By Mark Gauert
City & Shore HOME Issue
People ask, “What is a chimenea?”
I’m ready with an answer.
“A chimenea is a freestanding front-loading fireplace or oven with a bulbous body and usually a vertical smoke vent or chimney,” I say, scrolling Wikipedia. “These traditional designs can be traced to Spain and its influence on Mexico. The first use of a traditionally designed chimenea appears around 400 years ago.”
“We know that,” people say. But, “What is the point of a chimenea?” At least in hot South Florida.
I’m not so ready with an answer for that.
Because a chimenea really has no practical purpose in South Florida. Like fins on a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. Cherries atop a sundae. Gargoyles on a cathedral.
Some things we have in life because they are practical. And some things just because they make us happy.
I know this is a HOME issue, full of serious design ideas with certifiably practical uses in South Florida. But a chimenea is not among them.
I just like mine because its traditional design that “can be traced to Spain and its influence on Mexico” looks nice on the Chicago brick patio in my back yard. And, on the evenings it’s cool enough here – checking to see if I have enough fingers on one hand to count those (I do!) – I like to stuff old newspapers into its bulbous body, front-load some firewood fresh from the pile by the cash register at Publix and set fire to it all.
But, people worry, “Can chimeneas explode?”
Well, mine hasn’t – at least not yet. Possibly for the aforementioned reason that I only set it ablaze an average of 2.6 times per year.
But, according to Google’s “most asked questions” about chimenea, yes, theoretically, a chimenea can explode.
“Chimeneas are not designed for large fires,” Google says. “If the fire is too big, the chimenea can crack, shatter, or even explode, which will injure those around it.”
Begin editor’s note: I’m suddenly worried, reading this sitting around my chimenea, that my front-loading fireplace or oven does seem to have developed a few cracks over the years. Just talk among yourselves while I move out of the blast zone here. End editor’s note.
Begin editor’s note: There. That’s better. End editor’s note.
I don’t want to give up my chimenea, even though, clearly, it could explode at any moment injuring those around it. Partly because it makes me happy … and partly because, it’s special.
I know it is because that’s what the man at the garden center in Pembroke Pines told me when I was shopping for it 10 years ago.
“You know,” he said, noticing my interest in the chimenea on his lot, “this isn’t just any chimenea.”
“It’s not?” I said.
“No,” he said. “It’s special.”
“It is?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “It belonged to Clint Eastwood.”
“Clint,” I said. “Eastwood?”
“Yes,” he said.
Now. It was a fine looking chimenea back then (long before all the cracks I put in it). I could easily see Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef warming themselves in its glow, trading stories over tequila shots about what a royal pain Sergio Leone was to work for on the set of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
But I knew a little about Clint Eastwood, scrolling Wikipedia. And the word “chimenea” did not pop up in any Clint Eastwood reference anywhere on the internet.
So. I would just have to take the man at the garden center in Pembroke Pines’ word on that.
“How much?” I said.
“It’s very special,” he repeated. “But for you, $150.”
“That seems high,” I said. “How about $100?”
He paused, looked up as if he were carefully calculating a 50-dollar markdown on a front-loading fireplace or oven once owned – albeit discarded – by Hollywood royalty.
“$125?” he said.
“Sold,” I said.
It made me happy. Not just owning a chimenea formerly owned by the Man with No Name, but having a story to tell around the glowing fires I would build in it on the 2.6 cold South Florida nights each year.
The man at the garden center asked if I needed help getting it to the car. “That’s OK,” I said – it was heavy, but I figured if Clint Eastwood could manage it, so could I.
“Hey, you bought the chiminea,” another customer said in the parking lot, watching me drag it off the lot and lift it into the back of my car.
“Yes!” I said. “You know, it’s very special – it belonged to Clint Eastwood.”
“Really?” he said. “The guy at the garden center told me it belonged to Andy Garcia.”
“Andy,” I said. “Garcia?”
“Yes,” he said. “I said no because he wanted $75 for it.”
Another story for a cold South Florida night at home, around my chimenea with no practical purpose that used to belong to Clint Eastwood. Or, possibly, Andy Garcia.