Tuesday 31 July 2012

Tempus Fugit

Two years ago today we were sat outside enjoying the morning sun with a groggy cat and no furniture barring two camping chairs and a bed kindly left by the sellers in an empty house. The evening before, we'd arrived at here in Charnizay to start our adventures living in Sud Touraine.
31 July 2010: weeds to tame and one of our 2 camping chairs
As we were travelling with our cat Shadow we'd taken the tunnel and given him a sedative we'd obtained from the vet. Despite giving him only a very light dose, the poor lamb was still zonked the next day. While he wobbled around his new domain slightly dazed at what master and mistress had "done to him" we surveyed the place over a cup of coffee. We had 12 days until our furniture arrived to paint, and generally make presentable our house now that the works we'd had done were finished.

Over the next few days and weeks we wore a rut in the road to the area of large stores in Joué- and Chambray-les-Tours. We bought paint--loads of white paint!! We invested in a plethora of cleaning materials of all types and colours. When we arrived the house was filmed in a lovely layer of builders dust and dirt.  A garden table and chairs were acquired so we had something to sit at. By the end of the furniture-less days we'd whitewashed the entire house and weren't keen on seeing a roller or bucket of paint for a long, long time -- if ever!

We bought things we'd never owned before, but were needed living in the country: a saw horse, a chain saw, hack and hand saws, a ride-on mower, a much heavier strimmer, a wheelbarrow and another ladder to name but a few! Meanwhile Shadow had discovered the ensuite bathroom  and the joyful fact that he could just squeeze himself behind a panel and vanish totally from view only sneaking out occasionally to snatch some food. It caused us some serious worries as to where he'd got to before we caught him eeling out of his hidey hole!! Once we'd been here a couple of days we let him go outside to explore and he promptly went onto the roof! Little did he know though, that his days as an 'only cat' were numbered. Katinka took up residence in October 2010.
Shadow on the roof, August 2010
One morning early, soon after we arrived Antoinette saw a martre [pine marten] outside the kitchen door. It was as astonished as she was! In those first months we saw it again. Sadly we don't see it any more -- we assume it is now too noisy here with us as permanent inhabitants. The fouine [beech marten], more used to sharing space with humans, was around for quite some time. However, last summer we think it was dispatched by our neighbours. It was living in their attic and probably creating an unholy mess.

The red squirrels, fox and other animals are always a joy. Earlier this morning looking out over the terrace we saw regular visitors: three chevreuil [roe deer]. They ambled along the field boundary. We never tire of seeing whatever wildlife there is on offer, be it large or small; with the exception of the pine processionary catepillars!! Those we do not like!
We've had a lot done to the house: moved the kitchen, reconfigured a room to create a downstairs shower room, installed an en-suite upstairs, had floors laid and a fosse septique system installed in November 2010. A drive was put in before we moved in and the terrace  --last of the big works for now-- was finished a couple of weeks ago.
October 2010: two cats on the roof
We've learned how many stare of wood to order to heat the house in winter and how to stack woodpiles. We've watched the seasons change and discovered what plants & flowers we have. We've ripped out bushes, cut back leggy trees, learnt to slalom between the trees on the ride-on mower. In November 2010 we floundered round in the heavy clay soil to plant some young fruit trees while doing good impersonations of 'Margo' in 'The Good Life'; though happily not in yellow sou'westers!

So here we are two years later. In some ways it seems only months ago that we moved here, in other ways we feel we've been here quite a while--both in the nicest possible way!

Above all we've met many friendly and helpful people:- both French and expat, and we have made some good friends. Looking back on two years life is good and we feel we are beginning to properly settle in here.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Lieu dit Péchoire

Last Saturday and Sunday there was a small exhibition called 'Expo '44' in the old salle de fete about the events of July 1944. We went to have a look.
Expo '44
Summer 1944 saw an allied offensive called Operation Dragoon [originally called Anvil] move up from the south of France. Originally, it was to coincide with the Normandy landings in the north, however, it was delayed until August '44. In preparation the allies dropped large cannisters with support material behind the German lines for the French Resistance: les maquisards. The idea was they would make good use of the materials: rifles, ammunition, radios etc and intensify their guerilla war behind the lines to disrupt the retreating Germans in the run up, and during, Operation Dragoon.
a cannister & contents
The small exhibition was interesting. There had been a real effort to collate original documents such as Demarcation Line passes and postcards from prisoner of war camps which had been donated by local families. There were photographs of different maquisard groups active in the Charnizay area. They also had images of the various cannisters, each contained a different mix of items; as well as an example of one which contained a rifle, ammunition and some other bits and pieces. Old flags and other memorabilia were also on show. When we dropped in on Sunday there were quite a few people there: a compliment to the organisers.
memorial at the lieu dit Péchoire
In our area there are a number of memorials to resistance fighters--there was never a homogenous Resistance; rather there was more a variation of resistance groups each with it's own "political flavour" and agenda for post war France. What all these small poignant memorials do have in common however, is their general dates. Most, if not all, commemorate captured maquisards executed in mid to late July 1944: those who took action in advance of Operation Dragoon.
the names of those who were executed
Not far from us, no more than 4km as the crow flies, is one of these memorials. It stands by the roadside of the D103, in the middle of the Foret de Preuilly, about half way between Azay le Feron and Charnizay at a place called Péchoire. All four maquisards commemorated were executed on the 24th of July 1944. It is well maintained and wreaths are laid each year to remember those who were killed.

well tended graves at the lieu dit Péchoire
What is less usual is that the four were also buried where they fell. Each grave is tended and also receives a bouquet on the 24th. To one side of the memorial there is now an information panel explaining which maquisard groups were involved and the events which led to the deaths.

information panel [click to enlarge & read]
It is good to know that the young men who fell are commemorated each year on the anniversay of their deaths by the local communities of Azay le Feron and Charnizay.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Terrace finale

Earlier this week Ken Blomeley finished tiling our terrace and it's fair to say we think it is absolutely wonderful! We now have a large outdoor living space where we can eat and generally be indolent when not working.... and if the weather allows.

finished terrace!
We have a somewhat eclectic collection of outdoor chairs of varying ages and decrepitude as well as a teak dining table with 4 chairs. We'd bought the table and chairs the minute we arrived as we were camping in the house for 2 weeks and needed something to sit on/eat at before our furniture arrived from the UK.

large box on our drive: flat pack alert!
Now the terrace is 'operational' we decided to treat ourselves to a 'salon de jardin' as they call it here. We settled on a Dutch make, well known for its quality and durability, and bought it via Cdiscount. The fact that it was on offer was a nice bonus! On Friday we picked up a sizable box from their pick-up point--it just fitted into the car--and steeled ourselves for a session of flat-pack assembly.
nosy cat joining photo session
In all fairness, the instructions were amazingly clear and straightforward, and, believe us, we've seen many which were not!  It took us just under 2 hrs yesterday to put it all together and we're very happy with the result. Even the weather is co-operating as it is set to be very good this coming week, so we will be able to enjoy it to the full.
I'm a garden statue, don't you know!

Monday 16 July 2012

Sun, sun, sun!

Hurrah! This morning we woke up to clear blue skies and not a breath of wind. Enfin! we have some summer weather! It may not yet be as warm as normal but it really raises the spirits to have the sunshine.

our wildflower patch
Yesterday, the people we bought the house from came by. When they sold the house to us they arranged to have their furniture stored in our neighbour's barn pending a decision as to what they would do next. From Paris, they are a lovely couple who generously allowed us to stay for a week before we finally exchanged contracts to 'get the feel of the house'. They have again bought themselves a holiday home, but this time near Honfleur on the Normandy coast.  It was very nice to see them again and we gave them a tour of the house. They took photographs of the house and they seemed to really like the changes we'd made. They thought the terrace was fantastic.
California poppy, an absolute favorite
Speaking of the terrace, it will be finished today! So photos of the completed space in all it's glory will appear shortly. In the meantime, with the sun out, we thought we'd share some pics of our little wildflower patch which is doing well [this it's second year]. We were sent the seeds by a very dear friend who lives in Granby, Massachusetts. It has been interesting to see what has done well this year, as compared to last year, when it was so very dry.
butterfly enjoying the sun

Sunday 8 July 2012

Tile tales II

Thunder bolts and lightning and torrential rain! The noise of the rain hammering down woke us in the middle of the night. This morning we had further rain. Shadow came in soaked and leapt on the bed, which is less than pleasant when you are trying to have a lie-in!
our new extension
Such is the nature of our summer this year that the house has now sprouted a most fetching extension to protect Ken's hard work tiling our terrace. He has created a lean to with 6m scaffolding poles and an enormous heavy duty tarpaulin. It keeps him, the newly laid tiles and the tools nice and dry when the heavens open. It seems that the weather is unable to give us a consistent dry spell of more than a day or two. All down to the jet stream flowing further south than normal apparently.
Gloomy place, Eeyore not shown
Having 'the extension' means that Antoinette's study has turned into Eeyore's 'Gloomy Place'; though thankfully not 'rather boggy and sad', but it is a small price to pay to ensure we end up with a lovely terrace.
work surface nice and dry
Friends Tim & Pauline dropped by on Friday and were able to have a look at those sections which are now finished - the path and kitchen area. The main body of the terrace is also coming along nicely, huddled as it is under the 'lean-to'. About half the surface area has been laid to tile so there's half the surface left and the grouting. Fingers crossed that it will be finished this coming week and then we can show you the end result.

Thursday 5 July 2012

A Romanesque graphic novel

Last month we went and visited the church in the village of Tavant. You can read about it here. On our way home, as we entered the town of l'Ile-Bouchard, we spotted a slightly wonky sign with the logo for an historical monument and the name 'Prieuré de Saint Leonard'. There was no indication as to how far away it was but, as we had some time to spare, we decided to follow the signs and see what we'd find.
remains of the apsidal choir
What we found was the remains of a romanesque priory. Originally built in the 1060's, the Prieuré de Saint Leonard seems also to have served as a parish church from the 13th century. Hardly anything remains; just the choir, ambulatory and two of the three apsidal chapels.

It is a small site and it's free to enter. Typical longere style houses ring the area. Fortunately, there's an informative panel at the entrance, sketching a brief outline of what's known about the priory. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it's not much and perhaps wonder why the whole of what remains has been covered with a protective roof.

That is until you walk in through the small gate, stand in front of the remains, and look up at the apsidal choir with its 2 tiers of rounded blind arcading and see the early Romanesque capitals on top of the pillars which support the curve. 

They were 're-discovered' in 1997, having been blocked up and are stunning: the mediaeval equivalent of a superb graphic novel. In an age where many were not literate the Bible was told through pictures in stained glass, frescos and/or carvings. There are six of these pillars, the capitals of four depict scenes from the Gospels; the other two are decorated with mythical beasts and serpents.

The capitals are deeply carved, more like tableaux you would find carved into a flat-sided wall. Each side of the four captials shows a scene from the life of Christ. The figures are slightly dumpy and are certainly naive, but the expressions,  the drapery of the clothes, and above all, the amount of detail makes the figures have character.
first capital of the four **
Looking from left to right the first of the four captials shows the Annunciation and the Adoration.

On the front side the angel Gabriel, who is looking very pleased with himself, is on the left with beautifully carved wings showing the overlay of feathers. He's barefoot with little fat toes which hang over the edge. He also has the words "Anges Gabriel" carved on the edge above him, just in case you were in any doubt! In the middle is Mary, shod, with her hands facing palms outward. On the right are Mary & Joseph embracing face to face.

The left side of the capital shows the Adoration of the Magi. Mary is seated on the extreme corner and her chair has maned lion-heads as armrests. She's wearing a crown of fleur de lys -- as are all three kings -- and is holding the baby Jesus on her knee. Above them is the nativity star looking more like a daisy. All three kings are bearing gifts and have very prominent cheekbones and slanted eyes to make them seem exotic and foreign.
second capital of the four**
The front of the second capital shows the baptism. The figure of Jesus is standing in a barrel above which are wavy lines representing water. He's being supported by St John the Baptist whose wearing a halo which looks like a pierced wheel. On the right is a female figure, and between her and Jesus is a badly damaged representation of the holy spirit as a rather enormous dove.

On the left corner is an angel, again barefoot, whose hand is pointing to the right [as we view it]. He's come to warn Joseph to fly [flight into Egypt]. You can just see a mustachioed and bearded Joseph next to the angel holding a rope halter of a donkey.

Just past the corner on the right is a soldier--you can see his booted and spurred foot. He's part of the depiction of the massacre of the Innocents which is on right side.
third capital of the four**
The third capital shows the Crucifixtion at the front. The two headless figures are the two traditional witnesses: St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary; she's on the left, he's on the right. Above the scene is flanked by two angels leaning down from clouds in the heavens, again with wheel-like haloes.

On the right you can just see the Last Supper with the disciples sat at the table. One or two of them have the most excellent mustaches and the perspective of the figures seated at the table, given the limitations of carving on a capital, really showcases the skill of the carver.
fourth capital of the four**
The last capital shows the entry into Jerusalem at the front. Christ is seated on a donkey -- although he seems to be walking his legs are so long compared to the aminal's. The palms being waved look rather like ferns.

On the right side you can just see a bit of a scene from the Temptation of Christ. Satan is tempting Jesus with a round stone; taunting him that if he's hungry he should turn the stone into bread.

We didn't photograph every side of each capital, hope that these four photos give a good impression of how amazing the carvings were.

It just goes to show that if you follow a battered old sign you never know what you'll find! During our visit there wasn't a soul there, and we spent an enjoyable time 'reading' the capitals and imagining that if the service was especially boring and attention was wandering, the images would certainly entertain!!

** all photos can be enlarged so you can see the detail more clearly.