Friday, 30 November 2012
Thursday, 29 November 2012
One of the many difficulties of presenting a historic building to the public is how to deal with the accessories and installations of modern heating, lighting, safety and security devices. These are invariably white and made from some clearly modern material -- not the easiest objects to blend in sympathetically with even a 19th century interior, much less a Renaissance one.
The usual curatorial device is to camouflage light switches, power points, smoke detectors and radiators with a trompe l'oeil paint job. It's fairly tacky if you look closely, but, especially for really anachronous things like smoke detectors, high up on the ceiling and painted to blend in with the surrounding decor, it works well enough. Of course, the bigger the object and the closer it is to eye level, the less pleasing the result.
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
In September we stayed overnight in the rosé producing village of Mesland, above the Loire opposite Chaumont. It is a very attractive little place, with many interesting and picturesque buildings.
These two dormer windows on a building in the centre of town feature some mystery carvings. Possibly they are symbols pertaining to the Compagnons du Tour de France, the lodges or guilds that date back to medieval times and whose purpose is to train and support master craftsmen. However, our voluble history geek of a
Monday, 26 November 2012
The Loire à Vélo website should give you much of the information you need to plan a cycling holiday here.
Sunday, 25 November 2012
We followed this mobile still on our way home after dropping clients off on one of the Journées du Patrimoine in September. I don't know if it been somewhere demonstrating the heritage of small scale distilling in France, or whether it was a licenced mobile distiller heading home after a session in someone's orchard -- I'm inclined to think the former.
Bertrand, over on Wine Terroirs has written a long post about a day spent at the mobile distillery if you are interested in knowing more about this tradition.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
The Eiffel Tower is a profoundly disappointing structure if you see it close up and in daylight (unless you are an engineering history geek or similar). It looks nothing like all those nickel coated tourist souvenirs you've seen just bigger and better ie it is not an intricate and lovely bronze sculpture.
It's painted a particularly uninspiring matt brown, and it is set in a sand pit.
My advice is to view it in the evening from the square above the Trocadero Gardens. You look out across the Seine, over the Trocadero's fountains and it is there directly in front of you. As night falls the crowd gathers and once the required level of darkness is upon the city, the lights on the Tower spring into life. There is a bit of fancy flashing with coloured lights and pretty patterns, then it settles down to glitter like a piece of jewellry set with white diamonds.
Afterwards you can go off to dinner at Le Wilson -- touristy, cheap and friendly.
Friday, 23 November 2012
*I have heard a story that the Cloth of Gold itself was woven in Tours, but I cannot find a reliable source for that information.
Thursday, 22 November 2012
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Contrary to normal roundabout rules, at the Arc de Triomphe traffic entering the system has priority, which means that traffic on the roundabout must give way to cars moving in from their right. French car insurance policies come in two types -- those that specifically exclude the Arc de Triomphe roundabout and those that include it. The latter are all on the basis of no blame equal share payouts.
In addition to exclaiming at the courage of cyclists serenely pedalling through the chaos, gasping at the foolhardiness of ducking and diving scooter riders and being thankful that it isn't you out there, you can watch the gypsy woman working the gold ring scam or the young Australian musicians in crazy costumes making a video for their latest single.
Monday, 19 November 2012
Each of the big three French car manufacturers has a showroom on the Champs-Elysées. You never know what they will be displaying -- it can range from the very latest concept cars to rare and fabulous classics.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
Saturday, 17 November 2012
Friday, 16 November 2012
Driving around one day we came across this impressive medieval structure. It can be seen for quite a distance and is clearly something a bit special and unusual. On returning home we discovered that our friends at Braye-sous-Faye had beaten us to it and written about their visit quite a while ago.
The buildings turn out to be the Chateau de Marmande. The place is near the village of Velleches in the Vienne, so not to be confused with the Cathar fortress of the same name in Lot et Garonne.
According to French Wikipedia, it is an exceptional collection of fortifications from the 12th and 17th centuries, adorning the plateau of an escarpment. The castle keep and the 40m high staircase tower were constructed to a very high quality. In addition, the chateau has a significant underground network of galleries, restored, but not open to the public.
Thursday, 15 November 2012
It seems a little odd for a king to choose a small, slimy, rarely seen amphibian (sometimes referred to as les batraciens in French) as an emblem*. Even stranger for them to be depicted throughout Chambord as belching out a stream of bubbles. In other chateaux they are shown breathing fire, like a dragon, but here at Chambord, they are burping. Too rich a diet in those heady Renaissance days?
*The salamander in legend is said to be somewhat like the phoenix, able to survive unscathed or rise up out of the fire. The modern theory for the reason behind this reputation is that salamanders, which are native to the Loire area, like to live in dark, damp places, such as the firewood pile. When the log sheltering a salamander is placed on the fire the salamander scurries out - surviving the fire unscathed...thus making it a fine emblem for a powerful monarch such as Francois I.
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Tomorrow is Orange for Orangutan day. Please support the conservation groups and individuals raising money to save this gravely endangered and thoroughly endearing species. Wear orange, do something creative in the kitchen with orange ingredients and give generously if anyone near you is staging an event. You can also give directly by going online to Just Giving.
A French senator is (somewhat inadvertently) doing his bit by proprosing a 300% increase on the tax for palm oil. If it goes through it will be a nice little earner for the central coffers, specifically the state health insurance pot, and the aim is also to reduce the quantity of this widely used saturated fat consumed. The tax has been dubbed the Nutella Tax, as this popular spread is eaten in vast quantities here and contains about 20% palm oil. A by-product of this tax will hopefully be some respite for the rainforest habitat of the orangutans, currently being clearfelled to make way for vast palm oil monocultures in Borneo, Sumatra and Indonesia.
The new tax would apply equally to other imported fats, such as coconut oil, and bring them up to the level of locally produced olive oil. With any luck it will therefore result in traditional products such as savon de Marseille being made once again from locally produced fats. Savon de Marseille (an old fashioned, but extremely popular, soap) has no geographic protection or manufacturing specifications because with such an extremely old and traditional product that has become so widespread it is no longer practical to legislate.
Sadly, the Health Minister, Marisol Touraine (previously the leader of our local Conseil Général for Indre et Loire) is not enthusiastic, and although it will be debated in the Senate it is unlikely to be passed.
Monday, 12 November 2012
The big saint here is Saint Martin, a 4th century, Hungarian born, Roman soldier who legend says cut his cloak in two and gave half to a beggar. In his dream that night the beggar was revealed to be Christ and Martin realised he had to quit the Roman army and serve God. He became a famous hermit and then, by popular acclaim, Bishop of Tours. Marmoutier, the monastery he built on the banks of the Loire just outside Tours is still there, albeit with buildings renewed and now a school.
(Yesterday was Saint Martin's Day, the anniversary of his burial in Tours in 397.)
Sunday, 11 November 2012
Sculptor: Carlo Sarrabezolles 1931
Created in 1931 in memory of the Metropolitan Railway employees who died for France, this monument is adorned with a caryatid in black marble at the heart of a semi-circle on which is inscribed the names of the employees who died during the First World War.
The base carries the names of the battlefields from 1914-1918.
After the Second World War the word 'Liberation' was added, to underline the participation of the employees in the Resistance network.
Saturday, 10 November 2012
They lined up, got their rhythm and then quick marched in through the gate. Their officers ambled in after them. Cavalrymen always look ever so slightly ridiculous and self-conscious when unmounted.
Friday, 9 November 2012
Fraussie Grouet, a keen mushroom forager who writes the blog Aussie in France, asked me if I could find out from the experts what their opinion was on cutting or pulling as a method of gathering mushrooms, and so I put the question to Jean Bouton. He said he knew there was two schools of thought, but he would recommend taking the whole thing. His reasoning is that it does no significant harm to the fruiting bodies remaining and you are sure that you can make an identification if you have all of it. For ceps, he thought it was a reasonable compromise to cut them as low as possible, but it wasn't really best practice. Covering the remnants of the cut stem served no real purpose according to him.
Thursday, 8 November 2012
Apparently Charles de Gaulle did not wish statues of himself erected, but in 2000 his family decided to relent, giving permission for this one and several now exist in other countries. This one is on the Champs-Elysées by le Grand Palais near Métro Clemenceau (totally overshadowing the nearby statue of Clemenceau himself, which is disreetly positioned on a rock under a tree on the side of the road near the Métro entrance).
ParisWhich I would translate as:
Believe it or not, these photos were all taken on the same day, within minutes of one another, by Simon in mid-September.
*Thanks to Jonathan Meades this is how I will aways think of this statue. According to a fellow blogger friend, there are three people from French history that you cannot criticise -- Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte and le Grand Charles. What's the French for fatwah? I may have to go into hiding...
**Usually translated as 'Paris outraged', but I think 'violated' gives a better sense.
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
The Wiki entry on the Tower is well written and informative if you want more details of its history.