Friday, 28 February 2014

A Boulodrome

I presume a boulodrome is a bowling alley. This one is in Chateauroux.
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Hunting: The general hunting season ends this evening.
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A la cuisine hier: For those of you who were interested in the link to the article about full fat milk that I posted yesterday, here is a link to an article about what is really in supermarket orange juice. We rarely buy juice because they are just expensive empty calories, but I hadn't realised quite what a con job commercial processed orange juice was.
Civet de Sanglier, or Wild Boar Casserole, cooked slowly on the wood stove, rich and dark.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

La Maison des Marches

La Maison des Marches is an 18th century house in Preuilly, built from tuffeau and situated in the Place de l'Abbaye. The house once belonged to the sculptor and illustrator Paule Richon, who had formerly been a teacher at the Beaux-Arts de Tours between the wars. The copper birds (there were two, one has now been removed) decorating the shutters and a monkey, in the same patinated metal, 'supports' the corner of the roof. The gable, somewhat more austere, carries the date of the construction of the building.

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A la cuisine hier: Using up a few more of those apples, crumble made with walnut oil instead of butter -- it's OK, but butter is better.
And a dab of stewed apple in fat free spicy ginger biscuits (apple purée is a well known substitute in certain circles for fat when baking -- biscuits made using this technique go stale within hours, so freeze them and only take out a few at a time). Also, these biscuits may be fat free, but they are not exactly sugar free, so by no means low-cal.
Braised cabbage with potato and added bacon and onions, served with sausages in a desperate attempt to use up half a cabbage. Actually it wasn't bad, especially for cabbage.
We've always stuck to full cream milk in this house, despite the seemingly universal preference for reduced fat. We consume about 3 litres of raw (unpasturised, unhomogenised) milk a week (on muesli, in coffee and as an ingredient in desserts) and a 125ml pot of whole plain yoghurt each most days (usually combined with fruit). We've always used butter, although these days we try to moderate our consumption and often substitute cream cheese as a spread on bread. Our cheese consumption is a bit random and we sometimes have no cheese at all in the house. When we do it can be whatever we fancy at the time, fat content not being a consideration. I mention all this because there was an interesting report in New Scientist the other day, outlining the results of a study which indicates that full-fat milk seems to be best for overall health (making us feel righteous and vindicated...)
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Loire Valley Nature: A new section for the Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria has been added to the Tiger Moth Arctiidae entry.
A new entry has been added for the Keeled Skimmer dragonfly Orthetrum coerulescens.
A photo has been added to the habitat entry for Etangs (small man made lakes).
Photos have been added to the habitat entry on Chemins ruraux (rural tracks).

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Simple and Classic French Dessert

Seriously, this dessert is one of the most impressive combinations of simplicity and dining wow factor you can find. It's made from stuff that I already had in the house too -- butter, flour, sugar and apples. Nothing more.

 Ready for the oven.
At this time of year my stored homegrown apples are starting to look a bit wizened so I start to think about using them up. Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini posted a recipe recently for une Tarte fine caramélisée aux pommes (a Thin Caramelised Apple Tart) and it is a dish one encounters regularly in French restaurants, elegantly simple and delicious.

Out of the oven, now to sprinkle with sugar and flash under the grill.
I had a supply of rough puff pastry in the freezer left over from making steak and kidney pie, so all I had to do was peel and slice some apples, melt some butter and put it all together. Of course, there is a trick to it, but the trick is as simple as the rest of the recipe.

And this is what you get on your plate. Yum.
Here's how you do it:

Turn your oven on to 175°C. Line a flat oven tray with baking paper. Brush a rectangle on the paper with melted butter. Sprinkle it with sugar. Roll out the pastry to match, cut off any excess so it forms a neat rectangle and lay it carefully on top of the butter and sugar rectangle. Arrange the apple slices neatly on the pastry, leaving a border of about 1.5 cm all the way around the edge. Brush the apple and the pastry edge with melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle sugar on the tart and place under the grill for 2 minutes. The butter and sugar underneath and on top of the tart caramelises and takes this simple dessert to another level of sophistication. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature, cut into 6 squares and placed unadorned on side plates but maybe accompanied by a Vouvray moelleux. If you are feeling refined, eat it with a fork, but we just pick it up and eat it with our hands.

With thanks to Clotilde, who posted the original recipe, with step by step picture instructions. Mine doesn't look quite as elegant as hers as I was using up random sized apples. That's my excuse anyway.
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Loire Valley Nature: A section on Harpalus spp has been added to the Ground Beetles Carabidae entry.
A photo has been added to the European Hornet Vespa crabro entry.
A new entry has been added for Bracket Fungi Polyporaceae.
A new entry has been added for Centipedes Chilopoda.
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Advice Wanted: We are thinking of buying an android TV box/mini PC thingy to use as a 'media centre', principally allowing us to download television programmes and watch them at our leisure. This one seems good value. Does anyone have experience of using such a thing?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tulips at Chenonceau

One of the compensations for visiting early in the season is that the tulips will be in brightly coloured massed ranks in the cutting and vegetable garden at the chateau of Chenonceau. This photo was taken in late March a couple of years ago and no doubt the florists who create the ever changing and glorious floral arrangements inside the chateau were busy dreaming up spectacular creations to show these tulips off to their best.
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Orchid Conference: The Société Française d'Orchidophilie is having an international conference in Blois Saturday and Sunday 1-2 March in the Halle aux Grains. The theme is 'What is the future for orchids in their natural surroundings'. There will be an exhibition open to the public, to promote knowledge about orchids, to encourage people to value them and protect them and their habitat, and covering issues such as the proliferation of cheap commercially raised orchids.
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Les grues sont arrivées! Yesterday afternoon hundreds of cranes flew over Preuilly, on their way to their northern breeding grounds. I think there were some storks in amongst the crowd too. They came from the general direction of the Brenne and headed in the direction of Loches. Simon made a little video of some of them. Spring must be here!


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Au jardin hier: I pruned the grape vines. Our orchard neighbour arrived when I was nearly finished. He inspected my work and pronounced it not bad. Of course, according to him it was too warm to be pruning the vines (not sure quite what I'm supposed to do about that given the weather we've had) and I got told to cut a few spurs shorter, but mostly I'd got it right.

Looks like 5 species of orchid are up and forming leaf rosettes. The Winter Damselflies were everywhere and in good numbers. I disturbed the hare who had been hidden in the long vegetation. I never see it until it shoots out and away. It runs a long way always and I'm sorry it expends so much energy. The general level of squidginess in the soil has reduced remarkably quickly. In just two sunny days I am no longer slip-sliding up the track, but I bet it would be back breaking to try to dig still.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Installing Bee Hotels and Bird Nest Boxes

Sunday was fine and sunny so I went down to the orchard and installed two bee hotels and two bird nest boxes. I stopped angsting about exactly where and how to fix them and just put them up. All of them are about 2m above the ground and fairly exposed, so they may not be high enough and not protected enough. It didn't help that I have poor balance and needed three hands to manoeuvre these into place and secure them. Since I am frightened of ladders and power tools this wasn't one of my most fun experiences.


A bee hotel made from hollow plant stems of different sizes stuffed into a plastic drain pipe and tied with electrical wire under the perspex roof of the pergola. It faces east - west, but I have a feeling the aspect in this position isn't important. It's fairly well protected from the weather.
 The lovely bee hotel Kath made me, in a fairly open position facing south.
 An open fronted bird nesting box suitable for robins or redstarts made for me by Tim, facing east. Redstarts breed in the orchard every year, but I wonder if this box will be too out in the open for them.
 A bird nesting box suitable for tits made for me by Tim, facing north. This will mostly be in light shade from the paulownia and grape vine. It's not right out in the open, but not very hidden either.
Now we wait and see what, if anything, uses them.

There were lots of honey bees out yesterday, and quite a few butterflies (all Vanessids and Brimstones, who hibernate as adults). I was also joined by a Winter Damselfly and we later saw carpenter bees and paper wasps. None of these will use the insect shelters I've installed -- they are waiting for the emergence of the Megachilid bees such as the European Orchard Bee.

I've done the best I can with my limited resources, but for a somewhat more knowledgeable and experienced view on installing bird nesting boxes, see Tim's post on Aigronne Valley Wildlife.
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Memory Failure: Simon has been rummaging around in the boxes stored in the graineterie again. He's unearthed the coat rack made by my father that we've been looking for, a brand new hard drive for the computer, yet more fabric and haberdashery, lots of plastic food containers and a supply of wrapping paper and cards. Amongst the cards was a gift tag, presumably saved from a present to me. It says 'To Suzie, enjoy on its own or with some Wednesday vegetables. This is new hope you like. Lots of love Phil x'. The awful thing is that I cannot remember who Phil is. He was clearly someone familiar enough to address me as Suzie, wish me lots of love and know I went to the farmers' market on Wednesdays. I've racked my brains and tried to recall any former colleague, friend, acquaintance, intern, volunteer, market stallholder, riding companion or fellow student and cannot come up with anyone who fits the bill. I kind of hope he doesn't read the blog, because that would be mortifying for both of us. I wonder what the gift was? At a guess I'd say wine or beer...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

No Collecting

Photographed between Clovelly and Coogee on Sydney's Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk, December 2012.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Stormwater Treatment

One of the things I really liked about the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk was the amount of environmental information along the way. Not just planting regeneration schemes and public amenity facilities, but really pragmatic stuff like how they deal with the stormwater runoff. This storage and treatment plant, with it's schematic diagram to show you how it all works, is at Clovelly, but back up near Bondi and several other places there are lovely little man made runnels that blend in between path and natural wind sculptured rock to direct water down the cliff in a controlled way. There was an info board there too, but none of the photos of the mossy rivulets nor the explanatory text came out -- too much sun on the day.

Stormwater can pick up a considerable range of pollutants on its natural route to the sea here. The water is monitored particularly for faecal matter, but there can be a variety of 'leachates' present (eg heavy metals). As far as possible the stormwater is channelled and held before being sent through filters and baffles to exit onto the beach, or be recycled to people's homes.
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Loire Valley Nature:  A new entry has been added for dry limestone ridge habitat.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Notorious de Nesle Sisters

There is a large painting depicting three naked women hanging in one of the salons of Chenonceau. It's called The Three Graces and is by Carle Van Loo (not his brother Jean-Baptiste, despite the frequency you will find it attributed to him on the internet). It is widely believed to depict three of the five de Nesle sisters, but since it is clearly a picture of three attractive young women, there is a certain amount of debate about the identification of the notorious sisters and the subject of this painting. The de Nesle sisters, with the exception of the youngest, were not considered to be beauties, were all long dead by the time the picture was painted and Van Loo wasn't known for being kind to his subjects.

The painting was the last major work completed by Van Loo, and he too was dead by the time it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1765 (these annual or biannual exhibitions, known as salons, were the place major works were traditionally first exhibited, before going off to the private collections of wealthy patrons). It was not his first attempt at painting this subject, but a previous effort a couple of years earlier had been so roundly criticised for not being sexy enough that he destroyed it and there is only an oil study remaining of the original version.

Probably not the de Nesle sisters, and definitely not by Jean-Baptiste Van Loo.
How and why the painting comes to be hanging at Chenonceau is shrouded in mystery. The best guess is that it was installed in 1862. The painting disappears from the public records in the late 18th century, after the death of its first owner, not to reappear again until an auction in 1862, where it was presumably purchased for Chenonceau by Madame Dupin's nephew and heir the year before he died. The chateau then came into the hands of Marguerite Wilson Pelouze. I assume the painting had remained in the chateau and she seems to have kept it even though her aim was to restore the chateau to its early 16th century appearance (ie pre-Catherine de Medici). Likewise the Cuban family who purchased the chateau after Madame Pelouze went bankrupt and now the Menier family have retained the painting.

The de Nesle sisters became notorious because of their association with the young libertine King Louis XV. They were, one after the other, his official mistresses, in the days before Madame Pompadour and Madame du Barry. They were grasping and manipulative, out and out gold diggers, but he enjoyed their company and probably had a genuine passion for at least one of them. Their only tenuous connection to Chenoceau is that they were the grandnieces of Laure Victoire Mancini, the second Duchess of Vendôme, whose husband inherited the chateau in 1665 and whose portrait hangs in the same room at Chenonceau. Their mother's lover, the Duke of Bourbon, acquired the chateau in 1720 and over a period of 13 years sold off all the contents before selling the estate to Claude Dupin.

I don't think the sisters would ever have set foot in Chenonceau, but it is a beautiful painting which is clearly more about erotic love than the rather more high minded ideals of the Graces, and I am not surprised that each subsequent owner of Chenonceau has allowed it house room.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Champagne's Loss is the Loire's Gain

The Loire sparkling wines are getting better and better and are responding to a consumer demand. At under €10 a bottle the sparkling appellations in the Loire Valley are good value for money. The sales of champagne are down 7% over the last two years. Their customers are more and more moving to Loire sparkling wines, and sales overall are up 2%. The reduction in sales of champagne is due to the downturn in the French and European economy, and the Loire wines have been profiting.

A range of sparkling Touraine wines.
Supermarket orders of sparkling Loire wines are up 2%, with consumer recognition strong, especially for crémant, sales of which are up 13%, followed by sparkling AOC Saumur (up 5%) and Touraine (up 2%). These AOCs have overtaken the previous Loire sparkling leader, Vouvray, which is down 4% and a little more expensive. Sales of Vouvray remain good though, despite reduced stocks being available due to poor harvests following poor weather the last couple of years. Producers like the Vouvray co-operative have been careful to manage stocks over the years to enable them to meet orders no matter what the last harvest was like, and 90% of their production is in sparkling wines.

Champagne.
Montlouis has also experienced a boost to sales, up 7% year on year recently, a slow but sure increase which the winemakers are extremely happy with. They can see that their wine is now more highly regarded than in the past. Montlouis is a tiny appellation, producing 6 times less than Vouvray (which is by no means a huge appellation).

Sparkling Vouvray wines maturing in a cave.
95% of sparkling Vouvray is sold within France.  74% of supermarkets stock crémants de Loire, 35% stock AOC Touraine, 83% have Vouvray and you can buy sparkling Saumur in 90% of French supermarkets.

Source: La Nouvelle République 15 January 2014
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Preparing for a New Tourist Season: Célestine has been to Garage Cosson for her pre-season service and yesterday we had a lovely time trying out a new restaurant. We first went to the market at Loches and bought a few things (the soft fresh cheese known as faisselle, cave grown grey oyster mushrooms, apples from our local orchardist, a hard salty alpine cheese that I didn't get the name of properly, some basil gnocchi and a piece of salami). We spoke to a few producers, just generally catching up with what they were selling, and I gave 'my' apiarist a jar of Tasmanian Leatherwood honey to try. He was chuffed. 

Then we went to lunch at Le Clos aux Roses in Chédigny. What a gem of a restaurant! It's in a very tastefully renovated pair of buildings either side of a wisteria covered courtyard in the very centre of this most attractive village, famed for its gardens, especially the roses. The menu de jour is €13 and yesterday we had a slice of quiche with a little salad, followed by rabbit cooked with smoky spicy saucisson and fine green beans and for dessert the richest creamiest chocolatiest mousse. Wine is €2 a glass and coffee €1.30 for an espresso, €1.50 for a noisette. The house wines come from La Closerie de Chanteloup (between the Lycée Viticole and the Pagoda at Amboise) and were excellent -- smoky cabernet franc and floral sauvignon blanc. The owner does all the front of house and he employs a chef, sous-chef and a plongeur (dishwasher). Everything is made in-house, from fresh ingredients.

After a mooch around town reading all the labels on the roses (it's like the whole village is curated as a rose exhibition) we went to Chenonceau for me to renew my pass for the chateau. All in all a lovely day, even if it did rain again.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Chaumussay Church

Here are a couple of views of the church at Chaumussay, taken from round the back.

To see what it looks like from the front, go to a previous post here.
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A la cuisine hier: Rainbow Veggie Wraps, made with North African flatbreads filled with carrot, beetroot, coleslaw, red peppers, sesame seeds and feta.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the Ilex Hairstreak butterfly Satyrium ilicis.
A photo has been added to the Golden Bloomed Longhorn Beetle Agapanthia villosoviridescens entry.
A new entry has been added for the Great Green Bush-cricket Tettigonia viridissima.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Beautiful Bird

Simon visited family in London while I was in Australia and while he was there photographed this Kingfisher on the Ver River at Saint Albans.

 I love his little orange tootsies in the photo below.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Ivy Hedera helix.
Graphomya maculata has been added to the House Flies Muscidae entry.
A section for Anthidium spp has been added to the Mason, Leafcutter and Orchard Bees Megachilidae entry.
A photo has been added to the London Plane tree Platanus x hispanica entry.
A photo has been added to the Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly Libellula depressa entry.
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Au jardin hier: It was sunny all day yesterday! I can't remember the last time we had sun all day. I pruned the roses and clematis and cut back old growth on perennial plants. I've saved some hollow hollyhock and marguerite daisy stems to cut into short lengths, bundle together and make bee hotels. Winter Iris and Hellebores are flowering, as well as a few violets. A Brimstone butterfly flew past. I hung the washing outside on the line and it dried!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Foire au Safran

The third Saturday in February is the Foire au Safran in Preuilly sur Claise every year. This year we invited our friends Rosemary and Jean Michel to attend with us and have lunch at the fair. We were delighted that they thought this small gourmet market, with its focus on safran, spices and other slightly out of the ordinary foodstuffs, was as good as we think it is.

 Yes, French women do go about with small dogs in carry bags...
 An overview of the market, which is held in the gymnasium.
 Dried fruit, including poires tapées ('tapped pears'), a delicacy only made in the Touraine.
 Rosemary talking to one of the vendors about saffron tea syrup. Lots of the stalls, like this one had small inexpensive items which would make great gifts.
 A spice vendor measuring out some lightly smoked sweet paprika for me.
Paul Mériguet, who taught me and many others all I know about saffron, sadly died last month and there was a brief tribute to him at lunchtime. The tribute he would really want though is the continuing success of this fair for many years to come.

UPDATE: You can read Rosemary's account of the fair on her blog Aussie in France here.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Waverley Cemetery, Sydney

 Waverley Cemetery has to have one of the most dramatic settings of any cemetery, situated as it is on the sea cliffs above Bronte Beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs. Check out this aerial view.


It is a public cemetery, created in the late 19th century along the same lines as Kensal Green in London or Père Lachaise in Paris -- that is, it is a business, expected to at least break even and hopefully make a profit. It is currently owned and managed by Waverley Council, and you can still purchase plots.

(Photograph by Stefania Fumagalli.)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Don't be a Tosser

Photographed between Bronte and Clovelly Beaches, Sydney, in December 2012. The 'Don't be a Tosser' campaign is one part of a long running litter prevention programme overseen by the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Maharaja's Cars

As usual we were in Paris in early February for the annual classic and vintage car trade show Rétromobile. This year the star attractions on display were cars which had been owned by Indian maharajas. As you would expect they were the last word in custom design and over the top detail.

1923 Rolls Royce 20 (with added horn).
 1925 Rolls-Royce Twenty with a special four-seater saloon body by G. Wylder & Co. supplied to H.H. The Maharaja of Bharatpur in April 1926. A roller with bells on (check out the front of the radiator).
1925 AlfaRomeo RL SS with hand hammered alloy touring body. 
Built for Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III.
1926 Rolls Royce 40/50 Phantom I.'The Silver Phantom of Hyderabad'.
It has a 6 cylinder 95 horsepower 7.6 litre engine. Maharaja's were regular customers of the prestige automobile companies, especially Rolls-Royce, between the Wars. The Nawab of Hyderabad ordered this Phantom I in 1925. It was the brand new model, the successor to the Silver Ghost. Barkers, the Rolls-Royce preferred coach builder, was commissioned to do the body. It is finished in polished aluminium and the door panels are teak. There are two veneered folding tables in the back and a teak cupboard to hold binoculars, camera and water bottle. The car was used regularly until 1953, then retired to a garage to gather dust. In the 1960s it was purchased by a British car enthusiast and fully restored.

1927 Rolls Royce Phantom III.
1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I17EX ‘sports Phantom’.
1929 Isotta Fraschini 8A with a body by Milan-based coachbuilder Cesare.
We were amused by the fact that although this vehicle has a fixed roof there is a brass S frame as if one can fold the roof back. The brass fitting is purely decorative.

1929 Rolls Royce Phantom II with "hunting body" by the Rewa Motor Workshop.
Can you spot the 4 shotguns mounted in the car? It is known as the White Tiger, after its owner, an enthusiastic and successful tiger hunter, found a white tiger cub, which rather than shoot, as he did its mother, he trapped. Enchanted by this beast he began a white tiger captive breeding programme and now this tiger's descendents are all over the world.

1934 Humber Super Snipe.
Mercedes-Benz 1930 Super Sports.
1938 Delahaye 135 MS by Figoni et Falaschi.
1910 Brooke Swan and 1920 Cygnet. 
The brainchild of a wealthy and eccentric resident of Calcutta, Robert Nicholl "Scotty" Matthewson, the Swan Car was one crazy device. The bodywork represents a swan gliding through the water, with fish and lotus flowers made of gold leaf. The eyes are fitted with bulbs that can be switched on to make them glow. The horn is operated by playing a keyboard in the back seat. Passengers can communicate with the driver by means of a ship's telegraph system. The mudguards have scrubbing brushes fitted to sweep off elephant dung the car has run over. The swan's beak opens to allow the driver to clear the street ahead by spraying steam from the radiator. Whitewash could be dumped from behind to give the impression of foaming water as the car progressed. 

The society elites of Calcutta weren't amused and the Swan Car was banned from the city's roads after causing a riot on its first outing. Mathewson, who had spent the considerable sum of £10-15,000 (as much as six new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts in those days) decided to sell his pride, to the maharajah of Nabha, whose family owned the vehicle for over 70 years. Soon after purchasing the original Swan, the maharaja developed the Cygnet, a smaller single seater electric version for pootling around on his estate.

In the early 1990s the Swan was rediscovered, its sumptuous silk upholstery having been eaten by rats. The Louwman Museum in the Netherlands purchased the vehicle and restored it to working order. The new upholstery is a copy made in India based on fragments of the original which survived under the seats.

The Cygnet is made of hand beaten steel sheet and is probably the oldest Indian made automobile. It too is owned now by the Louwmans Museum.
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Orchard News: It's as wet as I have ever seen it in the potager. There is no way I could walk between the rows -- they have standing water in them. The onions and garlic seem to be doing alright though. Some creature has dug up and absconded with most of the broad bean seeds, but there are a few seedlings. I'll sow again when the soil is less saturated. The track is too slippery to take the car along and the lids on the rainwater butts were over in the neighbour's walnut grove. Too bad if I wanted to do anything down there -- it's too wet for any of the tasks that need doing, like mowing, digging in compost and burning woody waste.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Le Petit Palais

The Petit Palais in Paris is one of our favourite museums. It was first suggested to us a couple of years ago by my friend and ex-colleague Christine, who is a ceramics conservator living in Paris. She mentioned it has a very nice collection of Greek vases, something I am quite keen on. She also pointed out that visiting the permanent collection is free and the café is good. We were sold and so while we were in Paris recently we popped in to the Petit Palais again. I don't think it is on many foreign tourists list of places to visit, so it is not crowded.

The inner courtyard.
It is situated opposite le Grand Palais and houses the City of Paris Fine Arts Museum collection. Both buildings were initially constructed for the Universal Exhibition in 1900, and turned into museums in 1902. Decorative additions to the interiors continued until 1925 in order to achieve the architect's dream of glorifying Paris and the Arts.

Me ordering coffee and mini cakes for morning tea in the café.
The gallery displaying Art Nouveau ceramics and glass.
 The main entrance, just before opening time.
 An internal staircase with wrought iron banister.
 The view from one of the galleries, looking across to a statue of Clemenceau on the corner of Avenue Wilson and the Champs Elysée and in the general direction of the Elysée Palace (the French presidential residence).
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A la cuisine hier: A humungeous batch of steak and kidney, ready to be made into pie, pudding or just served with mash. 2kg of beef and 1kg of kidneys went in the pot with some onions, mushrooms, red wine, beef stock and various seasonings. Simon bought two packets of beef suet in London when he was there recently, so we can have proper suet pastry for the pudding. You can't get suet ready prepared in France, and it's one of the few things I'm not prepared to faff with doing myself.

Muesli, made with mixed rolled grains from Auchan's bio section, homegrown hazelnuts and proper dried apricots from Australia (ie half apricots dried to intensely flavoured leather, not sickly squidgy Turkish style dried whole apricots). I also added some almond flakes, sunflower seeds and a few sultanas.

Hummus, for spreading on big North African flatbreads with char grilled peppers.
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Chapel News: I attended a meeting of the Société Archaeologique de Preuilly (SAP) yesterday evening. The main topics were the restoration of the Chapelle de Tous les Saints and the annual concert held in the Abbey on Assomption in August.

We've got to a slightly frustrating circular stage with the chapel. In order to apply for grants we need an architect's diagnostic report on the problems and likely cost. In order to get an architect's report we need a grant. It was decided to approach the commune and ask if some of the €10 000 they have pledged for repairs can be used to pay the architect to do the report, which will cost between €1800 and €3900, depending on which architect we go with. There was some concern expressed at what effect the upcoming local elections might have on our promised funding, but my understanding is that the communal budget has been voted on and can not be changed in any significant way by the incoming council once they are elected.

Another alternative would be to ask Bâtiment de France if emergency repairs, funded by the commune's €10 000, can go ahead without the diagnostic. Personally I think it is unlikely BdF will give the go-ahead, and quite rightly.

Jean-Yves updated us on his progress with organising the annual concert and presented the programme suggested by the musicians. This consisted of two Mozart pieces, a Debussy sonata and some Ravel. There was a lot of discussion about how difficult Debussy can be to listen to and whether we should opt for something more populist. The difficulty is the range of instruments played by the chosen group. No keyboards could be a serious drawback. Jean-Yves took the comments on the chin and is going to discuss it with the musicians to see if they can offer something a bit lighter. He's also been having his own frustrations with the grant giving organisations. He needs a couple of thousand euros to make sure the books balance but he's found that the grant giving organisations are bemused by someone from the patrimoine sector asking for money to stage a culturel event. As he says, it's all a matter of language and he has to be careful how he words applications.
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Local Politics: I'm told there is going to be at least 4 people running for mayor this year in Preuilly, one of whom is our neighbour Guy B.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Art Deco Exhibition in Paris

The Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine, housed in the Palais Chaillot at Trocadero in Paris is staging a special exhibition called "1925, when Art Déco Dazzled the World". We took the opportunity to go and see it last Friday when we spent a few days in Paris after I returned from Australia. Simon's a big fan of the Art Déco style and particularly wanted to see it. The exhibition has been extremely well received by the public, proving so popular that the museum has extended the exhibition for a few more weeks and it will now end in mid March.

 I think this bonnet ornament probably represents Suzanne Lenglen, the first female tennis superstar. I seem to remember she was a bit of a rev head, owning at least one tourer (a midnight blue Delahaye from memory).
The exhibition focuses on 1925 because of the highly influential Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in that year, which resulted in the term Art Deco becoming widely adopted. The style is characterised by pared down essential geometric shapes but somehow manages to be simultaneously louchely glamorous. Between the Wars, industrialists and movie stars ruled the world, and everything from factory buildings to furniture, fashion to flying boats was boldly Art Deco.

A Bugatti displayed under a rather intriguing painting called Vine and Wine by Jean Dupas. More information can be found here. A few years after producing this work for the Bordeaux section of the 1925 exposition, the artist was commissioned to design a series of posters for the London Underground.
Architecture, in the form of models and drawings, features strongly in this exhibition, but other objects have been chosen to set the scene and give a wider view. A few obvious categories of object, such as jewellry, have been ignored, perhaps because other current exhibitions in Paris will cover them. You get a good feel for the era's obsession with speed and sport though, with many objects reflecting the heyday of the ocean liner and the daredevil racing driver.

 An inlayed cabinet that I couldn't find any information on. It appears to be burr maple and ivory.
I've chosen a few of our photos to try and give our impressions of the exhibition. If you are planning to visit, I suggest getting there just before opening time and joining the short queue. We took an hour to go around the exhibits and by the time we came out the rooms were packed and we would never have been able to see or photograph objects if we had arrived later.

 Detail of the cabinet.
 Two flapper dresses, almost impossibly flimsy. The contrast between these and the fashion of the generation before is very striking, and it must have taken some courage to step out in these dresses that were finer than what their mothers would have worn as under garments.
 A beautifully made architectural model.
 An iconic poster advertising cruises on the ocean liner Normandie.
 Sèvres vases produced under the artistic directorship of leading exponent of Art Deco, Henri Rapin. These are quite different to what I think of as classic Sèvres.
The view from the museum café. Anyone can come in, use the café and enjoy the view. You do not need to visit the museum if you don't want to.
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Nature News: The League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) has issued a sad little press release, saying that over 5000 birds have washed up dead on northern French beaches during the wild storms they've had up there. Half of the dead birds have been puffins, but guillemots, razorbills and kittywakes are also there in significant numbers in the past fortnight. The cause of death has mainly been exhaustion or starvation but the LPO believes that some deaths are the result of ships taking advantage of the weather to discharge noxious substances which have poisoned or gassed some birds.