Thursday, November 25, 2010

A fall day at the sea

Oh but the sea is a magical place, be it warm and summery, or cool, crisp and chilly.










Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lessons for future and present renovations


Well, life is ever interesting, and ever evolving. I own a home. And with this goes the responsibility of caring for it. But, I've been idea-rich and cash-poor for some time now. And this has stymied me. I've been counseled that fixing my leaking roof would be upwards of 10-15,000Euros, but best to check with any number of local companies (entreprises) who specialized in this. Need I say that I've put off this more and more urgent issue for over three years now as I've simply not the funds? nor the means to get a loan of this size? And there I stopped. I would put cups and towels down when fall storms sent drops of water down into my bed room, the stairwell, the kids' room. I dealt by not dealing, though occasionally moaning and groaning, in a bag-over-the-head sort of way.

And then there was the shabby-chic room downstairs. The one that is pleasantly cool and dark and refreshing in the hot summer, and damp, cold, a bit moldy and dusty in the winter. This is the room where Leo is choosing to be at the moment. Um, is there something wrong with this picture?

And then there is the dream project of a glassed in terrace/living space out beyond my kitchen on the polished ochre-colored cement floor I put in right after my arrival. I'd checked with a local eco-builder who had estimated the highly insulated, wood/windows/sliding doors 20sq meter room at 40,000Euros -- a couple of years' ago. The room would be on the north side of the house, thus subject to the cold winds, not too much sunshine and the insulation/double/triple paned windows/plexi for the roof, etc., would bring the price way up. Yes, this too was quite obviously put on hold.

I've been telling myself that the day the b&b in Arles is sold....

And then my dear friend Martine got me thinking that I had to get Leo's room into order, and soon. It is just not healthy for him to breath moldy, damp air. It wasn't hard to convince me. After toying with various ideas -- put up a wooden wall with air space behind it? cover it with a nice rug? -- She suggested I use the technique known as enduit en chanvre -- a hemp-filled stucco -- that insulates, equalizes the hydrometry of a room and renders the space healthy, warm...


It just so happens that the person who is master of this technique and who has been practicing it, preaching, teaching it and more over these past 20 years is a father in my kids' school (very bio-dynamic/Steiner'ish all this stuff). Yves Kuhn -- you can google him. And so I gave him a call and he came to visit my house. With his urging I got to work. I and the kids removed all Leo's belongings from the room, and I began to tear down the cement/stucco that was covering the stone walls with Erick's burin/burineur -- serious heavy equipment. With two walls completely cleared and the third nearly there, you could say I'm now committed to this project.


I called to find out the estimate for the cost of materials (nearly 1000E for the surface area I've to do) ouch! And discovered that there was a workshop/stage this past weekend to learn precisely the techniques I needed. Being financially-challenged at the moment, and being that the woman who runs the company is dedicated to helping others (truly a great lady! named Mirei), I was able to do the class for a song, and I brought Erick with me as he with his masonry background shall be my main helper for this and perhaps future jobs. Good thing I get along with my ex-husband, n'est-ce pas?

And so Saturday saw us both over at Yve's workshop learning to mix hemp, pumice, chalk/white wash, plaster, water, etc., and smooth them into wall mixtures, flooring mixtures, stucco mixtures, finishing mixtures, roof insulation, sculpture clay (for sinks, showers, etc.,) and more. Quite an extraordinary day. I was supposed to be baking cookies Sunday for the school Christmas market (Nov. 27/28) but I just couldn't resist going back for a second day of lessons in these techniques. Ever since I built Martine's raw clay brick wall (see blog post this time last year) I have been even more aware of the profound pleasure and delight I absorb when deep in manual activities.

As Erick clicked with Yves -- both men having been sculpted from the primeval clay of this earth by Prometheus, I got more and more ideas and Eureka moments. I don't need to hire an expensive company to do my roof! There's a serious possibility of doing it with friends, insulating it so that summers are not so hot and unpleasant, putting in the skylights for the stairwell and bedrooms, etc., at perhaps a third the price (or more realistically half) of what I'd been expecting to pay....



And hey, what about my terrace/living room? I could insulate the wall between myself and my neighbor with this technique, and build the half wall to the north this way, maybe put in a rounded corner with the denser material over a
frame of woven cane such as Yves showed us in his studio covered in plaster-dipped gauze, (that being the corner with a view from the neighbor's window, thus best visually blocked) then put in my windows, the sliding doors to the West, etc., build the roof with this technique and have one row of windows in it... and I could do this myself with Erick and a friend or two, thus having only the cost of materials: way below the estimate of 40,000 from the builder...

Suddenly the world is opening up. It is doable, affordable, beautiful, eco/organic, and it is a technique that favors collaboration, sharing, teaching, working together.

Hm, for those of you who've been reading this blog a bit more faithfully. Didn't I mention somewhere that I had begun dating an architect? Yes. And yes, in a past life it would have been normal for me to say, hey, want to design my terrace/living space? But you know, this is my house, and though I appreciate his taste in urban design, I don't see him doing this kind of artisanal, hands-on (thus expensive on a large scale), organic technique. And, deeply feminine and sensual as I be, I love the idea of rounding and softening angles, rendering the rooms in warm tones (yes you add natural ochres to the mixtures to get beautiful colors in the mass, not just applied, though these are ideal surfaces for frescoes). His taste is more in the red/white/black/metallic direction. Let us say, I'm discovering new power and pleasure in contemplating the possible tactile, nourishing renovations I might actually be able to manifest through my own impulse (with a lot of help from friends), and who knows, maybe I'll teach him something? And, I have to say that I do not feel in need of being saved (as I once did by the vintner, and we know that didn't work out!), nor am I as impatient and eager to jump into our living together before it feels right. Thus, for the indefinite future, we'll enjoy the virtues of the city at his place, and the country at mine.

Monday, November 8, 2010

water and reflections

For those who are interested, these images were taken at the ancient fountain in the village of St. Bonnet du Gard -- a starting point for an easy hike to the Pont du Gard.




The Arbouses are ripe


What is this you ask? Apparently an arbutus berry. Ever heard of it? Probably not unless you've gone hiking in Provence in November. It is dark red when ripe -- on the outside, pale yellow on the inside, soft, with a granular exterior. It makes rather a nice compote that is delicious with yogurt. Tangy, a touch acidic. It has lots of vitamine C.

During my hike with V the other day by the Gardon River in Collias we gorged ourselves on them as a reward to our exertions.


And yesterday, out hiking with five boys in tow and my dear friend P with her beau, the pleasant cellist, we found many many trees with just a few berries still in them. Many had been knocked to the ground by the rain and wind storms of the past few days. But there were enough to tantalize all our palates and delight the hungry beasts in us all.


The Arbousier grows as a large bush. Multiple slender branches reach towards the sky, and thus the fruit can be at eye level, or up above depending. Climbing into the tree isn't recommended -- it doesn't seem to have thickness and sturdiness as a defining characteristic -- but it is relatively easy to bend a densely loaded branch down to eager fingers.

A foggy morning in Avignon



As Leo worked on his book summary for school Jonas and I headed out for a bit of shopping. The boys are back with me after a week at their father's, and the cupboard, if not bare, is pretty empty. I can survive on whatever's here (rice, lentils, green tomatoes from the garden, some snippets of mâche from the garden, an apple or two gleaned from the neighbor's orchards...) but they need their milk, eggs, cereal, ham. The basics if you will. I can only serve them pasta and sauce so many days a week...

As we drove out the world was in a fog. Mist lay upon the Rhône, clothing all in gray, moist dropplets, darkening the trees. We just had to stop the car and get out to photograph this mysterious world. We shared the camera back and forth. I photographed the barge, barely visible through the trees.

Jonas photographed the seaweed moving languidly in the water, a few leaves swirling on the surface above.

We both photographed the Pont d'Avignon, with and without a foreground of fall leaves.

my shot with foreground.

Jonas quite impressed me. He was seeing, attentively, looking at this world with eyes of wonder alongside his mum. Be it himself, or the Waldorf school education, he is extremely sensitive to the physical world. He is also a gifted sculptor of clay and beeswax. Okay, I'm a proud mom, but I think also one that sees clearly.

I'll be printing out some enlargements for him to bring to school and hang in his room.
Jonas' photo of the bridge

Meantime, Leo did some beautiful writing back at the house. Somehow, somewhere, a floodgate has been opened. Is it the new teacher? A new confidence in himself? I adore that the teacher encourages poetry and somehow has communicated to him (I think it is he) a pleasure in playing with language. As Leo described an evil character in his book, he used a phrase unique to himself (I do believe) 'du miel empoisonné', poisoned honey. Fascinating... I don't know that he intellectually gets all that he has communicated, but the phrase was absolutely 'juste' for the character in question. An evil woman who hides behind a slippery, sweet-voiced exterior... hm.

T'was a fruitful and artistic morning.