…since I last posted anything here. Blame it on the belated arrival of summer, with temperatures to match. Villages are holding their summer fȇtes and vides greniers (French car boot sales) while outdoor activities are advertised everywhere. But it feels as if the countryside has moved to that mythical land of Soporifia. In our local village of Lignières-Orgères, on the other hand, excitement is building ahead of Friday 10July. This is the day when the Tour de France, the world’s greatest cycle race, rolls right through le village. Everything is precisely planned. A few weeks ago I dropped into our local mairie (town hall) to ask the lovely Isabelle approximately what time would le caravane and les cyclistes be coming through. There’s no ‘approximately’ about it. Le caravane, the cavalcade of sponsors’ and advertisers’ vehicles that precedes the race itself and from where freebies such as caps and other goodies are thrown to the waiting crowds, will start to arrive at precisely 1317 local time. The cyclists are expected at 1504. It’s that exact. We saw le tour pass near here 8 years ago. Le caravane was the most entertaining part as it took at least 45 minutes for all the vehicles to make their way through, while the cyclists went past in a flash. We then went home and watched the rest on Sky. Not this time; no Sky. If you are a major sponsor of the Tour de France, it must be like the exposure afforded to those who advertise during the Super Bowl. I wonder how much Skoda pays, as it provides all the vehicles? There’s a downside to the jollity, though. A few years ago, large polystyrene hands were thrown to the throng. One young chap waved his hand so vigorously that Tour de France banner 1it hit and injured one of the cyclists. If you’ve ever watched any of the Tour, especially any of the mountain stages, you may have seen a madman dressed all in red as a devil, complete with pitchfork, running alongside some of the riders. For the record that is not and will not be me. I’ll be trying to take photos, particularly of the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish. The early stages of the race, such as this one, are sprinter Tour de France shopfrontterritory as they are fairly  flat. I’m hoping he can add to his tally of 25 stage wins. I expect there will be more in evidence on the day but here are a couple of early signs of excitement. Don’t hold out much hope for the guy on the bike in the window of our village shop. Even if he starts now, he stands no chance. As everyone knows, you’ve got to have all that go-faster Lycra stuff to succeed in cycling. I like the inclusion of ‘cycliste’ in the banner. Do you mean that there are people who don’t know what the Tour de France is?!

It all kicks off today in Utrecht, Holland,the home of the bicycle. I just hope that by the time it reaches here, the cobbles of Holland, Belgium and northern France haven’t led to riders crashing out of the tour through injury.

Coat of Arms of Normandy

Coat of Arms of Normandy

“Three Lions on the shirt…”  As the Tour negotiates Normandy, you may well see images of the Normandy coat of arms. It features two lions, or leopards. In heraldic terms they are Gules two lions passant gardant in pale or armed and languid azure. (Isn’t the internet wonderful!)  If British people think they look familiar it is because they are. Those arms are based on William the Conqueror’s coat of arms which went on to become the basis for the royal arms of England after his successful invasion. They haven’t changed since the reign of Richard I in the Middle Ages. The only major difference

Royal Arms of England

Royal Arms of England

apart from the number of lions – 3 instead of 2-

England football shirt

England football shirt

is that the tails are different.  The reference in the opening sentence to “three lions on the shirt” refers to the badge on the shirts worn by  England footballers. In addition, the England women’s team, which has just been knocked out at the semi-final stage of the women’s world cup in Canada, calls itself the Lionesses in honour of the badge.

Different countries have different pests. Those cute-looking possums, for example, are pests in New Zealand. I have a hot-water bottle cover made from possum fur. Here, pests are called nuisibles. As I’ve mentioned before, coypu (ragondins) destroy river banks and are definitely persona non grata. So are crows, and not just from attacking crops. The pair of geese at the chateau at Carrouges, one of which I showed a photo of in my post of 12April, recently produced 5 goslings. Only one remains and when that “disappeared” a week or two ago, I asked one of the staff there what had happened. He told me that the little chap is now in witness protection after crows had killed the other 4. I reckon it’ll be the case of the century. “Which one did it to your brothers & sister?” “It was a black one!”. “OK guys, you know who to look for. Go get him!” I guess it’s no accident that the collective noun for a number of crows is a murder.  As an aside, the collective noun for owls is a parliament. Owls are meant to be wise, but parliamentarians?

Hamza licence plateTerrorism in Normandy? I took this photo as a joke but after recent events in the south-east of France when a man was beheaded, thus showing such attacks can occur anytime and anywhere, it pays to be vigilant. Still, I think this is innocent enough…  Abu Hamza is currently serving life imprisonment in the US for terrorist offences after being extradited from Britain. The car has Belgian plates, though, and it was there that police carried out arrests in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish grocery store attacks. Mmm.

Meanwhile in other French news….

– The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium has just been commemorated. Result of the battle: Anglo/Prussian Alliance 1: France 0.  To commemorate the event, Belgium wanted to mint a €2 coin. To some French, that battle never happened. As I mentioned in a recent post, the author of a book on D-Day wrote that General de Gaulle managed to write a complete history of the French army without once mentioning the defeat. So, France said non! to the coin. A compromise was reached, of course. Political Europe is good at fudges and compromises. A €2.5 coin was minted but it is only legal tender in Belgium. Honneur satisfied?

– It is sometimes said that if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. I can, so, obviously I wasn’t. I remember that one of the leaders of the momentous student-led uprising in Paris in 1968 was Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Do you remember him? I was surprised to learn recently that he is still around! I even heard him talk on the radio. After all these years, France has now granted this German-born man citizenship. Not to be left out, for reasons best known to themselves, Russia has placed him on a list of people whom they will not allow to enter that country. I’m sure he is heartbroken.

– Another person whose potential travel plans have been upset is Julian Assange. Bizarrely, he wrote an open letter to President Hollande which was published in Le Monde newspaper, asking, we were told, for asylum in France. Assange’s lawyers denied that he was asking for such treatment, but the office of the President turned him down anyway on the very good grounds that there is a European arrest warrant out for him. The Swedes would like to talk to him about rape charges.

– Ségolène Royal, the president’s former partner, is the Minister of, among other things, Ecology. She’s made the news for two reasons recently. She said on live TV that Nutella should be banned because of the decimation of palm trees because of the use of palm oil in the spread. What is she thinking of? So many people think that Nutella is delicious that she was forced to apologise. She’s also bringing in a ban next year on Round Up, the weed and everything else around it killer. I don’t have that on toast in the morning so she’s safe there.

– Greece. OK, it’s not France but the fate of that country is important. On the day before the referendum in Greece on whether or not to accept the terms offered by the EU and others, I’m hoping for a “No” vote. The Greeks may have contributed to their woes in the past but the terms of the bailout since 2010 have resulted in the Greek economy shrinking by 25%.  The Euro is a political construct and the various bodies such as the European Commission and the European Central Bank just want Greece to “get with the programme”. They don’t care for the suffering of the Greek people. They want to get rid of the Syriza government. Even the IMF is now saying that the austerity measures foisted upon Greece are unsustainable. That did not prevent Charlie Hebdo depicting the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, waterboarding a Greek on its front cover recently.

Photo Gallery. Here are some recent images….(roll the cursor over the photos to see the captions)

And finally….As ever, here are some of Sue’s paintings. She was asked recently to enter a competition by an art gallery in London. These are the three works she has chosen. I think they are all great but this gallery doesn’t go in much for figurative art so we shall see….À Bientôt