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.