02 July 2015

Getting to Chavignol

After seeing Jars and Le Noyer, we drove the last few miles south to the area called Le Sancerrois, centered on the hilltop wine town of Sancerre. CHM and I specifically planned to go to the village called Chavignol, because I'd never been there before and he hadn't returned to see the place in more than 70 years.

Coming in from the north, we went up over a high ridge. Chavignol is on the other side of the ridge, nestled and sort of strung out in a deep valley (more photos tomorrow). The village is famous for its white wines and also for the little goat cheeses that are called crottins de Chavignol.

At the top of the ridge, there was a gravel road running along the crest, with great views of both Chavignol and Sancerre. After I drove some distance out along the gravel road and took a lot of pictures, we backtracked and happened upon a viewpoint on the paved road that ran down into the village. There was a map naming the major points you could see from up there. Those are my first two photos above.

The Sancerre hillsides are steep, and the vineyards are extensive. The Micheline guide refers to Le Sancerrois as une mer de vigne — "a sea of vines." The area's Sauvignon Blanc wines are "flinty" and dry. The goat cheeses come in a range of styles, from soft and fresh to hard, dry, and crumbly. CHM and I wanted especially to get some crottins to bring back to Saint-Aignan.

01 July 2015


Some cool air just moved through the living room! It felt good. Today is going to be another scorcher, though. This morning, at 6:15, it's 23ºC outdoors, according to our thermometer, and it's 26ºC in the house. Those temperatures translate to 73.5ºF outside and 79.9ºF inside. We'd be happy with heat like that in mid-afternoon, but we're not so thrilled with it before sunrise. Happy July!

Maybe it's time to open up a fire hydrant
Officially, a canicule, or a dog-days heat wave, is declared when there are three nights in a row with low temperatures of or above 20ºC, and three days when the temperature is at or above 33ºC — lows around 70ºF and highs of about 90ºF for three days in a row. In other words, that's cause for alarm and an emergency is declared. The hot air is flowing up from the Sahara Desert.

Most people don't have air-conditioning. There just aren't enough hot days to justify having it installed. The houses here are mostly heated by radiators — not forced air. Some people have portable, roll-around AC units to cool a room or two in their houses. Most don't. We don't.

So we just have to suffer through the extreme heat. Late yesterday afternoon it was 33ºC (90ºF) up in our loft room. Luckily, there isn't much humidity. Still, it was like an oven. As we used to say when we'd go to the desert in Southern California or Nevada back in the 1990s, what they put on your tombstone is:  "It was a dry heat..."

Callie out by a catalpa tree yesterday afternoon — notice the parched grass.

Today's predicted afternoon high in Orléans, about halfway between here and Paris, is 40ºC — 104ºF. In Paris, it's supposed to hit 39ºC, or about 102ºF. We might hit 100 here in Saint-Aignan, but I hope not.

 Freshly painted radiators drying on the front terrace yesterday — we won't be needing those today.

When I got up at 6:15, I looked out a loft window and I saw a big white van out in the vineyard. That's one of the La Renaudie vineyard crew. He's putting in the support wires for a new plot of vines. He's starting his day at 6 a.m. so that he won't have to be out there working in the heat of the afternoon.

Catalpa flowers baking in the afternoon sun...

Our 80-something neighbors across the road had all their shutters closed when I took Callie out for a short walk at 6:30 yesterday evening. Closing the shutters is supposed to protect your interior from the heat of the sun, but I'm not sure I like that idea much. I don't like being in the dark, and I want some air moving through. Not that there's really a breeze this morning.

...and plums at risk of becoming prunes on the tree

This kind of weather is supposed to last until at least the weekend. In 2003, which was our first summer here in Saint-Aignan, the heat wave lasted for a couple of months. It's was especially hot in the first part of August, and thousands of people died of heat-related causes, including dehydration and heat stroke. Wish us luck.

30 June 2015

“The Walnut Tree”

The next place we visited after the village called Jars (pop. 511) is called Le Noyer (pop. 235). That means "the walnut tree" in English. It's where CHM stayed, in a hotel, when he visited the area more than 70 years ago. More than 2500 people lived in the Jars-Le Noyer area two centuries ago, at the time of the French Revolution, by the way.

CHM told me he remembered walking from Jars to Le Noyer on the long, straight road you see in the photo above. We were driving my old Peugeot, so the trip was easier for us. That's Le Noyer in the distance, and the photo below shows a closer view.

I thought the church in Le Noyer was nice. There was some road construction going on, but we made it through without being shunted off onto a detour. I just stopped the car in the middle of an intersection and got out to take these picture.

There is a château in Le Noyer called Le Boucard that dates back to the 14th century, but we didn't find it. It's the venue for a music festival that takes place every summer.

This whole area between Sancerre and Orléans, Giens and Bourges, is beautiful rolling countryside. It's on eastern edge of the flat, forested Sologne and is contained in a wide arc of the Loire River to the north and east. The vineyards of Sancerre lie to the southeast. It feels very much off the beaten path. Here's a map:

Meanwhile, here I am in Saint-Aignan and it's the last day of June. Where did the month go? We are in the middle of an unusual (for this early date) heat wave, but we are on the eastern edge of the hottest temperatures. So far it's been pretty pleasant, even without air-conditioning. Today the contractor who's been working in Walt's office room will be wrapping up the job. By the coming weekend, we should have Walt be moved back into his office and our house will get back to normal.