28 March 2006

The hunting dogs at Cheverny

The Château de Cheverny is known for its pack of hunting dogs, among other things. The dogs are fed daily, and their dîner is a big attraction. We were there too late on March 20 for the feeding of the dogs, but we were still able to admire the château's canines.

Two pictures from Chambord

Chambord is the 900-pound gorilla of Loire Valley châteaux. Here are two pictures I took there in March.

Steps leading up from the château to the church at Chambord.

The French flag flying high over the château de Chambord.
We are today finishing up a one-week getaway in Paris. It's been an exciting week, seeing old friends and a couple of new ones. I'll be writing more about Paris next week, after we get back home and I have use of my own computer again..

Pictures from Cheverny, Chaumont, and Pocé-sur-Cisse

Ornementation over a doorway at the château de Cheverny.

Lettering on a piece of gardening equipment at the château de Chaumont-
sur-Loire. No, I don't know why "ORENGE" is spelled that way.

A decorative lion guarding a doorway at the château de
Pocé-sur-Cisse, just north of Amboise.


Fresh fruit on sale at the Saint-Aignan market. Apples are plentiful right now.

We also bought pears, kiwis, and grapes at the market last zeek. Fresh fruit is a standard dessert in France. It complements a simple meal. French food is not necessarily complicated and fancy, despite popular stereotypes.

Above picture taken with a Kodak DC4800 camera, in macro mode

This picture taken with a Canon Powershot S70 camera, also in macro mode

Shopping the Saint-Aignan market

Goat cheeses, shaped into pyramids or logs or rounds, are the specialty of the Cher river valley and the surrounding area. The towns of Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay, Pouligny, and Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine all have their own goat cheese appellations.

Above, a display at the farmers' market in Saint-Aignan. Below, cheeses in the window of a shop in the town of Selles-sur-Cher.

At the market in Saint-Aignan, there are two poultry vendors. They sell chickens, including hens and roosters, as well as turkey, guinea fowl, ducks, and geese. So far, avian flu hasn't reached our region and the poultry business hasn't been disrupted. Pintade is guinea fowl, and effilée means that the bird has been gutted.

Here's the guinea hen (assuming it was a hen) that we cooked after shopping the market a couple of weeks ago. Walt poached it in a broth with bay leaves, onions, and carrots, and then we took it out of the broth and put it in the oven to brown.

The side dishes are sautéed mushrooms, purchased from the mushroom lady at the market, who grows them and sells them, along with galettes de pommes de terre — puff pastries made by incorporating mashed potatoes into the pastry dough (made with flour and butter). To finish the meal, a good lettuce salad, some bread, and a bottle of Chinon wine. A feast.

Demonstrations ; local sights

There doesn't seem to have been an extraordinary amount of violence and vandalism in yesterdays big demonstrations in France. I think the next move is President Chirac's, as far as this new First Job Contract controversy goes.

According to the police, a million people in more than 200 towns and cities across France participated in the demonstrations. According to organizers, there were three million participants. There was some violence, but it appears not to have been bad enough to make the headlines.

* * *

We are going to continue to be very busy over the next 10 days or so, without much time for blogging.

The church towers in Saint-Aignan seen from the market square
in the middle of town.

Châteauvieux, near Saint-Aignan

How's this for a place nobody has ever heard of? It's called Châteauvieux. Population 575 (yes, not even close to a thousand). I's five or so miles southeast of Saint-Aignan. The château is used as a retirement home these days. The town has one grocery store that operates a small café for lunches, and it has a lot of troglodyte buildings and dwellings. It's on my circuit of local châteaux that I show visitors.

A post you will never see (or maybe later...)

Here's a recent picture of Walt emerging from a bou-
with a baguette. I took the picture in the town of Fougères-sur-Bièvre, located 15 miles or so north of Saint-Aignan.

This morning I spent three hours writing a very complete description of our recent tour of a beautiful little château here called Villesavin, near Chambord. I published it and then noticed some font problems in the text. I went back to fix them, and suddenly the Blogger software burped and my topic just disappeared, pictures and all. Very frustrating. Blogger is free software, and I guess you get what you pay for. And then again, maybe it was my fault entirely. Ah, computers...

26 March 2006

What are these protests about?

What is all this controversy about work contracts and young people's jobs in France? As far as I understand, it is very difficult in France to fire an unproductive or uncooperative worker. That makes employers extremely cautious in their hiring practices. They want to make sure they have found the right person for the job before they hire anybody. Unemployment among the young is very high -- 10 to 20 per cent.

Add to this situation the reluctance of employers to hire people who are not ethnically French. Unfortunately, racism exists, in France as in other countries. There is a generation of 20-somethings in France who have been born here to parents that immigrated from, for example, North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) and black Africa (Mali, Sénégal, Côte d'Ivoire, etc.) back in the 1970s and '80s. These are the young people who rioted in the Paris suburbs last year. Many of them are unemployed, bored, and angry.

President Jacques Chirac's prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, has come up with and, despite strong opposition, succeeded in pushing through the French National Assembly (the parliament) a law decreeing that employers can hire workers younger than 26 years old under a contract imposing a two-year probationary period. At any time during those two years, the young employee can be let go without cause.

Understandably, a lot of people see this scheme as setting up a situation in which young people can be exploited for two years at low wages. Then the employers can let them go and hire other young people, at similarly low wages, instead of putting the more experienced young employees on long-term contracts at a higher pay rate. From this perspective, the government's new employment contract (the CPE, or Contrat Première Embauche) is fundamentally unfair to young workers. It institutionalizes a system in which they have little or no job security.

(All this reminds me of the tenure system in American universities, which was much abused in the same way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There were too many tenured professors and too many new PhDs looking for work, so a lot of young professors were denied tenure despite their excellent job performance. It's one of the reasons I got out of teaching back then.)

Why would the Chirac government want to set up such a system? The only thing that makes sense to me is that Chirac and Villepin understand that employers are reluctant to hire young workers in general, and young people who are not ethnically French specifically. If an employer has an escape clause -- the two-year probationary period -- maybe more of these French-born children of African and North African immigrants will find jobs. There will be less anger in the projects (les cités) surrounding the big cities. But even if this is true, it is unspoken and perhaps unspeakable in France, for all kinds of philosophical and political reasons.

It is clear that French employers, the government, and French people in general are opposed to American-style "affirmative action" programs. Here, what Americans call affirmative action is called discrimination positive. The point is that it is viewed as a form of discrimination. France is a country with a long history of social inequality because of the centuries-long existence of a class of aristocrats that ruled the country and were inherently "better" than their compatriots. They had distinct privileges. Officially, that social system ended in the 1790s with the French Revolution. With the institution of the republic in the 19th and 20th centuries, the ideal became égalité -- equality. All people are equal.

But while the U.S. has its long history of slavery that turned into nominally free if under-privileged class of African-American citizens, the existence in France of a significant population of ethnically different people is a relatively new reality. The situations are very different, and maybe very different solutions to the resulting tensions in the society are called for.

There is also significant opposition in France to the American model of what the French call communautarisme -- ethnic, religious, and social communities within the society. All people are equal, theoretically, and there is no need for society to divide itself into interest groups on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Affirmative action programs would be a tacit acknowledgment that such communities already exist in France.

When you apply for a job in France, you are expected to attach a photo to your resumé. That's a practice that was banned in the U.S. many years ago. The picture makes it too easy for employers to eliminate people whom they want, for reasons of ethnicity, to screen out. It aids and encourages negative racial discrimination, and makes it harder for minority candidates to get a foot in the door.

After last fall's riots in the housing projects and new towns that surround Paris, there was a proposal to move to a system of "anonymous" resumés in France. Candidates would no longer have to include a photo, and they wouldn't even have to give their name (because the name might not sound French) or their address (because if you live in certain housing projects, there's a good chance that you are not ethnically French). This was to be an experiment, a pilot program. It occurs to me that measures such as these are proof that ethnic communities really do exist in France, but let's not get sidetracked. French people are entitled to a little denial, I guess.

So maybe the CPE is a kind of affirmative action plan in disguise. Sooner or later, I think, somebody in France is going to have to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Communities exist. Racism exists. The integration model is not working -- young people of foreign descent are not accepted as full-fledged members of French society. They are different (we Americans talk of the benefits of diversity) but in this case Vive la différence! doesn't apply. What's the point of denying that?

Meanwhile, many students, whether they are fully French or not, are participating in demonstrations against the Villepin youth employment plan. That's the way politics works in France, at the national level. The government, the out-of-power political parties, the students, and the labor unions are competing power blocks, and they use shows of force and numbers as necessary and as much as they can to move policy in the direction they favor.

But now something has changed. Groups of angry non-students (it is assumed) are taking advantage of the student demonstrations and unrest to wreak havoc and destruction in the cities. There's a level of violence that didn't exist before.

Tomorrow a nationwide general strike is planned. The trains won't run and there will be little if any public transit in Paris and other cities. Schools will be disrupted. There will be major marches and demonstrations, especially in university towns and large cities around the country. The question is, will there be a lot of violence? Will the demonstrations turn into riots? Stay tuned.

25 March 2006

Returning to normal

Today is the last day of l'heure d'hiver en France. That's standard time (or winter time). Tomorrow we'll be on l'heure d'été, daylight saving time (summer time). Tomorrow the sun will come up at about 8:00 a.m. and go down at about 8:00 p.m. It seems like it wasn't that long ago — December and January — that it was dark in Saint-Aignan by 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. The extra sunlight is truly rejuvenating. In San Francisco, there wasn't much difference between winter and spring. Here in northern France, spring is a real rebirth, for plants and for people.

* * *

I put up a new picture of myself in my profile. The one I was using before, I realized, had been taken in 1996. That seems recent to me, but it was after all 10 years ago. I wasn't really trying to fool anybody into thinking I was younger than I am (I just turned 57).

The picture I posted briefly of me and Collette at the University of Illinois was taken in May 2003 by our friend Tom (I think). Or by Harriett. I replaced it yesterday because I think I need to move on. Collette has disappeared, as we say in French.

Earlier, I had posted a picture taken last October by our friends John and Candy, who were visiting. But several people told me that picture didn't look like me.

Now Walt tells me that my current picture doesn't look like me. I don't know about you, but I really don't know what I look like.

* * *

Yesterday was the first "normal" day we had had since my birthday, March 5. That's when we started seriously getting the house ready to receive guests. It was a first swipe at spring cleaning — there is still much to do now that the weather really is becoming springlike.

We had Chris and Tony here from March 8 - 12, and then Susan from March 15 - 22, with her husband Ray for the last three days of that stay. On March 11, we went to Tours to see a Julien Clerc concert. And on March 22, we went to Tours again to see an Alain Souchon concert. That meant getting home at midnight or later two times, and that's way past my bedtime.

You might not know who Julien Clerc and Alain Souchon are. Both are singers who are about my age, and both have been well-known performers in France since the early 1970s.

Julien Clerc, in fact, first came into the public eye when he sang the lead role in the French version of the 1960s musical Hair. He composes his own music but works with lyricists who write the words. He has produced a stream of hit songs for 35 years. I had seen him perform before, but Walt hadn't. The concert I saw took place in San Francisco in about 1999. There were about 3,000 people in the auditorium for that one — I was surprised Julien Clerc could draw such a crowd there. This latest one in Tours was much bigger.

Just last Wednesday, we went to see Alain Souchon's concert. We had seen him in 2002 in Paris, and he is a good singer. He writes the words to his songs, and another well-known performer named Laurent Voulzy writes the music. The first time I saw them perform was at the Olympia theatre in Paris in 1978. Souchon is a poet, and his songs have a more political bent than Julien Clerc's do.

One of his best songs is on the subject of marketing and materialism and how people really want a better life and not just more things and gadgets. Just listen to how the marketers and big corporations talk to us, he says:

On nous prend, faut pas déconner, dès qu'on est né
Pour des cons alors qu'on est
Foules sentimentales
Avec soif d'idéal

Translation: "They take us for idiots from the day we are born, while in fact we are people with feelings and a thirst for ideals."

Alain Souchon and his musicians on stage in Tours

Another recent Alain Souchon song is about how awful it would be, after all the wars and violence and hatred that religions and religious people of all stripes have inflicted on the world, to find out that the sky is just empty and that there really isn't anybody up there.

America misses out on a lot of good music from all around the world because we close ourselves off from it. Most of us live in an American bubble. It's too bad.

Be that as it may, we were very busy for two weeks, and the dog passed away right in the middle of it all. It's almost as if we had been sucked up into a whirlwind and then spit out on the other side, but without the dog.

Part of what was normal yesterday was watching a TV show we had recorded last Sunday afternoon. It's Michel Drucker's interview show called Vivement Dimanche on France 2. His guest was Julien Clerc. The show is a retrospective of a celebrity's life and career, with clips of past performances and the participation of the celebrity's friends, along with performers the celebrity wants to introduce to the public.

For me, the Julien Clerc show was a walk down memory lane. I lived in France from 1970 to 1982, when Juju (as he has been called) was a big star. I grew up (my second childhood, the French one I lived through when I was in my 20s) with his songs ringing in my ears.

* * *

As I said, yesterday was the first "normal" day we'd had in a while. As normal as it could be without a dog to go for a couple of walks with. What did we do? We blogged. I moved some plants outdoors because the weather warmed up. It was raining, and the plants needed water. At lunch time, we looked in the refrigerator and ate the leftovers we found there.

First, there was a container of zucchini soup. I made zucchini soup twice while Susan was here — the second time because it was so good the first time. I had zucchini pulp and whole steamed zucchinis in the freezer.

Potage de courgettes au fromage

The first batch of zucchini soup I made was different from the one pictured here. It was white, for one thing, or yellow, and not green, because I made it with zucchini pulp that didn't have any zucchini skin in it. I cooked the zucchinis last fall, when they were fresh from the garden, by splitting them in half the long way and putting the two halves cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet. Then I baked them for 30 to 45 minutes in a medium oven until they started to collapse and were obviously soft. After they were cool enough to handle, I scraped out the pulp with a spoon and threw the skins out.

The second batch of soup, pictured above, is green because I made it with whole zucchinis that I had steamed and then put in the freezer. The other day when I made the soup I thawed them and pureed them, skin and all, with a stick blender. The skin colored the soup green.

To the zucchini puree, in both cases, I added enough chicken stock to thin it down to the consistency of soup as I heated it up. Then I put in two or three portions of Vache Qui Rit cheese and a couple of tablespoons of Boursin cheese with herbs and garlic in it. You could use cream cheese, Boursin, Rondelé, or any cheese that will melt completely into the soup. You don't want a cheese that will melt into a big lump at the bottom of the pot. Instead of cheese, you could use cream. And I think you could also put in some grated parmesan, but not too much.

To finish off the soup, make croutons. Put a few tablespoons of olive or other oil into the bottom of a big bowl. Cut some dry French bread into cubes and toss them in the oil. Add some chopped garlic or some herbs if you want to. Toast the oiled cubes of bread on a baking sheet in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them; they will burn up before you know it if you let your mind wander.

Put the croutons and a drizzle of olive oil on top of the hot soup and eat it.

The second course of yesterday's lunch was an improvised salad. I had some roasted peppers in a container in the fridge. I had thawed them earlier in the week. They were peppers we grew and then roasted, peeled, and put in the freezer last summer. I also had about half a small can of corn left over from making some salsa last week. And I had a wing and a drumstick left over from a guinea fowl that Walt cooked last weekend. Guinea fowl is very similar to chicken.

Salade de poivrons rôtis, maïs, et pintade

I put the peppers and their juice, the corn, and the meat from the chicken pieces (skinned, boned, and cut into dice) into a bowl with some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. I washed and dried six nice lettuce leaves. Then I put three lettuce leaves on each plate and spooned the pepper-corn-chicken "dressing" over them. There were also some croutons left, so they went on top. Very tasty.

We had the last two pieces of a kiwi tart for dessert. No pictures of that.

Today we are again eating leftovers. During Susan's visit, I worked over a period of two or three days to make a potée, which is a little like a New England boiled dinner but with pork and sausages instead of corned beef.

The preparation involved first cooking two pieces of "corned" pork — porc demi-sel, in French — in water with bay leaves, onions, carrots, allspice berries, and black peppercorns for two hours. The pork was a small shoulder-blade roast (une palette) and a slab of smoked bacon (un morceau de poitrine fumée).

When that was done, I started cooking vegetables in the same broth while the meat was stored in the refrigerator for later. I peeled and cooked some carrots, some turnips, a rutabaga, a celery root ("celeriac" is another name, and it's un céleri rave in French), and a cabbage. I cooked each vegetable separately and then took it out of the broth and put it in the refrigerator when it was done. I could have cooked potatoes too, but I decided I had enough vegetables as it was. As I said, I did all this preparation over a two- or three-day period.

La potée lorraine, still frozen

On the day we were going to have potée for dinner, I heated up the broth again and I poached some smoked sausages in it. I had bought two kinds of sausages — Morteau and Montbéliard — that come from the towns with those names in the mountains of eastern France, near the Swiss border. After 20 minutes or so of poaching, I cut up the sausages and put some pieces back into the pot with some of the vegetables and some pieces of the cooked pork. That made a big dinner for three people, with lots of meat and vegetables left over.

The rest of the meat and vegetables went into the freezer in a big Tupperware container. That's what you see in the picture above. This morning, I took it out of the plastic container, put it in a deep baking pan, and put it in a slow oven to thaw and cook for a couple of hours. Hey, it's 11:00 and almost time for lunch. Bon appétit !

24 March 2006

A Sunday in Blois

March 12, 2006. Chris and Tony were taking the train back to Paris. We drove them up to Blois and took a walk around the town. It was Sunday lunchtime, so there weren't many people or cars on the streets.

Click on the pictures to see the full-size image.

This is the kind of thing that Chris called a "ghost sign."
This must have been a department store at one time.
Does it look modern to you?

In the streets of old Blois, there are courtyards you can look into along the way. This one had a nice old staircase in it.

At the famous château in Blois, there's this statue of an equestrian Louis XII (1452-1516). His reign ushered in the Renaissance. He was a popular figure and was known as "the father of his people."

In old town Blois, the Pigier secretarial school occupies a fine old building and has a nice old sign.

At the Hôtel de Ville — city hall — there's a display of posters explaining the rights of children in France. This one lists the responsibilities of parents and the State.

Looking down on the rooftops of Blois and the Loire river from the rose garden at the Hôtel de Ville.

You still see quite a few of these old Citroën 2CV (Deux Chevaux) cars here in the Loire Valley. I think they stopped manufacturing them more than 20 years ago.

This is a picture of the rooftops of Blois, the rose garden, and the Hôtel de Ville. You can see the steeple of the cathedral on the right, the steeples of the Eglise St-Nicolas in the distance, and the Loire river on the left.

At the Hôtel de Ville there's this statue of Joan of Arc on horseback. It was donated by an American philanthropist and francophile.

23 March 2006

Tired shutterbug

Our friends Chris and Tony from California arrived in Saint-Aignan on March 8. They left on March 12. Collette fell ill that very day. She disappeared on March 14. Susan from California arrived on March 15, and her husband Ray joined her here on March 19. They left yesterday, March 22, for Paris.

Those events cover a two-week period. And during those two weeks, I took approximate 980 photographs with my digital cameras. That's 70 a day, on average. My shutter finger is tired.

In a previous posting, I mentioned the châteaux we saw on Sunday, when we drove up to Chaumont-sur-Loire and then west along the river to Vouvray and then to Tours. Here, I'm going to post one picture of each château I took pictures of that day.

Le château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, one of the most famous attractions
in the immediate area, along with Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny

Le château de Valmer, near Vouvray, is a wine château

Le château de la Côte, in the Brenne Valley north of Vouvray

Le château de Jallanges, near Vouvray, is a bed-and-breakfast inn

22 March 2006

Protests reach Saint-Aignan

You might have heard about the student protests in France recently. The Sorbonne was occupied, and then there were large demonstrations in many cities. The protests have to do with government policy reforms that will affect young people. The government wants to make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. The protestors want more job security. That's the gist of it.

This has turned into a stand-off between the pro-business government and pro-employee factions (students, unions, the political left). It is leading up to a general strike that is planned for next Tuesday and will affect the whole country.

Yesterday I was in Saint-Aignan with my friends and saw that the protests have reached as far as this small town. Here's a photo of a demonstration outside the Saint-Aignan city hall.

Demonstration, March 21, 2006, in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

The banner across the front door says, in a polite translation: "Villepin (he's the prime minister), you're done for. You can take your reform and shove it."

21 March 2006

Busy, busy, busy

Our friends Susan and Ray have been here since last Wednesday for a first visit to the Loire Valley. Susan arrived the day after our dog Collette died, and she has kept us busy and distracted. Ray joined us Sunday after a trip with his brother to Belgium and Germany.

We have been touring the châteaux. Sunday afternoon, for example, we "saw" at least six of them. Most of these were what we call "drive-bys" — Kodak moments. Most of the châteaux were ones tourists have never heard of (Pocé-sur-Cisse, Valmer, Côte, Jallanges). The weather has been fairly nice for a few days. Spring is finally springing.

Last Friday Susan and I drove over to Selles-sur-Cher and on to Romorantin. There's a château and a big church in Selles, and Romorantin is one of our département's bigger towns (pop. 20,000). We did some shopping there.

On the way, we turned off the main road to see what a place called Le Château de Quinçay, a wine château, looked like. It wasn't spectacular (it would be hard to call the big house a château) but the road in was beautiful. As we were taking pictures, at woman who must have been 65 years old or so came by on her bicycle, said "Bonjour!" and rode off into the distance.

The road into the Château de Quinçay wine house

Yesterday we went to Chambord and walked around the exterior of the château. Then we went on to Cheverny and walked all through the building and around the park. Chambord is the biggest Loire Valley château, and Cheverny is one of the best-furnished and most interesting ones. Today: Blois and Vendôme.

19 March 2006

Panoramas of the château

Yesterday morning I went to do some shopping at the regular Saturday farmers' market in Saint-Aignan. While I was in town, I walked up to the top of the hill and into the main courtyard of the château. Here are a couple of panoramic shots I took.

The Renaissance château at Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher
Click on the thumbnail image above to see the full-size picture.

The stables at the château de Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher
You can also see part of the ruins of the Medieval fortress.

Click on the thumbnail image above to see the full-size picture.

18 March 2006

Back to the subject: France

Wow, the week went by fast. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Our friends Chris and Tony left last Sunday afternoon after a four-day visit. Collette fell ill on Sunday evening and was gone by Tuesday afternoon. Then another friend from California, Susan, arrived on Wednesday. Now it's Saturday already.

I was describing our sightseeing with Tony and Chris before I was so rudely interrupted by the realities of life and death. On Thursday, we had toured around looking at the river, which was out of its banks as a result of the runoff when the 5 or more inches of snow we had the previous Saturday melted.

On Friday afternoon (March 10) we decided to drive over to Montrichard, 10 miles down the river from Saint-Aignan. My plan was just to drive through on the way to Chenonceaux, but when we got there we discovered it was market day. We found a place to park and walked through the farmers' market. I bought some vegetables (cabbage, brussels sprouts) and some rillettes d'oie — potted goose meat is the best translation that I can come up with for that term.

Chris and Tony weren't sure they knew what rillettes were. They are in fact a meat preparation — a potted meat that you eat the way you eat pâté. That is, you spread the rillettes on bread and eat them accompanied by little sour pickles (cornichons). Rillettes are a speciality of the Loire Valley. They can be made from pork, goose, or duck.

In the market, which was extensive, a well-dressed older gentleman came up and started talking to us as we shopped the food stalls. He was just being friendly and was curious where we were from. He made some small talk and little jokes about how he couldn't bring himself to eat the turnips and rutabagas we were examining because that was all his family had to eat during World War II, when he was growing up. It's a story I've heard a thousand times in the 35 years I have spent living and vacationing in France. Then the man's wife joined us and told us that she had lived in America for a few years, in "Peetsboorgue". That's in Pennsylvania, I believe. She said her son still lived in Pittsburgh and was married to an American woman. I told them I lived just outside Saint-Aignan, and they said they lived in Saint-Aignan too. I don't know if I'll ever run into them again.

We then drove over to Chenonceaux to see if we could do the river walk along the south bank of the Cher, along the edge of the forest and up to the château de Chenonceau itself. Well, we couldn't, because of flooding. The river was high, and the trail along the bank was completely under water. Thwarted, we drove back home and had some lunch (can't remember what).

After lunch, we decided to go for a walk in Saint-Aignan. We parked in the lot down by the river and walked up a big set of steps to the grounds of the château.

The Saint-
Aignan château is perched on top of a big bluff over-
looking the river valley. The picture on the left shows part of the view from up there. That's the only bridge at Saint-Aignan. It's an old one. On this Friday afternoon there was quite a bit of traffic on it. You can see that the river is high and quite a bit of land is under water. At least I can see that.

The château itself is private. The owners live in it, and it is never open to visitors. But the big courtyard in front of the building is open to the public, so you can get an up-close look at the château exteriors and good views of the river and town.

Here's a picture of the main part of the château. It was built during the Renais-
sance, about 500 years ago.
It replaced an older, Medieval château that was fortified and that had been built around the year 1000. Quite a few of these "smaller" châteaux in the region are still in private hands and are still occupied by their owners.

Below is a view of the ruins of the older fortified château that adjoins the more "modern" buildings on the site.

Standing on the château grounds — in the main courtyard — you overlook the rooftops of old Saint-
Aignan. The town isn't very big (population 4,000 or so) and the old section is just a small part of the built-up area these days, but as you see it is quite dense and picturesque.

The château is about a mile-and-a-half from La Renaudière, where our house is located. A big part of the land between our hamlet (or neighborhood) and the château to the east is given over to an extensive park that belongs to the château owners and is closed to the public.

Most of the rooftops are red tile, but some are black slate. And some
of the outbuildings have sheet-metal roofs that are pretty rusty.

Be sure to click on the pictures to see larger views and more details. More on Saint-Aignan will follow...

16 March 2006

Indulge me one more time...

Here is the picture of Collette that I wanted to post a couple of days ago, but the Blogger software wouldn't cooperate.

I took this about two hours before Collette disappeared. She was serene, I think. We had taken her outside and laid her on the ground so that she could feel the earth beneath her and the warmth of the afternoon sun on her coat. Walt says it makes her look sad, but I'm not sure.

Collette, March 14, 2006, at La Renaudière

We had just had the dog groomed a few days earlier, so she looked especially pretty this week. Groomed or not, Collette was my favorite photography subject. She was also the main reason for my walks and photo sessions out in the vineyards behind La Renaudière. It's the end of an era for me. And the beginning of a new one, of course.

Somebody pointed out that in my writing about the veterinarians it was not clear why I sometimes said "he" and sometimes said "she". There were two vets involved, a male vet on Monday and a female vet on Tuesday. That's why.

I'll stop now. I'm in the process of reserving an apartment in Paris over the web so that Walt and I can go spend a week in the city soon. It will be fun to wander the streets for a few days. I always feel younger and more optimistic when I'm in Paris.

14 March 2006

Collette est partie

Collette died in the car on the way to the vet's for her appointment this afternoon. Or in Walt's arms as he carried her in. We had to wait a few minutes when we arrived, and decided to wait in the car with the dog. I went in and told the receptionist we were there. Then I went back out to the car and Walt said Collette was taking a breath only every 15 seconds or so. The breath was going out of her.

The vet came out to the car, and when Walt lifted Collette to take her inside, the vet, Mme G., said she thought the dog was already dead. Walt carried her into the examining room and laid her on a table. The vet listened with a stethoscope and then touched Collette's eye. There was no reaction. She's gone, the vet said. "You don't have to feel you've rushed things," she told us. There was no need for euthanasia.

Collette's body will be incinerated and we will get the ashes in a couple of weeks. We will scatter them out in the vineyard behind la Renaudière, where Collette spent some of her best days.

I wanted to post a picture of Collette that I took today, but Blogger doesn't seem to be accepting pictures right now...

Memories of a happy dog

Here is how I will remember Collette. It was July 27, 2005, between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. We were out for our regular morning walk. Instead of walking out into the vineyard, Collette wanted to walk down the hill on the paved road to the rue des Laurendières.

The poor dog had suffered through a bad episode a month earlier. It was probably a mild stroke. Our neighbors had an outdoor party on June 25, I remember, and Collette was invited. Afterward, a friend who loved dogs told us that Collette was a real zombie (same word in French) that afternoon. She was stumbling around in a fog. The friend was afraid Collette wasn't long for this world, even back then.

Be that as it may, a month later Collette had recovered completely. She had gotten her joie de vivre back. She was running, chasing, and playing. It was fun to take her out on walks, because she obviously enjoyed it so much.

* * * * *
Chasing a deer

It was about 6:15 a.m. and Collette and I were out for our morning walk.
We went down the hill to the "street" called la rue des Laurendières.
As you can see, it isn't paved.

The sun was already high above the horizon, but clouds were building.
Showers and even thunderstorms were predicted.
I hoped we wouldn't get wet before we got back home.

Just before I got to the big walnut tree by the road,
something caught my eye as I looked off to the left.
It was a chevreuil out in the field. Chevreuils are a kind
of little deer, called roe deer, that we have around here.
I don't think they exist in America, but they do in England.

I think this was a young deer, because it was curious and
not fearful. I don't think it had seen Collette yet, just me.

I don't know if it was Collette or the deer that saw the other first.
But the deer didn't stick around at that point.
It went bounding over the field, headed for the woods.

Collette, ever the optimist, went bounding after it. She forgot
about old age and rumatism for just a minute. But the deer
had already disappeared into the woods.

Where did it go?
Do you think I can get through this thicket and find it?

Uh-oh, somebody's calling me. My hearing is still good,
even though my joints ache. One day I'm going to catch one of those deer, you just wait.

Hey, did you see me run after that deer?
I almost caught it. It got away, but the chase was fun.
Thanks for waiting for me.

Just a little way down the road, we saw this cat.
It saw Collette. Then it turned and ran.
Collette turned around and looked at me.
She wasn't going to waste energy running after a cat
when there were deer to be chased.

* * * * *
Collette loved to "rub on the bushes" — she did it in San Francisco, and she continued doing it
by rubbing along the hedge outside our front door nearly every day here in France.
This picture was taken on July 4, 2005.

Rubbing on the bushes in the sunshine, with a smile...
And this one was taken on March 4, 2006 — ten days ago.

Rubbing on the bushes in the snow, trying to lick a flake off her nose...
The final veterinarian appointment is scheduled for 5:15 this afternoon.