Thursday, 22 March 2018

A Thousand Winter Readings

A couple of weeks ago we went to dinner at my friend Nathalie's. Also at the dinner was her friend Chantal and she invited me to an event she was hosting. Chantal told me she had recently retired from working in the theatre as a costume maker. She grew up in Montrichard but had spent much of her career in Paris and La Rochelle. When the time came to retire she searched the Touraine for a house that had a barn suitable for staging workshops and performances.

 D'Argile et de feu by Océane Madelaine.

Chantal's event was part of a programme called Mille Lectures d'Hiver (A Thousand Winter Readings). It is designed to offer a convivial gathering to people who are interested in living authors. For each event a host invites 20 or so people to a venue of their choice. It could be their house, a library, a hospital, a village hall or a café. The guests might be friends, family, neighbours or colleagues who want to discover some modern literature. The programme runs from 1 January to 31 March every year and is co-ordinated from the Orléans library service.

 The audience mingling after the reading (my friend Bénédicte looking stylish on the right).

The host doesn't get to choose the text. The programme is all about discovery, and you can't choose what you don't know. Many writers are barely known. They can't compete with the heavily promoted publications of celebrity authors and are marginalised. Allowing the hosts to choose would simply result in many of them choosing already well known authors.

 The buffet. Chantal on the left, Marion centre.

In the case of the reading at Chantal's it was the reader, a professional actress called Marion Minois, who chose the text. She works often with the Mille Lectures programme and chose a book called D'Argile et de Feu by Océane Madelaine. It's a slim volume from a tiny publisher. The book is about two women, one contemporary, one 19th century, who are linked by fire and clay. One grows up in a rural pottery and makes a name for herself as a skilled artisan in a man's world. The other finds her diaries and notebooks containing recipes for glazes when she inherits a cabin in the woods. The author is herself a potter.

 Marion reading.

The readings last about an hour and are followed by a question and answer session. The audience are encouraged to freely express their opinions. After all, it's a lottery, and the book might not be to everyone's taste. Luckily, everybody in the audience I was part of responded positively to the book. They were also very curious about the reader. They wanted to know how much she had practiced (3 days intensive work and 3 weeks of reading through it once a day), why she had chosen the book (she had friends who were potters and thought the story evocative), what else she did (works in a company of 40 players in Vendôme, does workshops in schools with two male colleagues).

After the reading there are drinks and nibbles or a meal. The audience was asked to contribute and brought wine and cakes (sweet and savoury). I brought root vegetable crisps. The host is expected to feed and accommodate the reader.

The Mille Lectures is funded and administered by Ciclic. They pay the readers, cover their expenses and the royalty payments. They organise the circuits and put the hosts in touch with the readers. Ciclic is part of the library system in our region of Centre Val-de-Loire and they are also responsible for the film archive of  the region.

This event was in Barrou, population 492 and was free to attend. Chatting to one of the audience, she passed on to me that this sort of cultural event started happening in 1970s in the provinces. Before then the Touraine and other rural areas were hopelessly rustic and unsophisticated. But in the 1970s the educated classes started buying rural properties and reclaiming their heritage. They spent all their weekends restoring these old places, and then later retired here. They provided the impetous and connections to organise local theatre, exhibitions and concerts.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Célestine No Longer Eats Electricity

In September last year I wrote how Célestine almost managed to completely embarrass me when she ran out of electricity coming home from Amboise.

Even a couple of days later she was a bit leery about charging the battery - some times it would charge normally, sometimes the needle on the ammeter was flickering all over the place. My suspicion was that there was a problem with either the alternator or the regulator, and somehow alternating current was getting through the system and the battery not charging.

The new electrics.

Of course, having two cars, and it being near the end of what turned out to be a somewhat truncated  season, Célestine didn't see a lot more action last year, so when we went to Australia we parked her (snugly wrapped in a blanket, of course) and she sat out winter in some friends' garage. Our plan was to get serious about her electrics when we got home - and at last we have done it.

Parked by a very full Loire River in Amboise. It snowed earlier in the day,
so I am using a rally plaque as a radiator muffler.

We took her to the nice folks at Classic Auto Elec in Nazelles-Négron. Auto electricians aren't really a thing in France. You're expected to take the car to your local mechanic who will know enough to sort out the problems, so having a specialist within 80km of home is a real bonus. They thoroughly checked out the system, replaced the alternator, the battery, and a bunch of wires, and it appears that all is again good.

We picked her up on Monday, so now we are on the road again, shuffling cars between mechanics, upholsterers, panel-beaters (bodyworks) and polishers, and soon our season will be on track, and we will be dazzling all who see us.

Roll on spring!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

At the Dentist

Simon goes to the dentist (for treatment) way more often than I do. My dentist has retired, and I haven't bothered going to the new young dentist in town yet. Dr Renaudie, my old dentist, rides a Harley, wore a checked shirt and string tie for work, had a jukebox that played country and western music in the surgery and he cracked jokes all the time. The new young dentist will have to be going some to beat that, but his first name is Claudius, so that's a good start I guess.

Simon about to be examined by Dr Beye.

Simon's teeth have had to deal with a lifetime of Ventoline, which increases the risk of cavities and other oral problems. Unfortunately Simon, like many people his age, was thoroughly traumatised by the dentist in his childhood. Luckily, now, we have Dr Beye.

We first made an appointment with him several years ago when Simon cracked a tooth. I couldn't get him in to my dentist in Preuilly, so I rang around. The receptionist at Dr Beye's, in La Roche Posay, said they didn't have a slot immediately but she would ring me if one came up. True to her word, a couple of hours later, she rang me and said if we could get there in 20 minutes, an appointment had become available. Easy peasy. La Roche Posay is only 10 minutes away.

Dr Beye is a big African man, of few words and remarkably small fine hands. In the past 6 years Simon has had root canal work, two crowns and a couple of fillings done by him. Dr Beye's calm demeanor and the improvement in dental techniques (especially anaesthetics) in the last decade or so mean that Simon now more or less willingly goes to the dentist. In the old days he would have put up with many months of pain and discomfort, and swallowed endless painkillers on a daily basis rather than put himself in the dentist's chair.

When I asked Dr Beye if he minded if I took this photo, his response was very French. 'Non, ça ne me dérange pas'  ('no, that won't bother me').


Just a quick word about the Tour The Loire gift store. We notice that people have ordered t-shirts, mugs and a tote bag - thank you very much all. We ordered a set of coffee mugs as a thank you to my brother and Rosie and were really impressed.

If you're looking for a unique piece of Loire Valley memorabilia, it can be bought here.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Twelfth Annual Cowslip Photo

Every year about this time we post a picture of a cowslip. It used to be the first cowslip of the year, where we would excitedly stop the car and back track to take a photo (they are roadside specialists), but more recently they have been the first photos we have been able to take in safety. Age/wisdom I guess...

One reason we post a cowslip photo every year is because it means spring is here or hereabouts. This year it's definitely hereabouts, as we are expecting frosts and fog and maybe even a sprinkle of snow.

There is, however, another reason. In 1981 I travelled to the UK with my Mum, and she had me driving all over East Anglia looking for cowslips, her favorite childhood wildflower. We saw one in the six weeks we were there, and the farmers all said it looked like they were on their way out. You can imagine my surprise when we arrived in France to see cowslips in profusion. Mum is no longer able to travel, but this pic is for her.

Sunday, 18 March 2018


Yup - we went there too. The Gate of Heavenly Peace was one of the places we visited on our 12hour layover in China in November. It's a big thing, being 66 metres (217 ft) long, 37 metres (121 ft) wide and 32 metres (105 ft) high, and serving as the gateway to the Imperial City, which itself contains the Forbidden City. These days it tends to be used a a saluting podium for offical events - you can see the enormous ranges of seating for the generals either side of the actual gate.

Tiananmen at night (with added tourists)

Of course, Tianenmen is probably more famous for its square, first built in 1651 and enlarged to four times its original size in the 1950s. After another rebuild in 1976 it is now 44.05 hectares (109 acres) in area and is claimed to hold 600,000 people. It's one of the biggest monumental squares in the world, and surround by monumental buildings, including the Great Hall of the People, The Monument to the People's Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and the National Musem of China.

The Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Because it was night, and because we're just not well connected enough to get high above the square to take an overall photo, you will just have to take our word (and everyone else's word too) about just how BIG it is. It's big! Luckily, being a winter's evening it wasn't full so we were able to appreciate the acreage (and having walked one side, the length) but although it felt kind of empty, we weren't the only people there having our photos taken.

Tianenmen Gate

(and some extra, random pics!)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Pest Control in Namadgi NP

Invasive species are a tremendous problem in Australia. In Namadgi National Park, in the 'high country' (as the mountain terrain is known) around Canberra, non-native canines are some of the species they are trying to keep under control. This is partly to safeguard the native species that might be prey animals (I assume mostly small marsupials and ground nesting birds) but also to placate sheep farmers whose land adjoins the National Park. The National Park is seen as a reservoir of fox and wild dog populations by the local farmers.

Poison notice in Namadgi National Park.

1080 is a brand name. The chemical compound is sodium fluoroacetate and its use is strictly controlled. Baits are pieces of meat that have been dosed with the poison. They are placed at carefully chosen locations along the access tracks around the edge of the park. Bait sites are chosen by first laying out fresh meat and using trail cameras to record what comes to the meat. Baited meat is then only set out at sites which were uniquely used by foxes or dogs. The meat is usually buried to a depth of 10-15cm. Canines can easily sniff this out. 

Ejectors are a type of bait set in a sort of trigger mechanism. When the animal puts its muzzle around the ejector and pulls with sufficient force the bait is ejected into the dog's mouth. This technique is used to protect other wildlife that might be attracted to meat because only canines have enough strength to trigger the ejector. This method also avoids the risk of animals caching baits that could be found later by non-target species. 

The term 'wild dogs' is a sort of catch all which includes dingoes, feral dogs and their hybrids. In other parts of the park 1080 is used to control feral pigs, using impregnated wheat, and the presence of dingoes is encouraged because they will prey on the piglets. On the edges of the park though, it is considered necessary to protect the neighbouring sheep, and the programme has been very successful at doing so.

A notice informing of biological controls for Vipers Bugloss and Nodding Thistle.

Animals are not the only invaders. There are plenty of plants too. At Brayshaw's Hut I came across a notice informing walkers that the CSIRO were using a biological control on certain plants, Vipers Bugloss Echium vulgare and Nodding Thistle Carduus nutans (aka Musk Thistle). Both these plants grow in natural abundance in the Touraine, but they are invasive aliens in the Australian bush.

Vipers Bugloss in Namadgi NP.

Vipers Bugloss is closely related to one of the most notorious and long established of Australia's invasive alien plants, Patersons Curse E. plantagineum.

I don't know what bio control the scientists are using here, but it's likely to be one of a number of species of weevil which have proved successful on Echium and Carduus species.

The CSIRO is the rather wonderful Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.