Monday, 23 October 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 5 Blanche de Castile

Blanche de Castile (daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile & Eleanor of England) was never intended to be a queen of France - her sister was meant to marry the future Louis VIII, son of Phillip Auguste. However, when Eleanor of Aquitaine (their grandmother ) met the two princesses she deemed Blanche the more likely one, and the deal was done.

They were married in 1200 (when Blanche was 12 and Louis 13) but the marriage wasn't consumated until 5 years later. Of her twelve children six died in infancy, the first to survive to adulthood being her fifth child, the future king (and Saint) Louis IX. She must have felt some relief when Louis VIII died in 1226.

That presented some issues, as the future saint was only 12 years old, and his father had baron problems that hadn't been resolved. Blanche appears to have been a canny operator, because she immediately had Louis IX crowned as King of France and served as his regent for about 8 years.

Even after Louis IX was married (in 1234, to Marguerite de Provence) Blanche appears to have exercised inordinate control, even more so when he went off on crusade in 1248 and she was once again appointed Regent in his stead. She fell ill and died in 1252, four years before Louis returned to France.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Auguste Dumont in 1848. To see this statue of Blanche you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Land Leeches

Unlike anywhere else (apart from south-east Asia) Australia has land leeches. They are the bane of rainforest walkers lives. My sister's abiding memory of walking in Ravensbourne National Park is of coming home with blood soaked socks.

The leeches lurk about on the forest floor, questing about for anything mammalian that passes. Leeches are quite closely related to earthworms. They have suckers front and back, and latch on to their prey to feed on their blood. The group isn't widely studied and they are not easy to identify to species level. Whilst they will latch on to your legs at any opportunity they are not known to transmit diseases and realistically are just a minor inconvenience.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

A Fungi Foray in the Forest of Preuilly

Late September saw the recommencement of fungi outings by the Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine in the local forests. It had been dry, so no one held out much hope for many species on the day. In the end we identified 53 different species, which is about half what we would get on a good fungi foray in any of the old forests around here.

The Etang de Ribaloche, with very low water levels.

Wood Cauliflower Fungus Sparassis crispa (Fr. Clavaire crépu).

This edible fungus can grow to several kilos in weight. It is associated with pine trees.

Ivy growing up an oak.

A Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorosus syn Anoplotrupes stercorosus (Fr. Géotrupe des bois).

Around here, this is by far the most common species of Dor Beetle, so beware of using Michael Chinnery's Insects of Britain and Western Europe to identify any Dor Beetle you discover. If it is in the woods and there is no cow dung in sight, it will not be G. stercorarius, the species featured by Chinnery. The species in my photo is a woodland species and relatively small but otherwise looks much like other Dor Beetles. They are irridescent blue black and like all other Dors, are dung processors. These ones are not overly choosy, burying the dung of many different mammals as well as leaf mould and fungi. To be sure of the identity you need to look at the rear tibia and check how many keels it has (sharp ridges across the outer facet). There should be two.

Common Rustgill Mushroom Gymnopilus penetrans (Fr. Flammule pénétrante).

A very common fungus of pine forests, they can appear in large numbers together. Despite its piecrust appearance it is probably toxic.

Shaggy Parasol Chlorophyllum rhacodes syn Macrolepiota rhachodes (Fr. Lépiote déguenillée).

Most parasol mushrooms are toxic so if you are a fan of the edible species Common Parasol Macrolepiota procera you need to make sure you know how to recognise its snakeskin patterned stem so you can tell it apart from the Shaggies and others. Shaggy Parasols blush slightly red if they are cut or bruised. It's quite a common woodland species.

Another parasol species, Lepiota ventriosospora syn L. metulaeospora.

Scarletina Bolete Neoboletus luridiformis syn
Boletus erythropus (Fr. Bolet à pied rouge).

This is an edible mushroom, despite the lurid colours. However, it is rarely eaten, as it is often confused with the much better known and toxic Satans Bolete Rubroboletus satanas. The Scarletina stem goes from bright yellow to deep indigo when wounded. The Satan is creamy and just goes a bit blue when wounded. This is a mushroom I have wanted to see for several years, so I was pleased we found one.

Wood Mushroom Agaricus silvicola (Fr. Agaric des bois).

This pretty slightly pearly pink mushroom has an obvious stem ring and a faint smell of aniseed. It is edible, but you need to be able to distinguish it from the pale deadly Amanita species such as the Death Cap A. phalloides and the Destroying Angel A. virosa, which also grow in the woods. (I had a couple of Destroying Angels in the orchard a few days later.)

 Blue Roundhead Mushroom Stropharia caerula (Fr. Strophaire bleu).

An unusual little blue mushroom, localised in distribution and found in calcareous beech woods.

Christian and his newly adopted dog.

Christian is a recently retired vet. The young dog was found wandering on the road. Fruitless attempts were made to find her owner, but finally Christian decided to keep her. She has no manners at all at the moment, but I'm sure will grow into a loved companion.

Identifying the fungi found on the day.

Russula poubellus.

That's a French mycology joke. The English name would presumably be Rubbish Brittlegill.

Apples and edible mushrooms gathered in the forest.

While we were identifying the fungal haul a family emerged from the forest. There were three generations of them, from kids to grandparents, and they'd been foraging. They had Weeping Boletes, Red-capped Scaber Stalks, False Chanterelles, and Shaggy Inkcap mushrooms, and apples. Information and advice was exchanged. They were clearly enthusiastic and knowledgeable foragers, and knew what they had. Nevertheless, they were reminded to peel the Weeping Boletes because the milky discharge that gives them their name can cause stomach upsets. They were also reminded to use the Shaggy Inkcaps that evening because if they left them until the morning they would have auto-digested and just be a pool of ink.

They wished us 'bonne omelette' and we parted on good terms.


We went outside this morning at 7.00am to do some meteor spotting. Because it was overcast we saw nowt, but it was very breezy and 16.5°C. The average maximum October temperature in Preuilly last year was 17°C, and her were are, 90 minutes before sunrise, and the temperature is close to that already. That'd be Brian's fault (I don't know if he has a French name yet).

Friday, 20 October 2017

Is it too soon to mention Christmas?

Christmas is just over nine weeks away, so we have decided to give everyone a helping hand.

Instead of expecting gifts this year (we'd be disappoint anyway, right?) we would appreciate it if when shopping you took a look at the Loire Valley Time Travel gift shop. My map of the Loire Valley river system is there, available on a range of cups and clothing, as is the Loire Valley Time Travel logo.

I was prompted to put the map on a t-shirt when we were on the walk from Chambon and someone commented on Susan's London Underground map t-shirt, saying that it wasn't much use in the middle of the French countryside.

We also have a range of Loire Valley Time Travel mugs. These are extra large coffee mugs (although I suppose they will hold a similar amount of builder's tea).

The shop is here:

Now - that's the adverts over, we'll resume normal service tomorrow!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Walking from Cussay

On Tuesday we wrote about a walk we did a couple of weeks ago, today we are catching up with a walk we did last week.

Last Thursday was a typical October day - started with very light drizzle, and ended up quite warm and very sunny, which made the afternoon perfect for a walk. We met up in le Grand Pressigny and drove to La Bosniére, a hamlet just outside Cussay (There's a link to the map at the bottom of the page if you don't know where these places are).

The main excitement on this walk was a number of roe deer we disturbed.

If you want to do this walk, the map is here.


And talking of weather... It has been unseasonally warm here of late. On Monday the temperature reached 27c, almost 10 degrees warmer than average for mid October. It has cooled down slightly since, but daytime highs are over 20c for the next few days, then we're cooling down for a few days of showers. Next week we're up in the 20s again.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Cardinal Richelieu

One of our favorite television shows of the past ten years was the first season of the BBC production of Musketeers. It is a modernisation of the story of Louis XIII's musketeers, using Alexander Dumas' characters but with a modern twist. All the usual suspects are there: a mysterious lady, Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, and four butch blokes and their boss.

Besides the Musketeers themselves the most important characters are Cardinal Richelieu, played in a most chilling pantomime way by Peter Capaldi, and the costumes. The following video shows what I mean.

If you haven't seen the show, and have a couple of hours to spend knee deep in intrigue, violence and slightly kinky (admit it) costumes, seek it out.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Walking From Chambon

A recent walking club outing was a circuit from Chambon, going up the hill, through the forest, overlooking the Creuse valley then back around, past picturesque cottages, hidden vineyards and mature oak trees. Here are some pictures from the afternoon in late September.

A very old house in Chambon at the start of the walk.

Bolete type fungi right on the edge of the road.
You wouldn't want to eat these mushrooms, not because the species is toxic -- it probably isn't. But the mushrooms will be covered with substances coming out of the exhausts of passing vehicles, and they will have absorbed similar substances from the ground as they've grown.

Fabrice stripping off in the heat.
It was unseasonably warm the day of the walk (in the mid-20s) and we were all a bit overdressed. Fabrice thought he'd take advantage of zip-off trouser legs, but then found he couldn't get them over his boots.

An early autumn view over the Creuse Valley.

Walking through a parcel of forest.

A farm track.

The chateau of Rouvray.

Turning to go back up into the woods.

On the edge of the forest, looking over a small valley.

A fine specimen of a mature oak tree.

A well by the side of the track.
The above to photos were taken from where several forest trails meet. We chose to go right, past the oak tree, but we could have gone straight ahead past the well.

By the end of the walk the sun was low in the sky and the shadows were long.

A picturesque cottage.
We passed through several hamlets with picturesque cottages. This is just one of them.

The chateau of Chambon (more of a medieval fortified farm).

If you want to do this walk yourself, here's the map

Monday, 16 October 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 4 Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria was born in Spain in 1601 and was the eldest daughter of King Philip III of Spain. Her titles included Infanta of Spain and of Portugal and Archduchess of Austria.

When she was 11 she was bethrothed to Louis XIII of France, as part of the 1559 treaty that ended the war between the two nations. She and Louis were married in 1615, on the same day that her brother (later Philip IV of Spain) married Louis' sister (Elisabeth of France). It wasn't a particularly happy marriage as Anne was constantly in conflict with the woman who saw herself as the real queen of France, Louis' mother Marie de Medici.

A later palace coup meant that Marie de Medici lost her power, to be replaced in turn by Charles d'Albert, Duke of Luynes (with whom Anne had a good relationship) and then Cardinal Richelieu. Once again Anne found herself in conflict with her husband's chief advisor, a position not helped by France declaring war on Spain in 1635.

Although she had a series of stillbirths, in 1638 Anne gave birth to an heir (later to become Louis XIV) and then in 1640 a spare (Philippe de France, Duke of Anjou). In 1643 Louis XIII died, and Anne contrived to have herself created regent for her son (against the late king's wishes). She remained regent until Louis XIV came of age, and then was the power behind the throne until 1661 - at which stage she went and did the nun thing. She died in 1666 and  is a central figure in Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers".

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by  Louis-Philippe I  in 1843. This statue was created by Joseph-Marius Ramus in 1847. To see Anne of Austria you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Gus Beutel Lookout

This is the view over the Lockyer Valley from Gus Beutel Lookout in Ravensbourne National Park, south-east Queensland. The lookout is named after a local early 20th century landowner. One of his two wives and two of his twenty-one children are buried nearby.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Bus Shelter

When we were in Paris in September we stayed in the 14th arrondissement. Round the corner from our hotel, near Denfert-Rochereau station and Montparnasse cemetery was parked a large decoratively painted bus. We photographed it because it looked bound to be interesting. And so it was.

It is owned by Les Enfants du Canal ('the children of the canal'). They are a charity working with homeless people. The bus offers coffee, a place to rest or somewhere they can seek support.

The focus on homeless people tends to be when winter starts to set in and the public are reminded by charities such as this to think of those sleeping on the streets. But les Enfants du Canal have realised that summer throws up its own challenges for the homeless. First of all, in France it is illegal to evict tenants in the winter so the newly homeless appear in droves in the summer. Also, more homeless people die in the summer than they do in winter (124 in winter compared to 143 in summer in 2014 for example).

As a result les Enfants du Canal have created this day centre in a double decker bus, known as le Bus Abri (literally, 'the bus shelter'). Their idea was to have something on the street, very informal. The bus has been parked in the 14th arrondissement in boulevard Arago since the summer of 2015, just around the corner from the prison of la Santé. It's always in the same place and homeless people can come and have a coffee, rest, talk and meet the on board social worker. Also on the bus are travailleurs pairs ('peer workers'), people who have been homeless in the past and who now work to help others in their former situation.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Work Continues on the Chapel

On Tuesday I realised that we have a really good view of the work happening on the roof of the Chapelle de Tous les Saints. So I took a photo - not to spy, but because we sometimes forget stuff.

At the time they were putting a bache (tarpaulin) over the roof. The chapel now has a natty plastic silver hat over its roof, which means that work can continue even when it rains.

Today is Friday the 13th. I don't know if roofers are superstitious, but think of the potential!


Note from Susan: When I passed the chapel half an hour after this photo was taken one of the scaffolders was singing a silly ditty in a falsetto voice. The lyrics rhymed 'la vache !' ('holy cow!') with 'cette bache'.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

I Want to be Alone

On Monday I (well - we) wrote about Anne de Bretagne, a woman much coveted for her lands and title, which although hers by right of inheritance were in control of her husbands (the Kings of France) while they were married.

I imagine this meant she was always surround by people asking favours, suggesting "cunning plans" and just plain good old spying on her every move. For anyone in court privacy was (and probably still is) at a premium, which is why this room in the Logis Royal of Loches would have been most welcome.

It's an Oratoire, not a chapel but a private prayer room, where Anne could have been alone with her thoughts, or maybe a good book of someone else's thoughts. No-one would ever think to disturb a lady at prayer, so she was safe whilst in there.

The room itself is tiled with representations of ermine, Anne's heraldic device. The tiles are the original and have lost their colour, but you can get an idea of how the room would have looked by the panel to the mannekin's left.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Market Shopping With Stephane

Stéphane talking to the oyster producers who come up from the Atlantic coast.

As part of the cooking class taught by Stéphane Bureau from the Hotel Clos d'Amboise that I recently participated in we went shopping in the market at Amboise. Stéphane made sure his sous-chef Cédric came along, because as a busy chef, Stéphane deals directly with producers who deliver to the hotel. He doesn't have time to shop at the market. Cédric, on the other hand, often shops there on his own account and knows which stalls have the best produce.

 An overview of the market.

The Amboise Sunday market is very well known and popular with both tourists and locals. Like most local markets the fresh produce stalls are a mixture of small producers and retailers. The chefs' advice was to look for small stalls which only have a few things for sale. These are likely to be good value and good quality, brought to the market by producers passionate about what they do. The retailers have their place though, and shouldn't be scorned. If their quality is good, they offer the possibility of a much wider choice of ingredients.

 Stéphane checking out the goats cheese.

We bought strawberries, parsley, oysters, Sainte Maure de Touraine goats cheese, organic bread, tomatoes from a small producer, cave grown mushrooms and sweet peppers. Both chefs and I knew the mushroom producer -- me from Loches market and Stéphane because he comes from Selles sur Cher originally, which is where the mushroom producer is based.

I'd never been to Amboise market before. I'd always been put off by the stories of how far away you have to park because the market takes up all of the largest carpark in town, on the Mail. It was good to be able to visit and not have to worry about parking, as I was staying in town. It was a shame it rained the whole time we were at the market. That definitely meant the experience was not as pleasant it could have been. I had expected it to be noticeably bigger and better than Loches, but came away thinking it was about the same.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Guess the Chateau

.... is what I was going to call this blog post. But then I realised that I am a bit poor at responding to comments so I will give you a hint.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 3 - Anne de Bretagne

Anne of Brittany, born in 1477, was Duchess of Brittany in her own right and Queen Consort of France twice. During the Italian Wars she was also Queen Consort of Naples and Duchess Consort of Milan. Her father died when she was 12, leaving her the sole heir to the strategically valuable duchy of Brittany. A year later, to protect herself from the French she married Maximillian I of Austria, by proxy. The French royal family, led by the redoubtable Anne of Beaujeu, determined to put a stop to her independence and invaded Brittany. Anne was essentially kidnapped and brought to Langeais castle, where she was forced to marry the young Charles VIII.

When Charles managed to kill himself by hitting his head on a door lintel whilst running to catch a tennis match in the chateau of Amboise, Anne hightailed it back to Brittany. Sadly for her, the next king, Louis XII, was prepared to ruthlessly put aside his wife and forced Anne to return to court and marry him. Anne lived a life overwhelmed by the politics of her time and the need for the French kings to produce an heir and a spare. In the end, she never managed to produce a son who lived to adulthood.

Anne died in 1514 and was buried in Nantes (her heart) and St Denis (the rest). At no stage during her life was she a nun, as she pre-deceased her last husband, worn out by constant pregnancies and infant mortalities.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by  Louis-Philippe I  in 1843. This statue was created by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Debay in 1846. To see Anne de Bretagne being statuesque you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Big Fig

This lovely mature native fig tree is a remnant of the rainforest on the Great Dividing Range. It provides shade and elegance to the lookout and picnic area in Ravensbourne National Park, near Toowoomba in south-east Queensland. It is also no doubt home to various creatures and its fruit may be small, but they are an important food source for several bird species, especially Topknot Pigeons. The tree is known locally as the Big Fig.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Amboise Allotments

Allotments in Amboise. The plot growing maize belongs to someone from Martinique.

I've wanted to visit the Jardins Ouvriers in Amboise for ages, and recently I got the chance to. I emailed Dominique Berdon, the president of the allotment association and asked if he would be interested in meeting a group of American gardeners I was guiding. He very kindly said yes and we arranged to meet at the allotments (or what my American group called the community gardens).

 Hot air balloons over the allotments.

There are 89 plots in all, on two sites. The one we visited is the one at Malvau, right on the banks of the Loire River, on the western edge of Amboise. At present all the plots are 'occupied' and there is a short waiting list. The area is made up of individual plots and common areas. One of the allotment association's projects for next year is to create a common picnic and barbecue area. Many of the allotmenteers live in appartments and the allotment is their garden. The association would like to provide some of the other advantages and opportunities for being outdoors enjoying nature that a garden can provide. Dominique hopes people will start spending Sundays with their families down at the allotment and it will become a regular fun social gathering.

 The American gardeners and Dominique Berdon (third from right).

The town of Amboise owns the allotments, which cover an area of 3 hectares. The size of plots ranges from 170 square metres to 500 square metres and the cost to the allotmenteer is between €40 and €60 per annum (calculated as the price of a cubic metre of water times the area in square metres of the plot). In addition allotmenteers pay €15 per year to be members of the Association. There is a total annual budget of €10 000 and the allotments consume around 3200 cubic metres of water.

 The view from the allotments.

At the moment the Association is working on improving the garden sheds and installing water tanks to collect rain water. Also in the plans are improving the fencing and installing more taps. The allotmenteers have to be encouraged to stick to the rules and respect their neighbours. For example, herbicides are banned from the site, but old habits die hard, and the best one can expect from some of the allotmenteers is that they do not spray around their boundaries and allow drift into the next. The allotment holders are a microcosm of the wider society. They range in age, social condition and cultural background. These differences are no barrier to the gardening, and especially in June and July, everybody is out in the allotments, enjoying the sunny weather.

 Chatting and photographing.

The Association provides support and advice to its members, both formally and informally, with experienced members advising novice members. The gardens are principally for growing vegetables for the families of the allotment holders, but flower growing is encouraged. It's seen as enhancing the beauty of the gardens and attracting beneficial insects.

 Dominique's plot. He says it's been a bumper year.

There are currently no plans to expand the allotments. There isn't enough money to acquire more land (and that adjoining the Malvau site is contaminated with waste from Citroën apparently). Dominique feels it is better to improve facilities on the land they have already.

 This allotmenteer was using a broadfork and his adorable little girl was helping.

It was good of Dominique to spend some time with us as it was a chance for the Americans to see some ordinary gardens that are not intended to be show gardens and are not run by a team of professionals. He was also pleased to see us during the Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Open Weekend) as although the gardens are not grand heritage like the chateaux, they are local heritage nonetheless. Like most Jardins Ouvriers (Workers Gardens) they were set up originally in the 19th century by the local priest, who wanted some way of helping poor families to augment their diet and stay fit and healthy inexpensively. There is now pressure to change the name of the association to the Jardins Familiaux (Families Gardens), but Dominique is resisting, as he feels the name is an important part of the heritage.