Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Politics of a View

That old adage of wanting what we can't have may be coming home to roost. I'm referring to our desire for a roof terrace. The petite cour (3m X 6m or just under 9' X 18' is usually filled with construction materials, doesn't get much sun and is bounded on three sides by other village houses. So, in essence, it's a little like sitting in the bottom of a canyon. I did attempt to cheer it up a bit with some big terra cotta pots and plants, and a table and chairs. Maybe this wasn't the summer to put it to the real test, since the temperatures have been relatively cool . On a beastly hot Moab-like day, this little hidey-hole feels refreshing; that is, if you can pick your way through the mortier, ciment, chaux, sable, or outils.

It cannot be stressed enough: WE LIVE IN A VILLAGE WITH A CHATEAU. Everybody tells us that in an almost warning tone of voice, one step away from wagging a finger in front of our noses. But there is little consensus as to just what that means as far as those of us living on the other side of the tracks (in this case, the river) are concerned. The only thing I know for certain about all this is that the Top 2 Sacred Things in France are: #1) Dog Poop and #2) Chateaux. You are not allowed to pick up dog poop after your dog has released it; and you are not allowed to do anything offensive that people living in a Chateau might see. A roof terrace is apparently included in that list of offensive acts. Picking up dog poop on said roof terrace would be even worse.

From the north side of our roof, which faces The Chateau, I snapped a few photos sticking my head out the velux (skylight). If you look very very closely, (click on the photo to enlarge) just to the right of the tallest tree, you can just make out a tiny portion of the facade of The Chateau. This must be where all the people who would complain live. I should mention that the Chateau is not a working, operational, medieval Chateau, inhabited by knights and damsels and paysans. It has been converted into luxury apartments for modern-day renaissaince lords and ladies.

The backside of the first row of houses facing The Chateau (just across the river) take advantage of overlooking the river and The Chateau and grounds. While none of them have what is technically described a 'roof terrace', most of them have terraces or decks built over a lower house level. It has been explained to me several times that there is a difference here, which I apparently am not fully grasping. Their terrace/decks do not alter the roof lines and are acceptable; as are the 1960's wrought iron railings, aluminum windows, faux-Tahiti grass fencing, and laundry lines. The lords and ladies of The Chateau like this kind of stuff, but not breaks in the roof line.

In the middle of July we met with a planner/designer/project manager who came to the house to assess feasibility of a roof terrace. Tim, the planner, originally seduced us into thinking that we might be able to get away with building a waterproof concrete floor over the existing rooms we are currently working on in the deuxieume etage, thereby creating a troisieme etage. He proposed removing the roof at the ridgebeam and taking off roof tiles on both the north and south sides. This would open up a roof terrace area of approximately 20 square meters. Where do we sign, we said, and when can we start? He indicated that he would get back to us with drawings within a week, which turned into two, three and four weeks. We figured we were small potatoes, but called him anyway. He had some bad news.

Tim was having problems designing a stairway giving egress from the deuxieme etage to the proposed roof terrace level. The height from the proposed roof terrace floor to the roof ridge beam is only about 4', significantly shorter than most adults. Once the roof is removed, a stairway exiting onto the roof would have to be enclosed, and that 'enclosure' (a tower-like structure) would break the horizon.....and be UNACCEPTABLE!

At this impasse, Tim moved onto Plan B. He suggested scrapping removing the ridge beam, because of the problems with the stairway clearance, in favor of converting the north (street side) of the deuxieme etage. We weren't quite clear where he was going with this until our meeting at his home/office in Rennes-les-Bains last week. Great town, the river coursing through it is known for its thermal hot springs and healing properties. Too bad the designs didn't have a bit more warmth.

Plan B would leave the roof intact and remove a section of the front exterior wall down to about 3' high. The side walls remain. Moreorless a covered porch two stories up, facing north. I spoke before I thought. "What is the point?" We dickered back and forth with him, insisting that unless a portion of the roof could be cut out, forming an upside-down U-shape opening, this idea was a no-go. We were still skeptical anyway, given everything people had said about changing the front facade of a building facing THE Chateau. And now we're talking about removing a chunk out of the front wall. How likely is that to get approved?

Doug and I were not quite ready to give up on Plan A (the actual roof terrace removing the ridge beam) and were desperately trying to think outside the box looking for solutions to the stairway access issue. I found a few UK websites offering a ideas for "hatch-type" cellar and roof doors. Some of these are designed specifically for roof terraces, are electronically operated and are exhorbitantly priced. When Doug described the problem to our Aussie friend John, he independently came up with a hatch-door solution. Bingo! Maybe there's something there.

We were also so ready to just move on to the next step, not even really knowing what the next step really was. Tim suggested arranging a meeting with the Powers-That-Be in Foix and seeing how they will react to Plan B(2). This upcoming meeting on September 6 will by no means result in the most sought-after Planning Permission, but will merely give us some clues as to how to proceed further. This is a critical step, because thus far we only have hearsay. It's good info, but it's not gospel, nor does it necessarily jive with the whim of the Powers-That-Be on any given day. Talk to Person (A) and they will say getting approval for shutter colors is the real 'biggie', while Person (B) will insist that we could do a roof terrace facing south but not north (i.e. The Chateau), and Person (C) might say exactly the opposite because of the proximity to the house across the courtyard. Person (A) will say you cannot remove any front facade, Person (B) says as long as you leave a 3' knee wall it's OK, and Person (C) says forget it. The bottom line, of course, is that none of these people are the actual Powers-That-Be.

I am always puzzled by people's acceptance of apparent logic by what goes on in these villages. Jon-Pierre, our neighbor down the street, was having his shutters painted the other week. Against the more subdued tones in Leran, this shade seems more 'hysterical' rather than 'historical'. I commented on the color, which he called "Garden Green", and queried whether he had to receive approval for such a vibrant kelly green. His very quick response, called Le Bras d'Honneur (the Arm of Honor)aided by a demonstration, said it all. For those of you polite folks who don't get my drift, I have attached a photo illustration. You may practice this at your convenience at any governmental agency---I guarantee you, it provides great satisfaction. Jon-Pierre's house is right on Cours St. Jacques, the main drag, and no one has demanded a re-painting. But then, it really can't be seen from The Chateau.

I know I'm expecting alot out of this meeting in Foix next week, more than I should. I'll be ecstatic if it gives us a glimmer of hope once again. And if not? Well, there's always Le Bras d'Honneur!


Judy said...

The Le Bras d'Honneur sketch is priceless! A fitting end to many a pointless conversation.

In answer to a querry from anonymous, Ron & I live in Lincoln, Nebraska and were formerly neighbors of Doug & Nancy when they lived in Bozeman, Mt. We are moving yet again; this time to Omaha, Ne. We are in the process of building a "sorta green", and handicapped accessible one story home. I wanted more green things, but they proved to be too costly.
Ron is in a wheelchair most of the time now due to peripherial neuraphy which causes him to have no sense of balance. He still has a sense of humor though and has enjoyed the blogs. Judy

Judy said...

Doug & Nancy; I was watching the Today Show this morning and they have been doing a series on America the Beautiful...picking the 10 most beautiful spots in America. Today they were up to #3. They had Tom Brokow introducing Yellowstone National Park. He talked about fly fishing, the wolves and all the natural wonders of the park. You both were so intimately involved in the park for years, I think you would have enjoyed this segment. Judy

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy-
Anonymous is me- Doug's sister. Good to know where you are on the USA map these days. Amy
D & N- Bonne chance avec Les Powers!

Anonymous said...

Luke loves the "green-ness" of Jon-Pierre's newly-painted shutters! I was feeling a little tired...but now I'm wide awake! Wow...what a color!

I'm sorry to hear that your roof-garden is causing you such turmoil...you're supposed to be having fun...aren't you? Perhaps this is a project that will have to wait until next year when you return to Leran...with a little more time to "mull it over" you may come up with "Plan C" which will be better than either of the previous plans...who knows?

I have to admit...without being able to actually see the rooms in question, I sometimes have a hard time understanding what exactly you are talking about...so I think I'd better save my money and come visit...if I am welcome. Something for us all to look forward to??

I'm really going to miss your blog when you come home to Moab. It's been a "virtual summer vacation" that I have really enjoyed. I appreciate the time and energy (and creativity)it took to pull together words and pictures to share with the rest of us.

I'm also going to miss reading the comments by your many friends and relatives. I am reminded of the old "party-line phones" where many neighbors were able to talk with each other across the miles...now we are electronically capable of talking to our "neighbors" across the entire world...what a wonderous thing!

Have a great Labor Day weekend...here and abroad!

P.S. Amy, I'm glad you enjoyed my "wild and crazy" commentaries. I agree with you that Doug and Nancy should write a book about their adventures...and they certainly have enough great photographs with which to illustrate their stories.

nancy said...

First of all, you better come visit! What took you so long to commit? We don't know when we'll be here next year, but we'll work it out.

You mentioned not being able to understand how Plan A and Plan B would be implemented without actually "seeing" the rooms. Well, if it's any consolation...I can see the rooms and I still can't understand! Tres dificile, madame. You will see it when you get here.

I love your analogy of the blog to a 'party-line' telephone. I sense some 'blog-withdrawal' coming on, eh? What will Doug and I do with all this extra free time? Housework???

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of "committing" to visit France...it's the annoying matter of trying to "find the funds"! Poverty sucks and I've had a raging case of "terminal poor-ness" over the past few years! But there is no doubt in my mind that I would love to have a "little piece" of the experience that you have had in Leran!

We'll just have to wait and see what develops. Hopefully, I will get to France one of these days!

Enjoy your last few "French days".