The Stonemason

February 21, 2013

Text and images by Gabrielle.

The big event at our house this week was watching the grand old stone wall get repaired. Back in December, on the day the Mayan calendar ended, we didn’t wake up to the end of the world, but we did wake to find a section of the wall had crumbled. Apparently, it’s been so wet this winter, that this is happening all over the region. The wall is massive — tall, thick, and sturdy as can be. It was hard to imagine anything being able to crumble it.

Well, the stone mason arrived earlier this week and each day he steadily repaired the wall. I instagrammed a picture of him working, and the comments mentioned the timelessness of seeing him work. I felt the same way. It was easy to imagine the wall being repaired in the very same manner for hundreds of years. Pretty neat.

Here’s a photo of the repaired wall snapped this morning:

One thing that’s been interesting to observe since we moved here is how well the French seem to be able to maintain traditional skills while modernizing at the same time. A quick example, on the same day the stonemason finished up, a faster internet line was also installed. But more than that, I’m so impressed with their instincts to preserve instead of tear down.

There’s a cathedral in our town (shown here) that was almost entirely destroyed in World War II. We’ve seen pictures of the rubble and that’s not an exaggeration. It was about 80% destroyed! Instead of tearing it down, the community spent 40 years and rebuilt it. And it’s stunning! It’s the jewel of the town now. I’m so glad they didn’t tear it down.

And I’m so glad the old stone wall at La Cressonnière has been repaired, and then repaired again, over hundreds of years. You can’t help but think about the history of this place while you’re here.

P.S. — Ben Blair found these images of the destroyed cathedral.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily February 21, 2013 at 8:46 am

I think there is something so majestic about stone walls. Growing up in Vermont we used to find them all the time in our forrest adventures. My parents have one that scrolls through their land and my dad has helped to repair it – it’s an unbelievably beautiful thing to watch, but incredibly difficult. They’re such a treasure and I grew up believing they were almost sacred in Vermont – it’s even a crime to remove a stone from them!


2 Kate Frishman February 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

I lived in England for a few years, and the instinct to preserve instead of tear down was evident there, too. The church in our little town had been rebuilt several times over the last six hundred years.
The row house we lived in was several hundred years old, as well, and had been everything from a work house to a stable!
I was 18 when I moved there. The experience gave me such a healthy respect for preservation that I’ve lived in “old” houses ever since – though, of course, they’re upstarts compared to Orford. :)


3 sarah k February 21, 2013 at 9:32 am

Beautiful, evocative images. They make me think of Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”, although I’m sure what he was describing was probably less massive.

I love the sense of permanence and history in old things…and wish American culture respected them as much as Europeans seem to. I grew up in an old house and love the one we now live in–with all its old-house quirks. :) A lot of old buildings in our area have been lovingly maintained and restored, but many have also been neglected or horribly mutilated, and I walk by dreaming wistful dreams of how they could be repaired.


4 dervla February 21, 2013 at 9:36 am

wow, that is so so beautiful. Love the shot of him repairing the wall and the color of the sky. What an incredible skill and art he has.


5 gia February 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

How lovely. Thanks, this is a breath of fresh air.


6 Jo February 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Have you ever seen the series Band of Brothers? I was just watching it the other day and all the scenes that take place in Normandy and all the beautiful little towns. I wonder if you’d recognize a bunch of the places in the series?! I was just thinking because this wall looks like something straight out of the movie set for Band of Brothers.


7 Sue February 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Reminded me instantly of Mending Wall by Robert frost. :)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


8 Robin Dini February 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

incredible, like you said, that they are technologically advance but still work in the original craftsmanship of yesteryear. You must be having such an incredible time fostering your children’s creativity in such an amazing place.


9 Jennifer February 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I had an opportunity to go to southern France a few years ago & took part in a really great restoration project that taught you how to repair stone walls like that. They had originally restored the old village & the castle, which rests at the top of a very large hill. Using the tool & techniques that was originally used, we worked on one of the walls off the pathway which connects the two. It was a wonderful experience! We stayed in the old village, which was just beautiful.

I think that why I noticed your site, some of your pictures remind me of my trip. One of these days I’ll earn enough to go back to France!


10 Mason September 14, 2013 at 7:40 am

Beautiful workmanship restoring while maintaining the look of this old masonry wall. Well Done!


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