Tuesday, April 30, 2019


The tomatoes are growing. They're not big enough to go outdoors yet. It is time, however, to transplant them so that there's only one plant per pot. In a few weeks, after the threat of frost is over, and after I've hardened them off, they'll go out into the garden.

Little tomato seedlings. Looking forward to nice tasty tomatoes this summer.

I got a section of the grass cut on Monday afternoon, what I call the South 40. It's the section that you see in yesterday's photo. I also did the strip along the road outside the hedge. Phew. Still more to go, but it will get done, hopefully this afternoon. I can't do it in the morning because there is so much dew and the grass is too wet to cut. By afternoon it dries out. I'm looking forward to the coming summer and less dew.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hoping for a dry week

After a week of relatively wet weather, the grass is growing incredibly fast. I got ten liters of gasoline a few days ago and now I'm waiting for a dry day or two to get out there and cut it again. When the grass gets tall and thick, I adjust the mower to cut it higher than normal. That makes the cutting easier. At some point I'll return the mower to the normal height and cut the grass shorter.

That's salvia sclarea (clary sage) thriving around the well. The grass is taller now than in this photo.

The little tomato seedlings are growing well in the greenhouse. This week I will thin them and transplant them into individual pots so they can get bigger before I plant them outside. We're also hoping for a dry spell to till up the garden plot. The last frost danger here is mid-May, so we still have a couple of weeks to get it done.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

One last look

Here's my final shot from inside the Basilique Saint-Julien de Brioude. I'm standing in the ambulatory looking west along the southern aisle. I think this view gives you a good feel for the volume of the space, the colors of the stone, and the varied light from the modern stained glass.

Those patterned stone floors are throughout the church.

We're moving now closer to May and the holidays that come with it. The first two Wednesdays in May are holidays. Falling in the middle of their weeks, the holidays provide people with an opportunity to take five-day weekends. I expect the zoo traffic will be heavy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Le déambulatoire

The ambulatory of a church or cathedral is the pathway around the choir and altar on the building's east end. Often, as in this case, the ambulatory is lined with semi-circular apsidal chapels that protrude from the building.

Not a whole lot of religious fervor on this day. Notice the stone floor.

Without going into the details, the ambulatory provides a path for liturgical processions and for pilgrims, separating them from the main holy action pomp and circumstance in the choir and at the altar. Wikipedia says, cet espace de circulation canalisait la ferveur religieuse tout en protégeant de la foule le bon déroulement des offices (this circulation space channels religious fervor, protecting the orderly celebration of mass and other daily prayer ceremonies from the crowd).  I don't know this stuff, I only report what I read on the internet.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Looking up

The church of Saint-Julien de Brioude is ostensibly a romanesque building. But, as with most churches that took a hundred or more years to build, the styles change from bottom to top. The upper parts of this building look like they're moving into the gothic style.

Ribbed vaults form the ceiling of the nave, a feature common to most gothic cathedrals.

I say that because the lower arches are round, typical of the romanesque style. But the upper arches are looking a bit pointed and the vaults are ribbed, both characteristic of the gothic style. Many churches in France exhibit this bridge between the two styles. That's part of what makes them interesting.

The column capitals are intricately carved. And look at that fancy stonework in the columns themselves!

The stone used in the columns and walls is multi-colored, quarried at various locations nearby. Light from the stained glass windows enhances the colors, almost magically.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I have a confession to make

Well, no I don't. But it seemed like a good title for this image. A double, or is it quadruple, confessional in the church of Saint-Julien de Brioude. There are four places for sinners, but only two for priests. Is that normal? Not being a Catholic, I wouldn't know.

Bless me Father for I have sinned. No waiting.

At any rate, these confessionals were wide open, perhaps suggesting that there is nothing to confess in Brioude. At least on Saturdays. Because, you know, it's market day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Inside Saint-Julien de Brioude

Brace yourselves for a few church-y posts. I probably spent between five and ten minutes inside the church, so this is not an in-depth photo study, nor do I have any idea of the history or significance of what I was looking at most of the time. But no matter. It was pretty.

Looking up the central aisle of the nave toward the altar. That's a tour group seated around their guide.

We didn't get even one drop of the rain that was predicted to fall all day on Tuesday. I was frustrated because I put off cutting the grass. Turns out that I could have got it all done. Light rain is once again predicted for most of today. It is blustery out there this morning, and Ken just noticed that some rain is falling. It's 06h30 as I type this; not even light outside yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

As Tasha and I walked around the church in Brioude, I was snapping photos. I had my special belt on that lets me attach Tasha's leash to my waist, leaving my hands free for the camera. The leash is retractable, so she has some freedom of movement, but I can "reel her in" at any time to keep her close.

I see you!

Monday turned out to be a nice day. I took advantage of the 10h00 to 12h00 window to run the lawnmower outside the yard (noise is restricted on Sundays and holidays to those two hours). We have a strip along the road, outside the hedge, that we're supposed to maintain. There's also the strip outside our fence along the north property line that I like to keep clear so the woods don't take over the fence. So that's done for now. It's time to cut the yard again, but rain is predicted for today so it will have to wait.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The back side

The view from behind the church of Saint-Julien de Brioude gives visitors a better idea of the whole building thanks to a wide plaza. While Ken looked around inside the church, Tasha and I took a walk around back. I was surprised when the narrow medieval streets opened out onto this space.

Jesus hangs out behind the church.

There were plenty of people around because the Saturday open-air market was nearby, but I still managed to get a photo with no people in it. After a few minutes we walked back around the church to wait for Ken, then I went inside for a look.

Last December I mentioned that we were having relatively warm weather and quoted the old French dicton (proverb) Noël au balcon, pâques aux tisons (Christmas on the balcony, Easter in front of the fire). Well, the saying didn't hold up this time. Easter Sunday was warm and pleasant.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Basilique Saint-Julien de Brioude

This is a more or less romanesque style church built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It's about an hour north of Le Puy-en-Velay where we stayed for a week last month. Ken read that the church was worth seeing, so we stopped in Brioude on the way home to have a look.

Saint-Julien's western facade and bell tower.

That day, a Saturday, turned out to be market day in Brioude. We found a parking spot on the main street through town and started following the people who were going to market, figuring that the church would be in the center of town, close to the market. Even though the church is big and its bell tower is tall, it's not easy to spot from the town's narrow winding streets. Sure enough, our path took us right up to the church's front door.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A last look at Arlempdes

This is the view of the tiny town of Arlempdes from the walkway that leads up to the castle ruins. You can see the back side of the church's clocher-mur (bell tower wall) in the center. There was very little activity in town -- we saw one guy doing some work outside the town's café/restaurant and the arrival of a fuel-oil delivery truck.

Arlempdes in March, almost a ghost town. I think it's more animated in summer.

The dermatologist visit went well. I had one kératose (keratosis, a pre-cancerous growth) removed from my temple, which is why I went in the first place, and another non-threatening growth removed from a place nobody can see. Both were removed with liquid nitrogen, essentially freezing them. I got the standard admonishment to use plenty of sunscreen all the time, and to come in for more regular checkups. It turns out my last visit was back in 2007. She wants to see me every two to three years. Well, that's no skin off my back. Oh, wait...

Friday, April 19, 2019

The wall

From what we could see, most of what remains of the château at Arlempdes are the exterior walls. There are various foundation elements visible, and the restored chapel is the only real building standing. Of course the place was closed for the winter season when we visited but, as I've said before, we weren't counting on going in because we had the dog with us.

Castle walls in Arlempdes.

It's busy weekend for us here at home. We're both getting haircuts (mine was yesterday), I have an appointment with the dermatologist today, and we're going into town to the market on Saturday to get a rabbit for Sunday's lunch. I made the rounds of the garden centers on Thursday looking for some wooden stakes for the vegetable garden. I didn't find exactly what I wanted, but I did find a couple of parsley plants for the deck and some flowering plants for the window boxes. I'll be taking advantage of the nice weather this weekend to get them all planted.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Just a door

It's not fancy. It's just a simple door on a house in Arlempdes. It does have a pretty big knocker.

The bell is pretty cool, too.

A door knocker in French is un heurtoir (from the verb heurter, to hit) or, according to Wikipedia, un marteau de porte (a door hammer). I learn something new every day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Église Saint-Pierre in Arlempdes

Back to the Auvergne! This is the church of Saint-Pierre in the small town of Arlempdes which, if you remember, is home to the first château on the Loire River. It was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and updated in the sixteenth. The overall style is romanesque.

The facade of the church of Saint-Pierre seen through a portal in the city's ancient wall.

The church's bell tower is built as a clocher à peigne or clocher-mur, a flat, vertical wall with openings that contain bells. I've seen these before, but I didn't know until now what they are called.

The church's bell tower, or clocher-mur, with three bells, but space for four.

The church was locked up tight when we visited, so we didn't get to see inside.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

By now everyone, or nearly everyone, has heard or seen reports of the fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Ken and I watched it live on television last evening, mesmerized by the spectacle, sickened by the horror, and emotionally exhausted by the near loss of one of the most famous and familiar of the monuments in a city we've both come to love.

An April river cruise in 2018, a view of the cathedral from the east.

Those firefighters did hard battle against an enemy much larger and stronger than themselves. It seemed futile from our vantage point on the couch, but they persevered and eventually brought the fire under control and saved the north tower (and its bells) from the flames. The best news is that nobody was killed in the conflagration.

The spire is gone as is the totality of the gray roof. I don't know how many of the windows were lost. Photo from May 2016.

Now the task turns to cleanup and planning for what is to come. The president has said that France will rebuild and, since the cathedral's structure seems to be intact, that's probably likely. But it will take years to clean up the damage, years to design and engineer a new roof structure, and perhaps decades to completely rebuild.

 A 1988 photo of the spire, now gone. The statues on the roof had been removed a couple of weeks ago for restoration.

These are two of my most recent photos and one old favorite of the cathedral. The first is from one year ago, taken from a tour boat during an evening cruise on the Seine. The second is from 2016, taken from the dome of the Panthéon on the Left Bank. The third is an old slide taken from the top of the south bell tower when Ken and I visited Paris in 1988, I think.

Monday, April 15, 2019

On with the show

Now that our freeze threat is over -- it's warmer this morning than it was over the weekend and there are no smudge pots or hay bales lit outside our house -- we can get back to photos from our trip to Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne. This is Arlempdes, a small hill town and ruined castle very close to the headwaters of the Loire.

The castle walls blend into the rock and are hard to see. They're just above and to the right of the church's bell tower.

They say that Arlempdes is the first château on the Loire. Not first in time, but first in direction from the river's source to its mouth. Beaufort, that I pictured the other day, is the second. Now I'm going to have to figure out what the last one is...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Of smudge pots and hay bales

This morning I woke up to the flickering light of smudge pots burning in the vineyard parcels to our north. The growers were up early to light them. On Saturday morning, another grower was out to the west burning bales of hay on the northern slopes of his parcels. The smoke was blowing over the vines when I walked Tasha just after sunrise.

Smoldering hay bales produce smoke out in the western parcels.

That grower told me that he measured -1ºC (about 30ºF) in his parcels. He didn't want to take any chances given what happened in April 2017 when a freeze killed a lot of the newly sprouted leaves. He is back again this morning re-lighting the hay bales.

Burning hay bales at sunrise.

The "smudge pots" used by the other grower are not true smudge pots. They're more like big candles, the size of a paint can, that are placed on the ground in the space between rows of vines. Like the hay bales, the burning candles produce smoke that blankets the vines helping to reduce heat loss and freezing. I also think they help to mix the air to increase the temperature on the ground, but I'm not sure about that.

These two burning bales help to protect a parcel closer to our house.

Other growers in our region use giant fans to help mix the air and prevent freezes. We can hear them to our north and south on these chilly spring mornings. They sound like helicopters, except that they never move. I wonder if they're not allowed in vineyard parcels that are close to populated areas, due to the noise.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christo I'm not

But I did wrap the fig tree. Because we're under the threat of a freeze this weekend, I decided to try to protect our fragile fig by wrapping it in gardener's fabric. This is the third time I have used the fabric on the fig, but it's the first time that I built a "cage" with wooden stakes to hold it. The tree was much easier to wrap this time.

The fabric is wrapped around stakes that I pounded into the ground, then "secured" across the top and side with clothespins.

We've had this fig tree for a long time, since 2006 I think. The winter of 2012 was especially cold and the tree froze all the way to the ground. I thought it had died, but it put up new stems the following spring. So six years of growth was gone, reset to zero. Two years ago this month we had an unexpected freeze. I had taken the fabric off the tree too early. The young leaves on the fig all shriveled and died and, while the tree eventually put out some leaves, there was no fruit. Last year I think there were three, maybe four, figs.

So, with this weekend's predicted freeze, I wrapped the fig tree again. So far, the temperature hasn't reached freezing. But Sunday morning is supposed to be the coldest. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

And, speaking of Christo, I heard on television that his next project is to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I hope he has enough clothespins.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Oh snow!

This photo is not here but in the mountains south of Le Puy-en-Velay, taken more than a month ago. We found many of these little patches of snow on our excursions, laying low in shady places. Most of winter's snow was already gone, except on the higher peaks, which were quite white.

Snow still hanging on in a roadside ditch near Arlempdes.

We are not expecting any snow, but the low temperatures forecast for this weekend are at or below freezing. That's not good news for the grape growers; the vines are starting to leaf out now. I noticed yesterday the growers that own the vines around us put out smudge pots in preparation for a freeze. I don't know if they lit them this morning (Ken told me he heard their truck drive in around five this morning), but we'll find out soon.

The coldest morning is predicted to be Sunday. I went out yesterday afternoon and wrapped the fig tree in a freeze-protective fabric. I hope it works.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The upper Loire

As you know, Ken, Tasha, and I spent the first week of March near the Auvergne city of Le Puy-en-Velay. Not far from there, a little to the south, is the source of the Loire, France's longest river. The Loire is small and swift near its mountain origins, and very different from the section that flows through our region farther north.

The Loire river cuts deep valleys in the Massif Central, France's central mountain range.

The Loire we know is broad and calm and rolls along through gently sloping wine country. In the mountains, the river leaps down rapids and falls and carves deep valleys, almost ravines, in the rocky countryside. But all sections of the river, from its mountain source to its broad mouth in the Atlantic, have something in common: the châteaux (castles), perched on high points along its length.

The ruins of the château de Beaufort, built around the year 1200, high above the young Loire at Goudet.

In the mountains, the castles are mostly feudal medieval constructions, whereas the castles in our region tend to be royal renaissance works. Many of our local châteaux have medieval origins, but they were rebuilt as the renaissance flowered and the kings of France took up residence here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Signs of the times

More and more rural towns are trying to save energy and reduce light pollution by turning off street lighting rather than leaving it on all through the night. This town, Goudet, in the Auvergne is one of them. The top sign says that public lighting will be turned off in winter between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am, and in summer between 1:00 am and sunrise.

Central Goudet is down in its valley on the Loire River. The church tower has a colorful conical tile roof.

The second sign says that the town is a two-star town for their efforts to protect the nighttime sky and the nocturnal environment. Below that is the standard route number sign (the road we were on), then the name of the town (these are always placed at the town or city limits), and finally a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour. If there were no speed sign, the town name sign means that speed is limited 50 kph. That's standard throughout France.

Speaking of street lighting, we have none in our hamlet, thankfully. But on the next road over, we can see their streetlights through the woods in the evening. They also go off around midnight, so they're not shining through the night.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Forteresse de Polignac

Just outside of Le Puy-en-Velay, atop another volcanic butte, is the medieval fortress of Polignac. Construction began on the château fort in the eleventh century. By the seventeenth century it had been abandoned, then used as a quarry for stone to build the neighboring towns.

The forteresse de Polignac seen from a hillside in Le Puy-en-Velay.

In the early nineteenth century, a descendant of the family that once owned the castle bought it back and began a restoration. Since then, archeological research and further restoration has taken place and the castle and fortress have become a popular tourist attraction.

Looking toward the west side of the fortress on its butte.

Because we visited in March, the place was closed for the winter. I doubt that we could have taken Tasha inside even if the castle was open, so it didn't matter much to us. I took two of these photos from just below the castle, on opposite sides. The shot with the rainbow, such as it is, is a long zoom taken from much farther away in Puy-en-Velay.

Looking up toward the donjon, or keep, on the east flank of the butte.

A funny thing happened last evening when I took the dog out. Our cat Bert was holding court in the back yard. He and three other cats were lounging in the grass near the vegetable garden. When I got outside, I noticed one cat scoot behind a hedge, but the other three just sat and watched us. There was another black cat and an orange cat. When I called Bert's name (from a distance, I couldn't tell which of the two black cats was him), he got up and started to walk over to me. The other cats stayed put, content to watch. Tasha and I left them in peace and went back into the house.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Église Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe

The small town of Aiguilhe, just north of the center of Le Puy-en-Velay, is built around an ancient volcanic cone that has been exposed by millions of years of erosion. On top of the cone is a church named for Saint Michel. The church has been there in one form or another since the first century.

The church of Saint Michel in Aiguilhe, seen from a parking lot in Le Puy.

The name Aiguilhe is a local term for a pointed summit, resembling a needle. The modern French word for needle is aiguille, pronounced roughly ay-GWEE-yuh. I believe that the two words are pronounced the same.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

A couple more

Here are views of a couple of the buildings near the cathedral in Le Puy. The first is a medieval tower, but I don't really know anything about it and my extensive lame research didn't turn up much.

A nicely maintained tower.

The second is a street shot of the colorful tile roofs on a church behind the cathedral. I think, if I'm not mistaken, that it's part of a larger institution called le Grand Séminaire Accueil Saint-Georges. It's a religious institution that welcomes and lodges pilgrims (historically) and general travelers (individually or in groups) for a modest fee.

Colorful tiles on a church at the Accueil Saint-Georges.

So, I think that's pretty much all from that morning walk in the center of Le Puy. We certainly didn't see everything and we would have had nicer weather (and more crowds) in the summer season, but we got a feel for the place.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Notre-Dame de France

This cast iron statue dominates the city of Le Puy-en-Velay. It stands on the top of a basalt cone, the core of an ancient volcano. I read that it was made from melted canons captured during the battle of Sébastopol during the Crimean War in the mid nineteenth century.

A view of the statue from one of the streets near the cathedral.

On our walk around the cathedral, which sits below the statue, we were looking for the cloister. As it turns out, visiting the cloister requires an entry fee, and dogs are not allowed. So we continued walking toward the path up to the statue. They charge an entry fee too, but dogs on leashes are allowed.

The entrance to the statue grounds and the stairs that go up, for a small fee.

Since it was a chilly, windy day, and since our legs are not what they used to be, we decided not to climb the steep stairs up to the statue. Besides, it was getting close to lunch time.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Les portes

Here are a few of the doors I saw when we walked around the cathedral in Le Puy. I was impressed by the fancy iron work that adorned some of them.

Which would you choose? Door Number One?

The "freeze" we were expecting didn't happen, and it looks like everything made it without damage. The threat of a freeze or frost still exists. Officially, the risk of frost ends in mid May. Conventional wisdom says not to plant seedlings out until then. There's also a saying: En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil. En mai, fais ce qu'il te plaît (In April, don't remove a stitch. In May, do what you please).

Door Number Two?

We have a busy couple of weeks. Somehow, Ken and I ended up needing prescriptions renewed at about the same time. That means doctor appointments for both of us. His is today, mine's on Tuesday. Then, he has a follow-up appointment with the dermatologist later this month. I'm going to see her in two weeks. There's only one dermatologist in our region, so getting an appointment can take months. When I called last week, she had an opening in April (I almost asked "what year?"), so I jumped at it.

Or Door Number Three? Jeez, I feel like Monty Hall.

It's also time to start doing the tax returns. Our French returns are due some time in May. The American returns aren't due until June (for Americans who live outside the US), but I'll probably do them at the same time as the French returns. That's been my pattern.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Le dôme

This is the octagonal dome, or lantern, of the cathedral in Le Puy-en-Velay. It's built over the choir, where the transept crosses the main axis of the nave. The purpose of a cathedral's lantern is to bring light down into the building, usually over the altar, hence the name.

Looking south toward the cathedral and its dome.

When we left the cathedral (the way we came in), we walked around it in the streets on its southern side. Since the cathedral is built on a hill, we were well below the floor level of the building. We continued around to the back and climbed back up the hill on the cathedral's north side, following signs toward the cloister. That's where we got this view.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Le clocher

This is the bell tower at the cathedral of Notre-Dame du Puy. It's unusual in that it's not integral to the cathedral itself, and it was built at the rear of the building rather than at the west entrance. From what I've read, the tower is 56 meters (about 184 feet) high, with seven levels. There are four bells installed at the top of the tower.

The cathedral's bell tower rises high above the surrounding buildings.

Our weather is cooler and wetter than it was a couple of days ago. We may have a light freeze on Thursday morning, so we have to keep an eye on the forecast. I may decide to cover the fig tree so that the young buds don't get damaged.

A closer view from a neighboring street that winds around the cathedral.

And, by the way, I have four zucchini sprouts and several tomato sprouts (so far) in the greenhouse. And the snow peas that I planted out in the garden a couple of weeks ago are sprouting as well. They should survive a light freeze. I hope. After all, they were intended to be sown between February and April.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

As organs go

It's not the biggest organ in the world, or in Europe, or in France. Not by a long shot. I looked up the list of the world's biggest pipe organs, and this one was nowhere to be found. Not surprising, but I had to check. Its intricately carved buffet (the wooden casing that holds the pipes and other organ components), however, was declared a national historical monument in 1862. So, size apparently doesn't matter.

The organ in Notre-Dame-de-l'Annonciation du Puy-en-Velay was last restored in 1999.

Our weather is changing. Again. Our beautiful spring days are going to be interrupted by a cooler weather system through the weekend. Rain, and maybe some freezing temperatures are predicted.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Inside the cathedral

Ken finished his quick look inside the cathedral of Le Puy-en-Velay and it was my turn. It's a big place, but without the soaring volumes of a gothic cathedral. The massive dark stone gives it a heavy feel, almost bulky. Still, there was enough light from the stained glass windows that I could snap a few photos inside.

The nave, looking toward the altar.

I did a quick walk around the nef (nave) and up to the autel (altar) and chœur (choir) before heading back out to meet up with Ken and Tasha.

A closer view of the altar. The statue in the center with the purple robe is la vièrge noire (the black virgin).

It occurred to me that I've probably spent more time visiting churches in France that I ever did going to church growing up. In the immortal words of Maude Findlay, "God'll get you for that, Walter."