August 26, 2009
Blanc, Aveyron, France
The house where we are staying has doors and windows edged with pink stone. The rough-hewn blocks impose order on the chunks of dark gray gneiss that compose the rest of the wall, which are irregular, piled on top of one another and set with a thick mortar. Back when these buildings were functional and never turned the head of a tourist, the gneiss was likely covered with plaster, and only the pink blocks were visible. Only “noble stone” that could be carved into blocks and domesticated was worth revealing. Now authenticity and postcard photographs dictate that stones be bare and shown off.
The house where we are staying was once the rectory, then the schoolhouse when the village outgrew the smaller schoolhouse that stands just beyond. The priest still lived on the top floor but accessed his room by climbing a ladder to the window, to conform to propriety while living under the same roof as the schoolmistress.
The ground floor is still paved with flagstones. I open the kitchen door and sweep out the crumbs of our meals. A family of field mice has taken up residence somewhere between the rafters of the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor. They scurry around at night, and led my husband on a frantic ghost chase through the upstairs bedrooms the evening we arrived.
The walls are thick. The front door is recessed two feet from the living room. The windows are small; in the heat of the afternoon, the living room is cool and dark.
The roof of the house blew off in last winter’s wind storm that tore through the southwest of France. I imagined our hosts in their ruined tenth-century castle at the edge of a cliff, hearing the wind rip at the stones and wondering what scene would greet them in the morning. I suppose that when stones have stood for centuries there is some assurance they’ll remain, even after sun and wind and rain and ice have done their best in the cycle of yet another season.