Asturias Days

The Long Room

By Clellan Coe | January 19, 2022

When my house is sold, I’ll need some place to go, and day after day, house after house, photo after photo, I continue to refine my idea of the replacement I am looking for. Instead of the generally charming or cozy old stone house that I browsed for on real estate sites at the outset, I now have a mental list of a half dozen features integral to my snug new abode. One is wooden window frames, not PVC or aluminum. Another is shutters not blinds. On stone houses with their enormously thick walls, the windowsills are very deep, and so a third requirement is windows placed close to the outside of the sill, not the inside, leaving a broad shelf where the cat can nap in the sun. As for the kitchen, I want what’s called here an American kitchen, an area carved out of the living room and separated from it by a breakfast bar, so that’s another item on my list. One-storied would be on the list too if it were possible to require it, but since few traditional houses in this region are one story, my demands are instead about the stairs, which should be not metal or spiral, where I might get dizzy or miss my footing, but wooden and have landings. The bedrooms should be under the eaves with a lot of exposed old chestnut beams. Chestnut, not oak, was the wood used, and the wood in the old houses is nearly black with age. As for size, my new home should be half as big as my current house, with radiators and a boiler to heat it easily and cheaply so that I can keep warm, which, considering the recent electricity price hikes, would be impossible with electric radiators.

That may be six features already, but I’ve got more. I imagine I’ll have to go to a village to find the quaint and sturdy home I envision, since nothing of the kind is to be had in my price range close to a city. I would like neighbors, but I have learned that a small village with 60 houses probably has 15 inhabitants, and many of them are just hanging on, wishing some younger person would buy their house so they could move to an easier life in the city. In 20 years, I may be one of them. I hope not. But it’s strange to look for a house that, if it does for me as long as my current one has, may be the last one. Lots of people die in their own home, but they might not have had a house for their dotage in mind when they bought it. It’s like shopping for your tomb, a place to never return from. It takes some getting used to, which is why I’ve lost no time in getting started.

A wall of south-facing windows, called a galería, would be nice and would make firing up the boiler unnecessary on sunny days. But I live in a house with many windows and I have come to take natural light for granted, so an abundance of windows is not high on the list, confirming the old truism that we appreciate what we lack, not what we have. However, though I may well miss windows, I won’t miss washing them. Twenty years ago, when my current house was new, cleaning windows was not daunting. Not much was then.

The living room. I cannot have either the bedrooms or the bathroom directly off the living room, as I saw in one house. I struck that one from the list of desirable homes, although it was otherwise inviting, with an astoundingly beautiful galería, occupying the entire southwest wall of the living room and letting the afternoon sun poor in. Such a cheery room. On further thought, a galería would be more than nice.

Something else about that house was that the living room was oblong rather than square. Long like a train car. Mightn’t one imagine an interesting destiny while seated there, a future? An oblong living room is on my list.

I want a fireplace with a mantelpiece. In authentic old village houses the source of heat was typically a coal cook stove in the kitchen, and the fireplaces you find in restored houses, suggesting the olden days when you had to make your heat, not just turn it on, were often added later. Since these houses share walls with neighboring houses, a fireplace would not be built into a wall but in front of it, with a heavy masonry hood to hide the stovepipe. For my taste, this kind of fireplace looks better when it is in a corner, with the hood off-kilter, rather than centered against the back wall, and I can picture my fireplace relaxed into a slouch against a bit of wall. My fireplace has no pretensions to youth and doesn’t need to stand at attention; it won’t disdain the posture as sloppy. It’s not there to prove anything. Like me, it’s just waiting out the ride. My fireplace and I. We will sometimes have little to do with one another for months at a time. That will be spring or summer in the village, the seasons when the grown children of the residents come home to visit old parents and tourists come to enjoy the good weather. I hope for a wedge of garden so I can be out enjoying the weather too. But in winter, we will again commune in the long room, me in my armchair, the fireplace lounging in its corner. I expect I will from time to time look up at the pop or crackle of the fire, and I’ll smile, as if the fireplace and I are on a train together, and I have the seat while the fireplace slouches against the wall. Such strong walls to hold it up! How lucky I am, I’ll think, to sit in their embrace. To have this house, quaint, well-fitted, cozy, and amenable. Sturdy, in good shape, no leaks, nothing broken, and ready to face the next two decades without complaint. And then I’ll go back to my reading or writing or to planning my lessons in that long room and not dwell on the destination or the hour of arrival.

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