Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The 29 Steps

There is a spectacular trail in Yellowstone that, through a series of 300+ stairs and switchbacks, takes you to the base of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It is called Uncle Tom’s Trail, named for an early entrepreneur in the park. In the early 1900’s, Uncle Tom took people down into the Canyon on a series of ropes and ladders---nothing fancy and hardly safe. Today, visitors climb stairs that are constructed of extruded steel, and follow the contour of the canyon walls. Still, it is not for the faint of heart, as the pitch is fairly steep. Going up is a heart attack waiting to happen. Luckily, there are several landings with well-used benches along the way.

When we started our renovation project at 14 Rue du Four, I counted the stairs I would be climbing to our work site on the deuxieme etage. They numbered 29. Roughly 10-1/2 trips up and down and I would hike Uncle Tom’s Trail, I tell myself. Not bad. I figure carrying all the provisions substitutes for the switchbacks. I don’t keep an actual log, but I know there are days that I climb Uncle Tom’s more than a couple times.

Up and/or down our 29 steps we have carried buckets of lime plaster, drywall, dalle sub-flooring, pine T&G flooring, doors, windows, trim boards, insulation, toilet/sink/vanity, shower door, bed frame and mattress, concrete, sand, tile, grout, couches, rugs, tables, lamps, laundry, paint, old beams, drywall mud, tools, tools, and more tools. Renovation is out with the old, in with the new.

Alfred Hitchcock had his 39 Steps. I only have 29, thankfully. Whew!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Private Art Showing

My focus this past weekend at the vide greniers and brocantes has been ARTWORK. Anything to hang on the walls. Cover up the major faux pas. Thought I'd share a few of my eclectic finds....most have yet to be hung. I'm sure the theme is obvious.

Now that the space on the deuxieme etage is quickly approaching the 'ready for furniture' stage, it's time to fill up some of the blank spaces on the walls. The lime plastering/limewashing and drywalling/mudding/taping are behind me now. My arthritic finger joints, wrists and forearms can begin to recoup from the repetitive tasks of these jobs. We just finished laying the flooring, a wide plank tongue & groove pine, on Saturday. Sunday afternoon I started staining and sealing the flooring. From our perspective, it is an immense improvement over the day we first moved in. We'll dig up some of the original photos for comparison.

Research Needed on This One

Nancy bought this little sign at a Vide Grenier yesterday. The lady told her it was a sign for a now defunct department in the vicinity of Paris. Departments are the French version of states or counties. Administrative districts. I could find no reference to it on Google. Have you any information on what it might be? If so, help us out in the comments.

A Side Note: Doug published this post before I could tell him the whole story....When the lady asked me if I was 'English' and I told her 'American', her face lit up. She related the tale of her very American road trip when she was 20. They flew into Montreal, bought a van and headed out to tour the great USA---for an entire year! From the sounds of it, a near circumnavigation. This is a feat most Americans have never achieved. I asked her what was her favorite place and she responded "Yellowstone". Wise lady. Upon returning to Montreal, they sold the van and flew back to France. She said that her father told her to do this trip before she was 20 or it would never happen. Wise father.

Things I Can't Believe Nancy Passed Up at Vide Greniers

Two oxen yokes. We could have had a matched set on our wall. Why she passed up these is beyond me.

A nice cow skull. Very cowboyish. We could have sold it for a thousand dollars to a French tourist back in Moab.

Another stuffed badger. If she really had wanted one, she could have had this one. And it has teats. The poor critter was a nursing mother when it was dispatched.

She passed on this swell baby. The clothes alone were worth what the lady was asking for it.

The world's strangest lamp. There can be nothing more tasteless. I know some people back in the States who would appreciate it though. It makes me think of some kind of gruesome murder at the Moulon Rouge. Check out the swell toilet paper in the background.

A military school graduation picture. Each and every one of these items is a treasure. I keep thinking I could open a store in Chicago or New York and make a fortune on each one of these items. What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

News Flash: Murphy's Law Still Operational

" No good deed goes unpunished," says the common wisdom and it was proven true. Anders and Roy came to seek my help this morning to get Roy's van out of a predicament. Roy had turned his van around in the dark last night and accidentally backed off the road and partially down a steep hill towards a creek. They wanted a four-wheel drive truck to help them out of the jam. We hooked up Old Smokey and gently eased the van further down the embankment until it high centered on the back bumper.
After we got it lowered down as far as it would go, I drove down below it to pull it from its perch. I thought that the back bumper, being augured into the ground, would cause us problems and not let go. But we hooked up old Smokey again and pulled her down a few feet till the van augured in again. I got closer and we shortened the cable because the back end of Smokey was getting too close to the creek. Bad move as it turned out. As we prepared to give it tug to get it the last little bit, I suggested to Roy that he might want to get in the van and apply the brakes to keep the van from smashing into Smokey. The suggestion was overruled by Monsieur Murphy. No one really thought it would budge, yet with a slight tug the van came down the final bit without a driver and smashed into Old Smokey.

We eventually got the van down on the flat ground, mostly unharmed.

But Smokey sustained a crumpled hood, dented bumper and some crushed plastic fake chrome. Well, it could be worse. It's only cosmetic. Roy says he'll get his insurance to fix Old Smokey up just like new. More later.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thoughts about English

We don’t have too many meaningful conversations here in France in French. Our French just isn’t good enough to talk about too much except where things are and how much does it cost. (I will say Nancy’s French has come a long way from just a few years ago. She is doing far better than I am.) So our interesting and meaningful conversations are with the other English speakers in the area. And of those, there are more than a few.

We speak with Irish, Australians, Canadians and English, but mostly with Brits. And the thing that continues to amaze me is the number and variety of regional dialects that come out of the United Kingdom. I suppose someone has put a number to the different variations, but I couldn’t find one. Some of the dialects are easily understandable to the American ear and others are not.

In the U.S. we mostly speak pretty much just like every other American with the exception of the South and the Northeast. There are certainly more variations that just those two, but you have to listen pretty close to discern a Chicago accent and a Pennsylvania accent. The regional accents may be disappearing, if you listen to some experts, due to the influence of movies, television and radio and people moving around from place to place. For instance, Florida once had a southern accent but now you listen and hear a standard American accent, or New York or “New Joisey”.

So my point is, we Americans are accustomed to hearing English spoken in a certain way, and we’re accustomed to hearing British English or Irish English or Australian. We all remember the Liverpuddlian accent of the Beatles, yes? But then they throw you a curveball. There are about 6000 (my estimate that I’ve pulled out of the air) other dialects in the British Isles. Rather than pick out individuals that we know and using their dialect as an example, I’m going to refer you to a website where you can hear the dialects yourself. It’s a lot of fun. You can click on one of the little icons and hear the dialects spoken. If you keep your cursor on the icon, the printed version will appear. Sometimes, you can’t follow the ballgame unless you’ve got a program, and sometimes you can. Sometimes you ask yourself "This is the English language?"

So check it out and let me hear from you English speakers in the comments. http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/regional-voices/lexical-variation/

Thursday, June 18, 2009

From the Top of the Tower at Puivert

The top three pictures are by Nancy and the other four are by me. We watched the airport across the valley where glider flights were being towed into the sky. Both Nancy and I liked the field that was just beginning to sprout it's crop and enjoyed the colors of the emergent green shoots and brown dirt. The camera was unable to fully capture the full spectrum of the colors that we could see with our eyes, but oh well. Nancy got some good shots of the crumbling walls from above and a nice picture of the town of Puivert through the chateau window.

Progress Report

Perhaps you will not remember, but this is what the east wall of the third floor looked like when we arrived back in France a few weeks ago. It was crumbling apart and actually had holes that you could see daylight through. The exterior of the wall still needs to be dealt with, but we (meaning Nancy) have at least stabilized the interior wall with concrete. She now has one layer of lime plaster over the whole mess with more layers to come. I've built a seating area with much needed storage underneath. It will eventually be gussied up and have a shelf across the top and pillows and paint, of course. The wall is far from flat or plumb and you can see the shape of the timbers underneath the plaster, but I think its a great improvement and with each coat of plaster, the room grows lighter.

We still have a ways to go. Nancy is working on the other two walls and when she is finished, I will put down a wood floor. Below, Nancy is working on the west wall, which must have had a stone chimney at one time. She's started to clean the soot off and get this wall ready for lime plaster.
Each wall of this old house has different stonework on it. Different stonemasons, different source of stone and perhaps different epochs too. It may be this house was built after the two structures on either side, and was sandwiched in between. Or not. It would be interesting to know the history.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Visit to the Chateau Puivert

Yesterday we made a visit to the Chateau at Puivert and learned a little bit of it's history. The tower pictured above houses a dungeon, a chapel and a music room, not to mention an incredible set of circular stairways.
This is one of the entrances and it once had a moat and a drawbridge. The moat is barely visible now and it boggles the mind to imagine where the got the water to fill it on top of this hill. In a later post I will show you some views from the top of the tower.

On one tower there was a partially destroyed circular staircase of the kind that climbs to the top of the tower in the first photo. I remember from some history class at some time or another, that circular staircases gave the defender a great advantage. As you went up the stair case you were always turning to your right, making it difficult to use a sword in the right hand. On the other hand (heh heh) if you are defending from above it provides one with a broad swath to swing your blade. Interesting, n'est pas?

You can climb to the top of the donjon (keep) from where you can see the Quercorb plain to north and the peak of Bugarach to the east. To the west you can just see Monts├ęgur with the the high Pyrenees behind it. The pall of black smoke rising from Montsegur on the morning of 16 March 1244 would have been clearly visible from here. I took this picture from the top of the dungeon, and if you enlarge the photo, you may be able to make out the top of Montsegur just peeking over the top of the hill in the middle ground. Not the tall one on the left, but the barely visible one more to the middle. Up there is where the Cathars who refused to recant their religion were burned in a pyre.

This is of course the chapel. It is very serene and quiet inside the incredibly thick walls. Light comes in from two windows that now have Plexiglas panels, but once were open to the air. There is a very unusual font for holy water that was kept flowing during services by a servant pouring water into a reservoir on the roof.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Tennessee Williams Afternoon

(Director’s Note: To be read slowly, with a Southern Accent---American Southern, Not Ariegoise).

The weather was delicious. After too many days of early summer drizzles, the sun was finally beating down. The humidity demanded that movement only occur when necessary, such as to refresh a beverage. Everyone languished, hugging the patches of shade provided by the sprawling trees. Even ladies in linen frocks bedecked in wide-brimmed straw hats bearing delicate flowers appeared to be wilting---both the ladies and the flowers. Occasionally, a scent of a breeze was detected, but only occasionally.

The festive occasion at Billy and Sally’s was like walking into a Tennessee Williams’ play. Perhaps all that was missing were the mint juleps. Sally flitted from one strategically-placed table to another, always attuned to the guests’ needs. “Did you get enough to eat?” The choices made one’s head spin. Inside, white tablecloths draped over an elongated U-shape arrangement displayed quiches, salads, pastas, and eventually deserts. Outside, in his usual place, Christian manned his barrel-drum BBQ---a carnivore’s pleasure-palace. Even after the food supplies dwindled to empty platters, Sally could have performed a ‘water-into-wine’ reconstruction, if only necessary. But everyone was already beyond their consumption limits anyway. In the kitchen, a dedicated crew re-invented clean dishes throughout the afternoon.

Where the musicians summoned the energy to provide entertainment is confounding. The guitar and choir-master, Alan, and his faithful sidekick Barryoke (fresh from across the Channel) revived the audience with hearty renditions of French and English songs. Members of the well-renowned Leran Choir gathered round. This writer was charmed by their well-practiced voices, and could have listened at length.

While a camera was taken to the soiree, no photos were taken. Unfortunate perhaps, as “a picture is worth a thousand words”, right? Hogwash, Tennessee Williams might respond…..They just haven’t found the right thousand words.

Merci, Billy et Sally

A Little Help, Please?

Walking back to the car from the vide grenier at Coutens this morning, I found myself following a gentleman wearing a rather photographic shirt. I'm guessing the two guys on the right are Elvis and Nat King Cole......but who are the others? And why are these five together on this shirt?

Foraging for Finds

There it was, sandwiched between an array of lighting fixtures at one of the vide grenier tables: the mounted head of a sanglier. For a moment I felt compelled to buy it for Doug, after his sighting the other day. But, one furry critter in the house is enough. Besides, it would have scared the proverbial sh-t out of Fergus anyway.

However, I was truly tempted by the badger-planter unit, but somebody beat me to it.....thankfully. The vide greniers at Rieucross, Coutens and Dun were chock full of the usual exotic-to-me goodies, but touring with Doug is assurance that I don't buy the farm.

And the lucky buyer was so kind to pose with his prized possession, which I'm sure will have center stage in his living room....er, rez-de-chaussee.

I didn't see anyone attempting negotiations on "Bronzo", but no one was taking the time to inspect just how anatomically correct he was.

And, I'm sorry, I just gotta wonder about people who have those little porcelain figure collections. I have always asked WHY?

A school woodworking project? A grandfather's gift to his grandson? A pencil-hauler wooden truck nevertheless. The blue and white pencils are individually carved and painted.

I'm wondering what would happen if all of the chemicals in these bottles somehow got mixed together.............KA-BOOM!!!

The handles and blades on these tools and others on the table were made for life. Tools so specialized, or for tasks now replaced by power equipment, or just tools I had no clue as to their purpose (most likely). An art form in themselves.

No pictures of baby clothes, DVDs, tupperware. Just history, memories, funk.

Pictures in the Morning Rain

Nancy and I went to a series of Vide Greniers this morning. I can't say that I was inspired to take any pictures of the items for sale on this morning. To me it seemed to be an endless supply of baby toys and baby clothes that had been used by more than one baby. I have no need for those kinds of items. But I was inspired by the landscapes we passed through between Rieucross and Dun. The weather was gloomy after yesterday's heat and sunshine, which made for some moody landscapes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Early Photos from the Bibliotheque de Toulouse

The chateau at Lagarde in 1906. Considerable deterioration has taken place since then if my memory serves me right.
A photograph of the valley of d'Oo from 1941. There's supposed to be a carat or a little hat doohickey over the second O. I suppose there's a way to do that on a non-French keyboard. I don't know what that might be. However, it's a gorgeous valley.

Another gorgeous village somewhere in the Pyrenees. You can see the whole set by going to the Bibliotheque de Toulouse Flicker photostream at the address below. If you're are familiar with the region around Toulouse, you will find them very interesting. You can see pictures from Foix, Cahors, and all sort of peaks and glaciers. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Man, I Wish I'd Had a Camera

This morning about 8:30, as I was taking Fergus for his second walk of the day, we had an encounter with a sanglier. It was young and probably not dangerous, but since it was our first sighting, we were excited.

We were standing at the crossroads past the chateau. I was looking at the newly mown hayfield in one direction thinking what a nice picture it would make, and Fergus was staring at the young sanglier in the opposite direction. I turned around and he was perhaps a 100 feet away, with his hind end still in the wheat field. I watched for a moment and so did Fergus. I was about to put a leash back on Fergus when he walked over to investigate. Both their tails were wagging, and I think Fergus thought it was a dog. I'm guessing the sanglier was 100 pounds, and bigger and taller than Fergus. They walked toward each other for little while, and then I think one of them got scared and took off and the other did likewise. Perhaps Fergus caught his scent and realized it was no dog.

It was my first sanglier sighting in France. They are the same animal known in other parts of the world as a warthog or a javellena. Old boars can be dangerous but I don't think we were in any danger. I just wish I'd been carrying my camera.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mirepoix on Market Day

Market day in Mirepoix and I can't resist taking pictures of everything, even though I've done it thirty times before. And I always find something new. New light, new vantage point, new people. This shows the "couverts", the buildings cantilever over the sidewalk and storefronts. Shady in the summer, dry in the spring and snow free in winter. Genius.
These people are some sort of revenuers. They go around and collect the fees from the vendors. They've got some fancy equipment but they collect the fees in cash.

A detail of the south side of the cathedral.

It was cool and cloudy for a day in June.

There are enough British folks around the region that a store specializing in British goods has been in business at least as long as we've been here. As of yet, there seems to be no need for an American version. I'm sure there are some other Yanks in the area but we're not aware of them. Soon enough there will be a bunch of our American friends wandering around for a few weeks. Look out Mirepoix.

I like the way the paint has faded. The door must get enough sun on the lower part to fade but the upper part is still a deep blue. I think perhaps the top half folds back and there are some windows behind the door?