01 May 2008

May Day

Today, May 1, is a big holiday in France. It's la fête du travail — labor day. Most businesses are closed, there's no mail, and there are manifestations — parades, if you will, or demonstrations — organized by the labor unions in Paris and other cities.

I picked these flowers in the neighbors' yard
(mum's the word but I know they are not 'mums).
What are they?

This May is the 40th anniversary of the turbulent événements de mai '68 en France. I'm sure we will be hearing about May 68 all month. For people of my generation, born after World War II (aka the baby boomers) and participants or close observers of all the joyful and terrible things that happened in France, the United States, and other countries in the late 1960s, that period was a turning point in the history of Western societies.

Old houses in Mennetou-sur-Cher

Meanwhile, here I am in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. The big event here yesterday was that we "scored" some firewood, thanks to our neighbors at the Domaine de la Renaudie winery. Right after lunch, the 80-year-old Monsieur Denis — Jacques, not Bruno — stopped and rang the bell at our front gate. I went out to talk to him.

House in Mennetou-sur-Cher

He brought the good news and a piece of paper on which he or someone had written out by hand all the details of the firewood "opportunity" he had turned up for us. We will get 14 stères (cubic meters) of logs cut into one-meter lengths. That's just short of four cords. We (meaning Walt) will have to cut each log into three pieces that will fit the width of our wood stove. That's a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be done all at once.

A carved door in Mennetou. Sometimes this is
the only sun you see there, I'm sure.

We'll pay 550 euros for that — 38 euros per cubic meter or about 140 euros a cord. I think that's a pretty good price, especially considering that the wood will be delivered to our front courtyard AND stacked for us by the delivery guys. We could do the stacking ourselves, except that stacking seems to be a requirement imposed by the deliverer. Tant mieux — who's going to argue with that. After all the trouble we had finding the last batch of wood we bought (at about the same price), we can't be choosy. In the local free paper full of ads, I saw wood for sale for 40 euros a cubic meter, with no mention of delivery.

The problem with the 550-euro price, of course, is the value of the dollar. Or lack thereof. What we will pay in dollars for the wood will be closer to $875, or $225 a cord. Unless some miracle happens and the dollar regains a lot of its former value before the wood is delivered sometime this summer, we'll just have to grit our teeth and shell out the moolah.

A composite shot of two street signs in old Mennetou-sur-Cher

We should be able to keep the wood stove burning for three or maybe four seasons with that much wood, depending on how cold it gets outside. We use the wood stove to supplement our oil-fired boiler and radiators, and it greatly reduces our heating bill. The price of fuel oil has, as you would expect, doubled over the past three or four years. The current average price in France for a liter of heating oil is €0.87, which comes to just over $5.00 per gallon. It's easy to use two or even three gallons a day in cold weather. That could come to 300 or 400 euros a month...

Okay, that's more than you ever wanted to know about the cost of heating the house here. What it comes down to is that wood is cheaper than oil. And it's a renewable resource. And it's fun to sit close to the wood stove on winter evenings. Now let's enjoy the coming summery weather, which Météo France is promising us for the weekend.

If you want some andouillettes/chitterlings,
this place in Mennetou specializes in them.

Speaking of the weekend, in Mennetou this one will be given over to the Foire aux Andouillettes (the Chitterling Sausage Fair — chitterlings are hog intestines, if you don't know). It's the 36th annual such fair, and here's a link for more information. Along with all the andouillettes you can eat (can you say "acquired taste"?) and other local food specialties, for the price of admission you also get live folk music by local groups, exhibits of local livestock, and a carnival for the enjoyment of your children.


  1. The intricate brickwork on this old house is really amazing and very pleasing to the eye.

  2. I'm not an expert but the flowers look like Fritillaria.

    Just googled them - they're not Fritillaria.


    P.S. The word verification letters are much easier to decipher now. For a couple of days they were very difficult.

  3. Whatever these flowers are, I want some. Might they be a form of English or Spanish bluebell? The flowers are larger than any on my bluebell bulbs.

    Yes, the word verification has improved and I'm grateful.

  4. Mennetou sur Cher might have been nearly forgotten but not anymore with your photos and reportage. It's all over the web now. Your link on "La Foire aux Andouillettes" was also very interesting. The different music groups should be fun to listen to.

    When I was young, in Montreal, we used the word "andouille" for someone a bit "niaiseux". I'll try to find out the connection.

  5. Bonjour Claudia, en France on utilise le même terme pour décrire quelqu'un qui n'est pas très fûté. On l'appelle espèce d'andouille !

  6. Merci, Ken, pour confirmer.

    Vikipedia explains first the gastronomy, then the French insult. Andouille: ridiculous, incompetent. May be linked to the British slang,"Silly sausage" for stupid, foolish or naive.

    Je ne savais même pas, avant de lire votre link, qu'une andouille était un genre de saucisse. La vie est souvent amusante!

  7. Andouille is definitely a taste you may (or more likely, may not) acquire. Simon has, I haven't. They must be pretty bad - quite a few French people won't touch them either :-)
    Louise is right - the blue flowers are Spanish Bluebells Hyacinthoides hispanica. They can be distinguished from English Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta because the Spanish ones are a less intense blue, have less tightly reflexive petals, sit less regularly in relation to the stem and are not scented. The two species hybridise very easily and both the hybrids and the Spanish species are more vigorous than the English, causing a problem in Britain because they escape into the wild.

  8. I noticed the same thing with the word verification on Blogger for a while -- it was taking me three times to get them right?

    By the way, which road did you take?

  9. Betty, I'm not sure what your question is. Do you mean the road from Mennetou to Saint-Aignan? We drove through Saint-Loup, Saint-Julien-sur-Cher, Meusnes, and Couffy to Saint-Aignan, along the left (south) bank of the Cher, avoiding the N76 on the other side of the river (it's boring). Was that the question?

  10. I meant the road to Hell or the road to Heaven! I guess I should have said "street," but somehow road sounded better!

  11. LOL, Betty. I think the rue de l'Enfer is slightly longer, but the two streets are parallel and basically the same. And actually, we walked down the rue de l'Enfer. It was a pleasant stroll.

  12. I hope it was paved with good intentions.


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