March in Bretagne. The weather has been all over the place: from snow and freezing temperatures, to beautiful sunshine and nearly t-shirt warmth and everything in between. France remains under various forms of curfew and/or confinement. In Fougères the pandemic has been less severe (thankfully) so the town is only under a curfew. Restaurants are only permitted to sell meals to take away. Still, all of the shops are open and movement is unrestricted. That is, until 6pm. One must have a valid reason for being out after 6. Luckily for us, it is allowed to take your dog for a walk during curfew. Vaccine administration continues to be fairly slow in France. We don’t expect to be eligible for a Covid-19 inoculation until at least May, if not later. So, we remain somewhat hunkered down, keeping mostly to ourselves.
Work on the house; walk the dog; shop for groceries; grab bread (and pastries) at the boulangerie: that’s pretty much the story of our existence at La Tour Desnos over the past few months. Not that we’re complaining. I mean, we’re still retired, still living in France, still healthy, and still in love. What more could we ask? Sure, it would be a nice bonus if we could travel a bit further afield, visit museums, eat at restaurants, etc. But those opportunities will return soon enough. And we are keenly aware of how fortunate we are. For now, we’re just happy to putter around the house, tackling one project at a time.
A couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a few days of really lovely weather. Sunny, warm, spring-like weather. I had been wanting to work in our garden on the east side of the tower for months. But other projects and poor weather had forestalled me. However, with the suddenly good weather, I couldn’t resist any longer and stole a pleasant couple of days chopping things down. First on my list were the hydrangeas of elephantine proportion. Cherie will tell you that hydrangeas are not one of my favorite plants. Apologies to all of you who love hydrangeas, but I am just not a fan. Messy, woody, monstrous bushes that are always threatening to take over the garden. I’m not even particularly enamored of the blooms. But Cherie likes them very much so they are staying for now. Somewhat earlier I had discovered our gardening shears, lopers and other tools that we had taken with us from Seattle. So I set about pruning (heavily) the several hydrangeas which had grown over the paths and were about to invade the rose bed. It was a lot of work, though. In the end, I’m not sure who won. Yes, the shrubs are now only a diminutive shadow of their formerly gargantuan proportions. But, against my better judgment, they lived to taunt me for another season. Moreover, my dodgy right elbow and shoulders were made even more dodgy and were aching mightily for days. We’ll call it a draw.
After the hydrangeas, I pruned the roses quite hard as well. Unlike the hydrangeas, this was done with love. The roses we inherited from the previous owners are really pretty, but they had become gangly, sparse and top-heavy. I honestly know very little when it comes to roses, but I’ve come to admire them very much and I’m determined to help them regain some of their former vitality. My mother, Carol, was a great lover of roses and she was quite accomplished in maintaining a pretty rose garden beside our family home. So, in a way, I want to pay tribute to her by remembering her through keeping some roses in bloom.
One bit of gardening led to another and, before I knew it, I was hacking down small trees and blackberry vines at the far end of the plot alongside the medieval rampart. We knew there was a sort of buttress wall at the end, but we really couldn’t see it very well. So, upon clearing out the tangle of vegetation there, I was surprised to discover a lovely stone wall with a window opening in it. Very cool! The wall is in serious need of repair and repointing, but it’s a nice addition to our jardin that we will be sure to feature prominently.
There is much more work in the garden that needs doing. But my body was complaining. Also, there were too many other projects inside the house that had priority. Reluctantly, I downed tools, vowing to return when and as I am able. I swear I could hear the hydrangeas whispering their revenge as I trudged wearily up the rampart stairs.
The builders have been away from the tower for a couple of months. But Cherie and I have been busy with our own, smaller scale renovations. Previously (https://findingourfrance.blog/2021/01/04/minus-two/) I had noted that we were beginning to lay stone paving in what was previously the kitchen, now our buanderie (laundry room). I was pretty anxious about it. But I’m happy to report that the paving is now finished and it looks satisfyingly good. At least to our eyes. You can judge for yourselves. It’s been a good skill to add to our repertoire. Especially since we’ll have another opportunity to practice this art when we lay a new floor in Cherie’s new office. Stay tuned.
The great parquet order debacle having been resolved, we were finally able to get to grips with laying the floor in the séjour. You may remember that, last autumn, our builders had leveled the concrete floor and laid a layer of OSB on top. Getting a finished floor down was long overdue. As usual, I was very concerned about our ability to carry this out successfully. Sure, we had laid wooden plank flooring down in the master bedroom upstairs and it turned out well. But the séjour is far more complicated; the floor plan has a round end and none of the straight edges are square. Add to that the fireplace footprint jutting out from the wall at an odd angle, and I knew we were in for a complicated project.
We really wanted wood parquet flooring in this room. Something with a bit more formality and a classic french look. We went with a pattern known as Versailles. It comes in 60cm x 60cm tongue and groove panels. Since we were already familiar with gluing, we stuck (ahem) with what we knew for this time. It was a tricky business and midway through we had to make a slight adjustment in alignment which caused us to have to trim several panels in order to correct the line – something I would highly discourage, by the way. As expected, the hardest part was fitting around the fireplace. It was a pretty fiddly operation. But we managed to get it down without screwing it up entirely. In fact, we’re very happy with the overall result and the sejour finally has a finished floor that we can be proud of. Phew!
A project I had been putting off for some time was to increase the height of our kitchen table. Now that I have a semblance of a workshop (temporarily housed in the “Chapel” one floor below), I felt that I could finally make a reasonable stab at this one. When we purchased this old French farm table, we knew that we wanted to make it counter-height. This was for two reasons: first, so that we could use the two chairs we brought from Seattle and, second, so that we could use it for additional counter space for cooking, baking, etc. The table wasn’t very expensive and, although technically an antique, not even a remotely rare piece. Still, I’m the first one to cry havoc when I see someone alter anything with age or beauty to it. The current vogue for “upscaling” perfectly sound antiques makes me mental. So, to all those who share this philosophy, know that everything I did to our table is reversible; it could be entirely restored to its original state with very little effort if so desired in the future. Anyway, the surgery was successful and I hope you’ll agree that the patient came through passably well, performing its new function as a kitchen island-slash-table in admirable fashion.
Further procedures were performed on our guest bathroom vanity. I finally got around to reconfiguring the middle drawer in order to accommodate the sink drain. This former three-drawer commode has been heightened and now houses a bathroom sink, a marble top, a faucet and two functioning lower drawers. The top drawer front is now just for show due to the depth of the sink. None of this, you’ll note, is reversible. But, in my defense, and in a desperate attempt to evade cries of hypocrisy, I would add that this dresser was already a wreck when we found it. Neither was it a particularly notable nor well-made piece of furniture – even on its best day. Just one amongst the legions of relatively cheap reproduction pieces churned out between the 1920’s and 1960’s. My conscience is clear. Mostly.
We found a new mirror for the petit-salon at the antique store just up the street. A big, heavy gilt frame, it’s uncharacteristically more elaborate than we normally go for. But, hey, we live in France now. This country virtually invented glitz. So why not go with the flow? At least a little bit. And, actually, we really like this mirror. It’s been a nice addition to the room and we’re happy to have stretched our decorative tastes. We have many more plans for this room, but they will have to wait until more pressing items have been addressed. For now, the petit-salon is in a reasonable state of completion and that’s good enough. I don’t know how much the mirror weighs – but it’s heavy enough. So much so that we thought it prudent to purchase special cleat hardware normally used for hanging cabinets. It might be overkill, but it’s reassuring to us and we don’t worry about a loud crash in the night.
And so, all of these relatively small projects have allowed us to feel more at home, more settled. Each completed task moves us just a little bit forward, toward the finished house we can envision so clearly in our minds. It also allows us to unpack another moving box, put away more household goods or display more of our beloved objets d’art. It’s been a long road – and we have much further to go – but we’re enjoying it immensely. And, we hope, you are finding some enjoyment in it too. For now, though, good health and happiness to you all. And enjoy this moment of zen we offer to you below. See you next post!