23 February 2018

Bon anniversaire

Yesterday was Callie's birthday. She would have turned 11 if she had made it this far. Today, meanwhile, is Natasha's birthday — her first. Here are three photos of one-year-old Tasha taken during recent walks in the vineyard. They weren't intentionally posed, and are blurrier than I might like.




Tasha's health is good. Mine is crummy right now. The cold is in my nose and in my chest. The soup we had for lunch yesterday didn't cure me.

22 February 2018

Water views

I seem to have come down with a cold. Great. I guess it's not surprising. My body is fundamentally tired after all it's been through over the past four or five weeks. And now the weather is turning much colder, with snow in the forecast for next week. This week, the rain has stopped but the landscape is water, water everywhere.

We expected to see our part-time neighbor this week, but her house has remained empty and shuttered. In fact, two other houses we can see from our windows stand empty right now. This neighbor is a retired teacher but still active in education projects and volunteer work. She lives in the Paris suburbs and travels a lot. Since the winter vacation for French schools has now started, we thought she might come spend time in what was her late husband's family home. Maybe she's in India or Africa... or somewhere else exotic... instead.

The soil in the vineyard and in our yard is made up mostly of clay and limestone. It's fairly impermeable, so water runs off as much as it soaks in. Anyway, the ground is completely saturated right now, after several months of frequent rain. Puddles like the one to the right are all around. You have to be careful where you step. You might end up ankle deep in muck. And expect your pants legs to be spattered with mud.

Even where there are no puddles, the ground is slippery the way clay is when it's water-saturated. Slippin' and a-slidin' is how we make our way up and down rows of vines. I took these photos at sunrise yesterday morning. The sky was foggy and the sun was an orange ball coming up behind a stand of trees.

There are five or six water holes of various sizes around the vineyard, and all of them are pretty full right now. This coming week, they will be frozen over, and maybe snow-covered. In spite of the cold and my cold, we have to go out today to take the car to our mechanic for some brake work. I hope bad weather doesn't end up scuttling our planned road trip to the Allier river valley.

21 February 2018

Projets et explications

Something I haven't done since my mother passed away nearly three weeks ago is thank all of you who left sympathy and condolence messages in comments on this blog at the time. Thank you. I thought for a while I would try to answer your comments individually, but I can tell that is not going to happen right away. Know that I appreciate all the comments you left.

We are now gearing up for a short road trip in March. That means getting the Citroën car serviced and planning the food and belongings we'll take to the gîte rural that we've reserved. The trip has been planned for a while. We'll leave Saint-Aignan on my birthday and drive to the Allier area, north of Vichy, for four or five days.

As you can see in these photos, we've been having a lot of rain (alert the media!) around here. I went out yesterday and was surprised to see that the river is again overflowing. There don't seem to be any houses under water, but the garden allotments and the fields along the river are really flooded. All the little ponds and water holes out in the vineyard are full to overflowing. The ground is sloppy wet, and the jeans I wear for walks with Natasha are splattered with mud.

A lot of bulbs in the yard and vineyard have sent up leaves, and some are even starting to flower. I noticed a few primroses flowering out in the yard yesterday, and ones that haven't yet sent up flowers are like little bushes of leaves (above) already. Unfortunately, it's supposed to turn cold next week, with low temperatures down around –6ºC (as low as 20ºF). I'm sure a lot of the new growth around the area will be killed.
We'll be able to cover some of the beds where bulbs have come up, and we can wrap our little fig tree to try to protect it from frost. But my plum tree, which Walt says is covered in buds, will probably once again fall victim to cold weather. Oh well... I'd like warmer weather for our road trip, but a thaw might mean the rains will return. If it's cold, it'll be clear and we'll be able to do more sightseeing and take more photos. Let's hope the last month of winter won't be too brutal.

20 February 2018


Tasha is sleeping quietly on the rug right next to my chair as I type this. What a difference in her behavior now that she is nearly a year old. Six months ago, she would have been running round the room, chewing on whatever she could find to chew on, and barking her shrill little bark. I like today's dog better than yesterday's, I think. Natasha est sage comme une image maintenant.

Here are a few more photos that I took a couple of days ago around the yard. I was using the Canon camera that I hardly ever think to take out and use. I think I've done that camera a kind of injustice by not using it more often. Now I want to give it to a friend. I've often thought about selling it on, for example, the French Au Bon Coin web commerce site, but I've never gotten around to uploading the ad.

I don't think that bricks like the one pictured above, with a Saint-Aignan logo stamped onto it, were used in the construction of our house back in the 1960s. And I don't know why there were half a dozen or more of them scattered around the property when we bought it 15 years ago. Such bricks date back to the days when every little town had its own brick works for local construction projects. It wasn't easy to haul bricks over long distances in those days.

The vineyard scene above shows one of my favorite views here close to the house. As one local vigneron told me years ago, around Saint-Aignan we have de vrais coteaux — actual hills and slopes — on which grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Malbec/Côt, and Chenin Blanc, among others, do well. In other areas not far away, you see grapes planted on flat land. Apparently, the topography makes a difference in the nature of the wines produced from the grapes. That's what terroir is all about.

Finally, our house doesn't have a roof made with these old terra cotta tiles, but several older houses in the hamlet do. People keep stacks of roof tiles to use as spares in case strong winds blow them off the roof, requiring patching. The tiles on our roof are made of concrete, and we also have a stack of them in reserve. Eight or nine years ago a strong storm ripped a dozen or so tiles off our roof, so the extras we saved when we had skylight windows installed upstairs came in handy. Oh, I took this last photo using one of my Panasonic Lumix cameras. Can you see a difference?

19 February 2018

Wintertime flowers and a Canon camera

Because I couldn't call MA yesterday — well, not only for that reason — I called an old friend in California. Her name is Sue, and I've known her since 1975. We met in Paris through another longtime friend of mine, who happened to be Sue's cousin Cheryl. Sue, Cheryl, Walt, and I got to be really good friends when we all lived in northern California between 1986 and 2003. Unfortunately, Cheryl passed away a couple of years ago. Her husband, John, had left us in 1998. We haven't seen Sue in nearly 12 years (time flies).

The real reason for my call to Sue was that she had phoned me while I was in North Carolina and I'd had to cut the call short because I had some appointment or another that I needed to keep. Sue had been traveling and when she returned home she saw on this blog that my mother had passed away. She knew my mother for many years, and MA always described Sue as "such a pretty girl." MA loved Sue's house and yard in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

Another reason for my call was that Sue will be coming to spend a couple of weeks with us in June. We are coordinating our schedules and making plans. One definite stop during her visit will be a trip to the Château de Villandry to walk around in the gardens. Sue has come to the Loire Valley three times since the year 2000, but one sight she's never seen, she told me yesterday, is Villandry, which is only about an hour west of Saint-Aignan. Sue will also be traveling to Croatia while she's in Europe for most of May and June.

Sue and I also talked about cameras. She said her Panasonic had developed a splotch (a hazy dark spot) on its image sensor and she was thinking of buying a new camera. I told her how I had opened up and cleaned the innards of two of my Panasonic cameras recently. She's going to bring her camera to France in June and let me try to clean it. Meanwhile, I want to send her one of my digital cameras so she'll have time to use it before her trip and see if it meets her needs. It's a Canon model (SX700 HS), and I took the pictures here with it yesterday.