Saturday, 5 April 2014

Of flora & fauna

We've been having a run of warmish and sunny weather and it feels like every single plant has exploded into life at once.

Our daffs are finished, the tulips are out and I've seen bearded irises in full flower in Tours; although ours are yet to come out. Cherry and pear trees are covered in snow white blossom. The crab apple next to the building where I mainly teach in Tours is in full flower and covered with bees. Our ornamental cherry is just opening its candy pink flowers and over this weekend we'll have a look and see if we can find some early purple orchids. The colza, or rape seed field, are bright acid yellow.

Earlier this week we took Tim & Pauline's lift[giant jack] which raises a ride-on mower back to them -- they'd kindly lent it to us so we could fix a front tire. This gave us an opportunity to also go and photograph the snake's-head fritillaries which grow in a ditch not too far away from them.

Delicate snake's-head fritillaries in a roadside ditch
These particular snake's-head fritillaries are found in a shallow roadside ditch next to a flood meadow. They are exquisite with their purple-red chequered flowers and grow only in a very specific habitat: hay meadows in lowland flood plains. Before moving here, we'd only ever seen them in photographs -- they are rare because of this habitat. They need natural, i.e. unimproved [untreated], flood plain meadows, a type of meadow which is in heavy decline. We are lucky to have them!

Last year the snake's-head fritillaries were just beyond their best towards the end of April but this year, after the very mild winter, they flowered earlier and indeed on Tuesday, quite a few were clearly beyond their best. Nevertheless there were still some to photograph.

Close up you can clearly see the chequer-board pattern
We also found the chappie in the photograph below clinging on to our front door key last week. It was very determined to hang on. We know it's a moth, but wondered if any of our readers who know much more about these things could give us any further information. The wings seemed to be concertina-ed so we wondered if it was a newly emerged individual busy pumping out its wings.

Finally, speaking of fauna, we thought readers might enjoy this photo of Tinka "wearing" Niall's jeans! :-)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Disc throwing Gargantua

The land we live on is old, and there is quite a lot of evidence of very early habitation. A farming friend has a substantial collection of flints which he has acquired by simply collecting them from his fields. The castle at Le Grand Pressigny houses an impressive museum of pre-history.  At Abilly there's an archeological dig museum, Archéolab which explains the 'how and why' of the excavations that have taken place on the site between 1981 - 91. You can visit it during the summer months. Closer to home, in fact more or less opposite us, on the other side of the Aigronne Valley lies 'Les Palets de Gargantua', a dolmen.

Dolmens are a type of single chamber megalithic tomb consisting of 3 or more upright stones which support a large flat horizontal capstone, or table. A quick check on Wikipedia tells us that most dolmen are from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC).

Charnizay from the dolmen parking lot
The dolmen here at Charnizay is a simple one of three very large disc-like stones. The capstone was either never raised up properly or has slid down resulting in the angled top we see today. Located just along from the lieu-dit Le Champ de l'Ormeau [on old maps it's shown as Champ de L'Humiau], you'll find the dolmen in a small clearing.
Les Palets de Gargantua in the early spring sun
Legend has it that Gargantua, as immortalised by Francois Rabelais in a series of novels of the mid 16th century; was striding round the countryside followed by his wife who held a collection of stone disks in her wedding apron. He amused himself, allegedly, by chucking them about and that's why we have three giant 'palets' [disks] in Charnizay. From here, legend has it that he threw others which resulted in the dolmen at Civray-sur-Esvres.
Useful information panel
Little is known about our dolmen. The most widely held opinion is that it was for some reason left unfinished. A very helpful information panel has been put up at the entrance to the clearing where the dolmen is located to help explain things to visitors. There's also a couple of picnic tables which visitors can use if they wish. Just be careful of the ground if you drive to the site by car -- better to leave the car in the parking lot and walk the short distance! Even after a period of dry weather we still nearly got stuck in the deceptively boggy ground recently when some friends who live right by the track drove down it it give us a quick look at the site.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Village elections & our annual fête

It's been busy in Charnizay of late. Activity concerning the local elections has heated up recently what with the 1st round election date - 23rd March - rapidly approaching.

Although Charnizay counts only just over 500 inhabitants the Conseil Municipale elections are a topic of discussion amongst the great and the good as this time round, for the 1st time ever as far as we understand it, there are 2 lists; one preponderantly made up of outgoing councillors, the other with more 'new' faces. It has sent something of a ripple round the community. In the past the conseil has been voted in on the nod. The current maire, who is retiring, was voted onto the conseil in the 1970's and has been maire since 1986.
Fête 2014: band announcing the parade, mini ringmaster at the head
The local election of one's councillors is an interesting affair. In a village of our size fifteen councillors are elected. Villages who number fewer inhabitants elect a smaller council and of course towns and cities many more. Once the elections are over a maire and [usually] two adjoints [deputies] are selected from the 15 voted in. Normally the 'list leader' becomes the maire. Members of the conseil municipal serve for 6 years.

What we have found fascinating is the fact that one can, if one votes, vote for a mixture of individuals from either list. This is valid for villages of the category [500 - 1,000 inhabitants] that Charnizay falls into.

So, in Charnizay's case where there are two lists, a voter may:
  • select anyone they wish from the whichever list if there is more than one list as long as the name is on the list. This is called 'pannage'.
  • select up to a maximum of 15 candidates. If a voter votes for less than 15, say for example 8, then these votes are valid.
Ostrich-type birds, large and small
A voter may not:
  • nominate/vote for anyone they think would do a good job whether they are on a list or not, by scratching out a name and inserting their choice on the ballot paper -- 'pannage' old style. The law was revised in May 2013 so this is new.
What this means in effect is that there are a whole range of permutations. Obviously a 'list leader' and his/her 14 fellow candidates hope that at voter will vote for the complete package. However, it is perfectly possible for a voter to "mix and match" from both lists creating a combination they prefer. If a voter reverts to the old system that was in place the last time these elections where held and adds a name which is not on either list then the ballot is nul and void.

We are following all these events rather closely as Antoinette is on one of the lists. We shall see what happens come polling day....

Just a glimpse of a lion, a pierrot and clowns
Last weekend our village held its annual fête. There were brocante stalls aplenty, a small merry-go-round for the little 'uns and dodge 'em cars for the older kids. The theme was circus and many of the facades in the centre of the village had been decorated with clown faces and other circus related items. The children's parade featured all sorts of circus animals such as lions, ostriches, and a very cute baby elephant [aged about 5] who kept dropping her trunk :-) !
 Fête 2011- bleak and chilly weather kept people away
We were lucky with the weather this year, as so often it is still cold, wet or rainy or a combination of all 3! This year the sun shone, it was warm with no hint of a chilly wind so the turnout was excellent.

As always you can click on the photos to enlarge them

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

What our wild garden is 'wearing' this early spring

We've had a few days of less rain and more sun:- hurrah! The predictions are that we are in for some sunnier, milder and more spring-like weather for the next week or so.
One of our species of daffodils
This is great because the garden is screaming out for some attention. The grass has become so long it resembles the vegetative version of dreadlocks and there are still hazel bushes which need hacking back. 
Our other type of daffodil--this one has been in flower for just over a week
However, none of this is going to happen if the ground doesn't dry out a bit first. The ride-on mower will cut the grass, no problem, but if it is too wet the grass will clog up the system which spits it out to the side which isn't good. Slip-sliding in boggy ground with a chain saw isn't too clever an idea either, so patience is required. Hopefully we'll be able to tackle some of the remaining bushes on Sunday.
Our Japanese quince is flowering much more strongly than last year
This Saturday is Charnizay's annual fête. We'll be hoping we have a day like today -- blue skies, sun and temperatures slowly creeping up towards the 15C mark. In fact, this morning we sat outside the house with a coffee for the first time this year - normally it's Poitiers on Wednesdays but there's a week's break in classes.

Cowslips in three colour breaks
So just to prove that our weather is getting better here are some photos taken yesterday of what's in flower around the house. The new banner photo was taken this morning.
A carpet of scented violets under one of our small sumac trees

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Our local colombier

Our village also has a colombier. Now part of a farm, appropriately called 'Le Colombier', it lies at the end of one of the little chemins which run up the small valleys just outside the bourg.
Last vestiges of the mediaeval donjon
The colombier in Charnizay would once have belonged to the original mediaeval castle. Now all that remains of that is a semi-derelict donjon, much altered. In its last incarnation it served as a 'ferme fort'. However, plans are afoot to see if the donjon could be brought back to life  --sometime in the future-- as it forms part of the greater complex of buildings which includes our new Salle de Spectacles.
Charnizay's colombier
Charnizay's colombier is a relatively modest affair. It has about 450 niches. Simply constructed as a small square tower it had a drive-through double doorway. This allowed the horse and cart to enter on one side. The pigeon droppings could then be easily swept out of the niches directly into the cart before it was driven out the other side.  Keeping the pigeons was not only a matter for having a handy food source, their droppings provided valuable fertilizer for the fields.

The pigeons are long gone, the current inhabitant is a barn owl
The current owners of Le Colombier farm goats and run a lovely eco-friendly gite; you can find out more if you like here on the Gites de France website. They undertook some restoration work of the colombier and opened up one of the doorways which had been closed up by a previous owner. While this work was being done they found a stone which commemorates the completion of the dovecot. Their house is dated to the same year.

Inscription recording the completion of the colombier
The date, 1539, is significant in French history. In the same year Francois Ier signed the
Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts. This piece of legislation, specifically articles 110 & 111,  played a significant role in the move towards a linguistic and ideological unification of France. 
Nous voullons et ordonnons qu’ilz soient faictz et escrits si clerement qu’il n’y ait ne puisse avoir aucune ambiguïté ou incertitude, ni lieu à en demander interpretacion.
 Et pour ce que telles choses sont souventesfoys advenues sur l'intelligence des motz latins contenuz esdictz arretz, Nous voulons que doresenavant tous arretz ensemble toutes autres procedeures, soyent de nous cours souveraines ou aultres subalternes et inferieures, soyent de registres, enquestes, contractz, commissions, sentences, testamens et aultres quelzconques actes et exploictz de justice ou qui en dependent, soient prononcez, enregistrez et delivrez aux parties en langage maternel francoys et non autrement.

Above: the two relevant articles in Old French

The clauses required that French was used in all official documents, replacing Latin. [Although Latin did continue to be used to some degree in Catholic church registers]. The knock-on effect was that the articles also impacted on the other languages and dialects spoken in many regions of France and thus played a role in the linguistic unification.