I had this house, a wooden house in a wildflower meadow, high in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. It was something to pull me forward, away from the last hideous year.
At least, I had walls, a roof of sorts, water and electricity; the building was dry and well ventilated, as the air flowed without obstruction through walls and roof. A British estate agent would have declared it to be a house with considerable potential. The whole area, in fact, had potential in much the same way.
One thousand metres above sea level, with a bat cave just round the hill and Dracula’s castle in the valley, the village had no mobile or internet signal, no telephone lines, no tarmac, no drains, no gas, no shops and no public transport. It was well away from the conveniences of the 20th century, let alone the 21st – which was a blessing in most ways – except when it came to building.
And this was a building project. It’s a simple structure, built by eye and experience; whole tree trunks – the standard log cabin – were hand cut and laid; they support roof timbers – more tree trunks – over which terracotta tiles were nailed on to thin battens. The whole house is built on a thirty-degree slope, so there are two and a half floors, one half of the main storey sitting on earth, the other half sitting over what is now the kitchen and bathroom. The main water pipe emerged from the ground like a periscope inside the western half of the basement, so it made sense to call that the kitchen. On the main floor there were three rooms: one had a floor of wooden boards over the concrete, and had wood-framed windows that didn’t close properly; ceiling and walls were plastered and painted, but there was a huge wet stain in one corner that suggested gutter problems. The other small room had no wooden floor, just concrete, and open window holes in the bare log wall. No ceiling – you looked between the beams straight up to the underside of the roof tiles and straight through the holes to the sky…