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.

21 November 2017

Prickly pear cactus

Cactus plants are native to the Americas, and the one below is growing on a street corner, across the intesection from a church, in Morehead City, North Carolina. It's called a prickly pear cactus.

When you think of American cacti, you probably think of the arid southwestern part of the United States, and not the humid Atlantic coast. But prickly pear species (Opuntia) are native to the East Coast from Florida north to at least New York. Another local cactus is  a small plant we call a pear pad. You have to be careful not to step on one when you are going around barefoot on sandy ground.

Above is a close-up of the same plant. The climate of coastal North Carolina is hot compared to Saint-Aignan's, and it's characterized not by persistent dampness but by heavy downpours of rain year-round, alternating with bright sunshine. I guess the cactus plants like that kind of climate and the area's sandy soil.

20 November 2017

Raclette for lunch

Raclette means "scraper" or "squeegee" — from the French verb racler meaning "to scrape," including "to scrape off" or "scrape out." Said that way, it doesn't sound like a very appetizing idea for lunch, does it?

Above is an appareil à raclette. Un appareil is an apparatus or appliance. This one is basically an electric heating element with little non-stick pans that slide under it and a griddle over the top. What do you scrape? Well, you put a slice of cheese in each little pan, set it under the hot element, and wait for it to melt. Then you scrape the melted cheese out onto your plate.

In fact, a raclette is a lunch or dinner of melted cheese served with meats and vegetables, especially steamed potatoes. It's a do-it-yourself kind of meal. It's self-service. Each diner or convive (dinner guest) melts her or his own cheese and serves his or her own meats and potatoes. Thus, in France it's seen as a repas convivial — a convivial meal, fun, friendly, and informal. No real ceremony is involved. The cheese is also called raclette, and it melts into a soft creamy mass.

Fromage à raclette is pretty good, with the right charcuterie (cold cuts) and warm cooked potatoes. For our recent raclette meals, with ours we've had the Alpine jambon cru called speck, saucisson à l'ail (cooked garlic sausage), the salami called rosette, and of course cornichons (pickles), both the classic little French vinegary ones known as gherkins, as well as the new-comers to France, cornichons aigres-doux (sort of like dill pickles). And good bread, of course.

When people used to cook in fireplaces rather than on modern appliances, they would put a big wheel of cheese on a special stand close to the fire and wait for the cheese to start melting. Then they would scrape the melted cheese off the cut side of the cheese wheel onto plates and take them to the table, where meats, potatoes, and pickles were waiting (along with hungry convives). That's the legend, anyway. Images here.