Tuesday 31 October 2023

At the Veggie Farm on Halloween

Halloween display at organic farm shop, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Buying my week's supply of veggies can be a bit scary at this time of year! Not...

This is the farm shop at Les Jardins Vergers de la Petite Rabaudiere, just outside of Preuilly and open every Monday evening from 16:00 to 19:00. The farm is an organic market garden and orchard. The witch serving is my friend Justine.

Monday 30 October 2023

Trompettes des Maures

Trompettes des maures Craterellus cornucopioides at a market, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
At the market in La Roche Posay.

The name Trompettes des maures for this highly prized mushroom seem to be one chosen for commercial reasons. You often see it labelled thus when it is sold pickled or dried in jars. I suspect the thinking is that 'mort' (death), pronounced the same as 'maures' (Moors), does not sell.

Trompettes de la mort Craterellus cornucopiodes, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Growing in the Forest of Preuilly.

The name used by anyone foraging for them is Trompettes de la mort, and this name owes its origin to the mushrooms period of growth, around All Saints' Day.

They are black, the color of mourning, which helps their association with the dead. But in fact it seems likely that there was a semantic shift, and originally the name was "trumpet of love"! A nickname that comes from their cornucopia shape, a symbol of generosity. When they appear they are often abundant, another link with the cornucopia idea. 

As well as trompettes des maures, they were sometimes also referred to as truffe du pauvre (poor man's  truffles).  

Wild Trompettes de la mort at Loches market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
At Loches market.

Saturday 28 October 2023

Pyrenean Mountain Dogs

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog (Fr. chien de montagne des Pyrénées), known colloquially as a 'patou', from the Occitan 'pastor', is an ancient breed of shepherd dog used in the south-west of France and the north-east of Spain, particularly the Pyrenees, to protect the herds against predators, especially the bears that live there. They are guardians, not herding dogs (the shepherds use a black and white collie type dog called a labrit, or berger des Pyrénées for that). Patous are very big dogs, big boned with long white hair, and weighing about 65 kilos. The breed is mentioned in documents from the 14th century.

This Patou at Aubisque was seeing off all the motorcyclists and cyclists passing on the road. Its flock had settled themselves around the carpark in a way that was less than ideal for the poor dog.Pyrenean mountain dog, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

As well as guarding flocks of sheep, or sometimes goats, cattle or even beehives, they make good guard dogs for properties and family pets. Depending on the threat -- bears, wolves, foxes, rustlers, stray dogs, corvids -- one, two or three dogs may be required per flock. Bears require two or three Patous defending the flock just because of their size and strength. Wolves hunt in well organised packs and can easily out manoeuvre a single dog on its own trying to protect a flock. Other threats are put off quite easily by a single barking dog that actively advances towards them.

In the Middle Ages they were used to guard chateaux and to protect herds against predators (which in those days included bears, lynx, wolves, and even man). At this time they would have worn heavy iron 'wolf collars', studded with spikes, to protect them from attacks. Very popular in the 17th century, there were even some at the court of Louis XIV. There are stories of them being used to smuggle goods across difficult mountain passes on the Spanish Franco border too.

Pyrenean mountain dog info board, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The Patou became less common in the countryside, and finally by the end of the 19th century, not present at all except in parts of the Pyrenees, because the big predators became locally extinct. But since the 1980s, following the return of wolves across the Alps and the return of bears in the Pyrenees, there has been a resurgence of interest in the breed amongst shepherds. The breed is part of the official campaign to protect herds, along with night pens enclosed in electric fences and extra shepherds. Farmers benefit from grants to buy, train and keep the dogs, as well as other strategies to protect their herds. The dogs can reduce stock losses from predation by up to 90%.

In 1965 the breed became famous because of the French television series Belle et Sébastien.

At the heart of the flock they are remarkable guardians. Their role is not to herd, but to protect. To do this they are accustomed very early to live with the flock and become part of it. If the dog detects an intruder, they bark and insert themselves between the flock and the perceived threat.

Like all dogs, Patous occasionally bite humans, and there have been several instances widely reported in the media. There can be issues between working dogs and holiday makers on the hiking trails and mountain meadows.

The poster above says "Hello. I am a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, known as a Patou. My role is to oversee the security of the beasts that I protect. In order to avoid upsetting the flock, please give them a wide berth and keep your dog on a lead." The cartoon part tells you to get into the habit of adopting certain behaviours if you meet a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, such as not approaching or patting the sheep, and not running around or shouting. If you have a dog with you do not allow it to interact with the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, even though the Pyrenean Mountain Dog may approach you and your dog. Don't try to pat a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, or brandish your hiking pole at one, or throw stones at one. If you run away screaming, expect the dog to chase you. Don't stare directly into the dog's eyes -- it will see this as an attempt to dominate it and react aggressively. If you are riding a bike, dismount and walk until the dog is no longer interested in you. If you ride past the dog will chase you. If you are walking, do so calmly and steadily, not taking too much notice of the dog. You can speak gently to them, but don't interact further than that. Once you are no longer a threat the dog will peaceably return to its flock.

But as one of the shepherds I've seen interviewed said, it is more or less impossible to train a dog to ignore domestic dogs if their job is to attack wolves. To avoid conflicts some places are trialling a geolocating app whereby hikers can download the positions of all the flock protection dogs wearing a device and thus give them a wide berth. The shepherds are happy to do this but I have my doubts about whether hikers will even realise they can do this or in some cases even understand why they should. It is quite common to see sheep dogs lounging about near cars in the mountains and I wonder how many tourists realise they are working dogs, accompanied by a shepherd who has driven up to check the flock, not somebody's pet out for the day.

Every year there is a Pyrenean dog breed show in mid-September in the park in Argeles-Gazost. This year will be its centenary.

Further Reading: 

The website of the association of working Pyrenean dogs https://www.pastoralepyreneenne.fr/ [in French].

The website of the association of Pyrenean dog lovers, who run the annual dog show https://www.chiens-des-pyrenees.com/ [in French].

Friday 27 October 2023

What's the Time?

Note: by "France", I mean continental (metropolitan) France.

Before 1891, every town and city in France had its own time based on local solar time - the time at which the sun is at its highest position in the sky. To align railway timetables, in 1891 time was unified in France and based on the solar time of Paris. In 1911 Metropolitan France adopted Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which made sense as most of France falls geographically into the zone 7.5 degrees either side of the Greenwich Meridian. In 1923 Daylight Savings Time (DST) was introduced for the summer months.

In the summer of 1940, the German military authorities switched the occupied part of France to German summer time - GMT +2 - while Vichy France remained at GMT+1 (French summer time). The Vichy authorities kept GMT+1 (French summer time) during the winter of 1940–1941 and adopted GMT+2 (double summer time) in May 1941 in order to unify the railway timetables between occupied and Vichy France. After German occupation of the whole of France (1942) the whole of France used GMT+2 during the summer, and GMT+1 during the winter.

At the Liberation of France in the summer of 1944, Metropolitan France kept GMT+2 as it was the time then used by the Allies (British Double Summer Time). In the winter of 1944–1945 France switched to GMT+1, same as in the United Kingdom, and switched again to GMT+2 in April 1945 like its British ally. In September 1945, Metropolitan France returned to GMT+1. 

France was officially scheduled to return to GMT+0 on November 18, 1945, but the French government cancelled the decision in November 1945 and GMT+1 has since then remained the official time of Metropolitan France.

In 1976, daylight saving time was reintroduced in France for the first time since WW2 and since 1976 Metropolitan France has been at GMT+1 (now UTC+01:00) during the winter and GMT+2 (now UTC+02:00) during the summer. In 1996, daylight saving time was harmonized throughout the European Union which moved the end of DST to the last Sunday in October.

So, on Saturday night (or Sunday morning) don't forget to change your clocks. 

Thursday 26 October 2023

More Tour de France

On Saturday Susan wrote about the Tour de France.

Yesterday the route for the 2024 race was announced. Once again it's not coming through Preuilly sur Claise - the last time it did that was in 2008. Any year now...

Next year the closest it's coming to us is on 9 July. Stage 10 is from Orléans to St Armand Montrond, and it looks like the route is via Romorantin and Bourges. We'll decide closer to the date where we'll be.

In the meantime, some screen shots from the TV coverage of this year's race and a Street View shot, focusing on the "lacets" between Lourdes and Cauterets.

This is the driver's eye view as you approach the lacets.

Riding up the main street of Cauterets. The Boulangerie on the right of shot is where we usually buy our breakfast

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Fungi Foray at the Carrefour de l'inspecteur

October is normally when the most abundance of fungi can be found in the Touraine Loire Valley. The Carrefour de l'inspecteur is an intersection of half a dozen forest rides right in the middle of the Forest of Loches. Didier Raas led a fungi foray on behalf of the Association de botanique et de mycologie to Sainte Maure de Touraine, in partnership with the Tourist Office of Loches. The fungi was showing the effects of the dry weather, but we found a reasonable number of species.


A selection of toxic mushrooms, including Brown Rollrim Paxillus involutus (Fr. Paxille enroulé), Panthercap Amanita pantherina (Fr. Amanite panthère) and Oldrose Bolete Imperator rhodopurpureus (Fr. Bolet Vieux Rose).

Toxic mushrooms, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Didier talking about Scarlet Brittlegill Russula pseudointegra (Fr. Russule coccinée).  Rather rare and tastes unpleasantly of horseradish.

Scarlet Brittlegill Russula pseudointegra, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Spindleshank mushroom Gymnopus fusipes (Fr. Souchette), syn. Collybia fusipes. Abundant, growing in clumps on fallen logs, with tough stipes (stems) that become distorted with age.

Spindleshank mushroom Gymnopus fuscipes, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Participants of these outings often take reference photos of mushrooms they particularly want to remember. This one is the edible Red Capped Scaber Stalk Leccinum aurantiacum (Fr. Bolet Orangé des chenes).

Taking a reference photo of Leccinum aurantiacum, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A bracket fungus (polypore), left, annotated with the name of the tree species it was found on, as an aid to identification. "Hetre" is beech. The fungus turned out to be Horse's Hoof Fomes fomentaria (Fr. Amadouvier). Also in the basket is Scarlet Brittlegill (top), Lactarius zonarius (Fr. Lactaire zoné), right, both tasting unpleasantly of strong horseradish, and at the bottom, Iodine Bolete Hemileccinum impolitum (Fr. Bolet dépoli).

Polypore annotated with the tree it was found on, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Mycology expert Didier Raas talking about a cep (porcini).

Mycology expert Didier Raas talking about a cep on a field outing, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Didier talking about Bare-toothed Brittlegill Russula vesca (Fr. Russule comestible), which conveniently for an edible mushroom, is ham coloured.

Mycology expert Didier Raas talking about Russula vesca on a field outing, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Blusher Amanita rubescens (Fr. Amanite rougissante), eaten by experienced fungi foragers, but one of the tricky Amanita genus, which includes many toxic species.

Blusher Amanita rubescens, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Sooty Milkcap Lactarius fuliginosus (Fr. Lactaire enfumé), found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in deciduous forests.

Sooty Milkcap Lactarius fuliginosus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The edible species Scarletina Bolete Neoboletus erythropus (Fr. Bolet a pied rouge), showing the crucial lack of a fine red line between the flesh and the tubes, which would mean it was a different, toxic, species.

Scarletina Bolete Neoboletus erythropus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Beech Tarcrust Biscogniauxia nummularia (Fr. Hypoxylon nummulaire), a species which becomes more abundant in times of drought stress on the host tree, Beech.

Beech Tarcrust Biscogniauxia nummularia, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Walking From Barrou

On Monday 2 October we joined our walking group in Barrou to do 5 kilometres in 20C, with a very light southerly breeze and moderately high humidity. With drinks and photo pauses it took an hour and a half.

Courtyard entry in central Barrou.

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


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

I think this is Ruby Bolete Hortiboletus rubellus (Fr. Bolet framboise).

Ruby Bolete Hortiboletus rubellus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Although you can't tell from this photo, there was a serious discussion about the traffic problems in Preuilly going on at this point.

Pile of conifer trunks, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

There were 54 growth rings on this conifer trunk, which was easily the largest diameter in the pile.

Conifer logs, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Monday 23 October 2023

Its Dry

In May 2013 we posted this photo on the blog after considerable rain:

It didn't look like that a couple of weeks ago

We've has storm warnings lately, but no real rain for what feels like months. I can't remember seeing the river that low before.

Saturday 21 October 2023

A Day at the (Cycle) Races

The Caravane was told they could not throw goodies and sound their klaxons in the National Park. This descending Caravane vehicle is the fire brigade's.

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

Every year in July we try to get to be at one Stage of the Tour de France. This year we were in Cauterets in the Pyrenees when it finished at Cambasque/Cauterets. So thanks to Simon's careful planning we staked a spot right by the finish line and had a wonderful day (except for the final 4 kilometres walking down on the road at the end, which was just a bit too steep and long). To get to our prime spectating spot we packed a picnic lunch and set out after breakfast. 

Poor little Gaspar got separated from his parents. He then got the thrill of being walked up the track holding a police woman's hand and put in the care of the race officials (easy to recognise in their beige trousers and blue shirts).

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

We took the cable car to the Station de Ski Cauterets-Le Lys. Then just for fun we took the ski lift to the Crete du Lis to see the marvellous view down into the valley with Cauterets below on one side and across to the Lac d'Ilhéou and deep into the mountains. After coming back down on the ski lift we made a quick toilet stop at the ski station, then walked 4 kilometres down the track to Cambasque, stopping along the way to photograph the scenery and wildlife. At Cambasque Simon quickly spotted there was a space under a tree right at the finish line, so we claimed it and ate our picnic lunch. 

The Australian Jai Hindley, in the yellow jersey, crosses the line in 6th place, at 2'39" after the winner Tadej Pogacar.

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

Then we spread out our full sized Australian flag and settled in to patiently wait the three hours until the (reduced) Caravane came through and then finally the riders. Being at the finish line meant that the race commentators could see us, so the flag got mentioned a couple of times. We could also follow the progress of the race on the giant screens set up in several positions. 

This group of riders came in at 20 minutes after the leaders.

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

To our surprise, the first flurry of activity on the track was the Presidential cavalcade. Emmanuel Macron was there to hand out prizes. Simon managed to get a photo, but I didn't even get a glimpse, as my view was blocked by a giant television screen. But I did see Tadej Pogacar power across the line, and all the others who came after. 

Team vehicles and media motorbikes kept corralled by the police until the President has whooshed past.

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

Then we had to hang around while the those with a higher priority were allowed to start descending, and after about an hour, we were also descending, on foot, down the road. Finally, exhausted and footsore, we made it back to Cauterets and our 8pm dinner reservation.

The President, Monsieur Macron, whooshes by.

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

Friday 20 October 2023

Ruth Mold Walter 31.12.1930 to 19.10.2023

My mother died yesterday. She was 92 years old, virtually blind, deaf and suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. After discussions with her doctors she had been taken off all medication apart from pain control and put into end of life care a few days earlier. She died in the excellent Aged Care facility where she has lived since 2016. My father was there at the end, holding her hand.

A family photo from 1986. My mother is seated, I'm on the left. My sister is in the middle, Dad on the right. And the dog.

Family photo, Queensland, Australia.

Throughout all of this my sister has been everyone's pillar of strength. She made sure Dad was prepared, it was her who met with all the medical staff, and kept me fully informed. Everything has been organised and she has made it extremely easy for me. Considering how many people my age I come across with completely uncooperative siblings, I am aware of how lucky I am. The death of a parent is one of the most difficult things to deal with for those of us who live far away.

My mother presenting me to my great-grandmother in 1960. The other family members are an uncle, a great-aunt and an aunt.

4 generations of family, Victoria, Australia.

My mother was short, clever, hard working and energetic, a bit bolshie, a bit loud, creative and with the confidence to turn her hand to anything. She liked to cook, garden, sew, paint a bit, go botanising, camping and do puzzles. She met my father in New Zealand when they were both taking a sort of gap year. She was working as a waitress, he was working as a shearer. It was more or less love at first sight and she supported him in everything. My sister sent me all her diaries, so we know.

Mum birdwatching on Iluka Beach, New South Wales, in 2003.

Birdwatching, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

She was the daughter of English immigrants, born in Melbourne, Australia. Her father was a builder and joiner, her mother was a housewife, and she had a younger brother, who became a dairy farmer. When she left school she had a choice of careers -- she could have gone to work for her father, or train as a nurse or a teacher. She chose nursing, getting qualifications in general nursing, surgery and midwifery. All her married life she managed a career and our family, keeping us fed in clean comfortable surroundings. For the last half of her career, after I and my sister had left home, she specialised in geriatric and end of life care, working as a domicilary nurse.

Mum heading off to golf in 2002. The golf cart wasn't road legal, but the golf course was only a block away. This method of getting to and fro continued until the local police sergeant noticed and had a word.

Golf buggy, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

I wanted to tell an anecdote that gave a flavour of how she was, and the one which springs to mind is from when she visited us in London. We were travelling on the Underground, no doubt going to some museum or other, and she was seated next to a tall handsome black man wearing a pair of beautiful distressed leather trousers, a complete stranger, of course. She turned to him with a friendly smile, patted him on the leg and said 'I like your trousers. Where did you get them?' The rest of us were open mouthed with horror -- not only had she spoken to a stranger on the Underground, she had manhandled them!! Luckily the cool dude in the leather must have had a rather wonderful embarrassing provinicial Mum who chatted with everyone too, and he smiled back and answered her question. 

My mother in 2006, at Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia. A couple of days after I took this photo, Simon emailed me a photo from Loches market and we had started the process of buying a house in the Touraine Loire Valley in France.

Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Now she has died she will be cremated and we will have a memorial service when everyone can be together. Her ashes will be scattered in a nature reserve that she and my father help to establish.

Mum seated right, Dad on the left, me behind Mum, my sister behind Dad. This is 2018, the last time I saw my Mum.

Walter family, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

My family is very grateful to everyone at the Aged Care facility. They have all been so kind and respectful. My father, my sister and I are very touched.

Thursday 19 October 2023

One of those weeks

This is one of those blog posts that every blogger feels the need to write occasionally.

This week has been busy. Not with big stuff, but with stuff that's had us coming and going. On Monday we both had our COVID boosters (that's 6 in all for each of us) then went walking. On Tuesday Susan went on a fungus forage while I stacked wood. On Wednesday Susan worked and I stacked wood and recovered from stacking wood.

Today we'll be stacking wood and doing stuff.

A lot's happened... but nothing has happened. 

You get weeks like that, even when you're windswept and exotic like us.

Wednesday 18 October 2023


On Saturday night we were at l'Image (Restaurant l'Image) for their special sauerkraut night.

Even though the redecoration of the restaurant has not finished, the room, in addition to the bar and the garden, was in use. Susan and I could have sat at a two person table in the bar, but instead we opted to sit at a form in the restaurant. That meant that we would be able to speak to other people and share the fun.

The sauerkraut garnie itself was excellent, with plenty of meats and boiled spud, and a bit of fermented cabbage. A debate has been had as to whether sauerkraut (German) is the same as choucroute (French) to no real resolution, so we'll call it sauerkraut and be done with it. It was good, reasonably priced, and served with good humour.

Entertainment was provided by an excellent accordion player, and the rugby was showing on a big screen in the beer garden.

All in all, a successful night, and we hope it's a sign of good times to come.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

A Tapestry Returns to the Chateau Royal d'Amboise

Late last year the Aubusson tapestries in the Chateau Royal d'Amboise were inspected by experts from a specialist tapestry conservation workshop in Blois. Now 'The Triumph of Constantine' tapestry is back and up on the wall, washed and repaired.

'The Triumph of Constantine' tapestry, Chateau Royal d'Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The tapestry is one of several made in Aubusson to cartoons drawn by Charles le Brun, Director of the Gobelins tapestry workshops in the 17th century. It had been literally coming apart at the seams, with the border bands sagging as old stitching failed. It went back up on the wall of the Great Chamber in mid-September.

The tapestry is sadly faded and the fibres have taken on the straw colour which indicates long term irreparable degradation. Now very fragile this heavy object had been given a hessian backing some time ago, to allow it to hang safely and be supported.

Monday 16 October 2023

Chataignes and Marrons

Last October one of the market stalls I buy mushrooms and vegetables from in La Roche Posay had sweet chestnuts. There were two different sorts, marked 'marrons' and 'chataignes', and they were different prices. So I asked the stallholder what the difference is.

Cultivated and wild foraged sweet chestnuts at a market, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cultivated sweet chestnuts (marrons) on the left at €7.50/kg and wild sweet chestnuts (chataignes) on the right at €5.80.

According to him, marrons are cultivated, and a premium product, whereas chataignes are the wild ones that are foraged in the forest. But beware -- marrons can also refer to horse chestnuts, which are not edible.

In cultivated chestnuts, known as marrons in French, there is just a single big 'nut' in the husk (Fr bogue), whereas in the wild chataigne there are usually three 'nuts' nestled together in the prickly husk. The popularity of the term marron came about because chestnuts were seen as poverty food and the word 'chataigne' was associated with hard times.

Chataignes are smaller and paler, and traditionally dried to preserve them and kill any insect infestation, then ground make flour. They were important for preventing famine in areas that were too steep to grow grains of any sort. Marrons are used fresh for roasting and candying (the famous marrons glacé that are such a treat at Christmas time) because they peel more easily.

Saturday 14 October 2023

A Perfectly Splendid Ground Beetle

Carabus splendens (Fr. la Carabe splendide) is endemic to the Pyrenees and the southern Massif Central. I photographed this one on my way to stake out a spot on the mountain at Cambasque to watch the finish of Stage 6 of the Tour de France earlier this year. Simon found it, sadly dead, on the track.

Carabus splendens, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This is a big, really shiny, beetle, about 30 mm long, living in forest habitats, both broadleaf deciduous and conifer. It is found all over the Pyrenees, from sea level to at least 1500 metres and sometimes beyond. Mostly nocturnal, it eats snails, slugs and caterpillars.

Thursday 12 October 2023

A Tapestry Returns to Chenonceau

Recently a tapestry has returned to the Chateau de Chenonceau after having been away for months.

It is known as 'A l'Aristoloche' and is one of a number of tapestries woven in the late 15th century in the Oudenaarde (Audenarde) area of Flanders featuring a European interpretation of the leaves and flowers of the newly discovered and thoroughly exotic South American vines Aristolochia spp. Earlier versions of this style of tapestry are dubbed 'cabbage leaf' tapestries because of the lush big leaves that feature throughout the design. So there is a sort of merging of European and exotic flora in order to create these once verdant textiles.

Detail of the newly conserved A l'Aristoloche tapestry at the Chateau of Chenonceau.

A l'Aristoloche tapestry (detail), Chateau de Chenonceau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

I say once verdant because when they left the tapestry weaver's atelier these works would have been a riot of many shades of green. Now they are predominantly blue, as their natural plant based dyes have aged differently. What you see now is indigo, from the woad plant, a very strong and fast dye. But originally it would have been overdyed with dyers greenweed, which produces yellow and the effect would have been green. The yellow has now faded and we just left with the blue.

There is an Aristolochia native to Europe but although curious looking, it is nowhere near as striking as its South American cousins. I don't know if the European tapestry weavers were aware that the tropical vine they were doing their best to interpret from sketches or even just written descriptions had a local version. In any case, with the Aristolochia tapestries the important thing was to make them as exotic and lush as possible. In reality, Aristolochia spp leaves are usually large, flat and heart shaped, although they do vary a bit from species to species. The flowers are tubes which turn up at the ends into a bowl shape, leading to one of their vernacular names, "dutchman's pipe".

The A l'Aristoloche tapestry hangs in Catherine de Medici's private apartments at the Chateau of Chenonceau. Photo from just prior to the tapestry's conservation restoration.

Catherine de Medici's private apartments, Chateau de Chenonceau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In the case of the tapestry at Chenonceau it also includes depictions of other South American flora and fauna. Columbus was just back from the New World and there was great excitement amongst the merchant classes as they imagined what they might be able to trade in and how much money they might make. The tapestry features Hoatzins (birds that look like scruffy crested pheasants), tropical fruits and epiphytic orchids, all unknown to Europe prior to the 1490s. But there are also traditional European fruits and flowers included, perhaps to deliver certain specific messages, such as pomegranates for fertility, prosperity and abundance, or lilies for virtue and once again, fertility. The European species of Aristolochia is known as "birthwort" because of the flower's resemblance to the birth canal, so perhaps after all, the tapestry weavers did know that the European and American plants were connected.

But there is a less obvious symbolism associated with this tapestry and the many like it. Columbus's return from the New World was widely heralded as him having rediscovered the Garden of Eden, so on one level this tapestry is a representation of the beauty of God's Creation in a relatively obvious way. Ironically, given the influence of the ascetic mystic Savonarola and his bonfires of the vanities as a ritual to rid the world of sin, this luxury object and its idea of the Garden of Eden is also connected to a more widespread developing belief that the world was about to end. In this way of thinking, Columbus's rediscovery of the Garden of Eden was a signifier or precursor to the End Times, and many wealthy people were preparing themselves for the event by commissioning works of art which showed that they acknowledged God's power and were ready to submit to God's rule. These sorts of subtle, multi-layered messages contained in decorative works are very typical of the decades around 1500 in France.

The tapestry has no historical connection to the Chateau of Chenonceau or any of its owners as far as I know. I assume it was bought at auction in Paris in the mid-twentieth century by Gaston Menier, then the owner of the chateau. He amassed a museum quality collection to set dress his chateau and entice the general public in to see it decked out as it might have been in its sixteenth century heyday.

For the entirety of the tapestry's absence it was represented by a lifesize high definition photograph on a sheet of vinyl hanging on the wall. Curators do this sometimes so there isn't an awkard gap in the display. There is no active attempt to deceive the visitor but my guess is that the majority of people never realised they were not looking at a real tapestry. I certainly saw people faithfully photographing the 'fake' with every indication that they thought it was the real thing.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Archaeology at the Nymphaeum

Just outside of the village of Le Grand Pressigny, in what was the grounds of the chateau, is a small and clearly once high status building. It is a nymphaeum, built to create a leisure space around a spring. For many years it has been in poor repair, but last year it was announced a grant had been procured to restore the building.

Nymphaeum, Le Grand Pressigny, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Last time I passed an archaeological dig seems to be in progress, but there is no information about what might have been unearthed. By the look of it, there was once another circular pool right in front of the nymphaeum.

Originally nymphaeums were shrines dedicated to nymphs, who were mythological beings associated with sacred springs, woods and other natural features. 

The village of Le Grand Pressigny, situated on the confluence of the Claise and Aigronne Rivers, has existed since before the 6th century. The 16th century nymphaeum was intended to allow women to meet and bath in private, staying warm and dry in its shelter afterwards, to chat and relax.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Walking from Rond du Chene to Leugny

On Wednesday 27 September I joined Joel and Denise, Tilly and a friend, Marie-France, and Jean-Jacques to walk 9 kilometres from Rond du Chene, the hunting lodge in the middle of the Forest of La Guerche, down to Leugny on the Creuse River, and back up again by a different route. Walking the Creuse Valley always involves some properly steep bits, so this was real exercise. With photo and drinks breaks it took us 2 and a half hours.

Entering the forest along one of the many rides that radiate from the Rond du Chene hunting lodge.

Walking in the Foret de la Guerche, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Taking a shortcut along an unmaintained track that has become overgrown with Purple Moor Grass Molinia caerulea (Fr. Molinie bleue).

Walking in the Forest de la Guerche, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This orange blob on a dead pine tree will is a young polypore fungus I think.

Young polypore fungus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

I think this big white slug munched fungus on a pine stump is Scaly Sawgill Neolentinus lepideus (Fr. Lentin squamuleux), a species notorious for attacking railway sleepers and causing train accidents.

Neolentinus lepideus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

European Holly Ilex aquifolium (Fr. Houx commun).

Holly Ilex aquifolium, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ash-black Slug Limax cinereoniger (Fr. Grande Limace).

Ash-black Slug Limax cinereoniger, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Red Slug Arion rufus (Fr. Grande loche).

Red Slug Arion rufus, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The fluffy seedheads of Travellers' Joy Clematis vitalba (Fr. Clématite des haies).

Travellers Joy Clematis vitalba, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A Turkish Snail Helix lucorum (Fr. Escargot turc) being pursued by a Glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca (Fr. lampyre) larva in the streets of Leugny. Glow-worm larvae predate snails, but I think this one might have literally bit off more than it can chew. Turkish Snails are large -- up to 60 mm across the shell.

Turkish Snail Helix lucorum being pursued by a Glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca larva, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The River Creuse at Leugny. Although the water is crystal clear here at the moment, the current is swift enough that there are signs warning you that swimming is dangerous. There was once a river port, mainly for shallow draft river boats carrying cargo.

River Creuse, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The church and neighbouring fortified manor house in Leugny.

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

Monday 9 October 2023

Fruit at the Market

The new season's apples and pears are in, as well as grapes. I buy most of my fruit from Fruit O'Kalm, my local organic orchard, who have a stall at the Saturday morning farmers' market in Preuilly sur Claise. 

 Quinces, donated by a parent and available at the primary school for whatever you wished to pay, proceeds go to the school.

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

Sandie choosing apples for me. I know her well enough that I would be allowed to choose my own apples, but it is traditional in France to allow the vendor to choose the fruit and for the customer not to touch it prior to purchase. The big apples are Melrose.

Apple producer, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This year for the first time Fruit O'Kalm has an almond crop. They planted the trees several years ago, but they take a while to produce a crop. Also in this photo, Chasselas grapes and the last of the blood peaches.

Organic locally grown almonds, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Two pear varieties, Beurre Hardy and Harrow Sweet, along with the last of the figs.

Organic locally grown pears at a market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

New season Gala and Pilot apples.
Organic locally grown apples at a market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.