Purely for variety’s sake we have removed to Sarlat-la-Canéda, a town in the Dordogne inland from Bordeaux. The buildings in the medieval town center date back to the 14th century. It is relentlessly beautiful, astonishingly picturesque, the kind of town that you look at and cannot believe in. Surely this is a Disney product, or perhaps a Hollywood sound stage? In a minute Belle is going to dance down the street singing about life in the provinces.
But this is neither a time machine product, nor a Brigadoon sliding untouched through time. Sarlat was half ruinous, another one of those small French towns oppressed by a whole lot of useless old stone clogging the center of the burg. It was extensively restored in the 1960s, when Andre Malraux, who had parlayed his writing career into the job of Minister of Culture, decided that the ruins should be saved. So what we see today is something like Carcassonne, an elaborate ongoing product of modern restoration. Wander through the town and it’s only superficially medieval. You can see the sewage and drainage, painfully and expensively inserted under the cobblestones. There is wifi, fiber optic, and cable, not to mention running water and electricity, and tee shirt shops and gelato stands abound. That witch-hat tower roof is younger than I am.
But if you poke around you can see what it used to look like, before Malraux got the restoration francs flowing. Later we are going to discuss slate roofs, but the one thing they are is expensive. Terra cotta is way cheaper. And cunning observation reveals things like this image. You can see the sexy new steep slate roof, so deliciously 14th century but fitted with the nice dormer and its modern double-paned window. It’s probably air-conditioned in there, a B&B of charm and comfort. But downhill from it, not visible from the street, is the shallower older roof — the way it used to look. Yes, it was low-end terra cotta before they decided to go Full Medieval. Tile roofs don’t stand up anywhere near as well to snow as slate, but it’ll certainly do, and is used here for ridges and places where the slates have to join.