I can see what this man, photographed on 5 March, is doing -- he is propelling a boogie board against the current on the Cher near Chenonceau.
What I have no clue about is why he is doing it. He came from further downstream, so it seems unlikely he was engaged in any sort of maintenance surveillance of the chateau. If that was the case he would have come from the embarcadere and made his life easier by not swimming against the current. He was also right out in the middle of the river, so not engaged in anything that involved checking the banks (and again, why would you do it from this direction and not in a boat...)
I have the bemused feeling that he was doing it for the fun of it.
Au jardin hier: Yesterday, at about 4pm, just as I was tidying up after spreading compost on the newly dug potato bed, our aged orchard neighbour appeared. He announced that he had brought cider and a cake and his intention was to share it with me at our picnic table for afternoon tea. He had timed it perfectly and the cider was good (although we did have to consume the entire bottle between us according to him). The cake, ahem, shall we say, was ordinary ('chocolate' covered marble cake from LeClerc). Like all good French men he carries a pocket knife, which was used to cut the cake, and glasses which had once held mustard in the car, from which we drank the cider. He was slightly startled that I am not similarly equipped at all times.
He inspected the compost and pronounced it good, then the potato bed (also good). I lost a few points for the picnic table though. I didn't cover it over winter, and haven't oiled it. He enquired about how many broad beans I had lost to mice over the winter (a lot) and said he has just planted 10 kg of green bean seed. I expressed surprise at how early it was for this and he said that he could do it at his place, which is higher and has a perfect aspect, but not at the orchard, which although it faces the sun, is in a little valley and always a couple of degrees colder.
On his departure he presented me with a beautiful bunch of daffodils and the remains of the cake for me to take home to Simon.
A la cuisine hier: Proper coq au vin, with an actual cockerel, served with mixed root vegetable mash.
Tabbouleh, made from leftover couscous, parsley and coriander.
It doesn't take much knowledge of history to guess correctly that this is a portrait of Louis XIV. The more is more frame gives it away even if you don't recognise the man. It hangs in one of the salons at the chateau of Chenonceau and was originally a gift from Louis to his uncle Césare de Vendôme, once owner of the chateau. Like the rest of the objects at Chenonceau, it hasn't always been here, but has been acquired by the current owners because of its significance to the chateau.
The portrait is by Hyacinthe Rigaud, Louis' court portraitist and painted about 1700. Like any of Rigaud's portraits it is a magical mixture of completely accurate character representation and ideal ego boosting likeness. I don't know how he did it. Couple that with his superb technique with luxury textiles, and any portrait by Rigaud is worth looking at, drooling at the silks and velvets and musing about what the artist thought of the sitter. However, I'd be willing to bet most people hardly give the portrait itself a second glance. It is totally overshadowed by the astonishing carved gilt frame, which was created for the painting.
Detail of the frame.
The frame is huge and weighs an enormous amount. It was made by the highly regarded sculptor Pierre Lepautre. The fact that the owner has to somehow get it hung on the wall is not taken into consideration at all. (I bet the chateau has a special disaster plan just for this object too, just in case it has to be got down in a hurry in a fire or flood.) The frame is apparently made of four large slabs of wood which have been carved into palm fronds and draperies held back with Roman helmets, supported by an eagle with outstretched wings, surmounted by a globe ornamented with fleurs de lys between two winged Victories seated on the drapery. Normally frames such as this are made in a modular fashion, with each of the decorative elements carved or moulded from composite resin separately and attached to the basic frame with tacks and glue before the whole thing is covered in gesso. Very fine detail can be added to the gesso layer, then the frame is given a base colour (usually red) to enrich the gold leaf which is the final layer. I gather that this frame is carved straight from the four large pieces of wood, a much more technically difficult feat.
For me the over the top frame is rather curious, given that it draws the viewer's attention away from the portrait of the man who commissioned it. It seems odd that such a great ego did not recognise the impact the frame would have at the expense of the portrait.
A la cuisine hier:Chicken puttanesca, salty and simple, served with courgettini (zucchini strings made with my trusty julienne grater) rather than pasta.
Au jardin hier: I have finished digging and weeding the bed for this years potatoes. It's too early to plant them yet, and I want to dig some compost in to the bed and till it a bit more. Just as I got to the end of the row a flock of about 100 cranes flew over. Earlier I had been treated to a sparrowhawk making a couple of passes at LBJs in the orchard. It didn't catch anything and huffed off.
I have tied some privet branches to the pergola to create some shade and protection for the redstart/robin nest box. I was up a ladder in the middle of doing this when our lady orchard neighbours arrived. 'Qu'est-ce que tu fait?' they asked, in tones of slight alarm. I explained and they were happy. They had noticed the nichoirs and liked the idea.
When we were driving back to Canberra after visiting my parents in Queensland in December 2012 we were pulled over by the police just after lunch going through the town of Dubbo, in central western New South Wales. The police had set up a random breath testing station, something that, to their credit, the Australian police will do without fear or favour, setting up on main roads at peak hour and pulling every single car over if they think that's what it takes. Random breath testing has really made an impact on fatalities caused by drink driving. There are no cries of civil liberties being infringed nor claims that the country will grind to a halt if the police actually enforce the law (Britain I'm pointing at you here...) The Australian public changed their attitude to drinking and driving very quickly indeed, and random breath testing is widely supported.
Simon was driving, and although we'd just had lunch (in a cacophonic cafe that hadn't had quite enough money or taste expended on renovations) we had not had a drink. He happily breathed on the sensor, then handed over his driver's licence -- warning the policeman that it was not Australian. The policeman was slightly bemused to be handed a piece of pink card by a man with an Australianish accent, driving a typical Australian's car. His first comment was 'There's no photo!' Simon pointed out that it folded, and the photo was inside. So that was OK, just -- the policemen clearly wasn't very impressed by the French licence. Still, since these licences are valid for life, we are not in any hurry to swap them for the new EU compliant credit card style licences which are only valid for 10 years. We have until 2027 to make the change.
Random breath testing is common in France too, and just as successful. I was pulled over once in front of the Hotel de Ville in Preuilly. The gendarme was completely unphased that the boot of the car was full of empty wine bottles that I was taking to the dechetterie (recycling depot). He was more interested in practicing his English on me. I had had a drink at lunchtime, but fortunately enough time had elapsed that I registered 0 on the machine. At one stage here you had to carry a disposable single use ethylotest in the car with you but the rule was so stupid it was never fully introduced.
Preuilly News: The mairie will be distributing your quota of garbage bags on Tuesday 11 March. To pick them up go to the back of the salle des fetes.
I noticed there was a good deal of cleaning action going on in the old Claise restaurant as was (more recently the El Dorado). I would guess this means that someone has bought it.
If you want to vote in the local elections (23 March) you must present your carte electorale and a piece of identity when you go to cast your vote. If you don't have your carte electorale you must get an attestation d'inscription to prove you have enrolled. We have not received our carte electorale despite enrolling several months ago. A number of people we have spoken to have not received theirs either. There will be 4 lists in Preuilly, headed by Guy Buret (one of our neighbours), Henri Robert (a retired grazier), Jean Paul Charrier (currently on the council) and Gilles Bertucelli (the current mayor).
Orchard News: The grelinette has come out of hibernation and I have dug half a potato bed. Last year I lent the grelinette to Tim, who has very kindly improved the fit of the handles by inserting wedges. The soil is still quite wet, but just diggable. My work has been inspected by the aged orchard neighbour, who has pronounced it good and advised that once I have dug it over once, to leave it for 5 days then go over it with a 3 pronged cultivator.
I've planted a few lettuce seedlings under cloches which may or may not survive.
Simon and I had our hair cut a week or so ago and I have put out the hair in the orchard for the birds to use for nesting material.
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Susan was born in Victoria, but moved to Queensland when she was 11. Simon was born in London, but moved to Canberra when he was 7, and to Queensland when he was 28. In 1997 they moved to London. Susan worked for a large heritage and nature conservation trust and Simon taught music technology at tertiary level.
Now we live in Preuilly-sur-Claise, a small town with a population of less than 1000 people in the south of the Loire Valley. We write about the restoration of our house, the history of our local area, nature, cooking and anything else that strikes us as interesting. When we are not blogging we run Loire Valley Time Travel, doing individually tailored tours of the Touraine for anglophone visitors in our classic Citroën, Célestine.
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