The future garage

This barn is my next project. I’m thinking of keeping the side wall as is; demolishing the existing garage door and making two, neither of which is as hideous as the one Stuart left me with; repointing that wall; and sealing the whole thing up before the pigeons destroy it.

Not so long ago, I was delighted to welcome a pigeon. Caring mom, spindly little baby, so cute. MM kept telling me to get rid of that thing but I refused. Eventually, in their own time, they cleared out. That’s when I found out what a mess pigeons can leave, or thought I had. Now I know they were just getting started.

As you can see, they moved into the barn. I know from my days spent doing renovation projects in Los Angeles, pigeon shit can destroy a building in no time. Swifts have nested here, which didn’t thrill me. This is much more serious.

As you can see, pigeon poo is pitting the concrete floor. If you could see the lofts, you would see that pigeon poo is rotting them to the point that they are a safety hazard. Julien has done a fine job of sealing the openings to the barn opposite. Because of that large opening, this one won’t be so easy.

Here is Julien starting to make sense of the public side of that barn. The mairie was willing to sell me a strip of public land, enough to give me the right to install windows on this side, manage drainage, etc. This was once part of the original landholding. Over time I am learning more about how, when and why the property shrank to its current size. I’ll post something when I have a more complete story.

I remember seeing the movie Withnail and I, getting the visceral feeling that I wanted the uncle’s house: not the uncle, thank you, just the house. That feeling is a part of the reason I came here. I remember wondering why he didn’t fix it up more. Out at Domaine du Fan I couldn’t help but notice that outbuildings were being let go, that there was a lot of land but no real garden to speak of. As I settle in here I’m starting to think yes, that’s how it is. After a while you start asking yourself where each new project stands, considering the other priorities in your life. I have identified contractors who would do a great job of transforming this deluxe pigeon coop into a pigeon-free garage. But that work comes at a cost, in this case well into five figures. I have to think about whether this is really the best use of my money. The pigeons may force my hand.

Domaine du Fan

I have just gotten back from a shamanic workshop at the Domaine du Fan in Haut-Vienne. Now, as things in these conservative times go, a shamanic workshop may seem kind of out there, but be not afraid. No drugs, at least not here, apologies to those of you who are seeking the ayahuasca experience at an affordable price. Instead you will find a lot of really nice adults with rattles, communing with nature and the spirits.

Shamanism has been around for eons but there is no question that the current iteration has a bit of a New Age vibe. I have yet to take a position on shamanism, except to say that it works for me. So you rattle or drum, or listen to a recording of someone drumming, at a specific tempo. This facilitates your slipping into a deep, meditative state, which in shamanism is called journeying. Scientists have studied the brain wave patterns of experienced shamanic practitioners and have found that they can within just a few minutes achieve a meditative state equal to that reached by experienced meditators — Zen monks and the like — after several hours. So you go into this with a predetermined question and you come out, I kid you not, with an answer. It happens fast, 15 minutes, tops. So there you go; it is also a lot faster than therapy.

So how does that work? Well you may ask. If you are journeying for yourself, it is easy to see this in psychological terms. Jungians would call it active imagination. Come to think of it, Jungian theory might already be kind of out there. Growing up in California kind of skews one’s frame of reference. Anyway, it is easy to attribute archetypal attributes to spirits you encounter and all. Where things get a little spooky is when you journey for others. You can get answers for them, too, ones that may not make sense to you but so far invariably have to the other person. No way can I explain that.

If this seems like your kind of thing, you might want to take a few classes. That’s what got me out to the wilds of Haut-Vienne this weekend. My first evening I was fortunate to have dinner with the woman who owns Domaine du Fan. She told a story similar to mine — she just fell in love with the place and had to make this happen — except that she has more buildings, bigger buildings and nearly 68 hectares of land. Well, plus she is in deep country, la France Profonde. She was accused of starting a cult, of being a witch, all sorts of things. Why she ever actually said she was doing a New Age thing is beyond me; I’d have said “wedding venue” and left it at that. She had to chase hunters off her property; if some poor soul were shot while hugging a tree, she’d be out of business immediately. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. The place is booked nearly every weekend.

This part of France has not been important for centuries. On the way home I found Gallo-Romanic ruins, as well as modern ones. Seriously, if you wanted to emulate Ruth Rendell, say, might you not choose the place below as the scene of your crime?

Of course if you are more like me — get the shot, shudder and move on — you might prefer oh, say, the place below. The Chateau of Bourg- Archimbault is privately owned and not open to the public. It was built in the 15th century, renovated once in the 19th and again in 2003. While the place above deserves a novel, the one below must have a real-life story that is absolutely fascinating. Whose money? Why choose this remote location? Inquiring minds…..

Welcome to the neighborhood.

Recently a blog buddy did a post showing the result of a photo challenge, a dozen photos of his neighborhood. A dozen photos of a place you know maybe too well, and make it interesting to most anybody. I wondered whether I could do that. So, in no particular order, here are a dozen things that you can find within a five-minute walk of my for sale/for rent/ whatever, just take it off my hands for a bit or forever, please, house. I like this neighborhood. I hope you will, too.

Above is the local chateau. Vendee was flattened and plundered during the Terror. When the Republic couldn’t completely destroy it, they derided it as Hicksville. I imagine places like this, and there are quite a few, all built after the Revolution, as a great « up yours » to the Parisians.

This is the restaurant next to the chateau. Yes, that’s a Michelin sticker on the door. People eat well in Vendee. It has become a favorite destination for young chefs opening their first place. The ingredients are terrific. Especially in summer and especially near the coast there is plenty of business to support them.

Did I say « coast? » Saint Cyr is in coastal Vendee but I have to admit, this is kind of stretching it. The beach — you have your choice of sandy destinations — is about half an hour down this road.

Our WWI monument. Everybody has one. Saint Cyr is a tiny village in an agricultural area. Losing this many people must have been devastating. From the parking lot just behind this you can begin any of several well-marked hiking and biking trails.

Our public crucifix. Every village has one of those, too. I think it must have been a fad at some point. It’s not my thing but I am glad to see that it is well maintained.

The side door to the village church. This church is almost never used. I think the mairie must maintain it. They do a lovely job.

The municipal tennis court at the end of my street. It’s not bad and it gets quite a bit of use, especially in summer.

Your basic allee of linden trees. Blessedly there are no rumblings about ripping them out to widen the road or anything. And when the wind comes up, it is very nice to have the shelter they provide.

A cautionary tale. These stone walls offer great protection only if they are maintained. Let the water seep between the stones, then freeze, seep, freeze, seep, freeze, eventually the wall falls apart. Over at my « keeper » house I just dropped a staggering sum to replace the tiles along the top of the wall.

The reason is simple. I want my wall to stay like this one. This particular wall is just across from the house in Saint Cyr. It offers all the quiet and privacy I could want. The house itself opens to the countryside.

There is a bit of trouble in Paradise. This is my pond. It is part of the municipal drainage system. During the last year or so Vendee, which is basically drained-and-filled marshland, has been suffering a drought. There has been so little runoff that this two-meter-deep pond, in which Jacques nearly drowned on his very first day with me — he mistook duckweed for grass and jumped in after a frog — is now his happy hunting ground. I don’t know what he is going after here. After chasing a cat out of the bushes, he was definitely feeling his oats. Whatever it was, was lucky to get away.

I don’t know how these guys are going to make it. Their best hope is that those clouds in the sky will send a little rainfall their way.

And that’s it. That’s 12 random photos of Saint-Cyr-en-Talmondais, a lovely though fairly typical village in the coastal Vendee.