I recently spent 10 days visiting a friend I had never met. The visit took place in a house that was full of doors. There were doors here, there and everywhere; shutting rooms up, opening them out, dividing space into manageable areas and to play peek-a-boo with.
There was a downstairs with more doors. One to the back garden which had to stay closed against any possible unauthorised breach. And more doors; one to a cool cellar with apples resting peacefully, another to a laundry cum boiler room that helped the room become a drying room as well. Doors opened into a potting room and a potential room. Well, it was a room but it has potential to be named specifically for its purpose whatever it may become. Then there is a door at the top of the stairs leading from the downstairs into the upstairs and a door straight across the hallway into my bedroom. There is another door in my bedroom that is closed – not permanently – but to shut the kitchen noises out whilst I sleep.
Now, several weeks later and ensconced in my own house again, I am reading a gloriously intelligent, humorous and very insightful book called The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Because I cannot read it in the original French I am relying on the undoubted skill and empathy of its translator Alison Anderson. What an absolute treat it is to stumble across a book that is utterly irresistible. I had been warned by Jerry Coyne over at his blog that I would probably be entranced. And so I am.
The thing that prompted this blog entry to describe my visit to The House of Doors – apart from having discussed this possibility with my friend – is that Renee in Hedgehog gives a smallish dissertation of the habit of Westerners to build houses with doors that open inward or outward or, indeed, swing inwards and outwards. Whatever they do ponders Renee, they make an intrusion into the room in which they open and produce a depression, a gaping hole in the room they leave thus creating a disunity between walls and rooms, space and light.
I have never before thought of doors in this fashion. Renee further applauds the Japanese sense and appreciation of space and continuity by reflecting that Japanese houses are constructed with sliding doors that don’t break the essential roomness of the rooms to which they allow access. There is an absence of any intrusion. Forgive me for this delicious quote from the Hedgehog:
When a sliding door is open, two areas communicate without offending each other. When it is closed, each regains its integrity. Sharing and reunion can occur without intrusion.
This does not mean, of course, that The House of Doors was unpleasing in any way. Just Western, as it were. And in the South West of France. All the windows and french doors had these wonderful external shutters that I learned to fold over the windows each night and fold back in the morning!!
The kitchen is a wonderfully roomy room with a table stretched along its middle. Preparing food on this table sometimes felt like tickling its tummy, though it gave no indication and remained a steady, sturdy food prep. area that kept necessary utensils within reach from either side. The large and light-giving windows over the sink brought unfettered light from a large semi-industrial block that was used by a transport company. This is good because the land will never be built out. There is a feeling of being in the country while The House is actually near the middle of the largish township.
This room opens into a larger room with a dining table at the near end and two magnificent French doors at the far end opening out onto a balcony. A sense of space is absolutely essential to comfort in a Western house and this one has it. To one side, another door opens out into a vestibule that houses a front glass door to the outside world and an internal glass door back into the hallway. A pleasant halfway resting place before leaving and upon entering The House.
I think it is the preponderance of glass that adds to the feeling of lightness and space. But it is the garden that can be seen from the windows of three different rooms that draws my eye, probably because I am, like my friend, enamoured of gardening.
So for our 10 days we talked gardening, did gardening, picked the fruits of gardening and bought some gardening additions that we immediately planted out. Seeds were sown, weeds were firmly dislodged and given short shrift. Pathways were developed and future garden plans were made.
In this way my friend and I got to know each other and learnt about ourselves. It was profoundly satisfying for both of us.
We nearly destroyed our budding friendship twice. We are both readers of Jerry Coyne’s blog and in one of his posts he had mentioned that if you give a friend a book to read that you treasure and your friend doesn’t even like it, is that sufficient grounds on which to terminate the friendship because it was obviously built on erroneous bases in the first place?
My friend mentioned this while we were working out what fertiliser to purchase for the garden. I said one ratio and insisted on it until she was so exasperated that she said:
I must tell Jerry Coyne that it isn’t that books wreck friendships, fertilisers do!!
The second time had nothing to do with fertilisers but graduated to where plants should be transplanted to best advantage.
She offered to do a running commentary for Jerry listing all the things that can wreck friendships. Refreshments became necessary after these pretend altercations and when I left I promised to return in the spring and she promised to give me back my bedroom.
I mean, I have to see how the garden is growing don’t I?