Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Model Maréchal

While we were in Paris we visited the Army Museum, which is vast. The thing that first drew us there was the display of models made by Vauban of the fortifications he built for Louis XIV.

We had previous seen some Vauban models at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille (which has the second biggest collection) and had intended to see the rest at a display at the Grand Palais in 2012 (but didn't when we saw the queue out the door in perishing weather). We have also seen a number of the fortifications: at Lille, Calais, and Ile-Saint-Martin, where we stayed in a campsite built against the walls (as seen in the photo at the bottom of this post).

Maréchal Vauban (more properly Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban) was born in 1633 at Saint-Léger-de-Foucherets, France (now Saint-Léger-Vauban) the son of a family of the petty nobility. As a young man he enlisted as a Cadet in the army of the Prince de Condé, a rebel fighting against France. After being captured by royal troops in 1653 he changed sides, and in 1655 joined the newly-formed engineer corps in the army of Louis XIV. He proved himself to be a good soldier and brilliant engineer and had rapid promotion.

Vauban's statue - at the opposide end of les Invalides to the square named in his honour.
After the rebellion Vauban undertook his first fortification work, working on various places in Alsace-Lorraine (near the German border). In Nancy, he was involved in the demolition of fortifications, and saw new fortifications constructed at Alt-Breisach, on the Rhine.

When war broke out again it was against the Spanish in the Low Countries, and Vauban found himself on the front lines once more. He played an important part in the capture of the cities of Tournai, Douai and Lille, and was rewarded with a pension, a position in the Royal Guards and the governorship of the citadel of Lille, which he had constructed.

Ile Saint Martin from the sea - the models are about 1:600 and incredibly detailed.
He assumed the duties of the Commisary General of Fortifications and after the war in the Spanish Netherlands. His new duties took him all over France, inspecting existing fortifications and identifying new sites to be fortified. He became a trusted advisor of the king and worked closely with Louvois, Louis XIV's war minister. In this period of peace Vauban visited Roussillon to work on the fortifications there, but was also asked to advise the Duke of Savoy, at that point an ally of France, on fortifying his territory. This was unfortunate for France, which later went to war with the Duke.

Louis XIV went to war with the Dutch between 1672 and 1679, during which time Vauban proved himself as good at laying seige to towns as he was designing their defences. After the Dutch War, Vauban again set to work fortifying the new conquests and securing France's frontiers. He designed several fortresses during this time including Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Landau.

With the War of the Grand Alliance, Vauban gained the rank of Lieutenant-General and directed the siege of Philippsburg in 1688. After seeing much action during the war, he set about designing his last fortification work, the impressive Neuf-Brisach. This was a fortress town that was designed from scratch by Vauban, the inhabitants coming from the nearby town of Alt-Breisach, which had to be destroyed as a result of a treaty.

In 1703 Vauban was made a Maréchal of France, but was recalled from service later that year. In his retirement he wrote a treatise on fortification and siege warfare, which was reproduced in many different European languages and used for many years to come. In 1707 he published a controversial paper condemning the French government's unfair tax system and proposed a better system. His reforms were rejected by the king, and Vauban died shortly afterwards in 1707.

Ile-Saint Martin from inland. The campsite we visited in 2013 was just inside the nearest buttress.
Vaubin is commemorated by the over 300 citadels and fortified cities he improved the defences of, including Antibes (Fort Carré), Arras, Auxonne, Barraux, Bayonne, Belfort, Bergues, Citadel of Besançon, Bitche, Blaye, Briançon, Bouillon, Calais, Cambrai, Colmars-les-Alpes, Collioure, Douai, Entrevaux, Givet, Gravelines, Hendaye, Huningue, Joux, Kehl, Landau, Le Palais (Belle-Île), La Rochelle, Le Quesnoy, Lille, Lusignan, Le Perthus (Fort de Bellegarde), Luxembourg, Maastricht, Maubeuge, Metz, Mont-Dauphin, Mont-Louis, Montmédy, Namur, Neuf-Brisach, Perpignan, Plouezoc'h, Château du Taureau, Rocroi, Saarlouis, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Saint-Omer, Sedan, Toul, Valenciennes, Verdun, Villefranche-de-Conflent (town and Fort Liberia), and Ypres.

He directed the building of 37 new fortresses, and fortified military harbours, including Ambleteuse, Brest, Dunkerque, Freiburg im Breisgau, Lille (Citadel of Lille), Rochefort, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Fort Socoa), Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Toulon, Wimereux, Le Portel, and Cézembre.

Vauban is also commemorated in Paris by statues and is buried near to Napoleon, a singular honour for a man employed by Louis XIV.

A la cuisine hier: I made chocolate pots and had a small disaster. As I poured the hot water in to the bain marie I heard a crack, but couldn't see any damage to any of the jars and there was no sign of chocolate custard leaking. So I put the tray into the oven and cooked the pots. Once they were done I lifted each jar out of the water and onto a towel to dry. Number 4 made it to the towel, but its bottom hit the towel while I was still holding the pot up in the air. The entire base of the jar had broken off and there was chocolate custard everywhere.
Firewood Logistics: Our firewood supplier, who was due to make a delivery yesterday morning, rang at 8.30 am. He was worried that with all the rain the wood was very wet and would not burn well. He suggested I leave it out in the sun to dry off for the day. I didn't have anywhere to put it that gets the sun at this time of year, so he left me half a stere and said to leave it out to catch the breeze but to be sure to take it in to the garage before evening or it would get damp all over again in the night air. We agreed for rest of the delivery to stay at his place for a few days in the hopes that we get some fine weather and he will deliver it next week.
If any of our readers are a " registered elector who is a British citizen living overseas" - that is a British citizen who is registered to vote in British elections at their French address, can you please get in touch? I have paperwork that needs an attestation.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Musée de Cluny

Officially these days the Cluny museum is la Musée national du Moyen Age (the National Museum of the Middle Ages). It is a superb museum, and makes it into my top three Paris museums (the other two are the Louvre and the Orangerie, since you ask, and if you want my top five, add the Petit Palais and either the Rodin Museum or the Musée Jacquemart-André).

For all that, until our early February visit this year, we had not been there for 13 years. I was shocked at how long ago it was!

The building is the former Hotel de Cluny, that is, the town house belonging to the Benedictine abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, which itself stands on the foundations of some Roman baths. The museum is not large, but it is a rabbit warren of complicated levels, passageways and linked rooms, and it doesn't have a cafe. Its collections of tapestries, carved wood, stone and above all, ivory, stained glass and objects such as reliquaries are outstanding. They are also displayed so you can get right up close to objects. With things like the stained glass this is especially fun. Stained glass in situ is always up high. So being able to see tiny details is a real thrill.

I've chosen some personal favourites from the permanent collection to show you below. Simon would choose different objects, more stone and wood I am sure.

If people know anything about the Cluny it is the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries. They are justly world famous for the charm of their subject matter, the completeness of the set and the quality of the weaving. This one below is the last of the six, and the most mysterious. The others appear to represent the five senses, but the meaning of this one is uncertain. What does 'A mon seul desir' represent? In fact we know almost nothing about the tapestries. Stylistically they come from the late 15th century, but even stylistically they are unique in certain aspects. We have some hints about who commissioned them, but nothing certain. You could spend hours looking at all the detail and teasing out the riddles. I highly recommend the fictionalised account of their creation, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. You'll learn a lot about tapestry weaving and life in Europe in the late Middle Ages.

I chose the carved ivory casket with gilded copper fittings below not because it is the finest ivory carving in the collection, but because it is a secular object. By the early 14th century, when this was made, both men and women of aristocratic birth were addicted to courtly romance stories. All sorts of personal objects were decorated for the first time in centuries with scenes not from the Bible but with vignettes from tales with titles such as Assaut du Chateau d'Amour (Assault of the Chateau of Love). The Chateau d'Amour was defended by women who threw flowers...

More unicorns. The Cluny's collection includes three aquamaniles, for pouring water for handwashing before a meal. The one below is made of a copper alloy but they were often ceramic. This one is a unicorn and they were often in the form of fantastic animals or beautiful women. It is German and dates from the late 13th or early 14th century.

This instruction manual created to teach a late medieval German princeling how to fight is unexpectedly charming. The page at which it is open seems to be regularly changed. On the day we were there it was open with a fairly standard knightly thrust and parry manoeuvre being demonstrated on the right. The left is intriguing though. A girl armed with a slingshot is getting ready to bop a boy with a club, who is inexplicably standing in a hole... 

I chose the tapestry below (detail) not because it is one of my favourites, but because it has been so widely reproduced. You see small mass produced copies a couple of metres across hanging in private homes, restaurants and winery tasting rooms. The real tapestry, known as Les Vendanges (The Vintage) and dating from around 1500, is probably about 6 metres by 4 metres, so the characters are nearly life size and it depicts the grape harvest on the right and wine making on the left (which is what my detail shows). The reproductions often only show one half or the other (and of course are not actually tapestries, but jacquard loom woven). This tapestry seems to have sparked a fashion for scenes of the vendanges on tapestries and there are a number of other later examples of the genre.

The tapestry below was chosen because the series of over 20 tapestries from Auxerre telling the legend of Saint Stephen (Saint Etienne) that it belongs to is amazing and because the detail shown in this photo may reassure those who have been perturbed by the kerfuffle over the current restoration project at the Cathedral of Chartres. One of the many criticisms levelled at the restoration is that the newly painted trompe l'oeil marbling on some of the columns is completely inappropriate and unauthentic. However, I was immediately struck by some of the architectural detail in some of the scenes of these tapestries -- the columns in this one are fairly clearly woven depictions of painted decoration intended to mimic marble. This series of tapestries is also a costume historian's dream come true. You have no idea how many possible versions and combinations of leg and footwear are displayed on the dozens of characters portrayed. I could spend hours studying this series.

On the exterior of the building, looking up from the courtyard I was also struck by how similar the cat like creature under the first floor balustrade (below) is to the ones over the door at Ussé.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Yet More Metro Movies

I said I love the Métro and mentioned that it is the respect for its own heritage that I really like. Here are yet more examples:

The purple plaque talks about the ceramic frames for adverts, which were made in the town of Gien especially for the Paris Métro, and its predecessors CMP and Nord-Sud. It also mentions the white tiles which many of the stations have on their walls. These are deeply faceted to try and disperse light from what was originally very dim lighting

There are purple heritage plaques at many of the metro stations, and we have blogged about them before (here, and here)

I have also made a little video of the journey between Bastille métro and Gare d'Austerlitz station on one of the new trains serving line 5. I cut out a little of the trip through the tunnel between Bastille and Quai de la Rapée, but it really does show how close the stations are to one another. The video isn't perfectly framed: it was filmed on the sly holding the camera at waist level so I don't have any real idea where I was pointing it. It should give you a decent idea of what metro travel is like if you have never done it.

A la cuisine hier: Galettes (otherwise known as buckwheat pancakes).
Au supermarché hier: Good news local British expats -- Auchan now stocks currants (raisins de Corinthe). They are, of course, in ridiculously small plastic boxes for a ridiculously large amount of money -- but frankly, who needs currants? I've never understood what they were for.

Auchan was featuring different beef breeds yesterday, so I bought Charentaise shin, Limousin stewing steak and ribs and Parthenaise stewing steak. This last is a rare breed I'd never heard of, from Parthenay in Deux Sevres, to our west.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ninth Annual Coucou

Nine years....


2014             2013             2012             2011             2010             2009             2008             2007

This is easily the earliest of the cowslip photos we have taken for our annual post, two weeks earlier than the previous earliest cowslip photo, and over a month earlier than in 2009. I am not sure if the fact that we have been doing this for nine years is more amazing than how early this year the photo is or not.
A Historical Update: We've had an email from someone who was browsing the blog and realised that we mentioned his grandfather. The post that got his attention was the one about us buying two pieces of old correspondence relating to Désiré Poupineau selling potatoes. Seed and grain merchant Poupineau was the owner of our house and barn in the mid-20th century, and he was offering to sell potatoes to Louis Menin, the grandfather of the reader who wrote to us. For all the additional information he provided please revisit the original post.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cars in Paris

The people who own these cars looked as if they would be having an interesting time over the next few years, as the city moves to ban the more polluting type of cars from central Paris. Beginning in July this year, trucks and buses registered before 2001 will be banned from entering the city during the day (8.00 - 20.00). Next July, the ban will extend to all cars registered before 1997 and motorcycles registered before 2000. By 2020 the bans will extend to 24 hours and will include all vehicles built before 2011.

Both the cars were seen in the Marais area of Paris earlier this month, and appear to be in daily use. Until last Friday the Mayor had been quiet about the possibilty or otherwise of allowances being made for classic cars, which was a pity. Seeing these cars in use cheers a lot of people up, and brings back a lot of memories. When we are in Célestine or Claudette we have a lot of conversations with people whose families owned similar cars. It also meant that Paris would have lost more of its identity as the city began to look increasingly like any other city filled with plastic blobs.

However, last Friday Madame Anne Hidalgo (the Maire) issued a statement to say that VL (light vehicles - that's cars and motorbikes to you and I) built before 1984 will be exempt as "l’impact environnemental, en mobilité et en accidentologie des véhicules de collection est infinitésimal dû au km parcouru" (basically they are saying that people in old cars don't drive far enough or have enough accidents to make any difference). Which is good.

The main change is that the Autolib and other electric car rental schemes should become incredibly popular, and scenes like this increasingly familiar.

For those people who want to see more old cars, our RetroMobile album is here.

PS - Simon's advice is buy any cheap but functioning pre 1984 Renault 4l you see, as these will now increase in value. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Bastille Market

Simon has made a video of the market at Bastille in Paris. If you know what to look for, every now and then you will catch a glimpse of me shopping.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Here and There: Pubs

Above, one of two pubs in the small Australian town I grew up in. Referred to locally as The Brick, the Pittsworth Hotel Motel has 9 rooms for accommodation, serves lunch (12 - 2 pm) and dinner (6 - 8 pm) daily and has a lounge and a sports bar with betting shop open. It has live music or karaoke on Friday evenings, when it stays open until 1am. It also operates a wine and liquor store (known in Australia as a drive-in bottle shop).  The clientele is primarily working men, but on the weekends families as well.

Below, L'Esperance has 4 rooms for accommodation, serves a daily changing weekday lunch (12 - 2 pm) set menu and has a bar which is open all day. It is the lunch destination of choice for the local working men, cheap and cheerful.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Flowers for the Fallen

For years when we went to Paris we stayed in the 19th, near the wonderful Parc de Buttes-Chaumont. But last year the family run hotel we used was sold to Ibis and the price of rooms doubled. We decided to look for somewhere else to base ourselves in Paris.

Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, I assume where the policeman was killed.
Last year our friend Liselle treated herself to a very nice apartment just off Place des Vosges and when we went up to spend some time with her we looked for somewhere close by but affordable. We found what we wanted in the Bastille area, just a few streets away from her. It was a ridiculously small apartment, barely bigger than a hotel room, but the price was much less and we liked the location very much. Consequently, on our last trip to Paris a couple of weeks ago we rented a bigger apartment, but in the same street.

This memorial site is further down Boulevard Richard-Lenoir
(perhaps where the jogger was shot?)
Our new Paris base is in an ordinary Parisian residential area. It has one of the best markets in the city and lots of great independent shops (food, clothing, music especially). Just our scene.

It is also where the offices of Charlie Hebdo were. Our apartment was no more than a few hundred metres away from horrific scenes of violence and terror.

It's no wonder the gunmen initially went to the wrong building -- mourners equally seem unclear about which one housed the Charlie Hebdo offices. There are three very similar looking buildings on the corner and huge piles of flowers and mementoes outside each. All appear to be blocks of flats, and you would never know there were offices inside on the lower floors.

Rue Nicolas-Appert. 

Someone has changed the name of the street as their means of commenting on the event.
It is distinctly creepy walking these streets and seeing flowers, notes, cartoons and mementoes strewn everywhere by hundreds of people who felt they had to mark the tragic event. It's creepy because the event was so violent, and yet this is such an ordinary neighbourhood.

Many people have left not flowers but notes, poems and cartoons to express their feelings.
The memory of that killing spree won't put us off staying again in the area. It remains a nice comfortable ordinary neighbourhood, but now with a recent past that saddens. Soon the police on guard, the barricades and the piles of flowers will be gone. Many people going about their business in the area won't even think about the vicious rampage that went on here. But many will remember it all their lives. 


The Foire au Safran is on in Preuilly sur Claise today. It is held in the communal gymnasium, and is a great place to pick up local (and not so local) produce. Susan always buys her vanilla pods and other spices direct from the man who brings them in from Réunion

Friday, 20 February 2015

More on the Metro

I really like the Paris Metro, and the more I travel on it, the stronger that like becomes. One of the reasons it appeals so much is the way it acknowledges its history and surroundings in the variety of the stations.

Whereas London Underground stations are getting more and more anonymous as period details are hidden behind plastic panels and corporate branding is slapped across everything, in Paris not only are original decorative items being replaced (where necessary) like for like, but some stations are being given an completely individual look.

Until recently my favorite was easily line 11 at Arts et Metier and its Captain Nemo inspired copper submarine steampunk stylings, but now it has competition at Cluny - La Sorbonne. This is a recent makeover, because I am sure that last time we visited the station it was dingy, dark and not stylish. Now, judge for yourself.

 Another advantage the Paris Metro has over the London system is one of price. If you buy a one way ticket for cash a single journey on London Underground will cost £4.80  - 6€49 (if you put it on your oystercard, £2.80 - 3€78). A one way single ticket that covers zones 1 and 2 in Paris is 1€80, almost 1/4 the cost. If you buy 10 single tickets that comes down to 1€41 a trip.

Finally, on the metro you can look through the driver's window, a bonus if you're into that sort of thing. (No, that's a reflection, Susan isn't driving)

Paris Metro? Love it.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Pont de Bir-Hakeim

The Pont de Passy was constructed in 1903-1905 and allows Boulevard de Grenelle to cross the Seine in Paris and connect the districts of Bir-Hakeim (15th arrondissement) on the left bank to Passy (16th arrondissement) on the right. Above the road bridge is a dramatic viaduct to take the Métro line.

An old postcard showing the newly finished Passy Viaduct.
The bridge island hops with a monumental stone arch set on the Ile aux Cygnes marking the mid-point. On the tip of the island there is a striking equestrian statue. We assumed it was of Mars because it is close to the Champ de Mars, but it is much more entertaining than that. The work is by a Danish sculptor and is a gift from Denmark to France. It actually represents Joan of Arc, but is called La France Renaissante. When the statue was installed in the 1950s Joan was considered too warlike, too 'emphatic' an icon, and so after much argument and controversy, in order to avoid a diplomatic incident the name of the statue was changed and it was finally put in position, despite ongoing strong opposition to the work.  

What the bridge looks like now. 
Both the old and modern views are from the Quai Branly looking across to Passy.
After the Second World War the name of the bridge was changed to Pont de Bir-Hakeim to honor those who fought in this crucial battle. Bir-Hakeim is to France what Tobruk, part of the same North Africa campaign, is to Australia. The plaque says 'At Bir-Hakeim from 27 May to 11 June 1942 the First Brigade of the Free French Forces repulsed the furious assaults of two enemy divisions and affirmed to the world that France had never stopped fighting'. The soldiers were mostly French Legionnaires and a thoroughly romantic and courageous bunch of chaps (and chapesses) they were. Check out the Wikipedia entry for an account of the battle and be sure to click on the links for the individuals present.  

The plaque on the bridge commemorating the bravery of the French soldiers at the Battle of Bir-Hakeim.
From the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, if you look downstream to the other end of the Ile aux Cygnes you can see a quarter sized replica of the Statue of Liberty. 

A replica of the Statue of Liberty, looking towards her big sister in New York.
If you look across the river in the other direction you can see a big brown thing. 

The Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Past and Present: The Hardware and Machinery Store and the Veterinary Surgery

 Simon found this old photo of an early 20th century business in Preuilly and has matched it with a photo of the current guise of the same building on the market place.
Eye News: Simon had a check up with the ophthalmo yesterday. He is allowed to stop his eyedrops and his cataract operation has been scheduled for April. This is all a big relief, although juggling his op, the arrival of his family and work still has to be negociated.
A la cuisine hier: Lamb steaks rubbed with salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and garlic and seared, served with mashed potato and a green salad.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Three signs that you're not in Kansas any more...

There are a number of ways of telling that you have arrived in France (in this particular case, Paris).

One is that signs get translated into a particular form of mangled english that is different to
 The second is the level of openness insisted on by official regulations. To save their blushes we will not tell you on which world famous restaurant's door this sign was posted. It can happen to anybody.
 The third is that you continually get photo bombed by a brown thing.
A la cuisine hier: Tarte Paysanne, substituting mushrooms for zucchini for a more seasonal topping -- Susan.
Au jardin hier: I moved a bird nest box so the grape vine will shelter it, then I tied up and pruned the vine. I sowed peas and broad beans. None of my previous peas came up, but I should have better luck with these. The broad beans were from a reputable brand of seed merchants but many of the seeds had been attacked by beetles. I will be interested to see how many come up. I've never bought a packet of seeds in that condition before.

Alex came over and made new gates and trimmed the hedge.

Monday, 16 February 2015

La Maison d'Ourscamp

The Bastille area, where we've taken to staying in Paris, is just a short walk from the Marais district. On a previous visit to the capital we discovered a house that had a flyer on the window saying it was the headquarters of the Association pour la Sauvegarde et la Mise en valeur du Paris historique (the Association for the Safeguarding and Promotion of historic Paris). The notice said the place was open to the public and you could visit the medieval cellars. We were intrigued but never managed to walk past when it was open.

13th century ribbed vaulting in the cellar.
This last trip to Paris we succeeded in getting in the building and got to explore it from top to bottom with one of the Association's volunteers, who gave us a personalised tour. We were thrilled.

The cellar, used as a storehouse for monastic produce to be sold for profit.
The house was once owned by one of the great Cistercian abbeys, Ourscamp in northern France. Like all the great abbeys Ourscamp harvested a surplus from their crops, which they sold on a commercial basis and hence became phenomenally wealthy. The abbeys built town houses in Paris which served as pied a terres for the travelling priesthood, and perhaps more importantly, as storehouses for their produce. Paris was where you got the best prices for everything and la maison d'Ourscamp is not the only example of this type of town house in the Marais. The Maison d'Ourscamp is in rue Francois Miron, but in the same street and just around the corner there are the remains of at least three more monastic town houses and warehouses.

The upper floors are serviced by a 17th century staircase, acquired from another building and installed by the volunteers in the late 1990s. It matches a staircase that was too far gone to restore.
The original house was given to the abbey in 1248 and they subsequently built something more grand on the site in 1267. The house saw some political intrigue in the summer of 1358, when a senior public servant who had taken refuge there was assassinated. By the end of the 14th century the monks were increasingly taking advantage of the growth of a secular bourgeoisie and renting more and more space in the building out as apartments. By the end of the 15th the building was entirely rented out to merchants and artisans. The monks were in financial difficulties by this time and finally half the building was sold to a draper in 1499.

In 1585 the house and surrounding buildings were remodelled and the big house, including the cellar, divided into three. This division is still reflected in the street numbering today. In the 17th and 18th century it was still all occupied by artisan tenants -- drapers, goldsmiths, clock makers, coach hire offices, perfumers, wig makers and mercers. During this period the mullions were removed from the windows, dormers added to the roof, the frame of the building altered and openings punched into the cellar vaults. In 1740 a great courtyard door was added and the ground floor level raised.

With the Revolution the abbey of Ourscamp was seized, along with all its remaining property, including the house in rue Francois Miron. The new owner was a fur merchant, and on his death his daughter let the place to a pair of furniture makers. In 1836 the owner was a widow who divided the building into 28 apartments and a shop. Two years later a school was constructed on the block which includes the Maison d'Ourscamp, resulting the demolition of virtually all traces of monastic buildings except for the former Ourscamp building.

By 1941 the whole area had been condemned as unfit for human habitation and the local authority planned to demolish the whole lot. After the liberation of the city at the end of the Second World War protests finally brought the demolitions project to a halt and a plan to safeguard the Marais was produced.

In 1961 the volunteers who would shortly found the Association pour la Sauvegarde et la Mise en valeur du Paris historique started agitating and were ultimately able to acquire the Maison d'Ourscamp from the city for a peppercorn rent. The deal included an assurance that the volunteers would take on the cost of restoration. They got to work with a will, taking thousands of photographs and producing archaelogical and architectural surveys. Later in the decade the first of the urban heritage laws were introduced, ensuring that the building and its surrounds would be protected.

Volunteers worked on the house until 1970. Two thousand tonnes of rubble was removed from the building. Sixty tonnes of that was from gothic cellar, with the work greatly hampered by the narrowness and steepness of the staircase. Then they tackled the roof repairs and demolished a chimney stack that was threatening to fall. The walls that divided the house into three in the 16th century were removed.

The building wasn't listed as a historic monument until 1966, and the work continues today much more slowly and as funds allow. The Association relies entirely on donations, volunteers and the occasional small grant. If you get the chance go and visit them. You will get a warm welcome and it's a chance to see some very high quality medieval architecture. The cellar is amazing and so are the jakes which hang over the small internal courtyard (and have been converted into the modern visitor toilets).
A la cuisine hier: Deconstructed Shepherds Pie -- that is to say, I took a tray of Simon's savoury mince and a plastic box of mashed potato out of the freezer, heated them up in the microwave and served them.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Here and There: Bakeries

 Above, the bakery in the small town in Australia where I grew up. 
Below, the boulangerie pâtisserie in Preuilly.
To read our post about the history of boulangeries and bread in France click here.
To read our post about parking right outside the bakery in France, even if it is a no parking zone, click here.
To read our post about the typical calico bread bag that is used by many in France click here.
For more pictures of the boulangerie, including an interior click here.
For a post about French Christmas cakes from the pâtisserie click here.
A la cuisine hier: I made a bean and red pepper taco filling, but used it to fill little triangles of brick. Crispy and spicy.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

15th Century Illuminated Love Songs

Click on the link above to access an illuminated heart-shaped book of 15th century French and Italian love songs. The link opens on the first illustrated page of the book. The book is 149 pages long and every page has different illusrations. The book has recently been scanned and released online by the French National Library, who hold the original in their collection.

If you are interested in French history from any period it is well worth subscribing to the Bibliotheque Nationale's online newsletter, or checking out their site from time to time to see what's new.
Sculpture Exhibition in Loches: There is a fantastic sculpture exhibition in Loches until 15 March at the Logis Royal. All the sculptures come from the Touraine and cover the history of sculpture in the area since before Roman times. My friend Gérard very kindly gave me a copy of the catalogue, so if anyone in the area is planning to go to the exhibition and wants to borrow it, please get in touch.
He also passed on some exciting news about one of the sculptures. It seems the SAP is negotiating to acquire one which has been living for a while in the stores of the Musée des Beaux Arts de Paris. The sculptor was Preuillaicien and the SAP already own two pieces of his which are currently at the exhibition. We are having a meeting on Friday to discuss how to rearrange the display in the museum to accommodate this new work. More details will be revealed later.
A la cuisine hier: I had some blanched cabbaged leaves in the freezer which I kept looking at and thinking I must use. Then Ken posted about making stuffed cabbage leaves and that settled it. Or more precisely, Simon read Ken's post and suggested I buy a cabbage. That goes to show how tempting Ken's posts on food are -- I've never known Simon to request cabbage unless it's sauerkraut before.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Australian Embassy Paris

One of our goals on our recent Paris trip was to renew my Australian passport. To do this I had to go in person, armed with my old passport, the application form for the new passport and suitable photos. I was a bit worried about the photos as the Australian embassy site itself says that the spec for French passport photos is different to Australian. I was worried that a French ID photo booth would produce something that would be rejected. However, I need not have been concerned. The photos passed without a problem. Fortunately there is some overlap in the sizes, so photos at the maximum end of the French spec are at the minimum end of the Australian spec.

What I didn't have was a prepaid self-addressed envelope for them to post the passport back to me, so we dashed off to the nearest post office and bought a suitable envelope which I then dropped off at the relevant office in the embassy.

I'd never been to the Australian embassy in Paris before. In fact I didn't even know where it was and don't recall ever having walked past it even (although I suspect I have at least once). I was surprised to discover that it is almost next door to the Eiffel Tower.
The passport cost me €176 and arrived in the post the day after we got home, so it took about a week.

One of the things I discussed with the embassy staffer who dealt with me was registering online as an Australian in France. In all the time we've lived outside of Australia we've never bothered to do so, but I can see why we should. In these uncertain times it might be helpful if the embassy knows of our existance.
Mammogram: Yesterday I went for my bi-annual mammogram at the radiographers in Loches. No problems showed up but the X-rays will be sent to Tours for a second opinion. The small circular spot that was there last time and meant I had to have a check up three months later is still there but unchanged. The doctor who dealt with me asked if I understood French and looked deeply (almost comically) relieved when I responded that I would be able to understand most things he said to me in French, and would let him know if something was unclear.
A la cuisine hier:  Pork chop braised in red wine, mash, carrots and peas, followed by a slice of tarte fine caramélisée aux pommes.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Retromobile 2015

February is Retromobile month for us - our annual pilgrimage to Paris to look at old cars, meet up with car club people, have a coupe d'honneur and discuss how to make 1950s Traction Avants viable for a 21st century business. It isn't all chat though. In fact, most of the time it is wandering around, looking at cars we would like to own (or rather, wish we could afford) and marvelling at that part of a Venn diagram where art meets function.

The car of the year (or at least the car celebrating a significant birthday) was the Renault 16, now 50 years old. I wonder if those people who owned one in Australia in the 1970s realised they were driving a future museum piece?
One of our favorite cars was this 1924 Delage, with its 200hp V8 engine and flame spitting open exhausts. If I am really good this year, can I have one for Christmas?
 I showed the Alpha Romeo Giulietta spider Bertone yesterday, but it is worth getting
another angle on it.
And finally for today, an overview. This will give you some idea of how big the show is.
There didn't appear to be quite so many interwar super stylish coupes this year, and there was far too many Porche 911s for my tastes. To my mind one is enough. Having said that, though, it's still a good way to spend a winter's day, and dream...