Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The dove of revolution

   I recently worked on a pigeonnier. A dictionary translation of the French word pigeonnier gives 'dovecote', but for (English) me a dovecote is a wooden structure. The one I was working on was made of limestone;

   The roof collapsed many years ago, it was a stone roof, made of limestone split along natural fault lines, these roofing stones, some approaching a metre wide, are referred to here in Burgundy as laves;

   It's very expensive to replace a stone roof in the traditional manner – not only does it take great skill to interlock the stones (no mortar is used), but also the oak framework supporting the vast weight needs to be constructed by an expert.
   The pigeonnier is owned by my friend and neighbour, Didier. For reasons of economy he decided to build a flat, zinc roof which will be hidden by lave stones around its edges. I helped consolidate the tops of the walls with laves laid in a mortar of three parts sand and one part lime.

   Here in France dovecotes have political connotations. Before 1789 only the nobility and clergy had the right to have pigeonniers, some of which had over 2,000 nesting holes. It was illegal to prevent flocks of domesticated pigeons landing and feeding on one's crops – the effect on smallholdings must have often been devastating. I have read that this aristocratic privilege was one of the triggers for the French Revolution.
   The nesting holes are known in French (and sometimes English) as boulins, this is due to their appearance; the word boulin was used earlier to describe the square, scaffolding fixation hole left in a wall (and has become, by extension, the word for the section of scaffolding that is secured in the hole). The pigeonnier we worked on has 500 such boulins;

   Didier is a cellist and is going to use his pigeonnier as a music room - storing his CDs shouldn't prove too difficult.