12 May 2007

Remember Saint-Aignan?

Yesterday afternoon we took Callie the collie to the vet for her first visite. She needed a booster shot of some sort (protection from several diseases and parasites) and we just wanted to talk to the vet about the dog's ongoing health care. Coincidentally, Walt had found a tick on the pup's leg. The vet quickly removed and disposed of that. It's Callie's third tick in a week.

The crypt of the Saint-Aignan church— really,
it's the old church
that the "new" one is built on top of —
is decorated with these age-old frescoes.

When we left the vet's office, we drove a few hundred yards up the road toward Blois to pick up a cake or tart at the boulangerie-pâtisserie J.C. Robert, which is probably the best sweets bakery in the Saint-Aignan "metropolitan area." We bought a chocolate cream cake, but not especially for us — we had been invited to dinner by Janet and David, who were at our place last Sunday (pictures). We took dessert and some wine.

A view of the ruins of the old fort at Saint-Aignan from
the grounds of an abandoned religious institution across town.

Leaving the bakery, we wanted to stop for a minute at the Intermarché supermarket. Instead of making a U-turn and backtracking, I thought I'd take a little side road that would, I was convinced, loop around and take us back down toward the river and the shopping center where Intermarché is located.

The Renaissance wing of the privately owned château de Saint-Aignan.

Instead, we drove a few hundred yards past an old farmhouse that has just been nicely renovated, some old farm buildings on the other side of the little road that are in need of a bit of TLC, and then a couple of pavillons, houses of more recent vintage, with big front yards. The road climbed up a hill and suddenly went from pavement to gravel.

There was no telling where the gravel road led, so I had no choice but to turn back. As we did a three-point turn, we overlooked a beautiful field of red poppies in full bloom. And then we saw that we were up high enough to have a good view out across the Cher river valley and over to the château and the church in Saint-Aignan.

An old half-timbered building in Saint-Aignan

That reminded me that I hadn't posted any pictures of Saint-Aignan in a while. There are some here with this note.

And in a few minutes, I'm going to drive back across the river to Noyers-sur-Cher and up that little road again to take some pictures with the morning sun at my back.

Dog waiting on the sidewalk in Saint-Aignan
while its human does some shopping

It won't be a purely photographic outing, because just a mile or two farther up the road to Blois is the wine village called Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, where there is a cave coopérative, a grape-growers' co-op, that sells good local Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay wines. It'll be a nice opportunity to stock up one more time.


  1. Hi !

    It's time for a collier anti-tiques, perhaps, if Callie is not too young. With all the hassles about the "Frontline" products in the USA, Amerloque has stuck to the traditional old format, the rubbery ones from the pharmacie ...


  2. Haven't heard about the Fontline product issues, just about pet food contamination in the U.S. We used Frontline with good results with our previous dog, Collette. Can you tell me more?

  3. Nice photos! Looking forward to the poppy field!

  4. That's a cool view of the old fort's ruins.

    The ticks are out here also. Maybelle uses Frontline, so it's Lewis who's had three crawling ticks. So far, I've not had any but the season is just beginning.

    In Kentucky we always had lots of ticks--they got in my horse's mane and I liked to step on them when they were full of blood. Pretty yucky to think about now.

  5. Hi Ken !

    /*/Haven't heard about the Fontline product issues, just about pet food contamination in the U.S. We used Frontline with good results with our previous dog, Collette. Can you tell me more?/*/

    About ten years ago, there was a relatively large to-do in the US press about the tick/flea collars using organophosphate insecticides (OPs) and carbamates,more especially the ones sold under the "Hartz" brand.
    Pets were apparently dying after exposure to some of the products.


    The active ingredient in Frontline tick collars is a chemical called "fipronil".


    There were some verifiable reports of problems with pets when using the Frontline products, but nowhere near as many as with the Hartz brand(s). Furthermore, it is apparently not clear at all whether the problems came from genuine Frontline products, or from "counterfeit" ones. What happened is that Frontline collars were confused with Hartz collars, and it took a while to sort out, apparently.

    (Anyway, M and Mme Amerloque had by then stopped using any of the OPs and Frontline, and gone back to the "classical" flea/tick treatments. Also kept the piroplasmosis vaccinations up to date; one dog caught it and the vaccine turned out to have worked … the disease set in but was heavily attenuated … ).

    Then … the whole business about the dying bees came to the fore in France. (Dying bees, no more bees in the hives, and so on …the same sort of thing that is currently being reported in the US press …). There was a whole lot of brouhaha and research done here in France and:

    /*/In May 2003, the DGAL (Direction Générale de l'Alimentation du ministère de l'Agriculture ) indicated a case of bee mortality observed in Southern France related to Fipronil acute toxicity. Intoxication was linked to defective seed treatment, which generated dust. The involved Syngenta seed treatment has been since forbidden. /*/



    /*/Le fipronil est soupçonné de provoquer des mortalités sur les populations d'abeilles domestiques.

    En France, par une décision en date du 24 février 2004, publiée au Journal officiel par un avis du 27 février 2004, il a été procédé :

    * au retrait des autorisations provisoires de vente pour tous les usages des produits Régent TS et Régent 5 GR,
    * à la suspension des autorisations de mise sur le marché pour tous leurs usages jusqu'à ce que la décision communautaire relative à l'inscription de la substance active fipronil intervienne des produits Schuss, Jumper, Metis, Texas et Zoom,
    * à l'attribution d'un délai d'écoulement jusqu'au 31 mai 2004 à la distribution et à l'utilisation des stocks de semences traitées avec les produits Régent TS, Jumper, Métis, Texas, et Zoom.

    Ces décisions ont été annulées par le Conseil d'Etat le 4 avril 2005. Un arrêté du 6 et 19 avril 2005, publié au Journal officiel du 24 avril 2005 considère qu'il y a lieu de suspendre, jusqu'à la fin de la procédure communautaire d'évaluation, certaines utilisations ou usages de semences traitées et interdit :

    * l'utilisation des produits phytopharmaceutiques contenant du fipronil ayant des usages en traitement du sol dans le cadre de la lutte contre les taupins et les charançons,
    * des semences traitées avec des produits contenant du fipronil.


    La substance active fipronil fait actuellement l'objet d'une évaluation communautaire en vue de son inscription en annexe I de la directive 91/414/CEE. Dans le cadre de cette évaluation, les autorités françaises ont transmis le 6 février 2004 à l'Agence européenne de sécurité sanitaire des aliments un projet de monographie concluant à la non-inscription du fipronil à cette annexe I. Cette proposition est fondée sur deux avis de la Commission d'étude de la toxicité des 19 novembre et 17 décembre 2003, recommandant la non-inscription du fipronil « compte tenu des préoccupations majeures pour l'environnement et les espèces sauvages (organismes aquatiques, abeilles, oiseaux et mammifères sauvages) »./*/

    So, apparently, there are questions still to be resolved concerning fipronil. That's certainly enough for M and Mme Amerloque, who will still stay away from products containing fipronil, such as Frontline.

    Insofar as the petfood scandal …

    M and Mme Amerloque checked into this, since the old dog was on a diet of the geriatric stuff from Royal Canin, sold at vets' places only. There were recalls of Royal Canin in the USA. When Amerloque started googling, he found that some Royal Canin had been recalled in the UK and in … South Africa. Amerloque called Royal Canin here in France and was put through to a very, very smooth individual: a "crisis center' type voice, and not a "vet" type voice. This person said that the RC products here in France were "perfectly safe" … yet sounded surprised when Amerloque mentioned South Africa.

    So M and Mme are no longer feeding the old dog her Royal Canin, nor any prepared pet food(s), as a matter of fact.

    This whole petfood episode is worrying indeed, in Amerloque's view. From press reports it turns out that melamine was added to a lot of foods and food raw materials being exported from China …

    What about, say … tomato sauce ? (sigh)

    Hopefully all the French people are aware of what's happening with … some tomato sauce, right ? No, they're not ?

    /*/Yi Liu has spent five long years trying to persuade Europeans that Chinese tomatoes can match the quality of produce ripened in the Provencal sun - and at a lower price.

    Today, Liu's triumph seems complete: Le Cabanon, a struggling farm cooperative he bought two years ago, turns out ketchups and sauces that sell under French brand names like Ducros and Masque d'Or. And even local chefs agree that the cooperative's products taste as good as ever despite the fact that a crucial ingredient - processed tomato concentrate - is now shipped several thousand kilometers from Liu's factories in the Chinese far west.

    Still, the picture of success is not all it seems. Liu's company, Xinjiang Chalkis of Urumqi, China, is losing about €3 million, or $3.8 million, a year on Le Cabanon, his first European acquisition, mainly because efforts to run the factory more efficiently are taking longer than expected. On top of that, Liu already has endured two strikes, negotiations with unions and restrictions on working hours that he says make it impossible to fill some last-minute orders from clients.

    "We can try and find a new way for a French company to survive," said Liu, 49. "We don't think that in France we can get too much profit."
    The Chinese effort has been worldwide, but France has been a particular target, as it offers brands with cachet and a large home market at the heart of the world's largest trade bloc, the European Union.
    One thing Chinese executives do not need to learn is mathematics. The cost of tomato concentrate made in China and imported into Europe is about €550 a ton after processing, shipping and taxes, whereas the concentrate produced in France costs more than €650 a ton. The difference is mainly the cost of labor and regulations in France. Because of their access to less expensive raw materials, Chinese owners abroad can often operate at a lower cost than locals.
    Liu now has a firm French hand at the helm. Eric Diers, 54, a former Asia representative for Vivendi whom Liu hired as general manager in December 2004, ripped up a 10-year contract with local farmers to buy 60,000 tons of fresh French tomatoes each year for 10 years. Le Cabanon will now buy only 15,000 tons; the rest will come from lower-cost sources.

    Guy Toulouse, 54, a chef at a café in Camaret, said the shock over that decision had largely subsided. "The truth is that Chinese tomatoes are cheaper and exactly the same quality as French tomatoes." Most locals, he added, were happy that the factory had escaped bankruptcy and that young people still could find jobs at Le Cabanon.

    Liu has pledged to stay the course at Le Cabanon, which he calls a long-term investment. He has gathered information on how to make the sugary tomato sauces that appeal to Middle Easterners and the salty sauces that sell in Africa. The factory should also benefit this year from French tax refunds of about €2 million, and Liu said he expected to break even by next year.

    "It costs money to turn a Chinese domestic company into an international one," he said. "Buying Le Cabanon is the first step for us."//

    So next time one purchases a bottle of ketchup, or one eats a Domino's or Speedy Rabbit pizza … one may be eating Chinese tomatoes. They're "cheaper" so that's "good" for the economy, n'est-ce pas ?

    Is there melamine in the tomato paste from China ? Has anyone even looked ? (sigh)



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