2 Jul 2010

An Attention to Detail (Part 2)

Attention to detail in rusticity is exemplified by mémé's house. Spread over three floors, it demonstrates church and castle engineering transposed to the private humble home, with a medieval vault structure supporting the whole weight of the house and deployed over a steep public path, using noble materials like oak and chestnut beams and stonemasonry. A challenge back in the day, and still a challenge today as no concrete casts, supporting steel frames or breeze blocks are used! This will baffle many a savvy modern architect, no doubt!

As if this was not enough, mémé's house also boasted until 50 years ago a fully-functioning built-in bread oven (alleged to be as ancient as the multi-century-old house) and tiled terracotta surround. Furthermore the property is flanked by its own private stone pavement. It also has a granary and an attic, a dispenza (larder), three fireplaces (the one in the kitchen was used to smoke pork meat into ham), a separate kitchen building linked to the main house itself via a puntu (bridge), two panoramic terraces, two functional cellars (one for wood storage and one for wine-making, complete with stone basin and oak barrels), a chicken pen, a pigsty consisting of a stone shelter built underneath the public path and an open-sky pig yard, a small terraced garden, and three olive trees immediately below the communal path. Thick stone walls and solid wooden floors are defacto, while chestnut windows and French windows are fitted with their own inside shutters, to keep the house safe and cool.

This is a perfect example of a self-contained property, an average peasant/ farmer family dwelling that over the decades/ centuries got improved upon, updated and enlarged to cope with the changing times. For instance, in line with a design trend of the time, one of the downstairs rooms has a beautiful ornate plaster ceilling that was stencilled in 1907 to commemorate my great-grandparents wedding, and has not been touched up since although it is now - sadly - severely damaged. The house was electrified in the 1950s by a family member on holiday from his high-ranking post in Marseille docks: he did a very neat spot-on job, that would shame our so-called electricians out there!

A cosmetic detail: my mum's D.O.B. immortalised on the façade by my grandad

For this is what I have noticed: back in the day, masons, builders, carpenters, roofers, skilled/ unskilled tradesmen and even amateurs/ rookies seemed to make a point at producing quality work, not any of this sub-standard lark that we have come to expect or get accustomed to nowadays, with shortcuts aplenty, poor materials, cheap imitations, and loads of cladding, panelling, plaster-boarding, lashes of paint or glue, staple-gun action and falseties to hide a multitude of sins in minimum time and effort... That attention to detail and pride in a job well done are an aberration for some! The building trade shouldn't be that charade, the lottery it has turned out to be, as - using Forrest Gump's famous words - 'you never know what you gonna get!'

I have been appalled at the extremely poor quality of work and motivation levels of those (albeit self-employed) tradesmen I have personally dealt with. A case of bad attitude, poor habits, lazy quick-fix methods and often not an ounce of common sense! While I'm at it, I would be extremely tempted to publicise the rogue Stockport plumber who carried out a wretched job at installing a new kitchen sink in my home six months ago and charged me over the odds for the extremely disappointing results that awaited me as soon as I opened the under-sink cupboard...

I have countless examples of the sort, and so have my acquaintances... With such low standards today, no wonder you eagerly look back in anger and turn to the past to discover skills, talent and ingeniosity that are so missing right now!

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