Monday, 25 May 2015

Darlus, Pere

André-Guillaume Darlus du Tailly was one of Louis XIV's 'tax farmers general', private citizens who managed the nation's tax system and ensured Louis was paid his dues. Darlus was born in Paris in 1683 and died there in 1747.

He was the son of a wine merchant who supplied the court. His mother was the daughter of a carrier. He was appointed as a farmer general in 1726 and like the other dozen or so tax farmers, made a personal fortune. Completely open about his humble origins he often remarked that his grandfather was a simple ploughman. He was regarded as gentle, honest, polite and charitable.

Guillaume Darlus by Hyacinthe Rigaud, Chateau of Cheverny.
His oldest daughter Marie-Genevieve-Charlotte married the President of the Paris Parliament, Louis-Lazare Thiroux d'Arconville. One of his grand-daughters married Louis Hurault, Marquis de Vibraye in 1764 (which is presumably why the Vibraye family home, the Chateau of Cheverny, has his portrait hanging in the house).

In 1733 Darlus commissioned a portrait from Hyacinthe Rigaud, the King's favourite portraitist. It cost 600 livres. The entry in Rigaud's account book for the commission notes that Darlus wished to be painted in a rather eccentric mode of dress. He appears very informal, with bare neck and the blue ribbon undone, probably as a reference to his modest background. Rigaud appears to have painted the entire work, rather than passing it over to his assistants after the important bits were completed. My guess is that the two men liked one another, and Rigaud has certainly produced a very fine portrait of an interesting man.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Flooded Causeway

Eager Egrets Eating Eels.

Actually I doubt if it's eels, but these egrets have gathered at a flooded causeway near Newcastle Waters station (ranch) in Australia's Northern Territory to catch fish swept over the road.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Leper Hospital

An intriguing new theory about our property in Preuilly has emerged. On Thursday I spoke to someone who passed on a colleague's thoughts after he had seen the place recently.

 The back of our barn, with its three 13th century windows (mullions removed who knows when, the central one converted into a door, the right hand one greatly reduced).
He pointed out that we are hors les murs (outside the walls) of the medieval town, but it is clear our barn was some sort of public or institutional building, not a private building. He has suggested it may have been part of a leper hospital. He felt the large ground floor windows, with their finely carved lintels, would fit this function, as would the position outside of town. Apparently there is a record of Preuilly having a leper hospital. No one seems to have doubts at any rate that it is a 13th century building.

UPDATE: Simon has checked the Histoire de la Ville et du canton de Preuilly by Constant Moisand (1846) and he has this to say:

L'Eglise de Saint-Nicolas était située dans le faubourg de ce nom : ce qui prouve, c'est que le champ qui l'avoisine porte encore aujourd'hui le nom de Champ de la Cure. Cet édifice, après avoir été converti en hôpital, a passé dans des mains privées bien avant la Révolution. On croit que sa seconde destination intéressait les lepreux, et que c'était une maladrerie, institution du XIIIe siècle, commune à toutes les villes...

My translation: "The church of Saint Nicholas was situated in the suburb of the same name. Proof of this is that the surrounding field still bears the name 'Field of the Cure'. This building, after having been converted into a hospital, passed into private hands well before the Revolution. It is believed that the second designation would have benefitted lepers, and was a clinic, an institution from the 13th century, common to all towns..."

Curiously, our barn is not mentioned at all in this book. I don't think what he says really offers proof that Saint-Nicolas was the leper hospital, but neither would I discount it. We can't find any evidence, for instance, that the field he talks about (presumably the modern plan d'eau) was known as the Champ de Cure. It is not named as such on the 1813 cadastral map. I assume he is indicating that the field was associated with the presbytery, but the word cure has two meanings. It can be either a living (religious) or a treatment for a disease.  If the field was known as the Champ de Cure, perhaps the two meanings got conflated somewhere along the line. His sentence about the leper hospital is in rather old fashioned language and I have translated what I think it means, but others are welcome to refine it and let us know.

 One of the trilobe carved lintels.
For an alternative theory on what our property was originally, read this post.
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Bizarre Presidential Accidents: I know I shouldn't laugh, but today is the 95th anniversary of the date that President Paul Deschanel was found wandering along the track late at night in his pyjamas, after having fallen out of a window of the presidential train at Montargis. You can read a little about this charismatic and eccentric French politician here. There is an amusing French language account of the incident here. I first heard about him by watching an episode of the French equivalent of 'Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire' on telly.

Friday, 22 May 2015

More Photos from the Puys du Chinonais

The Puys du Chinonais are so interesting botanically that I thought they deserved a second post. The first one can be read here.

The reserve has species which are only found on sandy sites, such as Sand Catchfly Silene conica.

 Sand Catchfly.

Sedum ochroleucrum (Fr. Orpin à pétales dressés), 
one of the common stonecrops on the site.

Coronilla minima (Fr. Coronille naine), smaller and rarer than its lookalike 
Horseshoe Vetch Hippocrepis comosum also on site.

This Broomrape Orobanche sp was growing right next to Field Eryngo Eryngium campestris (Fr. Panicaut) and digging the plant up proved that it was parasitising the Field Eryngo, thus establishing that it was the rare and localised Sand Broomrape O. arenaria. Without digging it up we could easily have assumed it was the equally rare Thyme Broomrape O. alba as Breckland Thyme Thymus serpyllum (Fr. Serpolet) is everywhere on the site, scenting the air in a most delicious way when you inevitably step on it. François' top tip for identifying wild thymes is: Breckland = round stems hairy all over; Large (T. pulegioides) = square stems hairy on the angles; Wild (T. polytrichus) = square stems hairy on the faces.

Sand Broomrape, showing the root ball.

The site is managed to maintain populations of certain 'star' species. This pile of grass clippings acts as habitat for reptiles and small mammals, but is there because this section of the site must be mowed and the clippings raked up to keep the rare Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris thriving. Ideally the site should be grazed instead, but managing it has proved impossible so far.

Grass clippings.

To my considerable surprise there is a large patch of wild Gooseberry Ribes uvo-crispa and Red Currant R. sanguineum growing in the woodland section. I was assured that this is a genuinely wild population, not garden escapees, and that the two species occur in many cool shady places throughout the Touraine. It never fails to amaze me how many plants one can find here growing wild that have been adopted by gardeners world wide. The Touraine is truly the garden of France.

Gooseberries and Red Currants.