Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Now, we'd like your help. We are suffering from severe lack of creativity due to long hours of plastering, carpentering, cleaning and moving furniture around. So....please tell us what you want to hear about. Suggest a trip or an excursion. Ask a question. Propose a photo essay or a theme for a post. Ask about what you think has been sorely missing from the blog. What haven't we touched on?
Alternatively, send us an e-mail and tell us what you are up to. You know what we're doing but for the most part, we don't have a clue what our friends in the United States are doing. (Out of sight, out of mind. N'est pas.)
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
We dropped Mathilde off at the Toulouse airport on Sunday, and since we didn't hear about KLM airlines suddenly loosing altitude because of excess carry-on baggage we assume she made it OK. Mathilde, the French economy regrets your departure; and we sure appreciate all the treats you showered on us. Even though she came fully expecting to work (and bringing the latest state-of-the art gloves for all of us) it was in Mathilde's so-called bedroom where the action would be happening. So, we respectfully traded construction for tourist activities.
No more excuses not to work, and the lure of centuries-old soot and cobwebs only a nostril hair away, we are back at it. The 'sponginess' in the floor joists on the deuxieme etage (the USA equivalent of the 3rd floor---the ground floor doesn't count) resulted in our pulling up the existing OSB subflooring and beginning the lengthy process of figuring out how to remove the 10 oak joists. The spaces between the joists were not equal and some of them had a rather prominent bend in more than one plane. I think Doug mentioned earlier that there was also a fairly dramatic slant to this floor. We could have handled the lack of plumb but the sponginess was too scary. The combination called for elimination.
The joists were embedded in the exterior stone wall at various depths and by various mechanisms, not always apparent. Sometimes they would pull out but more often not, so that they had to be sawn off flush with the wall. Battery-powered saws are good for cutting through wimpy American pine and fir, but definitely not two hundred year old oak, even oak with a bad case of woodworm. In an effort to introduce job safety, Doug tied a rope around an adjacent joist, then drew the rope under the joist to be removed and looped it around the adjacent joist on the other side to support it once it was set free. No additional trips to the hospital were required by this procedure. We hauled the old timbers in to the Depot Vente Brocante (similar to a antique/secondhand store) where we consigned them for 25 Euro each, and if they sell we collect 14 Euro each. Structurally they are no good, but for someone wanting that "instant rustic" look they will serve the purpose.
The challenge of installing the new solive du sapin (fir floor joists) was figuring out how to hang them so that the floor would actually approach level. Along the exterior wall where possible, Doug used L brackets to attach them to the header beam, which was 4 or 5 inches off plumb itself. The joists had to be notched or shimmed in varying degrees to reach level at the opposite end where they sat upon a cross beam.
It doesn't take long to realize that so many of these renovations are cobbled together at best because over the centuries things have settled, walls have been removed, windows have been put in/taken out, beams replaced, plumbing and electrical installed in stone walls, yet these houses still stand. New construction is clean, precise, square, level. This is everything but. But it is full of stress, frustration, tension, misinterpretations. Anyone who has ever engaged in DIY knows what I mean. In case you're wondering, we were still speaking to each other when we went to bed.
Note the darker, sagging old floor joist and the lighter, straighter replacements.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Below, you'll find a brief, but still incredibly boring history of Carcassonne. My pictures show Nancy and Mathilde posing for posterity, an ancient well inside the gates, the plaza where we had lunch, and three pictures of the fortifications. As you may read in the history, the fortifications were restored beginning in 1853 and debate rages till this day about the quality and character of the restoration. Was it historically accurate? No. Did they destroy some anthropologically and culturally significant features? No doubt. Did they save what might have become a large pile of rubble and a source of building block for all of southern France? Yes. Should they have restored it all? Who knows. But is it also unfair to judge the actions of people in 1853 using our knowledge base and standards from 2007?
A Brief and Abridged History of Carcassonne. Edited from Wikipedia.
In 462 the Romans officially ceded Septimania to the Visigothic king Theodoric II. In 508 the Visigoths successfully foiled attacks of the Frankish king Clovis. Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but King Pippin the Younger drove them away in 759. In 760, Pippin took most of the south of France, although he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.
In 1067 Carcassonne became the property of the Trencavel family allied in succession either with the counts of Barcelona or of Toulouse. They built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of the new cathedral, a Catholic bastion against the Cathar heretics.
Carcassonne became famous in its role in the Albigensian Crusades, when the city was a stronghold of occitan cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. After capturing Raymond-Roger de Trencavel and imprisoning and allowing him to die, Montfort made himself the new viscount. He added to the fortifications. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and Aragon.
In 1240 Trencavel's son tried to reconquer his old domain but in vain. The city submitted to the rule of France in 1247, and King Louis IX founded the new part of the town across the river. He and his successor Philip III built the outer ramparts. Contemporary opinion still considered the fortress impregnable. During the Hundred Years' War, Edward the Black Prince failed to take the city in 1355, although his troops destroyed the Lower Town.
In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees transferred the border province of Rousillon to France, and Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. Fortifications were abandoned, and the city became mainly an economic center that concentrated on the woollen textile industry, for which a 1723 source quoted by Fernand Braudel found it “the manufacturing center of Languedoc”.
Carcassonne was struck from the roster of official fortifications under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar. The mayor of Carcassonne led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the place.
In 1853, works began with the west and southwest walling, followed by the towers of the porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts, where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings at his death in 1879, when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald, and later the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne.
The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc's lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as pointed cones, where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes, in a snow-free environment. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc's achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of strictest authenticity.
Fortifications consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Things That I Have Seen or Experienced Since I Left Moab:
Blue goat cheese, Spanish olives, vineyards, live chickens and rabbits at the market, men kissing men on the cheeks, men wearing pedal pushers, British accents, 800 year old buildings, Smart cars, oak floor joist, IKEA, roundabouts, brown chicken eggs sold in the metric unit of ten, British cars with drivers on the wrong side, castles, the "Barthelona" accent, lines of plane trees on each side of the road for a mile or two, and church bells pealing the hour.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Last winter Doug and I were constructing the very last (we swear) building on our property in Moab---a guest bedroom cottage, since our house is pretty tiny. At that time I decided it was necessary to begin learning the art of of Old World lime plastering and limewashing. Several weeks later, after a healthy case of carpal tunnel, I was a convert. I knew that if and when we bought a place in France, these would be skills that would be necessary.
Lime plasterers are a dying breed in the States. Stucco, cement, drywall and latex paint have changed that. The first recorded use of lime plaster dates back 6000 years in Turkey. Its 'breathable' property makes it ideal for both interior and exterior uses, in the harshest and most extreme of climates. What this means is that it releases water vapor as well as that it does not wick water as cement stucco does. It is extremely durable and doesn't crack as it dries.
The recipe for lime plaster is simple: lime and sand. Lime comes from limestone, a sedimentary rock geologically deposited by marine plants and animals. Lime in a powdered form does not occur naturally but must be kilned. The lime powder (les chaux) is mixed with water to re-hydrate it to form a yogurt-thick lime putty that must "age"---anywhere from 1 day to literally years before actually using in the finished product. The longer it sits, the smoother it gets. This may be one of the reasons why lime plaster fell out of favor---it's not an immediate use product.
Lime putty is mixed with varying ratios of sand, with each subsequent coat using less sand. Lime plaster adheres well to stone when it has been wetted down beforehand; and if not, it sucks the moisture out immediately. The pros "hurl" it on and smooth it out with trowels or sponges. There are as many types of finishes as there are old buildings, from rough texture to smooth as silk. Once the lime plaster is exposed to air, the lengthy process of absorbing carbon dioxide begins; according to the limestone cycle the lime plaster will return to it's original CaCO3 state after a few centuries.
After several individual layers of lime plaster, for which the experts have very specific names, you can finish with a color coat, or limewash (badigeon). Color is achieved by adding powdered pigments to a very watered-down lime putty. Unlike popping the lid off a gallon can of latex enamel that you just matched to your color swatch, limewashing is anybody's guessing game. The colorwash dries about 20 shades lighter than when it goes on, so it's incredibly hard to visualize. Plus, lime plaster on one wall accepts limewash differently than another wall.
Limewash has a certain translucency, unlike latex paint. Each additional coat creates more depth without opaqueness. The variations in color only add to its character and charm. Or, at least that's what I told myself. The pigments are natural: earthen oxides, ochres, siennas.
I took the opportunity to limewash a few of the walls in our rez-de-chausse (ground floor) that were bare white plaster while Doug's thumb was recuperating. I was too timid with the pigments at first, and gradually got bolder as I kept telling myself (and Doug) "hey, we'll learn to live with it". With lots of input and encouragement from sister-in-law Leslie, I turned the kitchen into a chemistry lab for several days. The end results are warm and inviting, and I am encouraged to proceed to the next project.
Taking a break from my own limewashing the other day, I was walking through the passageway to Isabel's Midi-Prix epicerie for a few items. I happened upon a limewashing event going on at Andy and Amanda's grande maison on Cours St. Jacques. They were doomed to lose their scaffolding the next day and had quite a bit of work left to do; so I donned my gloves, was thrust a roller and bucket and put to work for several hours. The view from the top level was awesome, and best of all---Doug cooked dinner.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
- First up is Smokey. Several of you responded to my suggestion for a new name in a new homeland---names with dignity, humor, history. Well, my friends, I hate to disappoint ya'll, but Smokey is going to stay "old Smokey" for its remaining days. Here's the rationale: through no brilliant maneuvers on our part, Smokey somehow gets to retain its Utah license plates while living in France full-time. I am not going to question our insurance agent M. Nelkin why. I'm all for the don't ask-don't tell policy---it's alot cheaper. So, as long as Smokey is a US citizen, it probably needs to keep its good old boy US name. But, I may use one of those proposed names for the next time I go in for a Visa, so your efforts won't be wasted.
- The other night we heard something we have yet to hear in Leran---a North American accent! And I'm almost embarrassed to say, it was like music to my ears (there, I said it anyway). But it was only partly North American, it was Canadian. Harry and Di have arrived from Calgary. Today I got to thinking that I don't even know who the Canadian Prime Minister is.....DO YOU? The entire world knows "W", but Canada is barely a blip on the radar. The answer is..................Stephen Harper....ring a bell???
- I had decided to make a photo CD of the Leran Fete pictures and take them to the Mairie's office. Maybe I had an ulterior motive to somehow get my name in front of the Maire, so that when the time comes to approach him regarding our rooftop terrace he will remember. Chantal, the Maire's assistant, seemed surprised and very pleased, and trotted off into his office with the photo CD. On my way out, our neighbor Jean-Pierre cornered me and asked if he could take a photo of Doug and I for an article he was writing on "Americans Come Home" about the influx of English-speakers in Leran. Or, at least that's what I surmised from our conversation. He wants to know more about Utah, the Mormons, the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Speedway. Not sure where his article is being published.
- Growing up in the midwest I witnessed some superior lightning and thunderstorm displays. But Sunday night's was the top. We lost power several times and the cracks were fiercesome. Coming from the single-digit humidity of Moab, we feel like we are in the swampland of Florida at times. And just when things were beginning to dry out. Stone walls retain damp, and the gully-washer was apparently just running in our back door. And now we were told that Leran is built over several springs, one of which is thermal in origin. During a brief interlude between deluges, we trekked to the bar to see who was around, and left the windows open to air the place out. A few minutes after we returned, a kitty-cat bounded down the stairs and jumped out the window from which it must have gained entry. I'm still seeing cat tracks around today, so I'm not sure how many other animals we are unknowingly harboring at this point.
- When I picked up the Recycling Manual at the Mairie's Office, I never imagined it would be so confusing. They gave me my sac jaune and sac noir, but exactly what goes where and when is still not processing. What I can say is that recycling is done religiously here and people do not question it. They just do it. And the cost of trying to create a household from nothing has really nudged me in the direction of trying to reuse any and all of the recycling products that I can. I am cutting off the tops of plastic milk jugs to use the lower portions for plastic containers; I save all tin cans for holding things. Some things here are extremely expensive that we go into "sticker shock" when we see the price: a small package of phillips head screws might cost the equivalent of $8-10 here, so we parcel them out judiciously. The moral of that story is for anyone contemplating visiting us....please smuggle in phillips head screws in various sizes in your luggage. Stones are cheap, no need to smuggle them in.
Suddenly, almost like that light bulb going on, we remembered some relatives that were going to be in The Netherlands just about this time visiting their family. If there ever was a snowball's chance....we made the phone call from an equally depressing phone booth. The next day we were gloriously pedalling our way to Amersfort just outside Amsterdam to connect with David and Mathilde Oldham who were staying with her parents, Ma and Pa (in all the years we were lucky to know them, that's what we called them). They took us in for a week, entertained, fed, toured us around and told us stories of their WWII resistance activities. It was beyond heavenly when we needed it most.
We just heard from Mathilde the other day. She will be in Amsterdam for her 50th birthday, and is catching a flight to Toulouse for a "working holiday" for a week in Leran. I can think of no better way to celebrate a major birthday than by hoisting floor joists, drywall and subflooring. Except perhaps by hiking to Montsegur or Peyrepetusse, checking out the border collie time trials in St. Martin d'Oydes, or maybe watching the canal boats on the Midi. Maybe we can do it all.
Friday, June 8, 2007
The following is a brief history of the Cathars. I basically plagiarized two different websites (which shall remain nameless) and changed some things, edited a little, combined here and there, and added some of my own words. If you want to learn more, and you should, there are lots of ways to research the Cathars beyond the internet. There are perhaps a dozen of these ruins, all perched on top of very defensible sites, in the Languedoc. And Montsegur, one of the most famous, can be seen from Leran. We will be visiting more of these sites in the future. Scroll down for the brief history.
In west-north-west of Marseilles on Golfe du Lion is the old province of Languedoc where in 1208 the people were condemned to death by catholic pope Innocent III. In 1209 a papal army of more than 30,000 soldiers descended on the region under the command of Simon de Montfort. The soldiers had been sent to kill and exterminate the Cathar religion.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
We received a notice in the mailbox the other day that la Poste had attempted to deliver a "colisimmo", which we interpreted to be a large package. Finally, our first shipment of mail from Moab. What fun to open up a bunch of bills---but at least ones that we can understand (sort of).
The note said to claim the colisimmo apres 10 heures the next day, Wednesday (mercredi). We were there johnny-on-the-spot, but la Poste was all buttoned up---door locked and shutters closed. So on we went to the Quillan market to see the English booktrader and drive the Plateau du Sault. Upon returning to Leran at 13:00 hours, well after its 12:30 normal closure time, the above sign was on la Poste door.
The notice basically says that "Due to a strike movement, the Leran Post Office will be closed all morning Wednesday June 6, 2007". La Poste in Leran is normally only open mornings, so it really meant that it would be closed all day. There was now no chance to claim our colisimmo until Thursday. Apparently overnight a strike movement was formed at the Leran la Poste branch, and only the Leran branch. Go figure!
No one I talked to could explain the reason for the strike. Perhaps it was in protest to the obvious lack of holidays in June, or just preparing for all the annual closures coming up in August. As if nothing ever happened, back to business as usual on Thursday, colisimmo now in hand.
The weather barely cooperated the entire weekend. The opening candlelight parade on Friday was rained out. The vendor booths trying to pedal "SANDWICHS" (their spelling) and stuffed animals were empty. Go-karts and bumper cars sat idle. Only a few of the spike-haired Leran youth dutifully listened to the boom-boom sounds of J.M.Music.
For Moroccan food, the chicken and rice was absent of spices; but it was definitely a lively crowd, a mixture of about 60 English and French speakers. Rose wine flowed most freely and an accordion duo may have been performing some local favorites. The folks who organized and served were the true heroes of the event, and the couple in the photo (Jean-Paul in the yellow shirt with sac noir) were ever vigilant throughout the evening.
We returned from the hospital on Sunday morning just in time to join the march through the streets following Les Majorettes de la Bastide Sur L'Hers. Doug kept commenting on how "un-French" the idea of majorettes seemed. Isn't that American, he kept asking? But the band, Los Mountagnols de Tarascon, did play the French national anthem. And there were an abundance of men in berets. We heard that one year it rained so hard the majorettes had to perform in the community hall, and when they tossed their batons they kept hitting the ceiling.
Kids will be kids, and Sunday morning the gendarmes had been called out. On Saturday night some of the festive lights in the Place du Monument aux Morts were torn down and plants pulled out of window boxes. I found myself thinking about the usual Police roster in Moab. It usually involves monster trucks, guns, meth. This seems pretty tame in comparison.
I am also reminded that when I awake during the night in Leran, it is never sirens that I hear. It is the church bells chiming the hour and half-hour. How civilized.