07 July 2020

Towers, and regrets

A building in Salers, with a restaurant operating out of the ground floor... I assume that tower houses a staircase. I wish I had gone inside to verify that.

The church in Salers, dedicated to saint Mathieu (St. Matthew). I wish I had gone inside.

The church in the town of Mauriac, just north of Salers. The church is called the Basilique de Notre-Dame-des-Miracles and was built in the 12th century on the site of an older chapel. I wish I had seen it from closer up than this.

The towers of the Château de Val, north of Mauriac and near the town called Bort-les-Orgues. I wish I had gone inside the château when we were there.

The Château de Saint-Chamant. We walked around the grounds, but the building itself was closed up tight. I wish I had been able to go inside. It's only open from July 1 to August 31. Is this another staircase tower?

The towers of the Château d'Anjony in Tournemire, south of Saint-Chamant. I repeat: I wish I had gone inside. It was closed the day we went there, because it was lunchtime. So we went and had lunch in a restaurant.

06 July 2020

Dans le Cantal, la lauze règne sur les toits

Le dictionnaire que j'utilise donne les orthographes «lause» ou «lauze», dans cet ordre. Les deux mots riment avec «pause» ou «cause» en français — et plus ou moins avec les mots anglais «those» ou «doze».

Voici une maison que j'ai vue à Salers et qui a un toit (roof) de lauzes.

This is a different view of the same roof. From what I've read, it seems that lauzes are flat pieces of either sandstone (grès) or limestone (calcaire) in this region (le Cantal en Auvergne). They can be granite or other rock in other regions (Bourgogne, Franche-Comté).

And here's a close-up shot of the lauzes. They are the most common roofing material used in Cantal and other parts of the Auvergne region. Farther south in France, most of the roofs are red terra cotta tiles. In Brittany, the most common roofing material is slate. In between, as in Saint-Aignan, some are roofs are slate and others are terra cotta (terre cuite in French). You can see that these lauzes are pretty thick. They must be heavy.

Here's a typical house in Salers that built of the local black volcanic rock and has lauzes as its roofing material.

At the Château de Val, a few miles north of Salers, some of the "pepper-pot" towers are have lauze roofs and others are made of tiles.

Here's another typical cottage, this one in Tournemire, a few miles south of Saint-Chamant.

These lauzes are thinner than some I saw. I don't know what stone they made of. They almost look like they've been painted gray...

Finally, there's something pleasing about the plain and simple look of this old barn in Saint-Chamant, just south of Salers.

I found this YouTube video in French that shows how the lauze roofs in the Cantal are constructed, maintained, and repaired. The town featured is about 10 miles east of Aurillac.

Look what happens when a lauze roof is not well maintained.

05 July 2020

Paysages d'Auvergne

Yesterday I posted photos of a few stone houses in the Cantal "province" of France's mountainous central region, called the Auvergne. Today I'm posting Auvergne landscape photos. The Auvergne is cow and dairy country, so you'll notice some cattle in these.
The slideshow runs for two minutes.

I took these photos in early September of 2009 in the area surrounding the beautiful little town of Salers — it's one of the plus beaux villages de France, as is neighboring Tournemire.

04 July 2020

In my mind, I'm still in the Auvergne

And I want to go back there. Today I'll post just a few photos of houses in the Cantal département in the Auvergne, which is in the mountainous center of France, three or four hours south of Saint-Aignan.

In fact, my big news today is that I went to the super-market yesterday, and I went inside. It was the first time I'd done that since last March 14 — almost 16 weeks go.

I drove into the Super U at about 8:40 a.m. The store opens at 8:30. Sometimes there are people waiting to get in at that hour, and I wanted to give them 10 minutes to get inside before I followed them, rather than mixing with the crowd.

Actually, if the parking lot had been crowded with cars or people, I wouldn't have entered the store. But it wasn't, so in I went. I was wearing my "face covering" of course. I had my hand disinfectant liquid in the car.

My plan was to go in, go directly to pick up the things I wanted, and then to get out of the store as quickly as possible. But once I was inside, and I saw there was no crowd, I actually picked up a few things that I hadn't really thought about buying. There were no long lines at the caisses, so that went smoothly.

Some of the houses in today's photos are in Saint-Chamant and some of them are in Tournemire. I took the photos on a cloudy day in September 2009 with a Panasonic Lumix TZ-3 digital camera.

03 July 2020

Des vaches, mais pas les mêmes

After going out into the pastures to see the milking of herd of Saler cows, with their calves, we headed back to Saint-Chamant (Cantal) to go to a dairy farm and watch the afternoon cheese-making session there. Here's the sign that pointed the way.

Not all the cows in the Salers region are of the Salers breed. These are not. A lot of the cows in the area are Montbéliardes. That's a breed from eastern France, near the Swiss border.

The Montbéliardes give good milk that resembles Salter cows' milk. Montbéliardes don't need their calves to be present to get the milk to start flowing, so they are easier to work with.

As we drove toward the farm from Saint-Chamant on this narrow country lane, we came nose-to-nose with a small herd of cows that were headed, I think, back to the pasture after being milked.

The cows surrounded the car. They were curious but not aggressive. Thanks to my friend Evelyn for this photo from that evening in September 2009.

02 July 2020

An hour in a cow pasture in Auvergne

September 2009. After walking around in Tournemire and having lunch there, we drove up to the top of the Puy Mary, an ancient extinct volcano that tops out at about six thousand feet (1800+ meters). The weather was iffy — we'd had showers earlier in the day but not in Tournemire. On top of the volcano it was windy, foggy, and raining. We couldn't see anything.

We really wanted to see more sites and activities that had to do with dairy farming and cheese-making in the region around Salers. We read somewhere about two farms where we could see the milking process. The first one was a bust — nobody was there. The second, a farm run by the Rodde family an hour east of Salers, near the village called Cheylade, was the jackpot. We were able to walk out into a cow pasture and watch Jean-Pierre Rodde and his crew milking his Salers cows.

Salers cows won't give milk unless their calves are present. So the cows and calves are in the pasture together. A calf is let out of a pen they're kept in, finds his mother, and starts suckling. That starts the milk-giving. The calf is tied to one of its mother's front legs and the milking machine, powered by a tractor, is strapped on and takes over. The milking takes a while, because there are a lot of cows (see the slideshow above) and they aren't all milked simultaneously. This was the afternoon milking. There's also one early in the morning. Cheese is therefore made twice a day, morning and evening. It was raining and we had to step carefully to avoid cow patties, which were slippery and mucky.

In a document in French that I found here there's a passage (on page 6) that describes the Roddes' family business, which does both meat and milk/cheese production. The article is about a group's visit to the farm one afternoon in 2012. Here's my translation:
In the afternoon, [our] group visited Mr. Rodde's farm in Cheylade (15). Rodde uses a very traditional system (called “Salers Milking”) and processes the milk into Cantal-type cheese. His is one of the last farms to use this method —in fact, fewer than 10 farms continue the practice — which involves milking by machine out in the pasture with “priming” done by the suckling calf. The calf is then tied to one of its mothers’ front legs so that the cowherd can attach the milking machine and continue the process.

Mr. Rodde's farm has 130 hectares [320 acres] of pastureland, [with] 115 Salers cows milked in winter and 85 during the summer season. The whole herd is made up of purebred Salers stock. The heifers calve in December; the cows calve in January or February. Grass-fed calves are held aside in order to be marketed in mid-winter. The cows’ feed is based on fresh grass in summer and dry hay in winter. Four people work on the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Rodde, their son, and one employee.

The milk is processed on the farm, as is the aging of the young cheeses [called tommes]. Production reaches 250 wheels of [Cantal] cheese per year, each weighing around 40 kilograms [nearly 90 lbs.] when ripe and requiring 450 liters [about 120 U.S. gallons) of milk for their production. The cheese is sold at the farm but also in the Paris area.

The sustainability of this method of milking is greatly endangered because of the costs and working conditions it requires. Those disadvantages explain the steep decline of this traditional system designed for use with the Salers breed of cattle. A similar method used to be practiced in the Aubrac [...region to the south] but it has now been abandoned.

30 June 2020

Le gîte rural à Saint-Chamant

Here's a short slideshow with photos I took mostly inside the house we rented in Saint-Chamant (Cantal, Auvergne, central France). The Plus Beaux Villages called Salers and Tournemire are both within 10 miles, and there's a château in Saint-Chamant too. We were five people, and we rented this house for 300 euros (about $340 U.S. at today's exchange rate).

The house is old-fashioned-looking inside but it's very spacious. It has all the conveniences: a good kitchen, a huge living room and equally huge dining room downstairs, as well as three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one downstairs and one upstairs). I didn't take pictures of the bedrooms or bathrooms, but you can see them on this web site. Yes, the house is still for rent at prices comparable to what we paid in 2009. It costs more in high season, but not much more — about $400. Have a look.

Bob R., I'm curious to know if you recognize the place from your stay in Saint-Chamant years ago.

Saint-Chamant du Cantal in pictures

Here are a few fairly random photos I took in Saint-Chamant in the Cantal (Auvergne) nearly 11 years ago. This is Walt looking out a window at the house we rented for that trip.

Here's a house in the village. The date over the door says 1851. I wonder if it's occupied. Maybe just the ground floor is lived in. Those shutters on the upstairs windows have seen better days, and the ones on the downstairs windows are just gone.

I liked these carved plaques on the village school building. Schools in France used to be segregated by gender.

That was the case when I was a teaching assistant in Rouen in 1972-73. I worked in the boys' high school, the Lycée Corneille. The girls' high school was the Lycée Jeanne-d'Arc. I think both are what they call mixte nowadays.

These are cows that I photographed pretty much in the center of the village, near the Château de Saint-Chamant. Photos of that monument TK, as we used to say (to come).

This beast and the ones above are not even cows of the Salers breed. This one looks like a charolaise to me.

29 June 2020

Le Château de Val en Auvergne

This is a 700-year-old château that was almost submerged when a dam was built downstream on the Dordogne river in the late 1940s. It survived when the decision to limit the size of the artificial lake created when the dam was finished. The Michelin Green Guide remarks that the château de Val thus commands un site de toute beauté. It ended up standing on a little rock island in the lake, and a walkway or jetty was later built so that pedestrians could cross over to the island.

In 1946, when the dam construction began, the family named d'Arcy who owned and lived in the château was expropriated by the French government. The plan was for the château to be flooded. The d'Arcy family left, taking all the furniture with them. When the waters rose but didn't flood the château, it was left unguarded. Burglars broke in in 1949 and pillaged and plundered the place. The château de Val is a survivor. My slide show runs for less than two minutes.

28 June 2020

Saint-Chamant dans le Cantal (Auvergne)

When we spent a few days in the Cantal (in Auvergne), about a four-hour drive south of Saint-Aignan, we rented this house. There were five of us plus a dog, so we needed a pretty big place. And we found this one. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a nice kitchen, a huge living room, and a huge dining room. We rented it for 300 euros for the week, but we only stayed four nights. We drove down there in two cars. That's Evelyn's husband L. in the photo, next to the car they had rented for the trip.

The house was in the village of Saint-Chamant (pop. 239), and within easy walking distance of the village center. According to what I've read, Saint-Chamant has about 225 housing units, nearly 100 of which are résidences secondaires. In other words, they are not lived in year-round. So it's a pretty quiet place. It's only four or five miles from the more-famous and busier town of Salers, and 12 miles north of the big town of Aurillac (pop. 25,000), where the nearest major supermarket is located. The picture on the left shows the village church in Saint-Chamant.

As far as I can remember, and according to Google Maps, there is only one shop in Saint-Chamant. It's this little supérette called Au P'tit Market(when I took this photo). We bought things there. I remember that it also served as the village post office. We also shopped at the open-air market in Salers, which operates only on Wednesday mornings. There are also a few bakeries and at least one cheese shop in Salers. I remember buying potatoes and some tomme fraîche cheese and making a melted-cheese dish called truffade one evening. And Walt and I went to a butcher's shop one day and bought a couple of Salers beefsteaks, just to try them.

This must be near the church, and near the house we had rented. We could see the church from the house, and as I said it was an easy walk away in good weather, across a pasture (the shortest route) or on a paved road.

Here's a different kind of house that was nearby. It's obviously an old farmhouse. The house we were in is what's called a maison bourgeoise.

And here's a very grand house that was nearby as well. I've tried to find it on Google Maps street view, but without success so far. I wonder if it has been turned into an apartment building, since it's so big.