Ask any Australian, and they will tell you the received wisdom is that the roads of Europe are crammed full of traffic all going nowhere fast.
These photos were taken on a recent drive back from Preuilly to London. You could probably put them in order for yourself just by looking at the grot accumulating on the windscreen.
There is no trickery involved here - this really is how the roads are in France - IF you're not driving on the first (or last) day of the school holidays, a Sunday afternoon, or in Paris. The way to check out what the traffic conditions are likely to be is on the Bison Futé website. Not only is there a map showing problems in real time, on this page you can download a prediction for the rest of the year about how much traffic is likely to be on the roads.
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Ask any Australian, and they will tell you the received wisdom is that the roads of Europe are crammed full of traffic all going nowhere fast.
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
At the end of my recent visit to Australia, I had a day in Sydney. I arranged to meet a friend at the Powerhouse Museum, and we mooched around the Rocks (visiting the Craft NSW Gallery), Darling Harbour and Circular Quay and the Botanic Gardens.
At the Powerhouse I learned about the remarkable Lucien Henry, a Frenchman exiled to New Caledonia after the political upheavals of 1871, who then made his way to Australia, where he became an influential artist, designer and teacher, one of the first to encourage the use of Australian imagery.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
The village of La Roche Posay is about 12km from Preuilly sur Claise, and sits on the bank of the Creuse river at its confluence with the Gartempe.
The name will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever visited a cosmetics or skin care counter: the local water is high in selenium and has been used for many years for skin care. A spa was founded in the village in the 19th century to treat skin disorders, and had grown into a huge cosmetics firm by 1989, when it was sold to l'Oreal.*
play most days of the year in the town square
*La Roche Posay is not to be confused with Roche Pharmaceuticals, a completely unrelated Swiss/USA company.
Note from Susan: La Roche Posay is pronounced like 'lah rosh-pozzeh' if you are Australian (the 'o's are soft, as in 'cot', not hard as in 'coat', and Roche and Posay treated as if they are one word). If you are American, La Roche Posay apparently sounds more like 'luh rush-puzzeh' though – see Ken's post on the pronounciation of another nearby town, Loches, on his blog Living the Life in St-Aignan. (See Ken's comments below if you want to know how it is really pronounced.)
Monday, 27 April 2009
Last year Susan and I travelled to Preuilly sur Claise to London by plane and bus, which involved spending a number of hours in Tours near the station. At the time I mentioned that the station looks sort of tropical, but really needs palm trees.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Tours again, and was surprised to see the station does have palm trees outside. I naturally took this as a sign of a growing influence of this blog , but a close observation of the photo posted shows that the station had palm trees last year too. I offer as my defence the fact they are small(ish) palm trees in Versailles planters.
planters inside the station, too.
I like Tours station, even on a very quiet Easter Monday. It is very different to any of the stations in London - the trains aren't hidden, and the building isn't full of shops - 2 newsagents, a baguette shop and an information kiosk (so no opportunity for last minute sock or tie purchases) - and that's your lot.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Boeuf Bourguignon – pronounced something like 'buhf boor-gee-nyawn' – is a classic French dish that everyone has heard of, and probably eaten. It is the flash cousin of the country style daube de boeuf, which is what I usually make. A daube only requires beef, red wine, sliced onions and seasonings, whereas the Burgundy style dish is enhanced with whole baby onions, lardons (cubes of bacon) and sliced flat dark mushrooms. I used the Delia recipe for my boeuf bourguignon.
It's not really necessary to be pedantic about sourcing Burgundian wine for this recipe. Most red wines will be fine. Personally, I would prefer larger pieces of meat than shown above, but I purchased it pre-cut, as that was the best buy, so made a compromise. Certainly for a daube I would use 5-10 cm cubes.
I served it with a baby leaf salad and pommes de terre boulangère ie thinly sliced potatoes, sprinkled with chopped onions, arranged in layers and cooked in stock (or half stock, half milk) in a shallow oven dish.
Boeuf Bourguignon needs to slow cook for about 3 hours, but Ken, over on Living the Life in Saint-Aignan, recently posted a recipe using meatballs, which took much less time.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Today's post is written by Dave Lovell, who Susan met through her work a few years ago. He is a volunteer in his spare time with The War Graves Photographic Project
‘The surprise attack was launched in moonlight at 10pm without preliminary bombardment; spearheading the operation were the 13th and 15th Australian Brigades, supported by the British 54th Brigade. In darkness and confusion Australian infantry, displaying dash and brutal aggression, broke the German lines and, by early morning 25th April, forced the enemy out of all but the south-eastern corner of Villers-Bretonneux.’
I got my call up on 16th April 2008. When I reached Villers-Bretonneux thankfully the Aussies I met were dashing and friendly.
The wind was cold, the skies were grey, the ground was wet but I was pleased to be there. It’s a relatively short drive from my home in the East of Paris and, as I throttled the hire car across the plains of Picardie, my thoughts turned to my Father and family members who had witnessed first-hand the horrors of war.
Mine however was to be a more pleasant experience but challenging in its own way. An email had come from the coordinator of the War Grave Photographic Project www.twgpp.org - could I meet an Australian film crew from the ‘Today’ TV programme and do an interview about TWGPP?
Saturday was an early start, well early for a weekend. As I travelled North my spirits went South, the skies dropped and soon the rain too. Visibility was about 500 metres on arrival, but the Brasserie in the village looked a likely point of retreat.
And then logic kicked in, the weather could get worse, 600 photos will take all day, and tomorrow might be ten times worse. So on with the boots, on with the cagoule, up with the umbrella. The afternoon quickly approached and passed equally quickly. Battery flattened I switched to my wife’s camera. Now all our memory cards were full and my joints were decidedly aching but the good news? Only twenty to go!
And then it struck me…no call from the Producer and it's 17.00 already. So a little dejectedly it’s back to Paris, meet my wife off Eurostar and dine at Chez Gudule. At 21.00 with joints feeling the benefit of lubrication from the odd beer and un verre du vin rouge or three, the phone rings - at last arrangements for the TV shoot are made.
The filming took an hour or so but it stayed on the cutting room floor! It stayed there because of course there were more moving stories to be told. Stories of men who gave their all - we will remember them!
If you’d like to help the War Grave Photographic Project visit www.twgpp.org
Friday, 24 April 2009
Thursday, 23 April 2009
As you drive around rural France you will often encounter this man and his brethren - the common cyclist - wobbling his way along the road.
He is not to be confused with the all over body condommed speed cyclist, a much more confident beast who is seen only at the weekends (although once a year the professional variety as shown here can be seen during the week, too) and usually in groups; the common cyclist can be seen on any day of the week, usually in packs of one.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
The main reason for my recent visit to Australia was to attend my parents' 50th wedding anniversairy. My sister organised for me, our parents and the wedding party (all aunts and uncles) to stay the weekend in the lighthouse cottages at Green Cape, part of Ben Boyd National Park on the southern New South Wales coast. We were a party of 10, and most of those attending I had not seen for 30 years. We got on marvellously well, and a great time was had by all. A selection of photos from the weekend follows, and more photos can be seen here.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Brightly pronounced 'OP-lah', this exclamation is used much more in the north than here in the Touraine. Here you might occasionally notice doting parents swinging a small child over a puddle using it in the sense of 'over we go' or 'wheee'.
Monday, 20 April 2009
Yesterday was Sunday, and normally in Preuilly nothing happens on a Sunday. This is quite different to the rest of the week, where it appears that nothing is happening and quite often appearances don't flatter to deceive. (Or something).
However, yesterday was different. All afternoon I kept hearing car horns parping. This is normally the preserve of Saturdays, when people are celebrating weddings. (If you're invited to a wedding, it appears traditional to drive from one place to another - possibly the mairie to wherever the reception is - leaning heavily on the car horn.) This was different though - Sunday and just the occasional, but still out of place for Preuilly on a Sunday, parp.
When I was returning from the supermarché I had noticed a piece of guard rail at the top of our street, once again unusual. When I stepped out the front door to "weed" the courtyard I noticed a small group of the local ladies standing at the bottom of our street chatting. I could also hear music, the source of which soon became evident...
As soon as I saw the ladies I grabbed my camera. A group of people standing around on a Sunday means something is happening. And I was right!!
I then realised there was a chap in dayglo at the top of the street - was it possible that I could see the cyclists twice?
It isn't the Tour de France, but it is typical Sunday afternoon activity - a course velo. Anyone who has driven any distance on a Sunday in France will have seen them - and they have right of way. We last encountered a course in May last year outside Poitiers. Streets are blockaded, diversions put in place and hundreds (or in Preuilly's case, some) people stand on the roadside to watch.
As I was typing this, I heard more parping, and hit the front door just in time for this:
It isn't all two wheeled excitement here. Yesterday morning I saw my first orchid of the year (Early Purple), but it was raining at the time, so I didn't tarry with the photos.
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Or rather, our new temporary kitchen.
We intend getting a super-duper hi-tech fitted kitchen in the house, and have started getting devis from kitchen builders. Before this can happen, we have to clear all the old kitchen stuff - the strange faux ancien range hood and the sink. Until very recently (i.e. yesterday) I was cooking on a table under the range hood. As I intend to eat most days this means I had to find a new location for the kitchen.
I decided on what we call our "small room" - not what you might think, but a little room off the end of our entry corridor that previously served as a combination bedroom/lounge, and more recently a dining room.
So until we have a permanent proper kitchen, this is our kitchen
It is more fancy than I had planned, but M. Bricolage in Chatellerault was having a special on melamine covered boards, so I treated myself to a bench top I can wipe down. The only drawback is not having running water or a sink, but I am sure we can work our way around that. When we first moved to London the house we rented had a smaller kitchen than this, so we should manage quite nicely.
Saturday, 18 April 2009
If you have a well in your garden or in the street in your village, you need a way of getting the water from the bottom of a deep hole (our well is about 18metres deep) to the surface.
As shown in a previous post, the "ye olde" (is there a French equivalent of that I wonder?) way is the method favoured in fairytales and nursery rhymes: a bucket on a rope, wound around a spindle.
Anyone who grew up before town water came to town, and anyone who has visited the countryside will have seen force pumps. They are the pumps with a long arm you pump up and down, eventually getting water. They use a series of valves creating a vacuum to lift the water and were supposedly invented by Ctesibus of Alexandria, in Egypt. The Roman writer Vitruvius mentioned this device in the first century B.C. and examples have been found in Roman cities, notably Silchester near Reading in England.
now home to the famous 'tapestry'In the garden of the château at La Celle Guenand.
presumably for night watering.
Friday, 17 April 2009
Avid readers may remember our PIAF (Plumbing Incident Annually in February), and the resultant rather basic facilities we were left with.
The main problems with the plumbing as it was last time we were here were; having to flush the toilet using a bucket, and only having one tap, low to the floor, which produced water. I am happy to announce that this situation is now resolved.
After a rather long planning period (about 10 days of wondering if I could do it on my own, to be absolutely accurate) I went to Bricomarché and bought a huge collection of plumbing bits: joiners, angles, T-junctions, washers, olives (ask yer dad), tape and spare nuts. I took a piece of the old pipework I intended using to check I was buying the right diameter fittings (this is called "planning ahead" I believe) and was quite pleased with what I managed to buy, if horrified (as ever) with how much it all cost.
Getting the parts home, I then carefully removed all the old pipework, as I intended re-using as much of the REALLY expensive copper piping as I could salvage. This went quite well, and I ended up with about 10 meters of reusable pipe.
It was then I hit a snag.
I had cut a section of pipe to make sure I was buying the correct fittings. Even cleverer, I had cut 2 sections of pipe from different places to check they were they same size. Unfortunately I had managed to find the only two lengths of 12mm pipe in the house - and all the pipes I was intending to reuse were 14mm. This meant I had 80€ worth of the wrong sized fittings. This was galling, but luckily I mentioned this as an aside to Jill, who told me John had done something similar (although hopefully not as comprehensively) and had exchanged them for the correct size. As I hadn't actually opened any of the packages I was able to return to Bricomarché and do the same.
To cut a long story short (and I mean a REALLY long story with more twists and turns than the pipework I was replacing), we now have a flushing toilet (that's a relief) and taps in the laundry for a washing machine and dishwasher. I also have moved Pascal's tap into the laundry, and put it higher up the wall for easier use. The whole thing took me 8 hours non-stop muttering and forcing bits to fit, and I was so tired I missed my dinner, and the house is a mess because I had to take the laundry ceiling down, and I bumped my head on the low doorway 4 times, and now I can't do bending or standing up straight because everything hurts so much, but apart from that I am happy.
or even attractive, a photo of Tuesday's sunset
We still have no hot water, or working kitchen sink, but dishwasher takes priority...
Thursday, 16 April 2009
Recently I made a trip back to Australia, and for much of my visit, I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law. I thought readers might be interested in seeing some of the photos I took in their garden.
A Chequered Copper butterfly Lucia limbaria, very colour co-ordinated with the chrysanthemum it is feeding on.
Bungee, my parents' dog, causing havoc in the waterlilies. Bungee is a Kelpie, an Australian breed of cattle herding dogs. She is a lovely dark chestnut colour, very lively and clever, and difficult to keep from getting bored.
Early one morning she found this Spotted Marsh Frog Limnodynastes tasmaniensis. My father rescued it from her attentions, but it remained defensively puffed up for quite a while.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
As you drive through Pleumartin it is easy to be distracted by the covered market in the centre of the town square. This is not Pleumartin's only curiosity - there is a little shop on the north side of the square that is well worth exploring.
As you drive past you will notice gas bottles, some punnets of flowers and one or two other disparate items, but inside is a real Aladdin's cave.
I first visited this shop when I was looking for disposable BBQ's to use on Tour de France day. They had; electric BBQs, charcoal, toys, headstones, paint, gifts, home decorations, tools, table linen, umbrellas, locks, fishing gear, videos, baby stuff, furniture, home electrical stuff, clothing, hunting gear... the list goes on (and on and on).
This is possible because the building you see has had a number of extentions built out the back - quite possibly 25 metres worth of tin shed crammed full of wonders.
But no disposable BBQs.
I mentioned this place to Bengt who visited next time he was in the area, and I believe he was as impressed as I was. So if you're ever in Pleumartin, call in on a flimsy pretext. Just be careful - if you tell them you are looking for something, they may well have it!
This last paragraph I am typing is special less because of what it says, than because I am typing it sitting at the computer in Preuilly, connected to the internet. The connection may look slightly Heath-Robinson (10 metres of telephone cable strung across the ceilings of two rooms), but the speed is 21st Century. Having an internet connection tells me I need to get my own weather station - as I type this our weather panel says it is currently 9c and raining, whilst outside my window it is sunny with the occasional fluffy white cloud.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Every building with any pretentions to style has to have a windvane. These three are not especially grand, but very typical of the species.
and this is the church in le Petit Pressigny