Alphonse Daudet’s tales with Fernandel’s charismatic voice have enchanted my childhood. How many times have I followed trembling Mr Seguin’s little goat into the mountain? And what about the pope’s mule, she was so clever that little one! With one excellent hoof kick well aimed and hop! Daudet with his wind mill in Provence surrounded with wild lavender and visited by the local rabbits had me dream for many hours.
There are no more rabbits here. We had a tall hare in the woods below when we first arrived here, old and wonky he was, but fast and elusive too. We don’t see it anymore. But a wind mill with its lavender all around, there is a pretty one, 200m on the hill facing us in the East.
In 1972 When Georges got to start working on it, the wind mill was in a sorry state, completely collapsed. Such a grafter that Georges! there was only a bit of the wall left on the ground, up to the door architrave but no more door, and a tree that had managed to grow very nicely in the middle among the rubble. For 20 years, every holiday, Georges and Raymonde came down from Paris and worked on their wind mill.
The 1st year they cleared all the rubble and dislodged the tree.
The 2nd year they bought an old barn from a neighbour and got the 53 cubic metres of stones they needed for the rebuilding of their mill.
In 1976 it’s the iron roof frame that came down from Paris in kit. A certain Mme Dubois they’d befriended a short while before, whose partner was responsible for the wind mill in Meaux, in the region of “Ile et Vilaine”, had offered to take it down for them. What this kind lady hadn’t realised is that the roof weighted one ton and a half! And her van had a lot of trouble to get to Puylaroque….
What you need to know is that Georges knew how to weld. He was a rampist locksmith by trade which means he was a locksmith specialised in the making and laying of iron ramps, and when he was just about 30 years old living in Paris with Raymonde, every weekend for a whole year, he used to commute to St Lazaire from Paris to work on the Liner LE FRANCE with his boss. “At the time of her construction in 1960, the 316 m (1,037 ft) vessel was the longest passenger ship ever built, a record that remained unchallenged until the construction of the 345 m (1,132 ft) RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004”(Wikipedia). That year, Raymonde gave birth to their 2nd son, Jean-Claude.
During its construction, 2ooo people worked on the French Liner at any given time during the week and it would have been impossible for Georges and his boss to take any measurements among the wires, cables and pipes laying everywhere. So it was during the weekend only, wearing a badge and a special pass that the two men could take the templates measurements for the Stern Upper Promenade Bridge railing, when no-one was around.
As it happens on the last weekend of July 1960, Georges was working alone on the liner, his boss having decided to get back to Paris to do the month’s accounts and wages. You’re on your own Georges!…but when lunch time came Georges got lost trying to get out of the liner to grab some food in town. Fortunately he bumped into a fireman doing his round on the liner who showed him the way out but not before asking him what the hell was he doing there on a weekend?
I have tried to find documents/photos of the Stern Upper Promenade Bridge railing of LE FRANCE, on the net but I haven’t been able to find anything. If one of you reading this has any idea where I could be lucky, please let me know as I would add these to this story as a complete acknowledgment for Georges’ contribution to this extraordinary liner. Just get this: the creation of a 30 odd metres long railing in a horse shoe shape on the bowed Liner Bridge…is such a precision and prestigious piece of work…
The Crystal chandelier above the 1st class swimming pool ceiling, and welded to the carcass of the liner, Georges was telling me this afternoon, weighed one and a half ton! That crystal chandelier was as heavy as Georges’ mill’s roof’s structure! Incredible, isn’t it?
As for the roof of the mill, Georges had chosen to use shingles, and you won’t believe this but wasps were eating these(?) and he had to replace them with zinc sheets prepared in his Paris workshop. As before it was in a van that the zinc roof kit arrived in Puylaroque. Noelle, Raymonde’s niece, had gone to Amiens to help her daughter moving there and on her way back down, had carried the zinc roof in her van…..laughter from Georges and Raymonde at the memories.
Then the wings. The 1st time they got made out of pine and lasted just under two years. The 2nd time they got made out of Iroko wood, an African wood that cannot rot they were told. Could not rot may be but break it did! The wings didn’t last a year. Finally Georges made them in his workshop out of aluminium and they are still going round today….
Last month my friend Gail came to visit with her family and we went up to the mill hoping for Georges to be there and hoping he would open his mill for us which he did very graciously. Everyone was amazed by this work of love and patience. As for the stairs going up to the two floors and around along the inside of the walls…How beautiful it is with its elegant yet simple iron railing! It’s a beauty.
The lavender has suffered these last few summers and the rabbits have gone from here too but Georges and Raymonde, now 87 and 83, still have a twinkle in their eyes when they speak of their mill…
(Photos of Raymonde, Georges and the mill on the right hand-side or below, depending on what tool you’re using to view this article)
Below is a link where the mill is clear and standing proud. A friend of mine, Nick, did the filming of our place and around and introduced 2 different pieces of music that give quite an enchanting result: