"It begins in the imaginations of the people who built it and is gradually transformed, for better and for worse, by the people who occupy it down through the years, decades, centuries. To tinker with a house is to commune with the people who have lived in it before and to leave messages for those who will live in it later. Every house is a living museum of habitation, and a monument to all the lives and aspirations that have flickered within it."
The Walls Around Us
Been doing a lot of that "communing" this past week. Phase II of the Paint the Flophouse Project kicked off a few days ago. (Phase I was the garden walls so ably and beautifully painted by Mike, our favorite Ikea technician from Dax).
Brick (or stone) houses still have a lot of wood in them: under the eaves, certainly - under that tile roof are wood supports that hang over the house and protect the sides and hold up the gutters - but also decorative wood around the porches. At least I assume they are decorative and not holding up anything important. Guess we'll find out, won't we?
I don't know much about brick but I'm a girl from the Pacific Northwest of the good old US of A and I do know wood. Go outside the house, stand right next to an exterior wall and look up. You'll see is peeling paint, holes and boards that look loose to me. Not something to ignore because wood doesn't like to be naked. It rots when exposed to the elements. Happily, this is something we can fix ourselves. And that's precisely what we've been doing this past week once we had the obligatory meeting with the city architect and got authorization for the color (RAL 8012).
So far the back porch is done and the eaves on the north side of the house. So far, so good. No rot and while we were up there we cleaned out the gutters and fixed a huge fissure in the cement. Actually, we didn't do the last - the French navy stopped by (a friend of ours who brought along his son) and lent a hand. All I can say is that those sailors sure know a thing or two about this kind of work because everything he did is absolutely perfect.
I am now working on the front porch and here everything David Owen said in the above quotation becomes evident. There are about 6 layers of paint on that wood in a delicious variety of colors: off-white, blue, green, red, dark brown, light brown.
As I threw on application after application of that horrible product and scraped, each color, each layer, became visible and I stopped and tried to imagine what the entire house looked like when it was that blue or that green. All the way back to a time when the neighborhood looked like this:
Or later. More specifically in the World War II period. I have friends here in town who are old enough to vividly remember those days. One even recalls the house since she passed by it every day when she went to school. And when I rest and pick up the latest book I'm reading, What Soldiers Do by Mary Louise Roberts, how odd to think that this house and its inhabitants lived through those times - the Occupation and the replacement of German soldiers by American ones (Madame G remembers that all too well).
I feel a bit like an amateur archeologist here and it occured to me that the restoration work I'm doing right now is also an act of destruction. I am erasing traces of the past. Once I have scraped the last bit of paint from that wood, and people like Madame G pass on, there will be no one to remember the color of the house in the 1940's. Only me, the latest (and mostly likely not the last) inhabitant of this funny little house.
And that's a tragedy (albeit a very small one that counts for nearly nothing in the larger scheme of things) which leaves me with a strange sense of guilt. Why? Most likely because I am product of a time that regards preservation/restoration as something of a secular religion (Chris Wilson). Did the previous owners of this house have the same concerns? I doubt it.
So to salve my conscience and to document (because really what else can we do?) here is what it looks like.
And now, having genuflected in the direction of the altar of "restoration" it's back to the present - my own aspirations and the traces I will leave for future owners to ponder.