Friday, 28 September 2012

If it's Wednesday, it must be Poitiers

Since the start of September regular followers of our blog may have noticed that we are not posting quite as frequently. Real life has intruded, albeit in a nice way. This semester there are more teaching committments away from home. On Wednesdays this means leaving at a rather ungodly hour to get to Poitiers for an 8:15am seminar start.

4th century Baptistry of St Jean, Poitiers
On the plus side this means an opportunity to explore the city of Poiters once teaching has finished; and there is plenty to explore! Numerous medieval churches, as well as secular buildings of note. Poitiers is an old city and is Eleanor of Acquitaine's home town. One of it's claims is having the oldest ecclesiastical building in France, the 4th century Baptistry of St Jean.
Interior, church of Ste Radegonde, Poitiers
One of the other jewels of Poitiers is the lovely church of Ste Radegonde, which still houses her 6th century tomb. She lies the crypt, which is located directly under the high altar. Interestingly, she was not disturbed at the time of the Revolution. She escaped the usual ravages as [according to the literature supplied] she had been a queen of France as well as a saint and thus was still held in respect.  
Quite a crowd at the chapel of Ste Radegonde, Chinon: journées du partimoine
Recently during the Journées du Patrimoine we also visited a chapel dedicated to the same lady in Chinon. Built into the cliff face it extends quite a way into the rock. Double naved, the outer nave lost its roof and suffered during the Revolution; the inner one remaining in a better condition. It has been a place of Christian worship since the 6th century. Before that it was a site of pagan worship due to the well dug deep into the rock at the back. The chapel was interesting to us as it contains a 12th century wall painting of a noble party out hunting. It shows two crowned figures, one male and one female, as well as attendants; one with a hunting bird on his wrist.
Chapel of Ste Radegonde, Chinon: Eleanor and party out hunting
It is held to be an image of Eleanor of Acquitaine and either her husband Henry Curtmantle [Henry II of England] or their son Henry the Younger. He was crowned during his father's lifetime, although he died before his father and so never actually ruled as King.

As Poitiers has many fine examples of Romanesque, later medieval and Renaissance architecture, more 'Wednesdays in Poitiers' will definitely follow!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Saumur Champigny

Last weekend were the 'Journées du Patrimoine' as they are called here. This is a European wide event held the third weekend in September. All over the country historical sites hold an 'open house': sites both publically and privately owned --many normally not open to the public-- open their doors. Last year we visited the Chartreuse du Liget and its chapel. You can read about that here.
Saumur Champigny countryside
This year we decided on a day out "in the west": the area between Saumur and Chinon, which is a little over a good hour's drive away. We wanted to visit a historical site in Chinon as well as try some wines at a domaine in the Saumur-Champigny region that had been recommended to us by a client who knows the family and buys wine there.

Saumur Champigny grapes on the vines
The place we wanted to visit in Chinon is only open in the afternoons and the domaine was the further west so we decided to start there.

Located right in the heart of the village St Cyr en Bourg, Domaine de Nerleux is run by Amélie and Régis Neau. Nerleux means black wolves in old French and these animals grace their logo.
Black Wolves of Domaine Nerleux
We tried three reds as well as one white and a Cremant de Loire. Of the three reds we bought a few of bottles of their least expensive Saumur Champigny, Les Nerleux which we found to be light and fruity as well as splurging on a couple of their most expensive: Les Loups Noirs, which we thought was gorgeous. These have been racked for Christmas and we're looking forward to enjoying them with some venison or other game. We also came away with some bottles of Saumur Blanc, Les Nerleux [Chenin blanc] and their white Crémant de Loire, La Folie des Loups which is one of the nicest we've tasted in a long time. Sadly we weren't able to try their other Saumur Blanc, Les Loups Blancs, as it is no longer available. Sweet dessert wine isn't really our thing, so we passed on trying Les Loups Dorés.
neat rows of vines
The domaine has been in the same family for generations and the property has its own chapel which we were hoping to visit. Unfortunately, they only open the chapel during their own 'Portes Overtes' [open house weekend] which is in May and not during the national Journées du Patrimoine. Not a problem; we'll simply come back in May next year. However, despite it being a bit a bit of a trek to get there, we suspect we'll have been back well before then as we really enjoyed the wines.
vegetation for biodiversity between the rows of vines
We managed to squeeze in our visit just in time. The domaine's busiest time of year begins now: the vendange. They began harvesting their Chenin blanc grapes last Tuesday, but told us the harvest of the red grapes will start later; mid October was their estimate.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Greening up again

This last week we've had rain. Not huge torrential downpours, but enough 'proper' rain to allow the vegetation to green up just a little before Autumn begins in earnest.
desiccated corn field not far from the house
We hadn't had any rain since the end of July. Week after week we had mostly hot sunny weather --including a heatwave where temperatures went up to 41C-- interspersed with the odd grey day which didn't produce any rain. The plants suffered and water restrictions came into force. Our grass stopped growing and turned brown and sere. In fact, today we mowed the grass [only in the lushest areas] for the first time in 7 weeks.
dried-out ear of corn
Crops have suffered--round us we saw corn [maize] fields bleaching before our eyes until you couldn't spot even a speck of green. Corn needs quite a bit of water so it was very unhappy in the drought. The dried-out ears in the fields looked more like the decorative bunches of Indian corn you see in the US.
Indian corn hanging by our door
We've had to keep a close eye on our pots as well as our young fruit trees and water them regularly. The rest of our plants have had to just take it on the chin. However, our mini-sunflowers have flowered well. On a whim we had bought a couple of packets of seed in the supermarket and sowed them into pots. The results have been better than we expected and given us late summer colour.
bees making good use of our mini-sunflowers
The sun is back and the temperature is nice this afternoon, but this morning it was chilly. We've seen bottles of Bernache from the grape harvest in the south appearing in the supermarket. A sure sign Autumn is on its way.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Buzz Cut

The big field to the north of our house has been quiet for quite a while. Eric the farmer had planted colza [oil seed rape] and that was harvested ages ago. Since then he's just been back once to spread something --a feed or fertilizer perhaps; for the rest the field has lain fallow awaiting whatever Eric's going to grow next. Last year and the year before it was wheat and we wonder what he will plant now after the colza.
looking through our trees to the field edge
While he was here earlier in the summer harvesting we noticed that he was having a bit of a struggle to get the gi-normous harvester close in to the field edges because of the trees. The top side his field is bordered by woods on both the east and west sides. On the north it adjoins our 'patch' and although not a proper wood, some of our trees too have been growing out over the field's edge far enough to be obstructive. It is mainly the larger, higher branches which could pose a danger as they could easily break the windows of the cab. We'd noted the problem and for a while thought about how we could perhaps tackle it,  but cutting back large branches at height is not something we have equipment for and climbing up ladders with a chainsaw did not appeal!
trimming along our tree line
The summer continued and we shelved the problem as one to be considered 'in the autumn'. Yesterday we found out how the problem is dealt with. A nice chap in a small tractor appeared in the field. In a slow and stately manner he moved along the field boundary trimming where needed. We went out to say hello, as you do, when he got to our bit of the field edge. We'd not seen him before and he told us he is contracted by the farmers to trim the over-hang whenever the farmer feels it is necessary, usually once every 3 to 4 years. 
turning north along the eastern edge of a neighbour's woods
Attached at the front was a long mechanical arm which could be manipulated up/down and extended/retracted and, at the end, was not the giant hedge cutter we've seen on fauchage tractors [verging machine]. When they trim the hedgerows with these they leave a trail of mangled stumps in their wake. This telescopic arm had a series of 3 overlapping circular saws. When we had a look at the branches which had been trimmed off our trees they had  a much cleaner cut.
looking east: a neat line of trimmed branches from our trees along the field boundary
Today they came and shoved all the branches into a huge pile at the NE corner of the field. So problem solved!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Where the road takes you

Several times when driving from Montrichard to Loches we'd seen a 'Monuments Historiques de France' sign pointing a little unsteadliy down a small road which led off to the left just beyond Faverolles-sur-Cher.  Each time we said to ourselves 'we must go and have a look'; but we'd never had the time. During our recent nose round the Montrichard/St Aignan area we did have the time and decided to investigate. We like following these signs; often the logo is faded and you can see the sign is old. It's a bit like a mystery tour, you don't really know what you'll find at the end of it.
ruined nave: Abbaye d'Aiguevives
This time, after a few kilometers, hand-made signs also appeared pointing in the direction of Aiguevives. When we arrived we found ourselves in the small 'lieu-dit' set in a forest clearing. The 'lieu-dit' itself was made up of a manorhouse/small chateau, a large farm complex and one or two other residential houses and a ruined church. The church is all that remains of the Abbaye d'Aiguevives. Once it had been a royal abbey but as was the norm it was sold off as public property during the French Revolution.
gated westdoor to the nave, Aiguevives
The abbey was built by the Governor of Montrichard in 1147 and atracted many donations, becoming a rich foundation. Dedicated to Saint Gilles [Giles] pilgrimages took place on his feast day, the 1st and on 8th of September, to cure children of being fearful, and to cure what we now know as Huntingdon's Disease [Huntingdon's Chorea]. Cures were affected by touching the statue of the saint and then washing hands and face in the spring dedicated to him at Aiguevives.

detail of painted decoration, the west door
It seems that a modern pilgrimage still takes place, as we were able to find the programme for pilgrimages in 2009 and 2011 [but nothing for this year or 2010]. If you are interested you can see last year's programme here on the village of Faverolles-sur-Cher's website. We think the hand-made signs directing to Aiguevives have gone up in preparation for this year's pilgrimage; presumably to be held next week [last year's took place on 4 September].

Abbaye d'Aiguevives
Sadly, the church is closed with gates. However, you can see something of the interior through the slats. The roof has gone and there are warning signs to take care and be aware of falling masonry. From what we could see the clear roof which covers the ruined nave is a very recent addition. The west door is lovely and in relatively good condition with the carvings still showing signs of painted decoration.

We didn't stay long as it was incredibly hot [40C]; but it is a lovely location and there look to be plenty of good walks in the forest round about.