31 May 2014

Cats wait

Here's Bertie waiting for CHM and me to get back to Saint-Aignan this afternoon. I think he likes the new porte-fenêtre, for several reasons. Mainly, he can see better what's going on inside when he's outside.


And with him there watching, birds are less like to come swooping in and be the victims of window collisions.

30 May 2014

Boulevard des Italiens

I'm not trying to blog from Paris. I don't even know how many photos I'll take on this short trip. Here's another old postcard.


The boulevard des Italiens is near the old Garnier Opera house in Paris, on the Right Bank. In the late 1970s, I was walking in this neighborhood with a 95-year-old-woman I happened to know. She told me she used to work in the neighborhood in the years preceding and during World War I (approximately 1910-1920). I remarked that the area must have changed a lot in the intervening years. She stopped, looked around as if she'd never thought about it, and answered: « Pas tellement. » That means "Not so much." I loved that. Rachel died at the age of 100 in 1983.

29 May 2014

Prendre ma place...

...dans le trafic. That's one of my favorite French songs. It was written and sung by Francis Cabrel back in the early 1980s. It was my commute song when I was in the traffic on the California freeways years ago. Here's the song on YouTube:



This morning, I'm on my way to Paris, driving. I hope there won't be too much traffic when I get there. Today is a public holiday. The scene below, while not recent, is also not far from where CHM has his apartment in the city. That's my destination.


If you want to read the lyrics of the Cabrel song as you listen to it, you can find them here. Or below:

Ma place dans le trafic

Le jour se lève à peine
Je suis déjà debout
Et déjà je promène une lame sur mes joues
Il y a le café qui fume
L'ascenseur qui m'attend
Et le moteur que j'allume
M'aident à prendre lentement
A prendre ma place dans le trafic
A prendre ma place dans le trafic
 

J'aimerais que quelqu'un vienne et me délivre
Mais celui que je viens de choisir
M'a donné juste assez pour survivre
Et trop peu pour m'enfuir
Je reste prisonnier de mes promesses
A tous ces marchands de tapis
Qui me font dormir sur de la laine épaisse
Et qui m'obligent au bout de chaque nuit
A prendre ma place dans le trafic
A prendre ma place dans le trafic
 

Et quand je veux parler à personne
Quand j'ai le blues
Je vais décrocher mon téléphone
Et je fais le 12


Je suis un mutant, un nouvel homme
Je ne possède même pas mes désirs
Je me parfume aux oxydes de carbone
Et j'ai peur de savoir comment je vais finir
Je regarde s'éloigner les rebelles
Je me sens à l'étroit dans ma peau
Mais j'ai juré sur la loi des échelles
Et si un jour je veux mourir tout en haut
Il faut que je prenne ma place dans le trafic
Faut que je prenne ma place dans le trafic


Et quand je veux parler à personne
Quand j'ai le blues
Je vais décrocher mon téléphone
Et je fais le 12
Parce que quoi que je dise
Quoi que je fasse
Il faut que passent les voitures noires


Je suis un mutant, un nouvel homme
Je ne possède même pas mes désirs
Je me parfume aux oxydes de carbone
Et j'ai peur de savoir comment je vais finir
Il y a tellement de choses graves
Qui se passent dans mes rues
Que déjà mes enfants savent
Qu'il faudra qu'ils s'habituent
A prendre ma place dans le trafic
A prendre ma place dans le trafic...

28 May 2014

Infenestration?

We have the term "defenestration" meaning to throw someone or something out a window. It's related to the French word for window, which is fenêtre. We don't have the word *infenestration* as far as I know. If we did, it would mean to collide with a window. People do it, and birds evidently do it a lot.


Twice over the last few days, birds have crashed into our new porte-fenêtre. I guess the big expanse of glass isn't visible to them. I have a feeling these are young and inexperienced birds. The first one was, if I remember, a little tit or mésange. It sat stunned on the deck for a few minutes, and then flew away.

Yesterday it was a bigger bird, a woodpecker, that smashed into the window. It was killed. Now this isn't a new phenomenon. Birds often collided with our old, divided-light porte-fenêtre too. The little wooden dividers between all the panes of glass didn't deter them. Here's a web page that details the extent of the window-collision problem worldwide.

27 May 2014

Poulet aux petits artichauts

I made something yesterday that I thought was really good: chicken cooked with artichoke hearts. Of course, I did it the hard way. I had bought some little purple artichokes — artichauts 'petits violets' — at the Grand Frais produce market up near Blois, so I had to trim them up myself. It took a few minutes, but the result was worth it. (Here's a web page showing how it's done.)

These are the little artichokes called artichauts violets — three of them partially prepared and the other two still whole.

What you do is pull most of the leaves off the little artichokes. Then you cut off the tops and trim a little off the stem at the bottom. You have to gently peel or trim the stem and the bottom end of each artichoke (I had bought 5 of them for one euro). You cut each in half through the stem and check to see how much of a choke — which they call le foin or 'the hay' in French — there is inside. You can remove the chokes if you need to, but I didn't.

Cœurs d'artichauts after the preliminary cooking in water and vinegar

I cooked the resulting artichoke hearts for 30 minutes or so at a low simmer. I put a little vinegar in the cooking water. Then I took them out and set them aside while I browned a couple of chicken leg-and-thigh sections in olive oil in a big skillet with some sliced onion. When the chicken pieces were "stiffened" and slightly browned, I poured in some of the artichoke cooking liquid, a little chicken broth, and a glug of white wine.

Poulet braisé aux cœurs d'artichauts et olives vertes

I let the chicken simmer for 20 minutes before I added the artichoke hearts and a big handful of pitted green olives to the pan. For flavor, I added pinches of dried thyme and dried oregano, some black pepper and some salt, and the juice of half a lemon. Then I let it all cook for another 10 or 15 minutes to make sure the artichoke hearts and the chicken were completely done.

The chicken I used was a beautiful poulet jaune du Gers (Label Rouge) that I had already cut up.

The lemony cooking liquid was really tasty, and the green olives tasted very lemony too — a little like citrons confits would taste, with a salty but pleasant bitterness. The artichoke hearts were tender, as was the chicken. This would be good with rice or pasta or steamed new potatoes. We had it without any of those, but with a big serving of tabbouleh salad that Walt made.

26 May 2014

The old Bastille

I'll be going to Paris in a few days to see CHM and other friends. I won't be seeing this sight, however, because the building doesn't exist any more. Did you know what the old Château de la Bastille looked like?


CHM gave me this image (an old postcard) nearly 20 years ago. The Bastille was built between 1370 and 1382 to protect the eastern side of Paris — in other words, to keep the English out during the 100 Years' War. Later it was used as a prison. It was demolished as a symbol of royal abuse at the time of the 1789 Revolution.

25 May 2014

Still busy...

It's raining again this morning, but there was a pretty sunrise at about 6 a.m. when I first got up. Here's the view out of a loft window that greeted my sleepy eyes.


One of the things that happened over the past 48 hours is that my mother tripped and fell on the sidewalk outside her apartment Friday afternoon. She broke her wrist and banged her head on the concrete. Luckily, she only broke her wrist and not a leg or hip. There also was no evidence of a concussion. I talked to her yesterday afternoon my time — the time difference is really a pain in these situations — and her voice was clear and strong. Her attitude was upbeat. We joked and laughed on the phone.


Above is a close-up of this morning's sunrise. I was hoping for some sunshine today but now it's gray and drippy out there. It's time for me to go for a walk with the dog.

24 May 2014

A day off...

I've gotten out of the habit of not blogging every day. How's that for a convoluted phrase? So today is unusual. Lots of things are happening with family members and friends in different parts of the world, so my blogging time suddenly evaporated this morning. More tomorrow...

23 May 2014

Friday frustrations

I've been up since 5 a.m. trying to get a new DSL modem-router working. I ordered it from amazon.fr after the first one I ordered turned out to be incompatible with the French phone company Orange's DSL signal. I can't figure out what the problem with this one is. (Why, by the way, is the technology called DSL in American called ADSL in France?)

I'm as crabby as the white crab spider on this flower. Can you see it?

I had the new modem up and running earlier, but Walt and I both started having problems with our internet connection a couple of days ago. It would take forever, for example, for me to get my e-mails to download, especially on my Android tablet. Walt was having problems getting several different blogs to load on his desktop computer.

I guess I'll just go out with the dog and smell the acacia flowers.

So I set up our old DSL modem-router again, and it works fine. I've been trying to duplicate the old device's settings in the new device, but to no avail. The manufacturer's setup wizard is useless. I guess I'm just not intended to upgrade our home network at this point in time. Sometimes it's just better to give up and to go with what works, even if it's old and slower than you'd like. Thank goodness it works, by the way.

22 May 2014

Impacts de foudre

We didn't get any rain during the day yesterday — at least not after about 10 a.m. Our drive to Blois (45 minutes north) was uneventful. So was the drive back around 4 p.m.

Rain here started again at about 6 pm, with the heaviest downpour at about 7. There was some small hail mixed in with the rain. The most impressive part of the storm, however, was the noise. We were sitting upstairs, watching a nature show on TV. I kept hearing a roaring, rumbling sound outdoors.

I finally got up and went downstairs to go out on the front deck to try to figure out what the noise was. It might have been a big plane, or several of them, flying over at low altitude, from the sound of it. Or a train going by at high speed over across the river, where the local station is. But it lasted too long. Walt came downstairs too. He said he thought it was thunder.

We decided it was thunder, but not claps or cracks of thunder, just one nearly continuous roar of it, off in the distance, that lasted 10 minutes. We then checked out the weather radar on a web site (amazing that we didn't lose power, internet, or satellite TV during the storm) that has a page where impacts de foudre — lightning strikes — are shown live as they happen. Just to the north and east of us, over the Sologne area and near Blois, Chambord, and Beaugency, the lightning was continuous, fast, and furious. That's what was producing the rumbling noise, I think.

A few minutes later, we got an e-mail from American friends who live in a village just five miles east of us. Are you guys okay? Our friends said they had had a few minutes of blinding rain and violent wind. The wind was enough to blow over a big tree on the edge of their yard. Luckily, it didn't fall on their house or fence, and it didn't fall across the road, so it wasn't blocking traffic at all, they said. Not that there's much traffic around here to start with...

We were surprised at their damage, because we had very little wind during the whole incident. We had no damage of any kind. However, there was a tornado reported, I've read on the local newspaper's web site, in the town of Levroux, about 45 minutes southeast of Saint-Aignan. The winds that blew down our friends' big tree must have been part of that system. Much worse damage was suffered by people living down in the Bordeaux area in southwestern France, including several deaths.

So the line of storms went by just east of us. Thunderstorms are supposed to continue today and tomorrow, and the weather will be rainy for the weekend too, according to forecasts. Years ago, I would never have believed that weather in France could be so chaotic. It always seemed calm and uneventful to me, compared to American weather in the South and Midwest, where I lived.

21 May 2014

Le déluge

It rained steadily all day yesterday, and heavily at times. Well, there was one dry period — around 5:45 p.m., I noticed the rain had stopped. It was just the right time for my walk with Callie the collie, so out we went. We slogged around on a looping route up and down rows of vines, covering a lot of ground but staying pretty close to the house in case the rain started up again. It didn't, or at least didn't start falling again until about 10 minutes after we were back inside. It's amazing how often that happens.


This morning it's still raining moderately. But don't be fooled, the weather report says. We will have steady rain all day today, with especially heavy downpours in the afternoon over our part of the country. We're going to Blois for lunch with friends, so we'll just hope for the best here at the house. I still worry about the roof over the kitchen, but so far so good. It was last May when water started gushing in there.

This artichoke plant is enjoying the soggy weather.

South of us, the Dordogne (the towns of Périgueux, Sarlat, Bergerac), Charente (Angoulême, Cognac), Haute-Vienne (Limoges, Rochechouart), and Vienne (Poitiers, Châtellerault) départements are under weather warnings for heavy rains, hail, and violent thunderstorms. I think we will be on the very northern edge of that system. With any luck, we won't get the worst of it.

My little grapevines keep producing more and more leaf buds.

Last night around dark, I had to go out in the rain to open the valve on our rain barrel. As I suspected, the barrel was overflowing, and I'd rather have all that water run off farther from the house through a garden hose than just hit the ground right up against the foundation.


I didn't get too wet, even though it took a minute or two to hook up the hose, which we had disconnected during drier weather so that we could more easily run the caught rainwater into watering cans and other recipients, and not waste it. Our minor May drought didn't last long this year.

20 May 2014

L'ancolie

We have a patch of garden where the flowers called ancolies or columbines come up every year. They're perennials. There are blue ones and pink ones.



I got three garden plots tilled up yesterday. For two of them it was the second tilling of the season. They are definitely ready for planting. The third plot was one that we had let fill in with weeds, and tilling it was like tilling ground that hadn't ever been tilled before. It was hard work, in other words, for both me and the machine, but I think that plot is ready for planting now too. There's one more plot to till, and it also has grown over, so it won't be easy. The ground here is hard, rocky clay.

Vegetable gardening is hard work. When the weather brings us a good garden and good crops, however, it's worth it.

19 May 2014

La pivoine

Little round red buds become fluffy red flowers. The pivoines or peonies are blooming right now in the back yard.



Yesterday Walt hauled everything out of the utility room downstairs and vacuumed up all the dust and dog hair. Callie and I played with the garden hose — I was washing everything that needed washing (almost everything) and Callie was trying to bite the spray from the hose. The dog loves days like yesterday: warm, nearly hot, with blue skies and no wind.

18 May 2014

Out of jail

When I look at the photos of the old window that I posted yesterday (scroll down), I get the impression that we were once in jail but now we are free. No more bars block our view. Somehow, the living room feels a lot bigger now.

Above: the view from the living room when I got up at six this morning


Right: before the curtains went back up yesterday afternoon


Left: the window seen from out on the terrace

Above: the front of the house with the new window (compare this "before" view)


Left: pendant les travaux


Right: the old windows being removed

And finally, above: a flash picture from this morning

17 May 2014

No more panes

Here is the "before" shot. I won't be able to take the "after" shot until... well, after the work is done this morning. Finally, after 11 years, we are having this big French porte-fenêtre in the living room replaced.


Each panel of this window/door is 80 cm, so it's more than three meters wide. That's 10½ feet. The new window will be a sliding-glass affair without the divided lights (the little pains panes of glass). Then it will finally match all the other windows in our house — the ones we have had put in over the past 10 years.


The look will be totally different, and we'll get more light in the living room than we get now. The new window will be double-glazed and air-tight. The old one has almost no insulating qualities — it might as well be a screen door, for all the cold air it lets in — and it's a pain to keep clean. More tomorrow.

16 May 2014

Saints at Chartres

I'm trying to configure a new modem/router this morning, and it hasn't been going well. Wish me luck. Meanwhile, here's another view of statuary at the Cathédrale de Chartres. I'm thinking of going to Chartres again in a couple of weeks. It's been a while.


I guess I could use some help from these guys, who are, I assume, saints of the church. Maybe they don't do tech support.

15 May 2014

Growing grapes

All we need around here is more grapes, right? Well, I guess you can never have too many. I've decided to see if I can grow some.


We already have some grapevines in our yard. They are some kind of white table grapes, and they aren't all that sweet or juicy. They are planted in shade, which isn't ideal. Grapes love sun and heat. We pick the leaves in the spring to make dolmas, but we don't even bother with the grapes.


What I've decided to see if I can grow is wine grapes. I read that it is easy to propagate the vines. All you have to do is cut a long cane off a vine and stick it in the ground. I didn't even have to cut a cane — the people who work in the vines do that job every winter. Mostly they just throw the canes on the ground, and later somebody comes through with a grinding machine and mulches them.


I gathered a few over the winter, after the vineyard pruning was done, and just let them lie on the ground outdoors for several weeks before I planted them. In March, as I read was the time to do it, I potted them up. I was actually a little surprised when they sprouted leaves. I think I have to keep them in pots for a couple of years. Then I'll have to figure out where to plant them. Some are red grapes, and some are white.

14 May 2014

2,400 walks

That's the number of times I've gone out for walks in the vineyard with Callie the collie. Approximately, of course. I've been taking daily walks for seven years now, rain or shine.


I go for a walk with the dog every day, either morning or late afternoon. There are exceptions to that rule. I take a vacation or even two every year. For example, I go the the U.S. for two weeks in the spring. Once in a while I go to Paris for a few days. Then Walt has to take all the walks I'm missing.


In other words, Walt has taken more walks in the vineyard than I have. I'm sure of it. He doesn't go to the U.S. every year, and he doesn't go to Paris as often as I do. Callie gets two walks a day, so she has gone for walks in the vineyard more than 5,000 times in her short life.


It's hard to say exactly how many kilometers or miles those 2,400 or 5,000 walks represent. My total kilométrage is probably 6,000 or 7,000, because I walk an average of 2.5 to 3 km per day. That comes to about 4,000 miles — the distance from Saint-Aignan to my home town in North Carolina. Callie has walked at least twice that far.

13 May 2014

Les Saints de glace, c’est ça

These three days toward the middle of May — today is the last one — are called “the ice saints’ days” in the Loire Valley and other parts of northern and central France. You can expect the 11th, 12th, and 13th of May to turn chilly and damp, according to popular wisdom. This morning, it feels downright cold outside.

Ice and wind-blown crud on the Velux skylight windows up in the loft yesterday afternoon

In other words, this year the popular wisdom, Farmer's-Almanac-style, has turned out to be spot on. On Sunday afternoon, we had a heavy ice shower that lasted a little less than 10 minutes. And yesterday, Monday 12 May, we had the same kind of ice shower, just a little earlier in the day. More showers are predicted for this afternoon. We'll see if we get rain, sleet, or even hail this time.

I stuck my head out the dormer window up in the loft during the rain shower and
snapped shots left and right of the ice that had collected in the rain gutter.

As the squall started yesterday afternoon, the rain gradually turned into ice pellets. The pellets kept getting bigger and bigger, and I started to worry about the car, which was parked outside. But the ice chunks never got bigger than garden peas, and then they suddenly stopped. This is why we are told it's prudent not to plant tender seedlings out in the garden until after May 15.

12 May 2014

To everything, turn turn turn...

As Walt blogged yesterday, on Friday we got the new kitchen stove we wanted. It was the only one we could find that had all the features we were set on having: four gas burners on the cooktop, including one called "a double ring" that is ultra-rapide and very hot, along with a voluminous electric oven and a range of programmable cooking modes that include a rotisserie or tournebroche.

When Callie came into the kitchen and saw the pintade turning on the rotisserie, it scared her and she barked like crazy.

We also decided to go with a stainless steel model rather than a white enamel finish, because the white stove we just got rid of was so hard to keep clean. When we replace the 11-year-old refrigerator and the 10-year-old dishwasher, we'll probably get new stainless models of those appliances too. The new stove is Italian, and the brand is Smeg. We use bottled gas (butane) because we don't get gaz de ville out here in the country.

Here's the bird skewered, seasoned, and rubbed with olive oil, ready for the oven.

So yesterday was the big test. Walt bought a pintade (guinea hen) at our favorite poultry vendor's stand when he went to the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan this week. We've been cooking and eating pintades very regularly since 2003, when we moved here, and in a lot of ways they are more delicious than turkey or chicken, birds to which they are closely related.

 The bird turning on the spit over a pan of seasoned cooking liquid

Guinea fowl are standard items in French markets and supermarkets, along with rabbits and ducks, so they are no trouble to find, and they aren't particularly expensive. Walt paid €5.40/kg for this bird, which (with the very weak dollar right now) comes to about $3.50 U.S. per pound. It's easy to pay a lot more than that for a farm-raised, free-range chicken.

The pintade hot out of the oven, after cooking for about 90 minutes

Anyway, I wanted to roast a bird on the rotisserie, to see how well it would work. Well, it works great. As usual, I put the bird on the spit and got it all set up. I put a pan of water — well, water and wine — directly under the bird on a baking pan so that the drippings wouldn't fall onto a hot surface and make an excessive amount of smoke. The resulting cooking liquid makes a nice sauce to have with the poultry and vegetables you serve.

Onions, mushrooms, and bay leaves in the cooking liquid, along with all the guinea fowl giblets, made a good sauce.

That said, I had an even better idea this time. Instead of just setting a pan of liquid under the bird, I added some sliced mushrooms, onions, and garlic to the pan, along with some bay leaves, allspice berries, and salt and pepper. That made a really good sauce after it was cooked. We had mashed potatoes (purée de pommes de terre) with the guinea hen, and a big green salad with the kind of simple vinaigrette that we make and never get tired of (Dijon mustard, vinegar, a blend of olive and sunflower oil, and salt and pepper).

What else can I say? It was a very simple Sunday dinner for an anniversary weekend. It was also Mother's Day in America (but not in France), and I wish all you mothers and grandmothers reading this a belated Happy Mother's Day.

11 May 2014

Memories: 1988

It's hard to believe that 1988 was more than 25 years ago. Lately, I've been spending time on my computer going through old files and photos, trying to put some order into it and eliminate a lot of duplicates. I came across this old photo yesterday. It's a scan of a snapshot.

I wasn't quite 40 years old, and Walt was nearing 30. Look at all that dark hair!

Walt and I had moved from Washington DC to California in the autumn of 1986, so we were two years into what would be our 18-year stay out there on the West Coast. We had already been living together for five years.


An old friend — Peter, who we had met in Paris and who had also ended up in Washington — came to San Francisco to spend a week or two. He took some photos, including the ones above.

10 May 2014

Not so much a photo...

...as an impression. I took this inside the cathedral at Chartres several years ago. I don't remember what camera I was using back then, but I obviously didn't get the subject in sharp focus.


The photo below is more focused, but it doesn't show, I realize after looking at both closely, the same window as the impressionistic shot above. Still...


Random notes: today is our second wedding anniversary. Walt and I were married in Albany NY on May 10, 2012, after nearly 30 years of living together as a couple. So far, our marriage seems to be legal in France too. Both the notaire and the people at the Sécurité Sociale (health insurance) office have agreed to that.

And we got our new kitchen stove yesterday. We'll be testing it out this weekend, making Veau aux olives today and roasting a Guinea fowl (une pintade) on the rotisserie tomorrow.

09 May 2014

Chez le boucher

Rue du Docteur Leray, Paris 13e, 29 septembre 2004

08 May 2014

Not a religious holiday, but...

Here are some photos that I took of one of the most famous cathedrals in France.You should be able to recognize the towers. It's not in Paris and it's not in the Loire Valley. These photos are from several years ago.





Today is Victory in Europe (VE) Day and the second May holiday in France this year. It's another long weekend, in other words, with a lot of people taking tomorrow off work to "bridge" to Saturday and Sunday. The traffic report on Télématin just advised everybody around Paris (and elsewhere) that there will be only minimal car traffic today, tomorrow, and Saturday, but to beware of the Sunday rush to get back home after the long weekend.