Kitchentropism (or, growth in response to kitchens)

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 09.03.2018

Phase 1: the corporate showroom

He’s bored with us, you can see it in the blurred edges of his lips, in the yesterday look in his eyes. He needs solar flares from my fiancée Sophie and me, starburst delineation from the customer—he floats halfway between our opinion and his inventory. There is no gravity in the careless, vast showroom.

The meeting hadn’t begun like this: looking at our floor plan, 96 square metres of our life savings, he had redrawn the kitchen niche in enlarged proportion on a giant pad on his desk. He traced fridge and stovetop using a special stencil, bending close over his work, showing a pigment of his artistic self. Sophie and I joked and complimented nervously, which the artist appropriately ignored: we were all inside the orbital pull of his graphite zips.

But now that pigment has faded away. He speaks blandly to us—in English, sourcing Luxembourgish words from Sophie when necessary—about dishwashers, fridges, extractor fans, ovens, handles, granites, cupboards. A kitchen must be stippled to life, choice by choice. Under his low-density gaze, however, Sophie and I gravitate towards obvious features, scattering details to the dust. Without an A++ energy-rated refrigerator, I will perish. That dishwasher is 44 decibels? Please give me a tissue, my ear is bleeding from the noise. We’ll take this one with 41 decibels, thanks. Whatever this meteor shower of virgin thoughts happens to strike, he impatiently notes down. I’m lost. I feel as though I’m back in life’s early stage, in North America, my young self too small to locate itself in the vastness of choice. Just as I had no hint of what existed outside my origin place, neither is there any sunlight in this showroom. Only options.

Later, turquoise and faux-oak colour samples finally in hand, we walk through a bright yellow kitchen en route back to his desk.

“What about bright yellow?!” I say.

“I love it,” says Sophie. We turn around. The salesman sighs.

Phase II: the salesperson collective

“Tip top!” he says, staring at me with rehearsed, but kind, surprise. I’ve just mumbled some Luxembourgish syllables, apparently decipherable. I feel good. The meeting continues in Luxembourgish, though I catch only bits of meaning (a leaky undergirding of pronouns, conjunctions, and common verbs). The darkness outside the shop suggests that we’re alone on earth, the last meeting of the day, perhaps of our lives. The kitchens rise before us like ancient landmarks, someone else’s discovery. Our guide artfully points out what each one typifies: invisible handles, a sliding-door cupboard, a freestanding oven/microwave unit. We pass another salesperson’s desk, folders neatly stacked, a life paused and taking place elsewhere for the moment. Sophie and I both favour a teal kitchen on show, and this is noticed. We sit down.

Under the cold pewter light, we discuss options. His desk is clear, with a large screen cleverly installed to one side. It’s obvious that nothing is decided, that he’s eager to locate our desires and produce them on these canvases. Voices distract me—turns out we aren’t alone, after all: another couple have arrived for a meeting with another seller. There is culture here, enthusiasm for a system, competition edged with teamwork amongst the sellers. We get up to view a wall of granite samples. “If you like the black one,” I understand him say, “you could also choose this one. It’s hard plastic, but still good. And a lot cheaper.”

Patterns of meaning emerge: his private colouration remains hidden behind thick glasses, but I start to understand that Neff has outpriced us, that a square extractor fan invites head-injury for someone my height, that apothecary drawers are popular right now. I begin to outline informed preferences, which takes me back to Scotland, where I studied, to my late-stage adolescence. There I first felt the pull of a local star, and recognised the system of local truths revolving around it. I fit myself into orbit, existing as a warm, fragmented swarm of opinions. That’s my current state, here, Siemens and AEG and I under the same gravitational force, the kitchen faint but discernible.

But finally, the meeting over, he re-conceals the prospectuses inside a cabinet, leaving the desk as bare as when we’d come in.

Phase III: the Italian

We are not client, but canvas; we are not reason, but excuse; we are not linear silence, but curvilinear music. He sits before us, messy skyscrapers of prospectuses on his desk, espresso cups like scattered bystanders, rising over all like the city’s god. The shop is small, a single proprietorship. “Are you still open?” Sophie had asked him when we arrived.

“I never close!” he’d announced.

No shop tour is necessary. We sit, as if for a painting, across from him, and he simply points to whichever sample exemplifies what’s on his tongue. It’s thick French, overseen by two orbs bright with meaning and heavy with gravity. His vocabulary of extractor fans, just for example, is enormous, with prospectuses from far afield hiding on the ground floors of the skyscrapers on the desk—he thumbs through them, exploding in luminosity when he sees outlandish and overpriced models, making his jokes to the room even though we are an audience of only two. (“Look at this nonsense! From outer space, eh?”) I understand his words the least well, but him the best.

In his orbit, meaning is everywhere. He disparages the modern German style, nearly cries when explaining how unfashionable handles have become, finishes his point about the cons of a fridge we’d already spoken out against. Our price range and style are innate: just like you wouldn’t offer sunglasses to a mole, he eschews everything we don’t want. He gives us three granite options. Two invisible handle options. One cupboard colour option! Towards the end of the second hour, he offers us refreshment. Now I’m in my present stage: my protoplanetary dust has cooled and hardened. I’m in Luxembourg—my Luxembourg. Not only am I sipping espresso at a table where I’ve sat for hours, but local norms populate the room with conspicuous tangibility. The pressure is not on the self, but on the mirror of the self; everything hinges on irony; comedy is everywhere; life is in the details.

“Is that, though—having one of those—is it necessary?” Sophie asks.

“When I show you the price,” he says, rummaging for a notecard with his password for the provider’s web-portal, “you’ll tell me it’s unnecessary.”

We sign the paperwork before we leave.

Jeffrey Palms
© 2023 d’Lëtzebuerger Land