Monday 30 September 2013

Autumn Cyclamen

Each year underneath the red maple a carpet of dainty white and pinky-purple cyclamen pop up and we know we're into autumn.
Carpet under the red maple tree
At first they were a bit patchy due to the very dry weather we had in July and August. Now that we have had some rain, more and more of these delicate looking flowers have emerged.
White cyclamen .....
Neither of us have ever liked cyclamen as house plants. However, this small woodland version is lovely and we look forward to seeing them each year.
... and pinky-purple ones
We've picked our peaches, a few are a little green, but we've sat them on newspaper to ripen over the next few days and then we'll turn them into spiced peach jam. This year our little peche de vigne gave us about 25 fruits. The 5 Melrose apples -- our pride -- are looking excellent and we think we'll be picking them next week. It should take all of a minute!
Nibbled by something
Finally, the walnuts are dropping from the trees. However, this year, in contrast to previous ones, we are having to battle with the red squirrels. They are eating them like there's no tomorrow! Every time either of us spots what we think is a good one, we find a neat hole gnawed through the shell and the nut long gone! Do they know something we don't?

Thursday 26 September 2013

More of Champigny-sur-Veude

Just a few more photos of the stained glass portraying scenes from Louis IX's life.
Louis IX departing from Aigues Mortes
Louis IX sailed from Aigues Mortes in the Camargue on both of his crusading adventures. He obtained the property from a local abbey and developed it so that France could have its own seaport on the Mediterranean. At the time Marseille belonged to his brother, Charles of Anjou, King of Naples. He also wanted to dispense with the Italian navy as the 'transport of choice' for crusaders.
Mediaeval port of Aigues Mortes           [photo: Wikimedia]
The walls at Aigues Mortes          [photo:Wikimedia]
Aigues Mortes is still amazingly well preserved and we found it fascinating when we visited it about 15 yrs ago.There's a statue of Saint Louis in the square.

 Detail: Crusaders and a monk onboard boats [known as cogs]
In one of the windows there's a depiction of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris as a direct reference to the original building which Louis had had built and on which the chapel at Champigny is modelled.
Louis processing with the Sainte Chapelle in the background on the right 

Louis had some early success on the 7th Crusade in 1248 when he took the port of Damietta. The glaziers have shown it as a traditional mediaeval walled town with lots of little spurts of red flames to denote the sacking.
Louis' army is on the right

Defeat at Mansourah
Soon after however, Louis was soundly defeated at Mansourah and taken captive. He was ransomed after four years. Later in 1270 he went on crusade for the second time intending to attack Tunis, but died soon after landing at Carthage.

Saturday 21 September 2013

King Louis IX, a life in glass

A good turnout despite the weather
Last weekend was the annual 'journées du patrimoine' held throughout Europe on the third weekend in September. Although the weather was rotten on Saturday -- lowering grey clouds and rain -- we decided to go out anyway. In fact it was so miserable we comiserated with the lady who sold us the tickets. She looked at the sky, turned to us and said "je suis faché!" [I'm cross; ie with the weather] an understandable sentiment!

We'd known about the stained glass at Champigny-sur-Veude near Richelieu for quite some time, but had never got around to seeing it; mainly because of its opening times which don't work so well for us. Last weekend it was open all day and you could choose whether or not you visited the chateau and/or the chapel. We opted to just visit the chapel and the glass did not disappoint. We took lots of photos so undoubtedly more will follow in another post.

Built by Louis 1ere de Bourbon on his return from the Italian Wars of the early 16th century, the chapel is very much in the style of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, but with Italian influences.

Windows are high up and more than 8m tall
The 11 large Renaissance windows are stunning, even on a gloomy day the jewel-like colours shine through. Happily at the time of the French Revolution they were taken out and hidden and so avoided destruction.
Coronation of Louis IX, aged 12 at Reims
Honouring an illustrious ancestor of the Bourbons, the 11 windows depict the life of King Louis IX [1214 -1270]; or 'le roi Saint Louis' as he is known in France. They trace his life from his coronation in Reims at the age of 12, until his death in Tunis. Louis IX was known for his piety, intregrity and worked for the political unification of France. He managed to get Henry III of England to agree to the renunciation of all claims to Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, and Poitou [Treaty of Paris, 1259] by yielding Limoge, Cahors, and Perigeux to England. He built the original Sainte-Chapelle and went on Crusade twice; both were failures.
Defeat at the battle of Mansurah 1250
On his first crusade [7th Crusade 1248-50] he was defeated at the battle of Mansurah in Egypt [1250] and taken captive. After a huge ransom and the handing back of the port Damietta he was released. He then had some success in Outremer where he spent 4 years visitng what holy places he could and exercising a little diplomacy before he returned to France.
Dying in Tunis, 1270
The second time he went on crusade [8th Crusade 1270] he died soon after making landfall in Tunis, falling victim to the sickness [probably typhoid] which decimated his troops. He was cannonised in 1297.


Apologies for the recent intermittent posting but mundania - in the form of the start to the academic year has meant it's been busy, busy, busy! Things should settle down soon and more regular posts will resume.

Thursday 12 September 2013

One Day Wonder

On the day we visited Savonnières we noticed lots of sandy colored 'stuff' on the ground. It was drifts on the bridge over the river Cher, piled along buildings and heaped in every nook or cranny close to the river. When we parked the car opposite the church to have a look around the village I first went to investigate the 'stuff' while Niall went to have a closer look at the church.
Sandy 'stuff' at the foot of the stairs on the left
Closer inspection showed that it was literally millions of dead insects - some species of mayfly. In French mayflies are called éphémère. In the photograph above you can see a pile of dead mayflies heaped against the bottom of an outside stair. 
The outside stair: carpeted with dead mayflies
Like damsel or dragonflies, mayflies go through various stages of development in fresh water before emerging from the river or stream in their adult form. Adult mayflies [also known as shadflies] have an extremely short life span which can last from literally a few minutes to a few days.
 the aftermath of the hatch
Seemingly it is not at all unusual for a population of mayflies to mature simultaneously and this is called a hatch. These hatches can take place in spring or autumn so what we saw was the aftermath of an autumnal one.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Boats on the Cher

Needing to be up in Tours last Wednesday we decided that, as the day was so lovely, we'd drive a little along the river Cher towards Villandry before cutting across country to head home.
Traditional boats on the Cher at Savonnières
At Savonnières we stopped and had a quick look at the church as well as just spending some time watching the river flow over the weir. The level was quite low, certainly much lower than on our previous visit when we watched a blue heron being displaced from his fishing perch by a white egret. As usual there were a couple of traditional boats moored in the river above the weir. A little bit of research informed us that the most common types of boat to ply the rivers were the gabare and fûtreau.
New boat passing a traditional boat - probably a gabare
By now there was a flurry of activity in Savonnières as cyclists, other visitors and locals hurried to get bread at the boulangerie before it closed for lunch. We let oursevles be tempted into staying on for lunch and in the parking lot of the restaurant we found the boat below:

Dame Perinelle - a scute de Loire
The notice pinned to the side said she was the "Dame Perinelle" and that she was a boat of historical interest as decreed by the 'Fondation du Patrimoine Maritime et Fluvial'. In fact, the "Dame Perinelle" is an historic reconstruction of a mediaeval river boat used on both the Cher and Loire of a type know as a 'scute fluvial' or 'scute de Loire'; a boat with an extremely shallow draft which allowed them to navigate successfully far up river. She even has a whole paragraph to herself in the French Wikipedia entry on the two types of 'scute' - coastal and riverine. She has been built using only authentic materials and tools, exactly as would have been the case in the Middle Ages. So, for example, she has no nails, screws or bolts and is caulked with plant matter.
Another traditional boat: possibly a fûtreau 
We'd heard of the word 'scute' before, but only in connection with the coastal type of boat. In Friesland, The Netherlands, there is a famous sailing competition called "Skûtsjesilen" where they race skûtsjes [the coastal version] which were once the workhorses of the waters along the Belgain and Dutch coasts; much as the riverine 'scute' was on the rivers Cher and Loire.

Scutes sailing up the river Loire at Tours [Pierre-Antoine Demachy, 1787]
As usual it just goes to show you never know what you're going to stumble on! It was a lovely surprise to find a mediaeval boat in the car park as we went for lunch; which incidentally, was excellent indeed!