Saturday 24 February 2024

No Blog Post Today

That's mainly because I've spent the last two days making dust.

There's only so many things you say say about dust before descending into the profane, and all photos of dust look the same.

So instead, a photo of a bunch of rich fat Dutch blokes I took in Amsterdam last year.

Friday 23 February 2024

Oh! How it Rained

It rained most of yesterday morning and afternoon, and the rain was accompanied by gusty winds.

The weather forecast wasn't looking promising by mid morning with the wind warning uprated from 80km/h to 95km/h, and it certainly felt like that on the road from Preuilly to Châtellerault. There was some flooding and a lot of debris on the road, and when we came out if the hardware shop it was absolutely hammering it down.

These photos of the Claise were taken a couple of days ago. If anything, the river is higher now.

Thursday 22 February 2024

Casting for Les Bodin's

Les Bodin's is a comic double act created in 1994 and based at Descartes. Comedians, writers and directors Vincent Dubois and Jean-Christian Fraiscinet have created the characters of Maria Bodin, a cunning and manipulative old widowed farmer in her 80s, and her gormless son Christian.

Casting sign, France.

Every July for the past 19 years they have put on a big outdoor show called 'les Bodin's, Grandeur Nature' on a local farm. It has become a cult and is already sold out for this year.

Casting Les Bodin's, France. Photo LVTT.

The duo perform live as the characters at festivals and charity events around the country, and every so often they make a film or a television show.

Casting Les Bodin's, France. Photo LVTT.

I've never seen them perform, but it is clear they are madly popular in the district (at least with an older crowd -- I don't think the under 40s are so enamoured). My guess is that if you like British comedies like Mrs Brown's Boys, you would like les Bodin's if you were French speaking. I would also observe that the French taste in comedy can be remarkably unsophisticated...

Casting Les Bodin's, France. Photo by LVTT.

Anyway, great excitement in Preuilly when it was announced all over Facebook that les Bodin's would be coming to town and casting 600 extras for their next movie. Hundreds of people duly turned up at the salles des fetes to try out as villagers, cattle herder, goat farmer, receptionists, militant ecologists, police officers, acrobatic dancers, musicians, marching girls, accordionist, tie wearing public servants, little girl and a teenage boy. Our friend Mathieu didn't even have to audition. The production team approached him at work behind the bar of his restaurant, l'Image, and asked if he'd play himself in a bar scene.

So I guess we'll go and see the movie once it's released. There will most probably be a special pre-release showing in the salle des fetes.

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Renovation Update 2

Work on our house is progressing.

The plasterers have finished, but now the plaster has to dry. As is normal in old houses they have had to do a fair amount of thinking on their feet, the main problem being the ceilings. Of course, the house being a bit old nothing is either square or level, and in order for us to be able to open the windows a split level ceiling has been installed - a 5 cm higher section above the window opening.

In addition to working on the fireplace in the bedroom, I have done some further work on the stone wall in the salon. This is a dirty and dusty job, which involves removing layers of soot, grime and dust from the stone and cleaning the joints between them. Some of this appears to have been mud (I'm being polite) which either falls off in clumps or turns to brown dust. Most unappealing.

The electrician returned yesterday to do the lights (and light switch) in the salon then it's a couple of weeks of dirt, grime and dust before we start painting.

The wall mounted up lighters are in place

and they turn on (don't worry, they're not as
bright as it would appear in the photo)


Tuesday 20 February 2024

What's the Rush?

Once upon a time there would have been a rush weaver in nearly every village, and the plant they used would have been abundant on the edges of rivers and étangs (dams) where the water was shallow and still. Now the plant, true bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris, is sufficiently rare that if you have it growing on a site you can have it declared a Zone Naturelle d'Interet Ecologique, Floristique et Faunistique (ZNIEFF). It is easy to cultivate, but rush products went out of fashion and the skills to process the plant were lost. Nowadays it is making a comeback, but as an aquatic plant used in environments that need stabilising.


True Bulrush at the Etang du Louroux, a great purpose built pisciculture dam, hand dug in the Middle Ages, so this is a scene that has barely changed for eight hundred years.

True Bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

In French bulrush is known as Jonc des chaisiers ('chairmakers' rush') because it was used to weave the seats of chairs. And it was used by coopers to bind barrels before the iron hoops were put on, hence it's alternative French name of Jonc des tonneliers. Up until the 1960s, rush harvesting was a quite lucrative side hustle for farmers with marshy land (particularly in the Marais Poitevin). These days though, 'rush' seats are made from twisted paper fibre or seagrass.

Rush matting on the floor, specially made in the 16th century style for the garderobe of Chateau of Azay le Rideau by an English rush weaver experienced in historical reproductions.

Some years ago curators at the Chateau of Azay le Rideau recreated Philippe Lesbahy's 16th century bedroom and included rush matting.

Taking their cue from a well known portrait of a royal mistress in the bath, hand made rush matting was commissioned from an English artisan who is one of the few remaining professional rushworkers in Western Europe. The painting shows the walls of the room the woman sits in as lined with rush matting. The chateau sadly does not have the original painting on display -- that's in Washington -- but it does have a 19th century version that you can get extremely close to and scrutinise for details.The actual braiding pattern for the matting is based on a fragment found at Hampton Court Palace.

Detail of the rush matting.
The matting is made from true bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris (not reedmace Typha spp, which is commonly called bulrush), which in Philippe's day would have been harvested from any of the local rivers or wetlands and worked by a local artisan. It is plaited into long strips then sewn together to form a mat. Its lifespan isn't all that great on the floor, and it would have been treated as sacrificial -- strewn with aromatic herbs to keep it fresh smelling, but removed and burnt once too dirty, worn through or the population of fleas it harboured got unbearable. Because it was 'modular', clean unworn strips from the edges of rooms could be salvaged and combined with new strips when the floor covering was replaced.

You can see the rush matting on the walls of the bedroom at the Chateau of Azay le Rideau.

Rush matting was a relatively cheap and easily available alternative to expensive carpets and tapestries. The purpose of all of these soft furnishings was to prevent cold radiating from the stone walls and to deaden sound in large echoing rooms. Housekeeping was easy -- dirt mostly just falls through, but it is a good idea to periodically mist with water to keep the rush in good condition and pleasantly aromatic.


True Bulrush in a ZNIEFF at Chambon.

True Bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris, Indre et loire, france. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Monday 19 February 2024

Creating A Stink in Normandy

Normandy is on everyone's social media at the moment, in the lead up to the 80 anniversary of the invasion. So I've had several conversations recently about Normandy and what one can do there. One of the things one can do is seek out Pont l'Eveque cheese. Below is a repost from ten years ago about the stinky Norman cheese.


France is famous for its cheese, and quite a few French cheeses are distinctly aromatic. One of the stinkiest comes from the area between Deauville and Lisieux in Lower Normandy. Simon loves to tell people the story of us spending Christmas in the area and taking a block of the local Pont l'Eveque cheese home on Eurostar.

The other day he announced that the fridge smelled, as if there was stinky cheese in there, but he couldn't see the source of the aroma and was mystified. Eventually I remembered that I had bought a Petit Pont l'Eveque some days earlier. It was unopened, and hidden under something else, but after a few days in the fridge had completely stunk it out. We happily unwrapped it and ate it and the fridge problem disappeared. A clear win-win.

There is a very fine line between good stinky and bad stinky with cheese. Once the lactic aromas go over a certain level or develop in a certain way the cheese turns from being a delicious treat to something disgusting that turns the stomach. But the cut-off point between delicious and disgusting is different depending on where you were raised and what foods you have been exposed to.

The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss had quite a lot to say about this particular aspect of our approach to food and how our attitudes are culturally acquired. He points out that these distinctions are entirely learnt, and not instinctive or innate as one might think. He illustrates his point at one stage by relating how, in the days after D-Day, American troops would occasionally encounter fairly whiffy dairies in the Norman countryside. To the unsophisticated Americans, who had never been exposed to anything more challenging than processed cheddar, they assumed the dairies were full of dead bodies, and burnt them to the ground. They were revolted and wanted to eliminate the smell.