Thursday 30 September 2010

Monet's Waterlilies

When we were in Paris in late December, returning home from Australia, we took the opportunity to visit the Orangerie, a domed building off Place de la Concorde. It is home to many of Monet's famous paintings of waterlilies and it is one of those places that tends to get forgotten in the myriad of huge and great museums and galleries that Paris has to offer.

A few deft brushstrokes, and you have waterlilies bobbing
on the pond surface.
Even so, you need to get there at opening time to ensure you walk straight in. Because of the way the panoramic canvases are presented, visitor numbers at any one time are restricted, and once the building reaches capacity, someone has to come out for the next person in the queue to get in.

Probably the image most people have in their minds
of Monet's waterlilies.
In the galleries that display the Monets you can stand up close and study the brush strokes or you can stand in the middle and take in the whole view. Monet painted the waterlily pond many times, in different light conditions and seasons. He clearly worked quickly over much of the painting, covering large areas of background with broad rough strokes, turning two or three little pink and white twitches of the bristles into flowers. You can see that the panorama has been created by painting a series of more manageable sized canvases which are then joined together. Occasionally you can see where he didn't quite match a canvas to its adjoining section, or didn't bother completely covering a corner.

Was this panel painted in the autumn, when the bankside
vegetation was yellowing? How much of it is reflection?
For me, being able to get really close to them was fascinating, and to see how different they are. I had seen the one in the National Gallery of Australia, which is a pretty 2m square concoction of blue-greens and pink - clearly painted on a lovely sunny day. It seemed to me that many of the ones in the Orangerie were painted in greyer light conditions, at dusk, or in the autumn. There is a theory that Monet's sight was deteriorating and this accounts for the increasingly murky paintings, but having seen them in the flesh, and having visited the garden itself on a dull summers day, I really feel he was painting what he saw. Often he is choosing to paint the juxtaposition of reflection and reality, so that you cannot tell which is which, lush bank vegetation projecting into tangled water lily or gently wind ruffled pond surface. The width of the works enables him to cross back and forth between solid objects and their watery projections, drawing you in to a representation of somewhere essentially nebulous and ephemeral.

I think this is my favourite panel. If you visit the garden,
you can stand in this spot and see this view today.
Looking at these paintings I could see how he was drawn into fascination with the changing light and colours and why he painted the lily pond over and over. Particularly if one has seen the actual garden, these works are very accessible to the viewer and I guess this is why they are loved the world over.

If you are visiting Paris, try to visit this gallery if you possibly can, and as an added bonus, there is an exhibition of Monet's work at the Grand Palais until 24 January 2011.


Wednesday 29 September 2010

Just Peachy

Peaches are the last of our fruit crops to come in this year, since we don't have any grapes to speak of, and this year the white ones have been the star crop. The cherries were very good, but the white peaches, although small, were juicy and sweet and gave me lots of produce to store in the freezer at a time when the vegetable garden was barely able to produce a meal for us through lack of water.

I loved the delicious peachy scent that wafted from the trees when the fruit was warm from the sun. I could put it in a bucket and bring it home too.

I didn't do anything fancy to most of the peaches, not even bothering to peel them. I like the extra texture and the hint of bitterness you get from the skins. Mostly I just cut them in half, cut out any bad places, took out the stones and stewed them with a little water and sugar. They will be delicious with yoghurt for breakfast over the next twelve months.

One recipe I did make several times because we enjoyed it very much was Cobbler aux pêches épicées, found on La Vie Cevenole. Peaches won't be around for very much longer, so make it now!


PS For those of you interested in wildlife, I have added a butterfly species list to Loire Valley Nature. Dragonflies will be next, but don't hold your breath.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Slated in Azay le Rideau

We returned to Azay le Rideau a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by how much slate there is in town.

As in Preuilly sur Claise, in Azay slate tends to be used on the roofs of older building that have been "upgraded" some time in the past or on relatively recent buildings. However, unlike Preuilly, in Azay it is also used on huge swathes of walls.

I can think of only one building in Preuilly sur Claise that has a slate wall, and ironically that is a building with a really abimé tile roof.


Monday 27 September 2010

The Sorry Tale of the Potager With No Water

On 22 September the weather report predicted cooler damp conditions for the next week, so I stripped all our tomato plants and brought the fruit up to the house to sit in boxes and hopefully ripen. I can count on one hand the number of ripe full sized tomatoes the plants produced during the season, and the cherry tomatoes were not much better. A combination of a cold start to the summer and cold nights at the end, along with lack of rain seems to be the cause. Whilst our vegetable garden is not in a frost pocket, it is always a couple of degrees cooler than up at the house, and, according to our neighbours, the temperature difference between the lower part of the orchard, where the potager is, and the upper part, where the cherries, peaches and apples are, is quite marked. Now that the stream that runs along the front of these 'allotments' dries up in the summer, our neighbour has given up growing vegetables here, but has planted some young peach trees amongst his beloved walnuts on the upper slope.

Our overwintering onions and garlic did extremely well. Early summer vege, like lettuce, peas, broadbeans and mangetout did quite well, but the late summer crop such as tomatoes, zucchinis, green beans, sweet corn, aubergines and peppers was in some cases non-existant, and in others, no better than poor.

This is about three-quarters of this year's pathetic crop.
The garden is mulched heavily with straw and we have installed two water butts which would hold a total of 600 litres of water when full. Since their installation the most they have ever collected in one go is 150 litres. I calculate we need about 200 litres a week to keep the vegetables going. There is also the amount of physical effort required and the time to be considered. However, I have no plans to scale down the vegetable garden. I'm sure if I do that the weather system will revert to raining every couple of weeks throughout the summer and I would bemoan the missed opportunity. Mind you, if it rains regularly, I bet that diseases such as tomato blight are rife, so you can't guarantee a crop even in a more temperate season.

Our cunning plan for next year is to grow some late summer vege in pots up at the house, where we can water it easily. We were successful this way with tomatoes and peppers in 2009, and it does not involve any real extra work.

For now in the vegetable garden, we need to mow the paths and get ready to plant next year's onions and the garlic bulbils I've saved. They won't produce a crop until 2012, but we've got the space, and plenty of garlic from this year to last us until they mature. After the hazelnut crop is collected then we need to mow the orchard one last time for the year, before the orchids start to emerge in October-November. I disturbed a tiny Grass Snake Natrix natrix (Couleuvre à collier in French) the other day - slimmer than a pencil and not much longer. It was heading for the big pile of fruit tree prunings, which we have left in one corner to provide shelter for creatures such as this. Grass clippings get piled up nearby, and last year a large Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus (Couleuvre verte et jaune in French) seems to have hibernated and nested in the pile of straw in the shade of the paulownia. I'm guessing it will do so again, since some rather tasty looking young shrews have taken up residence in the pile, and a large family of Common Wall Lizards Podarcis muralis (Lézard des murailles in French), their favourite food, live in the adjacent logs.


Sunday 26 September 2010


We haven't been writing much about the works on the house over the past couple of weeks. This is because insulating is not intrinsically exciting (or even for the most part even marginally interesting).

However, we have almost finished the attic, which now has 95% of its insulation in place and just awaits the wall for the big sliding doors, and we have insulated above the guest bedroom and en-suite bathroom. This entailed first closing off the eaves, which we did with a vertical soffit (or, if you like, a fascia that fits under the eaves) and replacing some of the less than secure brickwork at the end of the attic. The staircase tower is mostly insulated, and we hope to be totally closing the insulation in the roof by the middle of next week.

The roofspace before we started. Now
there is no daylight at all up there.
The space is insulated, in what Susan
describes as looking like a "big fluffy duvet"

The top of the stairs
The only other thing of note we have done recently is going to Paulmy to see Shanna Waterstown sing, and Susan did lots (and lots) of fruit works: stewed fruit, jellies and sauces. She also made the occasional pudding.


*Older readers from the UK may recognise this

Saturday 25 September 2010

Ca c'est un bouchon !

Even though Thursday was supposed to be a day of strike action across France, the trésor public (Finance Department) was not so on strike that it couldn't accept my money. Tant pis...

On emerging from the hôtel de ville (Town Hall) €240 poorer, having just paid our taxes foncières (rates / Council tax) I encountered this meeting of monsters. At this time of year the stream of logging trucks is fairly steady. Across the road in the boulangerie it is like night descending when one of these goes by. No wonder their vitrine (plate glass shop window) cracked under the daily pressure of these huge vehicles rumbling past.


Friday 24 September 2010

Apples - les Pommes

I picked the last of this year's apple crop a couple of days ago. We have 7 varieties of apples in the orchard, but not all of them cropped this year*.

From left to right they are Reinette du Canada, Reine des Reinette, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Melrose.

Reinette du Canada appears to be some sort of russet, judging by the rough skin. The fruit is wider than it is high, and remains tart. They are the last of our apples to fully ripen, perhaps because they produce the largest fruit. Last year this one didn't crop at all, so it will be interesting to see what it does next year. An old variety, apparently it keeps extremely well.

Reine des Reinette is indeed the queen of French cooking apples, favoured by many big name chefs. It's a soft sweet apple eaten fresh, an old variety, yellow, streaked with red on more exposure to the sun. Not a great keeper, but long enough lasting that it isn't a mad panic to use them all up.

Golden Delicious, known simply as Goldens in France, are ubiquitious, by far the most popular apple here. Three of the 10 apple trees we have inherited in the orchard are Goldens. Outside of France they are greeted with scorn and derision because of their palid unappetising appearance and their tendancy to go disgustingly floury with age and cold storage. Fortunately, I knew from buying them from an organic grower when we lived in London, that a fresh Golden Delicious is a completely different creature to one purchased in the supermarket, and so I look upon our Goldens reasonably kindly.

Young Granny Smiths on the tree back in June.
Granny Smith is an Australian variety, so it is rather nice to find it in the orchard. This is the apple of my childhood. Red apples were not for me - never crisp or sour enough. The archetypal apple green coloured Granny Smith keeps well and cooks well too. According to this excellent website, the red blush on our ripe Granny Smiths in the top photo is typical of those grown in central France, where the rather cool nights cause the apple to gain a reddish tinge.

Melrose keeps very well and is a great favourite with the birds. I pick them over a period of about 6 weeks, hoping, but not succeeding, to keep ahead of the wildlife. They start off somewhat unripe, but by the last couple of weeks are just about the perfect apple, sweet and crisp. I'd never heard of this variety before we inherited this tree in the orchard, but on looking it up I see it is an American variety.

The locally popular organic apple juice from the Durand's
orchard, for sale in Vival, one of Preuilly's mini-supermarkets.
Apples do very well around Preuilly and there are several commercial orchards. You can pick your own at one on the road to le Grand Pressigny, and the people who own one on the road to Loches make the most delicious organic apple juice, which is for sale in our local supermarket. Guy Durand, the orchardist, tells me that he wants to retire, and he has put the farm up for sale. The business is expanding and I would guess is a very good opportunity for anyone who wants to take it on.


*The two trees that didn't produce a crop this year, although they cropped well last year, are Jonagored and Ballerina.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Pick me! Pick me!

Yesterday, on the sun drenched wall of a ruined house under the château terraces we encountered a fascinating scene of butterfly mating ritual.

These are the aptly named Wall Brown butterflies Lasiommata megera. The one with the downswept wings in both photos is the female. She shimmied and fluttered to encourage her admirer. He positioned himself right in front of her and did press ups, then star jumps, then reached forward to gently caress her with one front foot.

The male and female look very similar, but are not identical. The male has a prominent dark mark running through the middle of his upper wing. This is known as a sex mark, and the scales that form the dark patch emit scented aphrodisiac hormones. Sex marks are not uncommon in butterflies, but the Wall Brown's is probably the most striking. You can see it clearly here in a photo we took a couple of years ago.

In French, male Wall Browns are called les Satyres and the females are les Mégères (which, I am told by a local nature reserve warden, should be translated as something like 'Devils' and 'Witches', although it is literally 'Satyrs' and 'Shrews'.)

Wall Browns are widespread and abundant in France. They have an exceptionally long flight period, and can be seen in any month of the year in the southern half of the country. The caterpillars eat various sorts of grass. The adults like open sunny places, especially dry, rocky spots such as walls, banks and scree.


Wednesday 22 September 2010

A Matter of Timing

Last week Célestine travelled a long way, in all about 500km. I know that doesn't sound a lot by modern standards, but as some parts on the car need attention and lubrication every 500km we regard it as a fair distance.

Towards the end of the week she was doing something a bit "individual". When we were cruising she would shudder. This got increasingly worse, until I became convinced it was the clutch slipping. A call to M.Musseau and we were booked in to be looked at yesterday afternoon.

He took her for a drive (enjoying himself immensely, it has to be said) and said the clutch was fine, but it was a probleme de carburation.

We returned to the garage, where he hooked her up to the machine to check the timing. It was about 15° out, so out came the screwdrivers. Thirty minutes later we were on our way. The timing still isn't perfect, but we are within 2°, something he is quite content with.

M. Musseau likes playing with Célestine, it gives him a chance to use his mechanic's skills and his brain, whereas with modern cars most of it is computer driven.

A man in his element.
If you don't understand these things, you can read about it here. It will be less confusing than me explaining it!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

The Fire at Avoine

What fire at Avoine you may ask - and where is Avoine anyway?

On Thursday last week we were in Chinon, visiting the newly restored chateau. There was a tower of smoke visible from the ramparts, which is unusual. Usually around Chinon the most visible feature is a tower of steam from the nuclear power station.

Reading the "Nouvelle Republique" on Friday gave us our answer. An oak drying machine at "Chêne de France" had caught fire, and " Une épaisse fumée noire est venue se mêler aux panaches du centre nucléaire de production d'électricité (CNPE) d'Avoine" (thick black smoke mingled with the steam from the nuclear power station).

Two people were injured in the fire, which was attended by 73 pompiers (professional and volunteer). On Friday there were a couple of smaller outbreaks which were seen to quickly.

The second question is easy to answer: it's here.


Monday 20 September 2010

The Logis Royal, Loches

The elevated limestone promentory in Loches has been occupied since ancient times because of its superb strategic position. The Royal Apartments (Logis Royal) occupy the northern part of the great spur of rock. Loches is and was the most important town in the southern Touraine, so in medieval times the court came here frequently.

The central part of the Logis is a defensive tower built in the 14th century by Charles V as part of the fortifications associated with the Hundred Years War. Later kings enlarged the building in the Renaissance style, turning it from a fort to a hunting lodge. Sadly, during the Wars of Religion and the Revolution the Logis served more as a prison. By the time of the Empire, it was reduced to being the government offices for the sous-préfecture. In 1948 the functionaries moved out and the building was opened to the public as an historic monument.

And this certainly is one of the most historic places in France, with its strong connection to Joan of Arc. As the plaque above says, 'In this room on the 3rd and 5th of June 1429 Joan of Arc came to press Charles VII to go to Reims and be crowned King of France'.

The rooms of the Logis are themed to present various characters from history. Charles VII is first, then Jeanne d'Arc, followed by Agnès Sorel. All these characters have a genuine association with this place and the display about the lovely Agnès is particularly good. Today, la dame de beauté, as she became known, is probably a more fashionable subject for the romantically inclined than Joan.

The sepia view out of one of the windows, looking down on the rooftops of Loches.

Agnès was the daughter of a comfortably off family from Picardy. As a young woman she joined the household of the Duchess of Lorraine, the Queen's sister. At some time around 1443 she met the King, and the rest, as they say, is history. Charles VII was so smitten that he took the unusually assertive step of publically acknowledging Agnès as his mistress. At this time, marriages were political and economic unions, and although Charles and his wife Marie of Anjou got on well enough to produce 14 children, they spent very little time together. It was considered entirely appropriate for people to seek not just sexual satisfaction elsewhere, but also true love and companionship. It was clear that Agnès was Charles' soul-mate, and she became very influential.

Tragically, only 7 years after they met, and after producing 3 daughters, Agnès, heavily pregnant with a fourth child, died suddenly and mysteriously (the infant lingered for some months before also succumbing). Immediately, poison and murder were suspected. Part of the display includes a video showing the research undertaken in the early 21st century when her tomb was moved and her bones exhumed. It seems very likely she was poisoned, and although the scientists do not offer an opinion as to the identity of the murderer, the obvious candidate is Charles and Marie's son, the future Louis XI.

These charming pooches guard the entrance to the Logis.
A copy of the most famous portrait of Agnès hangs in the room, depicting her as the Queen of Heaven, bare breasted, richly robed and gazing demurely downwards at the holy infant on her knee. In fact, the portrait seems to have been painted after her death, but scholars nonetheless agree that it is Agnès. The bare breast on the one hand signifies that Mary, as the mother of God, nourishes her people, and on the other, that Agnès herself was a good mother. Even the most aristocratic mothers breastfed at this time if they possibly could, because it was believed that babies absorbed much of their moral character along with the breastmilk, therefore it was important that the source of the milk was someone the parents could trust.

If you are interested in some of the key players in medieval France, or just love true romance, the Logis Royale should definitely be on your list of places to visit.


Sunday 19 September 2010

A Happy Coincidence

On Thursday Susan and I were working, which included a visit to Chenonceau in Célestine.

As we arrived in the carpark it became obvious we were going to have to work harder than usual to be stand out from the crowd. The Luxembourg Car club were on their 6 day tour of the Loire Valley and providing some serious eye-candy competition.

This photo really demonstrates the difference in
philosophy between French and American car builders.
The car on the left pre-dates the one on the right by 3 years

One of the cars which really caught my eye was a S4-61 Salmson from 1950. Salmson were originally a French engine maker, starting with aircraft engines before moving on to make complete fighter and reconnaissance aircraft during WW1. After that war they moved in to car production, and continued in business until 1957. The S4-61 was made between 1938 and 1951, and quite typical of French luxury cars of the period, is right hand drive.

Quite why French luxury cars should have the steering wheel on the "wrong" side no-one really seems to know, but the best bets are either that it seems to have started after Rolls-Royce became the class leader for luxury and the French manufacturers were imitating the British cars, or that having your chauffeur on the side nearest the curb meant that he could just get out the car and open your door without having to worry about traffic, or having to walk around the car.

Other French cars arranged like this were Delage, Delahaye, Talbot and Bugatti. In fact, more than half of the models offered by French car manufacturers in 1937 were right hand drive. All mass production cars were left hand drive.

Whatever the reason, I rather like the Salmson. It wouldn't be much fun trying to overtake farm machinery if no-one else was in the car, but even if you arrived late (or even hyperventilating) you would arrive in style.


Saturday 18 September 2010

Caged in Loches

Last Wednesday we had occasion to be in Loches with a visitor. Although we visit Loches from time to time, we have never been inside the Donjon or Logis Royale before.

The Donjon is spectacular and is visible from miles around. Built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river Indre by Foulques Nerra (the impossibly butch sounding and previously mentioned "Black Falcon") the Donjon is claimed to be the earliest stone built castle in France (I assume the Romans don't count).

One of the highlights for us was the reproduction of the cage (complete with chamber pot) in which prisoners were kept. It was made by the same man who made our staircase last year. The original cage was built for Louis XI, and the legend is that he had Cardinal La Balue (another first division b@stard, who gained his promotions by denouncing his immediate superiors one by one) locked in the cage for 11 years. This is not the case - although the cage was used, the Cardinal was held in the comparative luxury of a stone cell.

The view from the top of the Donjon is impressive, although not one the prisoners would have seen or appreciated. From here you can see the huge church and what remains of the monastery that was also built by Foulques Nerra in one of his periods of penance for a ghastly deed. (There are a number of monasteries built by Foulques, along with various churches. He had a lot of penance to do.)

We are not the first people to visit Loches - Henry James was here in 1884 and wrote about it most entertainingly. The comments about trains still apply, even today. You can read his trip report here.


Note. I have changed the link for the Henry James trip report to one which is easier to read (and has the original illustrations)

Friday 17 September 2010

What to Do with Green Tomatoes

It was very cool this morning, about 6° C. This means that if you have a vegetable garden, right about now you are probably thinking about what you can do with green tomatoes. This year there looks like being lots.

Really, the short answer is - put them on the compost heap.

The usual recommendations of Fried Green Tomatoes or Green Tomato Chutney have fairly limited use. Fried Green Tomatoes are rather an acquired taste, and how much chutney do people eat these days? We eat almost none. The only recipe I have found that makes anything the least useful out of green tomatoes is Green Tomato Ketchup, and even then I wouldn't bother making it every year.

It may look an uninspiring khaki colour,
but if you put enough spices in, it tastes OK...
Once you've stripped your tomato plants, lay the tomatoes out in a box and wait a couple of weeks to see if any of them will ripen. Some of them will, and although they won't be fantastic in salads, they will cook up nicely in an end of season pasta sauce with the last of your peppers, zucchini and aubergine.

Green Tomato Ketchup

1kg green and under-ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
500g green and partially red peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
2 zucchini (courgette), cut into chunks
1kg onions, roughly chopped
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp pickling spices
1 red chili, cut into fine shreds
2cm piece ginger root, finely chopped
1 cup vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt

  1. Cook the tomatoes, peppers and zucchini over a very low heat for several hours.
  2. Cook the onions, spices, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar over a low heat for about an hour.
  3. Add the two mixtures together and purée by pressing it through a food mill or sieve.
  4. Cook over a very low heat for several hours until it reaches a consistency you like.
  5. Bring to the boil, stir in the sugar and salt, and immediately take off the heat.
  6. Bottle or freeze.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Stylish Transport

Last year in January we went to Retromobile (and wrote about it here). Tickets for next year's event have just gone on sale, so we're starting to think about our next trip to Paris.

One car we saw last year but didn't post photos of was this beauty. This car is a 1920/21 Speedster made by the Kissel Motor Car Company, founded in 1906 in Hartford, Wisconsin. They made about 35,000 cars before going out of business in 1930. The Speedsters were popular cars amongst what would today be called "celebrities": Fatty Arbuckle and Amelia Earhart (ask you parents, kiddies) both owned one.

Two things immediately catch the eye: its very yellow...

... and besides having two front seats, and a dickey seat for two, it also has two "occasional" seats which slide out like drawers.

I don't know if these occasional seats were ever used, but they must have been an exciting experience! I had never seen a 6 seater sports car before, now I have a feeling I know why.

It's good to see that safety hasn't been totally ignored: you get a grab handle by the side of the seat and a footbrace.


Wednesday 15 September 2010

Our Garden, Yesterday

I am really pleased with our back garden. We have been doing some little stuff in there (just to fill in time because we're not at all bust at the moment...) such as weeding, mowing the lawn, and moving the concrete laundry tub out of the middle of the garden to under the garden tap.

Last time we wrote at any length about
the back garden we had got it to this stage.Now it looks like this
As you can see, even in September it is a lovely place to sit and read. Except for midday during a couple of days at the very height of summer the apéro terrasse is nicely shaded. Being Australian (and therefore sun-adverse) that suits us nicely.

All this means that the garden has gone from looking like this in May 2006...
to looking like this in Mid December 2009...

to looking like this yesterday morning.
I keep wandering out there, just to marvel at how these plans have come together in time for us to use it before the cooler weather arrives.


Tuesday 14 September 2010

Provencal Short-tailed Blue - l'Azuré de la faucille

A male Provencal Short-tailed Blue.

A female Provencal Short-tailed Blue.
The Lycaenidae is a vast family of butterflies (some 5000 species throughout the world). They are small and the males are vividly coloured (although females are usually dull and brownish). The largest group in this family are known as the Blues, because almost all of them are some variation of this colour. They are notoriously difficult to tell apart, and several species will often fly together. Consequently, I spend a lot of time in the orchard peering intently at any blue butterfly that settles. The orchard, being a flower rich grassland, is a favoured habitat for blues, and of the 18 possible species for Indre et Loire, I have so far recorded a third of these on the site*. There are a couple I am unlikely to get, but have seen nearby**. The orchard soil is close to neutral (judging by the orchid species we get) and a few blues are only seen on really calcareous sites.

A female Provencal Short-tailed Blue.
The dominant species are the Brown Argus Aricia agestis (le Collier-de-corail) - confusingly, a 'blue' that is brown in both sexes, and, living up to its name, the Common Blue Polyommatus icarus (l'Argus bleu). Every now and then, though, the small flitting blue butterfly turns out to be something else, and one species that is revealing itself more and more for me now that I have my eye in is the Provencal Short-tailed Blue Everes alcetas (l'Azuré de la faucille).

A female Provencal Short-tailed Blue on the host plant Black Medic.
The PSTB is a little bit smaller than the Common Blue and tends to fly closer to the ground. The males are a light lavender blue and the females a forged steel colour that goes sooty with age. The undersides of both sexes are pale powdery blue with black spots. Crucially, there is a dot at the base of the tiny tail on the underside, but not on the upper. The adults are flying from April to September. They can be seen anywhere their caterpillar food plant, Black Medic Medicago lupulina (minette in French) is present.

For comparison, a male Common Blue. Note the brighter blue
upper side and the grey-beige underside with many more spots.

Another lookalike, the Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus (l'Azuré porte-queue). Note the much longer tail and spots on the upperside at the base.


*The 6 species I have recorded are: Long-tailed Blue, Holly Blue, Provencal Short-tailed Blue, Small Blue, Common Blue and Brown Argus.

**For example, Adonis Blue.

Monday 13 September 2010

A Time Machine

In a previous life (when I wasn't being a rock and roll star or a teacher) I used to fix photos for people: give me a rubbish old photo with bits missing and I can make it sparkle again. I still occasionally play around with Photoshop, but now I am more likely to work photos the other way.

For instance, take my uncle and aunt posing with Célestine in 2010and then timeshift it.

Yesterday I said "This is to take advantage of a week of good weather which we are now promised: a couple of days ago the forecast was for continual rain and overcast days, now the prediction is for five or six days of mid 20s and clear skies."

I was wrong. 20 minutes after writing that it started to rain - gently - but rain none the less. At the time Meteo de France said it was sunny. It didn't get sunny until about 17.00 yesterday evening.


Sunday 12 September 2010

Sunflower Harvest

One of the last harvests of the year is the sunflower harvest.

I commented a couple of months ago how sunflowers seem to the the fashionable crop this year and that the even fields above Preuilly, which are normally wheat, are planted with Sunflowers.

Yesterday they started to harvest, and continued long into the night. This is to take advantage of a week of good weather which we are now promised: a couple of days ago the forecast was for continual rain and overcast days, now the prediction is for five or six days of mid 20s and clear skies.

This photo was taken 10 minutes ago. They will start up
again at about 10.00, once the dew has burnt off.
Of course, they will stop for a two hour lunch, and quiet will descend over town, but apart from that, from now until midnight it will be the sound of harvesters.

I love living in the country!