30 June 2010

Vegetable matters

We did the mushroom cellars tour yesterday and it was interesting. I'll write about it in a day or two.

Oyster mushrooms at promotional prices in Bourré

Other vegetable news: I harvested my first potatoes yesterday, and we had them for dinner with a roasted chicken last night. I got quite a few spuds from the three plants I pulled up.

The first haul of new potatoes

I think I pulled them up too early, though, because the roots were full of tiny pea-sized potatoes that would probably have grown into something usable if I had left them. But it doesn't matter — I have about two dozen more plants out there.

Cooking radishes...

We also pulled out a good bunch of radishes. The radishes themselves had grown too large. Rather than eat them raw with butter, salt, and bread, we decided to cook them.

...and the radish greens

I stewed them slowly in chicken broth and duck fat, with the green tops and the radishes too. They were good with the potatoes and chicken. Radishes are actually just little turnips.

A prickly-pear cactus flower

I noticed day before yesterday that one of my prickly-pear cactus plants had a nice yellow flower on it. That's the first and only cactus flower I've seen so far this year.

More flowers, up close

And another of the succulent plants I have in a pot is flowering again too. It had a flower stalk on it just a few months ago, so I was surprised to see another one so soon.

29 June 2010

A wine day at Monmousseau in Montrichard

Yesterday started out to be a mushroom day, but it quickly turned into a wine day.

We drove over to Bourré, a village just downriver from Saint-Aignan, to visit the mushroom cellars there. We got there for the 11:00 tour, only to find out that the mushroom tour was at 10:00 and the 11:00 tour would take to a different feature on the site, an "underground village" carved into the walls of the limestone tunnels. We decided we preferred to see the mushrooms, so we have to go back today or tomorrow for that tour.

Monmousseau is large wine wholesaler and exporter
located in Montrichard.

Disappointed — or flexible and adaptable, if you will — we drove on down the road to the Caves Monmousseau (site in English and in French) on the edge of the little town of Montrichard. There was an 11:00 tour there that would take us into a different set of galeries — tunnels or cellars — carved into the limestone cliffs and bluffs on the north side of the Cher River Valley.

Monmousseau produces an extensive line of still
and sparkling Touraine wines.

Instead of growing mushrooms, Monmousseau uses the limestone tunnels as a place to store and age wine. The tunnels themselves have been carved into the soft limestone cliffs over the centuries and were greatly enlarged in the Renaissance when big blocks of limestone were quarried to be used as the building material for the monumental royal châteaus of the Loire Valley region.

There are 10 miles of tunnels lined with bottles of wine
at the Caves Monmousseau.

The Monmousseau wine cellars, for example, are 15 km/9 miles of tunnels carved into the cliffs, on three levels. When you are in the top level of the cellars, you still have a layer of about 75 feet of limestone over your head. Down in the cellars, the temperature is a constant 12ºC/55ºF year-round, and the humidity is about 90% all the time. Those are perfect conditions for storing and aging wine, or for growing mushrooms.

Touraine sparkling wines on the riddling racks

The guide at Monmousseau told us that there are four million bottles of wine in the cellars at the present time. I know that was the figure, because she said it in French and then again in English. The tour was bilingual because the tourists were international — there were six of us in all. We walked through a long, dark, narrow tunnel in the chilly temperatures, stopping at different points to see the sights in my pictures here.

And these are the "modern" mechanical equivalent
of the old-style riddling racks

What kinds of wines does Monmousseau make? Touraine wines of course, still and sparkling. Monmousseau is a négociant — a merchant or wholesaler — buying grapes all around the Loire Region and then making, bottling, and selling the wine under its own label. Monmousseau itself owns some vines, but mostly it negotiates with independent growers to buy their grapes and grape juice. The company exports a lot of Loire wines — I used to buy them in California, and you can probably find them where you live.

Disgorging the sediment from bottles of bubbly
on a sort of assembly line

What you see on the tour at Monmousseau is the production of sparkling wines made by the same method used to make Champagne wines, but using different grapes. A good portion of the sparkling Touraine wine is made with Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the Vouvray appellation. That's the only grape grown in the Vouvray and Montlouis areas, at least officially, and the sparkling wines from there can be called « Blancs de Blancs » — white wines made from "white" grapes.

The bottles are capped for aging and processing
before being re-opened and corked for sale to the public.

The equivalent wines made in the Champagne region are made using Chardonnay grapes. But most champagnes are made from a blend of red and white grapes and are not Blancs de Blancs. One type of sparkling wine is not inherently better than another. It's all a matter of taste. The fact is, though, that Vouvray and Touraine appellation sparkling wines are much less expensive than the famous champagnes, and can be just as fine.

« La Foire aux Vins » at Monmousseau yesterday.
Irresistible prices, fine wines.

At Monmousseau there was a big tub — a half barrel — of bottles of wine on sale yesterday. These were still wines, including some Vouvrays, some whites from nearby Montlouis, and some Touraine reds, including Gamays as well as reds made from blends of Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Côt (Malbec) grapes. Many were vintages going back to 2002, 2003, or 2004 — even 1999 — and they were irresistible at 3.00 € a bottle.

We especially enjoyed this 2003 semi-sweet Vouvray.

We tasted — that's the polite term for "drank" — some of them yesterday afternoon, and one or two were really excellent. Those included a 2003 Vouvray demi-sec. We opened it late in the afternoon when our friends D. (British) and C. (Parisian) stopped by. The Frenchwoman, C., commented on the Vouvray — « ce vin est vraiment excellent », she said.

2003 was the year of the great European Heat Wave — La Grande Canicule — and the Touraine wines made that year were exceptional, especially the white dessert/apéritif wines. Today I need to go back to Monmousseau and buy some more before it's all sold out.

28 June 2010

Supper outdoors

That's what we had yesterday. P. and J. arrived as scheduled, and by about 2:30 we were back from the train station in Onzain, a little town up on the Loire River right across from the famous Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire.

We had supper outside under the « barnum » at about 6:00. The weather is very warm right now — high 80s F in the shade — so it was pleasant. Walt had made a quiche lorraine and I bought some rillettes at the market — one kind was made with rabbit, the other ham. I made a dish of "Greeked mushrooms" — Champignons à la grecque. Here's a link to the recipe.

P. and J. are a little jet-lagged, having traveled for 20 hours and now adjusting to the nine-hour time difference from California to France. Today we are going to visit the mushroom caves over in Bourré, next to Montrichard and less than 10 miles down the river from Saint-Aignan.

I got up early this morning because I heard Callie the collie downstairs making some noise that sounded like she might be scratching at the door of what is now the guest bedroom. She probably doesn't understand all the changes in the house these days.

I didn't take any pictures yesterday. Too busy.

27 June 2010

Meeting the deadline

We made our deadline. Peter and Jill are on a plane over the Atlantic, or maybe over the British Isles by now, as I type this. They will land in Paris, take the RER into the city, and then get a train from the Gare d'Austerlitz down to Onzain.

The deadline was getting the new guest bedroom set up in time for their arrival. We had a double bed in storage in the garage, and an old chest of drawers that we were using in the utility room because there really wasn't any room for it elsewhere in the house.

The guest bed finally is where it belongs.

The bed is one that my mother bought at a yard sale in North Carolina back in about 1984. Walt and I went down there while we lived in Washington DC and spent a weekend refinishing the headboard and footboard. The bed was a gift to Walt from my mother. We've had it a long time now.

First the room had to be emptied out and the carpet cleaned.

The dresser is one that I bought in an antique store in Washington DC, or maybe Alexandria VA, at about the same time. So we've had that piece of furniture for at least 25 years too. It needs refinishing but it looks good in pictures. I wonder how old the old dresser is, actually.

A dresser finds a new home

That end table to the right of the bed and in the corner of the empty room, which we are using as a bedside table, is one that my father built back in the early 1950s. It's nearly as old as I am. The matching one is in our living room, and it will move upstairs with the sectional sofa after we've painted the walls up there.

Anyway, all these details might not be of interest to many people, but old friends, relatives, and people who've stayed with us since we moved to France seven years ago will know what I'm talking about. The guest room is thoroughly cleaned and adequately furnished. Putting these pieces of furniture in that room — in other words, getting the upstairs space finished and moving ourselves up there — was a plan that took seven years to accomplish.

The $5.00 yard-sale bed looks pretty good.

Moving furniture around is what we are doing right now, and it makes me feel young again. It reminds me of all the times we moved into new apartments in California in the 1980s and 1990s. It feels good to really clean a room and all the furniture in it. You can immediately see that your hard work has paid off.

I even had time yesterday afternoon to go out and wash and vacuum out the car. I'm ready. I hope Peter and Jill land in Paris on schedule and have time to get the train they bought tickets for. Onzain is about 35 minutes north of Saint-Aignan, and I'll be driving up there in a few hours to pick them up. They are going to have great weather for their short visit.

26 June 2010

French light switches

A couple of days ago Simon of Days on the Claise posted about light switches and how they are installed in England and Australia vs. how they are installed in France. The consensus seemed to be that in England and Australia, the down position means the light is switched on, but in France and the U.S., it's the up position that means "on".

I guess it's like driving on the right or on the left. Or pronouncing post-vocalic Rs.

When I read Simon's post, I didn't realize he was talking about switches that are outside the door of the room where the light fixture is located. With those, of course, you can't be sure whether the light is on or off without opening the door, unless you are sure which position on the switch is "on" and which is "off" — or can you?

In, America, I'm not sure we ever have light switches outside the rooms where the fixture they control is located. There must be some, but I can't remember any off hand, thinking back to all the American apartments and houses I've ever lived in (at least 15!).

In France, the switches are put in that way all the time. Often, the light switch for a bathroom light is located next to the door outside the bathroom. It can be very confusing. And what if you are in the bathroom (often actually a toilet) and somebody comes by and turns the light off? There you are, in the dark. (That doesn't happen often, in my experience.)

It's easier to turn the light on when the switch is in the lighted space outside the WC. When it's inside, you have to search around for it with your hand, in the pitch dark.

Anyway, it's very common in France to have a special switch with a "warning light" — un voyant lumineux — built in, just for such switches. We have one for our downstairs cellier — that's a walk-in pantry — because the light switch is located just outside the cellier door, and the cellier is windowless. A light switch in French is called « un interrupteur », by the way.

This switch is pretty old, so the voyant lumineux
is obviously not a new technology.

When the light is on in the pantry, the warning light on the switch outside the door is lit up. When the light is off, the voyant lumineux is also off. You can tell at a glance if you or somebody else has left the light on in there.

And you don't have to go into the pantry — it's dark in there when the light's off — and fumble around for the light switch. You turn on the light using the outside switch before you open the door. And when you exit, you know if you've remembered to turn the light off because of the "idiot light" built into the switch.

The interrupteur for the light outside over the back door,
off and on.

We have the same kind of "idiot light" switch for an outside light over our back door. The switch is inside. When the light is on outside, the idiot light is on for you to see from inside, on the switch. That one is handy during daylight hours, because during the day you can't tell from inside whether the outdoor light is switched on — even though the door has windows in it. At night, you can tell whether it's on or off — unless you've closed the heavy metal shutter across the doorway.

In apartment buildings in Paris and other big French cities, the lights in stairwells and hallways are often put on a timer so that they turn themselves off a few minutes after they are turned on. It's a way to avoid wasting electricity — the lights don't stay on all the time they way they do in the U.S. The switches for those timed hall lights in France, called « minuteries », often have a voyant lumineux built into them, but it serves a slightly different purpose.

In hallways and on stairs, the "idiot light" stays on when the overhead lights are off. That way, you can find them easily when you are searching about in the dark for a way to light up the space. I don't think I've ever seen minuteries in America either.

Since yesterday there's some furniture
in the new upstairs space.

By the way, yesterday we moved the bed and dresser upstairs. We won't take any more furniture up there until we get the walls painted. That is, unless we decide to leave them as they are and call it a decorating choice. Just kidding.

25 June 2010

Saint-Aignan and a sleeping dog

Last night we were invited over for supper by Jacques, the contractor who did our attic conversion, and his wife Elisabeth. We were out late and I'm feeling the aftereffects this morning. Problem is, we have a lot of work to do today.

The château and church in Saint-Aignan
on a summer evening

Jacques and Elisabeth live on the opposite side of Saint-Aignan from us. As you'll see from the photos here, they have a stupendous view of the town's major monuments from their front patio.

A closer view of the château, looking west

It was nice enough for us to be comfortable sitting outside until after midnight. We watched the sunset over the town and enjoyed a good supper. This was after having settled our bill for the attic job. Writing that check was painful but unavoidable...

Sunset, 24 June 2010 — Walt took this one with my camera

Earlier in the day, I took this picture of Callie sleeping just inside the back door. The dog is doing what I'd like to be able to do today.

Callie napping in the afternoon sun

Temperatures are in the low 80s F in the afternoon, and that's good for the garden. We are just watching everything grow, and also getting the house ready for company next week. A week from now, we'll start painting the walls upstairs.

24 June 2010

About birds, including a recipe

When I first thought about this post as I walked the dog this morning, I thought it would be a recipe and I would tack on a couple of gratuitous factoids about local birds. Then I realized the recipe was for a chicken dish. The whole post would be about birds.

First, the redstart chicks have now all left the nest. It must have happened yesterday. We were occupied with other pursuits, including cooking, receiving guests, and eating. After lunch, Walt got up on the ladder and looked in the nest. The redstart parents are now empty-nesters.

And yesterday morning, I think it was, Walt was looking out the back window when he saw a now-familiar bird. "Look, isn't that a hoopoe?" I did look, and sure enough, it was a damn hoopoe. It's the first and only one I've seen this summer. Walt had seen it out by the pond a week or so earlier. Hoopoes are spectacular.

Here's a hoopoe story from two years ago. You might have read it back then.

Rub the chicken pieces with a Moroccan spice blend...

Meanwhile, if you saw Walt's post today, you know about the guests we had over yesterday afternoon, and what we ate and drank. I was really pleased with how the tajine of chicken with prunes came out, and with the way I ended up cooking it.

...and cook them in the oven until nice and golden.

The recipes I looked at said to brown the chicken pieces in a pan on the stove. One recipe said to cook the chicken completely, then make the sauce with prunes, onions, honey, and spices. After letting that cook for a while, you were to put the chicken back in the pan and ladle the sauce over it.

Cook prunes with onions, garlic, honey and spices
to make a sauce for the spicy chicken.

That made me think that maybe cooking the chicken first in the oven would be easier and make less mess — less mess because I lined a pan with aluminum foil so clean up was minimal. I don't like frying chicken in a pan because the skin always sticks and sometimes comes entirely off the pieces. The oven worked better. Then I made the onion-prune sauce and poured it over the cooked chicken.

Here's the recipe.

Tajine of chicken with prunes and onions
1 chicken
3 Tbsp. ras-el-hanout (Moroccan spices)
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
18 pitted prunes
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup almonds, toasted
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

Cut the chicken up into serving pieces. Rub each piece with some of the spice powder. The ras-el-hanout powder I have contains curry, coriander seed, cumin, salt, carraway seed, turmeric, cornstarch, and cayenne pepper. You can make you own spice mix easily, using these or other spices.

Put the chicken pieces on an oiled baking sheet and baste them with some oil. Cook them in a hot oven for 30 to 45 minutes — as the chicken starts to brown, gradually turn down the heat so they will continue cooking but not burn. Start at 450ºF (230ºC) and gradually reduce the heat to 400º and then 350º as you go.
Friends who visited earlier in June brought us jars of honey
from Paris. I used rosemary-flower honey in the tajine.
And next to it is the bag of ras-el-hanout spices I used.

While the chicken is cooking, slice the onions and garlic and start them cooking in some oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the pitted prunes, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey to the pan, with a few tablespoons of water. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the onions and prunes for about 15 minutes.

Put the chicken pieces and their cooking juices — that's where the spices are — in a baking pan large enough to hold them all in one layer. Pour the onion-prune sauce over them. Salt and pepper to taste, stirring the chicken around so it is all covered in the cooking juices and the sauce. Add a little more water. Set the pan in a 350ºF (180ºC) oven for about 30 minutes. Cover it if it starts to brown too much on the top.

When it's done, top it with toasted almonds and toasted sesame seeds. Serve and enjoy.
Here's the tajine on the table. This is a cropped version of
a picture Walt took yesterday and posted on his blog this morning.

You can make this tajine ahead and reheat it at the last minute, or you can just keep it in a warming oven for an hour or two before serving it. That's what I did yesterday. Just before taking it to the table, turn up the heat for a few minutes to that it browns on top. Serve it with steamed rice, boiled potatoes, or, better yet, steamed couscous grain.

23 June 2010

Fledglings now

The redstart chicks are learning to fly. Yesterday we were sitting out on the front terrace, listening to the alarm calls of the male bird. He hovered nearby in the maple and poplar trees, and even dared once or twice to perch on the railing around the terrace. But he was obviously unhappy about our presence, which prevented him from flying up to the nest.

Then we looked up and saw that one of the redstart chicks, now fully fledged, was standing up on top of the nest. It was stretching its stubby wings and fluffing up its own feathers.

Suddenly the chick started flapping those little wings and was airborne. That lasted all of two seconds. The inexperienced bird grabbed onto the vertical wall across from the nest, claws clinging to the rough stucco. Then it pushed off again, fluttering noisily.

The fledgling flew back and forth from the nest to the wall like that three or four times, gaining confidence. The male redstart continued his high-pitched whistling. But it was just his alarm call, the piercing sound he makes when he sees us or Callie the Collie on the terrace, or Bert the Black Cat patrolling the gravel driveway down below. It sounded like he was calling a dog, maybe.

Roger Tory Peterson describes the call as a "liquid wheet.... a clear tooick." Peterson also says the male redstart "constantly flickers [his] bright rusty tail from [a] rusty rump." That's exactly what the bird was doing. That's why it's called a rougequeue — a "redtail" — in French.

We didn't want to be chased inside on a nice warm evening, so we sat there a while longer. Just as we were getting ready to go in at about 8:00 p.m., Walt looked over and noticed a big deer in the neighbors' yard. I had my camera at the ready, and though I didn't get a very good picture, I did get one. It was all over in the blink of an eye.

22 June 2010

Getting our house back

In a way, we are starting to get our house back after three months of disruption and disturbance. In another way, I am starting to realize how we truly are getting an entirely new, much more spacious house.

The downstairs entry hall — the only finished room we have at ground level, the rest being unfinished garage and utility room space — had served as my computer room since 2003. My messy desk was down there for all to see, along with a television set and, starting in 2004, a single daybed that we had bought for overflow house guests, since we had only one guest room.

The entry hall all cleaned up

Now that entry hall will be exactly that, and not a home office with a messy desk in it. The room gets a lot of daylight through two south-facing glass block windows on the stairway. It will be a perfect place for houseplants. And now we have the new armoire, which makes a perfect coat closet for us and for guests.

The radiator (see picture above) will hang on brackets
under the lighthouse painting.

For the time being, I still have an old armchair and footstool in the room. There's a big TV under the stairs, where you can't see it, and I'll be able to sit down there to read or watch movies until the upstairs room is painted, later this summer. Then we'll move the TV, chair, and ottoman up there.

The new wardrobe and my temporary TV room

We have company coming from California on Sunday. Yesterday, while Walt was putting the third coat of polyurethane on the pine floor upstairs, I decided to do some cleaning on the ground level.

First I scrubbed the tile floor to get off all the black scuff marks and dried plaster residue left by the work crew. They had stored boards and drywall down there during the travaux, and had mixed up buckets of plaster there to take upstairs for "mudding" the taped drywall panels. The entry hall was a mess, to say the least.

One more shot of "the dance floor"

I told Walt we might as well re-hang some of the pictures we had taken down during the work phase, to make the place a little more inviting. We'll have to take them down again when we start re-painting the walls down there, but that's not much work. Then we can re-position and hang them up again. The big armoire will be easy to cover with a tarp when painting time comes.

Up in the attic, before the work began, we found three wooden boxes that the previous owner — a man named Jean Kientzy — had left there. He was the man who had the house built 45 years ago, and he had at one point in his career lived and worked in Kourou, French Guyana, where the French government launches its satellites into space. La Guyane is on the northern coast of South America.

The lid0ff one of Monsieur Kientzy's shipping crates

Evidently, when Monsieur Kientzy moved back to France after his tour of duty in Guyana, he shipped back these three wooden crates holding some of his belongings. Shipping origins and destinations are stenciled on their lids, as you can see in the picture above. I brushed, vacuumed, and washed out the crates yesterday, because I think they'll make good plant stands, either in the entry hall or on the sunporch. Or maybe even upstairs.

Here's another one of the wooden crates.

Who knows, I might decide to varnish them, since I think we ended up buying a lot more varnish than we will need for doing the floor and stairs. Varnishing has become an inside joke now. Everytime I mention of piece of furniture that we'll have to move, Walt says: "Hey, maybe you can varnish that too!"

21 June 2010

Redstarts on the railing and in the nest

A couple of redstarts are nesting on our front terrace. They've built a big over-stuffed nest on top of the column that supports the roof overhang. The male and the female come and go all day long, bringing insects and berries to the three chicks in their brood.

The male redstart on the railing...

These redstarts are Old World birds. The American bird called a redstart is actually in a different family entirely. And these Old World redstarts do not like it when we sit out on the terrace. With us out there, they are afraid to fly up to their nest. They and the chicks are lucky that we've been having chilly, damp weather, because we humans have been forced to stay inside most recent afternoons and evenings. (That was my way of saying that this weather we're having is for the birds!)

... and three chicks in the nest

Yesterday I managed to get a photo the the male redstart as he perched on the railing around the terrace. Unfortunately, he had nothing in his beak to feed to the chicks at that particular moment. He's really handsome when he flies up bringing one of the neighbors' redcurrants for his babies.

The nest is perched on top of the column
that supports the roof overhang

Fact is, though, it's the new floor upstairs that is still getting most of our attention. That and the routine tasks of everyday life — cooking, laundry, watering plants, washing dishes, and so on. Speaking of laundry, it's been so rainy and gray lately that I've hung clothes out to dry on the line only a couple of times this year. Most days I have to hang them on the indoor clothesline.

Here's a section of the floor with two —
count'em, two — coats of polyurethane on it.

It looks like we are going to meet the work deadline that we imposed on ourselves. That is, we need to be able to move our big bed and some clothes to the new room upstairs before Sunday, when friends from California arrive for a four-day visit. That's why we're doing the floor first and the walls later.

The larger of the two bedrooms downstairs will then suddenly become the new guest room. It's going to be nice.

20 June 2010

Bowling, anyone?

Coats of varnish applied: 1.
Time spent: 2 hrs.
Method: roller on a long handle.
Varnish used: 5 liters.
Liters remaining: 19.
Result: very nice.
Today: coat 2.

19 June 2010

About Bricomarché, scrubbing, and ditches

More about the Bricomarché policy on promotional deals: When we found out that the store had only two tins of the floor-finishing product they advertised at a special price, and didn't have any more in stock, Walt and I both expressed our dismay. That's the word I'll use. We needed at least four, and maybe six, tins of it.

Johnny, the employee who has advised us and sold us things many times over the past seven years — I'm sure he recognizes the two crazy Americans when they come in (though he probably assumes we're British) — reacted this way: « Ne vous affolez pas ! Ça se passe de plus en plus souvent comme ça maintenant. » — "No need to get upset. That's the way things work these days." Or something to that effect. We are all victims, I guess, of corporate policies.

A big yellow dump truck parked out behind our house
yesterday. See below.

Obviously, the store's policy is to advertise a special and order only one or two of the sale items. It happens all the time. I've never been offered a rain check, as you would be offered or would ask for in an equivalent situation in the U.S. When I go to Intermarché to buy ducks or legs of lamb or whatever, because they have the item advertised in their store flyer, more often than not I'm told they've sold out. Sometimes they'll tell me, for example, that they might get some more in on, say, Friday — come back then. Ha! I've fallen for that one several times.

Once, Intermarché advertised large, whole, raw frozen prawns at a very good price. When I went over there, I couldn't find and prawns in the freezer cabinets. I asked an employee. Oh no, we didn't order any of those, she said. They just advertised them, I thought to myself. They were satisfied with that.

At Bricomarché, Florence, the employee Johnny referred us to for information about availability of the polyurethane product, said the store in fact had only those two three-liter tins of it. But she said she would call the store in Bléré for us to see if there was more available there. I said, fine, we can always drive the 15 miles over to Bléré to get it if there is. On no, Florence said. We'll send Johnny to pick it up and bring it here for you. That was a nice offer, I think.

Flowers for Florence

Meanwhile, Walt spotted the larger buckets of varnish that were hidden away on a high shelf and that had not been advertised. We verified that they were in fact the same product, and we looked at the price. I would not have been surprised to see a price of 70 or 75 euros on the six-liter tins, since the price on the 3-liter ones was 30 euros. As I've said, often the "large economy size" of a product is more than twice the price of the regular size. They just do that to keep you on your toes, I guess.

Anyway, there you have it. Cultural differences, I guess. As they say in France, it's « chacun pour soi. » You are on your own. And caveat emptor to you too.

The floorboards before (foreground bit) and
after scrubbing. We are using a colorless varnish
so this is what the floor is going to look like, I think.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the pine floorboards upstairs. They were covered in plaster dust and little hardened drops of plaster or spackling. The only way to get all that off was to wipe the floor carefully with a wet cloth. Sweeping and vacuuming weren't effective. Scrubbing was, though. I'm happy with the result.

Filling in the ditch — hurray!

During the day, a big yellow truck came and dumped a load of soil into the ditch on the south side of our back yard, along the road. We had been promised that the ditch would be filled in someday. Now it has, at least partially. And just when we were talking about going out there to knock down and smooth out the piles of soil, a man showed up on a motorized excavating machine and did it all for us. Nice. The mayor arranged all this.

The dirt is all tamped down — we don't have to do it.

Having the ditch filled in will make it much easier to mow the grass along the road. It will all look much neater once grass grows over it. And it will be a lot easier to set up a ladder out there when the time comes (in September) to trim the hedge again. By the way, there was never ever any water in that ditch anyway.