Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cosne sur Loire

I spent a drizzly Sunday afternoon in Cosne sur Loire last weekend. (is it Thursday already? where did the week go?) Looking through my photos today, I realise I didn't take a single one of the town. There weren't any really interesting perspectives, and the light was poor, and, well, it was just so much like so many other small French towns. If I were to mix up my Small French Town photos instead of classing them neatly into folders, I'd never be able to tell them apart.


A stroll around town looking for a room for the night revealed five hotels, two of which seemed deserted, one wasn't open Sundays (???), one was full, and the last one, the one right across from the train station and over the inevitable near-station bar, had a room. A surprisingly nice room, considering, though I didn't score a bathtub. I didn't even have neighbors.


After another stroll around town looking for a picnic lunch to take away pretty much did it for the town. The Grand Chateau advertised on the map was meerly a large wall around a crowded parking lot, with a bit of city hall attached in a 19th century addition, so off I went up the hiking and mountain bike trail that follows the Loire upstream for several miles. One of the houses overlooking the river. There's a whole string of these mansions with their enormous yards. Most of them put up a great hedge along the bottom fence for a bit more privacy. Nobody much was out in the sporadic drizzle except for the birds. Woodpeckers, herons, coots, swans, songbirds, all along the waterfront. And crows. France is a country of crows. Contentious. Building their condominiums with a view. Repositioning themselves in the trees. Cawing, cawing, cawing.
I eventually came to the railroad bridge across the river. Unused by trains these days, it's now part of a rail-bike route that goes 20 km or so.
Here's the railbike contraption. All the bicycle seats are stored in a neighboring shed, awaiting The Season when families will reserve their places and go cycling up and down the railway. It still being March, nobody was out and I had the bridge to myself.

At the turnaround point for the short version of the hiking loop is St Bridget's chapel. Locked up tight. It must be awfully dim inside, because there aren't any more windows on the far side than there are on this side. That's dark.

My feet declared themselves not up for the long version (it is a biking trail; the long version is pretty long), so I took the short way back to town.
The angels on one of the churches in town hold a miniature version of the church, which I thought was kind of fun. Locked up tight like St Bridget's, alas. Unusually, all three of the historical monument churches were locked.
Duck on one of the canals channelling water through the town to the Loire.
That canal opens up into a sort of kayak playground, where today a youth competition was in its final stages. Kids as young as 8 or 9 were negotiating the complicated course, cheered on by family and friends from the banks and the bridge.


Back at the station I bought my ticket to Paris for my Monday meeting, then hung out at the hotel for a rest and a shower. Around 7 I went out for another stroll, thinking that the light from across the river in the west might give me at last a nice panoramic of the town. So I crossed the bridge, but the clouds were uncooperative and there was ugly scaffolding in unfortunate spots and it just wasn't pretty.


Strolling around town there weren't many places open for dinner. I thought I might be dining on oreos from the station vending machine when at last I found an open restaurant. They were serving a fairly classic french menu, nothing fancy, from which I ordered the goat cheese salad, steak with pepper sauce, and crème brulée. The salad did not bode well for the rest of the meal - sad greens topped with a multitude of bacon pieces that would have been ok if not nearly raw, goat cheese on toast (burnt), the whole thing drowned in bottled dressing. The main dish, however, was quite tasty. A small steak but I didn't need more, not overcooked, delightfully peppery sauce, with super-garlic wild mushrooms (I like garlic), green beans, and potato gratinée. None of it fresh but the steak, I'm sure, but I'm easy to please with garlic and potatos.

Anyway, on a Sunday evening with only me and a pair of friends for customers, is our chef restauranteur really properly serving the whole menu? There's rabbit and lamb and salmon and chicken available in various forms, a whole battery of starters, a big list of desserts - how do you keep a restaurant open if you have all that, fresh, at your fingertips for just three plates at highly reasonable prices?

I was just happy my host was even open, the alternative being takeout pizza, or machine food at the station.

And that was it for Cosne. Next adventure next weekend, destination as yet undecided.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

100 words: warble

My cat Natalie is the sort who doesn’t need to come in for dinner; she’ll just pick up the odd mouse or bird as it suits her. Some years ago, possibly in the acquisition of such a catsnack, she suffered an injury to her throat. Some thing that clawed back, or bit. She has not meowed properly since. Last night she woke me after midnight to come in, and spent a while gagging and coughing from some part gone down wrong, calming down then starting up again, finally getting out a warbly-normalish meow by two. Then we could all sleep.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

100 words: Drenched

The first words dropped into the 100 bucket came from random finger-pointing in the Economist, and the non sequitur of “...safer if drenched...” caught my eye. I’ve been toying with it, waiting for the right joke to form itself around a punchline. Never happened. The world is in such a state, the evening news has barely run any of their usual local stories of car crashes and sports scores and unemployment and who’s running for head of the socialist party. Instead it’s been:

Nuclear fuel rods: safer if drenched.

Triangle Shirtwaist Building: safer if drenched.

Qaddafi’s gunpowder: safer if drenched.

Monday poem

This week's P-Bus task, set by the fabulous Muse, is to write about something without naming the thing in the poem or the title. Here we go!


Savior .

Hot Hot Hot the morning

smooth with milk washing down

the crumbs of the toast with jam.


A welcome pause midmorning

around the pot one of the group, not so much the boss.


Finally a finish to lunch

strong and warm to power me through the afternoon

counteracting the post prandial urge to nap.


Not much of an enigma, but it follows the rule. If it looks funny it's because Blogger seems to have forgotten what the "return" key is all about, and keeps erasing all my careful mise en page. Corrected it four times already and always the same result. Catch the bus here!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

yard work

Part of the veg patch here. Along the right, the potato patch. And you can't tell, now I've covered it with a nice fluffy blanket of dried grass (we're still having light frost some mornings), but between the potatos and my shadow is a patch 4' x 5' of sweet corn. I'll do a second such patch in two or three weeks. I plan to cultivate all the way to the top of the photo, and after taking this shot turned over a strip the width of the enclosure, about three feet across, where the grass is taking hold now. It's tough grass! That's the part I didn't get around to turning over in the fall, once the tomatos and peas were done, and the grass really got going.
Not a very good photo, but the rhubarb patch is coming back. Just by my foot is where I took the pitchfork on Tuesday and ripped a chunk of rhubarb root away from the mother ship to give to a friend, accessory earthworm and all. This thing is monstrous. It covers about four square feet of ground, with dozens of tiny, wrinkled leaflets just coming up and unfolding in the sun.

The elderly cherry tree still puts out lots of blossoms in the spring. It's even slightly ahead of the other trees. It just rarely has any edible fruit.

I'm always finding walnut shells scattered around the yard. Here, in the crux of the old cherry where some major limbs have been lopped off. These are new shells. Where do they all come from? Why is Natalie not fat from eating all these nut-loving rodents?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Yellow

These flowers are not actually out yet, though they're working on it. It's such a beautiful spring day outside (and me stuck inside for hours and hours yet - not fair), I thought I'd take a Yellow Break for the Friday Shootout.
Bon weekend!


Look! Look what came in the mail yesterday! Hand made items from blogfellow JoAnne.
She turned my post "Out" into a book! That's so cool.
And there's another book, written and illustrated Luke, that is an absolute treasure.
Thank you!!!!!

And what's this. A necklace, perhaps.

The note says Cat Toy. Any takers?

Why, yes!

Yes indeed.
You've made my day!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Bus is made to Travel

This week's Uiscebot task is to write a poem about travelling somewhere, at least a mile from home, in less than 40 lines and with none of that rhyming nonsense. Check, check, check. Easy peasy, since travelling is what NanUs like best. But I'm in a strange and prickly mood lately, and my poem, starting so sweetly in the excitement of Let's Go! took an odd turn, all on its own.
Where shall we go today
somewhere sunny, somewhere warm
A place where everything is strange
the food has new flavors
the city new sounds
Let's go away from the dull routine
to new dust and grime
to different woes and worries
Visiting, we can fly lightly over the puddles,
lounge in our hotel room if it rains
tasting the honey - not becoming stuck in it.
Catch the bus here as it travels over hill and dale in pursuit of Elsewhere.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Signs of spring

1. I was out in the garden this morning planting the potatos. It rained quite a lot mid-week, and the ground is still rather muddy, but I figured I should at least get the spuds into the ground, seeing as I'm away next weekend and today is nice and sunny. Better not to put it off. The poor things were starting to climb out of their tupperware in the fridge. They didn't look much like food any more, but in six months time will be new food aplenty. I would have planted corn as well, but decided not to overdo it - my back is feeling the effort.
2. I mowed the lawn yesterday. Not much of it really needed mowing, but that's fine. With the grass just now coming back in strength I was able to reclaim many square meters of territory: almost up to the house on the one side, and almost to the fence on another.
3. The plum by the house is in full bloom - completely covered in white. I hope it doesn't make that many plums! The apricot has actually finished flowering already, though the apples and cherries have not yet started.
4. I go to work these days in full daylight. Yea! I hate getting up in the dark and making my way to work under the streetlights and into my office without ever seeing the sun. There was even a day last week I left work before sunset.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Well, it's Friday, and I'm sick&tired of working. It's not so much the impressive mass of documentation we need to create and/or summarize and/or gather together from diverse notebooks, but the incessant negativity of a particular colleague that has made it such a difficult week.
The work to do, I'm up for it. Evenings, crunch time, alright (as long as it's over in a week or two). But the constant "we'll never get this done" and "what a mess" and "there's nothing behind these documents" (which is false - there's plenty) just makes me want to kick this girl in the butt and out the door. Though I won't, because for all the whinging she has got a lot done this week. I've rarely met such a negative person. It's often a trial to work with her.
oof. 5 pm Friday and I'm the only one left.
Except for our exceptionally stinky cleaning guy. I almost fell over choking yesterday when he emptied my waste basket, though today thank goodness he's changed his clothes.
So it's time for a little zen-time. Last Friday I was out and about in the countryside a bit to the north of here, and I never did show you those photos.
This is the village of Aigueperse, which is about 45 minutes north-north-west by train. It's a two-street town. This is the main street, about a mile long, and there's a secondary one parallel to it. And a bunch of little connectors, but they don't really count.
As you might know, churches aren't much my thing, but when I'm wandering about like this I do often stop in, just to see. The church is usually the fanciest building in a small town here. And the light was just right.
The town hall has a fantastic clock tower. I missed the hour, and so didn't get to see the figures move, but figured I could try again on the way back to the station.
The crow condos are filling up for the season.
I know there's a hiking path starting out from Aigueperse; I've read about it in a book I left at home, and it's just out of the area covered by the book I bought in Gannat the previous day. Keeping an eye out for the yellow trail marks pays off eventually, and off I go on the 10km circuit. There's a castle mentioned on roadsigns around - I hope the trail goes there.
It starts off crossing farmland. The wheat is coming up. I'm not sure the corn is in the ground yet.
It isn't the weekend or a holiday, but plenty of people are out walking this trail. At one point, an old woman with a cane is being coaxed along by a younger woman. They seemed to be going visiting, not taking a hike for the heck of it. This couple in the photo I trailed for almost an hour. They walked as fast as I did, but kept stopping to talk, or call their dog. Just after I passed them they turned around.
There is a castle. We haven't been going straight toward it, and every time we turn squarely away I say to myself if we don't turn back soon I'll just make my own way on available tracks. This seems to be a big loop around it - I hope there's a visit eventually.
More tree portraits. I'm going to put an album together some day. Really.
And here we are. I realize I've been here before. That's the Taxol tree! Olivier brought me here years ago (in a car, of course), and we visited the visitable part of the castle (closed today - it's only March, after all), and he told me all about this yew tree being the local source of taxol when that chemotherapy molecule had just been discovered.
After the castle, the trail goes more or less straight down a wooded slope back to town. Going the other way around you'd be there in just half an hour!
The last bit of trail back to town.

Then back to the station for the 6 o'clock train. Time to head home. The cats are hungry!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Late late late for the bus

I am missing the bus, missing it !
Goldarn it, oh shit !
To write a poem on demand

Is often beyond this poor hand

Last week's task for the frabjous P-butter Bus was to write a four-line rhyme of protest, which the neato-keen Watercats have promised to turn into a song. I can't possibly miss the opportunity to be included in a song! And yet, I am overwhelmed and out of time. Here it is anyway.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I meant to tell you all about my little visit to Montluçon, but with all the crises at work there's just not time. So here are some pictures, occassionally with captions.
This roof has a fake cat chasing a fake bird.

There are some really nice details on a lot of the buildings. Some are originals, some restorations from the middle ages (like this one), and others are new but in the old style.

This fabulously detailed window now looks out from a sadly run-down and barely habitable building.
A hotel, closed for the season but due to open the very next day...

A couple of views from the hill with the big castle (seen from below in the first photo). The castle today is just a thin relic of it's old self, turned into a museum and unfortunately closed for the season still.
Waiting for everything to open?

That's it for the quick tour of old Montluçon. Tomorrow I might have more time, and we'll take a tour of Aigueperse.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


(from Thursday)

I was looking forward to this week. The first part was chock full - five days of work crammed into three in order to take the last two off. There was a poster to make; that should take a day. And a grant due the following Tuesday that needed to be done before leaving, with just a final re-read and polishing for the due-day. Plus the usual meetings, reports, problems to solve.
Then late last Friday, late enough to have reasonably been out the door already, the news came. My lab had won the lottery: we were to be one of the three services to be evaluated by the auditors coming for the hospital’s certification visit at the end of the month.
Oh my.
We are so not prepared for that.
We’ve been making baby-step progress toward accreditation of the laboratory for two years now, but it must be admitted that we’ve made, what? 10% of the progress necessary? In the last two months we’ve gotten much more serious, with the October 2012 deadline looming. Baby steps - the newly created QC unit is taking its time just measuring the task: it’s not doing the documents, just identifying what documents need to be done.
And now we’re being visited in three weeks’ time. The first week (this week): the two main people of the QC unit are on vacation all week, and I’m supposed to be off Thursday/Friday. Way to start!
So I shoved my grant-writing and poster design off on a colleague, and dove into building a Quality Management System. Not that I can do the whole thing on my own in a few days, but it’s important to get some of the key things done, a skeleton that my colleagues can flesh out when they come back all relaxed and ready to work hard on Monday.
So here it is Thursday noon, and my colleague who’s taken over the grant is surprised to see me. What are you doing here? Go take your vacation! Somehow it doesn’t seem right, to go off and have fun with so much to do so fast. But then, it doesn’t seem right to have to do it all myself. And I am getting so tired as to not be terribly efficient. So fine, off I go.
Gannat. What’s here in Gannat?
Agricultural train station, scattered houses too modern to be interesting, grain silos.
How to get out of Gannat? It’s three pm. Must be a train going on to Montluçon before night. And there are several: 18:11, 18:47, 19:55. Perfect. Plenty of time to see the town, if there is one on the other side of the station building, and move on.

Ah, yes, there is a town! A nice little town in the tradition of small towns in central France: a medieval heart confined in the vestiges of ancient walls, a bit of guard tower peeking through here and there. A main road through this heart and another around it. Around this, a layer of middle-aged houses and businesses, around that farms.
It’s a nice little town. There’s a good-looking castle just off-center; the municipal museum, in fact. I figure I’ll go in and have an hour at least to look around, but alas today is only the tenth of March. Closed for another three weeks. The Tourism office is open, though, and a very helpful woman helps me choose a book of hiking trails in the region. Two start right here in Gannat: one short enough to do yet today and I can try the long one tomorrow. (one of the birds in the trees)
With two hikes in mind, I look around for a hotel. There are three on the square opposite the castle, but two are closed for the season. The third has people in the bar of the restaurant, but the door is blocked by a table and chairs. Closed too. Well. A stroll around the town center turns up no lodging at all. I’ll keep an eye out on my way to my hike, but if nothing turns up, it’s on to Montluçon for the night.
My book’s explanations for how to find the trailhead are inadequate. There’s a bit of highly detailed map, but none of the streets are named and there are precious few obvious landmarks. Eventually I locate the starting point, and from there it’s easy - the trail marks are frequent and recent. It’s wonderful to get out in the fresh air at last. And surprising how long it seems to take to get out of town. The thing is that all roads leading out are lined with houses, cheek to jowl. Half a mile down the road you’re still penned in by the houses and small industries, and yet you know you’re out of town because every time you pass a driveway you can see that just beyond the yard there’s a huge field and some cows, and a few sheep. The road is a tunnel of buildings.
Finally my trail leaves the road and follows a dirt track between newly planted parcels. Ironically, I’m still in a tunnel. The path is in a deep ditch between rows of trees and blackberry brambles. Just another hundred meters. A few more...
Yea! Sunlight! Bucolic vistas in the warm glow of the late sun. The perfect trees on the horizon. The abandoned shepherds’ shelters. The bright bright green of new-sprouted wheat.
Having finished ¾ of the loop, I come to the woods where wild orchids have been promised. The barrier across the path is heavily padlocked and the sign says the patch of woods is closed until March of 2011, after an incident in 2009 in which the tranquility of the deer employed to keep the site healthy were subject to incivilities.
Some idiots thought it would be fun to chase the deer around, or somesuch. And now my path is closed. But hey, it’s March 2011 already. The 10th! Apparently they meant the end of March. Or the 11th. Or they forgot. I just make my way across the 3-inch wheat and back to town on a tractor road. At the station at 18:14, the train to Montluçon should have just passed through, but today it’s 10 minutes late. Just time to get over to the far quay. Must be a sign! The train waited for me.
Funny how tender my feet are. I’ve only been walking for three hours. Half of that on asphalt, which tenderizes feet quickly, but it does make me appreciate that it’s been a long winter of staying in. A couple of strolls around Clermont have not in fact prepared me for the 20km afternoons of summer. My dogs’ll be crying after tomorrow’s 14km, and that’s just the trail, not getting there or seeing Montluçon.
Ohhh, it’s nice to sit back and relax on this new and very comfortable train. I almost forget about the certification visit. I almost forget about Yannick is wrapping up his day of working on my grant and my poster. I recall how strange he thought it was that I came into work at all - if he hadn’t been willing to take on these tasks (he’s second author on them, after all), he would have just said no. Go on your vacation, he said.

Alright! Ski reservations came before the certification visit for my colleagues, why not for me? Take off. Enjoy. Reset..