Monday, 20 October 2014

La Voie Romaine

Last week we stopped off at a piece of Roman road at Saint Cyr sur Loire on the outskirts of Tours. It's part of the main road that ran between Poitiers - Tours - Le Mans, and connected Spain with northern Gaul. Bits of this road pop up all over the place -- the new high speed rail line had to spend time on an archaelogical dig near Nouâtre for instance. For a full description of where the road goes see here. But what is truly extraordinary about this particular section of the road is that it is still in use as a road, with its original Roman era surface. Local residents come and go on it all the time. 

I particularly enjoy that a cycle path has been laid down one side of the road.
Should you need any help planning your Roman style journey, this website will help, and this one goes even further, allowing you to work out how long it will take, depending on whether you are walking, marching, riding or going by boat, and how much it will cost. Hours of fun and displacement activity...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Looking Across the Canyon

Kings Canyon -- dramatic, hot, red.
Firewood: Our firewood was delivered yesterday -- 3 cubic metres (known as stères in French), which added to what we had left over gives us about 5 cubic metres, plus another cubic metre of wood that came from a tree felled by friends and is too fresh to use. This won't get us through the winter, so I'll be getting another delivery probably in January. The woodman, who is a local farmer who does firewood as a sideline, has given up trying to deliver with his tractor down our narrow driveway with no turning space. This time he made 6 trips, delivering half a stère at a time in his station wagon. It is oak, cost €150, and was cut into 50 cm lengths for us by the woodman. He also splits it when necessary, if the logs are more than 15 cm in diameter, which is the recommended optimum size for our stove. The wood comes from the Forêt de Preuilly, which is sustainably managed for lumber, firewood, biodiversity and leisure by the Office National des Forêts.
Car News: Célestine is back home, with a working gearbox. She still has some issues which may have contributed to the gearbox failure, but for the moment she is on the road again. Claudette is over at the Doctor's now, with a long list of relatively minor maintenance to be done.
Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Up on the Escarpment

 Looking from one side of the canyon to the other.
Kings Canyon, Northern Territory, Australia.
French Expressions: The other day the subject of feral cats came up in conversation. I asked my friend Jean Claude, who is a retired ecologist, what the word for 'feral' is in French. Because we were talking specifically about cats he said 'haret'. I mentioned to our deputy mayor, Gérard that we have une chatte haret living in the back yards of our neighbours and she has now had two litters of 2-4 kittens. Gérard asked what the problem was! Luckily Jean Claude was there to explain exactly what the problem is. Gérard asked me if anyone was feeding them. I said 'no', but in fact, they are in very good condition, so maybe someone is. I've no idea who though, as neither Ghislaine nor the Leroys like cats, and I'm not going to feed them on the grounds that it will just lead to a population explosion. Gérard then asked what one could do about them, and that's a much trickier question. Ideally, one wants to trap, neuter and return, so that the territory is occupied but not overrun with breeding cats. But feral cats are notoriously difficult to trap, and who pays for the neutering? Presumably one approaches the nearest local cat charity, who may or may not have the resources to deal with the problem. Next time I run into the local vet I'll have a chat (no pun intended) with him about it.

Further reading tells me that the word haret only applies to cats. The general word for 'feral' is marron.
Loire Valley Nature: Photos of a female Sweat Bee Halictus sp visiting an Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes in our orchard added to both the Sweat Bee and the Early Spider Orchid entries. The behaviour is a bit of a mystery, as theoretically this species of orchid uses sexual deception to fool male Andrena spp bees into 'mating' with the flowers, thus achieving pollination. I don't know what would have attracted the Halictus bee to the flowers, but it was clearly very excited and tried every which way to get into the flowers. Christian Schmid-Egger, from HymIS, had never seen or heard of this behaviour before either, so it is presumably previously unrecorded.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Tours Cathedral

Like most cathedrals, Tours' is well worth visiting. The stained glass ranges from the early mediaeval to the contemporary and the building houses one of the most highly regarded monuments of the early renaissance in France. On the day in July that we turned up to visit, we just missed what was apparently an impressive circus performance on the cathedral square involving a woman on a device that was a cross between a trapeze and a seesaw.

The first time we visited it was an absolutely arctic January day a few years ago. This visit was conducted in the far more pleasant ambient temperatures of early July, and was positively hot outside, cool and quiet inside. There was a steady stream of wedding parties entering and leaving. Some of the women were wearing the most extraordinary outfits, but unfortunately, one can't discreetly photograph or publish such things.

The cathedral building took 450 years to construct, and as such provides a nice romp through medieval and renaissance architectural styles, and especially stained glass styles, with the earliest window from 1267 and the latest from 2013. The recurring themes are of course Bible passages and the stories of the saints, especially Saint Martin and Saint Maurice, but you can also learn something of the society at the time the windows were made. There are royal symbols such as fleurs de lys, certain colours are significant, and there are scenes of everyday life. Stained glass techniques, although remaining basically the same over all this time, did develop a number of innovations which can be tracked using the windows in Tours cathedral. It's a remarkable and valuable repository of the history of stained glass.

I recommend taking a pair of binoculars if you want to get the best out of the stained glass. Most of the really old glass is very high and super detailed, so you need to look at it through the binoculars. There are numerous excellent panels explaining each of the windows.