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Bound, or What to Do When Your Roof Nearly Blows Away

Njálsgata, midtown Reykjavík
( Note: this is my 703rd post, so if you're a new visitor, be sure to follow the 'Older Posts' link at the bottom right side of this page. Or you can use the archives feature down at the bottom as well. I've just started collapsing older posts, so for full articles, hit the 'Read more' links . In addition, I reference my older posts quite a bit, and try to find the most relevant and unique external info sources, so let the links in my articles take you even further into the adventure that is Iceland : )

Well well, best laid plans, etc...

We haven't yet made it to lands east, as per my last post. Take a good look at this slightly awkward photo and you'll see that a portion of our house is bound to our tree, and that the roof and gutter are in bad shape. Gale-force winds in mid-March happened to be blowing at exactly the right angle to pry their surreptitious fingers under the corrugated iron and literally make red metal wings out of it, seeming to flap in some desperate take-off attempt, held down only by decades-old nails set in the much older wood frame. Luckily,... (click the super-small Read more link below to read more!)
...a neighbor saw it happening and called Björgunasrveit Ársæll, the local search and rescue squad, and they came super promptly to bind it down, though there was definitely enough for them to do that morning! (there are 59 photos in the series I just linked to, so be sure to click through them all ;)

Not that the roof is the only reason I'm calling off any big moves right now. If you look even closer still at my picture you can see that the dressing (siding?) is cracked and old, and during the process of trying to sell my apartment (which is through the opened door in the pic) it came to light that at least one other owner of the property had been sorely neglecting his apartment, and renting it out as an absentee landlord. Suffice to say that ýmislegt kom í ljós ('miscellaneous things came to light') that directly affected the infrastructure of our building, and thus shared cost for repairs. I had buyers who were willing to take my place as-is, but the haggling process was wearing me down, and that tendency of people to pick at a thing until they find the flaw they're looking for (and possibly creating that very flaw in the process, in this case visualizing years down the road when this or this or that issue would eventually come up, and trying to bargain for a discount based on that) just took the shine off of the whole plan in general.

It's an old house. As a matter of fact it's 20 years older than any of us thought, and thus has automatic Protected Status with the Minjastofnun (The Cultural Heritage Society of Iceland.) When I discovered that, I decided to stay put for the while and invest in helping to preserve our old house, much loved but sorely in need of maintenance to stand the tests of time.

I wrote this one evening while contemplating the chaos of selling. It's really what made me decide to put big moves to other towns on the back burner, and focus my attention on what I've got right now:

I love the house we live in. I own (with the bank) twenty five percent of the house, built in 1905 and located on lot number 34. We have a functional, well-organized, clean and sunny backyard (on good weather days that is, though all weather is interesting in its own right) and the tallest tree on the block, proudly. Our house is dressed in crushed sea shells, a millennia worth of spittle from the strange mouths of mollusks from far away, where the Gulf Stream begins. Who knows from where these clams and such came, or from what era. Regardless, they, in crushed form collected from semi-local beaches, have been, handful by handful cast fast onto a fine but hearty layer of dressing cement. It took skill and days, and is sadly now cracked in many places. The shells themselves retain their strength, but their size allows for the cement to break apart at stress points, and form long, dark, thin ribbons on the facade of the house with no real damage to the beach stuff itself. So sadly, though the originators of the idea had a brilliant theory in concept, in practice the medium in which the everlasting (or at least waterproof) shells were set was simply not strong enough to stand the tests of time: wind, wetness, wild fluctuations in temperature, and earthquakes. Who first thought of this idea? And would the supposed theory have matured into well-respected fact if the right setting medium had  been used to attach all that history to the house in the first place?

It's just a house. Just there, like all the other gazillion I've never been in. Just a house, but who built it, and how has it changed in 110 years? Who lived here, who loved, and if anyone, who was born or died? A basic house, even though dressed with the spit of a million mollusks made into shells over spans of time. But as many have said before me, a house is a story, and that story can keep growing and evolving in many beautiful ways. Or it can fester into hatred and rot. Ill will, or worse, apathy can ruin the saga of a space, especially those not built by stone, but more absorbent stuff. Like a sponge, the timber of our houses absorbs the energy radiating from its occupants, sometimes toxic. One unloved space, or one space that though loved isn't within the means of the inhabitants to maintain, decays in spirit. Renters resent that an owner doesn't come to fix a leak, buy replacement parts, repay them for new paint or other small or significant acts of repair. So though loved, the space absorbs the tenants' frustration, and saddens even further. A house needs love, and effort, to survive. 

In warmer regions, houses stand empty in the many thousands, covered in vines and rogue blooms that grasp at the chance to grow closer to the light with their help. Their deep, deep desire to feed more and more purely, unhindered by the shadows of other plants, is the only fact, the only reality. Up, and reaching new shoots up, the vines and growth break down their helpful scaffold, adding damp and a trillion, trillion-fold minuscule green fingers into the the wood or neglected cement, finding the holes bored by beetles, the cracks and weak spots in the body of their host. They take down what gives them life, or at least gets them closer to their photon source: our Sun. The sheer weight of the floras' abundance topples the once-homes of someones. Without maintenance and care, in only a few short years plants (or in colder climes just weather itself) can reduce a once-loved home back into the elements from which it came. 

(Note: I  found out from the Minjastofnun that the idea of dressing buildings like ours came into fashion in the 30's as a way to make timber houses look like cement ones. In fact, my unit in our building is the only original part of the house: the other four apartments were added on over the past century, and when a cement addition was put into place, the corrugated iron was taken off and the dressing/siding put up instead. It's pretty much agreed today that it was not a good idea as the timber structure can't breathe as well as it can with corrugated iron, and had a tendency towards rot. When we replace the dressing/siding we'll find out how much that affects us : / Oh, and I was informed that, yes, the sea shell coating is rare, but almost impossible to replace because all of the beaches here are protected. 

If you're interested in the history of my part of old-town Reykjavík (the Njálsgata area) here's a report detailing each house in a four-block radius. It's in Icelandic, but it's got some pictures too : ) And here's the city website where you can see all of the architectural plans for local buildings. The link goes directly to my property.)

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1 comment:

Professor Batty said...

Ah, the joys of home ownership! I had to replace my roof twice in the span of 5 years, even with insurance it was pricey.