31 August 2007

Elderly woman killed

I read this in an AFP (Agence France Press) article in English a few days ago:

LA ROCHELLE, France, Aug 17, 2007 (AFP) - An elderly British woman was killed Friday when a tree crashed onto a pavement cafe in the historic French port of Brouage, a tourist hotspot on the Atlantic coast, local officials said.

The 61-year-old woman's daughter, in her thirties, was also injured in the accident, which occurred at around 11:00 am.
The italics are mine. Since when did 61 become "elderly"? That's what I want to know. In another article I read, somebody said that "60 is the new 40," as in "Life begins at 60." Welcome to the 21st century.

If you look at Claude's blog you'll see the coincidence
with this picture I took day before yesterday.

Claude, whose blog in French is Vieux c'est mieux, rejects terms like elderly, senior citizen, or golden years in favor of just plain old "old" — and I think I agree with her. Some days I feel old at 58, but then some days I probably felt old at 38. As one of our neighbors who's about 60 said to me the other day, you don't feel any older in your head as your body ages. It's all in the way other people see you. Sartre said « L'enfer c'est les autres. » So you all just ought to cut it out!

Walt begging Callie not to chase and bark at the lawnmower
when he starts it up and tries to mow the grass.

Claude has also tagged me for a meme (if you know what that is). I'm supposed to tell you seven things you might not know about me. And they are supposed to be interesting, I think. I'm working on it, but I think I've already told everything I'm willing to tell the world about me on this blog. I'll come up with something. And I have to do it in French, which means I have to do it in both languages...

30 August 2007

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie...

I'm not sure a Louisiana crawfish pie would really resemble this shrimp and mussel tourte, but I'm sure it wouldn't be that much better to eat. We saw a cooking show host we like, Eric Léautey, make it on his Cuisine TV show last week and we decided to try it. He called it an empanada, but I say it's a tourte, which is a two-crust pie.

First clean and de-beard a kilogram of fresh mussels. Put an inch or so of water in a big pot and bring it to a boil. Throw in the mussels and let them steam just until they open up.

Mussels cleaned and ready for steaming

Mussels steamed and ready to be taken out of their shells

Take the mussels out of the pot — lift them out with a slotted spoon, because if you pour the steaming liquid over them you might find a lot of sand in your mussels. Let the mussels cool.

Mussels removed from their shells

Shell, devein, and cook about a pound of shrimp (or buy them shelled, deveined, cooked, and frozen — that's how we get them in France). Don't leave any shell on the shrimp.

I took this picture before I removed the shrimps' tails

Chopped tomatoes, cleaned shrimp and mussels, and herbs
on the work surface where Walt rolls out the pie dough

To make a stuffing, chop some onion, shallot, and/or garlic finely. Also chop some ripe tomatoes and set them aside. Then sauté 200 grams of smoked lardons (use bacon or ham in the U.S. unless you can get slab bacon, or don't use pork at all) along with the onions.

I added a little can of corn to the filling — an American flavor.

When those ingredients are cooked, take the pan off the heat and stir in soem chopped herbs, the chopped tomatoes, the steamed mussels, and the cooked shrimp. Add other ingredients if you want to — I had some cold boiled potatoes, so I diced those up into the mixture too, along with some corn out of a can.

Off the heat, mix in the tomatoes, shrimp, mussels, and herbs

Line a pie pan with a crust (Walt made pâte brisée, the standard pastry for pies) and blind-bake it for 10 minutes in a medium oven. Paint the bottom of the crust with beaten egg yolk and pour in the filling.

The filling in the bottom crust

The pie almost ready to go into the oven

Lay the top crust over the pie and tuck it in around the edges to seal it. Cut a hole in the top crust to let steam escape as the pie cooks, and paint the top with egg yolk to make it brown nicely.

The pie after 35 minutes in the oven at 350ºF (180ºC)

Let the pie cool for 10 or 15 minutes after it comes out of the oven. Then cut into it and enjoy!

Shrimp and mussel pie

The first piece out of the pie is always kind of a mess, isn't it?

29 August 2007

I think autumn has come

It was on my walk with Callie the Collie yesterday morning that I felt it. The weather has been nice for a few days now — no rain this week until this morning — but there is a definite fall-like chill in the air. And the birds are starting to fly south.

Geese, don't you think? Whatever the bird is, it is flying south.

Besides, the grapes are definitely approaching full ripeness. Earlier in the summer, I thought the grapes out back were looking pretty miserable. But now they are in their full glory. This morning's rain is not a good thing. I hope they can start the harvest soon.

Lots of wine grapes

I wish I knew enough to distinguish Gamay and Cabernet Franc and Côt (Malbec) grapes from each other, but I don't. Even with the close-up picture below, who knows? If you do, tell me.

Which grapes are these?

These dry cool days are great for sunrises and sunsets. I can't stop taking pictures of them. But then you know that if you look at this blog very much.

Sunrise yesterday over a stand of pine trees
out in the middle of the vineyard

We still have September and October to go before the chill really sets in. At least I hope so. Even in years where we have a nice summer, September and October seem like the nicest months of the year. This year, with any luck, they will be a hell of a lot nicer than chilly, damp May, June, July, and August were.

Sunrise over La Renaudière at Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher
in France,
28 August 2007

Can you tell I'm enjoying the new camera? I don't miss the old ones at all. On the one hand, that's kind of sad, but on the other, it's just great. Callie has started to get used to the rhythm of our walks. She stops and waits, staring at me with curiosity, as I take photos. She doesn't know how to pose yet, however. When she sees me trying to take her picture, she turns away from me every time.

As far as 2007 goes, if anybody ever asks me what our summer was like, I'll say: "I don't remember. Which day was it?"

28 August 2007

La chasse aux crapauds

I understand that toads — crapauds — eat slugs. I don't mind having them live in the bushes and under rocks all around the house. Actually, I think they live most of the time in the underground pipes that take rainwater away from the house when it runs off the roof into the gutters. They must hide in the drainage pipes during daylight hours.

This is the first toad Callie found last night. You might
need to click the picture and enlarge it before you can
actually see it hiding under those leaves.

But these amphibians are driving Callie and us a little bit crazy. At nightfall, Callie can't wait to go outside. We want her to pee or even faire la grosse commission, but all she wants to do is hunt toads. She doesn't catch them, or hasn't yet. She hears them rustling dead leaves or the gravel as they jump around, and it is great fun for her to scare them into jumping again.

This toad might be a little hard to see against the gravel background,
but Callie could see it, even in the dark. Or maybe she was tracking it
by smell. I didn't see it until I looked at my pictures this morning.

Last night at about 10:00 I took Callie out one more time. This time I took my camera and turned on the flash. You see some of the results here. I couldn't see the toads at all when we were out there, so I was shooting pictures by sound, just following the dog's nose, as it were.

Finally, a toad on a green background

So the toads are real. I couldn't see them, but like Callie, I could hear them jumping around, rustling the leaves and the gravel. I'm surprised by the pictures, and very pleased with the sharpness and colors I got when I was shooting in the dark with the flash.

The sunsets around here are very real too. Here's the August 26 version.

Sunset at La Renaudière, 26 August 2007

The sunset panorama is actually two photos that I "stitched" together using software. It did this one in Photoshop Elements. Again, click the picture to enlarge it for the full effect.

27 August 2007

Stuffed cucumbers — Concombres farcis

The garden has decided to start producing cucumbers. Those and zucchinis, plus a few handfuls of green beans, are all we are getting so far. The weather has improved, however, and where there's sunshine there's hope.

What do you do with a half-dozen big cucumbers? A couple of years ago, when the weather was hot and summery, we ate a lot of cold cucumber soup that we made with yogurt and herbs. That was delicious. Another year, we made cucumber pickles — spears, 13 jars of them. We are slowly using those up. They are strong and vinegary, so they are better chopped and used in tartare sauce or tuna or chicken salad than just eaten whole.

Getting ingredients ready to make stuffed cucumbers.
Callie is a good supervisor.

A couple of days ago I was reading an old cookbook called French Country Cooking for Americans (1946) by a Frenchman named Louis Diat. He described the house where he grew up down in the Bourbonnais region, which is where Callie was born — especially the kitchen, his mother's cooking techniques, and the way they ate food available seasonally and never wasted anything.

One of the recipes he gives in his book is Stuffed Cucumbers. I don't think I'd ever eaten stuffed, cooked cucumbers before, or even heard of preparing cucumbers this way. I'd had cucumbers cut into slices and panned in butter, served alongside fish, but that was it for cooked cucumbers.

Raw cucumbers hollowed out and ready for blanching

Monsieur Diat says to parboil (nowadays we use the term "blanch") cucumber halves or pieces for 8 to 10 minutes in boiling water, and then stuff them with either mushroom duxelles or chopped leftover meat or fish and rice, or a combination of the two. Duxelles means very finely chopped mushrooms cooked with onions and herbs.

Carrots, onions, and mushrooms finely chopped for duxelles

It just so happened that Walt had bought a pound of champignons de Paris from the mushroom lady at the farmers' market in Saint-Aignan on Saturday. We had onions, shallots, and garlic, and there are a lot of herbs in the garden — parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves.

Panoramic shot of all the ingredients — in the
measuring cup is clarified butter used for sautéing

To make stuffed cucumbers into a meal, I wanted to put some meat in the stuffing, but I couldn't think of any leftover meat we might have in the fridge or freezer. I thought about cooking a chicken leg and cutting that up. Then I remembered that I had four of the little pork sausages called chipolatas in the freezer. Those would be quick to thaw and would add good flavor to the mushroom stuffing. Chipos [shee-poh], as they are called, are a standard item in France, sort of like American breakfast sausages.

Blanched cucumber halves

So I turned on the radio and spent the morning in the kitchen listening to France Inter (you can hear it here) and cooking. It's one of my favorite things to do. I chopped a small onion, a shallot, and a big clove of garlic. I remembered there were some carrots in the fridge, so I chopped one of those very finely. I trimmed, brushed, and washed the mushrooms and then I removed the casings from the sausages and chopped the sausage meat very finely with a big knife.

Remove the casings from the sausages
and then chop the meat finely if necessary

To chop the mushrooms, I used the food processor. I put half of them at a time into the processor bowl and pulsed the blade until the mushrooms were reduced to a fine crumb. Then I went out and picked some herbs, which I washed to prepare them for chopping.

It was easy to cut the cucumbers in half and remove the seeds with a spoon, making them into boats (or barquettes, in French). I was afraid that parboiling them for 10 minutes might reduce them to mush, but it didn't. The boats held their shape and the cucumber flesh turned a translucent light green color.

Getting ready to stuff the cucumber halves

I cooked the stuffing in a pan on the stove — the onion and carrot mixture first, then adding the chopped mushrooms. I waited for all the water released by the mushrooms to boil away. Out in the garden, I had noticed that some mustard greens we planted earlier in the summer had bolted but had nice bright green leaves on them, so I had picked some of those. I chopped them finely and added them to cook with the other stuffing ingredients in the pan.

Stuffed cucumbers ready for the oven. You can
see the chickpeas and couscous in the stuffing.

Then I took that vegetable mixture out of the pan and cooked the finely chopped sausage meat separately. It didn't make much fat, so when it was done I just put the mushroom mixture back in the pan and mixed it up thoroughly. Meanwhile, I had noticed a bowl of leftover couscous grain with chickpeas mixed into it just sitting in the refrigerator. I decided to add that to the stuffing too. You could add cooked rice, or breadcrumbs. I stirred in the chopped herbs at this point too.

So that was it. I stuffed the blanched cucumber halves and put them on a pan in the oven at low temperature, covered with parchment paper to keep them from drying out too much, for about 35 minutes. One recipe I found on the Internet said you could keep the parboiled cucumbers in a hot oven, covered, while you made the stuffing, and then when the stuffing was cooked you could just take the cucumbers out, spoon in the stuffing, and serve them. That would work too.

Cooked and ready to eat. Surprisingly good.

The cucumber boats held their shape through all that cooking. The finished product had sort of the texture of a good cucumber pickle — firm and not flabby, with just the slightest crunch — but without the vinegary pickle taste, of course. The stuffing of sausage meat, mushrooms, couscous, herbs, onion, shallot, garlic, and carrot was a good complement in taste and texture. After lunch, the leftovers got wrapped in foil and then put in the freezer in ziploc bags.

26 August 2007

A butterfly, a snail, and an invasion of toads

Out on my walk with the dog yesterday afternoon, I spotted a butterfly at the edge of the woods that surround the vineyard.

A Saturday afternoon butterfly

I put my camera in macro mode and try to get as close as I could without making the butterfly fly away. I got three pictures, the best one being the one posted here, before it took off and disappeared.

We are having an invasion of toads! That sounds worse than it really is. We probably wouldn't even have noticed them if Callie hadn't. Yesterday morning and again today I let her out early so she can take care of business. I'm waiting for the sun to come up before we leave for our walk.

Here's another snail. They are pretty easy to photograph
since they don't fly away or even run very fast.

Right now she's over in the side yard trying to catch a toad that she has detected hiding in the base of a rose bush near a clothesline post. She hadn't caught it yet at last report.

Last night I let her out to pee at about 10:30, and she found two toads on the gravel path that runs through the back garden. I put on a glove and picked the first one up and put it out in the ditch by the road, thinking it might be happy there and the dog would be able to calm down. Not two minutes later, after I had taken the glove off, Callie found another toad, on the other side of the path, hiding in some dead leaves. I got a flashlight and sure enough, there it was. I let that one be.

Another branch loaded with beautiful apples

Breaking news: I just went back outside and Callie had managed to chase the toad out into the open. She was pouncing around it and the toad was spitting at her as it tried to save itself. I put that gardening glove back on, picked the thing up, carried it across the yard, and let it go outside the fence, in the the woods on the north side of the house. Sorry, no picture (I can feel the disappointment in you as you read this) because it's still too dark.

Yesterday's nice weather at La Renaudière

P.S. I just got back from my walk with the dog. Yesterday morning, when Walt took her out, she managed to roll in something pretty rank-smelling. Walt gave her a bath in the downstairs shower. Well damned if she didn't roll in the same thing when she was out with me today. I should have known she would find it again. So back in the shower it was for another bath a minute ago. At least she doesn't mind taking a bath, even if she treats the toweling off afterwards as a particularly amusing game and manages to get the bather and the whole room wet.

25 August 2007

Time to buy a house in France

Now is the time to invest in real estate in France. The Sarkozy government has just passed a new law making a portion of the interest paid on mortgages tax-deductible.

Here's a house on the other side of the vineyard from us.
I don't think it's for sale though. Somebody recently fixed it up.

The Figaro newspaper, in its article on the subject, says that a couple or individual will be able to deduct from their income taxes 40% of the mortgage interest they pay in the first year after buying a house or apartment. The deduction for a couple is limited to a maximum of 3,000 € that first year. For a single buyer, that ceiling is cut in half.

Over the subsequent four years, the tax deduction is 20% of mortgage interest paid, with a limit of 1,500 € for a couple and 750 € for a single buyer. For a couple with no dependents, the tax deductions over five years will come to a maximun of 9,000 €. After five years, the tax deduction ends.

Rows of vines in the Renaudie vineyards. This is one of my
posts where the pictures don't have much to do with the text.

I think Americans take the tax deduction based on mortgage interest for granted, but in France it is a new law. Sarkozy wanted the deduction to apply to existing as well as new mortgages, but the French Constitutional Council ruled that making it retroactive was unconstitutional. I don't understand the reasoning behind that ruling. Maybe somebody will explain in a comment.

As a result, only mortgages entered into after May 6, 2007, are eligible for the tax deduction. May 6 is the day Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of the Republic.


Personally, I'd be a little upset if I had taken out a big mortgage earlier in 2007. I've already heard it mentioned on the news that some people might consider selling recently purchased property to buy something else in order to get the tax deduction on a new mortgage. One commentator said he doubted that people who did that would reap any real benefit.

There are four houses in this picture. Ours
is the one on the left that has a dark brown roof.

The French in general take out mortgages for a 10- or 20-year term, not 30 as in the U.S. I don't think that interest-only or negative-amortization loans exist in France. An aside: I just read that only 5% of British borrowers take out fixed-rate mortgages, while the other 95% take out adjustable-rate loans. That is a big problem in the the United Kingdom now. The default rate is high and rising, as it is in the U.S.


France is not a society that runs on credit. For example, there really aren't any credit cards here. The only bank cards you can get are debit cards, as far as I know. Somebody will correct me if I'm wrong. The only option we have on our MasterCards from the Crédit Agricole bank is whether we want our account to be debited each time we make a purchase or withdraw funds, or whether we want it to be debited just once, at the end of the month.

More apples

We never get letters in the mail offering us new credit cards. We used to get at least of few of those every month or even every week when we lived in California. In France, it's pretty much pay-as-you-go.

24 August 2007

Early birds

The early bird gets the worm. In French they say that the future belongs to those who get up early — l'avenir appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt. Didn't Benjamin Franklin say something about that?

In this case, the early birds get the nice sunrise. And they weren't even that early this morning. Callie started trying to wake me up at about 5:00 a.m. She comes over and licks me on the ear or on the hand or on the elbow. Sometimes that works. If I'm not careful, she sticks her tongue in my mouth. Then I jump up sputtering and grumping.

Walking out into the vineyard at 7:00 a.m., looking west.
Another gloomy morning, I was thinking to myself.

I fended Callie off until almost 7:00 this morning. She wasn't too persistent, actually. She waited quietly most of that time, dozing like me. It was still pretty dark at that hour. The thick layer of low gray clouds and the morning haze hugging the ground didn't help brighten things up any.

I put on my rubber gardening shoes because everything is so wet and muddy. I've never seen the vineyard so wet, with so much standing water everywhere, not even in January.We were walking toward the west, away from the house. Then I realized the light had changed. I turned around and looked behind me.

I turned around and saw the sun coming up behind me,
over the vines. Callie was following along.

A break in the clouds on the eastern horizon was letting pink sunlight shine through to brighten the sky. I stood and watched for a minute or two. It was amazing.

A few seconds later the clouds really let the sun shine through.

I hadn't bothered to put on my glasses, so I couldn't see the screen well enough to know whether the camera was going to be able to catch the event. Fortunately, however, I had grabbed the camera and put it in my shirt pocket as I left the house. It's a habit.

The camera even captured the scene when I zoomed in on it.

Even with the lousy weather we've been having, it is a real treat to live here and have the vineyards out back as our stomping grounds. By the way, I emptied another 14 mm of water out of the rain gauge this morning. That brings us up to 67 mm for the month of August so far. And that's more than 2½ inches.

Since January 1, we have had 440 mm of rain at La Renaudière, or over 17 inches. I think the average annual rainfall here is about 25 inches, so we are probably within the norm. I got used to not having rain in the summer after spending nearly 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and for the first four summers we spent here were also pretty dry. San Francisco gets about 20 inches of rain in an average year, nearly all of it between October and April.

As I walked back toward the house a few minutes later,
the clouds had closed back up and it was gray and damp again.

But the fact is that last August in Saint-Aignan we had two inches of rain, compared to this year's 2½ inches so far, and I remember the news reports saying we were having the wettest August in 50 or 60 years. But it's all relative. Where I grew up, on the coast of North Carolina, the average annual rainfall is about 60 inches. So the 25 inches of rain we get annually in Saint-Aignan is comparatively low. And the average rainfall in August on the N.C. coast is not 2½ inches — it's 7½!

Anyway, the orange slugs are really having a banner year around Saint-Aignan. I'm seeing them all over the vineyard, in places where I've never noticed them before. In past years they were only visible in the shadiest, dampest parts of the woods. Now they are getting closer and closer to our house and garden.

An orange slug I saw this morning, near the house, was
about four inches long. I had to use the flash to get this picture.

These impressive slugs might actually find our garden before long. There's not a lot out there for them to eat, by the way. Well, that's not really true. Walt just brought in half a dozen cucumbers and two oversize zucchinis.

23 August 2007

From bad to worse, weatherwise

It's a good thing that I got out Tuesday afternoon for a nice walk in the vineyard with the dog and the camera. It started raining again Tuesday night and it was still raining yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. Here it is Thursday morning, and... well, whadda ya know... it's raining.

Touraine grapes in the Renaudie vineyard, 21 August 2007

Callie had a very rainy birthday. In the morning, she and I headed out down the gravel road through the vineyard for our normal walk, but in a light drizzle. By the time we had gotten about a quarter of the way out (it's about a mile out to the end of the road), the rain really started coming down. So we had to turn back. The poor dog was antsy and a pain in the butt all morning, because she had so much pent-up energy.

Callie wading in and drinking out of the puddles
in the vineyard Tuesday afternoon

I had to fire up the Peugeot and go out yesterday morning. I had an appointment with our insurance agent, Mme Janvier, and I needed to go to the Ed supermarket to pick up some supplies. I spent a good 30 minutes talking to Mme Janvier.

One of the things we talked about was the weather, of course. Her office windows overlook the Cher down near the bridge in Saint-Aignan, and I could see the rain falling and speckling the surface of the river. « Les gens vont vraiment déprîmer cet hiver, parce qu'ils n'auront pas beaucoup vu le soleil cet été », Mme Janvier said. People are going to get really depressed this winter because they won't have had their time in the sun this summer. I'm sure she's right. Just thinking about winter is depressing at this point.

Callie the border collie, 21 August 2007.
She'd just been playing with her dog friend Lilli.

The French national news has been carrying big stories about the depressing weather and about the vacationers and tourist industry people who are having to suffer through this été pourri — rotten summer. Campers who went out to the coast in Brittany and farther down toward Bordeaux have been pulling up stakes early and heading back home. Sidewalk cafés near the beaches are just a collection of empty tables and chairs. Nobody is buying ice cream.

The movie theaters are full of people, evidently. And the people most enjoying this ducky summer are the ones in Paris and other big towns who sell... umbrellas. Parapluies. Pépins. Pébrocs. Foreign tourists interviewed for the French news shows swear they are still having a great time in Paris and that it is beautiful despite the rain. Since they've probably never been there before, they don't really know what they are talking about! If they could only see it when the sun's out!

More Renaudie grapes, probably Sauvignon Blanc

Yesterday Bruno of the Domaine de la Renaudie winery was out on his tractor spraying the grapes again. He's the one who told me last week that it was a good thing, on the day I saw him, that it wasn't raining. It was just gray and gloomy that day, and the last thing the grapes needed was more moisture. Tough luck, really, because these days, it's very wet and just as gloomy.

I assume Bruno was spraying the grapes with what is called the Bordeaux mixture (la bouillie Bordelaise), a fungicide/bactericide that is used to control rot. It's a combination of copper sulfate and hydrated lime, evidently, and you can see it as a blue powder on the ground and the grape leaves much of the season — except when the rain has washed it all away.

This morning's French weather forecast

For him to be out there spraying in the rain, Bruno must be desperately trying to save as much of his grape crop as possible. In Champagne, Beaujolais, and Alsace the harvest has already started. They are saying that the exceptionally warm weather we had last April gave the grapes a head start on the season, so they are ripe early this year. They are probably also trying to get them in before the rain ruins them completely.

Harvest dates are set by the AOC people. In other words, to get the Appellation Touraine, which is a guarantee of authenticity and quality, the grape-growers can't harvest until the "experts" give them the go-ahead. Bruno told me the vendanges wouldn't start before September 1 this year. Let's hope there's something left to harvest.

A zoomed shot looking out across the Cher to
a little housing development on the other side

Another news report said that even the tomatoes grown in hot houses are not doing well this summer. There isn't enough sun to warm things up, and the humidity penetrates everything. Lettuce, of all things, is doing poorly. Farmers are finding pests and diseases on the leaves that haven't been seen in years. Carrots are rotting in the ground.

Meanwhile, there are having their third severe heat wave of the summer in Greece, according to the news on France 2 TV. Temperatures there are over 100ºF (approaching 40ºC) these days. I think the same is true in the U.S. Southeast. Evelyn, our friend in Alabama, says in an e-mail that she was out yesterday and after having lunch with friends "the temp in my car read 114, yikes. Everyone is talking about the weather. It sucks the energy right out of you, a bit like yours which sucks your good spirit out I think." Evelyn is right about our weather, so I know she's right about hers.

Susan says in a comment that her garden in the Oakland Hills, San Francisco Bay Area, is a disaster zone like ours. "Our summer here in Oakland is pretty similar to Bellingham's," Susan wrote. "All but one of my tomatoes failed to set fruit, the pepper plant has exactly one pepper, and the cucumbers simply up and died." Susan, I didn't realize you were having that kind of summer there. Others have told me that the weather in the Seattle area (including Bellingham) has been dismal this summer too, but that's less surprising that hearing about yours (apologies, Seattle).

Clouds moving back over us on an August afternoon

Finally, Claude (who blogs at Blogging in Paris and in French at Vieux c'est mieux) is out in Normandy, about a three-hour drive north of Saint-Aignan, near the coast. Up there on the English Channel, she reported the other day, she has turned her heat on, or at least the radiator in her living room. It's that bad. The temperature in our house is holding at about 66ºF, and yesterday I kind of wanted to have a fire in the woodstove. Instead, I wrapped up in a blanket and took a nap in front of the TV.