Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Secrets of terracotta tiles


Baked red tiles on the ground floor – tomettes – stamped with incident, finger and animal prints, like fossils, told a possible tale of the playful farm dog who would not obey and came running across the earthy work while it was still wet.
                                                        
                                                         From The Lantern

Throughout the ground floor of the main house, in traditional Provençal style, terracotta tiles have been used. As a floor-covering, they are practical and hard-wearing – and each tile is slightly different which gives that sense of charming imperfection that is so redolent of relaxed country-living, wherever that may be.

In the kitchen there are stains on some of the squares that might have been there for generations. When I first got to grips with the scale of the cleaning operation – and mindful that Rob, rather typically, had invited the first wave of summer visitors on the basis that things always worked out somehow - I rubbed and scrubbed and sanded, but the evidence of bygone carelessness remained indelible.

After a while I began to relax into it, to accept that the place would never be completely, surgically clean; that was impossible. Everyone was in and out of the house constantly, traipsing from pool through garden and courtyard to the fridge and back, that it was a losing battle. And the tiles in the kitchen have even more mottled variations of colour, so are eminently forgiving. So I learned to live with the dust, and think of it as a light dusting of magic.

All the time, though, I continued to wonder about the previous lives of the house, and to wonder what messages I could read. Some of the tiles seem to tell their own stories, and a few hold an obvious clue.


This particular tomette is in the downstairs hallway. How many years ago did the dog scamper over the still-pliant tile? Did someone place the tile here deliberately, as a welcoming talisman? It might even be a kind of commemoration of a well-loved animal who once skittered around the property, a hunting dog rather than a pet, in these parts.

Fernand nodded sagely. All these tiles were hand-made, he said, some were perhaps a hundred years old. “Chaque tuile a son secret…cherchez-le!” he said. Each tile has its secret – look for it!



29 comments:

Adiante said...

Ces signes de vie apportent un charme, une âme,une histoire qu'une maison moderne ne peut offrir ...
Pouvoir s'inscrire dans la continuité de vie d'une maison, voilà aussi ce que je recherche.

Cornflower said...

"A light dusting of magic" - that means my house is pretty magical! Thankyou for that new perspective, Deborah.

bookspersonally said...

The color of the tiles is so pretty. Also the mystery of the paw print is very intriguing, especially as there is only one....

Richard said...

Certains rêvent de posséder chez eux le masque de Toutankhamon, mais toi, tu as un souvenir inaltérable de la patte d'un chien, probablement de l'époque de Cléopâtre.
Bravo pour ce vestige!

Julia Munroe Martin said...

Amazing tile -- I LOVE the dog print! And I love reading about your very beautiful old house (I have an old house in Maine, although not as old I still view it as crumbling!). So glad to have found your blog via comments to mine!

Danièle said...

I wonder sometimes about cleaning, I know it is necessary somehow, but it is also a way to erase history, hmmm.

khashway said...

Your house sounds like it is full of story ideas. I'm jealous! Of course my house currently has a moat around it since we had a water break in our yard. Can I use that in a story?

Janel said...

I love that discovery! Much better than pulling up old carpet and finding other "remnants" of pets on the hardwood floors underneath. :)

Kiki aka Victoria said...

Hello Deborah...beautiful and intriguing post..and such a beautiful emblem of the past...mysterious and soulful...
Victoria

Jennifer said...

Lovely post. What an amazing tile and what a terrific thing to have in your home A treasure for the wonderful imagination it inspires.

Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Light dusting of magic.
I've got a heck of a lot of magic dust in my house. I love this. Now, what should we call the dog hair?

James Kiester said...

"A light dusting of magic." Good way to look at it. :-)

Relish x said...

Now I could use a bit of Provencal inspiration for my writing... :-)

MuMuGB said...

Your house seems to be pet-friendly then!

brenda said...

I have never lived in a 'new house', in England, our house was considered 'young', 1800's, a Victorian Old Lady (we found all kinds of things as we redecorated. There were layers and layers of wall paper on those brick walls. I think when you go ‘old and crumbling’ there is an acceptance of never being surgically clean, and that there are ghosts and stories everywhere. I don’t mean literally, but in the air just waiting for discovery.

Judith van Praag said...

Deborah, Glad to return to your blog, bilingual responses are a joy to take in, French lessons on top of a touching tale (no stepping on invisible tails though I hope). It's not just the walls that have ears and speak of mysteries. At one time I lived in one of the oldest houses in Amsterdam, my floors were made of ship wood, of a broadness hardly ever perceived, the stories... You're giving the floor a voice ;-) Glad you found Tsiolkas on my blog!

Elizabeth Young said...

Lovely, this is why I love antiques, because they each have stories to tell. It is up to us to find out just what those stories are! I love your home!

Mari Carmen said...

What a beautiful tile, Deborah. I love this kind of tiles. At home, I have put, in my patio, tiles similar to those which Arabian people put, centuries ago, in some Alhambra's patios. They are no nice... like this you have left in your post. Thank you for your lovely words, too.

Hugs

Leovi said...

Very intriguing these tracks. The houses are not new, they always leave traces of the ancient inhabitants, that lead us to imagine things about them. I really love the imperfections, in part because it does not use Photoshop, in almost all my works there are numerous inaccuracies or errors uncorrected.

Joanne said...

What wonderful inspiration those tiles give. It's always intriguing to find the story of lives lived, the trails left behind that connect us to them.

Valerie Nieman said...

Loved your tiles, and the lupines! Thanks for your comments on my recent post re: journalism training. Simultaneously trying to set up book tour events, close out the semester, edit poems for the journal, do an interview, and get back into the traces on a new novel. Those years working on six things at once in the newsroom were good practice!

...louciao... said...

The secrets of an old house; some revealed some kept to itself for its own reasons. The dust and markings and trails are like the smudges and scars and lines on a beloved's face, making it utterly unique.

Deb said...

What an inspirational setting for a story. These pictures and the writing are beautiful. Best of luck with the roll out. Cannot wait to get a copy.

Jyoti Mishra said...

awesome posts !!
I luv to visit a blog like urs.

isabelle gregson said...

There's a wonderful bit om Marguerite Duras' The Lover where she talks about washing the floors by opening the front and back door and letting the soapy waters flow out. Tiles are so much more romantic than lino, don't you think? ;)

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

What an amazing house. It sounds so magical.

Olga said...

I collect pictures of footsteps left on cement or concrete. I think it's a little slice of life, left by accident, or deliberately. Great post :)

versus said...

Un mur de cloison en terre cuite, avec la signature du fabricant ( flèche brisée )du 18 ème siècle, en bas,...sentir la main humaine, c' est troublant. Comme votre récit!

Keith said...

That dog paw is neat. And a great idea.

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