Sunday, April 24, 2011

la maison en paille II the straw house II


Simon fait une melange de terre argilleuse et de l’eau dans une beignoire avec un malaxeur pour faire le premiere couche. Apres ca, on utilise un melange avec du paille bien coupee et une soupe de maise fermentee de dans. Ca pue.


Simon is mixing clay and water with an electric mixer in preparation for the first layer. Later layers include well cut straw and a fermented maize soup. It stinks.




Nous travaillons a l’interieur a ce moment. Dans les chambres et le grenier. Nous avons finir le premier couche d’argille sur la paille et nous commencons avec le deuxieme couche. Les couches s’accumule de produire une mur tres fort et durable.


At the moment we are working inside. In the bedrooms and the loft. We have finished the first coat of clay on the straw and are starting on the second. The layers build up to form a strong and durable wall.



Le travaille n’est pas difficile, juste un peut sale et mouillee. Un peut d’argille est bon pour la peau!


The work isn’t difficult, just a bit messy and wet. A bit of clay is good for the skin.




Apres un bon jour de travaille on a faim et on mange bien. Ici, on fait un BBQ avec Pierlo et sa famille.


After a good days work you are hungry and we eat well. Here we are having a BBQ with Pierlo and his family.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

la maison en paille the straw house

Je reste pour quelle ques semaines chez Pierlo et sa famille pour lui aider avec le construction de leur maison en paille.


I am staying with Pierlo and his family for a few weeks to help with the construction of their straw house.


L’exterieur de la maison est presque finis, elle attend la derniere couche d’argille et quelques fenetres.


The outside of the house is almost finished, it needs a final coat of clay and some windows.


C’est possible voir les panaux solaire dans la toit et les gouttieres qui aide avec le conservation d’eau pour le jardin.


You can see the solar panels in the roof and guttering to help conserve water for the garden.


Elle est une maison de trois etages. Au rez de chaussee il y a une salle de bains. La cuisine, la salle a manger et la salle de sejour sont toute ouverte. Au premiere etage, les trois chambres et un bureau. La greniers, accessible avec les ├ęchelles dans chaque chambre donne plus espace pour dormir.


It is a three story house. Ground floor with bathroom and open plan kitchen, dining and living room. The first floor will have three bedrooms and an office. The loft spaces, accessible by a ladder in each room provide extra sleeping space.




La paille dans le toit donne un isolant tres efficace et la maison rest bien chaud pendant l’hiver et frais en ete. Avec moins de chauffage.


Straw in the roof provides an excellent insulative layer, the house stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. With less heating.



Les bottes de paille rest dans un fondation des briques isolant et ont separer par un structure du bois. On voire la ligne ou les fondations fini et le paille commence.


The bales of straw rest on a foundation of insulative bricks, separated by a wooden framework. You can see where the foundations finish and the straw starts.





A ce moment le mois est Avril et le soleil brille pour chauffer la maison par les fenetres qui face du sud. En ete il monte plus haute dans la soleil et le toit garde les fenetres en ombre, donc conservez l’interieur frais.


It is April at the moment and the sun shines through the south facing windows helping to heat the house. During the summer, the sun is higher in the sky and the roof overhang keeps the windows in the shade and the inside of the house remains cool.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

no little piggies

I have just spent the afternoon sieving mud into an empty bath in the middle of a field. Once the bath was full, water was added and then I spent an hour or so mixing it into a slimy mess. This morning I smeared earlier batch of slimy mess onto bales of straw between rafters in an attic, tomorrow I will be doing the same. Not for vast sums of money, just out of interest and to earn my bed and board. Yes, crazy as ever here, at my new helpX location helping Pierlo and his family to build a home out of straw.


The project has been going for three years now and the structure of the house is complete, as is most of the exterior work, save the final coat of clay on some of the walls. The interior, however is still far from complete. The straw bales are still evident throughout, which is great for seeing how the house has been constructed an to learn the next steps in line there are stairs supported on bricks and there are no walls upstairs at all. No electrics, although quite a bit of the ducting is in place and a few pipes for water, there is still an inordinate amount to do, and for me, an inordinate amount to learn, especially as french is the language spoken here.


There are no little piggies and I have yet to see a wolf, but it really is a house made from straw. According to several books that I have read, the process has been used for centuries, though with the advent of mechanical bailing machines, giant rectangular building blocks of roughly the same size have become readily available. African mud huts use a similar principal, the old wattle and daub half timber framed houses of yesteryear are taken for granted in picture postcard britain, similar too, though, for some reason the use of straw is an uncommon building material today.


There are many reasons that it may be a good idea to build a house like this. Straw is a waste product from farming grain, it has excellent thermal properties and can be bought locally for a reasonable price. Clay is easily purchased from not that far away, is natural, non toxic, easy to handle and dries to provide an good solid surface both inside and out, a few additional ingredients on the outer surface make the surface impenetrable to rain whilst still allowing the building to breathe, shredded, fermented maize and some chopped grass do the trick and with the addition of other earths or possibly pigments can be used to colour internal and external walls. Construction is easy and fast compared to a regular house, almost anyone with enough determination could achieve a decent result. With minimal construction regulations here in france almost anyone can have a go, as far as I can tell, once you have the approval of the local town hall for the outward appearance of the property almost any method of construction goes, follow current wiring and plumbing rules and all is fine. How simple is that? I might even have a go myself one day.


On a me note, I haven’t been in a better place in ages. Not literally, not mentally or personally or otherwise. With all the waiting and uncertainty surrounding my never ending visa application for the states I can’t think that I have felt so tranquil for quite a while. Perhaps it is because my brain is completely occupied with learning so many new things, language, building terminology, different way of life, or perhaps it is the bread, alcohol and almost meat free healthy diet I find myself eating here, delicious by the way, especially if you like nettles and lots of greens. Or the fact that I am in the middle of nowhere, with some wonderful people, where the noisiest thing is the bells on the cows grazing in the fields all around, the occasional dog barking or farmyard machine. Whatever it is, I shan’t bother myself too much with the details, I will just enjoy my time here, another few weeks at least.


Friday, April 08, 2011

going down

Leaving the snow under the 'new' telecabins

MMmm mountain honey, too warm to get close enough to peek inside

skiing is forbidden in on the roads and squares within the village

Chester dog and Justin, taking a break on the way down

civilisation, well, a mountain village is a lot more than we have been used to


Just for a change Justin and I walked down to the village. Something I had never done before, but often thought about. It took over two and a half hours to descend via a steep mountain path and over three and a half to climb back up to the chalet, the beers at lunchtime probably made the climb back up easier to start with.


I hardly ever go down to the village at all as I know that each time I go I will come back many euros lighter. There is never anything I need to buy, but always a temptation, perhaps a ‘T’ shirt or something to eat, chocolate, or a couple of beers on a pavement terrace. All perfectly allowable expenses, but easily avoided by not being there in the first place. Skiing is free and extremely enjoyable, as is walking and the weather has been incredibly warm for a while.


The difference was amazing, normally we head up the mountain into the cold and snow, I had almost forgotten that spring was on its way and things were starting to enjoy the warmer weather and longer days. The valley floor was carpeted in lush green pasture and as we descended the woodland was brimming with the ground level activity that gets its growing done before the trees are in full leaf. Violets and anemones were everywhere, the occasional drift of primroses, hints of blueberry plants that will carpet whole slopes later in the year. Now and again a warm breath of air, full of the scent of spring, the promise of the summer ahead, bringing back memories of hot days on the moors surrounded by heather, cliff top walks back in England and a sensory reminder of things to look for.


We talked of our different lives, of the freedom in europe compared to South Africa, where it is too dangerous to roam the countryside, especially if you are white, for fear of shootings or theft or kidnap. Of the greed in the world and the workings of big business, marketing and control of resources. Of options and choices and our need to tread more lightly on the planet before it kicks us off by natural means or otherwise. Of our time in the chalet, the lessons we have learned and memories we will take with us. Of travel and moving and the importance of material goods around us. It was great to have such discussions with someone from a different culture, background, age and upbringing and interesting to hear how somewhere else sees itself in the world. (South Africa that is not just Justin himself).


Chester dog was great on the way down and surprisingly calm on a lead. I had only ever seen him ‘loose’ in the mountains, never even with a collar on. He walked into the village next to me as if it was the most normal thing to do. We stopped at a bar for a couple of pints in the sun and he rested with us. A few people came to pet him, he tolerated that too, even the children, although we knew that he was more scared of them than they of him. Other dogs were good to say Hi to, the smaller the more scary he appeared to be. Two tiny dogs appeared from nowhere and he nearly tipped me off my chair in an attempt to escape their interest, though he soon calmed down.


It was good to sit and relax in the village and watch the world go by. Real people with proper lives and places to go, it made such a change from the skiers I become so used to in the winter. I know better now why Cameron came down to the village so often, without a love of skiing, living up there must have been maddeningly boring and inert of stimulation. A small part of me knew that it was nearly time to move on, that and the fact that more snow was melting every day.


The climb back up was a challenge. My legs had been rested but complained never the less. Chester no longer bounded ahead and Justin did moan just a couple of times about how far it was going to be. I convinced him that it was worth continuing if only to loose the calories that we had just imbibed I started discovering things of interest as we took a different route back up the hill. A few dandelion leaves to take away the taste of old beer, a primrose or two to remind myself of the taste, violets because I had never tried them direct from the wild, Parma Violets were once the height of fashion and were, in fact just violet petals coated in sugar. Watercress straight from the stream edge and of course a nettle leaf or two, yes, you can eat them raw and without getting stung, if you roll them tightly and chew them straight away. It passed the time well, gave us a great topic of conversation and enthused me further about finding somewhere new to go. The thought of working on a straw bale house, still in the mountains certainly seemed like a strong contender by the time we got home.


Most of the climb took us up an old farm track, though fields and woodland and in exactly the right direction. The remainder was on the road which was not ideal with Chester, though he was so tired and calm he hardly needed his lead, until of course we were just about to arrive at the chalet. Clare called out and he was off up the road like a shot, as if he had all the energy in the world, rushing to say Hi to his owner and to tell her all about how exciting and scary it had been. Justin and I continued at the same speed that we had maintained most of the way, arriving not that far behind. Mark was busy in the kitchen and dinner was almost ready. There was the rest of a barrel of beer to finish before we all left the chalet and an early night to be had.


going down more images

church steps with fresh mountain water

primrose colour primulas,
(I only just noticed that, I thought that I had taken a photo of some primroses!)

anemone nemerosa

mother nature doing her thing

probably not this one, but it does need some tlc.

Friday, April 01, 2011

last chance to ski

Justin and Calvin left a few days ago and the chalet seems awfully quiet without them. There have only been guests for the previous two weekends , no one during the weeks, so plenty of time to ski and do all those other jobs that need doing at the end of the season. All the remaining firewood was moved out of sight so that it doesn’t get stolen whilst the property is left unattended, not that it often is with Chester being around. Snow tyres on the car swapped for another season and a pretty good spring clean throughout. There was a certain amount of disappointment when it was realised that we would not be free to go skiing every day but we made short work of the tasks and profited from some late season snow and completely empty slopes. Mornings are always the best as the sunshine and warm breezes soon turn the south facing slopes to slush, or “soup” as the french call it, though it didn’t deter us from making the most of the sunny days, skiing until end of play, often being chased off the mountains by piste security. I haven’t played cards so often in years and it was good to pass on a few different games of poker rather than the ubiquitous ‘Texas Holdem’ that everyone seems to play these days.


Mark, the chef has gone too, he headed off this morning leafing a gleaming kitchen and a huge pan of french onion soup for Clare and me. That with leftover chicken curry will do just fine for our last dinner here. I am heading off to work on an eco building project for a few weeks, helping to contstruc a house out of wood straw and mud, I am so glad that the spring is here and the days will be warm and long, I didn’t much fancy taking that opportunity during the winter. Clare is heading off to stay with friends for a well earned break before her next guests arrive.


After the slushy mess of melting snow on the pistes yesterday I was in two minds as to whether to go out again today. Last day excitement and the thought of not skiing again for a year got the better of me. The conditions were excellent. It is absolutely amazing what a cloudless sky and a plummeting night time temperatures can do. No slush, perhaps a touch icy in the shade, but the best snow in ages. Clare and I enjoyed the morning much more than we had expected, returning to do each good run that we found again and again in case the next one was not so good, “shame to waste good snow” the sun shone and the sky was blue and everywhere we went was marvelous. Even the slow slopes provided plenty of speed and we covered most of the mountain in record time. As we often do, saving the big black ‘Terrenere’ till later on, earlier in the season it remains icy well into the day, so it’s best left for a while, not so now, the sun is higher and its popularity meant that it had been well used by the time we got there. Bumpy and a bit slushy, it was quite churned up, fun but heavy going. My legs, already tired from a morning at breakneck speed complained most of the way down and Clare felt the same so we decided to head to a mountainside restaurant for lunch.


An hour or so later I passed the top of that very same piste on my way to a more promising run and the top was roped off, I glanced at the signs which warned of avalanche and thought little more of it. Avalanches frequently happen here, especially when the weather is warm so they had probably closed the run as a precaution. I could see several new slides in the distance well away from the path of any marked routes and marveled at the course of nature and the changing of the seasons, I had been there just a couple of weeks ago enjoying fresh powder, off piste, without a care in the world. Would I have done that today, No Way.


I found that wonderful last run and blasted it a couple of times before heading back down to the chalet. I leave tomorrow and still have washing and packing to do, nothing like leaving things till the last minute, at least I know where I am going next. Up the fast six man chair, across to the Mirabelle which was so beautiful this morning, now cut to shreds and smattered with stumbling beginners, unused to the changing conditions and further down the mountain. The narrow snowy ski track passes the bottom of the ‘Terranere’ and I remember the signs. Looking back up the mountain, with high peaks looming above the ski trail I see why it is closed, there was an avalanche, not a huge one, but impressive none the less and completely covering the route that we had taken not a couple of hours before. I thank the powers that look over us that it waited until we had passed by and that I have spend another most wonderful winter enjoying these great mountains without mishap or injury. There are many who think I shall return.