Sunday 29 May 2011

mini floral tapestry

close-up pocket sized wild flower meadow
At Christmas a friend of ours in Massachusettes sent us a packet of New England wild flower seeds. The dearly beloved other half -- Niall that is -- decided to sow them in March, we wrote about it here. We weren't expecting that much as one never knows how long these seeds have been in packets and, as a city boy, initially homesick for pavements; his green thumb isn't very green. Although to be fair, it is getting greener by the week. 

a mini-floral tapestry

They didn't do much to start with despite watering. However, latterly they have decided to show they do exist. The packet said it was enough for 350 sq ft but in the event they were sown over a patch of about 3ft by 7 ft --- one should always read the instructions/information!! Although we didn't know it then, if they'd been sown over the indicated square footage I doubt we would have noticed them. 

From the outset I teased him about the likely outcome, but I'm eating humble pie and he is having the last laugh as the photos show. It may be pint-sized, and the flowers are definitely 'dinky', but we do have a mini-wild flower meadow. 

the lizard orchid under tilleul

Our other orchids -- lizard orchids -- are now flowering as well. Perhaps not as pretty as the bee orchid,  we are still very pleased to have them in residence. They have all grown in deep shade, one under our tilleul, the other 3 under a cherry in our hedge.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Acadie again

Last month we went and visited the Abbey in Beaulieu sur Loches. We wrote about it here. As we were leaving we spotted another reference to the French Acadian settlers of what is now Nova Scotia, Canada.

It was a small marble plaque put up in June 1988 in memory of an Abbé who ministered to the Acadians who had remained when the English took control.

plaque in Beaulieu sur Loches

It reads*: 
In tribute to the Abbé Jean Mandé Sigogne, born at Beaulieu-les-Loches 6th April 1763, died 9th November 1844 at Pointe de l'Eglise [Nova Scotia, which became a province of Canada].

For 45 years he was the spiritual and temporal guide of the Acadian population of Nova Scotia, which allowed them to survive and maintain their identity.

*[Antoinette's translation]

Saturday 21 May 2011

Three B's

our lime tree in flower
Last year we came over to exchange contracts for our house in early June [the 8th to be exact] and the vendors invited us for coffee at the house before we went off to the notaire. At the time the large lime tree at the corner of our barn was in peak flower and you could hear the bees humming from quite a ways away. 
This year, that's happening now; about 3 weeks earlier! We stood and listened yesterday evening--the whole tree was swarming with honey and bumble bees and the hum was intense.

bee orchid
Underneath the lime tree is a solitary orchid which will flower soon, and there are another 3 under an old cherry tree close to our boundary with the neighbour's orchard. According to Susan they look to be the same species--monkey orchid correction: lizard orchid [sorry Susan, our mistake] but we won't know for sure until they open. Another 3 or 4 have decided they are not going to flower this year; probably due to the very dry conditions. But as a lovely bonus this little bee orchid popped up out of nowhere under some of our pine trees. Quite a surprise as the soil there is bone dry. 

Today we've been busy assembling. The week has been rather frenetic work-wise which meant that the BBQ we bought a little while ago was still sitting it its flat pack. Until this morning....
Armed with the tool box and large bottle of water--by 10:30 am it was already pretty warm--we were ready to "do battle" with the screws, bolts and confusing instructions. This was a bone fide French LeRoyMerlin flat pack--the super league! On the front of the instructions it indicated that assembly would take 45 min and require 1 person! 

spanking new BBQ
Such optimism! How 1 person should be able to hold 3 different lengths of metal tubing together and simultaneously put in screws and nuts was not clear. Both being proud owners of "I have assembled Ikea flat packs and survived" badges we decided to tackle the task together. And though it did take us more than twice as long we now have a BBQ. Hurrah!! In fact it's the first one we've had in ages. We've gone for a  traditional charcoal one with a lid so that if it does rain it won't end up having coal and ash floating in a pool of water.

Speaking of the weather, which I know we are all going on about a bit; there's still no rain so we have put out a DIY bird bath--wood stump with shallow terracotta dish. Some promising thunder heads appeared mid afternoon but no shower. So far only the bats have been drinking from the bath at dusk. We've positioned it so that there's no cover for the cats to creep up on it so hopefully we won't have any fatalities.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Cornemuse & coquelicots

Scottish pipers, from Nantes
Just north of Le Blanc lies the village of Pouligny St Pierre, which is in the dep. of Indre (36) and produces pyramidal goat's cheese. Until today it only really distinguished itself from other villages on the way to Le Blanc by its cast-resin goat statues on the round-about. A couple of months ago one of these was vadalised--someone snapped off a back leg--and now all 4 have been removed. 

Today however, Pouligny held its fete, a 'vide-greniers et festival celtique' and we went to have a look around. On our drive down we surprised a fox. For a couple of seconds he stood and looked at us from the field edge before bounding up the field and into the trees.

Breton pipes & bombards
When we arrived it was quite busy, Breton flags were flying and there were loads of stalls: the inhabitants had obviously searched every nook and cranny for (im)possible items to sell. Posters advertised a Breton inspired lunch in the 'salle des fetes'. On the square opposite the church, the animatrice was using the tannoy system to explain in great detail the nature and origin of kilts and bagpipes and we could hear parping in the distance. It sounded as if the festival celtique was about to start. I could see Niall thinking 'how odd; listening to bagpipes in a small rural French village'.
The animatrice asked us all to clap as the bands came past.  The Breton band--with bagpipes and bombardes [a member of the oboe and schawm family--reeded insrtuments] came first and was well appluaded as we were told they'd left Brittany at 5:30 am to get to Pouligny on time. The bombards gave their music a medieval feel.
Then came the Scottish bagpipe band--kilts swinging and pipes skirling away. We wondered if there was some kind of link with Scotland --Loches is twinned with St Andrews-- but it turned out they came from Nantes!

All morning the weather had been by turns cloudy and sunny with a real Dutch sky. As we were leaving I took this photo of coquelicots in a Pouligny orchard/vinyard while the sun was out.
The visit was bookended by wildlife. On the way home we saw a roe deer hind. Like the fox she was in a field right next to the road. We stopped and watched her leaping through the meadow before disappearing into a hedgerow. 

Wednesday 11 May 2011

ridge, roof & roses

ladders at the ready
Earlier this week Chris, who did our kitchen and flooring came and did the 'health check' on our roof using the tiles we bought and wrote about here . We'd also noticed that some of the ridge tiles needed re-fixing in place. 

potential gold mine
No sooner did Chris put his ladders up than both cats came to investigate. Shadow predictably when he thought no-one was around but Katinka was nosing around straight away. She shot up the ladder at speed, looked round, rolled in the gutter and then equally handily skipped down again. Sadly we weren't quick enough with the camera.

Once, quite a few years ago, Niall went to an art exhibition in The Hague and one of the installations looked just like a wooden framed tryptich of our new roof tiles. Niall and Chris joked that if we had three spare then Chris could knock up frames and we could sell it for millions!!

Thankfully we didn't need to replace too many tiles as the roof is in reasonably good order so there's plenty left in reserve; and for art installations!

Chris making sure the ridge tiles stay put

We know we'll always have some slippage, it's inevitable with this kind of roof, but we don't mind as the tiles give our house such warmth and character. 

By the afternoon the job was done which was great! Sadly, much to Tinka's disappointment the ladders went away. She quite liked her own 'private' stairway to the roof! So much nicer to have easy access!

On a completely unrelated subject--the only link being the letter 'R' here is a photo of the well established rose by the barn. It is in spectacular flower just now, starting a custardy colour and fading to a lovely clotted cream. It is scented as well and smells heavenly.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Asparagus and culture

We buy most of our 'standard' food from supermarkets. We are about equidistant to the Leclerc and SuperU Hypermarchés in Loches to the north and the smaller SuperU in La Roche Posay or Intermarché in Yzeures sur Creuse to the south. 

asparagus from Loches market
However, for 'proper' seasonal produce we like to shop at markets when we can.Yesterday we went up to Loches to do a bit of shopping at the market, it has a great market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Right now we are in the strawberry and aparagus season--which are gown in the area and both of which we bought. Around Chatillion sur Indre we've seen lots of little handmade signs advertising asparagus for sale. With the warm weather we're having the asparagus will probably be over soon. 

We like the white variety, but given the choice, prefer the green and buying them in season direct from local growers when we lived in Suffolk was a real treat. 

Here they mainly sell white aspragus. This brings back memories for us of the time we lived Wassenaar and worked at the International School of The Hague.  When we lived in The Netherlands it was always a major event when asparagus from Limburg in the south of the Netherlands became available. 

Niall inspecting exhibits
A colleague at the school in The Hague originally came from the Limburg region and every year round about the end of May/early June she used to do 2 Asparagus 'runs'. She would take orders from colleagues and then drive down to Limburg and buy at small producers she'd known for years. The result was she'd always be able to bring back a good supply even when a season had been poor. Everyone would drop by her house to pick up their goodies--all kept damp and fresh in wet tea towels in her bath--having first been treated to a good strong cup of Dutch coffee and a slice of 'Limburgse Vlaai' a local delicacy [type of large fruit flan].

14th/15th cent 'Virgin of the Butchers'
So clutching our purchases of white asparagus and scented Gariguette strawberries--grown in the next department--41; we went and had some lunch on the terrrace of one of Loches' pizzerias and watched the market wind down.

Ambling back to the car we decided to pop in and see the Caravaggios. Niall had been in before but I hadn't. Neither of us are huge fans but it seemed totally silly not to pop in when the little museum-- a gallery built onto the side of Loches' church of St Antoine --is open all day and we had parked the car almost next door. You enter [it's free] the gallery through an automatic turnstile. There's a series of informative panels explaining the discovery of the two works and although they take pride of place, there are some other lovely items which caught our interest more, if we're honest, than the two Caravaggio canvases.
Virgin holding her heart
There was a lovely wooden staute of the Virgin--still with remnants of original polycrome painting donated by the Butcher's Guild. A second, later, wooden statue showed the Virgin holding her heart--quite a rare representation. There was also a wonderful naive 17th century  brotherhood baton of the guild of winegrowers portraying St Vincent, their patron saint--complete with billhook and holding a bunch of grapes.

St Vincent

After having had a good look we drove home picking up a few other bits of shopping on the way. All in all a lovely Saturday.

Tonight the asparagus will be wrapped in ham, covered in a light cheese sauce and baked in the oven.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Tuiles plats

detail of our roof
Most of our house is  roofed with reclaimed 'tuiles plats'; the lovely weathered flat terrracotta tiles you see on older houses in the region. Inevitably every year some need replacing-- the weather gets into them and they crack--sometimes 'helped along' by a cat chasing a lizard.  Sooner or later they slither down noisily into the guttering.  The first time this happened it gave us an almighty shock as we didn't realise what the noise was! You can probably see the odd gap where a tile or two have broken and slid down in the photo on the left.

 We have a few 'reserves' in the barn but need some more. The challenge was to find them!

different colourwashes
We looked at various websites where people sell all sorts of stuff to see if anyone was offering batches of them for sale and didn't have any luck. Going to a reclamation yard wasn't really an option as there the prices are quite steep. Also if you use reclaimed tiles they can be quite fragile and not last that long--after all they've done service on another roof already.

We 'd mentioned our search to various friends and one of them tipped us off about a brick and tileyard located in Ruffec le Chateau called Terres cuites de la Lorne. They have been making floor tiles, bricks and roof tiles in the same traditional way since the 1770's. A while back we went to have a look to see if what they produced would offer a solution. 

tiles ready to come home
They did! They make classic terracotta rooftiles exactly as they did 200 years ago when our house was 1st roofed. The new tiles come in 4 colour washes: black, white, red and copper, which reflect the colour variations on a roof. On our initial visit we also found that they will do the right floor tiles we'll need when we get round to replacing the crazed ones in our livingroom.

So last week we drove down to Ruffec le Chateau to buy the rooftiles. We got a mix of washes and now they're all ready for next week when the roof gets a 'health check' and any broken or cracked tiles will be replaced.

Auberge du Grebe
Naturally after all that we had the perfect excuse to stop at one of our favourite places, the Auberge du Grebe in Lureuil for a great lunch--it is on the way from back from Ruffec to Charnizay. Like many places they offer an excellent set lunchtime menu: €11 per person for 4 courses including 1/4 of wine. There's a varied serve yourself cold buffet to start, then a choice of 2 mains-- that day it was fish or roasted rabbit; we both had the rabbit which was excellent and came with green beans and frites; then cheese and dessert--iles flottantes for me, creme bruleé for Niall.