Aussies in the Presbytère

This is the footprint signature of the person who built the ancient, slightly modernised, dilapidated presbytery my wife and I bought in June 2004 in a small village called La Bastide de Lordat in the south of France. Our small rural village wasn’t far from the larger communities of Pamiers and Mirepoix, a place we particularly liked to go to. A local Ariège artisan, Monsieur Lagarde told us that the presbytery was as much as 400 years old. Catharism emerged in Western Europe in the Languedoc region of southern France in the 11th century and the artisan’s family connections dated back to that time. The stone was plastered into the entrance corridor wall about half way in.

This is the story of our time in the presbytery and I thought I’d start with the builder’s footprint before revealing ours, which began in the summer of 2004. At the time we barely had a sou to our name and were working on a local farm cutting corn and later la vendange (the annual grape harvest) for a living.

A reasonable part of my life is spent writing. I am a doer so the larger part is spent doing and making, always harbouring thoughts of what’s coming up next. I’ve been known to keep diaries but daily work on the computer and regular email correspondence has meant most, if not all of my writing is on the pc. I have one particular handmade diary made for me by my wife’s stepmother Yelka. I am very fond of it and will probably slowly add to it for the rest of my life.

My life right now is full of uncertainties and challenges. I’ve lived a relatively safe, nomadic existence and never felt stuck in a place like so many people have. It’s been rare for me to spend any more than a few years in any one place. At the age of 47 I am here now writing with only a PO Box as a fixed address. My portable sound studio and toolbox are my home, the Internet is a place where I often park things and the radio airwaves are usually the destiny of my creative makings. A well-visited bookmark may determine my next move so when I search, I search with reason open to taking risks every now and then.

Damian & Nathan with Solange is on the other side of the camera exploring the Ariège

Sitting in the makeshift kitchen of an old friend’s warehouse back in Sydney I have recently returned from an experience unlike any other. A different life, a complicated life, living in France with my wife Solange with whom I have travelled for the last six years. A life trying to make things happen when you relocate and buy an ancient, semi-derelict property in another country to renovate and live in.

I want to write about the things we shared. The places we went and people we met. Most of our time was spent in France and centred around renovating our ancient presbytery in La Bastide de Lordat. Other things which flood my memory and I will write about include life in Toulouse and the family and friends who live there, war, delicious water, a heat wave, a long cold winter, André Breton and new year’s eve in Paris, a residency in Dordrecht to complete a radio commission for the ABC, the Listening Room (Surrealism for sale) and a few short trips via England, Italy and Singapore on the way back to Australia. 

This is an excerpt from the ABC radio program commissioned by Robyn Ravlich for the Listening Room. We worked on this audio production commission from its beginnings with our recordings in Paris at the André BRETON auctions in Hôtel Drouot to its post production completion at our artist residency run by Frans van Lent in Dordrecht. I think we probably sent the final mix to Australia from a studio in Pamiers. The image below was the popular bar everyone hung out at during and after the controversial auctions.

Solange at our first viewing of the Presbytère, Le Village, La Bastide de Lordat 09700 France in early Spring 2004.
One of the early priests living in the presbytère with his rucher (apiary).
The apiary became my workshop