We are back in Versailles restarting the dormant house and garden projects we put on hold while we were in North America.
On project in particular is giving us headaches. The gate to the front courtyard is in terrible condition and the enclosure on both sides is so ugly that it's embarrassing. We live on a very busy street with lots of traffic (locals walking to the train station and tourists walking up from the campground on the way to see the chastel.) How bad is it? Judge for yourself.
Two issues here - one is about aesthetics and the other is about security. The first is not entirely up to us and we have filed the paperwork to get the agreement of the city and the architect de France to do something about it Because we live in a city with many national monuments we must have their approval to do anything however minor. This is true even though the house itself is not a stunning example of Versailles architecture (it was built in 1929). They have replied and are more or less favorable with conditions and I will go into those in another post. Let's just say that we are getting quotes from contractors to do the work and whether or not it will happen depends entirely on our budget. We may only have enough to do the gate (which they want us to reproduce with a custom-made metal gate that is identique to the original one.)
Security is another matter. This gate which was probably installed in the 1960's, is so old that it has holes in it and no longer locks. Anyone can walk into the courtyard. It's never happened but this is an area with a lot of burglaries and all the other houses have gates that lock....
Those are the broad outlines of the story. What is interesting to me is how I feel about it.
I'm from North America (Seattle) where it is perfectly normal not to enclose the front yard or have a front gate that locks. This is public space and so what if someone can walk up and ring the doorbell or look in the front window? In fact there are all sorts of connotations to gates in my culture - like "gated community," for example. There is something a bit pretentious, even antisocial, about putting up a fence and locking people out. The message can be interpreted as, "I don't know you, I don't want to know you or be a part of this neighborhood." So I'm ambivalent about this project because that's not a message I want to send. I like my neighbors. A lot. In fact I wish I saw more of them.
But this is France and it's perfectly OK to do this. In fact my neighbors would be greatly relieved to get this eyesore removed. No one here is going to think I don't want t be part of the community just because I have a pretty gate that locks and some privacy for my front garden.
But it still bothers me. There are two completely different set of cultural values at war with each other in my head. And it's causing a certain amount of anxiety because any way I look at it I will be "wrong" because the North American values and the French ones have equal space in my head. Both are powerful cultures capable of very strong (and long-lasting) conditioning.
Nearly 20 years of being a migrant and I still don't have an answer when this happens.
That's the power of culture to mold and shape us.