We’re back

Just checking in to let you know that the Chateau Duffy crew is back from their latest trip and pretty much in one piece. (There were a couple of injuries, but not hugely serious!) Well, the Brits are back – the Americans are still in transit – but the trip is over.

There’s a huge amount to say about it, not just about the construction that took place, but also the community building and relationships made – especially amongst residents of St Denis des Murs itself. This trip was something of a landmark in terms of our relationships with local residents – culminating in a great party on the site on Friday night, complete with a Chateau Duffy movie screening! (More on that later…)

Chateau Duffy April 2013This is how it looked a year ago. 

Chateau Duffy, Monday April trip

 Hard work during our first proper day on site last week. 

Chateau Duffy Thursday, April 2014Thursday morning, after the concrete flooring had gone into the house.

Chateau Duffy, Friday night, April 2014The site getting ready to party on Friday night. 

Several regulars commented that they felt it was one of the best trips we’ve had and we’ve certainly returned very keen to return this summer. Finally, it looks like the dream of making Chateau Duffy habitable might actually be realised!

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll share with you some of the stories and highlights from the trip, so stay tuned…

More than a house is being built through Chateau Duffy

All the friends sat down on wooden benches to a sumptuous feast they had cooked together. There was the best cheese in the world. There was bread and wine.

One friend stood up to share about how special it is to thoughtfully eat bread and wine together. There’s more to it than tastebuds tingling and then digestion. Something spiritual happens. It’s like a metal spiral through the notebook of history.

I was one of those friends. We were resting during the building of a friend’s house. Most of us had been doing this work with our bare hands. We fell through floors, stacked tile after tile, wore holes in our shoes and trousers, burned hay (and ourselves!), pulled up weeds and balanced along roof-beams. All of us – such as a former manager to the stars, a trainee vicar, a web content editor, a psychotherapist, a typographer – had more dignified jobs back home. But we happily pitched in together among the dirt and the laughter.

Why build a home together?

Because, like communion, there is far more to it than 400-year old bricks and home-made lime mortar.


– Rachel Nunson

Home from Chateau Duffy

A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s always too short a time at Chateau Duffy. That’s not to say we didn’t achieve our roofing goals – far from it, the roof is present and felted – but that we leave wanting more.

Well, perhaps not more work. Our bodies, generally unused to day after day of physical exertion,are broken and aching and couldn’t take much more. But we would love more time together, and plenty more of Richard’s fabulous cooking.

On our last evening work continued late into the evening, with the last piece of felt nailed in as the sun began to set. This momentous achievement was celebrated with champagne at the site and a swift return to the gites for showers and a final meal together.

Using a beautiful artisan loaf of bread, each of the group made a toast to the week and the future. Listening to the ways in which this project has touched people was truly inspiring & uplifting. The words I’ll take away from that moment were from Eric our Texan builder who had spent a week monkeying about over the roof:

“Thank you Lord for building so much more than a house.” 
He’s right. Something that is so much more than a house has been, and will continue to be, built.

A day of dramatic developments

We Brits love optimistic Americans, but often take their confident declarations with a pinch of salt. On Sunday night, Carl and Eric (the most qualified building people in the team) declared that the following day would see some construction taking place at Chateau Duffy. Given that there was still nearly half a roof of tiles to remove (and it had taken the best part of a week to remove the rest last summer), we were rather dubious.

But we were to be proved wrong. The combination of a bright and early start; a large team; more experience; and a day of no rain and plenty of enthusiasm, construction actually happened. By lunch time the first part of the replacement beam had gone in and Carl had got rather emotional that the last time someone had worked on the old one was a French man 400 years previously. By early afternoon, the final tiles had been removed – meaning that in 5 hours we had achieved what had probably taken 3 days last August. A few hours later, all the old rafters had disappeared and new ones were being put in their place. It really was quite incredible progress! And we Brits clearly ought to be more American in our optimism…

A lot of the progress is down to the skilled people we’ve got on board this year, and the fact that some of them were able to get on with roof building while another group removed tiles. Plus, those of us who were here last year have remembered the skills we’d acquired and the problems we overcame, so all of a sudden moving scaffolding takes 15 minutes instead of 90; a tile organisation system was already in place and could be continued by Queen of the Tiles Rachel N; and, as it’s spring, we have impetus to get as much as possible done while the sun shines!

– Liz

[Photos to follow when we have better internet!]

Celebrating a Matryoshka Haus Easter at Chateau Duffy

When the return trip to Chateau Duffy was planned, it was a joyous realisation that we’d be away over Easter. While working on a building site might not seem the most appropriate way in which to mark Holy Week, Sunday was kept special. The most recent arrivals (i.e. the professional builders) got to visit the site, while an Easter feast was prepared thanks to the skills of Richard our chef. [Yes, that’s the same Richard who cooked at Thanksgiving – we’re hoping to take him everywhere with us!]

On a brilliantly sunny evening, we sat down to eat French lamb together. For the first time the entire team of 14 was sat around the table eating together. The resurrection didn’t go uncelebrated – before we gave thanks for our food, the story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus was remembered, highlighting the parallels of our own journeying to this place, Jesus’ presence with us, and the importance of sharing food with our loved ones.

The Easter fun didn’t end there. Lindsey had arrived from London the day before with all the ingredients needed for an egg hunt and had spent the entire afternoon composing clues and hiding eggs all over the gite. Turns out that no one is ever too old for an Easter egg hunt! Or perhaps the appeal of chocolate never wanes? There was much eggcitement when it was revealed that more eggs had been hidden than the clues suggested – in fact, there are probably still tiny Lindt eggs in the gite that haven’t been discovered yet.

Sitting around on a sun-drenched patio, eating chocolate and drinking wine with old and new friends seemed to be a perfect example of how life in the Matryoshka Haus community should be lived…

– Liz

[Photos to follow when we have better internet!]