The recent Agricultural Show in Preuilly brought out all the local dudes.
The recent Agricultural Show in Preuilly brought out all the local dudes.
It's only been 27 months (840 days, to be precise) since we arrived in Preuilly sur Claise to live here. Yesterday living here took one big step forward, when we finally unpacked Susan's dinner service, the serving bowls, and the coffee cups.
Amazingly, nothing has yet come out of its box broken, so the packing (which I wrote about here) appears to have been totally successful. All the plates and mugs were individually wrapped in butcher's paper, then wrapped in lots of 4 plates in bubble wrap, before being put in a cardboard box padded out with shredded tax bills and bank statements.
It all went from the boxes to the dishwasher for a 30 minute quick wash, then into the cupboards. We did have to have a serious house meeting about where stuff went, but we were both thinking more or less the same thing, so there were no issues to be resolved.
This year has been a disaster for most of the Lycaenidae (Blue) butterflies here. Numbers remained low throughout the exceptionally dry spring and even with our relatively wet summer numbers have stayed low. One of the few blue butterflies which appears to have done reasonably well (although never common, even in good years) is the Large Blue Maculinea arion* (l'Azuré du serpolet in French).
The big blues Maculinea spp have a very particular lifecycle and ecology. Females lay eggs on the flower buds of the caterpillar host plant. Once hatched the caterpillar consumes the buds, hidden amongst the flowers for 3 or 4 weeks. Then, while still very small, it descends to the ground and waits to be adopted by an ant Myrmica spp. Once a suitable 'nanny' arrives the ant and caterpillar engage in a ritual which establishes their bond and the ant carries the little caterpillar off to its nest. The young caterpillar completely transforms the operation of the ant nest. Some Maculinea, the Large Blue included, devour the surrounding ant larvae, others just feed on the liquid the ant workers produce for their own larvae.
When we had a client in July who only wanted to see gardens, we got in touch with some of the gardens to try to set up meetings with the gardeners. At Villandry they went one better for us, and Henri Carvallo, the owner, very kindly gave us half an hour of his time. He was lanky, diffident and clearly very conscious that it is the visitors that matter at Villandry.
The roof timbers in the stables at the château d'Ussé use a very similar bracing system to the timbers in our attic bathroom - the soi-disant St Andrew's Cross. Unfortunately I can't find anything about the construction of the stables at Ussé. Although it's probable that our house and the chateau are contemporary (15th century) the timbers in the stables look much less rough-hewn than ours. It's very difficult to judge sometimes, but Stéphane thinks that the timber in our roof is of several different ages and has been reused from an earlier construction.
Our friends Chris and Annie were recently given the remains of a feral honey bee nest that had been cut down from a bush in their neighbour's yard. Annie installed it in her studio and was intending to paint it, but hadn't realised that something still lived in it. To her dismay the walls and furniture where covered in dozens of grubs within hours of it coming inside. Chris had to very swiftly encase it in a bin bag and deposit it outside, whereupon the grubs chewed through the bottom of the bag and 'legged' it. I was sorry to have missed the little blighters so I could identify them, but I suspect they were some sort of kleptoparasite, living off the bees' waste material, or the poor abandoned bee larvae themselves.
We last spoke about the small bathroom over a year ago, since then we have been using it, but it hasn't really been finished: like most of these things the room was needed and pressed into service once it was usable, but before all the teas were dotted and eyes crossed.
One of the jobs we hadn't got to was boxing in the pressure relief pipe, but that has now been taken care of. The room looked like this before, but now it looks like this:
Likewise the guest bedroom: the skirting boards need painting and the door has to be adjusted, but at least we have now put in the interior window sill.
Slowly slowly we are getting there, but it's amazing how much disruption doing these final little tasks is causing. At the moment we dont have an upstairs toilet, and because we had to move the toilet we can't access the shower, and once we start painting we won't be able to use the spare bedroom for a week, the house will stink and we will have yet more dust to add to the dust caused by boxing in the stink pipe. I may even give the bathroom floor its final coat of paint before putting the toilet back.
At least now we can see where the final push starts - on these rooms, at least
The park at the château of Azay-le-Ferron was designed by the Buhler brothers in 1856. It consists of 18 ha of tree lined alleys, more than 300 rose bushes, an arboretum, a collection of rare and heritage fruit trees and lots of topiary.
In 2010 it was officially classed as a Jardin Remarquable. It's only just down the road from us, but we don't take nearly as much advantage of it as we should. For more views, see our blog posts here and here.
Another movie, this time of yesterday's parade.
Posted by Simon at 09:00
Three movies today, but very few words. That could be because the evening lasted quite long and brain fade has set in. Stuff we saw yesterday included:
This weekend the Comice Rural is being held in Preuilly sur Claise.
Yesterday's main event was the concours de labours (a ploughing competition) and an open air cinema at the chateau at Boussay.
Our friends Chris and Annie, like almost all our friends, are in the process of doing up a dilapidated old French house. I took the opportunity to take a few photos of a couple of their intriguing and interesting architectural features.
On Tuesday we were working with clients based in Chinon, so on the way home we called in to see our friends Chris and Annie, who very kindly invited us to stay the night. Over breakfast yesterday morning we all commented on how clear and blue the sky was, thus proving the weather forecast (rain, thunder, lightning and quite possibly the end of the world) wrong.
Fifteen minutes later we were less confident, as we realised that the rumbling noise wasn't trucks on the road, and the horizon was dark grey rather than blue In order that we should get home before trouble arrived Susan and I hotfooted it outta there so as to miss driving in the rain in Célestine. On the way we had to stop for fuel in Richelieu which was where we noticed the clouds had got interesting.
In the 15th and 16th century the high quality of the stone quarried at Bourré meant that it was used in the construction of great châteaux like Cheverny, Chinon and Chambord. By the 19th century there was a network of hundreds of kilometres of galleries, on multiple levels. The owner of one of the principal quarries started growing button mushrooms in worked out galleries as a sideline, and his family still own and operate the Cave des Roches. No more quarrying goes on and very little button mushroom cultivation. Once there were hundreds of caves in France producing mushrooms - now there are just 30.
In the 1990s new accelerated growing methods for button mushrooms were developed and many tonnes began coming out of Dutch greenhouses. The Delalande family at Bourré couldn't compete, so they decided to switch their production to more unusual gourmet varieties of mushrooms. Today they grow pied bleu, shitake, chestnut and grey and yellow oyster mushrooms which are sold to Michelin star restaurants all over the world. They also open the caves up to visitors.
It won't be many weeks until the grapes will be ready to harvest. As Jim Budd is fond of saying, it's squeaky bum time now. The weather is warm and wet, which means that fungal diseases are a very strong possibility even in the best managed vineyards. We've been told that the acidity is still quite high in the grapes too, so it may not be as good a vintage as the last few years.
At Château Gaudrelle, like many other vineyards I've no doubt, they are busy making sure the winemaking facilities are clean and tidy in preparation for bringing in the grapes. Old barrels are moved aside so the floor can be cleaned, new barrels are unwrapped and checked for faults.
On visiting the château d'Azay-le-Rideau recently, we were delighted to discover that the attic space is now open to visitors. All this year les combles (a term that indicates useable, even occupied, attic space) have been the subject of a major restoration project. My contact at the château, Héloise, tells me that they have spent €700 000 and have two and a half months to go until the project is complete.
What has been revealed is a truly magnificent space, with the most remarkable example of renaissance master carpentry now on show. The steeply sloping roof of Azay is covered in slate and punctuated by numerous highly decorated dormer windows, designed to accentuate the height of the building. Inside, the attic is constructed à surcroit, that is to say, the external walls which support the carpentry are raised well above the floor level, thereby creating much more useable space. It also had the important advantage of allowing easy access to the wall-walk, a defensive arrangement resting on the corbelled upper sections of the towers and walls. In addition, the extra height of the Great Hall below could be accommodated.
The original carpentry is of a very high standard, with considerable care being taken in the choice of timber, methods of construction and finishing. The very tall oak trees were cut in the middle of winter 1518-19 and the construction probably undertaken in 1522. The structure is composed of a solid primary and secondary frame in a style known as 'rafter bearing'. The identical rafter sections measure 11.8m long. At the corners they radiate with monstrous precision. Two lines of sub-ridges filled in with St Andrew's crosses make a crossbracing against windshear along the whole length of the roof. Elegantly shaped king-posts (the central verticals) and beams were also originally adorned with coats of arms at their junctions.
Nuthin much happens in August if you are a chien français tricolore at Cheverny. The hunting season is but a distant memory. You get to hang out with your mates and relax. It's hot, so you snooze a lot. Occasionally you might stir yourself and go over to the railings to be petted by a visitor. Everyone's so relaxed there aren't even the usual hierarchical jostlings. The only excitement, other than the mid-afternoon feeding, is when a small child throws a toy into the kennel yard. This causes a swirling of dogs, all convinced the object will be good to eat, and the kennel hand shouts and shoves his way through to retrieve it before someone has a chance to swallow it.
Once peace is restored kennel hand tells me that there are 100 dogs in the pack and suggests I comptez les pattes et diviser par quart to verify this statement.
This rather lovely tree lives on the island in the Parc de Richelieu. We found its twisting limbs and swirling bark patterns very photogenic. I think it's a Swamp Cypress, but no doubt one of our Richelieu readers can correct me if I'm wrong.
I have been playing with the new camera, investigating some of its tricky stuff.
One thing the camera does automatically (when set right) is remove those awkward, annoying people who walk in front of you when you're taking a photo (ably demonstrated here by Susan).
It takes four photos at intervals, then removes any item that isn't in at least two of the photos (or something) - the result being this:
Of course, you can do it yourself in Photoshop (or photo editing software of choice) but having the camera do it is easier, if not quite as effective. You do have to keep the camera almost still for the time you are taking the photos, in this case 10 seconds.
Another of the functions is panorama, where you just hold the button down and move the camera from left to right through 270 degrees (or if you change the setting, right to left).
Once again the result isn't perfect, but it isn't bad. I will probably continue to stitch together my own panoramic views, but compared to what my old camera used to present as a panoramic view it is a huge improvement. It will be interesting to see where all this technology leads to in the next generation of camera.
The past few days have been lovely, with properly warm sunshine arriving by lunchtime even when the day starts foggy or frosty. This means ...