Monday, 26 January 2015

The Kangaroo and the Emu

I am very pleased that those who wanted to use uniquely Australian animals rather than traditional heraldic beasts prevailed in 1908. Australian animals may be funny looking, but they are special, and anyway, heraldic lions always look gormless. Behind the animals are sprigs of wattle Acacia (known as mimosa in France), Australia's national flower. In the middle is a shield with the emblems of each of the states.

This representation is on the Commonwealth Bank building in Martin Place, Sydney.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

S'no Snow

We are using this photo today not because it has snowed, but because it hasn't.

In fact, it last snowed here on January 25th 2013. That's two years without any snow at all - not a single flocon.

To my mind, this is a rareity. Although it is really difficult to discover what the longest snow free period is, we have been told that last year was the first time in 30 years it didn't snow in Paris, and when we bought our house we were told it snows every year even if it doesn't settle.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Things we Never Said: Bastille Day

We did make it to Preuilly's retraite aux flambeaux, even if we didn't tell anyone about it at the time.

Medieval buildings: check. Flaming torches: check. And samba - of course.
As is customary, the townfolk gathered outside the Mairie at dusk, followed the pompiers and their flaming torches on a walk around town, and ended up with fireworks and a dance at the plan d'eau. A few people weren't there because the World Cup Final was being played that night, but those of us who did attend were treated to a proper samba dancer in blue glitz, feathers and a whole lot of shakin', along with the flames and drums.

Those who went on the retraite aux flambeaux didn't miss anything in the World Cup, either: the town had set up a TV projector at the plan d'eau, and we all arrived just as the final whistle blew. And hence before the goal. Fireworks were delayed until after the game finally finished, and for those not watching football (foot, soccer whatever you call it in your neck of the woods) there was an impromptu samba lesson.

A tent full of French people cheering for Germany.
(Yup, you read that right.)
If you have never been to a retraite aux flambeaux and live near Preuilly, do consider a visit. It's worth the effort.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Restoring Azay le Rideau

This year a three year programme to restore the roof and facades of the Chateau of Azay le Rideau begins. It follows the two year long restoration of the park back to its 1855 'English landscape' style.

 Restoring the terrace wall by the mirror pool.
In 2013 the Centre des monuments nationaux, who own and run the chateau, chose to invest nearly €15 million over the period 2013 - 2017 to improve the site. The first part of this restoration was the 7 ha park, classified as a National Monument in 1907. The restoration was based on an 1855 plan of the domaine and will allow the visitor to experience the parc paysager à l'anglaise.

Looking down the stream to the chateau on its island.
The soil has been improved and paths stabilised, facilitating disabled access. The opportunity to install cables and pipes for lighting and watering systems was taken while the ground was being dug up. The water for the irrigation will be extracted from the river. Paths will be lit by a network of lights along the edges.

Looking at the front of the 16th century chateau from the main gate.
As you emerge from the visitor centre you will be confronted by a massive bed of hydrangeas. On the lawn in front of the chateau the grass has been re-sown and will feature seasonal patches of brightly coloured daffodils, irises, tulips and perennials. The gardeners will only cut the grass three or four times over the season. The garden will be maintained without the use of pesticides. Numerous trees were coming to the end of their life and have been removed. They've been replaced based on the planting scheme shown in the 1855 plan. Four species of walnut have been planted, including a Black American Walnut, as well as Ash, Elm, Pagoda Tree and others.

The foreground of this view has been improved since this photo was taken several years ago.
The former kitchen garden of the Biencourt family will become a conservatoire of heritage Touraine vegetable varieties, cutting garden, scented garden and butterfly garden. L'île de la Rémonière will become an auxiliary space, from now on accessible by a foot bridge. Situated on the other side of the Indre it offers a new angle on the chateau. It's classified as a Natura 2000 nature reserve and allows visitors the possibility of seeing rare and protected plants and animals.

Clearing the mirror pool of algae in the summer.
Now the work on the park is finished everyone is looking forward to how splendid the new park will look in the spring, even if the building is swathed in scaffolding.
A la cuisine hier: Macaroons, of the sort Henri II might just about have recognised, rather marzipany, not the rainbow ganache filled puffs you see in pâtisseries today. I made three batches -- plain coconut, cranberry, and ginger and coconut. The plain ordinary ones were the best.

One of Simon's Shepherd's Pies from the freezer followed by rhubarb from a jar and homemade custard.
Changed Traffic Conditions: The signs went up today to block entry to the top of our street. Milliseconds after I took a photo of the new signs showing no entry and one way, someone sailed past me and the no entry sign in a 4 wheel drive and went down the street in the now forbidden direction.