25 May 2022

Max Ernst in Amboise, Indre-et-Loire (37)

This hugely impressive sculpture by Max Ernst is called Aux cracheurs, aux drôles, au génie and was made between 1967 and 1968. Here, he pays homage to Touraine – where he lived for ten years – and also to Leonardo de Vinci.* A plaque at the side of the sculpture speaks of hybrid creatures, half-animal and half-human. There are in fact ten sculptures, four in bronze and six in resin. At the top is the bird figure, the Grand Génie with its outspread wings. Under are turtles and frogs spitting into the water. Gloriously insane.

Le Grand Génie.

La Grande grenouille (big frog).

La Grande Tortue (big turtle).

Two assistant frogs.

One of the six little turtles.

*It is of course normal to take a photo of Leonardo de Vinci's grave if in Amboise. However, the Chapelle de Saint-Hubert in the Château d'Amboise is under restoration so his grave is not to be seen at the moment. Not that we're châteaux people anyway: this blog is supposed to be mainly about the obscure, and the tourist trap which is Amboise is far from obscure.

Boîtes à lire in Amboise, Indre-et-Loire (37)

Well, two boîtes à lire in Amboise anyway: I've no idea if there are any more.

Gonzague Saint Bris in Amboise, Indre-et-Loire (37)

Gonzague Saint Bris (1948-2017) lies in the family plot in the Cimetière des Ursulines in Amboise. Among numerous publications he wrote several novels, a large number of historical works, and a large number of biographies. He died in a car accident in Saint-Hymer, where his partner Alice Bertheaume was driving and was found guilty of 'involuntary homicide', having driven when having an excess of alcohol in her blood: her sentence was six months prison with reprieve. Saint Bris was not wearing a seat belt.

24 May 2022

Boîte à lire in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, Indre-et-Loire (37)

Another boîte à lire, and quite an impressive one too. Pity I couldn't figure out how to open the latch on the lefthand side, but in spite of the large number of possibilities I didn't find anything to interest me anyway.

Boîte à lire in Saint-Épain, Indre-et-Loire (37)

With its connections with the wonderful Raymond Queneau, it would be a disappointing not to see a boîte à lire, and sure enough there is one. I came away with a book on mushrooms. Now what could that possibly have to do with Queneau?

Raymond Queneau in Saint-Épain, Indre-et-Loire (37)


Of course, Raymond Queneau was born in Le Havre, although his father Auguste was born in Saint-Épain in 1870. Auguste's family worked on the farm La Touche, and the Queneau family had previously worked at La Deniserie, being in the agricultural business dating back to the seventeenth century: this information is on a plaque outside the school named after Raymond Queneau. Raymond's uncle Louis (Auguste's elder brother) continued at La Touche while Auguste joined the army at eighteen to be moved to Le Havre as a colonial accountant in 1901, where he married Joséphine Mignot the same year and she gave birth to Raymond in 1903. Raymond sometimes went on holiday to Saint-Épain, Louis being his godfather as well as his uncle. Raymond spoke very little of his connections to the town, and claimed that all his father knew is that one his ancestors used to castrate sheep with his teeth. Nevertheless, the plaque prints a poem, 'Le Fromage de Sainte Maure' (a village nest to Saint-Épain), from Raymond's Courir le rues:


En me rendant à Auteuil

je passais rue des Belles-Feuilles

lorsqu'il me fut donné de voir

vétues de robes améthystes

qui vantait le val de Loire

et ses produits nutritifs

sur des airs simples et naïfs

c'était une vraie chienlit

mais comme nous étions samedi

les gens d'une dent guillerette

croquaient tartines et rillettes

ah quel plaisir c'était de voir

les avisées et folles choristes

débiter aux gastronomistes

les bons produits du val de Loire

alors m'arrachant à regret

à ce spectacle croquignol

mon petit chemin coninuai

en sifflant un air espagnol'

21 May 2022

Le Moulin des Aigremonts, Bléré, Indre-et-Loire (37)

The Moulin des Aigremonts in Bléré was built in 1848 and was a 'moulin cavier': a building principally in the Anjou area having a 'cellar-like' structure containing the milling apparatus. A moulin cavier was originally built on a cellar, representing the double professions of the owner: miller and winemaker. This structure ('la masse') is beneath a conical piece of masonry ('le massereau') on which in turn rests the movable body ('la hucherolle') with sails ('ailes' (lit. 'wings')). Milling ceased in 1877 and although all parts remained in 1900, la masse, la hucherolle, and les ailes had gone by 1920.

In 2000 Régis Chauvel was passionately interested in re-building the windmill, and with the consent of La Municipalité the re-building took place between 2004 and 2007. Re-working, the mill was opened to the public in 2009. (These are Berton sails, named after their inventor Pierre Théophile Berton (1803-1861)).

20 May 2022

Boîte à lire, Draché, Indre-et-Loire (37)

A rather different boîte à lire in Draché, and interesting to find a book on Descartes (both the philosopher and the nearby village which is now named after him).

La Pierre Percée, Draché, Indre-et-Loire (37)

La Pierre Percée was erected between 2000 and 5000 years before Christ, perhaps for sun worship, perhaps for a female divinity. This is the  largest megalith in Touraine and is also known as 'menhir des Arabes': in 732 a part of the battle of Poitiers took place in this region. It was classed as a 'monument historique' in 1911. Steps have been hollowed in the monument to enable hands to pass through it: once, young boys and girls in the area wishing to be married exchanged objects, bouquets of flowers or other things, through the hole to mark them being linked in a sacred act; on a more sinister note, human heads could be passed through it and be chopped off as a sacrifice.

Bunches of herbs were once picked from the foot of the menhir and attached to buildings to protect people and animals from evil spirits. New-born babies were passed through the orifice to protect them from illnesses, tubercular abcesses in particular. Rabelais mentions it in relation to Gargantua.

Even today the monument retains its fascination, and I was naturally curious to open the glass container partly hidden in a recess and read some of the good luck messages.

Éolienne Bollée, Sorigny, Indre-et-Loire (37)

The éolienne Bollée is named after its inventor Ernest-Sylvain Bollée (1814-1891), and is a wind pump which served to pump water. About 350 examples were constructed between 1872 and 1933, of which about eighty can still be seen. This example in Sorigny was used to supply water to the municipal lavoir until the 1960s. It was dismantled and scrapped, although in 2015 Sorigny Patrimoine decided to reintroduce another of the same kind, which they obtained from Saint Gervais-la-Forêt near Blois. It took eighteen months to repair.

19 May 2022

Tête de l'Île de Pâques, Chambray-lès-Tours, Indre-et-Loire (37)

At the side of a lake in Chambray-lès-Tours is a structure inspired by the moai on Easter Island. On our map it's listed as a 'rocher d'escalade', although the general title now seems to be 'Tête de l'Île de Pâques', which seems logical. Although it's equipped with all the means for climbing, a notice within the circle in which the statue exists reveals that it is only to be used by authorised people. And one website claims that climbing is strictly forbidden (suggesting by anyone). I can find little information about its history, although it seems to date from 1989 after winning a competition, and the tallest point is seventeen metres. I can find no mention of the person who constructed it, and nor can I find any information on the much smaller structure near it.

18 May 2022

René de Buxeuil, Descartes, Indre-et-Loire (37)

René de Buxeuil (1881-1959) was born in Buxeuil (a few yards across the Creuse from Descartes but in fact in Vienne) as Jean-Baptiste Chevrier: he changed his name to be one of the three Renés in the area, along with Descartes and Boylesve. At the age of eleven a schoolfriend accidentally blinded him but he went on to learn music in Paris and became a composer and singer-songwriter. What the notice by the bust in the Jardin public René Boylesvre doesn't say is that he was a member of the fascist group Action française.

René Boylesve in Descartes, Indre-et-Loire (37)

The writer René Boylesvre (1867-1926) was born René Tardiveau on the same street as Descartes, which in 1867 wasn't named after Descartes but called Rue Saint-Lazare. Boylesvre became a member of the Académie Française in 1918: a plaque says that his most noted books are L'Enfant à la Balustrade, La Becquée and La Leçon d'amour dans un parc

René Descartes in Descartes, Indre-et-Loire (37)

René Descartes (1596-1650) was born in this house, although it only partly resembles the original building, having been altered several times. At the time of Descartes's birth the village was known as La Haye-en-Touraine, which was renamed La Haye-Descartes in 1802, and then in 1967 it simply became Descartes. Descartes himself only spent his childhood here, being brought up by his maternal grandmother. The house became a museum in 1974.

Descartes's statue was erected in the village of his name in 1849, made of cast iron and weighing 2500 kg. It is the work of the sculptor R. de Neuwerke and the founder Pierre Guéritault, who made the mould.

17 May 2022

Boîte à lire, Véretz, Indre-et-Loire (37)

An interesting boîte à lire (here called niche à livres), by the church in Véretz, in the shadow of the white mulberry tree, and quite well stocked. I couldn't resist picking up Queneau's Pierrot mon ami.

Eugène Bizeau and Anne Bizeau, Véretz, Indre-et-Loire (37)

The anarchist writer Eugène Bizeau (1883-1989) and equally anarchist Anne Bizeau (1882-1973) share this grave, under Anne's statue of a seated naked woman (made by Charles Correia), which resembles Rodin's Le Penseur and is turned towards the Bizeau house on Rue Chaude.

Paul-Louis Courier in La Forêt de Larçay and Véretz, Indre-et-Loire (37)

I still have a number of posts to write on the Nantes area, although I thought it important to include some of our more recent visits. Near the centre of the Forêt de Larçay is a memorial to the writer Paul-Louis Courier (1772-1825), which reads:

'Although born in Paris, Paul-Louis Courier spent his youth in Cinq-Mars-la-Pile, near Langeais. At a very early age he showed great enthusiasm for the Greek language. He became one of the best Hellenists of his time and associated with the most erudite people. He served for seventeen years as an officer in the artillery and left the Napoleonic army after Wagram. Married to Herminie Clavier in 1814, he bought the Forêt de Larçay on 16 December of the following year; he settled in Véretz in April 1818.

'The excesses of the Restauration led him to write several incendiary pamphlets.

'He was assassinated here by his gamekeeper, who manipulated other servants. It is quite possible to believe that this crime had political ramifications.

'This monument was erected in 1828 at the expense of his widow.' (My translation.)

This monument omits a number of things, such as Courier's problems with the neighbours using the wood from his trees for warmth, why the gamekeeper killed him, and his relationship with his wife, but so much has been written on the subject that it would be redundant to add anything.

The grave of Paul-Louis Courier in Véretz.

This monument was made in 1878 following plans by archictect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was due to be on Paul-Louis Courier's grave, but the elder son Paul-Étienne objected to this. It was inagurated in Véretz by the river Cher in 1878, to great ceremony, boats on the Cher, fireworks, etc. It is dedicated to the 'champion du bon sens et de la liberté'.