17 July 2019

Up to his belly

It was December 9, 2003, according to the timestamp on the photos here. We had been living in Saint-Aignan for about six months. We heard on the news that the Loire River was near flood stage and was cresting in Blois and Amboise.

A huge bulge of high water was traveling downriver toward the Atlantic Ocean. We drove over to Amboise to see what that looked like. Leonardo was up to his belly in river water.

Just a year before, we had spent a week looking at houses that were on the market in the Amboise, Montrichard, and Saint-Aignan areas, hoping to find one we could afford to buy and enjoy living in. In the photo above, the ramp you see leads down to what is usually a parking lot.

We decided we didn't like what we saw in Amboise, given our budget. And we rejected two or three houses around Montrichard because they were on low ground and too close to the Cher river. The Cher had flooded a lot of houses just a few years earlier, we learned. In the photo below, the stairs usually lead down to a grassy river bank.

We ended up buying the house we've lived in since June 2003. It's on very high ground. It feels safer here than down on the banks of the Cher. Three years ago the river flooded again (here and here). People were scrambling to get the furniture out of their houses before the river water flowed in.

But these are photos of the Loire at Amboise in December 2003. Leonardo got a good bath that day.

16 July 2019

Leonardo à Amboise

The Italian artist, inventor, and engineer named Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life in the Loire Valley town of Amboise. He was an old man when the French king François 1er invited him to come to France and gave him a house to live in, Le Clos Lucé, just a few hundred yards from the royal château. This 20th century bronze statue of Leonardo sits on the banks of the Loire, across the river from the Château d'Amboise.

François 1er was much enthralled with Italian art and architecture. He was one of the French kings who brought the Renaissance to France from Italy. Leonardo, known as Léonard de Vinci in France, arrived in Amboise in 1516 and died in 1519 at the age of 67. He brought with him the Mona Lisa (La Joconde), among other paintings, when he crossed the Alps from Italy into France. Legend says he rode across on a mule, but nobody knows for sure. He may have arrived in the South of France by boat and then continued to the Loire Valley on horseback or more likely in a horse-drawn coach.

Maybe he came to Amboise on foot... Leonardo may well have participated in drawing up plans and designs for the grand Château de Chambord which was built during François 1er's reign as king. François also had grand plans to build a château complex in the town of Romorantin in the flat, marshy Sologne region near Saint-Aignan, and Leonardo was involved in that project, but it never came to fruition.

This bronze statue was the work of an Italian sculptor named Amleto Cataldi (1882-1930) and was cast in about 1920. It was offered as a gift to France by the government of the small country of San Marino in 1935 and was initially placed in Paris. It was moved to Amboise in 1976. When the level of the Loire is high, this Leonardo likeness sits waist-deep in river water.

15 July 2019

Douze photos du Château d'Amboise

The town of Amboise is one of the most popular destinations in the Loire Valley. It also has one of the best known châteaux. After spending a few minutes in the Saint-Nicolas church in Blois on July 5, I drove on downriver to Amboise and stopped to take a few photos. Here's the result: a two-minute slideshow.

The château d'Amboise is actually much smaller today than it was back in the 16th century, during the French Renaissance. In the late 15th century, the king Charles VIII turned what had been a fortified castle into a magnificent and comfortable residence, bringing in architects, artists, and gardeners from Italy to build and decorate new wings added to the original castle.

Later, the kings Louis XII and François Ier continued that work — François brought the elderly Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise, for example, and he died there. At the beginning of the 17th century, under king Louis XIII, the château at Amboise was turned into a royal prison and remained a prison during the 75-year reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Finally, many of the buildings added to the château by earlier kings were demolished in the early 19th century, during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Still, what's left looks pretty impressive, seen from the island in the Loire where I was standing when I took these photos.

14 July 2019

La Madeleine repentante restored

Inside the Saint-Nicolas church in Blois, I saw and took pictures of this statue, not really knowing if it was new, old, famous, or what. It turns out to be a 17th century work by an unknown artist. It's an example of the Madeleine repentante theme in Counter Reformation art. The 16th and 17th century Counter Reformation is also known as the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival.

This Madeleine repentante ("penitent Mary-Magdelene") has recently been restored. According to an article I read in the local Nouvelle-République newspaper, the statue was in bad shape and in 2015 was sent to Tours for restoration by a specialist named Delphine Bienvenut. The restoration was supposed to take about six months and was, according to the newspaper, to be un simple lifting (just a facelift).

Instead, Delphine Bienvienut discovered traces of polychromatic paint on the stone statue. A different kind of restoration was required, and a six-month project stretched to four years. The Madeleine repentante has now been restored to its original pink-cheeked splendor. However, though the original statue was known to show Mary Magdalene holding a human skull in her left hand (another well-known theme), the whole left arm was determined to be un-restorable. The statue was given a new, more prominent placement in the église Saint-Nicolas when it was taken back to Blois in early April of 2019.

Happy Bastille Day!

13 July 2019

Un miracle de saint Laumer

The saint named Laumer, also spelled Lomer or Lhomer, was born near Chartres sometime in the first half of the 6th century A.D. As a young man, he went went to live in a monastery in Saint-Mesmin, on the Loire near Orléans. After a few years, he was called to Chartres where some say he was the provost of the local church (this was long before the famous cathedral was built).

Later still, he left Chartres and became a hermit in a place called Corbion, known today as Moutiers-au-Perche, just north of the town of Nogent-le-Rotrou and just east of Mortagne-au-Perche. There he founded a monastery — that's the meaning of Moutiers — in the year 575 A.D. and performed many miracles. Laumer died in the year 593.

More than 300 years later, the monastery Laumer had founded was attacked by invading Norsemen — the Perche is an old province located between Normandy to the north and the Loire Valley (Blois and Tours) to the south. The monks of Corbion moved south and made their way to Blois, carrying the relics of St. Laumer. There, in the early 900s A.D., they founded a new monastery dedicated to the saint's memory.

That monastery included a cloister as well achurch, which was destroyed by fire in about 1120. A new church was built starting in the year 1138. Construction of this abbey church, also dedicated to Saint-Laumer, continued for a century or more. The church stands still today in Blois, on the banks of the Loire, despite attacks by Protestants at the end of the 16th-century Renaissance and by revolutionaries in the 1790s. After the French Revolution, the name of the church was changed to Saint-Nicolas.

Bombing by Allied forces at the end of World War II heavily damaged the neighborhood around the Saint-Laumer Saint-Nicolas church, but the church itself was spared. All its stained glass windows were blown out, however. The window shown here was designed and fabricated in the 1950s and finally put up in the church in 1960s. It is said to show St. Laumer performing a miracle by exorcising a demon that had possessed a man back in the 6th century. I took this photo of it on July 5, 2019.

12 July 2019

Un vigneron dans un vitrail

Don't you think? To me it looks like a vigneron — a person who grows grapes and makes wine. That's pronounced [vee-nyuh-RÕ], with the French nasal O vowel in the last syllable. We see vignerons working out in the vineyard all the time, but I've never seen one barefooted. Those are bunches of huge grapes. And vitrail [vee-TRY-yuh] is the French for "stained-glass window."

This stained-glass window was designed and fabricated in the 1950s by the artists of the atelier de Pierre Gaudin.

11 July 2019

« Une atmosphère féerique »

Sunlight filtered through stained glass inside the St. Nicholas church in Blois       

10 July 2019

La chapelle Saint-Laumer dans l'église Saint-Nicolas de Blois

The abbey or monastery that was founded in Blois in the year 924 was dedicated to a saint named Laumer (or Lomer). The Benedictine monks who founded it were fleeing Vikings who had invaded what is now called Normandy, to the north. The existing church in Blois is sometimes called « l'église Saint-Nicolas Saint-Laumer ». It's a long story.

The photos in this post show closer-in to farther-out views of the chapelle Saint-Laumer inside the église Saint-Nicolas and its vitraux (stained-glass windows). On the French Patrimoine-Histoire web site I read:

La chapelle Saint-Laumer est la chapelle des fonts baptismaux. Les vitraux contemporains de l'atelier Pierre Gaudin, plongés dans une architecture romane, créent une atmosphère assez féerique.

("The St. Laumer chapel houses the church's baptismal fonts. Twentieth-century stained-glass windows designed and fabricated by the artist Pierre Gaudin and his collaborators, set in this Romanesque architectural environment, create a magical atmosphere.")

So the ancient name of the Saint-Nicolas church is Saint-Laumer. The Benedictine monks arriving from the north built or were granted the right to occupy an earlier church on the site, but that building was destroyed by fire in the early years of the 12th century. The existing church, as usual modified and expanded over the centuries — the soaring spires for example, date back only to the 19th century — was built later, in the 12th and 13th centuries. I read somewhere that the name of the church was changed to Saint-Nicolas in honor of another Blois church, one that did not survive the 18th-century French Revolution.

Writing the detailed history of a building like this church is a much more daunting task than writing the biography of a human being. The church has stood for nearly 10 centuries and gone through many changes and "improvements" over time. People in different epochs and eras have modified it to suit their tastes and needs. Such is the world. I took these photos last Friday, 05 July 2019.

09 July 2019

1950s stained glass designs at St-Nicolas de Blois

The stained-glass windows of the église Saint-Nicolas de Blois, on the banks of the Loire River, were destroyed by Allied bombardments in 1944, as were the town's bridge and several of its neighborhoods. In the 1950s, it was decided to replace the older Saint-Nicolas windows with new, contemporary windows rather try to restore or imitate the old ones. (My source for this information is this web site in French about Saint-Nicolas de Blois.)

A competition was launched in 1955 to award the work of creating new windows to one or more stained-glass artists or workshops. Requirements were that the new windows be very colorful  — for 10 years after the war, plain dull-looking glass panels had replaced the older glass destroyed by the bombings. The organizers of the competition wanted the interior of the church building to be bathed in mult-colored light as it  had been before 1944.

Four artists — Max Ingrand, Pierre Gaudin, Jacques Le Chevallier, and François Bertrand — were awarded the contract. Max Ingrand, the best-known and most-experienced of the four, was chosen to lead and coordinate the project. Some of the new windows were in place by 1959, but then a good amount of the stonework of the church's larger window openings was found to need extensive restoration work before the glass could be put up. Work stopped as scaffolding was erected in the church and stone masons began the needed repairs. Years passed.

In 1964, church authorities complained that the scaffolding was an eyesore. The church was a major tourist attraction in Blois, and churches in France are owned by the government. It took four more years for the repair work to be finished and the new windows to be installed. The planned arrangement of glass panels of different colors was respected for the most part — Max Ingrand saw the work through but passed away in 1969.

The windows in these photos are ones that are more abstract in composition. Others depict historical figures and scenes. More about those tomorrow.

In this post there are ten pictures of nine of the Saint-Nicolas windows, arranged in five composite images. As always, you can enlarge them to see more detailed views. My friend Sue took four of these photos when she visited the church in June 2018. I took the others on July 5, 2019. I'm not sure how many windows there are in the church, or which ones were created by which artists.

08 July 2019

Inside Saint-Nicolas de Blois

In its description of Blois, the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley says: "St Nicholas church has retained its medieval grandeur, even if it looks a bit grim in parts." I'm not sure I agree with the grim part.

When I was in Blois Saturday afternoon, it was very hot outside and the sun was shining brightly. That kind of weather takes away some of the grim feeling old stones and dark interiors can inspire.

It also makes for very strong contrasts in photos like these. I'll just let the images speak for themselves.

It certainly wasn't dark in the church, but it was refreshingly cool compared to 35ºC temperatures outside.

L'église Saint-Nicolas also features dozens of modern, highly colorful stained-glass windows that — quoting and translating a city of Blois historical web site — "create a unique atmosphere that is bathed in blue or yellow light perfect for meditation."

07 July 2019

The towers of Saint-Nicolas à Blois

The église Saint-Nicolas de Blois was originally a monastery that had been founded before the year 1000. Construction of the church began in the year 1138 and continued for nearly a century. It replaced an earlier church on the site that had been destroyed by fire.

The church became an important pilgrimage site because it contained the relics of several saints and a fragment of the cross on which Jusus was crucified. At the time of the Hundred Years War the church was fortified to resist attacks by English forces.

Toward the end of the 16th-century French Renaissance, the church was severely damaged during the religious wars that opposed Catholics and Protestants. It was restored over the course of the 17th century.

During the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the cloister at Saint-Nicolas served as a hospital. The church has been classified as a Monument National in France since 1840.

Originally, there were three large statues on each side of the main doors of the church. Those disappeared long ago. The neighborhood around Saint-Nicolas de Blois was badly bombed during World War II, but the church itself suffered only minor damage.

06 July 2019

Blois on the Loire

Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Blois. It was a detour on my way to Tours. I had time, and took advantage of it. It was also an opportunity to spend several hours in the car with the air-conditioning running full blast. The car's thermometer said it was 35ºC outdoors when I got to Blois, about 25 miles north of Saint-Aignan.

Here's a panoramic shot of the Blois riverfront and skyline. This is the biggest town in our département (county), with a population of about 50,000 in the town itself and more than twice that in the urban area. It's an old royal city. I took this photo from the left bank of the Loire River, which you see in the foreground. The water level in the river is pretty low right now.

I was in Blois with a friend from California a year ago, and we tried to go inside the Église Saint-Nicolas (above), which dates back to the 12th century. That makes it nearly a thousand years old. That day in June 2018, I couldn't find a place to park the car. My friend went inside and took some photos while I parked illegally and stayed close to the car. For a year, I've been trying to get back up there and take some photos. Yesterday I finally did.

This photo shows the cathedral of Blois, which isn't as old the the Saint-Nicolas church. It towers over the old city, though. Why was I out and about? Well, our friend Peter finally arrived yesterday, about six hours late, after his plane developed a mechanical problem and had to make an unscheduled stop in Newark (New Jersey). I drove over to Tours to pick him up at the TGV station, where his train pulled in at 8:10 p.m. It's a long story. Mieux vaut tard que jamais, as they say.

Oh, and here's a photo of the old bridge at Blois that I took from near the Saint-Nicolas church on the right bank the the Loire. It was built in the 1700s and has been dynamited and bombarded several times in its history during revolutions and wars (1793, 1870, 1944), and then rebuilt in the old style.

05 July 2019

Earthquakes, Paris maps, and diverted flights

The news about the Southern California earthquake is disturbing to me. I feel queasy. I'm re-living our Northern California earthquake experiences — we felt a lot of them. We were living in San Francisco in 1989 — can that possibly be 30 years ago? — when the Loma Prieta earthquake, approximately 7.0 on the Richter scale, struck. I blogged about it here back in 2007 (1, 2, 3, 4).

Several people have mentioned in comments that they have poster-size maps of Paris. We have two of them also, in addition to the aerial photo of the city that I showed yesterday. The one above hangs on the wall in our downstairs WC. The one below, an old Paris metro map, hangs on the wall at the top of the stairs up in the loft. We had both of them in California and moved them to France in 2003. They're not easy to photograph.

Meanwhile, a friend (Peter H.) was supposed to be arriving in Paris this morning, coming in on a United flight from Chicago. Apparently, the plane experienced a mechanical problem over Montreal and had to be diverted to Newark. His plan was to take the TGV high-speed train from CDG airport down to Tours at noontime, change trains there, and arrive in Saint-Aignan at 2:00 p.m. Now we don't know what to expect. Maybe Peter will read this. We're hoping for a phone call later today.

04 July 2019

Views of Paris from above

In a comment yesterday, "Diogenes" asked me if a photo I had posted included a partial view of a map of Paris. It did. Well, not a map, actually, but some kind of aerial or satellite photo. Here's a better view of it.

I took this photo in a fairly dark room using a flash. I had to take it from a side angle, and not straight in front of the map, because the flash reflected in the map when I tried to take it straight on. I "corrected" the image in Photoshop to make both the photos you see here.

This second attempt at editing the photo I took is truer to its actual color. It's too bad the image has turned so blue over the years. Walt bought the poster in Paris, probably back in the 1990s, and carried it home to San Francisco. He had it mounted on a board. Then we moved it back to France in 2003. It's almost as wide as a double bed, by the way. I just went and measured it: it's 132 x 80 centimeters — 52 x 31½ inches.

03 July 2019

Now it's our turn

his work

The two building contractors more or less finished their work by about five o'clock. They'll need to come back, maybe tomorrow, to do some touch-up work. We've already started experimenting with furniture placement. We have a nice mirror to put on the wall over this chest of drawers.

Now our work starts. The first task is cleaning out the guest room and getting it ready for a visitor on Friday. A lot of stuff needs to be moved back into the downstairs WC and the bathroom. A lot more furniture needs to be moved around upstairs too. So I'd better get busy.

I ordered a new rug for the upstairs WC. It was delivered yesterday. I put it in the room this morning to see if and how it fits. The perspective of the photo makes the room look bigger than it is in reality...

02 July 2019

Down to the wire

First the weather news. It's actually chilly here this morning. Yesterday was very pleasant. It's been a treat to have a break from the sizzling weather. Meteorologically, at least, things are back to normal.

Progress on the bathroom front is touch and go. The good news is that the plumber came over yesterday and installed the new wall-mounted cabinet-with-a-sink-on-top. That's it on the right. It's quite an improvement. (The photos I posted yesterday were ones I grabbed off the Ikea web site.) We're waiting for the other contractors to come in today to install baseboards all around the new room upstairs.

When Walt told the plumber that I wanted to return the smaller cabinet and sink to amazon.fr for a refund, he said he doubted that they'd be in good enough shape to be returned. However, the little cabinet cleaned up easily. I don't know about the sink yet. I may be stuck with it. The big faucet looks good on the bigger sink.

The plumber also did a little fix up on the sink in the downstairs loo. It looks better, and I cleaned it well with bleach. I think the decision to keep it was the right one. Luckily, we had some of the old blue paint left in a plastic bucket downstairs, so rather than repaint the downstairs petit coin, for the moment we'll just touch up the old paint.

The plumber (a French guy whose done a lot of work and repairs for us over the past three or four years) also said that if we would go ahead and paint the new wall board that hides the frame and tank for the new downstairs toilet, he'd come and install the toilet today. We have enought blue paint for that. Yay. We might have two working half-bathrooms by the time our friend arrives from California on Friday afternoon. Plus, of course, the main bathroom with shower etc., which is already in good shape and open for business.