mercredi 12 août 2009

Lousy perfectionist

Paint bucket and two dog leashes


I thought I was a true perfectionist, but in truth, I am only a relative perfectionist. This means that I am enough of a perfectionist to be bossy and dislike the active participation of my husband in just about anything I think I do better, but not perfectionist enough to not say "Oh, what the hell; it's never going to be perfect anyway" and let a lot slide.

I like to think that I let less slide than he would, if I were to let him do the things I kill myself to get done before he has a chance of helping.

It's been a headlong mad push to get a lot done, too, before August 15, when he is officially on vacation and will have lots of time to help.

No. I am being facetious, in part. I am the more demanding of the resident potential painters, as opposed to those who are merely residents -- I refer to Sam. I got him to sand a bit; next, I send him out onto the balcony with a box of cotton swabs and the base coat for exotic wood and have him do between the floor boards. I am being partly facetious because most of the real reason why I am racing to get as much as I humanly can done before the 15th is because I don't think that this work is particularly relaxing, as he says it is. I know because I actually do it. Come to think of it, I do feel kind of relaxed. Anyway, I would like him to have the chance of real vacation time at his family home in the Périgourd, where he loves to be. I don't, so I'd stay and keep working, like I did last year, except I shouldn't exaggerate with that.

And so, it has been non-stop since some time ago. First, the drawings for the paving of the upper terrace: the entry courtyard and how to handle it now that it will be filled with the new kitchen entry bump (and details for this, too, to get the top of concrete set for the paving material finally chosen), the walk in front of the house leading to the "petite maison", and patio for the two rooms there, including space for the table from Morocco. Then, the drawings for the new brick pillars at the gate on the street to the courtyard (fancy word for not much to write home about), and the low wall between the house and the pillars. Then, stripping and sanding the windows.

When Joaquim showed up a couple of Saturdays ago to show me what the bands on the house might look like darker, it came clear that the windows really do need to be natural wood and not painted.

This was not good news. Painting is much easier than stripping old windows down to bare wood, and it's right here that perfectionism is first in peril: the windows are old, they are not even all in the same wood, and I am not a professional with lots of specialty tools. We went to the store the next day and stood in front of the small wedge-shaped power sanders for small spaces and detail work, although not too detailed, as I have learned. I wish they made on dental hygenist-sized. We looked at them for awhile. I let Audouin look, mostly. I looked at Audouin looking at them, and I sent silent prayers skyward that he would see reason.

"Celui-ci a l'aire pas mal," he uttered at last. It was won. We headed home with our new Mouse sander and all the sandpaper pads for that one and the good old (useless, it turned out) belt sander we thought we could possibly need.

I called Sam down from his room, where he had been ailing (really) for the past week. He came down looking like he could strip and sand those windows just by looking at them, but I figured these are things a young man should do for at least an afternoon in his life. You know, to be prepared for the home he will hire others to tend to. Or, at least he is certain now that he will have the means to do. I know. I believed all through college and architecture school that I would drive a silver Porsche Carrera just like Pam Ewing. Meanwhile, I went back to my drawings.

"Tu ne l'a toujours pas fini?" asked my husband, making no effort to suppress his incredulity. I chose to let the simple answer suffice.

"Non," I said, trying to appear unruffled, walking away to the sound of power sanders filling the August afternoon air.

The work went on all the following week, and it was worth it if you ask any of us, including me, who did most of it. The windows are going to look great with a clear finish. There are traces of the old paint, but I made a decision to not fret about it. The bits of old paint tell a story, the worst of which is up on the transom over the bathroom French doors onto the balcony, where there was ample evidence of someone's delirium: acid green-blue paint on one transom window, smack in the middle of the house. Someone slapped some sense into the painter before he got any farther with that paint, and the whole thing ended up brown, then raw liver red sometime later before being partially painted white in a more recent time. The brown paint sort of melts and congeals when sanded. That's what motivated me to go get the Decapex on the third day.

The jolt came on the 4th day, when I took down the panels of the brand new kitchen window that was a replica of the rotted one. I was already unhappy about having to do it at all because it was supposed to never have been primed, but since when has anything that's been done by Batrénov gone off without a hitch?

"On est désolée, mais il a mis une sous-couche. Il pensait qu'il faisait bien." The carpenter thought he was doing a good thing by giving the street and kitchen windows a thin coat of primer.

"Mais j'ai demandé exprès qu'il ne la faisse pas." Despite my asking that he not.

"Oui, je sais." Georges knew. But hey, it's not like you can send two perfectly good custom windows back to him for stripping, or expect someone to do it.

I lay the first panel down on the saw horses and started the sander. The wood appeared. It was not pine. It was some unidentified exotic wood. This guy loves exotic wood. Worse, where the inside hardware was attached, the screw heads were covered on the outside with large rounds of very light-colored wood putty. This guy never intended not to prime them. He wasn't even trying for windows that wouldn't need painting, and I never asked for exotic wood because it would never have gone with what we already have: oak and pine.

This is when I start longing for the States. I have to tell myself That's where they have Glenn Beck and no universal single-payer health system, though.

Oh. You're right. Just sand and deal with it. It will be what it will be, ça va aller. This is why the French invented and perfected the Gallic shrug.

Georges came by one morning, three days into my stripping and sanding. He looked at the house as we crossed the terrace, and then he looked at me, his eyebrows rising to lift the bill of his cap.

"Vous avez fait tout ça?" I smiled.

"Oui." He walked over to lay his hand on the wood of the living room French doors, stroking it up and down the length of the grain, and then he turned back to me.

"C'est vraiment bien ça. C'est mieux qu'on fait nous." He was impressed. I, he told me, did better work than they do. This I knew. As flattering as it might have been, it was anything but reassuring. There is work still to be done that I am not at all sure I feel comfortable having them do, but there is no way that my husband is about to agree to get someone else involved in the project now.

I am preparing already for future need of my shoulders, drawing them up as I take a deep breath in and let them both go with a "Bon, c'est comme ça. Qu'est-ce que tu veux?"



Having gotten this far, it was time to attack the balcony.

In my mind's eye, it was ebony. Painted in a vegetable tar-based product, like this ecologically-friendly Donnos in black, or dark brown, black being my preference.

In Audouin's mind's eye, all was doubt. We went to Leroy Merlin and picked up a dark stain and a base coat for exotic wood. Exotic woods are greasy and release anti-oxydants and oils that will cause the stain or paint to flake.

"Je préfère le très foncé. Je l'ai toujours vu en ébène afin de racconter une histoire avec les motifs presque noir, qui rappellent le bois traité avec du goudron."

"Je sais," he said, "mais on peut toujours aller plus foncé." Yes, we can always go darker, but at 9 meters long with some 62 uprights, 7 posts and brackets, 4 horizontal bars, floor boards and beams, and miscellaneous small pieces to be covered with a base coat, and two finish coats, well, that's a lot of work to go through to get to a final decision, but I know the drill.

We could always redo it darker.

We loaded the motorcylce with the cans and a 60 mm brush for the larger work and headed home. I haven't stopped since, except now, to get this on virtual paper.

I was nearing the end of the first coat of "Rustic Oak" stain on the inside of the balcony when he came up from parking his motorcylcle last evening. It was nearing 8 pm.

"C'est ça?" he asked. Was that it? "C'est très clair."

"Non, je n'ai pas encore fait ce côté là, apart les barres en haut. Mais, oui, c'est clair." He found it very light -- surprising light, even -- and came up to look.

"Ca ne donne pas de tout ce qu'on montre au magasin." He was referring to the sample chips, where it looked very nearly ebony, unlike the ebony in another, lesser brand of stain, which looked quite ebony, and no, it didn't look a thing like the sample.

"Oui. Ils le montrent sur un pin clair. Pas sur un bois exotique traité avec une sous-couche."

"Tu pourrais peut-être just faire un essaye avec une deuxième couche sur un petit endroit, pour voir, et puis, si ce n'est pas beaucoup plus foncé, on changera. Ca ne serait pas un grand gaspillage parce que ce qu'on a mis protègera le bois de toute manière."

You could, he was suggesting, just do a small area with two coats to see, and then if it wasn't a lot darker, we could change. It wouldn't be such a loss because what we'd used -- at 77 euros for 5 liters, with only a fraction used -- would help protect the wood. So would what we will end up using, I muttered under my breath, not, however, unkindly. The rest, well, we could do the same thing with it for something else... or not.

Meanwhile, here it is.



I ended up painting with what looks like a calligraphy brush that I had bought for the corners in the orange room, which still aren't done. It is suppler and works better on the small surfaces for an even application. Audouin couldn't get over it.

Sometimes bigger isn't better.
....
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