Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Depot Vente La Fauvette, Chatellerault

A couple of weeks ago we had 10 minutes free in Chatellerault so we called in to our friends Nathalie and Fabien Jouffriault. They run the marvellous trove of treasures that is the Dépôt Vente La Fauvette. They are second-hand dealers and the shop has all sorts of things for not very much money.

Fabien directing traffic at a classic car event.

La Fauvette has been going for over 20 years, owned and run by the Jouffriault family. The business is called La Fauvette ('the Warbler') because the dance hall across the road was called that. Fabien had a sheet metal workshop which he closed in 1993 in order to follow his passion. His father had been an itinerant broccanteur and Fabien himself was a collector of old cars, enamel signs, cans and old games. He likes stuff that people have used.

 A racing shell hanging from the ceiling and a metal rooster made by a local artist.

They started out modestly, with just a small truck. All the family helped out. Brothers worked on the electricity, sisters wielded paintbrushes. Today you can find everything (except clothing) at the dépôt vente, either being sold directly or placed at there on commission by private vendors. Fabien has a regatta boat that was once in the French championship. He once had a merry-go-round and tourist train with 450 metres of track. Nathalie remembers riding in it with the children. She says Fabien is just a big kid and that's why they do it.

 Wicker baskets.

It's not always easy, and since internet sales of second-hand goods has really got underway, they have serious competition. Fabien also notes that old furniture is selling less well than it used to, with fewer buyers coming from the US or Italy since the global financial crisis.

The front of the shop.

Nevertheless, La Fauvette is still there when others have closed. They have a loyal clientele, some of whom come every day and treat the place as a sort of social meeting place. Nowadays they've been going long enough that several generations of some families are regular clients.


I'm not surprised the clientele is so loyal. First of all, Fabien has a good eye. Some of the stuff for sale is impossibly quirky and just makes you laugh, but if I was looking for good quality affordable garden furniture or baking tins or a bicycle for example, this is where I would come. Second, Fabien, Nathalie, their daughters and son are the nicest imaginable people -- funny, down to earth and kind, and a very closeknit family. I highly recommend a visit to the shop. You'll enjoy it.

Nathalie behind the counter.

Dépôt-vente de la Fauvette
35, rue Jean-de-la-Fontaine.
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9.30 am - 12.00 pm and 2.30 pm - 7.00 pm, Sunday 2.30 pm - 7.00 pm.

 If only we had enough money to renovate the barn. 
This ostrich would be perfect for one corner of the living room.

The children regularly join in the fun.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Still No Red Cars...

Simon is still doing Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

Some more cars from the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo:

A 1925 RL Super Sport with a brush aluminium body by Castagna. I don't know anyone who wouldn't look good in one of these, and that includes me. It's not as big as first appearances would have you believe, being about the same size as our grand ladies. More about this car here.

This car isn't red either: it's a peachy pink 1955 Giulietta 4 door berline (saloon). 1.3litre, 4 speed gearbox, and the sensible sister of last week's spider. I find it difficult to believe that once upon a time cars as pretty as this were "ordinary".

An orange 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal. Not my cup of tea, but I do know people who go weak at the knees at the thought of this car.

Next week, maybe, some red cars.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

An Australian Robber Fly

A female Robber Fly Cerdistus sp (Asilidae).

This is a medium sized species of robber fly, perhaps a couple of centimetres from hypodermic style mouth to the tip of her long sword like ovipositor. I've never been bitten by one, but apparently they are perfectly capable of injecting a person with their venom. This venom will almost instantly paralyse their normal insect prey, but in a person would just cause a painful itchy lump lasting a couple of days.

According to my robber fly expert contact who kindly identified this fly for me there are hundreds of undescribed species in the genus Cerdistus. This one was photographed in Ben Boyd National Park on the New South Wales coast. 

Our posts on Sundays have an Australian theme. You can read our other Australian posts here.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Frost Damage

On the night of 26/27 April we had a surprisingly heavy frost. The next day reports from Bourgueil to Amboise started coming in that the vines had been hit hard. Some vineyards in Bourgeuil have lost their entire crop because the vines will not recover this year from the frost damage just as the vines had burst into leaf, a critical moment in the vineyard cycle. Other particularly badly affected areas include Saint Georges sur Cher, Cravant-les-Coteaux and Montlouis.

Lady Orchid (Fr. Orchis pourpre), frosted.

The damage was oddly patchy in our orchard. The table grape vines, which were not yet in leaf, have crispy brown leaf buds. My guess is that they will more or less recover and give me a crop, but I could be wrong. To my eyes the fruit trees don't show any significant damage. The cherries are in full flower and some bunches have gone a bit brown, but there's no leaf burning. The apples have only just started to flower and would have only been pink buds when it frosted. They look perfect. The pears had almost finished flowering and don't look damaged. The plums flower too high up so I can't tell how they fared, but they too had almost finished flowering.

Many of the Early Spider Orchids have been zapped by the frost. The flowers are brown and shrivelled and the stems limp. The Lady Orchid has equally been knocked. I've never known these two species to be frosted before, so that's an indication of the unlucky timing of the frost and the low temperature (as low as -6°C were reported in some places). Of course, I still have Bee, Lizard and Pyramidal orchids to come in the orchard, as well as a couple of other less abundant species. They are unaffected by this weather.

Early Spider Orchid (Fr. Ophrys araignée), frosted. 
They should look like these, photographed 18 April.

The newspaper reports that the last time there was a frost this severe at this time was in 1994 and it may even be as bad as the legendarily bad 1991 frost. Local market gardeners have not been too badly affected by the frost, but they are struggling with the prolonged cold and the slow growth of their produce. The fruit orchardists around Azay-le-Rideau say they won't be able to estimate the damage for another couple of weeks, but they are not too optimistic, since the vineyards around them have been hard hit.

Wine producers of course keep an eye on the weather forecast at this time of year, but there aren't many options in the Loire to protect from frost. Late frost that causes real damage is relatively rare, so wine producers are allowed to use things like candles, frost pots and fans, but many don't or can't invest in infrastructure to protect against frost which they are hardly ever going to have to use. It is forbidden in any case to use any sort of fleece protection or sprinklers like they can use in other countries. For more about protection against frost see my post of 15 April 2011, when we saw frost candles in vineyards near Saint Aignan.

I've emailed my friend Véronique at Domaine de la Chaise in Saint Georges sur Cher, one of the areas which seems to have been badly affected. I know they had some damage the night of 18 April, but she hasn't got back to me yet about this week's frost. I am fearing the worst.

The département announced yesterday they have made available an emergency fund of €200 000 for affected wine producers, although they have not been specific about how this fund will be allocated. The total damage bill is estimated to be at least €100 million (which includes lost revenue on this year's harvest, the impact of which will be felt from next spring when the 2016 vintage is released). Many winemakers are preparing to have their income halved next year.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The French Can Make Beer!

As a general rule French beer is fairly unimpressive stuff (sometimes even less impressive than Australian beer!) This situation is starting to change (in both countries) with micro-breweries popping up all over and producing some very drinkable brews. But nevertheless, in general, beer in France is dreadful industrial stuff.

Saturday was the Fête de la Saint-Georges in Preuilly-sur-Claise. We ran into our friend Gérard at the fair and he asked us if we were having lunch there. He urged us to do so as they were putting on carbonnade flamande (Flemish beef and beer stew), tarte au sucre (sugar tart) and a 'special beer'. So we stayed for lunch, joined by Antoinette and Niall.

The 'special beer' turned out to be 3 Monts. I've seen it in the supermarket but never bought it and never drunk it.

3 Monts Flemish beer made by the Brasserie de Saint Sylvestre.

The first challenge was opening it. Simon and I had never seen a clip and cork arrangement quite like this but luckily Antoinette misspent part of her youth in the Low Countries and knew how to tackle it.

The beer was bright golden in colour, with an enormous head. It was a very enjoyable quaff and went perfectly with the beef stew. Later when I got home I looked the brewery up and it turned out to be a very interesting story.

3 Monts is a bière de garde ('keeping beer'). The term used in English for this type of beer is 'pale ale'. 3 Monts is a typical example of this type of beer, produced by the Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre, a small family owned brewery in Nord-Pas de Calais, the French part of Flanders. The name 3 Monts refers to the three mountains, equidistant from the brewery. These three mountains were too steep for beer to be delivered by horsedrawn dray and the mountain villages had to wait until after the Second World War for regular supplies to be delivered by truck.

The challenging but apparently traditional cork arrangement.

There has been a brewery in the town of Saint-Sylvestre Cappel since at least 1600. Generally speaking the brewery workers are locals born and bred, and the ingredients such as the hops and barley malt local too. The population is around 1100 and the town also has an ice-cream factory and apple orchards. The hillside site has natural springs yielding potable water and there are still two breweries located in the town, even after the decline in the trade in the 20th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 2000 breweries in French Flanders, but today only 30 remain. 

In September 1939 the owner of the brewery, who was the grandfather of the current owners, was drafted into the army, along with five of his employees. His sixteen year old son stepped into his shoes and ran the brewery for the duration of the war along with the remaining eight employees. After the war the young man decided to formalise his training by going to 'brewing school' and it is largely due to his modernising of the brewery that it survives today. Since 1985 his two sons, also trained brewers, have run the brewery, and it is them who launched the 3 Monts beer. Its popularity has grown from Flanders, then France and now it is sold all over the world, including Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia.

For those of you interested in the nerdier aspects of beer tasting, here is the link to the reviews on Beer Advocate. Basically, everyone loves this beer.


There was an earthquake in the Charente yesterday. The epicentre was at Muron, which is 162km south-west of Preuilly sur Claise (and less importantly, 30km south-east of la Rochelle), and was 5.2 magnitude. It was the strongest earthquake in France in two years, but it appears that nothing was broken. There is more here (assuming the link still works!)

We felt nothing.


 A la cuisine hier: Avocado mashed with lime juice, salt , pepper and cumin spread on Laurence's sourdough multigrain, with lettuce and wafer thin slices of radish.

Rump steak marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and finely chopped rosemary then cooked at thermonuclear in a cast iron pan. Sliced and served over dressed lettuce and cherry tomatoes.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Lupins (and other legumes)

We had to go over the other side of Chatellerault the other day and wending our way back we encountered a number of pale lavender fields. So we stopped to take photos and I identified the crop as lupins. We've never seen lupins being grown here before. Most years I spot a number of fields of fava beans (field beans, broad beans) and last year for the first time I saw crops of peas and soy beans (Chris Luck had some interesting things to say about soy bean cultivation in France recently on his blog). Further east, around Issoudun, lentils are widely grown.

These lupins appear to be White Lupin Lupinus albus graecus, also known as Field Lupin. White lupins have a spring and a winter form so I imagine that explains why they are flowering in April (ie they are the winter form, sown to overwinter and flower in the spring, like canola). This isn't a traditional pulse in central France, but I've seen them for sale in the supermarket in the North African section. There is a significant Portuguese population in the area too, and they appreciate White Lupin, so I suspect this crop is for human consumption, not animal feed.

Lupins should thrive here because there is already a local species, Narrow-leaved Lupin Lupinus angustifolius, now very rare in the wild (its beautiful royal blue flowers can be seen on the roadside opposite the entrance to LeClerc at Ville aux Dames in the summer). Lupins like the sandy soil that occurs in pockets in the river valleys. Ironically, Narrow-leaved Lupin has been developed as a crop in Australia and 85% of the world's production of this species is in Western Australia.