Sunday, August 26, 2012

Building, sunflowers and other ravellings.

It's been a dirty noisy messy place round here, quite a lot of the time.

I finally admitted defeat, that even with more time on my hands, there was no way I was going to get the back wall of the house pointed within my expected lifespan.  Nothing for it but to raid the piggy bank and call in our favourite stonemason, Jean-Paul.  

Perhaps stonemason isn't quite the right job description in English, since it sound rather like someone who makes tombstones or statuary or mullions or something, which he might be able to do but probably wouldn't care to, as it would be a bit fiddly for his preferences.  JP is un maçon, a builder and worker of stone in stone buildings.  He is about my height, and rather thinner, and prodigiously strong and wiry.  In two days he had knocked out most of the old mud pointing and re-shaped the stones where necessary, a job that probably would have taken me months, by the end of the third he had repointed a significant area, cut out the face of a scruffy concrete lintel over my blue-room window and started re-cladding it with stone, and scrubbed the blue granite dressing stones which we had always assumed were dull brown so they shone like new.  He won't do anything by halves.

We really like him a great deal. Whenever he comes in he can't resist looking into my blue room and exclaiming 'Qu'est-ce c'est jolie, la vie en bleu!' He enjoys the garden and to my delight he is a fellow pumpkin enthusiast; we wax rapturous about the thought of eating pumpkin soup all winter, and the amazing  way they get bigger every day.

When he first came to work for us, about fifteen years ago, he lived alone, apart from a dog, some sheep and a miniature pony, all of whom he loved dearly; it was always a huge relief to him when the sheep gave birth to a ewe-lamb so he wouldn't have to eat it.  There was, we gathered from others, some sadness about a wife and child whom he no longer saw.  Now though, he has a new lady in his life, who, we have heard, is very large and a faith healer. He looks sleeker and cleaner and generally better cared-for, and is always going somewhere nice at the weekend, either to some festivity to do with her family or their wider community, or further afield on some jaunt or excursion.  We've discovered a few gems of places tucked away out in the countryside on his recommendation, including a monastery where she likes to go to get books and music for her line of work.  She has, he assured us, cured him of multiple things that ailed him by means of prayer.

'I think that was probably love that did that, Jean-Paul,'  said Tom.
'That too,' he agreed.

The only trouble with him is he leaves a trail of rubble and devastation in his wake, and will help himself to anything that comes to hand while he's working - only to borrow, not to take away, or else to finish things, so some useful piece of wood or stone or whatever that one might have put aside for something is likely to end up immured.  We were kind enough to put the lidded bucket that we collect the dog poo in prior to disposal out of his reach so he didn't grab it with a view to mixing something up in it and get an unpleasant surprise. 

It was a bit dark in the kitchen while he was bashing away outside, but better than broken windows.  We did feel a bit like we were under siege.

So we're kept busy clearing up after him, but the job will be done long before the winter, and it cheers us to feel we are bringing a rather neglected bit of the building into better repair.

That's on the outside, but inside there are upheavals and improvements too.  A long time ago, Tom built the kitchen.  He did floor tiles and wall tiles and worktop tiles, he did a cooker hood and things to hang things on, he built nice cupboards all around the outside of it on the floor, and he built one cupboard up on the wall... and then he ran out of steam, and I hung up old Victoire's ancient pan rack again and stuffed the place with stuff all over the worktops and propped and pinned things any-old-how and that was how it stayed. It looked like it did in this picture, most of the time. Every now and then I moaned that he might at least put me up a shelf (occasionally threatening to do it myself except as I didn't know where the electricity cables were he knew I was bluffing), but he said no, he would build the wall cupboards properly, one of these days...

Then one of these days arrived!  And in just three and a bit weeks we have a full set of beautifully crafted hand-made cupboards, painted inside, varnished out, with task-lighting under them.  This was a typical scene of work in progress, vegetables jostling for space with glue guns, chisels, screwdrivers etc.  There's still nothing in them, as many of the kitchen contents are still spread around the house, pots and pans on the table, spices in the laundry-room, and I've not got around to putting them all away again.

That's a courgette from the garden.  They aren't a great success; I think they're being bullied by the pumpkins.

While we're on the subject of building work, I am rather taken by this sign which has appeared on our neighbours' gate.  

An artisan poseur.  I am hoping for Guy-Roland to appear in his blue overalls and strike some effete attitudes or try to engage me in conversation about Derrida, but it hasn't happened yet.

A propos of nuffink in particular, as they say, some fruit,

and some flowers, dead ones.  Some left from the kids, who are always nice about buying me a bunch when they come, with some cornflowers and corn-marigold-ish things from the garden.  The leaves turned to yellow and the flowers burst into downy seeds, and I was just about to throw them out but thought they had a kind of elegance in decay about them, a bit Miss Havishamish.  I like a bit of elegance in decay.

Cone flowers - echinacea - aren't really at their best, and most cone-like, till the petals start falling backwards and looking a bit brown at the edges.  The bees like them.  They also like the sunflowers.

I took some of these to a friend who has been ill and in hospital, but is now home again.  She's 87, was always tiny, and now seems even more so.  Her son cares for her with astonishing delicacy, gentle and loving but at the same time brisk and efficient, and respectful of her dignity and independence.   He has cleared everything out of the downstairs front room and set her bed up there so she looks out on her beloved walled garden, its apple trees and hydrangeas, and she told me how the light moves across the room through the day.  She has always been a watcher of the light.

I greeted her in English as usual, but it was evident that moving between the two languages demanded too much, and we stayed in French for the time I was there, except for poems.  She looked at the sunflowers and asked if I knew the Blake's

Ah sunflower weary of time
Who countest the steps of the sun...

I remembered the first and last two lines, the rest came back later. She surprised me with most of  Kipling's Road to Mandalay, making me shiver and laugh by turns, and I bless my upbringing that equipped me to chime in with it.  Her son came in again later,

'Where's your English?  You speak English with Lucy!'
'It's fine,' I said ' I know it's always more tiring for H to speak English, and it's good for me to speak French.'
'Nonsense, it's your first language,' he chided her 'and you don't usually seem to have any difficulty when I hear you talking together here!'

She got up and had tea with me, and though she's very frail and had a little trouble focussing, and expressed fears that she might not have the strength and energy for the things she wants to do, she spoke of them hopefully.  She has had an amazing, difficult, full life, with seven children, twelve books of poems, wonderful achievements and sad losses, but always with such a white-hot core of inner strength, and always turning towards the light.  Evidently it will take more than a virus to beat her, thank goodness.


And speaking of wonderful word-workers I'm the better for knowing, I promised I'd show Marly I'd got this, as her own copy's gone AWOL somewhere in North Carolina.

Some things persist as mystery
No matter how we seek
A raveling, no matter how
We vaunt, no matter how -
Slanting above our lifted faces
Like rain shot through by sun.

Marvellous Marly.


Zhoen said...

The way to live life, full and painful and messy with lots of loss and success and pumpkins.

I may have to grow some pumpkins, one year, when the soil has had a chance to recover.

marja-leena said...

Lovely little stories, Lucy, rahter like sitting for a chat over tea. I particularly found it interesting about your home renovations. That stone wall looks very old and very French, may I ask its age? How very fortunate to find such an excellent maçon.

Our house is not nearly as old as yours I'm sure, but we did major additions to it many years ago now, but some areas sat unfinished for long periods, like your kitchen cabinets. This summer husband has been inspired to finish or redo some of those areas, but there does not seem an end to it. Hope we'll eventually finish it all, before we move into something smaller in our old age or to that eternal resting place.

the polish chick said...

i think i like these meandering many-flavoured posts the most. you have such a lovely soothing way with words, as with pictures, lucy.

have you ever read the short stories of william maxwell? i think that you should.

christopher said...

I was wondering what to say all through the post and finally the polish chick got it right...

You soothe me, Lucy.

tristan said...

i wouldn't want to involve you in a conversation about derrida in case you knew what you were talking about

a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting blog ... hurrah !

Roderick Robinson said...

Feel proud. I broke off reading about J-P because I had to know - there and then - what the French was for your kind of pointing (jointoyer); couldn't read another word until I'd achieved this closer communion with him (and with you). And then the craggy faces started coming back: M. Nicolas (menuisier) and M. Chauvel (plombier) with their wonderful wives who each provided le service sous-titre when their husband's utterances slid back into the Stone Age and language was reduced to sentences that never exceeded five words.

Macon is a wonderfully flexible trade since it extended to the sophisticated activities of the man (name forgotten) who ordered the installation of our new window, allowing light to flourish in our living room where it had never flourished before. He used a computer which the artisans listed above would have disdained.

I never regretted selling the house since it was aged, dusty and uncomfortable, a growing burden for our withering bones. But the people...

That's a very genteel form of untidiness you've photographed - inauthentic too. Where are the torn and discarded bubble-packs that enclose every damn thing one buys from the bricolage, the sheets of newspaper on to which one wipes away the surplus grout and which then harden into crusty, non-representational sculptures, the little off-cuts of cabling insulation. Incidentally there is device for locating embedded cabling but since you were bluffing I take it your bluff was called.

The fact that one can be a poseur de carrelage gives the posing fun away but doesn't diminish the pleasure of playing the literal game. I always thought that plongeur suggested a much more destructive employment than reality eventually revealed.

Cor, I'm getting horribly sentimental but the fact is merely coming to France for holidays is a world away from what you touch on. Thanks for remininding me.

Jean said...

What a rich sharing, Lucy - so much of beauty and interest.

I laughed helplessly at the artisan-poseur and then cried about the builder finding love again and the poet's continuing force and feeling and appreciation of beauty in old age. (I've been working like shit for the past month and am very tired, and I guess a bit emotionally susceptible!).

thank you

Lucy said...

Thanks all, and thanks for the encouragement. I've been going through one of those times of feeling that anything I have to say here is in danger of being just banal, escapist and self-satisfied, and not showing any conspicuous talent either - fiddling while Rome burns etc. But if it does soothe or amuse then I hope that justifies going on doing it. I am aware that my life is incredibly easy and pleasant compared to that of most of the rest of the planet, not perfect or glossy or beautiful, always unfinished and frequently messy and full of compromises, but I know that I am lucky and I count my blessings, try to practise gratitude and appreciate what I've got. But I'm not sure how much I should expect anyone else to want to share in it. That you bother to read and say you enjoy it cheers the heart, so thanks to you.

Z - I've got three decent pumpkins, rather smaller than the ones in the soil but good examples of the different varieties, growing from two large pots on the terrace. I've used some bought compost(gro-bag stuff would be fine), home-made garden compost and pelleted animal manure, all stuff we had lying around so no great expense involved. They need a lot of water, and are more susceptible to blackfly and slugs than the ones in the soil, but so far they're doing OK. There are also mini-varieties you can get for containers, so give it a try, they're such fun!

ML - glad to know other people live in such a state of incompleteness! The problem is when something gets to a point of being usable you just colonise the space again, and make do indefinitely. We don't really know the age of the house - these farm buildings were pretty rudimentary structures in the first place, and just got shored up and patched and added to - rather like the broom that had three new heads and two new handles, it's hard to say where and when the original began. It's maybe between 150 to 200 years old. The stonework isn't the best you'll see round here, but solid enough, with a few good granite dressing stones at the edges and corners.

PC - thanks, I'm pleased you like it, as you are not one to suffer fools gladly! I don't know William Maxwell but will find out more.

Christopher - good, as above!

Tristan - not much danger of that. Though my elderly friend of whom I write was a very good friend of Derrida (rather à la Scritti Politti, I sometimes think...) and could certainly go head to head with anyone on the subject of him!

Lorenzo - wrote you such a long answer Blugger refused my comment on my own blog! (too many characters) so you'll have to have a new one, below...

Oh Jean, that is nice, though I'm sorry you're tired and weepy. I have far less excuse and found myself getting lump-in-the-throatish in the supermarket when they were playing 'La Ballade des Gens Heureux' the other day...

Lucy said...

Lorenzo - not the first time this has happened...

'Jointoyer' is not a verb I have ever heard to my knowledge; we only say 'refaire les joints'! In fact 'joint' is such a polyvalent sort of word that there must be scarcely any trade which doesn't have its own application for it. So many strains of artisan, the jobbing builder doesn't really exist here, it's true.
JP doesn't use a computer but was very proud of an electronic spirit level some years ago. In fact he's retired now but likes to keep busy, still loves stonework and can always use the cash. He's chatty, thoughtful and entertaining, but sometimes difficult to understand - Tom dreads being left alone with him, partly because JP knows this and takes advantage of the situation to tease him. But he has a very funny and expressive face and manner; he recently had us in stitches recounting all the adventures he had at Futuroscope, in which words played much less part than actions and facial gestures.
The mess there was pretty restrained it's true, and had been tidied up after. The gadget you mention is a stud finder; a friend suggested we buy one on the internet, I said I wasn't quite sure what the results would be of googling such an ambiguously named piece of equipment...
If he had been promoting himself as a 'poseur de... quelque chose' it wouldn't really have worked, I hoped the small print specifying his activities was faint enough not to detract...(smiley emoticon).

Roderick Robinson said...

I too have had long, impeccably woven, architectonic comments wiped out. It's surprising how much one can recall, often as a sequence of cadences, ideas and expansions but apart from the irritation one is always left feeling that the second was never as good as the fresh-flushed first. I am making a point of saying this since if your first was better than your second then I am definitely all the poorer. I love the idea of Tom dreading being left left alone with J-P and of J-P realising this - a very novelistic conceit. The springboard for a whole series of cruel exchanges.

Another thing occurred. I was struck by the fact that your references to Tom in Box Elder show very little repetition of fact and if I had the energy a collection of these references over eighteen months, say, would provide a pretty good three-dimensional portrait of that heroic figure, sometimes shadowy sometimes in-yer-face. I wasn't aware, for instance, that his DIY skills spread as far as cooker hoods though this may have been the result of pure forgetfulness.

I offer this observation as a compliment since on a day when Blest Redeemer wasn't going well I passed time re-reading Works Well (the modern-day equivalent of what used to be called the solitary vice) and found a huge amount of repetition especially among my comments.

Yet again my thanks for reminding me why owning a house in France was so rich in unexpected treasure.

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a lovely post! Always good to find a trades-person who can not only do the job well but is enjoyable company too. And i love the idea of the artisan poseur!

I'm sure pumpkins are bullies!

Catalyst said...

Crafty Green Poet has said it for me. But I was reminded of a sentence today from a blog of a funny lady from California. She was talking about how when she gets full of angst - "I COMPLETELY do not remember that there is air and sky and earth and wide open prairies and gigantic mountain ranges and lemon zest."

Your post is wonderful and lovely and fascinating. Keep 'em coming, Lucy.

marly youmans said...

Trala, 15 copies from the UK arrived today! All very lovely (Clivean) and tidy with groups of five in bubble bags.

I like your account of mason and poet and your Havisham tendencies!

marly youmans said...

Oh, and thank you. Where were my manners rambling off to, I wonder? Much appreciated, Ms. Box Elder...

Lucy said...

Thanks again!

Lorenzo - it was OK, I didn't lose the comment, it just refused to post it, I simply cut out your chunk and pasted it in a separate bit. Though I have certainly entered the sad state of unwittingly (or half-wittingly) repeating my not-very-entertaining-in-the-first-place anecdotes in the fleshly world, I never quite know how much to repeat information, about Tom or anything else, here. It's a difficult line to tread: how much to assume one's readers have already read and remembered, and how much to write as if for a first time reader. Either can seem horribly self-important and narcissistic. Mind you, when indulging in that solitary vice to which you allude, which I do to a quite deplorable extent I'm afraid, I am often quite surprised at how little I remember of what I've written myself.

CGP - big orange bullies! Tasty ones though...

Cat - that's a nice quote, and thanks for you encouragement, now and over the years. I'm quite good at not forgetting all things there are to be glad of these days, I just don't want to be too smug about how lucky I am, I suppose.

Marly - so glad you've got yours now! No need for thanks, it's a lovely volume and I'm very thrilled to own it. Not sure Miss Havisham was so much elegance in decay as just decay really, scary Gothic decay...

Fire Bird said...

I too chuckled aloud about Guy-Roland - L asked what I was laughing at and I said I couldn't possibly explain...

HKatz said...

I like these posts, and the images, excerpts, book suggestions, and wonderful characters that stream by as I read them. I always find treasures here.