A Christmas Day Walk above Montrichard

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It’s 25th December and overcast. The sun has obviously decided not to waste its energy on people about to tuck into Christmas lunch inside their homes where they won’t know if it rains or shines. We celebrated Christmas with just the two of us last night as our four adult children are all elsewhere this year, which is not a problem of course. We need some rest! We’ve had our brunch and are ready to go for a little hike. Despite the lack of sun, it’s really quite balmy at 9°C. Our recent walks have been a lot chillier.

The ruins of Montrichard castle

The ruins of Montrichard castle

I’ve chosen Montrichard as our starting point because there is a GR hiking trail high above the Cher River and it seems there are even troglodytes. We try to hike in winter in places where we can’t cycle in the winter.

One of the Renaissance buildings

One of the Renaissance buildings – this is Hôtel d’Effiat, 16th and 17th century

We park in Montrichard and there is not a soul in sight. It’s easy to take photographs with no one around – not even cars! The ruins of the mediaeval castle are omnipresent. We hadn’t realised how many Renaissance buildings there are in Montrichard.

Colourful half-timebered houses

Colourful half-timebered houses

There are also several brightly-coloured 15th century half-timbered houses.

The 11th century preacher's house

The 11th century preacher’s house

Our GR trail takes us up a hill past the 11th century Preacher’s House, the only house that survived when Philippe Auguste ordered the town to be razed to the ground by fire in 1188 to get rid of the English invaders.

Montrichard from the highest point

Montrichard from the highest point

We walk up steep winding steps until we reach the highest point where the castle stands.

Walking up the forest path

Walking up the forest path

The path then takes us through a little wood and down another steep path.

An unexpected little boat

An unexpected boat, looking very bright in comparison with the dismal day

A little blue boat seems a little far from the river today.

A Touraine vineyard

A Touraine vineyard

 

Around the next corner we come to a vineyard.

Walking through the wrong forest

Walking through the wrong forest

We walk through another forest and come to a bitumen road just after two picnic tables and several mounds of beer bottles. This can’t be right – we must have missed the signs, so we back-track and find ourselves overlooking a village with more troglodyte houses.

Troglodytes during our teabreak

Troglodytes during our teabreak

After a teabreak halfway down to the village, we start heading home. The sky brightens a little and then it starts spitting lightly.

The Cher River from the walking track

The Cher River from the walking track

We walk around the castle but there’s a fence to keep trespassers out of course.

The ruins of Montrichard castle

The ruins of Montrichard castle

We end our walk along the Cher. We can see a couple of people on the “beach” where we enjoyed a welcome ice-cream the summer before last after a hot ride along the river.

Walking along the Cher River

Walking along the Cher River

Our path back to the car takes us past the town hall, looking very festive. Joyeuses fêtes, it says, “Happy Holidays”. May I wish you all a happy Christmas as well!

Happy Holiday wishes at the town hall in Montrichard

Happy Holiday wishes at the town hall in Montrichard

Posted in Architecture, Loire Valley, Walking | Tagged | 3 Comments

Friday’s French – Chantier, mess, roadworks, construction work

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Chantier is an interesting word. The photo below is a perfect illustration of its three main meanings. Un chantier is a place where some sort of construction work is going on. It is also the construction work itself while the third meaning is related to the mess produced by the construction work.

The work being carried out here is for the installation of an automatic watering system - Le chantier en cours est l'installation d'un arrosage automatique

The work being carried out here is for the installation of an automatic watering system. What a mess!  Le chantier en cours est l’installation d’un arrosage automatique. Et c’est un vrai chantier!

 

So what would we call a chantier in English? If it applies strictly to where the construction work is being carried out, then we can talk about a worksite or building site. That’s the most straightforward.

Il y a deux grues sur le chantier – There are two cranes on the building site.

If you’re talking about the place where you were doing a job, you’d probably say “on the job”.

J’ai oublié mes outils sur le chantier – I forgot my tools on the job.

When you’re talking about the construction work itself, you can no longer call it a worksite.

Ils ont démarré le chantier il y a deux semaines – They started construction two weeks ago.

By extension, the expression en chantier means that work of some sort is going on:

La maison est en chantier depuis trois mois – We’ve been fixing up the house / having the house fixed up / having alterations done on the house for three months.

J’en ai marre du chantier – I’m sick of alterations.

Elle a deux livres en chantier – She’s working  on two books at the moment.

Quand est-ce que tu vas te mettre en chantier – When are you going to get going?

Chantier meaning a mess is not just restricted to construction work.

Ta chambre est un vrai chantier – Your room is a complete mess.

There are other specific uses of chantier such as chantier naval which is a shipyard and chantier d’exploitation forestière which is a lumber site.

There is also chantier interdit au public which literally means worksite prohibited to the public but in English we would probably just say “No entry” or “No admittance”.

Although roadworks are usually just travaux, when they are finished – when we would say “road clear” or “end of roadworks” -the French signs usually say “Fin de chantier”.

Chantier used in a wider sense means the start of a major project. A famous example is Chantiers de jeunesse, an organisation created in 1940 by the Vichy government  to occupy newly drafted recruits. For more, very interesting reading on the subject, click here.

The origin of the word is also interesting and very complicated. It comes from the Latin cantherius meaning gelded horse or a poor work horse. By metaphor, it came to mean “support”, particularly (1261) the pieces of wood on which barrels were placed and by 1611, it also meant the wedge supporting a piece to be crafted, which gave the expression mentioned above mettre en chantier meaning to start work.

By the second half of the 17th century, chantier had come to mean a place where building materials were stocked and then an open-air construction or demolition site. The shipyard meaning comes from the fact that chantier was used to designate the wooden support used when boat-building.

I hope this explanation is comprehensible. My sources are a bit confusing and use lots of linguistics terminology.

Now, over to you – what other uses of chantier do you know?

Posted in French language | Tagged , | 5 Comments

A Walk Along the Cisse to Coulanges

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It’s Sunday and we are continuing our walk along the GR track starting at Chouzy-sur-Cisse, first to Coulanges where we have never been before, then to Chambon sur Cisse. The sun gradually comes out but it remains quite chilly. We walk about 10 km which is quite a lot for me.

Moss has taken over may of the roofs as winter approaches

Moss has taken over may of the roofs as winter approaches

The door looks as though it's some sort of religious building. It's only later on that we realise it's an abbey.

The door looks as though it’s some sort of religious building. It’s only later on that we realise it’s an abbey.

The side of the old abbey.

The side of the old abbey.

The church in Coulanges

The church in Coulanges

We don't know whether this pump was originally in this spot.

We don’t know whether this pump was originally in this spot.

The town hall in Coulanges, surprisingly large for such as small town.

The town hall in Coulanges, surprisingly large for such as small town.

There are no shops so the bread is delivered from Chouzy-sur-Cisse 4 kilometers away.

There are no shops so the bread is delivered from Chouzy-sur-Cisse 4 kilometers away.

Many former openings are now bricked up.

Many former openings are now bricked up.

it's hard to know where the roofs stops and the vegetation begins

it’s hard to know where the roofs stops and the vegetation begins

And this one is a complete shambles!

And this one is a complete shambles!

The view of the Cisse from the bridge

The view of the Cisse from the bridge

View of the bridge from the walking tracks along the Cisse

View of the bridge from the walking tracks along the Cisse

Obviously a popular place in summer!

Obviously a popular place in summer!

The pumpkin on the landing probably has something to do with Halloween

The pumpkin on the landing probably has something to do with Halloween

Looks like a great place to spend a summer day

Looks like a great place to spend a summer day

And suddenly, the sun comes out!

And suddenly, the sun comes out!

Another watermill

Another watermill

A Christmas tree waiting for December

A Christmas tree waiting for December

Santa having  a little rest before the hard work of Christmas

Santa having a little rest before the hard work of Christmas

I'm always surprised to see palm trees so far north but it shows how mild the winter must be next to this part of the Cisse

I’m always surprised to see palm trees so far north but it shows how mild the winter must be next to this part of the Cisse

Posted in Loire Valley, Walking | Tagged | 8 Comments

Friday’s French – pêche, nectarine, brugnon, peach

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There is a popular belief in France that nectarines and their cousins, brugnons, are combinations of peaches and other fruits such as plums and apricots. Jean Michel was quite adamant before I was able to prove the contrary. He even flatly refused to accept the definition in the Larousse dictionary but he says that he has always been told that they were a hybrid.

nectarine_open

The Larousse dictionary says that a nectarine is a peach with a smooth skin whose stone does not adhere to the flesh. A brugnon is a variety of peach with a smooth skin whose stone adheres to the flesh. My personal experience is that nectarines have a yellowish-orange flesh and are sweeter than brugnons whose flesh is pale and tastes a bit tart. I don’t actually like peaches because of their fuzzy skin but I can eat nectarines if there isn’t anything else.

The adherence/non adherence of the pit has given the terms “clingstone” and “freestone” in English.

brugnon

It’s the wrong time of year to be able to use one of my own photos so I’m borrowing them from Wikipedia.

So where do the words pêche, peach, nectarine and brugnon come from?

Peach (and pêche) come from Old French pesche meaning “peach, peach tree” (Old North French peske), and directly from Medieval Latin pesca, from Late Latin pessica, a variant of persica “peach, peach tree,” from Latin malum Persicum, literally “Persian apple,” translating Greek Persikon malon, from Persis “Persia”.

In ancient Greek Persikos could mean “Persian” or “the peach.” The tree is native to China, but reached Europe via Persia. By 1663 William Penn observed peaches in cultivation on American plantations.

Its meaning in English of “attractive woman” is attested from 1754; that of “good person” from 1904. Peaches and cream in reference to a type of complexion is from 1901. Pêche in French does not have any of these meanings. The most common metaphorical meaning is avoir la pêche which means to be full of beans or in top form.

The word nectarine dates from the 1660s and means “of or like nectar”. It was probably inspired by German nektarpfirsich “nectar-peach.” It first appeared in English as nectrine before becoming nectarine.

Brugnon, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Occitan (southern French) prunhon from vulgar Latin “prunea” meaning plum. It first appeared in French as brignon (1600) then brugnon (1680). Maybe its origin partly explains the hybrid belief I mentioned earlier.

In the middle of the 19th century, brugnon was used for all smooth peaches and the stone-adhering/non-adhering was introduced later on. 

Did you know about the brugnon/nectarine hybrid belief?

Posted in Food, French language | 10 Comments

Friday’s French – châtaigne, chestnut, marron, brun, brown

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It’s roast chestnut season. If you come from Australia, you probably think there is only one kind – the edible sort you read about in English novels. Not so! In French, there are two different words: marron and châtaigne and the distinction is rather complicated.

Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes

Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes

There are basically two sorts: an edible sweet chestnut that is easiest to spot if it is still in its husk, which is spiny and needle-sharp. Its scientific name is Castanea sativa. It’s very distant relation, the toxic, inedible chestnut, also called the horse chestnut, has a husk that is much smoother, with only a few warts. Horse chestnuts are the ones commonly found in forests and backyards. Its scientific name is Aesculus hippocastanum.

So you would imagine it would be easy in French. Let’s start with the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). The tree is called a marronier d’Inde or marronier commun. It actually comes from the Balkans and has nothing to do with India. The fruit is also called a marron.

That’s the easy bit. Now we have the tree called châtaignier whose edible fruit is called une châtaigne. But people talk about eating marrons chauds and marrons glacés. Why? It’s because there are two kinds and the larger (and (tastier) cultivated châtaigne is called a marron!

The cultivated marron only contains one fruit in each husk whereas the wild ones have two or more, with an annoying skin called a pellicle between them. The ones in the photo as the wild ones. We had to discard half of them because they were too hard to eat. Next time we’ll make sure we buy marrons!

Marron is also the usual word for the colour brown.

Marron has, of course, given the colour maroon in English, which is not brown at all, but a dark brownish red colour, what the French call bordeaux. It you have ever seen a 20-year old bordeaux wine, you’ll understand where the colour comes from!

What about brun? I can hear you saying. Yes, you’re right, it also means brown. You say des cheveux bruns (brown hair), des yeux bruns (brown eyes), une peau brune (a swarthy skin), le tabac brun (dark tobacco), un ours brun (a brown bear) and bière brune (brown ale).

But brown shoes are chaussures marrons and a brown shirt is une chemise marron. Marron can also be used for eyes and hair. Some people argue that les yeux marrons and les yeux bruns are the same thing but others disagree. The same applies to les cheveux marrons and les cheveux bruns.

I’ve even heard les yeux noisette used to mean brown eyes, even though une noisette is a hazel nut. The problem with hazel eyes is that they are a mixture of green, brown and amber and the mix can vary according to the person, so two people can have hazel eyes that are very different.

What other examples can you think of? How do we say a brown dog in French? What about a brown horse and a brown coat? Or a brown car?

Posted in Food, French language, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 11 Comments

A Walk from Chambon to Molinleuf – 6 kilometers of surprises

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It’s November 1st, All Saints’ Day, which is a public holiday in France. It’s supposed to be sunny but the fog hasn’t lifted all morning. After lunch, it finally clears but it is only 11°C instead of the promised 14°C. I wonder sometimes at the lack of synchronization between the weather gods and the weather.

The first washhouse at Chambon sur Cisse

The first washhouse at Chambon sur Cisse

Jean Michel checks the map and suggests we walk along the GR tracks near Molineuf in the Cisse Valley so we can make the most of the autumn colours. GR means Grande Randonnée and corresponds to the long-distance hiking trails across France, http://www.gr-infos.com/gr-en.htm, indicated by a red and green line. We have a standing joke that if the path is muddy and uncomfortable, it’s a GR but it hasn’t been raining much recently so we should be OK.

The GR hiking sign

The GR hiking trail sign

We park our car in Chambon sur Cisse next to the GR. The first thing we see is a wash-house with a perfect picnic table next to it. We’ll have to remember it for another time.

Bike route 21

Bike route 21

We soon discover that our GR trail is also cycling itinerary n° 21. How come we’ve never seen it before? Locally we use the Châteaux à Vélo map and don’t know any other itineraries so close to home. Very mysterious.

The red and white signs are not far behind and show us that we have to turn left. So far, so good.

The neat bread oven

The neat bread oven

The bitumen road takes us to Bury where we see a wall with a bread oven and a door. Looks like the perfect place to celebrate bread-baking day! Jean Michel says it’s recent but I don’t mind. I think it looks very inviting.

The second washhouse in Bury

The second washhouse on the Cisse in Bury

A little further on is a second wash-house with some little steps leading down on one side to the water.

Part of the old fortifications

Part of the old fortifications

On the right we see what looks like the remains of a fortified wall and that’s exactly what it is – the remains of 11th century wall around the feudal castle of Bury, restored by the local Lions Club, the municipality and a local construction firm.

A bed off cyclamens

A bed off cyclamens

A little further on we saw a carpet of wild cyclamens.

The locksmith

The locksmith

There is a fork in the road and no indication of which one the GR takes so we choose the left following a sign that says Saint Secondin, 12th century, which takes us past a locksmith with a giant key on the wall.

Saint Secondin

Saint Secondin

The church hoves into sight on a rise overlooking a little valley.

Since it’s 1st November, there are quite a few people putting the traditional chrysanthemums on family graves in anticipation of All Souls’ Day (2nd November). Twenty million pots are sold every year. The tradition, which replaced that of lighting candles which symbolize life after death, dates back to 1919 when France was celebrating the first anniversary of the armistice of World War I on November 11th. Present Poincaré wanted flowers put on all the tombs of France and one of the rare flowers that comes into bloom at that time of the year is the chrysanthemum. The tomb-flowering date gradually shifted from 11th to 2nd November.

The potted tree

The potted tree

Over to the right, in the middle of a field I see a most surprising thing – a giant flower pot containing a large tree. A quick search of the Internet when I get home does not give me any clue about its existence.

The D'Aymons

The D’Aymons

A little further on, we come across a surprising sign that says “Private parking lot of the D’Aymons – to be use only to visit them”. The D’Aymons are a group of wooden sculptures in Indian file. A charter explains how to become a member of the D’Aymons “class-less” society where time is the only currency.

The third washhouse in Molineuf

The third washhouse on the Cisse in Molineuf

We arrive in Molineuf, which is a contraction of Moulin Neuf (new mill) and see our third washhouse on the Cisse.

Hôtel du Pont in Molineuf

Hôtel du Pont in Molineuf

We turn left past the aptly named Hôtel du Pont, which is closed but looks most inviting with its terrace on the Cisse.

Giant holly bush in Molineuf

Giant holly bush in Molineuf

A little further is a stunning holly bush. I’ve never seen one so full of red berries. I’m going to check out a few gardening videos to see how I can increase the production on my bush!

Molineuf Town Hall

Molineuf Town Hall

We choose a bench in front of the local Town Hall for our tea and biscuits and discuss which route we’ll take to go home.

After retracing our steps, we turn left so that we are walking downhill from the church of Saint Secondin and have an excellent view of the potted tree.

The silent tractor

The silent tractor with the potted tree on the right

Jean Michel is very pleased because he will be able to see the brand of a tractor he has been watching out of the corner of his eye. It is remarkably quiet, he tells me. It’s a German Fendt.

The horse sculpture

The horse sculpture

We arrive back in Bury and Jean Michel takes a closer look at the modern sculpture of a horse made by a local community called “Le Foyer Amical”.

The bamboo thicket

The bamboo thicket

Further left we see a massive thicket of bamboo. I didn’t know they could grow so high.

We walk back to the car having covered a total of six kilometers. I can’t believe that we can have seen so many unusual things in a such a short space of time in a tiny country area!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisThis post is a contribution to Lou Messugo’s All About France blog link-up. For other contributions, click here.

Posted in Art, Loire Valley, Walking | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Friday’s French – horloge, pendule, clock, réveil, watch, montre

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We get up on Sunday morning after going back onto winter time and all the clocks are an hour out. “Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure, c’est le cas de le dire”. “Resetting the clocks” is an expression in French which means to put the record straight or put things in their right place.

The town hall in Villiers-sur-Loir with its 2-metre diameter monumental clock

L’horloge de la mairie à Villiers-sur-Loir

Ce garçon devient impossible. Son succès lui monte à la tête. Il faudra remettre les pendules à l’heure. – That boy is getting impossible. Success has gone to his head. He needs to be brought down a peg.

Ce débat devient stérile. Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure. – This discussion is getting out of hand. We need to get back on track.

So where does the French expression come from? Well, you know all those war and spy films where the characters all synchronise their watches so that their mission will be a success? That’s all it is!

Talking about pendules, the French have several different words for time-pieces: horloge, pendule, réveil, montre come to mind.

Horloge is used when it’s a big clock: l’horloge de la gare (station clock), horloge de l’église (church clock), horloge normande or de parquet or comtoise (grandfather clock), horloge astronomique (astronomical clock), etc.

Le buffet à horloge qui en fait est une pendule !

Le buffet à horloge qui en fait est une pendule !

Pendule obviously corresponds to pendulum so is used for a pendulum clock and a cuckoo clock (pendule à coucou), for instance, but can also be used for any clock (except an alarm clock) as in remettre les pendules à l’heure. But when the pendule is in a grandfather clock, it’s becomes horloge!

An alarm clock is always called a réveil or réveil-matin (a morning wake-up clock). Il faut mettre le réveil à 8 heures – you’ll have to set the alarm for 8 (o’clock). A travel alarm clock is a réveil de voyage.

Watch and montre indicate the same object with a few variations according to type. A wrist watch is a montre-bracelet, a fob watch is montre de gousset (which gave our word gusset), a watch with a winder is a montre à remontoir and a diver’s watch is a montre de plongée. The others are vitually the same: montre analogue/digital/numérique/de précision/à quartz/à répétition = analog/digital/precision/quartz/repeating.

There are all sorts of expressions that revolve around the word clock that are sometimes rendered by montre in French and sometimes by horloge or heure or something else again!

A race against the clock = une course contre la montre

To keep your eyes on the clock = surveiller l’heure

To work around the clock = travailler vingt-quatre heures d’affilée

To do something by the clock = faire quelquechose en respectant l’horaire

To turn the clock back = revenir en arrière

I’m sure you have lots of other examples of time-related expressions to share!

Posted in French language | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Five Years of Blogging

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I missed my 5th anniversary of blogging! My first post was published on 11th October 2011 just before my son went to live in Australia. He helped me set it up and regularly comes to the rescue when I have a problem. He also hosts me. I started my second blog, Blois Daily Photo (now Loire Daily Photo) in July 2013 in anticipation of moving to Blois. When I first started blogging, I posted nearly every day. I had a lot to say!

rainbow_palais_royal

I then started posting every second day with regular features such as Monday’s Photo of the Week and Wednesday’s Blogger Round-Up where I featured 3 posts I had read during the week that I wanted to share. These days I don’t seem to have time to read many other blogs at all.

In fact, since we moved to Blois two years ago, I seem to have little time and energy to do much blogging apart from Loire Daily Photo. I still occasionally write a Friday’s French post (two this month!) and am currently trying to write a series on Secret Blois (two so far – it seems to be my magic number). During our cycling holidays, however, I have more inspiration and time and usually manage to give a fairly full  report.

Two contrasting skyscrapers - the new One World Trade Center and one of the "wedding cake" skyscrapers from the 1930s

Two contrasting skyscrapers – the new One World Trade Center and one of the “wedding cake” skyscrapers from the 1930s

I would like to write more about our trip to New York and to Boston in September to see my son and daughter but after a full day’s translation I don’t seem to have much energy left!

My basic interests remain the same but have taken on different dimensions. Reading is still my favourite activity but not something I blog about very often. I like to read ALL the works of a given author plus a couple of biographies and my Kindle usually makes that possible. I am currently working my way through the Victorian novels and am now onto the lessor known writers such as Wilkie Collins and Elisabeth Gaskell.

The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal

The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal

Travelling is at the top of the list too and we’ve certainly done a lot this year – a total of twelve weeks in Australia, the Golden Triangle in India including the Taj Mahal, cycling in Italy and Germany, especially along the Romantic Road, and New York & Boston, not to mention a few short trips. And, believe it or not, I have nothing else in the pipeline at the moment, for the first time that I can remember! I need a break from holidays. And we are up to 13 home exchanges in 4 years which isn’t bad going.

Next comes cycling but unfortunately it stops from about mid-October until March. Mushroom picking usually takes over but there has been so little rain this year but there are no mushrooms. We’re hoping that next week’s expected Indian summer will have them popping up all over the place.

Wisteria on our house in Blois

Wisteria on our house in Blois

I love gardening but I have discovered it is almost as humbling as being a parent – so much to learn and those plants have a mind of their own! One year the petunias run riot and the next year they get leggy. The clematis that bloomed beautifully one summer sulk the next. Fortunately we seem to have mastered the wisteria, the roses, the hollyhocks and the raspberries which is more than we can say for the bignomias and the lettuces!

We still enjoy wine-tasting but have a tendency to stick to our favourites, particularly the local Loire Valley wines and our favourite chianti, especially in front of the fireplace!

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

I love taking photographs with my iPhone 5S because it’s a great way to remember places and people and makes me look at things in a different way. I wouldn’t call it a hobby though because I know nothing about lenses and photographic techniques and I usually just take photos because something catches my eye. My iPhone isn’t very good at night or when there isn’t much light but the rest of the time, it’s perfect for my purposes.

But back to blogging. My most popular post remains “The Best Area to Stay in Paris” with about 3,000 clicks a month. Next, a long way behind, are “Friday’s French – biche, chevreuil & deer“, “Ten Top Châteaux in the Loire“, “The Oldest House in Paris” and “Visit the Loire without a Car Based in Blois“.

Chenonceau, undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the châteaux

Chenonceau, undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the châteaux

Over one quarter of my readers live in Australia, followed by France and the US, each about 1/5, then the UK, Canada, Singapore, Germany, India, Italy and Malaysia. The last 1/5 is made of up a surprising 90 countries which means that people from about 100 countries read Aussie in France.

The thing I like best about blogging are the wonderful friends I’ve made among my readers, people whom I would never have been in contact with otherwise. Some comment regularly, others from time to time, while some write to me personally. Others have become close friends. I love to feel connected in such a unique way. So I think I shall keep blogging for a few more years yet …

Posted in Blogging, Books, Country living, Cycling, French language, Life in France, Loire Valley | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Friday’s French – Tout un fromage and other cheesy expressions

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You would imagine that a country with more than 400 different cheeses would have a certain number of expressions involving the word fromage, but surprisingly, there are more cheesy expressions in English than in French.

cheese

I was rather disappointed recently to learn that Il en fait tout un fromage only appeared in the 20th century. The explanation for its origin seems a little doubtful to me. Starting with nothing (a bit of milk), you can produce something as elaborate as a perfect camembert. Yet the expression in French is negative and corresponds to the English “to make a mountain out of a molehill” so I don’t really see the connection.

However, it set me thinking about other expressions involving cheese. J’ai trouvé un (bon) fromage means I found a cushy job which is sort of self-explanatory but not really.

On the English side, we have “say cheese” which obviously doesn’t work in French but dites cheese or even dites fromage for people in the know will bring about a smile or two. It is more common to say ouistiti which is a little monkey (a marmouset) and sometimes sexe!

To be cheesed off with something is less metaphorical in French. J’en ai marre is the most common expression you will hear, or simply j’en ai assez.

And what about “cheesy” as a derogatory term? Meaning cheap or inferior, it was first attested in 1896, perhaps originally U.S. student slang, along with cheese, meaning an ignorant, stupid person. In the late 19th century, in British slang, cheesy meant fine or showy (1858). The modern derogatory use may be an ironic reversal of this.

I used to have a translation student from Canada who was always coming up with amusing equivalents to French which she would qualify as “cheesy”. It’s translation into French varies enormously with the context. A cheesy song could be une chanson ringarde with the idea that it’s outdated. A cheesy grin = un large sourire. Perhaps a cheesy film might be un film de mauvais goût.

A big cheese in French is not a gros fromage but a gros bonnet. The French expression was developed in the 17th century in reference to the 4-cornered hat worn by doctors, ecclesiastics, judges and other VIPs of the time. So why “big cheese” in English? It comes from a British expression meaning the best or correct thing, the best, a corruption of the Persian or Urdu chiz (or cheez), meaning “thing” that the British brought back from India in about 1840.

I think it’s very amusing that a pie chart in statistics is a camembert in French. So very appropriate!

Did you ever go to a French wine and cheese party? We used to have them all the time in the French department at my university in Australia. They don’t exist in France of course. About the closest thing is a buffet campagnard but it includes pâtés and other cold cuts as well.

One last expression: fromage de tête is pork brawn of all things!

Do you know any other cheesy expressions?

Posted in French language | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Discovering Canal Saint Martin in Paris

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We’ve come to Paris for a long week-end to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday, organised by her daughter as a surprise. As usual, we’ve fitted in a few medical appointments, as there is a severe lack of specialists in Blois, and some pleasure time with friends. I have found a home exchange with an Australian/French couple like us who live in a house in the west of Paris and exchange a two-room flat near Canal Saint Martin on the 5th floor. It’s not an area we know very well but our friends Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise always stay in this part of Paris when they come.

A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers

A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers

From what we can see, the area is very trendy. When we arrived last night, there were bars and restaurants open everywhere with people milling around the streets and pavements.

The spiral staircase in our apartment building

The spiral staircase in our apartment building

We’re in Rue des Vinaigriers just a short distance by foot from the canal so we set off to walk along it to the Bastille market where we’re going to buy oysters to take back to the flat for our traditional Sunday lunch.

We arrive just as a barge is passing through the lock at the end of our street. There is also a swing-bridge for vehicles that opens to let the barge through. We’re not the only people watching. Several locals are enjoying the scene and there is a group of seniors on a walking tour.

View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges

View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges

There are several humpback pedestrian bridges that give us a bird’s eye view of the canal.

Statue of Lemaître, the comedian

Statue of Lemaître, the comedian

We pass the statue of “Frédérick Lemaître, Comédien, 1800 – 1876”. The French actor and playwright was one of the most famous actors on the celebrated Boulevard du Crime, the nickname given to nearby Boulevard du Temple because of the many crime melodramas staged every night. It is notorious in Paris for having lost so many theatres during the rebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann in 1862.

Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal

Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal

We have already noticed the many beautiful Haussmann buildings with their finely sculpted doors and windows that line the street along the canal.

La Grisette

La Grisette

The next statue is La Grisette de 1830, sculpted in 1909 by Jean-Bernard Desomps. In the vocabulary of the 19th century, a grisette was a young seamstress who worked in soft furnishings and fashion, a flirt and coquette who occasionally sold her charms due to poverty rather than vice, so it would seem.

Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal

Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal

After a while, the canal goes underground and becomes a planted walkway called Promenade Richard-Lenoir. One of the four squares, Jules Ferry, is named after a French politician who drafted the 3rd Republic  bills that made lay education compulsory in France. Many schools in France are called Jules Ferry.

Bouly Ceramics

The former P. Bouly ceramic manufacture

P. Bouly, Carreaux de Faïence (ceramic tiles), on the left hand side is a reminder of the many factories that once flourished in the area.

Le Bataclan concert venue

Le Bataclan concert hall

On the right is a colourfully trimmed building surrounded by a fence – Le Bataclan, sadly famous for the terrorist attacks that led to the killing of 90 people in the concert hall on Friday 13th November 2015.

La Friche Richard Lenoir

La Friche Richard Lenoir

As we get closer to Bastille, we see a church in the distance on the left that we’ve never noticed before. Just in front is a sort of fenced-in area with small wooden huts. A sign on the gate says “La Friche Richard-Lenoir”. (Friche means “wasteland”). When I check it out later I learn it is a pop-up bar and open-air entertainment area with refreshment stalls, games and music that appeared in Septeember this year.

The memorial plaque to Merabet

The memorial plaque to Ahmed Merabet

A sobering sign on the promenade fence has a bouquet on top: “In memory of police officer Ahmed Merabet killee here on 7 January 2015 in the line of duty, a victim of terrorism.  He was shot after firing at the gunmen’s car during the Charlie Hebdo shootings during which 11 people were killed.

The Bastille market on a Sunday morning

The busy Bastille market on a Sunday morning

After more Haussmann buildings on the left and more modern constructions on the right, we come to the bustling market which is very colourful and pleasant under the trees along the promenade.

Buying oysters at the market

Buying oysters at the market. Jean MIchel watches as the man with the cigarette hand-picks the fattest oysters!

We find our oysters (from the same supplier as those we used to buy when we lived in the Palais Royal in the centre of Paris) and pick up some butter and baguette from two other stalls (we brought our Sancerre wine with us from Blois).

Vélib' and baguette

Vélib’ and baguette

Now for the Vélib’ city bikes. We’ve only ridden them once before but after cycling in New York City, we figure we are experts. Although Jean Michel assures me they are exactly the same bikes, I don’t find them as comfortable. They are infinitely cheaper though. As an occasional user, you pay 1.70 euro for a one-day ticket (8 euro for 7 days). The first 30 minutes are always free (you can swap your bike at a Vélib’ station every 30 minutes or pay 1 euro for every additional half hour). (More information here). Three-quarters of an hour’s cycling in NYC (with Black Cat’s City Bike subscription) cost us near 20 dollars each!

More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade

More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade

We follow the canal back up as far as Hôpital Saint Louis. As we walk back to our flat, I try the baguette and decide it’s not very tasty so we go looking for a traditional bakery called Du pain et des idées recommended by our home exchange hosts on Rue Yves Toudic. Unfortunately it’s closed on Saturday, like many of the other shops around us, most of which were open late last night.

The highly recommended bakery on rue Yves Toudic

The highly recommended Du Pain et des Idées bakery on rue Yves Toudic

On the way we pass a building with Douches (showers) written on the front. I don’t know whether these particular ones are still in operation but there are still a half a dozen free public shower establishments scattered throughout Paris. You can find the list here. Take your own towel and soap :).

Public showers in Paris

Public showers in Paris

We go back to our flat, past Café Craft, a co-working space. I later learn that it caters to people without offices who need a space to work. It has fast internet, a comfortable working atmosphere and healthy food and drink and you can spend the entire day  there if you want. What a great idea! Next time I’ll check it out.

Café Craft - a coworking space

Café Craft – a coworking space

But for now, we are going to climb our five flights of stairs, open our oysters and our bottle of sancerre and enjoy our favourite Sunday brunch!

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Posted in Accommodation, Architecture, Cycling, France, Home exchange, Paris, Sightseeing | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments