Monday 29 August 2011

Go-go Guinguette!

Guinguette nf: small restaurant with music and dancing. [Oxford Hachette French Dictionary]

advertising the dances

'La Paillote' is a guinguette in Montbazon just near Tours. We drove past it a few weeks ago when we had visitors. The word "guinguette" rang a very faint but elusive bell. Cue a search on Google to aid the brain cells. A few minutes later we were very much the wiser as to the origin and history of guinguettes. We went back recently for lunch.

La Paillote, the white marquee is the dance hall
They originally started out in the 18th century as somewhere just to have a drink. There was a rise in the Parisian population, wine production in the Ile de France rose, and guinguettes grew up in the small villages just outside the gates and walls of Paris serving a sour-ish wine [un vin aigrelet]. At the same time public balls began to appear in Paris. By the 19th century the emphasis had shifted and a guinguette also became a place where one could dance the latest dances such as the waltz, polka, and mazurka.

The Larousse has the following entry: an establishment outside or close the the (city) walls where working class people came to drink, eat and dance on holidays [« Guinguette : établissement situé hors ou près des murs, où les gens du peuple vont boire, manger et danser les jours de fêtes »].

Renoir: Moulin de la Galette
Renoir's painting of the 'Moulin de la galette' was the 'faint bell' which had chimed when we saw the word guinguette. The guinguette later called the 'Moulin de la galette' opened in 1834. In the early 19th century Montmartre, where it was located, was outside the Paris city limits and quite rural with fields and vineyards. Later on in the 19th century, taking advantage of the fashion for rowing and canoeing, the guinguettes moved to riverside locations well outside the ever-expanding Paris.

Guinguettes never called themselves that--they saw the term as 'common'. Some of them had quite colourful names such as: 'The chalet of my aunt' or 'The true fisheman's wooden leg'.  They also spread to the provinces and were mostly to be found alongside rivers. La Paillote is on the river Indre. We also noticed one at Chinon on the Vienne just opposite the town. It has a great view across the river to the castle. 

restaurant section of La Paillote
Guinguette's are really only open for the summer season.  La Paillote will close soon; either round the 15th September or a couple of weeks later, depending on the weather and trade.  Looking round while we were having lunch we thought that a number of the other clients would probably be able to show a "very efficient shoe" at the dances La Paillote holds every Friday and Sunday from 3 to 8 pm. Perhaps next summer, after some practice over the winter, we might give it a go ourselves!

If you'd like to know more, there's a website [in French] which is devoted to guinguette culture.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Crop puzzle

We are the first to admit that neither of us is of farming stock. Niall's family all hail originally from the Scottish east coast north of Aberdeen and were involved in fishing. Antoinette's great grandfather was a prosperous grain merchant just outside Rotterdam in the Netherlands; but that's as close as we get.

'whisk' crop
We know our oats from our barley and from our wheat when they grow in the field. Nor are we strangers to alfalfa and red clover. However, the following two crops have us in a real puzzle.

We have no idea what they are...if you do, then we'd love to know!

ripening  'whisk'
Mystery crop 1: the plant heads look a little like whisks and the heads 'flop' over. There's a field of this down at the bottom of our chemin where it meets the D road. We tried to find out about it last year but to no avail. The field had red clover in it earlier in the year and now this again. The grains look almost rice-like.

red 'bottle brush' crop

Mystery crop 2: is about the same size as mystery crop one but it is more upright and looks somewhat like a bottle brush. Its seed/grain is a reddy colour quite early on. Again the actual seed/grain is quite rounded in form.

ripening 'bottle brush'

Answers on a (vitrtual) postcard please!

Thursday 25 August 2011


landing & door opening
It's pretty quiet where we live. We're at the end of a chemin, our neighbours Alexandra & Pascal mostly live in a flat in Paris; coming down for long weekends and holidays. We get tractors of course and in the morning and early evening we hear the 'brebis' [ewes] bahh-ing at a neighboring farm. That's more or less it; barring the odd training jet which screams over on a low flying exercise scaring the bejesus out of us.

man in white shirt peers upwards
Tuesday was just a bit different, we heard the sound of a chopper in the distance--rare but it has happened once or twice. However, this time the noise became distinctly louder. Suddenly we saw it coming in low and then circling to land in Eric's field just behind our house. By this time our curiousity was aroused and we'd grabbed the camera and hurried outside.

We were in time to see one of the doors open. We were hoping for a movie star or famous director to emerge but sadly not. A chap in white shirt and dress trousers popped out, strode a few meters towards the edge of the field, seemingly peered upwards and then walked back to the chopper.

chopper lifts off
The door shut, the blades revved up again, and it took off. On one of the pics you can just make out male passengers dressed in white 'office' shirts -  a real rarity around here. Everything happened in the space of no more than 5 mins.
Please take care! A blog reader accidentially ended up on a nasty virus infected site when they googled the name for the chopper company.

going, going, almost gone
We have no idea why they landed and the Marie is shut so we can't go and see if they know something. There is the annual motocross [off-road motorbike] competition "Enduro de la Ronde des Palets" this coming weekend, but all the trails and 
 circuits are on the other side of Charnizay so it couldn't really be connected to that.

Hard to believe it took place at all once the chopper had gone. 

P.S. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

My basket now...

basket stall, Loches market
As fellow teachers will know it is amazing how much stuff one schlepps to and fro to school on a daily basis. My collection is usually an amalgm of: papers to hand back, DVDs, papers to mark, notes, files, the odd spare copy of a text and all manner of other gubbins; such as enough keys to sink a jailor, a memory stick or three [aka clé USB] and of course my laptop.
Nothing odd in that, but it all needs to be carried around in something. 

While our friend Jane was visiting us earlier this month we went to Loches' Saturday market. Right at the crossroads of two of the main streets there's a lovely and much photographed basket stall. It sits on a corner diagonally opposite the fountain and always has a host of beautifully colored and patterned baskets. Here Jane very kindly bought me a lovely basket as a belated birthday present. It is just the right size to cart a whole load of stuff to school in and I was going to start using it when school re-starts.
mine, all mine

Perhaps not..... 
As of this morning Tinka seems to have taken up squatter's rights.....

Sunday 21 August 2011

Cyclamen & Peaches

ripening peaches
It is a slightly odd time of year right now. We're on the cusp between two seasons. The temperatures have soared since the tail-end of last week and our thermometer has been registering temps well above 30C--exactly what you'd expect in summer. Cats are splayed out in the shadiest places and don't even have the inclination to chase the lizards. The cricket is on BBC radio 4 long wave. Yes, we may be living in France but some things are simply non-negotiable. I look at our little peach tree and see the ripening fruits which will be ready to pick soon and all feels 'right and in it's proper place', as it were, for summer.

By contrast when I look at the foot of our red maple the ground is beginning to get its carpet of pale pink and white cyclamen--definitely an autumnal flower.
pale pink cyclamen
The 'Rentrée' - as the French term the return to school has also reared it's head; and not just in the supermarkets, where any and everything to do with school has been in evidence for some time. Far too soon now summer will officially be over when school starts in early September. This means I'm also going to have to settle down behind my desk and do some work! I have done some prep in gentle intervals for the new school year but that doesn't mean there still isn't a fair bit to do.

Outside the grass continues to grow in summer fashion and the hollyhock and hibiscus are still in good flower. At the same time the walnuts have started dropping. Just the odd one but nevertheless a little 'head's up' for autumn. 

just some of the wood needing sorting!
Soon Niall will be tackling the woodshed, tidying it up ready for storing logs. It is a spider-y business best left to him! Then there's the salvaging of useful wood from the inherited woopile for us to chainsaw into the right size for the woodburner. There was a shed, but it had all but disintegrated leaving a dangerously unstable corrugated iron roof which we had removed. The thought of it taking off in a wind was a scary one. In taking it down the wood which had still been partly protected fell into an even more untidy heap than it had been before. Still we are pleasantly surprised at how much is still usable. There's also the delivery of 10 stere [10 cubic meters] of logs to look forward to and the job of turning it into a properly tarped woodpile.

It is definitely tipping towards autumn.....but not quite.... yet!

Friday 19 August 2011

Home from Dutch adventures

The lake on the walkies route
The weather has turned warm and sunny to welcome us back from a few days in the Netherlands. Our cats are in a humph at our 'desertion' despite being spoilt by our neighbour Alexandra, but hopefully they will relent soon.

Pepper: grande dame & boss dog
According to 3 different route planners we should have driven via Paris, then A1 to Lille--notoriously hectic, Gent, Antwerp and Breda to reach our destination in Utrecht. Instead we took a totally different route and ignored their advice. Firstly as getting round Paris can be 'affreux'; and secondly because we knew there were roadworks in Belguim--Gent & Antwerp and in The Netherlands--Breda.  

Loulou: "I'm so pretty"
Our route took us via  Orléans, then  across to Sens and Troyes and then up to Reims. From Reims we cut up to Charleville Mezieres and Sedan. There we popped over the border into Belgium at Boullion and up to Liege and Maastricht and finally on to Utrecht via Eindhoven.

Both there and back the (toll) roads were quiet and the drive serene and stress free--the way driving ought to be. Cruise control virtually all the way. It only got a bit busy on the stretch between Maastricht and Utrecht, but then The Netherlands is a very densly populated country.

Roosje [not a cat!!]
We had an excellent time. We were able to get all the admin bits relating to family matters done with a minimum of fuss. This meant that we were able to meet with various friends and former teaching colleagues to catch up on all the news. We just wish we'd had time to fit a few more visits in--there's never enough time! It was also good to re-visit old stamping grounds and see what had changed and what hadn't as we wrote about in the post on Wassenaar [the one previous to this].

Ida, the relative we were staying with has 3 wire-haired dachshunds: Pepper, Loulou and Roosje, who are as cute a pie as well as lively and mischievious.
Pepper is a sprightly senior citizen aged 12 and top dog. Loulou is a beautiful golden colour and hyper-active and Roosje, the youngest of the bunch; a sweetie who rolls over for tummy scritches at the slightest glimpse of a man! 

On the last evening of our visit there was time for the 'ladies' to take Niall for a walk round the park with canals and a lake which is near to Ida's house.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Wassenaar revisited

Grain mill the "Windlust"
 Right now we're in The Netherlands. On Monday we drove up here to spend a few days visiting friends and to sort out a bit of 'corvé' as our neighbour, Alexandra calls it--bits and pieces of family related business.

Today we were in Wassenaar. We used to live here when we taught at the International School of The Hague. It is a village which used to be quite rural but is now just a hop, skip and jump away from The Hague and Leiden. This means it is a highly sought after location for many expats who need to live within easy commuting distance.

We loved living in Wassenaar because it has never lost its village feel and still has a nice mix of restaurant/cafes and independent shops.

Langstraat looking east
 The "Windlust" a 'classic' Dutch windmill, was used to mill grain, not pump water. It is the centre of the village and is a listed historic building. The ground floor houses a little studio and art gallery. When we lived in Wassenaar very occasionally one of the bakeries sold bread which was made with flour milled in the Windlust. This was quite a special event and the loaves sold out incredibly quickly.

typical old houses by the church
 The main street, the "Langstraat" is pedestrianised and runs west- east. Once upon a time it was a street lined with houses some of which had very smart facades. Now almost all are shops or little boutiques and if you look up you can still see the original windows and gables.

The 17th century white house in the photo on the left was once the library and is now a small YMCA. Not a bad place for a backpacker to spend a night.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Amboise impressions

Loire river at Amboise
On Monday our friend Jane had to return to the UK. As she had an evening flight from Charles de Gaulle [Paris] we didn't need to drop her off at the TGV station in St Pierre des Corps for her train to the airport until 5pm.

After a lazy start we decided to drive up to Chenonceau and walk along the tow path on the south side of the river Cher. That way Jane could see the outside and get some nice pics. The chateau itself was heaving. There was no other word for it--endless rows of tour buses and a parking lot full to the bursting. Exactly the type of visit to be avoided, so we decided to save it for the next time she comes to see us.

cafe & brasserie row below the castle
But the best-laid plans.... we had forgotten the weather. The rain we've been having turned one of the little bridges the towpath has into an absolute quagmire. The soupy mud was a barrier to anyone not kitted out in proper boots [which we weren't wearing]. So no pics as the chateau was still hidden by trees and a bend in the river.

super tempting chocolatier/patissier
After that we drove over to Amboise and were lucky enough to get a parking space right under the castle--one of Francois 1er's. Amboise was busy. Its castle, on a bluff over-looking the river Loire, with its royal connections is a strong draw for tourists, as is the Clos du Lucé. Francois 1er gifted this residence to Leonardo da Vinci who lived out his last years as a pensioner of the French king. It is an excellent museum and houses wooden models [to scale] of all Leonardo's inventions. 

looking up at the chateau chapel
Sadly we didn't have time to visit and settled for an enjoyable wander round Amboise's lively streets. We resisted the lure of a super-tempting chocolatier & patissier who sold a treat called 'baises d'Amboise' a confection made from meringue. Instead we found a brasserie and opted for: a sensible salad--Jane & Antoinette, and an omelette--Niall. 

It had been a lovely visit: a great mix of doing touristy things, catching up on all the news about mutual friends and doing some great reminiscing. Lastly we drove along the Loire via Montlouis back to the TGV station where we said 'au revoir' to Jane.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Azay: 'spectacle' & interiors

Renaissance chimney brest
When we went to Azay-le-Rideau on Sunday with our friend Jane we were curious to see what we would remember of our visit in 1992. 

As we drove from Chinon to Azay we recounted to Jane how we'd been en route to a gite in the Périgord Noir and had stopped so that we could visit Azay and Fontevraud l'abbaye. 

room furnished in 19th century style
We saw Azay twice in '92, once during the day to see the chateau and again in the evening for a 'spectacle' the chateau put on every night during the tourist season. We loved the chateau and throughly enjoyed exploring it. Pocket-sized - for a chateau anyway- it is beautiful but not over imposing.

one of many beautiful tapestries
In the '70s my parents had seen the 'son et lumiere' at Vézelay: a dramatic and historic retelling of its history and supported by light show of the historic church. The French narrator had really brought events to life. So a couple of years later they took the teenaged me to the 'son et lumiere' at Chambord, the 1st of the Loire chateau I ever visited. It too was excellent and I really enjoyed it. Years later I waxed lyrical to Niall when we planned our stop in Azay. So we got tickets to the 'spectacle'. 

Sadly the it turned out to be quite different to the 'son et lumiere'....all we can remember is 3 actors rowing a boat on the lake declaiming their lines and a 'historical' storyline which gave us fits of the giggles. There was more than a whiff of an under-rehearsed school play.

newly restored roof beams, attic floor
On Sunday we found the outside of the chateau and grounds familiar but neither of us remembered anything about the rooms or the furnishings which are lovely. As you move from room to room the furnishings advance through the centuries the chateau has been in existence and everywhere you look you'll see the personal badge of the early 16th century French king, Francois 1er--a salamander.

Francois 1er's badge; the salamander
The family who transformed Azay from a medieval fortress guarding the road from Tours to Chinon into an Italianate Renaissance chateau had served the king as financial ministers and advisors; hence the badge.  An added bonus is the recently restored attic which showcases the fantastic beams which support the roof.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Azay-le-Rideau and weather sprites

rainy street in Azay-le-Rideau
Sunday morning it was greyish and showery, but the meteo promised better later on. We remained sceptical; the heavens opened as we drove down our drive -- oh joy -- another sudden short but drenching shower. We were on our way to Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau well armed with 2 cameras and 3 umbrellas.

We'd asked Jane which of the chateaux she would like to visit and the choice had fallen on Azay; or Villandry, if the sun came out, as it has such lovely gardens. We hadn't been to either for years and years so were intrigued to see how much we remembered. We decided to make a final decision when we got to Chinon. That way we could drive through some of the vineyards as well as find some lunch and give the weather time to improve.
chateau's gilded stable roof

We drove via Ligeuil, Ste Maure-en-Touraine and L'Ile-Buchard where we stopped at a boulangerie which was still open and bought things for a quick picnic lunch. We already had fruit and mineral water in the car. Just as we left L'Ile-Buchard the sky turned purple-green and another drenching shower crashed down--not very encouraging.

Azay-le-Rideau 'floating' on its lake
Ever optimistic, we drove on to Chinon via the smaller D road on the north bank of the Vienne river. By the time we got there the shower had cleared and we were able to to sit on a bench on the south side of the river directly opposite the royal fortress of Chinon with the sun cheering us up. We were just finishing the last bit of bread and the fruit large when 'plops' of rain began to fall and we beat a hasty retreat to the car.

blue skies outside!

The decision was made--we would go to Azay-le-Rideau; it just wasn't the weather for rambling round the gardens at Villandry.

Arriving in the town we found a parking spot in the square and as it was still spitting we  found a cafe and had large basins of café au lait to warm us up before walking down to the chateau. You'd think we were posting about a visit in April, not August!!

Jane's treat!
However, France being France the weather can change at the drop of a (rain)hat. We had barely gone in queued for our tickets and entered the grounds or the clouds broke and it became sunny. Just look at the 
photos. The one of a street in Azay was taken only a matter of 5 or 10 mins before the one of the gilded roof!
After visitng the interior we went for a little walk round the gardens and by then people were sitting on the grass enjoying the sun. We even had a chilled drink before we drove home.

Saturday 6 August 2011

A visitor's view

restaurant in the Vallée Coquette
On Thursday we picked up our good friend Jane from the TGV station in Tours/St Pierre des Corps. We all worked at an international school in The Hague in the late 1990's.

Jane had worked in France as an undergraduate, but does not know the Touraine/Loire area so we have been showing her the sights.

village of Le Grand Pressigny
Leaving the train station we headed for Vouvray and had lunch in a troglodyte restaurant in the Vallée Coquette called 'Les Gueules Noires'. It used to have another name and we have eaten there before but it is now under new ownership. Some changes have been made--one which Jane, as a vegetarian, found sympathetic was that they offered a super vegetarian option in the choice of starters and created a grilled veggie platter for her mains. A nice change from the ubiquitous omelette.

Creuse river at La Guerche
Yesterday we had a mostly lazy day around the house with a short tour of the local area after lunch.

Today despite the poor weather--the rain will just not go away--we went to Loches market and had a look around the medieval quarter.

buttons, buttons, buttons on Loches market

on the way up to medieval quarter, Loches

tomb of Agnes Sorel in St Ours church
Hopefully tomorrow and Monday the weather will be a bit better as Jane flies back to the UK Monday evening. Fingers crossed....

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Decartes & Demarcation

a pensive René
On Tuesday we drove over to Decartes, birthplace of the famous philosopher René Decartes. In fact the town was originally called La Haye and only renamed later in honour of its famous son. We were meeting a colleague at a cafe on the square in front of the marie for a hand-over of teaching and course materials. Decartes was a convienient meeting place --roughly 1/2 way between Charnizay and N's home. N had taught the students last year in premiere [11th grade/lower 6th] and now Antoinette is going to take them into Terminal [12th grade/upper 6th]. While Antoinette and N talked 'shop': English and literature; Niall went off to look into historical matters.

other René who died for his faith

In the church of St George he spotted a small memorial plaque to René Guérin who was a courageous fellow. An oil [vegetable/ walnut?] merchant  from the village of Cussay he is reputed to have shouted "to the devil with the Republic!"and shot at horsemen who came into his village to destroy the symbols of the Catholic religion. Presumably he had become fed up with the Revolution and thought himself safe enough to be able to voice his annoyance. Sadly for him this turned out not to be the case. He was guillotined on 14th February 1793.

Demarcation Line in Descartes
earlier Demarcation Line near Le Petit Pressigny
Decartes also played a role in more recent history. The 'Ligne de Démarcation' ran through it. This line separated Occupied France from Vichy France in World War II and all along it's length there were crossing points but it was porous. Last autumn we went to an excellent exhibition about the Demarcation Line in the Logis Royal in Loches. At Decartes people were able to slip across unofficially. One exhibit explained how the football field played a key role. Apparantly it was on the line and  the players in each team were in a state of flux, or perhaps there were just a lot of successful substitutions....

In very late 1940 they re-drew the Demarcation Line settling on its definitive location at Decartes. Between us and Decartes it originally ran outside of Le Petit Pressigny on the way to Le Grand Pressigny, a matter of roughly 7km from Charnizay.

Tuesday 2 August 2011


ladies at prayer, left
Today is a 'dreich' day as they say in Scotland. Grey overcast skies with smatterings of intermittent rain. Not really what one wants in August at the height of the summer season. We even had a desk lamp on earlier this morning! 

At the moment we are doing a bit of 'thoroughing', another good Scots word, meaning cleaning, as Thursday we pick up a friend from the TGV station at St Pierrre des Corps. She's flying in from Edinbugh to stay with us for a few days prior to going off in September on an 8 month round the world jaunt. 

Anjou coats of arms & hard working cherubs
To counteract the grey we thought we'd post some photos we took of the lovely glass in the church of Mézieres-en-Brenne. A while ago Ken, whose blog Living the Life in St Aignan we read, posted about the place and as stained glass naturally grabs our interest we went to have a look ourselves. 

smart blue suits
 The Anjous, whose chapel it is, were a wealthy royal family offshoot and it shows in the quality of the chapel carvings, glass and misericords--more of them some other time, there were some beautiful examples.

I went, it is fair to say, a bit snap happy as we took the 'good' camera. I'm slowly getting to grips with the bells and whistles on our Canon 500D and all the glass, and especially the use of amazing blues turned me into an accurate imitation of a child in a candy store! It's the advantage of a digital camera--you can snap like mad.
St Antony's pig peering round his robe

The jewel-like colours set against the white stone really made the chapel glow--just what is needed to brighten up a grey day.

PS: about 1 1/2hrs after we posted this the 'dreich' changed to sunny spells with rumbling thunder showers.....ah weather!