31 December 2021

New Year's Eve and Day food plans

Happy New Year's Eve to all. For our New Year's Eve celebration, we've decided to make a big pan of paella, the Spanish rice, chicken, and seafood dish. Instead of chicken, we'll have salmon with ours, along with mussels, cockles, shrimp, and a Portuguese chorizo sausage. The vegetables are onions, tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, and chickpeas. This is my own recipe.

Below are some photos showing mostly paellas I've made in past years, plus two photos of huge pans of paella that are often on display in French outdoor markets. The market paella is sold by the portion in plastic containers as carry-out food. The first photo at the top is one I took at a market in Paris, and the last on at the bottom is one I took at the Sunday market in Amboise. (I've put a recipe in the comments — in French and then in English.)



Tomorrow, on New Year's Day, I'll be cooking a pot of black-eyed peas — traditional January 1 fare in the U.S. South. We're going to be having the black-eyed peas with poached saucisses de Toulouse (plain pork sausage) and with cuisses de canard confites — duck leg-and-thigh pieces that have been slow-cooked in duck fat. All you have to do is put the duck pieces on a rack in the oven and heat them up until they are golden brown. I'll probably take pictures of both today's paella and tomorrow's sort of "mock cassoulet" made with black-eyes. Stay tuned.

We won't be having guests for either meal. The current Covid Omicron surge means we are still self-isolating as much as possible. In urban areas, people are required to wear masks indoors and outdoors. Shopping is a necessity, but gatherings of people indoors are strongly discouraged by the authorities here in France. We haven't yet had our Covid booster vaccinations, but mine is scheduled for next Thursday morning. We'll be getting the Moderna vaccine for our third dose. Walt expects a call from the pharmacy any day now to get his appointment set up. I'm already hearing about some people here getting a fourth dose of the vaccine...

30 December 2021

Tours landmarks and buildings

         The hôtel de ville (city hall) in Tours was built in Renaissance Revival style in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Café/Brasserie de l'Univers is an attractive restaurant but it seems to get mixed reviews from customers.
It's a good place to have a coffee or a glass of wine and watch the people passing by.

The Maison Gouïn, now a museum, dates back to the 15th century, with modifications in the 16th.
The Église Saint-Julien, at the south end of the bridge over the Loire, dates back to the 11th century and was originally
a monastery. It features stained-glass windows created by Max Ingrand and nowadays houses a museum
dedicated to the history of the wines of the Loire Valley.

         Here are some more of Tours' maisons à colombages (à pans de bois). The ones on the left are on the Place Plumereau
in le Vieux Tours, and the ones on the right are on the nearby Place du Grand Marché (map).

29 December 2021

Maisons à pans de bois à Tours

Like Rouen, Tours suffered terrible destruction from bombings during the Second World War,
especially the neighborhoods on the banks of the Loire river. But just a few hundred meters from the river,
many old half-timbered houses remain. There are a good number of them around the picturesque Place Plumereau,
known in Tours as the Place Plum' (sounds like plume) and dating back to the 15th century.


The area around the Place Plum' is a car-free pedestrian zone that's full of restaurants and shops.
Here's what the house on the left above looks like today. My photo is from 2006.


On warm sunny days tourists and students (Tours is a university town) gather in the area, creating a festive atmosphere.


28 December 2021

Pourquoi aller à Tours ?

Restaurants. Shopping. Cafés. Spectacles. As I've already said, people in France call Tours un petit Paris. During our first few years in Saint-Aignan, we went to Tours a time or two every year because we wanted to go to concerts by artists like Julien Clerc, Laurent Voulzy, Isabelle Boulay, or Alain Souchon. Or to shop for things that were not easy to find out here in the country (Asian and other imported foods; clothes; hardware; housewares...). We enjoyed the urban experiences we had beed used to when we lived in Washington DC or San Francisco, without the long drive (4 hours or so) in heavy traffic in and around Paris. Since the beginning of the Covid crisis, well... we've been pretty much housebound. Maybe that's why Tours looks so attractive to me right now.




27 December 2021

Deux tours à Tours

There's a lot of truth in the old observation that people tend to neglect the sites and signts they live closest to and pay more attention to sights and attractions that are farther away. They take the nearby sites for granted, telling themselves that they have plenty of time to go see them... someday. I wonder how many Parisians have never been to the top of the Tour Eiffel? I know that Walt and I lived in San Francisco for more than 15 years, and Walt never went to see Alcatraz island and the prison on it. I only went there once, and that was because I was involved in a work event there. I didn't choose it; it was imposed on me.

I'm beginning to feel that way about the city of Tours, which is only 35 or 40 miles downriver from Saint-Aignan, on the Cher river. Yesterday I posted photos of the cathedral in Tours, which I've really only glanced at once or twice. Tours (metro. pop. more than 350,000) is the biggest city in the French Région Centre-Val de Loire — bigger than Orléans or Blois or Bourges. It's a university town, so the population is young. Its location has been occupied for more than two thousand years. Back then, the Celtic (des Gaulois) people who lived there were known as the Turones. That's where the name comes from.

Two ancient towers (tours in French, a funny coincidence) dominate the part of the city called Le Vieux Tours. They are vestiges of a grand basilica that stood in Tours from the 11th to the 18th century and was dedicated to the 4th century saint named Martin de Tours, who brought Christianity, grape-growing, and wine-making to France.

The tower in the first three photos in this post is called the Tour Charlemagne. It has that name because one of Charlemagne's wives died in Tours in the year 800 and she was buried there. Nobody knows, however, exactly where her tomb was located. Charlemagne (b. 748 - d. 814) visited Tours several times over the course of his life. I just learned that it was in Tours that Charlemagne signed an order making "rustic Latin" the official language of his empire, replacing "church" Latin. That can be seen as the birth of the French language.

The other ancient tower in Tours is called the Tour de l'Horloge — the clock tower. You can see the clock in the last two photos in this post. It was also part of the grand basilica that once stood on this site and in which the saint Martin, bishop of Tours, was buried. That basilica was built in the 11th century after the Vikings razed an older basilica in Tours. During the 16th century wars of religion pitting Protestants against Catholics, the "new" church was ransacked and pillaged by the Protestant Huguenots. It stood abandoned, fell into ruin, and finally collapsed at the time of French Revolution.

I took all these photos in March 2006, less than three years after we moved to Saint-Aignan from San Francisco. Now we'll soon have been here for 19 years.

The Tour de l'Horloge, known back then as the Tour du Trésor, remained standing. It was fitted with a dome in the 19th century. The Tour Charlemagne partially collapsed in 1928 and was restored — the Guide Michelin says of the Charlemagne tower: elle ne manque pas d'allure (it has a certain elegance). Both of these towers are about 50 meters (165 ft.) tall. It seems that both of them were built in the 13th century.

Walt and I sometimes talk about what we'll do as we get older and older. The idea of moving to a city is attractive. Our house here in Saint-Aignan is built on three levels, with two staircases. One of them is very steep and narrow, and is starting to feel dangerous.

It might be nice to live in a city where we could walk to shops or use public transit. And live in an apartment with an elevator. As long as we have Tasha, our sheltie, we'll probably stay here. She'll be 5 years old in February, so we're thinking about a move in 10 or so years. We've thought about Blois, a big town just 25 miles north of us, and Bourges, a slightly larger town about 60 miles east of Saint-Aignan. Not to mention Auxerre in northern Burgundy, which is slightly smaller. Now I'm adding Tours to the mix. It has good public transit, including a fairly new tramway. It's only an hour from Paris by TGV. Who knows? Only time will tell.

26 December 2021

La cathédrale St-Gatien de Tours

Construction of this cathedral started in the middle of the 13th century, says the Michelin Green Guide.

The building wasn't finished until the middle of the the 16th. Wikipedia disagrees, saying construction started in 1170 and ending in 1547.

The neighborhood around it is quiet because it's off the beaten path that most tourists travel. It's un quartier plein de charme, Michelin says.

Here's a view of the chevet or apse of the cathedral. That's the east end of the building; the front of a cathedral — the main entrance — faces west. The east end is where the altar is placed. People prayed facing east toward Jerusalem.

Construction of the cathedral was interrupted by the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between the English and the French. It was fought on the territory that is now known as France.

This is actually the fourth cathedral that has stood on this site. The first was built in the middle part of the 4th century A.D., but burned and was re-built later in the century. It was re-dedicated in the year 590. In the 12th century construction of another cathedral was started but it too caught fire and was never finished.

This photo is one I took looking up at the west-facing façade of the cathedral as it looks today.

Because it took so long to finish, the building features a series a architectural styles. The towers that soar over the west front were finished in 1534 and 1547, toward the end of the French Renaissance and the beginning of the wars of religion pitting Protestant Huguenots against Catholics. One bell tower is 68 meters tall, and the other 69 (about 225 feet).

 Here's the west front of the cathedral. The French Wikipédia article says that the building, while beautiful, is not widely recognized as one of the major Gothic cathedrals of France. However, it is known for its stained-glass windows. I've only ever been inside the building one time, on a March day, early in the evening, when there wasn't much light. So I've missed a lot of photo opportunities. To be remedied, if this pandemic ever ends.

P.S. You can see these images at full size by clicking on them or touching them. You'll see more detail.

25 December 2021

Dieppe : intérieurs d'églises

M E R R Y  C H R I S T M A S !

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24 December 2021

Dieppe : églises

I'm posting some photos I took in and of churches in Dieppe more than 15 years ago. One, I think, is the Église Saint-Jacques (photos 1, 2, 4, 5, 6?), and the other is, I think, the Église Saint-Rémy (3, 7, 8?). But I'm confused. Maybe it doesn't matter that much; just enjoy the photos. I have some more pictures taken in churches in Dieppe to post tomorrow. Maybe I'll figure it out by then... Oh, the last photo in this set (9) shows the 15th-century Château de Dieppe.

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