31 July 2014

Country road

Just a few photos today, taken through the car windshield as we drove through the Touraine countryside from Le Petit-Pressigny toward Le Grand-Pressigny. Some of you who read this know the area much better than I do. Enjoy.


In a way, I'm glad July is ending, even if it means summer is speeding by. After a short chilly spell, our summery weather is back now. The bread lady returned from her two-week vacation on Tuesday, and I asked her if she had a good time down in the Auvergne. Yes, she said, but not such good weather. « On n'a pas eu un bon mois de juillet... », she said, adding « nulle part ». In my case, July was just too busy, I think. I feel exhausted. Maybe it's my age.

30 July 2014

La Celle-Guenand & Le Petit-Pressigny

The village called La Celle-Guenand is located southwest of Châtillon-sur-Indre, between Saint-Flovier and Le Grand-Pressigny. I skipped Saint-Flovier, by the way, in my photo-taking. La Celle-Guenand is not large — it has a population of 400. The village has existed since the 1200s, and maybe longer.

Coming into La Celle-Guenand from the north

The word Celle comes from the Latin cella and means a cell or house where a hermit-monk lived in the Middle Ages. The spelling is variable, and another example of a town with the term in its name is Selles-sur-Cher, just upriver from Saint-Aignan.

Guenand is a family name. I don't know how the people who live in La Celle-Guenand pronounce it. If you go by the spelling, it would be [guh-NÃ], with what is called a "mute E" and then the French nasalized A vowel. But some texts I've looked at spell the name of the inhabitants of the village as les Cellois-Guénandais, leading me to think that the word might be pronounced [gay-NÃ]. Does anybody reading this know how it's pronounced locally? [I think it's pronounced either way....]

There's a château in La Celle-Guenand that dates back to the 15th century. Part of it is used as bed-and-breakfast (chambres d'hôtes in French). If you want to spend a night or two in a château, this is one of your options. Prices run from 110 to 160 euros per night for a room for two persons, breakfast included. Here's the web site.


Above is a picture that I took on the grounds of the château in La Celle-Guenand in April 2006. At that time, we were exploring the southern part of Touraine for the first time, after moving to Saint-Aignan in 2003.

The next village along the road we took is called Le Petit-Pressigny — population about 325, down from nearly 1,100 in the mid-19th century. I misidentified it in my first version of this post, but Tim set me straight. Thanks to him.




Above, a series of three photos taken as we drove into the village called Le Petit-Pressigny.

29 July 2014

Plum tuckered

I'm taking a day off from my posts about the car trip.

A couple of days ago, I came upon a tree that was just covered in little yellow plums. I was out on the edge of the vineyard with the dog. I hadn't planned for fruit-picking, so I didn't have a plastic bag or basket with me. Zut alors !


My only option was to fill my pockets with as many plums as would fit. Luckily, I was wearing a pair of fairly baggy shorts with two front pockets. The plums were nearly ripe, and putting them in a basket to ripen some more for a couple of days made sure they were ready to be put into a tart. Just a small amount of almond powder went under them to soak up their juices, and a sprinkle of sugar went on top. Miam miam...

28 July 2014

Les rues de Châtillon

There are three ways to get through Châtillon-sur-Indre. One is around the east side of the town center. You go that way if you are headed straight south toward Le Blanc or east to Châteauroux. Or you can drive directly through the center of town, which is the slowest route.


Coming into town from the north, the road narrows seriously as it crosses the Indre River. In the photo above, you can see the donjon, which is about a thousand years old, with the French and, I think, Belgian flags flying (I don't know why). A donjon in French is what is called the "keep" or main tower of a fortified castle. I don't know why we Americans think of a dungeon as an underground space.


A little farther along, this is where you make your decision about going around to the east or to the west of the center of town. We usually turn right (where the road appears to end in the photo above, because our destination is toward the southwest. If you choose the eastern route, you come to a big intersection with traffic lights and you see the restaurant pictured below, in an old photo of mine. It looks fairly fancy and is on the main road that runs along the Indre River from Châteauroux to Loches and on to Tours.


On the western route, you go through a basically residential neighborhood made up mostly of big stone houses. The one business along the way is the café pictured below, Le Bon Coin, which I think is especially picturesque. I also like the little blue Citroën C3 car parked on the side street. I'm thinking about buying a car like that one next year.


On our latest drive, I spotted the old Renault 4 GTL, below, parked at the curb. I had a car like it 30 years ago, when I lived in Paris. Walt and I have friends who say they are going to try to buy such a car this year or next, and this looks like a very nice one. I think the last R4s rolled off the assembly line more than 20 years ago. I saw no sign indicating this one was for sale. Hélas...


As you can see, the road is very narrow here. That red Loches Boissons truck up ahead has to wait for us to drive through before he can continue his route — delivering bottled beverages to cafés and restaurants, I assume. When parked cars leave just a narrow passage for traffic, the vehicles on the side where the cars are parked are supposed to give way to oncoming traffic. Driving in little French towns and villages that were built before motorized vehicles existed is always interesting, and slow.

27 July 2014

Châtillon on the Indre

Châtillon-sur-Indre is about 25 miles south of Saint-Aignan. To get there, you drive south out of Saint-Aignan and the Loir-et-Cher département, through the eastern edge of the Indre-et-Loire (La Touraine), and into the Indre (Le Berry). The Indre is a river that's narrower and shorter (170 miles) in length than either the Cher River (230 mi.) or the Loire River (600 mi.), of which other two are tributaries.

Châtillon (small château) is a fortified high spot on the Indre River between the larger towns of Châteauroux and Tours. Actually, about three dozen towns and villages in France are called Châtillon, including Châtillon-sur-Indre (pop. 2,800), Châtillon-sur-Cher (pop. 1,700), and Châtillon-sur-Loire (pop. 3,100). It can get confusing.


As you drive south toward the Indre River valley, the countryside becomes hillier than around Nouans or Villedômain. The road continues straight on but rises and falls with the landscape. It's lined not with villages but with old farm compounds, some of which have been modernized and some that look the way they must have looked 200 years ago. The building shown above and below is used as an antiques and second-hand (brocante) store.


The road into Châtillon-sur-Indre is very narrow, squeezing between old houses that stood there long before there was such a thing as car and truck traffic. At three or four points, the road is wide enough for just one vehicle at a time to get through. Vehicles leaving the town have the right of way over vehicles entering the town. Drivers have to be careful.


Châtillon-sur-Indre has a long and involved history. The earliest mention of the name (Castillon or Câtillon at the time) is in a text dating from the mid-800s, when the French king Charles the Bald (one of Charlemagne's grandsons) ceded the territory to a local family. The town's glory days came in the mid-1100s when it was under the control of Henri II Plantagenêt (a direct descendent of William the Conqueror), the French count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy who also was the king of England then. Henri had a massive stone tower built to fortify the site, but he lost control of the area in 1188 to French king Philippe Auguste.

The images above are photos I took through the windshield of a moving car... More tomorrow... 

26 July 2014

Villedômain

Driving south from Nouans you see scenes like the one below along the way. Every year there are many fields of sunflowers all around the region, and right now, this year, they are coming into full bloom.


The other crops that are part of the normal rotation are being harvested now. Those are rape and wheat or other grains. Rape is the plant whose the seeds are used to make what we call canola oil, which in France is huile de colza. Rape or colza is a relative of cabbages like collard greens and kale. The photo below gives an idea of the landscape.


Nouans and Villedômain, the village to the south, are on the far eastern edge of the historic province called Touraine. If Nouans feels like an overgrown intersection with a church, Villedomain is more like a low, curvy spot along an otherwise straight, flat road, where there is also a church. Both villages are down in valleys and surrounded by fields on the higher land.


Villedômain is tiny, with fewer than 150 people living in it. Reading the village's web site, I learned a couple of things I hadn't known before. Villedômain is closer to Châteauroux (in the old Berry province) than to Tours, for example. The small river that flows through the village is the Indrois, which continues on to Montrésor and points west before joining the larger Indre river. The village at Villedômain has existed at least since the 13th century. Stone Age flint tools found in the area suggest that the area was populated in prehistoric times.

The church in the photos above and below, built as early as the 11th century, is the village's main landmark. What you see is the village square, with a military monument and a kind of general store across the road from the front façade of the church. There's not an awful lot to it. I've never stopped to look around in the store.


Modern-day aerial photos have revealed that the existence of an earthen wall surrounding the site of Villedômain in Roman times. And reading the village web site, I learned the meaning of a word that I've seen used in place names around the Touraine and Sologne region but had nver understood before. The word is mardelle — there's a lieu-dit called Les Mardelles near Chémery, for example, on the other side of the Cher river from Saint-Aignan.

It turns out that a mardelle is a sinkhole. Mardelles develop when limestone deposits near the surface dissolve and the ground collapses. As the soil underneath is clay, vegetation takes hold and the mardelle turns into a green spot in an otherwise stony landscape. The word is related to the term margelle, which is the name for the edge or ledge of a stone well. You get the picture, I think.


Farther south, on the way to the town of Châtillon-sur-Indre, you leave the Indre-et-Loire département (La Touraine, basically) and enter the département de l'Indre (Le Berry). Châtillon is next. We are still only about 20 miles / 32 km south of Saint-Aignan.

25 July 2014

Nouans scenes

Here's one more picture taken as we entered Nouans-les-Fontaines from the north. And here are links to my 2008 blog post about the painter Jean Fouquet and also to Antoinette's and Niall's 2011 post about the same painter.


Nouans-les-Fontaines has a population 793 (not a typo). That's down from 1529 in 1906. Three streams run through the village, including one called La Tourmente — those are probably the "fontaines" in the place name.


The center of the village is the intersection of the north-south road we were driving on and the east-west road that runs from Valençay to Loches. If you're not careful exiting the church, you might get run over, because the front steps are right on the roadway. There's a boucherie-charcuterie, a pizzeria, a grocery store, and a boulangerie, as well as a small museum dedicated the the famous painter of the Pietà de Nouans.


Continuing south, the road runs as straight as an arrow down to the next village, Villedômain. Again, the population there now (137 souls) shows a marked decline from the 330 who lived there as recently as 1886... à suivre.

24 July 2014

Driven

Yes, I was being driven. I mean Walt was behind the wheel. We went on a short road trip on Tuesday. The destination was a restaurant in Le Grand-Pressigny, via our friends' house down there for a little apéritif — a glass of bubbly. We walked to the restaurant and then back to their house. The is about the drive down.

Walt driving our little Peugeot, "knocking 90"

When you leave Saint-Aignan to go south toward Nouans-les-Fontaines on the main road, the first few miles are very curvy. They aren't hairpin curves, but they are sharp enough to slow you down and make the driver pay close attention. You wonder why they ever built a road like that one. These are photos that I snapped through the windshield of the car as we drove along.

La Forêt de Brouard south of Saint-Aignan, where the king liked to go hunting 600 years ago

And then all of sudden, halfway to Nouans, the road changes character and runs as straight as board through the Forêt de Brouard and then through fields all the way to the village. Local people say that King François Ier, of Chambord fame, liked to hunt here in the first half of the 16th century. The total distance is about 10 miles.

Nouans is down in a valley and dominated by its big church.

In the church at Nouans, there's a painting (a pietà) dating back to the mid-1400s that was the work of a French artist named Jean Fouquet. Not much is known about its history. It was "discovered" hanging in the church in 1911 by a curator visiting the area from the Louvre in Paris.


After Nouans, the road continues straight down to the next village, Villedômain, another five or six miles. There's no more extensive forest — just wide fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers, or oil-seed rape (colza, canola) and little wooded patches. It's all very pretty, and there is very little traffic, except as you drive by the zoo just south of Saint-Aignan. It seems like most of the people coming to the zoo drive down from the north, because we saw very few cars headed in from the south along our route.

23 July 2014

Wine coincidence

When our American friends Lynn and Joel came over for an afternoon of pizzas, conversation, and (of course) wine, they brought a couple of bottles of the local stuff with them as a present. One was a Saumur-Champigny red, which is made with Cabernet Franc grapes grown a couple of hours west of Saint-Aignan, near the town of Saumur.

The other wine was a Sauvignon Blanc from our immediate area. When I saw the label, I was surprised. I knew we hadn't talked with L. and J. about the people who grow the grapes for this wine and bottle it in Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, just on the other side of the river from our village.


The winemaker's name is Noël Bougrier. I don't know him, and I learned of his wines just a couple of weeks ago. There's a story involved. A few years ago, I asked one of the vignerons who owns and works the vines out back, where we walk with Callie, if he sold wine. I wanted to buy some if I could. He said that, no, he sold his grapes to a cave coopérative over in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, between Montrichard and Chenonceaux.


One day I was over in Saint-Georges and I drove past the co-op. I'll have to come back one day with my plastic wine jugs and buy some wine, I thought to myself. A couple of years went by, and one day when CHM was visiting he and I drove over to Saint-Georges with the wine jugs in the car. We drove up and down the main street of the village several times, and guess what — I could not find the co-op. And it had been a big white building on the main road, I remembered, that looked exactly like you'd expect a wine co-op to look like. There were pallets of bottles, empty or full, being hauled about on forklifts, for example.

Another year or two went by. I kept thinking that one day I would talk to the vigneron out in the vineyard and get a chance to ask him what the story was regarding the Saint-Georges co-op and his grapes. Often he's on his tractor, and we just wave at each other — he loves Callie by the way, and it's mutual. A few weeks ago I finally had an opportunity to talk to him on one of my walks with the dog. He told me that the old co-op had gone out of business and that he had started selling his grapes to a man named Noël Bougrier, who grows grapes in Saint-Georges but makes wines over in Saint-Romain.


Monsieur Bougrier runs a big operation, judging from his web site, and while he grows grapes himself, he also must buy a lot of grapes all around our region and even over in the Anjou and Muscadet areas out toward the mouth of the Loire. It says on the label that the wine was élevé et mis en bouteille par Noël Bougrier, implying that he used his own grapes for this vintage. Still, I like to think that some of the grapes that went into it might have been ones grown in the Renaudière vineyard by our local vigneron. Walt and I both really enjoyed the wine, which was dry but tasted of fruit and was very smooth.

22 July 2014

“Iffy”

The skies over Saint-Aignan, I mean. I guess the weather we're having is typical for summertime. We have a few hot, sunny days, followed by a few cool, rainy days. Then it starts again. The weather is “iffy” most days. It's hard to know what to expect. You can tell from these views out our loft windows.


There's been a good amount of rain, and we've heard thunder on quite a few days. But we haven't had much close-by lightning, and we haven't had any hail or very strong winds. The rain has been good for the garden — as well as good for the gardener, who doesn't have to spend so much time watering.


Today we're driving to a restaurant for lunch with friends. It's not something we do very often. I hope the weather won't be too threatening. The drive will be about 85 miles round-trip. The bulletin météo I just watched on Télématin says to expect showers and a high temperature of about 80ºF.

21 July 2014

Colorful peppers

I wish I could say these were peppers that we grew in our garden, but that would be false.
Walt got them at Auchan up near Blois. Auchan is one of the French hypermarché chains.
The label said they were called "California" peppers. They were grown in Spain.


The peppers got lightly sauteed in olive oil and then they went on top of a pizza along with
some chunks of smoked chicken breast and some tomato sauce. Delicious.


Luckily, we have some peppers, some chicken, some sauce and some pizza dough left over.
Guess what's for lunch today...

20 July 2014

Caterpillar


The rain held off and yesterday turned out warm and nicely breezy, compared to Friday which was intensely hot and muggy. We spent the morning getting ready — preparing pizza toppings, mainly — and the afternoon sitting on the terrace enjoying our guests' conversation.

They told us about their 5-week stay in France and all the places they saw and history they learned. Their daughters, 15-year-old twins, spent time with us and then spent time playing with Callie in the back yard. Walt made pizzas — four or five of them over the course of the afternoon. It was a very pleasant day.

19 July 2014

Touraine Chenonceaux wines — a new Loire appellation

Today we will be tasting our first Touraine Chenonceaux wines. The new appellation has recently been created. It covers the vineyards along the Cher River from Bléré, just west of the village of Chenonceaux, all the way to Saint-Aignan and a couple of villages further east. The vineyards are on both sides of the Cher.


White Touraine Chenonceaux wines are made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. There's no surprise there. The local AOC whites have been made with Sauvignon Blanc for decades, even centuries, as are the white wines of vineyards to the east of Touraine at Quincy and Sancerre, for example.

Red Touraine Chenonceaux wines are made from an "assemblage" of juices from two grapes. The greatest proportion is Côt, which is the Loire Valley name for the grape known as Malbec internationally. The second grape is Cabernet Franc, which is the grape grown west of our area in wine districts including Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny.


The wines we chose to taste are made by our neighbors at the winery called Le Domaine de La Renaudie. Some of the grapes are probably grown out back in the Renaudière vineyard, where we walk with the dog every day. Domaine de la Renaudie has about 70 acres of vines all around the village of Mareuil-sur-Cher.

Besides Chenonceaux, the other sub-appellations within the Touraine wine district include Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau (west of Tours), Touraine Amboise (along the Loire mostly east of Amboise), and Touraine-Mesland (on the north bank of the Loire near Blois. To the northwest of us, nearer Tours, are Montlouis and Vouvray, famous for their Chenin Blanc white wines. Just to the northeast of us is the Cheverny wine district, and to the south east is the Valençay district.

Here's a link to the Touraine-Chenonceaux web site. It's in French.

18 July 2014

Fasting, driving, sleeping, more driving, and sweating

Yesterday was quite a day, and it will take a while to really recover. I say that, but I feel really good this morning. I slept "on both ears" as we say in French — or comme un plomb (like a lead weight). Walt, however, said he had a restless night and was up and down many times. It was just too hot, he said.

So beyond the stress of the drive to Blois and back — Walt did the aller-retour twice between 11 and 6 — and the hospital experience, there's also the heat. The high temperature yesterday was close to 90ºF, depending on where you put the thermometer. It got very hot inside the house, and especially in the loft where we sleep. Callie is very restless. She seems to be continually searching for the coolest spot she can find to spend her time sprawled on the floor.

This morning reminds me of past canicules or high-heat days we've had — even though we are not officially in a heat-wave situation yet. What you do here in France is get up early in the morning and open up the house completely — all the windows and doors. That lets in the cool night air. The temperature outside right now is about 70. Just a few days ago, our low temperatures were around 55, and the highs were in the low 60s. The effect of the heat is all about what you are used to, and remember we don't have air-conditioning here. We don't normally need it.

So the house is wide open, the sun is just coming up, and there's a light breeze. Later, we'll start closing everything up again, to keep out the hot rays of the sun. It'll be a little dark in the house, but no matter. It's supposed to be hotter today than yesterday (low to mid-90s). Then a cold front off the ocean is going to move across the country on Saturday and Sunday, with thunderstorms and a possibility of hail (again). Think good thoughts for the grapes and all the vegetable gardens in the Loire Valley.

 La Polyclinique de Blois

At the Polyclinique de Blois yesterday, everybody was efficient, cheerful, and helpful. Being able to speak the language — or to understand it spoken — makes such experiences much more relaxing, I'm sure. Several people, trying to figure out my name, asked me if I might have des origines anglaises. Broadhurst is not an easy name to read, spell, or pronounce for French-speaking people. Since my official given name is the French-sounding Charles, they are curious. I always tell people that, yes, I'm of English origin, but I'm American. There aren't so many Americans here, but there are a lot of Brits.

When I say America, I often run into someone who has traveled in the States, or has relatives there, or who would like to go there to see what it's all about. Yesterday, one nurse told me that she'd gone on a vacation to travel aounnd California and the American West. It was the best trip she ever took, she said, and the landscapes and scenery were fantastic. We chatted for a few minutes about what it was like to live in California.

A doctor in the recovery room asked me the familiar question — origines anglaises ? — and it told him yes, but American. What state? Caroline du Nord. Oh, I don't know where that is. I told him that I had lived in California for nearly 20 years before retiring to the Loire Valley. He wanted to know where in California. I said San Francisco, and his face brightened. My daughter, who is a brilliant student, is in San Francisco, he told me. She's been there for a month and will spend an entire year there. Previoulsy, she spent six months as a student at Stanford. The doctor himself had spent 6 months at Berkeley years ago, he said.

That kind of contact with people during a procedure as stressful as the one I underwent really helps. Believe it or not, the coloscopie will be a good memory. Expecially the food they brought me at about four o'clock: a slice of nice ham (jambon de Paris), a petit pain, a pat of nice Normandy butter, a green salad, a wedge of camembert, and a plain yogurt with a packet of sugar. And a pitcher of chilled water — no wine, even though we are in the Loire Valley!

17 July 2014

And visions of vegetables...

...dance in my head. Carrots. Onions. Zucchini. Red bell peppers. Shitake mushrooms. Bean sprouts. Cherry tomatoes. Cilantro.

 A recent lunch of vegetables and shrimp in a coconut milk curry sauce

Tomorrow, I will eat vegetables again. Or this evening, if it all goes according to my expectations. Last time, the staff at the hospital brought me a big plate of salad an hour or two after the exam was done. It won't be a Thai curry like the one shown above, but it will be vegetables.

16 July 2014

Deux couchers de soleil

Summer is back, and none too soon. Last year we had a spell of warm-verging-on-hot weather that lasted from July 1 until mid-September. This year, we are just coming out of a July cold snap with rainy days that lasted from July 4 to July 14. It's finally over.

 
Two shots of yesterday's sunset over the vineyard

It's nice to have to wear not much more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. It's nice to have the pretty sunrises and sunsets back again. It's nice to be able to sit out on the terrace in the afternoon and evening. Around here, we love summer.

 
 Another recent but very different sunset from the same vantage point

The vegetable garden is soaking up the sunshine. All the plants are well-watered for the time being, because we've had a lot of rain — 40 mm / 1½ in. — since July 4. The high temperature around here is supposed to be about 86ºF / 30ºC this afternoon. En été, mieux vaut suer que trembler... (In summertime, it's better to sweat than to shiver.)

15 July 2014

Du raisin, il y en a

Day one of the diet. I won't be eating any grapes. Or any other fruit or vegetable. No milk or soft cheese. No bread on this diet. I have quince, raspberry, and apple jelly in the fridge, but if I can't have any on bread or in yogurt (interdit !), how would I eat it?


Ce n'est pas la fin du monde, après tout. Here are some photos of the state of the grapes in July. There are a lot of them and they are really growing fast.


We've had a lot of rain to plump the grapes up, and we're expecting more next weekend. Saturday looks like a very rainy day. Of course. That's when we have friends coming over. I guess we'll have an indoor pizza party.


By then, I'll be recovered and I'll be back on my regular diet. There will be much cheese and many vegetables, not to mention things like ham, chicken, and sausage, on the pizzas. You can tell what I'm looking forward to right now. And it won't take place in a hospital.

14 July 2014

Bleu, blanc, rouge

Happy Bastille Day. Or as it's called in France, le 14 juillet. The U.S. flag is called "the red, white and blue," and the flag that symbolizes France has the same colors but in a different order: blue, white and red — bleu, blanc, rouge.

Bleu

Blanc

Rouge

The sun is out this morning and even the prospect of a restricted diet for three days and a hospital visit isn't getting me down. By Friday, it will all be over. Time to go out with the dog. We had good friends over for a nice Sunday dinner yesterday, and we have other friends coming over for a pizza extravaganza next Saturday. That frames things nicely.