Saturday 30 September 2023

Mountain Singers

In Cauterets on the eve of the Tour de France stage that finished there on 6 July, we were charmed by Eths d'Azu, a male choir which had reformed to perform their repertoire of traditional Pyrenean mountain songs for the first time in 15 years.

Pyrenean mountain choir, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Mountain singers (Fr. chanteurs montagnards) are part of a popular choral tradition dating back to the 19th century. The idea of the original movement was to encourage social harmony based on practicing musical harmony. The choirs promote conviviality and a way of integration into the mountain culture for incomers.

We noticed with some amusement that every song mentioned mountains, sheep and shepherds, and how great it was to be outdoors in the mountains. A couple of songs acknowledged that women existed and were quite nice to have around ie they cooked well or pleased the male eye. Some of the songs were not in French but in the local dialect of Bigourdan Gascon. We assume their themes were similar. 

Friday 29 September 2023

Diana the Huntress

Diane de Poitiers was born in late 1499 or early 1500, the daughter of Jean de Poitiers and his wife Jeanne de Batarnay. Her mother was the daughter and only surviving child of Imbert de Batarnay, the remarkable negotiator and diplomat who served four French kings. She was born in the Dauphiné in the south-east of France, where her father held territory. For more than twenty years she was the mistress of Henri II, King of France. Clever and well educated, with a head for business and politics, she strongly influenced the king. She was clearly his soulmate, despite the twenty year gap in their ages.

 The tomb of Imbert de Batarnay in the church at Montrésor. He is the effigy in the foreground.

Her family operated in the most intimate royal circles. Her paternal grandfather had married the illegitimate daughter of Louis XI. In medieval times illegitimate children of noblemen were acknowledged openly and shared all the privileges of their legitimate half siblings.

 Diane de Poitiers, portrayed as Diana the Huntress by Francesco Primaticcio. She is also discreetly exposing one breast, telling you she is the King's mistress, and her hair is bleached blond.

Diane's mother died  when she was six years old and she went to live in the household of the formidable Anne de Beaujeu, daughter of Louis XI and regent of France in the early years of her brother Charles VIII's reign. At the age of fifteen she was married to Louis de Brézé, the grandson of Charles VII and Agnès Sorel. He was nearly forty years her senior, and she gave him two daughters. It seems to have been a successful union, despite the age difference.

In 1524 Diane's father and Anne de Beaujeu's brother-in-law were accused of treason, and Jean de Poitiers became the principal scapegoat of the affair. He was only saved from the scaffold by her intervention and reminding the king of her husband's loyal service. Louis de Brézé had in fact been the person who alerted the king to the plot. I think it is likely that Diane inherited her maternal grandfather's diplomatic skills and political savvy. Nevertheless, the affair was serious enough that her father spent the rest of his life imprisoned, in the chateau-fort of Loches (in some comfort, it has to be said...).

 Jean de Poitiers was imprisoned in the tower on the right.

Diane served as lady in waiting to François' queen, Claude, then when she died, the king's mother Louise of Savoie, then finally to his second wife, the Hapsburg Eleanore of Austria. It is during this time that some biographers claim that she became the mistress of François I, but there is no real evidence of this and I am inclined to think she managed to keep herself free of the lecherous king's clutches.

Louis de Brézé died in 1531 and Diane adopted the garb of a widow from that time on. I suspect that the combination of black and white with gold stripes suited her and gave her a defined style and elegance that people remarked upon. Later, Henri II was to adopt the same colour scheme for his household livery. She also took the opportunity to gain control of Louis' lands and titles in her own right, and to manage them on behalf of their daughters. François I was clearly benignly disposed to her as he granted her the letters patent to achieve her goals and giving her the right to the income from her daughters' inheritance.

The battle of Pavia in 1525 had been a humiliating defeat for François, and he had to send his two young sons as hostages to Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. Prince Henri was seven at the time, and they were accompanied to the border with Spain by their grandmother Louise of Savoie. In the absence of their dead mother, Diane, one of Louise's ladies in waiting, kissed the young prince farewell. The boys were prisonners for four long years, held in isolation and uncertain of what the future would bring. Henri immersed himself in chivalric stories and in his fantasy world Diane was cast as la dame par excellence. When he was finally returned to the French court, his father put Diane in charge of his education, and during the celebratory games when François married Eleanore of Austria, Henri saluted not his new stepmother from the jousting lists, but Diane.

Henri, Duke of Orléans, as he was then, married Catherine de Medici in 1533. Diane approved of the match and had promoted the idea, despite Catherine being considered 'trade' by many at the French court. Catherine's mother was French and she and Diane were in fact cousins. The young royal couple did not produce the expected string of heirs and Diane was on hand to advise. Despite ensuring that Henri spent sufficient nights in his wife's bed, it seems likely that Diane and Henri became lovers around 1538.

When in 1547 Henri became king, Diane was showered with gifts, including the crown jewels and the chateau of Chenonceau. He took as his personal symbol the crescent, the symbol of Diana the Huntress, and he used it everywhere. It's difficult to tell if their relationship was sexual or not, but certainly she was his friend and confidante, and was his 'lady' in the chivalric sense.

The queen Catherine resented Diane deeply, but while Henri was alive had to keep her feelings in check. Diane was one of her ladies in waiting, and served her during the birth of all of her children. It was Diane who occupied herself with the matters of the royal children's education, nourishment and living quarters. She also made sure Henri slept with his wife often enough that she produced ten children in twelve years. During his reign there was a lot of comment on the fact that his monogram of two interlaced Cs back to back over an H looked more like two Ds and an H. Catherine reclaimed and reworked it after his death, making sure the ends of the Cs went beyond the uprights of the H so it was more clearly two Cs.

Ambassadors visiting the French court report that every evening after an ambassadorial meal the king would repair to Diane's chamber to talk over the day's events with her. It is always assumed that she advised the king, probably wisely, during these sessions, and therefore had considerable influence at court. However, there is no record whatsoever of the conversations that took place between them and no real proof of her affecting the king's decisions or the course of events (except that certain members of her family rose to high office). For modern romantics it can be very easy to over estimate the influence of Diane and under estimate the influence of the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency.

However, the rise of the hardline Catholic Guise family was assisted by Diane's position and her daughter's marriage into the family. Montmorency did his best to mitigate Diane's influence, ensuring for example that the king was encouraged to spend time with another woman during a period when Diane was absent from court while a broken leg caused by a fall from a horse healed. But as the Guise family became more and more powerful Diane and Montmorency put their rivalry for the king's attention aside in order to make sure the Guises did not gain too much control.

Diane was a significant patron of the arts and commissioned many works from painters, sculptors and architects. She also supported the Italian goldsmith Cellini and the poet Ronsard

 The Chateau of Chenonceau. 
Diane added the bridge from the back of the chateau to the southern bank of the Cher.

When king Henri II was mortally wounded in 1559 she refrained from exposing herself to the possible humiliation of being barred from his sickroom, by simply not visiting. She was barred from attending the funeral. When he died she returned the crown jewels to the new king, as was customary.  By the end of the year Catherine de Medici had forced her to accept the chateau of Chaumont in exchange for Chenonceau, but surprisingly, Diane was left with the majority of her assets intact. She very sensibly retired to her chateau of Anet in the north and lived in obscurity until her death in 1566.

A 17th century woman* as Diane chasseresse.

In 2008 her remains were forensically examined and it was discovered that she had an unusually high concentration of gold in her bones. It is believed that this was caused by her drinking colloidal gold as an elixir of youth and to maintain her extremely pale skin.

In my opinion one of her most important legacies was as the creator of a new ideal of womanhood. In medieval times women were expected to aspire to be like the Madonna. They were encouraged to cultivate traits such as obedience and piety and concentrate on their maternal and domestic duties. But by the late 15th century young aristocratic and middle class girls were being educated as well as their brothers. Clever, capable women like Diane wanted more, and she adopted an alter-ego of Diana the Huntress. This allowed her to demonstrate much more challenging traits such as independence, intelligence, sportiness and most interesting of all, the power to choose who she slept with and when. This last quality is associated with the legend of Acteon and Diana, where the goddess transforms a peeping Tom into a stag and hunts him down. Young women were attracted in droves to this new ideal of womanhood, and many copied Diane's habit of having herself portrayed as Diane chasseresse.

*When I first saw this painting the woman was identified as Gabrielle d'Estrées, the mistress of Henri IV. Then the identification was changed to Laure Victoire Mancini, the second Duchess of Vendôme, before going through a period as unidentified, then back to Laure Victoire Mancini. I wouldn't mind betting that it is in fact one of Laure Victoire's sisters. I always doubted the identification as Laure Mancini, as I think the slight dip in the neckline is an extra subtle way of telling us she is somebody's mistress. Laure Mancini died very young in childbirth and as far as I know was sincerely attached to her husband (or at least, continually pregnant from the age of 18 to 21).

Thursday 28 September 2023

In Memory of Babeth

Recently our friend Babeth died. We were all members of Phoenix en Claise, a group which very successfully brings together all nationalities living in the area who like to walk, dance or make music. We participated in the walking together.

Babeth and Fabrice walking near Neuilly le Brignon.

Walking, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A few years ago she started having back problems, which just got worse. Eventually she was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Immunotherapy doubled her life expectancy, but in the end no further treatment was effective. 

An animal lover, Babeth could never resist offering a handful of grass to any horse we passed.

Feeding horses, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

She is a sad loss to the group. Much too young to die, for a start, and enjoying retirement. She was immensely houseproud and a tireless housekeeper. Kind and gentle, with a ready smile, she loved to chat with anyone walking beside her on the trail.

Babeth and Aline walking under a distinctly dangerous looking tree near Oyré.

Walking, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

She will be missed by everyone in the group, and our hearts go out to her husband Fabrice and their (adult) children.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Saving a Stone Stag

On a recent visit to the Chateau Royal d'Amboise I encountered a young stone conservator busy working on the limestone stag's head from the frieze over the door of the Chapel of Saint Hubert.

It takes a lot of concentration...

Conservator working on a carving, Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

She was carefully removing a layer of plaster from part of the stag's head with a dental drill. She explained to us that the plaster was a 19C repair, to join the face of the stag on to the back of the head. At some time in the 19th century a pair of metal antlers were inserted into the head too. Both these materials were guaranteed to give future problems because they react badly with the limestone. As part of the current major restoration of the Chapel she was tasked with sorting it out a hundred years later.


This is the type of material being removed from the old join...

Conservator working on a carving, Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
I asked her how she was going to reinsert the antlers. She told me that the head would be glued back together and the antlers would be sunk into a pocket of resin. The new materials will not react with the old so there shouldn't be any more damage caused by rusting metal.


The pieces go back together like this...

Conservator working on a carving, Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

A Gobelins Tapestry

By far the most famous of the French tapestry weaving workshops is Gobelins. Originally, in the mid 15th century, Gobelins was not a weaving manufacturer but a family of textile dyers who set up an establishment in what is now the 13th arrondissement of Paris. In the early 17th century Henri IV moved a team of Flemish tapestry weavers in and 1662 Jean-Baptiste Colbert bought the place on behalf of his royal master Louis XIV.

Colbert transformed the workshops into a multidisciplined affair, housing every possible trade required for making ornate highly decorated furniture for royal residences and gifts. After 30 years the money ran out and after a brief closure the factory reverted to just making tapestries.

The kidnapping of Helen of Troy, Gobelins tapestry, Chateau of Cheverny, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In effect the factory still exists, as the state run Mobiliers national (part of the Manufacture nationale network) which showcases the French heritage of decorative arts and trades, provides training for weavers and conservators and perhaps most important of all, is one of the few places you can send a tapestry for cleaning and repair.

The Gobelins tapestry above hangs in the Arms Room at Cheverny and depicts the kidnapping of Helen by Paris. Apparently it has never been restored, so it is certainly a remarkable survival and a credit to the diligent collections care the family and staff undertake. Normally tapestries require considerable conservation work to ensure that aged fibres weakened by exposure to light do not simply tear themselves apart due to the tapestry's own weight.

Although this tapestry shows the typical overall yellowing that is the visible clue that the fibres are degrading, the dye colours have proved quite robust. All the dyes used in tapestries up until the mid 19th century are made from naturally occuring substances - mostly plant based, like indigo, but occasionally animal based, such as coccinelle. These dyes vary considerably in their fastness, and their effect on the wool threads they colour. The various mordants used to fix the dye can affect the lifespan of the weft differently too. Some colours stay bright and the fibre strong, others fade or rot very quickly.

Gobelins perfected hundreds of dyes, but one of the reasons tapestries often have a blue caste is because there was no good natural leaf or grass green. Bright greens were produced by overdying blue and yellow. The yellow vegetable dyes were not particularly lightfast, and soon faded. The blue however, was indigo, and very persistant. The more foliage in a tapestry, the bluer it looks today.

Because of the 'stop - start' way tapestries are woven each colour forms a discrete unit. The slits between the colours are hand stitched together, but if this stitching fails the tapestry develops 'fault lines'. Tapestries are tremendously heavy and any weak areas tend to just rip apart because of the stresses. Workshops like the modern Gobelins have the facilities to take these huge objects and consolidate the fragile textiles so they can be enjoyed on chateaux walls for another generation.

Monday 25 September 2023

Cheats Confit de Canard

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Traditional confit de canard (slow cooked duck) requires large quantities of duck fat. Although you can reuse the fat because it hasn't been heated up very much, I find it is far more than I would normally use and it tends to just go off in the fridge before I get to it. I've also on one occasion had a disaster where the liquid fat overflowed on our wood stove, ruining a rug and causing a fire hazard. So for many years I have used Sally Schneider's 'revisionist' technique, where the duck is cured overnight in the traditional way to reduce moisture and impart flavour, but is then cooked in its own juices, sealed in a foil parcel in a low oven for two hours. The flavour and texture is very similar and I don't have all that fat to deal with.

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Curing Ingredients
2 tbsp coarse salt
10 juniper berries
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
3/4 tsp dried thyme
A bay leaf
6 allspice berries
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried garlic flakes
1 tsp eau de vie

  1. Grind all the dry ingredients of the curing mix in a mortar and pestle. 
  2. Rub the duck legs with eau de vie, then with the curing mix. You will need a tablespoon of curing mix for every 500 g of duck legs. The eau de vie will help dry the skin out, and it is a technique you can use for enhancing the flavour of any poultry (very useful for turning industrially farmed chicken into something more savoury and farmhouse).
  3. Leave to cure overnight in the fridge (can be left for longer).
  4. Heat the oven to 150C.
  5. Pat the duck legs dry with kitchen paper towel and prick the skin in a number of places.
  6. Arrange the duck legs on one half of a long piece of foil, fold over the other half and fold the edges to seal.
  7. Put the parcel on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 2 hours.
  8. Take the duck out of the foil. You can use the duck immediately or store in the fridge or freezer for later.

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

I tend to make in batches so some is eaten immediately and some frozen. One batch of curing mix will do 4 - 6 duck legs. 

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Duck legs are one of the by-products of foie gras production and are often very reasonably priced.

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

I harvested the juniper berries for the curing mix from wild juniper growing locally on the hillsides here.

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Saturday 23 September 2023

Lac de Gaube

Lac de Gaube is a French Pyrenean lake near Cauterets in the Hautes-Pyrénées, within the Pyrenees National Park. The name is a tautology, as 'gaube' is a Gascon word for 'lake' and 'lac' is the French word for 'lake'. It comes from the same pre-Celtic Eurasian root as 'gaves', which is the local Pyrenean word for the mountain streams.

Lac de Gaube, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The lake is at an altitude of 1725 metres above sea level, ovoid in shape, on a north-south axis. It sits in a small valley about 9 kilometres long, which starts at the foot of Mount Vignemale (3298 metres) and ends at the Pont d'Espagne. 

It is fed by the Gave des Oulettes de Gaube, which in turn is fed by the glacier on Mount Vignemale. At its deepest it is 40 metres to the bottom of the lake, and the surrounding slopes are covered in rock falls and landslides.

Reached by hiking a couple of hours uphill through the pines or by taking the cable car from Pont d'Espagne then the ski lift and walking a mere half an hour downhill through alpine meadows, the lake is famous for its fabulous views and ease of access. In addition, it is the departure point for several longer hiking trails. For example, go along the western bank on the GR10 (one of France's famous long distance hiking trails) and you can reach the Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube at 2151 metres.

Once you get there, you can have lunch at the restaurant overlooking the lake, which serves a set menu for a very reasonable price. We have been here twice over the years for lunch, taking the cable car up and walking down, and last year we did the longer walk to and from Oulettes.

Friday 22 September 2023

Why are French Farm Carts Blue?

Traditionally in the Touraine, and in some other parts of France, horsedrawn carts were painted blue. There are several posited reasons [Source Au temps de Chaumussay by Michel Brouard]:
  • the base pigments used for the paint were Prussian blue and barium sulphate, a mixture known as bleu charron. The residue from the manufacture of the blue plant dyestuff guède or pastel (woad/indigo) was also added, and the concoction was an excellent insecticide.
  • the blue repulsed flies, which taking the colour for the sky, didn't land on the cart.
  • it's the best choice of colour for the job. Red was too agressive, green would mean the vehicles disappeared in the vegetation, yellow was too loud, black was morbid, white was pretentious and got dirty too easily.
I've heard a similar story about kitchens and pantries in the 19th century being painted blue, because it was believed to be a colour that discouraged flies. The colour is known as dipteran blue in English as a result. In France this colour blue is known as bleu charrette (cart blue). Recently one of the colourless compounds in the complex chemical cocktail that is indigo dyestuff has been demonstrated to have some insecticidal properties. However, personally I don't believe the colour of the cart would discourage a fly attracted by a cart full of muck. Nor do I believe that woad/indigo would kill wood boring insects (or that carts were in any danger from such creatures). I think the last explanation, prosaic as it sounds, is the most likely.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Walking Around Preuilly sur Claise

On Wednesday 13 September I joined Joel, Denise and Helene to do a 10 kilometre walk around Preuilly sur Claise, taking 2 hours. It was simultaneously very sweaty and quite foggy.

The municipality of Preuilly sur Claise has installed a nice shelter with toilets, maps, photos, picnic tables and bike repair station alongside the greenway (Fr. voie verte) at the old train station.

Public toilets and picnic area near bike path, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Albert Einstein on a chopper bike, street art by Olivier, along the greenway.

Einstein on a bike, street art, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The fruits on this Prunus sp made me think it was a hybrid between a sloe and another plum species. The fruits were larger than sloes, but much smaller than a plum, quite sweet and tasty, with only a hint at the end of the sloe astringency.

Prunus sp, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Le Paradis in the fog.

Foggy morning, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Peucedanum cervaria (syn Cervaria rivini) (Fr. le Peucedan Herbes aux cerfs), which grows on hot calcareous clay sites and flowers in the autumn. Related to carrots and parsley.

Peucedanum cervaria, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

An abandoned Citroen H Van.

Abandoned Citroen H Van, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A dairy farmer spreading slurry on a field. None of us had ever seen this before. The pipe from the slurry pit must have been well over 100 m long and snaked all over the field behind the tractor.

Farmer spreading dairy slurry on a field, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A pack of hounds, including some Porcelaines, a breed I find very attractive and I was once sorely tempted to take a gunshy rescue bitch.

Hounds, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The hamlet of La Parentiere.

Hamlet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Rural track.

Rural track, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Wild Service Tree Sorbus torminalis (Fr. Alisier torminal).

Wild Service Tree Sorbus torminalis, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Look Both Ways

The street we live in aligns almost east-west, and looking downhill (towards the west) is where our weather usually comes from. If we get storms from the east (uphill) it's usually bad news, because they always seem more destructive.*

On Monday we had a serious storm warning. Looking up the road we had this:

And looking down the road, this:

Both photos were taken at 17:28 on Monday.

Our massive destructive storm with hail turned out to be 10 minutes of rain. Not that everyone escaped - there have been some very heavy localised storms. It may look like we're currently weather fixated and there's a reason for that: we are currently weather fixated. I cant remember a year quite like it,

*Not scientific, just a casual observation over 16 years

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Agnes Sorel, la dame de Beaute

As the French monarchy became more stable in late medieval times, the king, Charles VII created the position of 'official mistress'. Agnès Sorel was the first successful applicant for the role, and one of the most romantic. As the official mistress she was more or less another queen, living like a member of the royal family and involving herself in politics.

In the 15th century marriage was an economic and political union of families. Love had nothing to do with it, and there was an extremely high tolerance of extra-marital relationships. Prostitution was not condemned and indeed, the King owned at least one brothel.

Carved alabaster tomb effigy of Agnes Sorel in Saint Ours church, Loches.

Tomb effigy of Agnes Sorel, Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Even so, in contemporary depictions, Agnès is represented in disguise as the Virgin Mary. The most famous portrait of her is The Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, from the right hand panel of the Melun Diptych, commissioned in 1452 by Etienne Chevalier from Jean Fouquet. Etienne Chevalier was the King's secretary, and in the year he commissioned the Diptych, became Treasurer of France and Secretary of State. He and Agnès were close friends and he discussed matters of State with her in the King's absence. Curiously, the Diptych was hung over the grave of Chevalier's wife, in his home town of Melun.

Despite the name of the painting, a note on the back states that this is 'the Holy Virgin, with traits of Agnès Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, king of France, died in 1450', and most scholars agree that this is a likeness of Agnès. She is portrayed as the Queen of Heaven, richly apparelled and wearing a crown set with pearls. There is very little depth of field in Heaven apparently, so the baby is rather alarmingly perched. The startlingly blue and red seraphim and cherubim crowd in on her. She gazes solemnly and modestly towards the floor.

A copy of Jean Fouquet's Virgin and Child.
(The original painting is in Antwerp).
Madonna lactans, acknowledged to be a likeness of Agnes Sorel, copy after Jean Fouquet, Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The artist's intention is to compliment Agnès by taking her as the model for the Virgin. He is also honoring the Virgin by associating Agnès' grace, beauty and high social standing with the Madonna. She is depicted exposing a breast, a motif known as Madonna Lactans (the Suckling Virgin). It was a symbol indicating that the Madonna is someone that mothers can identify with (in fact, in the case of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding was the only part of the biological act of motherhood that she was required to participate in). By extension she is offering comfort and sustenance to all Christians with this commonplace and loving act. She is an intermediary between God and Man. Also, as character traits were believed to be acquired through the breast milk, breastfeeding was a sign of a good mother.

Nudity at this time was a symbol indicating humility, and it had been a tradition for several centuries to depict the Virgin bare breasted. Of course, this had some pitfalls as far as the Church was concerned. A bare breast could incite somewhat less holy thoughts if not carefully 'de-eroticised'. Fouquet does this by painting an unnatural nippleless sphere, slightly too high and too far to the left.

An anonymous 17th century 'portrait' of Agnès.
Later portraits of Agnès continued the tradition of the exposed breast and it became associated not with the Virgin, but as a sign that the woman depicted was a royal mistress. As French kings became more powerful the position of their mistresses was more and more assured, allowing women like Diane de Poitiers to be depicted outside the Christian tradition, as a Greek goddess, and by the time Gabrielle d'Estrées was the incumbent, the King and by association, his mistress, was powerful enough that she could be depicted as herself.

All these works of art are to be found in Loches.

Monday 18 September 2023

Don't Panic!!

Last Monday the weather forecast was dire. Storms were forecast to happen all day, with high winds and heavy rain.

When we left our hotel in Tours on Monday morning the omens weren't good - it looked like all we were short of was four blokes on horses.

 This is how the day turned out.


I saw (but didn't feel) three drops of rain,  it was hot, and there was almost no wind. And for that I am grateful.

Yesterday we experienced similar. We had an orange storm warning with possible hail and very high winds. Instead we got a breezy shower - although I am led to believe that some people in the area had a short torrential downpour. I'm glad we missed out on that, too.

Saturday 16 September 2023

Kidney Vetch

So far as I can work out, the taxonomy of Kidney Vetches Anthyllis spp is a mess. There are 18 recognised species at the moment, with one naturally occurring named hybrid. The most widespread species is Anthyllis vulneraria, which has more than twenty subspecies, with territories that overlap with each other and with A. montana, a very similar species in the mountains. So far as I can work out this photograph is probably A. vulneraria subspecies alpestris (Fr. Anthyllide alpestre).  Many guides are out of date and not listing current names. 

Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria alpestris, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A. v. alpestris is found on sunny mountainsides, in short alpine grasslands and amongst dry calcareous rocks. It can have yellow, pink or white flowers, from May to August. In France it is found in the Jura, Alpes and Pyrenees, as well as southern Germany.

The plant was photographed in July 2023 near Lac du Gaube in the Pyrenees, at around 1800 metres.

Friday 15 September 2023

Fete des Associations

Setting up our stand.

Setting up for the Fete des Associations, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Photo courtesy of Christian Barillet.

France holds an annual event in early September known as the Fete des Associations, where clubs, societies, groups and associations can showcase their activities and encourage new membership. I helped with the Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine's stand (Botamyco37) in the morning, and the Association d'Accueil et d'accompagnement de refugiés en Sud Touraine (AARST) in the afternoon. The Sainte Maure day is always well organised and has a street party vibe. Even on a very hot day it drew a reasonable crowd in the morning (although there were apparently very few people in the afternoon).

The Pond Project (Project Mares) manifesto.

Botamyco37 Pond project manifesto, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Botamyco37 introduced their two new projects -- Plant a local tree, and the Pond Project, as well as presented our autumn outings programme and advertised our autumn exhibition.

The Botamyco37 autumn outings programme.

Botamyco37 autumn programme, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The  Plant a Local Tree project is organised by Antoine, who is growing trees from seed gathered in the Touraine. The seedlings are then given away to anyone wanting to enhance the biodiversity of their land.

The poster for the autumn Fete de la Nature.

Fete de l'automne poster, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The Pond Project is to identify ponds in the Touraine, establish what condition they are in, educate the public about their important in terms of cultural heritage and biodiversity, and encourage the public to get involved in their maintenance. It is better to maintain an existing pond than try to create new ones.

The Carrefour des Associations in Sainte Maure de Touraine, where dozens of clubs get together and the public can come and chat to members to see if they would like to join.

Fete des Associations, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Didier is masterminding a big autumn festival in Yzeures sur Creuse, with lots of partners and like minded organisations to celebrate nature. 

Me talking to a lovely bubbly young woman who was travelling around the country with her equally nice boyfriend, but had family and a plot of land that they wanted manage sensitively in Sainte Maure.

Botamyco37 stand at the Fete des Associations, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Photo courtesy of Christian Barillet.

Thursday 14 September 2023

Gateway or Spaceship?

Water tower, Chateau-Renault, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Apparently the extraordinary water tower which looks like a docked spaceship on one of the main arteries through Chateau-Renault is meant to look like the physical embodiment of  the town's nickname of 'Gateway to the Touraine'. The water tower was built first then there was the bright idea to add the 'gateway'.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Operation Hairclip

The view from the pontoon at the guinguette.

Claise River from the guinguette, Preuilly sur Claise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

At the end of the swimming season all the regular swimmers had lunch together at the guinguette in Preuilly. It's right next door to the pool, so suited everyone.

Cheese and charcuterie platter.

Cheese and charcuterie platter at a guinguette, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Marieline brought her little grand daughter Adelaide and at the end of the meal she was playing on the deck, and dropped her favourite hairclip (Fr. barrette) through a gap in the boards. We could see it, but getting underneath to retrieve it proved challenging.

Swimming buddies Ingrid (in pink), Evelyne, Anne and Filou (standing).

Lunch at the guinguette, Preuilly sur Claise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

André went into problem solving mode and rigged up a hook with some bamboo and a piece of wire. After a bit of finurkling he managed to snaffle it and brought it up triumphantly. Much joy all round. It was a bit dirty, but not damaged.

Looking for the dropped hairclip.

A toddler has dropped something through the boards, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

André and one of the guinguette staff make a first attempt at retrieval.
Trying to retrieve something dropped between the boards, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Finessing the hook.
Fabricating a makeshift hook, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Watching André finurkling.
Retrieving a dropped toy from under a pontoon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Success! And the hairclip is returned to its distressed owner.
Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Meantime, Filou thought he would try by going under the pontoon in the canoe.
Canoe on the River Claise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Has he injured himself?!
On the River Claise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Tomato Season

Susan wrote yesterday about quinces, but tomatoes are having a good season too. On Saturday our neighbour Edward knocked on the door and donated a bucket of tomatoes to us. I had to unload the tomatoes from the bucket immediately, because Edward needed the bucket for more tomatoes.

They're now roasted and awaiting preservation.

Monday 11 September 2023

Quince Jelly

Quinces will be in again soon, and if you live in the Touraine and don't have a quince tree - don't worry - someone will offer you a bucketful of quinces. Quince trees seem to be loaded almost every year, and they are a sadly under utilised fruit.

Quince. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cut in half, it is obvious they are related to apples and pears.

Gélée de coings, as quince jelly is called in French, is one of the easiest and most reliable jams you can make. Quinces have so much natural pectin there is never a problem with set and because you strain the liquid from the solids for the end product, there is no fiddling about peeling and coring the fruit. Chop them up as roughly as you like.

Homemade stewed quinces. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Neatly peeled, cored and thickly sliced - not for jelly, but beingpoached for dessert. The longer they poach the pinker they will get.

I start by washing them and rubbing the fuzz off. Then I cut them into largish chunks. Combine the quinces with an equal quantity of sugar and set aside in the fridge for a couple of days. Follow the same method as for apple jelly.

Quince pulp being filtered to make jelly. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A jelly bag stand, straining under the weight of quince pulp.

Once you have made the jelly and have a bag full of pulp, pips and skin, don't throw it out. Run it through a food mill to extract the pips and scaly bits and make quince paste with the resulting pink purée.

Quince paste is a specialty of Orleans dating from the Middle Ages and known as Cotignac. Quince is used a lot in the Maghreb (former French colonies in North Africa) in tajines. Locally it is prepared as compote to accompany game, but this requires a lot of time and work. Quinces are also used to make a liqueur by many people here, macerating the fruit with sugar and combining the juice drawn off with eau de vie (also known as marc de fruit).