05 December 2020

One of those mornings...

The day has started off with a series of failures. The boiler, which heats water for our steam radiators/central heat, keeps turning itself off and displaying an error message. The boiler is only a few years old. The clothes dryer keeps turning itself off too, but it's 17 years old and probably needs to be replaced. We hardly ever use it, but this morning I decided to throw in some socks, underwear, and t-shirts that got washed overnight. I wanted to dry them quickly. No luck with that.

Walt got up a few minutes ago and his computer wouldn't start up. He finally got it going but the Microsoft updates to Windows that he set to download and install last night don't seem to be there. And my Android tablet — the one I use the most, up in the loft — turned itself off and reported that the battery was completely discharged. I don't know why. I checked connections and the battery now seems to be charging again. We'll see.

Did I mention that Tasha pooped on the floor in Walt's computer office yesterday morning? She's never done anything like that before. We are keeping an eye on her. She's a Shetland sheepdog and will be 4 years old (already) in February. And on and on it goes. And I've spent two hours this morning trying to find some old photos that I posted on my blog in 2006, but I can't find them anywhere. I'd like to re-process them to enlarge them. Here's a link to the post they're in. It's about why we decided to leave California and move to the Loire Valley.

Here I'm posting few more photos from the Pocé gîte back in 2002. It didn't look much like San Francisco. We arrived in Pocé on December 7, 2002, so it was 18 years ago this weekend. We started working with a real estate agent on Monday, December 9, that year, and in just three or four days we saw 14 or 15 houses that were for sale in our price range. By the end of that week we had signed the papers to buy the house we've now lived in for more than 17 years. It was a wild ride, and I guess it still is.

04 December 2020

Le gîte rural à Pocé-sur-Cisse, près d'Amboise

I didn't take as many photos of the inside of Jean and Adrienne's gîte rural as I thought I had. For example, I don't seem to have any photos of the bedrooms. I believe there were three of them, and two of them had exposed, rough-hewn-oak roof trusses. The living/dining room downstairs had exposed ceiling beams (poutres apparentes in French). I guess I didn't take many photos because we were busy while we were there, visiting houses that were for sale, and because we were only in the gîte for 5 or 6 nights before we drove back to Paris and flew back to San Francisco.

The owners, Jean and Adrienne, lived in the grander house on the left, and we were staying in the converted barn on the right. In the slide show, one picture shows Walt petting the local black cat, and there was also a little black dog living in with J and A. They were great, by the way. They were very interested to learn that we were looking for a house to buy. They invited us to dinner one night, and when we moved into our house in Saint-Aignan, we had them over for dinner too. I'm sorry we sort of lost touch with them over the years.

03 December 2020

Back to the Loire Valley

I've just finished a series of posts — nearly two dozen of them — about our trip to Paris in April 2002. Toutes les bonnes choses ont une fin, and that was true of our vacation. We returned to San Francisco after two weeks in an apartment near Montparnasse. We both went back to work.

A lot happened before our next trip to France. The company I was working for was bought by a San Diego software outfit, and all us employees were moved from Belmont, a town about 20 miles south of where we lived in San Francisco, to Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, another 20 miles farther south. That more than doubled my commute time, since the worst traffic was south of Belmont. I told my manager that I wasn't sure I'd last long in my job — I had commuted from SF to Silicon Valley between 1995 and 1998, and I dreaded doing so again. It was exhausting.

In June, I finally went for an appointment with an allergist in San Francisco. He told me that I should leave California and go live somewhere else. Scratch tests showed that I was extremely allergic to cypress tree pollen, and the California coast is lined with Monterey cypress trees. I told the doctor about my experience in Paris in April, and his reaction was this: if you didn't have allergy symptoms in Paris in April, it might be worth it to consider going to live there.

To make a long story short, I ended up quitting my job in September that year. We took our next trip to France in December — not for a vacation but to look for a house we might be able to afford to buy and that we'd be happy to live in. We didn't have a plan to move immediately, but I admit that idea was on my mind a lot. On the internet, I found a gîte to rent for a week in the village of Pocé-sur-Cisse, just across the river from the famous Loire valley town of Amboise. By e-mail I made an appointment to see a real estate agent in the Amboise area who sent me a message saying he would be glad to help us in December. Here's a photo of a much older photo of the place where we stayed in Pocé.

Of course, the gîte property didn't look exactly the same in 2002 as it had looked many decades, if not a century, earlier.
It looked like what you see in this photo. That's the owners' house at the end of the driveway.

The owners were Adrienne and her husband Jean (John in English).
They had converted an out-building on their property into a nice little rental house.
That's it below, with the car we rented in Paris for the trip parked in front of it.

We arrived on a Saturday after noon and had time to stop and buy supplies for dinner on the way into the village. Adrienne and Jean said we should help ourselves to firewood that was stored in a shed just outside and make ourselves comfortable.
We were of course completely jet-lagged after the 11-hour flight and the four-hour drive.
The time difference between California and France is nine hours, by the way.

The next morning, we drove down to Amboise to do some shopping in the big Sunday-morning market there.
We had a day of rest ahead of us before our appointment with the real estate agent on Monday morning at eleven.

The weather wasn't bad, considering it was the second week in December.
We had spent a total of three weeks in the area on vacations in nearby Vouvray in 2000 and 2001,
so we were in familiar territory. We didn't know, of course, what the week we planned to spend
looking at houses would turn out to be like. But it seemed like it might be fun.

02 December 2020

La rue Lecourbe

The Paris street called la rue Lecourbe runs for about a mile and a half through the 15th arrondissement in Paris. The 15th is the most populous arrondissement (district) of the city. Rue Lecourbe runs in a more or less straight line along what was a Roman road connecting Paris (called Lutèce back then) and the town of Sèvres. These are five photos of the top of the rue Lecourbe, near the tour Eiffel, the hôtel des Invalides, and the tour Montparnasse.

The Paris metro line at the top of the rue Lecourbe is called Sèvres-Lecourbe. It's an above-ground section of metro.

I've stayed at the Hôtel Lecourbe at least once in my life.

This is the entrance to the Sèvres-Lecourbe metro station.

CHM and I have had many dinners in the Japanese restaurant you can see in the lower part of this photo,
slightly right of center. If you look closely, you can read the word Japonais on the restaurant's blue awning.

On the same side of the street, there's a fancy Lenôtre grocery shop that sells gourmet pastries and other fine foods.

Right across the street from Lenôtre there's a Monoprix department store that includes a big supermarket.
It's always fun to shop there and see what kinds of products I can find that I don't find easily in our Saint-Aignan stores.

01 December 2020

La place Dauphine

Here are three photos of mine, taken at la place Dauphine over the years, plus one that Walt took and posted on his blog years ago. At the end of the post I'm adding a short slideshow of photos I've grabbed off Google Maps and Google Images to supplement ours.

That's Walt sitting on a park bench in my photo below, and then after that his photo
of a group of people playing boules, a French version of lawn bowling.

The aerial view is a Google Maps screen capture. The last photo in the slideshow is a Google Maps photo of the house at number 14, place Dauphine, which the Michelin green guide says is an example of what the original buildings around the place looked like.

30 November 2020

Le restaurant Paul

I thought I had posted the first photo below a week or two ago, but it turns out I hadn't. It shows two buildings at the western tip of the Île de la Cité in Paris — that's the island Notre-Dame cathedral is on. The bridge that spans the Seine here, crossing the tip of the island, is called Le Pont Neuf ("the new bridge") and it is the oldest existing bridge in Paris (long story — all the earlier bridges were wooden structures that either washed away in floods or destroyed by fire).

If you walk between the two buildings above, you end up on a triangular city "square" called la Place Dauphine. It was turned into a place [plahss] or "square" in Paris in the early 17th century at the initiative of the kind Henri IV, whose equestrian statue is nearby.

And on la place Dauphine there's a restaurant called Paul, chez Paul, or le restaurant Paul. I had dinner there back in 1974, when I was invited by a professor from the University of Illinois who happened to be visiting Paris. At the time, I was working for the university's year abroad program in Paris. And at the time, it was one of the most amazing Paris restaurant experiences I had ever enjoyed. Still is, I guess.

Anyway, blah blah blah. This morning, I started out wanting to post some pictures of Paul that I took in 2002. Then I got lost in my photo archives. I've spent the past 2½ hours searching my blog and my extensive photo collection for images showing la place Dauphine. I've always said that it was one of my favorite places in Paris. All these photos are from 2002, with the exception of the one immediately above, which I took in 2009.

Apparently, le restaurant Paul is more than 100 years old. And 1974 wasn't the last time I had dinner there. Walt and I had a good dinner there in the 1990s, but we can't remember exactly when. I wasn't taking pictures back then. The place next door is called Le Caveau du Palais, and is, I believe, now owned by the same people. Oh, and I remember knowing that the famous French actors Simone Signoret and Yves Montand lived for a time in an apartment in the building at no. 15.

I hope these people are enjoying fond memories of la place Dauphine just as I am this morning. I hope I'll get to go back there one day. If you want to see Paul's current menu, click this link. No hurry, though — Paul, like all restaurants in France, is closed until January 20, 2021, because of Covid-19.

29 November 2020

Paris cafés, with people

All these photos feature people sitting in or standing in front of sidewalk cafés in different Paris neighborhoods.
They also all show décors dominated by the color red.

I don't know if the man in the last photo was trying to hide his face from my camera or just block the sun.

28 November 2020


Paris is by far the most densely populated big city in Europe, with more than 20,000 people per square kilometer living there. That's nearly 55,000 people per square mile — more than 2 million people packed into 100 km² (40.5 mi²) of land. Only Manhattan island is more densely populated in the U.S. In comparison, each square mile of San Francisco is lived on by "only" 17 thousand people.

You can see how so many people can fit into Paris when you look at all the apartment buildings around the city. I took most of these photos in the 7th and 15th arrondissements, which is my friend CHM's neighborhood.

27 November 2020

L'Église du Dôme aux Invalides — et cetera

I'm winding down my series of posts about our stay in Paris in 2002, but I have a few more photos to post. It's ironic that we spent — or at least have the impression we spent — more time in Paris when we lived in San Francisco than we have since we came to live in Saint-Aignan. The two-week Paris stay in 2002 turned out to be pivotal, but we didn't know it at the time. At the end of it, we returned home to San Francisco and went back to work, not knowing that just over a year later we'd be moving to France.

L'hôtel des Invalides and l'église du Dôme are in the 7th arrondissment of Paris. My friend CHM lives nearby, so I've spent a lot of time in the neighborhood. Napoleon's tomb is in the church. I remember a good visit there with my sister and a friend of ours from North Carolina back in 2007. Here's a post I did about "the church of the dome" in 2013.

I guess the biggest news here is that our pandemic lockdown is being eased slightly starting tomorrow. Shops and other businesses are re-opening tomorrow, partly so that people can do some Christmas shopping and to help businesses avoid bankruptcy. Restaurants, cafés, and bars will remain closed until January 20. We'll still have to fill out and sign a form stating the purpose of our trip when we go out shopping, and we aren't supposed to stay away from home for more than three hours at a time.

Another piece of news is that the Peugeot passed inspection once more. The car will be 20 years old next month — it was registered at Christmas in the year 2000. I bought it used when we first got here, and I'd like to keep it for another few years. It's fun to drive, and it's a great car for running around in the immediate Saint-Aignan area, doing our shopping and other errands. It has about 120K miles (nearly 200K kilometers) on it. Inspection here is a serious and thorough test, so I had the car completely serviced about a month ago to get it ready. And it worked. In December it will be time to take the Citroën for inspection (contrôle technique). I think it will pass easily, but it is 13 years old now! It only has about 60K miles (100K kilometers) on its odometer. That's called the compteur de kilomètres in French. We're not putting very many miles on the cars these days, that's for sure.

26 November 2020

Turkey Day

We're not eating turkey today, because we always have lamb for Thanksgiving now. Years ago, we decided that turkey for Thanksgiving and then turkey again for Christmas was just too much gobbledy-gobbledy for us. Besides, when we lived in San Francisco we didn't eat lamb often, so the Thanksgiving leg of lamb was a treat that reminded us of France. Once in France, we realized that whole turkeys are not available in November. Turkeys are Christmas birds here. We do get turkey parts — boned-out breasts as filets or scallops, turkey legs and thighs, and turkey wings too — all year round.

There certainly are turkeys in France (you're welcome to chuckle). Turkey (dinde) became a standard at French Christmas dinners decades ago, replacing goose. The nice thing about turkeys here is that you can get small ones that weigh as few as 3.5 kilos (about 8 lbs.). I'm sure you can get birdzilla-sized birds too, but for just two of us that's way too much. The way I like to cook small turkeys is to poach them in simmering water first, and then brown the bird in the oven after it is cooked in water. The broth is excellent, and the turkey doesn't dry out. You can poach a small turkey that way but it would be hard to poach a 20 or 25 lb. bird.

The best turkeys I've ever eaten, I think, are farm-raised French birds. We bought one from a Saint-Aignan butcher for one of our first holiday meals here. I think it was for Thanksgiving 2003, and we had to order it a week in advance because, as I say, whole turkeys are only available in late December. And it cost something like 35 euros for an 8 lb. bird. It was really tasty and not dry — there was a layer of fat under the breast skin that basted the white meat as it cooked. It was fantastic. That was before I started routinely poaching turkeys, ducks, chickens, and guinea hens before browning them in the oven.

In March 2018, we went to the Allier département in central France (northern Auvergne, near Vichy and Moulins) to spend a week in a gîte and drive around the countryside over there. One reason for choosing to spend a week in the Allier was that I had seen a cooking show on French TV about the town of Jaligny-sur-Besbre (pop. 575; founded in the year 67 A.D.) which described it as the place where the best French turkeys were raised. Its farm-raised turkeys are Jaligny's claim to fame. Unfortunately, we didn't go there on market day, and there were no butcher shops in the town. So we left empty-handed — no Jaligny turkey for us. Someday I might go back for the village's foire aux dindes, the turkey fair, in December, and we'll come back and cook a Jaligny turkey for Christmas.

The photos of live turkeys in this post are some I've taken at Valençay over the years. It's about half an hour's drive from Saint-Aignan and is famous for its big château (Napoleon, Talleyrand, etc.) and its pyramid-shaped goat cheeses. On the grounds of the château there's a little animal park where you can get up close with turkeys, chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, geese, goats, and even deer — it's fun to visit. Happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe.