31 August 2023

A hurricane, and a mystery building in my photos

I'm preoccupied with the hurricane that is riding up the east coast of the United States right now, from Florida to North Carolina. Walt has relatives and friends in Florida. He has a brother who lives on the coast of South Carolina. I have a sister, a niece, two grand-nieces, and many cousins and friends on the coast of North Carolina. So the suspense is clouding my mind. I won't know for many more hours how everybody weathered the storm.

Here are some more photos I took from the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques in July 2013. On the left below is a view of the Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On the right is a street on the Right Bank, la rue des Halles, not far from where I used to live.

I can't for the life of me think what the brick building on the right is. It's on the Left Bank, and you can see it in one photo above and another below. I've been staring at Google Map screens for nearly two hours now, trying to find the building in question. Maybe somebody reading this will recognize it. It's near the Pont-Neuf.
Okay, I've posted for the day and now I'll focus on the hurricane coverage on CNN.

30 August 2023

Works in progress from the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques

Four more photos from my 2013 climb to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques in the center of Paris...

On the left above, the rooftop of the Opéra Garnier, the older opera house in Paris. Operas are performed nowadays in the new Opéra Bastille theatre, while the performances at The Opéra Garnier are mainly ballets. On the right, a closer view of the cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris as it looked 10 years ago. It's still not a sure thing that the restoration of the cathedral to repair the damage done by the 2019 fire will be completed by next summer, when Paris hosts the summer Olympic games. The man who was directing the work died suddenly a week or two ago.

These last to photos show two buildings that people love to hate. On the left is the Pompidou Center (aka Beaubourg), which was built in the late 1970s. It houses a library, an art museum, a famous restaurant. On the right, the Tour Montparnasse skyscraper was built in the early 1970s. The views from the top of that tower are spectacular. This is another building that is being renovated and modernized. Work to give it a new look began in 2019 and is scheduled to be completed before the start of the 2024 Paris Olympic games. Read about it here, with drawings and photos.

29 August 2023

Views from atop a tower in Paris

Here are a few more photos that I took from the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques 10 years ago. I don't know when or if I'll ever go to Paris again — I probably will, someday — but I'm pretty sure I'll never go to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques again... unless they put in an elevator. The two photos just below are both looking south.

On the left above, there's the old hospital called L'Hôtel-Dieu. Notre-Dame cathedral, as it looked a decade ago, is right behind it. Father in the distance you can see the dome of the Panthéon. On the right you're looking out over the Seine river where one of its channels separates the Île Saint-Louis on the left from the Île de la Cité on the right.

The two Paris landmarks above probably need no introduction: that's the Eiffel Tower on the left, and on the right is the Église du Dôme des Invalides, where you can have a look at Napoleon's tomb.

28 August 2023

Du concentré de tomates, et une flognarde

It was a good cooking weekend, with lower temperatures outside and in the house. I made a batch of tomato paste (concentré de tomates) with a dozen or more big tomatoes from this year's vegetable garden. I used a stainless-steel steamer pot (un couscoussier) to sterilize jars and lids, and to cook the tomato paste and hermetically seal the jars. The top of the couscous pot was deep enough for the jars to stand upright for the steaming. I turned about 10 lbs. of tomatoes into about 2.5 lbs. of paste. The jars won't need to go into the freezer, but can be stored in the downstairs pantry for the winter.

To make the paste, I trimmed and cut the tomatoes and cooked them with just a few bay leaves, some black pepper, and just a pinch of salt. I didn't need to add any liquid to the pot; the tomatoes produced their own cooking liquid. I let the resulting sauce simmer for hours and hours until it had thickened up. I let it cool and then pureed it, tomato skins and all, using a stick blender. Walt and I filled five jars with the paste, screwed on the lids, and then put the jars back in the steamer pot to cook for at least 30 minutes, maybe 45. As they cooled after that thorough cooking, the lids sealed the jars. The tomato paste is tasty and sweet. We had about half a jar left over to just put in the fridge to eat this week.

Then, it occurred to me that we didn't have anything for dessert. So I went over to our Blois neighbors' yard and picked enough little red plums off one of their trees (with their permission) and made a clafoutis or flognarde with the plums, a few eggs, some sugar, and some milk. Above you see the result. Here's a link to a recipe.

27 August 2023

Up to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques

It was a hot and muggy July day in 2013 and there were 300 steps to climb on a steep, narrow spiral staircase. That's the equivalent of a 16-story building. I struggled but I made it. (I was 64 years old then, and I believe I was the oldest person in the group I climbed up with.) The tower is open to visitors from spring until autumn nowadays, but only 17 people an hour can go up. It's best to make a reservation if you want to do some climbing and take in the views.

Looking north toward Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur basilica. And then looking southwest toward, bien sûr, the Eiffel Tower; the gilded dome of the church at Les Invalides where Napoleon's tomb is on display; and in the foreground the dome of the Institut where the Académie Française meets.

Here's what the steps up to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques looked like. I had a tight grip on that rope "railing" to haul my body up to the top.

Looking west from the top of the tower you can see the Arc de Triomphe on the right; the 20th century business park called La Défense in the distance; and the rooftops of the Louvre in the foreground. Finally, closer to the Tour Saint-Jacques, you can see a lot of contruction cranes (the Forum des Halles was being updated); and the Saint-Eustache church in the middle of the image.

I took these pictures with a Panasonic Lumix ZS8 digital camera that I had bought in 2012.

26 August 2023

Memories of the summer of '23

I know that summer isn't officially over yet, but this morning the temperature outside is just 14ºC. That's about 58ºF. Accuweather says the low tomorrow morning will be around 11ºC (51 or 52ºF). It definitely feels more like autumn than summer already.

I wish we had weighed all the tomatoes that our 10 plants produced this year. We didn't. All I can say is that we've eaten quite a few and we've made a dozen or so liters of sauce for the freezer. We'll enjoy them over the winter. By the way, I'll get back to the Tour Saint-Jacques tomorrow.

P.S. This morning I weighed these tomatoes: they came to nine kilograms — about 20 lbs. So we figure we got about 100 lbs. of tomatoes from the garden this year, not counting the ones that are still out there ripening.

25 August 2023

I'll always have Paris...

... I hope. I suddenly realized yesterday that it was 10 years ago this summer that I climbed up to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris to take in the views and take photos. This gothic-style bell tower is all that's left of a 12th century church that used to stand on the site before it was torn down during the Révolution of 1789. The bell tower itself was built in the early 1500s.

The Tour Saint-Jacques stands 54 meters tall (that's 177 feet) at approximately the geographical center of the city of Paris, so the views are spectacular. The tower is owned by the city of Paris, and was opened to the public for the first time in many decades in the summer of 2013 after a ten-year restoration project.

I must have walked past the Tour Saint-Jacques hundreds of times between 1970 and 2013, when I first got a chance to climb to the top. I lived just a 15-minute walk from it for three years, 40 years ago. Over the next few days I'm going to post some re-edited photos that I took from the top of the tower in July 2013.

24 August 2023


What would you have seen me doing yesterday at 8:30 a.m. if you had walked past our house? I was scrubbing the front gate. Every year it gets covered with green gunk on the side that is always in the shade. What is that green stuff anyway? Algae? Mold? Whatever it is, it needs to be kept under control. I wash the gate with soapy water using two or three brushes of different sizes to get into all the gaps and wash the edges of the slats that make up the structure. It's not hard to do except for the bending and squatting to wash the parts closest to the ground. The algae or whatever doesn't grow on the "public" side of the gate, which faces south and is in full sun for most of the day.

When I thought about taking a picture of what I'd accomplished, I noticed how nice the geraniums in the window boxes under our kitchen window looked, so I snapped a photo of those too. By the way, you might notice that I only scrubbed one of the gate panels. By the time I got that one done, the weather started feeling muggy. I promise I will clean the other panel either today or maybe next week. I might just wait until the temperature drops over the weekend. We're expecting highs in the 70s F starting on Saturday.

23 August 2023

Wonky weather words and numbers

It's 22C outdoors this morning, and 27ºC in the house. That means it's 5 degrees Celsius (centigrade) — about 10 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer in the house than outside. That's why I have all the doors and windows wide open at 5:30 a.m. And we've got it good compared to the southern part of the country. Here's a map for today showing high temperature zones and ranges. Météo France predicts 34ºC or 35ºC for Saint-Aignan today.

See the temperature conversion table on the sidebar on the right to get an idea how Celsius and Fahrenheit compare.

Here's another view of the situation. The dark red départements (counties) will experience dangerously intense heat. The orange ones will experience extreme heat. The yellow ones will experience unusually high temperatures. The green ones will have normal temperatures for the season (in the 80s F.)  Provence is about 400 miles south of Paris. Saint-Aignan is about 150 miles SW of Paris.

Yesterday afternoon we managed to keep it comfortable in the house by closing the shutters on the west side of the house, including the black-out shades on the skylight windows up in the loft. I slept well from about 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. with two big fans running to bring in cooler air. Over the last two hours The temperature on the main level of the house has dropped by a few degrees with all the windows and doors open.

Accuweather says the afternoon highs will fall below 30ºC on Friday and will be down close to 20 early next week.
Vivement vendredi !

22 August 2023

Summer is for salads

This is one of our favorite summer salads. It's diced raw zucchini and tomato, corn (or chickpeas), cooked green beans, chopped raw onion, and cooked millet (or couscous grain). The dressing is a vinaigrette made with white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.

I think we forgot one ingredient — chopped green and red bell peppers.  I'll add some to the leftover salad today. Another good addition would be some diced feta cheese.

Accuweather predicts that our high temperature this afternoon will be 93ºF, and tomorrow's will be 94.

21 August 2023

A salad of garden vegetables, and those deyhydrated tomatos

Yesterday's lunch included the salad you see on the right. It's made with fresh tomatoes, steamed green beans, and grilled zucchini. All the vegetables grew in our vegetable garden. I added in some mozzarella (feta would be good too). The dressing was olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a few drops of red wine vinegar for acidity, a teaspoonful of Dijon mustard, and some fresh basil leaves.

We are having extremely hot weather again. Forecasts are for temperatures between 30º and 40ºC (basically 88 to 98 F) from today until Friday, when we can expect a drastic cool-down. The heat is really making tomatoes ripen fast on the vines in the back yard garden. Over the past few days, big yellow tomatoes have started coming in. They're of the ananas variety — "pineapple" tomatoes.

This was the view from a rear window, looking out into the Renaudière vineyard, at 7:09 a.m. yesterday.

Here's how my dehydrated tomatoes came out. I sterilized the jars and lids in a steamer. I let them dry, filled each one with dehydrated tomato wedges and slices, and then set them in the oven at 120ºC (about 250º/F) long enough for the lids to start popping. That means they are hermetically sealed.

The lids on three of the jars popped pretty soon after I put them in the oven. Those are the brightest red tomatoes. Two more jars, including the one with a green lid, didn't cooperate. I had to take those two out to try to tighten the lids on them. It worked. They finally popped (it's a loud click), but the tomatoes got slightly scorched. I hope they'll still taste good. I'll add them to soups and stews.

Click this link if you want to read more about drying tomatoes in the oven or a dehydrator.

20 August 2023


Voici la définition du dictionnaire : Opération consistant à réduire, aux fins de conservation, l'eau contenue dans certains fruits et légumes. We've been overwhelmed by the tomato crop this summer. And the plants are still producing fruit. We've been eating fresh tomatoes almost every day, prepared as salads, on pizzas, or as ratatouille. Walt has made two huge batches of tomato sauce for the freezer; he has put up 12 or 13 containers, a total of 12 liters or so.

Then a few days ago, he brought in another two dozen mostly gigantic, extremely ripe tomatoes. What would we do with them? There was no more room in the freezer. Suddenly, it dawned on me. We have a dehydrator. We bought it years ago. Because our tomato crop in 2022 was so small, we had forgotten about one method of preserving tomatoes that doesn't require freezer space — la déshydratation [lah-day-zee-drah-tah-SYÕ].

Now we've cut up and dehydrated about a dozen big tomatoes. It's time to put them up in sterilized jars. That's today's project — or at least one of them. We also have a big batch of green beans and wax beans to process. Maybe we can find room in the freezer for those, after we eat some of them for lunch.

19 August 2023

Weather report

 Inside the house this morning at six o'clock, the temperature is 74ºF (23ºC). That's higher than our high temperatures outdoors were during the first week of August, not to mention our morning lows. The temperature outdoors right now is 26ºC (79ºF), which is about what our high temperatures were over the past 5 days (except yesterday, when it hit 93ºF). I'm not complaining, just reporting. It feels slightly less muggy than yesterday morning. The fan is helping some by bringing in some "cool" outdoor air. No AC here, but I'm sleeping just fine.

Below is a photo I took pretty much exactly 24 hours ago as the sun was rising. I think I can feel heat in that sky.
I took the picture from our front terrace.

18 August 2023

Taking a heat day

Remember how we used to need to take a "snow day" every once in a while in wintertime? Well, today I'm taking a "heat day." The temperature yesterday was in the upper 80s F and today it's supposed to hit 92 or so. The house is hot again, and here I sit at 5:30 a.m. with all the windows and sliding-glass doors open to let in some cool morning air. It's Saharan air flowing in from the south that's to blame. And that air is picking up moisture as it blows across the Mediterranean, so it's downright muggy here. We're expecting more of the same tomorrow, with a couple of thundershowers in the morning to add some extra humidity to the air.

 Maybe today it would be a good idea to go spend some time in the crypt of the church in Saint-Aignan. During the 2003 heat wave, I remember going to châteaux, which with their thick stone walls, stay cooler than our 1970-vintage house does. The problem was, everyone else had the same idea, so châteaux were crowded. I guess I could go out for a drive in the Citroën with the AC on. I remember doing that in the summer of '03 too.

17 August 2023

Wall paintings

  According to the Cadogan Loire guidebook, “The high point of the [Saint-Aignan] church interior is the crypt. This was an older church upon which the larger one was later plonked. The dark, dank place contains some vestiges of fine Romanesque wall paintings [and] it also offered excellent conditions for a local wine merchant to keep his stock in the last century [the 19th], saving this level [of the church] from the clinical restoration work carried out above.” That would explain, in part, how the wall paintings here have survived since the 12th century.