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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stuff along the way

I didn't mention all the things we found on our stroll the other day.
I think I did mention the sunflowers, but you can't have too many pictures of sunflowers.
A couple of the small ones lost in the cornfields, if they were older and more mature in their seeds, I ripped their heads off & put said heads in my sack. (Yes, we gobbled down the cookies in order to have an empty baggie for this. I would never have eaten so many cookies before lunch if I hadn't had a pressing need for their baggie. Honest!) Then at home I scattered the seeds around the perimeter of the yard. Will see what grows next year.
Then there was this rather enigmatic cross. You see stuff like this all over the place to commemorate somebody, but the symbols carved are usually more clearly associated with a particular saint. Pincers and hammer? Even M couldn't figure that one out.
But the real event of the day...
Tadat tada...
Photos by M Jean.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Vertaizon to Billom

It wasn't great weather to go hiking on Saturday. Our plan had been to go up into the mountains for a linear trip, then phone JP to come pick us up. Plenty of lunching spots in villages along the way - no need to haul a picnic.
But then, well, the higher elevations were all in clouds still at 10, so we changed for a walk on the Limagne plain. Didn't have the right map for that. My road map will all the trails marked has Clermont at the eastern edge of the paper, and we were going east of that. Then I have lots of booklets with trails, but those are all loops, either too long or too short or too far away. Whatever. Let's just go.
But we should go tomorrow, M argued, when it will be much nicer out. It's so inflexible of me to not want to change the plan again.
Well, if it were just me, alright, let's cancel today and go tomorrow. But it isn't. At first JP was to meet us at a nearby lake, about 6 and with fixings for an after-hike repast together. Then, well, we'll call him in the midafternoon, just come get us to take us back to the car (or, M back to her car). Now I should call when half the morning has gone, to say never mind today, just keep yourself free to ferry us around tomorrow? No. If that makes me 'rigid', so be it.
It's about 6km from Vertaizon to Billom according to the road sign. Twice that if you're going by dirt track and trail. About noon we start pausing for blackberry bushes, then later that baggie of cookies in my sack comes in handy. A village we pass is pretty much deserted. Ah, yes, it is August 15th, a holiday. But there will surely be stuff open in Billom. Billom is something of a local tourist destination, with its cute medieval district and renowned purple garlic.
We get to Billom. Nobody. Not a soul.
Even the cats are on vacation.
Ah, there's a restaurant open!
Yes! There must be something! we are starving!
Oh, the people are so nice. They will serve us, though it is already 1:30 and we do not have a reservation. Is that blueberry tart there in the display case? We will have that. And some steak, please. And this nice half bottle of wine.

And then back outside. It's cleared up some. In the corn fields sometimes there's one sunflower in the middle. (Yes, there is one in this photo)
It's been a hard season, agriculturally. Way too hot, and not much rain. The corn is puny, and diseased. The sunflower fields are all sad. It's the end of the season, and it's normal they're losing their petals and turning brown, but the seed pods are mostly empty of seeds.
We were going to go on toward some other destination, but didn't find the trail leading out of Billom. Once you get on one of these hiking trails, they're pretty well marked, but if you're not on it, you're lost without a map to say which dirt tracks go through, and which strand you at a busy paved road or end at somebody's house. So we decide to make a loop back to Vertaizon. Call up JP to liberate his afternoon. Back at the car after maybe 22km

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Churchday

All the reports I saw on Friday predicted rain for Sunday, but we lucked out. Not that it was sunny at all. Not wanting to hike in the gloomy woods, we said we'd get out of the car for a walk up on the heights. 
We did stop, and walk about 10 feet from the car, and then got back in again so M could show me some delightful little parish churches before they locked up after mass.
Look, here's one! (would have to get out a map to figure out where we were) Mass was just letting out, so we'd be sure to get in for a look around before they closed the doors.

Inside, they were setting up a baptism, with lots of family and a photographer with a gigantic camera and two guitarists. So we didn't hang around much once they started the ceremony. Which was fine with me. Half an hour was already enough. Saw the windows, the capitals, the layout, the paintings. Very nice, but I'm just not that into catholic history.
Next town, another little jewel, with its bells all in a row and the main entrance at the side of the nave & not at the foot. Another baptism underway, though, and this one was packed so there was not even any discrete wandering about the back. Aw. I was slightly more interested in what was across the street.
We never did stop for lunch. Having had breakfast late we weren't hungry at noon, and then there aren't a lot of places open on Sundays, and none after 2. In Langeac, however, there were two bakeries open still at 3:30. When I saw the first one I was tempted to go in and just take whatever they had (a blueberry tartlet looked acceptable), because you can't count on finding a second bakery open after noon in a town as small as Langeac. But M knew a place that was usually open, so we went on. I figured we could always come back to the first if need be. She was right, though, and they had cookies in the shape of rabbits (two please) and one last square of blueberry crumble-cake (take that), and raspberry crumble cake (one piece please), and one last blueberry crumble cake to serve 6 (yes, we'll be having that too, for later).

M would have been happy to tour every church and abbey on the route back, but there are many, many, many of these. Three visits and many more seen from the outside is definitely enough for me. Didn't get back to Aubière until nearly 7 as it was.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chambon sur Lignon

Friday evening, off to Chambon sur Lignon, for their annual bridge fest on Saturday. Lovely weather on Friday, though we arrive rather late for a hike before dark. Take a dip in the pool instead.
Saturday the weather is holding alright, though there are some scattered drops coming down. The weather reports had a general consensus that the rain would start around midday. I'll risk it. Haven't been hiking hardly at all this summer. Mariette's knee is bad today, so she decides to stay at the hotel for a swim and a massage. On my own, then.
The hotel has nice plastified maps to hand out, and there are two loops, each with a short and a long version. I pick the 7.5k short loop to the north of town. It's mostly wooded, which will be good if it rains, with many stretches of woods on one side & fields on the other. We're keeping the trail to the south that's much more open in reserve for tomorrow, in case of good weather and knees.
The map is only slightly wrong. It says trail 1 is the short loop, and trail 2 is the long loop. But at the fork, the marker says trail 2 to the left (short loop), and trail 1 to the right (long loop). If I take the long loop I will not be back in time for lunch, and perhaps not even for the start of the tournament. Not much of a risk, though: you go counterclockwise around the loop, which means to shorten the loop you turn harder left. All the other landmarks on the map have so far been correct, so it must be just 1 & 2 inverted. Silly people.
There it is, the Lignon.
Back in town by 11:30, I have time for a turn around the farmers market. Can't resist a market! I even bargain on a linen tunic. Back at the hotel a bit after noon, M is just leaving the massage room and was about to be worried I wasn't back yet but hadn't gotten to realizing I was missing.
Wonderful lunch. Do stay at the Bel Horizon if you're ever in Chambon sur Lignon. Great rooms, excellent food, a professional masseuse.
The hotel guy directs us down the hill, past the pizza place, beyond the church to get to the tournament site. Downhill. Pizza. Church. End of street.
Uh...
Well, it's not a big town. The other church. The one with the giant community center behind it, where there are bridgers known to us hanging out on the balcony.

Table 14, N/S, in the green tournament. OK. We start out with a false step on the second deal, neither able to convince the other that their explanation has a fatal flaw. Would you just listen to what I'm saying for one second? No? Leave it. Let's move on.
I said Leave It.
Oh look, it's raining.
Ooo, really coming down! Good thing we're indoors.
So there are other hands and other opponents, and I try to remain zen, but develop a raging headache. This responds slowly to paracetamol and lots of water, but overall we don't feel we're playing well. I, actually, don't play at all until the second to last hand. Over 26 hands I play once, M plays 9 times, and the rest of the time we're on defense. You'd think with pre-dealt hands, they'd spread out the play more.
In a literal sense, there are just as many top and bottom boards to be had on defense as on offense, but on defense you don't have the same sense of 'playing' and having control of your destiny that you do as declarer. It's a mistake to passively submit to the declarer's play, but even when you defend as aggressively as you attack, there's still a gut feeling that being on defense is less valuable.
Anyway. By the end of the tournament we thought we wouldn't make the top half of the ranking, and were generally dissatisfied with our play. (will you shut up about board 28? I refuse to have this argument again)
While all the players are looking the other way, fighting their way to some tables laden with chips & peanuts & drinkables, the organizers set up a huge and tasty-looking buffet. Once we have licked the last of the salt off our fingers, they have a pretty hard time keeping us from swarming the buffet as the results take their sweet time being posted. One person will go up to snick a plastic plate, to be ready, and somebody else thinks the movement means the buffet is open... It's a job, keeping the dogs from their bowls. And it's not even proper dinnertime yet. Why are people so hungry?
Ah, the results.
We are not expecting to be in the top dozen or so pairs who get prizes. But I can't find us on the second page of the posted ranking. Surely not among the four pairs that spill over onto a 3rd page. Ah, here we are on the first page. Not even at the bottom, but 27th out of 88. Who'da thunk it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cat of the month, number 26

Mia comes out every morning now for petting while I have my breakfast. Sometimes I see her in the evening as well, but she does not come around to the front of the couch, or jump up on it. She does not come into the bedroom, either, in spite of being invited there, even when Sienne is outside for the night.
There she is, rolling around on the carpet.
Sienne is not too sure about any of this. Sienne was perfectly happy to be Top Cat while the others hid in the shadows in the library. Now this invader is coming out in broad daylight and drinking the catwater and getting petting just as if she had a right to. Well! But she is no longer growling loudly, she just looks suspiciously and indignently on.