22 Feb 2011

From Home to Rubble in Sixty Years (Part 2)

Maison Bonavita belonged to a man of the world, Paul, a relative of my grandma on her maternal side, who had made it as a high-flying civil servant, no less than Chief Administrator of the French Colonies, based in Madagascar until his retirement. As I have intimated much earlier in this blog, my ancestors on my maternal side were truly citizens of the world and Corsica their stopover homebase between travels.

So how come did Maison Bonavita's glorious existence end so unceremoniously, I hear you think? Paul passed away in the 1950s. Mémé's mum inherited the property but died soon after. Then Claire, mémé's paternal auntie, took the responsibility to look after the house, as mémé and her brother (my great uncle) lived away. Claire was getting elderly and frail, yet single-handedly endeavoured to keep an eye on the property despite living off-site. The house was even advertised as rent-free to whoever would be interested to live there, but no-one expressed an interest, and this sealed its fate.

Unsurprisingly like other village houses, Maison Bonavita got broken into. Remember, it was off the beaten track and therefore easy to break into, undisturbed. When Claire and her brother (my great-grandad) passed away a few years later, the property had become an open sesame to the local builders, tradesmen, antiques dealers, reclamation yard dismantlers, residents, visitors, holidaymakers, people we knew, people we knew less, people we thought we knew, and people we didn't know, in fact anyone with a compulsion (and a reason so they'd say) to snatch, break, steal, unscrew, detach, tear, smash, pull anything they could lay their hands on, and not necessarily with a purpose in mind. Just for the darn sake of it.

The looting started off with interior fittings: shelving, cellar barrels, a wooden coffer, coving, shutters, doors, windows, staircase, railings, tiling. And then it became structural: steps, fireplaces, roof slates and beams... It took less than 20 years to turn it into a state of ruin, while the Winter rains, scorching Summer heat, the natural ravages of time and persistent assaults from the wild vegetation didn't help the cause either.

My parents and grandma did try to sell the property three decades ago, before it achieved its sorry state, in fact when the house was still standing solidly. A couple of selling opportunities presented themselves but in the cold light of day the sale never materialised. Meanwhile we couldn't possibly afford the upkeep and even so, it would mean 11 months of the year when the house would lay vacant and subject to further vandalism.

My dad put 'No Entry' signs up, boarded up the cellar entrances, we cleared the surroundings, made it known around us that the house was still under ownership (meaning: Keep Off!), but these hardly deterred any 'visitors'. In fact by the following Summer, when we returned to the property, the boards and sign had been ripped up, a clear statement to us that they didn't care about our warnings and the looting would carry on regardless! Oh boy, which it did...

To steal is to show no care, respect nor consideration for the actual property and its owners. Perpetrators, in their tunnel vision, might see it as only a door, a couple of stones, a plinth, a dozen terracota tiles, but these are acts of trespass, vandalism and looting, they are illegal and punishable, pure and simple... Thing is, someone just needs to get caught red-handed by the gendarmerie, or someone just needs to name and shame, with solid back-up evidence. But in Corsica like in Southern Italy la loi du silence (the law of silence) is a principle by which honest members of the public are 'encouraged' to give wrong-doers protection, out of fear and intimidation.

I cannot help but shiver at the potentially destructive results that unbridled, uncontrolled architectural salvage (let's call it looting) has on these seemingly abandonned, closed properties, not just in Corsica but elsewhere in the world. Maybe potential buyers should be less gullible and more willing to question the origins of some of those original features that end up online or down the high street or back street...

Today there is no much left of Maison Bonavita and if we are considering to put it back up for sale, it is as a bid for the future and dignity it deserves as a restored family home, through sympathetic renovation and TLC. This is our last shot to save this property from its wipe-out destination. Maison Bonavita has a name and a glorious past, now it needs the future it so rightly deserves. It is a Kevin McCloud's Grand Designs in the making, and the potential of this property is truly, most definitely awesome!

For further enquiries on Maison Bonavita with a view to purchase, please contact the author in confidence (only genuine requests please): nathalie@baguetteblog.com

1 comment:

  1. How heartbreaking. I am so sorry. I hope you find the right buyer.