31 July 2006

Got a meme tag...

Thanks to Scott of Needs More Garlic for tagging me. Check out Scott's food and cooking blog — it's great. He's in North Carolina, my home state, and in Durham, where I went to college. Whenever I look at his blog, I have to go into the kitchen immediately and fix something good to eat.

Here's my même liste. I'll try not to be too wordy but you know me:

5 things in my freezer
  • several gallon-size Ziploc bags of cooked collard greens that I grew in my garden last year
  • un pied de veau (a calf's foot)
  • un pied de porc (a pig's foot)
  • many Ziploc bags full of baguette slices (I usually buy too much from the bread lady and end up making crumbs out of them)
  • two quarts of couscous soup left over from a back-yard couscous party I had last Tuesday
5 things in my closets
  • about 85 t-shirts, most of which I got as freebies from the companies I worked for in Silicon Valley
  • a rolled-up map of the vineyards of the Touraine wine area that I mean to get mounted and framed one of these days
  • a navy-blue béret basque that I bought as a gift for my father in 1975 and that my mother packed up and sent me recently when she was getting ready to sell her house
  • an extra QWERTY keyboard (U.S. standard) in case the one I'm using gives up the ghost
  • a box containing hundreds of letters and aérogrammes that I wrote and sent to my parents when I lived in France in the 1970s (in the days before e-mail) — also shipped over to France by my mother, who had saved them in the attic
5 things in my car
  • a map of the French départements with their numbers so that I can identify the home département of passing cars by their license plates
  • two little tokens, one plastic and one metal, that I use instead of a one-euro coin in order to be able to get a shopping cart at supermarkets (you put a coin or token in to unlock the cart, and you get it back when you put the cart back in the rack)
  • a fold-out map of the Loir-et-Cher département, where I live
  • a tire pressure gauge calibrated in pounds per square inch, not bars
  • scanned and printed copies of my passport and residency permit so that I don’t have to carry the originals around all the time
5 things in my wallet
  • 79,23€ because I went to the bank and took out 100€ last Wednesday
  • my California driver's license, which expires in 2008
  • cartes de fidélité from Monsieur Vaillant's droguerie and the Côté Sud wine & gift shop, both on the pedestrian street in St-Aignan
  • a scrap of paper with the phone numbers of my friends the Paulets scribbled on it
  • my library card for the Bibliothèque Municipale in Mareuil-sur-Cher
I'm going to tag my partner Walt to see what he might come up with.

29 July 2006

La Chapelle du Liget

Just a kilometer or so to the west of the Chartreuse du Liget, toward Loches, there's a little chapel in a big field surrounded by woods. It's called the Chapelle Saint-Jean, or the Chapelle du Liget. You have to drive a mile or less on a gravel road to get to it.

The chapel looks big in this picture but is smaller in reality.
That's my car parked over by the tree.

The little round chapel was built in the 12th century. CHM and I were there on a Saturday afternoon, and we had the place completely to ourselves. Unfortunately, the doors were locked, so we could only peer into the building through metal grates on the windows. The interior walls are covered in frescoes.

The front portico is obviously missing

The exterior walls are decorated with stone carvings of all kinds of faces, as you can see in these pictures. I find it hard to believe these are the original 12th-century stonework, but I don't know. It's clear the chapel has been cleaned on the outside, but not clear whether any other restoration work has been done.

Here are close-ups of some of the stone faces. Some are smiling, some frowning, and some just look menacing or stupefied.

According to one of the guidebooks, you can get the keys to the chapel from the people down the road at the charterhouse (La Chartreuse du Liget). Then you can admire the frescoes inside. Next time...

28 July 2006

La Corroirie

Just a couple of kilometers down the road from the Chartreuse du Liget monastery is a 12th-century complex of buildings called La Corroirie. It was where the lay brothers of the monastery lived and worked.

La Corroirie, entre Loches et Montrésor en Touraine

The Cadogan guide describes La Corroirie as a group of "gorgeous mellow medieval buildings" and I agree. It's open to visitors during the afternoon in July and August.

The old chapel at La Corroirie

The rear courtyard at La Corroirie

The day CHM and I stopped by there were people out front on the lawn and in the courtyard setting up tables and tents for a wedding party. We had driven through the village of Chemillé on the way there and had seen the crowd gathered in front of the village church for the ceremony. We were lucky to arrive at La Corroirie before the party started.

The fortified front gate

La Corroirie is privately owned and is the site of archeological excavations

We wandered around nearly unnoticed, I think, for about half an hour. Well, unnoticed by the people setting up for the wedding reception, who were politely discreet. But noticed we were by some chickens and a rooster that were wandering around out behind the main buildings.

Above and below, preparations for a wedding reception at La Corroirie

The buildings at La Corroirie were fortified in the 15th century, according to the Guide Michelin. That would have been during the 100 Years War. The monks from Liget probably holed up at La Corroirie when threatened with attack.

The hemp oven

A corroirie is a place where cuir, or leather, is cured and tanned. That must have been the work of the lay brothers. The reason La Corroirie survived intact over the eight centuries that have passed since its construction is that it was turned into a farmstead somewhere along the way.

Below, a series I'm calling "Nobody Here but Us Chickens."

A proud hen at La Corroirie

A hen wearing a natural bridal veil

The cock of the roost

24 July 2006

La Chartreuse du Liget

La Chartreuse du Liget was a monastery founded by Henri II Plantagenêt near Loches in the 12th century as penance for the murder of the archbishop of Canturbury, Thomas à Beckett. The original buildings were mostly dismantled by the end of the 18th century.

La Chartreuse du Liget, near Loches in Touraine

What you see today is the 18th century buildings that replaced the old monastery. Significant ruins of the 12th-century church remain, however, along with the remains of a huge old cloister.

Ruins of the old church at Le Liget, with more recent buildings in the background

Another shot of the ruins with the adjacent 18th-century buildings

An 18th-century gatehouse on the property at Le Liget

This barrel-shaped fountain caught my eye.

What remains of an old cloister at Le Liget

22 July 2006

Sightseeing, Lunching, and Wine-buying in Saumur

I started this topic a week ago but have been too busy to finish it. Now Walt has posted his Saumur entry. I apologize if this duplicates parts of his post. I just can’t keep up these days.

* * *

Last Tuesday we decided to drive over to Saumur to see the château there and some other sights. We also wanted to see the town itself and then drive west along the Loire about 7 miles to see the Romanesque church in the village of Cunault. On the way home late in the afternoon, we would go buy some wine in the Saumur-Champigny wine district.

Butcher shop in old Saumur

So that’s what we did. We left Saint-Aignan in our little Peugeot at about 9:00 a.m. and headed for Loches, Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, and Chinon, on the way to Saumur. We thought it would be better to go around far south of the city of Tours rather than drive through it or its suburbs.

Château de Brétignolles

The weather this July has been very hot, though not as extreme as it was in 2003. The temperature has been 90 or above every day for about two weeks. The car is air-conditioned, while the house is not, so driving around the countryside is a good way to escape the heat.

We took the narrow back roads down to Orbigny and then on through Genillé to the bigger town of Loches (pop. 8,000 or so). From there it was a straight shot for about 20 miles. At the little town of Tavant, just past Sainte-Maure, we stopped to see if we could look around in the village church. Unfortunately, the doors were locked.

Next we drove past the château de Brétignolles and then took a little detour to see the château du Rivau. Both of these are near the village of Sazilly, not more than 10 miles southeast of Chinon (pop. 8,000 also).

Château du Rivau

We finally arrived in Saumur at about 11:30, just in time for lunch. We had looked at the Michelin green guide and found a restaurant recommendation there. La Petite Auberge, on the square just in front of the Eglise Saint-Pierre, looked like just the right place for a good noontime meal.

Antiques in a shop window in Saumur

For the sake of comparison, and because we had a little extra time, we examined the menus displayed outside several other restaurants and cafés on the Place St-Pierre. None measured up. La Petite Auberge had a nice outdoor seating area and the menu, featuring classic French specialities, was extensive. At 17.50 euros per person, it looked like a bargain too.

Staff lunch at La Petite Auberge in Saumur

The restaurant is on a corner and has entrances and tables on a side street as well as on the square in front of the church. On the side street patio we saw a group of young people dressed in black and white having their lunch. It was the restaurant staff, getting ready for the lunch service to come.

We asked the people at the staff lunch what time they started serving lunch, and they said noon. We wandered around the place for a few minutes more. At noon, we went and occupied a table on the larger patio area on the place.

Walt couldn't have taken this picture of the sandy bed
of the Loire River, because he's in it.

Walt and our friend CHM ordered a salmon terrine as their entrée. They both said it was good. Despite the searing heat and the fact that July is an R-less month, I decided to have a half-dozen oysters as my appetizer. They were salty and fresh, served with a mignonette (vinegar, shallots, and pepper) and fresh butter with slices of rye bread. I enjoyed them and had no regrets (even 36 hours later, if you know what I mean).

Château de Saumur

We had a half bottle of local Saumur white wine (chenin blanc) with the appetizers, and it was fruity and fresh and not too dry. It went well with the saltiness of the oysters.

Walt had grilled rouget barbet (redfish?) filets for his lunch, served with a pile of sauerkraut. He said it was excellent. CHM had bœuf bourguignon. I decided to be daring and try the tête de veau with sauce gribiche. That’s meat cut from the calf’s head. I like fromage de tête (head cheese), which is made from the meat picked off the pig’s head, so I thought it would be good. A French woman I had had lunch with a few days earlier in a different restaurant had ordered it, and it looked good on her plate.

Saumur château detail

Well, I think it was a mistake for me to choose it. It was too fatty and gelatinous for me and in the hot weather it was a little écœurant (too rich). It was very different from what I had seen at the other restaurant a few days before. I ate the leaner pieces of meat but ended up leaving a lot of the portion on the plate. I left so much, in fact, that the waiter who came to clear the table asked me if it had not been good. I just made an excuse about the hot weather, my lack of appetite, and the copious portion I had been served.

With lunch we had a bottle of Saumur-Champigny red wine that was just excellent. That was a good omen for the wine-buying excursion we had planned for later in the day.

Saumur, the old bridge

After lunch we stopped in the Maison du Vin at the tourist office to ask where we might buy some Saumur-Champigny wine in bulk, the way we buy it around Saint-Aignan. We had our four 10-liter jugs in the trunk of the Peugeot. The man at the wine center gave us the names and addresses of a wine producer called Domaine des Champs Fleuris in the village called Turquant and of a cooperative in the village of Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg. He said not too many wineries would still have 2005 wine to sell in bulk — most would have bottled it all by now — but those two would.

After a quick visit to the church at Cunault (more about that in another post, maybe), we went to Turquant and bought 20 liters of red (2005 cabernet franc). We had to drive past the main entrance of the winery, turn right on a side road, and find the owner in his wine-making facility. I opened a door and there he was running the bottling machine.

Dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals, he greeted us with a smile and said buying wine was no problem. We went back down the road to the main entrance, us driving and him walking. He took us into a cave where barrels lined the walls as far back as we could see. The temperature in the cave must have been 30 degrees F cooler than outside. The thick, fruity Saumur-Champigny cabernet franc was 3.30 euros a liter (less than $3.00 a bottle).

We drove on to Saint-Cyr, following signs to the Cave Cooperative des Vignerons de Saumur. Champs Fleuris didn’t sell white wine in bulk, and I wanted some. As we drove into Saint-Cyr, I had a blue gendarme vehicle right on my back bumper, so I was trying to be careful not to speed or break any rules. Of course that made me nervous and I took a wrong turn.

Old Saumur, cafés near the Eglise St-Pierre

The wrong turn got the gendarme off my tail and we didn’t have too much trouble finding the wine coop anyway. There again the people were all smiles. A young woman who said she had lived all over France — Metz, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Normandy, Paris, and on and on (I told her she must be about 80 years old to have done all that but didn’t look it) — gave us two white wines to taste. One was a vin de pays at 1.70€ a liter, and the other an AOC at 2.20€. Both were chenin blanc, and both were (are) delicious. I bought 10 liters of each.

Stained glass in the Eglise St-Pierre in Saumur

After getting the wine, we drove on back toward Saint-Aignan, making short stops in the towns of Montreuil-Bellay and Richelieu to see the sights.

As we were driving back, Walt was sleeping in the back seat. I was talking to Charles, enumerating all we had done and seen over the course of the day. Tavant, Brétignolles, Le Rivau, Saumur, Cunault, etc. Walt suddenly came to life and said “Yeah, it’s amazing how much you can pack into just 11 hours, isn’t it?” Sarcastic as always, he was ready to get back home.

17 July 2006


Last Saturday afternoon I ended up in Cléry-St-André, a little town on the Loire near Orléans that is dominated by a huge church. Notre Dame de Cléry a big and airy gothic structure that was built in the late 1400s, replacing a smaller chapel that had been demolished by the English earlier in the century during the 100 Years War.

Modern windows at Notre Dame de Cléry

I don't have any good pictures of the outside of the church. We parked right next to it and didn't ever walk far enough a way to get a good exterior view. It was just too hot outside for walking.

A more conventional example of stained glass at Cléry

Over the front portico of the church a group of swallows had built nests and were busy coming and going, bringing food back to the nest for their little ones, I imagine. My friend CHM says such a collection of swallows' nest is called a colonie d'hirondelles.

A swallow in its nest

The church at Cléry was full of things you wouldn't expect to find. In a crypt under the floor of the nave, accessible by a set of 8 or 10 stone steps, are the skulls of King Louis XI and his wife, Charlotte de Savoie, in a glass case. Louis XI died in 1483, after spending the last months of his life in Cléry to oversee the completion of the building.

The skulls of Louis XI and Charlotte de Savoie in a display case at Cléry

Near the entrance to the crypt where the skulls are displayed there's a stone plaque in the floor that bears the name Charles VIII and the year 1498. I wondered why it was there, but then I noticed a stone plaque on a nearby column that said (in old French): C'est le Cœur du Roi Charles huictiesme. (This is the heart of King Charles VIII.) I think that meant his heart is entombed under the plaque in the floor.

Notre Dame de Cléry has enormously high ceilings. My photos don't really give you a good idea how big and spacious the church really is.

Notre Dame de Cléry

Another thing you don't expect to see in such a big old church is a set of beautiful modern stained-glass windows. The colors were vivid, since the afternoon sun was bright and high in the sky. I think I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

11 July 2006

A week of rest

During this 10-day stretch where we have no house guests, I'm taking some time off. I'm still posting a few pictures on my Loire Valley Images blog, but I'm resting up in anticipation of a busy couple of weeks touring around with a friend starting Saturday.

The weather is hot but not unbearably so. The garden is growing. To tell the truth, I'm a little bit bored and at loose ends with nobody to take sight-seeing.

A summertime flower in the back yard