lundi 16 mars 2009

Vous aimez Piranesi?

Butterflies in the bergenia

Thank you, world, for giving me reason to want to charge my camera batteries and get outdoors.

Thank you, Joaquim, for not showing up, and letting me enjoy this in peace.

Thank you, Audouin, for leaving my motorcycle here today. Now I have to use it or feel guilty when I'd really like to have time to garden, ride my bike to the gym and work-out, develop the terrace plans, write in my blog, take pictures of plants, and take a motorcycle ride around the countryside.

Thank you -- to whomever is responsible -- for giving me all these choices. That would be the Greek chorus of my life, and me and my muses. And Audouin.

Yesterday, I gardened. I have left my beautiful Echinacea purpurea plants -- "Kim's Knee High" and "Double Pink" -- to suffer through the coldest winter in a very long time in their pots in the entry courtyard. If you don't plant echinacea in its sunny locaction, you're supposed to do it the courtesy of planting it in a northern exposure to keep it in a holding pattern. Nowhere does it say, "Leave it in its nursery pots to freeze to death in a damp, icy corner of your garden."


I scratched up the soil in a couple places in the top and second terrace borders, dug out as much mint as I possibly could from the lower ones -- if you think you don't have a green thumb, may I suggest that you start with mint? You'll either be so delighted with your success that you'll move onto lilies, or be frightened away forever by its invasive tendency --, and plopped them into the sun-warmed soil, watered and watched.

The last part is useless. I have other things to do besides conduct a vigil by my echinacea.

I am praying that it is resilient and forgiving. That their roots have not been frozen beyond all hope of producing shoots and gracing me with their gorgeous flowers later this summer.

They were supposed to have been planted with the Eric Tabarly roses and a bunch of other stuff in the south-facing border against the house, but we all -- who have been reading along here -- know that the house was not finished in time to plant in November.

Nor in December.

Not even now, in March.

I am actually pulling out more of what I have planted, more still of what was planted before my arrival, and getting ready to think this out again for the hundredth time. Sure, the garden improved, but I was so unprepared.

The garage and the flood zone, toiture végétale
and Piranesi

Saturday morning, I went to the mairie and had the great good luck to find the mayor and my favorite adjoint mayor both in, along with the new secretary, who to my immense relief is really, really nice. When it was announced a few short months ago that the secretary would be leaving, I nearly hyperventilated. She was so friendly and accomodating, and you just never know what you'll get the next time. Well, it seems we got lucky.

I needed a copy of our plot plan to understand what was going on with the dimensions I was getting every time I went out and measured to draw the top terrace plan, which made no sense, and appears not to still. I forgot that I had it in the file for the purchase of the house. Just as well, I needed to see the mayor, anyway.

And, it's always good to stop in and chat with the local powers that be. Especially in a village this size where rumors spread like forest fires and nearly everyone has an opinion about everything and everyone else.

Our recent experiences with the contractor having been complicated and horrible enough, I wanted to at least do the garage part of our vision a little better. We'd need a building permit, and I had also read at the time they announced the leave-taking of our town hall secretary that building permits would now be decided by the CAMY, or the Communauté d'agglomération de Mantes-en-Yvelines. Never mind. It's the grouping of many of the villages around Mantes-la-Jolie with Mantes to produce a larger political and administrative entity, of which Moosesucks chose to be a part, while our neighbors across the boucle declined, preferring to group themselves with Bonnières sur Seine. I was worried that this would complicate things and make the permit more difficult and time-consuming to obtain.

Oh yee of little faith.

The mayor assurred me that this is not the case, "En fait, c'est mieux. C'est plus rapide et plus directe car avant, c'était le DDE (a government agency) qui décidait, et maintenant, c'est le CAMY directement." Oh. The adjoint mayor -- the Obama supporter -- asked, "C'est pareil aux States, ou différent?" I explained how it works in the States in 20 words or fewer, so as not to bore the poor man to death. I need his good graces.

"Et, en ce moment, il faut combien de temps pour un permis?"

"Un mois, à peu près, n'est-ce pas, Cécile?" he turned toward the new secretary. She nodded her agreement and turned to smile at me. This was going very well!

"Ah, c'est super car on a vraiment besoin du garage qui mon mari veut construire depuis si longtemps." If anyone knows we need it, it's the mairie. They see us juggling our vehicles and trying to keep them safe and out of everyone's way. Parking is a major issue in our little village, built when ox carts negotiated its thoroughfares and people actually walked in the street.

"Voulez le construire où," asked our mayor.

"En bas, derrière le grand portail conçu à cet effet." Why else install a large, automatic sliding gate, as our predecessors had done, if you don't intend to have a garage to protect the vehicles behind it? Easy, you learn that you can't build such a thing because the nonconstructible floodplain line is located well behind that gate, up about at the level of your second terrace. That's why.

The mayor went in search of the floodplain map and showed me the line drawn in red magic marker.

"Oh. Est-ce qu'il y a la possibilité de construire quelque chose de tout?" Like an open hangar to at least provide minimal shelter from the elements? He went and got the building regulations book and started to read. Not really.

I was crestfallen. As much for Audouin as for me. More.

The boat. He needs a shop in which to work on restoring it so that it looks more like this one, not the same model Molinari , but similar, and less like it does presently. This has been his dream. He wants to be able to launch it in the Seine and drive us up and down. I see us in -- oh, Corsica.

I must have looked as disappointed as I felt because I could see the mayor softening.

"On a vraiment besoin de quelque chose. Tous ces véhicules," my voice was starting to trail off into hopelessness, "Les motos, le bateau, et," I cringed, "les voitures. On nous les donne." I tried to look as apologetic as possible.

"Quelque sorte d'appentis?" I suggested meekly. Not that a lean-to was what we had in mind, but if it's good enough for 3 freezing high school kids on a winter survival expedition, it had to be better than nothing for our motorcycles at least. My mind was racing through the various possibilities we had already considered, anywhere else, and there were no feasible ones. Not one. Maybe the motorcycles in the garage up on the street -- a tight fit, for certain --, but then where would the dryer go, and the bicycles, and the garden products, and the tools?

"Ca nous arrangerait que vous construisiez quelque chose, avec les appartements en face, vous n'aurez plus le droit de vous garer dans l'impasse." They are putting three public housing units in the old school that used to be the mairie back when our house still had a large carriage door on the street and the yard behind, and windows on the street side, before it had the little addition Joaquim says they aren't going to cover in chaux unless we give up some contract items. The way it looks in the enlarged post card view from the turn of the century (the previous one) I found the other day in the mairie. Never would I thought I would regret their closing the school 3 years ago.

He and the adjoint mayor looked thoughtful. I stayed quiet.

"On fermera les yeux. La seule chose est si un voisin s'en plaint." I looket over at our neighbor, the adjoint mayor.

"Et le voici, notre voisin. Et qu'est-ce vous en dites?"

"Je vous donne mon accord."

Marché conclu. I could have some kind of open shed. I took that for the consolation it was and bid my adieus, waving, as I walked back up the street, to the village's newest oldest lovers, Yvette, my friend with three teeth, two goats, and one dog and one cat, the one who lives in the caravan the cantonnier helped her to obtain to replace the hodge-podge trailer-shed affair that burnt to the ground Christmas a year ago, along with the last remaining photos of her deceased husband in her possession, and her new love. The husband might be up in the cemetery and his photos reduced to phlogoston, but she has a new man to warm her nights.

Nearly home, I saw my neighbor, the one who is renovating the house they bought from the daughter of the old man who lost his wife a few years ago and then died himself two or three back. I could only imagine what this young couple with a toddler faced when they moved in. I have since seen what he is doing in detail. We two can (and do) talk for hours and hours. It was destiny that placed him in his passage door just as I walked by, feeling victorious that I had managed to get a lean-to accord from the unofficial negotiations with the local heads of state.

I saw the new baby, two weeks and two days old. I saw the progress in the bathroom, and looking out the window, he pointed to the new roof over between the two higher parts of the rear of the house, containing the bathrooms, in one of which we were standing. The one with the bathtub and sink. The other would have the toilet and stuff. He has replaced the undulating fiberglass roofing with asphalt tiles, "C'est là où je vais installer un toit végétale."

"Toit végétale?" I couldn't pretend to look like I knew what that was. He took me downstairs to show me online, and I felt a jolt of electricity run through me, creative juices beginning to stream. I nearly jumped off the couch.

"Mais c'est parfait! Si je ne peux faire qu'un appentis, imaginez une structure tout en bois, peinte en noir, très foncé, des lattes en bois entre les poteaux pour protéger contre le mauvais temps, et un grand toit plat, qui ne se voit presque pas, ni du chemin, ni d'en haut, tellement ça disparaitrait dans le paysaye!" A roof covered with low plants, softening the effect of the quantity of roof we'd need to shelter as many of our vehicles as possible. His eyes sparkled with delight, triumphal delight, while his wife watched as we sparked ideas, like two wizards of bricolage and architecture, playing with our magic wands. The baby had gone back to sleep, and the older boy was playing at the coffee table between us.

"Je pourrais même le marier avec la pergole de vignes de raisins, la cour "découpée" de la structure des écrans, des "trous" dans le toit au-dessus, même un atelier cloisonné à l'intériuere -- "

I don't think either of us could smile any more broadly. He put a book of scientific architectural structural method from the Renaissance into my hands, "Je l'ai acheté dans un brocante. J'achète pleins de bouquins comme ça," he explained. "Vous aimez Piranesi?"

Oui, j'aime beaucoup Piranesi.

"J'aime beaucoup les dessins de Piranesi."

I have a neighbor who works in something to do with electricity, who in converting the motorcycle he bought to ride around and take photos to a Bobber, loves Piranesi's architectural renderings and prefers nothing to researching innovative and ecologic building techniques on the Internet.

I can almost be happy in Moosesucks.

I'm going to check on my echinea.
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