1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

VII: The House in Vers:
Maison de Martin

The warm light of the late afternoon sun grazes the wall of the house facing the courtyard. The ancient stone steps go up to the entry at the left. The footsteps of centuries have worn the soft stone through nearly half of their ten inches of thickness. Patrice has filled in the hollows with mortar and set hard stones in it to resist the passage of feet. Where one step had broken off at the end, he has inset a little flowerpot and restored the squareness of the stone.

At the top of the wall facing the courtyard, two rows of decorative tile extend from the top of the wall, the upper overhanging the lower, both with their concave sides facing down. Above that, and built up a bit from these tiles is the framework supporting the roof tiles, which project out from the wall, just slightly more than the other tiles. The lower tiles are crescent shaped in cross section, but the upper ones are crescent shaped on the left, then extending straight to the right with a tiny lip curling up at the edge, which hooks under the crescent of the adjacent tile. “Genovese” is what Pierre calls this style, which seems to be common in the area. In some places there is but one row of the decorative tiles, in others three. They seem to function to extend the roof line out from the wall. In general, it seems that the higher the wall, the more rows. Since gutters are rarely used, it would appear that the idea here is to keep the water running off the tiles as far from the wall as possible.

At the foot of the stairs, two doors open into large rooms on the ground floor of the house. The wall surrounding the smaller door on the left is plastered and freshly painted, concealing the structure of the door frame. But the stones framing the larger door on the right are exposed, and form a massive pillar on the right. Across the top of the door, large stones about four by eighteen inches on their ends, form a nearly straight edge above the door, only their beveled sides supporting the arch of the door. On the left, the framing stones have been beveled on the sides, and neatly scalloped at the top. Patrice explains later that this was to allow a carriage to be parked in the narrow covered area, and pulled out at an angle.

Above the doors, the wall is composed of random, small stones set in mortar. Only the windows are framed in large rectangular blocks. According to Pierre, this method of construction has the disadvantage of providing places for mice to burrow, and some people have apparently blamed various diseases on the mice. Patrice has been diligent in eradicating mice that were once in the house and plugging up any burrows.

The lower part of the house might be as much as 400 years old, Pierre guesses. Over the years it has been built up to its present height of three floors. The lower part was probably built as a stable on the right and living quarters on the left. Next to the large door, a wall projects from the house, framing another edge of the courtyard. It’s top slopes gently down from about eight feet at the house to perhaps six feet at its end, another fifteen feet from the house. Its top is formed by overlapping tiles, fourteen in all.

On the other side of the wall, a mulberry tree fills the space, part of the neighbor’s courtyard. This wall is owned in common with the neighbor, whose house forms the third side of the courtyard on the right. The leaves of the mulberry tree once fed silk worms that lived in the room above the stable. This room Martin calls the “atelier” (or workshop) and is the space Patrice used for his painting. It has only a tiny window facing the mulberry tree, though Pierre has added a skylight. In each corner are the remnants of tiny fireplaces that were used to keep the room and the silkworms at a constant temperature year-’round.

As I sit in the courtyard, behind me and on the fourth side of the courtyard, one enters the street under a stone arch perhaps twenty feet in width and depth. This arch supports the kitchen, and to its right, another arch supports the second-floor bathroom. This room is to the right of the kitchen as one enters the house at the top of the stairs. To the left of the entry arch, two small openings lead into storage areas. And to the right, a recessed area below the top of the stairs opens into another room with an arched ceiling, also unfinished and being used for storage. An ideal spot for a hot tub, says Martin, but Pierre would prefer a sauna. To the right is a shuttered window which conceals a well. Pierre thinks it would be best to seal off the well, as some claim that wells like this one keep the house damp. In fact, just above this area, Pierre had found a poorly capped water pipe in the kitchen which had been leaking for many years. The visibly wet stones were only slowly relinquishing their stored moisture, even in the heat of June in Provence.

The top of the entry stairs is sheltered by a small roof that extends from the wall of the house. The free corner of this roof is supported by a pillar of three ornate stones, recently added.

Between the door to the bathroom and the entry is another door which opens onto stairs going up to the third floor. At the first landing, the stairs diverge to the left and the right. To the right, the stairs lead to the third floor bedroom over the “great hall,” the room between the bathroom and the atelier. To the left, the upper stairs lead to another landing from which doors lead on the right to another bathroom, and straight ahead to another bedroom. From the landing at the top of the entry stairs, a separate entry door leads to the “great hall,” and beyond that to the silkworm room.

On the second floor, beyond the kitchen (to the left when one enters the house from the top of the stairs), is another room, perhaps a pantry in other times, now Patrice’s bedroom. This part of the house parallels the street below, and with the rest of the house forms a large “L,” though not necessarily at right angles. In fact, perfect right angles do not seem to exist in this house. Most of the walls seem to have been laid out more by whim than by plan. The courtyard occupies only the inner corner of the space formed by the “L,” with one end occupied by the neighbor’s courtyard, and the right by the neighbor’s house.

We learn later that both Martin’s and the adjoining house were at one time one house, but then were divided again at some point. Indeed, Patrice’s room and the bedroom above that extend beyond the plane of the neighbor’s wall for most of their lengths. The courtyards, too, were originally one large courtyard. Martin and the neighbor each bought their separate part on the same day, not knowing what was happening with the other part of the house. Furthermore, both wanted the other part, but were unwilling to sell the part they each had bought. In the end, they agreed to divide the courtyard with this wall, rather than trying to share it as one large courtyard.

As the setting sun dips to the northwest, only the mulberry tree is in direct light, the courtyard illuminated only by the suffused light of the sky and that reflected by the tree and the wall of the other house beyond the courtyard. This third house also forms the fall of the far end of the atelier, or silkworm room.

The ceiling of the former ground floor stable room is formed by beams from the wall facing the courtyard across to the outer wall of the house. Across these are laid ribs that support the square stones of the floor of the room above. Between the ribs, fresh plaster fills the space, and the gaps between the floor stones. But the ceiling of the adjacent ground-floor room is one huge a stone arch. Colinear with the arches facing the street, the arch of this narrower room arcs from the wall facing the courtyard (and from which the stairs project) to the outer wall, into which is set a huge fireplace. Long abandoned, from the outside there is no trace of this fireplace. Its massive lintel stone, perhaps seven feet in length, is cracked and sagging in the center, supported now by a steel beam across the six foot width of the fireplace opening. To the right of the fireplace is the frame of a door leading to the stable. Now filled in, it is barely five feet high like the door to the atelier.

Inside the house, the floors are all made of rectangular stone tiles. They appear to be of varying dimension, but generally about twelve by eighteen inches by about four inches in thickness. In most places these are loosely set, but in some, the gaps are filled with plaster or grout. The stone is all the native beige limestone, rather porous, and often times showing fragments of shells.

Most of the windows are fitted with heavy wood shutters supported by stout iron hinges, like the massive arched door closing off the courtyard from the street. For now we have left the door open to take advantage of the breeze which cools the courtyard and the house.

To the right of the courtyard is the neighbor’s house. She has extended her wall up without permission, blocking much of the view from the upper floor of Martin’s house. It also blocks the sun in the Spring and Fall which had helped to warm the house and the courtyard. Now, in mid-June, the weather is hot, and we do not miss the direct sunshine, moving our chairs to catch the shade, instead. Nevertheless, this is a breach of law, as well as of custom and neighborliness, so the matter is currently the subject of litigation.

At its base, the wall appears to be heavily eroded, the stones rounded and intervening mortar nearly invisible. But the mortar blends so well with the stones that it is not possible to tell without close examination where one ends and the other begins.

While the neighbor has built against the wall of Martin’s house without the proper permission, Martin is not allowed to attach anything to this wall, which is wholly owned by the neighbor. But in the corner of the courtyard is another wall forming an arc between the neighbor’s house and the other wall at the end of the courtyard. The latter wall is wholly owned by Martin, while the former is commonly owned! What complicated deeds these houses must have!

The Photos: 1.) The entry from the street and the stairs leading up from the courtyard to the main entry. 2.) On the left, two views of upstairs bedrooms, the entry at dusk, and the oldest part of the house. 3.) Another bedroom view showing the thickness of the walls and the floor tiles of quarry stone, and the stairs leading to the third floor showing the wear on the stones. 4.) From the upper landing: shutters and the courtyard.

1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss