31 March 2018

Souvigny, suite et fin

These are the last photos I've processed and edited for Souvigny. On the afternoon when I took them, we also went to Agonges, a village a few miles to the north that I've posted about already. The previous day, we had been to Lapalisse, Jaligny-sur-Besbre, and the Puy Saint-Ambroise, all of which I've already posted about as well. It was three weeks ago when we finished the trip to the Bourbonnais/Allier area.

Some of these are versions of photos I published yesterday, or on the same subject. You might remember the building above from a photo in yesterday's post, for example. It looks more like a barn than a house, but then I see what appears to be a mail slot in the small door.

And then on the left is a view of one of the St-Pierre-et-St-Paul church's thousand-year-old bell towers.

Let me return to the mysterious term « rouennerie ». It's obviously based on the name of the town of Rouen, which is the capital of France's Normandie region. The city is famous for many things — its cathedral, which Monet painted dozens of times in different light conditions; the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc there in the 1400s; the rain that falls there so much of the time that Rouen has been called "the chamber pot of Normandy." Another of Rouen's claims to fame is the faïence (earthenware) plates and dishes that used to be manufactured there. At first I thought the word Rouennerie on the sign might refer to that, but it doesn't.

« Rouennerie » [roo-ah-'nree] turns out to be a kind of cloth that was woven in Rouen. It was either made of cotton or wool, and it's special characteristic is that the thread it was made from was dyed first and then woven. The predominant colors were red, pink, and violet. One dictionary gives this definition: Toile en laine ou en coton, d'abord fabriquée à Rouen, où dominent des couleurs comme le rose, le violet et le rouge et dont les dessins ou les reliefs résultent de la disposition des fils teints avant le tissage.

It seems particularly apt that the name of one of the products sold in the shop is « parapluies » — umbrellas — given the city's "chamber pot of Normandy" nickname. See the word printed on the façade between the blue shutters. Rouennerie fabric is no longer made in Rouen, apparently. Here are some Google images.

Above is a colorful sign that stands in front of the Arts et Terroir shop on the main square in Souvigny.

Finally, here's one more shot of the church towers from some of the little streets around the religious center of Souvigny, and more of the very plain, almost austere archictecture that you see in the town.

30 March 2018

Souvigny : la place et les rues

When you drive into Souvigny, the first thing that catches your eye is the row of shops — or at least storefronts — pictured below. The town's main rue commerçante is perched up on a terrace above the main square. There wasn't much evidence of shoppers, but there is ample parking on the place.

Personally, I didn't know what the term « Rouennerie » meant — even though I've spent a lot of time in the city of Rouen in Normandy over the years. The big building next door with the « Boucherie » sign painted on the façade is home to an école de conduite or auto-école — a driving school — for people trying to get a driver's license. I saw no evidence of a working butcher's shop.

Across the place is the blue porte cochère (carriageway door) of the monastic "barn" that stands next to the huge church that is the town's primary landmark. The grange is home to Souvigny's municipal museum these days.

There are two shops in the photo above. One, « Arts et Terroir », seems to cater to tourists as well as residents, with a wide range of regional food specialties and home-and-garden decoration supplies: beers, syrups, wines, pâtés, honeys, jewelry, etc. The other is some kind of shop that does tailoring and clothing alternations, I guess.

Not far on foot, past the church and La Porterie, there are village streets like the one above. It's all very clean and well maintained. Colors are muted and the buidlings are fairly plain. The sign on the house above is advertising for a local newspaper, Le Petit Journal, which promises to keep readers informed with six pages of articles.

A little farther on there are cobblestone streets in neighborhoods that look to be exclusively residential. Again, there weren't many (or any) people out and about when we were there. It wasn't lunchtime, but mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. Little French towns often look deserted like this. Maybe people are sleeping off the feast they've had for their mid-day meal. Maybe they all came out to take a walk around the town right after we drove off to see other sights.

29 March 2018

Souvigny : L'Église Saint-Marc, et La Porterie

There's another church in Souvigny, located not far from the grand St-Pierre-et-St-Paul priory. It's the Église Saint-Marc, the town's former parish church, and it was built in the 1100s, at a time when the bigger church was still under construction as well.

Saint-Marc is open only for guided tours that you have to request (in advance, I think). The building no longer serves as a church, but has been set up with auditorium seating to be used as a concert hall. The church is an example of the Burgundian Romanesque style, according to the Micheline Green Guide.

Another very striking building in Souvigny is the 17th-century house called La Porterie (above). It served as the entrance to the monastery and gardens that lie to the south and east on the grounds of St-Pierre-et-St-Paul, and was built to provide accommodations for visiting dignitaries, with stables for their horses.

Today, La Porterie is operated as a chambres d'hôtes establishment (a bed & breakfast). Here's a link to the B&B on the Gîtes de France web site. It looks like it has been completely restored inside and appears to be comfortable.

There are three rooms at La Porterie, I gather, starting at 120€ per night for two people, and one family suite (sleeps 4) that seems to have a kitchen, or at least a kitchenette, and a sitting area, for 200€ a night.

We paid about 75€ a night for the comfortable gîte rural (full apartment, but for 2) we rented in the nearby town of Neuvy. That included the heat (electric radiators), the cleaning fee, and the dog. So it came to 300€ for four nights.

I don't know anything about the house above except that it's right next to the Porterie. I like look of it.

28 March 2018

Souvigny details

Here are some photos showing architectural details of the church in Souvigny. It's official name is L'Église prieurale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul. It was built mainly between the years 950 and about 1500, with further modifications since then. An église prieurale is one that shelters a small religious community of monks, as used to be the case at Souvigny.

If I understand correctly, the two Romanesque bell towers (above) are much older than the flamboyant façade of the church (below), which was added on several hundred years after the original church was built in the 1100s.

Given its setting in such a small town, the church is surprisingly big, with an interior length of 87 meters (285 ft.) and width of 28 meters (92 ft.). For comparison, however, Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris is 128 meters long and 48 meters wide.

Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul was locked up tight when we were in Souvigny, so we didn't get inside. There's a cloister, a formal French garden, and an 18th century church organ behind the façades of the church and the adjoining building. A series of concerts takes place in the church every year in autumn.

In 2001, under the nave of the church archeologists discovered the tombs of the first two Cluny abbots who died and were buried at Souvigny in the 10th century. The tombs with their recumbent statues had been badly damaged by revolutionaries in the late 18th century, but were reconstructed, restored, and placed inside the church again.

Above is a longer view of the church from the streets of the village, and below two more detail shots.

Meanwhile, here in Saint-Aignan these last three weeks have been very wet. We are about a month behind schedule in getting the yard and garden prepared for the growing season, which starts in mid-May. We keep hoping the rains will stop, but it's raining again today. Winds are supposed to pick up this afternoon, adding to the misery.

We still have a lot of tree limbs and branches down all around the yard, after the windy and wet weather we had all winter. January was twice or three times more rainy than normal, and February wasn't much better (but I missed a lot of that because I was in the U.S.). We were so lucky when we went to Souvigny and the Bourbonnais that the trip didn't get completely washed out. As you can see in the photos, we had some dry days and were able to be out and about, both in the car and on foot, with the dog.

27 March 2018

Souvigny, son église, et la famille Bourbon

This is a brief history gleaned from French web sites about the town of Souvigny (pop. 1,900) in the historical Bourbonnais province of central France, and the Bourbon family... with photos I took in Souvigny three weeks ago. (Take it all for what it's worth.)

More than a millenium ago — in the year 916 — one of the first ancestors of the Bourbon family to be known by name gave his villa and the church in the town of Souvigny as a gift to the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Cluny in Burgundy, about 75 miles to the west.

As a result, just 10 years after the Cluny abbey's founding, Souvigny became one of its main "sister" churches. Links between the two towns and religious institutions were reinforced when two of the early abbots of Cluny passed away in Souvigny and were entombed there. Their tombs turned Souvigny into a pilgrimage destination.

An early king of France, Hugues Capet (founder of a dynasty and the first Frankish king to speak French officially, says one source), came to Souvigny in the year 996 to pay respects to these abbots (one was a friend of his) and in hopes of finding a cure for the smallpox he had contracted. He died that year, but not before giving the town of Souvigny permission to mint its own coinage, a privilege reserved exclusively to the King until that point.

Souvigny thus became one of the first villes franches ("enfranchised cities") in France. The town grew and for its defense fell under the control of the powerful Bourbon family, lords of the nearby town of Bourbon-l'Archambault. In later centuries, the Bourbon family tombs were placed in the church at Souvigny and the town became the Bourbons' spiritual capital.

In the late 16th century, a member of the Bourbon familuy became king of France, toward the end of the great wars of religion that had nearly ruined the country. He reigned for 20 years as Henri IV (of « Paris vaut bien une messe » and « poule au pot » fame). He and his descendants — Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI — were to be France's royal dynasty for 200 years... until the 1789 Révolution.

26 March 2018

Et puis Souvigny...

I'm moving on from Lapalisse and Saint-Léon to a more northerly location: Souvigny. It was only three or four miles from our gîte in Neuvy, outside the big town of Moulins.

Souvigny was one of the places I really wanted to see when we planned the trip to the Bourbonnais area, département de l'Allier. It was founded as a priory attached to the famous abbey at Cluny, to the west in Burgundy.

Here are just a few photos I took there. More to come. These are kind of abstract. I have some more, showing more of the church and the town, that I'll post over the next few days. Construction of the church in Souvigny started in the year 950.

We spent only about an hour walking around the town. Rain threatened, and a few drops fell. Tasha enjoyed the walk, I'm sure. We moved on.

25 March 2018

More long-view photos and a suspicious e-mail

Here are a few more pictures I took from the Puy Saint-Ambroise near Lapalisse in the Allier département (northern Auvergne) two weeks ago. I'm having computer problems, I'm cooking a capon for lunch, and I don't have a lot of time to give to the blog today.

The photo above shows a beautiful farm with a small glassy lake, pretty trees, and a handsome farmhouse and its outbuildings. The one below shows some typical modern pavillon houses, one of which is not quite finished, I believe. The red brick is still bare — it hasn't yet had "render" or enduit (stucco) applied to the exterior walls.

Finally, one more panorama.

Last night, I got an e-mail from a person whose initials are P.W. asking me if I could help her get in touch with local authorities in a nearby village. She said that she had been informed by a French neighbor that her house here has been burglarized, and her French is not good enough for her to be able to talk to her neighbors or the authorities and understand what they are saying to her and what the situation is. I hate to have to be so suspicious and careful, but I'm afraid the message might be part of some kind of scam and I don't feel safe answering it. I'm sorry. If you live in the Saint-Aignan area and know an Englishwoman whose initials are P.W., let me know so I will be convinced the e-mail is legitimate. I've been scammed before...

24 March 2018

Houses and cars

From the top of the Puy Saint-Ambroise, I enjoyed taking long-zoom shots of the houses we could see dotting the Bourbonnais countryside spread out in front of us. The trees and hedgerows were pretty too.

There were houses of every style: maisons bourgeoises (above) and longères (below). The former are usually houses you see in built-up areas, but not exclusively. They have a small footprint but are big houses with upper floors. The latter, "long houses," are generally on one level and spread out over the land. I guess the U.S. equivalent is the ranch-style house.

The other style of house you see everywhere in France is the pavillon (like the one with smoke coming out of the chimney in the photo below). That's what our house is. The Petit Robert dictionary defines pavillon as une petit maison dans un jardin. In other words, it's not a town house (maison de ville or row house) but has some land all around it. It's detached. Pavillons are generally small but can have living space on a single level (plain-pied) or on several.

In a comment yesterday, Diogenes wondered why French cars are not sold in the United States. I posted a link in answer to his comment where you can find many pages discussing that question. Here's another link with some explanations about French cars' invisibility in the U.S. and Canada.

Above is another photo of our 10-year-old Citroën C4, which I bought in 2015. I like it a lot. It's not a high-end model but it is spacious and comfortable. It has a good ride and many nice features, including air-conditioning and cruise control. It only has about 65,000 miles on it, and it has a diesel engine so it will last a long time (I hope). I drive it only about 2,000 miles per year! If you're American, you might never have seen this car model before, and you'd have a hard time finding one in the U.S.

23 March 2018

Vues d'en haut

Views from on high. The top of the Puy Saint-Ambroise is at a mere 1400 feet (464 meters) but the views are panoramic. Remember that you can always click, tap, or pinch the images to enlarge them.

You can drive to the top and park near the table d'orientation. That's our Citroën in the photo below. Then you can walk quite a way around the top on fairly flat terrain to see views in several directions. They say that the views extend out over as many as seven different French départements from up there.

The summit of the Puy Saint-Ambroise is the site of an old Benedictine priory, but it is on private property and not open to visitors. The one other person who was up at the top when we were told us that people from Moulins have a house there, out of view.

A puy, by the way, is a geographical feature that's common in the Auvergne region of France. It's a "volcanic mountain with a rounded profile," according to one dictionary.

Some of the extinct Auvergne volcanoes are much taller — the famous Puy de Dôme to the southwest tops out at 1,465 meters (4,806 feet), and the Puy Mary, farther south, rises to a height of 1,783 meters (5,850 feet). I just read on a Wikipedia page that the Puy Saint-Ambroise, where we were, is not actually volcanic at all, but just a round mound.

22 March 2018

Saint-Léon et le Puy Saint-Ambroise

It was March 6, our first full day on the car trip we took over to the old Bourbonnais province in central France earlier this month. After our walk around in the town of Lapalisse under the shut-tight 16th century Château de La Palice, we drove north through Jaligny and on to Saint-Léon, basically down the valley of the Besbre River.

Saint-Léon (pop. 601) has — surprise! — a big church at its center. The church dates back to the 12th century, at least in part. You get used to that in France, because there are 11th and 12th century churches all over the country. Most of them have been maintained, modified, added-onto, and restored over the centuries. In French, a village is by definition a settlement that includes a church — no church, no village.

Saint-Léon also has sights like the house above, as well as a good bakery/pastry shop (below) where we got some bread to have with our dinner of home-made blanquette de veau back at the gîte (brought in a cooler from Saint-Aignan). From the boulangère we also got some advice and directions on which road to take back 25 miles north to the big town of Moulins, where we were staying.

When I took these three photos, we had just come back from the top of the nearby Puy Saint-Ambroise, an extinct or at least dormant volcano where you can enjoy panoramic views out over the valley of the Besbre River and the fields, hedgerows, and farmhouses of the bocage bourbonnais — and beyond!

21 March 2018

Le printemps

Les saisons se suivent et se ressemblent. One season is not very different from the last. That's life here right now. Nobody much noticed that spring arrived yesterday afternoon. It was cold outside, with a frigid wind blowing from the northeast.

Here are three more pictures I took in Lapalisse two weeks ago. The weather was much nice back then, despite the fact that it was wintertime, than it has been here over the last week or two. We know we were lucky.

Walt and Tasha were enjoying our walk through narrow streets tucked up under the huge old château. I was too. It's a good memory.

It's too bad we didn't get to see the château from inside the entrance gate. The place was closed for the winter season. Always save something for later, they say. We did — no choice.

20 March 2018

Just two days

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

19 March 2018

Walking around in old Lapalisse

Old doorway

It snowed here in the Saint-Aignan area overnight. It seems to be a wet snow, and the temperature is not below freezing. We are lucky that we didn't have bad weather like this two weeks ago, when we were exploring the Bourbonnais region.

Narrow steps

We were in Lapalisse on a Tuesday afternoon. The sun was shining, though the breeze was not particularly warm.

Château looming

The streets up around the château were empty of pedestrians. The château itself was closed for the season, with re-opening for guided tours scheduled, I believe, for April.

Broken blinds

We had spent the morning in the car, and had eaten a picnic lunch at a little roadside park with tables for people like us. Tasha had been well-behaved all day.

Need paint

So it was nice to be able to get out of the car and walk around the town, taking pictures of the sights we were seeing.

Line drying

I found Lapalisse picturesque — slightly down at the heels, but not dingy or depressing. Judge for yourself.