Wednesday 29 June 2011

What's in a name?

Earlier this week we had lunch at L'Image in Preuilly sur Claise; well known to our friends Simon and Susan who run Loire Valley Time Travel.  We had done all sorts of bits and pieces and just happened to be in Preuilly round about errands done, lunch beckoned.  We opted for the standard lunch menu and had salads to start; mine with tuna, Niall's with pork. Main course was brochettes of beef with rosemary and haricots. Dessert was classic creme caramel.

What's all this got to do with names .... well... it was my [Antoinette's] turn to wave the 'carte bleu' when it came to pay and Christophe, the patron, remarked that my name was French. Not stopping to think that my carte bleu does not have my first name on it, I replied that it was my mother's fault. She had given me the French version of her mother's name Antonia, hence Antoinette. 

Marie Antoinette by A. Vestier c.1775
By this time Christophe had been joined by the chef. After a few grinning references to heads being guillotined the chef said it wasn't a popular name for girls in France anymore. Marie Antoinette has a lot to answer for!

Christophe said no...he meant the surname on the card!

Now as best we know there is no connection with France at all. Niall's family name --Duthie-- comes from the east coast of Scotland north of Aberdeen and historically the family belongs to the Clan Ross.

clan badge and motto: 'success nourishes hope'

Just in case you were wondering; no, Antoinette doesn't wander round in flouncy dresses and bouffant hair, nor does Niall drape himself over a rock dressed in a kilt!

There is, however a French family name which isn't totally dissimilar: Dutheil. A connection there perhaps? Who knows...

Sunday 26 June 2011

3 poppies

It's hot today, our thermometer [north facing, never, ever gets sun] is reading 34C. However, by Wednesday the temperatures should have dropped back to the mid 20'sC.

As it was forecast we went out early this morning to water our fruit trees and repeat the same at our neighbour's. They live in Paris and won't be down until the end of July. Watering finished, we noticed that we have 3 quite different poppies. 

Coquelicots especially like chalky soil and disturbed ground, which is why you see so many on recently cleared land and in grain fields if they haven't been too heavily treated. This one is just by where the chemin ends and our drive starts. Earlier in the year this was where the tons of sand and gravel for the fosse septique were piled before being used, so it certainly qualifies as disturbed ground.

The coquelicot reminded us that next Friday will be the 95th anniversary of the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme which dragged on until November 1916. More of that another time; not on a sunny day like today.

A little further on is this extremely pretty pale pink frilly specimen. We suspect it is an escapee from the neighbours. Once the seed heads are ready I'll be collecting them. We quite fancy having these in front of the house. 

The third poppy is a US transplant. It came in the mix of New England wild flowers seed mix. It's a lovely almost translucent intense pink, but with not a frill in sight.

Friday 24 June 2011

Birthday stroll

marbled white enjoying scabious
Today has been a mix -- of nice things as it is my [Antoinette] birthday, but also of mundane things such as teaching and weekly shopping. 

Effectively it was the last teaching day of the year. Next week the staff are in for in-set and admin meetings but the students have gone.  My teaching being over by lunchtime Niall and I met up and went for a nice lunch at the Pizzeria Sforza just opposite the Hotel de Ville in Loches.

We then did the shopping--a Friday standard and trundled off home and the start of the weekend! Nice cards and a box of goodies had arrived from Scotland via madame la poste. 

cremant de loire
After a relaxing afternoon doing nothing much in particular we opened a simple bottle of rosé Crémant de Loire and had salad for dinner. 

We take a stroll most evenings and the cats frequently come along. 

This evening, attended by Katinka, we wandered down the metalled chemin that leads from the house. Then we branched off to the right along an old very overgrown wall and unpaved chemin. 

marbled whites all huddled together
The light was lovely and on the way back we noticed that hordes of black and white butterflies were perched on the flowers in our neighbour's little hay meadow. They seemed to have a distinct preference for field scabious. We posted a photo of one yesterday and have since found out that these are Marbled Whites.

We also saw another butterfly, but we will need to consult Susan's guide on local butterflies as we have no idea what it is.

All in all a lovely high summer's day.

Thursday 23 June 2011


Since last weekend we have a new feature in our landscape. We can't see it but we sure as heck can hear it!

The first time we heard it, sometime late last week, we bolted upright wondering what on earth was going on! The cats  were pretty startled too. 

First thought was it was a rifle, but the hunting season doesn't start until the autumn. Because of the way the land immediately around us undulates and forms little valleys the reverberations were impressive and sounded very similar --to our non-shooting ears-- to the crack of a hunting rifle. 

newly sown field
So we were somewhat perturbed at first... but after a bit we realised it was happening a fairly regular intervals. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes fainter due to the wind we've been having most days but the direction remained static so... it could only be one of those sonic boom bird scarers.

chemin leading back towards the house
It carries on 24/7 and now it has become so much part of the background we hardly notice it anymore. The cats too have become very blasé. They came along when we went on a walk down the unpaved chemin round the back of us and which took us closer to the sound. 

We couldn't see it; so we think it's on the next ridge and there's a little valley between us and no footpath or track leading up there.  

While out looking for the boom we saw some butterflies and took a pitcure of this one enjoying the clover.

hay bales and opposite ridge

Bruneau, whose farm -- brebis [ewes]-- lies close to us came to cut the hay in the field which forms our eastern boundary a couple of weeks ago and the field next door to it has now been newly sown. They've left the white plastic bags as scarecrows. We don't know what's been sown but presumably over the ridge they've sown too and hence the booms. You can see in the photo that the field, mostly clover, has started to re-grow due to the bit of rain we've been having. It's not been much but it has helped a little.


Monday 20 June 2011

It's not easy being green

Or rather it's brilliant if you're a frog in a pond!

Yesterday we had another day of continuing grey skies--no rain--just clouds. We visited friends who live just over the departement boundary in Indre and then afterwards went for a ramble. On our walk we came across a small pond which was heavily covered with water lilies--sadly not in flower, and duckweed.

From the pond came a cacophony of croaking and the hooing of a pair of coots. We stopped to see if we could spot any of the frogs.

Now see how you get on: it's spot the frog competition time....[click to magnify]

there is a frog in this shot...honest!

and in this one....
Answers on a postcard please!

Finally this chap was a little bolder than the rest and 'allowed' us to take his picture.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Preuilly's romanesque abbey

Preuilly-sur-Claise, about 8km away, is our nearest local town. It's the place we go to for the nearest ATM, bakery, chemist and other services. If we have run out of something and our own village shop has closed--it's only open in the mornings--we pop down to Preuilly. In short we regularly go there. It also has the remains of a lovely romanesque abbey.

It was founded in 1001 by Effroy, Baron of Preuilly and his wife Beatrix d'Issoudun. Unfortunately lack of funds meant it was transferred in 1006 to the Abbot of Marmoutier who in turn gave it to the Abbot of Saint-Julien of Tours. Three years later, in 1009 the 1st building on the site was consecrated and monks were recruited to join the [Benedictine] monastery.

In 1025 the abbey seceeded from the Abbey of Saint-Julien and became autonomous. Records show the many subsequent donations it received transformed it into a prosperous foundation. The core of the existing building is thought to date from this early 12th century period.

 blind arcading, 19th cent restoration

In the 15th century the abbey was embroiled in a serious conflict with the Baron of Preuilly, Pierre Frotier. The monks were subjected to all manner of bullying and abuse by the Baron and his Scots guards [clan Duthie was not involved as far as Niall is aware!]. Responding after numerous complaints the king, Charles VII forced his vassel to make amends and undertake important restoration work on the abbey buildings. 

The abbey was sacked by the Hugenots [protestants] in 1562. They destroyed the crypt and burnt the abbey foundation charter. By the time of the French Revolution in 1789 there were only 5 monks left and the monastery was closed. According to historical records the local population was very disappointed. Abbeys, such as Preuilly served not only a religious purpose but also offered education, hospitality to travellers and aid to the poor. The monastery buildings were sold off but the abbey church re-opened as the parish church in 1803.

choir capital

The building has, over the centuries been restored, first in the 15th century but more visibly and extensively in the 19th. However, even though many of the capitals which decorate the stone columns are heavily restored or copies, enough originals remain.

cloister capitals

If you walk down along the right hand [south] side of the church  you pass under a couple of flying buttresses and if you then take a sharp right you find --tucked away-- the remains of 2 arcades which formed part of the original cloister, complete with beautifully carved foliate capitals and polychrome painting.  

remains of polychrome painting in arch above cloister capitals

The whole building is off kilter as this plan identifying the different periods of construction and restoration shows [copyright G.Fleury 2009, Bulletin de la Société Archéologique de Touraine]

red= late 11th/ early 12th century

shaded light blue = probably original early 11th cent church location, columns and capitals were re-used in the ambulatory

green = sections which had to 'marry' the eastern half--already constructed with the western half.

 grey = the final 4 sections of the nave which seem to be in the same romanesque style  1130 - 1150
 colourless = 19th century restoration

Tuesday 14 June 2011

fleece heaven

Our two cats, as one would expect, are masters at finding nice warm comfy places to snooze. When it was hot they made themselves little nests in shady places such as in the heart of a dense bush. Recently we've had rain showers and the temperature has dropped to the high teens, so they have migrated indoors once more for their naps. 

Naturally both look favorably on soft squidgy surfaces to settle down on if human laps are not to be found; duvets, old jumpers etc... and in Tinka's case fleece. She has, not to put too fine a point on it, an obsession with fleece.

We first noticed this when a friend left a fleece on the sofa. We found Tinka nose-deep kneading like there was no tomorrow. She had the kind of expression one usually sees on cats who have had a catnip toy. It is only fleece which generates this reaction as you can see in the photos. Other soft things get the 'normal' kneading treatment. Not the "let's stuff my face in" reaction anything made of fleece gets. As it happens we have 2 fleece blankets bought at Ikea so cue one happy Tinka!

For those of you who wonder if 'poor' Shadow draws the short straw--don't. He 'owns' the bed and routinely hogs it. In fact he's not above pushing one of us to the edge while making himself 'comfortable'! He's just a bit camera shy; something we can't say about Tinka!

Sunday 12 June 2011

The brocante that never was

We are in search of an oven dish. You'd think this was easy--but oddly it isn't; or at least we haven't found what we're looking for. Of course we could probably buy what we want in one of the hypérmarchés but that's no fun.

Ligueil gargoyle
What we're after is an oval or square dish for au gratin recipes. Typically the type of dish you'd use to make baked chicory[Belgian andives] rolled in ham with a bechamel sauce; or baked asparagus. The problem is anything we've seen is either too large or too small. We already have dishes for 4 to 6; we want a dish for 2.

We'd had no joy at the brocante in Ferriere Larcon earlier this month. Today we were planning to try the brocante at Le Grand Pressigny. The drive from Charnizay is one of our favorites. It meanders along the Aigronne, the trout stream which feeds into the Claise at Le Grand Pressigny.

people watching from the café

When we approached Le Grand Pressigny, all seemed suspiciously quiet. Given the one-way traffic system we wondered if the brocante was set up near the chateau/musuem. It wasn't. We spotted a small sign simply saying the brocante was cancelled. So what to do? 

In France there is always another brocante... Niall remembered seeing flyers for one in Ligueil, which wasn't far away. 
We know Ligueil quite well. In the 1990's when we first came on holiday to the Loire area we stayed in a gite about 3 kms outside the town. Some of it hasn't changed a bit, like the ancient--and still used-- gentleman's walk-in pissoir built outside against the back wall of the church. However, the square in front of the church has had a very nice make-over. 

poppies on the way home
 We had an amble round and kept an eye open for the elusive oven dish, but didn't spot what we were after. So we grabbed a table outside one of the cafés to the side of the church and settled down for some people watching and a coffee before heading home for lunch.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Altered Images

We have a new piece of kit thanks to a delivery on Monday by colissimo. For a while we've been considering buying a dSLR. After asking a number of people what camera they had and doing some research on consumer sites we came back to Canon--we still have a mothballed 35mm EOS. 
We took advantage of an excellent offer which threw in a Canon PowerShot compact digital for free; and are now proud owners of a Canon EOS 500D with 80 - 135 zoom lens. It has more bells and whistles than a train station at peak rush hour!! So it will take a while to use it to its full potential. The instruction manual came in every EU language other than English -- just a bit of a challenge so Dutch and French will have to do.
So far we have pottered around taking some shots on the fully automatic --read idiot proof--setting. A few of the resulting images inspire some hope for the future....

...and here they are
fushia just starting to flower

quince ripening

view north to other side of Aigronne valley

Sunday 5 June 2011

Portes ouvertes at Francueil

Friday we went up to the wine co-operative in Francueil which now operates under the name 'La Gourmandiere. It was their 'portes ouvertes' -- open house. We've written about Francueil before here.

several St Vincents and other 'wine-alia'
A co-op is a simple system--small wine growers bring their grapes and instead of having the huge costs of pressing and bottling their small harvests themselves, these are shared and collectively they create the wines. Originally the Societé Co-operative Agricole, Francueil started in 1925. The building is a huge, spotlessly clean, hangar-like affair with numerous undergound cuves (tanks). 

One of the co-op members we spoke to when tasting the rosés lamented the fact that every year cuves are left empty as there aren't enough grapes to press to fill them all. Sadly shaking his head he said 'people are drinking less wine and grubbing up the small vineyards so less comes into the co-op'. Continuing with a sigh, and a shake of the head, he said 'people are drinking water or coca cola instead!'

In addition to being able to view the operation and stop for different tastings, there were other stalls selling produce and craftwork such as: lace, organic soap and breads. Also on display were old machinery, wine paraphernalia and paintings.

old machinery & paintings
You could have a go at a blind tasting and see how good your nose & palate really were. It proved popular; we overheard some heated discussions between French couples as to wether it was a Gamay rosé or Touraine Amboise rosé. Differentiating between cot and gamay reds also provoked lively exchanges!

We left somewhat the poorer for pennies but the richer for wine, including fizz -- there is a birthday later this month... We especially liked the 2010 Gamay rosé which is a bit drier than the Touraine Amboise rosé and won a gold medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris; of which they are extremely proud.



Friday 3 June 2011

Rumble in the...lilac

Last night, not long after 10pm we went out to watch the ariel ballet of the bats. There are three of them--we've written about them before. Thankfully, they no longer use the walls behind the shutters to roost and must have found somewhere far more suitable. Their acrobatics as they flit around, over and along our roof is a joy to watch. We think they're common pipistrelle.

Anyway I became distracted by quite a bit of rustling around the foot of one of our clumps of lilac suckers. We have two of these clumps--originally both had flowering lilac bushes but these have, at some point, died or been cut down. We thought it might be voles or mice rustling through the leaf litter and Niall said he'd heard it before in the same place. Eventually, as it continued, curiosity won out and I went and got the flashlight to have a look.

As we got closer we could also hear faint clacking sounds which certainly intrigued us.  What we found were male stag beetles crashing round the old stumps of the original lilac. We counted at least 5--two were fighting each other which explains the faint clacking sound. We are complete ignoramuses when it comes to beetles. Thanks to some BBC wildlife programme I once watched I recognised these as stag beetles and knew they are protected; but for the rest ... we know nothing.

Presumably they have all homed in on a female. Not that we saw one--just the males with their characterisitc pincers.

Thursday 2 June 2011

If a tree falls in a forest.....

Yesterday it was blowy. As we're on a ridge, the NNE wind was quite noticeable. It wasn't cold, just windy and shredded leaves bowled across the parched grass. The odd dead branch fell and more pine cones than normal clattered to the ground. To our left is a small woodland. No one maintains it so as a result it is dense with undergrowth and quite tangled. Occasionally something crunches to the ground in there as well.

Yesterday some friends of ours came round for a pre-dinner drink. We all heard a crack, not a very dramatic one and didn't notice anything amiss so we assumed it was yet another dead branch. Quite a bit later, our friends had gone and we'd finished watering the orchard; Niall went to turn off the outside tap and saw that one of our trees on the edge of the woodland had come down.

horizontal tree
Well not exactly.... the tree in question had been growing at a 45 degree angle when we bought the house last year. It was --sort of-- wrapped round another. The crack we heard must have been it slowly losing its fight with gravity -- it is now fully horizontal. 

new 90 degree angle
The interesting thing is the bark has just cracked a tiny bit but not split at all. So, in theory it could carry on growing as it is. No doubt, in time, it would develop a kink where the young branches would bend slowly back to the vertical for the light.

Obviously both cats are delighted with their new exciting climbing frame. They should enjoy it while it lasts as it will soon be turned into logs!

Wednesday 1 June 2011

A 'quiet' Sunday lunch

Today the skies are blue again but it is pretty blowy after two days with patchy showers. Not that they have amounted to much. We'll still be watering the orchard and our neighbour's roses this evening. 

all set for lunch
 Last Sunday it was another one of those seemlingly endless very warm high summer days that May was full of. We lazed as one does on a Sunday and then bestirred ourselves enough to get the BBQ going and rustle up some salad to go with the turkey kebabs. It was quiet, even soporific and the cats had dozed off somewhere in the shady undergrowth.

kebabs just going on the BBQ
We had just managed to remember to take a picture of the table set for lunch when an almighty screetching, chittering and scrabbling broke out.

The nieghbours who live in Paris --the house is their maison secondaire-- have fouine (Beech Martens) in their attic. If you have never seen a fouine think red squirrel on steroids/weazel. 

rocks 'thrown' by the fouine

They are noisy and very sociable critters who like to play. Obviously there was yet another disagreement over fair play--this has happened before--and the result was yet another small rock of calcaire thudded down from the eaves of the nighbour's house. The back wall of their house is the boundary so we find these stones on the drive.