Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Brain Surgery


OK, brain surgery is a bit of an exaggeration, but I did have surgery on my scalp the other day. 


For many years I have had two cysts on my scalp. One of them was a nuisance for years because it was right where I kept sticking it with pins if I did my hair in a certain way. Then the other one got large enough that it became visible as a sort of roll in my hair and began to ache when I lay on it in bed, and it made wearing a hat or putting my sunglasses on my head uncomfortable. Time to get them removed.


The dermatologist took one look at them and said they definitely needed to be dealt with, but that it would be day surgery and she wouldn't need to shave my head. She told me that they were hereditary, and it turns out that my father has similar lumps on his scalp.


Simon drove me to Le Blanc, which is where our dermatologist is based. He asked if I wanted him to come in with me. He didn't really want to because he was a bit squeamish, but I asked him if he would. Just as well, because although I was looking forward to getting rid of the things, I must have been a bit stressed. The doctor asked me three times if I had washed my hair that morning or the day before. The words, in French, just didn't compute. I was fine with 'have you ever had cysts like this removed before' and various other preliminary questions, but for some reason 'did you wash your hair today' was just noises. Luckily Simon understood and translated. Having had various medical treatments in France now, I would say it is always a good idea to have someone else along, as brain freeze seems to be quite common. Simon suffered from it a couple of times when he was being treated for his detached retina.


The doctor injected a local anaesthetic and used sticky tape to hold my hair out of the way. This caused a good deal of oh la la-ing and 'it's like the pelt of an animal!' I have long thick hair and I think she might have regretted saying she wouldn't shave patches. Then she cut the cyst open, squeezed like mad, poked, scraped and prodded for quite a while, cauterised some veins (burning some hair in the process), cleaned it up, sprayed on an antiseptic and finally put in some stitches. The process was repeated for the second cyst. Simon said he was surprised how much blood there was.


I got a finger wagging about leaving it too long to have them dealt with. Next time, she said, don't let them get beyond hazelnut size (they were about 3cm long and 2cm wide). They are much easier to remove if they are small. I got a prescription for some swabs and some antiseptic spray and told to apply the spray twice a day, then once a day until going to the nurse to have the stitches out a week later. I wasn't allowed to wash my hair for two days either.


The local anaesthetic wore off fairly quickly, and the wound on the side of my head really throbbed. I took some painkillers when I got home and that improved it, but I was uncomfortable and a bit miserable for the rest of the day. I was too scared to put my hair up again and just gently tied a scarf around my head. The doctor did a good job though. No one seeing me in the street would have been able to tell where the dermatologist had been at work.


The operation cost €111, which she tells me will all be reimbursed.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 1 - Ste Clotilde


The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious Women. The subjects were chosen by  Louis-Philippe I  in 1843.

Ste Clotilde (475?–545) was the second wife of Clovis 1, first king of all the Franks, and  was responsible for him converting to Christianity (particularly to Catholic Christianity rather than Arianism, which would have been the most likely course). She is the subject of a number lurid tales, including from Gregory of Tours (538?-594) in his epic 10 book Historia Francorum (History of the Franks).


After Clovis died (511) she did the nun thing, and went to the Abbey of St. Martin at Tours. You can read more about her here, and to be in her statue like presence you have to go here. This statue was created by Jean-Baptiste-Jules Klagmann in 1847.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Ravensbourne Rainforest

Some views of Ravensbourne National Park in south-east Queensland.


Ravensbourne National Park is about 20 kilometres from Toowoomba. It has some remnant old growth trees of great size, palms, gullies with small streams and some species of birds that you don't commonly see, such as Black-breasted Buttonquail, Green Catbird and Noisy Pitta (110 species in total). You might also catch a glimpse of native frogs and lizards. Ravensbourne NP is the best surviving section of the once vast rainforest and wet eucalypt forest that covered this part of the Great Dividing Range until European settlement.


The local Aboriginals used the area as a stage on their journey to the Bunya Mountains, where they would harvest the important food source of Bunya nuts from the Araucaria bidwillii. In the second half of the 19th century most of the big hardwood trees, especially Red Cedar Toona ciliata, were felled.


Nowadays, apart from the remnant giants, the star plants are the palms and the ferns (including elkhorns). The fungi are also notable.


Camping in the National Park is not permitted, but it is a popular picnicking spot with a panoramic lookout. Bushwalkers and birdwatchers also take advantage of how close it is to Toowoomba. Shelter sheds and picnic tables are provided at two areas, as well as pit toilets, water and wood barbecues. The water is not potable so you are advised to bring your own or boil the water on site. Likewise, firewood is not provided, so if you want to barbecue you need to bring your own fuel (collecting wood in the National Park is understandably forbidden). There are no rubbish bins and visitors are expected to take their own rubbish out. Domestic animals are banned from the park.


Some of the tracks have steep drop-offs and can be slippery after rain. Visitors need to be careful of the stinging trees. Mobile phone coverage is patchy so you need to fairly self-reliant.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Chateau Gaillard, Amboise


The weekend of 16-17 September was the annual Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) in Europe. I was in Amboise working with a group of American gardeners for a week but I had Sunday afternoon off. I chose to visit the newly restored Chateau Gaillard at a reduced entry fee, with my two American colleagues.

The facade of the royal apartments.

Chateau Gaillard is a small royal chateau in Amboise, used by Charles VIII as a retreat when he returned from the First Italian Wars. It is just up the road from Clos Lucé and tucked in under the southern cliff face of the limestone spur that the Chateau-Royal of Amboise sits upon.

This hexagonal staircase tower gives the building away as late medieval rather than wholly renaissance in style.

Construction of the royal apartments which form the main block of the chateau began in 1496. It is the first building in France to be built in the Italian style that the Loire Valley chateaux are famous for. It is also the site of the first renaissance style garden in France, with Italian style parterres that become the iconic French formal style of gardening.

The kennels turned out to currently house a small goat.

In front of the chateau is a generous terrace which looks out onto a 15 hectare park which has been created on boggy land on the banks of the Amasse. The 20 metre cliff behind the chateau means that the valley bowl is protected from the north winds and has its own Mediterannean microclimate.

My American colleagues Deb and Charlie walk up the driveway.

The original garden was created by Dom Pacello da Mercoliano, who returned with Charles VIII after his campaigning in Italy, along with a team of 21 other Italian artisans. The site provided ideal conditions, with plentiful water and shelter, that gave it a big advantage over the main Chateau-Royal.

Looking down into the kitchen garden.

Dom Pacello created the first garden in France with a central axis to enhance perspective, the first formal garden beds, defined by low holly hedges, and the first 'mirror pond', fed by the Amasse and a spring on the side of the hill. He introduced citrus, especially lemon and orange trees, to the garden, the very first to come to France. Heated greenhouses were built to house the northern most peaches in France. The greengage plum (Fr. reine-claude) dates from Dom Pacello's time here and was a selection made in this garden. Another innovation was the growing of melons and tomatoes in enclosures with low walls to act as windbreaks.

Different local wine grape varieties grown on a south-east facing slope, with chunks of limestone mulch. 

Nowadays in the park there are many grand trees (oaks, cedars, yews, tulip trees, elms, ash, robinia, Judas trees), an arched gateway contemporary with the chateau, an 18th century cottage, grottoes in the cliff as well as a magnificent 350 metre double allée of London Plane forming the 'back' driveway, created in 1885 by Jean Théodore Coupier (industrial chemist and engineer, a former owner of the chateau). 

The greenhouse.

In 1505 Louis XII ceded the chateau to Dom Pacello, in return for a rent of 30 sols and a bunch of orange blossom every year. After having been one of  the residences of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany, then Louis XII and Dom Pacello, Chateau Gaillard saw a succession of notables stay within its walls: René de Savoie (François I's uncle) and Anne Lascaris ; Jean III Cardinal de Lorraine; François II and Mary Queen of Scots (on their honeymoon); Charles de Guise-Lorraine (Jean's nephew and also Cardinal, who remodelled the facade of the royal apartments in 1559); René de Villequier (one of Henri III's favourites); the Della Rovere family (Italian nobility whose family included two Popes and the Dukes of Urbino); and André Malraux (de Gaulle's Minister of Cultural Affairs)  and Louise de Vilmorin (his mistress, a novelist and heiress to the Vilmorin seed company fortune). The estate is currently owned by a private property trust headed by Marc Lelandais.

Espaliered apple trees with chunks of slate used to define the beds and mulch.

In 2009 the chateau was a ruin and it seemed possible that the site would be subdivided. Luckily the mayor of Amboise refused to authorise this and Marc Lelandais was able to purchase the property with a view to restoring it to its former glory. Using private funds only, it took five years, and just as they were about to open fully to the public, in June 2016, they were inundated with flood waters. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Here starts Autumn

The Equinox is at about 9pm (21h) tonight. That means goodbye to summer (hah!) and hello autumn. In reality it's been feeling like autumn for most of this month so we won't notice the change, except that for the next 6 months we will have more dark than light. Cheery thoughts...

In a month's time we will have this

and in two months this. 

And then suddenly it will be February, we will have a week of sunny warm weather, and everyone will be saying "isn't it amazing, winter's over early".

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Beating the Blue Train

The Calais-Méditerranée Express was a luxury French night express train which carried wealthy passengers between Calais and the French Riviera from 1922 until 1938. It was referred to as "le train bleu" in French and the Blue Train in English because of its dark blue sleeping cars.

In 1930 a very unofficial race was held between a Rover car and the train. Although the car was stopped by heavy fog 5 hours into the run, the team decided to drive on to St Raphael (near Cannes, on the Mediterranean coast) and race the train back. This they were able to do, beating the train into Calais by 20 minutes. After that there were a number of other "races" notably involving Bentleys and Alvis cars.

 Yes please! A 1927 Bentley 4½ litre (the blue car, No2)
behind No3, a 1928 Bentley 4½ litre Blower (supercharged)

These days people who own vintage and classic cars can join the "Blue Train Challenge", a six day event from Deauville to Cannes. This year there was a scheduled stop at Angles sur l'Anglin, so on Sunday I collected Pauline in Célestine and we wandered off to see what was happening.

No23 is a 1937 Bentley Derby Open Tourer and No8 is a 1932 Alvis Speed 20.
The enormous cream coloured car is a 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe

There was lots of cars (and spectators) and although Célestine isn't exactly a vintage GT machine people were just as happy to see us as they were to see the Bentleys, Alvises, Aston Martins, and a bevy of other 1930's, 40's and 50's exotica.

No8 Alvis passes a 1936 Buick Special Convertible (No18) and a 1934 Aston Martin MkII

No48, a 1954 Arnolt Bristol Bolide leads off a 1948  Bentley Le Mans 8

A full list of runners and riders is here.