30 September 2011

Sées street scenes

It's the last day of September. And it appears these will be our last hot sunny days, at least for a while. It's also a very busy time, for several reasons.

Sées is in Lower Normandy, three hours north of Saint-Aignan by car.

Main street

City Hall (l'Hôtel de Ville)

Au revoir, Sées

I'm going on vacation for a few days. There will be a picture here every day for the next week, just to keep my string of daily postings going. Enjoy

29 September 2011

Seen in a pâtisserie in Sées

When we stopped in Sées that afternoon back in August, one of the places we noticed was a boulangerie-pâtisserie across the street from the cathedral. I forget what it is we wanted to buy, but it might have been a couple of almond croissants.

Almond croissants

We found them too. And we had them for breakfast the next morning, I believe. I took a picture of them inside the shop. The young woman behind the counter didn't seem to mind my taking photos. She was, however, a little overwhelmed by the four of us oohing and aahing and otherwise talking about all the good pastries she had for sale.

The bakery and close-ups of its signs

Almond croissants are on my mind and on the menu this morning. I'm making some. Our friend Cheryl arrived yesterday afternoon, and croissants aux amandes are our first breakfast. Last night we grilled a big duck breast and made some pommes frites for dinner. The weather is so fine that we sat out on the front terrace until about 11 p.m.


This morning's weather report said our high temperature this afternoon might be as high as 30ºC (86ºF). And to think that October arrives in a day or two. It's a treat to have so much sunshine and to be weather shorts and tee-shirts again, so late in the season.

Cakes in a freezer

But back to Sées. One of the most interesting parts of the shop was a freezer with a glass door that was full of cakes. I didn't ask and don't remember a sign on the freezer, but maybe they were ice cream cakes. Photos included. Pretty much every little French town has a bakery like this one. And of course bigger towns and cities have several or many of them.

28 September 2011

Sées and its cathedral

The town now called Sées [say] — it used to be spelled Séez — is located just a few kilometers north of Alençon in Normandy. Sées is one of those surprising small French towns that is the site of a huge cathedral. It feels like an oversized monument out in the middle of the country.

Not every big church is a cathedral. Some are basilicas, and some are just churches. "Cathedral" is the name given to a church where a bishop "sits" — over which he presides. The word is related to the words "chair" or, in French, chaise. The first cathedral in Sées was built in the mid-400s of our era — more than 1500 years ago — when Christianity was just starting to be extablished in France.

I liked this bicycle parked inside the cathedral at Sées.

That first cathedral was a small church, and it was destroyed during the Viking invasions of the late 800s. The Vikings, or Norsemen, gave their name to this part of what is now France — Normandy. During the late 900s, another cathedral was built in Sées, but it too was destroyed by the year 1050 — it was set on fire by a local lord and bishop named Yves de Bellême because the church had become a haven for brigands and prostitutes.

Stained glass in Sées cathedral

Catholic authorities were angry that Yves de Bellême had burned his own church, and as penance they ordered him to restore it. He did so, and the work was finished some 50 years after his death, in about 1125. That church was also burned out during wars in the late 1100s.

This building is the old cloister at Sées.

So the current cathedral is one that was built starting in the early 1200s. Construction went on for about a century, and the new cathedral was finally consecrated in 1310. The building suffered damage during the 100 Years War later in the 1300s, and again during the wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants in the 1500s.

La cathédral Notre-Dame de Sées

By the 1700s, the cathedral was in such bad condition that the bishop decided to close it to the public. Part of the building had to be torn down and rebuilt. Its foundations had never been solid, and the parts that were still standing were leaning and had to be shored up. Work continued into the 1800s, when it was discovered that a Gallo-Roman building had occupied the site before the first cathedral was built in the mid-400s. All the rubble underneath the cathedral had made the soil unstable.

Candles in the cathedral

Most of the exterior of the cathedral dates back only to the 1800s, but the structure of the building is much older. I posted about Sées back in 2006, here.

27 September 2011

L'arrière saison — so nice

The weather is making news in France again. This year is an odd one. After three unusual months of sun and drought in the spring —April, May, and June — we had a rainy July and a very rainy August. People started complaining that their summer had been washed out.

Now here we are at the end of September — already — and we are having weather that you might call Indian Summer. Except it's too early for that. In France, this is called the arrière-saison. It's fall, but you wouldn't think so if you went outdoors. It (still) feels like summer. Better than summer, actually.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday
will be excellent, they predict.

People who work for a living, and students of all ages, are probably feeling slightly short-changed. They're back on the job now, or back in school. They can't take full advantage of the fine sunshine and warm temperatures. We retirees are luckier. Walt finished trimming the hedge yesterday. We've been cleaning up the vegetable garden. A good friend from California arrives tomorrow for a stay of three or four weeks. She has lucked out with the current weather.

Saturday and Monday look good too. (I skipped Friday and
Sunday because I didn't want you to have to
put on sunglasses to read this.)

How much like summer does it feel? Well, the days are definitely shorter now than they were in July. But temperatures are warmer an in July or August. Afternoon highs are predicted to hit 80ºF or higher — 27ºC or higher — in Saint-Aignan and much of northern France for the next week. With no rain.

A few days ago I was predicting an early autumn. I have to take that back.

26 September 2011

Some photos from Alençon

My friends and I were in Alençon for only an hour or two back in late August. But the weather that day was decent, it was market day, and the short visit left me with a good impression. I'd only ever been there once before (with CHM in 2001).

Alençon, near the church and the Saturday marketplace

Alençon is the chief town of the Orne département, in the Lower Normandy region. "Chief town" means that Alençon is the seat of the prefect, a police and administrative official appointed by the national government in Paris to oversee the department. Alençon is not a big town though — its "metropolitan" population is a little less than 66,000. It's only 55 km/35 mi. north of the much bigger town of Le Mans (metro. pop. 305,000).

We walked by this restaurant but decided against eating there.

What did we do in Alençon? Basically, we looked for a restaurant. It was 11:30 or so, and I was scheduled to get my train at 2:15. We wandered the streets without finding much in the way of restaurants. We walked through the market because a sign for the tourist office pointed us in that direction. We figured we'd get information and a restaurant recommendation there. And we did.

A typically Norman cookout...

We also found a varied collection of refrigerator magnets, postcards, mouse pads, and other stuff carrying funny pictures and sayings about Normandy and its rainy climate. See the example above. It was funny, because I always tease our friend Marie from Normandy about the weather up there. She lives in Rouen, which is called "the chamber pot of Normandy" — in other words, even the local people admit that it rains there all the time. I lived there for a year when I was much younger.

A bakery that's closed on Saturday morning (?) —
maybe it was their fermeture annuelle.

The one restaurant we had walked past, which had an extensive and varied menu, was not one that the tourist office recommended. When we mentioned it, the young woman we were consulting with didn't seem to know anything about it, which surprised me because it was not far from her office and looked like a big place. In fact, she said there weren't many good restaurants in the centre-ville, and that surprised me too. Maybe she prefers the fast-food and chain restaurants in the 'burbs. France is changing that way.

More Norman-style architecture

We ended up having lunch in an Alsatian-style brasserie (Les Relais d'Alsace) where one of the specialties was, of course, choucroute (sauerkraut with pork and pork sausages, and boiled potatoes). That's what Marie and I both ate, and it was good, mais sans plus. Evelyn and Lewis had scallops, if I remember correctly, with melted cheese.

I always enjoy seeing these old cars in France. This one
is a Citroën Dyane that must be 30 to 35 years old.

It has a nice two-tone paint job.

Marie said she had heard good things about a restaurant called Au Petit Vatel, from friends who used to stop there whenever they drove from Nantes to Rouen, but we didn't find it until we were walking back to the car after having already eaten. Too bad, I guess, but it probably would have been too fancy and pricy.

As I said, the weather that day was decent. It wasn't raining, but it was threatening to. There was intermittent sunshine. I enjoyed the walk-around enough that the next time I'm in that area I'll go into Alençon again. Maybe I'll try the nice restaurant one day, when I'm not in such a hurry.

25 September 2011

Riding the train in France

Last month we were up in the Perche region for a short vacation. Walt drove back a couple of days early to make sure the cat and the vegetable garden were doing okay. We took the dog with us, and he brought her home. I stayed on for two more days.

Since the friends I was spending time with were all heading north toward Normandy or Paris at the end of our trip, I took the train back to Saint-Aignan. On the SNCF (French National Railways) web site, I had found a train from the town of Alençon, a short drive from where our gîte rural was located in the Perche, that would take me all the way to Saint-Aignan. The fare in second class, with my discount for being over 60 years old, was about 22 euros.

Looking down the tracks at the gare d'Alençon

The train left Alençon just after lunch. I rode through Le Mans (famous for its car race) but didn't have to change trains there. There were a couple of other stops before the train arrived in Tours, on the Loire River. It traveled around the west and south sides of the city before arriving at the big train station on the east side of Tours, in a suburb called St-Pierre-des-Corps. That's the Tours station where the TGV (High-Speed Train) from Paris or Roissy stops.

For Tours/St-Pierre-des-Corps, departure at 2:19 p.m.

I had a forty-minute layover at Saint-Pierre. That was just time enough to go have something to drink in a café in the station and read for a few minutes. People-watching was good — after living in the country for 8 years, it's always interesting to see what city people look like. Then I got on the little train called the TER (Train Express Régional) that goes from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Aignan.

Trains at the Alençon station

The whole ride was pleasant and easy. The trains are comfortable, and on a Saturday afternoon neither train was crowded. The ride was smooth, and there was plenty of light coming in through big clean windows to read by. Quite a few people got off the train in Le Mans — I'm not sure where the train originated — and a few got on for the ride to Tours.

A typical French "regional express train" or TER

The little train from St-Pierre/Tours to Saint-Aignan runs east along the Cher River, along the north bank. The scenery is pretty. There are several stops, in places including Chenonceaux, Bléré, Montrichard, and sometimes Thésée-la-Romaine. After Montrichard, you start seeing the troglodytic houses and outbuildings carved into limestone cliff faces that are so characteristic of the whole Loire Valley area.

The train station for Saint-Aignan and Noyers-sur-Cher is located across the river over in Noyers. It's just about four miles from our house, so Walt had a very short drive to come and pick me up. My trip took about three hours, including the forty minutes I spent in a café at Saint-Pierre. According to Google Maps, the trip by car would take three hours too. And according to the maps on the Michelin web site, tolls and fuel costs would come to about 36 euros.

24 September 2011

That Franco-American "affair"

Last night we had the pleasure of being invited to dinner by Dean and Jean, two Americans from Seattle. You might have seen Dean's comments on this blog. He speaks and writes excellent French. The other guests were three of Dean and Jean's friends from Seattle, as well as two French friends of theirs.

For once, I'm posting other people's photos here. I don't think Dean or Jean or the other photographers will mind. Thanks to Dean for sending the photos.

Us waiting for apéritifs to be served in the living room
(there's Walt in the middle of the picture, next to Jean).

The group is spending the weekend in a gîte — a vacation rental — in a village near the town of Montrichard, 12 or 15 miles down the river from Saint-Aignan. The rental house is owned by a couple of Californians who don't live here right now, and it is managed by a French couple named Agnès and Jean-Paul. They live next door.

The apéritif treats that Jean-Paul and Agnès prepared and served

Dean and Jean contracted with the property managers to cater a dinner for nine guests, and they prepared a great meal. There were pre-dinner drinks — apéritifs — with finger foods including a purée of artichoke bottoms and a little glass of three other purées — beet with balsamic vinegar, carrot with lemon juice, and radish with curry powder. There was also a big plate of canapés made with duck rillettes. The bubbly wine was a Touraine fines bulles from the Gourmandière wine co-op near Chenoneau château, and was made into kirs with either black currant or blueberry liqueurs.

Here are the 9 of us at the table — Dean and I are at the far end.

Dinner started with a crispy pastry stuffed with goat cheese served on a bed of salad with a nasturtium flower for decoration (and the flower is edible). The main course was half a coquelet per person, roasted to perfection and served with a pureed potato and cheese specialty from the Auvergne called aligot. A coquelet is literally a "small rooster" but I think in fact it's what we call a Cornish game hen in the U.S. (and that is neither especially Cornish, it's not necessarily a hen, and it's not game but tame).

The wines were a Saumur-Champigny, a Bourgueil, and a Cheverney, all local reds and all delicious.

Here we are again, in the living room enjoying a glass
of sparkling wine and some cocktail foods.

Okay, those are the technical details. The party was lively with a lot of good conversation in French and in English. We talked about how Dean and Jean met their two French friends, one of whom lives in Paris and the other, by a complete coincidence, in Saint-Aignan. We talked about life in the the Loire Valley — the food, the sights, the climate, the people... We talked about Seattle.

I can't do it all justice here. It was extremely convivial, as they say in French. The evening was a reminder of the power of blogs. It was yet another great experience for us with people who feel like new friends — people we would never have met if it hadn't been for the Internet and blogs.

23 September 2011


Teams of horses. They were the finale at the horse show we saw in August in Le Pin-au-Haras. That's the name of the village where the Haras du Pin is located. In French, a "team" in this sense is called un attelage [aht-lahzh]. The verb atteler [aht-lay] means "to harness, to hitch up."

Now I've about exhausted my connaissances on the subject. I'll just post the pictures.

The horses, buggies, carriages, drivers, and passengers were beautiful to watch.

Meanwhile, our weather is supposed to be warm for the next few days. That'll give us a chance to get a lot of yard work done. And tonight we're going to a party. It's a Franco-American affair, more about which later.

22 September 2011

Market days

Today is the day of the big market in Selles-sur-Cher. I'm not going though, not this week. I enjoyed it with Bob and Norma two weeks ago (already two weeks!) I haven't seen today's weather report yet, but yesterday's said there was a chance of rain this morning. Anyway, I already have a chicken and a recipe I want to make — Poulet au vin jaune et aux champignons.

So I'm posting a couple of pictures here that I took in the lower Normandy town in Alençon back at the end of August. Every town in France has a weekly market, and some have more frequent market days. Saint-Aignan's is Saturday. In Alençon, we were just walking through, looking around, and, especially, looking for a restaurant for lunch. We found one. Then I took the train back to Saint-Aignan — a pleasant three-hour ride.

Market day in central Alençon, as in Saint-Aignan, is Saturday.

Our life right now is all about the back yard and the vegetable garden. Walt is busy cutting the hedge — an annual chore, theoretically, that is more difficult that usual this year because the work we were doing to get our new loft varnished painted meant all we could do about the hedge was watch it grow.

We haven't even played with our new toy — a chipper — yet. That's for this weekend. The abundant clippings from the hedge are all on the ground now. We'll turn them into mulch and spread that over one of the vegetable garden plots this weekend. I cleaned off a plot — the one where the tomatoes were — yesterday, so that we'd be ready.

Artichokes, cauliflower, peaches — it all looked good.

I've been cooking tomatoes most days for a while now. Day before yesterday, I cooked several pounds of them into sauce. Then yesterday, with the sauce, I made a couple of liters of cream of tomato soup, with onions, garlic, bay leaves, butter, and vegetable broth. It went into the freezer to be enjoyed a week or ten days from now, when our friend Cheryl from California will be visiting.

It is almost light now, and I don't think it's raining. C'est presque l'heure de la promenade avec Callie. Then it'll be time to get that chicken in the pot.

21 September 2011

Comme un arbre dans la ville

Here's another Maxime Le Forestier song from the early 1970s. It's about a tree that grows in the city. As I said yesterday, it's the one I remember the best from back then. Forty years ago, I didn't know anything about San Francisco, so that song didn't speak to me the way it does now. I had been to SF as a 14-year-old on a school trip, but that's all.

What I knew about was Paris. I had spent time discovering that environment, along with spending time in smaller but similarly urban places like Aix-en-Provence and Rouen for a couple of years. Coming from a small American town far from any city, and having spent five years in two different American universities with their tree-lined quadrangles and very green settings, I was impressed with the concrete and asphalt, the "yardlessness," and the tall apartment buildings of French cities.

A French street tree — if you are reading Walt's blog
right now, you'll probably see some in his Paris pictures

It didn't hurt that Maxime Le Forestier had a good voice. He wrote and sang songs in French that I could actually understand, even back then. His lyrics and tunes didn't seem silly like so much French pop music did compared to musical styles in the U.S. in the late 1960s and early '70s. There was something Simon-and-Garfunkelish about Le Forestier. I knew he could help me learn French.

Even better, there was something of Georges Brassens in his music, but with a more earnest, less teasing tone. I had discovered Brassens and his songs on my first trip to France in 1970, and I had been lucky enough to attend a performance he gave in a theater in Aix. If you don't know Brassens and his songs, you should. Songwriters like Brassens and Le Forestier are real poets.

A 1973 performance of Comme un arbre... by Maxime Le Forestier

Comme un arbre dans la ville

Comme un arbre dans la ville
Je suis né dans le béton
Coincé entre deux maisons
Sans abri sans domicile
Comme un arbre dans la ville

Comme un arbre dans la ville
J'ai grandi loin des futaies
Où mes frères des forêts
Ont fondé une famille
Comme un arbre dans la ville

Entre béton et bitume
Pour pousser je me débats
Mais mes branches volent bas
Si près des autos qui fument
Entre béton et bitume

Comme un arbre dans la ville
J'ai la fumée des usines
Pour prison, et mes racines
On les recouvre de grilles
Comme un arbre dans la ville

Comme un arbre dans la ville
J'ai des chansons sur mes feuilles
Qui s'envoleront sous l'œil
De vos fenêtres serviles
Comme un arbre dans la ville

Entre béton et bitume
On m'arrachera des rues
Pour bâtir où j'ai vécu
Des parkings d'honneur posthume
Entre béton et bitume

Comme un arbre dans la ville
Ami, fais après ma mort
Barricades de mon corps
Et du feu de mes brindilles
Comme un arbre dans la ville

I won't try to translate the song, but I'll describe some of what it meant to me. The second verse, about the forests and families of trees, reinforces that idea that the urban environment is artificial, shutting out the natural world. Le Forestier's tree refers to it brothers, introducing the idea of solidarity between trees in nature, which emphasizesthe loneliness of the street tree. I remember feeling lonelier in the middle of a huge, dense city like Paris or even Rouen than anywhere else I had ever lived.

The tree struggles to flourish and grow in a hostile urban environment. It's branches droop, it suffocates in car exhaust, with little fresh air and little light. The city is a kind of prison where the smoke from factories and cars pollute the environment. To make it clear that the street tree is a prisoner there, the city puts a metal grate around the base of its trunk to imprison its roots.

The tree manages to remain beautiful, nonetheless, and its leaves make a rustling musical noise. The joyful noise goes unnoticed, however, by the people who live shut in behind windows, cut off from the natural world.

And then one day the city comes and rips out the tree because people need yet another parking lot. The parking lot or garage is nothing but some kind of a posthumous reward for the tree that has done its duty to the city. This is another Joni Mitchell similarity — "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot..." — but I think her song came later than Le Forestier's.

Finally, in the last verse it's impossible not to hear references to the "events" of May 1968, when students rose up in protest against the government in Paris. Rioters in the Latin Quarter built barricades in the streets using tree limbs and trunks along with anything else they could get their hands on, and then set them on fire to keep police at bay.

On the show about Maxime Le Forestier I saw a couple of nights ago on French television, a reporter asked the songwriter if his song was one of the first "ecological" hymns, as so many think it was. He said he had never even heard the term "ecology" or "ecology" when he wrote it. That movement hadn't started yet. The song is about people, not trees, I think.

Finally, here's a very nice, more recent performance of the song by a mature Le Forestier, who is on guitar and accompanied by another guitarist.

Comme un arbre dans la ville

20 September 2011

C'est une maison bleue...

One of the best known songs in French popular music is about San Francisco. Nearly forty years after it was recorded and released, you still hear it on French radio all the time. The auteur/interprète — singer/songwriter — of the song is a man named Maxime Le Forestier.

Le Forestier has been an influential figure in French music and on the radio since the late 1960s. Maxime is his stage name; his birth name was Bruno. His father was somehow British (either by birth or ancestry — it's not clear) and his French mother lived in England for several years.

Maxime Le Forestier's first album, released in 1972, has
become known as l'album à la rose. All the songs
on it are worth learning by heart.

Last night a show about Le Forestier and his songs was broadcast in prime time on France 3 television. Born in Paris in 1949, Maxime Le Forstier is about one month older than I am, and I've been listening to his music since the early 1970s. His lyrics are always in impeccable French, and the song called San Francisco (1972) is no exception. His voice is pleasantly rich, and his songs are little poems that are satisfying to learn and listen to.

Here's the original version from the 1972 album, with video
taken by French tourists enjoying a trip to San Francisco.

Another of Le Forestier's well-known compositions, for example, is titled Comme un arbre (also 1972), and it's a song about a tree that grows on a street in a big city, with its roots imprisoned under a metal grate, suffocating in the exhaust of the cars that surround it. The city has to be Paris, and this was one of the first songs I learned when I lived for a year in Normandy in 1972-73. It's probably my favorite Le Forestier song, for many reasons.

The house that Le Forestier called la maison bleue
was painted green for a long time.

But back to San Francisco. That's the name of the song that has become emblematic in France — of California and America, of the 1960s, and of Maxime Le Forestier as a young songwriter. The reason it's so frequently played these days is that the song is 40 years old (1971) this year and the maison bleue in San Francisco has finally been identified. Le Forestier and his older sister Catherine spent some time there in about 1970. The house was then home to a group of young people living in a commune. Le Forestier's song says the people living there have "thrown away the key," an image of the freedom he experienced in San Francisco.

Here's Le Forestier in a recent photo taken in front
of the famous
maison bleue in San Francisco.

It turns out that the "blue" house is located at 3841 18th Street, between Church and Sanchez in San Francisco's Castro district, just steps from Mission Delores Park. Listening to the lyrics of Le Forestier's song, you'd get the idea that it was in a less urban neighborhood than that one. The blue house is ...adossée à la colline, he sings, on y vient à pied, on ne frappe pas... (it's "backed up against the hill, you arrive there on foot, there's no need to knock...".

In the music you can see the fog (Le Forestier's lyrics mention "swimming in the fog"), smell incense, and feel warmth. I'm not sure if my memory is good, but to me that neighborhood is not on a particularly steep hillside, but never mind. I would have imagined that the house was up at Twin Peaks somewhere, or in the Haight, somehow suspended up over the landscape in a place where you can see the skyline and the lights of the city at night. Le Forestier says he wrote the song when he got back to Paris, thinking it would be a good present to give his San Francisco friends.

It turns out that, until recently, the maison bleue had been painted a pale green color for many years. Now its owner has had it repainted in blue, and a plaque has been put up commemorating Le Forestier's time there and the famous French song that the house inspired. It's a little bit like somebody identifying the cabarets that Joni Mitchell sang about when she wrote "I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive..." and putting up a plaque to commemorate her (and maybe David Geffen).

Here's a more recent performance of the song by its author.

I'm a firm believer in listening to good popular songs as a way to learn expressions, pronunciation, grammar, and the rhythm or "music" of a foreign language. If you want to learn French, you can't go wrong listening to Maxime Le Forestier's songs (among others). So here are the lyrics:

San Francisco

C'est une maison bleue
Adossée à la colline
On y vient à pied
On ne frappe pas
Ceux qui vivent là
Ont jeté la clé

On se retrouve ensemble
Après des années de route
Et on vient s'asseoir
Autour du repas
Tout le monde est là
A cinq heures du soir

Quand San Francisco s'embrume
Quand San Francisco s'allume
...San Francisco
Où êtes-vous ?
Lizzard et Luc

Nageant dans le brouillard
Enlacés, roulant dans l'herbe
On écoutera
Tom à la guitare
Phil à la kena
Jusqu'à la nuit noire

Un autre arrivera
Pour nous dire des nouvelles
D'un qui reviendra
Dans un an ou deux
Puisqu'il est heureux
On s'endormira

Quand San Francisco se lève
Quand San Francisco se lève
...San Francisco

C'est une maison bleue
Accrochée à ma mémoire
On y vient à pied
On ne frappe pas
Ceux qui vivent là
Ont jeté la clé

Peuplée de cheveux longs
De grands lits et de musique
Peuplée de lumière
Et peuplée de fous
Elle sera dernière
A rester debout

Si San Francisco s'effondre
Si San Francisco s'effondre
...San Francisco

Listen to the song and sing along. That's what French people do, as you can see in the video above.

19 September 2011

Meanwhile, back in Saint-Aignan

The season is definitely autumn back here in Saint-Aignan. In the vineyard, most of the grapes have been taken in. Only a few parcels of vines still have red-wine grapes hanging on them. Ninety-five percent of the white-wine grapes have been harvested. It's raining hard outside as I write this on Sunday night.

Grapes in the Renaudière vineyard near
Saint-Aignan in mid-September

All our tomatoes are harvested too. The weather suddenly turned chilly and damp over the weekend. Besides, all the wet weather we've had over the past few weeks caused a major weed invasion out in the garden. Low-hanging tomatoes don't enjoy the dark, chilly, damp conditions that high weeds create, so it was time to bring them in.

Me taking a bite out of an apple

Next it will be the apples. There's no shortage of those — the ground is covered with them. The compost bins are already full. I eat two or three apples every time I take the dog out for a walk.

I think we are having an early fall. Maybe we'll get
belle arrière-saison — Indian Summer.

According to the calendar, summer ends officially on Wednesday. My assessment of the 2011 season? Too dry in the spring, especially April and May. Too wet in July and, especially, August. In the garden, the tomatoes did okay, considering. After a good start, the red bell peppers didn't enjoy the moisture of August and September. The summer squash quit producing early. We didn't get much sweet corn, and we didn't get many aubergines/eggplants. I need to go out and see if the lima bean pods have filled out, or if those are a bust.

The last of the grapes for 2011

The best summer we've had since we lived here was 2005, which made for the best garden. We can always hope for a good 2012. Où il y a de la vie, il y a de l'espoir.

18 September 2011

L'Eglise Notre-Dame à Mortagne

Here's a post about the Notre-Dame church in Mortagne-au-Perche for a Sunday morning. When it comes to colorful pictures, you can't beat stained glass windows. Or flowers. Actually, taking decent photos of stained glass windows requires some practice.

Three saints who played important roles in the history of
Mortagne are depicted in this 20th-century window.

The secret is to zoom in on the glass panels without leaving too much of the dark border around them. The high contrast of the bright glass with the stone border — it's usually pretty dark inside churches — will give you washed out colors. Or you'll get a blurry shot because there just isn't enough light getting into the camera lens.

This picture is one I took at noon,
up close to the church

The church in Mortagne looks severe and forbidding to me. It's not graceful at all, at least from the outside. It was built in the 16th century in the flamboyant Gothic style.

This shot is one I took from farther back at dusk,
when the light was warmer.

According to what I've read, the church in Mortagne has four 16th-century windows. All the other windows are from the 20th century. In the older windows, Biblical figures are often depicted wearing 16th-century clothes.

In at least one modern window, soldiers in World War I uniforms are depicted praying with Joan of Arc, who died 500 years earlier. So be it. I just like the colors. As usual, you can click on any of the pictures to see them in a larger size.