Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Villandry Looking Splendid

The late summer planting at Villandry is at its peak now and the famous potager garden is looking splendid. This year there are a lot of very dark purpley black plants set off with bright lime green ones and a sprinkling of soft grey greens.

Looking back over the potager from the herb garden towards the chateau.
 Curly kale, celery and artichokes combine in a striking 
contrast of colour and leaf form.
 Unfortunately looking straight into the afternoon sun for this photo from the belvedere.
Planting pansies and wallflowers to overwinter.
 Sweeping the box hedging to get rid of soil and weeds which have accidentally been dropped on it while preparing the bed.

Monday, 12 October 2015


The Alpini are elite mountain troops in the Italian Army. They are the oldest active specialist mountain warfare troops in the world and were established in 1872 to defend the Italian borders with France and Austria. The men are recruited from the mountain regions of Italy.

A pair of Alpini guarding the entrance to the cathedral in Milan.
They are easy to identify because of their distinctive cap decorated with a raven feather. We saw them all over Milan at places which might be at risk from terror attacks, such as the cathedral and railway stations. Often they were not carrying guns but they wear bullet proof vests and carry radios.

Their most valorous combat was during World War I, when they defended a 600 km stretch of the highest alpine territory. Twelve metre deep snow was not uncommon and many men were killed by avalanches. Their bodies are sometimes found even today. These tough mountain men and their mules created walkways, cable cars, mountain railways and roads which are still maintained for the use of modern climbers.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Do Not Enter the Water

This Saltwater Crocodile, not yet fully grown male I believe, is the one and only crocodile I have ever seen in the wild. It had hauled itself out to catch some early morning rays in Paperbark Swamp, part of the World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia.

There are signs warning visitors about crocodiles in many places in the Park. They say:

! Crocodile Safety
Crocodiles inhabit this area.
Attacks cause injury or death.
  • Do not enter the water.
  • Keep away from the water's edge.
  • Do not clean fish near the water's edge.
  • Remove all fish and food waste.
This one was photographed from a small open metal boat with an outboard motor, known as a 'tinnie' in Australia. I assume what we were doing was fine, because we had a park ranger with us. It didn't move a muscle as we passed.

Apparently the number of fatal attacks on humans by crocodiles last year was a record in the Northern Territory, with four deaths, two of them in Kakadu and one just outside the park.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Chaumussay in Print

A few weeks ago we had an email from Michel Brouard. He is a blog reader who delurked when we posted photographs of the wonderful sculptures on his family home in Chaumussay. He told us in a comment that they were the work of his brother Alain, who is a sculpture living in Brittany. Some time later we were at the brocante (trash and treasure) in Preuilly and he came up to us and identified himself.

The inscription reads: 'Have good flight with these adorable little creatures...
Regards, M. Brouard.'
In his email he asked for our postal address and said he had just published a book on the history of Chaumussay that he thought we would be interested in. I responded as requested and very soon after a parcel turned up in our letter box. It contained not one but two books, both by Michel. There was a nice note with them and an explanation.

The inscription reads: 'For Susan and Simon, a walk through the history and stories of this pretty village in the Claise valley, regards, M. Brouard 9/15.'
He lives in Switzerland where he works as a scriptwriter and director at a regional television station, but he also writes novels, and most recently, a history of Chaumussay. He grew up in Chaumussay and his latest novel, Le Dernier vol des frelons ('The Hornets' Last Flight') is set in a barely fictionalised Chaumussay.

Au Temps de Chaumussay: Chroniques illustrées d'un village ('The Life and Times of Chaumussay: An illustrated chronicle of a village') tells the story of a bucolic village far from any of the main thoroughfares, seemingly timeless, set on the charming River Claise, in picture postcard countryside. This little village has a rich and curious history and Michel has researched documents, photos and personal testimonies to tell its story. We've discovered several things we'd never heard of before thanks to the book and I am sure we will use it as a resource for any number of blog posts about Chaumussay.

The novel Le dernier vol des frelons sets Chaumussay (as Saint-Valentin) in the centre of an archaeological detective story involving the discovery of a skeleton with its hands cut off. The heroine is a young archaeologist who grew up in the local chateau. After being asked by the mayor to look at the skeleton and advise him she becomes involved in a complex plot which features a peculiar professor and a Swiss sect. Events escalate and despite her courage and humour she is caught up in a frightening situation. I'm about half way through and definitely want to find out what happens in the end! It's fun trying to identify real places and people as they appear in the book, and I'm enjoying the fact that there is a supporting caste of well observed insects.

Michel says that the books are available at the newsagents in Preuilly and Le Grand Pressigny, or directly from him. The history of Chaumussay is €20 and the novel €15. If you would like his contact details just email me and I will send them to you.