31 July 2019

L'église de Montrésor

The village of Montrésor, located half an hour's drive south of Saint-Aignan, is officially one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, with its château and church. The church was built between 1520 and 1550 in the Gothic style. This is one of its stained-glass windows, and it dates back to that period, which was the time of the French Renaissance. It depicts the Passion and the Crucifixion of Christ.

I took this photo in 2003, when we had just arrived in Saint-Aignan. Over the years, I've published many posts about Montrésor, including a long series about two years ago. Here's a link to another site that includes a lot of information and photos of the town.

30 July 2019

More garden foods, for us and the birds

Yard maintenance can be put on hold, especially when the weather is so dry and hot that not even weeds will grow. We are way behind in our outdoor work. What with the indoor work and chaos caused by getting a new bathroom put in, my medical appointments in Blois starting at the beginning of July, and the two — count'em, deux — heat waves (épisodes caniculaires) over the past 6 or 8 weeks... well, we're going to have to put in long hours to catch up with yard work before summer ends. Some days it feels like our whole summer has been out of control.

However, Walt has kept the vegetable garden going, faithfully watering it by hand, using a watering can, nearly every single day — I would say rain or shine, but we haven't had any significant rain in ages. Only the zucchini plants are producing anything right now, and above is a photo of another way to enjoy zucchini cooked on the barbecue grill. This was a dish called "sausages and peppers" using bow tie pasta with tomatoes, onions, and red, green, and yellow bell peppers, not to mention locally made herb sausages. Grilled zucchini went well with it.

And then there are, or were, the plums. This is a clafoutis made not with cherries but with little red plums from a tree that I planted a decade ago. They are not the sweetest plums on Earth, so it's good to cook them. Actually, I picked these when the fruit was just starting to ripen, and it's good that I did. Apparently, hot weather caused the hundreds of plums that were still on the tree to ripen all at once and all of a sudden right after I picked the first batch.

A few days later I went out to pick some more, despite the heat, and I realized then that the plums had fully ripened and that the birds had been busy eating them. Finished eating them, I should say. Every juicy plum left on the tree had been half eaten. I imagine the poor birds enjoyed not only the sweetness but the moisture in the plums, since we've had so little rain this summer. Good for them — it was too hot for me to be diligent in picking them, or to want to do much baking.

29 July 2019

Zucchini season, grilling season

We've been getting zucchini/courgettes from the vegetable garden for a couple of weeks now. The weather, as you might know, has been hotter than ever here in the Loire Valley. Walt has been cooking most of our meals on the barbecue grill out on the front deck.

One recent day, we were cooking zukes and shrimp. Since I had to go to Blois several times for medical appointments (routine tests), I had stopped in at a shop called Blois Store, which is an Asian grocery, and bought a couple of big bags of frozen raw shrimp. They are sold without the heads.

We peeled and de-veined the shrimp and marinated them with some yakitori sauce, garlic, fish sauce, and cayenne pepper. Then we put them on skewers so that they could be cooked on the grill.

Walt brushed thick zucchini slices with the extra marinade we had used to flavor the shrimp. Both shrimp and zucchini cook really fast on the grill. Both got eaten almost as fast as they had cooked.

28 July 2019

Greek-style mushrooms, a French café standard

I feel like I've posted recipes and photos of the dish called Champignons à la grecque — "Greeked" mushrooms — many times. In fact, I just ran a search of my whole blog and I found only three posts with the word grecque in them. The oldest was posted in 2007, and the "newest" in 2010!

Almost a week ago, I bought a pound of mushrooms — champignons de Paris, "button mushrooms" — and then the weather turned just too hot for me to want to cook them on the stove. Yesterday, with our high temperature of 76ºF, the time had come. Since there were so many of them, I prepared them Greek-style, with onion, herbs, spices, white wine, lemon juice, and olive oil. Here's a recipe I copied out of the PDF version of the Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia.
Champignons à la grecque
PRÉPARATION : 30 minutes - CUISSON : 12 minutes

Nettoyer 600 g de petits champignons de Paris (calibre boutons). Éplucher, laver 120 g de petits oignons nouveaux (12 pièces). Presser le jus de 1 citron. Confectionner 1 bouquet garni. Éplucher et dégermer 1 gousse d'ail. Envelopper et ficeler dans une mousseline ou une gaze hydrophile 15 graines de coriandre, 20 grains de poivre et la gousse d'ail. Mettre à chauffer 5 cl d'huile d'olive dans un sautoir, y faire suer les petits oignons sans coloration pendant 5 minutes. Ajouter les champignons boutons entiers (ou escalopés si vous avez des champignons plus gros), puis le jus de citron, 10 cl de vin blanc sec, le bouquet garni, du sel et la mousseline d'aromates. Porter rapidement à ébullition, couvrir et laisser cuire 5 ou 6 minutes. Retirer le couvercle et, au besoin, réduire vivement la cuisson car elle doit être courte, sirupeuse et enrobant parfaitement les champignons. Éliminer le bouquet garni et la mousseline d'aromates. Vérifier l'assaisonnement. Dresser dans un ravier et laisser refroidir. Ce hors-d'œuvre est consommé froid.
I've posted a different but pretty similar recipe before, and translated it into English. I did a couple of things differently this time. First of all, I used yellow tomato paste instead of red tomato paste, because we had some jars of yellow paste that we made and put up last summer. So these don't look like they've been cooked with tomato, even though they taste like tomato.

Also, after the mushrooms were cooked, I used a pair of tongs to take them out of the sauce one by one, leaving the coriander seeds, peppercorns, diced onion, etc. behind. Then I strained the sauce, reduced it to a syrupy consistency by boiling it down, and poured it back over the mushrooms. Champignons à la grecque are usually eaten chilled, so put them in the refrigerator overnight before serving them as a first course or hors-d'œuvre.

27 July 2019

Moth portraits

It's raining this morning, lightly. It rained a little bit yesterday too. We haven't had any thunder or lightning nearby, which is surprising considering how far the temperature has dropped. We enjoyed highs in the low 80sF yesterday, and today our high is supposed to be in the low to mid-70sF. Laissez-moi pousser un « ouf ! » de soulagement.

A moth caught my eye yesterday. It was in the kitchen, fluttering around the lights over the sink and stove. It kept flying into my face, and then it would sit very still on the white tile wall over the sink for several minutes. I grabbed my camera.

I took the top photo without using the camera's flash. Then I tried with the flash on. The moth's wingspan was about three centimeters. That's approximately 1¼ inches. As usual, you can enlarge to images to see more detail. Thanks to Tim's comment on this post, now I know it is called la Phalène picotée in French, or the Common Heath Moth in English, even though it is no longer very common.

26 July 2019

"Heat storm" damage

It's still hot this morning, but it's windy. That means the weather is changing. As CHM said in a comment, the high temperature in Paris yesterday was reportedly 42.6ºC. That's about 109ºF, an all-time record for Paris. Accuweather reports our high in Saint-Aignan was 42, or 108 in F. I don't think Accuweather deals with fractions of degrees. Anyway, I think this spell of high temperatures could be called a "heat storm."

Yesterday afternoon, our thermometer on the front terrace, in the shade on the east side of the house, read 40.5. That was hot enough for me. CNN reports that only 5% of the homes in Europe have air-conditioning, by the way. Ours doesn't, as I keep mentioning.

Look what the heat did to my "elephant bush" plant (Portulacaria afra). About half its leaves are burned to a crisp. This is a plant that I grew from cuttings brought to me by CHM in 2004. He had an elephant bush plant (also called a "miniature jade" or "dwarf jade" though not closely related to the jade plant) in California many years ago.

I'm sorry I didn't notice that the plant was suffering in time to move it out of the afternoon sun. I was watering it every morning. I thought the elephant bush was more heat resistant than it turned out to be. I don't think it's dead however, and I hope new leaves will sprout soon.

The "storm damage" happened not yesterday but the day before. I noticed it yesterday morning and brought the plant indoors. Luckily, I had also started a new Portulacaria plant from cuttings a couple of weeks ago, and it was not exposed to the killing afternoon sun. Last winter, I learned that the elephant bush doesn't like wet soil or temperatures below 10ºC. I had started a plant from cuttings but left it out in the rain, thinking it would be fine as long as the temperature stayed above freezing. Wrong! It died.

25 July 2019

Les records de chaleur tombent...

The MétéoFrance web site seems to be off-line. I wonder it it has been overwhelmed and has crashed because of today's extreme weather. (Here is confirmation.) This is supposed to be the last and hottest day of the current épisode caniculaire, the hot spell or heat wave. Here's the Accuweather forecast for Paris today.

Forecast for Paris today

The predicted high in Paris, 106ºF, equals 41ºC. I wonder if it will be an all-time high for the city (it the temperature actually gets that high). Meanwhile, I wonder the same thing about Saint-Aignan. Here's the Accuweather forecast for us today. The predicted high, 109ºF, is 43ºC.

Forecast for Saint-Aignan today

Yesterday we closed the house up tighter than we ever have before, and kept the fans going even though all the windows on the main floor and up in the loft were shut tight. It stayed slightly cooler in the house overall, I think, but the loft was still suffocatingly hot. We mangaged to sleep there last night anyway, and I slept pretty well. Low humidity, rapid cooling once the sun went down, and a big electric fan made it bearable.

Looking out a west-facing window a couple of days ago via this photo above, you can see how plants with deep roots — hedges, trees, and the grapevines — have held up despite the searing heat and extreme drought conditions.

And skies have been very pretty during this whole period of extreme drought. It still hasn't rained since about June 15. That is supposed to change over the next couple of days. The other weather site we track, www.météociel.fr, says we should expect some rain tomorrow (Fri.) and rain pretty much all day Saturday, with a high of 70ºF. Won't that be a shock...

24 July 2019

Living with bats and beetles

As I said in comments yesterday, it was 102ºF on the terrace yesterday afternoon, and over 100 in the loft. We spent the evening downstairs where it was much cooler, but then we decided to try to sleep upstairs. And we did sleep — both of us. The humidity was low and our big electric fan was stirring up the air. This morning it's about 79ºF in the house, which means it will be even hotter in here this afternoon than it was yesterday.

One thing that happens when the weather is hot and we throw all the windows open overnight or early in the morning, in an effort to cool the house down before afternoon and the heat of the day are upon us again is that things come inside. Since there are no window screens, animals fly in. Bats, birds sometimes, butterflies... in past years we've had gigantic moths up in the loft that could be mistaken for bats.

A few days ago we found the beetle shown here, an inch long or more, on the sofa in the living room. This one was cooperative and we used a dustpan to pick it up and put it back outside.

I'm not good at identifying European fauna, since I didn't grow up here and lived exclusively in French cities when I was younger, but this beetle seems to be called l'aromie musquée or, in English, the musk beetle. It's a kind of longhorn beetle. It flies. French Wikipédia says: Son nom provient de la sécrétion à odeur de musc très agréable que cette espèce émet. In other words, the aromie is smelly, but it's a pleasant smell. I personally didn't detect any odor.

23 July 2019

Ouf !

The French dictionary gives this as part of the definition of the interjection Ouf !
S'emploie pour exprimer la satisfaction du locuteur après qu'un événement heureux (prévu ou non prévu) a soudainement mis fin à la situation pénible ou dangereuse qu'il vivait.
That really does describe the way I felt yesterday afternoon. Translating: In French, Ouf ! is a word "used to express the satisfaction of the person who says it after a positive outcome (foreseen or unforeseen) has suddenly put an end to a painful or dangerous situation the speaker had been living through." For "satisfaction", I should say "relief". Looking back, I now see how the prospect of a negative outcome had been weighing on me. Now, on to the next tribulation, the heat. It's only supposed to be with us for three days, and probably won't kill us.

So I can relax, and I can eat again! By the way, yesterday I left a glaring typo in the title of my post about cleaning up after our recent construction work. I'm surprised CHM didn't jump on it, but he was kind and let it pass. In the morning, I was preoccupied, and when I saw it last night, just getting back from the clinic in Blois, I was horrified.

La Polyclinique de Blois, a modern, private facility with many departments and medical specialists

It's interesting to think that the coloscopie exam I was submitted to yesterday was completely free. Nobody mentioned money or payments except for the modest fee I needed to pay for occupying a hospital room for the afternoon. I was asked on an admissions form whether I wanted un box (a sort of cubicle) for 15€, a bed in a double room for 20€, or a private room for 30€. I've written blog posts about previous medical procedures I've had performed up there and what the overall experience was like.

I checked the box specifying a double room. The woman checking me in said, well, she didn't have any double rooms available, so she'd have to give me a private room. But she would charge me the 20€ fee for a bed in a shared room. I asked her if she wanted me to pay right then. No, she said, we'll send you a bill. The colonoscopy is considered to be preventive care, and the system not only sees preventive care as the right thing to do for people, but also, I think, as a better way to spend money than on heroic measures for a lot of people who might come down with colon cancer and not know it until it's too late.

Now, I did pay for the initial consultation with the gastroenterologist and the follow-up appointment with an anesthesiologist. I can't remember exactly how much I paid them, but it was less than a hundred euros and I got about two-thirds of that back from the state-run healthcare system. I don't pay any kind of premium to be included in that system; nor does Walt, because we are a couple. Whether we're married or not doesn't matter (we are, in fact).

Socialist countries! Quelle horreur !

22 July 2019

L'été de notre grand chamboulement

That means, I hope and think, "the summer of our great upheaval." We knew that having work done in the house, especially building a new room in the loft, involving major plumbing work both upstairs and downstairs, would create some disorder. Now I'm starting to wonder how long it's going to take us to get it all straightened out. Not much will get done this week — I don't know how I'll feel after today's medical procedure. Anyway, it's going to be too hot inside and outside for physical labor. The weather on Télématin says we should expect highs between 41 and 43 ºC on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Cooler on Friday, they promise.

Here's a recent photo of the loft space, taken from the "bedroom end" of the room where the new half-bathroom has been built out and plumbed in, toward the "family room" end. It's a pretty typical room in houses around here. People have their attic spaces finished off to increase the surface habitable of their houses, leaving the roof trusses exposed.. The only thing unusual about it is that we didn't divide it into several smaller rooms. We like the openness.  Now we've had to move some chests of drawers around. There are three of them and now all of them have been moved to new places around the room. All are, of course, packed full, especially the drawers with my clothes in them (Walt is more organized than I am). We've started taking everything out and redistributing things.

This is my upstairs computer area. It hasn't changed much; it's always pretty much of a jumble. I don't spend a lot of time working on either of these computers. The big one is a file server where I have thousands and thousands of photos and documents stored. I can access them over the network using my laptop down in the living room. That cardboard box on the green rug is full of two or three drawers-full of just my T-shirts — the ones I haven't worn in years. They need a new home, and it might well be down in the garage. A lot of them will go to Emmaüs, a kind of French Good Will charity store, after I've gone through them all and decided which ones I might actually be able or want to wear again. Like most people, I think, we just have too much "stuff."

Here's the other end of the loft space, where we had the new room and plumbing put in. The chest of drawers against the wall is one we bought when we lived in Washington DC back in 1983. The Eiffel tower lamp and the mirror on the wall are things that came from North Carolina as gifts from my mother back in the 1980's and '90s. The dresser under the window is one we bought here when we arrived more than 15 years ago. The rug is one we bought in San Francisco in 1995, when we  moved into a new house and needed to put a rug under the dining room table. A few years ago we hauled it out into the back yard and washed it down with the garden hose. It still looks pretty good.

And here again is the new throne room. We still need to varnish or otherwise finish the oak shelf over the sink and toilet. We had the building contractor put up a stray shower tile as a backsplash over the sink. And we bought wooden toilet seats at Bricomarché over in Noyers-sur-Cher for both WCs in the house They're nicer than the flimsy plastic ones that came with the two new toilets. The brown rug here is synthetic fuzz over a synthetic rubber backing. It will protect the knotty pine floor from splashes of water, and it's soft and pleasant to walk on barefoot. The fuzz dries quickly. On the left is a piece of furniture that my mother called a shadowbox and that we'll mount on the WC wall. My father, who was a carpenter and cabinet-maker, built the shadowbox back in the early 1950s. It can be used for displaying knickknacks or memorabilia, or for storing useful items. My father also built a couple of end tables back then, and we have and use them here — one in the living room and one in the loft. These things are almost as old as I am. My father died in 1990; my mother in 2018.

21 July 2019

Here comes the heat again

The "dog days" of summer — called la canicule in France — don't start on a precise date and end on another precise date. However, historically, the period called "dog days" covers the month starting about now in July and ending in late August. That's an astronomical view of things, because the star known as Canis Major, the dog star, rises above the horizon in northern latitudes at this time of year, and its rise coincides with the hottest part of the year in Europe and North America. It's the brightest star in the heavens after the sun.

Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed that the heat of the dog star combined with the heat emanating from the sun to produce some of the year's most torrid weather. It's happening that way here in France this summer. Look at Accuweather's Saint-Aignan forecast for the coming week, above, in English and in degrees Fahrenheit. See below for the same forecast in French and in degrees Celsius. The most uncomfortable days will be Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. With any luck, we won't have to suffer much longer than that — unless we have another heat wave in August.

In meteorological terms, the arrival of "dog days" or major heat waves is not so precisely defined in time. Here in France, we had an early épisode caniculaire in late June this year. The highest temperature in the history of record-keeping in France — 46ºC (about 115ºF) — was recorded on June 28, 2019, at Vérargues, a village located about halfway between Nîmes and Montpellier near the Mediterranean coast. It didn't get quite that hot here in Saint-Aignan, however, with a highest high of 39º on June 29.

It probably will get at least that hot again this coming week, and it will definitely correspond to the meteorological definition of the term canicule. It will be time to hunker down and limit physical activity. I hope the humidity won't be too high. Already, our back yard looks like summertime in California — the grass is completely parched and brown. It hasn't rained here since mid-June.

Speaking of dog days, I remember that in August of 2003, during one of the worst épisodes caniculaires of recent times in France, our dog Collette dug herself a hole at the northeastern corner of the house, in the shade, and lay in it for many hours over many days, instinctively seeking respite from scorching temperatures. She was 11 years old when we brought her to France in 2003, and had lived the previous eight years in chilly San Francisco. Tasha, the current pup, is also suffering because of this summer's heat waves.

Collette in 2003

20 July 2019

Le régime sans résidu

A "diet without residue" — doesn't that sound awful? I see the term translated as a "low-residue, low-fiber diet" on Wikipedia. The idea is that in preparing for what in French is called une coloscopie or for colon surgery, you need to eat only foods that can be completely and thoroughly digested by the human body. Vegetable and fruit fiber is eliminated from such a régime alimentaire. Here's the diet I'm on this weekend.

Low-fiber, low-residue diets vary widely, according to descriptions and lists I find on the web in English and in French. Some allow canned vegetables and cooked fruit. Some say yogurt and cream are okay. I guess this is just a guideline — it's not science — except maybe for the list of aliments à éviter (to avoid) at the bottom of the page.

And here's what I'm eating. I hope I made the right choice. It's a lamb shoulder roast that Walt cooked on the barbecue grill. I'm eating the lean meat but not the fat (lucky Natasha gets that). I also cooked up a pot of steamed white rice, flavoring it with herbs and spices that I'm not eating — bay leaves, allspice berries, and cloves that can be taken out before I eat the rice. I dress it with a little bit of olive oil (huile crue) and white wine vinegar (liquide clair). I'm also eating some Comté cheese straight out of the fridge — not melted.

Isn't it ironic or just slightly weird that I should be having such a medical procedure this summer,
just as we are getting a new WC put in upstairs?

19 July 2019

Sticking to a diet, and dreading the heat to come

I got up at 4:30 his morning. I slept really well, and I feel good. It's unusually warm outside —  the thermometer on our terrace reads 19ºC. According to forecasts, we're in for a pleasant weekend weather-wise, with highs of about 27ºC. The only thing to complain about is how dry and parched everything is right now. We haven't had a drop of rain since mid-June, and we're under water restrictions. I thought last summer was bone dry, but this one is even drier.

Here are a few photos that I took in the Saint-Nicolas neighborhood in Blois two weeks ago.

I'm going to Blois for a medical procedure on Monday. I have to adhere to a special diet this weekend — no vegetables; no fruit; no bread; no fried or even sautéed meat, fish, or eggs; no spices or herbs; no milk or soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert. Par contre, I can eat meat or fish that's been boiled or grilled; boiled or poached eggs; rice, pasta, and polenta; uncooked oil and butter; sugar and honey; clear broth; and clear liquids including fruit juice (no pulp). Can you guess what the procedure is?

Since I can have grilled meats, I bought a rolled-and-tied roast of lamb shoulder yesterday. Walt will cook it on the grill later this morning, and we'll eat that over the weekend. I also have some sliced boiled ham (jambon de Paris), and plenty of rice and pasta. There are some foods that are not on the dietary list — yogurt, for example — as either autorisé or interdit. I guess I'd better abstain. Just thinking about how careful I need to be about what I eat makes me really hungry.

By Monday, we are supposed to be going into a new épisode caniculaire — a few days of extreme heat (36 to 40ºC). I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm thinking more and more of getting some kind of air-conditioning installed in the house. Or maybe we should go spend a few days in Carteret up in Normandy, where it's going to be 10ºC (20ºF) cooler than here in the Loire Valley.

18 July 2019


Except for the little jobs and touch-ups that we need to do, our 2019 home improvement is completed. The plumber finished his work about 10 days ago, and the building contractor came in at the beginning of the week and finished his.

The room itself is pretty typical for a 50-year-old French house. It was not a retro-fit but was purpose-built, I think. It's comfortable because it has not only a toilet but also a small sink with hot water and a radiator. The thing that's unusual about it is its length — it measures only about three feet wide, but it's nearly 10 feet long. It feels a little like a hallway leading nowhere.

Yesterday Walt did some touch-up painting in the downstairs "bathroom" — half-bath, "loo", WC, cabinet, petit coin, "throne room" — and it looks good in my opinion. We painted the walls blue many years ago, and the blue paint dried to be a much deeper and brighter blue than we expected.

Besides the new "wall-mounted" toilet, we also got a new rug and a new mirror.

 The new mirror sort of matches the little bamboo storage cabinet that we bought for "the littlest room in the house" three or four years ago.

We might decide to re-paint the room in the relatively near future, but for the time being we'll live with it as it is now.

Most importantly, the new upstairs WC is also basically finished. It's been functional for about 10 days. All that's left to do is put up the toilet paper holder, a mirror, and a couple of other things on the walls.

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.