Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Forgotten Heroine

Rosine Deréan was a French actor, born in 1910 in Paris, and dying in obscurity in Genillé in 2001. Married to the comedian Claude Dauphin, she was deported to Ravensbruck during the Second World War. After the war the couple separated and she slowly disappeared from public view. Earlier this year Christophe Meunier, a local historian and university lecturer, published a biography of this little known French movie star and Resistance heroine. 

The plaque honouring her memory as a forced labourer.
She and her husband bought the chateau de la Bourdillière at Genillé in 1939. Although she lived a long and full life, her career as an actor was relatively short, and she last appeared in a film in 1956. During the Second World War, with her anti-Nazi husband having escaped to London via submarine, she joined the Resistance network Amarante. After being denounced she was arrested and interned, along with Geneviève Antonioz-de Gaulle, at Ravensbruck in Germany, where she was put to work making rope, and from where she was liberated on 30 April 1945. Scarred by these events, she returned to Genillé but was unable to really re-launch her career.

 The community events venue in Genillé is named after Rosine Deréan.

Admired for her delicate beauty and elegance, her most successful film was a tearjerker called Les Deux Orphelines, directed by Maurice Tourneur in 1933 and co-starring Renée Saint-Cyr. She and her husband were celebrities, regularly seen out on the town in Paris. By the late 1930s they were working together, starring in films such as Les perles de la couronne, in which their personal alchemy was commented on.  

 The Espace Rosine Deréan, the community events venue (Fr. salle des fêtes).
Despite her having worked with the greatest directors and actors of her day between 1931 and 1939, there was no personal archive for her biographer to trawl through. He had to piece together her story like a detective from hints, traces and personal testimonies.

 Photograph of Rosine Deréan in the salle des fêtes in Genillé.

Adrian Matthews has written about Genillé Under the Occupation on his blog, an account of a guided visit around the village with Christophe Meunier.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Donner & Blitzen

Yesterday morning at early o'clock we took Célestine over the Yzeures to collect Huub, Ingrid and Anne-Loes for a car based picnic. The weather wasn't looking perfect, but we thought we would risk it. Heading towards Lesigny we were impressed by the lightning coming from the clouds we were heading towards, but to us it didn't seem to be exactly over the picnic area.

We were right - at 09:30 the lightning hit the drawbridge tower of the chateau of le Grand Pressigny, causing a rock fall and damaging the roof of the orangerie. As a result of this, the chateau is currently closed. The Nouvelle-Republique article that alerted us to the event is here.

The gateway in 2008. This is the most recent photo we have...

We may write some more about the car-based picnic (it was genial) later in the week, but in the meantime, here's a preview:

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Comice Agricole 2017 - Day 3

Day three of the comice is reserved for the "Grand Défilé" - the big parade. This year's parade was much bigger than that in 2011, with much more community involement. Many of the villages and towns around Preuilly had circus themed "chars" (floats), including:







Unfortunately I have no idea who this cricus school is (or where they are from)
The kids were pretty good though

Preuilly sur Claise's float was for the Reine de Comice

Some excellent planning and creativity had gone into the floats, although at one stage it looked like one of the floats had been measured to fit precisely though the narrow gaps in the street, but it had been  forgotten that there would be people standing on the footpaths...

There was also a number of bands: from Saumur, Yzeures, and Saint-Geno, and a pair of majorette teams.

In all - very colourful, very local, and a most entertaining way to spend an otehrwise quiet Sunday afternoon.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Cooking With Kids

Preuilly is full of grandchildren in August. They are sent down from Paris and from other big cities during the school holidays to stay with their grandparents in the country. All over France small towns and villages experience an influx of young people in August.

Ludmilla weighs butter, while Hamud, Yasmine and Aboud look on.
My friend Christiane is one of these grandparents, and she currently has four of her teenaged grandchildren in the house. She thought it would be a good idea if they kept up their English studies and spent some time with me too. So I had to dream up some activities that we could do together whilst speaking English. Baking cakes proved to be by far the most successful.

Yasmine and Ludmilla grease a rum baba mould for the boys' chocolate cake.
I asked the kids what type of cake they wanted to make. Hamud said 'chocolate!' and Ludmilla said 'lemon?' I gave them a selection of recipes in English and the boys chose Chocolate Sponge Cake and the girls chose Lemon Drizzle Cake.

Yasmine adds sugar.
Christiane checked out the recipes and made sure she had all the ingredients in the pantry. The boys did their cake first and while it was baking the girls mixed theirs. Then while the girls' was baking the boys did their icing. 

Ludmilla mixing.
We decided to use a rum baba mould for the boys' cake because Christiane didn't have two sponge tins the same size. Like the beautiful old kitchen scales Ludmilla is using in the first photo, the rum baba mould had been Christiane's mother's, so the kids great-grandmother's. It was a bit battered, but the girls greased it thoroughly and the cake released with no problems.

Hamud icing.
I enjoyed spending time with the kids. Like so many young people I meet, they are smart, funny and good company. They worked really well together, sharing the tasks fairly and not bickering or niggling one another. They are a credit to their parents.

Proud bakers Hamud and Aboud show off their Chocolate Sponge Cake.
 Proud granny Christiane sends a picture to the kids' parents.
 Equally proud bakers Ludmilla and Yasmine with their Lemon Drizzle Cake.
 Hamud concentrating on getting perfect slices.
 Enjoying the fruits of their labour.
Somewhat to the boys' chagrin, everyone except them liked the Lemon Drizzle Cake best. The Chocolate Sponge Cake was extremely sweet.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sydney Blue Gum

The upper trunk, with bark hanging in shreds.
More or less impossible to photograph, this venerable Sydney Blue Gum Eucalyptus saligna stands at the entrance to Ravensbourne National Park in south-east Queensland. It is still here because when loggers arrived in the area in the 19th century, this tree was already old. It was hollow inside, and no use to the loggers. It acts as a multi-storey apartment building for forest animals, their supermarket, as well as being an air purifier and water pump.

 The lower trunk.
High up in the sky bats and bees feed on nectar from its flowers. Down in the trunk termites munch on heart wood. Underground fungi grows on the roots and lives in a symbiotic relationship with insects. Signs of occupancy include claw marks in the trunk, faint trails across the bark and droppings on the ground.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Caterpillar Catastrophe

European Box Buxus sempervirens is probably native (or at least naturalised for more than a thousand years) in this area. Up until 2009 it had no significant insect pests, although it could be attacked by the fungal diseases known as box blights, which arrived in France in 2006. Sadly, now there is a moth which arrived in our garden last year, and this year has caused significant devastation in gardens and in the forest locally.

 Caterpillars have got the low hedge and are half way up the Box ball.
The brown and white Box Tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis is native to east Asia and seems to have been accidentally introduced first to Germany in Europe. The caterpillars eat the soft green parts of the leaves and not the harder central rib and outer margin, so the plants take on a particular lacey appearance. Ironically, one of their predators is also here in Europe, and Yellow-legged Asian Hornet Vespa velutina, currently causing a lot of concern amongst apiarists, has been observed taking caterpillars in France. Supposedly birds do not like the caterpillars, as they have ingested a lot of toxins from the Box leaves, but Simon has witnessed sparrows taking the caterpillars in a friend's garden.

Various synthetic insecticides, including pyrethrin sprays, will kill the caterpillars, as will Bacillus thuringensis and the appropriate nematode. They need to be applied regularly (about once every 10 days) to keep plants free of the caterpillars. Some control can be achieved by using pheromone traps from March to October to catch the males and prevent the females laying so many fertilized eggs.

 The caterpillars and their typical sticky web and pattern of eating just the soft parts of the leaf.
The plants don't die, but since Box is often topiarised, cutting it back to allow encourage vigorous shoots from the base to re-establish a nice green plant is not always an option. I notice that a lot of the online garden advice websites are claiming that hand picking off the caterpillars is a worthwhile method of control, but it's obvious to me that there are too many caterpillars for this to work once you have an infestation.

The adult moth, courtesy of Aigronne Valley Wildlife.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Mudlarking at Mont Saint Michel

Recently I had the opportunity to join a group walking across the bay from the Ecomusée de la Baie de Mont Saint Michel to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. I was working with Walking Adventures International as their local guide in the Loire Valley and after hearing what a wonderful experience it was to approach the Mont from across the sands at low tide, I requested to join the group early. Our local guide was François Lamotte d'Argy, who focused as much on the ecology of the area as the history as we walked.

The saltmarshes with Mont Saint Michel in the background.
We started by walking across the saltmarshes, home to grazing sheep and cattle. Once we got beyond the electric fences keeping the cattle beyond the limits of the tides François pointed out edible plants such as the samphire and we all had a taste.

The saltmarshes are succeeded by fine squidgy muddy silt. It is covered by a film of algae that is the first stage of the land being reclaimed from the sea.

Walking across the sand.
The mud gives way to sand, which is inundated daily by the tide. The mud and sand are full of little creatures, including tiny shrimp in any little puddle. The bay is an important food resevoir for wading birds, many of which are migratory and need stopovers like Mont Saint Michel in order to fatten up for their journeys north in the spring and south in the autumn.

François leading the group out of one of the rivers.
The Mont Saint Michel estuary is where three rivers, the Sée, the Sélune and the Couesnon empty into the sea. The river channels twist and curve, changing their paths over time, which is one of the reasons you need a guide to lead the crossing.

François listening to the sand.
The sandbanks between the rivers are full of tiny organisms, and if you stand still and listen you can hear them sucking and blowing. If you pick up a handful of sand it's full of tiny holes made by these little creatures.

Strung out across the sands.
The walk we did took about three hours, during which time the Mont never seemed to get any closer. At this point we are all strung out, walking in contemplative silence to recreate the experience of being a medieval pilgrim. The only sound was the wind, the distinctive call of the Redshank Tringa totanus...and the squishing of François' booties.

Slipper Limpet.
We found whelk, cockle and winkle shells, bits of coral, spider crab carapaces and some Slipper Limpets Crepidula fornicator. These last are notable for the stacks of up to a dozen animals that they form, with the lower ones being older females and the upper ones younger males. 

The Mont and its reflection.
 At last the Mont gets a bit closer.

François draws a map of the new water management system.
François' map shows the canalised river Couesnon at the bottom, with the barrier and the flow divider on the right. The water can be directed around between the Mont and the mainland to scour it out and keep it an island. The scheme is generally hailed as a great success but François is starting to have concerns about how much the sand is moving around, how much further upstream the rivers are converging and how all of this might be affecting the wading birds and their food sources.

Washing our feet at the base of the Mont.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Comice Agricole 2017 - Day 2

The second day (Saturday) of the Comice was (in many ways) the busiest.

The day started before many of the dancers from the previous evening were out of bed - I went to the brocante at 10.30 and it was still fairly quiet. There was a good range of stuff available, none of which floated my boat. I was joined by Lisa and Simon and lunched on sausages and chips and half a baguette (6€) and a cup of cidre (1€) courtesy of the Comité des Fetes. There was a local marching band on hand to provide entertainment, and it was all very convivial.

Also on Saturday was the agricultural display, with sheep, cattle, chickens, pigeons, and rabbits, and a large range of tractors of all ages. The pompiers from Loches (I think) were there with some impressive machinery, as well as a display of cars available to buy from the local garages.

I missed seeing the Montgolfiers (hot air balloons) - if they happened - because I had to pick Susan up at 6.30pm in Chinon, and in the evening there was the official ball (also missed by us) but which was deemed by no less a personage than the Maire as being "magnifique, impeccable !"

That'll learn us to be dance dodgers.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Traction Twins

Last week Susan and I organised lunch with Leon and Sue (from Australia) and our friend Olivier (from near Amboise). Olivier writes automotive books (mainly about Citroens), and Leon has penned the odd book or two about cars himself. After lunch Olivier invited us all back to his house for coffee, and to show Leon his pre-war Traction Avant (think Célestine's older sister).

Talk about separated at birth! It was an afternoon made even more remarkable by the fact that a couple of years ago Leon had met Olivier's son in Australia, and had sold his previous Traction Avant to Olivier's son's best friend in Melbourne.

Small world, full of great people.

The restaurant we ate at was Le Bistrot du Terminus in Nazelles Négron. It does a great menu at 14€50, including buffet entrée, a choice of mains, and buffet dessert. If you haven't been - do!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Comice Agricole 2017 - Day 1

This is the second time since we have lived the Preuilly sur Claise that the Comice Agricole has been held here. (For Australians, think of the Ekka and the Royal Easter Show rolled into one).

Friday kicked off about midday with the concours de labours, or ploughing competition. For afficionados of ploughing this must have been riveting, but I am not au fait with the nuances, so for me it was the tractors that took my attention. There were all ages and sizes of tractors, but no horse ploughing. As with most of the western world, grey Fergies were the most evident, but it was a little tracked machine that particularly caught my eye.

The tractor that started the modern world

Then in the evening we had  the selection of the Queen of the Fair, followed by special comice fireworks, and dancing. I am a huge fan of dancing (the concept of bringing communtities together, not your actual me dancing thing) and as ever it was great to see all ages together on the dance floor. As in previous years the Madison was the most popular. My photos capture the movement...

The street lights were left on all night to help the partyers get home - normally they turn off at 11pm on a Friday.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Monday is Washing Day

Is everybody happy?

In many rural communities in France, town water that came out of a tap in your house didn't arrive until the 1960s. Prior to that, laundry was done in big copper boilers that you filled from the well and at the communal lavoir (laundry shelter) on the river. 

Lavoir at Marcilly, fed by a spring.
Lavoirs could be as simple as a shelter with washing slopes on the river bank, or they could be a much more complicated arrangement, with wood fired coppers, hand operated water pumps and stone troughs under one roof. By the 20th century large items such as sheets were boiled with grated savon de Marseille (pure soap) in a wood fired copper if you had access to such a thing. Alternatively, if you had a trough, you could soak items in a lye solution, which in the 19th century and before, could have had ash and urine added. Real soap was expensive, so you generally only used it on stains. Also soap tended to be more common in areas where wood (for ash and lye) was not the usual fuel stuff. Here in the rural heart of France, soap would have been a bit of a luxury until the 19th century. Lye along with sunshine acted to bleach and whiten white cloth.

A laundry barrow.
After soaking or soaping the wet laundry was fished out with a pole and dumped onto a specially made wheelbarrow for trundling to the next stage where they were beaten with a bat and rinsed in the river. The lavoirs usually had washboxes in which you knelt to keep your skirt dry and washing slopes for scrubbing on. The laundry might be started at home (especially if you needed to deal with stains) and just rinsed in the river, or dirty washing brought to the lavoir and the entire process done there. If you had access to a copper you might add laundry bluing (which often contained starch) to your final rinse, to brighten and starch your items. Starch requires boiling to dissolve and items could be blued and starched simultaneously or consecutively.

Lavoir at Chédigny, on a small stream.
Once your laundry was soap free at the lavoir you asked a friend to help wring them out then they were plonked back on the wheelbarrow and taken home where they were run through the mangle and hung on the line to dry. By the 19th and 20th centuries, washing was a weekly event for most households. Prior to that it was much less frequent as it involved so much work.