And in Between Are The Doors


I didn’t go to Paris for The Doors or for a doors tour de force either, for that matter.  No, just coincidentally the two came together. After visiting the big ticket items, such as the Eiffel Tower, museums, and Notre Dame there is, ‘not to be missed’  the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It is here, in this beautiful ethereal place that the remains of celebrated artists, writers and musicians, including Sarah Bernhardt, Moliere, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde are at rest.  But, it is the grave of the American icon Jim Morrison, lead singer for The Doors, that draws hordes of tourists from around the world. The rock legend, at the age of 27 moved to Paris where he died on July 3, 1971, officially of heart failure, unofficially of a heroin overdose.  Morrison, still a headliner forty years later, has an endless vigil at his grave; no whistling past the graveyard, here. Not a Morrison fan in life; in death he provided me with an interesting afternoon of people watching on an international scale.

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My pop-up tour of French entry doors began quite ostensibly.  After my hair dryer AND curler blew up, we had a mission.  In spite of the electrical converter I brought from home, I shorted out the third floor of the hotel with the plugging in of my dryer.  The hotel maintenance man, who didn’t speak a word of English came to assist with the Spanish electrician in tow, who didn’t speak French or English.  After his re-set and armed with the hotels converter, I got the ‘all clear sign’, spoken with the universal language; two thumbs up. Then, when I plugged in my curling iron it too shorted out. After an internet search we set off on foot in hunt of replacements. Now, getting lost in Paris is not a hardship, rather a feast for the senses but, passing the same buildings twice and sometimes three times was provoking. I then devised a plan of creating virtual bread crumbs by taking pictures of doors. Now, any angst I had over the failure of finding my hair appliances was fast evaporating, I was enjoying myself too much to care.  I had a new mission, choreographing all of our walks with the photographing of wooden French entry doors.

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Sandwiched between American icon, The Doors and my French doors omage were visits to sawmills. One mill in particular added perspective to the massive French Doors I had been photographing. There, northwest of Paris, enormous French oak logs were being processed for 8/4, 12/4 and 16/4 lumber. In the French forests, which cover one quarter of France’s territory,  the oak is king. I underscored “the” as I want to point out that the misnomer “white” is often placed in front of French/European oak. Only Quercus petraea  is native to Europewhile domestic North American oaks are distinguished by white and red, Quercus alba and Quercus rubra, respectively.

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Sawmill owner, Mr. Monniot, further elevated my perspective by allowing me a peek into the inner sanctum of his sawmill, into the kilns where row after row of 4″ thick oak boles were slowly and scientifically being dried.  And, while lumber drying technology has advanced over the last hundred years, there is still an intuitive art to slowly and lovingly bringing the moisture content down, especially in the thick oaks, to correct working properties without it developing surface checking or splits.

My curiosity was piqued. Sure it was the perfect trifecta of flat, close and straight grained old growth oak  that went into the fabrication of all the French doors I had been enjoying, that and superb craftsmanship. Everyone knows that the French are artisan geniuses. But, how did they know and test for moisture content and tensile stress?  Without this knowledge entry doors, which need the flatest and best of lumber, would not have survived 100 years, let alone 500.

Wide Plank

And then, I found Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, prominent First Century BC architect, who wrote De architectura, a ten volume “how to” book about building with limestone, Tuscan stone/carbuncular, marble, and more importantly to me, timber.  In book II and chapter IX he speaks to the selection of trees, here are a few interesting excerpts:

1. Timber should be felled between early Autumn and the time when Favonius begins to blow. For in Spring all trees become pregnant, and they are all employing their natural vigour in the production of leaves and of the fruits that return every year. The requirements of that season render them empty and swollen, and so they are weak and feeble because of their looseness of texture……..

2. On the same principle, with the ripening of the fruits in Autumn the leaves begin to wither and the trees, taking up their sap from the earth through the roots, recover themselves and are restored to their former solid texture. But the strong air of winter compresses and solidifies them during the time above mentioned. Consequently, if the timber is felled on the principle and at the time above mentioned, it will be felled at the proper season.

3. In felling a tree we should cut into the trunk of it to the very heart, and then leave it standing so that the sap may drain out drop by drop throughout the whole of it. In this way the useless liquid which is within will run out through the sapwood instead of having to die in a mass of decay, thus spoiling the quality of the timber. Then and not till then, the tree being drained dry and the sap no longer dripping, let it be felled and it will be in the highest state of usefulness.

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One can almost imagine, with the placing of an ear against the doors lining the square of Place des Vosges how the roar of a crowd could be heard, when in 1559 King Henry II was wounded during a dueling tournament. Or, imagine the tale a  former resident on Place Vendôme might tell after seeing married French novelist Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin aka George Sand, slip into Chopin’s house for a secret midnight tryst.

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When you become bored with too much antiquity and imagining intrigue behind doors you can allow yourself to look for tourists sporting Jim Morrison tees and follow them back to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, “break on through to the other side”

“There are things known and things unknown and in between are The Doors” – Jim Morrison

~ Lorraine

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