Monday, 31 December 2012
Sunday, 30 December 2012
Saturday, 29 December 2012
Friday, 28 December 2012
The weather may be dismal here in France, but it wasn't as if we had unrelenting scorching sunshine in Australia. Here are some pictures of days when it was less than tropically balmy.
UPDATE: Simon tells me that this ship is the James Craig, moored at the Maritime Museum. There is a lightboat in front.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
Despite the rain, which has been more or less constant since we returned from Australia, and is forecast to continue for days, if not weeks to come, there has been the occasional break in the weather. Sunday morning when I checked the Météo de France site it said, to my astonishment, that the afternoon would be sunny!
I leapt at the chance and since it was indeed feebly sunny, I spent the afternoon in the orchard pruning. I've done the grapes and the big old nectarine by the potager gate. I don't really know what I'm doing with pruning fruit bearing plants, but the worst that can happen is that we miss out on a crop for one year I guess.
The grapes I aimed to reduce to 5 buds on spurs that looked like they were growing in a sensible direction. The nectarine needed to have some nuisance branches removed (too low over the gate) and a lot of weight taken off. It's a 20 year old tree, and I reduced the top by about half, by taking out branches that were duplicating one another or too low or too high. It's a work in progress, but I won't reduce it any more for this year. Maybe I'll tackle it again next year or the year after, once I've seen how it responds to this prune.
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
This banner has recently gone up on the side of the road into Preuilly. The landholders are our local organic orchardists and market gardeners, and the issue is the plan for a big new airport near Nantes. Their banner says 'Supporting the country folk of Notre-Dame-des-Landes'.
In support of the fight against the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a new group has been created in the Loches area, to lobby against what they have dubbed 'Big Pointless Projects' (les grands projets inutiles).
On the site, a group known as the 'zadistes'* occupies the area, encircled by tractors to protect themselves against intervention from the police. All over France support groups are proliferating. Many of the individuals involved are farmers or rural residents. In Loches, they are not only concerned about the airport, but even closer to home, the future of the grand 19th century Palais de justice (courthouse) in Loches, the sous-préfectural (county services) office move and the closure of Alfred de Vigny school, a lovely old building in the centre of town.
The protesters point out that the airport project will seal under concrete an area the size (2000 ha) of an average commune (local authority) in the southern Touraine, and that this land is prime agricultural land. Protests on the site have been fairly roughly dealt with by the CRS** ('violence insupportable en démocratie') and the cost of police action (€1.5M) considered unjustifiable in these straitened times.
The protesters' website is here (in French, but well worth looking at for the maps showing the scale of the project even if you don't read French).
*ZAD = Zone à Défendre. They take their name from a twist on the project's own ZAD acronym (= Zone d'Aménagement différé). In other words, rather than a Deferred Development Zone, the protesters have created a Defended Zone.
**Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité = the specialist riot and crowd control squads of the police force.
Source: La Renaissance Lochoise 19 - 25 December 2012.
Tuesday, 25 December 2012
Most Australians will have a family meal on Christmas day and exchange presents. It probably won't be a barbecue, and it is most unlikely to be on the beach. Instead it will be somewhere cool and shaded, indoors with the airconditioning on possibly, but perhaps outside in the garden under a shade sail.
Monday, 24 December 2012
Le Relais du Dolmen is the latest incarnation of the restaurant in Charnizay. When we first bought our house, the restaurant was called Le Gargantua and was a lunch stop of très bon rapport de prix et qualité. Then the lease was sold to someone else, who lasted a couple of years, but didn't really impress the locals. Earlier this year the place abruptly closed. It looked like it had been abandoned, but in the autumn the decorators moved in. Now it has re-opened, with a new name, and a young local woman at the helm.
The meal was a simple, 12€ no choice set menu of paté en croute, chile con carne with salad, cheese, apple and banana cinnamon crumble or moeulleux de chocolat with creme anglaise for dessert and wine. Coffee was extra.
The cheese platter was a simple offering of camembert and Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. I thought the camembert was particularly tasty. The crumble was pronounced very good by those that had it, and my moeulleux was good too. The red table wine was soft and black curranty and very drinkable. It went perfectly with the carne sans chilli. A coffee rounded things off nicely.
The restaurant has stiff competition from restaurants serving similarly priced meals at lunchtime in the villages less than 10 minutes either side of Charnizay, so she may struggle to match them for quality. However, it seems a nice place to drop into every now and then, and definitely worth patronising on the grounds that if you don't use it you will lose it. If you want a quick simple meal, the food isn't bad and I am sure the restaurant will evolve and develop as the new manager gains experience. Or you could just drop into the bar at other times for a coffee, beer or a snifter. I imagine it could be quite convivial.
We hope that the enterprise goes well and that the summer brings a boost in passing traffic. And as a place to be when the world ended it was perfectly adequate.
PS: We thought that next year we might organise a Touraine Bloggers office Christmas party, with a Secret Santa (€5 limit) gift exchange, maybe in Loches. Hands up all those who would be interested?
Sunday, 23 December 2012
Saturday, 22 December 2012
Friday, 21 December 2012
On our original visit I was equally fascinated by the reaction of some small boys passing in a school group. 'Oh look at that! Isn't it pretty? And what pretty flowers too!' I cannot imagine a group of c.8 year old Australian boys having quite the same reaction (or even noticing the flowers in the nearby garden bed -- although I'm sure the tree would have at least got some attention).
UPDATE: It's art and it's whitewash -- the full explanation here (in English and French) thanks to a link provided by Canadian blog reader The Beaver.
Thursday, 20 December 2012
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Yesterday was my birthday, and as a little treat to myself I spent the afternoon in the orchard. I wanted to get the rapidly emerging orchid rosettes marked with sticks. This protects them from being accidentally trodden on (or run over if they are closer to the gate). Later, in the spring it will protect them from being mown off before they have a chance to flower. After they have flowered I leave the markers in until early September, so the orchids are not mown over before the seeds mature and disperse. The species that send their leaves up in the late autumn and winter are not frost tender, so they will survive just about anything the weather sends. If it doesn't rain sufficiently in the spring about a third of them could go dormant again without flowering, but mostly, if they send up leaves they flower.
It took me 2 hours to methodically work over the orchard grass, searching for rosettes of leaves and sticking a marker in just to the west of each cluster of leaves. In all, 124 orchid plants or clusters of plants of 4 species have sent up leaves so far. This year, the early emergers are those under the apples and to the north of the site, unlike previous years, when the southern side and under the cherries seemed to be the first. I expect the laggards, including the 5th species, will come in due course.
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
Monday, 17 December 2012
Sunday, 16 December 2012
We had an excellent breakfast (lunch? who knows when you are flying longhaul...) in the Malaysian restaurant in Beijing airport.
Pak choy in fish sauce, a fruit smoothie and a banana milkshake. It cost the equivalent of €11.
Saturday, 15 December 2012
Friday, 14 December 2012
And I bet you didn't even know we were gone (unless you are a blog reader we also see regularly in person).
We got back on Wednesday from a month in Australia, with a stopover in China. Niall and Antoinette very kindly picked us up from Chatellerault station after our epic return journey (Sydney - Shanghai - Beijing - Great Wall - Beijing - Paris). They also very kindly supplied us with delicious home made leek and potato soup and a loaf of bread for our supper so I didn't have to prepare anything in my travel addled state.
Our trip was to visit friends and family of course, and we spent time in Canberra, staying with Simon's brother Jon, his wife Rosie and assorted teens and twenty-somethings (an ever shifting configuration of neices, nephews and their boyfriends and girlfriends). Jon and Rosie generously lent us a vehicle -- a great gas guzzling Mercedes 4WD that we had something of a love/hate relationship with. It was much more convenient than hiring a car, and when we went out west we fitted right in (we got lots of friendly waves, as though people knew us -- all those big silver 4WD obviously look the same to more than just me...)
The visit to Canberra was primarily to attend Simon's father's 80th birthday celebrations and my sister's 50th. The weather was a bit variable, but included the hottest November day for a decade (naturally, the day we went out in the bush hunting for orchids...)
Then we went up to south-east Queensland to stay with my parents. This coincided with a heat wave and temperatures in the mid-30s. I caught up with old quilting friends Trish L, Trish O, Margie C, Margie P, Diana and Hilary. Simon went off to Brisbane and hung out with his former band members, Matt and Greg and their mate Andrew (who also lived in London at the same time as us). Heading back to Canberra to return the car we went via Lightning Ridge, an outback opal mining community, dodging emus, kangaroos, sheep, cattle and feral pigs all the way.
We spent our last weekend in Australia in Sydney, catching up with one of Simon's oldest friends, Alex, and his partner Stefania, as well as our very dear friend Liselle. My sister recommended a block of serviced apartments in central Sydney, and from this ideally situated base we had a great time walking along the beach tracks from Bondi to Coogee, and the next day catching the ferry across the harbour to Manly. Saturday walking along the coast was sweltering, so we all dressed for extreme heat on Sunday, only to freeze as it clouded over and rained. Oh well, the company made up for it, and we survived.
As we had a long wait of 20 hours between flights in Beijing on the way home, Simon booked a hotel (courtesy of Air China) and a guide and driver to take us to the Great Wall. Apart from being slightly wrong-footed by Air China landing us in Shanghai and organising the transit permits there rather than Beijing as we had been expecting, this all worked extremely well. Day time temperatures here were about -3C on the Wall, which is about 1000 metres above sea level, and +3C in Beijing (which is still about 600 masl).
And now we are home and very happy indeed to be sleeping in our own bed again -- even if the weather is dismal.
Thursday, 13 December 2012
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
The creature in the photos is not a bee, but a Drone Fly Eristalis sp, a superb honey bee mimic.
In my experience of newspaper articles about honey bees, about 50% of the time the stock photo used to illustrate the article will be of a fly, not a bee. Usually the not a bee in question is a Drone Fly.
If you want to check out the difference between the two, go to my earlier post about feral honey bees.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
This female Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi set up home in the long grass and Bristly Oxtongue Picris echioides amongst the apple trees in the orchard in August.
Monday, 10 December 2012
At least, not on the central Loire where we live. There are many lovely riverside properties on the Loire and its tributaries, but no one owns boats like this -- none of the rivers are navigable to any great extent.
The Charente, on the other hand, where this photo was taken, is navigable from Rochefort on the Atlantic coast where it exits into the sea, right up to Angouleme, 120 km away.
Sunday, 9 December 2012
To shamelessly quote Wikipedia (in translation): 'The Tree of Secularism is a tree planted to commemorate the Law of 9 December 1905 separating the Churches and the State in France and for promoting the notion of secularism. It is inspired by the Tree of Liberty.'
Saturday, 8 December 2012
We encountered this large fungus on a tree stump in a picnic area on the River Charente near Saint Simieux in August. Not only was it producing cushions of white flesh, but it had ejected a dense powdering of brown spores which covered the immediate surrounds.
This mushroom is a formidable parasite. It settles on weakened trees, often Poplars, to kill them slowly. In the photo, the surrounding herbacious plants have been coloured brown -- these are the spores, it is a characteristic feature of these mushrooms.
The white mushroom, a little funnel shaped, is: Lentinus tigrinus. This species is common on damp wood, as well as often found near water and especially on Willows."