Thursday, January 31, 2008

Our Montana Cabin, July 2006

I've found it difficult lately to post anything about France. I've mined our trove of pictures again and again and come up with zilch. I think we covered our daily lives in France pretty well last summer, and I don't have too much to add about the summer right now. So, how 'bout I post some pictures of our cabin? Most of you never got there. Since it looms large in our life, I thought you would enjoy seeing what it looked like. I have often felt that the years building the cabin were some of the most enjoyable of our lives.
The top picture shows the kitchen. It had two stoves. Both were recycled and ancient. One was a gas stove from the 1920's which we did most of the cooking on, when we didn't barbecue. The other stove was an old wood/electric stove from early in the last century. When we got it, mice had pretty much chewed up all the wirng, but we only wanted it for the wood burning function anyway. You can also see the sink and water container. We would haul water up from Livingston to drink and to cook with. Wash water was collected as rainwater off the roof into an old 500 gallon redwood hot tub via a series of gutters, linked to a small electric pump at the kitchen sink. The massive cast iron sink was scrounged from nearby and it drains into a buried, sand filled garbage can with holes in the bottom. A "French drain".

Then, a picture of the front porch with it's array of comfy chairs. There was always a spot in the shade and always a sunny place and the view of the northern end of the Absaroka Mountains was ever changing and always magnificent. You could sit out on that porch on some really cold winter days in the sunshine and be perfectly warm. And on hot summer days you could sit there for hours under the porch roof, drink a beer and take in the view.

The next picture is of the dining room end of the great room. You can see the woodstove which was the major source of heat in the winter. That cabin could be absolutely tropical if you threw in enough wood. And the next picture is of the view out the back door. We would often watch moose or deer or elk grazing the lush grass. The trees there are thinned somewhat because that's where the logs for the cabin came from.

Moving along, you can see a view of the cabin from down near the road, showing the solar panels and the bath house. The bath house was an afterthought. Once we put in the solar system and had electricity we had a way to pump water and therefore a way to bathe. It contained a very luxurious shower which used captured rainwater and a composting toilet. Off in the woods was an outhouse, the second building we built on the property. The last pictures are of the living room and the little sitting area off the kitchen. Except for the leather couch and the front porch rocking chairs, most other furniture and belongings were garage sale or second-hand store finds (does that surprise anyone?).

You know we miss the place. But we wanted to move on to other adventures. We sold the cabin to some great folks who are a perfect fit for the place. She sent us a letter around Christmas. I had asked her to tell us some of their adventures. Linda said they hadn't had any thing that qualified as "adventures" yet. "Mostly what we do is just go up there and hang out, admiring the work you did and feeling grateful to you for making this fabulous place. Walking up to the top of the ridge to look at all the mountains you can see from there. Watching the sun come up over the Absarokas. Wandering around checking out all the tracks and scat and trying to reconstruct the little wildlfe dramas that go on when we aren't there." Well, we miss it but it's in good hands.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Planning to Plan the Terrace

Dang! These photos didn't load in the organized way that I had planned. But what you see are three drawings done by AutoCAD and three I did of what we would like to do to the third floor of the house.
I did lots of drawings trying to make a terrace in other places so we could retain the third floor space as another bedroom. However, I kept running into the problem of access. A stairway cannot run through the space a beam occupies, or just below it, at least it can't if you want to easily traipse up and down those stairs. I could go on with why the other plans wouldn't work. You'll have to trust me, this plan has the best chance of working.

The first photo shows and elevation view of the house from the street with the roof removed. The second photo a side view of the third floor showing beams, roof, et cetera, as it now exists. The third is a floor plan. All it really shows is the stairway, but what it doesn't show is that the building is not a perfect rectangle. The building is way more organic than that. Who knows what tools the builders had to work with. If you are familiar with buildings built without levels, transits and other modern tools, perhaps not even a plumb bob, you will understand that this perfect rectangle is a figment of someone's imagination.

The fifth photo shows our revised side elevation. Notice the new floor four feet above the old one. It will need to be a slanted waterproof floor and have drainage for water to escape to the outside. A stairway comes up and will probably need some kind of hatchway to keep most of the moisture out. The front wall will be about three feet high for safety and also allows a good view in most directions except due south. It should get lots of sunshine except in December and January.
The next photo shows the new floor plan. Most things should be self-explanatory. There will need to be a new exterior wall built between what will be inside and outside, and an exterior door at the base of the stairway will need to be added. The last photo shows the front elevation as the building now exists. One thing to note is that the street-side third floor window will have to be abandoned, but the shutters will remain so that we will comply with laws stating no changes can be made on the exterior.
So after much thought and consternation this is the plan of the moment. People wiser than ourselves have yet to give us their comments and things may change, so don't hold your breath. But the way we see it, this would significantly improve our house. Your comments are welcomed and don't forget you can click on the photos to enlarge for a better view.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Very French Map

Mike and Phyllis Wells, some good friends from our old Bozeman Montana days, passed along the following map and accompaning description. It's too good not to share. I showed the map to Doug without any explanation and asked him what he thought the distinct colors could possibly represent, he immediately went off pondering about microclimates, geological formations, political parties, or some archeological sites. So, if you want a challenge, before you begin reading the text from (Filed under: Uncategorized — strangemaps @) just study the map of France (click on it to enlarge) for awhile and come up with your own solution. Then, read on.

Over 18.000 votes have been cast in a poll to determine once and for all the answer to the burning question: Combien de bises? That’s French for ‘How many kisses’, and kissing in France is a lot more complex the French’s somewhat overstated reputation for carefree libidinosity implies.

Unlike more reserved nationalities, the French greet each other with kisses on the cheek – but the practice varies to the point where one risks l’embarras social when the kisser has another number of pecks on the cheek in mind than the kissee. Suppose, for a moment, that you intend to give three kisses and the other person turns away after two. Ah, the humilitation!

This must have happened a few times to Gilles Debunne, because earlier in 2007 he set up a website to resolve the French kissing conundrum once and for all. Debunne asked his compatriotes to send in how many kisses were the rule in their particular département. The number, which varies from one to four (five is too much, even for the French), shows an interesting regional variability.

One kiss is the preferred option in only two départements: Finistère at the western tip of Brittany and Deux-Sèvres in the Poitou-Charentes region.

Elsewhere in Poitou-Charentes, three kisses are preferred: in the departments of Vienne and Charente. The largest block of three-kiss-départements is located in the southeast. Trois bises are the thing to do in Ardèche, Aveyron, Cantal, Drôme, Haute Loire, Hautes Alpes, Hérault, Gard, Lozère and Vaucluse.

Four kisses are de rigueur in a large region in northeastern France. Apart from the isolated coastal département of Pas de Calais, this is a contiguous area, consisting of 22 départements from Normandy to the Belgian border: Ardennes, Aube, Calvados, Eure, Eure et Loire, Haute Marne, Indre, Indre et Loire, Loire et Cher, Loire Atlantique, Loiret, Maine et Loire, Manche, Marne, Mayenne, Orne, Sarthe, Seine et Marne, Seine-St-Denis, Val d’Oise, Vendée and Yonne.

The rest of the country is two-kisses territory, apart from the same département in northeast Paris that stood out by turning Royal red amidst a sea of Sarkozy blue in the first round of the French presidential elections earlier this year.

Not visualised in this map is the confusion within the départements. Apparently, the quatre bises won out only just in Pas de Calais, narrowly defeating the almost 50% who said they preferred just deux. What happens when representatives of the former group meet someone from the latter one? A faux Pas de Calais? And that’s not even taking into account the class and age distinctions that may play a role in how many kisses are required – or even whether they are expected at all.

“If you are invited to a dinner party with people you don’t know, you’ll shake their hands when you arrive. At the end of the evening, you might kiss them but it’s probably better to hold out your hand and see what happens,” says Constance Rietzler, director of La Belle École in Paris, offering courses in art and hopefully also joie de vivre, and quoted in this article in The Times on Mr Debunne’s website.

The map was sent in by Romke Soldaat of the website Frogsmoke, which asks the question: “What makes France such an endearing and infuriating country at the same time?

Why are the French a people that you love one day and hate the next?” And gives some pretty funny answers. Well worth a read.

One of the first things I wanted to confirm on the map, of course, was that I had been kissing the correct number of times according to our department, Ariege. I learned the religious ritual from friends and neighbors in Leran, so if I was counting wrong, I have them to blame. But the Ariege department is down along the Spanish border, solidly in a two-kiss region. I will be printing off a copy of this map to keep in my wallet when traveling around France, just in case I cross from a 2-kiss to a 3-kiss department, or worse yet, a 4-kiss one!