Friday, 27 November 2015

Badgers Behaving Badly

I suspect that the badgers who occupy this multistorey sett near Chaumussay are asking for trouble which may lead to them being evicted in a thoroughly unpleasant and sadly permanent way.
This is what the sett looked like in April 2015. Renovations, extensions and general home maintenance have clearly continued apace since then.
The farmer will be worried about his field boundary collapsing on to the road, and so will the roads department and the local council. While I was taking these photos a couple of days ago a truck full of hi-viz clad road workers bombed past on their way to lunch (it was 11.45). I have no doubt they are now fully expecting a complaint about the condition of the road complete with photos from me.
Swift Evening: The indefatigible Amboise based campaigner for Swift conservation Carolyn Knowlman has organised an evening at Amboise Chateau on Monday 30 November. The aim is to highlight the issues this fabulous bird species is contending with and offer advice on how we can help. Swallows and Martins will also be covered. She is thrilled to have enticed Edward Mayer, President of Swift Conservation as guest speaker. He is one of her heroes in the field. There will also be a speaker from Switzerland and one from the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO). The evening starts at 6.30 pm and will be held in the Salle des lys. Entry is free.
Tours Station Panels: SNCF have emailed to say that after lengthy negotiations and studies of the ceramic panels in the station at Tours, restoration is set to commence in April 2016 and the first panel will be put back in place sometime during the year. They thank everyone who got involved by donating to the restoration fund. Those people will be publically acknowledged with a plaque listing all the names under the first panel to be returned.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

An Evening at le Jean Bart

Le Jean Bart is a bar in le Grand Pressigny. A week ago we attended a Beaujolais nouveau event there. Normally we wouldn't bother with such a thing but our friend Pauline had alerted us to the fact that she would be singing, so we went along to show support.

The wine turned out to be very drinkable. Frankly we were amazed, because Beaujolais nouveau is usually frightful rotgut and nothing more than an advertising wheeze. The long hot summer has obviously had an effect on even the youngest wine.

The atmosphere at le Jean Bart was intimate, relaxed and friendly. There was about an even split between French and Anglos. Most people knew one another (not difficult in a small room in a small village).The audience was encouraged to sing along and a member of the audience roped in to hold up a lyrics sheet. Some of the songs were in English (Blowin' in the Wind) some in French (Les Champs Elysées). The musicians were a mixture too. Even the dog joined in.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Preuilly Phoenix

Just recently I was told that there was a magnificent carved dragon on a front door in rue Faubourg Saint Nicolas. I'd never noticed it, so quizzed my informant about it. He said it was perfectly visible from the street and was the work of local wood carver, Robert Loyau. Like many of his 20th century contemporaries, Robert had worked at Dennery, the furniture factory that closed in the 1970s.

The door.
Preuilly is full of retired wood carvers and cabinet makers. The factory employed several hundred people in its prime. It once supplied furniture to the super rich all over the world (Saudi Arabians found it particularly to their taste apparently). Eventually the factory closed because tastes changed but the style of furniture Preuilly produced didn't. The Preuilly factory furniture was solid, dark, weighty and heavily carved.

The fenghuang.
Anyway, the door in question turns out to not feature a dragon but a fenghuang, also known as a hoho bird or a Chinese phoenix. I imagine it is a design from a pattern book. There is a long tradition of chinoiserie in Europe, and the fenghuang features widely in many an 18th century wallpaper and printed cotton cloth. It was a motif used by the Chinese in artwork destined for both the domestic and export markets, as well as being adopted by European designers producing homegrown chinoiserie. For more information about this cross cultural exchange see my friend and ex-colleague Emile's blog, Treasure Hunt. Emile is a bit of an expert on this sort of thing (he would modestly deny this, but he is, and beginning to get the recognition he deserves for it).

The door handle is also customised. I didn't like to examine it closely, 
but I wondered if it was antler, not wood.
The house is unremarkable apart from the door. And it's for sale.
A la cuisine hier: Chocolate Chestnut Soufflés in our new ring tin, which turned out to be a) not big enough to take all the soufflé mixture and b) the hole in the centre proved to be bigger in diameter than a wine bottle, so I was unable to cool it upside down. I also got four individual soufflés out of it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Tree of Jesse

This impressively writhing mass of carved limestone is one of a pair in the corners of the chapel of the Hospice de Saint Roch in Issoudun. 

The Tree of Jesse.
At the end of the 15th century Pierre de la Chèze, rector of the hospice between 1494 and 1510, ordered the construction of a new chapel, probably in 1502. It was to be bigger and more luxurious than its predecessor, a modest oratoire. He enriched it with a significant collection of sculpture, much of which still survives in situ. No other space or building in the hospice is this lavish. Quite the contrary. Everywhere else in the complex the architectural watchwords are functionality and simplicity.

The north wall is entirely rendered in fleurs de lys, originally painted in golden yellow on an azure blue background. A polychrome vegetal frieze follows the contours of the junction between wall and ceiling of the chapel, regularly punctuated by six supports for beams ornamented with the twelve apostles. On either side of the stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion there are two monumental scupltures, more than 5 metres high, in very high relief decorating the corners of the eastern wall, in place of a retable. They illustrate a theme, the Tree of Jesse, very widely found in Europe, but in a manner more lush and extravagant than anywhere else can boast. This pair of Jesse Trees is unique in Europe and was listed as a National Monument in its own right in 1908. The sculpture is beautifully executed, by an unknown workshop.

The east wall of the chapel.
This representation of the Tree of Jesse is inspired by several biblical texts which announce the coming of Christ as a descendant of the family of Jesse. According to the Prophet Isaiah "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots, the spirit of the Lord resides within him..."

Jesse, his name encrusted in black letters in the limestone, is stretched out, eyes closed, dreaming of his descendants. From his torso emerges a fig tree, with branches supporting fifteen kneeling ancestors from the royal line of Israel. Starting with his son David, recognisable by his harp, to Joseph and the baby Jesus in the arms of Mary, triumphant, against a radiating backdrop and crowned by two angels.

A king, in medieval dress, kneeling on a lotus and holding a sceptre, 
surrounded by vegetation.
The design is held together with the representations of vegetation throughout. It is the tree itself which directs the eye, and a cohesiveness with the rest of the room is achieved by the foliate cornice all around the room. All the plants chosen are of course symbolic.

The oak tree has particular significance in the Bible. It is both magical and earthly, allowing messages from the heavens to be transmitted to the Earth. As a timber for secular purposes it was seen as having no equal, and it was near an oak tree that Abraham received his revelation.

The east window, depicting the crucifixion.
The fig tree, native to the Mediterranean, was possibly thought of as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is held in high esteem and figures in biblical studies of the time. In the Book of Kings the trees ask that the fig rule over them.

The flowers on which the kings kneel resemble lotuses, a quite usual decoration for seats or footrests of the time. It signifies that the person installed on them has an elevated spiritual authority over and above the ordinary person.

The treatment of the characters is in typical Medieval realistic style. This ensures the viewer of the time is in no doubt as to the fact that these people are powerful kings, in their European costume and arms. They are all in fact very similar in terms of their armour. They wear an assortment of plate or mail armour on all the exposed parts of their bodies and limbs -- elbow guards, mail hosen, knee guards and breastplates.

Some of the kings carry weapons -- swords and arbalests. The arbalest, or heavy crossbow, is a piece of portable artillery dating from the 12th century, and an extremely formidable offensive weapon. It had a long range and could be fired accurately. Its use was at one stage forbidden. Those that are not armed carry sceptres. The emblems are repeated and all the kings are kneeling except the third, Rehoboam the Proud.

King David.
David was the second king of Israel, the son of Jesse, born in the year 1000BC. He is depicted as a warrior, with his armour, telling the viewer that he made Israel a great state, through the strength of his cunning and courage. Equally, he is a poet and a musician, the composer of the psalms. The lyre allows us to identify him with certainty. 

Jesse is the character who appears as a visionary, a prophet, the nearest to the living. 'A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit' (Isaiah 11:1). Jesse was an old man when David was born. This late birth, after Jesse had given up hope of a son, is assimilated by the medieval scholars in the iconography of the Virgin Mary giving birth to the Christ child. Other Biblical texts reinforce the link between the tree and religion, like the vision of Seth, or Jacob's ladder, unifying heaven and earth. The tree is the symbol of the universal church. This style of genealogical tree over the centuries was adopted by science and became the tree of evolution in the 19th century.
A la cuisine hier: Four jars of quince jelly (Fr. gélée des coings). Of all the fruit jellies I think quince is my favourite. Plus it gives you quince pulp for making dulce de membrillo later. No waste here.