Wednesday, April 26, 2006

chant de la pierre

the dance

All of yesterday was spent knocking down a steel-enforced concrete wall. It was a reminder of the rigidity of the material used so readily by contemporary builders and, when it came down, the stone sung out. Having prepared the mixture and let it rest over night in large bins, today the team applied the foundation ‘gobetis’ - lime and pumice; the surface to which the ‘corps d’enduit’ (lime and hemp) will adhere. Watching Yves in his designer hemp gear bend at the knees and throw the mixture at the walls with a light flick of the wrist as fine as any Bharat Natyam mudra, I knew the dance was on!

Meanwhile, in a dusty living room, I started practicing the Art of Fugue, which I will be playing next week. Working on a simple ascending and descending line of eight notes felt completely in tune with the humility and honesty of the work going on next door. We are all simply following the lines.

Picnicking under a plane tree, its leaves emerging just in time for the heat – it is getting up to thirty degrees now – on asparagus and strawberries, we discussed with Yves the current trend of ‘pierres apparentes’ - showing the stones. Many people now are building in concrete and making a façade of stone. The stones from which the old Provençal houses were built, however, are a humble material found in the fields; constructed lovingly and with wisdom so that the house stands. Then they are covered with the luminous ‘enduit’ made from lime so that they look beautiful. Even the beams are plastered. Grander houses were constructed with dressed limestone to show off a person's wealth.

"You paint over steel, not gold" said Julian later as we remembered the eighties penchant for stripping pine doors.

The vogue for stones and beams 'apparentes' ('à l'ancienne' or 'à la provençal') is not actually anything do do with provençal style. It is merely to show that the house is actually made from stone and not breezeblock. Boldly celebrating the mechanics of the thing, as in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is one thing, but it is entirely another, I believe, to slap on a façade of modest material in the name of authenticity. It is imitation rather than understanding.

All this to explain that our beautiful stones are fast disappearing under a luminous white render. I will miss seeing them but I know they are there, lain like a dry stone wall, holding up our four walls with pride and singing out the ‘chant de la pierre’.

the dance 2


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