Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Angevin Architectural Delights

Here are some more details of the Maison d'Adam, the late 15th century timber framed building in the centre of Angers. To see my previous post about it, click here.

The most famous of the carvings, the 'Three Balled Man'.

Saint George (or Saint Michael) slaying the dragon.

The Lovers.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Avranches Cathedral.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but you have to be really careful about using it as a reference tool: if you Google "Avranches Cathedral" the images you find will almost invariably be of the Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Champs, misidentified.

Avranches Cathedral was rebuilt in 1204 after the previous building of 1121 was destroyed by Breton invaders. The "new" building was probably built on the Romanesque plan of the previous building, and incorporated its towers. The whole lot started to fall down in the 16th century, and the remaining parts were demolished in the 19th century.

The reason we know the internet is wrong:
this is all that survives of Avranches Cathedral

There is a reason I am interested in Avranches Cathedral - we were there in early August, and I wanted to see the place where in 1172 King Henry II of England performed his penance for the murder of Thomas Beckett.

 The monument was erected in 1843 by the local historical society.

The inscription reads "At the door of the Cathedral of Avranches, after the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry II, King of England and Duke of Normandy, received on his knees the absolution of the legates of the Popes"

So, disappointingly, not only was I unable to see the church where this event took place, even the church that replaced the church where the event took place no longer exists.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 8 Marguerite d'Angoulême

Also known as Marguerite de Navarre and Marguerite d'Alençon, Marguerite d'Angoulême led a very complicated life: married twice, wife of a king, sister of second king, and grandmother of yet another king, patron of the arts, poet, diplomat and religious provocateur.

With her brother, François I she invited Leonardo to France and installed him in her home, Clos Lucé. She also invited trouble by writing a very long (and quite weird) poem, Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul). It was enough to have her accused of heresy, a charge her brother had to fight long and hard to have overturned. The poem found its way into the hands of the 11 year old English princess Elizabeth, who translated it into English and gave it to her stepmother, Catherine Parr. It is claimed that the poem was in part responsible for the Protestant fervour of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Joseph-Stanislas Lescorné in 1848. To see Margeurite looking pensive you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 19 November 2017


Blackbean Castanospermum australe is native to the north-eastern coastal areas of Australia, New Guinea, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It is a large tree with orange flowers and big pods of seeds that look like chestnuts.

Aboriginal people ate the seeds (carefully prepared to remove toxins) and the timber is attractively grained so after white settlement it was sometimes used for furniture.

The flower and seeds, fallen to the forest floor.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

A Re-roofed Tower

Three years ago we took a photo of roofers at work in Montresor.

In September  I remembered to take a photo of the completed work. The delay is mine, not theirs....

Friday, 17 November 2017

Trains, Planes and...

...hopefully automobiles.

This is what today should look like for us. We're out the door before midday, heading towards Australia. We arrive Sunday afternoon local time, but before that I have arranged a little excursion.


Just a quick reminder about the Loire Valley Time Travel gift store. We are quite proud of the designs, and we like the t-shirts we have received so far. We will be wearing them in Australia, hopefully to admiring looks. The cups look great, but we have 3 households' of coffee cups here so haven't ordered any - yet. Someone may get a cup for Christmas. Check out (and make sure you use) the discount codes - they always seem to have at least one set of discounts happening.

Thursday, 16 November 2017


It's been ages since we featured a peek in a boulangerie window, so here we go!

The meringues were in a boulangerie in rue Daguerre, on the corner of where we stayed in Paris last time. Didn't try any - saw them too late and would have exploded if any more food had been taken on. Still - we know where they are...

(And yes, like most French meringues, they are the size of a baby's head).

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Wired Tree

I have no idea what this is about - I noticed this tree (in the grounds of Chateau Cheverny) in September, but couldn't work out what the wire was for, where it went, or what it was feeding. It may even be that what you see is all there is, which adds to the mystery.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

What is and what should never be

Modern science is pretty amazing, allowing things to happen that even 20 years ago would have been almost impossible. One of the fields where this is the case is architecture, where modern design technology has allowed designers to make a break from simple squares. Looking at some of the results I wonder if this is a good thing - will these be future classics, or a case of "just because you can doesn't mean you should"?

The first two photos are in La Defense, Paris. It's the edge of town repository for strange shaped wind funnels that allows inner Paris to stay attractive. It's also the home of one of the most outrageously overpriced views in Paris: 19€ for an escalator ride strikes me as being 10 euros too much (and even then I probably wouldn't...).

The third photo is the new Fondation Louis Vuitton. Once you realise it's just a couple of concrete boxes with bits of glass hanging off it in a not terribly attractive way, it's more "meh" than "wow".

*not my own title

Monday, 13 November 2017

What Happened to All Those Messages?

In late October I was whiling away the time at the ophthalmologists, reading a copy of Grazia from November 2016. Inside, the article that really caught my attention was a two page spread about saving all the thousands of messages and tributes that had been left by people at the sites of the terrorist attacks in Paris twelve months earlier. I was fascinated and moved so I thought I'd pass on the story via the blog.

Today in the Archives de Paris there are two shelves which are home to the 7689 documents that they collected from the streets after the attacks on 13 November 2015. This collection was the brainchild of a man called Gérôme Truc. He felt it would allow historians and sociologists to have access to another dimension of the event ie how ordinary individuals experience these things and respond to them.

Place de la République.

The documents come from the Bataclan, la Belle Equipe, the Café Bonne Bière, Casa Nostra, the Carillon, the Petit Cambodge and the Comptoir Voltaire. Ten volunteers collected the messages of love from Parisians, French people and foreigners, bit by bit from 17 November.

In addition two archivists and a conservator made 17 visits to the sites. According to them the most affecting was visiting the Bonne Bière because there was a message found there from an intensive care doctor, who apologised for being unable to save a young man.

Tributes outside the Charlie Hebdo offices.

The archive staff assessed the condition of the messages, children's drawings and poems. The main problem was plastic pockets. They were useless because the rain quickly got into them and turned the contents to mush.

Back at the Archives, the documents were dried in two sorting rooms. Usually overnight was enough to dry them out. They were then sent to be fumigated to kill mould and other fungi before being left for three weeks to stabilise. Once returned to the Archives, the documents, from metro tickets to A3 in size, were dusted with a microfibre cloth then sorted by place and date before being digitised (thanks to a donation by Arkhênum).

 Tributes in Boulevard Richard Lenoir after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

The archivists didn't look at the documents. They had no time and they needed to maintain a certain distance emotionally. While they worked the tried to be calm and converse normally, even crack jokes.

The Museum of Paris, Carnavalet, conserved all the objects (soft toys, guitars, flags...) but those that didn't carry a meaningful message were thrown away. There was a debate about what to do with the wilted flowers. Gerôme Truc suggested that like in London in 2005, the flowers should be collected, composted and a tree planted in the compost.

 Tributes left in Boulevard Richard Lenoir after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

A hundred and fifty documents were recovered from the temporary memorial in the Place de la République. The rest of the messages from this spot were kept by the collective known as 17 Plus Jamais, created the day after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015.

At the time of the Charlie Hebdo attacks the archival work was not able to be applied to the messages to the murdered cartoonists and they were deposited at various sites. At the time the Mairie de Paris just didn't think of preserving and cataloguing them. Eventually Harvard University launched an appeal to collect the messages after the event, and many of them are now in the US.

 The Bataclan.

The Nice attack happened just after the Archives had finished their digitising project, but despite calls from those involved, the Mairie de Nice did not initiate a similar project and the messages were not collected there.

You can see some of documents on the website, and 900 of the messages were published by Michel Lafon in Je suis Paris.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Piccabeen Palms

The Piccabeen Palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana is one of the special species hanging on in Ravensbourne National Park. It is also known as the Bangalow Palm. They can grow up to 20 metres tall and have become invasive in some places outside of Australia where they have been introduced.

The red fruits attract birds.

They favour wet ravines in subtropical climates. Ravensbourne National Park, on the Great Dividing Range in south-east Queensland, is ideal for them.

The fronds are large and eventually fall to the ground.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Here Are Your Sons

This memorial to the dead of the First World War is hidden away on the western end of the Ile d'Or in Amboise, behind a building site and the youth hostel. It dates from 1971 and is one of several memorials to the dead in the town, including a war memorial on the Mail (the main drag).

The inscription reads 'Mère voici tes fils qui se sont tant battus' (Mother here are your sons who fought so hard). It comes from a poem by Charles Péguy, a French poet and essayist who was killed at the Marne in 1914. The poem is called Eve and is a phenomenal 9000 lines arranged in Alexandrines. Péguy was above all a French patriot, whose work was adopted by both Vichyists and de Gaulle during the Second World War.

Triangular in form and set into a mound the memorial is constructed of big blocks of reinforced concrete. Inside the names of the dead are listed. The work is by Henri-Paul Derycke and is on loan from the National Collection of Contemporary Art (as is the fountain by Max Ernst).

It is not very visible and no one ever places flowers on it, or appears to maintain it. It is not owned by the town, and one gets the sense the monument was sort of dumped there by the State. Amboise has over 20 monuments to various wars and other public sculptures, and the town itself only owns half of them.

Whilst Max Ernst's fountain has recently be lovingly restored, this memorial appears to be more or less abandoned. There are no clues to who commissioned the monument that we can find or why it is on the island, either on the monument itself nor on line.

Update: A friend who lives in Amboise has sent a link to a local newspaper article about public statuary in Amboise from 2012. It still doesn't explain who commissioned this monument or why at that time. The article also mentions a work by Alexander Calder, about which a completely different disagreement is currently rumbling.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Looking from Here to There

This is the view from la Defense, Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is 5km away, and although you can't see it, the River Seine is hidden in there somewhere.

It's probably better than the view from there to here...

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Glass Delusion.

I mentioned on Monday about Charles VI being "mad".

At first he was known as "Charles the Beloved", because once he turned 21 and regained rule of France conditions for ordinary people improved. Previously France had been ruled by a set of Regents who had run the country as a fund raising and asset stripping exercise (for themselves, naturally). Four years later, however, leading a group of knights in pursuit of an attempted assassin he appears to have suffered a psycotic episode and killed four of his own knights.

His episodes of mental illness appear to have been intermittant, but increasing in frequency. On one occasion he failed to recognise his own wife and told his household staff (who he did recognise) to "take care of what she required so that she would leave him alone". In 1405, he refused to bathe or change his clothes for five months, but the most often report episodes were those where he believed himself to be made of glass. Pope Pius II wrote in his commentary that Charles had rods of iron sewn into his clothes so contact with others wouldn't shatter him, and that he would wrap himself carefully in cork or wool fleeces.

Actual medieval glass from the reign of Charles VI

The "glass delusion" appears to have been not uncommon between the 14th and 16th century amongst people who had actual access to glass. Cervantes wrote a short story about a person afflicted thus "El licenciado Vidriera" in 1613, and in 1621 Robert Burton mentioned it in "The Anatomy of Melancholy". Obviously, people who couldn't afford glass also couldn't afford to believe they were made of it.

Update: Here is a link to the podcast about the madness of Charles VI mentioned in the comments below.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Caring for the environment

We don't have many street trees in Preuilly, mainly because we dont have pavements in which to plant them. There are trees around the market place, the post office, and near the school, but the only real street trees that spring immediately to mind is a magnificent horse chestnut in rue du Cygne and the controversial elm tree at the top of rue des Pavillons.

This isn't to say that people don't make an effort. This hollyhock with ambition received encouragement from a civic minded citizen this summer. Bravo!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Books at La Confiance

Our October apero gathering was held at La Confiance, a holiday accommodation complex in the Brenne owned and run by Chris. He kindly hosted and made one of his curries for those who attended.

Peter, Susan, Sylvia, Stephen, Pauline and Pauline enjoying the remarkably mild weather.

He used the gathering to raise a bit of money for the MacMillan Nurses. He had some books which he laid out for sale for a euro each. Quite by chance I was contacted by Charlotte and Fabien, who told me they had about 400 English language books that they wanted to go to good homes. They belonged to their friend Stu, a former BBC cameraman who lived in Boussay, but who has now downsized and moved to his appartment in Paris. Chris was happy to take the books and will hold events throughout the year to sell them, with all proceeds going to the MacMillan Nurses (who specialise in caring for cancer patients in their own homes).

Nathalie, Fabien and Charlotte chatting by the books.

At the end of the evening about 20 books had been sold, which means that on average everyone took a book and left a euro.

Charlotte, Fabien, Nathalie, Jean-Claude and Tim checking out the books.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 7 Valentine de Milan

Valentina Visconti (1371-1408) was born in Milan, the daughter of the first Duke of Milan and his wife Isabelle, daughter of King John II of France.

All these connections made her a valuable asset in the marrying them off game, and negotiations were soon underway for marriage between Valentina and Carlo Visconti (Lord of Parma), Valentina and John of Görlitz (brother of King Wenceslaus of Bohemia), and Valentina and Louis II (King of Naples). All of these fell through, and she was eventually married off to Louis, Duke of Touraine, brother of the reigning Charles VI (the Mad) and second son of King Charles V of France.

Charles VI may have been mad, but little brother Louis was a schemer and trouble maker, which led him to conflict over the regency with John (the Fearless) of Burgundy. Unfortunately Louis had a reputation as a womaniser which made him very unpopular - so much so that when John the Fearless had Louis killed in the streets of Paris no-one in Paris much cared. It did, however, spark a conflict between the two houses that lasted 70 years, known as the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War.

By this time, Valentina had got into a little bother of her own, having been banished from court by the Queen who, it was rumoured, was one of those having an affair with Louis. Valentina died about a year after her husband, having lived in Blois for the last 6 years of her life.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Victor Huguenin in 1846. To see this statue of Anne you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Cunjevois in the Clearings

Throughout the rainforest, wherever trees have fallen, a cycle of decay and regrowth commences. Elephant-eared Cunjevoi Alocasi macrorrhizos is an early coloniser of these newly opened spaces.

Cunjevois were used by Aboriginal people as food and medicine, but they are toxic if not processed correctly. They are one of those plants that you have to flush in running water before consuming. Then the roots can be pounded into paste and cooked as little patties.

Cunjevois are also known as giant taro on the Pacific islands, and they are a member of the Arum family.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Stable Sale

Back in October I picked up on Facebook that the Mesdames Becdelièvre, sisters-in-law from the Chateau of Boussay, were holding a sale of high quality furnishing fabrics at the chateau. I asked my friend Jill if she wanted to check it out. She was interested, as was her husband John, on the grounds that it was an opportunity to get a closer look at the chateau.

Two wings of the chateau of Boussay.

When we got to the chateau there was no visible sign that anything was going on. I parked at Place Simon Jacquet and we walked down the driveway. It wasn't until we were at the moat that we spotted the first (and only) indication that there was a sale on. Can you see the arrow pointing to the vente? Discreet or what!

The old stables being used as a temporary boutique.

The fabric samples were displayed in the former stables and John and I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes admiring the architecture. It was early afternoon and initially we were the only ones there. Later Gilou (longtime resident of Boussay who knows everyone) and Françoise (who lives round the corner from us in Preuilly) turned up. Jill bought some remnants and I bought a handmade makeup purse and a headband. These sales are going be repeated, and if you have a decorating project I would recommend checking them out when they come around. Half price Italian furnishing fabric is well worth taking a look at.

The names of the former occupants of the stables are stencilled above the manger.
Hans, Mubbel, Stier, Mocke. I'm struck by how Germanic sounding the horses' names are.

The Becdelièvres are due to retire soon and according to Madame M. Becdelièvre they want to set up a 'Friends of the Chateau' type association. The chateau needs some TLC and the Becdelièvres want to encourage those who love the place to get involved. They hope to sensitively explore possibilities for commercial activities that are compatible with the place. If you are interested in following life at the chateau they have set up a Facebook page.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Fungi With Friends

At the end of October there was a fungi foray in the Forest of Loches. It was jointly organised by the Association de botanique et de mycology de Sainte Maure de Touraine and the Tourist Office of Loches. Most of the people who came had signed up to learn about fungi from Didier Raas, a local pharmacist and well-known expert. He led this group, who I imagine were mostly interested in foraging for edible mushrooms. We noticed how many grandparents with kids in tow there were. It was the Toussaint school holidays, and mushroom hunting is a traditional passtime that many families would want their children to learn about.

People registering to go on the outing. This is about half the number of people who turned up.

The Association for Botany and Mycology on the other hand is interested in regularly monitoring and surveying the local forests to record biodiversity. I had brought my friends Alex and Nicole. They were interested in learning about mushrooms because they want to go foraging for the table, but I suggested that we keep the day as a learning experience and go with Jean Bouton, who knows his edibles very well, but also all the other species and is full of top tips and helpful information.

Candlesnuff fungus Xylaria hypoxylon (Fr. Xylaire du bois).

The reason for having a combined outing is because it's hunting and tree felling season and you have to get permission from the Office national des forêts to go out in numbers to pick mushrooms. We only had permission to forage in certain parcels.

There wasn't much to be found due to the dry warm weather we had been having, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves. Nicole is English but speaks quite good French. She was amused right from the beginning when she overheard someone quizzing one of the very knowledgeable but self-deprecating members of the Association. He is a retired pharmacist, and the woman grilling him wanted to know about what his qualifications were for leading fungi outings. Apparently he didn't pass muster...I suspect the woman was no loss to our half of the outing.

Upright Coral fungus Ramaria stricta (Fr. Ramaire droite) and 
Green Elfcup fungus Chlorociboria cf aeruginascens (Fr. Pézize bleu-vert).

Later there was exchange about a slug hiding under a cep. Nicole pointed it out and was jokingly told not to be too quick to throw it away. With the butter shortage she might find the slug came in handy to throw in with the mushrooms as they cooked, it was suggested. Then there was the man who took his leave but noticed a large Parasol Mushroom on the side of the road. He leapt out of his car, picked it and rushed back. It was a magnificent specimen and he was determined to show it off and 'win' 'largest mushroom of the day'. Didier Raas encouraged Nicole and me to taste the stem ring on this prize mushroom, saying it tasted like hazelnut raw, and it really did!

Bitter Oysterling Panellus stipticus.

One of the first fungi we found was the Candlesnuff, covered in a white powder which Jean told us was sterile spores. The real spores are black and hidden inside the antler-like fungus. Candlesnuff fungus will often be found in the autumn. Not being able to deal with either cellulose or lignin, it attacks fallen wood after it has already been partially consumed by Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft.

Then we started finding Upright Coral. It was all over the place in the leaf litter, attached to fallen sticks and small branches. One branch had both Upright Coral and Elfcup growing from it, making a very pretty combination. Such a shame it would never have lasted as a table decoration.

Root Rot fungus Heterobasidion annosum (Fr. Polypore du pin).

When we found some Bitter Oysterlings Jean made sure to tell us that if you taste it the bitterness takes several minutes to develop, but is quite powerful. Both the Bitter Oysterling and the Candlesnuff are apparently bioluminescent, as are Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft which we also found in the same area, a mixture of beech and oak trees. It makes me wonder what the forest looks like at night. A very faint glow on a very dark night would be my guess.

Didier Raas (red hair) talks about an edible cep mushroom.

Bitter Oysterling was believed to help to staunch bleeding wounds. Elfcup colours wood blue-green and such wood has been used decoratively in marquetry since at least the 14th century. Root Rot is one of the most significant threats to commercial sylviculture.