May 28, 2009

Speaking Frankly

I have been playing with pasting together images in my camera. There is a lot of distortion
but it let's me get close to capturing the size of our main room.

The last project in our second house was the entry courtyard. The door to thestret is through the arch to the right.
The recreated fountain is in the middle, firewood storage under the stair, and then up the stairs to the garden and the front door.
This area has been a work zone for all the years we have been here, so it's great to have it finished, it's a nice transition zone from the
street into the calm cool of the house.


I have hit one of those linguistic thresholds, talking to Pat in French. I mean I’ve always done this a little, the too sweet apr├Ęs vous mademoiselle from our courting days, the whispered oui-oui’s that followed and then the language students habitual practicing. But all of a sudden I have noticed a few lines worked into daily conversation. Words spoken without reflection or any special intent. Just responses on an unconscious level, which may demonstrate the occasional French thought in my very American head, maybe even a chain of thoughts!! It’s nice.

We are both getting better at our French. I am still speaking out of tense and seldom in plurals, but we are both carrying conversations and that feels wonderful. I’d say that a glass or two of wine helps loosen the tongue, but I think the reality is it dulls the senses and we just think we are models of fluency.

Oscar speaks so fluently, that he can read out-loud, something written in French and speak it in English. It’s like having built in subtitles! Strange it must be to be better at something than your parents at such an early age! We know he will someday bury us under some certain knowledge but to start passing us at 11!? He continues to devour his history, straight A’s and an unending appetite for anything about WW2. He seems headed for some future in the field, but he’s young and this will all ebb and flow with time, there’s still talk of becoming an architect which puts a smile on my face. At least I can still help him with math homework!

The French are free-er with their opinions than Americans. We continue to collect opinions from interested parties, how to trim a grape vine, what was the architectural purpose of some feature of our home, how to cook the mysterious white asparagus, when to get a haircut….Seldom do we, ambassadors of everything American, hazard such similar opinions towards the locals, but we are getting better at it. It’s really a social thing, much like talking of the weather or politics, and we need to grow into it. My father once explained to me that it can be polite to accept something offered, even if you don’t particularly want what’s being proffered, and I realize the opposite is true as well, that it might just be a social politeness to offer something for acceptance!? I was walking past a neighbor trying to prune a climbing rose, she gave me a plaintiff look begging support, so I stepped in it. Firstly it was too late in the season to be pruning a rose, so I was doomed, but I pressed on and the result was a haircut only a mother could love. The spindly spindle of a rose struggled for a month and just today I noticed it had been replaced by a fine and healthy specimen straight from the nursery, which already looks like a rose by another name. Point is I offered an opinion, and became a bit more French in the doing so.

Pat befriended a craftsman working on our church and the next thing we know were getting his opinion of some of the features in our living room. It seems this man is something of an “antiquities repairman” who has created a niche business repairing ancient stone and plasterwork. His opinion of ours was that we “must” stabilize and repair the 12th century plaster (which has been fine for the past 1000 years so why now??) and that the cabinet built into the wall was a “piscine” for storing the communion wafers, wine and incense. I wonder about all this too, but we know the room was at one point a chapel, so why not? Our research turned up a “piscine” as a baptismal font, but we still like the idea of a sacred strongbox as home to our computer.

Work continues on the project house, we are both working hard at it, sneaking back home trying to avoid the social aspects of a stroll across town looking like miners, covered with cobwebs and dirt, looking very unlike the people we usually are. Next week, weather permitting, we will replace the roof. That is to say we will remove the 200 year old terra cotta tiles, straighten out the wood charpentes (heavy timber trusses) and then put the same tiles back on. This will let us add some insulation and in the end we’ll have a roof good for another 100 years. I have never done this before, but I’ve been watching the locals at it and I hope I’ve absorbed enough of their methodology to not make too much of a mess of it.. I’ll report how it goes….

Springtime in Martel!

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May 3, 2009

A String of Saturdays

We are changing gears, the last few details of house number 2 are coming into focus.

is done!

Our attention is moving up the street to number 3.
The house currently known as Maison Louise

At RD2 We have installed the remaining pieces of trim, the storage areas have been addressed.

The courtyard cleaned up, repointed and the old fountain recreated (awaiting fish or plants).

Number 2 will soon officially be for sale and we will see what it feels like to live in a house that is “finished” for a while….

Serial Dwelling…for all it’s charms and discomforts.

It’s difficult to imagine living in number 3, it’s small, less than half the size of our current palace, less than a quarter the size if you include the storage areas. But I have always believed that one expands or contracts their lives to fit their space. I don’t expect it to be easy, but once done I look forward to the simplicity of 750 square feet. In our minds we are already working out the left behinds:
Ping-pong table
Half our clothes
Dining room table
Half our books
Half our chairs
Guest Room! (you have been warned!)
Clothes Dryer
Lawn Mower
All the crap in the attic!
Sort of a global meltdown of spring cleaning…

It is perhaps a bit harder to move each time. As we get better with renovating homes, each one is a bit more comfortable, a bit more in-tune with us, and a bit more quality. It is hard to imagine ever outdoing this one, with it’s stone history, warm floors, and plaster walls, but I’m optimistic. It makes me wonder what my “last house” will be like, not to mention the where and the when??? Hopping around Martel is one thing, but anything else will require Styrofoam.

Incredulous that we ever thought ourselves “country mice”, we thrive on what little urban lifestyle we get here. The days that we walk to market or stumble home from a two bottle dinner, the occasional movie in the town hall and the slow-to-change art exhibits, all please us in reducing our carbon footprint as we can “live local”. However we continue to ponder life in a bigger city, the likes of Bordeaux or Montpelier or perennially Oakland. Change will happen, but slowly. It is certainly the wrong time in the economy to be selling a project, but we shouldn’t let the market dictate our paths…right?

Meanwhile, we continue.

Oscar excels in a school we are growing tired of. He enjoys it but we sense the limitations of a small town school. But he gets good grades and he is stimulated, and that is everything.

Patricia teaches English to those who care, and runs our simple lives (made complicated by living in a foreign country).

I am usually up to my elbows in mortar, saw dust, or just plain dirt.

Somehow everyone around us seems to think we are always hard at work!? Since we ignore the local customs of not working during the traditional lunch hour, or on weekends, we are assumed to always be working! Everyday is in fact a workday, I don’t start early and I often go late, fortunately I love the work, so everyday is like a Saturday. The joke in the family is that I never know what day it is, because they are all the same for me, luckily they more resemble a Saturday than a Monday.

The village is filling with tourists, the garden is filling with flowers, and our lives continue to overflow in a great way.
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