Restoring an old building is essentially an affair of the heart, and nowhere is the heart more head over heels than in the kitchen. We gather in our kitchens, not simply to nourish, where meals are made, but to also nurture, share memories and moments in time with family and friends.
On Sunday nights in front of the TV, glued to Downton Abbey, I can't wait for a long glimpse of the old country kitchen with its hand-made, hand me down utensils, or the oak, flour-dusted plank table in the centre, and Mrs. Patmore kneading pastry on a well worn board. Then there are the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and good and bad times shared around the table, things we all must face during our own lifetime.
The kitchen is truly the heart of our home.
The Château kitchen began its renaissance just over two years ago. From the start we incorrectly assumed that the kitchen installed in the 1960's when the Château was used for school holiday camps, had always been the kitchen.
But it turned out we were wrong. Last year, a family member revisited the Château and gave us a tour. His ancestors purchased the Château in the late 18th Century. In the 1950's when he was 13 years old, his father died without a will and the family had to leave and the property had to be sold.
He spoke of the kitchen that was located on the other side of the Château and family meals shared around a large table.
When the government used the Château as a school holiday camp the kitchen was converted to a row of communal bathrooms.
At the time of his visit, we had already installed the floor and ceiling plus some plumbing and electrics in the kitchen located on the other side of the Château.
We have made many mistakes along the way, that is true.
Understanding and listening to old buildings is part of the responsibility in accepting to care for them, their stories waiting to be heard by those willing to take the time to listen. These mistakes are mostly from ignoring the glimpses of the past from bygone eras and wanting to impose different values from other places.
The obstacles along the way, including the delays from the Monument Historiques are perhaps not obstacles but anchors, giving us moments to reflect, and time to learn and listen (and to keep you up to date - not a word from the Monument Historiques or from our architects regarding the permit and the next step to move forward with the restoration, c'est bizarre!).
It is terrible to admit but in the very beginning we may have enforced our modern ways, bringing our artificial structured city life from another hemisphere, into another century. Can you imagine down lights in the kitchen controlled with remotes?
The best and the most beautiful things in the world
cannot be seen or even touched,
they must be felt with the heart.
Autumn last year, I had a chance meeting with a lady who lives nearby, Marianne. She humbly asked if we had anything she could do to help the Château. That day a rainbow appeared in the sky.
Gently she handed me some papers - fluent in six languages, played the harp and liked cats. No more needed to be said! Marianne shifted in and is now the Château Guardian Angel.
Turns out, Marianne is the perfect mix of Maria from The Sound of Music and Elizabeth in Swiss Family Robinson. By choice Marianne and her family of six children lived in the Italian mountains for eight years and completely off the grid. Without power and water, the family set up in a place where it taught them to live and adapt with what they had rather than the other way around. They learnt to live in harmony with nature, exploring the world in all its unfamiliarity.
Now, unaware Marianne teaches us a deeper appreciation of the nature of things, from the sweetness of birdsong and hazelnut blossom refusing to wait their turn until spring, heard and seen in the wintery snowy mountains. And in normal everyday living, very little enters the front door that is chain mass-produced or can't be recycled, repurposed or composted.
I hope you enjoy the short video introducing Marianne into our homes.
I am listening and learning. There is a bit of Robinson Crusoe in me after all!
Marianne makes most of her own clothes, often repurposed from pieces of fabric which once played another part (like curtains). Her jumpers are handmade, spun from wool shepherded from sheep which roam freely in the mountains.
Fitting for a castle, Marianne happily received a pumpkin as a Christmas present from her family!
Honest, simple and seasonal.
Slowly the Château kitchen is regaining its own identity even on the 'wrong' side of the Château (perhaps in the colder months the 'right' kitchen, picture below, can be rekindled and the retired old fireplace put back to work.
The original 18th Century stone floors have been relaid.
And the identity of the kitchen is being shaped in more ways than we imagined. Monique, who lives in the little village of Château-Verdun, grew up in the Château and reminisced of when her grandmother was the Château cook. One day Monique arrived with her Château recipes, pots and pans and cooked with love, to share not only her memories but also her genuine gratitude to see and feel the rebirth of her favourite place. Sharing her stories, sitting at the kitchen table, has highlighted that adapting to the Château, its past acting as a rudder, is the way forward.
Where ever the kitchen will be in the future it will surely be the heart of the Château and whenever there are family and friends gathered enticed by the scent of home-made, our hearts will always find home...
Château de Gudanes