Saturday, September 22, 2007

Scars and sundials

My ex-wife, Christine Mafart, invented a delightful metaphor for the numerous irregularities in the façade of my house at Gamone. She referred to them as scars: traces of wounds, now healed by time, inflicted upon the façade of this old house that was erected back in the days of a certain Corsican soldier named Napoléon Bonaparte [1769-1821]. It's easy to understand why there were wounds and scars. When the Chartreux monks were chased away from Bouvante and Choranche, in the wake of the French Revolution, a local farmer would have purchased this property and set about transforming the ancient wine-making premises of the monks into a place where he could reside with his family and earn his living. To build a house, this fellow probably called upon his vigorous offspring to collect boulders on the slopes of Choranche, and bring them back to Gamone on the backs of donkeys or in bullock-drawn carts. If finely-cut stones could be found in the ruins of local ecclesiastic and noble structures, then so much the better. That's why my house has various splendid stone elements tucked away in the mass of hillside boulders.

If an oak beam crumbled and stones fell to the ground, the owner would do his best to patch up the disaster, using whatever materials happened to be on hand. For a few decades, carrying on the wine-making activities invented by the monks, the families at Gamone would have lived in a relatively prosperous style. But, after the abrupt and terrible devastation of France's vineyards by the phylloxera pest in the late 1800s, the folk at Gamone were no doubt reduced to survival level, because the sloping rocky land at Choranche does not lend itself to ordinary agriculture. Maybe they tried to survive by rearing goats, for meat or cheese. That hypothesis applies to the period between the phylloxera catastrophe and the agricultural activities of Hippolyte Gerin. At a certain moment in time, walnuts appeared on the scene. Needless to say, it's frustrating for me to know so little about how these people lived and worked at Gamone.

In unknown circumstances and at an unknown date, a great hole appeared in the façade of my house at Gamone, just above the steel girder seen in the old photos attached to my article entitled Gamone enhancements [display]. The owner didn't scratch his head, nor did he seek an aesthetic solution. He simply filled up the hole in the façade with vulgar red bricks. And this became the most ugly scar on the ancient façade of Gamone.

Today, thanks to the excellent restoration work of Eric Tanchon [click here to see the home page of the future website I intend to build for Eric], the huge hole above the lefthand steel girder in the façade of Gamone has been rendered smooth and relatively unnoticeable. In fact, it's a big blank rectangle on the façade, and I immediately wondered if I might not be able to occupy it, say, by a sundial. Why not?

Sundials are a local tradition. In the neighboring village of Rencurel, an ancient house boasts two sundials, separated by the colorful image of a soldier.

The principal reddish sundial, for afternoon viewing, is located on a southern wall, whereas an early-morning yellowish sundial and the brightly-colored Epinal-type soldier are found on an eastern façade of this ancient house.

In the neighboring village of St-André, I came upon lovely modern sundials, created from ancient models, executed under the guidance of my aging friend Bernard Peignet, proprietor of the castle.

On the façade of the village church, a simple sundial accompanies a big clock, so there should be no excuse for arriving late at Sunday morning mass.

Having appreciated these splendid specimens of sundials, I was impatient to know whether the flat space above the openings into my living room might be able to house, one day, such an object. Alas, I had forgotten just one essential data item. Most sundials in France are attached to southern walls. It's feasible to put a sundial on an eastern wall [see the above case of a lopsided sundial at Rencurel], but it's not an ideal solution. My empty space at Gamone is on a façade oriented toward the east, which only receives sunshine in the early hours of the morning. Putting a sundial on this wall would be akin to erecting a windmill in a deep valley where the wind rarely blows. It would be like a grandfather clock with a weak spring.

New idea. I would like to fill in the empty space on the eastern façade of Gamone with an Epinal image on the theme of an Antipodean upside-down world. Something like this:

I must talk about this idea with my Dutch friend and neighbor Tineka Bot.

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