Friday’s French – service civil, service civique, civil service, fonction publique


Le balayeur de rue est un fonctionnaire

Le balayeur de rue est un fonctionnaire

France Info is by far my favourite radio station. I like it because it keeps repeating the news all day so that if you tune off at any time, the same information will soon come round again. I usually listen when I’m cooking or eating by myself. They don’t just do news. They also have regular features such as the meaning of words.

Yesterday, they were talking about the difference between service civil and service civique.

Until it was absolished by Jacques Chirac in 1996, 10 months’ service militaire was compulsory in France for all men over the age of 18 if considered fit. Call-up could be delayed if the conscript was a full-time student in higher education. Conscientious objectors were required to do two years of service civil as opposed to militaire. Nothing to do with our civil service.

Service civil was then replaced by service civique which is voluntary community work open to all young people from 16 to 25. They are paid 573 euros per month for a minimum of 24 hours a week for 6 to 12 months. So service civil no longer exists.

What we call the civil service in Great Britain or the public service in Australia is known as la fonction publique in French. Civil servants are fonctionnaires. Un haut fonctionnaire is a top-ranking civil servant or senior official while un petit fonctionnaire is a minor official.

La fonction publique covers a much broader range of activities than our civil service. There are about three million fonctionnaires (also known as agents de l’Etat). They include teachers, social services staff, post office workers, police officers and employees of the French rail services.

They are recruited by competitive examination and successful candidates are known as titulaires. Because of their almost total job security, they are often stereotyped as having unfair advantages compared to employees in the private sector. It’s certainly easier to get a mortgage or rent an apartment if you’re a fonctionnaire.

Whence expressions such as il a une mentalité de fonctionnaire – he has the mentality of a petty bureaucrat. C’est un vrai fonctionnaire means he’s a petty bureaucrat. Petty of course is a deterioration of the French word “petit”.

Bureaucrate also exists, and is both masculine and feminine. Paperasserie (administrative) is red tape and dates back to the 1500s. Paperasse is paperwork. Which reminds me. I have more forms to fill out. I’m still trying to get my address changed everywhere.

Posted in French customs, French language | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Blois Castle – Marsala in Sicily – French Slang for Money


I have three totally different subjects for this week’s blogger round-up. Susan from Days on the Claise gives us a lively and interesting history of Blois Castle, while Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris takes us to Sicily where she spent New Year in the snow, starting with Marsala. To finish off, Phoebe from Lou Messugo talks about French slang for money. Enjoy!

Things we never said: the château of Blois

by Susan from Days on the Claise, an Australian living in the south of the Loire Valley, writing about restoring an old house and the area and its history and running Loire Valley Time Travel.

Blois is somewhere we drove through many times before we moved to France, as it’s on the road to the Paris airports.

days_claise_salamander_blois

However, until March ’14 we had never visited the chateau, despite knowing that it is somewhere that really repays a visit with many treasures and some good renaissance architecture, both things of which we are particularly fond. So here are some highlights:

The chateau sits in the middle of town. It was purchased by Louis d’Orléans, brother of mad Charles VI, at the end of the 14th century under somewhat scandalous circumstances when he seduced the young wife of the previous owner. His son Charles inherited, but taken prisoner at the battle of Agincourt, he was held in captivity for 25 years. Finally in 1440 he was able to return to Blois, which became his favourite residence. He spent the next 30 years writing poetry and rebuilding the chateau, a reaction to the end of the Hundred Years War that was not untypical of his class. Then to everyone’s amazement, he fathered a son and heir at the age of 71. Read more

Marsala: Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year, a fortified wine and a town in Sicily

by Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, an American by birth, Swiss by marriage, resident of Paris with a Navigo Pass for the metro that she feels compelled to use

out_and_about_marsalaMarsala. It’s THE current buzz word among fashion and interior designers, make-up artists and graphic designers. Some love it and some hate it. Yet, chances are that you’ll see a lot of this terracotta red shade in 2015. It’s going to be on the catwalks of Paris, the wall of your trendy friend’s apartment and on fashionistas’ lips. Marsala is Pantone’s Color of the Year.

To kick off my series of posts about our recent vacation in Sicily, I thought I would start with a short one about Marsala. This charming town located on the island’s windswept western coast is famous for its glistening white marble streets, stately baroque buildings and fortified wine. Read more

Money, slang, synonyms and all that …

by Phoebe from Lou Messugo, a traveller, francophile, expat, mum and foodie now living in Roquefort les Pins where she runs a gîte after many years of travelling and living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia

lou_messugo_moneySomething my son said a few days ago got me thinking.  He said the word “argent” (money) has the most synonyms in the French language.  I can’t vouch that this is an absolute fact as it’s an incredibly hard thing to verify but it would appear to be highly likely from the research I’ve done. Using several dictionaries, Wikipedia and talking to my sons and French friends I’ve come up with a list of 102 words! So even if that’s not the most differences for one little word, it’s certainly a hellava lot. Read more

 

Posted in French language, Italy, Loire Valley châteaux, Weekly Blogger Round-Up, Wine | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Shopping in the Sales in Tours


It’s the winter sales in France, which start in mid-January. I’m not a keen shopper at the best of times, nor am I a fashionista, so I prefer to wait for the second week of the sales and hope that prices have dropped have dropped a little further and my size hasn’t disappeared. Jean Michel and I always make a day of it, with a lunch break in the middle.

Rain in Tours on our arrival

Rain in Tours on our arrival

This is the first year we haven’t been in Paris for the sales. I need several things because my Parisian wardrobe doesn’t correspond to my new life in the country. We usually start with the outlet stores in the north of Paris because that’s where I buy Sym trousers. This year, we’re heading for the neighbouring city of Tours which has a population of about 135,000, as opposed to 50,000 in Blois.

When we start out, it’s quite sunny, but as we drive along the Loire, rain clouds appear and by the time we have parked, we need our umbrellas. Our first destination is the Sym store in rue des Halles. It’s quite small with very little choice. The sales woman tries to insist that the stretch jeans are fine despite my age and it doesn’t matter if the waist gapes – it’s easy to fix. I’m not convinced. In the end, I buy two pairs of jeans that are not on sale. She looks askance when I hand over my outlet store fidelity card by mistake. I’m amused.

Tram n in the main street of Tours, looking very bleak

Tram n in the main street of Tours, looking very bleak

We continue on our way with little success. I google Aigle and we discover there is a store just next to the car park. We are so used to shopping in outlet stores that we are somewhat surprised by the prices. I find a smart-looking polar/wool cardigan that will be perfect for keeping me warm when I’m translating (there is a big difference between 23°C in our Parisian flat and 19.5°C in our 400 year old house when you’re sitting for long hours at a computer).

Jean Michel also finds a shirt there, by which time we’re ready for a lunch break. The rain is still pouring down so we make our way towards rue Colbert which we noticed on a previous occasion as having lots of restaurants. Quite a few are closed, however, for January, the slowest month for tourism, and we are beginning to despair when we reach the end of the street and I see a place serving mussels called La Pêche aux Moules

The mussel restaurant from the inside

La Pêche aux Moules fom the inside

On the whole, I like to order food in restaurants that I don’t make myself, so moules marinières and French fries seem perfect. The gaily striped tablecloths are inviting and we decide on snails for starters. I can’t remember the last time I ordered them. They are disappointing however and no doubt deep-frozen. The mussels and chips are good though and having fasted the day before, we can indulge ourselves without guilt.

Traditional moules frites

Traditional moules frites

After coffee, we head for a men’s store recommended to us last time as Jean Michel needs two pairs of fine corduroy trousers. On the way we walk into an arcade and to my amazement I see a Mary Kimberly store. This is where I have been buying all my blouses, both summer and winter, for the last 15 years. I had looked on the web but only found one in Orleans.

I’m delighted because I also find a zip-up cardigan for half the price of the one at Aigle and a boiled wool jacket to go with jeans. I only discovered boiled wool last year and I’m hooked. It’s soft and stretchy but keeps its shape and is washable.

In my boiled wool jacket in La Cigale in Nantes

In my boiled wool jacket in La Cigale in Nantes

We traipse round Galeries Lafayette for Jean Michel’s cords, to no avail. I dislike department stores immensely. They never have what I want and they’re always overheated. They don’t even have any decent socks …

We go past the town hall, which has a sign up saying “I prefer to die standing up rather than live on my knees” in honour of Stéphane Charbonnier, alias Charb, French satirical cartoonist and journalist who was one of the victims of the terrorist shootings that took place in the office of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo on 7th January 2015. We notice a lot of Je suis Charlie signs in shop windows as well.

Town hall in Tours with its Charlie Hebdo banner

Town hall in Tours with its Charlie Hebdo banner

Jean Michel eventually finds one pair of cords, but not in the recommended store. By then, it’s time for a cup of tea. As we’re leaving we pass a kitchen store and Jean Michel picks up a very large Le Creuset cast iron pot surprisingly on sale. He’s been looking for one for some time, he tells me.

Tea time

Tea time

We’re still missing one pair of cords, socks for me and an anorak for Jean Michel. I google outlet stores in Tours and find an address in Chambray-les-Tours, on the outskirts of the city. We then go on a wild-goose chase through the pouring rain. I don’t know where they have disappeared, but the outlet stores are nowhere to be found. We see a Décathlon and I pick up some rubber tips for my Nordic walking sticks.

By the time we get home, which is an hour’s drive, we’ve had enough shopping! I put some of Jean Michel’s deep-frozen veal stew in the micro-wave, spread some goose rillettes on Tuc biscuits, slice some wild boar sausage and we are soon in front of the fire with a glass of our favourite gewürtztraminer from Alsace. Who wants socks anyway?

Posted in Lifestyle, Loire Valley, Restaurants, tours | Tagged | 16 Comments

Friday’s French – Retraite, retrait, pension


I thought that it might be appropriate at the moment to deal with the term retraite in French which means retirement. A similar word is retrait meaning withdrawal as in un retrait d’argent – a cash withdrawal.

Jean Michel qui profite de sa retraite

Jean Michel qui profite de sa retraite

So retraite sort of means withdrawing from one’s working life and, from what I gather, suffering from withdrawal symptoms … Now having withdrawal symptoms in a drug or alcohol situation is expressed in French as être en état de manque where manque literally means something missing.

And that is definitely what Jean Michel is experiencing – something vital is missing from his life – the recognition and power of a managerial position and I’m not much of a substitute!

Retraite doesn’t only mean the act of retirement, but also the money you receive when you retire. Il a une bonne retraite : he has a good pension, as opposed to une petite retraite. You can also say une pension de retraite. Otherwise pension is used in French in the same way as in English e.g. une pension de guerre (a war pension), une pension d’invalidité (a disablement pension), une pension réversible or de réversion (a survivor’s pension).

A retiree or pensioner is un retraité ou un travailleur en retraite. Compulsory retirement is mise à la retraite (which sort of sounds like putting out to pasture) and to retire is prendre sa retraite. If you go into early retirement, it’s prendre une retraite anticipée.

But we’re not finished with retraite yet. It also means a retreat as in a retreating army : une armée en retraite. To beat a retreat is battre en retraite.

It can also be a wolf’s lair or a thieves’ hideout and a chemin de retraite is a path of escape. I like that one. I feel like I need one sometimes.

A retreat in the religious sense is also une retraite, in which case we say faire or suivre une retraite.

And just to go back to retrait, there are a couple of other meanings such as ebb and retreat as in retreating waters.

Not to mention the shrinkage of cement and fabric.

Do you have any other examples of retraite, retrait or pension?

Posted in French language | Tagged , | 7 Comments

From Bridge to Bridge


It’s Sunday, the sun is shining brightly, the sky is blue and it’s 8°C. We can hardly believe it after the awful weather we have been having since November.

Sun in the little wood behind our house

Sun in the little wood behind our house

We begin with pruning the roses. We have ten climbing roses now and I’m still learning how to do it so Jean Michel explains as we go along.

We are still feeling the aftermath of the terrible terrorist attacks during the week, starting with Charlie Hebdo and ending with four people being killed in a kosher supermarket in Vincennes very close to where I once lived, so a change of scene is welcome.

View from François MItterand bridge with St Nicolas Church and Blois Castle on the left

View from François MItterand bridge with St Nicolas Church and Blois Castle on the left

Whenever we go across François Mitterand bridge in Blois, I am frustrated because I’d like to take photos of the view but there is nowhere to stop before or afterwards much less in the middle.

So we drive to the parking lot halfway between the François Mitterand and Gabriel bridges so that we can walk back to the bridge, cross it, then continue along the Vienne side to Pont Gabriel. We’ll then cross over to the monthly brocante where we recently found andirons for our Renaissance fireplace.

Blois from the Vienne side

Blois from the Vienne side

I take lots of photos of Blois as we cross the bridge (the sun is in the right direction) and another series as we walk along the river bank on the other side. We’ve often cycled here but it’s much easier to take photos when you’re walking than when you’re cycling!

Blois brocante held on the second Sunday of each month with Vienne in the background

Blois brocante held on the second Sunday of each month with Vienne in the background

I love the brocante. I’m always amazed and intrigued by the things on sale. You wonder who would buy most of the stuff but I guess that the vendors only really need a handful of sellable things and the rest is just to fill up the stand.

Unusual bellows at the market

Unusual bellows at the market

It’s still light when we get back home at 5 pm so we decide to treat the moss that is covering most of our grass using the dolomite we bought recently. Last year we bought a product from the garden store that burnt the moss but didn’t destroy it so this time I searched google for something more natural. We’ll see what happens.

Jean Michel then goes to the kitchen to cook dinner. We have just bought two (dead and plucked) free-range ducks through our neighbour Alain. Jean Michel cooked one of the ducks last night for dinner with our next-door neighbours (the ones that bought the house with the poultry yard) using a recipe called the Arabian nights (1001 nuits) with various spices, nuts and dried fruit. It was very good.

Canard à l'orange appropriately served on our Egyptian tablecloth

Canard à l’orange appropriately served on our Egyptian tablecloth

Up until Jean Michel’s retirement, I was the main cook with Jean Michel as my offsider. He also has a couple of dishes of his own (veal stew and rabbit) that he cooks occasionally in large quantities and then freezes. When we moved, I took over the everyday cooking with his occasional help when he’s not involved in renovation.

I was not initially thrilled at the idea of doing all the cooking on my own because it’s not something I’m passionate about but I saw that I really had no choice in the matter and this retirement game’s too tricky to rock the boat too much … However, Jean Michel has spontaneously increased the number of times he cooks by himself and we now have a good stock of veal, rabbit and chicken dishes in the freezer that I can dip into whenever I want.

The fireplace with the andirons we bought at the brocante

The fireplace with the andirons we bought at the brocante

Tonight he’s making the other duck into canard à l’orange which turns out to be very complicated and finicky so we don’t end up eating until 9 pm. But that’s OK. I have lit the fire and am enjoying not having to make the dinner! The breast is a little firm because it’s been cooked a bit too long but the drumstick is excellent and the orange sauce is delicious. I contributed the baked potatoes.

The rest of the duck will go into freezer bags for shepherd’s pie (hachis parmentier). I’m happy he’s found a creative activity that’s also practical and he doesn’t seem to mind that it’s so time-consuming. Vive la retraite!

Posted in Cooking, Country living, Flowers & gardens, Food, French customs, Life in France, Retirement | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Je suis Charlie


After the terrible terrorist attack yesterday on the offices of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, and the deaths of 12 people, I tried to write a post, as I felt I could not simply ignore what happened, but I kept scrapping everything I wrote.

Today, Sylvia from Finding Noon published a post I would like to share instead. “Je suis Charlie” is a call for freedom of the press.

Je suis Charlie

by Sylvia from Finding Noon, an American living in Paris who appreciates fine art, good music, succulent food, and breath taking scenery

There are no words. That is the cliché. But, there have to be words. That is what yesterday’s attack was about. Silencing our words. Now is the time to cry out. Those who believe in the freedom of expression must shout that we will not be silenced. Mosques across France are calling out for prayers of peace. Read more

finding_noon_charlie

 

 

Posted in France | Tagged | 9 Comments

Travelling Highlights of 2014 and ideas for 2015


Venice, Germany and Lisbon, in that order, outside France, and Turquant near Chinon, closer to home.

Saying "spaghetti" at the end of our wonderful gondola ride

Saying “spaghetti” at the end of our wonderful gondola ride

Venice comes first because of our wonderful gondola experience (which sounds very touristy I know)  and all our other less touristy visits as it was our second time in the Floating City. Strange as it may seem, it was not until I had read my way through Donna Leon’s 23 Commissioner Brunetti crime novels a few months later that it became really apparent to me that there are no cars in Venice.

I see Venice as being full of canals and bridges and boats and alleyways rather than being without cars. I was fascinated by all the different types of boats and activities on the canal. Last time we were there, I had a foot problem and we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos. This time, we did a lot more walking.

The Elbe from Bastei Rocks

The Elbe from Bastei Rocks

Next, Germany, where we cycled for a month, first along the Moselle River, then the Rhine, followed by the Elbe, which took as into the former East Germany then up to the North Sea and Friesland, chasing the sun and windmills.

Highlights included Lorley and Koblenz on the Rhine, the Bastei Rocks and Honigstein in the area known as Saxon Switzerland near the Czech border, Dresden (particularly the singing drainpipes in Kunstof Passage) and Meissen known for its porcelain,  Martin Luther country and the surprising architecture of Hundertwasser, the Wörlitz Gardens, Turgermünde,  which we dubbed the prettiest village on the Elbe, the mediaeval towns of Celle and Bremen, the painted façades of Hann Münden, the windmills and dykes in Friesland, the hidden treasure of Bernkastel, and historical Trier, the oldest town in Germany.

The street façade of Hundertwasser's Green Citadel.

The street façade of Hundertwasser’s Green Citadel.

Our Danube cycling trip in 2013, including the Wachau and Budapest, is still my favourite though. The scenery is stunning and we had near-perfect weather.

September found us in Lisbon which we loved when the sun come out but found somewhat seedy when it rained, which was more often than not. The best surprise was the marvellous monastery of Jeronimos in Belem, which is among the five places in the world that have left an indelible mark on me. The others are Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Tasman National Park in Australia and Rila Monastery in Bulgaria.

Beautiful lacework on the arcades at Jeronimos Monastery

Beautiful lacework on the arcades at Jeronimos Monastery

Lisbon is a city of vistas and tiles and we even bought some 18th century azulejos to incorporate into our future kitchen. The other place we really enjoyed was Sintra with its beautiful palace and hilltop castles.

We didn’t go very far afield in France this year, because we spent a lot of time cycling along the many paths around Blois and the neighbouring châteaux of Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny, but we did go to Turquant on the Loire not far from Saumur for a surprisingly early cycling weekend in March.

The famous kitchen at Fontevraud l'Abbaye

The famous kitchen at Fontevraud l’Abbaye

We went back to visit the austere and beautiful 12th century abbey of Fontevraud with its extraordinary kitchens.

However the real find was the restored troglodyte village of Souzay Champigny which we literally stumbled upon on the bike path between Saumur and Turquant.

An 18th century pigeon house in the troglodyte village of Souzay Champigny

An 18th century pigeon house in the troglodyte village of Souzay Champigny

Our first trip in 2015 will be to Granada for a week at the end of January to soak up the Spanish atmosphere of Andalucia, which we discovered (and loved) in Seville a few years ago and get some much-needed sun.

We have a home-exchange in Istanbul to redeem, but haven’t fixed the dates yet.

With Black Cat now living in New York I would like to visit the city through her eyes and take in Boston as well.

With Black Cat on the opening day of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris

With Black Cat on the opening day of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris

I’m still hoping to go to Australia before the end of the year but don’t know yet whether that will eventuate.

This summer may be a series of short cycling trips, along the lines of Turquant, as we plan to renovate the kitchen and add at least one large and several small windows to bring in more light. And, as everyone knows, renovation always takes far longer than expected!

What are your travelling plans for 2015?

Posted in Architecture, Australia, Germany, Italy, Loire Valley châteaux, Portugal, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

New Year Resolutions for 2015


Who remembers their new year resolutions ? I certainly don’t so rereading last year’s blog post was very helpful.

Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire

Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire

The first resolution was to have a maximum number of holiday bookings for Closerie Falaiseau during the season. At one stage, it looked as though August would be completely empty but in the end, it filled up, giving us a total of 15 weeks which was very satisfactory. Now that we are living here permanently, we’re not sure about how we’ll manage rental, but we’re pretty certain we’ll be renting out the entire house for the month of September.

In front of the court room in Blois after taking oath

In front of the court room in Blois after taking oath

Second on the list was to diversify into some sort of tourist-related activity in Blois which did not even remotely happen due to lack of time and energy. My translation business unexpectedly picked up and I was appointed court translator in December which may also keep me busier than I expected.

Deichmühle

Deichmühle in Friesland

A repeat of our Danube cycling holiday was my third resolution. We spent a month cycling in Germany along the Moselle and the Elbe in particular and found ourselves up in Friesland in the very north of the country chasing the sun and admiring the windmills.

My fourth resolution which was to discover the secret of getting enough sleep simply didn’t happen. I think the situation even got worse. I don’t think there is an answer without medication which I am still resisting.

The Landhaus at night in Bernkastel in Germany

The Landhaus at night in Bernkastel in Germany

Improving my night photography skills was already a carry-over resolution from the year before and no progress was made, especially as my night vision has gone down as a result of my otherwise successful cataract operation.

So what are my resolutions for 2015?

The last two months with Jean Michel in retirement mode have taken so much out of me that I am scaling down my resolutions this year.

Château de Chaumont

Château de Chaumont

When walking up the hill to Château de Chaumont after Christmas with Black Cat and the Flying Dutchman, I discovered that my iPhone counts my steps. How it does so, I do not know but it seems that we should be banking on an average of 10,000 steps a day. Just to give you an idea, it’s 3.30 pm and so far, by just staying in the house, I have clocked up 1000 steps. Yesterday, with two not very long walks, I made it to 10,000. So that is my first resolution to average 10,000 steps a day over a week.

The second is to make a video for each Friday’s French post. Considering that I am only averaging one post a week at the moment and have missed several Fridays along the way, this might be a bit ambitious, but I’m hoping that our holiday in Grenada at the end of January is going to give us both a new lease of life.

First view of the Cinque Terre in Italy

First view of the Cinque Terre in Italy

I learnt recently that there are excellent Italian lessons in Blois so I am going to sign up in February (no point in doing so before going to Spain or I’m going to be speaking Spanitalian) as my third resolution. I’ve been wanting to improve my basic Italian for a long time so this is something I’m really happy about. My ultimate aim when I eventually retire is to live in Italy for a few months.

My fourth resolution is to find a way to help Jean Michel improve his English. A friend has told me about a group she goes to in the south of France where you partner up with the opposite in your language combination and speak each language for ¾ hour. He likes the idea and I have already found one English speaker who’s interested.

Daffodils in spring

Daffodils in spring

For my fifth resolution, I debated about putting night photography back on the agenda but now that we’re living in Blois, I have even less motivation than before. So I’ve decided on something quite different. I am going to stop complaining about things and look on the positive side of life. At the moment I’m looking forward to the daffodils in spring!

So, with that, I would like to wish you an excellent 2015 andI’d love to know some of your resolutions!

Posted in French language, Life in France, Lifestyle | Tagged | 10 Comments

Château de Chaumont in Winter


I’m off to visit Château de Chaumont with Black Cat and the Flying Dutchman. I suggest we park along the Loire and take the front entrance to the castle. Not a good idea. It’s closed so we have to walk a kilometer up the hill at a nearly freezing 2°C.  Stoic, the Flying Dutchman does not complain about leaving his earmuffs behind.

View of an island in the Loire from inside the castle

View of an island in the Loire from inside the castle

We take the back entrance, next to the parking lot where we usually leave the car, and walk through the gardens towards the château which is just as beautiful as it usually is, despite the cold, because at least the sky is a wan blue.

Chaumont has a spectacular view of the Loire River below. It initially belonged to Catherine de Medicis but after the death of her husband Henri II in 1560, she swapped it with Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, for Chenonceau. Diane was understandably very disappointed in the exchange and preferred living in the Château d’Anet to the west of Paris.

There are not many people which is always pleasant when visiting and I am surprised to discover that there are lots of things I missed the last time.

The Ruggieri Room

The Ruggieri Room

In the Ruggieri Room assigned to Catherine de Medicis’s personal astrologer, I suddenly realise the connection with the Astrological Tower near the old Commodities Market (Bourse du Commerce) in Paris where we used to live.

We then closely examine a series of seventy medaillons and eight moulds produced in the 18th century by the Italian artist Jean-Baptiste Nini. The delicately sculpted medaillons depict celebrities of the time such as Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Benjamin Franklin as well as members of the Leray famille, who owned the château at the time, and the local bourgoisie – doctors, lawyers, etc.

The aristocratic nose of Charles III of Spain

The aristocratic nose of Charles III of Spain

The beautiful 17th century majolica floor in the Council Room which originated in Collutio Palace in Palerma in Sicily and acquired by the last owners, the Boglie family,  provokes an interesting discussion about transporting art and archeological works from other countries.

At another point we spend time looking at old photographs of the Broglie family showing the fashions and moustaches of the time.  When Princess Henri-Amédée de Broglie, the granddaughter of sugar magnate, Louis Say, first saw Château de Chaumont as a child, she immediately declared “Je veux ça, je veux ça” (I want that). In 1875, at the age of 17, she became the owner of the castle and the one thousand and so hectares around it. Hard to imagine.

One of the giant cedars in the park surrounding the Château, seen through a grisaille window

One of the giant cedars in the park surrounding the Château, seen through a grisaille window

It’s closing time before we know it so we walk very quickly down the hill in the cold spurring each other on with thoughts of tea and Christmas cake in front of the fire!

Posted in Architecture, Loire Valley châteaux, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

Thank Goodness for Friends and Neighbours


The weather is revolting. When it’s not raining, it’s grey and overcast and I can’t remember the last time we saw any sun.  The adjustment to retirement is proving far more difficult than anyone imagined so I am truly grateful for any distraction that will take us out the house and into the company of others.

Dull grey weather typical at the moment

Dull grey weather typical at the moment

The first distraction on the programme is a gougères and mini-croissants workshop at Martine’s in preparation for Christmas. We tasted both these goodies at her place recently when she held a book signing.

Martine, Jean Michel and Françoise

Martine, Jean Michel and Françoise

The gougères are a speciality from Burgundy, where Martine hails from. They are little puffy cheese things, light as a feather, delicious and surprisingly easy to make. You can also freeze them for later use (as in Christmas).

Mini-croissants, ready to be rolled up

Mini-croissants, ready to be rolled up

Next come the mini-croissants filled with ham and cheese, salmon, goat cheese or whatever else you think will taste good. You start with store-bought flaky pastry and use a little cutting wheel to make sixteen wedges. You cut the filling to size, roll up the wedges and pop them in the oven. Hey presto! Perfect as an apéritif with vouvray sparkling wine.

Gougères and mini-croissants beside the fire

Gougères and mini-croissants beside the fire

The second distraction is lunch with the girls from Françoise’s gym. I’m not really into gym but I like meeting all the participants. Sixteen of us, including one game husband and the gym teacher, have a most enjoyable lunch in the Initiation dining room of the local catering school, where we’ve already eaten a couple of times in the Brasserie.

A little help from the supervisor in getting the flambeed bananas right

A little help from the supervisor in getting the flambeed bananas right

For 14.50 euro, we have an apéritif, eggs Benedictine, poulet chasseur and flambéed bananas which are prepared at the end of the table, together with a local red and coffee. As usual, good value for money. The young apprentices are very serious and do a good job under the attentive eye of their supervisor.

The view from the dining room - grey as usual

The view from the dining room – grey as usual

On Saturday, a local caterer, Eric Bacon, is holding an open day where you can taste and buy various Christmas foods, such as foie gras, salmon, snails and a selection of tarts. Around six, we walk up the hill with our four neighbours from Les Grouets to Eric’s place where a large tent is keeping everyone nice and warm to the sound of the accordéon. Our local biscuit maker, Damien, is also there as well as a representative of Daridan vineyard near Cheverny.

Sharing an appetizer platter inside Eric Bacon's tent

Sharing an appetizer platter inside Eric Bacon’s tent

We taste their cheverny, cour cheverny, sauvignon and « fines bulles » (natural sparkling wine with fine bubbles) and choose the sauvignon to go with the appetizer platter we’ve decided to share : shrimp, whelks with herb mayonnaise, foie gras and wild boar pâté.

Chanterelles mushrooms in their natural habitat

Chanterelles mushrooms in their natural habitat

Going down the hill is much easier particularly as Liliane has invited us all to share a duckling that has been simmering on the side of the wood burner all day accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms that Jean Michel and Alain went picking the day before while Françoise and I were enjoying our lunch!

The Mikiphone, the smallest talking machine ever made

The Mikiphone, the smallest talking machine ever made

Halfway through dinner, Alain brings out a surprise. It looks like a large tobacco tin and turns out to a Mikiphone pocket phonograph patented by a Swiss firm in the Jura mountains in 1924, the smallest talking machine on the market. We watch as Alain puts it together, then gets out an old vinyl record. The sound isn’t brilliant because the stabiliser is missing but the songs are still recognisable!

We walk home feeling warm and fuzzy at the thought of having such wonderful friends and neighbours to help us through this period of adjustment to togetherness as one of our Australian friends so aptly described it.

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Posted in Blois, Food, Les Grouets, Life in France, Mushrooms | Tagged , , | 14 Comments