Friday 30 June 2017

Anniversaries and Art

24 June 2017 was the anniversary of the morning the results of the referendum in the UK shook the world of British citizens living in Europe and Europeans living in Britain. The campaigning group RIFT that we belong to decided that it would be a good idea for regional members to stage a picnic to express their solidarity with Europe.

Picnicking in June at Chaumussay. Photo courtesy of Niall.
Since the outset of the Brexit kerfuffle I've been organising monthly gatherings of my personal network. I felt it was really important to enjoy and value our friends while we still could, and, in the case of the British, provide support for one another. The first few were apéros held at our place, with attendance of about 40 people, British, French and the odd American. Then in May I decided to opt for a picnic, held at the Chaumussay picnic grounds, which are particularly well appointed and attractive, and have the advantage of only being a few kilometres away. I emailed the mayor of Chaumussay to let her know what I was planning and asked if there was anything I needed to do. Her response was that it was a public space so I could use it with no particular restrictions. Naturally I included her in the invitations.

 Roger and Polly the airedale depart.

The May picnic was attended by about 20 people and I led an orchid walk to a nearby orchid hotspot after lunch for the group which seemed to be very well received. It was a good exercise for me to do something like this in two languages.

 Artist Sam Lee talking about his work to South African visitors 
(with Claudine taking a photo in the foreground).
At the May picnic one of the participants, Rieja, who is an art photographer, mentioned that she was having an exhibition on the weekend of the Brexit anniversary, along with a group of local artists. We decided to ask people to come to the June picnic in their old or interesting cars and we would visit the artists in convoy after lunch. Not many could manage an old car, but the artists circuit was a great success.

The work of Pierre Albasser displayed on the wall of Rieja's barn. Maud leafs through a booklet.
The June picnic attracted a group of about 20 English, Scottish, French and South Africans.  After lunch we visited the home of printmaker, photographer and sculptor Sam Lee, who was exhibiting in his studio along with photographer Eva Aurich. Then our friend art photographer Rieja van Aart, who was exhibiting in her barn with the painter Pierre Albasser and his engraver wife Geha. After that mosaicist and mixed media sculptor Gerda Jacobs, who had works in her barn along with photographer Christine Baudouin and sculptor Michaël Bataille. Finally it was the turn of sculptor Robert Scesa and his illustrator son-in-law Guillaume Bracciali. Together they form the group Les Artistes du Petit Pressigny.

Hélène ran into her Dutch neighbours at Rieja's.
We ran into the mayor of Chaumussay at Gerda Jacobs place and she asked how the picnic had gone. I made sure to praise the facilities enthusiastically and she commented that she would have been there but was very busy that weekend.

 An amusing bull sculpture by Robert Scesa.
I really enjoyed seeing Sam Lee's wood block prints on textiles and Eva Aurich's cyanotypes. As usual this sort of thing made me want to work with textiles and prints and dyes again. I think the group vote would have gone to Robert Scesa's sculptures in wood, metal and stone. They were whimsical and amusing, often made from found objects, and his workshop looked the business.

Several keen photographers attended the picnic and you can see many more photos here:

Loulou (we are now on page 2, and as time goes on you will have to find us as we get pushed back)


Randos Culturelles et Gourmandes (scroll down past the Chateau Gaillard event to our picnic).

Photograph France was also there but don't seem to have created an album.

Thursday 29 June 2017

Visiting a Beekeeper

A couple of months ago on one of our weekly walks with the ramblers club we passed an apiarist's establishment. It looked really well set up and I determined to go back there. I am planning to offer local foodie visits to cheesemakers and suchlike, so an apiarist seemed like an excellent addition to the itinerary. 

 A centrifugal spinner for cold extracting the honey from the comb.

Quite by chance Joy and Jheanne, who are living up the street from us for a few months, mentioned that they kept bees back at home on their farm in South Africa. I immediately suggested that I set up a visit with the apiarist here and we could treat it as a trial for taking clients.

 Bernard starting up his smoker. The slab of wood is to stop his leg hairs burning.

I dropped in to see the apiarist, Bernard, on my way to the supermarket and explained what I wanted to do. He was enthusiastic and said he loved meeting people from different places, so we set a date.

A drinking bowl for the bees, who visit it often in hot weather and take in a lot of water.
The pebbles are to prevent them drowning.

Once we got there Bernard kitted us out in beekeeping suits, with gloves and boots. Joy and I had both come in completely unsuitable shoes and had to stick our bare feet into size 9 rubber boots. The crutch of my suit came down to my knees and was presumably designed for someone short and fat. We looked a sight, but who cares?!

Bernard, Joy and me looking into a small hive.
The hives in the picture above sit on scales and their weight is transmitted back to Bernard's computer by the aerial in the middle. When they reach a certain weight he knows they are full of honey and he can harvest. It saves opening the hive and disturbing the bees, or guessing how much honey there is and harvesting too early.

Looking into a ruchette (small hive).
He opened up a small hive known as a ruchette for us to see inside. The occupants were a swarm which had split off from another hive earlier this year, and they will soon be transferred to a full sized hive. Both Joy and Jheanne remarked on how calm the bees were. At no point did any of us feel at risk from these little creatures. 

A busy hive, with males, workers and a queen, making honey and baby bees.

Bernard told us that he hadn't always been a beekeeper. It started when he retired and his children presented him with three hives. Now he has a hundred.

The end product. This is spring flower honey.

The visit was a great success and Bernard was extremely generous with his time. Joy and Jheanne really enjoyed talking apiculture with him and Joy managed not to hug Bernard at the end of the visit (she has become notorious for having hugged Gérard, our deputy mayor, in public, and totally freaking him out).

All photos courtesy of Jheanne Hugo, as I was wearing heavy gauntlets and in any case had forgotten to bring my camera!

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Grasses, Sedges and Rushes in the Forest of Montgoger

Saturday 17 June saw the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine sallying forth to study grasses, sedges and rushes in the Forest of Montgoger. I did a GSR unit through Birmingham University's Biodiversity Surveying programme ten years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm a bit rusty now though. I should have knuckled down and identified all the grass species in our orchard, but I haven't. The truth is that for some reason I don't get on nearly as well with grasses as I do with sedges and rushes.

Here are some photos from the day:

Soft Rush.
Soft Rush Juncus effusus (Fr. Jonc diffus) is common and widespread throughout France in damp places. It also occurs just about everywhere else in the world -- the rest of Europe, North Africa, North America, Asia and Australia. 

Ants nest in a Hoof Fungus.
A colony of ants had made their home under an old Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius (Fr. Amadouvier) that had fallen from a nearby tree.

Smaller Cat's-tail and Flattened Meadow Grass.
Flattened Meadow Grass Poa compressa (Fr. Pâturin à tiges aplatie) is easy to distinguish from other meadow grasses as it has flattened stems that you can feel are not round if you roll them between your fingers. It grows throughout France, Europe, temperate Asia, Marocco and North America on walls and in dry, arid places. Smaller Cat's-tail Phleum pratense (Fr. Fléole des prés) looks like its better known close relative Timothy, but is smaller. It is very common in France, in old natural meadows and pastures, especially on limestone. It also occurs throughout Europe, temperate Asia, North Africa and North America.

Edible Cep.
This year there seems to have been a lot of autumn fruiting fungi having a secondary fruiting during the spring. A species like this Edible Cep Boletus edulis (Fr. Cèpe de Bordeaux) is normally fairly abundant during the autumn, but will usually produce a few mushrooms in the spring too.

 Female Banded Demoiselle.
There were numerous female Banded Demoiselle Calyopteryx splendens (Fr. Calyoptéryx éclatant) resting on this European Yew Taxus baccata (Fr. If). They were no doubt avoiding the attentions of males who would be staking out the nearest water course.

Studying a sedge.
Chantal shows Jean how a sedge grows with its leaves in three vertical ranks up the stem. Chantal and I had earlier had a discussion about whether the French word laîche should apply only to Carex spp sedges or whether it could be used for the whole Cyperaceae family. Upshot -- we don't know and can't work it out, but suspect it is probably better to restrict the vernacular name laîche to Carex spp, and refer to any of the other genera as cypéracée if a 'common' name is required.

White Admiral.
This year because of the hot dry conditions that have developed many grassland butterflies are not very abundant, but the forest dwelling species are having a bumper year. There were dozens of White Admiral Limenitis camilla (Fr. Petit sylvain), more than I have ever seen before.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

The End of a Tree

In May 2012 (can't believe that it's 5 years ago - I would have said 3, max) we posted a photo on this blog of the street trees in Montrésor after they were pruned. So you don't have to go looking, Here it is:

In September last year we posted another photo, but I commented that one tree appears to be struggling:

On Sunday we were in Montrésor, and the news isn't good:

We'll keep you updated on what happens to this tree, and what it is replaced with.

Monday 26 June 2017

Looking to the Far Horizon

Despite the fact that this sort of intensive monoculture is responsible for quite a few of our modern environmental woes, I do love the visual effect of a good crop of wheat. This one was taken between Richelieu and Chinon last year. Our region is the largest cereal producer in Western Europe, so you have our local farmers to thank for all that delicious French bread you've eaten while on holiday here. It's the flour from central France that makes all the difference. Flour from elsewhere just isn't the same. That's what terroir is all about. The question is, can we sustain it?

The harvest this year has started, with canola and barley being taken off apace. The wheat won't be far behind. It's a race to get it all in after this hot weather and before the rain and wind starts this week.

Here are two pictures taken on the weekend of this year's crops.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Aussie Canola

The 2017 Touraine canola harvest has just started, but this photo is of a field of recently harvested Australian Canola. Susan wote about the differences in harvesting techniques here a couple of years ago.

I dislike canola harvest season, because although it removes the smell of cabbage from the landscape, canola seed spilled on the road can be very dangerous. Run over the seeds and squeeze the oil, and you could find yourself upside down in a field.

Saturday 24 June 2017

One Year On

It was twelve months ago that many in the UK voted to become a 19th Century backwater and leave the European Union. I won't tell you what Susan and I think about that - you'll have to guess.

To mark that event we are holding a picnic to celebrate what being a European is all about: inclusiveness, removing barriers, fairness and friendship. If you're in the area the picnic is in the picnic area at Chaumussay - not the one near the bridge, the one hidden the other side of the "main" road by the station. (Along the track on the left in this pic).

We had a picnic last month attended by about 20 people, but would love to see many more there this time. Bring your picnic, some seats (although there are picnic tables scattered across the area) and a plate of food to share, and join us. Language skills are not required, there will be conversations in both English and French (and probably quite a bit of Franglais from both sides of the language barrier).

After the picnic we will be "arting" -  at 2.30pm, we will be heading off to visit some local artists. If you have a classic car (or even just an older car) bring it, and we will travel in convoy. Susan and I will be in Claudette.

Friday 23 June 2017

It's Too Hot To Write

It's been hot.

Proper canicule hot, with daily highs around 37C (99ishF) and lows about 20C (70ishF). That means the house has become thermically loaded and doesn't really cool down before the next onslaught of sunshine.

The other night we had the all the windows (and shutters) wide open to try attract the merest suggestion of a cool breeze and attracted a visitor. He(?) may only have been tiny, but the flapping of wings is actually quite intrusive.

Daubenton's Bat (I think).

We like bats. Their appetite for insects is how come we can leave the window open at night.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Opium Poppies

Poppies have been loving the hot dry weather we've been having lately. And it's not just the Field Poppies. I've seen lots of Opium Poppies in gardens this year. Here are some from Ferrière Larcon last week.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

A little known view in Cheverny

Many people visit Cheverny for the chateau and see little of the village besides the main street when walking to and from the ticket counter. In most villages in France, one should always take a little walk off the beaten track if you have the time, because you never know what you will see.

For some reason, this really appeals - nothing extra special, but pretty and very typical of the area:

The blue sky and sunshine helps...

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Unexpected Treasure

We were in working last Friday, eating at one of our new favorite restaurants, "le Terminus", which is in Nazelles-Negron near Amboise station. When we left the restaurant I caught a glimpse of something I thought might be interesting, and I was right.

We have seen quite a few Delahayes in our travels, but none quite like this. Usually Delahayes are magnificently restored gleaming creations that you couldn't really see yourself using except to attend a concours, and certainly not to be driven on the road. This one is different - it looks unrestored, un-mucked about, and quite possibly all original - a rare condition for a very expensive and desirable car, and probably even more valuable because of it.

The car appears to be a Delahaye 135M, but I can't find any details about it on the internet. It has a coachbuilder's plate which says it is Chapron body no 6742, but so far that's all I know.

Needless to say - if anyone is feeling generous, yes please!


Edit - It's a 1947 Delahaye GFA 148, a less sporty, longer wheelbase version of the 135M

Monday 19 June 2017

Wheat Ears

Last year the wheat crop failed due to prolonged and extreme wet weather. This year has been much drier, and so far so good with the wheat. It's looking spectacular.


Rescue Animals:
A friend rang me yesterday to say that a friend of hers who runs an animal shelter is desperate to find a home (or homes) for a cat and a dog, both female, who have been mistreated and are in danger of being euthanased. If you can help, get in touch (details below). The shelter is at Buzancais and the animals can be delivered to their new home in central France. Please forward to anyone you think might be able to help. The shelter does not have a website (!)
My friend's message: Bonjour Susan,
Suite à mon appel téléphonique de ce jour, merci de bien vouloir diffuser l'information suivante à un maximum de personnes.
2 animaux ont besoin de manière urgente de trouver un foyer. Il s'agit d'une chatte et d'une chienne qui ont subi des maltraitances et doivent très rapidement accueillies par une famille aimante car, sinon, elles risquent d' être euthanasiées.
Tél. : 06 14 90 55 36
Merci d'app. l'après-midi ou le soir, même tard.
Merci beaucoup Susan,
Bon week-end,
Marie-Hélène VIDAR


Shock Election Result: Marisol Touraine (Socialist Party), former national Health Minister and longstanding local politician was defeated in yesterday's second round of voting for the National Assembly. Sophie Auconie (New Centre) has won, after Marisol Touraine was widely believed to be playing a double game in the absence of an En Marche candidate. Marisol Touraine won the first round and it is very rare that the underdog wins the second round in this system. However, her own local committee withdrew support, and in fact, En Marche both nationally and locally refused to support her. Sophie Auconie, on the other hand, had the support of the Republicans, and earned brownie points by the way she approached the local En Marche committee. Sophie Auconie is also an experienced politician, but in the European parliament for a different region of France. I could see from the beginning of the campaign that she was going to give Marisol Touraine a run for her money, and I think she played her hand extremely well.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Wandering Percher

The Wandering Percher Diplacodes bipunctata is a more or less ubiquitous dragonfly in Australia (except for Tasmania). This one is male and was photographed in south-east Queensland. They commonly perch on the ground or rocks rather than vegetation. The species is an early coloniser of newly created ponds. It is in the Libellulidae family of dragonflies and looks remarkably similar to members of that family present in France. 

Saturday 17 June 2017

Visiting the Valerian

One of the places we took Annette and Bruce when they visited from Australia recently was Ferrière Larçon. Along the path to Saint Mandé's magic spring the Red Valerian Centranthus ruber (Fr. Valériane rouge) growing on the wall was teaming with lepidoptera.

Annette, Bruce and Simon heading back towards the church.

Male Brimstone  Gonepteryx rhamni (Fr. Citron).
 Very common.

 Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja (Fr. Grand Nacré).
This is a new species for me, so I was rather excited. The field guide says it is common and conspicuous in the Touraine Loire Valley and the Brenne, but somehow it has never flitted across my eyeline. Its caterpillar food plant is wild violets (Hairy Violet, Marsh Violet) and the adult butterfly frequents flowery grassland, forest edges and heathland.

Dark Green Fritillary.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth Macroglossum stellartarum (Fr. Moro sphinx).

Peacock Aglais io (Fr. Paon du jour).
Very common.

These were by no means the only species enjoying the valerian. There were also Small Whites, Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns and Broad Bordered Bee Hawk Moths.