“What a project!”
Yesterday, we drove down oak-lined lanes to a tiny village on the side of a hill. A friend, Guillaume, inherited a castle and was showing it to the “Friends of Old Houses” group. We thought we’d have a look.
The place was built of granite over many centuries. Guillaume’s grandmother lived there until she died in 2000. Her bedroom is about the only room in the house that is still liveable. Otherwise, it is a ruin. Leaks in the roof destroyed beams and rafters. Thieves stole furniture and paintings. Walls – even ancient stone walls – cracked and crumbled. We stepped carefully – watching out for the holes in the floor.
“This house has been in my family since 1217, when the Count de Cordon built it or bought it. He was my great-great etc grandfather. Of course, I can’t let it fall into ruins. It’s the family chateau.”
Guillaume is a gendarme during the workweek. On weekends, he is a mason, a painter, or a carpenter. He has about 100 years’ worth of repairs to make – including installing electricity and plumbing.
Recently, Guillaume has been sent on 6-week tours to French Guiana, in South America, where his mission is to stop illegal gold mining.
“It’s all jungle. A miserable place. I can see why we used to send prisoners there. Who else would want to go?
“These miners sneak across the border with Brazil. They’re almost all Brazilian. But they’re very industrious. They will carry pieces of a bulldozer with them – on their backs, because there are no roads. And they’ll but them together. Then, by hand…or with these smuggled machines…they just dig up the earth, looking for gold.
“We’re sent out in teams of 5 to 10…we parachute down to the jungle clearings…then we run them off. Usually, they take off when they see us. Then, we set fire to everything. We destroy their shacks and their machines.
“You wouldn’t believe the kind of mess they make. Hundreds of acres can be torn up in a few weeks…and then, they wash all dirt down the river.
“Our problem is that once we get on the ground, we have to travel by foot…and sleep in hammocks, just like the local Indians. And the mosquitoes bite the hell out of us. But you get used to it….”
Back in France, Guillaume returns to the family chateau and gets back to work.
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