Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Finding the Soul of the House

Finding the Soul of the House

The Workers

We found ourselves busy pulling many of the structures of the house apart and putting them together again, what we did know quite well by now was something about the materials used in its building. The construction was beautifully efficient. Totally insulated by stone, earth, wood and reeds, it could stand for hundreds of years if lived in and cared for. However, being made with natural materials, when abandoned a house like this would quickly deteriorate and become just a pile of stones and timber in a field. Modern cement houses unfortunately don’t disintegrate as beautifully, and an abandoned cement factory, showroom or warehouse usually becomes an ugly eyesore – as so many have in modern Greece.

    Takis in his Carpentry Workroom

We tried to honour the architectural signs of the house’s past. But as we couldn’t consult with any of George and Ephterpi’s generation, all I could do, as I’ve mentioned, was to try to put myself in grandmother Ephterpi’s shoes. I played with the idea that the passions and energies of past generations remain imprinted on a house.

    Julia Painting a Ceiling

It was this imagining, and the familiarity of living there ourselves for some years, that gave me the clue to find the well, and later the chimney.

It all began with a watermelon

One evening, as Takis and I were walking around the property doing one of our post-siesta inspections, we were stopped at the back wall by a voice calling to us from the now reinforced car park above. It was Irini, another neighbour. She was hanging her washing out up there. She and Takis spoke of various things and then I whispered a question, ‘Ask her if she can remember if there was ever a well here.’

I’d been looking that day at a concrete square in the middle of the rough stone floor of the old laundry, and I wondered about it. Now she pointed to this very building and said, ‘It’s in there, in the old laundry.’
‘Right first time,’ I murmured to myself.
After she’d left we went to inspect the concrete block more carefully. Takis got a couple of tools and levered it up while I wedged it open.
‘No nasty smell,’ I said. ‘It’s not the septic tank.’
‘They wouldn’t have put the septic here, away from the house. We’ll probably find that closer to the bathroom.’
I found a small stone and dropped it into the hole. We both stood listening. A couple of seconds later we heard a splash. We whooped with excitement. We had our own water supply on the property: what a bonus!
‘It’s probably undrinkable with so many houses around us, each with their own septic.’
‘But at least we’ll have water for the garden,’ I said with great satisfaction.
The next day Takis asked Anestis and Marcos to open up the well again. He wanted to see how much water it held. Panayiotis, another neighbour, had called by and the four men lifted the slab then lowered a string with a weight attached. We discovered we had three metres of water at a depth of six metres. That sounded pretty good to me.

     Takis and Neigbours Sounding the Well

Another renovation that returned the house to a previous set-up came about when I explored a large bulge on one of the walls of a small bedroom on the middle floor. I’d become suspicious that there might be something behind the plasterwork, and I began tapping on the surface. Hearing a hollow ring in the centre I called Takis and pointed out the shape of the bulge and the possibility of something being behind the plaster. He soon had Anestis attacking the plaster with a sledgehammer. We all shouted with joy and surprise when we found what I’d been suspecting, an old fireplace. Though there wasn’t a chimney opening on the roof we could now see there was a chimney vent going up through the thick wall. However, it didn’t look as a fire had ever been lit there as the brickwork wasn’t sooty. Maybe the structure had only been used for keeping pans warm, with a few hot coals placed under the saucepans that had been brought upstairs from the furno. It seemed a good explanation, for this room was just across the landing from the room that had once been the dining room. What was truly wonderful about this find was the beautifully cut stone arch around the fireplace, so soon Anestis was set to work to uncover and strengthen this feature.

     The old chimney place

Yet mysteries remained. Often we could only speculate about the use of some of the rooms. For instance, why were all four walls of the room just inside the front door two feet thick? Was it the outline of some original shepherd’s hut, and perhaps the future house grew around that first structure? Or was this room built at the same time as the rest of the house, and made so solid because it was to be a storeroom?

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