Wednesday, September 09, 2009
It is strange still not knowing what my plans are for the future. Every day I check my mail to see if the work visa has been accepted, and every day there is no answer. Thankfully there are plenty of things to keep me occupied, new things to learn, people to get to know and new areas of France to explore. I think that I would be going a little crazy by now if I had a set routine every day.
I have now arrived at one of the first places I bookmarked when I started looking at places to stay in France. A cistercian tower restoration that is being carried out almost single handed by a french guy, Nicholas. There have been hoards of young helpers here all summer, repointing, sorting stones and doing some excellent work, but they have all moved on now as work needs to be done to complete roof reconstruction before winter sets in. Nicholas has been unable to progress with so many people about as they have needed constant supervision and guidance throughout the day. It is quiet now and the weather good, an excellent time to get the work done.
My work mainly consists of hauling buckets of rocks, lime mortar and tools up to the roof by pulley, mixing the mortar and being on hand to find other things that are needed. The tower is nearly completely empty inside. Most of the floor boards and joists have rotted away over the years, leaving a hollow shell. Difficult to get to the roof without climbing skills but easy to haul things up from the inside.
I send up full buckets, and empty ones come back down. Occasionally there is a stack of wood to go up, also by pulley or another mix of mortar to prepare. We have been out to a cutting, just down the road, to quarry sandstone for the reconstruction, at almost exactly the same spot that the monks extracted their building sand centuries ago. The lumps of rock are then smashed back into sand with a sledge hammer and used on site. It is great to be getting some decent exercise whilst working, and a wonderful change from weeding.
A group of architects and historians called in on Sunday to check out the progress of the tower. They have been touring the region, visiting buildings of note, including a famous chateau just down the road at Beaucastel. An old ruin that has been partially restored so that it is habitable, but still retains the illusion of abandonment and decay. I got to hear a great deal about its history and saw it from a distance when we visited the village yesterday evening.
Twenty four arrived mid morning and stayed for lunch. Nick gave them a tour of the tower. Aperitifs were served, followed by a meal of traditional local fare, a garden salad, huge spirals of Toulouse sausage, cooked on the barbeque, Ailgou, which is superb, a blend of mashed potato, soft cheese, cream and garlic, all heated and stirred together until the cheese melts and it all sticks together, creating great long, creamy strings of gloop, served from a big pan on the fire. People amusingly helped themselves, holding out their plates and lifting the ladle up out of the pan with strings of Aligou stretching up like elastic spaghetti, waving about and refusing to break. It was a real crowd pleaser. This was followed by bread and cheese, including the most wonderfully creamy Rocquefort I have ever tasted, grapes and coffee. In true french style the meal continued at a leisurely pace, outside in the sunshine, and it was well after four in the afternoon by the time the last guests has said their goodbyes.
Tidying up went on at a sedate pace for some time after. The chickens pecked about under the table, doing an excellent job of finishing up the last morsels, left-overs reheated for dinner and everything neat and tidy for the start of a new week.