31 May 2022

Boîte à lire, Saint-Hymer, Calvados (14)

And what could enhance the rather idyllic setting at Saint-Hymer than a well-maintained boîte à lire just in front of a stream and behind a bench for reading the books? I came away with Marc Pasteger's Incroyable mais belge, a collection of often bizarre Belgian-related events.

30 May 2022

La Mère Denis in Saint-Hymer, Calvados (14)

I was once in Calais with a young French woman with whom I was living in England: she had to renew her road tax and we made a few days of it. On the evening before returning we were eking out the few francs we had left and decided to watch a film: the only one on was Les Bronzés, which Jacqui afterwards declared 'Un film de vacances', and as a young movie buff I agreed. However, I've now reviewed this early film of Patrice Leconte's, plus a number of his later ones, and have a different opinion: Leconte has certainly made several important films, and although Les Bronzés isn't one of them, it's not to be wholly dismissed.

The above paragraph is merely an introduction. Before the film, there was a female face, the viewers laughed, and Jacqui explained that this was the TV personality 'La Mère Denis'. OK, so many years later I discover that 'La Mère Denis' was Jeanne Denis (1893-1989), who was famous for selling Vedette washing machines on TV.

At a time when TV adverts were focussed on the young and the beautiful female (preferably as unclothed as allowed), an adventure in advertising washing machines with an old woman who had spent many years as a washer woman was very risky: but it paid off in a big way for Vedette washing machines, whose sales increased greatly, and 'La Mère Denis' became famous throughout France. She spent her final years in L'Auberge du Prieuré, Saint-Hymer, where she is buried. The auberge faces a lavoir which a few years ago was going to be named after her, although so far it hasn't. Her grave is visited by many people.

The newpaper Libération showed a large photo of La Mère Denis on its front page on 18 January 1989, speaking of 'Mort d'une vedette', which is a pun on the Vedette washing machine brand and 'vedette' meaning 'star'.

29 May 2022

Jacques Hotteterre and château d'eau (water tower), La Couture-Boussey, Eure (27)

The Hotteterre family originates from La Couture-Boussey, and were well-known as wind instrumentalists, makers of wind instruments and composers particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Louis XIV's composer and flautist Jacques Hotteterre is the most famous of them. On the other side of the château d'eau is a huge alto clarinette. 

Due to a high level of nitrates, the building has been out of use since 1985. The Ateliers Adeline made the painting in 2001. As it suggests at the top of the tower, the village is the home of the Musée des instruments à vent.

Guillaume de Montmorency and the château d'eau (water tower), Damville, Eure (27)

This superb painting, by the Ateliers Adeline, shows a part of Damville's local history, with Guillaume de Montmorency, Duc de Damville, clutching the Norman standard against a rural background. 

28 May 2022

Boîte à lire, Évreux, Eure (27)

A staunchly secular boîte à lire in Évreux, with a strict rule: 'rappel : AUCUN LIVRE sur la religion MERCI'. It seems to be run by 'Carrément Voisins', who also advertise a poetry meeting here.

26 May 2022

Pierre de Ronsard and Le Prieuré Saint-Cosme, La Riche, Tours, Indre-et-Loire (37)

The great poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85) spent his final twenty years at the twelfth-century Saint-Cosme priory at La Riche near Tours, where Catherine de Medici and her son Charles IX had given him the administration. It is here that he died and where he is buried, although his stone is recent.

For centuries Ronsard suffered neglect, although the quality of his poems were 're-discovered' by such literary figures as Sainte-Beuve and Flaubert. More recently, he has been quoted in songs by Serge Gainsbourg, Alain Bashung, Juliette Gréco, etc.

Ronsard's home at the priory, screened by the pergola.

His home from a different angle, and the ruins of the church.

Ronsard's latest tombstone.

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.