Monday, 30 April 2012

A Cycling Hero

As we get closer to summer we are seeing more groups of cyclists on the roads. They never completely disappear over winter, but some of the less fanatical pedallers are only visible during the warmer months.

Motorists in France seem to be fairly much cyclist aware: because of the high visibility of both the cyclists and their sport (through events such as the Tour de France), people on bikes don't seem to encounter the intimidation or provoke the rage that is unfortunately the norm in some other countries.

Preuilly sur Claise has its own celebrity cyclist. In fact - he was more than a celebrity, he was the real thing.

Léon Georget was born in Preuilly sur Claise in 1879 and rose to the top of his profession as a cyclist, winning the Bol d'Or 9 times - including 8 victories in a row between 1907 and 1919. The Bol d'Or was an endurance track race, which involved riding a bicycle around a velodrome for 24 hours, following a pacer (usually a tandem, but sometimes a "triplet" or even a powered bike). The winner was the man who rode the furthest in that time, with Léon regularly covering over 900km, earning himself the nicknames of Le Père Bol d'Or (Father of the Bol d'Or) Gros Rouge (Big Red), and Le Brutal (work that out for yourself!).

In addition to track racing he also entered the Tour de France, coming 8th in 1906 - there is an amazing photo of Léon competing here. His brother Emile, who was born in Bossay sur Claise, was fifth that year.

Léon's son Pierre was the silver medal winner in the 1 km track race and bronze medallist in the tandem race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

There is also an Australian angle to this story - Hubert Opperman won the Bol d'Or in 1928.

Simon

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Un Moulin cavier

We 'hack' our way through the 'jungle'.
On our recent botany outing to the Puy Besnard near Chinon we took the opportunity to see a moulin cavier (literally, 'cellar mill') hidden away in the woods on the top of the Puy. These are a style of flour mill characteristic of the Anjou region of France, and especially around Saumur. This one is a ruin, overgrown as much as if it were in the Cambodian jungle, but there are a few restored and working moulins cavier in the district (the best known is the Moulin des Aigremonts, near Bléré). The top of the Puy must have been exposed and unwooded 200 years ago, and as the highest point around, the obvious position for a wind powered mill.

The remains of masonry walls in the old mill precinct.
The mill would once have had a pivoting weatherboard top and sails, but all that is left is the masonry base in the form of a semi underground dome, a crumbling, ivy covered masonry tower on top of the dome and the central post that would have transferred the movement of the sails to the grindstones in the cave by means of a series of cogs and gears.

The vaulted cave.
In English they are apparently called hollow post mills.

Susan

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Botany Outing to Chinon

Chinon Fire Station.
L'Association de botanique et mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, my local botany club, had an outing to the Puy Besnard at Chinon on 22 April. The Puy Besnard is one of a series of limestone buttes to the north-west of the historic town of Chinon, and is a very significant botanical reserve. It is the sole site in the Loire for species such as Grass Leaved Buttercup Ranunculus gramineus, and a significant site for Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris, a beautiful plant that has become very rare in the wild.

Prostrate Veronica Veronica prostrata.
Les Puys du Chinonais are 6 outcrops of between 65 and 90 metres above sea level, capped by hard limestone formed in the Cretaceous period, and with sandy lower slopes resulting from the erosion of the ancient plateau. They face south, giving them a quite mediterranean microclimate characterised by wooded summits dominated by Downy Oak and Maritime Pine; dry flower rich grasslands on the slopes and at the base, cultivated vines and cereals.

Dwarf Spurge Euphorbia exigua, with a
Platystomidae fly visitor.
The intermediate level of grassland is where all the botanical interest lies. The slopes were once grazed, or if it was not too steep, lightly cultivated, but these areas have now been abandoned for agricultural purposes. This means that the Conservatoire du Patrimoine Naturel de la Région Centre (the Centre Regional Conservancy for Natural Heritage) now has to 'artificially' manage the site to prevent volunteering scrub from overtaking the landscape and crowding out all the small plants of interest.

Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum bud.
We met just outside the Caserne des Pompiers (the Fire Station), which is on the Chinon bypass. Once everyone arrived we set off in convoy up the hill and to the left. A few minutes of ducking and diving along the back roads and we were gathered in the carpark of the reserve.

Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris.
On the sandy slopes Rockroses Helianthemum spp, Spurges Euphorbia spp, Early Spider Orchids Ophrys sphegodes, Vetches Vicia spp and other pea flowers grow amongst the Sheep Fescue Festuca ovina. If you go a bit further up you find Black Spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-niger and Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum. Best of all, on the southern end of the site is a significant colony of Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris, a plant I had never seen in its native habitat before.

The southern tip of le Puy Besnard looks over the valley to
the nuclear power station at Avoine.

Susan

PS Curiously, even though this was the date of the first round of voting for the presidential election, and a remarkable 80% of registered voters turned out, I did not hear one word of politics over a 4 hour period in a group of 25 French people! In France it is not compulsory to vote, but it is compulsory to register on the electoral roll (it's a kind of officially overseen rite of passage here). Politics is normally hotly discussed at any gathering too, and I would expect people to be keen to know what I, as a non-French national, thought. But no - apparently botany is even more important than politics!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Baby Turnips

Even in a cold wet April the new season's produce does eventually come in to the markets in France. Everyone gets very excited by the glamour produce like asparagus and strawberries, but appreciated on a quieter, more homely level, are the bunches of new spring carrots and baby turnips. The turnips are so pretty I have to buy them, and this is really the only time of year to eat them. Any later and they get big and too funky flavoured to be appealing. They also get bitter as the season advances.

Baby turnips from Mme Morin at the Preuilly Saturday market.
But when they are young you don't even have to peel them. Just scrub, snip the leaves and root off and cook whole, halved or quartered. These ones went in a casserole with carrots, onions, a bouquet garni and duck wings. I didn't throw the leaves out either. Turnip greens make a great spring green vegetable. I cooked them Italian style, mixed with spinach and sautéed with olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of chilli.

Turnips are generally greeted with derision in anglophone cultures these days as old fashioned peasant food. Most people wouldn't consider buying them because their family would be sure to turn their noses up when they learned what they were eating. The best the humble turnip can hope for is the occasional trendy television chef daringly serving them caramelised in honey or a few in amongst a dish of buttered baby spring vegetables. But in rural France they are still very popular, and considered an ideal vegetable to serve with duck, or in pot au feu. It's true they are also considered rather old fashioned here, but it is associated with more positive ideas of heritage and wholesome family recipes. In both cultures there is an overtone of memories of poverty and deprivation associated with the turnip and so while cooks here gladly purchase these attractive candy coloured baubles when they appear in the market, the arrival of the new season navets is not an event to look forward to and discuss like the arrival of the garriguettes or the asperges.

Susan

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Purple Parasites

At the recent Foire de Saint-Georges in Preuilly I ran into my friend Albert. He's the former postmaster here and quite interested in wild flowers. He mentioned he'd been fishing on the Aigronne River (one of the tributaries of the Claise) and had seen good numbers of Fritillaries out a couple of hundred metres up from the Chateau de Ré, growing in the grass amongst a riverside poplar grove. I knew there were a few Fritillaries growing in the valley, but I hadn't realised there were any sizeable colonies, so this was most interesting news.

The Chateau de Ré on the banks of the Aigronne.
He also mentioned he'd seen Purple Toothwort too, so the next time I had an opportunity to be out along the road between the two Pressignys I checked the bankside vegetation at one of the bridges. Unfortunately I didn't have time to check his Fritillary site, but I did find a good colony of Toothwort at the next crossing downstream.

Purple Toothwort on the banks of the Aigronne.
Purple Toothwort Lathraea clandestina is completely devoid of chlorophyll and relies for its nutrients on the trees under which it grows. It taps in to their root system and does not have any leaves, only sending up a dense cluster of stalkless purple flowers in the spring. It is an uncommon and unusual plant, related to Broomrapes Orobanche spp. It is also reminiscent of the Violet Limodore Limodorus abortivum, an almost chlorophyll free purple orchid which uses its association with a root parasitising fungus to live off the surrounding trees.

There are apparently a number of colonies of both Fritillaries and Purple Toothwort in this section of the Aigronne Valley, between Le Petit Pressigny and Le Grand Pressigny. At the moment there is quite a bit of activity along the river as it is the focus of a 'makeover' designed to improve water quality and biodiversity. Our friends Tim and Pauline, who live right in the middle of the valley have expressed some concerns that the work is too geared towards creating the ideal trout fishing river, possibly at the expense of other species and interests. You can read their first hand observations of the project and of some equally worrying modern farming practices on their blog Aigronne Valley Wildlife.

I, too, wonder what the effect of removing the poplar plantations will be on the colonies of Fritillaries and Toothwort, since both are often associated with the poplars. Will they survive the disturbance?

Susan

Anyone looking for some live Australian Rock and Roll should tune in to ABC Digital. One of the best mates a bloke has ever had is playing at Rooty Hill RSL (don't laugh, it's famous) in a band called "Rocket to Nowhere", as part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "Exhumed" talent quest. Rock on, Alessio.

Simon

PS - Rocket to Nowhere (cool name) didn't win, but they sounded good.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Australia's Worst Maritime Disaster

Today is Anzac Day, when Australians and New Zealanders remember their war dead. It is also the day in France, when those sent to forced labour, internment and concentration camps in the Second World War, are commemorated.

The post today is written by my father and tells the story of my Great Uncle Eric's Second World War experience in New Guinea. Eric never returned from the War and until recently we did not know the full story of what happened to him. My father is now the only living member of the family who actually met him.

The photos are reproduced here with kind permission of Andrea Williams, Secretary of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Society. They come from the public gallery on the Society's website.

************

At the beginning of the war my Uncle Eric Charles Mann V 50869 was a 22 year old Architectural student at Melbourne University. Eric enlisted and was drafted into an Engineering Battalion in line with his University training. In 1941 he was promoted to Sergeant and posted to a group called Fort Engineers and was trained in the use of explosives. In late 1941 or early 1942 he was posted to the 2/22 Battalion, which became known as “Lark Force”.

“Lark Force” was a major component of an Australian Army group sent to boost the very inadequate and expendable Garrison on Rabaul, New Britain against the advancing Japanese. In early 1942 the Australian Government started to evacuate expat civilian women and children from Rabaul back to Australia. Most of the civilian population who remained were Planters (and in some cases their teenage sons) as well as Government Officials, Missionaries and some Nurses. In February 1942 the Japanese began bombing Rabaul and in a very short time overran the Island. Some of our troops managed to escape and a small number managed to make it back to the relative safety of New Guinea. But over 100 soldiers were massacred at place called Toll Plantation. The Australian Commander, Colonel Scanlon realising there was no possibility of holding out against the Japanese famously gave the order “Every man for themselves”. Some surrendered, some made a run for it, some died and a very few managed to escape. Those that remained either surrendered or were captured along with the Planters, Government Officials, Missionaries and Nurses.

At the time very little information was allowed by the Government and the Army by way of informing the relatives of the POW’s as to what had happened to their loved ones. Sometime after the occupation relatives were told that the men were POW’s and a few letters managed to get through the Japanese censors, which of course did not reflect the true situation. I am the eldest of my generation and the only one who had any memory of my Uncle at all. At the time I lived with my Grandparents and I was one of the lucky ones to receive a letter from him, which I still have.

At the end of June 1942 all the POW’s were to be sent to Japan. Commissioned Officers and the Female Missionaries and Nurses were sent together on one ship and 1054 other ranks and male civilians were loaded on a Japanese freighter called the Montevideo Maru and headed for Japan via Hainan Island. Under the Geneva Convention POW ships were to be made known to opposing forces but the Japanese did not always follow this rule so the ship sailed with no identifying marks or notification to the Allies. The Montevideo Maru was torpedoed on 1st July 1942 by the American Submarine Sturgeon off the Philippines with the loss of all POW’s. Some of the Japanese crew did make it ashore where they were killed by Philippine partisans.

To this day the loss of 1054 men is Australia’s worst Maritime disaster. Despite repeated requests for information from the Government and the Army, the relatives and general population of Australia were kept in the dark as to what had happened and it was not until October 1945 after the war ended that relatives were notified that the men were presumed dead. The Menzies Government sent a Colonel to Japan in 1946 to investigate and he was given a nominal roll of the prisoners aboard the ship and he did an investigation and report on what had happened. He also interviewed some of the Officers who had been safely transferred to Japan. This roll and information from the investigation was kept secret and somehow “lost” over time. Sometime after the war Japan offered to supply copies of all their records to all the Allied countries whose citizens were POW’s. Most countries including the UK and USA accepted but our government sat on their hands for months and eventually declined the offer.

So the families who had already waited close to 5 years for definitive proof of the fate of their loved ones had no joy and were left in limbo not knowing for sure if they had died, when or where. As I said I lived with my Grandparents and Eric’s youngest sister. He had five siblings - my Mother was the second eldest. The worry and concern of not knowing what had happened eventually contributed to my Grandfather's early demise in 1946. Eric came from a very close knit family and was idolised by his sisters. The situation was such that it greatly affected my Mother and also her sisters all their lives. It is sad that the last of Eric’s siblings died in 2007 without ever knowing the full story.

Over the years surviving members of 2/22 Battalion – “Lark Force” formed an association and held reunions. They and lots of other individuals kept probing for details over the years and the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Society was formed to try to ferret out the true story and to push for a monument to be erected at the War Memorial in Canberra. The Hon. Peter Garratt Federal Member of Parliament became Patron; he, like me, also had a relative on the Montevideo Maru. An official motion of apology was presented to the people of Australia in the Senate and approved by all parties. Then last year due to all the publicity and uproar, the nominal roll, missing for 65 years suddenly, ”mysteriously”, appeared which gave people the certainty as to what had happened all those years ago. It is just sad that most of the people closest to those who were lost are not still alive to hear the full story. When the copy of the roll was published my Uncle’s name was on the very first page so we now know his remains rest at the bottom of the sea off the Philippines.

The Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Society has raised money with help from the Government and a monument will be erected and dedicated in Canberra on the 1st July 2012, 70 years on from the disaster.

More donations are needed and anyone interested can make a donation or join the Society. To learn more go to the Society's website.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Our Fourth Éolienne Bollée

A couple of weeks ago we we driving to Azay le Rideau with some guests from Denver Colorado. I decided that instead of driving the main road from Monts we would follow the Route de la Vallée du Lys, an old road renamed after the Balzac novel Le Lys dans la Vallée which was set in the area.

I think the passengers were rather surprised when Susan and I got all excited and stopped the car by the side of the road when a completely unexpected Éolienne Bollée came into view, but they were polite enough to indulge us long enough to take some photos.

I have started a map showing the locations of the various Éolienne Bollées we have visited and photographed. This will be added to over time, thanks to the stirling work done by the people at Archiving Industry.

Simon

PS - this was actually our fifth Éolienne Bollée - I had forgotten the one at Cinq-Mars-le-Pile

Monday, 23 April 2012

An Afternoon with Jean-Louis

On Thursday we celebrated 1200km of Célestine's new gearbox by taking her to Jean-Louis to have the gearbox oil drained and replaced. This enabled us to check to see how much wear the new components were getting: quite a bit as it turns out, but only "yellow metal" from the brass bushes. This is apparently expected, so Jean-Louis was satisfied.

Celestine drinking some clean 80w oil
While we were there we also addressed some other issues.

This last week we have been backfiring most inelegantly as we ease off the accelerator. This is usually due to valves not opening or closing correctly, so we started by removing the rocker cover and checking the valve gaps. Sure enough, one exhaust valve wasn't closing properly, which allows fuel into the exhaust pipe and causes explosions. This was easily adjusted, and once the cover was back on we checked the engine compression, the result being most acceptable.

While the feeler gauge was out we also checked the spark plug gaps. Even though we have travelled over 12,000km in Celestine the plugs looked like new (which was good) but the gaps were out - and in one case enormous (which explains why occasionally we were getting spark between the spark plug lead and the engine block on that cylinder). Once that was fixed we started on the next task.

For the past little while the car has been very jerky, an indication that the spark plugs were firing at the wrong time* or not at all. We began by starting the car then removing the spark plug leads one at a time to see if she was running on 4 cylinders. Oddly enough, no matter which spark plug lead we removed the way the engine sounded didn't change. This was officially "a bit weird" and warranted further exploration.

Tappets and valves
Our explorations having narrowed the problem down to one piece, we started looking at the distributor (spark timing). In older cars timing is usually fixed by adjusting the points, but there is also an "on the road" method of manually adjusting this from within the car. Literally, this advances the timing of the spark by rotating the distributor slightly. Célestine's manual adjustment had been disconnected and the distributor set so that turning the control from inside the car (which should normally turn the distributor 1° per click on the control) did nothing. The points were also showing a fair amount of corrosion through being eaten away by high energy electricity. This meant replacing the points, setting the timing, cleaning up all the contacts to and from the distributor.

The result of all this is that she is running so smoothly. We have real class again.

Simon


*Spark plugs should spark just before the piston reaches the top of its stroke: this allows the resulting explosion to force the piston down again.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Broad Bodied Chaser dragonfly - a photo series




To learn more about this dragonfly please go to the species account on Loire Valley Nature.

Susan

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Heroes

We have written about pompiers before, and the esteem with which they are held in France. As it may be difficult for people new to the idea of firefighters as the national heroes to understand quite where they are placed in the psyche of France, this photo taken in Azay le Rideau may help:

So that's between Zorro and goat headed warriors
(presumably from the planet Zaarg).
If ever you're in Valençay visit the motor museum,
where they have a number of fire engines on display.
If you are at the Foire Saint Georges in Preuilly today and the pompiers are fundraising - please give generously.

Simon

Friday, 20 April 2012

Elderflower Champagne - Surette

Elder trees Sambucus nigra grow everywhere here, and where we lived in the UK, but somehow I have never got round to making elderflower champagne in late May or early June when the flowers are at their best. It looks straightforward enough, and I have found a recipe that seems simple and sensible (and doesn't require specialist brewing equipment). Perhaps this year will be the year.

The robust and thriving elder tree in our backyard when we
bought the house - a gift from a passing bird's bottom no doubt.
It does have a reputation for exploding in the bottle, so in order to prevent a shards of glass imbedded in the laundry door episode (childhood gingerbeer making memory) I think I'll put it in plastic bottles. It also has a reputation for being different every time you make it, with different trees and different years producing quite different flavours. I have been warned never to make a batch using the flowers from a single tree, as some trees produce a most unpleasant flavour.

A refreshing and delicate brew.
Meanwhile, here is one I bought earlier (above). This organic one was made by Marjolaine Munier at the Jardin de Sorciere in Brittany. Surette is the French name for elderflower champagne (sureau being the name of the tree) and the label goes on to say "Elderflower champagne, or 'fairy champagne', is a traditional fizzy drink with a sweet floral taste." She also makes frenette, from ash tree shoots, but I find it insipid.

Susan

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Canola'n'Clouds

For several weeks this has been the view from our back door.
The crop on the hillside is canola (colza if you are French, rape if you are British). With the wind and occasional squalls that has characterised this April, the sky has often looked much like this. Often there will be clouds overhead, but just enough of a break to let the sun shine directly on the acid yellow canola flowers.

It's a striking looking crop, but the pollen makes my nose run and my throat sore, and it stinks of rotting cabbage. Soon the flowers will be gone and the field will slowly go brown until the dry seeds are harvested in the summer for oil.

Susan

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Full Leaf Spread Late This Year

The hillside our house looks across to, on 15 April 2012.
The market gardener I buy my vegetables from at the Preuilly Saturday market was complaining that this year we haven't had enough rain and worse, it is too cold and nothing is growing. We have temperatures not going above 14C predicted for at least another week and I am starting to worry I won't get a butterfly survey in for April (if the temperature doesn't hit at least 16C, we don't survey).

Assorted trees down by the plan d'eau in Preuilly, 15 April 2012.
According to one of my local botanist chums the date that the trees here are expected to be in full leaf is 15 April. He predicted on 1 April that they were going to be late, and indeed, in general they are, although like any year it varies from tree to tree and species to species.

One of my butterfly transects near Boussay, 16 April 2011
- an exceptionally dry and rather warm spring.
Personally I thought 15 April would be ambitious for any year, and I went back through our photos to compare and contrast. There are some differences, but it is difficult to know how much of that is down to the fact that my photos don't all show the same trees on the same date. My impression is that full leaf is more like 25 April to 5 May.

A slightly different view of the hillside behind
our house, 23 April 2010 - a very cold spring.
There is a long running French citizen science phenological project called the Observatoire des saisons, but I'm afraid I lost patience trying to work out what their data meant, and the situation is a lot less clear than in Britain. There have also been two important studies of oak trees in France which are widely cited in climate change reports. These studies showed that average temperature for March and April is the single most important factor affecting when leaf burst and full leaf spread occur, with leaf spread taking fewer days if the temperatures are higher. Oak trees have been shown to respond more directly to rising average temperatures than other species. However, the effect of temperature slowly dwindles as the days lengthen, thus the maths to create an index or a formula for prediction gets quite complicated.

The Parc de Boussay on 19 April 2009 - a 'normal' spring.

The boat ramp on the Claise in Preuilly,
22 April 2008 - a very wet spring.

Susan

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Making a Killing

I cannot tell you how sad I am to be showing you this photo. The scene is the haymeadows in front of our orchard. Recently they appeared for sale on LeBonCoin (an online small advertisement site). Very soon after, the hedges were attacked with a flail, and left sparse and splintered. Our orchard neighbour tells me it is to render the site propre. After a couple of weeks the whole area was sprayed with a herbicide, no doubt with the same aim in mind.

This was a natural, flower rich, calcareous grassland, kept free of scrub by being mowed for hay once or twice a year. Amongst the native grasses grew wild oregano, eryngo, bedstraws, scabious, umbellifers and Lizard Orchids. Their foliage fed Lesser Bloody Nosed Beetles and Field Crickets, sheltered Large Blue butterfly eggs and Wasp Spiders waiting for young grasshopper prey. The flowers were visited by Burnet Companion moths and Glanville Fritillary butterflies. I've taken many, many photos in these fields, but there won't be any more. This habitat has now been destroyed and has gone forever. People think natural grassland is everywhere, but in fact it is probably the most at risk habitat in Europe.

Yesterday the fields were ploughed.
The tractor driver waved cheerily as I passed.
I never thought these fields would last forever. Their position made them vulnerable to being sold off for housing subdivision, just as has happened. That would have been sad enough for me, but I don't understand why the proprietor is determined to turn them into a desert. In France it is common to leave all manner of junk openly displayed in houses for sale. Why would selling a piece of land be any different? Why do all those 'weeds' need to go just yet?

Susan

Monday, 16 April 2012

2012 Orchid Season Underway

Green-winged Orchid, thriving in a
friend's garden in Preuilly.
I recorded my first flowering orchid in the Claise Valley for 2012 on 12 April. In fact, they must have been out for several days previously but I hadn't seen them.

Early Spider Orchid by the Preuilly library.
This year no Lady Orchids amongst the leaders, but there is a Green-winged Orchid flowering in a friend's garden, the same precocious Early Spider Orchid as last year, on the street corner by the médiatheque, and some of the Early Purple Orchids on the Preuilly - Grand Pressigny road at the crossroads with the Chaumussay - Petit Pressigny road are out.

Early Purple Orchid, demonstrating just exactly why
the French name for this orchid is Orchis male...
No orchids in flower so far in our orchard, and most of my really good orchid sites in the valley are north facing, so they start later and go on for longer.

Susan

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sprue'n'Strawbs

One of the excitements of the April produce markets here is seeing the first asparagus and the first strawberries of the season. Usually you just admire the first week's offerings - they will be outrageously expensive - €9.50/kg for asparagus and €5 for a 250g punnet of strawberries this year.

Locally grown white sprue from the Preuilly market.
The asparagus here is always white, as that is what the locals prefer. It's like eating straw if it's old, but if you buy it freshly harvested (no more than 48 hours earlier) and locally grown, it is sweet and delicious, steamed or sautéed, and served with melted butter or hollandaise sauce. The ones pictured are the skinny cast offs, sold at the knockdown price of €3.50/kg even in the first week of April. They were purchased from a woman who sells nothing but asparagus and walnut oil.

Gariguette strawberries from Preuilly market.
The most prized strawberries are a very early bearing old French variety called Gariguette. They smell divine, wafting strawberry aroma from metres away on a cool April morning. I serve them cut in half, macerated at room temperature for an hour or so with a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of homemade cherry liqueur, topped with a dollop of vanilla icecream. The ones in the picture were purchased on Thursday (by then a more reasonable €3.50/250g punnet) and grown by our local orchardists based at Chambon.

Neither of these delicacies will be in the market for very long - eat them now or miss out until next year (although the Gariguettes will be succeeded by other varieties of strawberries - but I am assured it is just not quite the same).

Susan

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Searching for Clues

A moment of your time, if I may....

Now that everything on the internet is location based and so called clever, it is getting increasingly difficult for someone in France (for instance) to know how effective web pages are when it comes to search engines used in the USA, Australia, England or any other country. Add to that the fact that not all brains are hardwired like mine and people may use different words to search for the same thing, and it becomes obvious that maybe our business website could be more visible on the internet.

Therefore it would be really helpful if some of you could go to your search engine of choice (google, bing, duckduckgo, whatever) and type in the sort of words you would use if you were coming to France and wanted to see stuff in the Loire Valley.

If you use your own words, then post a comment telling us: the search engine you used, the words or phrase you used, and where we appear in the list of results, that would be very useful.

I thank you.

In the meantime, here are some photos which I like, but haven't found an opportunity to post:

Chaumont sur Loire taken from behind Onzain,
a distance of almost 3 miles. Early morning March 2012
The Roman "thing" at Cinq Mars la Pile,
taken from the garden at Villandry
Célestine at Villandry
Simon

p.s. I am extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to write this - for a split second yesterday it didn't look as if it would get to be written. If it hadn't been written it would have been entirely due to the idiot DHL van driver who - in the pouring rain - pulled out to overtake a truck on a blind corner, forcing Célestine and I off the road. He seemed happy to tell me he had missed me (like he had anything to do with it) by "one mm". I think it was less.

p.p.s. I tried to email a report about this to DHL, but the mail was not delivered because "account is full (quota exceeded)"

Friday, 13 April 2012

Barn Swallows - a photo series





The Barn Swallows have arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa and will spend the summer breeding here. This Eurasian species is very similar to the Australian species I grew up with, called the Welcome Swallow, which migrates from the warm north of Australia where it overwinters, to the south eastern states in the spring.

Susan