Lounging in France 16: Living Medieval

How fun it would be to live in a house that was built before Columbus arrived in America. Half timbering, narrow cobbled streets, nothing but the sound of birdsong in a pre-industrial paradise!

Except … you do want all your modern stuff. We’ve discussed how difficult it is, to get running water and wifi into a building never intended for same. People do it every day, however. And this is a fine example — ancient house, modern resident.

These images are from the little town of Bergerac, in the Dordogne. It’s best known for its most famous son, Cyrano de Bergerac, whom you’ve probably heard of. But it also has a well-preserved medieval city center. Just look at this next building, for instance.

You can bet that the town fathers insist that full medievalness is maintained. No, you’re not allowed to take down this crappy old relic and put up a concrete office building. But … what about my flush toilet? What about windows, a necessary adjunct to any domestic happiness? You can look at the first image in this post and see modern windows popped into a medieval building. It looks weird but it does keep the rain out. But sometimes even those are not possible. The window isn’t square. The frame is older than Richard Lionheart and the screws don’t hold.

The solution? You redd up that medieval exterior as best you can. Then you pop your modern domicile into it, like dropping a cordial cherry into its chocolate shell. This house clearly has perfectly nice windows. They’re inside the old building, the way your foot is inside your shoe. I’d bet that inside that medieval shell is a modern domicile that looks like something in a magazine, bathrooms, sleek kitchen, wifi outlets and all. This is actually a popular and pleasant way to remodel a super-old house. Especially with bathrooms, there’s often no way to get modern plumbing into the stone or half-timbered walls.

But here’s an even cuter trick. People in the 1500s weren’t into daylight. The outside was something to be excluded, because it was cold and wet and full of dangers. But we, we modern city dwellers, we like light. Windows! And the owner of this building figured out how to do it. The half-timbering is all there, just like it was in Cyrano’s day. But instead of this boring and opaque brick filler? Windows, baby. Glass! That upper-story room has a rank of tall narrow glass panes to let in the light, and the city fathers have their half-timbering. Everybody happy, and only a sharp-eyed passer-by appreciates the trick.



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Lounging in France 16: Living Medieval — 5 Comments

  1. I and two friends took a vacation to Cornwall in 1996. In one of the old twelfth century churches (it wasn’t open, but the lobby was) there was a sign: For 1500 years, this site has been hold ground.

    Even today, the memory of that sign makes me — well, not shiver, but feel that amazing sense of time standing in front of you, the way Stonehenge did.

    • I come from an “old” culture too and I deeply understand that. On the gripping hand when I was in laramie a couple of year ago there was a plaque on a street corner boasting about the town’s “oldest building”… the year began with “18…” I just stood there and said,oh, HONEY…