Saturday, 1 October 2016

Moving a Wardrobe

For the whole of September our street has been blocked. Our neighbours across the road, Laurent and his family, have had their roof completely redone by local Preuilly firm Couverture Veron. The house is a holiday home and Laurent et al live in Alsace, coming down a few times a year for short breaks and a whirlwind of renovations. The truck and lifting machine used by the roofers, not to mention their scaffolding, has meant that the street has been blocked from 8am to 5pm every week day at the level of our courtyard. At night and over the weekends they have been parking their lifting machine in our courtyard, and that led us to have an idea.

 The wardrobe is loaded into the scoop.

In return for the use of our courtyard, which didn't really inconvenience us because we have space out the back as an alternative to park the car, we asked the roofers if they would help us get a wardrobe upstairs. They benefitted by being able to leave the big machine on site for the whole of the job, rather than having to drive it back to the depot every evening. The wardrobe we wanted moved has lived in our sitting room and stored things like guitars ever since we moved here and discovered it was too big by just a few centimetres, to go up our stairs and into our bedroom. What we wanted was for them to lift it up to the first floor bedroom window, which it would easily fit through.

 The apprentice rides up with the wardrobe. 
(I suspect he is taking the opportunity here to perve into Anne and John's workshop across the road.)

I explained our problem and we set a date for just after lunch the day before they finished Laurent's roof. We shuffled furniture as necessary and cleaned behind things that hadn't seen a vaccuum cleaner or a duster for quite a long time. I was rather shocked to see just how dirty one corner of our bedroom really was. 

 I couldn't get a photo of him doing his tightrope act, but here is the roofer, 
one foot on the windowsill, one on the scoop.

We lined the lifting machine's scoop with cardboard and lifted the wardrobe out of the sitting room window on its side. It isn't heavy or very large and fitted quite neatly. Just to be sure it wouldn't move though the apprentice roofer travelled up in the bucket with the wardrobe. On reaching the right height and distance from the upstairs window the roofer driving the machine stopped, hopped out of the cabin, tightrope walked up the hydraulic arm and jumped in through the window. Then he, the apprentice and Simon lifted the wardrobe in and set it down. Unbelievably easily done, taking no more than 10 minutes (probably less).

 Simon and the roofer lift the wardrobe in through the first floor window.

The wardrobe matches the other one in our bedroom, and the bedside tables. It is part of a suite of furniture that Simon acquired when he bought a house in Australia and the furniture was left in the house. There is also a bed and a dressing table, which we have in the guest bedroom. It is well made of some Australian hardwood (no doubt a eucalypt of some sort). It will be nice for Simon to have something a bit classier than a blue teflon zip up wardrobe for his shirts. But the guitars will have to find a new home.

A big thank you to the Veron roofing guys, who were friendly and careful throughout.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Origins of Fontevraud

At each point of interest there is an info screen.

This year the Abbey of Fontevraud has opened up the 'crypt' under the church. More properly it is the space under the church floor which was dug by the young archaeologist Daniel Prigent and his team in the 1990s. They discovered the grave of Robert d'Abrissel, the itinerant preacher who founded the abbey in 1101, and the nuns' catacomb. In total a hundred or so graves were investigated, nearly 900 years after the burials took place.

Grave cuts in the limestone under the church floor.

At its peak Fontevraud was one of the largest monastic establishments in Europe. Now the 'crypt' is presented to the public, who descend a steep narrow metal staircase to a metal walkway. Along the walkway are screens at points of interest with clever animated explanations of what you are seeing. These have been designed by the artist Eve de Roeck.

These blocks of stone have the mason's mark on them (a roughly incised square). 
He would have been paid based on the number of blocks he produced.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Wild Wind

A couple of weeks ago (13 September) we had a violent wind storm that appeared out of nowhere at 10.30 pm one night. There was no rain with it, just howling winds for about half an hour. Then it was gone and the next day it rained a bit.

Driving between Chenonceau and Tours a few days later (19 September) we spotted this scene of devastation amongst the poplar plantations. Many of the trees had snapped off mid trunk and the wind here was reported to have been 100 kilometres an hour (and 104 km/h in Tours).

According to the local newspaper the storm hit Tours about an hour after us in Preuilly and caused some damage with fallen trees and branches. No one was hurt but the fire brigade was kept busy and traffic was slightly disrupted.

The fire brigade responded to 150 callouts for fallen trees and flying sheets of roofing material. 18 000 homes were without electricity for the night. In the morning 150 Enedis workers (formerly ERDF) were out reconnecting 30 medium tension electricty lines and by that evening had all but 4500 households restored to power. The train service was not disrupted.

Preuilly was not amongst the communities that were worst affected. At Luynes some businesses and the school stayed closed for the day. The arrival of the wind was so sudden that many people still had their windows open due to the heat of the day. At Sepmes, a large piece of masonry was lifted from the church and in through the open bedroom window of the house next door. Some poor bloke got the fright of his life when a branch slammed into his car on the drivers side windscreen pillar as he drove to work. At Tours Central Station work on the new foot bridge came to a halt. They had intended to put in place a large beam that night, but the crane they are using (the largest in France) cannot be used in winds higher than 50 kilometres per hour and their anemometer was registering 100 km/h. In Tours 34 trees were snapped off or uprooted and a statue in one of the public gardens damaged.

The weather bureau says the winds were caused by very warm air meeting wet air resulting in localised wind gusts. They were rather caught on the hop, not expecting such an extreme event, with the wind sweeping across the département from the west and departing to the north. They had issued an alert for the areas to the west of us, but had not predicted such strong gusts of wind over the whole of Indre et Loire.

After the seemingly endless and unchanging hot dry weather we'd had for the previous two months it was rather exciting to get some actual weather!

(PS The wind speeds were not sufficient for this to officially be a hurricane, but it was still fairly dramatic.)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Drummer Wanted

The first trick of advertising is to place your advertisement where your target audience will see it.  So if you were a rock band looking to recruit a drummer where better than a condom dispensing machine to post your ad?

Simon spotted this after parking Claudette in Boulevard Heurteloup one morning recently. As we came back to the car I photographed it and we stood there for a minute or two laughing and talking in English with our American clients. As we were walking away I noticed the window cleaner who'd been working within earshot go up to the condom machine and peer at it in a bemused way. I went back and explained to him in French what had amused us so much. He's probably still thinking 'those crazy Anglos' though.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Label Rouge Wheat

A new bakery has opened up in Fougères sur Bievre. For two years this small village has been without one. They have had to manage with a dépôt de pain, which is to say, another shop in the town has bread delivered from a nearby village's baker and sells it on their behalf. This situation was deemed unacceptable by the local authorities, and so they purchased the former bakery in the main street of Fougères for €73 000, taking advantage of a state grant of €40 000 from a fund allocated to equiping rural areas. The cost of refurbishing the building to modern standards was €213 000, offset somewhat by making €16 000 from the sale of the old fittings and a grant of 50% of the funds needed. The rest was raised by taking out a loan. The mayor says the interest rate is low, so they can afford it. Most of the refurbishment work was done by local firms.

We've not been in to sample their products, but the new baker-pastry chef, Aurélien Chevolleau, is now installed and the shop looks very smart. Their window proclaims that everything is made in house, in the French tradition and with 100% Label Rouge French wheat. Tradition française is a set of rules for making the bread which means that the baker cannot use premixed dry goods or frozen dough, must allow the bread to prove naturally, must be baking it on the floor of a traditional style oven and must adhere to a strict traditional ingredient list.

We were interested by the Label Rouge wheat. We'd not heard of that before, although Label Rouge is a much trusted food quality certification system in France. So I looked it up to see what the Label Rouge requirements are for wheat.

The two main criteria are that the stored wheat is not treated with an insecticide after harvest, and that only certain varieties of wheat may be used. These wheats are tried and tested varieties chosen for their suitability for bread and baking. The farmer must fertilize his soil, but not too much, so he is producing a wheat that is 'soft' ie low in protein, but not too low. The farmer is required to use agriculture raisonnée ('intelligent agriculture') so pesticides are used when necessary but not prophylactically and not according to a rigid manufacturer recommended calendar schedule. There are no additives (bread improvers, fungus inhibitors, bleaching agents, etc) added to the flour. At every stage -- on the farm, in storage, at the mill -- the wheat is tested and certified as meeting the Label Rouge criteria. One of the things they are testing for is certain fungi, which cause wheat to be dangerous for human consumption.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Botany (and other activities) on the Loire Sands

On Saturday 10 September the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine met at Berthenay for an outing on the Loire sands. Berthenay bills itself as 'the end of the world', being as it is in the triangle formed by the confluence of the Cher to the south and the Loire to the north.

The outing was on the Ile du Passeur, a large gravel and sand bank close to the southern bank of the Loire that has formed an island. It is accessible by foot in the summer when the water levels are at their lowest. What we hadn't realised about the island though, until Jeannine was asked what she was doing peering into the bushes, was that it is a popular dogging spot. Apparently this year, with the seemingly endless good weather of late summer it's been even more popular than usually for this particular outdoor activity. However, French botanists are made of stern stuff, and we continued regardless.

Paul demonstrating how to use an acorn cup as a whistle.

The island is directly opposite the 2000 year old Roman tower called the Pile Cinq Mars (pronounced locally as though the name was Pile Saint Mar).

La Pile Cinq Mars.

Inevitably, as all the rivers here are, the island is invaded by Water Primrose Ludwigia spp (Fr. jussie). Dominique found a patch which had two different species growing together -- L. grandiflora (Fr. jussie à grandes fleurs, the most abundant)  and L. peploides (Fr. jussie peploïde).

The two Water Primrose species --
 L. grandiflora with narrow pointed leaves (left) and L. peploides with spoon shaped leaves (right).

Water Primrose L. grandiflora in full lush growth, despite the drought.

Corn Mint Mentha arvensis (below) can be distinguished from Water Mint M. aquatica because it does not have a terminal head of flowers. They are otherwise very similar and you can't just assume that it must be Water Mint if it is growing near water. Annoyingly, for those of us who like our botany to be clear cut, they hybridise too.

A view across the Ile du Passeur -- lots of sand and poplar saplings.

An oxbow lake A summer river pond in the middle of the island.

Thorn-apple Datura stramonium usually has white flowers, but on the island it has pale purple flowers. This now global weed was once cultivated to extract alkaloids to treat asthma. This year being hot and dry it is abundant. It must like sand because I have noticed it a lot this year amongst the asparagus rows near Descartes.

A strange caterpillar dropped on to the hat of one of our group and was surrounded by camera lenses. None of us had ever seen anything like it. Then someone accidentally prodded it in a way it objected to. It instantly went into a pose that we recognised. No one could remember the name but we knew we'd seen it in Chinery. For those of you unfortunate enough not to have immediate and 24 hour access to the best general insect guide for Western Europe that there is (in English and translated into French), I will relieve your suspense and name the beast. It is the caterpillar of a Poplar Kitten moth Furcula bifida. Those of you who do own Chinery will realise that the illustration we all recalled so clearly is actually of a closely related species, but we all know that Chinery often just gets you to the right family and if you want the right species you need to look a bit further. In the case of moths, UK Moths is my go-to resource.

On the other side of the island, the main channel of the Loire.

An indication of how high the floods in June were. This Common Ash tree Fraxinus excelsior has a tide mark, with dead brown silt covered leaves below and healthy green leaves above.

Further Reading: On this 2016 visit I was lucky enough to see a rare dragonfly, the Green Snaketail Ophiogomphus cecilia, which I wrote about here. The botany club I belong to has visited the Loire sands at Berthenay before. I wrote about it here and here.