Sunday, 22 January 2017

Tuna Fish

The large fish on the rocks is a small tuna, line caught by the anglers whose great long surf rods are at rest in the background, on the coast of New South Wales.
Our posts on Sundays have an Australian theme. To read more, click here.

Saturday, 21 January 2017


LePetit is a well known brand of Camembert cheese, widely available and purchased regularly by many French families. However, it is not what purists would call 'the real thing'.

A LePetit camembert cheese box.

The LePetit family founded their cheesemaking business in 1872, as proudly proclaimed by the 19th century style packaging of the cheese today. But in 1978 the family company was bought out by the giant Lactalis and things changed. The cheese was still made in Normandy, but the process was increasingly industrialised. In 1996 an AOC was created for 'true' camembert, which specified that it must be made in Normandy, from raw milk sourced in Normandy from Normande breed cows. In 2007, after a kerfuffle with INAO, who establish the standards for the AOCs, Lactalis quietly dropped the 'de Normandie' part of the LePetit labels and now the boxes say 'fabriqué en Normandie'. This means they are adhering to a different AOC standard, that which was created for industrial camembert.

In fact, these days, according to Lactalis, the milk in a LePetit camembert does still come from cows in Normandy (although not, I suspect, necessarily from Normande cows). It is not necessarily pasturised (read the packaging carefully, because it often is) but it is micro-filtered. The industrially processed milk they use ensures a standardised product. If you buy a LePetit camembert, you know what you are getting, and to be fair, it's a quite tasty cheese.

Camembert (in the middle) as part of a cheese course.

In fact, it seems that camembert has been an industrial product almost from its origin, and arrived on the scene just in time for the railways to be able to ship it around the country. To facilitate this, the poplar wood box that the more prestigious brands such as LePetit still come in was invented, and camembert gained a massive nationwide share of the market in France, which it continues to hold.

Lactalis, although still a family owned French company, is the largest dairy foods producer in the world, and owns many well known brands, including the ubiquitous and heavily advertised Président brand camembert. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Pesticide Free Public Spaces

From the beginning of this year all French public authorities (councils, hospitals and medical facilities, schools and universities, museums, railway stations**, etc) are forbidden to use pesticides in public spaces (including parks, forests, footpaths and tracks*). Many elected officials (5000 communes) have been on board with this now enacted law for several years, and communes such as Preuilly went pesticide free last year or the year before. Pesticides are no longer available on the open shelves of suppliers' stores for private citizens, and by 2019 you will not be able to buy them at all. Biocontrol products are still available, and those deemed to be of so little risk to the environment that they are allowed. If there is a health risk or a notifiable pest that is deemed to only be controllable by pesticides, a special permit may be given. Any area that does end up being treated with pesticides must be cordoned off for at least 6 hours after treatment and have a sign saying when people will be allowed back. If you wish to buy pesticides you must be advised by a trained staff member at the suppliers.

Not quite pest free yet.

The new law has come about because of concern about the exposure to pesticides of local authority operatives and residents (particularly children), and the potential for contamination of fresh water courses due to run off. The law covers herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, but not biocides used to kill rodents or molluscs. The punishment for being caught using pesticides where they are forbidden is a maximum of 6 months in prison or a €15 000 fine.

One of the things that will have to change is the French obsession with having everything 'tout propre', which means having not a weed daring to poke its head up through the pavement or lawn. Many local authorities have done quite a lot of outreach, education and consultation to encourage the community to accept a less sterile environment in cemeteries and parks. Local ecology officers are pointing out that bees love dandelions. France is traditionally a very pro-apiarist country and so anything that concerns bees gets peoples attention.

Blow torching weeds in the street.

The local authorities have also been trialling new equipment, environmental management techniques and training their staff. In a small town like Preuilly residents often talk to the council operatives as they work and about their work, so they carry a lot of the burden of outreach. In the beginning it was obvious our local guys were a bit sheepish about their new tools and hippy dippy ecological methods. Some of the trials were fairly ineffectual until they got the hang of the equipment or swapped it for something that worked better. Nowadays it looks like they are out and proud, having ironed out most of the problems and seeing the majority of the community being positive about the changes. The commune of Fontainebleau has been a real leader in this process, going pesticide free in 2011 and training its staff in pesticide free techniques of weed management such as using wire brushes on paving, agisting ponies from the equestrian centre in the cemetery, and mulching garden beds.

The linden trees at Villandry are protected from pests by predatory mites.

Towns and villages are encouraged to use ladybirds (to control aphids), 'homemade' nettle 'tea' (to fertilize trees) , wild flower meadows (to attract bees and butterflies and discourage weeds) and put up bird nest boxes (to attract birds like tits which will eat caterpillars). When a pest appears that requires immediate management the arsenal includes predatory insects, mites and nematodes; fungi, bacteria and viruses; pheromones; and natural extracts of seaweed, plants and minerals.

Parasitic wasps being used in the City of Tours greenhouses.

A key part of the change will be changing the public perception of how a well maintained footpath or nature strip should look. The public are being encouraged to enjoy the spontaneous appearance of plants rather than view them as weeds. There is hope for the orchids in the nature strip near the library after all (especially after I mentioned to a local councillor friend that one of the species was rare and protected...I must now try and speak to James, the council mower guy, about the timing of his work there...) 

Ladybirds in the garden of the Prieuré de St Cosme.

*Cemeteries and sports fields may be exempt. They are taken on a case by case basis and it depends on whether the community considers them a green space and/or somewhere to walk. Most of the Paris cemeteries have to abide by the ban because they are also tourist destinations. Hard surfaced sports facilities such as basket ball courts are generally exempt from the ban, as they don't work as a green space or somewhere people jog or walk the dog, etc.

**Pesticides are banned at railway stations, but not along the track. The stations are public spaces, but the tracks are out of bounds to unauthorised people, so they are outside of this law to ban pesticides.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A Chateau Fest

Chateaux are what people mainly come to see in the Loire Valley, so here is a selection. Which ones have you visited?









Wednesday, 18 January 2017

New Year Ceremony

Every year in France each mayor holds a New Year ceremony. Its purpose is to go over what the commune has achieved during the previous year, and to announce the plan for the coming year. This year in Preuilly the focus was on the amalgamation of the communes of our département of Indre et Loire into three big communautés des communes. The one we are in is called Loches Sud Touraine and is the 8th biggest communauté des communes in the country.

A commune is a local authority, based around a city, urban district, town or village and its satellite hamlets. As you can imagine they vary enormously both in geographical area and population. Ours is a small bow-tie shaped area with Preuilly-sur-Claise as the central knot. Until recently Preuilly was joined with the neighbouring communes to form the communauté des communes of the Touraine du Sud and Preuilly was the seat of this communauté des communes.

Left to right: Jean-Marie Beffara, Marisol Touraine, Gilles Bertucelli, Gérard Hénault.

Now the Touraine du Sud has joined the communautés des communes of Loches Développement, the Grand Ligueillois and Montrésor to form the super communauté of Loches Sud Touraine. Under the new arrangement Preuilly is no longer the centre of the communauté des communes, but it is hoped that the purchasing power of the new communauté will mean significant savings on equipment and office supplies.

Our mayor and the old communauté elected representatives were obviously worried that the good citizens of Preuilly would feel that they would get forgotten in the new bigger organisation. Consequently the big guns were deployed to reassure everyone. Marisol Touraine, Minister for Health and Social Affairs gave a speech, the Deputy Jean-Marie Beffara from the Conseil Général was in attendance, Gérard Hénault the president of the communauté des communes Loches Sud Touraine gave a speech and the mayor of Preuilly, Gilles Bertucelli too.

The villagers gather round for sparkling Vouvray, macaroons (in lieu of galettes des rois) and couronnes des rois. Simon got a fêve (he thought he'd lost a filling!)

So far the only evidence of any change I've noticed is that Yohann Sionneau, the river technician, who is employed by the communauté des communes, has moved office from Preuilly to Ligueil.

The mayor himself concentrated more on his 'legacy project',  known as 'Heart of the Village'. The centre of town has been relandscaped and a new medical centre is being created in the old post office sorting office. At the moment Preuilly has a doctor (Patrick Mureau), and two dentists (Monsieur et Madame Renaudie). Madame Renaudie has retired and her replacement is currently working with her husband. Monsieur Renaudie is also due to retire soon and when he does the new dentist he's been working with will move into the new medical centre. Also to move into the new medical centre is a female GP, who I am told speaks English.

The mayor also mentioned that a decision about when work was to start on the Chapelle de tous les saints might be made by the end of January. At the moment they are waiting on tenders to be submitted for the work by tradesmen. I'm told the quotes are likely to come in under budget too. (Donations to the chapel restoration fund can be made here.)

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Cherry Picking

I'm not sure what these chaps were doing (twiddling with the telephone or elecricity wires I assume) but they had squeezed this cherry picker into the narrow street do it in comfort.