21 February 2010

Saturday morning in Saint-Aignan

I got up yesterday morning with a plan. I needed to go to Saint-Aignan to pick up some prescription medications from the pharmacy. Then I thought I'd stop at SuperU to fill up the car's fuel tank and pick up some eggs, garlic, cheese, and lettuce in the supermarket. Finally, I'd drive on over to Seigy, on the other side of Saint-Aignan from us, to buy some wine from a producer there whose wine we really like.

As I was typing yesterday's blog post about Montrésor, Walt got up and looked out the window. "It's raining," he said. It was his morning to walk the dog. "I think there's some snow mixed in with the rain." By the time I got up off my chair and went upstairs to get another cup of tea and look out the window — the sun had not yet come up but dawn was a-dawning — it wasn't raining at all. It was snowing big, heavy, wet flakes. And it was sticking on the trees, hedges, grass, and even the road.

Merde, I thought, and I have to go out. I checked the thermometer and saw that the temperature was barely above freezing. Well, I guess I could just postpone everything for 24 hours and go out Sunday morning instead. Then I remembered that I was completely out of one of my medicines, and I really needed to go to the pharmacy. It's not open on Sunday mornings.

Walt came back from his walk with Callie a little later. "Those snowflakes are so big that when one of them fell on my face, it covered my whole right eye! And it's sticking on the ground." Great, I thought. I decided then and there to put off the visit to the winery until next week and just go to the pharmacy and the supermarket this morning.

The bread lady came by and Walt went out to get the daily baguette. "It's funny," he said. "According to the bread lady, there's no snow down the hill in the river valley. It's only snowing up here." That wouldn't be the first time we've seen that happen.

I finished my blog post and my tea and got a shower, all before 9:00. I headed out. The snow had actually stopped, and the road was slushy, not slick. I just had to be careful going down the hill, which involves negotiating a blind curve on a very steep, narrow strip of pavement. There was actually snow and slush all the way down to the highway, but it stopped there. Down in the valley, there was just a mist of light rain, and the ground in the low-lying fields along the river were bare.

Saint-Aignan is less than two miles down the road. There wasn't much traffic, and the big parking lot by the bridge was basically empty. That was surprising on a Saturday morning, because it's market day. People had probably delayed going out because of the show squall we had just had.

At the turnoff that leads up into the center of town, there was a barrier with a sign on it warning drivers that because of the market, it was better to go around rather than through town. « Marché centre ville », the sign said. « Itinéraire conseillé » — "recommended route" — with an arrow pointing the way down the road along the riverfront, which leads to a boulevard that encircles the east side of Saint-Aignan.

Even though the pharmacy is in the town center, I took the recommended route. I looked for a parking space along the riverfront, thinking I would walk up into town from there, but there weren't any free spaces. So I drove on up to SuperU, which is on the heights toward the south, away from the river. Again the streets were slushy, and traffic was increasing.

At SuperU, I noticed that at each of the four gas pumps at the edge of the parking lot three or four cars were waiting to refuel. That's unusual so early in the morning, but not really surprising this weekend. There is at least the threat of a strike by French oil refinery workers starting Monday, and some big refineries might be completely shut down. Experts say there won't be a fuel shortage, but the people obviously aren't so sure.

As a rusult, a lot of people, including me, are filling their tanks, just to be safe. Walt has to go to Blois on Tuesday for an appointment with an anesthetist for his colonoscopy. And then we have to go to Blois a week later for the actual procedure. With a full tank of diesel fuel now, we're set for about a month of driving.

The parking lot at SuperU was pretty slushy but pretty much empty of cars. Usually, on Saturday morning, it's completely filled up. I decided to go do my grocery shopping first, before there were too many people waiting at the checkout stands inside, and then come back out and sit in the line to buy fuel for the car. That all worked out, because I ended up not having to spend too much time in either line.

In the store, the woman who runs the fish and seafood counter was out looking around at the products in some of the refrigerated self-service cases she oversees. She didn't have any customers, so I took the opportunity to ask her some questions about the shrink-wrapped packages of smoked herring, which come in two styles: Doux and Au Naturel. I'd like to know the difference.

I still haven't opened the package of herring I bought a few days ago. And I haven't been able so far to find out anything about the different styles of herring by doing research on the Internet. I struck out again. The fish-counter lady, dressed in her blue smock and cute little blue paper cap, didn't know the difference either.

She and I read the nutritional information on the packages, and she said she thought the Au Natural herring had more salt it it. That was about the only difference. The package I have is the Hareng Fumé Doux, and I think I'll make something out of it this morning — a salad with onions, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, and olive oil. The recipe says it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, and the flavor will improve.

Since I wasn't going to the winery, I picked up a few bottles of Côtes du Rhône red wines (including a Côtes du Ventoux and a Valréas) for between 2 and 3 euros apiece, and a 5-liter bag-in-box (= 6+ bottles) of Cabernet Sauvignon for 8 euros. Those were great prices, and all those wines are made from grape varietals that aren't grown in the Loire Valley. They will be a nice change.

Refueling and shopping accomplished, I headed back into town to the pharmacy. There were still no parking spaces along the riverfront, and by now the big parking lot by the bridge was completely full. Or so I thought, until I got the last empty space, the farthest one from town. I walked back up to the pharmacy, a distance of about three blocks. The slush was mostly melted by now, and it wasn't raining or snowing.

The first person I saw as I entered the pharmacy was Madame Smith, who was talking to a customer. She's the pharmacist whose husband is Scottish, and she is also a vice-mayor of Saint-Aignan. She's always friendly and helpful, as are her five or six colleagues who work in the place. Madame Smith always makes a point of coming to shake hands with me and asking me about my health and well-being, whether she is the one who waits on me or not.

The pharmacy was out of the potassium pills I have to take, and the woman who was filling my order said that that particular potassium supplement had run out everywhere. Sometimes when our pharmacy is out of a particular medication, the employee will walk a block up the street to another pharmacy to see if any is available there. This time, there was no point, and the pharmacy employee, a nice woman with peroxided blond hair, suggested a substitute. I took it, and all was well.

Before I walked back to the car, I decided to go take a look at the main square in the old town, which is where the Saturday food market is normally held. Right now, it's all dug up, with big holes in the ground alternating with piles of dirt, where they are putting in new water and sewer mains, and I assume new underground electrical wires. The market is temporarily being held up in the new town, alongside the clothing market which has always been set up there on Saturdays.

The reconstruction work in the old square is supposed to take four or five months. The town cut down the dozen or so trees that grew there, and ripped up all the asphalt. The new place will have new trees, and cobblestones instead of asphalt. I'm sure it will be very nice, but some people are grousing because the number of parking spaces on the place will be cut in half.

Around the square there are two restaurants, a couple of insurance company offices, and a bank or two, along with a little second-hand shop. There are three or four residences as well, three of them either owned or occupied by English people. Two of those houses are rented out, furnished, to tourists, and now the square will be more quaint and picturesque than it was before. The Saturday food market will come back when the work is finished.

Given the wet snowy weather, I didn't stop at the outdoor market this Saturday morning. I drove by it, and there were at least a few people out and about. The stands and market trucks were brightly lit and attractive-looking. Down by the river, when I got back to the car, the rain and snow had stopped, and we actually ended up having a bright sunny afternoon, with temperatures up to nearly 50ºF. Nice. It was my afternoon to walk the dog.

Just a slice of life in Saint-Aignan...


  1. Ken,
    And a very nice slice of life it reads, I almost feel as if we are there - thanks for sharing.
    As I read you blog, I can smell the aroma of Sue's home made roasted garlic onion tomato sauce wafting from the kitchen as she prepares tonight's meal of pasta marinara.
    John Mayer plays in the background.
    How good is life Ken?

  2. Pretty good, Leon. That roasted garlic & onion tomato sauce sounds good. I can almost smell it from here.

  3. your post of yesterday brought back lovely memories of our week in the Loire 4 yrs ago with a early stop in Montresor where we enjoyed one of best meals in France at the Restuarant Diane de Meridor-23.5E at that time for a gourmet 3 course lunch. Check it out if you return to this town!!

    We stayed just south of Chinon at a lovely gite at the Chateau Lavauguyon - what a great host - //lavauguyon.free.fr if you want to check it out! It was a great week in France with all the chateaus and great food!! Dale

  4. Oops Ken - I may have confused the village of Montresor with Montsoreau where we found this restuarant. sorry! Dale

  5. Ken, that was an enjoyable slice-of-life post :)

    Dale, thanks for those links. I've added them to my web page for my students' "Visiting the Loire Valley" project :)


  6. It's funny how it can snow on high places and be fine lower down. This happens all the time here, more about fog though.

    Sometimes it seems cold and gloomy in my house, but once I'm out I find the sun and warmth.

    Putting off buying meds is a bit like waiting to buy gas, non? I couldn't resist saying that;-) I'm glad you got both this time.

    The middle of town sounds like quite a mess now. Thanks for describing your day. I felt like I was there with you.

  7. So you're one of those people who wait until they run out before they refill.

  8. Hi Evelyn, hi Starman, I admit I often wait until the last minute to go to the pharmacy, but with the car I still had nearly half a tank. I just thought it was better to go ahead and fill up. This morning on the news there is a lot more talk about lines at the gas pumps this week because of strikes at the refineries.

    Hi Judy, hi Dale, I was wondering how I had missed a good restaurant in Montrésor! The Restuarant Diane de Méridor must be in Montsoreau. Yes, it is — here's a link. It looks very nice.


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