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August 2004

The roof-maker

- by Emmanuelle

Aurovilian roof-maker Jean-Mark talks of his trade.

Jean-MarkJean Marc first came to Auroville for a visit in 1986, attracted by the ideals of human unity. “I came on a quest, I was looking for something else,” he remembers, “And from the beginning, from the very first time I came, I knew I would eventually come back and settle here.” It was only twelve years later however, in 1998 that jean Marc, after a number of regular visits, finally moved to Auroville.

After his baccalaureate in 1978, Jean Marc decided he wanted to become more independent and start to earn his living. So, advised by an uncle of his who was a ‘Compagnon', he joined the centre of the ‘Compagnons du Devoir' in Toulouse , where he was introduced to the different trades taught there and taken to the various sites. Jean Marc was most drawn to the trade of roof making, so he started his apprenticeship, which lasted two years. After his apprenticeship was completed, however, Jean-Marc decided to move on, and so he left to Paris , where he started work. Over the years, he worked in different companies, many of which specialize in the restoration of historical monuments and are very well known, for example the Piolet company, which has worked on the restoration of the Palace of Versailles and the Louvres amongst others. So Jean Marc, during his stay in Paris , was also involved in the restoration of a number of well known monuments in the city, including the Opera of Paris and the Theatre of the Odeon.

After Paris , Jean Marc worked in Switzerland for some time, and then eventually returned to France and was employed by a company in the town of Angers , where he also studied at the ‘Ecole Superieur de Couverture' (higher school for roof making). Then, in 1991, a small team, of which he was part, was sent by the company to the French West Indies , to take up the restoration of the islands' historical architectural heritage. “I stayed there for a period of seven years,” recounts Jean Marc, who was during that time responsible for the department. “We worked on the restoration and renovation of historical monuments, most of which dated back to the colonial times: forts, castles, old colonial houses of sugarcane plantation owners, windmills, churches…” Then at one point, the budget for the restoration of historical monuments was greatly reduced by the French Government. There were also a lot of strikes in the French West Indies at that time, and all the material for restoration, which was received from France , was often blocked at the customs. “We were under a lot of pressure,” explains Jean Marc. “And there and then I decided that it was the right time for me to move to Auroville.”

Jean-mark and Thomas working on the roof of Lumiere in Fraternity

When Jean Marc speaks of roof-making, his trade, it is with a lot of enthusiasm and his eyes light up. “Being up there, at such great heights, gives us roof makers a sense of great freedom, like that of birds in flight. We are free because hardly anybody comes to bother us up there, not even the architects. When you are working on a big building site, it can get very crowded and unorganized, as everybody comes and does his job and there are hundreds of people around. It's sometimes really quite a mess down there, and we are then happy to have space and be alone on top of our roof.”

Jean Marc also stresses that the job of roof making involves a lot of risks. “To be able to work at great heights, one needs physical equilibrium, a good balance, and that is extremely important, as the job is dangerous. I myself feel that this physical balance helps me achieve inner balance, mental equilibrium and helps me find my centre. Also, if for example one is not focused, one has negative thoughts, or one hasn't slept well the night before, it is very difficult to find physical equilibrium, and one doesn't feel very confident or assured up there. So physical equilibrium gives you inner balance, and vice versa, inner balance gives you physical equilibrium.”

“Another aspect which makes our trade so interesting,” he continues, “is that we work with so many different materials: different types of metal (copper, aluminum, zinc…), stone (slate), clay (tiles), different woods, vegetation (thatch)…and the list goes on.”

Since he settled in Auroville, Jean Marc has built a number of roofs, most of which are in Aluminum, as nobody else really had the expertise to work with this material in the area. He built the roofs of three houses in the Auromodel community (Michael and Mauricette's, Suzanne's and Clara's), one in Two Banians (Jean's), one in Prarthna (Bobby's), and one in Vikas. He also worked on renovating the Pyramids Art Centre and built the roofs of the Solar Café and the American Pavilion.

In the beginning, work was quite a challenge in Auroville as the necessary tools weren't available. “At one point, as I didn't have any work here, I took up work on a site in Hyderabad . The money earned there was invested in buying new tools, material and machinery, to be able to work more efficiently.” So now Jean Marc and his team (which consists of two local workers: Kumar and Raja) are well equipped, and have all the tools and machinery they need. “It's always so much more of a pleasure, to work with good tools, he smiles.”

In the beginning of the year, Jean-Marc had a lot of work on his hands and was desperate to find somebody to assist him, and share the work load. As he didn't find anybody who was willing to take up the job, he left to France . There he met the person in charge of international placements for young ‘Aspirants Compagnons' under training. He told him he was looking for somebody to work with, and an appeal was posted, to which three young ‘Aspirant Compagnon' roof-makers replied. Thomas Demelle was one of them, and as Jean-Marc liked his letter of motivation, he chose him. Since a couple of months now, Thomas is in Auroville, assisting Jean Marc with his work and learning more about the trade. At present they are working on the roof of the Lumiere unit in Fraternity.

“I work a lot,” admits Jean Marc. “But I feel that work, whatever ones job, contains everything. I am happy to work eight hours a day, just so I can experience a few moments of total communion with my work, of total joy. Some days one doesn't experience those moments at all, when nothing works out, everything goes wrong. But at other times, those moments can last a few hours: A few intense hours of total communion with ones work, of deep concentration, of great joy, when time stops, and nothing else exists anymore.”

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