A Bientot, Mes Oiseaux

La Maison des Oiseaux is calling me back

In an email exchange a month or so back, Gill (Blog-sur-Aude) referred to our house in passing as ‘La Maison des Oiseaux’. I found this fascinating, as I think of it also as a house of birds

Perhaps it was the loft full of pigeons, some living and laying, others fossilised, one of whom – living – ambushed me in the main hallway and made me jump out of my skin while the builders were replacing the roof, and leaving a mountain of detritus for me to clear up (the pigeons, not the builders)

Is it because I am ‘Poshbird’? No, I don’t think so

Anyway, I love birds. So, for whatever reason, I think the name fits our house. I might even find a suitably stylised bird to sit on the staircase in place of the missing bannister finial

And when this unusual winged wardrobe came up for sale I thought it was simply beautiful and I bought it with birthday money

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It sits on the deep bottom drawer, just visible in the mirror (as is my elbow)

It’s been packed up, so all I have are a few photos to drool over for now

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Bird motifs, gorgeous oak grain

‘A bientot, mes oiseaux!’

 

 

L’Air de Pigeons

Smelly ‘pigeon angels’ swirl in the sunlight

When I stuffed both phones down the leg of my leggings I hadn’t expected them to drop straight through and escape via my right ankle, but this is exactly what is happening as I come down from the attic, a bin bag in each hand. It’s also the moment when Baz calls for an update on the house, and I have to waddle quickly down in order not to fall arse over iphone

Ah, the newly created attic space has surpassed expectations, thanks to the big Velux windows. Well, it is beautiful and calming, and light enough that I can now wander around without fear of debris, or unseen rotten floorboards. These windows reveal the church tower, the tops of the hills beyond. And of course, those taller than me will get proper views

The downside? The filth is indescribable. I mop a small area and find the original terracotta floor tiles, which are in pretty good shape. But the grime is thick and I have already moved several bucket loads before realising that the rough stone walls first need a stiff brushing down first. As I sweep I can see, smell and taste nothing but pigeon detritus. The debris swirls thickly around forming ‘pigeon angels’ in the sunlight and my head jerks back involuntarily from time to time, unsure whether I’ll sneeze or spew. Luckily, it’s the formerIMG_9082

As the church strikes six, I’ve done five solid hours of this and no-one would know I’ve been in here. I am sure that once the dust re-settles I will have made almost no progress

Of course, this is not the update Baz wants, so I tell him of the views he’ll get from the windows, and of the newly-discovered flooring

The only person who’ll tell you that pigeons don’t cause damage inside your house is an estate agent who can’t be arsed to go and close the shutters once you have committed to buy, and who leaves your house open to the elements for months until you finally get the key and can take control of what is left. I had frequent nightmares thanks to that stupid man. So in the worst possible way I feel vindicated when I see the resulting rot in their regular roost spots (oh yes, and I need to scrub all those bits as well!)pigeon loft.JPG

I open the shutter of a glass-less l’oeil de beouf window to let out some dust and heat, but a homesick pigeon is calling a friend, and I close the shutter, stressed

Chicken wire, that’s what we need

And the spiders evicted from the attic? They’ve all joined Quinn by the garage tap, and I realise that I don’t even mind them very much anymore – as long as they keep off the floorIMG_9119.JPG

 

 

Riches to Rags, Defiantly

I’m charmed by neglected things and the spirit of defiance

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There are cracks in our floor, but the tiles are almost more beautiful because of their imperfections. Theirs is an honest story of survival and service, the history of the house itself

Yes, I’m charmed by neglected things, always have been. Recently through necessity it’s French architectural salvage, though I’ll never turn down anything pretty or useful

Or in need of help

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Found in the garage – Pretty AND useful?

I have optimistically bought old radiators from Ebay, with no idea if they will function in France (or at all), and I can’t wait to see the plumber’s face when I show him my latest treasures!

But I am sure our very likeable builder now understands some of the vision for this house. Initially I was made aware by friends that he prefers to rip out and modernise everything (and this was borne out in our early meetings), but I have noticed a subtle change in his attitude – ‘un change de tête’ after further visits. Standing with me in the house, he admired the quality of the ironwork on a window one day, and he talked about how attractive the old shutters will be when sanded and refreshed – yet weeks before he might have suggested replacing them. I might be imagining it, but

I think the house is actually getting to him

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This house has a true riches to rags story, though no-one seems to know the details. And though it doesn’t need anyone’s approval but ours, I suspect that there lurks in our builder a real admiration of this strong survivor, cherished and valued for centuries before being left abandoned and neglected, exposed to the elements for decades. I think he now has a better understanding of why we are doing this and how hard we are prepared to work towards it

It can never again be pristine. Perhaps it never was, despite its grandeur. But pristine wouldn’t really do it for us – we’re not pristine either

How could anyone not love this house, if only for its total defiance?

 

 

 

 

The 24-hour Roof Terrace

A pop-up roof terrace but it couldn’t last

front roofFor one day only we had the roof terrace of our dreams. On Wednesday evening the guys left the front attic fully exposed to the sky, creating fantastic views of the hills, both east and west. It was stunningly beautiful and peaceful. I cried

front roofIt was the pop-up roof terrace that could never be, thanks to local restrictions. At least we were able to experience it, however briefly

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front roofBy the end of Thursday it was fully enclosed once more, before the rain arrived. All beams and boards had been replaced, and there was no trace of the terrace of the night before

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What a difference a day makes

Having lost this spectacular terrace, the attic space will be used for chilling in the evening with a drink – and a pool table?

Two Days in Les Angles

Meeting Baz and C at Carcassonne Airport on Easter Saturday felt wonderful. I hadn’t seen them for 11 days and had watched the Brussels atrocities unfold alone

On Sunday we drove to Les Angles, about an hour from us. It was hard to imagine that there would be any snow anywhere after the warm weather we’d had, but we glimpsed some as we rose higher up the dramatically winding road. And then Les Angles appeared ahead of us

We were staying at a cosy stone cottage, converted and owned by Mike and Jenny of Pyranean Trails . It was just a few minutes walk from the piste, and we could not have asked for friendlier hosts

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The view from the cottage

The weather conditions on Easter Sunday were changeable, but on Monday we lunched on the mountain in T-shirts and I settled myself down on a lovely squidgy outdoor sofa to watch Baz and C try out their new boots, which had been expertly (and very patiently) fitted by Mike and Jenny’s son Paul, who works at a local ski shop

IMG_8274Of course, I had totally messed up the trip by spraining my ankle, so will have to wait until next winter to get my fitting doneOf course, I had totally messed up the trip by spraining my ankle, so I was unable to ski or get boots fitted, so I just took in the scenery instead

Perhaps the most lovely sight in Les Angles is Lilli, our hosts’ Pyranean Mountain Dog who was a constant gentle presence outside the cottage, ‘guarding’ us all and being generally spectacularly beautiful

DSC_0241The trip down was much less intimidating because the sheer drop was on the other side of the road! The last few miles were along the River Aude where the road has been cut through the rocks of the gorge

It was good to be together. Wednesday evening arrived and it was time to see the changes that had taken place at our house…

The Void and its Secrets

This is a decidedly secret place

IMG_2389Up inside the low dark void on the second floor, accessed by the little door, I squatted right down inside once more among the filth. This is not a place for claustrophobics and I was very conscious that my ankle was still sore. As I was about to leave, I shone my torch further along and spotted these hanging from a nail on the inner side of a beam

Too low to stand up in, and with its rough bench bracketed to the wall, this secret place feels like a priest hole, used to hide something or someone. I know I have been reading too many war-related books lately!

These are thin metal tags, consecutively indented with numbers 3045 to 3100, and originally bright and shiny metal, now rusted. From a search of Google images, I believe they are cow tags, but someone must have really lost their way to leave them in this top floor ‘void’ of a townhouse. There are no fields here

These would not (have not) been seen by anyone poking their head into the void, as I did several times. There is a full row of these hidden nails where small items could be hung out of sight

The huge attic above it has at some time been locked from the attic side with its iron bar and the door panel has been smashed to reach the bar, then patched up  (How Low Can We Go?). The void is not easily detectable from inside there either

Of course, we’ll probably never know any more. It would be amazing  if someone knew something, but generations have passed. We should probably keep it exactly as it is. It feels important to keep it intact, until someone can come up with an explanation

Any ideas?

How Low Can We Go?

There are clues everywhere, but put on your sunglasses

It’s exciting to find dates on things. I got a rush when I noticed that the panel of the attic door which we use on a daily basis is patched up with a financial report from 1914. Did someone from the house have links with Paris at that time?

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Newspaper seems to have been used liberally in the house. It’s great because it helps establish dates. The latest so far is 1983

On our first weekend at the house (Wine, Weather and Woodworm – 4 nights in Quillan) we noticed a door from one bedroom which didn’t open, while the other side of it in the ‘Jewel Room’ had fabric wall covering continued across it, making it invisible. The fabric covered the entire room, but we removed it from one wall amid a tempest of dust, exposing two layers of paper, the bottom one being pure ‘jazz age’ in exuberant zig zag, while also incorporating stripes and curves (below right). I love art deco but this is hideous

Having removed the paper from the wall with the door, I found that they had filled out the old door with cardboard and newspaper to make it flush with the wall before papering

The date of the stocks and shares is 9th August 1895. Under the newspaper is also some very old sort-of-flock paper, in a beautiful teal colour. It must have once looked very impressive, and it presumably pre-dates the newspaper

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Back in ‘the big cupboard room’ I purloined the builders ladder from the attic and have unleashed a torrent of papers. There are flowers, geometric print with flowers, stripes with bouquets, just stripes and then a simple one-colour blue on a pale background under them all

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Geometric with flowers – do you think it’s too much?

The one thing the occupiers of this house didn’t over-use was restraint. My neck and shoulders ache tonight, but I’m getting a little bit closer to the bones of the house now