More Buried Treasure
Just about two years ago I walked through this really lovely house with a huge, unused attic. I’m a city kid. The whole idea of leaving 100-plus Sq meters of attractice space unused was unthinkable. In San Francisco, in Paris, you don’t just let that kind of space sit empty. So I got the house and told my architect to include plans for a master bedroom suite in the attic. He said what, the four bedrooms downstairs aren’t enough? He brought in a contractor who said yes, absolutely, it will be gorgeous. All we have to do is sand the floor.
The architect is gone and the contractor remains. One reason he is still here, two years later, is this floor. It wasn’t so flat after all. We couldn’t just clean and wax it. We didn’t figure that out until the bathroom was plumbed and the kitchenette cabinets delivered. Oops.
So, as I kept writing unbudgeted-for checks, the guys screwed down the existing floor, with screws at about 7 cm, roughly 3 inch, centers. With the existing floor as flat as possible, they poured a layer of this self-leveling, lightweight, fiberglass/concrete mixture. On top of that, the layer of green foam pads, to give the floor a bit of spring. Finally, you can see part of the oak flooring that Xavier is installing.
When he is done, obviously all you will see is the oak floor. And how much hidden money, in the form of all those layers, will you be walking on? I don’t know. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be able to tell you. Maybe in 5 years, I’ll figure the amount will be worth it, for all that extra space. Maybe.
Fête de la Musique
It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon, a rare, almost summery day. Here in Paris the city has organized something called the Fête de la Musique, which I think means Music Celebration Day, or near enough. The idea is that if you play an instrument, on this day you should get it out and play it in public. The amazing thing to me is that people do. Everybody is on the street and a lot of them are carrying, even playing, instruments. It’s free and great fun.
Deux ans, déjà!
So Robert has been gone for two years, now. It’s hard to believe, partly because it feels like forever, except when it feels like I just saw him yesterday or else like I made our whole dozen years up. This is him in Colmar one holiday season. Did we really spend that Christmas in Colmar, laughing at our belief that the Christmas market would be interesting, or would I just like to have done that? The Baroque music concert in the church, the near-hour spent with the panels of the Isenheim altarpiece, lunch at L’Atelier du Peintre, really? Yes, I think so, really. I think so.
The question is, what if he came back? What would he think of the changes I have made in my life? Some would infuriate him. “But honey, I thought you were dead.” I don’t see that flying, as I try to explain why I sold the California house. Some he would love, like the house I bought here. Some he wouldn’t notice, like the improvement in my French. Bless his heart, despite the evidence, he always thought my French was terrific. I’m sure we’d work it out — unless, of course, I took a few photos, maybe downloaded them from the internet, then wove a 12-year story around them. I could look at the stamps in my passport but those can be forged, can’t they?
So, as I head into my third year of this strange new life, I thank the man who made it possible. I think that’s how I got here. Next year, as I head into a fourth year, will I do another memorial post? I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe it will feel too weird.
In France, anyone can be an artist. Even me.
Now of course I am not in favor of vandalism. Surely no one reading this blog, you classy and tasteful readers, you, would vandalize anything, leaving little bits of glass all over the bus stop. Certainly not. That said, it looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? Like that Fiat is just so peppy that it burst right through its little glazed cage? So what’s the story? Artistic statement — in which case Fiat owes somebody a lunch — or smartass thug who got lucky?
I think, best case, it’s a smartass art fart, not yet mature enough to realize that all the world is not his studio. I’m showing my age, aren’t I?
Seeing this poster got me thinking about something I like so much about living in France. People here value the life of the mind, to an extent and depth that we just don’t, in the States. David Lebovitz wrote once about having trouble with some bureaucratic nonsense at his bank, the usual “we’re not sure you’re legitimate” thing. The trouble vanished when, one day, he happened to walk in with a couple of his books in his bag. Almost in frustration he showed them to the banker saying, in essence, look, this is what I do. As it turned out, that melted the final resistance to whatever it was. There were no problems after that. You see, the banker realized that David was an artist. Well, okay, and a wildly successful published author, but he had had the numbers all along. This was something else.
I regularly have similar experiences, though to be sure with much less justification. A while ago I had cards printed with a few of my photos. I hand them out in preference to constantly repeating and spelling every last detail of my contact information. The cards started as a whim, a project for late one night when I couldn’t sleep. They have turned out to have a significant effect on my dealings with people here. It doesn’t matter, who, really, my vet, salespeople, could be anyone, they stop and really study the photo. Then they often say oh, you’re an artist. It goes from there. They could say most anything after that. What those cards stop cold is any question of why I am in France or why in the world would I be fixing up that house. Suddenly it all makes sense to them. Of course an artist would come to France. Of course she would put massive time and energy into creating a personalized environment, away from the distractions of the city. An artist needs a suitable atelier. So just like that, they start to see things my way.
After nearly a decade of coming here for much of the year and another year of living here — I am just about to renew my residence permit — I still feel like I just arrived. Thus I have no explanation or theory for this. I just know that I have this experience pretty regularly. I like it. I want to find out more about it.
Meet my architect, Leonard Drohomirecki
So one day we noticed, way up the side of a side wall of the house, this plaque. From the ground you can’t read it. To get this photo I had to hang out a side window and crank my zoom lens full out. Then I had to Photoshop like crazy to get this balance of contrast, enough so that you can sort of read the letters but not so much that the contrast blots them out. Once I got that all done, it was no surprise at all to see that they had rolled the credits: architect, owner and builder.
The owner’s name according to the archive records was a M. Forgeau, a notaire and son of a notaire. The notaire who is named, is someone whose name doesn’t appear in the ownership records at all. Notaires back then had a fairly good income in addition to farming or animal rearing, which is what most people did in this area; when a property is sold, notaires handle the paperwork. Also, compared to most of the locals, they were well educated. At a time when teachers were often paid according to whether they taught students just to read, or also to write or to do math — three separate rates, paid by the parents, who were often dirt poor — a good education was in itself a mark of prestige. That said, I could find nothing online about M. Forgeau or M. Martine/Martineau/whoever.
Jean Plissot, builder, meh, regular guy extraordinaire, nothing more. He must have done all right, as the one entry I found noted that he had donated work on a hospital, those being, back in the day, charitable institutions. He did a terrific job on this house, which is structurally solid to this day. For that I am grateful to him.
Now we get to the good stuff. The architect was Leonard Drohomirecki. Once Kieron and I worked that out we looked at each other, two minds with but a single thought; this guy’s not French.
These days, to not be French in France marks you as a permanent outsider. Kieron and I both own property here, live here, speak enough French to do most things. Most people are pretty nice to us. Others, well, Kieron had to shop around to find a dental surgeon, as the first guy refused to work on him; no way was he touching an English guy’s mouth. Kieron is an EU citizen, so at least he can work here. The French put up with me because I spend a lot of money here, no other reason. Unofficially the snobbery and xenophobia, at least toward white people, are fast fading; officially, dealing with the bureaucracy, it’s a whole other story. So I had to find out about this Drohomirecki guy. How did he get a commission for a big house like this?
The answer is, he was by miles the best local guy for the job. Jacques-Leonard Drohomirecki (no, I didn’t name my dog after him, but if I had known I might have) was born in Poland on 6 November 1811. From then until 1838, I just have to speculate. I think the most likely story was that he was well-born and well-educated, probably as an engineer. He would have learned French; back then, educated people did. In 1830 the Polish people revolted against Russian rule; students and intelligentsia took the lead. The revolt failed and a lot of people had to get out of Dodge, Warsaw, Krakow, wherever, to save their lives, they just had to go. I think, oh, let’s just call him LD, went to France.
He next pops up in the records I could find getting his job as Assistant Director of the division of Bridges and Roads in 1838. He obtained his permanent residence card on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1843. By then he had become Director of Bridges and Roads for what was then called the arrondissement of Bourbon-Vendee. He was based in Fontenay-le-Comte, though I found another record that referred to him as living in Lucon. I don’t know why you would live in Lucon if you could live in a grand Renaissance city like Fontenay. Let’s leave his place of residence an open question. The point is, he had a government job and in just five years had worked himself up to a position of some importance.
I think he dabbled in architecture. The railroads used to hired people as crossing guards. They would build houses for them, right next to the places where the roads crossed the train tracks. While driving around I have noticed these jewel box houses, small but extremely well proportioned and picturebook pretty. I have thought that I might try to research their design and construction. If I ever get around to that, I think I’ll find my guy LD did the design work.
He would have socialized, met people like contractors and notaires. One thing leads to another — he did finally marry at age 52, to a woman from Vouvant — and deals are done. Lucky M. Forgeau and his heirs, lucky Honoré Prudhomme, who bought the house in 1940, and his family, to whom the house was passed onto and eventually, lucky me. For all my grousing about every possible thing about this project, I do love this house. Surely he designed other large houses as well. At this point I just don’t know the details.
LD retired in 1879 after 41 years of service. On 14 July 1880 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Will Kieron or I ever manage that feat? Somehow I doubt it.
Visible Progress, at last!
This mass of rubble may just look sad but really, this represents good progress. You are looking at the most significant architectural change to the house. The contractor has removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Please note the bravura performance. They removed a rubble wall that was maybe 12 feet high, even more across, and about two feet thick. They inserted two steel beams, getting them dead level. They installed concrete block walls to support the beams. This was all done while working on an uneven, unstable surface and without damage to the existing, fragile, directly adjacent cornice. One day the National Trust will find out about these people and we’ll lose them to much more prestigious jobs. Today, fortunately, they are at my house.
We are now ready to reverse the kitchen and dining room. The man you see in the photo is part of the crew that is doing the rough wiring and plumbing.
At this point we have light from two sides of the room, which is already lovely. In the next little while the frames will arrive for the window and door that will be added on the wall to the left. Given the amount of light that has already been added, more light is hardly necessary. However it will be nice to connect the kitchen to the terrace, which will be just the other side of the wall.I don’t know about you but if I don’t see a space, or if it is hard to get to, I don’t use it.
New friends Herb and Kathy are in town. They are just the excuse I needed to return to the Chateau Goujonnerie. Honestly, Hassan, who did the interiors there, is brilliant. I wouldn’t do everything just the way he did it, but I would do enough that I am hoping to get him to my house for maybe a half-day brain dump: color consulting, shopping tips, that kind of thing.
Mostly I am looking for some idea Please of how to handle the proportions and scale of this house. I thought I was ready. I used to live in a Victorian, after all. So far, though, I’m feeling flummoxed. It will work out. It will probably be fine, with or without Hassan’s wisdom. Maybe it’s just that floor full of gravel that is getting me worked up.
Ceci n’est pas un char d’assaut.
No, this is not a tank, though it looks a bit like a repurposed one. This machine digs the bore holes. To put it a little more Magritte-ly, this is a photo of a bore hole digger. It is part of my piddling anti-war protest. So, rant alert: get ready or move along, nothing to see here. I’ll cheer up tomorrow.
Last night at Cité de la Musique I heard Jordi Savall and his musicians perform the first in a series of concerts on the theme of War and Peace. Maybe the series should have been named the Art of War, Sun Tzu’s title perhaps more closely than Tolstoy’s describing the purpose. Savall performed a series of Baroque-era pieces, often excerpts from longer works, written as military music or to commemorate the beginning or end of a battle or war. He wove them together as if movements in a symphony, each prefaced by a narrator who gave a date and the purpose of the music. The overall effect was of endless war. Indeed, there were dozens of wars in Europe during the Baroque era.
The music was unfamiliar to me and mostly Spanish or Turkish in origin. Many, especially the earlier pieces, were written by the losers, as part of memorial services for the many who died during sieges. Others, such as the Janissary marches, were performed with the heroic emphasis downplayed. In keeping with this frankly sombre mood, Savall’s final piece commemorated the killing going on right now in Syria.
The other day I saw a news report on the IS push in Syria, along the Turkish border. I watched film of men who had herded their livestock to the border — IS was killing everything, so it was their only hope — only to have the Turkish army hold them there, with IS moving in from behind. I read that these men are Kurdish; I hope another story I read is not true, that Turkish officials hate the Kurds so much that they would love for someone else to kill them off, so they don’t have to deal with them. I hope the report is incorrect that many of the IS are simply mercenaries, happy to kill children and destroy farms and cities, anything for a little money.
So, to get to the point, where is that money coming from? It comes from the sale of oil, which is to say it comes from us. This endless war in the Middle East is motivated by greed and the desire for power, same as it ever was, but it can only be paid for if someone outside the conflict will buy what the warring parties sell. In this case, that’s oil and we’re buying.
I’m buying, too; what do you think fuels that bore hole digger? Even if I drove an electric car, which I don’t, somewhere in the supply chain would be a petroleum-based generator. But I am desperate to use less. So, while I talk about payback periods and building for the next century and all, the real reason for all this ecofriendliness is, I don’t like the sight of blood on my hands. Even though I know if I use less I just make it a little cheaper for the next guy to use more — thus netting zero effect on the environment and military budgets — I have to do this.
In one of my meditations I think about the earth supporting me. It has to do with relaxing, nothing more, but in this endeavor, the earth is literally supporting me. It’s all I have to work with. I am fortunate to have the land in the first place; here in Paris, this project would be possible only if the government decided to put a system into the Seine. That’s an idea for another post — or maybe a different blog.
Today’s Paris weirdness
If I can get a decent picture I’ll edit this post to add it. Just in case, I might as well tell you now.
I had a forced march to the American Library — SFR is out Again and I needed their wifi — and found myself going by the tail end of a race, probably a 5K, just for women. By the time I got there, nobody was running but the power walkers and the ladies in silly hats. Still, the bands were playing American rock music and the crowds were out. That’s all normal. This is the weird part. Greeting the women at the finish line was a team of high-school age guys dressed in full American football regalia: uniforms, pads, helmets. Proto-American guys, what’s up with that? A photo would not begin to tell you how odd they looked standing there at the entrance to the Ecole Militaire in those clothes, at least not the kind of photo that my equipment could take or my access would allow. And just before the finish line, microphone in hand, was a French rap singer. Could this be, I thought, a rap singer at an event intended to celebrate women? I had to wonder: is he going to call them bitches? Order them to shake their booty across the finish line? Last one in is a ho? I don’t know. Maybe the French don’t understand that one of the core values of traditional rap culture is disrespect of women. Maybe in France even the rap singers have a kinder, gentler ethic. Anyway, in the few minutes it took me to get past this guy, I heard nothing objectionable. But seriously, what happened to valuing French culture? Couldn’t he have been doing covers of Zaz or Johnny Hallyday?