Jeanne Koré Salvato

stragon, one of the gentlemen in Waiting for Godot gives his opinion about where they are.  The particular spot where the two of them now find themselves is exactly where they were yesterday.  Vladimir, the other hobo asks, “you recognize the place?”  I adore Estragon’s answer, “I didn’t say that,” and what’s more, he adds, “that makes no difference.” 

We can be somewhere we’ve been before, not recognize it, and that doesn’t matter.  We can still say we’ve been there before. 

Imagine if we are not somewhere we’ve been before.  We won’t recognize it, naturally, and that won’t matter.  So if we’ve been there or not, it will look the same, and it won’t matter.  That’s kind of absurd, right?  Is your mind in a tangle?  Perhaps our minds are in a tangle more often than we realize.  And people say that Beckett’s play is about nothing.  Imagine.

Beckett was enamored of the French philosopher, René Descartes, who famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”  But before Descartes said that, he doubted everything, searching to find the certitude you find in math.  Beckett has included the doubt in his play to humorous and existential effect.

Can we apply this thinking to a house?  We’ve seen it before, but we don’t recognize it, and it doesn’t matter?  (Maybe that’s going too far.)

At any rate, here is the house again.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  You know that song, scrape, scrape, scrape# scrape, scrape, scrape# scrape your booty?


Let’s start with the ceiling.  I did not choose a mat paint for the living room ceiling because with all the trees and French weather I wanted it to be as bright as possible.  So I chose a semi-gloss blanc caissé, literally broken white, which we would call egg shell.  (By this time we had painters working on the upstairs, courtesy of the foundation, because unfortunately some of the bedroom floor slats had rotted due to one corner serving as a litter box. The walls upstairs also had cracks and chunks missing.)  One of the painters summoned the other two to behold the living room ceiling painted with semi-gloss paint.  They shook their heads, unsure whether to admire or be shocked.  It took three coats to get rid of the dingy old ceiling, and I used three coats of good paint, too, no undercoating, to get just the brilliance I wanted.  One visitor said it was the most beautiful ceiling she’d ever seen.  (Yes, we did give tours of the ceilings.)


It is not a pretty picture, a house being denuded.  What’s that saying?  You can’t put new wine in an old wineskin?  Well, let me tell you!  The walls, the poor, suffering walls.   Off came that awful paper and all the undergarments, not to mention the smell.  The stuff only came off in tiny strips and took an absolute forever. My daughter at four years of age, was set on her architectural career since we needed all the help we could get. And she was good help at that!

The most marvelous thing was revealed:  plaster walls.  Unpainted plaster walls. 

In case this information falls with a thud on uninitiated home remodelers, this is the stuff of gold for painting.  Imagine a room in a palazzo in Italy with plaster walls.  Look at the texture.  It looks like dappled sunlight.  I learned the hard way that you have to put a primer on unpainted plaster walls.  At first I put paint directly on it, and the paint blistered.  What to do?  I woke up one morning with an inspiration.  Sand the blister.  And indeed with a borrowed electric sander from the previous owner of the tomato-red Volvo, I attacked the malformation.  I smoothed out the wall and we were off and running.

Paint Magic by Jocasta Innes served as the most delightful guide to getting these Italian effects.  A little shop at the far end of Paris carried her paint.  You can see (well, after I tell you) that there will be more than one color of paint on the wall to get that dappled effect.  You paint the walls a cream color with her special paint and then sponge an apricot over it, using a special brush and special sponge.  The kitchen was done in the same manner but in aqua. We had to keep the brown paper under the wallpaper intact to help hold the plaster walls together.

I wish I could show you the outcome, but those pictures are sadly on a defunct computer.  Please go to Italy to see for yourself.  We stayed in a hotel in Italy and there they were, the real thing, those gorgeous plaster walls.  I cried. 


Now floors, the equally neglected, long-suffering floors.  Gorgeous, narrow oaken slats, just waiting like Clark Kent to throw off those years of neglect to assume the role of Superfloor.

We had to rent a floor sander, and these were not the days of Amazon Prime.  I had to call around, get myself over there, lug it out to the red Volvo, heave it into the trunk, with the help of a store employer and then reverse engineer it into the house with the help of the contractor M Ludovic.  Don’t forget the edge sander.  And while it does take some time to sand evenly and not gouge the floor, creating peaks and valleys, it is so worth the trouble.  M Ludovic bent down while I was edge sanding to tell me that many women would not be so inclined to do this hard work. 

Ah, but these hardwood floors gleamed with a celestial beauty.  Even upstairs where the workers threw so much solvent on the floor it sloshed around their ankles to get rid of the carpet glue, even those floors were spectacular.  Sand, seal and love them.  These are the most beautiful floors I’ve ever seen.

Where do we go from here?  Wait.  Aren’t we in France? How about a little Descartes en francais? Try it!

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