November 9, 2013

The House that I Loved
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I’m reading a book, ostensibly about the re-building of Paris in the 1800’s, when they destroyed vast swaths of the city to create the Paris we know today of wide boulevards and Haussmanian architecture.  But the book is a beautiful tale of a woman, and her family and her devotion to a house and the history that built that devotion, stone by stone.  It’s a sad book, with a few twists that I haven’t figured out yet.  Beautiful descriptions of a Paris that I never knew, and a fun prequel/sequel manner of foreshadowing and filling in the storyline. Mostly I like the tiny chapters which fit my limited attention span.  I recommend it!  She was in fact in love with the history in her house.

A book like this, which include a devoted and demented spouse and a truncated and sublime little boy, leave me in the mood to write ad nauseam about my own sublime life, my Patricia and my Oscar.  I could wax on about all the ways we compliment each other and are building lives which resemble a small jigsaw puzzle with a complicated heart and a fuzzy, no straight lines, no border, and a developing picture I haven’t figured out.  A landscape?  lots of color....images within images, it would remind me of that scene in Bladerunner, where Rick Deckard is analyzing a photo and he has the computer scan so deeply into its reflected images, that there is a story in there which solves his mystery. 
If you look really, really closely into the mirror in the middle, you can see the tatooed lady, or rent the movie!
I think of this often, its like a good book, where every detail can be exploded and mined, and as the reader we are kept wondering which details will be important. And life too...which details of today will become meme’s and then theme’s and in the end which one’s will become what my story was about?  I wish I could write in large circles, like the aforementioned book, like the arrondissements of paris, like the growth of a family. 
Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees

SO I said I could write about my O and P, taking notes to bury with me, and using this medium to try to understand myself, but I wont.  It would be indiscreet, self serving and might just leave me talking to myself, which I do too often anyhow, but thats another story.

The house I loved, not the book, and not yet loveborne, is the one I am working on now, and the subject that might keep your attention better than the exaggerated details of an ordinary life.

I think I will let this blog post fester for a while as I revisit it with the machinations of the renovations of 113 develop.

Demolition:   Demolition is usually a quick affair, and here we have prolonged it as we take the opportunity to listen to the building and divine what it wants to become.  So far, it has surprised me, the initial plan has been lost a few times and we are now moving the future stair to an opposite corner and the straight walls that became diagonal are now headed towards a gentle curve, and even the front door is retreating to its original location. It’s all more than the original that we had anticipated.  So as of late, I am lowering the window sill across the back of the building, where the windows looking into the garden will be lowered 50 cm.  So with drills, grinders and a small jack hammer, I am trying to dislodge stones which have sat there for 200 years. I thought they would give way easily, but they are stubborn.  The quality of the cement is impressive, and the stones are softer and less tailored than I had expected.  The sill stone is relenting in solid fragments, too heavy to slide, but the rest is pretty much surrendering as rubble.  I am saving these stone pieces and will rebuild a new wall 80 cm into the garden, creating the “well” that is enabling the lowered height of the windows.  Its slow, but it’s already great to see the added window height that we are gaining.  I’m working at a pace, using levers and dowels to move 200 pound stones, treating them with the respect they deserve. Soon I will cement them back into place and let them sleep for another few centuries!

There is another wall that we are planning to remove, its an interesting project.  It is a quasi bearing stone wall. On the lower level its about 22 cm (9”) thick, and above its a 13 cm (6”)thick stone wall, and then above that its a thin plaster wall (2.5”).  It is officially non bearing, but it does support the floor loads of the main floor and probably shares some responsibility for the next floor.  We need to remove a small section, which will open the wall to a nice 2.5 meter (10’) opening which currently divides the main bedroom into two areas, so its important. I would LOVE to build an arch here, but am yielding to my better wits and will probably let a professional insert a steel beam instead.  I may build a plaster arch to cover up the steel beam, it remains a dilemma for me.  Honesty v. Security:  round one: I will seek some outside advice!
Someday this view will be the master bed in an arched space!

200 year old cement tiles
Once we removed the newer walls, we found the suspected cement tile floor throughout the space. Red and white 15cm tiles, very fun, if a bit utilitarian.  I have found this a few times and it is always surprising. Not the tiles, but flooring in general, they tend to install the floors all the way across any given space and then build the walls on top of the floors. So when you remove a wall, the flooring is still there. In America, we do this with plywood, then the walls, and then the finished floors on either side of the walls.  I don’t know if they did this for simplicity, or with a long range view: interior walls will come and go, and we should build to accommodate the change.  It would resemble the french attitude towards plumbing and electrics and phone lines: technologies and functionality change, let’s leave the systems visible, so that they can be changed too.  A few years ago I stopped putting phone jacks in every room, as most homes used cordless phones. Now we don’t even have a wired phone line, so it has swiftly become a concession to provide even one phone connection, and the technology for cable lines is changing even faster.

We are still planing a new stair, as the current location is senseless. When is was installed they did the standard craziness of cutting major joists and providing poor supports in their place. SO I will remedy all that, and relocate the stairs. The insult here, is that the space between the flooring and the ceiling below is considered to be “owned in common by the building” and to alter the current stair requires approval and architects supervision, and they don’t mean me!  The problem here, was that I asked for permission....duh!  SO a complicated process is now shrouded within a complicated process!   The endgame will be the same, and I’ve learned once again, to let sleeping dogs sleep!  And I’ve learned that a joist is called a “soleve” and a headers are called “chevettres”. So there is the silver vocabulary I wish I didn’t know!

We have found some new doors from a salvage yard. We will replace the minor door with it’s clumsy entry, with a 3.2 meter (11’) tall pair of doors that came out of a mansion here in the city which is being transformed into a hotel, I guess they had to replace all thier doors? So our new door and entry hall will match the splendor of the rest of our building. The  original door opening is still intact, hidden inside of a new wall, awaiting its liberation by a pair of well meaning Americans.

More as it happens...