30 September 2015

Fog and dew

Many of our mornings are either very foggy or very dewy in this season, but the afternoons are mainly dry. Only a stiff breeze overnight can chase the fog and dew away. Morning temperatures are in the low 50s F (10 to 12 ºC). I'm hoping for good weather in October.

I think all the grapes have been harvested now — even these that had started turning into raisins on the vine. There wasn't enough moisture to plump them back up, despite all the rain we've had in September (5 in. / 124 mm).

The flowers pictured below are growing everywhere throughout and around the vineyard right now. I don't know what they are called. Who can tell me?

We're off to Romorantin (pop. 20,000) today to do some shoe shopping. We both need comfortable, water-proof hiking boots for the winter season. I'm tired of coming back from my walks with wet socks and feet.

29 September 2015

Rain started to fall

Can you tell where I was standing when I took this photo of the two most famous domes in Paris? No, I wasn't up on top of the Tour Montparnasse. I had gone up there in the afternoon with my friends E & L. Then we went to a different neighborhood for a light dinner. Rain was starting to fall.

Maybe this will be the right clue. This is not the café where we had supper, if I remember correctly, but it's the one that gave me my best photo. I had a salad, and E & L both had soup. A lot of other people were taking advantage of what turned out to be one of the last summery evenings of 2015.

This last photo will give away the location, I'm sure. If you've been to Paris, you've probably gone the the Place du Trocadéro and the Palais Chaillot to see this view. There were thousands of people out there on this particular evening, August 27. A steady rain would fall for the next 24 hours.

28 September 2015

Quand je regarde la lune...

I woke up at about 4:00 this morning and realized it seemed very dark outside. Then I remembered the eclipse. By 4:30 I was up and taking photos (like many thousands of others, I imagine). Here's the result.

5:07 a.m. Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ60 with tripod

5:11 a.m. Canon SX700 HS with tripod

5:38 a.m. Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ60 with tripod

6:03 a.m. Canon SX700 HS with tripod

6:14 a.m. Canon SX700 HS hand held

6:46 a.m. Canon SX700 HS hand held

It's hard to draw any conclusions about the cameras from these images. I did feel like I had more luck with the Canon, and the Panasonic seemed a little overwhelmed by the extreme contract conditions of the scene. But then it may all have to do with settings.

Also this morning, I'm going a coffee taste test. The label on the new brique of coffee seems appropriate for the day's main event. But the coffee, L'Or (The Gold) from Maison de Café, is not as rich and tasty as my regular cup of joe (Intermarché Top Budget 100% Arabica), IMO. And it costs three tmes as much.

27 September 2015

The neighborhood

Look what they've done to the pond out back. They scraped it all out, removing all the invasive jussie plant that had almost entirely filled the waterhole up. My photo was taken even before the work was finished, so I'll have to take another one this afternoon.

The town does this to the pond periodically, I think. It's just maintenance. When we moved here 12 years ago, the pond looked kind of like it does above. That's a neighbor's old farmhouse in the photo. And here's an unusual photo (for me) of our house, showing the woodpile, rain barrels, clothesline, and carport.

And just because this is France, here's a set of morning walk photos in bleu-blanc-rouge.

26 September 2015


Seven a.m. at the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris. Late August. Transitioning from Paris back to Saint-Aignan, and from summer to autumn.

The day before — my last in Paris this time — had felt more like early November than late August. It had rained, hard and steady, for 24 hours. It was time to go home. By the way, that's the tower at the Gare de Lyon, on the other side of the Seine and covered in scaffolding, that I could see from my vantage point at the Gare d'Austerlitz.

My train would be pulling out, headed south, in about 30 minutes. I just had time for un café et un croissant. That's the other transition. From yesterday's blog post to today's. Bon weekend.

25 September 2015

Le café selon moi

When I first started coming to France in 1970, I liked the coffee you got in cafés and restaurants, and also the coffee people made and served at home. It tasted richer than the American coffee I was used to. Back then, there were basically three styles of coffee available — café filtre, which was drip coffee made by the cup using a little stainless steel apparatus; Melitta coffee, which was also drip coffee but often made by the pot, using a paper filter and a plastic cone; and finally expresso, or café express, which you got in most cafés and restaurants — un express — UN ! was what the waiter would yell at the barman.

I especially liked the expresso (now called espresso, I think). The other two kinds reminded me of American coffee, even though I though they were better. It had to do with the kind of beans used. I like Arabica beans, and that's what I buy these days. Robusta beans are less rich-tasting. Back then, you couldn't make expresso at home, so I had a Melitta filter cone and would buy the paper filters. That's still what I do today, except that I have a fancy drip pot that automates the process.

The other thing about French coffee way back when was that it wasn't easy to find decent coffee except as whole beans. You had to grind them yourself, and it seemed that everybody except people who drank café soluble — instant coffee — had an electric coffee grinder at home. I came back to France in 1972 and moved into a small apartment. Before long I had acquired a coffee grinder. I still have it, but I never use it any more. It's a bivoltage model. Back then, some towns or neighborhoods had 110V current as in the U.S., but others had 220V current. Bivoltage appliances were widely available.

Because this was a coffee grinder that I could also use in the U.S., where the current is 110V, it was handy. The problem was, back then, that you didn't really find whole-bean coffee in very many places over there. Nearly all the coffee sold in most parts of the U.S. was already ground into powder. For years my coffee grinder didn't get much use in America. But I spent many years in France back then (1970, 1972-73, 1974-76, and 1979-82) as well as many years in America.

Eventually, the coffee bean situation reversed itself. Nowadays, it's hard to find coffee beans out here in the French countryside — I'm sure it's easier in Paris and other cities, but not here. And in the U.S., at least in places where I lived from 1982 until 2002, coffee beans were widely available. So I started using my coffee grinder over there too. I actually bought a second French grinder, but I hardly ever used it because it wasn't a bivoltage machine. Actually, I just donated that one, like new, to Emmaüs (Good Will). The older one, as I said, I'll keep, and at the age of 43 years it still works just fine. (By the way, the same flip-flop thing happened that happened with coffee beans in the U.S. and France also happened with butter, but that's another story...)

So here and now we buy our coffee not as whole beans but in powder form. Twelve years ago, I picked up a brique (vacuum-packed block) of Intermarché coffee, just to try it. We were on a strict budget back then, and the Intermarché coffee was, well, cheap. It cost 75 eurocents for 250 grams (just over half a pound). And it was (and is) good. It's 100% Arabica coffee. Nowadays it costs 90 cents a block, or less than two euros a pound. I've been buying and enjoying it for twelve years. House guests often comment on how good it is.

Walt and I have a small collection of coffee pots of different kinds, but we don't use them all that much. Actually, for years I drank tea instead of coffee in the morning. I lost my taste for coffee for a decade when I quit smoking cigarettes back in the early 1980s. Tea suited me better. I've gradually come back to morning coffee over the years. We do use our French-press (plunger) pots from time to time, especially for after-lunch or after-dinner coffee. We hardly ever use the Italian metal pots, but I like having them. And I always use the same brand of coffee no matter which pot I'm making it in.

We used to enjoy making coffee with a fancy espresso machine (La Pavoni brand), but at some point 10 years ago it sprang a leak. We've never managed to repair it or have it repaired, so it sits unused in a cabinet down in the garage. One day we'll have to get a new coffee-maker (the one we use is now 12 years old) and I'm sure it will be another drip model. I don't see myself using those Nespresso capsules or the Senseo packets. I like the Intermarché 100% Arabica coffee and I hope they don't quit selling it in my lifetime.

French people still drink their morning coffee out of bowls, I think, but mugs (conveniently called mugs) are now widely available. Of course we have a supply of them that we moved over here from the States. We also have two sets of demi-tasse cups, eight in all, that we've had for more than 30 years now. One Christmas in the mid-'80s, Walt and I each surprised the other with a gift of little cups and saucers — it was a funny coincidence (les grands esprits se rencontrent..., they say).

French people used to put chicory in their coffee too, and I know that some still do. A few weeks ago I was at the check-out counter over at Intermarché and I had picked up a few briques of the store-brand coffee. The man ahead of me in line, who must have been even older than I am, looked at what I was buying and asked me if I liked that brand of coffee. I told him I did, and that I'd been buying it for many years. He asked me if I added some chicory to it when I made it. I said no. He said he'd always drunk coffee made that way and didn't want to give it up.

Coffee is like bread. What some people consider to be very good coffee or bread, others think is inbuvable or immangeable. Les goûts et les couleurs...in other words, there's no accounting for taste.

24 September 2015

Webby weather

All of a sudden it's autumn. We're having autumnal weather. The mornings are cold and dewy. The afternoons, at least many of them, turn off warm (relatively) and sunny. The hours of darkness are pulling in, meaning that the dog's walks get later in the morning and earlier in the evening.

One of the signs of the season is the renewed activity of all the arachnids in the area. Because of heavy dew, or leftover moisture from rain showers, their webs are very noticeable all around the vineyard when the sun is coming up in the morning. They almost sparkle. Here are just a few examples.

Even after a long, warm, dry, and busy summer, I'm not sure I'm ready for fall. I keep trying to see the positive side of the change of seasons. Instead of zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes, which we've been gorging on — yesterday I made a big pan of moussaka — we'll soon be eating collard greens, butternut and acorn squash, and more soups and stews.

Right now, the house is getting almost chilly and we don't have a working boiler. The radiators are cold. We're waiting for the company that is supposed to be installing a new, more efficient, easier-to-regulate boiler to contact us with a date for the work to be done. They've said only that it will happen sometime in October. We hope so. The good news is that the weather is supposed to be dry and fairly warm at least until the early part of next month.

23 September 2015


Yesterday I was in Blois [blwah] twice. I was surprised at the amount of traffic there was on the roads up there. I had to drive Walt to Blois for a medical appointment. It takes an hour. Then I had to go back and pick him up in the afternoon. He wasn't allowed to drive himself home. It takes between 45 minutes and an hour to get there.

When I went back in the afternoon, it had started raining. I stopped and took a few pictures on the south (left) bank of the Loire despite the frequent hard showers. I wanted to try out my camera's panorama feature again, and it had been a long time since I'd taken or posted any photos of Blois, a city of 50,000 that is the administrative "capital" of our département (Loir-et-Cher). You can find other posts about Blois, including photos, by tapping or clicking this link.

There are three bridges across the Loire at Blois. The one you see above is the oldest (18th century), and the other two, one on the eastern edge of town and one on the western edge, are modern. Of course, this bridge has had to be repaired or rebuilt several times over the centuries, including at the end of World War II. German forces had blown up the three central arches.

Blois is an old royal city and it has a big château that dates back to the Middle Ages, with wings built over the centuries in different architectural styles. You can see one of the "newer" wings of the château just behind the towers of the church above, which is called Saint-Nicolas. The church itself was built in the 12th and 13th centuries.

During that war, more than 1,500 buildings in Blois were heavily damaged or destroyed by bombardments. The center of town was rebuilt in the old style. One third of the town's population lives, however, in a large modern neighborhood of apartment buildings on the north side, built in the 1950s and 1960s.

22 September 2015

Importing wide or tall images into Blogger using Picasa

Well, thanks to Simon of Days on the Claise, I've figured out a way to post photos that are larger than 1600 pixels wide or tall Simon suggested uploading large photos to Dropbox and then importing them into blogger using their URL (web address) to identify them. I've tried that it works but not perfectly for me. The image on the main blog page comes in at its full size and I can't figure out how to size it down to fit the column width. It runs off the page. There's probably something I don't understand.

So instead of using Dropbox, I tried uploading a large photo (the one below) directly into Picasa a.k.a. Google Photos and then importing it from there. It works! When I upload photos directly into Blogger, they also go automatically into my Picasa albums anyway. So this way I have to do that step manually, but for the occasional large image, it will be worth the trouble. Here's an example.

The photo above, by the way, is a stitched-together composite image I made from four smaller photos that I took from the top of the Tour Montparnasse in April 2002, when Walt and I were in Paris on vacation. It shows the Jardin des Tuileries all the way from the Place de la Concorde on the left to the western end of the Louvre complexon the right. The quality of the image is pretty good, considering the age of the image. I took the photos with a year-2000-vintage Canon camera that had a long zoom.

If you click on the picture above or below with your mouse, it will open in a larger size. Then click again when you see the little magnifying glass hovering over the image. That will open the photo at full size (4,000 pixels wide, in this case) and then you'ĺl need to scroll horizontally and also maybe vertically, using the scroll bars at the edges of the screen or the wheel on your mouse (Windows). I haven't tried all that on a tablet, so I'm not sure what you might need to do.

Here's another very wide image (3000 pixels) below. Callie and I were just setting out on our walk in the vineyard Sunday morning when I took it. I learned that my Lumix camera can take panoramic photos using a method I was unfamiliar with. You just put the camera in panorama mode, aim, push the shutter button, and then pan manually to take in the scene you want to capture. And that gives you a panorama like the one just above.

21 September 2015

Le Musée d'Orsay et Le Jardin des Tuileries

Yesterday, looking into the image archives on my hard disk, I found a set of photos from the top of the Tour Montparnasse that I took on April 3, 2002. I had completely forgotten that Walt and I went up there that year. We were on vacation from San Francisco, staying in a rented apartment on the Rue Mayet in that neighborhood. So I've been up there at least three times now, including a time in July 2000.

But back to August 2015... Here's a photo looking down into the Jardin des Tuileries at the Louvre.

The image above is a detailed view cropped out of the image below. The Seine runs through the middle of the original picture, but is barely visible. The buildings on the other side of the Tuileries garden line the Rue de Rivoli, where there are well-known hotels and bookstores.

The long building in the middle of the photo is the old Gare d'Orsay, which now houses the Musée d'Orsay, where there is an important collection of impressionist paintings and other 19th century art. The old station opened up as a new museum in 1986, at the initiative of former French president Valéry Giscard-d'Estaing.

20 September 2015

Bringing in the grapes, and maybe some collard greens

Thursday morning, before the heaviest rains started falling, the crews were out harvesting grapes. Friday morning, before the heavy afternoon rains started falling, the vignerons and their crews were out there again. It was a race against time. But there are still vineyard plots of red wine grapes where the fruit is still on the vine.

The grapes above are Chenin Blanc, I'm pretty sure — they are left on the vines until later and then made into "tender", medium-dry late-harvest wines. As far as I can see, all the Sauvignon Blac grapes, the areas staple white wine grape for dry wines, have been taken in now.

Friday morning, two guys from the Domaine de la Renaudie were out working in a couple of plots of red wine grapes — Cabernet Franc, I think, on one side, and Côt (Malbec) on the other. Harvesting is done by machine. They were rained out by mid-afternoon, when the torrential rains came.

The two guys here were working right outside our back gate. The blue tractor pulls a trailer used to take the grapes down to the winery, a mile or so away, for pressing and, later, after fermentation, bottling.

One crop we've planted has really been enjoying the damp weather we've had in September is my patch of collard greens. Maybe they should be called "blues" — you can see what a bluish color the leaves had. The variety is called Vates Blue, actually.

It's almost time for me to start cutting some of the bigger bottom leaves and cooking them for the table or for the freezer. I might begin doing that this week. Meanwhile, though, we have to keep track of the tomatoes as they continue ripening. Anyway, collards supposedly taste better after the leaves have been touched by the first frosts of autumn. I'll probably be harvesting the blue-green leaves a few at a time until Christmas, or even into 2016.

19 September 2015

Floating away

We've been having monsoon rains here in Saint-Aignan for a few days now. Yesterday was incredible. I've never seen rain fall so hard — at least not here. There was some lightning and a lot of rumbling thunder too. At least there was no hail. The cause, apparently, was the remnants of a tropical storm named Henry (Henri?) that moved in off the ocean on Thursday.

Stormy weather

The only silver lining to all the bad weather news is that we didn't see any signs of the leaky roof that we have had on and off for the past five years. The framing around the Velux skylight windows up in the loft seems to have stayed perfectly dry. So did the corner of the kitchen ceiling that developed a bad leak a couple of years ago.

 You can see "ropes" of rain (des cordes de pluie) in this photo.

With rains that fall so hard, and these old tile roof structure, there is always a danger of small infiltrations and water damage inside the house. We got off scot-free this time, I'm glad to say. OH NO! I was wrong. Walt just noticed that there's a big damp spot in the middle of the kitchen ceiling. Merde! Time to call the contractor...

Trapped inside by rising waters

So how much rain actually fell? I just went out and emptied the rain gauge. In the space of a few hours yesterday afternoon, 38 mm — exactly 1½ inches — fell on us. That's 38 liters of water per square meter of ground, if that means anything to you. The plot of land we live on measures 2,300 square meters, so doing the arithmetic shows that 87,400 liters of water fell just on us. That's 874 hectoliters, or 87.4 cubic meters. In U.S. gallons, that's 23,088.64.

Picturesque but pretty damp

Luckily, we live pretty much at the top of a hill, so the water does run off quickly. There's no real danger of flooding, though you can see how there was some ponding on the gravel driveway in front of the house. That's something we've seen only three or four times in the 12 years we've lived here in Saint-Aignan. The rain we had in just three for four hours yesterday afternoon is the average amount that falls in the space of three weeks.

A river ran through it

And that was just yesterday. On Thursday 9/17 we collected 35 mm in the gauge. That means you can double all the figures I gave above, and that's for a two-day rain episode. We got about 20 mm over the five previous days. And on September 1, we had a rainfall amount of 31 mm. If we had any boat-building skills, we might have an ark under construction in the back yard. Or maybe we should be thinking about a new roof.

18 September 2015

L'Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile

The Arc de Triomphe, a 19th century monument, is another vantage point for taking in views of Paris — especially of the Champs-Elysées and the Place de l'Etoile. I (or my camera, actually) had a good view of the arch from the top of the Tour Montparnasse.

The distance from the Tour Montparnasse to the Arc de Triomphe is about 5 kilometers — that's 3 miles. In the photo below, you can see the crowd up on the observation deck of the arch, at a height of 50 meters (165 ft.), compared to 210 meters (699 ft.) for the Tour Montparnasse.

A few years ago, CHM and I made the trip from his apartment over to the Arc de Triomphe, to take some photos. You can see some of them in blog posts of mine from 8 years ago, here and here. Below are a couple of examples.

Street level


17 September 2015

Paris panorama

I've been working with this photo since yesterday morning, trying to figure out how to post it. I wish the blogging software didn't impose a limit of 1600 pixels as the maximum size of an image that can be posted.

So I cropped my photo and resized it to a width of 3200 pixels. Then I cut it in half, producing two images that are 1600 pixels wide. Then I resized the whole 3200 pixel image down to 1600 pixels wide — that's the image above. The two halves are below.

In the image above, you can see a part of the Louvre, the Eglise Saint-Eustache, the cupola of the Institut, the Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the rue de Rennes, the Eglise Saint-Sulpice, the Place Dauphine on the Ile de la Cité, the Samaritaine department store building, the Tour Saint-Jacques, and the Centre Pompidou.

And in this image, there's the Hôtel de Ville, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris, and the Père Lachaise cemetery in the background, with the Sorbonne, the Panthéon, and of course the Palais and the Jardin du Luxembourg closer in.

Finally, here's the image I've been working with, taken from the outdoor observation deck at the top of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris. You can click or tap on any image to display it at a larger size.