Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Last Tyre Rolls Off the Line

The production of tyres officially ceased a week before Christmas in the Michelin factory at Joué lès Tours. However, the factory is not going to close. It will retain 200 employees, but their output will be membranes, flaps and fabrics, according to the newspaper.

A page of Tourangelle industrial history has turned. More than 53 years after the first tyre was made - a radial destined for a 2CV left the workshop on 6 June 1961 - the employees of the Michelin factory have quality checked their last tyre, this time destined for a heavy earth-moving machine.

Between the two dates the site at Joué made millions of tyres and employed 4000 people at its height. Even just three years ago the factory produced 3600 tyres a day, compared to 250 in the last few weeks.

In reality this is just one stage of several in the process of transforming this factory by Michelin. In June last year the loss of 706 of the 906 jobs on site was announced, due to the relocation of the manufacture of tyres for heavy vehicles to La Roche sur Yon. The new manager, who arrived three months ago is directing some big social and industrial changes in the factory. Of those who have left, 380 simply retired. Another 162 took up jobs in other Michelin factories, so have moved away from the Touraine. The final 164 lost their jobs altogether, but 30% have since found new employment.

Very shortly there will only be two workshops on the site, manned by no more than 200 people, making flaps and membranes in one workshop, fabrics in the other. 22 million euros will be spent building a new factory, taking up 8 ha of the 32 ha site. The unwanted land will be sold.

The demolition and rebuild will run from January to October next year and the first job is to pull down all the buildings on the 24 ha which will be sold. By mid-2016 the site will be clear and the land on the market.

Ultimately Michelin is committed to creating 300 jobs on the site and another 100 or so in Indre et Loire. They will get some state assistance to do so and those who lost their jobs will also receive assistance so that the economic impact of so many job losses in a rural area will not be so great.
Au jardin hier: I lightly sanded all the handles on my garden tools yesterday and dressed them with linseed oil. I'm not totally convinced by the use of linseed oil -- there is a lot of nonsense spouted about having to 'feed' wood -- but it is the traditional treatment to maintain wooden tool handles and Tim did a beautiful job of dressing my broad fork handles last year. Linseed oil works like face cream ie it's hygroscopic, so it attracts moisture and gives the sensation of smoothing and enriching, but isn't necessarily having any real positive effect. It's easy to slop too much of it on, in which case you could end up with every little particle of dirt and dust stuck to the oiled wood, forming an immutable 'mudpack'.
A la cuisine hier: Pizza, from homemade dough topped with supermarket tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, slices of chorizo and grated cheddar cheese, served with a green salad. Gut busting. Simon didn't have dessert! Unheard of! There are leftovers for lunch today.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

The Oyster's World is Changing

Like most French households, oysters form part of our holiday menu. This Christmas I picked up an order of 2 dozen #2 and they sat quite happily unopened in our cellar temperature fridge for several days in an uncovered plastic box. They cost €12 and had been harvested the day before market day. The producer comes up from the coast every Saturday and does steady business all morning.

 3 dozen #2 oysters from the supermarket, Christmas 2008.
Oysters are great from a consumer point of view -- they are sustainable, being farmed in a way that doesn't plunder other marine resources, and exceptionally, they are instrumental in restoring healthy intertidal habitats, even when the oyster species is not native (most commercial oyster production worldwide uses Pacific oysters).

Grilled oysters for breakfast, Christmas 2008.
I'm glad I'm not an oyster farmer though. At the moment there is a sort of triple (or even quadruple) whammy threatening oysters.

Unfortunately, oysters have been hit by an viral epidemic with a very high mortality rate. It's known as oyster herpes and can wipe out colonies in just a few days. The virus first appeared in France in 2008, and has reduced production here by 26%.

 Au naturel, Christmas 2010.
Most worrying of all, the virus only takes hold when water temperatures reach 16°C. With climate change causing globally warmer and warmer weather, the virus is set to become worse and worse. Sea surface temperatures are warming even faster than land temperatures too.

 Oysters at the market in Preuilly, Christmas eve 2011. 
The price has gone up 60¢ a dozen in 3 years.
The water temperature is not the only change in the sea being driven by climate change. The sea is absorbing carbon dioxide CO2, resulting in acidification. The sea isn't turning to vinegar, but its pH has gone down sufficiently for some effects on oysters to have been observed. It's a twofold problem. The first, and simplest to understand, is that more acidic seas cause shell, made from calcium carbonate, to dissolve.

The second effect is that as well as having their shells slowly dissolved, shellfish are having to work much harder to create shell in the first place. In the case of oysters, when they are new born, they sometimes cannot make shell at a rate quick enough to gain on the rate it is being dissolved. This leaves them even more vulnerable to predation than they would otherwise be.

 Farmed oyster beds on Ile de Ré, an island just off the Atlantic coast of France and a couple of hours west of us.
The way it works is this: 30% of atmospheric CO2 dissolves in the oceans, where it combines with water H2O to form carbonic acid. The H in pH is postive hydrogen ions. Acids release hydrogen ions into their surrounds and they bond with other molecules. One of the molecules they naturally bond with in the sea is carbonate CO². This means the carbonate is not available to bond with calcium to form calcium carbonate, the key ingredient in oyster shells.

For the oyster farmers it's a looming disaster, and the oyster loving French consumer had better start preparing for something to be missing from the table at Christmas time. It's very frustrating when you consider oysters have so many positive benefits to the environment and nutritionally.
Au jardin hier: Yesterday was the first really cold day this winter. According to the weather bureau our minimum was -7°C and I doubt if it went above 0° all day -- certainly the puddles in our driveway stayed frozen all day. I went down to the orchard to finish clearing up the fallen branches and to saw off the splintered breaks on the trees. Initially my fingers ached with the cold and as I struggled to warm them I nearly decided to come home. Luckily I finally managed to get my fingers functioning and I've completed the task.
A la cuisine hier: Chickpea pancakes with salad. Spicy Red Lentil, Tomato and Spinach Soup -- homely and surprisingly satisfying.

Monday 29 December 2014

In the Land of Descartes, We Think Therefore We Sort

According to a recent newspaper article, we in Indre et Loire are above average recyclers and rubbish sorters, and we are improving all the time. Each inhabitant currently sorts just under 60 kg of rubbish per year for recycling, and the département puts out 34.5 tonnes of rubbish for recycling in total per year. Of course, quantity of rubbish, even if recycled, isn't something one can exactly be proud of, and there isn't much focus on refusing excess packaging (except for plastic carry bags at the supermarket), but it does show that consciousness is being raised, progress is being made and attitudes changing.

Depositing empty bottles in the bottle bank.
In France 87% of households sort their rubbish to some extent (cf 95% of Australian households), but only 44% do so reliably. 7% never bother to use bottle banks. The recycling programme is overseen by Eco-emballage ('Eco-packaging'), who supervise, organise and support the recycling of waste packaging. Businesses pay a fee which finances the organisation and Eco-emballage manages the sorting and recycling. It's all closely monitored for trends and statistics, so Eco-emballage understands households' behaviour in this field. At the end of the financial period the amount Eco-emballage makes from reselling the recycled material is balanced against the contributions and the savings or profits are themselves recycled, back to the communities who fund Eco-emballage -- a reward for adopting sustainable habits which amounts to nearly €10 a head in Centre.

Our annual issue of rubbish sacks -- yellow for recycling plastic and metal, black for general rubbish.
Glass is by far the biggest component of the recycled material, but plastic and cardboard are on the increase. Metal is not being quite so successfully tackled. Eco-emballage admit that it is largely a matter of space. Households, local authorities and the recycling depots have to have the space to put collection bins for all the different materials or to sort them.

10 Facts about recycling:
  • Bottles and cans do not need their labels removed or to be spotlessly clean to be recycled. They are processed at such a high temperature that any residue is burnt off. Bottles need to have their lids removed. Only wash them to prevent odours or contamination of other recycling materials in your yellow bag. Rinse them at the end of dishwashing rather than rinsing under the tap to be water wise.
  • Paper needs to be dry to be recyclable.
  • Aerosol cannisters and paint tins can be recycled if they are empty and dry (remove plastic caps and nozzles).
  • Aluminium and steel food cans, glass bottles and jars, newspapers, cardboard, toilet paper, tissues, paper serviettes, paper bags, paper towel, copy paper, envelopes and wrapping paper all contain some recycled material and are themselves potentially endlessly recyclable.
  • Recycling aluminium cans uses 95% less energy than smelting aluminium from scratch.
  • Glasswool insulation is made from up to 70% recycled content. Be careful not to include toughened glass (windows, drinking glasses, cookware) in your recycling, as just 15 g per tonne can ruin a batch of recycled glass being spun for glasswool.
  • Garbage trucks have internal divisions so they can collect recycling and general rubbish at the same time. Most sorting of recycling occurs at the depot, but it is important for efficiency and quality of the material that householders know what they can put in their yellow recycling bags. If in doubt, leave it out. Plastic bags, drinking glasses and plastic wrap are not recyclable. Neither is clothing suitable for putting in your yellow bag -- take it to your nearest charity bin.
  • Plastics are the most problematic for the householder to sort. There are 40 different types used today. The symbol of a number in a triangle only identifies the type of plastic, not whether you can recycle it. Most facilities can handle types 1, 2, 3 and 5. Type 1 plastic is PET, used for clear soft drink bottles. Type 2 plastic is HDPE, used for plastic milk bottles, translucent or opaque. Type 3 and 5 plastics are V, PVC and PP and include plastic takeaway containers and icecream containers. Type 4 is LDPE, type 6 is PS and type 7 is all the others (including polystyrene). About 60% of plastic is recycled. Contrary to popular belief, yoghurt containers are recyclable. Frustratingly for the consumer they often don't have a number on them. The rule of thumb with plastics is if it is soft and you can squish it up into a ball it is not recyclable. If it is a rigid container you can recycle.
  • Plastics are granulated and made into wood substitutes. It only takes 30% of the energy to make a plastic product out of recycled materials compared to making new plastic from fossil fuels.
  • Residual photocopier toner and printer inks in cartouches sent for recycling are used as pigments for colouring recycled plastic products.
A la cuisine hier: Pizza dough prepped and put into the cellar temperature fridge for the yeast to slowly perform its miracle on the flour so we can have pizza on Tuesday (plus some dough for the freezer).

Santa Fe Pork and Beans, a sort of cross between Boston baked beans and a curry, which we both liked a lot. I served it with leftover cheesey potatoes.

Pineapple Custard Meringue, a dessert my mother used to make from time to time. I don't use a recipe, but it is more or less like this.

Sunday 28 December 2014

A Busman's Holiday

The servants dining hall in the basement kitchens nearly always has the best floral decorations.
Christmas Day is usually a bit dull. There's nothing worth watching on the telly, nothing to do because everything is closed or the weather is terrible and apart from a special meal it's all a bit pointless.

Simon was the only person in this room when he took the photo.
This year Simon decided that we would go out for Christmas Day.  We mentioned it to friends Niall and Antoinette and they thought it was a great idea. They are in the same situation as us -- no little kids to focus the event on, but you are supposed to treat the day as special and fun nonetheless.

The main Christmas tree, in the long gallery, a confection in sparkly white and gold.
In fact, not everything in France shuts down for Christmas. A couple of chateaux are open and the trains run. We decided to go to Chenonceau for the afternoon.

Christmas Day was an unexpected and welcome break in the dreary weather we have been having.
I know. You would think we've been there enough during the year. But actually, it allowed us to see rooms and parts of the grounds we don't normally go to, and without the crowds.

When we arrived there were 4 buses in the carpark and maybe 50-80 cars. This was a bit more than I expected, but not too bad. We had many rooms entirely to ourselves in the house. The decorations are outstanding, especially when you consider the expense they go to compared to how many people actually see them. For an overview of the interior, see this video from the local newspaper.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the day and will definitely do it again next year. It's up to Simon to come up with an equally brilliant suggestion for where we should go. He's the ideas man.

On the way home we stopped at Sublaine to watch the ISS go over. We thought about the international team spending Christmas way up there and waved.
Au jardin hier: After a wild storm at 4 am yesterday there are branches down everywhere in the orchard. The biggest are from the large nectarine by the potager gate and the big purple gage plum. I started clearing them up but after an hour it started to rain so I've still got some to break up and put aside for kindling. I guess I'll have to cut the torn bases of these lost branches on the trees off neatly too.
A la cuisine hier: Mushroom soup from the freezer, the last of the foie gras, sausages, cheesey potatoes, buttered spinach, cherry plum clafoutis from the freezer.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Slotting in to the Landscape

Standley Chasm is a slot canyon, formed by a geological fault and erosion.

Friday 26 December 2014

Winter Truffle Markets

The second truffle market for the season will be on Sunday 28 December at Marigny Marmande near Richelieu. According to the local paper, the truffles promise to be abundant and well matured. The local producers are happy, especially as prices look like remaining stable, at about €800 to €1000 per kilo.

Truffle producers on one side, customers on the other, truffles in the middle.
Good climatic conditions from May to July, with alternating heat and rain, were favorable for the legendary fungus. The first tentative excavations at the beginning of December have already hinted at some nice surprises, supporting the predictions based on observing the weather. Depending on the area, the crop seems to be a few weeks more advanced than last year.

 Brie with a layer of truffle.
The market includes around 40 local producers and artisans as well as the truffle farmers. 2014 looks like being a good vintage, not just for wine, but for the truffles too.

 Buying a truffle a few years ago.
The markets will be in the Salle des Fêtes, Marigny Marmande, from 9 am to 1pm, Sundays 21 and 28 December, then Saturdays 10 and 24 January and 14 February.
A la cuisine hier: Grilled oysters, leftover guinea fowl with salad, homemade foie gras with toast, flash fried steak with foie gras, potato wedges and buttered spinach, leftover Christmas pudding and custard.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas

Very sensibly the Chateau of Cheverny don't bother cluttering up their interior with a Christmas tree. Instead they decorate one in the park. This is last year's effort.

This year their Christmas tree is off to the side of the chateau and is billed as Europe's tallest.

We would like to wish all our readers a very merry Christmas.
A la cuisine hier: Oysters au naturel, roast farmhouse guinea fowl with roast potatoes, onion, carrots, tomatoes, peas and gravy, followed by M&S Christmas pudding and homemade custard. Served with Chateau Gaudrelle Le Sec.

Simon made savoury oat biscuits and another batch of shortbreads.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

It Still Works

Back in October we went on a walk with friends around Chambon and near the end of our outing encountered a rather tumbledown tin shed on the side of a narrow country road. Inside was what at first glance we thought was an ancient piece of road mending machinery, but closer inspection revealed it to be a still.

It's just down the road from O Petit Verger, so the next time I saw Lara, one of the owners, at the market selling her fruit and vegetables I asked her about the still. She told me who it belonged to and assured me it still works and is fired up once a year to make the annual batch of eau de vie.

We've seen stills in the area before, mobile ones at fairs, and a beautiful one just outside of Genillé, glimpsed as we drove past, that we'd love to get a closer look at. There are still a few old guys in the district who have the right to distill a small amount of eau de vie for private use and small scale private clients, but every year a few more slip away.

Once you know the signs you can recognise a still whilst driving by. They are generally housed in disreputable looking tin sheds like this one, with at least one side open or just draped in plastic or canvas. That's because stills are quite prone to blowing up, and I think it is probably quite hot while they are running, as they are wood fired. Even if you can't see the alembic itself, the metal chimney flue will give it away. We've realised we know of at least one other in the area, on the outskirts of La Celle Guenand, and now we know what we are looking for will no doubt spot them all over the place.

In the old days distillers tended to be orchardists and their small scale activity was not subject to duty or taxes. Nowadays, since 2008, there are probably fewer than 30 small scale distillers left in Indre et Loire and they pay tax of €7.25/litre on the first 10 litres of production and €14.50/litre on production above that. Pear, apple, cherry, plum and grape eaux de vies were the most usual but sometimes the still was used for walnut liqueur and a local speciality made with the new shoots of blackthorn. Run through once the alcohol content would be 30° - 40°, but occasionally a batch would be run through the still twice to get 70° (presumably for the local pharmacist). Clients arrived in turn with their fermented juice (marc) and the distiller provided the wood to fire up the apparatus. A typical still ran 2-4 times a day, every day over winter, servicing around 200 clients. The stills needed to be situated near a well or stream so there was a water supply.

Distilling was a winter activity, and the smoke and very particular smell permeated the atmosphere. The still in Preuilly, which no longer exists, was once on the banks of the Claise, opposite the sports ground, and those who were school students at the time remember it well. The police station was just up the road and to quote the son of the distiller 'the gendarmes were not the last to come and sample a new batch'. The distiller made sure he was on very good terms with his neighbours, who turned a blind eye to the occasional batch with a slightly higher than regulation alcohol content, in return for 'contributions in kind'. The still was dismantled in 1980 when the distiller became too old to run it.

Distilling arrived in France from Spain in the late 13th century. The Spanish learnt the technique from the Moors, and both 'alembic' and 'alcohol' are words with Arabic roots. Initially it was connected with alchemy (another Arabic derived word...) and medicine. The term eau de vie comes from the Latin aqua vitis ('vine water'). Liquor only became a commercial product in the 15th century and by the 16th century Cognac was being produced on an industrial scale.

The beginning of the end of small scale distilling in France actually began in the early 20th century, when concern about the affects of alcohol consumption on the health of the nation began to surface. By the 1920s school science text books said things like 'liquor is fatal to all those who abuse it' and 'the man who drinks it ruins his health'. On the other hand, 'beer, cider and especially wine taken in moderation are tonics and healthful', but by the 1950s even the winemakers were being targetted and regulations for distillers became increasingly complicated and discouraging.

Au jardin hier: More grubbing up of cherry suckers. It strikes me that the end result is quite a good proxy for the trampling of large grazing animals. I think the disturbance will do the site good.

The garlic and onions are up. The peas, as suspected, have probably been eaten by rodents.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

A View of Chinon

Nearby Richelieu might be a model town in the sense of being a town designed from scratch, but the maquette tool in PhotoShop transforms Chinon too, into something that would grace the finest 3D architectural model display.
Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Lesser Capricorn Beetle Cerambyx scopolii.

Monday 22 December 2014

A Grey Dune on the River Loire

A female Fan-bristled Robber Fly Dysmachus trigonus.
Back in June I went on an outing to the dry sandy grassland called les Pelouses de Bertignolles. It's a nature reserve owned and managed jointly by a partnership between several local authorities (communes) and the Conservatoire du Patrimoine Naturel de la Région Centre (natural heritage conservation for the Centre region). The site is situated upstream of the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire, along the D7, 10km from Chinon. It covers an area of 61.6ha.

Bastard Lucerne Medicago varia, easily identifiable by its black and yellow flowers.
Geographically it falls within the eastern Véron, bounded by the Loire and downstream of the hamlet of Bertignolles. An integral part of the vast common lands of the Véron, which is almost an island, it today forms the last large area of uncultivated land (friche) on flinty-sandy soil characterised by rich and diverse vegetation. The reserve is completed by the presence of an old sand pit which has been turned into a pond (étang).

Birthwort Aristolochia clematitis (Fr. Aristoloche clematite). Not a Richmond Birdwing in sight though...
John Robertson has some interesting things to say about this plant on The Poison Garden website.
The botanical interest of the site, with about 500 species recorded, is particularly linked to the presence of 11 protected species, restricted to wet environments or dry grassland. This richness is explained by the different habitats which come together on the site (the Loire river itself, riverbanks, trees, dry short grassland, damp grazing land, hollows...) but also because the site represents a biogeographic crossroads bringing together mediterranean species, maritime species and continental species. In addition to this diverse flora the grassland is also made up of mosses and lichens.

Grey Hair Grass Corynephorus canescens growing amongst Cladonia lichen on the sand.
The proximity to the Loire, the open physical nature of the site as well as the presence of an étang go a long way to explaining the current ornithological interest of the reserve, which has around 150 species of birds, either passage migrants or nesting. The reserve also shelters 21 species of mammals, 9 amphibians and 5 reptiles, some of which are protected at a national level. Less well known, the insects are equally remarkable, either because they are on the northern limit of their range or because they are more usually found in mediterranean environments. The significant biodiversity of the site is testiment to the diversity of the habitats.

Dominique Tessier talking about Hemlock Conium maculatum (Fr. la Grande ciguë). This highly toxic plant is sometimes mistaken for parsley and fed to rabbits, who die a few hours after ingesting it. 
Ironically, these old common lands gain their richness because of the nutritional poverty of their soil. Grazing removes organic matter and maintains this characterisitic. Today, agricultural evolution has driven the abandonment of pastoralism on this type of land, which progressively closes over and gets scrubby, reducing its ecological interest.

Small Copper butterfly Lycaena phlaeus
The aim of managing the reserve is to recreate the conditions that traditional maintenance provides, allowing the preservation of the site. While waiting to find a flock of sheep which can be extensively grazed there, the grasslands are currently slashed twice a year and the cut grass taken offsite, in an attempt to reproduce the actions of the sheep.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Here and There: Veterinary Surgeries

Above, the veterinary surgery in the small Australian town that I grew up in; 
below, the veterinary surgery in Preuilly.
Au jardin hier: More grubbing up of cherry suckers. The Aged One was impressed that I was using a mattock. Not many women can use a heavy mattock apparently...
A la cuisine hier: Vegetarian Chilli Beans, easy and satisfying.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm is an Aboriginal owned and run nature reserve not too far from Alice Springs. Because of the presence of water the vegetation here survives from an earlier, wetter climate. The Cycad palms are particularly notable.
A la cuisine hier: Cream of Mushroom Soup, savoury and simple. 
Simon made Shortbread, in traditional wedges. The secret ingredient is fine semolina.
Truffle Market: The first truffle market for the season will be held at Marigny Marmande, near Richelieu, tomorrow.

Friday 19 December 2014

Model Trains

Simon has been having fun with PhotoShop again, creating a 'maquette' style photo of the railway works yard at Saint Pierre des Corps so that it looks like a model railway.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Cute Quotient for Today

Who needs kittens when you can post photos of cute squirrels at Chenonceau?
Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the attractive stripey shield bug Odontotarsus purpureolineatus.
A photo of a track through arable land has been added to the Rural Tracks entry and the Butterfly Surveying in France page.
Au jardin hier: I started the labourious process of grubbing up the volunteer cherry seedlings today. I worked at it for about an hour in the drizzling rain and decided that was enough for one day. I estimate it will take me 6 - 8 hours to get rid of them all, but it has to be done. They've been mowed over several times now and are forming trip hazards.
A la cuisine hier: Spanakopita, using that brilliant product, brick. The filling was our homegrown chard and local fresh cheese from the laitière who delivers her dairy produce to the door.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Chédigny and the Roses

Chédigny is a small village not far from us. The streets are semi-pedestrianised and the whole village awash with roses and other lovely plants. Here's what it looked like in June.

Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Blackberry Rubus fruticosus.
A photo of a swarm has been added to the Honey Bee Apis mellifera entry.
A photo of a young commercial poplar plantation has been added to the entries for Agricultural Land and Big Rivers.
A photo of bocage pasture has been added to the entry for Agricultural Land.
A photo has been added to the entry for Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth Hemaris fuciformis.
A photo has been added to the Broomrape Orobanche spp entry.
A photo has been added to the Rural Tracks entry.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Catching the Train to Belle-Isle en Mer

The station at Tours has a series of 18 painted ceramic panels decorating the walls. Their purpose is to beautify the station concourse and entice travellers to the destinations portrayed. At present the panels are badly in need of conservation and a crowd-funding campaign is underway to raise the money to save them. Each panel will cost €8000 to clean, conserve and reattach the tiles to the walls. To learn more about the restoration fund and the panels themselves go to Ulule Gare Tours (in French).

We thought that it might be fun to show one of the panels every now and then, with the timetable information for how one gets there from Tours today. Looking at the timetable it is clear that you might as well start your journey at Saint Pierre des Corps these days rather than in Tours if you want to get to Belle Ile en Mer (note the modern spelling, which has lost the 's', to be replaced by 'î'). From Tours you just take the shuttle to Saint Pierre de Corps and change to the regional train to Nantes, then change again to get to Auray. From Auray it's an hour on the bus to Quiberon.
Fifteen kilometres off the coast from Quiberon, Belle Ile en Mer is the second largest of the islands off the Atlantic coast of France. Like the other islands it caters for tourists who want a truly relaxing and peaceful break, with lots of nature reserves, walking and cycle paths, water sports. There is a big opera festival every summer. We've never been there, but if it is anything like Ile de Re, we would highly recommend it. There is no bridge, you catch a ferry to get there.

The independently wealthy 19th century Australian artist John Russell lived there with his beautiful Italian wife and often played host to Claude Monet. He introduced Henri Matisse to the works of Vincent van Gogh, who was also a friend, and although Russell himself remains virtually unknown as an artist, in his day he was highly influentual amongst this group of French painters.
I'll Ride With You: I'd like to express my admiration for the women who started this social media campaign. I remember after the Underground bombings in London on 7 July 2005 how young dark bearded men with backpacks getting on public transport made others nervous (including me). No matter how much intellectually I knew these were respectable young men going about their daily lives just like me, catching the Underground in the weeks afterwards made everyone suspicious and edgy. Especially if like me you caught one of the bombed routes regularly and missed being blown up by about 10 minutes. Once that involuntary second of suspicion on sighting a young Muslim man had flashed through my head, I recognised how courageous the people were. It never occurred to me to step up to one and say so though -- in London one simply doesn't talk to strangers on the train.
Loire Valley Nature: A photo showing the male's 'hi-tech' feet pads has been added to the Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle Timarcha goettingensis entry.
A la cuisine hier: Crispy Fried Beef, made with strips of 'viande bovine tranche à griller' which is known as 'thick flank' in English -- not exactly a prime cut, but perfectly fine for a dish like this.

Monday 15 December 2014

Plants of the Pelouse

Here is a selection of photos from an outing to the Grandes Fontaines at Bléré that I went on with the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine way back in May. The site is a well managed calcareous grassland, so is home to a very particular suite of plants.

Jean Bouton checks out some orchids. Just here there were Monkey Orchid Orchis simia (left bottom corner), Lady Orchid O. purpurea (just to the left of Jean, who is on his knees) and their hybrid O. x angusticruris (to the left of Jean's shoulder).

Bush Vetch Vicia sepium, growing in a wetter area around some springs (it is not really a plant of dry grasslands).

Large grazing animals, in this case these horses, help maintain the grassland and prevent it scrubbing over. (Cue feeble botanist jokes about how rare les chevaux sauvages are in the Touraine...)

Burnt Orchid Neotinea ustulata, a tiny but lovely little orchid that is easy to miss in the grass.

Pyramidal Orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis in the grass. There are hundreds of this pretty pink orchid on the site.

 Amethyst Broomrape Orobanche amethystea, an uncommon parasite of Field Eryngo Eryngium campestre.

Amethyst Broomrape, not yet fully out.

Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor, another parasitic plant, often recommended to people who wish to create a wild flower meadow as it reduces the vigour of the grass it parasitises and allows other wild flowers to establish.
A la cuisine hier: Chickpea pancakes, which come in a French version called socca, an Italian version called farinata, but also feature in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. They are gluten free and usually vegan.
Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for White-tailed Skimmer dragonfly Orthetrum albistylum.
Some gorgeous photos have been added to the Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera entry.
A new entry has been added for Blackening Waxcap Hygrocybe conica, a really attractive and common toadstool that is easy to identify.
A photo of a path through the woods has been added to the entry on Walking Trails.
Photos added to the Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly Calopteryx virgo entry, which totally lives up to its name.