23 June 2017

New formal gardens at Chambord

Newly restored 18th-century gardens at the Château de Chambord, in the Loire Valley near Blois, opened to the public in March 2017.

The formal gardens are located along the north and east façades of the huge 16th century château, which was the work of the Renaissance-era French king François 1er.

I took these photos from the roof of the château, which is also open to the public.

The original gardens were designed in the 1600s during the reign of France's "sun king," Louis XIV, and were laid out and planted during the reign of king Louis XV in the 1700s.

They gradually fell into disuse and disrepair after the 1789 French revolution, and by 1970 the space they occupied had become a simple lawn.

The garden restoration project has been financed by an American investor and philanthropist, Stephen Schwarzman, who has a personal fortune of more than $10 billion. The gardens include some 200 rose bushes, 600 trees, 800 shrubs, and more than 15,000 plants in all.

22 June 2017

Wild and hot

Natasha is just wild this morning. Who knows why? But her ear-piercing, shrill, yappy bark just won't stop. We have house guests, too, and I'm sure they are having a hard time sleeping with all the noise (it's just 6 a.m. as I write this). We're all tired, because afternoon temperatures have been around 35ºC, 95ºF, for the last two days.

Anyway, I went to Chambord last Saturday, the day Callie was suddenly disabled. Judy (Seine Judeet) and her sister and brother-in-law were here. I wanted to go to Chambord with them to see the new gardens that have been planted on the north side of the château.

Judy left town on Sunday, headed for Bayeux, Chartres, and Paris. Callie died on Monday, and Peter and Jill arrived on Tuesday at noon. Remember, we don't have air-conditioning here, because we don't normally need it. So these few days have been pretty uncomfortable. We've spent a lot of our time sitting out on the front terrace in the shade, and at some points there has been a light breeze. We've done minimal touring around, but we have enjoyed good food.

At Chambord, I took pictures of the building, the new gardens, and some of the tapestries that are on display. Here are three, and I'll probably post more over the next few days.

21 June 2017

At age one

In May 2008, Callie had been with us for one year. We spent time on the front terrace and in the vineyard, as we did for the next 9 years. Callie was impish.

We also took a week-long trip down to the Ile d'Oléron, between Bordeaux and La Rochelle. Callie got to see the beach and the ocean. She loved to run, and the beach was perfect for that. On that trip, she got to ride on a train and go to a restaurant for the first and only times in her life.

This is how I often saw Calie on our walks around and through the vineyard — back to me, going out ahead to see what we might find next. Her coat was really smooth and silky at that age, and she was very lanky.

Callie also loved spending time in the back yard. She never was a digger, so she was okay around the vegetable garden. I hope this image doesn't look funereal. It was meant to evoke springtime in the yard.

Finally, that smile. Those eyes. That pink nose.

Callie passed away nearly 48 hours ago, on June 19, 2017, at the age of 10 years and 4 months. Somehow, her spinal cord was damaged, maybe congenitally, and her back legs ended up paralyzed

As usual you can click on the images to enlarge them.

20 June 2017

Getting used to it

It's the first morning of a new era here. We're making our best effort to get used to it.

Callie's food bowl has been taken over by Tasha now. That's sensible and the right thing to do. Tasha has also taken over Callie's beloved "tricky treat ball," which Callie showed her how to play with. It's a hard plastic ball that has a hole in it. You put some kibble or dog treats in it, and the dog learns to roll it around, making the occasional piece of kibble or a treat fall out. The dog gobbles that up, and rolls it around some more. Callie would play with it for the better part of an hour every morning. Tasha is actually better at it than Callie was. She has the ball emptied of treats pretty fast. Callie hardly ever emptied it out completely.

Callie yesterday morning, on her towel with her water bowl. She could no longer stand or walk.

I keep picturing Callie on our last walk and wondering why I didn't see any signs that she was suffering. I think she was. She had become sort of driven by our walks. She took them with purpose rather than as a fun activity. On that last walk, she walked behind me most of the way, keeping up, rather than running out in front of me.

A strange thing happened that morning that had never happened before. It almost feels like it was some kind of premonition, even though that sounds silly. After Callie and I had walked around the south side of the vineyard and through the little wooded area that Callie seemed to love to walk through, we continued along our regular path through rows of vines to the north side and then turned back toward home.

At a point on the edge of a kind of ravine — it's a dry creek except when we have heavy rains — and next to a line of trees a dead fawn lay on the path. I had never seen a dead deer in or around the vineyard before, but we had recently seen deer at this place several times. One morning a young deer suddenly jumped up out of a patch of tall grasses where it had been hiding, startling me and exciting Callie. Saturday morning, Callie actually saw fawn carcass — smelled it, probably — before I did. The poor thing looked to be in perfect condition, not mauled. It was very small, because the local deer, called "roe" deer, are much smaller than our North American deer. Callie sniffed the dead fawn carefully, almost tentatively, and I called her to leave it alone and follow me. She obeyed.

When you know how much Callie loved to see and chase a deer, you know how ironic it is that on her last walk in the vineyard she saw one that couldn't run away. I wonder whether, if we had seen a live deer that morning, Callie would even have been able to chase it, given her aching back. As I said, she was moving at a slow pace, and that probably meant she was already feeling a lot of pain. There's no way to know, just as we will never know if there was a specific event that caused her disability last Saturday afternoon, or if the condition had just gradually progressed to the point where Callie could no longer ignore it or function.

Callie in September 2007, six months old. Look at that long tail.

The vet yesterday said that the nerve failure had progressed more rapidly than usual. She did tests that showed Callie had no feeling at all left in her back paws, and explained to us what she was doing. She said that when she gave Callie's paw pads a hard pinch, the dog's natural reaction would have been to turn her head and look to see what was causing the pain in her paw. Callie didn't react at all. Also, Callie peed on herself when we picked her up to put her in the car for the ride to the veterinary clinic, she peed again when we took her out of the car to carry her into the clinic, and she peed on the examining table as the vet started to touch her. Since she had no bladder control left, squeezing her as I picked her up made her pee. And her natural fear of the vet probably made her pee on the table.

No bladder or bowel control, the inability to stand up or walk... those were the symptoms we noticed. There was one that we thought about only after Callie was gone. She had stopped wagging her tail. She would always flap and slap her tail on the floor when she was lying down and we talked pretty to her. By Sunday, she no longer had control over the happy tail-wagging bahavior that we all love so much in our dogs.

19 June 2017

No change. On hold. It's all over

Callie's condition is unchanged. She's still sitting on the floor down in the entryway, which has been one of the places where she enjoys spending time in summer for years now. It's cool down there, she can hear us upstairs, and she can look out through the sliding glass door to see what's happening outside.

At 9:00 a.m., I'll be calling the veterinary clinic for an appointment. I hope they'll take us this morning.

Since Callie can't go upstairs under her own steam, and she's too heavy (20.5 kg / 45 lbs.) for us to carry upstairs safely, that's where we've got her set up. We can use a towel as a sling to carry her just a few steps out onto the gravel driveway to do her business — peeing all the way, a couple of times yesterday. I get really sad when I think she can no longer scramble up the wooden staircase to the loft (I love that sound), go out walking through her favorite woods and on her favorite route around the vineyard, or go up to the loft and spend the morning sitting regally on our bed, waiting for the morning walk while I work on my blog.

Again last night, I slept down in the entryway on a mattress on the floor. Walt slept upstairs with Natasha. It's better to keep the puppy up there, because she doesn't yet feel confident about walking down the wooden staircase and stays up there rather than wandering all over the house. Sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m., Callie starting whimpering and whining. I couldn't figure out why. I talked to her, petted her, turned on the lights, and tried to figure out what she wanted. To go upstairs? Can't do that. Have Walt come down and see her? I hated to wake him up. Go outside and pee? She wouldn't usually go out at that time of night.

Finally I went to the sliding glass door, which was open just a crack for cool air, and opened it wider. What did I hear? Caterwauling. Two cats were involved in a growling standoff in the neighbor's yard or out on the road. That's what Callie was hearing and she was whimpering in excitement and frustration. The fact that she didn't get up to go see the action means she really can't stand up now. By then, Tasha had also started growling and even barking her shrill yap upstairs. I heard Walt close the front window of the loft, just up the front door of the house. Tasha calmed down because she couldn't hear the cats anymore.

I stepped outside clapping my hands (no nearby neighbors right now) and calling "Scat cat! Scat cat!" I walked out the front gate and down the road a few steps, to let the cats know I meant business. The growling and wailing stopped, and I went back inside. Callie settled down, and we both went back to sleep, as did Walt and the puppy, he says. He also says he looked out the loft window before he shut it and saw a neighbor's cat and a mysterious unfamiliar cat sitting and wailing at each other on the road. It wasn't our cat Bertie. Who knows where he was...

P.S. update: Callie died at about 12:30 today. Euthanasia. Peaceful.

18 June 2017

Callie the border collie — no miracle

I went to spend the afternoon at the château de Chambord yesterday with "Seine Judeet". Judy is a woman Walt and I knew back in Paris in 1981-82 but hadn't seen again since then. She's been a frequent commenter on this blog over the years. She's been staying in Saint-Aignan for a couple of days. When I got home at about 6 p.m., Walt told me we had an emergency on our hands. It was Callie, who had suffered some kind of malaise.

At that hour on a Saturday, the clinique vétérinaire was of course all closed up. I called the clinic's phone number anyway, and heard a recording that gave me an emergency number for such situations. I called that number and talked to a vet who was on call. He asked us to bring Callie to his office, which is just 5 miles from our house. I carried Callie out to the car, laid her on the back seat, and off we went.

The main — and, actually, only — symptom of Callie's malaise was her inability to stand up on all four legs. Her back legs were, and are still, paralyzed, or so weak that they won't support her weight. She seems to have even less control of them this morning than last night. A dog that can't stand up, or walk, is a dog that can't live, I think. The vet said he didn't think Callie had had a stroke.

He said he thought it was more likely a spinal cord injury or defect. He gave Callie a massive dose of cortisone as a shot, and said she should probably start feeling better and be able to move around over the following two or three hours. Well, that didn't happen. It's now 12 hours later and Callie still can't get up off the floor.

 Here's the last photo I took of Callie on one of our walks. It was a week ago this morning.

So it looks bad. She was in the downstairs entryway yesterday afternoon when Walt went to take her out for her walk. She couldn't stand up. Walt said he sat and talked to the dog, and cried, for an hour or so before I got home. I had taken Callie for a perfectly normal walk yesterday morning, and she had eaten her food with gusto after the promenade. Walt said Callie (10 years old) and Tasha (4 months old) had spent the afternoon snoozing downstairs. It was a very hot afternoon. They didn't do any rough playing, Walt said.

So now we have to face the inevitable. At midnight, I hauled out a single-bed mattress, dragged it into the entryway, found some sheets and pillows, and slept down there on the floor with Callie. When I say "slept" that's a slight exaggeration. But I lay there listening for any sign or sound from Callie that the cortisone was having the desired effect. All I heard was a little whimpering once in a while.

So it's Sunday and we can't go see another vet until tomorrow. I'm afraid we'll have no choice but to have our poor, dear Callie put down. Here come those tears again...

17 June 2017

Tomatoes in the garden, etc.

Walt has done so much work this year getting the garden in. He planted seeds in little pots a few months ago. Those stayed in the greenhouse and got a good start. Then he transplanted all the seedlings into larger pots. Those stayed in the greenhouse too, until a couple of weeks ago when he judged it was time to set them out in the garden plot.

The curlicue things above are the support poles for the tomato plants to climb up on. They're a standard item in the garden centers around here. The tomato plants are still small, but they have thick, sturdy stems and are really growing. There are some blossoms already. The weather we are having this June is perfect for them.

I hesitate to call the vegetable garden a spring "chore" but it is a lot of work. I do the tilling to prepare the ground, then Walt does the planting and watering. We look forward to a bumper crop of tomatoes — there are thirty plants in the ground. Walt has also planted three rows of green beans, three zucchini plants, some hot peppers, and snow peas. We'll be eating purple snow peas in a couple of days, and we've already harvested and eaten a lot of green ones.

In the fall, we'll be making tomato sauce for the freezer, tomato paste to put up in jars, and oven-dried tomatoes as well, all for year-round enjoyment. And we'll be eating a lot of fresh tomatoes in August, September, and October. I hope. Weather, please cooperate.

Speaking of chores, here are some we've taken care of this spring. I scrubbed all the moss and other ugly stuff growing on the fence that runs along the road on the south side of our house. We emptied the garden shed, vacuumed it all out, and the put back and organized the things we wanted to keep. Walt took down and washed all the curtains on the main level of the house (6 windows and the big sliding-glass door). I washed the sliding glass door on the front porch downstairs, as well as the curtains and windows in the utility room. We've been busy. The red flower above is a geranium in our kitchen window planter box. The little yellow flower stalks farther up are growing up against our back gate, which definitely needs some TLC (or replacing).

16 June 2017

Macro shots of neighborhood plants and flowers

The commenter called Emm has asked what the flower in my first and fourth photos yesterday were. It's a kind of morning glory a.k.a. bindweed, in French liseron, that grows as an invasive weed, basically, all around the vineyard. The flowers are very small — less than 1½ inches across. Here's another photo of the flower.

Our neighbor out by the pond has a yard full of roses right now. It's too bad nobody is staying in that house so far this summer. At least we get to enjoy the flowers. Oh, and by the way, our wisteria is starting its second bloom of the year.

In this season there are big fields of red poppy flowers all around the region. There are also small patches of them along the roads and around the vineyard. The one below is in that same yard where all the roses grow.

Don't ask me what the plants below are. All I know is that they grow along the edges of the gravel road that runs through the vineyard.

I took these photos with my old 2012 Lumix TZ18 (ZS8 in North America) in macro mode with the vivid color setting. It does an extremely good job in macro mode because, I think, it has a CCD sensor. The newer, less power-hungry digital camera sensors (MOS technology) don't seem to be able match the older ones when it comes to sharpness. You can tap and pinch (on a tablet) or click the mouse on the images to see them at full size.

15 June 2017

Canicule ?

This is a set of macro photos that I took out in the vineyard a few days ago with my Canon SX700 HS camera. I've had it for more than two years now but I've hardly used it at all. Now I'm enjoying the photos it takes, including macro and long-zoom shots.

The weather we're having is exceptionally warm for the month of June. It's reminding me more and more of June 2003, when we first came to live here. We spent the first week in June up in Normandy, and it was even hot up there. I remember sitting in an outdoor café on the oceanfront in Etretat, on the Channel, in shorts and a T-shirt and not being cold. It was amazing.

That summer produced the Grande Canicule — the great heat wave — that lasted into August in France. In June and July, we were driving a rented Opel that had no air-conditioning. The house didn't have AC either — it still doesn't. We normally don't need AC. We haven't had another summer like 2003 since then.

I bought our little Peugeot 206 that summer, and drove it off the dealer's lot in early August. We still have it. For several weeks that August we would go for long afternoon drives with the dog just to run the AC and get some relief. Luckily, our dog Collette loved to go riding in the car.

The stone and brick houses around Saint-Aignan developed cracks in their walls because of the intense heat. Converted attic spaces — even whole houses, including ours — were like ovens. All over France, thousands — especially older people — died from heat exhaustion and dehydration. For weeks the high temperatures stayed near 40ºC, which is over 100ºF. Let's hope this summer won't be a repeat of that disaster.

14 June 2017

Another pretty morning

Not so much today, because it's overcast. That means too that it is weirdly warm. We heard distant thunder overnight, but it stayed away and it's dry here this morning. Nothing is stirring. Meanwhile, here's the view from the back gate that my title refers to.

The pretty morning — spectacular really — was a few days ago (Sunday). I had gotten up at 5:00 and was out walking with Callie the collie by 7:15. I'm glad I got out early, because both the sky and the light were beautiful. By the way, Callie is 10 years old now.

Off in the distance, to the northwest, I spotted a couple of hot-air balloons. They were probably over the château de Chenonceau, which is about 15 miles from here. With my long zoom lens, I was able to get the photo below.

We seem to be having our summer right now. If this kind of weather continues without too many interruptions — rain delays, you might say — it will be amazing. Of course, we had pretty nice weather last year in July, August, and September. Maybe it's a pattern.

Yesterday Natasha, our tiny sheltie puppy, actually managed to walk down half a dozen steps on the steep wooden staircase that goes up to the loft. 'Tasha is 4 months old now.

What happened is that she started up the stairs, and then half way up she changed her mind. Without taking time to think about what she was doing and get scared, she turned around and walked back down. That was a first.

13 June 2017

Saint-Aignan in the summer of 2003

June 13, 2003. I found a batch of photos I took on that day, which was our second day in the house where we've lived ever since. Then I thought to look through this blog and I found that I've posted about that day, with photos, several times in the past. We had arrived in France that June, and we had the bought the house, but we were waiting for our container load of furniture and other belongings to arrive. We didn't have even an estimated arrival date from the moving company. Here's a post from 2010 about that time.

Meanwhile, I also found a batch of photos I took a little later in 2003 down in Saint-Aignan. I want to post a few of them, because I think I have never put them on the blog before. We had never  heard of Saint-Aignan, we thought, when we came here in December 2002 to see if we could find a house to buy — or at least to see houses and see if there was anything we could afford or think we'd be happy living in. A real estate agent in Montrichard recommended Saint-Aignan to us. Years later, we realized we had driven through Saint-Aignan on a road trip we took all around France in 1989.

We drove over here from Amboise on a Tuesday morning in December 2003, and this is what we saw. Of course, that was in December, so the town didn't look exactly like what you see in these photos from six months later. In winter, Saint-Aignan can be damp, dark, and kind of gloomy, but we had enough experience of France to know it was the kind of town where we'd be happy to live to live someday.

We had no firm plan about leaving the U.S. at that point. We were just exploring. It was almost a lark, and certainly an adventure. We were lucky to find a cooperative and helpful real estate man, who seemed to understand what kind of house we were interested in. On that December day, we first saw the house we live in now. On paper, we would have rejected it as being too small.

Out of 15 or so houses around the area that we inspected, the one we've ended up living in ever since was the only one that really seemed to have potential, as well as being located in a desirable area: at the end of a dead end road, on the edge of a vineyard, with a big flat yard (not on a hillside), a hedge that gave good privacy, and only 2 or 3 miles from a good-sized town with shops, supermarkets, and services.

That summer of 2003 was quite an experience for two guys who had spent many years in San Francisco, where summer weather is windy, cold, and foggy. (Mark Twain said something like the coldest winter he had ever lived through was a month of August in San Francisco.) We had arrived in France in the year of the Canicule — "dog days", the great heat wave during which thousands of French people died exposure and dehydration — and we endured weeks and weeks of extreme heat. That summer, we were camping in our basically empty house, which of course had no air-conditioning (and still doesn't).

We went out and bought some vinyl outdoor furniture to use as a dining room set while we were waiting for our container to arrive from California by boat. We figured we'd use the outdoor furniture, well... outdoors, after we had real furniture in the house.

And we slept for weeks on the floor, on air mattresses that we bought at the local supermarket, covered in sheets that we borrowed from friends in Normandy. It was so hot that that summer that we feared we might have made a big mistake by buying a house in the Loire Valley. Here are some photos of the San Francisco house we had been living in but had sold.

12 June 2017

Church photos...

I realized this morning that I took a lot of photos featuring the church in Saint-Aignan when I was in town Saturday morning. I'm going to post some of them today and over the course of the week, just for posterity.

I took this shot of the town's eastern riverfront from the island on the opposite bank of the Cher.
As usual, you can enlarge to photos to see more detail by clicking or tapping on them a time or two.

Looking up at the church tower from down in the streets of the old town

A view from the bridge of chimneys and church towers

From the east end of town there are good views of the church towers too.

* * * * * *
By the way, today, June 12, is the 14th anniversary of the first night we ever spent in this house, back in June 2003. It's hard to believe we are so close to having lived here as long as we did in San Francisco (from 1986 to 2003). We had arrived in Saint-Aignan on June 7 and spent five days in a rented gîte nearby while cleaning, arranging for the delivery of necessary appliances, and figuring out how we would "camp" in the house until our container full of furniture and other belongings arrived by boat and moving van from San Francisco in July or August. We bought air mattresses to sleep on and outdoor furniture to use as a dining room set. It was exciting, and fun.

11 June 2017

House for sale, on river

I went into town again yesterday morning and took some photos. I took them with my third digital camera, a Canon SX700-HS, which I hadn't used in a while. Here are three photos I took along the riverfront in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. The first is a 19th century house (une maison bourgeoise is what it's called) for sale (à vendre).

According to this real estate site, the house has 220 square meters of living space (about 2500 sq. ft.), including five bedrooms. The photos on the web site make it look pretty attractive, but heating costs might be high. The asking price is €241,500, or say $275,000 U.S. You can see that the church is right behind it, and it's on the river road right in the center of the old town. (I'm just reporting — I have no stake in the house or its sale.)

Above and below are two photos of the river that I took from near the house that's for sale. One shows the bridge and the Sur le Pont restaurant to the northwest. The other shows the view to the southeast, where the river comes into Saint-Aignan.

As usual, you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them with your mouse, or manipulating them on the screen of your tablet.

10 June 2017

The ghost snail

I've seen this snail three or four times over the past year or so. It looks like a ghost, I think. But it is not, and it is not an albino. It lives near a small water hole on the edge of the vineyard, near woods. Besides the day when there were two of them out there, it's the only one I've ever seen. I've read that the lifespan of a snail like this one is 3 years in the wild, but as long as 10 years in captivity.

It's the snail called the escargot de Bourgogne or « le gros blanc ». It's bigger than the snails we see mostly around here, which are called « petits gris » and are much more plentiful. Both species are edible. At 30 to 45 grams (1 to 1½ oz.), the Burgundy snail is two to three times bigger than its little cousin.

It's illegal in France to gather gros blancs snails during their reproductive cycle, from April through the end of June. They are protected and they are difficult to raise commercially, they say. Snails have been consumed by humans since prehistoric times, and they were a Roman specialty. Here in France, we can buy snails in cans or frozen, and we can also buy frozen garlic-parsley butter that is commonly called « beurre d'escargot ».