13 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 21)

Five more Montrésor church photos... This makes three weeks I've been posting photos I've taken in one village over the past dozen years. I have a few more in my archives, and I might just continue posting Montrésor photos as we move into the holiday season.

Most of us, when we go touring around, just wander and look for striking, colorful, interesting, and unusual things to look at and point the camera at. That's what I do. And I hope you enjoy the photos.

It's the atmosphere of a village, château, or church that we are interested in. It's not so much the historical or architectural details that matter.

In other words, a blog like this one is not an encyclopedia. It's more like a magazine.

Writing encyclopedia articles is a lot of work. As a retired person and senior citizen, I don't go out looking for work. I have plenty of that to do in the kitchen, yard, and garden.

12 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 20)

Heads or tails no heads... but hands. Inside the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church in Montrésor, you can see the tombs of the family that had the church built nearly 500 years ago. The family name was Batarnay (sometimes spelled Bastarnay) and Imbert de Bastarnay was an advisor to and confidant of several French kings back then.

"Recumbent" statues of the deceased (father, mother, and son) adorn the tombs. These kind of statues are called gisants in French, from the "defective" verb gésir meaning "to lie (down)" or "to be lying (down)" — not to be confused with telling lies. Other forms of this irregular verb appear as ci-gît [name] meaning "here lies [name of deceased person]"... and also gîte meaning vacation or holiday rental house. A gîte is a hare's nest, where the animal lies down to sleep. Gîte means "shelter" in this context.

The author of the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley says that the gisants at Montrésor are "fine effigies" that make the Batarnays "look rather like a family tucked up in bed with their heads deep in their stone pillows." Imbert de Batarnay reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 85.

The hands are striking. Why are people who look like they are dead or sleeping holding their hands up in such a prayerful pose?

The Batarnays are luckier than the saints whose statues adorn the façade of the Montrésor church. Those statues are headless thanks to the pillaging and plundering of churches that went on at the time of the French Revolution.

11 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 19)

Montrésor en hiver. A wintertime shot through the bare branches of a tree.

February 2005

We're having strong winds and some rain this morning. Tree branches are down in the yeard. We had very hard rain for a couple of hours yesterday morning. Winter is asserting itself. This is typical weather for the season. The good news is that it's a warm storm. (Positive) 9ºC this morning (nearly 50ºF).

10 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 18)

Quelques maisons... The four houses pictured here are in Montrésor. There are quite a few houses in Montrésor but not very many permanent residents — just 350.  (Warning: this is a nerdy post full of statistics.)

According to the French Wikipedia article on the town (commune) of Montrésor, quoting French government statistics, nearly one in five logements (housing units) in the village is vacant. Another 20% of the village's logements are occupied only seasonally or occasionally. There are 280 logements in all.

In other words, only about 60% of the village's logements are occupied on a permanent basis as somebody's résidence principale. In the rest of the département (the Indre-et-Loire, pop. 600,000), which is centered on the city of Tours, the percentage of logements that are résidences secondaires (second homes) is only 4.4%. The number of second homes as a percentage of Montrésor's total housing stock has increased from 9% fifty years ago to 21% today. Well-to-do people who live in Paris and other cities famously have maisons de campagne (country houses) to which they can retreat for vacations and weekends. Often these houses have been inherited.

For comparison purposes, in the village where we live (pop. 1,100) there are more than 600 logements and, as in Montrésor, nearly 20% of them are occupied only seasonally or occasionally. However, only 3.5% of the logements here are vacant, compared to nearly 20% in Montrésor. In the "hamlet" or neighborhood we live in, there are nine houses and only five of them are anybody's principal residence. The other four are vacation/holiday/country homes that are only occasionally occupied.

One major difference between our village and Montrésor is the land area each occupies. Montrésor is about one square kilometer, while our village covers 32 square kilometers (12 sq. mi.) of territory. In what I consider the Saint-Aignan "metropolitan area" — four towns/villages covering about 80 square kilometers (30 sq. mi.), pop. 8,300 —  there are about 4,600 logements and about 10% are second or vacation homes, not résidences principales. In a similar area of 83 sq. km. around Montrésor (three other villages included), there are about 1,500 permanent residents. The Montrésor area is really sparsely populated.

09 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 17)

In my archives I recently found this photo from the year 2000, the first time I ever saw the town of Montrésor and its château. We were driving from Loches over towards Burgundy, and we had a memorable lunch in Valençay that day — for the atmosphere as much as the food. I had lived in Paris and Normandy years earlier.

We had rented a nice Renault station wagon [pictured below] for a couple of weeks. We spent the first week in the Loire Valley, based in Vouvray, just exploring, taking photos, eating, and drinking the local wines. I had driven through the Loire Valley three for four times in my life but I hadn't ever spent more that 24 hours here.

During that week in October 2000, I was just starting to realize how many small, off-the-beaten-track châteaux and churches dotted the Loire Valley countryside. I really enjoyed talking and listening to people speak French, because the Loire Valley accent and usage are the international standard for spoken French. I knew I wanted to come back one day. What I didn't know wwas that we'd be living here starting in 2003.

08 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 16)

Montrésor's other monument and landmark: the Renaissance-era church. It dominates the east side of the village. Built in the early 1500s, it is known especially for being the final resting place of the Bastarnay family, who owned the château back then.

L'Eglise St-Jean-Baptiste in Montrésor is (or was) a "collegiate church," which means worship services there were organized by a "college of canons" — a non-monastic community of clergymen. It was run on the model of a cathedral, but there was no bishop in residence. Saint-Aignan also has a collegiate church.

The church "looks disproportionately grand for a small village," says the author of the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley. The college canons didn't survive the French Revolution of 1789, but the church was then and is still today the local parish church.

St-Jean-Baptiste church is basically a Gothic-style building but with important Renaissance features, including the front portal. Two Renaissance-era stained-glass windows in the church have survived to the present day.

On another subject, it seems strange to be writing this blog about life in France without mentioning the deaths of two major 20th- and 21st-century figures here: the 93-year-old author and French Academy member Jean d'Ormesson, and the 74-year-old rock-and-roll singer and master showman (bête de scène) Johnny Hallyday — "the French Elvis" as the U.S. press liked to call him. May both rest in peace.

07 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 15)

Little towns like Montrésor are not especially prosperous. Montrésor depends a lot on tourism for its revenues. When you see how many houses there are in the village, it's surprising that the population is only 350.

Two hundred years ago, more than 700 people lived in Montrésor. The population has been steadily declining ever since. Optimists point out that the population has held steady at about 350 over the past 30 years. Still, there are empty storefronts around the town.

The size of the average household in Montrésor is just 1.9 persons. The village is isolated in many ways. There aren't any main highways. There's no industry any more. The average age of its inhabitants is rising. Younger people find larger towns like Loches (pop. 6,500) and nearby cities like Tours (pop. 136,000, but nearly 500,000 in its metropolitan area) more attractive as places to live, work, and raise families.

There's one small grocery store but no supermarket in or near Montrésor. It's a 20-minute drive over to Loches, or 25 minutes up to Saint-Aignan or Montrichard, or down to Châtillon-sur-Indre, where there are supermarkets, weekly open-air markets, and other shops and businesses. You couldn't call Montrésor a ghost town, but... Personally, I wouldn't want to live there — even though it is one of the plus beaux villages de France.

06 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 14)

It's not all about the château in Montrésor. I have hardly mentioned the Renaissance-era church yet. And there are a lot of beautiful houses all around the village.

The old stone staircases are a feature you see all around Touraine. Hollyhocks (roses trémières, they're called) and rose bushes are numerous in little towns and villages like Montrésor — not to mention all the geraniums in window boxes. The flowers are splashes of color against the old stone buildings.

Seventeen years ago, Walt and I came to Touraine with an old friend from California who had never visited this part of France before. It was October, and we enjoyed nice sunny weather. On our first full day, we decided to leave the car parked in the driveway and jus walk all around the area where we were staying (Vouvray). Our friend was taking photos with a film camera.

The second day we drove down to Chenonceaux to see the château there, and then continued on to Montrichard. At mid-day, our friend said: "Why didn't you tell me yesterday that everywhere you go here is so picturesque? I've already used up almost all my film, so now I need to go buy some more!"

05 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 13)

There's a lot of statuary artwork in the courtyard at the Château de Montrésor. Here's just one example. I don't know anything about it. Share information if you have any.

You can see this child-with-dog statue from behind in the photo I posted showing the courtyard side of the logis Renaissance at Montrésor.

I've been reading some of the 19th-century historian Jules Michelet's book about the Middle Ages in France. I haven't seen any mention of Montrésor among the many places Michelet writes about, and I see very little too about Foulques Nerra. I have Michelet's "paving stone" volume in my book collection. I bought it years ago. But now I see that the full text is available on-line. The advantage there is that you can do keyword searches in the text. I've been downloading it as PDF files and doing my reading on my Android tablet.

So what's going on in Saint-Aignan? Life continues. Walking. Cooking. Eating. I've been taking some photos but I want to keep posting pictures from Montrésor. It's kind of a break from blogging for me. Besides, these dark days of December motivate me to find productive and interesting activities to occupy my time.

04 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 12)

Here are two photos of the fortress that Foulques Nerra ("The Black Falcon"), count of Anjou, had built at Montrésor starting in the year 1005. In the first photo, the house is the same one you can see in the photo I posted last November 23. That photo was from 2012; the one below is from 2005.


In the period preceding the year 1000 or so, the French king had set up counts in various regions and cities in the surrounding provinces, especially along the Loire River. France at the time was just Paris and the territory surrounding it. Counts in Angers, Blois, and Orléans, for example, held considerable power. Foulques Nerra started expanding his territory toward the east, taking over the Touraine province and clashing with Eudes, the count of Blois. Foulques had fortifications built at Montrésor (1005) and Montrichard, among others.


Foulques Nerra's army defeated the count of Blois in 1016 in a battle on the plain surrounding the old town of Pontlevoy, just north of Montrichard on the road to Blois. A decade or more later, Foulques Nerra would take Saint-Aignan (10 miles upriver from Montrichard) away from the counts of Blois as well. Foulques Nerra died in 1040. In English the name is Fulk, and you can read the Wikipedia article here. Fulk's descendants became the kings of England when Henry II Plantagenet took the throne there in 1133. The Plantagenets reigned over England for several centuries.

03 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 11)

Views from above... The first is a photo that I took in February 2005. I was up on the château grounds, looking down on the part of the town that's towards the north. I've only eaten at the Café de la Ville once, and I can't remember when that was. I may have some more photos, since that was another time I was in Montrésor, but I haven't yet found them.

I don't remember the meal I had at the Café de la Ville as being especially good. It was some kind of beef stew with a side dish of green beans. As my friend Chris, with whom I was having lunch, said: it's funny that they serve green beans out of a can here. That's what the beans tasted like. I need to go back there for lunch on some nice warm day and see what the menu and cuisine are like now.

Yesterday CHM left a comment with a link to a video taken from a drone flying over Montrésor. I grabbed a still shot from that video to post here. It gives a good overview of the village. The Café de la Ville is hidden behind the château in this photo. You can see Foulque Nerra's medieval fort, though, as well as Imbert de Bastarnay's Renaissance logis (residence).

02 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 10)

Façons de regarder... 

It was May 29, 2006, when I was there, and it was a beautiful day. I was with an old friend from California, but we weren't the only ones admiring the Château de Montrésor.

The château overlooks a river-walk park along the Indrois River. The women above were just sitting on a bench in the park looking up toward the towers and old fortifications. I wonder if the youngest of the four, the one with the hennaed hair, was a tour guide for the older women. Here's what they were looking at.

You recognize it by now if you've been here for the past 10 days.

Here's a man who was recording his memories of that day not with a camera but on a canvas with a brush.

01 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 9)

Here's a photo of the courtyard side of the logis or main building at Montrésor. It was built at the beginning of the French Renaissance, in the late 1400s and early 1500s. That makes it a later construction than the building called les communs, which stands across the courtyard from it. (Les communs is post nº 7 in this series, and the front, south-facing side of the building shown in the photo below is pictured in several different posts.)


Again from the Château de Montrésor web pages: "On the foundations of the medieval fortress, Imbert de Bastarnay, lord of Le Bouchage, built a Renaissance residence, and he lived to be 85 years old! He served four kings of France: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François Ier. He was instrumental in arranging the marriage of Charles VIII to Anne of Brittany. His signature appears on all the major treaties of his time. Before his death, he built the collegiate church in Montrésor, which has since served as his final resting place."

Le Bouchage is a town in the Dauphiné region of France, and its main city is Grenoble. He ended up in the Touraine and built the residence at Montrésor.

30 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 8)

This from the history blurb in French on the Château de Montrésor web site:

"On this rock in the year 1005, Foulques Nerra, the count of Anjou, about whom it was said he was 'feared by God and the devil alike', built a powerful fortress to defend against his mortal enemy Eudes, the count of Blois. Foulques finally defeated Eudes in the year 1016 in the battle of Pontlevoy, which left more than 5,000 dead or wounded." Pontlevoy is a town just a few miles north of Montrichard, on the road to Blois.


"A great warrior and builder, Foulques Nerra was responsible for the construction of numerous fortresses in Touraine, including those at Montbazon, Langeais, Loches, and Montrichard. Foulques lived to the age of 70, went on four pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and at his death was entombed in the abbey at Beaulieu-lès-Loches. He was an ancestor of the Plantagenet dynasty."

Another Wiki article says Foulques Nerra made just three pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The Beaulieu abbey where his tomb was placed is just a few miles west of Montrésor. Foulques' descendants, the Plantagenets, were to become England's royal dynasty for several centuries.

29 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 7)

According to the wikipedia.fr article about the château de Montrésor, there were ancient fortifications on the high ground at Montésor before the year 900. The treasurer of the cathedral at Tours held the place as his fiefdom back then, and that's how Montrésor ("my treasure") got its name. Soon, though, it fell under the control of the counts of Anjou, notably Foulques Nerra, and then of the Plantagenets Henri II and Richard Cœur de Lion, future kings of England.


By the year 1200, Montrésor had become part of the kingdom of France once and for all. Toward the end of the 1300s, a noble family from Touraine bought the Montrésor fortress and proceeded to have a chapel and a residential château of some sort built there, turning it into a true château-fort. One of the buildings dating, apparently, back to that period is the one in the photo above, called les communs ("the commons"). It stands across the interior courtyard from the logis Renaissance pictured in yesterday's post.

According to dictionaries, les communs is a term that describes an outbuilding (or une dépendance in France — the British might call it an outhouse!), or a secondary edifice standing alongside the main château or residence on such a property. The commons were the buildings given over to servants' quarters, the kitchens, the stables, and so on. Another meaning of les communs is "outhouse" in the American sense of the term...

28 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 6)

This is the south façade of what is called the logis at Montrésor, on high ground above the little Indrois River (a stream, really). The logis was built at the beginning of the period known as the French Renaissance, which covered the 16th century. Châteaux including Chambord, Chenonceau, and many others were being built (or improved, expanded, and otherwise modified) all over the Loire Valley. It's interesting to note that the weather in France during what became known as the Renaissance was much warmer than it had been over the two previous centuries. There must be a connection between these two facts.


The Robert-Collins bilingual dictionary translates logis as home, dwelling, or abode. The French term is obviously related to the English term lodgings or lodge. This one qualifies as a mansion, and it was built starting at the end of the 15th century (1490 or so) within the walls of the old medieval fortifications, which were falling into ruin at the time. Fortified châteaux were no longer needed, since the 100 Years War (1337-1453) between the French and the English nobility had ended. Wealthy people started building fine, more comfortable residences for themselves.

27 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 5)

The friend I took to Montrésor in February 2005, whose name is Laurie, is a talented pianist and organist — she had a professional career as a church organist and music director. When we went to Montrésor on that cold day, we decided to go into the château and see the interiors. I had never done that before.


One of the most precious objects in the château, according to the man who talked to us that day, is a piano that the composer Chopin played and composed music on back in the 1800s in Paris. The Montrésor château has been owned by a Polish family since those days, and the man we talked to — possibly the current owner of the place — noticed that Laurie was especially interested in the beautiful old piano, which his family had brought to Montrésor from Paris at some point. He asked Laurie if she'd like to play something on it, and she eagerly sat down and treated us to a demonstration of her skill at the keyboard. It was a special moment, I thought. [Look at this blog post about the piano.]

26 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 4)

Il fait froid ce matin : 2ºC selon notre thermomètre. A en croire le site de Météociel.fr, à Romorantin (une ville située à 25 kilomètres de Saint-Aignan, vers l'est) il fait encore plus froid, avec presque -4ºC. On nous parle d'une possibilité de chutes de neige dans la région au cours des prochains jours.


Voici une photo que j'ai prise à Montrésor en février 2005. On y voit l'une des tours du château et, au loin, l'église collégiale, et une vue panoramique sur les rues et les maisons du village. Ce jour-là, j'étais à Montrésor avec une amie américaine qui passait quelques jours chez nous, et qui allait prendre la route vers Rouen, en Normandie, le lendemain. Je me souviens, et mes photos me le confirment, qu'il faisait très froid et que la neige tombait à Saint-Aignan le jour de son départ.

25 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 3)

“This tiny medieval settlement, clustered on the hill around its château, sits above the shallow waters of the Indrois River. With its ancient stone houses, half-hidden gardens, and profusion of flowering plants, it is picture-postcard perfect and invites leisurely exploration. Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou [the old province to the west] built the original feudal fortress...” Contruction started in the early years of the 11th century.


That's what the Signpost Guides Loire Valley book says about Montrésor. The medieval fortress is on the right in the photo above. Five centuries after it was built, at the beginning of the 16th century French Renaissance, a local lord named Imbert de Bastarnay— grandfather of Diane de Poitiers of Chenonceau fame — changed Montrésor's silhouette by constructing the residential château on the left in the photo. Similarly, Saint-Aignan, 15 miles to the north, is also the site of a Renaissance château and the nearby ruins of a medieval château-fort.

24 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 2)

Yesterday's Montrésor photo was one that I took in 2012. Today's is one from 2005. It's looking toward the east, while yesterday's was looking toward the west. The château towers loom over the old town, on the banks of the Indrois River.


I'll always remember the first time I saw this view of the Château de Montrésor. Walt and I had been staying in a gîte in Vouvray for a week. It was in October of 2000. We set out to drive to Reims in Champagne, to meet a friend there. We stopped at Loches, and then drove the few miles on to Montrésor. We continued to Valençay, where we had lunch, and then made our way to Burgundy. Beautiful places like Vouvray, Loches, Montrésor, and Valençay motivated us to leave California and move to the Loire Valley three years later.

23 November 2017

Montrésor (nº 1)

Montrésor is a village (pop. 350) located about 20 kilometers southwest of Saint-Aignan. That's 12 or 15 miles. And Montrésor is one of the 154 Plus Beaux Villages de France, according to the association that keeps the list. The village grew up around a château-fort (a medieval forteresse) first built in the 11th century.


Over the next few days and weeks, I'm going to post a few photos of Montrésor scenes that I've taken since we moved here in 2003. One at a time. I stumbled upon these a few days ago. You can click on them to enlarge the image and see more detail.

And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving. Today is not a holiday here in France, but we have our own little celebration. We'll be cooking our usual late-November gigot d'agneau (leg of lamb), which we'll have with escargots de Bourgogne in garlic-parsley butter as a first course, and then haricots blancs from our 2017 vegetable garden and some choux de Bruxelles that I bought at the supermarket as side dishes. We save the meal of roast turkey or other fowl for Christmastime. Oh, and we are quand même having pumpkin pie for dessert today.

22 November 2017

Walks, past and present

When I lived in Paris, Washington (D.C.), and in Champaign-Urbana (Illinois), I spent a good part of my day, every day, walking. In all those places, I could walk to work every day, and walk back home at night. We're talking about the years from 1971 until 1986.

You can tell these are old pictures, because that's Callie the collie in the one above. She died last June.

Wow, 15 years. Now we've lived in Saint-Aignan for nearly 15 years, and I still take a long walk every day — with the dog. An afternoon walk one day, and then a morning walk the next. Repeat repeat repeat.

We walk down and around — which means walking back up.

In the years from 1986 to 2003, we lived in the San Francisco area in California. For most of those years — at least 15 out of the 17 or more we spent out there — it seems like all I did was drive around in my car. Commuting. The scenery was a freeway and thousands of cars, not vines and woods. I grew to despise that life.

On some mornings we see a nice sunrise.

I'll tell you: walking is better. It's less dangerous, to start with. It's less expensive (though you might go through many pairs of shoes). And you feel better about your life and your health. The pictures here show you some scenes from my daily walks.

Finally, here's a map of the short walk I plan to take with Natasha in a few minutes. It starts at the back door of our house and ends at the front door. It's only about a kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) — a loop around our hamlet and a couple of vineyard plots. Many of our walks are longer, but this will do for today.