It is almost winter here. Well, a Mediterranean island version of winter that is. So I did what any logical thinking person would do who lives here (and who has a fireplace). I ordered leña (pronounced lane-ya, meaning firewood). I used to do this several times a season when I lived at La Antigua. Actually, last year I ordered wood more than once as well, but last year I was just getting use to how much wood I needed to outlast the desperately cold months. Okay, again, our version of what desperately cold means. It wasn’t that I was out of leña, I probably had enough to last several weeks, but I thought I would get ahead of the weather for sure. You just never know when the temperatures will begin to drop.
So last week, Tomeu, my friendly leña-supplier, pulled up at my front gate with his carry-van loaded down with a ton of wood. Please don’t ask if it was a ‘ton’ or a ‘metric-ton.’ All I know is that is was pretty flippin’ heavy. After filling his little black rubber buckets with four or five logs for what seemed to be hundreds of times, the wood was all piled up on the front terrace. It was then that I asked Tomeu if he was the best one to talk to about getting someone to clean the chimney on my fireplace. It is great talking to Tomeu. Even though his English is limited to the occasional ‘okay,’ and my belief that my Spanish is pretty remedial, we seem to understand each other very well. After discussing the world’s financial mess and local politics (another mess) we moved on to discuss how best to ‘limpear mi chiminea’ (clean my chimney).
When I was living in La Antigua, I had asked someone to come and clean out the chimneys above both fireplaces. When I had asked a village local, I was told that there were two basic ways to do it. One way was to hire someone who had all the appropriate chimney-cleaning kit. You can imagine what this is. A large brush that attaches to a flexible handle mechanism that can be extended. A variation of this method is to have the brush, but connect it on top and bottom to long cords. In this variation, you lower the bottom cord through the chimney and one person on the bottom tugs and releases his end of the cord, whilst on the top of the chimney, another person does the same thing. By doing this, the brush is worked up and down, knocking all the chimney crud off the chimney walls. Okay, I thought that this made sense and as I was about to call the chimney-cleaning-person, I was told about another method. This method involves the use of a long cord and a (get ready for this)…chicken. Yes, a chicken. I was flummoxed. I was told that the way chimneys had been cleaned for years was to go outside, select a chicken from your yard (preferably one that you would want to have for dinner that night) and ties its legs to a long cord and pull it up through the chimney. Okay, so I understood the physics of it all – the chicken would undoubtedly not be too happy about being tied up and dragged up through a dark stone-lined tube covered with soot stuff and would undoubtedly flap its wings like crazy, knocking all the built-up soot off the chimney walls. I even understand the logic that when the chicken is pulled out the top, it will be filthy and covered with creosote residue, but if you are going to cook it for dinner anyway…well, needless to say, I didn’t go for that idea and instead elected to tell the chimney cleaner to use the brush and cords method.
So when I was talking to Tomeu, I very quickly mentioned that I didn’t want to have anyone come to my house with a chicken. He laughed and said something about small villages. He also said that there was another alternate method to clean a chimney. This method simply involved going to the local ferreteria (iron-mongerers for Brits, hardware store for Americans) and buying a container of chimney cleaner. I was intrigued so after finishing stacking up all the wood (neatness in woodpiles is important I seem to think) I walked over to my local ferreteria and bought a container of the magical mystery stuff. It came in a medium-sized blow-moulded polyethene bottle (sorry, too many years in the plastics business I guess) emblazoned in big letters, ‘Producto Ecologico’ next to a picture of a flower, so you know it is safe to use. Right.
Today I decided to give it a go, and after (attempting to) carefully read the directions, I began the process. After all, it was cloudy and misting rain today, so it seemed like a good day to do an inside chore. Paraphrasing the instructions, Step 1, build a roaring fire. Step 2, thrown on more wood to make the fire blaze like an arsonists wet-dream. Step 3, empty the contents of the container onto the fire.
Okay. I did build the fire; I did get it blazing so it was pumping out more flames and heat that I could imagine. I did empty the contents of the container. The flames did singe me. I did become almost blinded by the ensuring flares and sparks. It was as if I had poured a bottle of gunpowder onto the fire.
I was going to read the extremely fine Spanish print on the container that the mystical-Merlin-like-pellets came in to see what this mystical product contained, but I was afraid I would see the words NAPALM or WHITE PHOSPHORUS with a mild reference to Ministry of Defence surplus, so I decided against it. The good news is that I would like to believe that my chimney did become a bit cleaner. No inhumane treatment of chickens, no brushes to mess with, no mound of dislodged creosote on the floor to clean up afterwards. I was going to go up on the roof terrace with a tall ladder so I could peer down into the chimney to see how clean it actually was, but my ‘too-much-fun-in-one-day’ quotient had been reached so I decided instead to do something more practical. I went back to the ferreteria and bought three more containers…Guy Fawkes night is just around the corner.
the randomly dumped leña pile, ready to be stacked neatly
worth a merit badge in wood stacking I think
the flower on the bottle is supposed to make you feel safe
a nice fire, ready for the magical mystery chimney cleaner
what it looked like after adding the pellets
what it felt like after adding the pellets
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley