Sunday, January 31, 2021

A model abbey

Or, more accurately, a model of an abbey. Still Fontevraud, of course. This is a model of the place they have on display. As a student of architecture and city planning, I love these kinds of things.

A model of the Fontevraud abbey and part of the surrounding town, September 2003.

Last night and this morning are dry, but we're expecting another rain system to come through this afternoon and evening. The pond out back is overflowing, sending its water down the hill to one of the streams that feed the river. Everywhere I step is a muddy mess, except for the paved road. That's just wet.

Tuesday is la Chandeleur (Candlemas). I read that in the US, the traditional Christian holiday has been pretty much supplanted by Groundhog Day, which I see is translated into French as le jour de la marmotte, at least on Wikipedia. We're planning our annual crêpe fest, as is the tradition in France. Savory crêpes for lunch and sweet crêpes for dessert. There may be photos.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Leek and bacon pizza

This is probably my second favorite pizza, after what the French call pizza reine (tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, and cheese). There's no tomato sauce on this one. First, I slice a leek and steam/sauté it until tender. Then I sauté some lardons fumés (smoked bacon). When that's done, I use the bacon grease (there's not a lot) to caramelize some canned corn.

The first of two pizzas for Thursday's lunch.

I use my home-made dough, enough for two personal-sized pizzas, made about four hours prior to baking so it can rise. I spread the tender leaks on first, add the bacon and corn, then grated cheese to taste. This time I used Ossau-Iraty, a sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region in southwestern France. We ate the pizzas with a bottle of the local red, a blend made mostly with gamay grapes. Delicious!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Now for a little color

I suppose the black-and-white treatment isn't appropriate for stained glass. This colorful window sits high over the nave of the abbey church at Fontevraud. It's not the best angle. I don't know why I snapped it from this spot and didn't think to reposition myself to better frame the shot.

I don't know if this window is original, restored, or a reproduction. Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

A little history: I started taking pictures when I was around fifteen years old. I still have a few of those first awkward snapshots in an album somewhere, taken with a Kodak 110 Instamatic camera. Six years later, when I went to Paris for the first time, I had a newer Kodak 110 for snapping my "Kodak moments." Those photos bring back nice memories, but they leave a lot to be desired in terms of photo quality.

Still later, while in college, I got my first 35mm SLR. It was a Pentax, I don't remember which model, but I do remember the lens that came with it was defective and leaked light. The result was a lot of disappointing over-exposed photos. Once I figured out it was the lens that was broken and not me, I traded it in for one that worked. Then I took a couple of photography classes at school, really got into taking color slides, and amassed a sizeable collection over the years. Unfortunately, my slide projector is long gone, so looking at the slides is not easy. I scanned a lot of them since starting this blog and posted many of those images here. After the Pentax, I moved to Canon EOS Rebel SLRs.

I started using a digital camera in 2003 when I took these photos at Fontevraud. I borrowed Ken's Canon PowerShot Pro 90 to see if I liked digital photography. I did, and slides instantly became history. I continued using Ken's pocket cameras for a while (he had several) until I bought my first digital camera in 2006, a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera. Six years later, I got my first DSLR, a Canon T3i. In 2016 I upgraded to a Canon 6D.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Smoke doesn't get in your eyes

These roofs are above the kitchen at the Fontevraud abbey. The "lanterns" that rise above the roof tiles are the chimneys above what used to be the kitchen's fires and ovens. From what I read, there's some uncertainty about the specifics of the kitchen's layout when it was in use.

Chimneys above the kitchen at Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

My errands on Wednesday went without a hitch. The woman at the insurance office was friendly and helpful as usual. The credit card worked (even though it didn't on line) and the bill is paid. I got what I needed at the hardware and housewares stores (including plastic bins for the pantry), and the dump, although crowded, was relatively easy.

Today I'm making leek and bacon pizzas for lunch.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Whimsical roof lines

I'm sure they were not intended to be whimsical, but that's my impression of this combination of different roof styles. Most of them cover the abbey's chapter house, topped by the steeple. The other roofs are part of the cloister (background) and the Saint-Benoît chapel (foreground).

Chapter house roofs, Fontevraud abbey, September 2003. Can you see the pigeon?

It seems that France may be entering another confinement (lockdown) very soon. The president was expected to make a decision today, but nothing is certain at this point. I'm planning to run some errands today in advance of things potentially getting difficult. The car is loaded for another run to the déchetterie (dump). Nothing heavy this time, just some bulky things and a bunch of cardboard. I have to go to our insurance office and pay the car insurance bill. The online payment site isn't taking my American credit card. I've had this problem before. And I have a few things I want from the hardware store. The other thing I need is a haircut, so I'll have to try to get an appointment in case the salon has to shut down. Again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


Here is an exterior view of the chevet (apse) of the abbey church at Fontevraud. You may be able to identify the three windows at the top of yesterday's photo. Rounded arches are typical of the romanesque architectural style, but in the transept I can see slight points on the arched windows, an indicator of the emerging gothic style.

Columns, buttresses, and arches. Fontevraud abbey church, September 2003.

We're below freezing by a couple of degrees again this morning. I don't mind because the puddles will be frozen over and the dirt road will be dry. No muddy paws this morning.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Le chevet

The chevet (apse) of a catholic church contains the chancel, the choir, the ambulatory, and, often, apsidal chapels. This is a shot of the upper portion of the apse in the abbey church at Fontevraud. The church is not a cathedral. In fact, it's technically not even a church, having been "supressed" at the time of the French revolution.

Inside the apse of the church at Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

The complex was converted to use as a prison in the nineteenth century, then became the property of the French Ministry of Culture in 1963. According to Wikipedia, a major restoration was done in the 1970s and the complex opened to the public in 1985.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Inside the abbey church

Tired of these yet? This is the interior of the abbatiale (abbey church) at Fontevraud. Construction of the church began in the twelfth century. It's built mostly in the romanesque architectural style.

The nave of the abbey church at Fontevraud, September 2003. The people are gathered around the tomb of Eleanor and Henry.

This morning our outdoor thermometer reads zero, freezing. I'm sure it's colder out in the vineyards. And it's my morning to walk with Tasha. It's also a hunt day, but now that the days are getting longer, we can get out and back before the hunters arrive. Unless there's an organized hunt. They start earlier.

It will be interesting to see how frozen things are. The ground is saturated after two days of decent rain. It might be too warm to freeze, or not.

Saturday, January 23, 2021


This is one of the arcades that define the cloister at the Fontevraud abbey. The photo has special significance for us because the woman standing is our friend Cheryl who passed away several years ago. She was among the first of our friends to come and visit us after we moved here.

Cloître Sainte-Marie, Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

My pulled back muscle feels much better now. The pain has faded to a soreness that is all but gone, depending on how I move. I knew that I was going to have trouble with that broken down lawnmower, but I'm very happy to have it gone.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Steeple chase

I find that, sometimes, taking the color out of a photo makes it better. Not that there was much color in this image to begin with. These are steeples and the bell tower at Fontevraud abbey. The sky and the slate roofs came out with a blue tint. Just toning down the blue didn't do much for me, so I took all the color out, adjusted the contrast a little, and I like the shot much better.

Steeples, Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

When I first switched over to digital photography, I used Adobe Photoshop Elements to adjust my photos. I didn't do anything fancy, just cropping, rotating to fix bad angles, and applying some color and lighting adjustments. These days, I'm shooting in RAW format and using Adobe Lightroom to "develop" the images before exporting them to the JPG format for posting on the blog. I'm sure that I don't use Lightroom to its full potential, but not being a professional, it doesn't matter much. There are people on the internet that offer tutorials and hints for using the software and most of what I've learned has come that way.

I shot these older images from Fontevraud with a pocket camera in JPG format. That means that the camera's internal software made the "developing" choices for me and that there was less "information" in the photo to manipulate later. The RAW format gives me a lot more control. Still, many problems just can't be fixed with software. It helps to take a good photograph in the first place. I'm still working on that.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

La cour Saint-Benoît

This isn't the cloister, but another courtyard inside the abbey complex at Fontevraud. I don't have much to say about it, but I liked the way that the potted shrubs were arranged.

La cour St.-Benoît at Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

I went to the dump as planned on Wednesday morning. The line to get in was long, but it moved quickly enough. I had to ask the attendant to help me lift the old lawnmower up and into the dumpster. He was really nice, I could not have done it myself. Still, in the process, I managed to pull a back muscle. Ugh. Ibuprofen helped.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tarte aux pommes

Last week, I had some leftover applesauce in the fridge and some leftover pie dough in the freezer, so I decided to make a tarte. When I make pie crust, I always have some left over, so I freeze it. When there's enough, I can thaw it, roll it out, and make another crust. I spread the applesauce onto the blind-baked crust then layer on some sliced fresh apples. Then it's into the oven until the apples are cooked. I glazed this one with Ken's home-made plum jelly.

The last piece of apple tart.

Now I have a few apples left, so I'm thinking of making a little compote. That's a fancy word for chunky applesauce.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Eternal rest

Yesterday's post of an alter or tomb at the Fontevraud abbey got some interesting comments, chief among them that fellow blogger Mitchell's partner is a descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II Plantagenet. The former king of England and his wife are buried in the abbey, and their gisants (tomb effigies) lie above their crypt.

The gisants of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England at Fontevraud abbey.

If you're a student of European history or have seen the 1968 film "The Lion in Winter," you probably know their story, so I won't go into it here. I'm in the latter camp. One year, upon our return from a vacation in France during which we visited Chinon and Fontevraud abbey, I was battling jet lag and unable to sleep. I turned on the television and, just by chance, that movie came on and I watched it. I don't think I had seen it before. An eerie coincidence.

My favorite line from the film: “I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a very knowledgeable family.” --Prince Geoffrey.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Fontevraud abbey

Here's a flashback to the fall of 2003, shortly after we moved to France. A friend was visiting and we spent a lot of time tooling around our region exploring châteaux and churches and villages. And cafés and restaurants. I posted a smaller, more severely cropped, version of this photo back in 2010.

Inside the Fontevraud abbey, September 2003.

I don't know what it is, but it's inside the abbey church at Fontevraud, not far from Chinon. I liked how the candles mimicked the columns on the sculpted stone. If I remember correctly, we had our dog, Collette, with us. Ken stayed outside the abbey walking the dog around and sipping wine in a café while our friend C. and I went inside for a look. We had visited this place once before, so he wasn't missing out.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The sky's on fire

Well, no, it isn't. It just looked that way on Saturday morning as the sun rose. I had to move fast, and the few photos I took don't communicate any of the drama I felt as the light intensified. I should have taken a video. After a few minutes, the vibrant colors dulled and faded into a more familiar gray.

Looking southeast toward the sunrise on Saturday.

Later in the morning, we got some snow. Very fine flakes fell for about a minute, then it was over. We had some rain overnight.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Late bloomer

The "Christmas" cactus around the house are starting to bloom. This is not new. I once (ok, more than once) referred to them as "Presidents' Day" cactus because they like to bloom in February. This photo is from last March. Today's cacti have nice pink buds, but very few open flowers right now. They'll get better as we get closer to Presidents' day, which this year is February 15, about a month from now.

Bloomin' cactus.

There's snow going on somewhere, but not here. At least not yet. We're on the line between snow and rain. My money's on rain.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Collégiale Saint-Aignan

Here's a gratuitous shot of Saint-Aignan's church. It's called une collégiale, a church operated by a college of canons. Not being a Catholic, I'm not really sure what that means other than that there's no resident priest in town.

La collégiale de Saint-Aignan.

Our brief spell of mild weather comes to an end this morning. Temperatures should be dropping through the day. There's even a slight chance of some snow, but nothing significant.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I see you

Until last fall, the view of this house from our deck was obscured by two very tall pine trees. Our neighbor has since had those trees removed. And now that the leaves have fallen from the other trees, this is what we see. Fortunately for us, the neighbor who owns this house does not live in it. She uses it for holidays and summer visits. When she's here, she's very discreet. We hope she has no plans to sell.

The view should be blocked a little better when the maple and other leaves come back in the spring.

I'm looking forward to spring and the return of leaves to see how much we'll be able to see when summer comes. This view is of the back of the house, a bedroom, bath, and w.c. on the main floor, and a couple of skylights in the attic bedrooms. For eighteen years, we could pretend there wasn't a house over there. No longer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

WABAC Wednesday

As Mr. Peabody might say, let's step into the WABAC (or Wayback) machine... Here we go, all the way back to the year 2016. I was in New York City seeing the inside of the Guggenheim Museum for the first time. I went more to see the building than the art. Good thing, because most of the art was gone. They were preparing a new installation on the building's iconic spiral ramp.

Black and white treatment inside the Guggenheim.

My friend and I did get to see the art in the museum's "new" (1992) wing. Then we went down the street to the Neue Galerie to see Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, also known as "The Woman in Gold" thanks to a British movie about it, and Edvard Munch's The Scream. Photos were prohibited.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

La gelée

The past few mornings have been very frosty. With morning lows below freezing, it's no surprise. Once the sun comes out (when it does), the frost melts away pretty quickly, except in places that stay shaded all day. Heavy frosts remind us that it's winter without the mess of an actual snowfall. And, we are told, freezes are good for helping to reduce the populations of insect and plant pests.

The frosty view of a neighbor's property from our deck just after sunrise on Monday morning.

A weather system is moving in today from the Atlantic that will put an end to our frosty mornings, at least for a while. We're expecting highs close to 10ºC (50ºF) with some rain over the next few days. I'm sure, however, that winter will be back before too long.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Forgotten foto

I took this picture almost a year ago during a trip back to upstate New York for my aunt's funeral. When I travel to New York, I like to try the local wines. This was a short trip, so I didn't have time to try very many. This is one of the few that I did.

Glenora Finger Lakes Chardonnay.

Glenora Winery is in central New York's Finger Lakes region, on the western shore of Seneca Lake. It's just north of Watkins Glen State Park at the southern end of the lake. The waterfall on the label is Glenora Falls on Big Stream, not far from the winery. The chardonnay was good, crisp and fruity, if I remember correctly.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Bird watching

Now that the weather's turned cold, I put the feeders out so that the little birds in our neighborhood will stop by for a meal. One of the feeders hangs from the deck railing just outside the sliding glass door in the living room. We get a good look at the blue tits, robins (the small European variety), and finches that visit throughout the day. Tasha and Bert like to watch.

The dog is entertained, the cat is thinking about lunch.

We have three feeders. One seed dispenser hangs from one of the maple trees out front. The feeder on the deck is a wire cage that holds suet balls. I hang another seed dispenser above the real fake well out back. I still have to get that one filled and out there. Maybe today.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Socked in

This is the view we had all day on Friday. The fog did not burn off and we were stuck under the inversion layer. We're expecting more of the same today.

A dark and gray winter's day.

The air is still and sounds are muffled. At one point during my morning walk with Tasha, the silence was broken by the faint sound of flapping wings as a flock of small birds flew just overhead. It's a sound I've heard before, unfamiliar, kind of eerie, especially when it comes from behind and gets closer. Once I saw the flock, my apprehension passed and the birds vanished into the fog. Tasha didn't even notice them.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Ten years ago today

It was very much like it is today. It's cold, just below freezing. At this hour, before sunrise, the sky should be clear, but the stars are obscured by a thick fog layer. Temperature inversions trap winter fog on the ground. It could burn off after the sun rises, or not. The air is still and there is little to be heard outside.

The vineyard road at sunrise, 8 January 2011.

The people who work in the vineyard are out there each day methodically cutting last year's canes from the vine trunks. That will continue through February and into March. Seasonal workers will pull the cut canes from the vines and line them up between rows for mulching later on (some of the smaller growers do the whole process without hired help).

I've started putting seed out for the birds that over-winter here. Most of them are tits, robins, or finches of one variety or another. There are other birds, of course (wood pigeons, doves, blackbirds), but they don't visit the feeders.

We move at winter's pace and venture not far from home.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Galette des rois

Wednesday was the Epiphany on the Catholic calendar (by the way, neither of us is Catholic). As usual, I made the traditional "kings cake," called une galette des rois, for our dessert. It's made with pâte feuilletée (flaky pastry), around a filling of frangipane (almond paste).

The finished galette.

The pastry is relatively easy to make. It takes a few hours only because it has to be rolled and folded and allowed to rest multiple times. When the dough is ready, I use a dessert plate to cut two circles, spread the filling on one, add the fève (prize or "bean"), then seal the two disks with an egg wash and bake it.

The assembled galette just before baking.

I let this year's galette get a little too done. The egg wash on top started to burn, but I caught it in time. We cut the cake and enjoyed it (we ate half), but neither of us got the fève in our piece. In fact, we could see it in the part we haven't eaten yet. We'll eat the rest today.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Apropos of nothing

I've got no new photos to share, so here's an old one. I've reworked it so that it's not exactly the same version that was posted back in 2018. I took the photo during an evening river cruise on the Seine in Paris.

That's a curious name for a boat.

It's been a cold few days here and the forecast is for even colder (below freezing) lows toward the end of the week. Morning walks are refreshingly brisk, as long as the wind stays calm. I don't see any precipitation in the forecast, neither rain nor snow.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

A light dusting

When it got light outside on Monday morning, we noticed that it was snowing very gently. There was no wind, the flakes were small, but it was coming down. Tasha and I had a nice walk in the falling snow. It wasn't sticking to the road and other bare spots, but there was a light frosting on the vine trunks, posts, hedges, roofs, and some grassy spots. It was subtle and beautiful.

Monday morning's view from our guest room window.

After about an hour, the snow turned to rain and melted away the little bit of snow that had accumulated. Not a big weather event by any measure, but it was pretty and a reminder that it's winter.

Monday, January 04, 2021

My home town

A friend took this photo of the New York State capitol building out his office window after a recent snowstorm. He posted the photo on his Instagram and Facebook feeds, and I asked him if he would mind if I posted it here.

The southern facade of the New York State capitol in Albany. Photo by Fran Kramer.

Construction of the capitol building was completed in 1899. It's the second capitol building since Albany was made the capital city in 1797 and it's one of eleven US state capitols without a dome. It's thought that the building's design was inspired in part by Paris' city hall.

I grew up in and around the city of Albany. This and other historic buildings around it are fixtures in my memories of home. After graduating from high school in 1977, I got a job in one of the brand new office buildings on the plaza where this photo was taken. I walked through the capitol every day on my way to and from the bus stop. Back then there was none of the security that's commonplace now. Anyone could walk into the capitol building without being stopped. I walked past the old-fashioned shoe-shine station, banks of old-timey telephone booths, a newsstand, and the building's cafeteria before taking the escalator down into the plaza's below-ground concourse and on to my very modern office building. I had several job offers that year; I chose the downtown job because it was in the plaza next to the capitol.

Albany is not a big city; the metropolitan area has just over a million people, the city itself just under 100,000. The main employer is the state government, but the city is also home to significant higher education (the state university system is headquartered downtown, its Albany campus is located uptown), health care, and high-tech employers.

I feel like I just wrote an elementary school book report.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Color my world

The holiday decorations are down and put away. I like to do that on New Year's Day. I know some people like to keep their decorations up through the twelfth night, and I've known others that keep their decorations up into February. Yikes.

Santa's gone now, but the candles remain.

So now, the only colorful lights in the house are votive candles. This candle holder came with clear glass votive holders. I replaced them with these colorful cups since we've been in France. They help to make the dark days of winter a little more bright.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The sea food diet

I see food, I eat it. Badum-bum. Here are several photos of our New Year's Eve lunch. We tried to have mussels, but were disappointed not to find any in the markets. For some reason, the season ended earlier than usual. Our disappointment, however, was short lived.

Shrimp, heads and shells intact, pre-cooked, ready to peel and eat.

I found these nice shrimp at the supermarket and the price was right, so I got 500 grams (just over a pound) for our appetizer. We ate them with a sriracha mayonnaise dip. Hot and spicy!

A nice salmon filet.

For the main course, a slab of Norwegian salmon, just under 500 grams (about a pound). No silver skin on the bottom of the filet, and only a few bones easily pulled out before cooking. Ken cooked the fish à l'unilatéral as they say (cooking only on one side).

Salmon with piccata sauce.

Ken dressed the salmon with a kind of piccata sauce. Butter, white wine, capers, lemon juice, and some dill. He added some chopped fresh parsley just before serving.

The main course is served.

Along with the fish we had some steamed green beans and a couple of boiled potatoes left over from another meal. The wine came from Provence, down south. So, in the end, our New Year's Eve meal was a delicious success!

Friday, January 01, 2021

Bonne année 2021 !

Wishing you and yours all the best for a healthy, happy, and all-around better new year!

Snowflakes on our deck railing, January 2016.