Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Acadian corner

directions in Cenan
Earlier this month Charnizay was 'en fete'. We wrote about it here. It was then that we met M. Piveau, one of the stalwarts of the local historical association, or 'L'Association de Charnizay, son Passé et la Nouvelle-France' to give it its proper title. The association had set up some very interesting displays in the village library and we were especially intrigued by the one on Acadiens in Poitou. 

To find the villages where the Acadiens were re-settled go south on the D3 from La Roche Posay to Pleumartin and on to Archigny. They settled an area which today corresponds to the villages of Archigny, Les Huit Maisons, Cenan, La Puye and la Ligne acadienne. Last Sunday we went and had a look round.

1677 Map, Acadie is just above-left of the crown
Charnizay has a connection with Acadie, one of the original French colonies in Canada. 
Charles de Menou d'Aulnay, a member of the noble family who held the manor of Charnizay went out to Acadie, what we now know as Nova Scotia, Canada in 1632.  He became the Governor and helped turn Port Royale into the main town.

The colonies in North America were keenly contested, mirroring the frequent conflicts in Europe between France and England during the 17th and 18th centuries. The 1632 expedition sent out by Louis XIII of which Menou was a leading member had been sent to "re-Frenchify" the area after England returned it to French control following the Treaty of St Germain en Laye. [The English had siezed the area in 1629]

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave control of Acadie and Terre- Neuve to England. The French government wanted the colonists to leave Acadie and move to the remaining French colonies of Ile Royale and Ile St Jean [modern day Cap Breton Island and Prince Edward Island].

Many Acadiens weren't keen as the land on the two islands was of much poorer quality. The English thought that it might prove useful for English Acadie to keep them. These Acadiens, who remained were happy to stay as "neutral French". In other words they were happy to promise not to bear arms against either France or England; however, they weren't willing to sign an oath of allegiance to the English crown.

house no 31 la Ligne acadienne
By 1749, increasingly uneasy, a number of key Acadiens had moved to Ile Royale and Ile St Jean. In 1754 Acadie aquired a new governor, and a new name: Nova Scotia. The new governor demanded that the remaining French Acadiens sign a new oath of allegiance which ommitted the clause of neutrality. The Acadiens refused and 'the powers that be' decided to deport the entire French Acadien population. Their homes and property were destroyed so that there was nothing left to sustain them if they tried to escape deportation.

Between September and December 1755 all the Acadiens were arrested and deported--some 14 ships carried 5,000 Acadiens into exile. In the December another 1800 [Acadien] prisoners from Port Royale and 600 recaptured escapees were also dispatched. They were resettled in the English colonies in North America. The colony of Virginia refused to accept their quota of 1500 deportees--all from the region of Grand Pré, so these deportees were sent to England.

During the Seven Year's War [1756 - 63] the English gained control of the fortress of Louisbourg, Ile Royale, and Ile St Jean and their inhabitants were also shipped to England or sent directly to various ports in France like La Rochelle, Brest, or St Malo. Similar deportations continued right up until the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

The ports of Brittany and northern France were full of Acadien refugees. During the months of May and June 1763 the last wave of refugees arrived in France. They were the Acadiens who had been deported to England. They had refused to return to what was now Nova Scotia as they considered themselves to be French and not subjects of the English crown.

This left Louis XV with a real problem. His ports were awash with destitute and unemployed Acadiens. They were given a pension of 6 sols per day but the port authorities were responsible for housing, medical care and looking after the old and infirm. No one was happy with the state of affairs so the French state had to look for a solution.
house no 36 la Ligne acadienne

It took years of to-ing and fro-ing, and of politicking. Many different proposals were put forward to re-settle the Acadiens in various different locations in France; mainly in places where the land had been abandonded as a result of successive conflicts. There were plans to re-settle the Acadiens around Amboise, in Lorraine, on Corsica. Some families were settled on Belle-Ile-en-Mer off Brittany but hardship meant that of the 77 families who went out only 16 stayed; the others gave up. None of the other schemes came to anything.

By 1770 the Acadiens were becoming impatient. If they emigrated --and some did -- in large numbers [to Louisiana & New Brunswick] it meant that France would lose face in front of Spain and England.

Step forward a nobleman from Poitou, the Marquis de Pérusse des Cars. He offered a face saver--land to resettle 1500 Acadiens. The plan was to create 5 villages, each composed of 30 farms; 10 people per farm. A huge project, it meant that houses had to be built; communities created and infrastructure established--after all there was nothing on site.

All this took time, quite a bit of time. In the end the houses were built differently to the local traditional style as it was taking too long to quarry the needed stone and get it on site. The Marquis had an expert fetched from Normandy to show the masons how to build cob walls. The first 15 houses were completed in 1773. Each farmhouse had a large room which served as both kitchen and living room, a bedroom, a celler, a stable, a barn and a well.  Each farm was given 17 hectares, 2 bullocks, 2 cows,and a wagon. 

In July 1774 about 1,472 Acadiens were lodged in temporary accomodation in Chatellerault. By the end of the year they most were moving in and beginning to form communities. For some the wait had been almost 20 years.

You can visit a restored farmhouse in the village of Les Huit Maisons [opening hours summer mostly] and original houses along  la Ligne acadienne are marked with a plaque. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pink times two

Like many people who live here we have fruit trees. We 'inherited' two apple trees, three cherries, two quinces, a fig and a peach tree. Some of these trees are elderly and a quince,  apple and cherry are probably on their very last legs. So last November we put in a cherry, apple, pear and a greengage. We've also found we have wild plum
14 March, just cut
In The Netherlands we were spoilt; there flowers are an everyday addition in one's house and you can find superb street corner stalls selling a vast range of flowers all through the year. We always had a bunch or two of something in the house. In the spring, the flower sellers would have bunches of cherry branches for sale as a --more expensive-- alternative to the tulips or daffs which were our regular purchase. Later on they would have sprays of lilacs. 

21 March
Two weeks ago we were pottering about outside --it was one of the 1st days when the temp went up to the high teens-- and I took a look at the best of our inherited cherry trees. I was suddenly reminded of the flower sellers in Holland so I a cut off a few small branches and popped them into a vase to await results.

They didn't disappoint :-) slowly opening up over the last 14 days and making a lovely display on the coffee table. 

The best thing is we can enjoy it all over again now that the tree in the garden is coming into flower!

Friday, 25 March 2011

In the beginning...

Wednesday it was exactly 1 year ago that we first saw the house. I checked it in my diary; we had an appointment at 10 am to meet the estate agent at the church in Charnizay and from there we would follow him to the house.

March 2010

What we saw was a typical rambling longere tucked away on a semi-wooded plot of 2.5 acres seemingly in the middle of nowhere but in reality less than 1.5km from the centre of the village. A bit of a sleeping beauty-- it had no drive just grass, loads of trees and bushes clustering all around and a super view acrosss the Aigronne valley.

We'd done exhaustive research via the internet before coming down for the week's house search. We'd whittled it down to a short list of 8 and set up meetings with 2 estate agents.  By the Wednesday we'd worked through most of the list and quite a few more which  the agents felt we must see. The houses were a mixed bag, most were more or less what we'd asked for; no huge ruined farm complexes thankfully--as this was most definitely NOT what we were after. The problem with many of them was that whatever else did, or did not match our 'wish' list, they failed the 'bread & milk' test. 

November 2010
We wanted to be in the country but no further than about 1.5km from the centre of a village so that we could, if necessary, be within walking distance of basic shopping. Our other requirement was that the area had to be cat friendly--preferably not on a road the locals bomb down at 90km an hr. 
By Wednesday none of those which more or less met the bread & milk test -- we found that the French perception of being 1.5 km from a village was very different to ours -- were quite right. Some needed too much renovation, others were too modern, one or two were beautifully renovated but too small, others had little or no land/garden.

Then we saw the 'Charnizay' house. It spoke to us, it felt it could be right. Layout worked for us; space was right and where things weren't quite the way we wanted them it was straightforward to sort them out. In short we could see ourselves living there. Even better, it was cat paradise and the distance from the village shop to the house was just under 1.5km.

kitchen/diner before
So trying hard to be sensible after the 1st viewing and keep our excitement under some kind of control, we retreated to Loches to do some serious talking; listing the pro's and con's, thinking of what work we would need to do and how much that would cost,and could we afford it. The house was in good condition but was a French family's 'maison secondaire' and there were things we felt would need to be done to turn it into a comfortable permanent residence. But all the time our conversations kept coming back to what it would be like when we were living there. We were fizzing with excitement!!
kitchen/diner after

Two days later, after a second viewing--exactly a year ago today--we put in an offer and had it accepted. We'd tried to be good, sensible and objective--even going so far as a second veiwing on 2 other houses just to 'play fair' but there wasn't ever really any question. We wanted to live in this house.

We moved in August 2010 and are throughly enjoying living here, so tonight we shall be opening a nice bottle of pink fizz to celebrate finding the right house!!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Pink Fizz

Yesterday was the Spring Equinox when the length of the day was equal to the length of the night. So from now until the Autumn Equinox, 23 September, the days are longer than the nights. Hurrah! 

Japanese quince
Our weather forecast is for blue skies and temperatures in the middle to high teens all this week and in celebration the flowers round our house have gone into a bit of a pink fizz. 

budding peach tree
The Japanese quince is probably at its best right now and our little peach tree--12 peaches last autumn; is just about breaking into flower. Don't think we'll have to wait long for our cherry trees either but they're not quite as far along as the peach.

The larches are still going strong but the wild cherry plum has finished so the bees have decamped to somewhere else for now. They'll be back soon when our lime tree flowers; it has just opened its first leaves.

1st lime leaves
We also have a bit of an anomaly. We have loads and loads of  'normal' cowslips with their clusters of acid yellow flowers and the odd wild primula whose flowers are the same colou,r but just underneath our oldest walnut tree we have a single clump of renegade cowslip with a variant colourway. It's a lovely reddish colour. So although it's not pink we've included it anyway :-)

variant colour cowslip

Sunday, 20 March 2011

St Savin again

Just some more photos of St Savin which we wrote about yesterday.

This chap was sitting outside catching the sun with his dogs and donkey, which he'd unhitched from his pony trap. The donkey was very vocal and his braying followed us into the abbey.


Romanesque porch tower with very gothic spire. It was a lovely early spring day with cobalt blue skies.

decorated pillar in the nave

The pillar was decorated with a repeating pattern of geyhound-like hunting dogs in ocher and russet.

Spotted this 19th century faux medieval tower stuck on to the 17th/18th century abbey range. Extra staircase perhaps?

These angels are all curves as they bow down before Christ in Majesty

looking through the nave to apsidal choir

We had the place to ourselves which was a real treat. A German tour group was leaving as we arrived but for the rest there was only the odd individual. A lovely advantage of being able to visit places such as this out of season.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Recently we've had a run of glorious weather --not so good today though, grey and misty-- and taking advantage we went down to St Savin sur Gartempe to visit the Abbey.

St Savin
A UNESCO world heritage site since 1983, the abbey church is richly decorated with beautiful frescos-- a fantastic survival. The church was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style--all rounded arches and windows, a heavy squat central tower over the transept and an apsidal east end. There is porch tower at the west end which sports a later [14th cent] Gothic spire. Durham Cathedral in the UK is built in the same style.

It seems there has been an abbey on the site at least since the time of Charlemagne [early 9th cent.] to house the relics of 2 brothers, Savin and Cyprien.
nave ceiling

According to tradition they were 5th century Macedonian brothers who fled their country as they were being persecuted for being Christians. The story goes that they were finally cornered on the banks of the River Gartempe and beheaded. Apparently their relics were discovered 300 years later and the abbey was founded to house them and so became an important pilgrimage site.

The current abbey church was built in the 11th century following a generous cash donation in 1010 by the Duchess of Aquitaine. The frescos were painted at the same time and probably completed by 1100.

animals bottom, birds middle, humans top
 In an age where literacy was confined to the very few it made sense to have a medieval picture book of bible stories for the congregation to reflect on; either in mosaics [eg: Ravenna or Achen], frescos or, glass [eg: Chartres, York].  On the left is Noah's Ark.

The entry porch at the west end too is covered in frescos with a representation of Christ in Majesty at its heart. It also depicts scenes from the Book of Revelations and one of the less commonly seen is a representation of 'Woman of the Apocalypse' [Book of Revelations 12:1-18] or 'The Lady and the Dragon'.   

angel to the rescue
Bottom left seated is St John to whom the Book of Revelations is attributed; he looks to be holding his hands up in horror. Top left is the citadel of God; centre is the woman with her newly born male child on her lap. Just to the left of her is an angel ready to wisk the child off to the safety of the citadel and to the right is a huge red winged dragon who wishes to consume the child. Dragons and demons or devils were always red, the colour of sin and of human blood.

The frescos at St Savin have recently undergone several years of restoration and are now looking fantastic. It is humbling to think that for 900 years, people have been looking up at the stories they depict. Just think of what stories the frescos could tell if only they could talk!!

[PS you can enlarge any of the photos by clicking on them]

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Coucou & caterpillars

We first heard the coucou on Monday and since then it has settled into its stride, calling regularly and together with the cowslips a mark that Spring is really here. The skylarks are also very vocal at present. If we are very lucky we see them occasionally as minute specks in the sky.

We have beasties called processionary caterpillars in our Pine trees and their nests look like white cotton candy. Once they reach their final caterpillar stage they troop down from the tree in a long, long line nose to tail (hence name) to find some damp earth to burrow into, after which they emerge as a nocturnal moth. We know that they are very much to be avoided. What we hadn't checked was when exactly they process. It turns out any time between January and April depending on where you live; the further south the earlier. 

caterpillars;   photo: www.wildsideholidays.com
Their defence mechanism is to discharge tiny, almost invisible, fibreglass-like hairs which are poisonous--they cause urticaria [or a more severe allergic reaction if you're unlucky].....
Cats and dogs suffer if they get the hairs into their mouths/noses or on paws and then lick them. The hairs can cause vomiting, drooling, itching, swelling tongue and white spots [little ulcers] in mouth/on tongue. The worst case scenario is quite horrid, if your pet eats some of these fuzzies it can easily be fatal.

Katinka, being a young cat, is insatiably curious and will investigate even the smallest of wiggles or movements. Shadow, older, is much more sensible.

Tinka was sick yesterday morning--she threw up fresh cat food and again later in the afternoon a bit of bile. We wondered at the cause--the night before we'd seen a large-ish toad on the drive and perhaps she'd tried a bite of him.

Some time after Tinka had been sick the 1st time Niall spotted a chain of processionaries not far from the back door--exactly where our cats sit on a low wall having gone out via the catflap.  It wasn't a long chain but they had obviously come down from one of pine trees and found the soft earth behind the low wall perfect for burrowing.

Under the motto 'better late than never' we then washed her paws under a running tap and checked her mouth/tongue --she is amazingly tolerant of such things.

There were few enough caterpillars that zapping them with ant/roach spray was an option. It worked a treat--we stood upwind from them, there was no defensive reaction from the caterpillars and it was effective in seconds. We've since found out that it is best to have the nests sprayed in November--this breaks the life cycle so it has gone on the to do list in red pen. 

Meanwhile we've kept a careful eye on Tinka but all mouth inspections show no ulceration and what little redness of her tongue there was has receded. She just shakes front paw right occasionally so probably it is a bit affected. Her appetite is back so, all in all, it she seems she got off pretty lightly.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Wild flowers perhaps?

At Christmas a friend of ours who lives in Massachusetts sent us, as a present, a packet of New England wildflowers.

seed packet
It contained a mix of 12 annuals and perennials: Colombine, Butterfly, Lupine, Firewheel, Primrose, Bluebell, Paintbrush, Aster, Poppy, Snapdragon, Cosmos and Dames Rocket.

better half setting up his scarecrow
Last week when the weather suddenly turned nice and sunny Niall decided it was time for the wildflowers to be sown. Taking out 3 very large overgrown hazel bushes last autumn left us with a clear patch on the south side of the house. In November we planted 4 small fruit trees in this space and seeded grass on part of it but there was still a reasonable bare area so Niall just raked it over lightly, scattered the seeds, raked them in and watered them. Oh yes...and set up a scarecrow....

sartorial elegance
 You'll notice the said scarecrow's sartorial elegance:  'sans coulottes', but somewhat 'a la mode' in a 2010 Sport Aid T-shirt and a "bunnet".

cherry from garden
The seeded area is being watered every morning and we'll see if we get a result....

Meanwhile today I've been sorting out some deadwood in one of our lilac bushes and took off a half split cherry branch. As the buds are pretty fat I've put the twigs in water and hopefully they'll flower indoors.

P.S. about 6pm we heard the 1st cuckoo

Saturday, 12 March 2011

En fête

This weekend is Charnizay's big weekend. The village is 'en fête' and the great and good of Charnizay turned out.  Earlier in the week little yellow diversion signs began to spring up and the intersection in front of the church was cordoned off for the dodge 'em cars and other small fairground rides. Then yesterday the 'proper' deviation signs appeared and the village was blocked off for traffic; much needed as the main road up from Preuilly sur Claise to Loches runs straight through.
brocante & fair
Today there was a brocante/vide grenier/market, tomorrow there will be a VTT randonee (mountain bike ride).  It was a real pity the weather wasn't a good as yesterday when it was glorious. This morning it soon started clouding over and by late morning it was spitting rain and a gusty wind had blown up which played a bit of havoc with some of the stands.

There were stalls all long the main street. Some were manned by private individuals--full of bric a brac, others were traders selling things as diverse as umbrellas, US western gear --the French seem to love that stuff-- and socks & gentlemen's underwear. There was also a specialist pan stall--the pan lids had intricate gauges to judge the heat and when the contents were sufficiently cooked I think.

carnival masks
In the local library --yes we have one and it even has a tiny English section-- the local historical association had set up an excellent display about the history of Charnizay and the association's activities. Also on display were some wonderful carnival masks made by the village school children.

We had a chat with the gentleman manning the association display and came away with a copy of the 1840 map of the commune of Charnizay from the L'atlas cadastral d'Indre et Loire, some replica old postcards and some other fascinating historical bits and bobs.

historical exhibition
We've posted about the village and links to Acadia in Canada before. One of the association's displays recounted how some Acadians had been resettled south of La Roche Posay in the mid 18th century. 

Briefly: These Acadians had been imprisoned in England during the French & Indian War [1754 - 63] and on their release in 1763 they were given the opportunity to return to Acadia. However, they refused saying that they did not consider themselves English subjects but French and therefore they came to France. More of this in future posts....
detail of the commune de Charnizay, 1840

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A little sun goes a long way

Another glorious spring day here in the Touraine. The sky is clear blue and the sunshine is beginning to shed some warmth.

All of this has an immediate effect on the plants and trees. It is almost as if they are all throwing off their overcoats, having a good stretch and saying to the sun--  'took you long enough! Now we can get on with the business of growing'.

one of our clumps of daffs
wild plum
Yesterday it was 17 on our outside thermometer which hangs by the kitchen door on the north side. Today it is at 15. It means it is warm enough that we can easily sit outside with our coffee [and a book...] on the south side of the house. 

The result of the sunny weather on our patch means that most of the daffs are out, the snowdrops have gone over completely, the larch is starting to flower as are the cowslips and we have a flowering wild plum tree [if we're wrong corrections please] which is absolutely humming as it is full of very happy honey bees and the odd bumble. 

happy bee
We have also seen other signs of spring. Yesterday in the late twilight a bat flitted to and fro over our drive. Last summer we had one using our barn as a summer roost so perhaps it has returned. We've also discovered some orchids although we'll have to wait until May to find out what kind they are. We sent Susan from Days on the Claise a photo of the leaves and she thinks they might a pyramidal or green winged species but at this point it is hard to say. We'll let you know in May.
mystery orchid

Larch tree flower

Larch flowers and buds
Cowslips coming into flower

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Sweet treats

Like almost everyone else we have walnut trees and last autumn we harvested a large shopping bag full. Plenty to keep us going. Walnuts are so common in France that the French word for walnuts is noix [literally nuts].

We had gathered far too little to have any oil pressed. In fact we didn't even know if it was still possible--we have since found out it probably is--so will explore that for Autumn 2011.

Healthy or sweet? No contest...
But back to our bag of walnuts. I had, a while back, as one does, looked on the internet for recipies with walnuts to give me some ideas beyond classic walnut cake. I don't make sweet things very often and needed inspiration. Hard to imagine we once lived sans the option of internet searches....
Up popped a blog which offered a pecan pie style recipe which sounded tasty and simple. Hurrah! I thought worth trying sometime.  

The 'sometime' was last Sunday and rashly perhaps we invited some people we had recently met to join is in being guinea pigs in the eating. They, Tim and Pauline, blog too and we had found out that we had been regulars at the same time as Pauline in same pub in York--it truly is a small world sometimes! Pauline has blogged about the pub in more detail. 

willow cuttings
They came yesterday and it was a very enjoyable visit; we are the richer for some willow cuttings, which are in water but will be planted out tomorrow. Sometime in the past, probably about 40 yrs ago, a previous owner of the house planted the 2 1/2 acres with specimen trees so we have scots pine, larch, a cedar, spruce, wild chestnut, maple as well as the more common walnut, oaks and hazel; oh and a few elderly fruit trees: quince, cherry and apple. It was very nice-- the weather has been glorious-- to have a wander round with our guests seeing things beginning to "spring". Katinka, as she does, escorted us all the way.

left over...note rustic pastry
Today we had a second sweet treat. As it is Shrove Tuesday we had crepes with sugar and lemon juice for dessert. That's twice in two days....  naughty but nice.

Oh, and the walnut tarte seemed to go down well--not much of it remained.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Local Hero

Those of you who drop in on our blog from time to time may have noticed that we have a penchant for 'Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry' and that we've been posting one of the illuminations each month since January. The Duc du Berry died in 1416; his duchy was just to the south/south east of Touraine; the area is still known as the Berry.  

The brothers Limburg (Dutch, but working in France & Burgundy in the very late 14th/very early 15th century) created his book of hours, arguably the best example of late medieval illuminations--handpainted illustrations and embellished capitol letters in books written on vellum. Printing didn't exist as yet so only the very rich could have a book with so much artwork created to order. 

There's a local Touraine lad who was also highly skilled at this artform--Jehan Fouquet. Born in Tours, he lived a little later circa 1420 to 1480 and, in addition to being a brilliant illuminator, was also a talented painter in general; painting portraits and altar pieces.

Pieta, Nouans les Fontaines
This (large) altar piece is in the church of Nouans les Fontaines, about 1/2 hrs drive to the north east of us, not far from Montrésor. Painted on wood panels, it is quite moving when you see it for real as Mary, the mother of Christ is portrayed with eyes reddened by weeping. This realism is what makes Fouquet special. He was painting at the point of transition from the Medieval to the Renaissance. He'd travelled to Italy and been influenced by all that was happening there. Nouans les Fontaines also has a small museum dedicated to Fouquet you can visit it by putting €0.50 in the turnstile (exact change only.

The Visitation
Fouquet was commissioned to create a book of hours for a rich patron Étienne Chevalier. In case anyone was ever in any doubt that it belonged to Chevalier he had his name plastered everywhere. Personalising your possessions is not new. You can clearly see it on the cornice above the figures in the illumination on the right here. Created around 1460 the 'Livre d'Heures d'Étienne Chevalier' is special not only because the illuminations are of very high quality but also because Fouquet did something novel. He dispensed with the traditional bordering of any illumination with foliage and flowers. This gave him a larger space to work with and so the illuminations become more 'mini' pictures. They are still very delicate and small--16.5 cm by 12 cm--just think how fine the brushwork had to be to make sure the details are as clear as they are. Not to mention the cost of the paints and real gold which was used. 

Adoration of the Magi
Fouquet also wasn't above a bit of political statement making either. In this illumination of the Adoration of the Magi the 1st king offering gold is Charles VII (he's kneeling on a blue cloth with fleurs de lys--a good clue, but looks like him as well). There's an additional star to the one top right shining on the Christ child; the 2nd star shines right on Charles VII. Finally in the background are 3 French heralds blowing trumpets celebrating the success of the french soldiers attacking--surprise, surprise-- the English!

Most of the illuminations which survive can be seen in the Museé de Condé in Chantilly, north of Paris. Same place as the famous race-course.

Forgot to mention: Excellent online exhibition by the Bibliotheque National de France of Fouquet's work. French version is more extensive but there is an English version available.