Thursday, October 18, 2018

Southwest France Walks: Angoulême

There is a sizeable green belt within our city. Recently we hiked on a part of it via a trail near Fregeneuil Park, northwest of our home.

I suspect these woody 'ropes' winding up the tree trunk are girdling roots. Generally they are caused if the roots are too deep to get oxygen and water. They don't always cause difficulty for the tree, so let's hope this one will be OK.

A bit further, the path was covered with chestnuts.  Les châtaignes are beloved in French cuisine. Two of my favourites are candied chestnuts and crêpes made from chestnut flour.

Though tramping through a forest is great fun, it's nice to leave its brooding good looks behind for a while to enter a hilltop clearing so you can see clouds puffing over blue skies.

Several hollies were thriving in the dappled forest light.

These felled trees probably resulted from a severe storm.

At first I was certain this bush with small, dark-green leaves and plump, round, red berries, belongs either to the cotoneaster or berberis family. After doing some research and flirting with the possibility of cranberry, lingonberry, and chokecherry, I remain stumped. But not discouraged. It took decades for me to identify those 'nests' I kept seeing high in winter trees as mistletoe. I am not giving up with these berries quite as of yet.

Cattails you say? Yup, cattails! There they were, rustling in the near distance, happily growing in boggy soil, but far from visual reach of my prime macro lens until . . .

. . . a solitary one popped up right on our path's edge. Cattail rhizomes are edible: Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were already eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago. (Wikipedia)

Towards the end of this walk, a part of the Charente River system made an appearance and so did a swan. Having nature so close to urban development certainly is a positive, but also a chance to see how it suffers due to such proximity. I saw weakened trees, erosion, and significant trash, so much at one point, The Calm One when asked what geographical title I should give this post, he quipped, Trash City.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Southwest France Walks: L'Oisellerie

L'Oisellerie, dating from the 16th century, once a falconry connected with an abbey, and at present, associated with an agricultural school with its own vineyards and wind turbines, is just a ten-minute drive south of us. We tramped across its grounds, past long, low, sealed bags crammed full of composting manure, until we reached our path as forested land with many trails abound nearby. First sight to greet us was a carpet of Virginia creeper.

Forests are splendid for many reasons, and one of the top ones is how they filter sunlight, like highlights on a painting.

At  times the landscape resembles a Chinese ink painting . . .

. . . or a baroque, pastoral scene.

With my imagination, it was easy to think this could be an exposed grave from medieval times instead of the breeze-block deeply ground into the soil that it is.

The artistic perspective suddenly can change to the realistic.

'Tis the season!

Tree trunks, dark and immovable, contribute a brooding kind of charm.

Ah, a rustic fence!

The former falconry itself is where various exhibits for young people, usually comprising scientific (The Calm One contributed to one on computers) or historical content are held. Two staff recognised him, and we were invited to explore the in-progress exhibit/interactive areas and have a nice chat. At present, one room was set up with digital easels and another with the traditional ones. Upon our departure, as we were driving through the grounds, we passed by a group of students who was standing around a vineyard. One young woman excitingly pointed to our electric car and those of the next generation approvingly hailed us.

À la prochaine!


Agricultural school

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What is this?

That's the exact question we asked the seller at one of France's largest annual outdoor flea market located near Marsac, north of our city. He was a shy fellow who gave the barest of smiles while deciding what answer to give. Meanwhile images of braille, telegraph, card hole punching, and IBM Selectric machines all flashed through our visual memories. This jumbled-up melange was halted when he said, it's a typewriter, one without a keyboard, dating from around the start of the previous century.

Such typewriters are referred to as type sleeve or index. Using an image search, we found a German brand, an AEG Mignon, that resembled our fabulous find. At first we were unable to be sure ours was the same model since there were no easily discernible manufacturer's name. Then when The Calm One was sitting nearby it, the light fell just right on the paper holder, like invisible ink suddenly appearing, and we were able to see an embossed, faded, diamond-shaped logo containing the word Heady.

If you want to know about Heady, then you need to know about YuEss. After Germany was vanquished in the First World War, their patents were rendered null and void. In New York City, two Jewish immigrants copied the Mignon, decorated the paper holder with the Star of David, and called their company YuEss (phonetic spelling for U.S.). The machines sold poorly—after all NYC was the powerful domain of Royal Typewriter Company and their splendid keyboard modelsand they moved to France and rebranded their machine Heady. And there, it did reasonably well.

Different typefaces were available via a type sleeve. Though a stylus was needed to be placed on the index card, users matched the speed of keyboard typewriter operators.

I suspect the plastic covering the letters is celluloid. The index card of course needed to be compatible with the particular type sleeve.

Getting it to work is not a total impossibility. The Calm One is hunting high and low for a compatible ribbon which needs to go on the spool in the lower left in the below photo. What would be its first typed word? Typewriter.

A heap of levers cluster to the right of the carriage including a paper bail. I suspect some were used for carrier return spacing.

Though this lever looks like a carriage return lever, it doesn't seem to effect that action.

The left key makes a space (it also allows moving to the left the carriage roller knob to make a carriage return), the middle one strikes the chosen letter, and the right one backspaces.

In a place of honour because so many women were able to improve their lives through typewriting skills, Ms Heady with her stylus positioned smack right on the letter T sits near by my hands rapidly moving over a Macbook Air keyboard and under the watchful eye of the universe in a glass more than eighty years after her manufacture.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Southwest France Walks: Mouthiers 2

On our latest hike, The Calm One and I returned to the area from last week's walk, but ventured a bit further south. A nearby road had a deer crossing sign, and sure enough as we headed into the forested pathway, there was a deer, in the near distance, making a beeline for that designated spot! The path was flanked with barbed wire most likely to keep people out and deer in. It will be official hunting season until the end of September and our walk was punctuated with sudden, muffled pops. Muffled is good, we both thought as we made sure we stayed on the path. 

Leaving the forest behind, we approached a harvested field. It is also mushroom hunting season so it was not entirely silly of me to think this was a dehydrated boletus ravaged by animals who got to it first before any humans.

 When I saw another specimen, I started slowly to doubt my initial identification.

Wild chicory abounds in our area and a beauty caught my attention for a while. But like any nature aficionado, I continued to ruminate about what could that boletus be if it wasn't a boletus?

Then by the time I saw yet another 'dried-out boletus', I put everything together and realised it was a sunflower head. Sunflowers, along with grapes and grains, are common crops in these parts.

The nearby field was a recently harvested sunflower crop. The desiccated nature of the flower head probably was due to the agricultural practice of using drying chemicals to facilitate threshing. Some missed seeds can be noted near the upper right corner in the above photo.

With the patch of farmland receding behind us, we re-entered the forest.

Shortly afterward, we encountered a sizable expanse of purple-pink heather. 

Most heathers insist on acidic soil, so it is reasonable to conclude that the pH of the soil is low.

The next prominent flora was fern after fern after fern.  Some were green and others were bronzed. Since ferns love their shade, the ones with the deep tan were in full sunlight. Being immobile and having no access to sunscreen lotion, they were showing stress. Or a happier possible explanation is that, they were deciduous and were beginning to prepare for winter.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Southwest France Walks: Linars & Mouthiers

Our home is situated at Angoulême's southern edge which means we have the best of two worlds, that of the city and the countryside. An amble through fields and forests are invaluable and can be had easily, as there are so many just a five to fifteen minute drive away. Recently we went on two nearby short walks, near Linars and Mouthiers, respectively west and south from our place. Most vineyards in Charente are in Cognac which is about an hour drive from us. Closer home, there are smaller ones dotting the landscape here and there. These grapes are made into pineau, a fortified wine served as an aperitif. It is produced by mixing cognac with either fresh or slightly fermented grapes, and then ageing that mixture.

near Linars

We are still only doing short walks, around an hour each so we can work ourselves up to doing more challenging ones. Halfway through we took a break and sat just off the path. The Calm One noted, look at how peaceful it is.

Back on the path, I saw an overgrown-with-ivy, crumpled-up, rusty sign fixed to a tree.

Grain is another agricultural crop common to our area. I suspect this field is one of barley.

Before we knew, we were winding our way back to Linars where Zoe (our electric car) was waiting for us.

On another day, we hiked close to Mouthiers where we got a glimpse of a lovely grouping of trees, their dark, slender, tall trunks throwing out entwining branches, uniting them into an arboreal community.

The Calm One saw this shelf mushroom before I did because I was transfixed on the . . .

. . . the deeply grooved texture of the tree to which it was attached.

Upon our return nothing was nicer than to recline in a patio chair under the ivy-covered pergola overlooking our garden. Relaxing in a slouched position is good in itself, but it is also gives a different visual perspective.

One of the decorative tasks accomplished this summer was my lugging two heavy concrete planters from obscure corners of the garden, emptying them of debris and soil, upturning them, and putting potted displays on top. Perched ever so haughtily upon their pedestals, bougainvillea in one pot, a combination of heather and echeveria in another, they flank the start of the central garden path.

À la prochaine!


Autumn 2018 Southwest France Walks: Asnières-sur-Nouère