30 September 2023

October: spider webs and blackberry brambles

October is spider season around here. Out in the yard, out in the vineyard, and in the house. Most of the spiders in the house are daddy long legs. I vaccuum them up when there are too many of them. Out in the vineyard spiders build elaborate webs in which insects get caught and then, I assume, eaten.

Autumn is also berry season. Sometimes I think we are fighting a losing battle trying to keep blackberry brambles in check. The long bay laurel hedge that surrounds our property is full of them. There are many brambles but not very many blackberries, actually. Even with the hot weather we had this year... we would have needed more rain than we got to plump up the berries. In past years we picked some, but those days are a distant memory now.

29 September 2023

Late October in the vineyard...

...the Renaudière vineyard, I mean, here in Saint-Aignan. These are pictures from nine years ago. We had just returned from a short October road trip to Burgundy. We hadn't yet realized that the great pandemic and long-lasting drought were in our future. I'm glad we took as many road trips as we did between 2008 and 2019.

October clouds over the vineyard at sunset

Autumn colors on the grape leaves

Lingering leaves, getting ready to drop

Grapes harvested, their skeletons still on the vines

28 September 2023

Tasting and buying wine in Irancy

When Walt and I were in Irancy in October 2014, we decided to buy a few bottles of the local wine to bring back to Saint-Aignan. We noticed a winery on the rue Soufflot in the village. It was a house with pale blue shutters (photo below), and it didn't look like a business. There was a sign out front saying that the entrance to the winery was down a narrow alley that we had just walked past.

We walked down the alley and found the door that had a cave (cellar) sign on it. I banged on the door, pulled it open, and yelled Bonjour. The inside of the door was covered in a sheet of silver plastic that had a layer of insulation of some kind under it. It looked very much home-made and rough. A voice from down below yelled out something like Oui, on est là. Descendez.

So we did. The stone stairs were narrow and steep. And definitely dark. About halfway down, I bumped my head on a low stone archway. When we got to the bottom, we found four men drinking wine in a dimly lit cellar. The man in charge didn't mind if I took a picture, but he and the three other guys moved out of the way. They were probably all in their 30s or early 40s, and they were perfectly friendly. We told them we were two Americans who lived in France, in the Loire Valley, and we wanted to taste some wines and buy some to take home with us.

I don't know how many wines they had tasted, or how much they had drunk. I wonder if they were just partying, or if the three friends planned to buy a few bottles. They all seemed to know each other, including the man pouring the wines, and I asked them if they lived in Irancy. They said yes, though one of them said he had been living in Nice for quite a few years and had just returned to Burgundy. (He looked like a young Serge Lama, if that means anything to you.) We tasted three wines with them, and the third one was the one we both thought was best.

So there we were, having tasted three wines in the Irancy cellar we had chosen, really, at random. The producteur — in other words the grape-grower and winemaker — was named Stéphan Podor. Actually, on the label, it says Stéphan et Marie PODOR. I didn't know if Stéphan Podor was the man we were talking to in the cellar.

We weren't going to spend a lot of time tasting wine, especially since I was going to be driving back to the gite on a circuitous route through several other picturesque villages. I told the man who was doing the pouring that I'd like to buy six bottles (called un carton in France, which is half the size of a U.S. "case" of wine) of the last wine we had tasted, which was a 2012 vintage called Palotte. He had already told us all, I believe, that Palotte was the name of the most prestigious parcel of vines in the Irancy vineyard. Here's what the cave looked like.

The man doing the pouring looked at me and said something like: C'est un vin qui se vend à 15 euros la bouteille. Ça va ? » In English: "The 2012 Palotte wine sells for 15 euros a bottle. Is that okay?" There was no price list anywhere, so I had to take his word for it. I hesitated. That's a lot more money than I spend for a nice bottle of wine in the Loire Valley. Three or four times as much. But I didn't want to back down. I could have said, well, I'll just take two bottles. Or three.

Instead, I gulped and said the price was okay, go ahead and give me the carton. I figured 90 euros, maybe just this once, wouldn't break the bank. We had spent something like 12 euros a bottle for a carton of Chablis Premier Cru that morning. It's not like we go to Burgundy very often, and Burgundy wine is, by reputation, some of the finest France produces. I didn't know when we'd ever go back there.

We said our au revoir and climbed the dark, steep steps back up to the street, carrying the carton of wine. I ducked to avoid bumping my head again. It had been an interesting but puzzling experience. I was wondering if I had been overcharged for the wine. Why wasn't there a price list? How did I know how much such wines really sold for? Burgundy wines can be very expensive, but what about the little-known Irancy wines?

Basically, I wondered whether the man pouring wines for people who seemed to be his buddies just pulled a price out of thin air when I asked to buy the Palotte wine. Was he thinking he had found two suckers? Did I end up financing the drinking that the group was engaged in? Was it because we had said we were Americans? I hated having such doubts and worries.

I thought about it all the next day. Then it occurred to me that I might find some information about Irancy and the Podor wines on the Internet. Duh! We were busy, and I wasn't thinking straight. I had a tablet computer with me, and we had a wifi connection in the gite (it was slow but operational). That evening I went on the internet and started searching.

After a few minutes, I found Stéphan Podor on a web page that listed different Burgundy wine areas and producers. It turns out he is the mayor of Irancy! That made me feel better. The mayor of a village is unlikely to be engaged in shady business practices. His reputation would be on the line.

The man who had been pouring wines the afternoon of our visit was definitely not Stéphan Podor, however. He was too young. Maybe he was the son of the mayor, or an employee. I decided it didn't really matter. Weeks later, I found a price list for the Podor wines on the internet. I did find mention of the Palotte parcel of vines at Irancy, confirming that it was the most prestigious parcels there. That made me feel better.

A few days later, I finally found a price list for the Podor wines. The 2012 Palotte wine was listed at 15 euros. Podor has only an acre in the Palotte climat — that's what vineyard parcels are called in Burgundy. The rest of the Palotte vines are owned and worked by other vignerons. My doubts and worries all turned out to be much ado about nothing, and I could again feel good about the whole experience. It was certainly memorable.

27 September 2023

Irancy landscapes

These are photos I took in late October, nearly 10 years ago, in Irancy (northern Burgundy). The grapes grown in the village's 600 acre vineyard are almost entirely Pinot Noir. Above, you can see the village's church down in a hollow. And that's Walt taking a photo and being followed around by our dog Callie the border collie.


Irancy "occupies an arrestingly sunken site surrounded by vineyards that rise up over its roofs, making the buildings appear as if they are going to disappear forever down some geological plughole." So says Andrew Jefford in his book The New France: A complete guide to contemporary French wine (2002, revised 2006).

Just above, a road snakes through the Irancy vineyard. And on the right is our Peugeot 206 parked in the vineyard. The 206 is 23 years old now and still runs great.

Yesterday I had a new radio installed in the car because the original radio went silent. Then I drove it over to Chenonceaux to buy some wine from a winery near there called La Gourmandière. I paid 66 euros for 30 liters (40 bottles), 10 liters each of red, rosé, and white wines. La Gourmandière used to be a cooperative with local grape-growers as members, but now it has a single owner. Here's a link to earlier posts of mine about it.

26 September 2023

Irancy in Burgundy

The wine village of Irancy, just 15 minutes by car southeast of the big town of Auxerre and 20 minutes southwest of the famous wine town of Chablis, has a population of 256 souls. Irancy [ee-rã-'see] has existed officially since the year 900 A.D. and was probably a Gallo-Roman village five or six hundred years before that. It has seen its share of famines, wars, and diseases over the centuries.

This is the town hall — la mairie — in Irancy. It's on the rue Soufflot. The mayor (le maire) has his or her office here. Two hundred years ago the village had a population of more than one thousand. The population has been declining ever since. According to Wikipédia, the Irancy vineyard is made up of 251 hectares (over 600 acres) of vines. Irancy wines are Pinot Noir reds and bear the AOC label of authenticity. Some have a small quantity — 10% or less — of juice from the local red wine grape called César added, which is said to give the wines a special flavor.

25 September 2023

Rôti de veau braisé et ses légumes

Braised veal, in the form of a boned, rolled, and tied roast, is a really good autumn treat. Now that the weather has changed from being torrid to being milder, it's a pleasure to cook braised dishes or plats mijotés You could make the same kind of thing with a chicken, a turkey breast, or a pork roast.

I used my new non-stick wok ("chef's pan") for the braised veal. I bought it from Amazon a few weeks ago and I use it a lot.

The first step in cooking this kind of pot roast is to brown the meat in a little bit of olive oil. Or other oil, or butter, or a mixture. I did my best to brown it on every side. When it was lightly browned, I took it out of the pan and put in a good quantity of diced onion, celery, and carrot, along with some quartered tomatoes, in the pan on low heat and let everything "sweat" or soften for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then I moved the vegetables to the sides of the wok and put the roast back in. I added some chicken broth, but not too much, and set the pan back on the heat, covered. I put in herbs (bay leaves, oregano, thyme...) and spices (black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground cloves...).Then let it cook on low heat for two or three hours. Take the lid off the pan toward the end of the cooking to let the sauce reduce a little. You can cook it on the stovetop or in the oven.

Take the roast out of the pan when it's nearly done, and cut and remove the string that held it together as it cooked. Add more broth or water or wine as needed. Add some olives if you like them. Put the roast back in the pan, surrounded by the cooked vegetables, and let it cook for another 15 minutes. Serve with rice or pasta. The meat is fork-tender. The broth is delicious.

24 September 2023

More about Soufflot

Several times over the past few days and weeks, I've mentioned the rue Soufflot in Paris, and in the heart of the Latin Quarter. I worked in the neighborhood back in the early 1970s. The Panthéon is where the street starts, and it ends at the Luxembourg palace and gardens. Look closely at the photo on the left below (by enlarging it) and you'll see there's another rue Soufflot in France, in a very different location.

Walt and I took a trip to Burgundy in October 2014. We stayed in a gîte near a beautiful village called Noyers-sur-Serein, and also not very far from the famous wine town of Chablis. On that trip, we also spent an afternoon in and around another wine village called Irancy. I know I had vaguely heard of it before, so I wanted to go there, but there was something I didn't know: Irancy's main street is the rue Soufflot. Why? Because that's where the architect of the Panthéon in Paris originally came from. Both the street in the Latin Quarter and the street in the Latin Quarter are named for him. I had no idea that Irancy was Jacques-Germain Soufflot's family home. He was born there in 1713.

Here's what the village of Irancy looks like. It is built in a natural basin and all around the edges of the basin are vineyards. The wine made there is a Pinot Noir red. We bought six bottles from a winery on the rue Soufflot (not in Paris), drank one or two of them with meals at our gîte and brought the rest of them back to Saint-Aignan to enjoy over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. By the way, J-G Soufflot passed away, unfortunately, before construction of the Panthéon in Paris was completed.

23 September 2023

Panthéon pictures

The picture on the left above shows part of the façade of the Panthéon. The picture on the right shows the view down the rue Soufflot from the "balcony" of the Panthéon. That's the palais du Luxembourg and its famous garden at the end of the rue Soufflot, where it intersects the boulevard St-Michel and, of course, the Eiffel Tower in the distance. This was a great neighborhood to be working in back in the 1970s, when I was first living in Paris.

This is the front entrance to the Pantheon, with all those columns. The people in the picture give you a idea of the scale of the place. The photo on the right shows the cupola inside the building, under the Panthéon's huge dome.

This is the Panthéon seen from in front of the église St-Étienne-du-Mont. It's massive.

Finally, on the left just above is the famous "balcony" that I've mentioned several times over the past few days. That's the observation deck, which is also surrounded by a huge colonnade.You can see it under the dome in the photo above these. It's where I was taking pictures from. On the right is another interior view — more massive columns.

22 September 2023

Le Panthéon et son quartier

In the photos just below you see the dome of the Panthéon and the colonnade that is the "balcony" of the building. It's from there that I took a lot of the photos I've been posting recently. The second and third photos below show the street called la rue Soufflot where I worked in 1974-75, as the assistant director of the University of Illinois year abroad program. I had just earned my masters degree in French at the U of I, as it's called.

I was also taking French linguistics classes at the Sorbonne and working part-time as a consultant to a group of Sorbonne professors who taught American English and American history. I was in my mid-20s at the time. In 1975-76, I taught American English and American history at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, a unit of the University of Paris, replacing a professor who was on sabbatical. I also taught English at the École Nationale d'Administration (the French civil service college) and at other schools around the Latin Quarter and St-Germain-des-Prés. It was exciting but exhausting free-lance work, and I decided to return to the University of Illinois in 1976 and enter the PhD program.

21 September 2023

“Our Lady of Paris”


One good reason to go up to the balcon du Panthéon is to see the cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris from up there. It's a better view of the cathedral than you get from the top of other Paris monuments — la tour Saint-Jacques, la tour Montparnasse, ou la Tour Eiffel, par exemple. By the way, another spot where you can see spectacular views of the city is the top of the towers of Notre-Dame itself.

Here are a couple of links to interesting information. The first is a link to a 2016 article in the Figaro newspaper about the renovation work at the Pantheon that was completed back then, leading to the the organization of tours up on the "balcony" of the building.

And here's an article published by the Mairie de Paris and updated just a couple of days ago about the progress being made on the restoration of Notre-Dame, which is scheduled to be re-opened to the public in 2024.

20 September 2023

Meanwhile, at street level

I took all these photos on a Saturday in July between 11:30 a.m. and noon. The restaurants and cafés in the Latin Quarter didn't yet have many customers. An hour later, I imagine it would have been hard to find a table. I had finished my climb up to and back down from the balcon du Panthéon, where I had spent 45 minutes taking pictures. And I had also spent half an hour looking around in the interior of the building. I took a bus back to CHM's apartment and we went out for lunch with friends at a restaurant in his neighborhood.

19 September 2023

La Sorbonne et au delà

That's the dome of the Chapelle de la Sorbonne below. It's not open to the public, I'm sorry to say — but I've also read that it was pillaged and all of its interior decorations were carted off during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. In the background of this photo, you can see the tower of the Église St-Germain-des-Prés.

The building that intrigues me is the one sitting on top of a massive stone column (I think...) just to the left of the Sorbonne chapel's dome. It looks there is a fenced-in observation deck on top of its steep slate roof. Anyone know what it is?

18 September 2023

La basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre

Sacré-Cœur stands at the top of the butte Montmartre. It's about three miles north of the Panthéon. I took this photo from the "balcony" of the Panthéon, which stands on the hill called La Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. The top of the hill is 58 meters (nearly 200 ft.) above sea level. The top of the butte Montmartre is 130 meters (425 ft.) above sea level. Both of these buildings top out at 83 meters (272 ft.), according to the Wikipédia articles about them.

The Panthéon was built in the 18th century. Sacré-Cœur was built starting in the 1870s and was officially finished in 1923. A lot of Parisians thought it was a monstrosity — they thought and think the same thing about the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center (Beaubourg). About eleven million people visit the Sacré-Cœur basilica every year. Only one other religious edifice attracts more visitors. It's of course Notre-Dame cathedral — but not nowadays because Notre-Dame has been closed to visitors for four years, following the devastating fire there in 2019.

17 September 2023

Panthéon paintings

 These are a couple of photos of wall paintings inside the Panthéon that I took after climbing up to the "balcony" to take in the views of Paris from up there. I haven't had time to look for information about them.

16 September 2023

Views of each from the other


This is a photo of the Panthéon that I took in July of 2013 from the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques. You can see that the Panthéon was undergoing restoration work at that time. The Tour Saint-Jacques had recently been restored as well, leading to the tower being opened up to the public for the first time in many decades.

This is a photo of the Tour Saint-Jacques that I took in July of 2016 from the balcon du Panthéon. The restoration work at the Panthéon had been completed and the "balcony" had been opened to the public for the first time in many decades. There were three hundred stairs to climb at the Tour Saint-Jacques. There were only 200 stairs to climb at the Panthéon. Because the building stands on much higher ground, on the balcon du Panthéon you are higher above sea level than at the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques.

15 September 2023

L'église St-Étienne-du-Mont

Looking almost straight down from the Panthéon's "balcony" is a good view of the church called St-Étienne-du-Mont, built between 1490 and 1625 after a 13th-century church on the site had become too small to accommodate the population of the neighborhood. The Michelin green guide for Paris describes the church's façade as "highly original" because of its mix of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance elements.