Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The people

While we were staying in the gîte, we saw the news that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was being exonerated of the criminal charges against him. That is, the charges were being dropped. We were glued to the television for about thirty minutes during a special broadcast. I'm not sure how much we actually heard, though, as we were all talking about everything at the same time.

Gathering around the tv in the laptop and smartphone age is almost as quaint as gathering around the radio might have seemed in the 1950s. Left to right: Ken, Evelyn, Mary, Lewis.

The television was our only connection to the outside world. It received the TNT signal (télévision numérique terrestre) which is France's name for standard digital tv. There are eighteen free channels available, but you need a digital tv set or a TNT decoder box to receive them. The old analog signals aren't available any more.

Of course, it wasn't long before we found that the tourist office in the nearby town of Mortagne had a wifi setup. Soon we were back online, if only for brief moments at a time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The barn

There was a second building on the property we rented: a barn. Built entirely of stone. The barn was made of three distinct sections and it was quite a pretty building. I could tell that the roof had been recently renovated; there was new woodwork and the tiles were in good shape.

Callie enjoying the grass next to the barn.

The main part of the barn was locked. But we could see inside through some windows. Another section was open and that's where the garden furniture was stored, along with a barbeque grill and some wood for the fireplace. We made use of that.

The three distinct sections of the barn building, with the house in the background. And there's that dog again!

I really liked how the barn roofs made a kind of cascade. I liked the geometry of it. I am a student of architecture, after all. I really think I could live in a place like this. As long as I had enough money to fix it up to my liking. I spent a lot of time thinking about the changes I'd make if I lived there. What fun!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The view

Since we were in farm country, the views from our gîte included a lot of corn. We were, in fact, on a little island in a sea of corn. We could hear cows mooing off in the distance, but none of the clanging cow bells that we remembered from down south in the Auvergne region.

The view out over the cornfields toward a neighboring farmhouse.

While the landscaping at the house was very simple, it was beautiful. The focus of the yard right in front of the house was a wonderfully lush hortensia (hydrangea). Some old stone feeding/drinking troughs had been filled with dirt and planted with perennial flowers that added more bright colors to our island-in-the-corn.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The setting

The house that Ken rented was in the middle of large corn fields. The corn surrounded us like a green wall. But this is not flat corn country, no sir. The land rolls up and down, and the rows of corn twist and turn with the land. It was very pretty.

You can see our rental house up top. The place was called La Bouée, and it was nicely isolated in the countryside.

The house was a typical longère, a style of farmhouse very common in France. The building is one room thick, and each room is connected to the other; there are no hallways. Originally, the people lived in one or two rooms of the building and the livestock lived in the rest. These days, of course, longères have been converted into beautiful country homes. Many include renovated lofts with bedrooms and baths upstairs.

Here's the house seen from the courtyard. There's Callie, too! Our room was behind the little window above the door on the right.

Ours had two large bedrooms on either end of the house and a third, smaller bedroom upstairs. The upstairs bedroom had a bath and shower. That's where Ken and I stayed. It was very comfortable. The house had been nicely renovated, but with its thick stone walls and dark wood, it felt a little cave-like. Still, it was comfortable and nice and I thought it was very cool.

We built a fire in the fireplace on Tuesday evening and that made things very cozy. Normandy is not as warm as our part of France toward the end of summer. And, speaking of the end of summer, the whole of France is entering its back to school/work funk. Summer vacations are over this weekend. School starts again next week.

Of course, if you're retired, life just goes on. Thank goodness.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jeez Louise

You leave for a few days and all hell breaks loose. An earthquake in Virginia. A hurricane bearing down on the US Atlantic coast. Rick Perry is still running for president. Just one disaster after another.

The "gîte" sign on our vacation rental.

I got home on Thursday afternoon from a three day visit to southern Normandy. Ken rented a gîte (vacation house, pronounced zheet) for a week and we met up with American friends Evelyn and Lewis. Marie from Normandy was also with us. And Callie, too.

I left them a couple days early because I'm always nervous about leaving the house and because we had left Bertie at home by himself. He's an outdoor cat, so he wasn't closed up alone. And he has access to his garage, where his beds, litter, water, and kibble are, through an open window. The window has bars on it so no people can get in.

So Callie and I drove home on Thursday. Bert wasn't home when I arrived, but he was waiting for me on Friday morning when I went down to give him some "wet food." I gave him a good petting and he ate up his breakfast then went to his bed to sleep.

I have some photos from the trip that I'll be posting over the next few days. Ken comes back home on Saturday evening (by train) and he'll have a bunch more photos for his blog.

All the posts since last Monday were pre-programmed to show up each day while I was gone. We didn't have internet access at the gîte, so I couldn't read your comments or reply to them until now. Thanks for hanging in!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A misty morning in the vegetable garden

This was last Sunday morning, just as the overnight thunderstorms were clearing out. As the sun rose, a mist formed close to the ground out in the vineyard. And while it was quite a warm morning, there was something fall-like about it.

I had just cut the grass the day before. The apples just continue to drop.

I guess it's the ripening apples, the corn plants beginning to brown, the pumpkins in the garden, and the mist. I'll be missing this weather in November when the mists are dense and cold.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More apples

One of our apple trees produces these brilliantly red apples. They're red all over with no hint of green at all in their skins. The flesh is very soft and the apples go mushy quite quickly. They're also more susceptible to hungry insects. Get 'em while they're firm!

Red apples on the tree after a morning shower.

Because they rot quickly, they make one heck of a mess on the ground. The completely rotted fruit gets mushed by the lawnmower, but I have to pick up the other fruit that still has hard bits before I mow. I inevitably step (and nearly slip and fall) on the mushy apples while picking up the others.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Streaking across the sky

I noticed this airliner going by on Sunday morning, just after the overnight thunderstorms cleared off. The storm clouds were receding into the east and the jet and its contrail caught the rising sun full-on.

Since I was out in the vineyard with Callie, I didn't have access to that neat website that identifies planes. I can only guess where it was coming from (somewhere north of us) and going to (somewhere south of us).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Potimarron progress

This is one of several potimarrons (red kuri squash) in our garden this year. It's the first time I've grown them and I'm looking forward to tasting them. They're like pumpkins, but they're smaller and the flesh is less sweet than a traditional pumpkin.

One of about five potimarrons in our vegetable garden.

I like winter squash and we've had one variety or another in our vegetable garden pretty much every year now. I saved the seeds from a squash we bought at the market to grow these.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Apples and mint

The apples on our trees and on the trees all around the hamlet are ready to pick. They're looking better than they have in a long time. This year's crop will certainly be better than last year's. There are so many apples that most of them end up in the compost pile. You can't give the things away; nearly everyone has their own.

Apples on the well with mint. Click to mentholate.

But we have good intentions this year. Ken's made apple jelly in the past and I'm hoping he'll do up a bunch again this year. I will make some tarts and pies and other things with the best of the apples, both from our trees and from some of the neighbors' trees (they have different varieties).

As I've mentioned, each time I cut the grass this time of year, I have to go around and pick up all the fallen apples just before. The lawnmower doesn't like them. I did this on Saturday. These four apples fell between the time I finished picking up the apples and the time I got the lawnmower out. I thought they looked nice sitting on the vrai faux puits (real fake well). The mint inside the well is flowering now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Airline art

We live under a serious north-south airline corridor. Most days, when the sky is clear, you can look up and see contrails streaking high across the sky. Often you can see the actual planes as tiny white or silver dots moving through the sky out in front of the vapor trail. At night we see the airliners as blinking lights moving in the same north-south pattern.

Disintegrating airline contrails look like brush strokes in the morning sky.

Since there are no major commercial airports near us (or minor ones for that matter), most of the planes we see are up at cruising altitude. Every once in a while, if it's quiet, we'll hear the faint roar of jet engines a minute or so after a plane passes overhead.

There are some smaller airports in our region, mostly for private planes, and a military airport or two. Air force jets often zoom by us at very low altitude, scaring the bejesus out of us. There are also frequent police and medical helicopters that use the river valley as a corridor for their low-altitude flights.

I found a web site that tracks airliners in real time on a map. I can zoom in on my region and actually figure out which plane I'm seeing, the aircraft type, the airline, its altitude and airspeed, and it's origin and destination. Pretty darned cool, if you're into that sort of thing. Here's a link.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The dwindling logpile

I've been working on cutting my firewood for the winter. I'm almost there. This year we shared in a purchase of seven steres of oak. That's seven cubic meters, or almost two cords. It's all being stored at our house because the friends we went in on it with live in town and don't have a place to store it. We have plenty of room, so it was no problem.

The original log pile in December.
There's a light stain on the wall in the middle; I figured that was about the half-way mark.

I started cutting my half a couple of weeks ago. Here are the photos of the pile of uncut logs as I made progress. The first one (above) I took in December, just after the wood was delivered. The guys who delivered the wood dumped it into our driveway and it took five of us about an hour to move and stack it to this location on the north side of the house.

You can see my progress from just over a week ago. Pay no attention to the underwear on the clothesline.

I started cutting on August 8 after doing the clean up of the cutting area. That day, I cut twenty logs into thirds. Each log is one meter long, and my stove is about 40 centimeters wide. So I need to cut the logs to fit the stove. Two cuts per log gives me three logs approximately 33 centimeters each. You can do the math if you'd like.

And here's where I am as of yesterday. One more cutting session should do it. The rest belongs to my friend.

I'm just about done with my half of the wood. I figure I've got roughly forty more logs to cut, maybe a little bit more. I won't bore you with the details, but I built a spreadsheet and counted all the logs to be sure I was not taking more than my share. I also measured the pile and did some volume calculations as a double-check. I think I'm ok. As in, I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok.

In case you're wondering, that tarp is blue on one side and green on the other. I obviously wasn't paying attention to which way was up when I covered the wood the last time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh so easy

Among the easiest vegetables to grow in our vegetable garden are blettes (Swiss chard). I plant the seeds and they grow. I do tend to plant the seeds too close together when I plant in the ground. I'm afraid they won't all sprout or something. So when they all come up, thinning and transplanting are in order. But aside from that, these things just grow.

Sauteed chard leaves (without the stems) ready to be added to the final dish.

They can get close to two feet tall, which is way past time to pick them, but they're still good. And I can pick each leaf independently, which means that the plant stays in the ground and puts up new leaves for later harvests. It's the leaf that keeps on giving. Like rhubarb. Except, unlike rhubarb, the stems are good to eat.

In fact, some people eat only the stems. But we like the leaves, too. I normally separate the leaves from the stems and we use them differently. For example, the leaves you see here were lightly sauteed in olive oil, then added to a dish of spicy chick peas for a variation of espinacas con garbanzos (thanks to this guy for the inspiration). Ken used the stems the next day to make a gratin, a simple dish of the cooked stems with a béchamel sauce and some cheese browned in the oven.

Blettes are often used just like you would use spinach. But the leaves are tenderer than spinach, and their flavor is milder and sweeter. The stems aren't tough or stringy when cooked, but are tender and tasty.

Many people around where we live include blettes in their annual garden. This is the second time for me, but I see them becoming an annual staple for us, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wild carrot

This time of year, as summer begins to wind down, is high season for what we call Queen Anne's Lace. In French, it's carotte sauvage (wild carrot). This is one of those plants (and flowers) that I remember from my youth in upstate New York. I remember meadows, fallow fields, and vacant lots filled with these in summer. They also grew along the edges of roads.

The ubiquitous Queen Anne's Lace.

And it's the same here. Wild carrot grows everywhere in and around the vineyard, in any field or meadow, and along the sides of our country roads.

We're moving into a stretch of activity this week. A friend from Normandy arrived last evening to spend a few nights at the house. We've got at least two lunches with friends and neighbors planned, as well as a little wine tasting. Next week we're spending a few days in le Perche, a region to our north. Then more friends for a few days and immediately after that, I'm heading to Paris for two nights to see a cousin and his new wife on their honeymoon. Shortly after that, a couple more guests at the house.

I'd better get busy with the vacuuming!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Standard summer flower

My memory has never been very good. I can't remember the name of this flower, and if I had remembered to write it down somewhere, I can't remember where that would be. The flower shows up every year on a shrub out in the vineyard, not far from our house. It's right along the dirt road, near the old maison du vigneron (a storage shed out among the grapes).

I'd appreciate learning what this plant is called. Anyone?

I've published photos of it before, the last one in July of 2007. This is definitely its time for flowering. It always seems to catch my eye when it's wet with morning dew.

This week's weather is turning out very nice. Sunny and warm with temperatures in the mid to upper 20s (that's around 80ºF). I haven't had to water the vegetable garden lately as we've been having some nice rain in between the sunny spells. Perfect summer weather.

I find I'm repeating myself. We're really tuned into the weather these days as the garden is maturing. What goes on in the sky is important. We've put a lot of time and effort into the garden and we get a little nervous about the quality and quantity of our harvest.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Grapes, it's what's for dinner

This is what's going on out in the vineyard right now. I read on another blog that it's called véraison. I had never heard that word before, but it is indeed French for the maturing of fruit, and in the US wine industry it refers to grapes.

This is probably sauvignon blanc. It's the white grape that's most common around here.

The grapes out back are maturing at a rapid pace now. The growers will soon be out there checking the sugar levels to determine when to start harvesting. I suspect the harvest is probably a few weeks away yet. We've had some good rain recently, and now we're in for a spell of sunny, warm, and dry, which the grapes should like.

This could be gamay, cabernet, or côt. I can't tell the difference.

Our garden vegetables should like that, too. The tomatoes have started coming in and we've had one or two eggplant. But there's plenty of fruit on the plants and the warm days will be very good for it. Yum.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I sleep all night and I work all day

Well, maybe not ALL day. I have given in to recent goading to post a photo of myself wearing my lumberjack shirt. It's not really a lumberjack shirt, but it is red and plaid, and, well, gosh-darn-it, it is MY lumberjack shirt. So here you go.

I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok. And I'm starting to look my age. Ugh.

I'm getting close to the end of this season's lumberjacking. We get our wood in meter-long logs. Since our wood stove will only accommodate logs that are forty centimeters long, I have to cut our logs into thirds. That way I know they will fit. What you see behind me in the picture is the wood that I've cut so far. There are some leftovers from last year, then some of the wood from our downed trees, and in front is the oak we bought last Christmas.

The pile is almost three-deep now. I hope that when I'm done it will be a little more, close to four deep. That should be enough for the season, unless it's real cold. If that happens, I have a big pile of vine trunks that I can burn, so we should be ok. The little stuff piled up on the right-hand side is kindling. There's is more of that out in the back yard to be cut and stacked.

Our normal routine in winter is to use the oil-fired boiler to heat the house in the morning, then turn it off mid-day and build a fire for the afternoon and evening. I'm hoping we won't have to do this until November, but you never know. A small fire now and then in October is not unheard of.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Senior moments

They're coming closer together these days. It seems we frequently have conversations that go like this:

Ken: What's on tv tonight?
Me: Something about the Adriatic*. "Treasures of the Adriatic," I think.
Ken: What channel?
Me: Three. I saw it in the tv guide.

A ladybug warming itself in the morning sun on a Queen Anne's Lace flower.

A little bit later:
Ken: What did you say was on tv tonight?
Me: "Treasures of the Adriatic."
Ken: That's not what it says here.
Me: Where?
Ken: In the tv guide. It says "A Woman Named Mary" is on.
Me: Well, when I looked it said "Treasures of the Adriatic."
Ken: Did you look at this week's tv guide? I have it right here.
Me: (grabbing the remote) Look, the satellite program info says "Treasures of the Adriatic."
Ken: They must be wrong. I have the new tv guide right here. Saturday, August 13, to Friday, August 19. It says "A Woman Named Mary" is on tonight.
Me: Today is Friday, August 12.
Ken: Oh. Never mind.

*Of course, whenever we hear the word "Adriatic," one of us will sing: "Albania, Albania, you border on the A-dri-atic..." Friday night was no exception. The song is from the old American sitcom called "Cheers" from many, many years ago. Here's a link.

"And your chief export is chrome."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Morning in the back garden

Here's a view of our back yard looking east this past Thursday morning. And just so you know I wasn't sipping wine at sunrise, the apple tree does lean and the yard does slope down toward the north. The house sits on the crest of a ridge between two streams, which is why there are vineyards here. Good drainage.

The rising sun shines through an open spot in the trees. Click to gardenate.

You can clearly see our largest apple tree in the middle. One of the smaller apple trees is visible in the back on the left, covered in red apples. And that's our sweet corn, now topped with tassels and growing ears of golden goodness.

I cut down a dying apple tree earlier this year. The stump is under that clump of grass on the left, and the trunk is lying in the gravel path. I'll get the chainsaw out there and cut that up real soon.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Raindrops on grape leaves

And whiskers on kittens. Or something like that. This is another photo from last Sunday when we had rain overnight. That morning, everything was freshly washed and adorned with water drops.

The morning sun begins to dry the night's rain from the leaves.

I'm making progress with the log pile. I should be finished on schedule. I have been taking photos, so you may see some of them soon. I'm even toying with the idea of taking a picture of myself in my red plaid lumberjack shirt. Oh, won't you love that!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A berry good morning

Another photo from last Sunday morning. These are pyracantha berries at a neighbor's house. I like them because they're orange and I'm used to seeing the red variety; there is a red cotoneaster nearby, similar to a pyracantha but with smaller leaves and no thorns. I would like one of these in our yard, but I've done nothing about getting one.

I didn't get the focus quite right, but I like the picture anyway. Click on it to pyracanthate.

Seeing the bush covered in berries makes me think of fall. I wonder if it flowered and produced its fruit early this year because of our unusually warm and dry spring?

I did a post two Decembers ago about the differences between pyracantha and cotoneaster, with photos of each. Click here if you want to see it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunrise over the vines

This was Sunday's sunrise over the vineyards behind our house. The vineyards stretch out back for a mile or so before giving way to other kinds of agriculture and forests.

The trimmed vineyard looks like a green blanket pulled over the hillside. Click to embiggen.

You can see that the vines have been recently trimmed. The growers use big tractors with a cutting blade attachment that straddles each row, neatly trimming the tops and sides. Sometimes I see people (growers or their employees) walking the rows, trimming some of the vines by hand. I suspect they're removing leaves that are covering or shading the grape bunches so the grapes stay dry and ventilated; that way they'll ripen properly and not rot on the vine.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Vineyard and lumberjack news

Since we've been busy hosting and touring around, I took fewer pictures on daily walks in the vineyard. Until Sunday. We had a mostly sunny morning and I grabbed the camera. We had had some rain overnight and everything out there was glistening with raindrops in the sun.

The grapes are starting to mature.

As I mentioned yesterday, it's time to turn my attention back to the yard and garden. I've got to get the firewood cut and stacked for winter and my goal is to have that done over the next two weeks. I began this past weekend by cleaning up under the woodshed where I do the cutting. During the spring and summer, I had been throwing stray branches and twigs in there to keep them for kindling. So my first task was to break/cut those down and stack them.

Next I needed to cut up some of the larger tree limbs that I took down in the spring. That required reassembling the chainsaw (I took it apart to have the chain sharpened). After cutting up the stuff that was already in the shed, I raked up the stray leaves and sawdust for the compost pile.

Then I pulled in about four wheelbarrow-loads of logs from out in the back yard. They are the remnants of the trunks and large limbs of the two plum trees we lost to the February 2010 wind storm. I cut and stacked those yesterday.

Now I have a decision to make: do I start on the oak right away continue cutting the oak (I cut twenty logs yesterday), or take a day off to cut the grass? The rains we've had are causing the grass to grow quickly, so one day this week I will have to cut it. And that means picking up all the apples that have fallen from the trees since the last time I cut the grass.

Don't even talk to me about trimming the hedge. That chore is coming up in September.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Periodic Puppy Pics

Here's a shot of Callie and Munson in the vineyard during our walk with Mike. I think Munson enjoyed the exercise after having been in the car all day, and I know Callie enjoyed showing him around "her" vineyard.

Callie and Munson in the vineyard. See how big he is? Click on the picture to Malamutate.

It's amazing how it's early August and I'm already thinking about autumn. We're moving into harvest time in the garden (just barely). It's also time to start cutting and stacking the firewood for winter. I'm going to try and get that done over the next two weeks. Then we have some friends in and we'll be taking a short trip up to Normandy.

After that, I have the hedge to trim. That will take about three weeks (at my slow pace). Next up will be our friend Cheryl who arrives in October. We plan to take a short trip up to Champagne while she's here. I'm really looking forward to that. Yum, bubbly!

After that, it will likely be time to start burning wood. We shall see. Time flies.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

El loco & el lobo

Our friends from California, Geri, Phil, Julia, and Conor, packed up on Monday morning and we said our good-byes. They headed to Paris for a few days before making their way back home. We were sad to see them go and quickly occupied ourselves readying the guest room for our next visitors on Tuesday: Mike & Munson.

Mike (the human) and Munson pose for photos before taking off northbound.

Mike is an Australian who is well versed in world travel. He currently lives in southwestern France with his young Alaskan Malamute, Munson. I found Mike's blog a few years ago as he was finishing up a European adventure with his previous Malamute, Bondi. I read about his return to Sydney, Munson's arrival, and Bondi's eventual passing. It wasn't long before Mike began planning a return to Europe.

Mike's plans for this month took him north to Scandinavia and will later take him over to the UK before he returns to France. We welcomed him here for an overnight stop on his way north and enjoyed a nice walk in the vineyards, dinner, and getting to know each other better during his very brief visit. We hope it will work out that he and Munson can stop back for another overnight on their way home in a few weeks.

Callie had a great time romping around with Munson. She loves to meet new dogs.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


I've been to a few labyrinthes (mazes) in our region. There's a small one at the Château de Chenonceaux and another larger one at Villandry. Both of those are made with meticulously trimmed shrubbery. This one, on the grounds at Valençay, is made with wood panels and other modern materials.

The goal of the maze is the viewing platform from where I took this picture. We made it.

To enter the maze, you have to figure out the answer to a riddle and type it into a touch-pad next to the doors. With the right answer, the doors open and you walk in. At several junctions throughout the maze there are more doors with riddles to be solved. Some of them are rather involved and it takes a while to figure them out. People back up at the doors and often you are at the mercy of the people in front of you to figure out the riddle and open the door.

The riddles are posted in French and English and they are historical in nature reflecting the time of Talleyrand and Napoleon. However, for those who don't read either language, can't solve the riddle, or just don't have the patience to try, each door has a simple "open" button that lets you pass without the answer. We had fun giving the riddles a try, but we used the "just open the damned door" button several times.

Navigating the maze took much longer than we thought it would. It's bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. At the end we ended up on a raised platform to gaze over the maze. In a daze. As we exited, my rousing cry of "one more time!" was met with more than a few groans.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bouncy castle

I don't have kids, so I'm not an expert. But I think I know that kids of a certain age like bouncy castles. This one was one of two at the Château de Valençay. Our friends' kids, Julia and Conor, really got a kick out of this Harry Potter-themed bouncy castle. I didn't get any good photos of Julia, but Conor was hamming it up.

That's a happy kid!

In addition to the bouncy castles, there is a tiny petting zoo with goats and chickens and ducks and turkeys and sheep. They also have a little play area with swings and slides and teeter-totters. The place is the most kid-friendly château that I've ever seen.

Harry Potter is putting a silly-face spell on Conor.

They even have a labyrinthe (maze) that I've never paid attention to before. Until this time. We entered the maze and had a ton of fun. More on that later.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Costume drama

The people at the Château de Valençay do an interesting thing each summer season: they put on a show. Several actors are hired to perform little thirty minute plays in and around the castle during the day. When we arrived with our friends a couple of weeks ago, we were just in time for a performance.

The horse-drawn carriage that was part of the show, just coming out of the stables prior to going on.

The play we saw took place in the castle's courtyard. It involved the house servants preparing to put on a show (a play-within-a-play, that old device) for the master of the house, Prince Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. Or just plain Talleyrand, pour les intimes. The horse and carriage that you see above made its way into the courtyard and circled around a couple of times before parking off to the side. Very dramatic.

After a very slow start (fifteen minutes that seemed like an hour), the actors plucked a member of the audience out of the crowd, put a wig on him, gave him a cane (Talleyrand had a limp) and sat him in a chair to watch their "rehearsal" as a stand-in for Talleyrand. During an elaborately choreographed segment, the actors "built" their stage set by manipulating the various other set pieces, the largest being a farm wagon that they converted into an interior stairway, complete with a fireplace and a balcony.

As the play-within-the-play unfolded, we found out it was about mistaken identity and presumed infidelity and it ended with a dashing sword duel, to the delight of Julia and Conor who, by all appearances, were bored to tears with everything that went before.

I was bored to tears as well, even though I could understand the French. But the sword fight was lively and fun and it made up for having to sit through all the rest.

I didn't take any photos during the play, unfortunately, so you'll have to use your imagination. Or better yet, come visit Valençay in the summer!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Valençay day

After our stop at the canal bridge, we made our way to Valençay to visit the château there. This is another of the famous Loire Valley castles. Valençay's château is impressive and we've visited it many times. The town is also famous for its goat cheeses and wines.

Looking up at the facade over the entrance to the château's courtyard.

Ken found a parking spot fairly close to the château and we walked in. There were a lot of people around, but the place didn't feel very crowded, and that was nice. In all, I think we spent between two and three hours wandering around. A half hour of that was sitting on the steps in the courtyard watching a little costume play. More about that later.

We could tell that this year's drought had taken its toll on the château's front garden. It was much sparser and less lush than we had seen it in previous years. Still pretty, but the lack of rainfall was obvious.

If you click on the photo above, you might be able to see the different heads carved into the supports at the top. I thought they were interesting.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Stop me if you heard this one before

It won't do any good, though. I'll keep going. Ken posted some of his photos from this day already, so if you read his blog, you've already seen this place. It's not far from our house at a spot where the Sauldre River joins the Cher. The now defunct Canal de Berry runs along the right bank of the Cher between Saint-Aignan and Montluçon for about 320 kilometers. In places it encounters other tributaries and must cross them.

Friends Conor, Phil, and Julia join Ken to look at one of the canal barges.

This is one of those places. The canal flows over the Sauldre on a bridge. Pretty cool, eh? These days people can rent old canal barges (motorized) and spend the day on a section of the canal. I'm not sure how far you can take a boat in either direction as there are some places where the canal has been filled in.

The canal crosses the river in this narrow channeled bridge.

On this day we saw two boats tied up on the banks, their occupants enjoying picnic lunches. One of the parties finished their lunch while we were there and drove their boat over the bridge. I was under the bridge when it happened, so I didn't get photos of that.

The Sauldre River flows under the canal bridge on its way to meet the Cher.

I went to Google maps and captured an aerial view of this place. In the image below, the Cher River is on the bottom, flowing from right to left. The smaller Sauldre River joins the Cher and just upstream from the confluence you can see the canal bridge crossing.

Image from Google Maps.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Good-bye to Amboise

After visiting Amboise's château and taking a walk through the main part of town (in a light rain), we took our friends J and C back to the train in Blois for their return to Paris. It was a fun and all-too brief visit.

What remains of the Château d'Amboise perched high above the Loire.

The day after, Ken and I were invited to lunch at our neighbors' house across the street. We had a very nice and relaxed time. There were only five of us and lunch was tasty. We had to eat indoors because the weather was cool and damp. That was Thursday.

On Friday (July 22) we were to pick up more friends from California at the TGV station in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps. Geri, Phil, and their two children, Julia (9), and Conor (6), were coming from London to spend a long weekend with us.