Thursday, 28 February 2019

Random Checks


Phtographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

One morning recently while I was going about my daily shopping there were two traffic policemen positioned outside the town hall in Preuilly. They were doing random checks on vehicles and drivers. I've been stopped here myself in the past, the car checked over for obvious signs of unroadworthiness, insurance papers checked and I was breathalysed. The fact that I had a boot full of empty wine bottles that I was taking to the tip did not cause them to bat an eyelid. They even practiced their (really terrible) English on me.

I asked to photograph this pair and told them to prepare for global fame once they were on the blog, which made them laugh. Whilst I was chatting with them a local character drove by, apparently not wearing her seat belt. They obviously knew her and signalled that she should be wearing a seat belt by making pulling motions across their chest. She waved merrily and pulled aside her cardigan to reveal that she was indeed wearing a seat belt. Smiles all round and goodwill maintained.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

On the town notice board, visible in the top photo, it shows that we are being censused. In France this is rolled out on a rotational basis. Everyone does the census every five years, but it's not one big national census conducted at the same time. The country is divided up so that each commune is only done once every five years. This year it is our turn and I did it on line a few weeks ago. It is important to do it because government funding for the community is largely based on census information.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Saint Dominique


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Saint Dominique contemplating the serpent.

This was a serendipetous shot taken at Martin Looker's sculpture exhibition in the Espace Mose, La Roche Posay. The exhibition has been extended by a week, so if you haven't made it there yet, go along. You'll most likely get to meet the artist himself, and he's a thoroughly nice chap.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A Preuilly Institution Closes


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

To the universal shock of the town, the Hotel Restaurant de l'Image, run by the Chedozeau family on the market place in Preuilly has closed. The family will put it on the market but at the moment are enjoying a well earned rest. Jean-Michel, the chef and owner, has allowed me to translate his announcement from a week ago. No one in town can quite believe it as it was the sort of place everyone popped into from time to time and the Chedozeaus knew everyone. You were always guaranteed a good value meal made from fresh local ingredients, lunch or dinner. This is a real blow to the town, especially with the planned redevelopment  and improvements for the market place announced by the municipality. Everywhere I go it is the topic of conversation.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

"Dear friends, at the beginning of the year and as customary after I have wished everyone a good year to come, I must make good resolutions for 2019. I have decided to hang up my apron and end my commercial activity. After more than 33 years at the helm of l'Image, it is time for me to retire and sail to new horizons. From 1 June 1985, aged 19 years old, with the help of my relatives, full of courage and the will to succeed, I have not stopped giving the best of myself for the satisfaction of my customers, not counting my hours and my sacrifices throughout my activity at the expense of my family and my health. This beautiful family adventure in l'Image started when I was very young and brought me independence, strength, financial security, love, fatherhood, friendships, punishing but rewarding hard work, sufferings also, as in any life. So now it's time for me to find a balance after taking care of my customers. It's my turn to take care of me and my relatives. To cut short all the gossip and other "fake news", it is with the agreement and the support of Martine [his wife, who ran the front of house] and Christophe [his brother, who ran the bar] that I undertake a new life. Time has done its work, the enthusiasm and will to succeed of the early days have given way to fatigue and weariness. It is time I retire so as not to disappoint my clientele and betray my professional conscience. It is with my head held high that I retire, with pride in the work achieved. I leave a healthy and profitable business, I hope it will find buyer so that this beautiful Preuilliacienne institution continues to live on. I wanted to thank my loyal customers who followed me for three decades and believed in me despite my limited experience early on. Many have unfortunately left us. I think of my loved ones gone prematurely, I thank my family for the help and support in my day-to-day life, all those who have contributed to make l'Image a great professional success (employees, apprentices, trainees ...) The Chédozeau Family turns a page in the book of l'Image, started 3 centuries ago, but the story must continue after us." Jean-Michel Chedozeau.
Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Bon courage Jean-Michel, Martine, Christophe and all the Chedozeau family. May the future bring a sympathetic buyer to reopen l'Image, and much happiness and enjoyment to all of you. I'm so glad we got to eat your last meal at the Saffron Fair.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Pommes de Terre a la Boulangere


Prepared and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Any dish listed in French as 'boulangère' dates from a time when housewives and cooks did not have ovens of their own. Instead they would send gratin dishes out for the baker to cook in the cooling bread oven. They would be collected, savoury and steaming, just before lunch was served at home. Pommes boulangère is probably the most well known and commonly made today.
Prepared and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Ingredients:
1 kg potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
A large leek, washed and sliced
300 ml beef stock
Butter
Salt and pepper

Method:
  1. Heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Butter a lasagne dish generously.
  3. Spread out about a quarter of the potatoes on the base of the dish. Sprinkle with a third of the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Repeat until ingredients finished, ending with a layer of potatoes.
  4. Pour over the stock and dot with butter.
  5. Bake for an hour in the oven. Serves 6.
Prepared and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

The potatoes and leek came from my local organic market garden, Les Jardins Vergers de la Petite Rabaudière, who sell from the farm every Tuesday evening, or from a stall at the market in Preuilly every Thursday morning. The stock was leftover liquor from a beef stew I had made earlier. Locally made butter from the highly regarded dairy co-operative at Verneuil can be purchased in the Episervice (corner store) in Preuilly, direct from the Verneuil factory shop or in the Maison des Producteurs in Loches.

Preparing pommes de terre à la boulangère. Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Ausgoat


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

On our road trip up and down the east of Australia visiting friends and relatives November 2017 to January 2018 we overnighted one time at Glen Innes in New South Wales. It turns out that a company called Ausgoat has their headquarters there, so I photographed it. They are dealing in goats for meat, unlike here in France, where goats are for milk and if I want goat meat I have to actively track it down.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

An Alpine View


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

The view into Switzerland from the Italian border in the Alps.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Friday, 22 February 2019

February 2019 News From Preuilly


The local council has had their monthly meeting and here is an overview of the topics covered and decisions taken.

Finances
The municipal finances are looking healthy with nearly half a million euros invested. Money from this fund has been earmarked for a revision of the town plan, new street lighting, the covered stand at the sports ground, a communal water heater, a dojo (?? are we getting a martial arts hall??), the endless and bungled roadworks in rue de la Fontaine, and the conversion of the preschool to a kids activity centre. The crematorium at the cemetery is also full, so money has been allocated to build a new one.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Greenway Project
The communauté des communes Loches Sud Touraine is managing the conversion of the old railway line into a greenway. The investment will be about 1.8 million euros for the LST once grants have been taken into account. Communes like Preuilly, through which the track crosses, have been asked what development they propose to increase the attractiveness of the project. Preuilly is proposing to create 15 parking places near the former station, plus a picnic area, toilets and sinks in the area. This work is seen as linked to the proposed improvements to the market place in the centre of town. The mayor presented a new plan for the market place which includes angle parking down the western side. Residents of the square have been consulted and it was confirmed that there would be a public meeting to discuss the plans before any decision would be taken.
 
Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Pollution Complaints
Loches Sud Touraine has lodged a formal complaint against a grazier with 300 head of cattle within the boundries of the commune of Preuilly sur Claise. The allegation is that he has polluted the environment and the streams that flow into the Claise. The council are thinking of referring the complaint to the French Biodiversity Agency.

Student Grants
Eleven third and fourth graders from Preuilly go to school in Yzeures sur Creuse and these classes are off on a five day school trip to Courtenay. The trip will include activities, medieval workshops and a visit to the Chateau of Guédelon. The cost per pupil is €330 and Preuilly council will subsidise them to the tune of €50 per pupil.

Solar Farm
A modification of the urban plan has been made to allow the creation of a solar farm on the site of the former Dennery factory.

Here is the report of the meeting in the local paper (in French).



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Charcuterie has Closed


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Sadly, and ironically, in the Year of the Pig, the charcuterie in Preuilly's main street closed permanently at the end of January. It's always worrying when small towns lose a shop. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote about it a few years ago, detailing the sorts of things they sold. According to Madame Mas, the charcutiere's wife, who served in the shop, they weren't getting enough revenue for the amount of work they were doing. Her husband is going to retire, she will take a salaried job somewhere.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Le Grand Debat


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

After the Gilets jaunes protests crescendoed President Macron announced a Grand debat, a consultation process that members of the public could participate in. With cahiers des doléances left in town halls for people to express their grievances in it did have unfortunate echoes of the Revolution, and was received with some cynicism, but nevertheless, it was gesture that went down reasonably well with moderate liberals.

My friend Jean-Claude thought it might be worth having public meeting to consolidate people's thoughts and send a single curated report to Paris which outlined what we Prullaiciens want for the future. He was also concerned that if we didn't hold a meeting in Preuilly the nearest one we could participate in was Loches, a good 30 minutes away.

He projected a list of the Gilets jaunes demands onto the big screen in the salle des fêtes then the thirty or so people present discussed the points one by one and voted on whether they wished to back them or not. Other topics were added as brought up by participants or as picked up from social media networks. The topics were divided into four main themes: Financial Justice and Tax Equality; Implementing Social Responsibilities; Ecological and Energy Transition; and Democracy.

I was very impressed with mild mannered Jean-Claude's ability to control the meeting. To my surprise he was quite capable of telling people that if they couldn't stick to the immediate topic they should sit down and stop hogging the microphone until it was the turn of their point to be discussed. He also quickly brought speakers to a halt if they were simply repeating a point that someone else had already made. There was a bit of discussion about whether we should focus on local issues and not bother with national issues as it was felt we would be less influential there, however, in practice the meeting covered both viewpoints throughout. One of the biggest concerns was implications of the growing aging, retired population locally.

Here are the outcomes of the discussion:

Financial Justice and Tax Equality
  • by a small majority, the motion that inheritance tax should be reinstated was carried, but there should be a system for rewarding those who maintained and cared for French heritage.
  • although curiously, it was not felt there should be another income tax band of 60% introduced for very high earners. Rather, it was felt that tax fraud should be fought more effectively.
  • it was felt that the value added tax (TVA) on staples should be lowered, but that the TVA on luxury goods should remain unchanged (not increased) as the manufacturing of these products generated significant employment in France. There was also a feeling that luxury products should not be completely unobtainable by ordinary people, and there was also some discussion about how one defined luxury.
  • There was quite a lot of support for the idea of everyone paying income tax, even if it is just a symbolic €1, as a means of reinforcing the interconnectedness of People and State ie they are one and the same.
  • The fuel tax was felt to be problematic. On the one hand we need cleaner products, but on the other, many people have no access to public transport and need to use cars. In the end the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of a 3 year moratorium on the fuel tax increase.
  • There was little discussion on the vote for a tax on aviation and marine fuel. It was clearly uncontroversial and considered a no-brainer.
  • Taxes on multinationals was also not controversial, but did lead to a discussion about how one distinguishes between private and public businesses. This was mainly directed at people's dissatisfaction with how the autoroute companies are allowed to operate.
Implementing Social Responsibilities
  • The Gilets jaunes have demanded an increase in the net basic wage to €1300/month (currently €1227.39) and the basic age pension to €1200 (currently about €950 I think). The augmentation of the SMIC, as the basic wage is known, passed with little comment. However, there was a lot of discussion and awareness of the way age pensions are funded by those currently working ie the children and grandchildren of those receiving the pension. There was a strong feeling that people did not want to impose a further financial burden on the next generation and that younger people needed a chance to build capital. A compromise was reached with a vote for an increase to €1000/month.
  • Increasing the child care aid to children up the age of 10 (from 6) was uncontroversial and passed with little discussion.
  • Maintaining aid for home care and nursing homes for the aged was equally uncontroversial, except for one aged plumber, who wanted this restricted to properly French people. He was shouted down by several outraged participants. The argument put forward for State funded aged care was that if it is funded by the children it is often one child who pays and one who doesn't, but because of the French inheritance law about treating all siblings equally, both children in this situation would inherit an equal share of their parent's estate.
  • the demand for equality of access to care no matter where you live turned into a discussion about the importance of using local businesses and how to encourage them. Our mayor, Gilles Bertucelli, felt that this was one area the commune was already on top of, having ensured the town retained a dentist, for example, by providing him with newly renovated premises when the previous dentist retired. There was a suggestion that pharmacies act co-operatively to improve buying power and lower prices for non-reimburseable items. One of the participants worked for a top up health insurance organisation and he pointed out that the mutuelles (as top up health insurance is known) are more and more offering cover for non-reimburseables and home care -- if it is centrally sourced.
  • There was some discussion about whether social security and the top up insurance companies should be amalgamated, but it was felt that this would reduce choice and there was no agreement about whether it would be better to go down a private or public route if this were to happen. There was universal support for the removal of the non-reimbursable list, and making everything reimbursable.
  • The maisons des services publics (local hubs for public service advice) were seen to be important and should be developed.
  • One of the demands by the Gilets jaunes is to return the speed limit on the open road to 90km/hour. The 80km/hour speed limit is unpopular in rural areas because it lengthens journey time. The meeting voted for a compromise option of restricting the 80km/hour limit to known accident hot spots, and for an end to punitive double fines and loss of points for small infractions for transport companies.

Ecological and Energy Transition 
  • a prominent local farmer proposed more effective pursuit of environmental infractions by the State (eg pollution of the Claise basin by a recidivist dairy farmer) as well as support for farmers doing the right thing and better flood management. This was passed.
  • Although M. Bertucelli argued that everything was in place to pursue a local plan for renewable energy, the meeting voted to ask for an increase in the income ceilings for individuals, to allow them access to aid to enable a bigger investment.

Democracy
  • the lack of support for asylum seekers was deemed the 'shame of France'. Asylum seekers and economic migrants should be welcomed. France must be more generous than she is currently (it was pointed out that only 40 000 asylum seekers were accepted in 2018 and only 50 000 economic migrants in 2016).
  • the meeting felt that votes blanc (deliberately blank votes) should be counted, voting should be made compulsory and a proportional counting system introduced.
  • the numbers of members of the Legislative Assembly and Senate should be reduced by 30% and the electorates of members of the Legislative Assembly should be reviewed to ensure good representation in rural areas.
  • elected officials and members of the government should be granted a transition period after their terms finish, during which they are allowed State funded perks such as drivers and secretaries, but these perks should not continue indefinitely as they do now.
  • simplify the administrative layers: remove most of the decentralized services of the State (prefectures, environment, roads, housing, culture, agriculture, health, employment, sports ...) and transfer these skills and corresponding funding to territorial authorities (I'm not clear whether this means the départements or the communautés des communes, but I assume the latter if the préfectures are to go) - remove the Regions.
  • boost skills in communes and return to smaller communautés des communes in rural areas.
  • to prevent a return of this sort of crisis situation, give the Association of Mayors their old role of alerting the Government to the feeling in the population when new political schemes are put in place.
  • develop participative democracy: use popular initiative or citizen referenda when there is a demand by at least 1.5 million citizens and at least four Senators or Members of the Legislative Assembly from four different parties.

For those of you who want to go further and read a very good overview of the Gilets jaunes movement -- how it formed, who is in it, how it is evolving, what might happen next... -- I refer you to Arun Kapil's blog post on the subject, which includes the transcript of a talk given by veteran France correspondant John Lichfield.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Sculpture Exhibition


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

On Saturday evening I went to the opening of Martin Looker's exhibition of his sculpture. Martin works with found objects, often metal. He is inspired by their shape or pattern to make a work, sometimes adding a bit of paint for colour. He has a good eye for proportion and makes works which have a wide appeal. They are a nice size for display in a modern home, and keenly priced for those who like original works but don't have a substantial budget. For less than a couple of hundred euros you can acquire a work for your coffee table or mantelpiece. By the end of the opening drinks and nibbles he had sold half a dozen sculptures.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

The exhibition is on at the Espace Mose in La Roche Posay (the old college building opposite the market square). It finishes on 24 February and is open every afternoon until then.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

According to a contact of mine on Facebook, this type of metal is known by the metal detectorist fraternity as 'hedge fodder'. He commented that he was pleased to see it being put to such good use.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Creamy Oyster Mushrooms


At the end of my recent visit to Bio-Champi I had the opportunity to buy some White Ferula Mushrooms, a type of premium oyster mushroom much prized as a culinary ingredient. They were offered at a very reasonable €10/kg and I jumped at the chance. Here is how I prepared them:



Ingredients:
500g oyster mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/3 cup cream

Method:
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and fry them quite hard for 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, reduce heat and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the parsley and cream, stir and cook for another minute.
  5. Serve with grilled meat or on toast.

The White Ferula Mushroom is mild flavoured with a firm texture, not at all like a supermarket button mushroom or an ordinary grey oyster mushroom, but these more readily available species could be substituted. This is a classic mushroom dish, taught to me by the chef at a former workplace.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Glen Innes Town Hall


Glen Innes is a town in an area known as the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. The town itself has a population of 6155 but it is the centre of the much larger Glen Innes Severn Shire. The area was first settled by white colonists in 1838 by a pair of stockmen known as The Beardies, who set up a pastoral lease for Archibald Boyd. The town was gazetted later, in 1852. The traditional industries are sheep farming for wool and meat, cattle, forestry and timber, tin and sapphire mining. Nowadays tourism is important. It is hot in the summer and cold in the winter (one of the coldest places in Australia).


The town hall is right in the middle of the main street and was built in 1887 and continues to function as such. It has space to seat 250 people and has a stage and catering facilities. Like many Australian country towns the main street is very wide and now has both curb angle parking and centre island parking which divides the traffic lanes. The generous width is because in the 19th century you needed to be able to turn an ox team around in the street. These days the major event in town is the annual Celtic festival, which my parents used to attend and enjoy.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Greater Stitchwort


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

This is one of the prettiest and most widespread of European wild flowers. It is called Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea (Fr. Stellaire holostée) and I photographed these on the Swiss - Italian border in the Alps at around 2500 metres above sea level. I could equally have photographed them in my orchard, at less than 100 metres above sea level.



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Watch Over My Parents


The post office in France, like post offices all over the Western World, is struggling to remain relevant and working on re-inventing itself. One of the most responsive to changing social needs is the Veiller sur mes parents ('Watch Over My Parents') scheme.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

If you sign up the postie will not just deliver your parent's mail, but call in on them and check up on them. You can choose how frequently they visit (one day a week to six days a week). After each visit, confirmation will be sent to you will be informed by message on your phone. You will be told if the visit went well and if your parent expressed a need for anything.

There is also a 24/7 telephone assistance team available to your parent and they will alert the emergency services if necessary. If your parent needs a tradesman or professional the assistance team can refer them to a list of fully screened service providers.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

A basic service of one visit a week by the postie plus telephone assistance costs €39.90, which is tax deductible so the net cost is half that. The full service of six visits a week and telephone assistance costs €69.95 after the tax deduction. You are billed monthly and there is no contract so you are not locked in to the service for a specified period.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Name Changes for Tours Stations


It's not a new idea, but now it is actually happening. In a few months the stations called Tours and Saint Pierre des Corps will no longer exist -- at least, not under their current names. The local mayors are sick of losing tourists on the track.

According to the mayor of Tours, overseas visitors wanting to get to Tours on the TGV (fast train) don't realise they need to get off at Saint Pierre des Corps then take the shuttle or a taxi to Tours. As a result they end up in Poitiers. And then someone has to go and fetch them by car. Loss of time and extra pollution -- not cool.
Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

So the solution would be to change the names of the stations. Not a revolution, but an evolution.

Tours will become Tours Centre and Saint Pierre des Corps will become Tours - Saint Pierre des Corps. The suggestion of Tours Metropole and Tours TGV was rejected as it erased the identity of Saint Pierre des Corps, technically a separate municipality to Tours.
Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

It will take a little while to set it all up. The station signs and indicator boards have to be changed here and at Paris Montparnasse, and staff have to be trained to say the new names correctly. The estimated cost is €200 000, although no one is quite sure who's going to pay -- and the mayor of Saint Pierre des Corps still opposes the whole idea.

Link to article in info.Tours (in French).

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

French National Flora Inventory Update


The latest survey of French wild flowers and update of the UICN Red List reveals 4982 species, of which 742 are threatened in some way. That's 15% of French native plants are at some risk of disappearing. The work to produce this latest list and report took three years and is a synthesis of 30 million individual records, overseen by 40 specialist botanists. The list will feed in to policy decisions about the preservation of biodiversity in France. In addition to the species known to be threatened, there are an additional 373 species (7%) about which too little is known to evaluate how endangered they might be. Almost certainly some of these species should be on the Red List, if only we knew more.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Brenne Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza brennensis (Fr. Orchis de la Brenne), 
at risk because of changes to habitat in its very restricted distribution range.

The three biggest pressures on the wild flora is the modification to natural habitats, urban growth and changing agricultural practices (both the intensification at one end of the spectrum and the abandonment of certain ways of farming at the other).

More specifically, the disappearance of wetlands, their drainage and drying out for agriculture or new urban construction directly threatens some species. The 'artificialisation' (that's a word in French -- not sure about English...) of the banks of watercourses and their canalisation puts other species in peril. The progressive abandonment of pastoralism and grazing, and the use of herbicides in intensive cropping threaten other sets of species.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia odoratissima (Fr. Orchis très odorant), 
at risk from low intensity grazing land being ploughed and converted to arable.

And then there's climate change, usually affecting plants with already reduced populations or limited distribution, often alpine. The effects of climate change are still poorly understood and tend to be localised. More studies are in progress so better predictions about outcomes can be made.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris (Fr. Anémone pulsatille), 
at risk because of the encroachment of scrub on abandoned grazing land.

Seed banks are being established and rare plants being cultivated. The public is being educated and national action plans being put in place.

Why does the disappearance of a few plants that no one except the experts are interested in matter? Plants are at the heart of our ecosystems, and serve to feed us, clothe us, shelter us and provide medications. Their diversity is key to our economy, food, health and well-being. You never know when the disappearance of a little known plant will lead to the unexpected decline in other better known species, or if that plant might have provided some valuable medicinal ingredient, for example. And there is the intrinsic value of nature and species to be considered too. Beauty, landscapes, scientific endeavour and artistic responses all matter in the wider scheme of things and we are poorer beings without them.

Link to the joint French conservation organisations press release (in French).

By coincidence, an Australian report on the same subject has just been released. Except for the comments about invasive aliens in Australia, the two reports could be one and the same.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Deer Eat That


Whenever I have American clients who are keen gardeners they spend a good deal of their time going around Loire Valley gardens remarking that they can't grow certain plants because the deer eat them. It's a constant chorus at Villandry and Chaumont of 'Oh no, deer eat that!' or 'Hmm, I wonder if deer eat that?' There are very few plants deer don't eat apparently.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

If you live near woods here in the Touraine, you might have problems with deer in the garden, but most people don't. I have deer give birth in the orchard, but have never noticed any damage done by them. Sadly though, my friend Sylvain, who owns the organic market garden that I buy my vegetables from, is suffering more and more depredations from deer. They've developed a taste for organic veg and he is struggling to keep them off the farm now they've discovered this tasty source of healthy nutrition.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Two roe deer Capreolus capreolus (Fr. les chevreuils) head for an electric fence and the woods beyond (not on Sylvain and Tony's farm, but in the Claise Valley only a few kilometres away.)

Originally they came once, then occasionally and now more and more frequently, in the night. In the beginning Sylvain just viewed it as a hazard of his particular style of farming. That the local rodents and deer should munch a few veggies in the field seemed to him to be natural and inevitable.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Unfortunately, the deer seem to have been telling their friends and liking the diversity of what they are finding on the 11 hectare farm. According to Sylvain, it started with the lettuces, then the zucchinis. Soon they were gorging themselves amongst the beetroot and the carrots. Now they are attacking the leeks, parsnips and black radishes, which they've developed a taste for.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

He's lost 1.5 tonnes of beetroot, 500 kilos of leeks, as well as turnips. They don't eat the whole plant, just take a bite, sometimes uproot the plant, then move on to the next. The damage is significant. He says 2.5 hectares out of the 4 hectares put to vegetables are unuseable. He's tried protecting crops with tarpaulins but they end up trampled and torn. Only the crops in the greenhouses are safe.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

He and Tony, who owns the orchard on the other part of the farm, have been farming there for eight years now. Their main focus is supplying veggie boxes to clients in Tours. Sylvain employs two people and uses WWOOFers extensively. The farm is more than just organic, being run on permaculture principles. They want to be as close as possible to nature. They didn't think they would end up at loggerheads with the deer.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Sylvain.

The farm borders the Forest of Preuilly, where there is lots of large game animals and due to the terms of the legacy which makes it public property, hunting is not allowed in the forest. All farmers suffering depredations by wild game in France can apply for help from the national hunt federation, so that's what Sylvain did. Three years ago a €5000 electric fence was installed by the hunt federation, but the 11 hectare farm is surrounded by hedges. Whenever the hedge touches the electric wire, it shorts out and stops working. In January Sylvain took the decision to demount the electric fence, since it didn't work. The alternative is a 2 metre high deer proof fence, around the 1.5 kilometre perimeter, and which he will have to pay for without assistance. In the meantime he's purchased a gas gun in the hopes the noise will scare the deer away.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Tony talking to Deputy Mayor Gérard and customer Alain.

The hunt federation isn't very sympathetic. As far as they are concerned Sylvain failed to maintain the area around the electric fence either by brushcutting or herbicides as would be normally advised, so of course the fence failed. But using herbicides was of course impossible under organic farming rules, and brushcutting would have been too onerous an addition to the tasks already being done by hand by the very small team. The hunt federation representative who deals with issues to do with damage by wild game thinks that it is something that organic farmers do not plan for. He says more and more farms are converting to organic, but they don't anticipate or budget for protecting their crops.

Link to article in the Nouvelle République (in French).


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Monday, 11 February 2019

How to Choose Champagne


Never buy sparkling wine which is being sold as 'champagne déclassé' (unclassified champagne), 'hors quantum' (over quota) or 'jeunes vignes' (young vines) as these are indications of fraud. Real champagne must mention on the label the appellation Champagne, as well as the sugar content, the name of the winemaker and their professional registration number.

This good value good quality champagne is not dosed with sugar at disgorging.
A good value good quality champagne that isn't dosed with sugar at disgorging. Photo taken by Susan of Loire Valley Time Travel.

Champagne is a wine created at the end of the 17th century, when the fermenting grape juice made bubbles. The quality depends on the cru (area where the vines grow), cépage (grape variety) and the millésime (vintage). Only five départements (counties) are allowed to produce champagne -- Marne, Aube, Haute-Marne, Aisne and Seine-et-Marne. Seven grape varieties may be used -- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

The word champagne must appear both on the label and the cork. A description of the sugar content (extra-brut, brut, sec, demi-sec or doux) must appear on the label. The winemakers name and municipality must also appear.

Label showing winemaker's name and municipality, mention of champagne, vintage (in this case referred to as 'vendange' ie 'harvest'), and middle bottom is the professional reference code number.
Details of the requirements to mention winemaker, location, vintage, sugar levels and professional reference code number on champagne labels. Photo taken by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

There must be a two letter code followed by a champagne professional reference number. The letters stand for various things as follows:

MA -- marque d'acheteur. Buyers brand, often a distributor such as a supermarket who works with several champagne growers but sell the wine under their own brand.

CM -- coopérative de manipulation. Wine produced in a co-operative. The grapes are supplied by several vineyards who are members of the co-operative, then made and marketed by the co-operative.

RC -- récoltant coopérateur. Wine made from grapes grown by a member of a co-operative. The co-operative make the wine, but the winegrower then takes his share and markets it himself.

RM -- récoltant manipulant. Wine  grown, produced and marketed by an individual independent winemaker.

SR -- société de récoltants. A group of winemakers, often an extended family, who own multiple wineries but make and market the wine together.

NM -- négotiant manipulant. A wine merchant who buys grapes or wine and oversees the production at their own winery but then markets under their own brand. The big name champagne houses all belong to this category.

When you've chosen your champagne you can keep it for a couple of years, even if it's not really suitable for long cellaring. If you are storing champagne it is important to lay the bottle horizontal in a cool place with high humidity, protected from light, noise and vibrations.

A very well known, popular and widely available champagne.
Veuve Cliquot is a popular and widely available champagne brand. Photo taken by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ahem...of course, if you live in the Loire Valley, you don't choose champagne at all. You drink sparkling Vouvray (and save your money without compromising quality).

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Grass-dart


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Grass-darts are a group of very similar looking Australian butterflies in the Skipper family Hesperiidae. This one, photographed in my parents garden, is possibly the Greenish Grass-dart Ocybadistes walkeri. Many grass-darts are just as happy in urban gardens feeding on exotic plants like this lantana as they are in the native forest or heathland. Like their European cousins, the caterpillars feed on grass.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Swiss Italian Border


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

This little foray from Switzerland into Lombardy across an alpine pass in July cost me the ability to give blood in October. Apparently there is West Nile Virus rampaging around there.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Mystery Queen


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

The woman in this panel on a piece of medieval furniture in the Chateau of Langeais is a mystery. She wears a crown so is presumably a queen. She holds a sword and presses down on the head of a crowned man with her left foot, so is presumably a warrior subduing an enemy ruler. She holds a book, indicating she is literate and is clothed in the style of a 15th century Northern European aristocrat. There is an object that I can't identify behind her to her right.

My best guess is that it is Isabella, the She-wolf of France, wife of Edward II of England. In the 15th century, a hundred years after she had deposed her husband, she had become a well known popular character, portrayed in plays and literature as beautiful, cruel and manipulative. 

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Claise ConneXion Meets Again


Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
A small Canadian sub-group gathers.

I decided it was high time the Claise ConneXion group for social networking got together again after a break of some months while we worked our busiest year ever with clients and simultaneously dispaired about Brexit. So I invited everyone to afternoon tea on Australia Day, enticing them with fruit cake and mulled cider. I know from experience that French people like fruit cake once they've tried it, although it is not part of the French culinary lexicon. And of course there would be plenty of Brits to enjoy it as well. I was a bit surprised that mulled cider was deemed too weird to even try by several French people, but since we had assorted wine, regular cider and apple juice supplied by others, no one actually went thirsty. About 20 people turned up and it was quite good and bilingual. We had Canadians, English, French, and a Dutch American. About half a dozen people were first timers and they had a good time so that was nice, especially as most of them had travelled quite a distance.

Photographed and hosted by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Stéphane, Christiane and Chantal.

Hosted and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com
Pierric, Sue, Nicole and Nathalie, deep in conversation.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.