Monday, 22 January 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 15 Jeanne d'Albret

Jeanne d'Albret was the niece of François I, the daughter of his sister Marguerite. She was raised in the austere chateau of Plessis-lèz-Tours and as a young woman spent much of her time at the heart of the French court with her uncle, as well as being Queen of the tiny Protestant stronghold of Navarre in her own right. Declaring definitively for the religious reformers in 1560, ultimately she led the Protestant cause in France, along with her son Henri (later to become King Henri IV of France).

Despite her loud and very public protests, at the age of 12 she was married to the Duke of Cleves (brother of Henry VIII's unloved bride Ann). Continuing to reject her husband she finally got an annullment based on the fact that the marriage had been forced. Technically, the church allowed girls to reject potential husbands, and in this case she had been physically carried, kicking and screaming, to the altar. Still, it indicates real force of character even at a young age that she continued to hold out against family pressure. 

Later she fell for the womanising Antoine de Bourbon and married him once her manipulating uncle François had died. However, the marriage, which lasted 14 years and produced five children, was rocky. They rarely saw eye to eye, partly because Antoine's was continually roving. She seems not to have got on with many of the women at court. She and Catherine de Medici clearly greatly disliked one another, and even her cousin Renée de France (Louis IX's younger daughter), who was a fellow Protestant, couldn't stand her. Jeanne came to be seen as a dangerous fanatic.

Nevertheless, in 1570 she decided to negotiate with the Catholics in an attempt at reconciliation. Her son Henri was to marry the Catholic Princess Marguerite, daughter of Henri II and Catherine de Medici. Jeanne's sudden death in Paris not long before the wedding was later to contribute to Catherine's reputation as a poisoner.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Jean-Louis Brian 1848. To see Jeanne looking austere you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Little Penguins at Manly Wharf

One of the surprises of the Sydney harbour and seaside suburb of Manly is the presence of a colony of Little Penguin Eudyptula minor. The authorities are a bit cagey about how many birds there are exactly, and where you can find them. This is because they are greatly at risk by human disturbance.

Foxes are a threat to the penguins, as are domestic dogs.

The penguins spend much of their life out at sea, but they come in to Manly to breed in burrows between May and February. They use a number of islands in the harbour but also 60-70 pairs uses various secluded (and not so secluded) coves and are the last remaining breeding colony on the mainland in New South Wales.

Kids are encouraged to get involved with the penguin conservation project.

The penguins are diligently protected by volunteer guardians who watch over them as they scoot up under the wharf at Manly. Members of the public are welcome to watch from a suitable distance, and the volunteers enjoy passing on their knowledge and enthusiasm for the little creatures. Because of the penguins, dogs must be kept on leashes along the Manly foreshore. Plastics and fishing detritus are a problem too. The volunteers pick up rubbish on the beach, but Lucky is so called because he was rescued from entanglement in fishing net. The penguins can also swallow plastic flotsam, in the mistaken idea that it is prey.

Trust me, there is a penguin (possibly two) in this photo
 (on the left, under the wharf, near the bent metal bar).

Young male penguins return to the place they were born. The wharf in Manly Cove once had several pairs, but now only has Lucky, who was born there, and Bella, the mate he enticed there several years ago. This year they raised two chicks, so perhaps the colony will be augmented next year if they were male.

Manly Wharf.

Little Penguins are the smallest of the penguin species, found on the southern coast of Australia and New Zealand. They stand about a foot high, weigh about a kilo and a half and are slate grey on the back, white on the front.

At dusk the access to Manly Cove beach is closed so that the penguins who nest under the wharf can come in to shore undisturbed.

I can remember as a small child being taken to Australia's most famous Little Penguin colony, on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, to see the penguins come in for the night. I also remember that visit because it's where I caught measles.

A display outside the now closed Manly aquarium.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Idiot Wagon

First of all, an explanation. The term Idiot Wagon isn't pejorative, but a term of affection, rather like you would use when your dog does something silly...

The AMG A45 is a bit of a beast. Mercedes send their smallest 4 door hatchback (the A series) to the AMG factory, where the car is un-manufactured, the engine and gearbox rebuilt (each item done by one individual who signs his work), fitted with a mahoosive twin turbo, and just about everything else upgraded - suspension, interior, steering, wheels, brakes. Then, according to the options you choose, an aerodynamic pack is added, and all of a sudden you have a 4 door shopping trolley that will outrun most supercars.

The car my brother very generously lent us when we were in Australia:
A fully optioned AMG A45 4matic

I kid you not. The handbook (all 3 inches thick of it) states that using the 7 speed, dual clutch gearbox, no way - no way AT ALL - should you exceed 287km/h (178mph) in 6th gear. It has a 1991cc, dual turbocharged, 376hp engine, 4 wheel drive, and will reach 100km/h in 4.2 seconds.

This makes overtaking a real blast - literally. Injudicious application of the loud pedal, even in "ECO" mode, will take you past most trucks before you realise it, and even the shortest of overtaking lanes become practical. In sports mode it's even faster...

Apparently all those plastic aerodynamic bits aren't just for looks.
I never really drove fast enough to find out.

It climbs hills and goes around corners like a lunatic, meaning you have very little use for the super huge (and super efficient) brakes. In sports mode it cackles like a demented witch everytime you take your foot off the accelerator, and the seatbelts give you a hug when you put them on. The load space will take two large suitcases, and there is room for 3 in the back seat although anyone behind me would benefit from being either 1 metre tall or a dual amputee. The GPS more or less works, although it does sometimes take serious convincing about describing the route YOU want to take, and the sound system seems to be ok (not that I ever used it). Likewise the sunroof, which I opened once just so I could say I'd done it.

The headlights are amazing, although the auto-low beam function gets confused when confronted by reflective road signs, and the windscreen wipers just don't cope with the way it can rain in Australia. On the other hand, the climate control really did cope with Australian weather  - even when the outside temperatures were in the 40's (well over 100F) we were looking (and feeling) cool.

I particularly enjoyed the adaptive cruise control, which you can set just above the speed limit and forget, allowing the car to slow as the traffic in front of it slows, before automatically accelerating (usually like a maniac) when you pull out to overtake. There were stretches of over 100km where I didn't touch either pedal at all. I never tried the automatic reverse parallel parking (press the button and it reverses into the parking place with no driver input) because although it sounds like a good idea, I never needed it.

Yup - flappy paddle gearbox, and the bit of the speedo you use is all in the bottom left corner.

It does have issues. The suspension has virtually no travel (and with 19 inch rims the very wide but not very thick tyres aren't much use for absorbing bumps), and the racing Recarro seats aren't made for man sized people. It's also very low, which meant the proximity "watch out, we're going to crash" alarm went all hysterical when encountering speed bumps in station car parks. The lack of suspension travel might not be so much of an issue on the good roads around here, but on some of the windey roads I chose to take in Australia, road surface isn't really a thing.

Not a car for mature people, or those with dodgy hips or knees..

Would I want one to live with? Honestly, I don't know, although the fuel consumption was ok (we used 545litres of fuel for 6893km at 7.9l/100k ) I imagine the insurance would be more than two Traction Avants (insured as Taxis) and a 1.5l Ford hatchback all added together. I also thought it a bit loud even in ECO mode, although the soundtrack in sports mode - where you want it - was really antisocial and therefore a good thing. I love the reassuring squeeze the seatbelts give you when you do them up, the way it goes around corners, and the way it overtakes. But then there is the issue of cost - a Porsche would be cheaper.

The risk? The risk is that I might want one..

Just substitute the seats with a nice comfy sofa, and give the suspension some travel and I might consider it. Especially if every time I got out the car I had an idiot grin on my face...

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Long and the Short of it

Something to brighten up a Northern Hemisphere January morning:

Surfers on Manly Beach.

Surf culture is alive and well in the Sydney suburb of Manly, which has an ocean beach and a harbour beach.

The two guys in the photo demonstrate the two different basic styles of surfboard. The one at the front is a shortboard, the one at the back a longboard. Modern surfboards are made from polystyrene foam coated in fibreglass. The longer or wider a board is the more stable and easy to control they are.

Shortboards are for showing off on, zippy and contrary so that the rider's skill can be highlighted with a technique known as 'shredding'. Longboards are easier to paddle and stand up on but don't get airborn and can't be twisted into the sort of extreme turns and displays that modern surfing competitions put on display. They are more for the old fashioned art of hanging five (walking up the length of the surfboard to hang your toes over the very front of your surfboard as it is lifted up and pushed forward by a wave).

These two surfers are wearing wetsuits, probably not so much because they found the water chilly but because they are protecting themselves from UV in the sun's rays. This is just one difference between visiting beaches in Australia and visiting beaches in northern Europe.

We spent eight weeks in Australia over the 2017/2018 southern summer and will be writing about it regularly

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Things are Grave Part VII -- Susan Sontag

Not someone who entered my consciousness much, Susan Sontag was an American writer and activist. Except briefly in the late 1950s, she never lived in Paris, but her experience here as a student was apparently the most important period of her life. 

We visited Montparnasse cemetery in September and are posting about selected graves over a period of weeks.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Random Bits of News

We have some good news, and some bad news..........

First the less good news: We arrived back in France at 06.35 last Friday morning. On the plane I slept quite well, but appeared to have caught a cold. Saturday was spent being (I'm sorry, there isn't a politer word for this) very snotty. By Sunday it had migrated to my chest, and by Monday I was at the doctor's for an investigation. I have asthmatic bronchitis (as opposed to the usual slightly inconvenient form of asthma I am subject to day to day) so I am on a course on antibiotics, and three (count 'em) different types of corticosteroid. It is now uncomfortable rather than painful as long as I don't cough, but extremely painful (and distressing for Susan) when I do cough.

Boo to airlines making their planes so cold!

But now the good news: Yesterday I booked our train tickets to go to Paris for Retromobile. I was pleasantly surprised (actually no I wasn't, I was amazed) to discover that if you're lucky you can now get from Saint Pierre des Corps (4km from Tours) to Paris in less than an hour, for 10€ (yup - ten euros!) per person each way. This is because Ouigo now service our neck of the woods with their no frills trains.

>There are a couple of fairly easy to deal with conditions - you have to check in (on the platform) at least 30 minutes before your train, and your baggage allowance is a cabin bag and a handbag each. Additional luggage (up to 30kg per person) is 5€ per bag. You have to pay an additional 2€ if you want a seat with a power plug, and the trains arrive and depart from Paris Montparnasse Hall 3.

The previous cheapest TGV tickets to Paris were 17€, but usually more like 20€ or 25€ depending on time of day, so this is quite a win! There are supposedly 3 Ouigo services per day from Bordeaux to Tours, stopping at Angouleme, Poitiers, and Saint Pierre des Corps. All tickets are 10€pp until 18 July. There's more info here

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Largest Medieval Fortress in Europe

As we were driving north through Brittany to Mont Saint Michel in July 2017 I noticed a sign advertising a historic attraction. 'If you haven't seen Fougères you haven't seen anything' it said. Then there was another sign which said 'Fougères, the largest medieval fortress in Europe'. 

Well, this was all news to us, so we thought we'd better stop. After a bit of going around in circles while our GPS didn't cope, we finally made it to the top of the hill which looks out over the 'largest, best preserved medieval fortress in Europe' and out over a valley and extensive farmland. There's no doubt it's impressive and very medieval. We reckon it might be worth a proper visit in the future. The town of Fougères is attractive and would make quite a good base for exploring the area, which has a lot more to offer than just the chateau.

The fortress of Fougères defended the independent Duchy of Fougères for 500 years, from 1000 to 1500. It's in marcher country, that is to say, in a band of frontier territory that is along an oft disputed border, in this case with Normandy and Maine. Most of what you see today dates from the 12th, 13th and 15th centuries.

The complex has access to the River Nançon, which was used for both defensive and more domestic purposes. Ditches could be flooded at will to turn them into moats and from the 12th century there was four waterwheels powering flour mills. Even today, one of the wheels has been restored and generates electricity for the site. The vast lower court functioned as a space where daily life went on in times of peace, with workshops, gardens and warehouses. In times of war it served as a refuge for the local population and protected the well which was the only source of potable water. After providing centuries of vigilance and protection for the Dukes of Britanny, the chateau finally fell to the cannons of Charles VIII in 1488 (taking advantage of the death of François II, Duke of Britanny, leaving his 11 year old daughter Anne as his heir).

Apparently Lawrence of Arabia really rated the castle, saying 'this castle is really above and beyond everything that one can say...I'm not sure that Fougères is not the most beautiful of them all.' (Note that I couldn't find this quote in the original English so I've back translated it from the French text on the chateau brochure, so it could be slightly off, but you get the idea...)

Monday, 15 January 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 14 Clémence Isaure

Clémence Isaure isn't a real person. She is a character associated with Toulouse, credited with founding a poetry competition known as Les Jeux Floraux (the Floral Games). The literary society that runs the Jeux Floraux was founded in 1326 and is undoubtedly the oldest literary society in existence in the western world. The competition is called Les Jeux Floraux in reference to ancient Roman poetry competitions dedicated to the goddess Flora.

In 1513 the original literary society split into two separate organisations. The modern Academie des Jeux floraux is the descendant of the group who invented an endowment to the city of Toulouse and the character of Clémence Isaure, claiming that a condition of the endowment was that a poetry competition be held annually. By this means the city of Toulouse found itself funding the annual event. The members of the society co-opted the tomb of a local aristocratic woman, turning her effigy into that of the fictitious Clémence Isaure by modifying the sculpture to include various floral emblems. Amazingly they got away with all of this and the Academie survives as a respectable literary society.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Antoine-Augustin Préault 1848. To see Clémence looking wistful you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Wall of Thanks

We've just returned from 8 weeks in Australia, bronzed and with 4 kilos extra around the midriff. Thanks to the generosity and hospitality of friends and family we couched surfed our way up and down the Great Dividing Range from Toowoomba in south-east Queensland to Geelong in southern Victoria. This blog post is dedicated to thanking all those people who made our wonderful holiday possible, and contributed to our enjoyment of the time. At every place we stayed we laughed, we ate, we talked. We felt how lucky we were, and hope that our friends and family know how much we appreciated the time spent with us.

My sister Kathy, me, Dad, Mum.

The Dads: We stayed several times for a few days with Simon's Dad Ernie at Woy Woy on the New South Wales coast north of Sydney, where he lives in an independent living retirement complex and visiting Simon's Mum, who is now in a nearby Aged Care Facility. Ernie was very generous with money in the bank for Christmas and birthdays to help fund our trip.

My Dad lives in Pittsworth in the house where I spent my teenage years, near Toowoomba in south-east Queensland. We spent Christmas, my birthday and my mother's birthday here, spending the time with my sister, her husband, his mother and my mother, who lives in an Aged Care Facility just a few streets away, but is physically quite spry and she spent most of the day with us. My sister and I spent much of the time cooking, both for the groaning festive table, and to put in the freezer as ready meals for Dad to eat later.

Sue and Leon at a bakery-café in Kyneton.

Leon and Sue:  We first meet Leon and Sue in France, when they visit every couple of years. They are fellow bloggers and have recently moved to a lovely new home in Trentham, central Victoria. With them we experienced Trentham and districts thriving foodie culture. Sue is a very keen cook but broke two vertebrae in her spine during her last visit to France. Consequently she has been finding cooking difficult. Nevertheless she directed Leon to produce a superb smokey barbecued boned and marinated leg of lamb.

Ric and Sheila, in the woolshed (or is it a cinema?).

Ric and Sheila: Ric is my father's younger brother and he's married to Sheila. They live on a small but busy sheep farm overlooking Bass Strait, near Geelong in Victoria. Ric is a cinema buff and runs a private cinema in the woolshed. When shearing time comes around, movie posters are taken down and shearing rigs put up. Sheila cooked one of their lambs, invited my cousin Josh to dinner and we talked about sheep. Ric regaled me with tall tales and true of his childhood, my father and grandfather.

Simon with Rick and Helen at Candelo.

Rick and Helen: We've stayed with Rick and Helen before on a previous trip. They live at Pambula on the New South Wales coast and since we've last seen them have had some nasty health scares. Rick was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, which luckily has been successfully treated. Helen has developed the very rare Mammalian Meat Allergy, which is ongoing and impacting severely on her diet. Boy is she sick of chicken! They introduced us to the reinvented Tathra pub, which has been sensitively restored and does great food, and the general store in Candelo, which does a great veggie burger.

Somehow we failed to take a photo of Bruce and Annette, 
so here's one of them from their visit to us last year.

Bruce and Annette: Bruce is one of Simon's school friends, and he and Annette live in Canberra. He's a chef and they were busy preparing for the Christmas meal they and a team of volunteers produce every year for homeless, lonely and disadvantaged people. I hope Annette remembered not to put red onion in the bean salad! (There was considerable hilarious discussion about the niceties of where red onion was appropriate and where it was not. As a chef with bi-polar, Bruce has very definite opinions about this.) Annette's parents were Italian and so she made us gnocchi (nearly as good as Nonna's!) and we enjoyed family made salamis.

Nina and Matt.

Matt, Nina and Samara: Matt was the guitarist in the band that Simon played in when we lived near Toowoomba. Nina is his lovely wife, who was heavily pregnant when we visited. She looked like a super model smuggling a basket ball, and a couple of days before we left Australia she gave birth to Sienna, who looks adorable in the photos. Samara is Nina's mum and lives in their granny flat. Nina's family come from Croatia, but they are Serbian and Bosnian. When the war broke out Nina was 12, and her father very sensibly decided to bring the family to Australia, where they have made a good life for themselves. Samara orchestrated a feast, with barbecued meat, potatoes dauphinoise style and salads.

Geoff and Christine: We first met Geoff and Christine in France too. They came here on holiday, and to do a bit of house hunting. They live in the New South Wales Northern Rivers town of Lismore, surrounded by rainforest. Christine is an artist specialising in landscapes of the coastal heathlands. They invited us to stay after a series of the most remarkable coincidences, involving them meeting our friend Melvyn, who lives near us in France, in a café in Goulbourn in New South Wales. At the time, they didn't even realise we were in Australia too.

Rosie and Jon.

Jon and Rosie: Jon is Simon's brother and Rosie his wife. They live in Canberra, where their large house is open to people coming and going all the time. They are the most remarkably easy going and hospitable people. They were also generous with money in the bank for Christmas, and most importantly of all, the loan of a high powered sports car in which we did about 7000 happy kilometres. We also got to use their appartment in Manly, the beachside suburb of Sydney, enjoy sailing on their boat and use their snorkelling gear. Of all the people we owe a big thanks, Jon and Rosie deserve the biggest.

Elizabeth and Vic: Elizabeth is Simon's sister and Vic is her husband. They live at Ettalong Beach, north of Sydney, and enjoy the beach lifestyle to the full. They have a granny flat which made staying with them easy and comfortable. We enjoyed walks on the beach, sailing and Elizabeth's home made sourdough, salads and kraut. Vic is in the throes of writing a book and Elizabeth dashes about like a mad thing in a female friendship group who make art and swim.

Other people featured prominently in our days in Australia too.

Liselle, who fed us crepes for breakfast and pasta for dinner; Erica, who walked us up hill and down dale; Helen, Denise, Kathy G, and Merryl, who I went to school with; Trish and Bruce, who have 'retired' since last time I saw them, the Mums, who we visited at their nursing homes and took out for day trips; Kathy and John, my sister and her husband who we walked and talked with; Hugo and Penny, who Simon went to school with and who fed us delicious salads; Sue and Don, Simon's first wife and her husband; Kat and Felicity, Simon's daughter and granddaughter; Jack, Tom and Jess, Simon's nephews and niece; Josh, Claire and Georgia, my cousin, his wife and their daughter; Poss and Brian, my father's sister and her husband; Sally, Emily and Ella, my cousin and her daughters; Mark, another of my cousins; Trev and Noel, Simon's school friends.

Then there is our housesitter, the diminutive Dotty. She was an absolute trooper and despite her struggles with our wood stove we came home to a house that was cleaner and neater than when we left. She has moved a couple of doors up the street and is now dogsitting for one of our neighbours. We came home to the stove lit and warming the house and box of organic vegetables on the kitchen bench.

Finally, last but not least, I would like to thank Simon for his meticulous planning of our trip. I contributed virtually nothing, being too busy and stressed with Brexit issues. Happily I more or less ignored these whilst away, apart from a brief spell in early December to make sure my local contacts were aware of important discussions in the European Parliament about citizens rights. Simon's planning included not just our itinerary, but our budget, and we are proud to see that our holiday budget account has $20 left in it. Simon also did all of the driving, which although we had a wonderful car, it did have racing seats that were not really designed for someone of his size, and driving it through the mountains, on the highways and through downpours for 7000km over 8 weeks was not nothing.

For  me it was a wonderful exercise in friendship and networking. At first I was uncomfortable about how generous people were to us and felt I was putting people out by lobbing up on their doorstep. But by the end I realised that all these warm and caring people enjoyed having us come to stay as much as we enjoyed their visits to us in France. Making up the spare bed and getting a load of delicious food in because people are coming to stay is a joy and to be treasured. (Now I just have to convince myself that cleaning the bathroom is also a joy if it means it will be nice for guests...).

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Aussie Trip 2017: week 8

We're home again, after 8 weeks (and 45 minutes) travelling. This week - hot (47°C) at the cricket, bats about bats at dinner, a Circular Quay, and Shanghaid at midnight.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Things are Grave Part VI -- Charles Pigeon and Family

To modern eyes this family monument, with the deceased in bed together fully clothed, is somewhat ridiculous. Today, this grave is what Charles Pigeon is remembered for, but in the late 19th century he invented a gasoline lantern that would not explode, making his fortune. He sold lamps for miners and cyclists and was one of the earliest entrepreneurs to realise the value a company logo -- in his case, a pigeon standing on a globe and holding a lamp in its beak.

Despite the incongruity of the couple's attire versus their setting, this is a tender scene of a loving husband and wife. He is working with a pencil and notebook, no doubt making jottings and sketches of a new idea, whilst his wife looks on attentively, ready to respond if asked her opinion. Above them, the angel holds his patented Pigeon lamp.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Jean-Baptiste Lully

On British TV, Christmas and the New Year is ballet season, so I expect the Nutcracker received it's annual screening. (I could let out a long sigh at the lack of imagination being shown, but what would be the point?)


Many years before Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky came on the scene the man for ballet was Giovanni Battista Lulli, an Italian composer (and dancer) better known as Jean-Baptiste Lully. He was introduced to the court of Louis XIV by Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier, and wrote many ballets, operas and quite a few religious works for Louis XIV in the French Baroque style (which he just about invented, and wasn't Italian at all).

Some music, because we can and because I like it.

Everybody knows (or should know) one thing about Lully: he died of gangrene: having stabbed himself through the foot with his conducting staff he refused to have the foot amputated in case he couldn't dance again.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Salmon Mousse

This is an adaptation of a recipe given to me by Stéphane Bureau, the chef at the Clos d'Amboise in the Loire Valley. 

Cure 500 g of salmon overnight (or longer -- up to 4 days is fine) in a mixture of sugar, salt, dill weed and lemon juice (recipe here). Rinse the cure off, dry the salmon and remove the skin. Dice the salmon flesh and blend with a tablespoon of lemon juice, 500 ml thick cream, 250 g cream cheese, salt and pepper. 

Serve as a dip, with batons of carrot, sweet pepper, kohlrabi, cucumber and celery.

On peut trouver la recette en version français ici.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Le Mont St Michel

The clothing brand Le Mont St Michel was founded in 1913, making bleus de travail - heavy denim work clothes for proper roughty toughty working men. Even today you can see their painted adverts from the middle of last century on buildings all over France. Close to us there are signs in Preuilly, Saint Flovier and le Petit Pressigny - but because they are ubiquitous I have no doubt there is advertising we drive past each day but no longer notice.

This sign is in Le Petit Pressigny

In 1998 the business was taken over, and according to their website it is now an "urban & modern fashion label, still in line with the functional soul coming from its workwear legacy". It looks rather like leisurewere faux rugby shirts to me, but I'm not a clothing expert.

When we were in Paris we saw one of their stores.
You couldn't dig your spuds in the new stuff...

Monday, 8 January 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 13 Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans

The daughter of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, who was brother of (and conspirator against) King Louis XIII of France,  Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans was always going to be trouble. This was amplified by the fact that her immensely wealthy mother died 5 days after giving birth, leaving Anne Marie the richest heiress in France.

She never married, although she received proposals (or plans for hitching her up were received) from various quarters including Charles II of England, Alfonso VI of Portugal, Cardinal Ferdinand of Austria (presumably before he entered the church), and Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy. She was also close (some say too close) to her cousins Louis XIV and Philippe, Duke of Anjou (who was openly gay).

She was very close to her father, and supported him in his plots against Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu (and his sucessor Cardinal Mazarin), and it was this that queered her pitch to marry Louis XIV. She was exiled a number of times due to her intriguing (and always choosing the wrong side), but her wealth ensured that she was eventually always forgiven. This wealth was increased even further when her father died and she inherited the bulk of his estate.

It was at this point it appears she went from being a danger to the crown to just being a nuisance whose foibles and excesses had to be tolerated. She was prone to dressing inappropriately, and once said "people of my rank are always young". In 1666 she met the Duc de Lauzun, an impoverished minor nobleman and distinguished soldier who was part of the marriage negotiations between Louis XIV and Queen Marie Thérèse. She asked Louis XIV's permission to marry Lauzun, which was given, and then retracted because he was seen as well below her status. Lauzun was then imprisoned in the Bastille (for no stated reason), which gave Anne Marie another chance to make herself unpopular with the ruling parties.

She died in 1693, the "the wealthiest single princess of Europe", and was buried in St Denis.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Camille Demesmay in 1848. To see Anne Marie Louise looking (it has to said) a bit frou-frou you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Swamp Wallaby

The Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor is found in the eastern woodlands of Australia. They are grey, but dark, even black on their back, buff on their fronts, with rusty patches at the base of the ears and back of the neck and overall their appearance is darker than other wallabies. Their cheek stripe is also buff coloured and their points (hands, feet, tail) black. Males are a bit bigger than females and they weigh about 15kg, looking rather stocky.
Normally solitary, they will join other wallabies, sometimes forming mixed mobs, to feed. They are browsers, prefering to nibble on shrubs, but are opportunistic and will eat all sorts of things. They can apparently tolerate quite toxic plants such as bracken and hemlock.
Still reasonably abundant, their numbers are probably declining, especially where urbanisation is encroaching on natural bushland.
 They are the only wallaby that will use its hands regularly to eat.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Aussie Trip 2017: week 7

This week: the Darling Downs, a typical old school burger bar, a road, and a Big Banana.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Things are Grave Part V -- Citroen Family

How could we pass up the opportunity to photograph the grave of André Citroën and family?

We visited Montparnasse cemetery in September and will be posting photos of some of the interesting graves we discovered there over a period of weeks.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Chilled out hounds

We have been to Chateau Cheverny many times in the past 8 years, but rarely have I seen the dogs this relaxed. True, while I am filming one does take exception to something, but all the others just ignore him.

There are 120 dogs (more or less) in the pack at Cheverny, and you can't have one if you want one. You have to be a proper hunter, then they may let you have two. Which is a pity, because I don't hunt, but I think they are the world's doggiest dogs.

We are posting this video of lazing in the sun today (midwinter) because we're in Australia, and it's what we're doing.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

More of Villeloin-Coulangé

Some more photos of Villeloin-Coulangé. If you lived in the cottage in the first photo, your view from the front door would be the second photo.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Under a Rock

You never know what you will find under a rock. Sometimes it's creepy, sometimes it's crawly. This rock is in a car park in le Bois du Tay, near Hambray in Mayenne.

You wouldn't be turning it over, however, as it's a big one, and you might find what's under it rather surprising:

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year for 2018

Wishing you a splendid year to come. May your dreams be fulfilled and your life contented. Stay healthy and keep in touch. We really value our readers and hope that you will join us throughout the year for more photos of the Loire Valley, a bit of Australia and please feel free to comment on anything we post. 

(Tintamarre is a natural sparkling wine from our friends at Chateau Gaudrelle, ideal for celebrations.)