My Birthday Bouillotte

hot water bottle

Today I turn fifty. Excuse my French—but holy crap!

I’m sure you’ve heard this a zillion times before, but I have no idea where all the time went. Believe me, when it happens to you, you’ll say it too.

Did I really go to college for four years then travel around Europe for another year after that? Did I really work away in restaurant kitchens, day and night for twenty-plus years? Did I actually hunker down in my home kitchen, here and there, melting chocolate and whipping up all those cakes in cookies? And what was I thinking, moving to a foreign country, one that I spoke barely two words of the language, and one where I didn’t know anyone?

Somehow, I thought that Paris was always lovely and warm one hundred percent of the time. I’d had images in my head of glorious walks along the Seine, bathing in the brilliant sun, nibbling on a dreamy pain au chocolat or lapping up a boule of creamy caramel ice cream from Berthillon. My life were certain to be picture-perfect, and I’d welcome the morning on my balcony and enjoy a steamy café au lait, catching a few rays while pondering how I’d fill the rest of my day.

Fast forward to December 2008; Paris is freezing-cold, and I spend my days figuring out how to keep my derrière warm. Seriously, no one told me that this city in the winter is a frigid enfer. When I planted myself in California twenty five years back, I left all my long underwear, silly-looking mittens, and woolen mufflers behind in frosty-cold New England. I don’t think too many Parisian men, or anyone over seven years old, wears mittens in Paris. But I just purchased my second pair of the year. Gloves may be more fashionable, but I don’t think purple fingers are all that chic, either.

From late November to early May, Paris no longer resembles a large, sprawling village, but an outpost in Antarctica. Albeit one with plenty of bakeries and pastry shops. And I’m walking around layered-up with long johns, sweaters, and an expertly-tied scarf, something I’ve tried to master. No Parisian would dare simply throw a scarf around their neck without making sure it had so many multiple pleats, twists, and knots, it’d make a seasoned seaman jealous.

It’s like there’s some competition to see who can tie their scarf into the most complicated series of knots. Unfortunately I’m still a clumsy novice and it takes me at least five minutes to tie my scarf comfortably just-right before hitting the streets.

(I’m still not comfortable wearing long underwear. Yes, it’s much warmer, but I feel like I’m walking around Paris in need of a diaper change.)

In addition to thinking every day here would be perfect, I also thought that those hot water bottles in the pharmacies were for the old or infirmed. Not for strapping young (…or young-ish…) bucks like me. It wasn’t until my pharmacist showed me how to use one that I’ve become a convert to bouillotte, too. In a gazillion years, I never thought that I’d fess up to owning one, filling the bottle every night with almost-boiling water before I crawl into bed, making sure that my lit is all warm and toasty, double-checking that the cap is very securely screwed on before we sandwich ourselves in between those coarse linen sheets.

So another year’s gone by, and here I am. I guess being fifty isn’t so bad. Aside from my scarf complex and a concern over how I’ll ever manage to walk around in adult diapers, should the need arise, the good thing about getting older is you stop caring so much about what people think of you.

Another position that’s popular is that one where I’m curled up around my hot water bottle. It’s not really such a bad position, but something I need to get used to. I’m certainly not getting any younger, so I have to resign myself to things like hot water bottles and skin-exfoliating sheets to maintain my bonne santé in these advancing years.

I don’t know what I’ll buy myself next year for my birthday, but I’ll likely need a new bouillotte by then. Mine’s getting a pretty good workout this winter, and neither of us is getting any younger.

But at least I’m sure that one of us has our cap screwed on pretty well around here.

And for once, I’m glad it’s not me.


  • Happy Birthday!
    Loved reading your post, turning 50 must really bring some thoughts, I imagine (I’ll find out in 17 years). I just bought my husband some long johns too. You do what you gotta do, right?

  • I’m shocked that you’re 50! I would have never guessed.

    Bon Anniversaire from a 30 year old seriously contemplating some long johns and envious of your beautiful blue water bottle.

    -frozen in Schenectady, NY

  • Don’t check on your blog for a few days and something important happened =/.

    Anyways, happy belated birthday!

    50 is the new 40 =)!

  • Bon Anniversaire mais un peu en tardif! I’ve had a bouillotte since I was 24 and my only fear is that one day the cap will come loose in bed and I’ll wake up thinking I need diapers!

  • Happy Birthday David, from one 50 year old to another. I took up yoga as I thought bending over to pick up a sock shouldn’t put me in traction. Close to a year later, I’m not necessarily embracing 50, but trying to give it a warm hug because I know it’s going to treat me a lot better than 60 is. Cheers and warm wishes.

  • Another member of the 1958 club–congratulations! I turned 50 in September and celebrated by spending 2 weeks in Paris in November. In addition to the silk undies, check out the next-to-the-skin 100% merino wool “base layer” garments made by Smartwool and Icebreaker. They are GREAT, super comfy and warm. Instead of a hot water bottle, I have a small muslin pillow filled with jasmine rice that I heat up in the microwave–I never worry about it springing a leak! It also smells really good when warmed up. Happy belated b-day! Your blog is one of my absolute faves–keep up the great work.

  • Cher David,
    Sixteen years ago, when I turned 40 and was pretty freaked out by it (cause I felt and still do feel like I’m 25), my dear friend Thom told me 40 isn’t fatal!. That puts it all in perspective for me. So, Happy Happy Birthday and remember 50 isn’t fatal, it’s just the beginning of a wonderful new time in your life.

  • You are making me feel very old. I am 29 and love hot water bottles! I was forced into it by a cruelly cold apartment a couple of years back…

  • Hi David, have just discovered your blog while looking for a chocolate mousse recipe. First of all happy birthday and boy do I know what u mean, I turned 50 way back in april and the build up to it was ghastly(it took up the whole brain area!) for about a month and then on the day I just took it all in my stride. So take it from me it gets better ! Funny that u talk about a hot water bottle, just last night for the first time ever I also slid a hot water bottle into my bed after having sat with it on my feet and wrapped in a polar blanket and sleeveless ski jacket in front of my computer which is next to a typical quaint parisian closed window that lets in so much cold air that the curtain rustles in the breeze…It’s not really to do with age cos my 13 year old is always asking for a hot water bottle too and oh yes I wear mittens too this year at my ripe old age but they are very grown up ones from Paul Smith so I feel better.
    Take care and I’m glad I’ve discovered your blog. HAPPY NEW YEAR
    from a portuguese, ex south african educated, zimbabwean born, parisian 50 something resident

  • Happy belated birthday David!

  • Happy belated birthday David! This brings to mind the rubbery scent of the grayish pink hot water bottle from Woolworth’s that my mom used to slip into my bed when I was a child. Yours looks oh-so-chic!

  • With a few modifications….it sounds like my life…

    Happy New Year, David. :)

  • Bon anniversaire David. Oh yes, Paris en hiver, especially in the train stations, galère, non ? Tout plein de bonnes choses pour cette nouvelle année.

  • Bon anniversaire aussi!!!
    No one thinks thermal when they think of Paris…
    just chocolates and macarons.
    What a mistake. But the hot waterbottle is news to me…la prochaine fois!
    BONNE ANNEE 2009!

  • Two words for the next year: silk long undies and Egyptian cotton. Both can be ordered online and yes, both are each one word.

    Happy Birthday

  • Cher David,
    Bonne Anniversaire!!! A little late but have been babysitting and waiting for the birth of another granddaughter and she arrived a day before yours on Boxing Day. Now we can celebrate hers and will always remember that yours come after.
    50 is young — I celebrated mine many moons ago and still feel wonderful at 67! Just keep wearing your silks and mittens in the winter. If it is any consolation, it has been cold in San Francisco. BRRRRR…………

  • Bon anniversaire David! Was grateful to discover my first bouillotte at 18 during a very cold winter in France! Found your blog today In looking today for another kind of bouillotte, a style of French lamp designed originally in the late 18the century for playing the card game Bouillotte. Perhaps for next year’s anniversaire, a Bouillotte lamp to make your bedside cozy?

  • Happy birthday! You don’t look 50 at all. Maybe late 30s.

  • Happy Birthday!
    Well, I just got back from Paris yesterday and now I know that I’ll be spending my 40th birthday in my favorite city in the world with the man I love. Yes, he’s French and Paris has never stopped being my “home”.

    As long as you have love and job that you love, Paris is never too cold.

    Ciao Bello!

    Felicia, This Time Now

  • Dear David, As usual, I’m late to the fair: I only GOT my computer for my 50th (!!!) and it took me 18 mos. to pick one out. THEN it took forever to wake up to your perfect blog. NOW I’m ages late on wishing you a Happy Birthday and a joyous year! I too am a December baby, and wasn’t fazed by my 50th (having embraced despair at the age of 11), but this year when people wished me a H.B., it sounded like some sort of crack! I don’t think you realize how much true happiness you’ve given the world, and what an inspiration your example you provide: consequently, you will never look your age – even at 120 you’ll have the look others strive for. Happy Birthday, dear fellow, and THANK YOU for making the life of the world so sweet!
    p.s. the silk long- johns work like a ding dong in the Alps, try ’em

  • Now I understand why one should preview!
    p.p.s.- bricks warmed in the oven, and wrapped in thin towels! S.

  • 50 is the new 40 they say, so don’t worry. And I, with everyone agree, get an electric blanket. I love mine in the winter, especially when my cheapo building manager decides it’s not cold enough to provided heat (in the winter in NYC no less)! Stay warm.

  • But David, how can this be? You don’t look a day over 49!

    Just kidding, of course. You could easily pass for a 48-year old. ;)

    Happy Birthday, and a big hug!

  • bon anivarsare! (a little delayed)
    my grandma used to warm up honest to goodness clay building bricks in the oven, wrap them in towels for us to warm our feet with when we slept over their house in chilly Syracuse, NY…
    such wonderful memories of fighting with your siblings over to try and keep your feet against the toasty warm brick at the foot of our beds…

    thanks for creating a wonderful blog with some great stories and fun photos and for helping to bring back some fond childhood memories!

  • I used to live in Montreal, where the scarf-tying attitude is similar to Paris (or so I’d imagine)…This is my favourite way to tie a scarf:

  • re. ventilation: hasn’t anyone told you that an open window will let in” courants d’air”
    and that that will bring in all sorts of diseases.

  • Those fur covered bouillottes came from “maison de vacances” a lovely shop in Paris.

  • Have you ever tried an electric heating pad? My older sister had to have one when she lived in a drafty apartment in Memphis, TN. Hard to imagine it being cold there but it snows every year so… She says its amazing and really worth the price (it is more expensive than a bouillotte but way more effective). Buy one of those for your birthday! lol i just saw that its been 2 years since you posted this. for xmas then.