them just to prove a point. As intelligent as she is, I keep hoping that Maula will eventually get bored and find something else to hunt.
Next step in preparing for winter: heaters. A few weeks ago I was rather disconcerted to learn that the wood-burning stove that Patrick left for me, which my neighbor had attached to the chimney (I had already planned to ask someone else to check that for me, though, before starting to use it) had to be returned to the community flat downstairs, because the stove there was about to be reclaimed and taken away by its owner. The resolution of this confusing situation was that I ended up buying a new estufa at an astonishing junkyard in another village, where I spotted it in the back under a broken birdcage. After transporting it back to the workshop in Calafou (in a way that was definitely not in compliance with any kind of traffic safety regulations), I have been learning more about the broad range of skills that people here have. People have helped me clean it, disassemble it, repair it, put it back together, and get it moved upstairs into my flat. Now it just needs one more special piece of pipe to be delivered to the local hardware store, then it can be attached to the chimney – which may or may not be a more complicated process. I suspect it probably will be, since all the pipes fell out of the wall when a friend and I disconnected the other stove to take it downstairs. More to learn about pipes and chimneys.
In the meantime, I have a gas heater complete with its own bottle of gas, which I can drag back and forth between the bedroom in the morning and the front room in the evening. The flame in front and the smell of gas sometimes make me feel a little bit nervous about it, so I try not to leave it running longer than absolutely necessary. In the evenings Ginevra likes to stretch out on the rug in front of it, as though in adoration of the flame, but a friend suggested that she is probably just getting high on the gas. In any case, we will soon have a lovely antique, refurbished and working wood-burning stove. And I have already ordered a special measuring device to ensure that neither humans nor felines are in danger of asphyxiation once it goes into operation.
One of the things I am enjoying most, however, is that a friend who is gradually assuming responsibility as the main system administrator for the server here invited me to assist her. So far, my “assistance” mainly consists of watching what she is doing in a shared shell session, but as I watch her type in commands, I realize that I recognize them, understand them, that I can read and understand the output of those commands. And with that recognition I find I can recall other commands and configurations. These are things I once knew, and – surprisingly – they are not lost now. As this understanding grows, I feel as though I am recovering parts of myself that I thought were lost forever when Peter died.
Sitting together with our computers either upstairs in her flat or downstairs in mine always feels so calm and encouraging. It is very different from the explosions of emotional fireworks that always accompanied everything Peter and I did together on computers, but it is also a reminder that this has always also been me, that it was never just Peter and me, but also me with my own approach, my own way of learning, my own pleasure in understanding processes and figuring out how things work. This is a me that existed both before Peter and alongside Peter, and that me still exists.
Again and again, different aspects of my life in Calafou remind me of my life in Innsbruck so long ago. From trying to figure out how to sensibly, safely and efficiently generate warmth in an otherwise thoroughly cozy and soothing space to the pots and pans and cutlery left from Innsbruck that Patrick originally brought here with him, to the feeling of being safe and free here, I find myself reminded again and again that once upon a time there was a me before I met Peter. Reconnecting with those old bits and pieces of me to weave a new whole that also – but not only – includes my life with Peter feels surprisingly healing. I had not even been aware of needing that before.
One more thing that has to be included in preparations for winter is that I need to make sure I always have a generous supply of chocolate on hand. That can be arranged.