25 June 2018

Walking into Mennetou

Here's the view when you enter the little town of Mennetou-sur-Cher through the lower gate (la Porte d'En-Bas). The town was founded in the 6th century when a monastery was established here on the banks of the Cher River. It's about half an hour's drive east of Saint-Aignan.

Look to the left as the walk into town and you see this pretty house, with its roses, grapevines, and potted plants. The name Mennetou derives from the Latin and French word for "monastery" and the people of the town are called les Monestois et les Monestoises. There are about 900 of them.

The culinary specialty for which Mennetou-sur-Cher is known is the andouillette, which is a sausage made with pork stomach and intestines that are chopped and stuffed into a pork intestine casing. There's an andouillette fair at the beginning of May every year, since 1972.

This is a house that dates back to the 1400s, around the time that Joan of Arc is said to have visited Mennetou on her way to Chinon to seek help from the French king against the English. Mennetou had been fortified starting in the early 1200s. The work continued for about a century. The town already needed to be defended against invading English forces under Jean Sans Terre (John Lackland) back then. Three old stone gates and several sections of the town's ramparts still stand.

Here's another old house, this one from the 1500s, the time of king François 1er, poet Pierre Ronsard, and the essayist Michel de Montaigne — and of the wars of religion in France. Mennetou was a Protestant stronghold in those days, and efforts by Catholic forces to capture the fortified town were unsuccessful.

24 June 2018

Trois portes, cinq photos

Here's how the Cadogan Loire guidebook describes Mennetou-sur-Cher. It is “...a meagre slice of a medieval town, its crooked houses and cobbled streets encircled by run-down ramparts now sadly sandwiched between a railway line and a main road.” On the left is the south gate to the town, described below. The plaque over the gateway, seen in both these photos, might help you tie together the two photos I took earlier in June. See also this old photo. The plaque commemorates the time Joan of Arc came to Mennetou in 1429.

“In the Middle Ages, the Cher river ran just past the Gateway known as La Porte d'en Bas...” That would be roughly along the presend-day route of what is now a main east-west road that carries a lot of car traffic and quite a few big trucks.When you walk under the arches, there's a definite feeling of peace and quiet on the other side.

The Michelin Guide Vert explains about the Mennetou's walls: « Bâtis au début du 13e siècle, ils ont conservé trois tours sur les cinq qu'ils comptaient ; les trois portes ont subsisté. » In other words, the walls were built in the 1200s and three of the five original gates leading into the town still stand.

The one on the above and on the right, the eastern gate, is named La Porte Bonne-Nouvelle — "the good news gate" — and it leads you to the town's church, which is all that remains of an ancient Benedictine priory at Mennetou. The Gothic-style church is called St-Urbain.

The town's north gate, the third one that survives, opens almost directly onto railroad tracks. The train line runs from Tours to Vierzon and on to Bourges and Lyon, with a stop at Saint-Aignan. It carries both passenger and freight trains. The freight trains run mostly at night, and they must make Mennetou-sur-Cher pretty noisy for people trying to get a good night's sleep. See this ten-year-old photo of the gate from the other side.

23 June 2018

Just photos and trivia

Three weeks ago today, Sue had just arrived. We decided on the Saturday morning to drive over into the Sologne region, 90 minutes east of Saint-Aignan, and go to see the villages of Henrichemont, a planned 17th century town, and La Borne, home to 70 potters and their shops.

On the way back to Saint-Aignan in the afternoon, we stopped for a short walk around the medieval walled village of Mennetou-sur-Cher, which is a lot closer to home for us. I've blogged about it several times over the years. Here, here, and here, for example, in posts from 10 years ago.

Today I'm just posting a few photos of interesting things I saw in the village earlier this month. It was a pretty afternoon, and Sue and I were both taking photos. The ones here are mine, since I certainly didn't forget my camera that day the way I did when we went to Blois recently. Photos aren't always about architecture, churches, or wide panoramas.

On the home front, I'm scheduled to get my stitches out on Monday. The dermatologist who removed a skin cancer from my chest told me to call a local nurse to have the stitches taken out about two weeks after the procedure was done. I was surprised, when I called a nurse in our village, to learn that she will come to our house on Monday morning to take care of me. That's service.

Speaking of service, I took the 18-year-old Peugeot in for an oil change a couple of days ago. It had been two years since the last oil change, but when I looked at my records I realized we've put only 3,600 kilometers on the car in two years' time. That's just a little over 2,000 miles. Also, the air-conditioning in the car had stopped working nearly two years ago. I told the mechanic that if it could be fixed easily and cheaply, do it. But I figured the compressor had given out and assumed we would just do without AC in the car for another summer. It's not as if we live in a really hot climate. This is not a swamp or a desert, after all. Surprise of surprises, the mechanic fixed the AC and only charged me 65 euros. I'm happy.

22 June 2018


These are the last of friend Sue's photos of Blois that I plan to post. In future posts, I might show another photo or two taken by Sue on other days and in other places, because some of hers came out so much better than mine did. I want to thank her again for letting me post her photos. Here's one of the pulpit in the Eglise St-Nicolas in Blois.

I like the soft focus of this image showing a wall painting inside St-Nicolas. As I've said, I want to go back to Blois soon, on a sunny day, and take more photos of the interior of the church, including more of the stained-glass windows. That gives me a sightseeing project to look forward to.

Describing the St-Nicolas church, the author of the Cadogan Loire guide writes that the building "has retained its medieval grandeur, even if it looks a bit grim in parts... Impressive Romanesque and early Gothic features give the church fine credentials... The building you now see was begun in 1138, construction going from east to west." The photo here shows the west façade. The spires that cap the old church towers were added only in the 19th century. The great cathedral at Chartres, to the north, had a strong influence on the original builders of St-Nicolas.

Facing the west front of the church are the half-timbered buildings in the photo on the left. There are many old buildings of this style style standing in Blois and other Loire Valley towns and villages, including at least two in Saint-Aignan and two in Montrichard.

Finally, here's one more of Sue's panoramic shots of the town of Blois as seen from the "left bank" — the south side — of the Loire River. From left to right, you can see the newer part of the Château de Blois; l'Eglise St-Nicolas; the old center of town with the cathedral above it; the Pont Jacques-Gabriel that links the north and south sections of the town; and some more modern buildings that stand on the east side of Blois. Enlarge the photo by clicking or tapping on it and scrolling it horizontally to see more detail.

21 June 2018

Back to Blois, and soon

Looking at my friend Sue's photos, I realize I need to go back to Blois, and very soon. When we were there last week, I tried to park the Peugeot near the Eglise Saint-Nicolas so we could go inside and have a look around.

I couldn't find a parking space. Time was short. Sue was leaving to return to California the next day. This was her chance to see the interior of this grand church building. I'd never been inside before, but I could wait. And wait I did, with the car, which was parked illegally, but not impeding the flow of traffic. Sue went into the church for a few minutes to take some pictures.

I admit I did quickly duck into the church and look around for about two minutes. I thought that glance would put Sue's photos into some kind of architectural or cultural context. It did that. But now I want to see — and take photos of — more of the windows in the church. CHM tells me that a lot of them were done by maître-verrier Max Ingrand after the Second World War.

I will need a clear, sunny day. That makes the interior of the church light enough so that the camera can capture good images. And it makes the stained-glass luminous. I want to take photos of more of the church's windows. These and others replaced 19th century windows that were blown out when a bomb landed near the church in 1940. (I wonder what windows were there before the 19th century...)

That's what I love about living here. Walt and I moved to Saint-Aignan 15 years ago. Sometimes I get the impression I've seen everything there is to see here in the Loire Valley, and often more than once. And then I suddenly realize that I've hardly started exploring at all. That realization keeps me wide-eyed.

20 June 2018

L'Église Saint-Nicolas à Blois

Continuing my series using the photos that my friend Sue from California took in Blois on June 12, here's a first post about the other big church in town: l'église Saint-Nicolas. You can see it on the left in the photo below.

To the left of the church is the least-ancient wing of the Château de Blois, which was built in three stages. We didn't visit the château on this trip. On the far right in the photo is Blois' cathedral. As usual, you can enlarge the photos to see more detail.

The Église Saint-Nicolas is much older than the existing cathedral, and is built in an older style. Construction began in the early 1100s and was completed a century later. Located right on the banks of the Loire river as it is, it's a miracle that Saint-Nicolas survived the bombardments of World War II.

Here are a couple of photos that Sue took inside the church. I just ran in for a glance because I couldn't find a legal parking space. I parked in front of somebody's garage door and had to wait with the car while Sue had a good look around inside. Actually, my short look around was the first time I'd ever been inside Saint-Nicolas at all. I'll post some more interior views tomorrow, including Sue's photos of some of the church's surprising modern and colorful stained-glass windows.

The Cadogan guide explains that the church is located in "what used to be the old commercial riverside part of Blois, the Quartier Saint-Nicolas. It was badly bombed in the war, but luckily the church survived relatively unharmed." The next time I go to Blois, I'll have a more prolonged look around inside the church and in the neighborhood.

19 June 2018

Blois on the Loire

Here are some more of my friend Sue's photos of the town of Blois, which is 25 miles north of Saint-Aignan. Blois is the administrative capital of our county (département) and was the seat of the French monarchy in the 1500s, at the time of the French Renaissance. Here are some quotes from the Cadogan guidebook to the Loire (© 1997, 2001) written by Philippe Barbour.

“East of the cathedral [in Blois] lies the Jardin de l'Evêché, a very pleasant 18th century garden, ending with a belvedere... The garden gives good views over the town and onto the Pont Jacques Gabriel. That architect also designed the bishop's palace [l'évêché] behind the cathedral. It briefly became the headquarters of the newly created département of the Loir-et-Cher after the Revolution, then a museum... but since the Second World War has housed the town hall after the previous one was destroyed.”

“The name Blois apparently stems from the Celtic word for a wolf, bleiz, conjuring up the picture of a thickly forested area around the original settlement. Indeed, forests still surround Blois to this day.”

“On the hillside [on the eastern side of the old town] you can explore many of Blois' most atmospheric, smart old residential streets leading up towards the cathedral. They contain a good number of fine old townhouses with appealing features: intimate courtyards with wells, stair towers, galleries and Gothic statues; sometimes Renaissance decoration; even the odd royalist symbol from Louis XII's period that survived the Revolution. Many royal courtiers took up home in this quarter.”

“The Pont Jacques Gabriel [at Blois] is surely the most refined bridge over the Loire. It replaced the medieval one swept away in 1716 and its famous architect is honoured in its name. An Egyptian-style needle adds grandeur and ornament to the central point.”

18 June 2018

Autour de la cathédrale de Blois

Here are some more of my friend Sue's photos of Blois scenes. Behind the cathedral there, there's an elevated terrace from which you have panoramic views of the rooftops of the town, the old bridge, and the Loire River.

One of the first things we saw after parking the car was the scene above. "I love bicycles," Sue exclaimed. They certainly are picturesque parked on the street like this. I wonder if the person standing in front of the door of that building was the one who parked it there.

Right behind the cathedral, on the terrace, is Blois' Hôtel de Ville, or city hall. One of the major figures in the town's history was its longtime mayor, a man named Jack Lang. He was socialist president François Mitterrand's culture minister in the 1990s. Lang's policies transformed the town for the better. A huge housing project had been built on the north side of the old city center to house immigrants from all over the world. Wikipedia says that the housing project in Blois, called la ZUP (Zone à Urbaniser en Priorité) is one of the largest in France. Some 18,000 people — a third of the city's population — live there.

I'm not sure what the red deer on the left is supposed to represent. I guess it's just colorful street art. In the background is a statue of Joan of Arc, the legendary (or mythical) figure who saved France after it was invaded by the English in the Middle Ages.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can read the inscription on the base of the Joan of Arc statue. It says:

“To glorious Joan of Arc,
her noble province, the Lorraine,
and her cherished country, France,
from the Republic of the United States
and the City of New York,
their faithful admirers
August 15, 1921”

There is a painting by my friend CHM's grandfather featuring a scene from Joan of Arc's life in the chapel of the Château de Blois. I photographed it and wrote about it in this 2009 blog post.

Joan of Arc is said to have saved the city of Orléans from the English in 1429 when the French king asked her to lead forces carrying supplies from Blois to the people of the besieged city. Joan was burned at the stake by the English in Rouen, in Normandy, in the year 1431, at the age of  19. She was accused of heresy by the Catholic church. She had been instrumental in rallying French forces and the monarchy against the English invaders.

17 June 2018

Blois — say [blwah]

We just got an e-mail from our friend Sue. She's back in California, and she wanted us to know she had arrived home safely Thursday night — that would be Friday morning, French time — after leaving Saint-Aignan on Wednesday morning. She said she's pretty worn out. The time difference between California and France is nine hours, so at 10 p.m. on one day in California it's already 7 a.m. the next day in France.

So Sue is my guest blogger today. I'm writing the text, but Sue took the photos last Monday up in Blois, the biggest town in our département and an old royal city. We made the 50-mile round trip to do some shopping and see some sights. The one I'll start with is the cathedral.

I actually forgot to take my camera that afternoon, but Sue had hers. It's a Canon SX700 HS. Because I didn't have my  camera with me, I got to look around unencumbered, with my bare eyes. I hadn't been sightseeing in Blois in quite a long time, and I enjoyed it. I asked Sue for permission to post some of her photos and she said yes.

Blois is a small city with a population of just 46,000. The urban area of which it is the center is home to about 125,000 people. The cities of Tours to the west and Orléans to the east are both three or four times bigger.

It was in 1498 that the French royal court moved to Blois. King Charles VIII was killed in an accident at the Château d'Amboise, and his cousin Louis XII inherited the throne. Louis lived in Blois (despite the fact that he was the duke of Orléans). Still, the Cadogan guidebook for the Loire says that Blois "seems like a modest provincial town." And it does.

The same guidebook says that the original church in Blois had stood on this site for centuries, but much of the building was destroyed by "a hurricane" in 1678. The existing building was put up in the late 1600s, then, during the reign of Louis XIV, and is dedicated to saint Louis. The cathedral's crypt, which was not destroyed in the storm, is said to date back as far as the year 1000.

16 June 2018

Artwork in Chédigny

It ended up raining almost all day yesterday. The rain finally stopped late in the afternoon, so I was able to go out for a dry walk with Tasha around 6 p.m. The day was gray and dull, but not too chilly.

The grayness and dullness worked to make me appreciate some of the photos I took last Saturday when our house guest, Sue, and I drove over to Chédigny, near Loches, for a walk through the streets. Chédigny, pop. 567, is a well-known « village jardin ». We admired all the flowers, the church, the houses, and, when we arrived, enjoyed a look around in a local art gallery. It's run by the artist, if I understand correctly, and his name is Alain Plouvier.

I'm glad that, at my age, I can still enjoy walks, both long and short. I think I've aged visibly over the past few years. Recently, on several occasions, young people have spontaneously offered to help me do routine things like pick up a heavy box of wine sitting on a low shelf at the supermarket and put it in my shopping cart. Or offer to put my suitcase up on an overhead rack on the train. I must look kind of helpless or feeble.

Yesterday at the supermarket, the woman at the check-out stand offered to take my groceries out of the shopping cart for me and put them on the conveyor belt. That's unheard of in France, where you are expected not only to unload your groceries but also bag them up and put them back in the grocery cart before you take them to the car yourself.

I'm in my 70th year on this Earth now. I have aches and pains, and I think I'm getting more forgetful and confused about things more often. I used to be a multi-tasking whiz, but now I have to concentrate on doing one thing at a time, and try not to forget to do what I meant to do when I go downstairs to fetch something. It's so easy to get distracted by the three or four other things that you see need doing down in the utility room or cold pantry.

Sigh. My biggest problem is that I'm always so busy, and I've never been very organized about things. I think that's why I enjoy writing. It forces me to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. I can re-read what I've written and feel good about having accomplished something. And then I can fix all my typos and errors, because my first drafts are almost always full of them.

Be all that as it may, I really greatly enjoyed our friend Sue's visit. I got to do things I'd intended to do for years, like take a stroll through Chédigny; take a long walk or two through parts of our village that are not really accessible by car; enjoy a short hike along the Canal de Berry; and return to Villandry to see the château and gardens there for the first time in 17 years. We also spent a nice afternoon seeing the sights in Blois, a picturesque old royal city. Blois is a place I usually go to just to go shopping in stores that are bigger and more fully stocked than our local supermarkets.

Sue went with Walt, who had stayed home with the dog and glued to the tennis at Roland Garros (the French Open tournament) during most of her visit, to Versailles on Wednesday. I'm sure he will soon get around to posting photos of the château and gardens there. I haven't been to Versailles since 1997...

That's a street view taken in Chédigny on the right.