31 August 2009


Two more pictures of Paris. My Parisian weekend is over now. We are on the road back to Saint-Aignan.

The Seine in the center of the city, with the old
stone bridges, and Notre Dame in the background.

The gilded dome of the church at Les Invalides,
a military hospital complex built by Louis XIV.

I'll be back in Saint-Aignan late this afternoon.

30 August 2009


Another couple of pictures taken from the top of the Tour Montparnasse.

This the the neighborhood called Les Halles, which
historically was the central food market in Paris.
The church is the Eglise St-Eustache.

Here is a closer shot of the Jardin du Luxembourg,
on the edge of the Latin Quarter.

Back to Saint-Aignan tomorrow afternoon.

29 August 2009

Parisian for the weekend

In April 2002, Walt I spent two weeks in Paris. One year later — little did we suspect it at the time — we had sold our house in California and become the owners of a little house in Saint-Aignan, in the Loire Valley.

Overlooking the Luxemburg Gardens, Notre Dame Cathedral,
the Pantheon, and the Latin Quarter in Paris.

In 2002, then, we had rented a small apartment near Montparnasse, on the Left Bank, for our vacation. One of the things we did during that time was go up to the top of the 52-story Tour Montparnasse building and take panoramic pictures of the city.

A closeup of Notre Dame shows how massive the
church is compared to surrounding apartment buildings

Obviously the weather was clear. The pictures came out sharp. I was using my gigantic old Canon zoom camera — it was new then. The Tour Montparnasse offers one of the best vantage points, along with Montmartre and the Tour Eiffel, for photographing Paris this way.

I'll be spending time in this Paris neighborhood over
the weekend. It's not very far from Montparnasse.
You can see the elevated metro in the picture.

By the time you read this, I'll be in Paris. I'm probably having a pretty good time. In my suitcase I have a box of ripe tomatoes from the garden and ripe plums from the neighborhood trees, all protected by bubble wrap. When I told a French friend what I was taking to Paris, she couldn't stop laughing. She said I reminded her of the stereotypical wartime provincial bringing garden-fresh produce to deprived family and friends in the occupied capital.

28 August 2009

Gone to Paris in my mind

Just a few pictures of what I anticipate over the weekend. I'll leave Saint-Aignan at about 8:00 a.m. tomorrow and arrive at the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris just a little before noon. One night we are having dinner at La Fontaine de Mars, which is where Michelle and Barack Obama had dinner back in June when they were in Paris.

The weather is supposed to be fairly nice. I'll be spending a lot of my time in the middle of the city — the Latin Quarter, Les Halles, and the Marais. The other night we're in Paris we'll be having dinner in a café along the Seine, across the river from the Ile St-Louis and Notre Dame cathedral.

Paris cafés and sidewalks

The streets will be busy, with Parisians coming back to the city after their summer vacation, and tourists, finishing theirs too, getting ready to leave. The café terraces will be crowded, given good weather.

La rue Montorgueil, just north of Les Halles,
where I lived for three years... 30 years ago

Contrast the photo above with some of my pictures of walks in the vineyards here at La Renaudière. There, crowds and bustle. Here deer, rabbits, Callie, and often not another person in sight. And not many dinners in fine restaurants or on café terraces either.

27 August 2009

Food, the car, and the trips

I ended up canning that thick tomato sauce that I made day before yesterday. We just don't have enough room in the freezer, and I found half a dozen jars of the right size down in the pantry. I poured the boiling sauce into the sterilized jars and then processed the jars for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath. I hope that's sufficient to protect us from botulism this winter, when we plan to eat it.

Yesterday I started the process of making rabbit rillettes again. That's potted meat and it can be made with pork, duck, goose, or rabbit. I think the rabbit rillettes will make a good dinner Monday night, when Evelyn, her husband, and their friend Linda will be here for the evening and to spend the night. And if there are some rillettes left — there will be, because I'm cooking two whole rabbits — we will be able to take the leftovers down to the Cantal with us.

Meanwhile Walt is going to make a zucchini quiche and a salad of carottes râpées en vinaigrette over the weekend. With some of our fresh tomatoes as an accompaniment, we are unlikely to go hungry when we get back from Paris on Monday.

Sunrise over La Renaudière on 26 August 2009

The old Peugeot 206 checked out just fine yesterday chez le garagiste, and I got the air conditioning serviced. It is now blowing colder air again. BTW, I have put the purchase of the Citroën Berlingo on hold, because the dollar is so low right now — one euro is worth about $1.42 American. That means you need to take the price of a car in euros and add 50% to it to get the price in dollars. In other words, €10K = about $15K.

We really don't need to buy a car right now. The Peugeot is doing just fine. I'm going to wait until spring. One of the rules of retirement is: don't spend your money unless you need to — or at least really, really want to. I'm not at that stage yet.

Morning skies over the vineyards near Saint-Aignan
26 August 2009

Today I really have to get going on my plans for the weekend in Paris and the week in the Cantal. If you are confused about where we are going, well, the Cantal is a département in the région called the Auvergne, which is made up of four départements. The Auvergne region covers 10,000 sq. mi. That's about the size of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Vermont. Not combined— each of those states, like the Auvergne, is about 10K sq. mi.

It's interesting that the population density of the Auvergne is just slightly lower than the population density of New Hampshire: between 51 and 56 people per sq. km. The two places are comparable in many ways, except that the Auvergne is landlocked. And speaks French. But both are mountainous areas, green and rugged.

Status report: Touraine grapes in late August

The Auvergne is also the name of an ancient French Province, like Touraine or Provence or Champagne. The old provinces still have a cultural significance, but the modern administrative divisions of France are the départements and régions.

From our house to the town near Salers where we are going next week, it will be a four- or five-hour drive. We will drive down past Limoges, which is a town nearly everybody has heard of because of the china made there. And we will end up at 3,000 ft. of altitude, compared to our 300 or 400 ft. above sea level here in Saint-Aignan.

Callie was born in the Auvergne, but in the département of the Allier, north of the Cantal. Wonder if she will feel at home?

26 August 2009

Getting busy

We are coming up on a period of much activity. Today I have to go get the car serviced, because we have a long drive ahead of us. Tomorrow I'm going to see if I can get a haircut. Friday I have to pack and help get the house ready for guests. All the while, we have to continue processing vegetables from the garden. Beans, eggplants, tomatoes, and sweet corn. Zucchini, of course.

Callie on her way home from another good walk in the vineyard

On Saturday I go to Paris. I'm going to stay with CHM, at his apartment. I'm going out to dinner on Saturday and Sunday evenings with groups of friends — 8 on Saturday, 7 on Sunday. On Monday I come back to Saint-Aignan with good friends Evelyn (a commenter here), her husband, and a friend of theirs. We'll spend one night in Saint-Aignan before hitting the road again.

Excess apples, in their own compost pile.
A perennial problem for us here in Saint-Aignan.

On Tuesday, we all — including Walt and Callie — leave for a stay of a few days down in the Cantal, between the towns of Aurillac and Mauriac, taking two cars. It is going to be a whirlwind and, if the weather cooperates, a lot of fun. Fun even if the weather turns rainy, I'm sure. Down there in the Auvergne region, there are extinct volcanoes and medieval villages, including Salers. Not to mention the cheeses. Altitude: 3,000 ft. What a change of scenery... especially after the Paris weekend.

25 August 2009

Tomatoes, roasted and dried

Yesterday we spent the day processing tomatoes again. We made — are still making, actually, because it's back on the stove, slowly reducing, after an overnight rest — a big pot of coulis with, mostly, small red tomatoes. And we did two different kinds of low-temperature roasting with other tomatoes, including big red Beefsteaks and little Golden Romas.

The coulis could also be called puree or even sauce, though it is seasoned only with salt and a little black pepper. We will season it further when we actually cook with it. So that it will take up less room in the freezer or pantry, I'm leaving it on the stove, on low, to reduce by more than half, and to thicken. After the initial two-hour cooking yesterday, we ran it through the food mill to remove all the seeds and skins.

Going for tomato paste — this has reduced by at least half

It will almost become tomato paste — concentré de tomates. It's tricky to cook it down to that degree without having it scorch on the bottom of the pot. I just keep lowering the temperature and letting it go a little longer. Pretty soon I'll have to turn it off, call it done, and pack it for freezing or canning.

Meanwhile, we took the biggest dozen or so red tomatoes we had harvested and cut them into sections — about 6 pieces per tomato. Walt used his fingers to push the seeds and juice out of the sections, and we put all that in the sauce pot. We just wanted sections of meaty tomato to slow-roast.

Tomatoes cut, seeded, seasoned, and oiled, ready for the oven

What you do is put all the seeded tomato sections into a big bowl and sprinkle salt, pepper, a little bit of sugar, and a little dried thyme over them. Then toss them around to make sure they all have some of the seasonings on them. Next pour on just enough olive oil to coat them and toss them around in the bowl another time. It's almost like making a salad, and in fact the tomatoes would be good to eat as salad at that point, of course.

Tomates confites, after roasting for nearly 3 hours at 195ºF

I decided not to go to the trouble of peeling these big tomatoes. We had enough to do without adding that step. I hope I don't regret it. What we were making with them is what is called tomates confites in French — slow-roasted tomatoes. Arrange them on parchment paper on baking sheets and put them in a 90ºC — 195ºF — oven for 2½ hours. Oh, and put some slivers of garlic on them if you want to, for the flavor.

Cover the roasted tomatoes with oil and
keep them in the refrigerator for a week or more.

When the tomates are confites, put them in a bowl and pour olive oil over them to cover. I like to use a blend of olive and sunflower oil for these kinds of things. The olive oil I get here tends to be a little bitter and the sunflower oil tones it down. If you can get a very fruity olive oil, like the oil we used to get in Napa Valley in California, use that. You need to use the tomates confites pretty fast; they'll keep for maybe 10 days in the refrigerator.

Golden Roma tomatoes on racks for oven-drying

Next project: drying tomatoes in the oven. We used the Golden Romas for that. Drying tomatoes is simple but it takes a long time. There's no seasoning involved (salt is optional). All you do is cut the tomatoes in half (for Romas) or into thick slices (for slicing tomatoes) and arrange the pieces on wire racks. You can take the seeds and juice out of the tomato pieces if you want, but you don't have to. We didn't.

Tomatoes after about 6 hours of drying in the oven.
They're not ready yet.

Put the racks of tomatoes in the oven at that same temperature — 90ºC, or 195ºF — and let them dry slowly for 6 to 12 hours. The method I am following says they are ready when they are leathery but not crispy, and when you don't feel any moisture when you touch the seedy interior — they don't stick to your fingers. Last night at bedtime, I just turned off the oven and let them sit there overnight. They had already been in the oven for 8 hours at that point. I turned the oven back on this morning to finish the process.

Now they're ready. These dried for 18 hours,
if you count spending the night in an unheated oven.

Oven-dried (or sun-dried) tomatoes turn a much darker color in the drying process. Because of their size or where they are in the oven, some pieces dry faster than others, so remove them as they get done and let the others continue drying out. You can store them in jars or in plastic bags in a cool dark place, according to the recipe I'm using. I'm going to let mine finish drying for a day out of the oven, because I want them well dried but not burned. To use them, you soak them in water or wine to re-hydrate them.

24 August 2009

Sunrise August 24

It's been a while, I think, since I've posted any sunrise or sunset pictures. I think that's because our skies have been so clear this summer. Sunrises and sunsets without clouds, while magnificent in person, just aren't that photogenic.

I slept until 7:00 this morning and then took Callie out for our walk as soon as I got out of bed. I'm glad I did. Ten minutes after I took these pictures, the sky had changed completely. The sun rose from behind the trees and all the contrasts faded away in the bright light.

Sunrise over La Renaudière
24 August 2009

Then the cloud off in the distance to the west moved over us. When I got home with Callie, I grabbed a cup of coffee and went out to water the garden. I've been watering every other day for a few weeks now. The big cloud moving overhead and the rising sun combined to produce a magnificent rainbow.

There's Callie on her way out into the vineyard. Looking west...

I debated with myself about turning off the water and going in to get my camera again, but decided against it. I just wanted to water and then come back to my computer to look at the sunrise pictures from 45 minutes earlier. And post some of them.

Looking east from farther out in the vineyard, 7:15 a.m.

It started sprinkling rain as I finished watering. Now there is a huge bank of dark purple clouds off to the west. The weather report on TéléMatin a second ago said we should expect thunderstorms with hail today. We need the rain, because we've had practically none in August. Maybe it would be a good idea to go pick some more tomatoes right now.

23 August 2009

Orange Roma tomatoes

The first time I ever had yellow tomatoes was when I lived in Illinois back in the 1970s. I had only ever seen red tomatoes up to then.

Imagine! This year we have yellow — or orange — plum tomatoes in our garden, along with little round purple ones. A year or two ago we planted and grew tomatoes that, when ripe, were green with purplish-black "zebra" stripes on them. And we had tiny light-bulb-shaped, bright yellow cherry tomatoes too. (Maybe you can't call them cherry tomatoes if they are that color and shaped like that.)

Orange Roma tomatoes from Illinois seeds
growing near Saint-Aignan in France

We have a lot of the orange plum tomatoes in the garden this year. At first they had blossom-end rot or some other malady that caused the bottom of each tomato to get a big black spot on it. Luckily, that didn't last long and now the orange Romas are all healthy. And they are delicious. (Look at this site for seeds).

Since we planted so many tomato seeds of so many kinds in little pots back in the spring, and then transplanted them all higgledy-piggledy in the garden plots out back, we lost track of what variety ended up where and where the seeds came from. We remembered that a friend had given us some yellow tomato seeds back in 2006, but I didn't know we still had any of those.

Just a few that we picked the other day

Walt said he thought we did and that he thought he had planted some again this year. Where did they come from? An old friend in Illinois gave them to us when we visited, near Urbana, Ill., in Nov. '06. On this site, they are called Golden Romas.

How do you collect and save tomato seeds? You scrape or press them out of ripe tomatoes, with all their juice, onto a paper towel. Spread them out a little. Let the paper towel dry, and then put it away for the season in, say, a plastic bag. In the spring, you just tear off little pieces of the paper towel and plant them in pots. Easy.

These are clearly ready to pick now.

Yesterday I took these pictures of the orange Roma tomatoes and sent them to Harriett and Tom in Illinois. Harriett confirmed that, yes, those are the same tomatoes she gave us seeds from nearly three years ago. Here's a link to Harriet and Tom's blog, Pups is Pups.

I'm going to make tomates confites out of a batch of the orange tomatoes. They are fleshy and don't have all that many seeds in them, so they'll be perfect slow roasted in the oven with a little olive oil. And you can bet we'll be saving some seeds from them, as well as seeds from other tomatoes we've especially enjoyed this summer, using the paper towel method.

In this photo taken yesterday, you can see that
they haven't all ripened yet — so they're still coming.

A couple of days ago, when Jean and Nick were coming over, I made salsa using a mix of red and yellow tomatoes. Finely dice the tomatoes, some onion, some garlic, and one or two hot red cayenne peppers. Add chopped herbs and some lime juice or hot pepper vinegar. Eat with corn chips. Having tomatoes of two different colors makes it especially attractive. Wish I had taken a picture...

22 August 2009

BLTs, mayonnaise, and ketchup

When it's late summer and you have an abundant crop of tomatoes, one of the best ways you can eat them is in a sandwich with bacon, lettuce, and mayonnaise. If you're American, you probably already know that. Leave off the bacon if you want, or substitute another kind of meat, but don't leave out the mayo.

Is there such a thing as too many tomatoes?

Actually, fresh mayonnaise is pretty easy to make. That's a revelation to most people outside France, where mayo was invented. You put a raw egg yolk in a mixing bowl along with, say, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a few drops of vinegar, and just a little salt and pepper. Mix all that together well and let it stand for a minute or two.

The makings for BLTs — using a French loaf that we get
from the bread lady, who delivers five days a week.

Pour ¾ cup of canola oil into a measuring cup that has a pouring spout or beak. Then start adding the oil to the egg mixture very slowly, stirring it all the while with a whisk. Or a fork — that works too. The important thing is to go slow, especially at first, making sure that the oil is being absorbed into the egg yolk, and that the sauce is emulsifying. Stop pouring and keep beating the sauce if it looks like it is separating.

You'll be amazed at how much better it is than the mayonnaise you get out of a jar from the supermarket. That mayonnaise (with exceptions, like Duke's mayonnaise in the South) is usually full of sugar in the form of corn syrup. Home-made mayo, sans the sugar, is much better. Here's a video lesson in making it. Lemon juice can replace the vinegar, and you can make mayo without the Dijon mustard, but it is harder to get it to emulsify.

Home-made ketchup

Yesterday I found out it is also pretty easy to make ketchup using fresh tomatoes. We have so many tomatoes right now that I'm looking for ways to process and preserve them. For ketchup, you cook the tomatoes with a little water until they fall apart, and then you strain them through a sieve or food mill to remove the skins and seeds.

Cook the resulting tomato puree with salt, pepper, hot red pepper, vinegar, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, and sugar. There are a lot of ketchup recipes on the web, using different blends of spices. The tomato ketchup cooks down slowly, reducing and thickening. An advantage of making your own is that you can reduce the sugar, for example, or increase the vinegar, spices, and hot pepper to find the flavor you like. You can make it with canned tomatoes, of course, but it's when you have too many fresh tomatoes that making ketchup really makes sense.

Pommes frites made from fresh potatoes

I made ketchup because a week or so ago I found potatoes on sale at Intermarché — 5 kilos, or 11 lbs., for two euros. They were nice, smooth, light tan potatoes, some pretty big and some pretty small, and there was no indication on the sack about what variety they were. They looked like good French-frying potatoes to me. And they are. We've made a couple of batches of fries using them, and they are excellent. They also make a very good potato salad. We've had potatoes both ways with BLTs over the past week.

Fines tranches de poitrine de porc fumée

In France, bacon is « fines tranches de poitrine fumée » — thin slices of smoked pork breast. Or belly. Nothing could be Frencher, actually. You can buy it at the supermarket, or you can have the pork butcher, the charcutier, slice it for you. You cook it the way you cook American bacon — slowly and carefully, so that it doesn't burn. I think American-style bacon like this might be called streaky bacon in some countries.

I don't know if people in other countries make bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, called "BLTs" in the U.S. I know in France you can get something called « un club sandwich » is some cafés and restaurants. That's a Club Sandwich in English, and I wonder why it's called that. The standard Club is a double-decker sandwich — three slices of bread — with lettuce, tomato, bacon, mayonnaise, and sliced, cooked chicken breast. That's a story for another day.

21 August 2009

Montpoupon in 2003

One of the local landmarks we visited when we first arrived in Saint-Aignan in 2003 was the château de Montpoupon. It's only a 10-minute drive from our house, and I'm not sure, but I think we might have come upon it by accident one day when we were out driving around in our new, air-conditioned car.

The château de Montpoupon was built over the course
of the centuries, starting in the Middle Ages.

Those were the hottest days of the hottest summer in more than 25 years here in France. And we had just arrived here from one of the most consistently chilly places on earth, San Francisco, where we lived just a couple of miles from the frigid Pacific Ocean. It's a wonder we survived the Great 2003 Heat Wave in France — and at certain moments we thought we might not.

The old round towers are medieval, I think.

The only way to escape the heat, besides taking a cold shower, was to go out for a ride in the car. The rented Opel we drove until the end of the first week in August was not air-conditioned, but the Peugeot that we ended up buying was, and we took advantage of it. We drove around with the cold air blasting out of the dashboard vents, watching the car thermometer that gave us the outside temperature. I remember several times when it read 40ºC. That's 104ºF.

This entry gate dates from the Renaissance.

Friends from San Francisco came to visit around that time, with their one-year-old baby. They had been neighbors of ours, so they were used to the same kind of chilly weather. It was so hot in the house that we set the baby up in a crib in our downstairs entryway, which is the coolest part of the house. The parents could look down the stairs and see the baby asleep in the crib.

There's Walt walking dearly departed Collette at Montpoupon.

Our neighbors across the street had lent us not only the crib but also a big plastic tub we could use to give the baby her baths. The one-year-old spent quite a few hours over the course of their stay just soaking in cool water out on our front deck, in the shade. That kept her from getting overheated or dehydrated.

The living quarters at Montpoupon aren't as ancient as the rest.

By the third night they were here, our friends de-camped from the upstairs guest bedroom, inflated the air matresses we had bought to sleep on before our furniture arrived from Calfornia earlier in the summer, and slept on the floor in the entryway, with the baby. Again, it was the coolest part of the house. They couldn't stand the heat upstairs. Walt and I just sweated through the tropical nights in the other upstairs bedroom.

Another old tower from medieval times

One of the places we visited with the friends and the baby was the château de Montpoupon. We thought the big old stone building would be cool inside, with its thick walls. It was an interesting guided tour, but it seemed like most of the tourists in the Touraine had come up with the same plan that we had. There was an enormous crowd in the château, and the heat radiated by their bodies more than canceled out any cooling effect the vieilles pierres (old stones) of the château might have had.

All these pictures are from August 2003. Here's the Montpoupon web site. I've posted Montpoupon pictures many times on this blog — September 2008 and September 2007, for example.

20 August 2009

La Canicule — Dog Days

French Wikipedia defines the term « canicule » the way I heard one of the weather forecasters explain it on the France2 TV news earlier this week:
« ...on considère qu'il y a canicule quand, dans un secteur donné, la température reste élevée et l'amplitude thermique faible. Cela correspond grosso modo à une température qui ne descend pas en dessous de 18°C pour le nord de la France et 20°C pour le sud la nuit, et atteint ou dépasse 30°C pour le nord et 35°C pour le sud le jour, ceci d'autant plus que le phénomène dure plusieurs jours, et a fortiori plusieurs semaines, la chaleur s'accumulant plus vite qu'elle ne s'évacue par convection ou rayonnement. »
Plums ripening on a tree out back.
Picture taken at about 7:30 a.m. today.

That says that in France:
"The term dog days describes a period of time, in a specific area, when temperatures remain high and there isn't much thermal variation between day and night. That means, in approximate terms, nighttime temperatures that stay above 65ºF in the north or 68ºF in the south, and daytime temperatures in excess of 86ºF in the north and 95ºF in the south, lasting at a minimum for several days or, especially, several weeks, with heat building up faster than it can dissipate by convection or radiation."
The grapes are ripening fast now.

As CHM pointed out in a comment yesterday:
Canicula is the Latin name of the Dog Star, Sirius, in the Canis Major constellation. Sirius rises and sets at the same time as the Sun from July 22 to August 23. It usually is a period of great heat, that's why it is called canicule, as well as dog days for the same reason.
The forecast for this afternoon. The numbers are
wind speeds in kph. Saint-Aignan is under the
red arrow right in the middle of the map.

So there you have it. Those so-called high temperatures — lows of 65ºF and highs of 86ºF in northern France, which would include Saint-Aignan and Paris — might not seem very high if you live in the American South, on the East Coast, or in much of the American Southwest. And there is nowhere near the humidity that you get in places like Washington DC or all the U.S. Southeast.

Today's predicted highs: 30ºC in Saint-Aignan. That's 86ºF.
Now 38, in Lyon & Grenoble, is hot. That's just over 100.

It's all cultural. It's the way houses in France are built. It's the fact that home air-conditioning is nearly non-existent. I say that knowing that many people in France are equipping their homes with different kinds of roll-about or wall-mounted air-conditioning units. I think that's a mistake for the environment, but who am I to judge?

In northern France, at least, despite the exceptional hot spell that comes along every few decades (1947, 1976, and 2003, for example), there just isn't enough hot weather to justify the investment in air-conditioning. And central air conditioning is not practical because almost no houses have forced-air heating systems that can be adapted to accommodate air-conditioning.

A stand of black-eyed susans in the neighbors' garden

Cast-iron radiators don't really make good air-conditioning units. French windows, which open into the house like doors, don't lend themselves to the installation of window-unit AC.

Our temperature hit 33ºC yesterday afternoon — just over 91ºF. It wasn't unpleasant at all, but I admit that I was "glowing" when I got back from the walk with Callie at about 7:00 p.m. The low this morning was about 70ºF. It feels pleasant right now and it's supposed to cool off later today, with some rain coming in.

19 August 2009

Hot weather and 2003 memories

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the year so far in much of France. The southern half of the country is under a severe heat warning. People are being told to stay inside if possible, to drink a lot of water, and to avoid physical exertion. Temperatures are 20ºF/10ºC higher than "normal" for this season, and will hit 100 in many places.

Here in Saint-Aignan it's a pleasant morning, with a temperature in the upper 60s F. But MétéoFrance is again predicting that our temperature will go as high as 95º this afternoon. Remember, we don't have air-conditioning. Our house is already warm, and it takes the full brunt of the afternoon sun. We will be keeping still later today.

A typical day in the summer of 2009: the vineyard
with our house and hamlet in the distance

This kind of weather makes us all think back to the summer of 2003, when the hot weather started in early June and lasted into September. I have lots of memories. For example, on about June 3 Walt and I drove from our friends' house in Rouen up to Etretat, on the English Channel, and had lunch outside on the boardwalk there. It was already really hot, and that's unusual in that part of Normandy — especially at such an early date.

And a 2009 close-up of our house,
the newer one with the brown roof

When we arrived in Saint-Aignan on June 7, 2003, it was burning hot here too. We had no furniture or appliances, and the grass had grown up to knee-high (and waist-high in spots) during the two months since the house had become ours but we were still in the U.S. Walt had to cut all that down — half an acre of it — first with a brush-cutter and then with a mower. I was busy scrubbing walls, floors, and windows in the house. We were suffering from the heat but excited about getting our new house whipped into shape.

What our back yard looked like when
we arrived in Saint-Aignan in June 2003

This morning I started looking back at some e-mails I sent to people that summer of 2003, mentioning the weather:

June 20 It's supposed to be in the upper 80s or even lower 90s for the next three days. We're going to take it easy. The grass is brown now, because it's been hot and we've had no rain in two weeks.

2003: our dog Collette enjoyed the cut grass and
didn't seem to mind the heat. She was 11 then.

June 25 It's real hot again this afternoon.

June 29 Il fait chaud aujourd'hui -- 31 degres en ce moment. Nous avons 28,2 degres à l'intérieur. C'est l'enfer.

Again June 29 It's supposed to hit 95 degrees here again today. So we're not planning to be very active in the afternoon. No such thing as air conditioning here. This weather is pretty unusual.

July 1 The temperature hit 90 F on Sunday, but it's been much cooler since then.

July 15 Il fait trop chaud aujourd'hui...

Walt taking a break from cutting the grass in June 2003 —
it was so hot that first year

And so it continued through most of August. We had come from San Francisco, where hot weather is a rarity. We were not expecting to arrive in France in the middle of a long-lasting heat wave. We had rented a car in Paris in June, and it turned out not to have air-conditioning. I told Walt that we needn't worry about it, because "it never stays hot in France for long stretches." Boy was I wrong.

2009: the grapes are happy

We started getting used to having 95º and even 100º days. In early August, we finally found a car to buy, and we made sure it had A/C. We would go out for drives in the afternoon just to escape our oven of a house and enjoy an hour or two of "conditioned" air. We got to see a lot of the surrounding countryside that way. By then we had survived the worst of the heat.

Grapes leaves in August 2009, starting to look autumnal

Our friend Cheryl came to visit in September 2003 and the weather was still hot, though not quite as oppressively so. It was very pleasant by then, actually — kind of like this summer's weather. We can't really complain. It's going to be hot today, but it's supposed to cool down drastically by Friday.