13 November 2008


Yesterday afternoon on my walk with Callie, in the distance I saw something red on the ground. It was on the other side of a low barbed-wire fence meant to keep a donkey in and dogs and people out. I stepped over it, carefully, for a closer look.

Amanita muscaria

The bright red spot was a mushroom. It was so red that I thought to myself: "That thing must be very toxic." When I got back home, I looked it up in our Champignons book. It's called an Amanite tue-mouches in French. It's called "fly agaric" in English.

According to the book, its white flesh is highly toxic. The English Wikipedia calls it "poisonous and psychoactive" — it is "famed for its hallucinogenic properties". Here's a link to the article. The fly agaric has also been used as an insecticide. Its flesh, sprinkled in milk, attracts and kills flies.

The French Wikipedia article says "druids and sorcerers" used to use the Amanita muscaria mushroom the way peyote is used in Mexico, to provoke religious experiences. It was similarly used in eastern Siberia up to the 19th century. You can chew the mushroom or soak it in milk, hot water, or blueberry juice to release its active ingredients.

I won't be trying that. Food in fluorescent colors doesn't really tempt me — not to mention the insecticide angle. It seems this quintessential "toadstool" grows quite commonly in the Northern Hemisphere, but I don't think I've ever seen it before.

Quite often, our sunsets here at La Renaudière are quasi-hallucinogenic experiences. The other pictures in this post are ones I took yesterday afternoon, right after seeing that mushroom. I said "seeing," not "eating."

* * *

Here's a picture of the thing that fell off my car. It was hanging by a single screw under the engine compartment until yesterday afternoon, when I took a screwdriver to it.

Now I need to take it to the mechanic and ask him to re-attach it if he thinks it serves a real purpose. It's a sizable piece of plastic.


  1. That Amanita is a nice find. I've never seen one either, and I'd love to.

  2. Susan, hurry on over to Saint-Aignan. I know where the Amanita is growing. There are actually several of them.

  3. Ken,
    First of all, Thank you for all the great posts on France and your daily life in Saint-Aignan. Please continue!
    Secondly, regarding your vehicle's under-engine shield: it's somewhat protective against dust and stones and makes the car more aerodynamic but primarily works as an air dam to better direct air through the radiator and also into the air intake. Typically only attached by plastic pushpin type fasteners that become brittle and break or sometimes attached with metal screws or bolts that rust and break, these shields are the bane of auto mechanics who must remove them to change the engine oil filter. It would be better to reattach it although not detrimental if you do not.
    Stan Moyer

  4. There's a similar plastic thingy on Ray's Prius, too, as we discovered when it got caught on one of those ubiquitous parking space barriers. In our case, Ray could reattach it enough to get home and the Prius dealer did the rest of the job gratis. Thanks to Stan for explaining what the thingy does!


  5. Hey, Stan, great info! Thanks!

    Ken (or anyone else living in France), I have a question that is completely off topic. It has to do with aspirin and other painkillers, and how they are sold in France. I was telling my students that aspirin is sold in France as a tablet that you dissolve in water, like Alka Seltzer. They wanted to know:
    1. Do they ALSO sell it as swallow-able tablets, as we do?
    2. Do they sell Tylenol (or its equivalent) or Advil (or its equivalent) also as dissolvable tablets, or as we do in the States?
    3. Are there any brands of these painkillers that are for sale in France that are the same as we would see in the States (like, Bayer, Advil, Tylenol, etc.)

    On another note:
    Is Sopalin a word that is widely used for paper towel? And, since it starts with a capital "S", is it actually a word that comes from a brand (similar to our Kleenex in the U.S.)? I always used essuie-tout, so I hadn't seen Sopalin before.

    While I'm at it (!)...
    I know that my French family always called the alcohol that we refer to as Scotch, simply le whiskey. How, then, do the French refer to different other kinds of whiskys? Bourbon? Rye?

    Thanks! This just all came up in French class today as we were doing a new unit on buying and selling things in different departments of stores.


  6. Hi Judy,

    I hear the term Sopalin less and less, and maybe that's because it is a brand name. On Cuisine TV and the French national channels, they avoid brand names at all cost. They use the term essuie-tout, but they also just call it papier absorbant.

    You can buy aspirin tablets as in the U.S. though dosages seem to be different. Some I have in the medicine cabinet here are 500 mg, and they are very expensive by American standards. Over-the-counter medicines are generally more expensive here because les prix sont libres, whereas prescription drugs are a lot less expensive than in the U.S. because their prices are fixed by the government.

    I'm not sure about brand names. I know you can get Alka Seltzer (or used to be able to), but I don't know about Bayer, Advil, etc.

    Isn't Advil a brand name for ibuprofen? You can buy ibuprofen here. And you can get the Tylenol equivalent, which is called paracétamol -- I don't know if that is capitalized; in other words, it might be a brand name but I'm not sure. I've only seen ibuprofen and paracétamol as tablets as in the U.S., not as dissolvables.

    As for whisky (is there an "e" in there or not; I never can remember) I think "whisky" is Scotch whiskey, and bourbon goes by the name bourbon in French. Then there is whisky irlandais, but I've also heard people call it by the brand name Jameson. I don't know about rye whiskey.

  7. Yes, Stan, thanks. I wondered if the shield had to come off for an oil change, because I had an oil change back in September. It looks to me as if one of the screws that held it on pulled through the plastic shield, because there's a big hole in it on that side. As I think I said, I may have knocked the thing loose driving on the gravel road out through the vineyard. I seem to remember a good bottoming-out not that long ago as I was trying to avoid the biggest ruts and potholes.

    You have made me more confident that I can drive for a while without worrying about it, but I will get it re-attached. If the mechanic says I need a new one, then maybe he will be able to get one from a junkyard. That might take a little time. I drive so little that it should be fine to wait.

    Hi Susie! I'm too big to try to squeeze my corpulence under the car to re-attach the thing, and I wouldn't want to get underneath a car that is sitting up on a flimsy jack. So I'm going to let the mechanic do the job.

  8. I have just read David Crystal's analysis of Obama's speech. Indeed, Obama is an orator in the classic sense. Some of these principles were elucidated in Aristotle's Rhetoric. In modern days, Adlai Stevenson used classical techniques in his speeches. Some say Senator Byrd is also in the classical mode. With Obama, we are in for an oratorical treat.

  9. I just read Obama's election night speech remembering what David Crystal said about it, and I could not help hearing Obama delivering it. That was a great moment. I do agree with you Gabby.

  10. Whisky without an 'e' is specifically Scotch. Whiskey with an 'e' is any other sort.

    Paracetamol is a generic term for painkillers containing that substance. It is best to ask for paracétamol and let the pharmacist give you the cheapest brand. The pharmacist will ask you if you want 500mg or 1000mg (i.e. 1g) tablets. A dose is 1 or 2 of the 500mg, 1 of the 1g tablets. You can also get them combined with codeine for stronger pain relief. I've only seen solid tablets, not dissolvables. Asprin and ibruprofen are different categories of painkillers (they work differently). You can get Ibruprofen under the brand name Nurofen.

    I know at least one person who uses the term Sopalin. She says it is a brand name which is a contraction of a manufacturer's name – Société du Papier-Linge.

    Ken – I'd love to come and look at your amanita, but sadly, work in London interferes. Bah!

  11. In the U.S., Advil is a brand name for ibuprofen and Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen, which is the same thing as paracetamol. I just checked Wikipedia on the question. Nurofen is a British brand, apparently.

    I once knew that about whisky in English, but it is hard to remember. In French it's whisky, without an E, because that's the pronunciation. That's easier to remember. With an E it would be weess-kay.

    Susan, don't they even give you weekends off?

  12. I've got to ID a bunch of flies this weekend and next – too busy even to cook.

    Nurofen is available in France. It comes in silver boxes.

  13. Judy,
    Paracétamol is sold under different brandnames, but the most popular are Dafalgan and Perdolan.
    Aspirine-like tablets (ibuprofen)are indeed sold as N(e)urofen, but also as Speedifen, Brufen ...


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