Spring Has Sprung

Yes, Spring has Sprung unless you live in the northern part of the midwest or in the northeast.  I’m sure that the blossoms on the Japanese cherry trees in Washington DC did not make so fine a show, what with the cold weather and snow.  It’s a shame, I have seen them a few times before and always loved their beauty.  On the other hand, the eyes of Texas Spring are upon us and that means time for blue bonnets, daffodils, and irises in the back yard.  I think the tulips are coming up as well.  I don’t hold with keeping a lawn and wasting water on grass.  But flowers and vegetables are another consideration.  I must spend some time outdoors and do a few chores this month and next, the sun and balmy weather beckon so gracefully right now.  There will be time enough for 90 plus days this summer.

The end of April brings thoughts of France to mind.  I have a small town house in a small village.  I believe it dates back to the 17th or 18th century, hard to know for lack of records.  But it is typical of the old stone buildings in the way it was constructed.  The masons used stone for the inside and outside courses with fill between.  I’ve had occasion to take a stone building apart, my neighbor had an old addition to his house that was in ruins and I took about two weeks to play the modernist French philosopher and deconstruct the walls.  Sometimes rock is placed so that it spans both walls but it is not the old Roman method where the inside and outside courses go up and at a meter cross pieces are placed,  The French masons were a bit more hit of miss.  But then the house was once part of a barn and storehouse owned by the church, so I expect corners were cut fairly regularly.  It’s not like the clergy paid that well for services rendered.  But it’s mine and has doors and windows and furniture and indoor plumbing.

So I have spent the past couple of years working on the place.  The exterior walls needed re-pointing in most places and some of the places were very bad.  Repoint is chiseling out the old mortar to a depth of three or four inches and replacing it with fresh.  I buy 25KG bags of it and mix 5KG at a time since it sets withing half and hour to forty-five minutes.  Mortar is one part cement (portland cement), four parts sand, and one part lime.  And don’t forget the water.  Since I use my hands to push the mortar into the cracks, it must be on the thick and pasty side.  Of course one wears the rubber gloves because the mortar will eat your hands alive if you don’t.  But once I do a section, usually a square meter at a time, the walls look so much better.  Some villagers like to use a tan or yellowed collar in their mortar, I like white.  So I always have something to do when I go the France.  This year I will do more on the interior walls and see about rep-lacing one or two doors.  I just may build the doors myself since I have the tools and what had been the livery storage is not the front room.  It makes a really great workshop.  There are still a few windows to replace, only four of the windows have double pane and those are the ones I did a couple of years ago.

I will warn you that most of these old houses are money pits.  Frankly, you would be almost better off to raze the interior and do it right.  Over the centuries what repairs have been done and improvements, such as they might be, are often done in a shoddy manner the closer one gets to the present time.  The French aren’t known for their handy man skills.  And a lot of the additions and attempts are based on nothing more than ignorance.  So I spend some time each year fixing mistakes and attempting to put things right.  I have already rewired much of the house and found that in France electricians seldom love using grounds.  The service to the house is grounded at the initial panel.  But once inside, there were no grounded plugs.  The same was true for my English friends house.  Of course the plumbing is another mate.  The French love to use five and ten mm copper tubing.  That type of water service freezes very quickly and few houses in France, at least to old ones, have bothered to insulate their pipes.

All that aside, I do spend time simply enjoying the countryside.  There are trails around the village that can add up to a couple of miles of walking.  I love the quiet in the village, one does not hear much in the way of traffic.  My house, which is really a row house, sits on the corner of an “L”, meaning I actually have three sides.  And my living quarters are in the rear of the house on two different floors so the noise from the village center is even less.  The village sits up on a ridge and I have views of the valleys to the south and west.  The sun comes in my bedroom window to wake me up early in the morning and the jasmine bush comes into bloom and fill the the air with a wonder fragrance.  I go to the local food stores twice a week and obtain my provisions.  Such good food, a little cheaper than here in the US.  And the wine, god, I love the wine.  Unlike California, the French Bordeaux are very good on the low end.  What I can buy for $10 a bottle is far superior to what I can get in California for even double that price.  Sometimes I can find a fifth growth from a good year for about 20 euros a bottle and I am in heaven.  The burgundies are a little more pricy but I can go down to Dijon and find good village burgundy in bulk for around six or seven dollars a bottle.  Then there are the mustards that I can buy and use.  Ah, the cheese selections, so many different one, I can buy a couple new ones each week and never run out of variety.  But one of my favorites are the Creme Brulee I get in glass containers.  I have my brown sugar and propane torch to put a nice sugar crust on the custard.  I love the little deserts I find.  For you chocolate lovers, French chocolates are the best.  They use far less sugar and better butter and cream.  So I have my passport ready and my ticket purchased.  France, here I come.

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