Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Authenticity versus decoration

Following up on my previous blog post [display], I wish to tackle here the interesting questions of basic distinctions—both structural and purely visual—between an authentic old-fashioned wood-burning oven, on the one hand, and a trivially-decorated concrete shit-house, on the other. In a nutshell, it’s the same kind of distinction that exists between two vastly different kinds of bread that we encounter these days. Once upon a time, in France, loaves of bread were generally round or oblong.

Industrial sliced bread (of the kind I recently purchased for my Australian visitors at Xmas) then arrived on the scene… without making any kind of gigantic impact in France.

Notice the striking geometrical contrast between the lovely curves of old-fashioned bread and the harsh rectangularity of the plastic-enclosed industrial product. That’s exactly the distinction that concerns me between a nice old-style stone oven and the nasty flat rectangular shit-house shape that arises inevitably when you’re tempted to install your bread oven inside an external structure made out of so-called CMUs (concrete masonry units) of the kind used to erect modern housing.

Now, I’m not saying that everything of a flat rectangular kind is necessarily ugly in the bread oven domain. That would be a stupid evaluation of the historical situation, because countless ancient bread ovens were incorporated into farmhouses of a basically rectangular architecture. All I’m trying to say is that we should strive to steer clear, as far as possible, of the ugly shit-house shape derived from the use of CMUs.

In the catalogue of examples from the oven manufacturer, let’s start with the worst. Here’s what I would call a Mickey Mouse oven:

I have the impression that a pizza emerging from such a flimsy oven (if ever such an emergence were indeed possible) would have a curious flavor of lollipops. Such an oven might maybe produce cup cakes (?), but nothing more substantial.

This second example embarrasses me a lot, because I must admit that my Photoshop vision of a “dressed up” wood oven in my Gamone cellar was largely inspired by the following esthetic atrocity, which stinks of pretentious nouveaux riches design:

Fortunately, not everything is mildly nauseating in the manufacturer’s photo album. Here’s an oven that I would qualify as “heavy-handed, but not at all bad”:

And here’s a second example that I would qualify as “bad at the bottom, but quite good at the top”:

From a design viewpoint, the creator of a structure housing a wood-fuelled oven should do his utmost to move away from the flat verticality of the amorphous shit-house model, and he should make the structure attractive without any need for abominable decoration. In the context of this noble ambition, a fundamental factor is the nature and quality of the building materials. You can’t build the Parthenon using nothing more than CMUs and a painted plaster coating.

Great news!  Yesterday afternoon, I was thrilled to learn, by chance, that there’s a supply of superb construction stones just a few kilometres away from Gamone, in the village of Auberives-en-Royans. The stone costs next to nothing, but there’s a hitch. The purchaser has to sort through the huge pile of stone in order to to extract the actual fragments that he wishes to purchase. So, next spring, I foresee long hours spent in the Auberives quarry, with my Kangoo and my trailer in the background. Meanwhile, here’s a specimen of this wonderful limestone that I brought back from Auberives yesterday afternoon:

Insofar as one might fall in love with stone, I fell in love immediately, yesterday afternoon, with this magnificent limestone product. Admire its cream-hued density. The firm at Auberives, Fromant (my enemy, a few years ago, in the battle—which we won—to prevent quarrying next to Gamone), designates this stone as Rencurel (the next village up from Choranche). I learned with stupefaction that the small quarry in question belonged to my former friend Roger Zanella [deceased a few years ago and buried in the cemetery of Choranche], who was one of my primary contacts during my installation at Gamone. (I could talk for ages about my friendly contacts with Roger.) If indeed Roger’s limestone were soon to house my bread oven at Gamone, that would be (in my mind) a minor but magnificent miracle. In the case of Roger Zanella (a native of the Vercors, of the Bourne, and a celebrated hunter), all was authenticity. There was no place for decoration.

For my future wood-fuelled oven, I'll have to select and bring back to Gamone an adequate stock of this splendid Rencurel limestone. Then, starting next Spring, I'll erect patiently my Gamone bread oven—day by day, stone by stone—which will emerge slowly with all the sensuous pastel-hued roundness of a nicely-baked female from Auguste Renoir.

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