Monday, March 19, 2007

Day Job

A very frustrating day, I hate Mondays. It's a long standing tradition but
now I get up extra extra early to go to Rouffignac for my language class. This has gone on for 3 years now and you would hardly notice to listen to my French.
It's actually much better but I have a Dutch accent now because all the other members of my class are Dutch, except one other English speaking woman but she is Japanese. Perhaps you are wondering why I don't just let my French speaking wife teach me? For the same reason that I would never consider trying to teach her how to drive... think about it.
So by the time I get home, it's around 1 pm and I usually just do chores around the house. Today is one of the last days of winter and we have had a week of exceptionally
warm temperatures and perfectly clear skies until yesterday. Then it began to rain last night and the temperature started to fall. Today, it is downright cold with intermittant rain and hail and periods of intense SNOW!
Needless to say any outdoor activity is not fun. Last week I started a job which should last for a few more weeks. I have been learning how to restore stone walls for tthe last 5 or 6 years and have done some pretty big jobs, but this year I am going to do a few houses. The house in the picture above is the one I njust started to work on.
The main part of the house is the oldest, probably dating to 1780 or before. The stone is a very soft degraded red sandstone which most of the houses around here are built of. That's a very interesting thing when you are traveling in France. The stone and the architectural details of the buildings change as you drive from area to area. To the west of us, the stone is hard light grey limestone and the tops of the windows usually have very detailed carved lintels. The tiles are all red clay. Here the tiles traditionally are black slate. This house lost the slate tiles years ago and now they are old red clay.
If you drive to the East, you start to see very carefully squared stones white limes stone and more interestingly, brick sized pieces of black slate with white chalk and sand mortar.
This old house is by a small stream and was a mill for a long time. The construction is not so detailed. Recycled big corner stones for the squared corners and smaller fill. The fill is typically 2 stone walls, an inside and outside, filled with smaller stones and clay. Originally, the only mortar was red clay between the bricks. Over the years, the various owners filled the gaps with chalk and sand and horribly, hard grey cement and concrete that is much harder than the stone and very ugly.
So my job here is to remove all the mortar from the joints, take off the cement from the rock surfaces., clean them as much as possible and replace rocks that are damaged. Then I fill the joints with mortar which we are mixing to complement the stones. We find right ratio of chalk, white cement and dark red ochre river sand tto make a mix that is not too shocking. Lots of experiments going on the side of the barn.
So this picture was taken 2 days into the job, the only tools used are a masons hammer and a few different sized chisels. I will post when I get to the totally clean, resttored stone work stage and then the final remortared finished look.
Maybe tomorrow the sun will return...........

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