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Oh the oven. The source of so much heat in these winter months, the ability to burn cookies with its two (count ’em, two) settings, which are turbo and nuclear. The oven is so much fun. And the oven is dangerous.

I was once at a mountain hut in Landmannalaguar, Iceland, a million years ago, and after I volunteered to vacuum the place with the diesel vacuum, I was invited to a breakfast of rice pudding, pickled trout on brown bread and a bunch of other things I only vaguely knew what they were. It was the staff breakfast. A horsewoman was there, from Norway, talking sadly about how she’d bring some Icelandic horses back to Norway, and they’d never be able to see their homeland again, since Icelandic law would prohibit it. It seemed poignant, but maybe not tearworthy, since I wasn’t sure the horses would notice the difference. The Norweigian was almost crying.

And there was this moment, before breakfast started, that I was instructed to heat up water for tea (I think). I had the kettle, the stove and all the ganas (desire) in the world, but I just couldn’t make it happen. I’d never seen the clickety-do-da sparkerthingame that you use to generate the spark to light the flame. Call me new-fangled, but my stoves have always had either a pilot light or an electric start. A Gulliver of a man, making me feel ever Lilliputian (no easy feat) came over and knocked me out of the way, wondering what kind of a housewife I’d make. What kind indeed. And he demonstrated the clickety-do-da sparkerthingame and the water was heated.

When I moved to Chile and met my first stove, I realized that I would have to channel my own grandmother, or perhaps her mother, or maybe the giant Icelandic guy to light the thing. Turn on gas, quick like a bunny strike a match (or use the clicker), thrust hand close to swirling gas and quickly retract hand. I’ve gotten it to a science, it no longer feels strange, and I hardly even fear the stove, though when the hose that connects the stove to the municpal gas caught on fire once, I did have a bit of a fright. Don’t worry, I went straight to the flea market (Bio Bio) and bought a new one.

And then we have M. M was a gringa who lived here in Chile for a couple of years, working on a government project and on deflecting a lot of male attention for all the pretty she exuded. One day, after a rousing gringa dinner at “Como Agua Para Chocolate” the night before in Bellavista, she decided to heat up her leftovers in the oven. Something happened. We don’t know if the oven had a slow leak, or had been on for a long time before the match hit, but poor M had the fright of her life when the oven blew up in her face.

Fast forward a couple of hours and another friend and I were at the Clínica Santa María assessing the damage. The burn bloomed like a flower over the hours we were there, and many a salve and unguent was applied to hopefully make her healing faster. She’d been burned on both arms, the side of her neck, her lips, eyebrows, eyelashes, and a star near her eye where she must have squinched it shut as the fireball came close to her face. Think about how much an inadvertent kitchen burn hurts. Now multiply it. Poor M.

When the giant horrible fear of OMG she is well and truly screwed had passed, the hospital-visiting friend and I went outside for a breather, and to panic a little over the could-have-beens if the situation had been worse. As it was, it was mostly “only” second-degree burns, and did not look like they would be disfiguring.

And these are the stories I think of every single time I light a match, turn on the oven and thrust my hand into its depths, hoping for the wghoo of the flame catching, and not a giant cartoon-like blam as the thing explodes in my face. And I also think about poor M, who is just as beautiful as before, but will probably never eat another seafood fajita as long as she lives. And if you’re asking why she didn’t just heat the food in the microwave, well, don’t.

And if you’d rather read something haha/funny instead of how horrible/funny today go visit Cachando Chile for the comedienne Eileen Shea’s (hey! she’s my tocaya!) first impressions of Chile.