Friday, 30 December 2011

Trying to change

Regular readers will have noticed that the blog design has gone from shades of beige to shades of charcoal grey this week.

This isn't entirely intentional. We were wanting to change the banner photo for a while now but with the weather being so mild we didn't have any really seasonal wintry photos - unlike last year! So we settled on a photo taken earlier this month on a misty morning.

shades of gray at Chenonceau
Changing that led to also trying to change the design template. You know the idea: fresh 'face' for 2012.... What we wanted was a color palette of grey-ish blues and greens. Now Blogger let us change elements to all sorts of colors but would it let us change the background -- would it heck! We either accepted one of a set series of color combinations or selected a different design; and we didn't like the other colorways.

Trying to customise the color palette worked in theory - we tried to 'adapt' each of the offered colorways but for some reason Blogger refused to transfer our choice to the blog page -- it only changed some of the page elements. So after much frustrated messing, and some swearing we were left with changed font colors, post titles and link colors all of which clashed hideously with the ever present beige background.

As an alternative we chose this antracite gray template. It is quite sombre but we think it does set off photos nicely. What do you think? And if anyone knows how we could make Blogger do what we want please let us know!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Chenonceau in winter

approach to Chenonceau, no people...
Last week we had Sarah, my cousin's daughter to stay. Playing tourist with someone who is seeing for the first time what treasures the Loire valley has to offer is always great fun; especially when she is an art history major. 

Sarah looking down the long gallery
We picked her up at Orly airport early in the morning. We had lunch in Amboise and found time to buy some handmade chocolates at a very busy chocolatier before heading to the Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci's residence where he died in 1519. The king of France, Francois I had coaxed him to come to France and he's buried in the chapel of Amboise castle. Sarah wanted to see it and the collection of models of Leonardo's inventions.  It was so quiet we literally parked at the entrance and had the place to ourselves:- an advantage of visiting on a cold grey winter's day. In the summer it is absolutely heaving with visitors.

The next day we had to pick up our pintade from Loches market and this gave us an opportunity to show Sarah the Caravaggios we've mentioned before and pay a quick visit to St Ours to see Agnes Sorel's tomb. There was quite a bit of fallen plaster in St Ours, presumably it had been knocked loose by the recent storm, Joachim.

Sarah, Niall and a christmas tree!
Having got our pintade we drove up to Chenonceau for the main visit for the day. Again it was really quiet. A place like Chenonceau will always have visitors, no matter what day of the year but there were only about 20 cars in the parking lot and not a tourist bus to be seen. In Chenonceau terms that is empty!

It meant that we were able to enjoy the full impact of the allée of plane trees leading up to the chateau.

Catherine de Medici
real log fire in the five queens' bedroom
It was a great visit as, with the christmas trees, floral displays and roaring fires it had a lovely ambiance. You weren't part of some demented rugby scrum trying to see the art treasures hung on the walls such as small Poussin landscape and the portraits of the two most well known owners: Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Diane was the favourite mistress of King Henry II. Catherine de Medici was Henry's wife and after Henry's death 'appropriated' Chenonceau from her longtime rival Diane. 

It was interesting to re-visit the unusual black painted 'mourning room' of Louise de Lorraine wife of the assinated Henry III although we weren't quite convinced by the white christmas tree with black decorations. 

Soon after we entered a bus load of tourists did come pouring in armed to the teeth with camcorders but they were obviously on a tight schedule as they went from room to room at a rapid pace and soon disappeared over the horizon. We took our time and enjoyed the christmas decorations as much as the chateau.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas Day pintade

As regular readers will know we ordered a pintade [guinea fowl] for Christmas Day dinner. We finally decided on the following menu:
roasted pintade with a sauce a la Normande
pommes dauphinoise and haricots verts

traditional christmas pudding and creme brulé ice cream.

We roasted the pintade in the oven. We put a sliced lemon and a roughly quartered shallot into the bird's cavity. The skin was rubbed with colza oil [in preference to butter] and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then we wrapped the bird in streaky bacon; set it on slices of apple and quartered shallots in the roasting tray and drizzled it with a little more oil. It went into the oven at 180C.

For the Normande sauce we sauteed some shallots, lardons fumé and an apple in butter. We then addded cider and reduced it all down. Next, we warmed and flamed off a generous amount of Calvados and added it to the sauce before letting it reduce again and finishing off with light cream. Finally, we added the apple slices the bird had sat on to the sauce. It went very well with the pintade.

The food was all very yummy so we ate a lot and drank quite a bit, including a very nice sparkling Alsace Rosé.

The photos are of two of the lovely Christmas tree arrangements at the Chateau of Chenonceau which we visited last week.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

Well we're back home having dropped Sarah, the daughter of Antoinette's cousin, off at Charles de Gaulle airport for her flight back to Greece. She's been studying there this last semester and now she's flying back to Athens to meet up with her sister and father for Christmas before all three fly back to the USA. 

Unfortunately the earliest TGV train would not have given her enough time to get to the gate for her flight so we drove up last night and stayed at a cheap & cheerful airport hotel [Premiere Classe] before waving 'au revoir' this morning. Predictably after days of murk and misty rain the weather turned glorious and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise as we drove away from the airport.

It has been a hugely enjoyable but busy few days visiting Amboise, Chenonceau, Chinon, Fontevraud Abbey and the Abbey of St Savin. We'll write more about our visits soon. 

For now, on Christmas Eve we'd like to send our best wishes at Christmas to everyone and leave you with some seasonally appropriate images. We have presents to wrap and cooking to do!

Nativity, Charnizay village, perched in a lime[linden] tree

Nativity, Chenonceau chapel

Nativity, Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Friday, 16 December 2011

Breezin' through

flooded Aigronne river
Well "tempete Joachim" came storming in in the early hours of Thursday to Friday morning. In preparation we'd shut the shutters and anchored down things outside. We're on a ridge, and although to some extent sheltered by the neighbour's house from S/SW winds, it was very very blowy! That wasn't the worst of it, however. 

It was the accompanying rain. It came out of the black sky in huge bucketloads. The result this morning was over flowing ditches along the chemin, unexpected rivulets and extremely waterlogged ground everywhere; so saturated in fact that in places we have ponds!  The ground is clay on top of the calcaire and the water takes its time working through this claggy clay top layer. Ultimately it will all drain away of course, but in the meantime it makes for a very squelchy messy situation. If we're lucky we'll get a few days in which the ground can recover and all that water will drain away to fill the acquifers. The Aigronne river, normally a shallow little trout stream, has swollen out of all recognition and we have an impromtu lake in the valley below Charnizay.

collapsed gable
We had some large branches down, but the tarpaulins weren't blown off the woodpiles and no tiles came off the roof. The only casualty we found was the gable end of one of the ruined houses, which had collapsed. Happily it sits far enough back from the chemin that all the stone and rubble have strewn across the ground and it's nowhere near the roadway. The building sits on the parcel of land which belongs to a whole horde of heirs who can't decide what to do with it so it will continue to crumble into the woods.

A small hurrah! We are back on track with Christmas preparations. The last of the cards were sent off on Wednesday and parcels with small gifts for family and friends were handed in to Madame La Poste for dispatch on Monday.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days in Loches so the day before yesterday we went up to do some foodie shopping and get a Christmas tree. There's a good free range poulty farm at St Senoch [a village not far from us]. The farmer who runs it has a stand on the market selling all manner of fowl. We wanted to order a bird for Christmas and have been deliberating for some time as to what to go for: goose, duck or pintade [guinea fowl]. 

detail of rubble
We both are intruigued by goose but as the smallest one we could order was for 6 to 8 people we gave it a miss. We'd be eating it until kingdom come! Sadly monsieur was all out of duck, be it tame or semi-wild, so a pintade it will be. We had a detailed discussion as to how we planned to cook it and whether or not we wished for a ' pintade caponée' or 'normale'. A 'pintade caponée', at twice the price [€18.50 per kg] is a male bird which has been castrated and then milk fed to make its flesh even more delicate and soft. We went for a regular bird, not a milksop and will be picking it up at next Wednesday's market. 
Christmas Eve we'll have a seafood platter and be treating ourselves to oysters. Purists maintain one should eat them raw, and indeed we have done so; but, at the risk of being philistines we prefer having them cooked on the 1/2 shell.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Icarus & Daedelus

There's not been much of a peep out of us this week in blogland. Our apologies for that but things over-took us to a degree.

fair bit of this
Niall was struck down by a nasty version of the seasonal lurgy but with the added bonus of a cough that would gain him instant admission into any family of gouls! 
and a fair bit of that too!
Meanwhile I have been dealing with a nasty jaw infection. The jury is out whether or not it is the result of something dental or an infected gland. Either way, it  proceded to run riot in the right side of my jaw. Suffice to say that my face swelled up to interesting proportions - as did the pain - and I too could have easily auditioned for a: "scare your local kiddies competition". Pity it wasn't Halloween time. All of the which necessitated visits to A&E for medication -- which didn't work -- and to the local doctor, at a more civilised time, for alternative antibiotics which now are doing the trick. Things are on the mend with both of us.

can you spot Icarus?
However, all this means that we have stayed at home rarely venturing out. Not that the weather has offered us much inducement, it has been uniformly grey and dank out there. Today it is, yet again, misty and the sky is covered with an unrelenting blanket of cloud. 

So we have watched far more TV than normal. While the news headlines have been dominated by the Climate Change Conference in S. Africa and Cameron's bluff being called at the EU summit; we have eaten mush food [in Antoinette's case], taken our respective meds and watched "fluffy" TV. 

Icarus & Daedelus
It reminded us a little bit of Breughel's painting 'Fall of Icarus', which so accurately captures life carrying on while Icarus falls from the heavens. We got on with our own little things while elsewhere bigger things happened. 
We are lucky enough to have our own Icarus & Daedelus. A friend and former teaching colleague, Eppe de Haan sculpted them from driftwood and lead. We bought the statuettes at one of his 1st sculpture exhibitions in the 1990's and they have pride of place on our dower chest. We love his work and are lucky enough to have one or two more pieces; do have a look at his website.

In contrast to the EU summit where Cameron just refused to agree and that was effectively that; they kept talking at the UN Climate Change conference.  Let's hope that the compromise agreed upon helps... even if only a tiny tiny bit. 

Of course now's there's a minor panic chez nous. We are behind on all things Christmassy and at the end of the coming week we're having Antoinette's cousin's daughter to stay. Sarah, a junior at Bryn Mawr, has just finished a semester at Athens University in Greece and visiting us before flying back home to Florida. We're looking forward to showing her the sights of the Loire Valley - she's an Art History major.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A window a day

The Cloisters as an Advent calendar
Another grey murky day here today. However boring and gloomy the grey rain clouds are, fact is we do need the rain. It has been one of the driest and warmest autumns on record. 

So not a weekend for going out and doing things, but for staying in and slowly preparing for Christmas, which is coming up fast in the inside lane. We've got the Christmas card list out and bought the right stamps for various parts of the globe. Even though December has hardly begun, today is already the second Sunday in Advent. It's just the way the calendar crumbles, Christmas is not a moveable feast.

Yesterday we ran down to the village to pick up a parcel that La Poste had tried to deliver on Friday while we were out. In the Netherlands the docket telling you about the missed delivery informed you where the parcel had come from; here in France it doesn't so it remains a mystery until you actually turn up to collect it.

4 windows open
Our parcel turned out to be from a very dear friend in Massachusetts.  She has sent us a most magnificent Advent Calendar -- one from the New York Metropolitain Museum of Art. In 3D, it depicts The Cloisters, a medieval treasure house of a museum [and part of the Met] which we know well.  Each window hides an illustration of one of the museum's medieval treasures. An absolutely brilliant gift! Especially as, for the last couple of years, we've been disappointed by what's out there on offer. This is the first new one we've had for a while.

We've always had an advent calendar; it signals the start of the Christmas season. Some years we bought a new one, others times we re-used an especially beautiful one we'd saved. So now we have a small selection from which to choose; including one from Antoinette's childhood. It's still in relatively good order although it can be a bit tricky to keep the wee windows closed so that you can [re-]open one each day!

wild boar hunt
An advantage of the poor weather is that there aren't too many hunters out and about today. It seems it's too rainy and windy. As this is being typed the Aigronne valley has vanished in a white haze which means another burst of rain is about to roll up to the house. 

Don't think they were that fussed about whether or not the weather was good when hunting in the 14th C when was it more of an imperative as a means of replenishing the larder. Although, then as now, rain would drown out any scent of the wild boar or deer, leaving them little to show for their efforts. 

The December illumination by the Brothers Limbourg in the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry shows the successful end of a wild boar hunt. If you look closely you can see that the hunt servant on the left looks exhausted, as well he might having had to run to keep up with the dogs; one of whom he's already leashed. The one on the right is blowing the call to signal the death of the boar and the third servant is putting the collar/leash back on a mastiff type dog, who is far more intent on sinking his teeth into his share of the boar. In the background is the chateau of Vincennes. The forest surrounding the chateau was a favoured hunting ground of the French royal house.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Scottish links

last morning of November
Yesterday, we had some business to attend to in Loches, and as it was also market day we went up in the morning. As we drove along the mist began to thin and there was the promise of sun later on. The small camera now mostly lives in the car so we took a few photos. 

30 November is the feast of St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. Before devolution it was a day when official buildings in Scotland would fly the Saltire Cross -- the Scottish flag, instead of the Union Jack. Now of course the Scottish flag is flown everywhere.

welcome to Loches
Often in expat communities more is made of events such as St Andrew's day than would be the case in the home country. We can remember, when living in Wassenaar, being enthusiastically cornered by a lady very keen on signing anyone, with even the most tenuous connection to Scotland, up for a St Andrew's Day ball. It took some dexterity on our part to manoeuvre elegantly out of that one. We were informed that kilts were mandatory and that counted Niall out. He has a clan tartan but having worn a kilt once to a highland wedding swore never again. Not even at our own wedding.

Loches is alliée, associated with, the University town of St Andrews in Fife. It's nice that a town close to us has this link with not only Scotland, but a place we know well as we have good friends who live there. And... yes,  it is the place where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met, as well as the historic home of golf. A couple of months ago Loches held a 'Scotland Week' and along with holding events festooned the central streets with Scottish bunting; Saltire Crosses to the fore!

St Andrew with Saltire Cross
Legend has it that Rule, "an obscure Scottish saint" [Oxford Dictionary of Saints]; brought the relics, or at least some of them, to Scotland. He landed in Fife and built a church on the site of what is now the town of St Andrews. It became a center of pilgrimage and hence led to the selection of St Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland.

In early depictions St Andrew is shown with a normal cross. The X, or Saltire Cross, now associated with him first appears in the 10thC in Autun [SW of Dijon] and becomes common by the 14thC.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Friday farce

actors take a bow
Well, we promised to let you know how Maurice the protagonist in Friday night's farce got on. And the news is that he got on very well indeed. Ably hampered by his good friends at the bar/auberge "Chez Pauline" he managed to impress his very shrewish wife. Firstly by playing the hero during a hold up by some nasty masked men and secondly by becoming embroiled in foiling the smuggling of several suitaces of dope. Chaos was nicely resolved by the two madcap undercover police agents.  All in all it was a enjoyable Friday night out in the village. 

Charnizay church at night
The only thing which marred the whole was the heating! The radiators were on red hot and it was stifling. In fact, at the end, there was a slight stampede for the door. Not because the acting had been poor -- it was of a good standard, but because people were keen to get some fresh air!

Afterwards there was cider and medeira cake courtesy of the mairie and the 'actors' joined the audience. 

We'd parked near the church and took a quick snap of it looking lovely in the floodlights before driving home. On the way back we noticed that the temperature had gone up. In the morning it had been a chilly 4C with fog; in afternoon it had even dropped slightly,  but at 11pm it was a comparatively balmy 7C and the fog had thinned to wisps.

There was a good turnout on Friday and we hope they had as good an audience at Saturday's performance.

Friday, 25 November 2011

little cat feet

murky mist towards Eric's field
The weather has reminded me of Carl Sandberg's poem. This morning when I looked out the window it was all murky and foggy. In other words, proper November weather, the thermometer outside the kitchen door read 4C at about 8:30am. Quickly going out to take some photographs you could hear the drip, drip, drip of moisture falling from the branches and leaves.


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandberg, Chicago Poems (1916)

fog droplets
Hopefully it will lift a little as tonight we're out on the town --- well the village more like. A local theatre company, La Répet' d'Abilly is touring the villages and playing at Charnizay's salle de fete tonight and tomorrow night. Earlier in the week Niall saw a collection of theatre flats being delivered. 9pm will see us taking our seats for 'Larguez les Amarres' a comedy about Maurice, a down-trodden husband, his mates in the local bar and their madcap plans to help him. We'll let you know how Maurice got on.
Shadow mooching, woodburner ablaze
What a difference a week has made! Last Saturday the lizards were basking in the sunshine. Now the woodburner is on and the cats are seeking out the warmest nooks in the house.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


our house
Exactly a year ago today we stood and nervously pressed the 'publish post' button on the blogger 'new post' facility and watched with some trepidation as our first post appeared.

We'd never paid too much attention to blogs. Having weathered the first few frantic months that are part of any move to a new place we found that we were boring some of our friends/relations with repetition and failing to keep others abreast of the news. After the third email which kindly pointed out that: 'yes, we'd told them that already' we knew we had to find another solution!
Touraine Primeur

We'd found Simon & Susan's blog while searching for some information on wildlife.  As an extension of their blog they have an extremely useful site on flora & fauna in the area. We'd wanted to check if it was remotely possible to have spotted an otter along the Aigronne river [the jury is still out, but at best it is an 'unlikely to just maybe']. Reading their blog was -- and still is -- fun and informative. It also gave us the idea to try writing one ourselves as a solution to letting people know what we were up to.

So after some hesitant messing around with the Blogger design pages we put up our 1st post on 20 November 2010.

Now a year later we can honestly say that we remain touched and humbled by the number of people who visit our blog. For our part we thoroughly enjoy writing posts and have relished the comments that people have left behind. We've made many good friends along the way. Some remain 'blog friends' [maybe that will change in the future], others we have been lucky enough to also get to know in person. 

1st banner photo: Autumn 2010
To all of you a heartfelt THANK-YOU! We hope you continue to enjoy reading our adventures. We certainly enjoy sharing them :-). So we'll raise a glass of Touraine Primeur to our 1st 'blog-a-versay'.


Saturday, 19 November 2011

A close shave

all cut back
The weather here continues to be exceptionally mild. For the last week or more we've had partly cloudy or brilliantly sunny days. Temperatures have hovered around 17C and on the south side of the house the chaux has been warm to the touch from the sun. Before that we had days and days of grisaille colored skies. No sun, very dull and faintly depressing, but not cold or even really chilly. We've even had the sun roof open on the odd occasion! 

Not so when we went out to do some grocery shopping yesterday afternoon. Turning into the left-hand fork of the chemin which leads to our lieu-dit when we came home we ran into one of the chaps from the village who does greenery & maintenance around the village. The guys do a great job with the flowerbeds and planters as well as keeping the streets tidy. Earlier in this week they'd changed the all the bedding plants and the village now has a nice display of winter pansies. 

wall clearly visible again
Yesterday, the chemin which leads to our lieu-dit, as well as 2 others, was obviously on the 'to do' list. The chap was manning the tractor with the claw-like arm which does the fauchage [verging & hedging]. It's done twice a year to keep the ditches and hedges along the public roads in order. Now it may be hard to believe, given the state of the track [to be resurfaced in the spring we've been told] but our chemin is actually a public road - right up until the point where it dead ends and our drive starts.

fauchage scarring on oak tree
Anyway he'd done most of the chemin and bits and pieces of wood littered the road and the verges. All the vegetation at the sides had been given a very rigorous "shave". Last year and this spring they had only cut the grass verges. This time they chopped back the hedges and trees too. Just compare with last month's walkies. Right now it looks ugly and you can clearly see the marks of where the bushes and trees have been cut.  However, nature is very persistent and tough; soon the scars will fade.

lizard enjoying the November sun
While out taking some snaps of the "close shave" the foliage had received we enjoyed the warmth of the sun. The little drystone wall along the chemin faces south and, like the wall of our house, was warm. We even saw a lizard basking on an oak tree at the point where the wall ends. 
What a contrast with last year! Then we'd already had the heating on for several weeks. The weather was cold, the soil claggy underfoot and frost glittered in the mornings.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

unexpected visitor

Yesterday was another lovely été de St Martin's day [indian summer]. Sunny with a bit of veiled cloud but certainly not cold.

the escapee
Niall went for a walk down into the village and to post some letters. I pottered around at home. I was making a cup to coffee when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Investigating I found an unknown black & tan beagle busily sniffing amongst the leaves and then setting off purposely towards the eastern edge of our land and away down towards the tiny stream at the bottom of the field adjoining us on the right. A classic French chien de chasse.

I walked over towards the woods on the right to see if I could see any chaps in their high-viz jackets standing at the woodland edges which means they're hunting in that particular copse, but saw no one.  Nor over to the left. Couldn't hear any guns going off either. After a while you get so used to them that you don't really 'hear' them anymore unless you actively listen.

While I was walking back to the front door the better half appeared at the start of the drive and began to tell me about the dog who'd followed him most of the way into the village. With perfect timing the beagle re-appeared and Niall stated: 'That's the dog that was following me most of the way into the village!'. Bon. We called and whistled to said dog who came over tail wagging and sat leaning against my shins, drenching my jeans. He was a very wet and friendly chappie who looked pleased with life. Around his neck was a very luminous yellow-green plastic collar with a cell phone number written on it. 

Cue comedy sketch of two humans having a mildly warm discussion whether or not to get pen and paper to write the number down with a view to phoning the owner or just letting dog go on his doggie way. There are a number of farms near us and French hunting dogs do have a habit of wandering off on their own business. They only return to their heated owners who have been shouting for them for ages at a much later stage. Needless to say the dog got bored with our debate and was off before we could grab his collar!

cat on a lead....
We got on with other things but kept an eye out for the beagle and dug out Katinka's lead--yes, she will go for walkies on a lead--she is NOT a normal cat. We figured that if he came back again, and would come to us, we'd give the number a call. Over the next hr we had 2 more sightings out the window of him happily charging off in an easterly or north easterly direction. He was obviously having an excellent outing. Occasionally there'd be volleys of barking as he got within range of the 2 farms close by us to the NE. Then he re-appeared on our drive feeling the need for another quick social call to these humans who spoke in such a funny way. Again we had the wagging-tailed approach and the drenching of the jeans but he was a sweetie. He was quite happy to be put on a leash and we gave the number a call. 

Flambard on his way home
It turned out to be a neighbour who lives about 1/2 a km away. He wasn't at home, but was able to run over in his car and collect the dog. We decided to walk the dog down the lane to meet him half-way. The cats hadn't taken too much notice of the palaver, but they did come and investigate when we began to walk down the lane. They often come with us on this walk

The owner, when he dashed up in his little white van, was greeted by the sight of us with his dog and a flanking escort of 2 cats. Shadow and Katinka obviously had to make sure that Flambard --  as we found out the dog was called -- was properly escorted OFF the premises!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Le Poilu

Flanders poppy from our garden
One of the wonderful things about moving to France is the fact that we are living in a property which has at least two centuries of history. The graffiti we found on the rafters and in the barn [see here] led us to wonder about previous residents. Our neighbour, Alexandra kindly gave us a collection of past copies of 'Charnizay: A travers les Siecles' the publication of the local historical society: Liaison et d'Amitié de Charnizay, son passé et la Nouvelle-France. Not only were these good for our French, but they provided loads of historical information.

One of the articles recounted the effect 'La Grande Guerre' [World War I] had on our village.

French flower of remembrance
The war memorial in the centre of the village cemetery lists 57 men who died in the 1914 – 1918 war. At first we thought this was rather a high number for such a small rural community; especially as the parish population in 1914 was just over 1,000. However, compulsory military service was used in all European countries pre-1914; with the exception of the United Kingdom. In France those men who had completed their compulsory military service in the years 1912/1913 [class of '12 and '13 as it were] as well as those recently trained in the first half of 1914 were called up at the outbreak of war on the 2nd of August, 1914. This meant that even in a small community like Charnizay quite a number of men were called up. Among these was Firmin Georges Chilloux, who listed as his place of residence one of the four houses in our tiny lieu-dit.

On that morning, those called up were ordered to assemble in front of the Mairie. Here they listened to a speech by th Mayor about the peril to 'La France' following the German invasion and the patriotic duty of all Frenchmen to defend their homeland. They then marched to Preuilly-sur-Claise – as agricultural workers 10 kilometres would not have been a problem – where they entrained for their respective barracks. Chilloux, as a soldier in the 113th 'Regiment d'Infanterie', went to Le Blanc. Issued with their tradtional infantry uniforms of blue jacket and red trousers [these 'please shoot me' uniforms weren't modernised until 1915] they were dispatched off to the front. Many had probably never travelled this far from the Aigronne Valley in their lives.

At this point, with the paucity of records due to the frenetic pace of invasion and mobilisation, the sequence of events is hard to follow. Those called up first were initially sent to attack the 'lost provinces' of 1871: Alsace and Lorraine. However, when the true nature of the German's 'Schlieffen Plan' became clear there was a rapid re-deployment along the Marne to protect Paris. 
Chilloux remembered on the Charnizay memorial
The records show that 3 out of the 18 soldiers from Charnizay who were killed in September 1914 died in the region of the Meuse. Among them was Firmin Georges Chilloux. According to the documentation we have he is recorded as being killed on the 30th of September at 'la Haute-Chevauchee' in the commune of Chalade.

Firmin Georges Chilloux was 21 years of age.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Headin' South

We just heard them and dashed out armed with the camera but were too late. A small group of maybe 20 Grues Cendrées [Common Crane, Grus grus] must have stopped for a quick snack not too far away as the first thing we heard was a cacophany of sound as the birds circled up and then arranged themselves in their V formation and headed off south. They were already below our hedge line when we got back outside armed with camera. Hopefully we will hear/see more. They can fly over during the night which is an even more effective way of foiling our attempts to get a photo of them in their V formation -- however poor. Hence the photo from the excellent website which is run by the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux Champagne Ardenne.

Migration paths of the Grue Cendrée. From LPO website

We are just on the western edge of the migration route. The main 'corridor' proper lies to the east of us but the neighbouring department 36: Indre has regular sightings and we're just about 5km into Indre et Loire [37].  We are lucky, therefore, if we get a sighting. If we do see them it is in smallish groups and wind is from a North/North-Easterly direction which means they veer over towards us slightly when heading south.

Mind you on a day like today--grey, murky with a north wind and misting rain who can blame them?! Right now autumn is doing a great impersonation of winter. Just take a look at the change of view from A's study.
30 October

4 November


Friday, 4 November 2011

Adding a little colour

Since we've come back from Scotland and our quick tour of a bit of Somerset and Dorset we've been busy tidying up outside and getting things ready for winter. 

floral selection
Now before you start imagining all sort of Herculean labours, let me disabuse you: our house sits in just a tad more than 2 1/2 acres but this is rough grass with an abundance of trees. A quick, and by no means exhaustive, count gave us 17 different species. All of this means that with a regular application of the sit-on lawn mower things can look nicely maintained. Even the rough grass [aka weeds] looks good newly shorn. Flowers are represented by some pots and what blooms on the trees and bushes. Slowly we are adding to that, as splashes of colour are always welcome!

chrysanths all in a row
You have only to take a look at any cemetery in France right now and you'll see what we mean about colour. The vast majority of the graves will have large pots of brightly flowering chrysanthemums. At Toussaint & Defuncts [All Saints & All Souls] people remember their dead and visit their graves bringing flowers; the flower of choice being chrysanths. As they are associated with Toussaint one doesn't take them along as a gift when visitng French friends!  Without wanting to sound trite our local cemetery here in Charnizay looks postiviely cheerful - especially when the sun's out! Naturally the dead also have the best view of the Aigronne valley.
best view of the valley
Back to our patch. It isn't a garden in the traditional sense but we have been adding to the flower and colour content. Regluar readers will know that we've just had the terrace sorted and it's now all ready for tiling come spring. As a transition to the semi-wooded 'beyond' we've decided to edge the terrace area with something called 'Gazon Japonais'. Mixed grass/wild flower seed to us. We hope that this will make a nice swathe of easy maitainance colour--you can tell we're not the sort of people to be out morning, noon and night digging, mulching and generally pestering everything green into perfection. In addtion we've also planted bulbs along the path leading to the kitchen door and the terrace. Two types of tulips: a pink double and a red flamed variety as well as blue iris and white narcissi. Lastly we've also put in some alliums 'Sphaerocephalon'. 

Tres Riches Heures: November
While we were planting along the path it sounded as if some giant grinder was dogging our footfall but it was only the millions of walnuts crunching underfoot. The tree next to the kitchen path has been especially productive. As have our oak trees-- loads of acorns in contrast to last year. Any medieval swineherd would have been very happy - as would have been his pigs!

It has been very mild so far this year -- hardly a log burnt in the woodburner -- so the grass continued to grow. Don't think we've ever cut grass in the 1st week of November before, but we did this week. We'd tidied away the graden furniture just before we went to Edinburgh. Typically it is still so mild that on sunny days like today we could easily sit out. Cue a rootle round in the barn for the camping chairs -- you've got to enjoy every bit of sunshine you can! Especially as we are getting, as is normal now that we're into November, ever more gloomy days of rain. However, there is still the odd sunworshipper about...

late butterfly on warm soil
All we have to do now is wait to see what happens in the spring and buy a new trowel. The old one died planting the bulbs in our claggy soil.