30 June 2018

La Borne, un village de potiers

I keep waiting for this post about La Borne to write itself. I'm not sure what to start with, which angle, which point of view. The village, in the Berry province of central France, near Bourges and Sancerre, and about 90 minutes east of Saint-Aignan, is home to fewer than 200 people. Apparently, a third of them are potters.

One of the places I enjoyed seeing in La Borne was the Musée de la Poterie (above). It's in a little chapel. The man who was in charge of the place the day we were there was talkative in a good way and very interesting. He spoke pretty good English, but switched back to French when he got enthusiastic about his subject.

It seems that La Borne and the whole the area around the village of Henrichemont (pop. 2,000), a nearby town that was founded only in the 17th century, has been home to potters for 800 years — or maybe longer, possibly going back to Gallo-Roman times.

A rich vein of clay and sand (argile et grés) runs through the Berry province near Henrichemont, just along the southeastern edge of the forested Sologne natural region. Places like La Borne therefore had the raw materials that people needed to make pottery, and they had plenty of wood to fire their kilns (fours à bois).

After the founding of Henrichemont, La Borne became a prosperous area. The photo above shows the town's public well. Pottery of the utilitarian sort was made in La Borne in large quantities until about the beginning of the 20th century. Then the industry declined when the manufacture of metal and glass utensils and building materials became economically and technologically feasible. At the end of the 19th century, the population was 800, and as late as 1914 there were fourteen kilns in operation in La Borne. In 1950 only four remained.

Then in the 1950s and '60s artisan potters and artists specializing in ceramics and stoneware began coming to La Borne from all around Europe and sparked a kind of renaissance in the village. My friend Sue, who was visiting from California when we went to La Borne, loves pottery and has done some herself. We spent a great afternoon in the village, under sunny skies, about a month ago.

29 June 2018

La lune etc.

I have more than 200 photos of pottery and houses in the potters' village of La Borne. My friend Sue and I drove over there in early June and spent an afternoon wandering around and taking pictures. The sheer number of photos is overwhelming, and I don't know what to do with them. I'll surely post some, but I don't know what I have to say about them.

Meanwhile, the moon is spectacular again this morning. I tried to take some photos of it using my long-zoom (30x) camera, but the light was dim and I'm not sure I'm very happy with the result. Here's one anyway FWIW.

And as I was leaning out of the bedroom window to take photos of the moon, I thought I heard a cat meowing. It didn't sound like Bertie the black cat. And it wasn't. When I stopped looking at the camera screen, I saw the cat in this photo out in the yard. I thought it might be our neighbor's cat, which we (meaning Walt) took care of for a week about a month ago. But Walt looked at the photo and said he doesn't think it is the cat named Chana. So I have no idea where this cat came from, or where it went.

Yesterday I was messing with my camera and an SD card I was having trouble with. As a test, I snapped the shot above of our living/dining room, terrace, and kitchen. We are having very hot weather right now, at least by Saint-Aignan standards. Yesterday's high was about 28ºC (mid-80s in ºF) and this morning's low is above 18ºC (mid- to upper-60s in ºF). We are approaching official canicule (heatwave) temperatures. I'm not complaining because it's a dry heat, but it's supposed to turn stormy over the weekend.

One last photo... A stylized view of yesterday morning's "moonset" — based on the photo I posted yesterday.

28 June 2018


Early morning view from a back window — 28 June 2018

27 June 2018

Mennetou-sur-Cher, one last time

When I say "one last time," I'm sure it's not true in any absolute sense. I'll go there again, with pleasure, but for the blog this will be the final post about Mennetou in this series.

The plaque in the photo above was placed above Mennetou's main gate, La Porte d'En-Bas, on the 500th anniversary of a 1429 visit to the town by Joan of Arc. It says she was coming from the town of Gien, up on the Loire River, and headed to the village called Sainte-Catherine de Fierbois, south of Tours. She was just passing through on her way west toward the Touraine province, where the French court was based. I guess she never got a chance to return. Maybe she left by the Porte d'En-Haut (the upper gate), pictured on the left.

Here's a close-up of the windows in the upper gate. They're called baies géminées, "twin bays," I've learned, because they are double windows separated by a column. You learn something every day, I guess.

The town's lower or main gate, which leads out to the river, looms over the houses around it. The three gates that survive after all these centuries are all roofless.

Here's a aerial view of the little town of Mennetou-sur-Cher. You can see how it is hemmed in by the chemin de fer (railway line) on the north side and by the main highway and the Canal de Berry on the south. And you can see both the Porte d'En-Haut on the north and the Porte d'En-Bas on the south. Both appear as square structures with black centers (no roof on either tower). To my eye, Mennetou is a town, not a village, even though it's very small. (Photo credit: geoportail.fr)

26 June 2018

Never a dull moment

As Sue and I approached Mennetou-sur-Cher late on a Saturday afternoon, June 2, we passed a couple of cars full of young men celebrating some event by leaning out of car windows, shouting and cheering at passersby and passing cars like ours, and generally having a good time. Then as we parked outside the lower gate at Mennetou, two cars of young women passed by. They were behaving exactly the same way. We never found out whether all the noise-making and glee had to do with some sporting event, or maybe having passed some kind of exam at school. Sue took the photo on the right. I just want to make the point that Mennetou is a real, living town, and not some movie set or museum piece. Young people live there, not just wrinklies like us.

There were some cars parked in different spots around the old town, but I don't remember seeing any moving vehicles as we walked along the narrow, curvy streets taking pictures. I don't really know if it's legal to drive into the old town, but CHM reminded me in a comment a couple of days ago that he and I did just that one day a while back. I think going in with your car is not recommended but tolerated. The houses in this picture are located near Mennetou's east gate, La Porte Bonne-Nouvelle.

I just read on this page outlining the history of Mennetou that the first monastery founded at this point along the Cher River, toward the end of the 6th century, was pillaged and plundered by invading Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries. That was the end of that. It seems like there has never been a dull moment in Mennetou. I think I much prefer young celebrants blowing their car horns and cheering wildly to the prospect of fierce Vikings terrorizing the town.

There's not a lot of commerce — not many shops — in Mennetou, but there are a few. The one here sells gifts and decorative items for your home. Another sells sewing supplies and gives sewing lessons. And then there's that well-known charcuterie that specializes in the chitterling sausages called andouillettes. The bakery in the first photo above is just outside the lower town gate, La Porte d'En-Bas, on the main road that runs along the south side of the old town. There are a couple of cafés down there too.

I like this ghostly white, fairly severe house. I don't know how old it might be, but it looks to be half-timbered.

Update: Yesterday the nurse I had called came to the house to take out the stitches that the dermatologist put in when I had outpatient surgery earlier this month. It was a painless process that took only 15 or 20 minutes. She said the incision has healed nicely and looks very clean and neat. I asked her what I owed her and she said she didn't really know. She took my Carte Vitale, the national health service ID card, with her when she left, saying she'd bring it back later in the day after went back to her office and figured out what the charges to me and to the health service would be. Then she called me on the phone and said my "co-pay" — the un-reimbursed portion of the bill — would be 3.52 euros (about $4 U.S.). The full charge for her visit and care was 8.80 (about $10). That's pretty reasonable, no? She brought my card back and I handed her a check.

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.