Twenty-six years ago we walked through the front door here on a spring afternoon and fell in love with this house.
(I bought it that evening–my offer was accepted at 7pm)
The said front door is the original, made of oak–“un bois noble,” according to Gilbert Caminade, our friend and menusier [carpenter].
The solid old door has a NOBLE air–but it has seen some days (three centuries!) and was in need of care and attention.
The date 1715 is carved into the lintel above the door.
After roughly 300 Christmases, it was looking like William Congreve’s description of Lady Wishfort in his play, The Way of the World (1700): “an old peeled wall”.
The date triggers my imagination.
In England, the first Jacobite revolt broke out that year.
The Old Pretender (sums me up perfectly), James Francis Edward Stuart, tried to unseat the new Hanoverian George–but was repelled with Germanic efficiency.
In 1745, Bonny Prince Charley, the Young Pretender (uhm!), tried his luck–but the second George was having none of it.
By then our door had weathered only 30 (just 10%!) of its lifetime of Christmases.
During the great upheaval of the French Revolution, the original chapel attached to the presbytère was largely destroyed, though the house itself–with its oaken doors–survived.
Gilbert said we should do something about this solid old survivor before another winter sets in.
He should know.
He was born in the tiny hamlet overlooking our house–the presbytère or rectory and as a boy walked barefoot across the fields to attend his catechism lessons in what is now our kitchen.
His father, also a master carpenter, worked on the house for the previous owner, often assisted by his talented son.
Gilbert (pronounced Jeelbare) has a way with old houses where nothing is at a right angle.
He pulls and pushes, knocks and scrapes, twists and nudges–cajoling stubborn old windows and doors to comply when they don’t want to–an osteopath for ancient structures.
He knows how far to go without doing damage–a rare skill.
We first met Gilbert waiting to enter the church for his father’s funeral.
He speaks in bursts, like a machine gun, in the rolling accent of the Midi.
(I barely understood a word he said for years….)
Things are a bit better a quarter of a century on–but I confess, I still rely on his habit of repeating himself.
The repair job on the old door is remarkable.
We’re still tinkering with the exact color but Gilbert has restored it in time for its 301st Christmas!