Asparagus, cheese and cold eggs: everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux, January – May 2024

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(six A4 pages)

There are links to photographs in the text and
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There are no asparagus fields around Entre-deux-Eaux. Our local fields are mainly used by cows, as pasture or for winter fodder, with occasional maize or winter wheat crops. But at this time of year, in April and May, villagers’ thoughts turn east to Alsace and its asparagus. Nearly every local restaurant, small or large, will offer asparagus as a starter and often also as part other courses as well, In the nearby small town of Provenchères-sur-Fave, the Mother’s Day (26 May here) special Sunday menu in a restaurant had asparagus as its starter. People also drive over the Vosges to buy asparagus directly from the growers. Earlier in May, a party of villagers from Entre-deux-Eaux oldies club went over the hills for an asparagus lunch and dance for 350 people, though one complained that she was still hungry when she got home.

Le 29 restaurant

During the long wet winter months, we have enjoyed going out for a restaurant lunch roughly once a week. It is always good to try new restaurants as well as old favourites, and if they are nearby in Saint Dié so much the better. At the end of April, when it was still miserable weather, we tried the recently opened Le 29 on the main street (no. 29) of Saint Dié. It was good to get off the cold, windy street into a small but busy little restaurant of eight tables, which looked larger with its murals of sunlit woods. There was a warm welcome from the bustling young madame, Marilyn, and through glass doors into the bright kitchen at the rear we could see chef Cedric and his assistant busy cooking and decorating dishes. Not surprisingly, one of their starters that week was listed as Les asperges blanches d’Alsace (ferme Clarisse, Sigolsheim), emulsion savoyarde et croustillant pancetta which also featured an egg cooked at a low temperature. Helen decided to sample the frogs’ legs, which she didn’t remember having tasted before, but John chose the asparagus and said the savoyarde emulsion, a cheesy sauce, added a good flavour to the asparagus.
In the past we had bought asparagus at Sigolsheim from Clarisse’s small hut-like shop up a narrow side street. Now there is a larger, up-market shop attached to a restaurant on the main road through Sigolsheim. Ghislaine (who visits us to practice her English) and her husband went for a meal there this year, but they were really disappointed, finding it very expensive for the asparagus soup and asparagus-and-ham main course. They were also annoyed that Clarisse’s strawberries were on the dessert menu but not available to eat, although there were plenty in the attached shop, but the restaurant staff refused to prepare them.

chutney de potiron, chèvre fumé, chèvre boursin, tomme fruitée

When we were at L’Imprimerie in the book village in April, they served their asparagus with a hollandaise sauce. The cheese course is, alas, rarely part of set menus in French restaurants these days. But with the Imprimerie’s curtailed menu (see below) we missed the previous leisurely succession of filling dishes, so when Damien wheeled up the optional cheese trolley, we decided to indulge. The smoked goats’ cheese was our favourite, with a good pumpkin chutney.
In January we had discovered their main chef, Morgan, had been head-hunted and had moved on to a larger, more prestigious restaurant in a spa hotel in the woods above lac de Longemer and taking two of the younger restaurant chefs as well. His co-owner chef, together with a new assistant chef and the grumpy waiter are carrying on at the Imprimerie, but have reduced the number of opening days and have been serving a less ambitious weekday set lunch to fewer tables.
Like true groupies we decided the following week to follow Morgan to his new restaurant, Les Jardins de Sophie, for lunch. It was delicious, and he’d obviously carried over his own style as two of the dishes were similar to those we’d eaten at his old restaurant! But the cheese selection was less interesting – and there was no pumpkin chutney to add flavour. At the end Morgan showed us his big new kitchen with great pride, as he now has fifteen staff working under him including a pastry chef.

wine cellar

Another restaurant which we tried for the first time, Le Bistro d’ Azerailles, was distinctly down market from Les Jardins de Sophie and served neither asparagus or cheese, but a varied hot and cold buffet. Arriving at 12.20, we walked into an unpromising, dingy fifties style bar in an old station hotel in the small town of Azerailles; there was only one diner or drinker, and no sign of staff. Eventually the chef came to the bar, smiled, and led us round the end of the bar, through a narrow room and into a busy, large restaurant, where he handed us over to Madame. We should probably have noticed and come in through the other door that opened directly into the restaurant! Before we were let loose on the buffet, we were asked if we’d like aperitifs – no thanks. Wine with the meal? Yes please! So chef led us proudly to their latest project – a well-lit wine cellar with tables and chairs and expensive bottles in racks on the walls. Realising our mistake, we said it was a really splendid display, but we only wanted a glass each, so were led back up to order from the bar. The starters were really good, so we went back for more. We realised we should have got there a bit earlier, to get the full selection of the mains, and we were lucky to get the last of the desserts. Other diners had left and the staff had disappeared when, after coffee, we were ready to pay. It’s somewhere we’d go back to, – but promptly at mid-day.
The Bistro d’ Azerailles’ vegetables of the day were peas and potatoes. John had been rather surprised when we were at the Amnesty Book Sale in Saint Dié in February and he picked up a book of the best recipes from season 4 of the French Masterchef TV series, to find it contained a technical tip for cooking vegetables a l’anglaise with photos of the four stages: boiling a lot of salted water, tipping in the vegetables, pricking them with the point of a knife to see if they are well cooked, lifting them out into ice-cold water. Is that considered by French Masterchef to be the height of English gastronomy? An indication that we have some interests above and beyond our stomachs and restaurants (though it might not otherwise be obvious from this newsletter), is that we also bought an Italian design book, some Michelin green guides to parts of France we haven’t yet visited, and Helen found a well illustrated 1932 children’s science fiction book.
The previous February weekend, Helen went with the Sainte Marguerite club on the annual theatre trip to the Alsace village which gives an amateur theatre production preceded by lunch. The lunch is always well organised, but this year there were negative comments that they’d cut down on wine and there was no cheese course. But the new play, La Candidate, a farce about a presidential election was as amusing as ever.
Later that week it was Helen’s turn to lead the Friday Remue Meninges, or brain exercise, group. This time she’d found a couple of good French sites to plunder. So the group started with arranging a seating plan for a family dinner party for 10, taking into account all the antipathies and requirements of participants, so a logic problem with only one solution possible. There’s always someone in the group who says they don’t know what to do, without having read the information and worked out the logic! Next there were three exercises of anagrams, the last being Tintin titles (given how big cartoon strip/graphic novels are here, it was surprising that not everyone had read Tintin to their children or grandchildren). Pandering to the popularity of the British Royal Family here, the next exercise involved applying the information given about the strict rules of succession, to find out who would have succeeded at particular dates had the queen died then (“I don’t know what I’ve got to do”, wailed the same person without reading the info). With a word-search for capital cities (French spelling) which absorbed everyone, the room went quiet for the first time as they really concentrated. Finally a crossword. After which someone boiled the kettle for hot drinks as the room is inadequately heated and Helen produced the cinnamon buns that John had made that morning, and everyone relaxed and gossiped.
In March and early April we enjoyed seeing family and friends around Easter time in Letchworth. So lots of cooking for John, egg hunts for children, and gardening and trips on the rare days when the weather was fine.
On our return to Entre-deux-Eaux, we faced the same problem of finding a time for gardening when it was not raining. Fortunately the day Dusty chose for rotavating our vegetable patch was sunny after a heavy overnight frost (and snow on the hills the previous day). Helen has been busy on other fine days slowly raking over the beds and sowing the usual carrots, parsnips, beetroot, lettuce and leeks outside. The broad beans, peas, courgettes, pumpkins and squash which were sown inside are now being planted out. Will they all be washed away by all the subsequent rain? In May Saint Dié had a Jardin dans ma ville event with plant stalls up both sides of the main street (which was closed to traffic). We walked round the stalls and selected a few herbs to replace those that do not seem to have survived the winter.
As for the cold eggs, many of you will have been following John’s videos of the kestrels nesting on our attic windowsill on the website 2024 – Kestrels in Entre-deux-Eaux, wincing at two females fighting (rather disturbing) in March and rejoicing at the laying of six eggs in April. You will have no doubt grieved when the male disappeared on 25 April, leaving the female without any food on her seventh day of brooding on the eggs. We assume the eggs would have got too cold to be viable after she was forced to leave them for long periods to hunt for food (and possibly her mate).

The younger male kestrel gives the female a mouse

However a younger male then started visiting the windowsill and bringing voles, mice and lizards for the female, and on 7 May the female laid the first of a second batch of eggs. By 15 May eleven eggs could be seen, with old and new all together. Unfortunately the sill overlooks the vegetable garden, and the female deserts the eleven eggs whenever one of us goes into the garden, as well as when cyclists and dog walkers pass. As the honeyberries in the fruit cage are now ripe and the strawberries soon will be, there will be additional disruptions for her from our gardening stints. But if all is well, perhaps some of the five new eggs should hatch around 9 June. In discussions with two in France and Czechia who have had kestrel nests for many years, this many eggs is unknown and difficult for the female to cover. After the additional seventh egg was laid in the second clutch, the opinion was there would only be another two at most. Perhaps this might become an entry in a record book? So watch the website!

L’ilot utopique de Raon l’Etape in 2010

At the beginning of May we went to an exhibition at the museum in Saint Dié on the striking architecture of L’ilot utopique de Raon l’Etape. A hotelier in Raon l’Etape had enterprisingly commissioned the building in 1966-7 of an annexe to his hotel on a little island in the river Meurthe, comprising motel rooms designed by Pascal Häusermann et Claude Häusermann-Costy. The nine concrete spheres could accommodate 24 guests in total. Apparently the large printing firm that Ghislaine’s husband worked for would accommodate business visitors there, as it was a bit different with its esprit soixante-huitard. It was called Motel l’Eau Vive, then later l’Utopie. It had various owners and was classed as a historic monument in 2014. We had been very taken with the unusual balloon shapes when we visited and had drinks there after a couple of young Swiss enthusiasts had taken it on. But it has been closed for some years. It is being renovated and is due to reopen as a hotel later this year. The exhibition had more information about other projects of the architects, including a video of the time-consuming construction and growth of a private home (no possibility of hanging paintings of constructing bookshelves on those curved igloo-like concrete walls!)
The local villages hold an annual art event in May, with exhibitions in different village halls. The first year we went, our American friend Nicola won a prize for her paintings, and we were proud to still see her name at the top of the list of winners (if mis-spelt). But alas the quality of paintings has deteriorated in recent years. However, the photographs exhibited at the former seminary in Saulcy were more interesting, and we were pleased to be invited to the vernissage, or drinks reception the evening before, as Paul, the recently arrived resident of E2E, was showing more of his photographs.
May is a month of public holidays here, a month of holes like cheeses, as Ghislaine observed during our linguistic exchanges. The month opens with Workers Day, the following week there is Victory Day and Ascension Day, and two weeks later Pentecost. So it was hardly surprising that none of Helen’s birthday cards were delivered until two days after the event (pathetic sniff). Nevertheless her birthday was a festive as well as obligingly sunny day as we drove over to Riquewihr, a small mediaeval walled town in Alsace which had not been destroyed in WWII as the road to it didn’t go any further. We had lunch just outside the walls at the foot of the vineyards, on the terrace of a restaurant with the unwieldy name of AOR La Table, le gout et nous. The amuse-bouche was, of course an asparagus soup, though this one was accompanied by lavash (a crisp, spicy Armenian bread). The fish course of bream was also accompanied by asparagus, but the star was the veal, sweetbread, risotto, with zucchini and apple wrapped in a green bean. What drew the attention of neighbouring tables, was our Moni-k-Bill dessert of a smoking chocolate cigar and mango cream, as we were the only table presented with it. In fact, it was less of a surprise to us as, on our previous visit, we had also had chef’s signature dish, which harks back to the Lewinsky/Clinton affair.

Riquewihr upper gate

Riquewihr courtyard

We had decided to stay overnight Sunday at the hotel next door to it, so we did no have to worry about our wine consumption, and it was pleasant strolling round the old streets of Riquewihr in the cool of the evening when the crowds of tourists had left. We had first visited Riquewihr in the ‘eighties on a winter evening with a spectacular sunset over the vineyards, and equally quiet streets, and we had fallen in love with it, so it was good to see it again restored to tranquillity at the end of the day. Next morning we went out to get coffee and croissants from a bakery. We sat on the rim of an old well eating them and watching a tanker emptying a street drain, deliveries to cellars and walkers setting out with haversacks and maps.

vineyard/roadside poppies

On the way home we stopped in the next village at a small wine producer to buy some bottles of the Gewurtztraminer wine that Helen had really liked at lunchtime. We were lucky in our timing, as the husband and wife were just pulling out on their gateway with a trailer of garden prunings for the tip, but stopped immediately they saw us and opened up. There can’t be much call for wine on a Monday morning. It feels a long time since we bought from a grower, and we reminisced about buying our first Gewurtz from another small producer on that first visit nearly forty years ago.

Enfin – Croisière Alsacienne – Rhine carp in a potato crust, with sorrel and wild garlic sauce

Two days later we rounded off Helen’s birthday with a splendid lunch at Enfin restaurant, again amid the vineyards of Alsace, but a bit further north in Barr. Their Hommage au Printemps sequence of small dishes featured plenty of herbs from the beds outside their windows and also fish from the river Rhine. After a succession of tasty herby mises en bouche, we had the inevitable but beautifully presented asparagus, both white and green with lovage, cream and asparagus ice-cream cornets. Perhaps the most memorable dish was the Rhine carp in a potato crust, with sorrel and wild garlic sauce. The dessert trolley at the end was heavily laden, and being Alsace there were lashings of cream on everything. But asparagus ice cream as a dessert must be an acquired taste.

We drove back along a steep, winding forest road rather than through the vineyards, enjoying the scenery.
But no, that was not in fact the last celebration, so hold on for a bit more food description! This week the monthly E2E club for the oldies (more properly called La vie du bon côté) toasted all the May birthdays in either crémant or cider. The onus of cake-making has been taken on by Stephane, the enterprising village caterer who makes very good cakes, so Helen joined other May birthdays villagers in blowing out candles on his creamy Paris-Brest (whose wheel shape is said to be a tribute to the Paris-Brest cycle race), luscious rhubarb tart or generous cream-and-raspberry sponge cake, as the card and game players sang Joyeux anniversaire.
On the walk home, Helen admired the colourful azaleas and peonies in the sheltered garden of the oldest village house, queried the presence of two gendarmes outside the unfinished, deserted house of our former builder, stopped to check if our neighbour still wants some felled tree branches from the bottom of our orchard, and finally caused the female kestrel to temporarily fly in alarm from her eggs. After the cakes, candles and champagne, everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux resumed.

Churches, Cistercians and burnt-out cars: everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux, August – December 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no photographs)
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.pdf (four A4 pages)

There are links to photographs in the text and
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A larger selection of photographs of
Avallon, Vézelay, Vault-de-Lugny,
Pontaubert, Saulieu, Saint-Père and Fontenay

The second part of 2023 here could be summarised briefly as August, absent in Letchworth; September, hot, health appointments and short holiday; October, restaurants and rain; November, decluttering and rain; December, Christmas thoughts.

It was good to spend time with Leila and with Toby and his family while we were over in August. Jacob is growing up fast, and he and Stella moved house over summer, but fortunately they are still near his school. While Leila was with us we took Jacob and Farrah to a water park which they enjoyed in the hot weather. On our way back to Entre-deux-Eaux we had a lovely day with Ann and Derek in Folkestone, wandering along the clifftop and round the harbour, before a belated birthday lunch at a small restaurant in the old town, then afternoon tea in Dymchurch with Helen’s former London flat-mate.

We returned to a series of appointments in September, Helen to what John calls eye-waggling (exercises with the orthoptist) and dermatology and John to very helpful appointments with an audiologist with a particular interest in tinnitus; John can now hear so much better with his new hearing aids. On a Sunday between appointments we took advantage of sites being open for Patrimoine or Heritage Day and drove over to Plainfaing to see the wall paintings in the Town Hall (which weren’t as interesting as they sounded), and started reminiscing about restaurants we used to go to in our early days here. We drove up the narrow lane to the ferme-auberge which was still on the hillside above, with a coach outside which seemed to be connected to a volleyball team, though the group sitting at the outdoor tables looked a bit past their sporting prime.

Fraize school mural

In a back street in Fraize we stopped to see the recent wall painting on the end of the school (which was where Ghislaine, who comes regularly for English conversation, taught for many years), then looked in the church, which had an interesting wall painting above the war memorial showing local WW1 trench warfare (we haven’t seen that before in a church). The huge old factory has also been restored and is full of sale goods for the Emmaus homeless charity. Then, alas, on our way home, the front tyre of Bluto caught on a sharp curb of a new chicane and it seemed an awfully long hot walk home to get one of the summer tyres from the farmhouse. We were so glad of two cars so we could drive back in Snowy, and John changed the wheel quickly.

Realising that, due to a postponed appointment, we had a week at the end of September without appointments, we rapidly booked a gîte in part of France we could easily reach in a day, threw together some clothes, tea bags and guide books, and set off in Snowy for Avallon in the Burgundy/Franche-Comté region. It proved to be a most enjoyable break (certainly better than the over-hyped “Romantic Rhine” at the end of June). The weather was sunny but not too hot, the gîte comfortable, and the churches beautiful.

Tout d’Horloge Avallon

We unpacked at our gîte (Saint-Père) which extended across the upper floor of an old town house in a narrow street (rue Maison Dieu) by the market square (it was well we had no heavy luggage as we had to climb a flight of steep outside steps, avoiding a somnolent cat, to reach the front door). Then we walked down to the picturesque Tour d’Horloge, collected leaflets and an up-to-date parking disc from the Avallon Tourist Office, and looked round the 12C Saint Lazare church. Although the small town looked fairly prosperous, its Romanesque church was woefully neglected, with damaged portals, chapel frescoes almost indecipherable with damp, and woodwork long deprived of polish. Was the boat propped in a side chapel, part of a saint’s attributes or just dumped? Old buildings along the ramparts, on the other hand, had been carefully restored.



World Heritage Vézelay’s Romanesque/Gothic Sainte Marie-Madeleine next day, when we finally reached to top of the hill, was a lovely contrast, as the light and airy basilica had been carefully restored by Viollet-le-Duc, with spectacular archway carvings and detailed column capitals. We saw it first from the road, rising dramatically above the vineyards. It took a while to reach it as we strolled up the pilgrim road of the tiny town looking in tourist boutiques and courtyards, and paused for coffee, quiche and hazelnut tart. We weren’t there in the main tourist season so the town was relatively quiet. Afterwards, having spent time inside the basilica we followed a footpath down to La Cordelle, the tiny Franciscan chapel. We returned another day to look round the former house of novelist Romain Rolland, now a small museum, with artworks by Leger, Miro, Kandinsky and Picasso.

Vault-de-Lugny frescoes

The village churches were also interesting with the angels blowing their trumpets at the corners of Saint Père’s church tower and the frescoes of Vault-de-Lugny. In the small town of Saulieu, we admired the droll capitals of the twelfth century century basilica (though thought its blue and gold organ looked like a fairground one), then looked round an adjacent house containing sculptures of Pompon, whose famous polar bear was featured on the brass arrows pointing from the car park to the museum.

Pompon boar

We particularly liked a running rabbit, a pelican and a rampant boar and Helen couldn’t resist buying a red coffee mug featuring the polar bear which is a daily reminder of that handful of sunlit September days in Burgundy.


We had a shock on our return to Entre-deux-Eaux, and still have a daily reminder of that too. We had set out early on that last day, taking a cross-country route to the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. Founded in 1118, over 200 monks had followed the rule of St Benedict, though it declined in the sixteenth century when the King rather than the monks appointed the abbots. After the Revolution it was, like so many ecclesiastical buildings, sold as state property, and later bought by Elie de Montgolfier, who transformed the huge building in which the monks had an iron forge into a paper-mill. A son-in-law bought it in 1906 and started a massive renovation, demolishing all the paper mill buildings. Now the simplicity of the lofty church, cloisters, huge communal dormitory and work areas are silent again, though the water harnessed by the restored forge can be heard. Another coach-free World Heritage site.

And the shock? On Friday, as we drove up our road, we saw two burnt out cars outside our neighbour Ludo’s small repair garage. Behind them a burnt concrete electricity pole still stood, but its recently installed fibre cables were lying, severed, on the ground. So the 9 houses further up the road, including ours, were without phone, internet or TV and the farmer could not use the internet-controlled automatic milking equipment. As we stared, horrified, Ludo’s father returned from SFR, our mutual phone and internet service provider, clutching a temporary SFR box which allows internet access through the mobile phone network, and told us how to get one. The next few days were occupied with phone calls, visits, and sorting out the temporary box. The cables were mended and rehung more quickly than expected on the following Monday. It seems to have been a deliberate fire which the police are investigating. But, as far as we know, the arsonist and their motive have not been discovered and the blackened car carcases are still outside Ludo’s garage.

One unplanned side effect was that when we went into Saint Dié to the SFR shop, we also wandered round the Geography Festival, which we hadn’t hitherto been too bothered about this year. With the departure of the former mayor, it is now a smaller event, with fewer sessions of interest, but that day the cafes were busy in the sunshine, extra tables were being laid for lunch outside restaurants, and a small band was strolling down the main street. The book tent had as large and busy a display as ever, which inspired us afterwards to look round the newly-opened multimedia library building.

The next morning while we were still in our dressing gowns (possibly as late as 10.30), the doorbell unexpectedly rang. Our surprise callers were an English-speaking man (of N. Irish and Welsh descent) and two of his French friends. He has just moved from Colmar into a house on the other side of the village, and they had all been down to the village bar (“very friendly locals!”) and been told about the English couple in the house with the blue shutters. So we invited them in for a chat. He later brought round some home-made cake and flyers for a photography exhibition in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines where he was exhibiting, so we went over to see it.

Blanc Ru – winegrower’s salad starter

On the way back from Sainte-Marie, we noticed that a village restaurant in Wisembach, which had been closed for several years, had re-opened. As we were now into autumnal rain, when our main diversion becomes weekly restaurant sorties, we tried out the Blanc Ru one very wet day. When we phoned to book, we were lucky to get the last table as its very reasonable menu of the day attracted workers from the local factory as well as the usual retired people. It felt like a family enterprise, with mother in the kitchen, a bustling daughter taking orders and serving, a son behind one bar and towards the end another son appeared. The thirteen euro menu was chalked on a slate on the gatepost: a hearty starter of winegrower’s salad, main of chicken and chips, and stewed damsons with ice-cream for dessert. With the rising prices of everything, our favourite Imprimerie restaurant is cutting back; it now only serves a menu-of-the-day on weekdays (and neither of the more extensive menus we used to choose) and a single surprise menu at the weekend, while one waiter, Guillaume who joined last year has returned to his old occupation of nursing and its better pay, and the shy co-chef is (reluctantly, it seems) serving at table. One Saturday we tried a menu-of-the-day at the Bouche à Oreille in Raon l’Etape (they too were full and turning away customers).

But we went up-market for John’s birthday at a starred restaurant, the Nouvelle Auberge, in Wihr au Val in Alsace, only to find at the end of the meal when we came out, that Snowy wouldn’t start – the ten year-old battery had finally died! No garage in the village, so we had to phone our insurers (French car insurance includes breakdown cover), who organised a mechanic to get us started. He turned up twenty minutes later from a nearby town, used a booster pack to start Snowy, and gave us a stern warning as we set off – “don’t stop the engine till you get home”. We didn’t, and a new battery is now in place!

Jodphur railway station ticket office in 1986

In November we started decluttering, but got diverted by some of the things we came across! Among them were Helen’s handwritten account of our second Indian journey (1986) which she has been typing up. That made us realise John hadn’t finished scanning all the slides in 2011. And, after finding an alternative following a scanner failure, John’s Indian slides have now been added to his computer.  Lots of lovely memories as the rain continued outside.

The young man who has been helping this year with heavier garden tasks recovered from his latest illness/injury and came with his taciturn father to do a lot of tree pruning and cutting back of bramble and wild rose thickets, which was very useful. We rescued lots of the hips to decorate the house and make a Christmas wreath for the door.

Enfin restaurant

At the end of the month we tried a new-to-us starred restaurant in Barr, over in Alsace. As the streets and shops of Barr are very festive in mid-December for their Christmas Market, it was a disappointment to find most shops closed apart from barbers, hairdressers and bakeries. The only festive things were the Mannele in the bakeries – the spiced brioches in the shape of little men which are offered at St Nicolas (6 December). But the Enfin restaurant was bright and bustling; we thoroughly enjoyed their seasonal menu and wines and will return in the New Year.

We had cold days and our first snow of the year at the beginning of December, very light, but enough to add a festive touch without becoming a nuisance. St Nicolas has now visited the children; the mulled wine, mice in white outfits (tree decorations), wood turned and ceramic artefacts have appeared at the Christmas market in the nearby village of Sainte Marguerite; our ceramic angels are on the windowsill; and our aromatic wreath of sage, lavender and bay leaves, scarlet hips, ribbons and silver baubles is on the front door.

Christmas greetings to everyone from Entre-deux-Eaux!

Scanning the past – sixth update

Having spent 2011 scanning slides, negatives, and photographs, last month I discovered I hadn’t completed scanning all my slides after we returned to E2E in New Year 2012! I still had about 1100 Fujifilm transparencies from our 1986 India trip and other miscellaneous boxes of slides making a total of about 1500 still needing to be scanned.

I started scanning again using my Epson V700 Pro flat-bed scanner. With a twelve-slide carrier, it was taking about 45 minutes to complete so I could just leave the scanner to run. One day having already scanned 108 slides I left the scanner processing the next batch and went shopping. When I returned after about 90 minutes I discovered the scanner was making juddering noises and the carriage had stuck. It would not reset using the scanner program and, after finally turning it off to stop it, the scanner failed to reset/restart.

I searched online for possible causes or fault-tracing and contacted local PC repair services without any obvious solutions. The V700 had cost about 400€ in 2011 and second-hand machines are still about that price. There were several broken V700 for sale for spares at 100€ and a “new” motherboard would be about 250€. The current equivalent is the Epson Perfection V850 Pro which costs about 1100€! So I wondered whether there were other options?

I have a Canoscan 8400F in Letchworth. I needed a document scanner in the summer 2023 and the Canonscan appeared on Freecycle! It was in the original packaging and had various film holders which I did not examine as they weren’t of interest at the time. According to the specifications, the 8400F 35mm slide carrier holds four 35mm mounts and probably scans them at a similar speed to the Epson.

Given the resolution of digital cameras has improved significantly in the last 20+years, using a DSLR with a macro lens to photograph slides has now become a common alternative. I already had a Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60 mm f/2.8 Macro for my camera so I did some quick tests, just with the camera on a tripod.

JJC film copier

Those results were good so I bought a JJC film digitiser set for less than 100€ to allow me to continue using my camera with more suitable equipment. The kit has metal spacing adapters for various DSLR brands and macro lenses, a slide/film strip adapter/carrier and a diffused LED light source. I added a rail, for additional rigidity, and the foam damping.

I used the kit to copy the remaining slides using the Olympus high resolution mode and the results (a 67MB ORF + 21MB JPG) are better than those I’d was getting from the scanner (I’ve now yet to decide whether to redigitise some of my older slides!) I developed a routine (checking for dust, putting in slide carrier, taking the photo after a 4 second timer delay to eliminate any slide carrier shaking movement) which allowed me to average 25 mins for a tray of 50 slides – so much quicker than the 4+min per slide scanning time using the Epson, although requiring constant attention.

The only significant differences I’ve found compared to the scanner is the JJC slide carrier does not hold the “fatter” old Agfa, etc. plastic slide holders (which were one of the reasons the prongs on the Epson slide carrier broke (see fifth update), the slides did not “pop” due to the heat from the scanner as the LED light is cool, and there is no software to do automatic scratch correction (the scanner software uses an IR light). All the slides I had were in thinner paper mounts and all had been kept in slide projector trays in boxes so were in very good condition without any scratches. I didn’t need to do any colour corrections for the Fujifilm slides except to adjust for a LED 6500K light source.

As an aside, I have also discovered some 127 film negatives from a junior school trip in 1957(?). I don’t have any prints of those. I will need to make a card carrier to digitise those and make adjustments to the camera to film distance. I assume that was the only film I used in that Agilux Agiflash camera? I only really remember using the Gratispool “free film” service, which had paper negatives, but I think they must all have been discarded?

Barbecues, riots and the romantic Rhine: Everyday life in and around Entre-deux-Eaux, February to July 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
.pdf (eight A4 pages)

And few photographs of
Boppard, the Rhine, Schloss Stolzenfels, and other castles and the
Chagall stained-glass windows at St Stephan’s Church, Mainz

On evenings in our tranquil French village, we watch a lot of crime dramas. Our images of the deprived suburbs of Paris come from dramas like Engrenages (or Spiral), with their desolate backgrounds to the crimes tackled by Captain Laure Berthaud, Gilou, Tintin et al. We were on holiday in Koblenz (more about that later) at the end of June when the rioting broke out across towns and cities of France following the killing of seventeen year old Nahel Merzouk by a traffic police officer. So we did not see the TV images of Nanterre, to the west of Paris, but could picture the scenes of anger and violence.

At a distance, we read about the burning of cars and attacks on government buildings spreading to other towns and cities in France, the closest to Entre-deux-Eaux being in Strasbourg and Colmar, though we later learned that there had been a few cars burned in Saint Dié too, as young people (mainly of North African descent) showed their anger against police and government.

Earlier in the month we had met up in the centre of Strasbourg for a peaceful lunch by the canal with friends who live outside the town. After the events in Paris, their friend who lives near the cathedral rang to warn them not to come back into town as she had been so frightened during a night of rioting, close to all the explosions of firecrackers, tear gas grenades and shouting. And a shoe shop owner described how she had managed to close the shop and get the protective grilles down in time, although tear gas came in round the door and filled the shop, but she could not leave because of the rioting, so had to take refuge in the cellar, sealing its door against the tear gas. Other shops had their windows broken and goods pillaged and there were fires set alight.

When we returned to Entre-deux-Eaux from Koblenz, we did not hear much horror in the village over the killing of a teenager by police. He, after all, was from the feared banlieux or suburbs, whose youngsters of North African descent are perceived as a constant threat to civilised society. Previous violence and destruction on the streets of Paris and other towns by the Gilets Jaunes pension protestors, who seem to be mainly white, while deplored, had not created the same level of aversion and fear.

Local sympathy was not with the youths of the banlieux but rather with the mayor of L’Hay les Roses, whose house and family in the southern suburbs of Paris were attacked by protestors with a burning car. People throughout the country were encouraged to show their support for him by assembling peacefully at midday at their town halls. On her way to the nearby pharmacy and post office in Saulcy, Helen saw about twenty people gathered around their mayor in his sash on the steps of the mairie there, while a hundred were reported to have gathered in Saint Dié. Far more money came flooding in to support the mayor of L’Hay les Roses, than did in support of the bereaved family of Nahel Merzouk. So much for Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Helen remains more troubled by the counter-productive destruction of libraries and schools than of parked cars.

The situation continued to simmer. Here there have been minor deterrents to village rioting and rampaging. When John went to get petrol for the car and to fill up a can for the ride-on lawn mower, a prefectural notice on the fuel pump forbade the filling of cans (potentially for Molotov cocktails?) Also we could not buy private fireworks for Bastille Day (though we do in fact possess some elderly bangers). Because of the sécheresse or drought, there was also another prefectural order forbidding firework celebrations where forests were within 200m. Would our village celebrations on the evening of 13 July be modified?

A couple of weeks before Nahel’s killing you would have seen a very different image of French life if you had investigated the sounds of mirth and merriment emanating from a nearby copse encircling a pond. No, it was not the day of a teddy bears’ picnic, but was the day the pensioners of Sainte Marguerite have their annual barbecue. It is a few years since we have been to one of these bucolic feasts, and everyone was looking a bit more battered by life. The former club president, amiably clutching his glass of sangria, has retired (but was toasted for continuing to lend his fishing pond for the feasting), the new president had both his knees bandaged, the sporty cyclist was on crutches after a hip replacement, and the elegant 86 year old at our table was knocking back a small heart-shaped pill, one of her ten daily regime.

The men in aprons masterminding the BBQs were a new generation of cooks, but there were still a couple of the founding members of the group serving the food. The impromptu choir serenading the former president were old faithfuls, but the comedian was a more recent vintage (though we still failed to understand the punchlines). The tent was larger than the old one, which was just as well as there must have been fifteen or so tables of 8-10 merrymakers. Its shade as welcome, but it was not challenged by rain this year. The leisurely lunch lasted about five hours.

People had already bagged their seats and some were queuing for their glass of sangria when we arrived, but members of the games and the brain-teaser groups shuffled along the hard benches to make room for us, then found an extra plastic chair for John to preside at the head of the table. He had to take care not to tip back on the uneven ground and join the fish in the pond.

One of the new chefs, with an unreal looking tan, confided that he had personally made the pâté which would be served first, with salad. We had all brought our own plates, cutlery, glasses, water, wine and coffee, so set them out in readiness. As we had only recently returned from England, we fielded the usual questions about the coronation and Queen Camilla, before agreeing that the pâté was indeed very peppery.

The BBQ pork, when it appeared after the sangria and nibbles and then pâté, was perfectly cooked, and served with potato salad and grated carrot. Large boudins blancs (white sausages) appeared next. After an interval, during which John showed our companions photos of the kestrel chicks on our windowsill following a query, slices of pork belly bacon were brought round, followed by large chunks of Brie and baguette. Things went quiet after that, so people started sharing the coffee they had brought. Then a car made its way cautiously on the narrow track around the pond bearing the desserts – the îles flottantes would never have withstood the heat if they had sat around while we ate our way through the previous spaced-out courses.

Age, however, had caught up with the pensioners at our table, and we were all (except John in his chair) finding the wooden benches extremely hard. So after the new president had circulated with his unlabelled bottle of spirits (probably an overproof pear or plum liqueur, drunk neat by the men and drizzled over a sugar lump by the women), our table started packing away their plates, cutlery and glasses and making their farewells. So we are not sure when the revelry finally ended at other tables.

There have also been the annual events, which we have written about before, like the Entre-deux-Eaux flea market on the football pitch at the beginning of June, and the meal and amateur drama production in Saulxures village in February. “Oui”, the drama at the latter was about the frustrations of a wedding planner and a young engaged couple, and was performed after the cast had brought round large plates of food to the audience (instead of leaving them to queue up as in previous years).

A novelty this year in February was the Chorale and Karaoke in the village hall. Unlike the last concert in the village hall, this one was packed (was it the lure of karaoke?) The Chorale opened with gospel songs in English, which sound rather different with no “h”s pronounced and “th”s transformed to “z”s as in cartoons of the French. One singer in the back row was particularly expressive, swaying and waving his wine glass. But there was also a very good young female soloist. In the interval Helen was introduced to one of the singers who was keen to have some English conversation practice (her reading skills are very good, but speaking is more difficult – we have included practice pronouncing “h”s and “th”s during a few afternoons a month). Helen left before the second half began, so cannot report on village karaoke talent.

Our neighbour, Daniele, had accompanied Helen to the concert, as a diversion before her forthcoming shoulder operation. Unfortunately the unexpectedly large audience may have been the source of the Covid which then kept her isolated in her hospital room, unable to receive visitors or leave. Helen saw her husband on the road one afternoon, and asked how she was. He was very perturbed as he had been looking everywhere for her missing cherished cat; he dared not tell his wife, as their previous cat had been run over last time when she was away convalescing from the operation on her other shoulder. It was a great relief to learn next day that he had eventually heard a famished miaowing in their cellar (where he had already looked). Soon after that, Helen and another friend drove over to Baccarat to see Daniele in her convalescent home, the grandly named Chateau Baccarat, where an entertainer was strolling the corridors playing an accordion. Daniele had acquired the nickname la marcheuse, as, being the most (or possibly only) mobile resident, she would walk several times round the grounds each day. We admired the grounds as we joined her for a circuit.

It was around this time in mid-March that our thoughts turned to the garden and we discovered that the floor of the small potting area inside, at the back of the second barn, was covered in white polystyrene granules. The lerots (dormice) had been spending the winter months tunnelling through the polystyrene insulation above the plasterboard ceiling and it was dropping down between the unplastered board edges. So John took down the plasterboard, and put down little plastic bags of pink rodenticide pellets both in the potting area and nearby boiler room (where the pests had nibbled the glass fibre in the casing). Helen swept the shelves clean (taking the opportunity to throw out quite a lot of accumulated containers), and the industrial vacuum cleaner gathered a huge quantity of polystyrene granules. It was gratifying to see the bags of pink grain torn open, pellets scattered, and later to discover corpses.

On the more pleasant subject of human rather than rodent nibbling, one March day we decided to try a newish restaurant, Le Valtrivin in Hachimette, Alsace. Its website explains that its name is a contraction of Valeria, Tristan and Vin (or wine) and that the chef Valeria is of Russian origin, while Tristan is an experienced sommelier. John was intrigued by their huge wine list – 54 pages of wines. This seemed at odds with the dated, bare dining room in a modest hotel and bar, which the couple were running unaided. It still had the feel of those cheap French hotels where back in the seventies and eighties one would turn up unannounced around 4 o’clock to get a room and meal on a first-come, first-served basis. Valeria’s food, as in the old days, was well presented, though not very exciting. We only wanted a glass of wine each but there was no wine-by-the-glass in the list to choose from. We asked, and Tristan was prepared to open any of his many bottles, though without quoting a price. The local Ammerschwihr bottle of pinot gris he opened for our two glasses was good as was a bottle of red he opened for a single glass (and both were reasonable when the bill came) and the remaining wine in the bottles was offered to another table. Perhaps his bottles were all discounted ends of series (the couple had previously run TrioVino, a wine-tasting for tourists enterprise in Lyon).

It was while we were relaxing over a meal at our favourite restaurant, L’Imprimerie (which alas has increased its prices considerably) that we began to discuss how to celebrate Helen’s 80th birthday. Helen had always said she didn’t think the excitement of 80th birthday parties was a good idea, as various friends of her mother had died shortly after their celebrations. However, it felt a long time since we had seen many of our friends, what with Covid and other health problems, so we decided not to be superstitious and began to make plans for a “do” in mid-May.

As a result of lots of e-mails and our preparatory trip to Letchworth over Easter, on 12 May the Train Gang and partners met up for the first time in several years, and in the evening joined family and helpers for tasty tapas-style dishes and interesting-looking cocktails at a restaurant in Baldock. The next day we were delighted by how many people made it to Letchworth for the party, despite rail strikes and miserable weather. Those who braved the garden was grateful that Alistair ignored our firm instructions not to get logs or risk lighting a fire in one of the gazebos! Indoors, John, Leila and Ann continued to be busy in the kitchen, while the rest of us gossiped over food and drinks and Toby and Derek kept the younger guests amused with games. Bruce wandered round taking photos of everyone, though sadly Helen’s cousin and her husband arrived after the family photo was organised. The next day was lovely and sunny, as the gazebos were taken down and the workers relaxed under the parasol eating and drinking left-overs. The following days were also warm and sunny – and would have been ideal for an outdoor party. An unexpected trip to see the musical Hamilton in London was Toby and Rachel’s birthday gift to Helen, who also took the opportunity to catch up with some London friends who hadn’t made it to the party. We had well and truly celebrated the milestone.

The male brings a vole

There have been births as well as birthdays to celebrate. A lot of you have been following the return of the kestrels at the end of January (several months earlier than previous years) to our attic windowsill for the third year running. If you missed that, you can catch up on the 2023 kestrels website. By the end of April, six kestrel eggs had been laid, and while we were in Letchworth in May, we were able to follow their progress, thanks to the new cameras John had hurriedly installed after the earlier than expected return and he was able to update the website and YouTube feeds. We were glad of that, as all six eggs hatched at the end of May, just a few days before our return to Entre-deux-Eaux. We were then able to watch their growth as the males brought mice and lizards for the female to feed to them until they were ready to fledge. This occurred at the end of June when they were 32-35 days old, which is later than the usually reported 28-30 days, possibly due to the extreme heat. Sadly their departure was again while we were away. So, alas, we were to return to an empty nest – or windowsill. But there have been occasional return visits of the juveniles or the parents to the nest in early July.

After a while back here, we began to feel restless. The river Rhine between Cologne and Mainz is promoted as “the romantic Rhine” with its castles, gorges, vineyards and Lorelei legends. Phrases like “melodramatic panorama of nature” and “backdrop for the portrayal of human passions and destinies “ abound, along with mention of the music of Wagner, the literature of Goethe and Heine and the paintings of Turner. The area is also a World Heritage Site. So during a very hot spell of weather here at the end of June, the idea of spending a few days drifting up and down that stretch of the Rhine on an old paddle steamer or on local ferries, was appealing. We are only an hour’s drive from the Rhine, and it is easy to cross into Germany from here. We decided to head north and base ourselves in Koblenz (four hours drive from E2E) after stopping overnight on the Sunday in Mainz (which we had to remember to call Mayence to our French neighbours) to see the cathedral, Gutenberg museum, Chagall windows, and meet up for dinner with a friend, Heide, who lives in Frankfurt am Main.

Chagall windows, Mainz

Our cheap hotel in Mainz was on the far side of the railway line, and on that very hot day we slogged past the main railway station four times in and out of the city; it seethed with travellers, local buses, police and drinkers. It was the weekend of Mainz’s Johannisnacht festival (which we did not know about until Heide mentioned it when we suggested meeting up), so we had to inch through the big squares near the cathedral which were packed with people celebrating Johannes Gutenberg in the hot sunshine. Few people were honouring his achievements in the rather disappointing Gutenberg museum, where there were special demonstrations on a replica printing press. Perhaps his legacy was being toasted in beer, lurid ice cream, candy floss and curry wurst, among the bands, stilt-walkers and fairground rides, which lapped up to the cathedral. We may have been jaded, as we found the interior of the cathedral lofty, dusty and soulless – like a railway terminal. However, after a further hot walk to a hill (where better to place a church), we were revived by the hushed and prayerful St Stephan’s gothic church with its dramatic blue windows by Chagall. Chagall, who was Jewish, made them at the end of his life as an acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation, and they were completed after his death by others. In the background musicians tuned up, people gathered in the cloisters, and a concert began. Sadly Heide was unable to join us in the evening because of the heat.

Boppard Sesselbahn chair lift

Next day we drove slowly along the river and through hilly vineyards to Koblenz, During our four days we were to see the Romantic Rhine by car, boat, train, cable car, chair lift and on foot. But, for us, its mystique seems to have vanished under the pressures of mass tourism. We saw none of the hazy scenes that Turner painted nor sensed the dramas, chivalry or warfare of the ruined castles. We both felt that our most enjoyable view was during an afternoon ride on what felt like a family-run ski chair lift from the valley to the surrounding hills followed by a short walk through the woods to a café with a loud, bossy waitress; there we relaxed over coffees and enjoyed the view down over a huge bend in the Rhine near the small town of Boppard.

Rhine ferry

That morning had seen us perched on rocks at the feet of the Loreley (or Lorelei) statue, unmoved by her allure or the clouds of gnats, but more fascinated by the series of very long, fast-moving freight trains on tracks on both sides of the river as they plunged into or emerged from the ornate railway tunnels through the gorge. We also watched goods moving along the river more slowly in barges, including a laden scrap metal one. We (and the Loreley) were passed by the regular tourist boats, including the Goethe paddle steamer which we had travelled on the day before. (The young waiter on the Goethe had been unmoved by the series of castles we were passing – an every day background to his work – he just wanted to discuss John’s Olympus camera as he hoped one day he might be able to afford something similar, though it would cost over a month’s wages). We never established the priority rules for barges and boats going up and down the Rhine and the frequent nippy little car ferries crossing from bank to bank (there being no bridges across the Rhine between the outskirts of Mainz and Koblenz). For us, crossing on the busy little ferries was more entertaining than lazing on the pleasure boats (and we had to do several as the valley road on the eastern side had sections closed for repairs).

As well as boat and car trips, we travelled by train along the Rhine back to Koblenz, having taken the paddle steamer journey one way. We also joined young people returning home from school or college on the “picturesque” Hunsruck Railway from Boppard to Emmelhausen in the hills. It is the steepest adhesion railway in western Germany, climbing 336 metres in eight kilometres, through five tunnels and over two viaducts. But because of the forest on both sides, the promoted picturesque views were much more limited (apart from the last minutes of the return descent) than those from our single track railway over the Vosges from Saint Dié to Strasbourg.

Schloss Stolzenfels

As for castles, we looked at various silhouettes from a distance, strolled round the outside of the Sankt Goar ruins (as it was closed on Mondays), and, after slogging up its long and winding drive, joined a guided tour of the interior of the Schloss Stolzenfels summer residence of the Prussian Royal family. We must have helped to polish the Stolzenfels wooden floors as we shuffled round wearing enormous slippers over our outdoor shoes. Next day it would be closed for a film crew. We also spent time looking round the huge Ehrenbreitstein fort, one of several surrounding Koblenz, which had been rebuilt in 1801 after the French revolutionary army destroyed the old castle/fortress (we realised again how little we know of European history and the wars between the various states and provinces, which bear little resemblance to modern-day Europe). The journey to and from it was by cable car, with great views as it crossed over the Rhine and, on the return trip, of the whole of Koblenz (but we still thought the chair lift at Boppard was more intimate and dramatic).

Saint Alexius

We also visited quite a few churches and for the first time saw a large fresco of scenes from the life of Saint Alexius (the one who lived under the staircase in his parents house, unbeknown to them, doing good works, and whose name we first encountered in a little auberge restaurant St Alexis and chapel in Alsace). The fresco was in the Carmelite church in Boppard, which also had some magnificently carved choir stalls. In the nearby church of Saint Severus there were ceiling paintings as well as vibrant modern stained glass windows by a local artist.

Every morning started with a filling German breakfast at our Koblenz hotel (again close to the railway station and overlooking the bus station), though we were amazed by how much some of the portlier German guests could stuff in. Breakfast lasted us all day and by the evening we were usually too footsore to want to go far afield. So, apart from a good meze bar in the centre, the other evenings we ate at nearby at Greek, Italian and Croatian restaurants, at all of which the portions were still pretty large for those of us brought up on strict instructions to eat everything on your plate. The Croatian restaurant was especially good, and the chef even emerged to apologise to John as his sea bass, being rather large, was taking a long time to cook; it was skilfully filleted at the table and John happily ate it all. At the end a small glass of plum and pear liqueur unexpectedly appeared with the bill.

On the drive back to Entre-deux-Eaux on the Friday we stopped in Worms to see the Romanesque red stone cathedral, the museum’s Martin Luther room and the old Jewish cemetery. Once over the NE border of France (where the narrow, wooded German road turns into a wide French motorway), the heavens opened and rain pelted down. Helen inadvertently drove onto the new Strasbourg outer tolled bypass, guided by Waze (as she points out, that choice was not there last time we drove that way), but at least it avoided the busy inner bypass at rush hour.

Next day, back home, we agreed that we felt underwhelmed by the glories of the Romantic Rhine. Is increasing age (Helen is now rather self-conscious about that) responsible for an increasing loss of wonder? In Paris the funeral of Nahel Merzouk was held, and rioting continued at night.

During July we have settled back into the quiet of Entre-deux-Eaux and picked quantities of raspberries, loganberries, tayberries, blueberries and wild strawberries which had ripened in the heat while we were away. The vegetable patch, unlike the fruit cage, is sadly bare this year, with three beetroots, three courgettes, two squash and some straggling broad beans the only survivors of our various absences during dry weather conditions. It has continued to be hot here, with occasional heavy rain and storms, though it has been worse on the plains of Strasbourg, where our friends report up to 37°C in the shade. But still, fortunately, not as bad as the extreme temperatures that are being experienced by residents and holiday makers in southern Europe.

And, given the riots, were there any Bastille Day fireworks?. Various communes especially in Ile-de-France and le Nord cancelled their 14 July fireworks, but Paris went ahead with theirs around the Eiffel Tower. Next day newspapers triumphantly reported that in Paris and its suburbs there were only 62 fires (a drop on last year of 70%) and 53 arrests (an 80% drop) and that throughout France that night only 255 vehicle were set fire to (as opposed to 423 last year). Moreover only 7 police, gendarmes and firemen were injured compared to 21 in 2022.

Entre-deux-Eaux has its feasting, fair and fireworks on the evening of 13 July. At the end of a hot day we felt a bit apathetic about walking down to the village and standing around for ages, so stayed at home with the fan on, watching TV. But when we heard the first bangs, we went out on our balcony and saw a short, defiant display above the trees, which looked as if all the different fireworks had been set off simultaneously in one glorious multicoloured outburst. Next evening on the fête nationale itself, we responded to more bangs around 11pm by dashing again onto the balcony. In the opposite direction from the previous evening we could see Saint Leonard’s rather sedate sequence of fireworks. Entre-deux-Eaux’s, however brief, had definitely been more spectacular. From male voices down our road came a rather tuneless rendering of the Marseillaise.

a juvenile returns

New kestrels web site

I’ve now created a new web site 2023 – Kestrels in Entre-deux-Eaux which includes photographs, videos, links to three live webcams on YouTube, as well as links to the 2021 and 2022 web sites.

This is from one webcam. The male kestrel flies in and out of the nest three times trying to attract the female

Sunshine, amphitheatres and painted walls: three days in Lyon, January 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
.pdf (four A4 pages)

There is a gallery of some photographs of Lyon
including a gallery of the frescoes we saw
There are also
clickable links in the text

Depressing leaden skies, muddy footpaths and puddles. The last of January’s festivities, galette des rois, champagne, dancing and lunch for the village elderly had taken place. Dull damp days lay ahead. We have never visited Lyon, so, on the spur of the moment, on Sunday, we researched hotels, packed clothes and set out to drive southwards through Monday’s snow showers for a change of scenery. We were also to benefit from a change of weather, for, although it remained cold, the sunshine was invigorating.

Lugdunum amphitheatre

We soon realised that our knees are not what they used to be. We had decided to work our way through Lyon’s history, and, of course, history starts with the Romans. One of the Roman sites in Lyon, Lugdunum, lies on the Fourvière hill above the Rhone and Saône. Fortunately the strike of some transport workers on that first full day, Tuesday, only slightly slowed our journey across town from our hotel by tram, metros and one of the two funiculars. We still take a childish pleasure in funicular rides. As we emerged from the tunnel, the expanse of the Roman theatre (the oldest in France) and adjacent odeon amazed us. Bright winter sunshine lit up the tiers of seats, and as we paused on our steep ascent of the amphitheatre and turned round, the concrete offices and apartments of modern Lyon basked in a soft lemon light below us. The brutalist concrete site museum buried in the hillside was as dramatic as the amphitheatre, and the finds of urns, sarcophagi, bronze inscriptions and mosaics were perfectly at home beneath the museum’s soaring concrete columns and arches.

Steps up to old townFrom the museum we walked up towards the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, searching, in vain, for coffee. The glittering mosaics of the basilica and a metal tower (an imitation of the Eiffel Tower) were no compensation for the lack of refreshments, apart from a very expensive restaurant. To add insult to injury, the other funicular station was closed, we assumed as part of the strike. So we set out to walk down the hill to the old town and its cafés. Our ageing knees soon gave way on a long steep flight of steps. When we finally got to the bottom of the hill, we sank gratefully onto chairs in a coffee shop in one of the fine renaissance buildings on Rue de Boeuf. Later, on the metro, we heard an announcement that funicular F2 line was closed because of a “technical incident”. The next day we noticed that the central cable had been removed, which would account for the lack of service!

On the second day, Wednesday, we explored the mediaeval and renaissance streets of the silk merchants in the old town at the foot of the Fourvière hill, with their enticing narrow, covered passageways (traboules) and courtyards behind heavy doors. We wandered into the renaissance buildings and hillside gardens of the powerful Gadagni Florentine bankers. A restored clock, l’horloge aux guignols, had been re-installed there and we watched the two puppets striking the hour. We continued along the Rue Juiverie from which the Jews had been expelled in the fourteenth century to be succeeded by wealthy Italian merchants and bankers. And suddenly we were at the incongruous small St Paul railway station. The enticing aromas from the bakery opposite the station lured us in for large pastries (savoury and sweet) and glasses of milky coffee. We walked on, drawn into St Paul’s church by the sweet recorded music. In an alley, we were accosted by a smoking restaurant worker who insisted that we should cross the footbridge over the Saône to the Presqu’ile and see the famous Fresque des Lyonnais.

Bookshop fresco

Our first glimpse was of a charming bookshop painted on a ground floor wall, but rounding the corner of the building, seven stunning storeys of painted wall opened up showing over thirty famous Lyonnais characters, including the Emperor Claude, the cinematographers Auguste and Louis Lumière, author Antoine de Saint Exupery and his Petit Prince, and chef Paul Bocuse. We returned to the old town to see the gothic cathedral of St Jean. Our explorations ended in the huge Place Bellecour, with its big wheel and its stalwart naked stone warrior guarding the plaque to resistance members shot there in 1944 by the Gestapo (whose headquarters were close). From there we caught the metro and then tram back to our hotel.

Cité idéale

Our apartment hotel (Otelia Gestetud) was in a modern block on the T2 tram route; there were few shops or restaurants nearby, but a large number of funeral parlours which were handy for the two large cemeteries and crematorium de la Guillotière on either side of the railway line. This may sound a grim location, but we found the hotel well staffed and equipped, clean and comfortable, and with parking below. At the beginning of the twentieth century the cemeteries lay on the edge of the city, with fields and farmland beyond. A forward-looking mayor and a local architect, Tony Garnier, who had visions of the Cité idéale with its separate industrial, hospital and hygienic housing areas, planned a large housing estate here in what became known in 1917 (after America’s entry in the war) as the États-Unis district. We decided to spend our last morning looking at the flats which (like social housing schemes in the UK) were so innovative for their first residents in the thirties. They have since been renovated, and in the nineties striking paintings were added to their blank end walls.

Cité idéale abbatoir fresco

In addition to the Fresque des Lyonnais which we had seen the previous day, we had also enjoyed the three striking frescoes of the Tower of Babel just beyond out hotel, so on Thursday we walked from Babel down the Boulevard des États-Unis to the Shanghai frescoes and then on to the wall paintings of the Cité idéale. The five-storey apartment blocks looked spacious, with their large balconies and garden walkways. They were originally designed as two-storey buildings but the mayor insisted the design was changed to four storeys and then sometime later another storey was added. The paintings on their end walls showed Tony Garnier’s plans and illustrations of his ideal city, and ideal cities in Egypt, India, Mexico, Quebec, the USA and the Ivory Coast by other artists. At the end of the development was a small park with attractively engraved quotations about resistance and liberty. Then, unexpectedly, we were in a thronging covered market, bright with shiny peppers, tomatoes, and colourful headscarves.

The T6 tram from the market passed the huge iron, glass and concrete abattoir created in 1914 by Tony Garnier. We had seen its airy interior depicted on one of the murals, with Lyon dignitaries and impeccably clean cattle (not a cow pat in sight). After falling into lengthy disuse, it was restored and is now used for concerts and sporting events. We also paused to look at frescoes commemorating the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, before catching a T1 tram across a curving bridge to the Musée des Confluences.

Musée des Confluences

Appropriately for a museum which included natural history exhibits like a mammoth skeleton and dinosaur eggs, the striking modern building looked from a certain angle like a crouching armour-plated prehistoric animal. We wandered through displays of juxtaposed artefacts from different times and places (bewildering for those of us who like our history to be chronological rather than thematic “magic” “eternities” or “societies: the human theatre”).

On the way back to our hotel, we looked at more of the frescoes on the other side of the Boulevard des Etats Unis and stopped at the tiny Musée urbain Tony Garnier which was now open, but our legs were by now too weary to linger too long over the fascinating twentieth century artefacts and film footage. We were glad to put our feet up in our hotel room before setting out for our last evening meal in Lyon.

Lyon is noted for its famous chefs and restaurants, but our trip was too last-minute to allow for booking any of them. Nevertheless, we enjoyed some varied meals. Many restaurants in France are closed on Monday so the choice was even more limited on our first evening. We walked into the Part-Dieu quarter north of our hotel, to the Asmara Eritrean restaurant, where we ate with our fingers, rolling assorted specialities in torn-off bits of injera (sour dough pancake).

Daniel & Denise bouchon

As all the trams were due to stop running at 20:30 on the second evening due to strikes, John bravely drove us to the old town through Lyon’s rush-hour busy streets. At one of the touristy bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise cuisine restaurants), Daniel et Denise, Helen was delighted to find old-fashioned red-and-cream checked tablecloths, and we ate traditional dishes like the pâté en croûte starter (which looks so like pork pie) and our main course of roast pork pluma and black sausage with roast potatoes and macaroni cheese, followed by apple Tarte Tatin or chocolate dessert. The following evening, groups of diners shivered outside the slightly more up-market Table 101 until Madame deigned to let us in. But the food was beautifully cooked and presented, so all was forgiven as we ate our way through a superior pâté en croûte or some dainty snail and sweetbread ravioli, followed by sturgeon or veal and then fancy desserts.

Poivron Bleu salade de pouple

The meals seemed to get better each evening, culminating at the Poivron Bleu. Helen thought this was going to be a posh place, but it turned out to be more of a convivial narrow passageway running back into the narrow kitchen, with two enthusiastic waiters and a chalkboard menu. Imagine the best prawn cocktail, substitute octopus, chick peas and lemon and curry gel for the prawns, and that was our salade de poulpe starter. The pork main course was delicious, and the desserts too. One of the waiters made a point of giving a long description of the making of the lemon cake dessert to everyone apart from us (why not us?) Was he also its proud creator? Chef rather than waiter?

It seemed a shame to leave on that sunny Friday morning. But we were given a reminder of places we had seen, as our satnav guided us along streets through the city centre which we had seen in the dark from trams and buses, then plunged us into a long tunnel (1.15 miles) all the way under the Roman remains on the Fourvière hill. The petrol station we were heading to closed as we got there (presumably for a petrol delivery), so we saw more of the far side of the hill before filling up elsewhere and joining the A6. As we drove northwards, the skies got greyer, and, would you believe it, the moment we passed sign announcing that we were back in our region, the Grand Est, the drizzle started.

However, the good news is that, during our absence, a young-looking (over a year old) male kestrel has returned to inspect their old quarters on the attic window sill. We have not previously seen one as early as January. So John is having to rush to reinstall their balcony extension and put the second camera in a better position. He thought he had a month or more ahead for renovation works!

Autumn leaves: Everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux, October and November 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no3.pdf (five A4 pages)

There are
clickable links to eight different photograph galleries in the text

The white frozen grass under the hooves of the tan cattle, the hints of snow, and a sighting of St Nicolas confirm that Autumn has now given way to Advent.

It has been an unseasonably warm and sunny Autumn here as elsewhere, so the autumn colours have been lemon, gold and tawny against the dark conifers. We returned from the UK at the beginning of October via an exhibition at the Louvre/Lens on Champollion, the Frenchman who deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone. We found the exhibition disappointing as it was more about his life than the deciphering.

some boar digging

All was well back in Entre-deux Eaux, apart from parts of the field which John mows, which had been dug up by boars, leaving large lumps of turf. As we write, a local gardener is wheeling quantities of earth from his truck to fill and level the afflicted areas. A more charming November visitor was a very young deer, although it showed possible shotgun pellet marks. But we are not so enamoured of the latest portly nocturnal visitor to our balcony, who has kept John busy clearing up its scat and disinfecting. We suspect it is another pine marten.

On a more cheerful note, the continuing sunny October weather here was ideal for harvesting the green beans, autumn raspberries, blackberries, walnuts, a couple of pumpkins and some gigantic courgettes and squash. Later we picked apples and the first quinces we’d had for many years (we thought the quince tree had been badly damaged from fireblight about ten years ago but it has slowly recovered). The barn shelves have now been replenished with 28 jars of marrow, ginger and lemon jam, and nine of quince jam. The fruit drawers in the freezer are packed tight with blackberry and apple purée, more apples are boxed up in the barn and others stored as dehydrated slices, and we have had tasty nut roasts from some of the walnuts. We are still picking autumn raspberries at the beginning of December! Given our harvest, we should have been equipped to accurately guess the weight of the pumpkin displayed at l’Imprimerie restaurant (and so win a free meal for two) but we had not thought to weigh ours. Pumpkins abound here in all shapes and degrees of knobliness, and do not all disappear for grinning Halloween lanterns. There must be about nine rotting away on ex-farmer Vozelle’s muck-heap.

After our time away, we soon felt the need to be revived by some good French cooking, so drove over to the book village for lunch at l’Imprimerie, where we enjoyed one of chef Morgan’s best surprise menus. As the small restaurant was full and service was slow, lacking one of the usual waiters, we were given a complimentary glass of wine at the start, which of course made any delays quite bearable, especially as we weren’t in a hurry anyway. When we returned there at the start of December, there was an additional member of staff, faster service and no free wine! The new waiter was enthusiastic, interested in the food, and related very well to all the customers (whereas the old one has his grumpy days when explaining about the surprise menu to new guests and presenting the unusual dishes sounds a chore); apparently the new man used to be a nurse, and was finding a busy restaurant quite a rest cure compared to nursing. Each of the December dishes was inventive and tasty, and as so often, the organic wines proposed were unusual.

unfiltered Côtes de Toul

We watched as other diners tried the proffered red wine, hesitated, and bravely decided to go ahead with it; but the couple at the opposite table tasted it, wrinkled their noses and declined the cloudy, fruity red liquid, and were brought a more conventional one. John was intrigued by his first sip, accepted happily and we really liked it with the fire-roasted duck. A propos the duck, the often grumpy waiter was on sparkling form and even made a joke when he brought the quince dessert, about how we first had the coin-coin (quack-quack) and now we had the coing (quince) to which we dutifully pulled a face. Perhaps having a subordinate nurse-waiter to share his burden has cheered him up!

Earlier in the year, before we left for the UK, we had watched a new fibre cable being brought along the road on the telegraph poles and then underground by the regionally-owned company responsible for the new public fibre optic infrastructure, and had wondered when a commercial firm would approach us to connect us to their internet and phone service. Nothing seemed to have happened in our absence, but on our second day back, an SFR rep rang the doorbell to offer their service at a bargain introductory rate, so after discussion, we signed a contract and agreed a date for the technician to connect us.

Before the technician arrived, we moved a lot of boxes in the attic, as well as Helen’s computer and desk to gain access to the entry point of the old cable under the eves. But with these old houses, nothing is straight forward. The technician was delayed at his first job beyond our 8-12 time slot, then worked through the sacred French lunch hours to sort out the cabling, pulling it through the underground channel from the box at the end of the road. He then announced that the existing hole under the eaves, through which the copper telephone cable came in, was not large enough for the new cable to be pulled through (the old cable had been cemented in when we had the rendering replaced), but, as he was not permitted to drill through walls, he would have to come back after we had employed a mason to enlarge the hole. In exasperation, John got a chisel, climbed up the technician’s ladder and did the necessary. Surprisingly, all this was conducted in good humour and in colloquial English, the technician having spent over 12 years in England with his family (and attended the Lycée Français there and then worked as a pub manager).

Remomeix fibre connection

After connecting our two strands of the twelve-strand cable to the main box in a regard, he had to drive over to another village (Remomeix, where the little airstrip and flying club is) to do the final connection (John went with him to watch), before returning to install the router box. It was several days before we realised that our land line phone was not working, which required a trip into the SFR shop in Saint-Dié as it had not been activated following the change of supplier. We were fortunate, however, as we later heard that the strands of a neighbour’s new SFR fibre connection had been accidentally cut by a rival firm while connecting another neighbour to their service.

No doubt John fell foul of French Union demarcations by enlarging the hole in the wall. But Helen also unwittingly fell foul of medical demarcation lines. Concerned about an increasingly large growth on her chin while we were in the UK, she phoned the dermatologist in Saint-Dié (who had treated her melanoma) for an appointment after our return. But it turned out that she should have first gone to our GP for a letter of referral, as dermatologists, unlike ophthalmologists, gynaecologists and paediatricians, have not negotiated a direct access arrangement, so the letter had to be written retrospectively by our GP after the appointment. To add insult to the dermatologist’s dignity, Helen forgot that unlike most health professionals nowadays, her dermatologist does not accept payment by bank card; she had forgotten to take our rarely-used cheque book and did not have sufficient cash, so had to return after pooling cash resources with John. (We have to pay doctors directly here, and then wait for partial reimbursement from the state and from our complementary medical insurance).

However, after those blunders on Helen’s part, the French health care system proved attentive and excellent. The dermatologist’s test revealed an epidermoid (or squamous cell) carcinoma, which was removed in day surgery at Nancy, and the local nurses have been coming to the house every 2 days to change the dressings and to finally remove the stitches. Helen had been expecting more pain when prescribed 14 boxes of paracetamol, but has needed none of them.

Meanwhile John had been trying out some different hearing aids, but was not happy with the sound quality, and the effect (or lack of) on his tinnitus, but the Optical Center felt he has come to the end of the period he can spend trying out aids they can provide.

When we hear about the problems in the NHS, we feel very lucky with our treatment here. But similar problems are building up here. The doctors held a two-day strike at the start of December, as their self-employed but regulated pay is below that of salaried hospital staff. There is also a shortage of GPs, especially in rural areas, where there are dessertes ruraux. The sign at the side of the dual carriageway round one of the small towns to the north of us has returned, announcing to any passing potential candidates that Raon l’Etape is looking for GPs. Our much lamented GP was not replaced after his retirement. Surprisingly there also is a dearth of chiropodists, who are better paid than GPs, and are turning away new clients. When one of the Brain Exercise group noticed that a new chiropodist had set up in Sainte Marguerite, Helen booked in rapidly, before her list had built up. Pharmacies are now where the money is perceived to be made. Today’s visiting nurse sounded bitter that the government has handed pharmacies the right to do the vaccinations against flu and Covid-19. But, although we had our flu vaccinations in mid-October, it proved difficult to get our fifth Covid-19 vaccination done until December, as pharmacies were initially vague as to whether a GP prescription was needed to prove a special case. The French government has not publicised the current rules very clearly and the uptake of follow-up vaccinations has been low.

The Brain Exercise group in Sainte Marguerite is an excellent source of information, and issues of national as well as personal importance are thoroughly discussed before exercises start. The October meeting thought it entirely appropriate that Helen and John were in London at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, and the qualities of the remaining members of the Royal Family were thoroughly assessed. Group members are also always concerned over members’ health and housing. The same cannot always be said for the much larger group of Entre-Deux-Eaux (and now surrounding villages) Oldies who can be more insular. At their October meeting, none of people with whom Helen usually plays games were present, and no one offered to include her in their group, so she sat in silence throughout.

The Brain Exercise group were equally animated at their session on 2 December. It was Helen’s turn to provide the exercises and the food, but first there was animated discussion of the French transport strikes, doctor’s strikes and bioanalysis laboratory strikes, details of an absent member’s move following her divorce, and jokes were recounted. Then it was Helen’s turn. She started with some easy picture exercises from a French site (though some people had difficulty telling the right shoes and gloves from the left, and piecing together the parts of a hat picture. But they found the next exercise, a logic grid a bit like a battleship grid, too hard and gave up, but relished some mathematical calculations from The Times. Some more picture exercises (darts board scores and French saints and foods) from the French site followed. Then the kettle was boiled for coffee and tisanes, apricot juice poured, sponge cake sliced and served with some of the newly-made marrow, ginger and lemon jam and we rounded off with some Christmassy chocolate spice biscuits. The Christmas touch seemed just right as a superbly-robed St Nicolas walked past the window – perhaps on his way to visit a school. John’s jam was much admired. “Has he got a brother?” an elegant widow demanded. “But his brother might not cook as well,” another cautioned.

As you can see, this autumn seems to have been spent mainly on harvesting, eating, medical appointments and games. But we have also enjoyed colourful local walks and scenery, in particular the Bank Holiday morning when we drove over towards Gérardmer and parked by Lac de Longemer. We used to take the canoe and swim there when the children were younger, but had never walked all the way round.

Longemer duck

We thoroughly enjoyed the colours, reflections, and aquatic wildlife as we strolled round, but half way round began to feel it was time for a coffee. As we watched a boat tying up, we realised it was mooring below a large terrace with tables and people, and we speeded up. We sat there in the warm sunshine over our large coffees, and after a while ordered a pizza to share, and then had another coffee to sustain us on the second part of our circuit.

A day later we drove over one of the passes to one of the walled Alsace wine villages, Riquewihr. The village itself was heaving with tourists, so we cut short our proposed stroll round the quaint old streets. The restaurant AOR where we were belatedly celebrating John’s birthday was outside the walls, at the foot of the vineyards, so we didn’t have to face the crowds. We had not been before, and when we made our way up the steps it was disconcerting to find the door firmly closed against us. However, we rang the old fashioned bell pull, as instructed, and were warmly received in the quirkily decorated interior. The tables looked as if their legs were old industrial machine parts and the tops were heavy wood (and ours had a hole in the centre where we could easily have lost some dishes or glasses) and were apparently designed by chef. Chains of spoons against scarlet hung in a circle. Unsettling modern art and black and red panels adorned the walls. The table mats were old 78rpm records. The food, however was inventive and tasty, with influences from his work around the world.

AOR Moni-K-Bill cigar

Our dessert of a smoking chocolate cigar, his signature dish, was created during his stay in Los Angeles around the time of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. It is somewhere we would happily return to. We had thought of a walk afterwards at the Col de Bonhomme, but it was getting cooler by the time we reached there.

Once the weather turns damp, misty and cold in November, we rarely see our neighbours out walking or gardening, but on 25 November our normally quiet narrow road was busy. First to ring our doorbell was the nurse to change the Helen’s dressing (we saw the neat scar and stitches for the first time). Next at the door was the oil delivery man who needed to run a long hose pipe from his tanker to our tank in the barn. He kindly reversed for our neighbour, Claudine, who was waiting to get past his tanker, but she drove too close to the edge of the road and a front wheel went into the ditch and got stuck. Perhaps she was distracted by her three noisy grandchildren. The tanker driver and John looked for planks and rope in our outbuildings, but our rope wasn’t strong enough, so Claudine’s partner went home for a tow bar which was connected to the tanker and it reversed, pulling her out. Meanwhile her grandchildren had been racing around and climbing on the car roof and other neighbours had gathered to watch and to have a good gossip. It was only at this point that one of the farm tractors (which normally thunder past and would have been useful for extricating the car from the ditch) turned up. One of the neighbours, Jean-Marie, who had shuffled up in his crocs, then offered to repair the tyre on our sit-on mower, which he noticed in the open outbuildings, John rode it down the road and J-M returned it, repaired, before lunch. Then in the afternoon his wife, Danielle, and Helen went down for tea and more animated gossip with one of the E2E Oldies Scrabble group who lives in the oldest house in the village. Another scrabble player was already there, and the foursome settled down to coffee and blueberry clafoutis and non-stop gossip and did not even notice the heavy rain outside. It was dark when everyone left, so we had to be very careful to avoid the big puddles up our road. Thank goodness one of the big tractors didn’t come racing past, otherwise we would have got soaked.

It is brighter up our normally dark road now that December has arrived as houses are putting up their Christmas lights. Has Annick (the Laines’ daughter) got even more lights than last year? When we drove over the hills to Alsace last week, the huge teddy bears were starting to take up residence on windowsills in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, but have not caught on here. Entre-deux-Eaux commune has not yet arranged its cheeky hardboard reindeer round the village. Last year there was one at the foot of the cross on the corner of our road.

We have been hearing about postal problems in the UK, so have dug out a black and white Christmas card John made 30 years ago in 1992. We will send it with this newsletter, so that you can print it out. It shows the above-mentioned cross with a bike rather than a reindeer. In those days, our neighbour Gerard was still working, and would cycle down to the corner each morning, prop his bike against the cross (in case Jesus fancied cycling round the village?) and get a lift to the next village. It may be an old design, and only on paper rather than card, but it comes with this year’s warmest wishes for a happy Christmas and for good health and interesting activities in 2023.

A decoration for your tree – 2022 update

E2E Christmas 2010 decoration

An update and a few additional decorations to a 2010 post:

This is a rhombicuboctahedron (a.k.a. a philosphere) about 9cm across created from the 360°x180° panorama of our snowy orchard currently at the top of the Home page. This photograph shows a test build, printed on ordinary paper, and rather hastily put together! I should have folded (or scored) the triangular sections before starting glueing. I should also have left the big top and bottom flaps to make it easier to stick and to give it more rigidity. When cutting out the two pieces leave the white areas either side of the triangles as glueing tabs. You need to leave tabs to join the two pieces together.

On photo-quality paper and with folds

the two pages

To the left is a version printed on photo-quality paper with scoring along the folds. To download the PDF file to print the two A4 pages right-click on the righthand image or on Christmas_2010_decoration.pdf and select Save link as/Save target as.



Great-spotted woodpecker decoration

Great-spotted woodpecker decoration

Great-spotted woodpecker

Great-spotted woodpecker – click for full image

We have great-spotted woodpeckers eating the fat balls in the feeder hanging on the kitchen wall. I have made a decoration based on this photo so you can have woodpeckers on your tree. To download the PDF file right-click on the righthand image or on woodpecker decoration.pdf



This is a decoration based on some photographs of a robin I took on 5 December 2010. You need to download the PDF file so you can build the decoration.  Right-click on this link  Robin on white and select Save link as/Save target as. You can print the PDF as a two A4 pages


There is also a version of the robins with a green background which you can download and print as two A4 pages. Right-click on this link  Robin on green and select Save link as/Save target as. You can print the PDF as a two A4 pages.


Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

 This is a decoration based on a panorama of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba I took in March 2017. To download the PDF file (about 1Mb)  which you can print as a single A4 page right-click on this link Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba and select Save link as/Save target as.

Our twenty-first summer of retirement in Entre-deux-Eaux, May to July 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no2d.pdf (five A4 pages)

There are  clickable links to additional photographs in the text

At the beginning of May, after a month in Letchworth seeing family and friends, we drove down to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. Imagine our surprise, after we had boarded the train for France, when we heard a tap on the driver’s window and saw Roger and Dorinda smiling at us. By one of those unlikely co-incidences our Francophile friends (who used to have a holiday home in the next village) had boarded the same shuttle as we had, at the start of one of their French holidays. We arranged to meet up at a service station where we caught up with news and plans in greater comfort over coffee and rolls. They were off to stay in various gîtes, including one outside Mâcon.


Back in Entre-deux-Eaux, John sent off his passport to the chaos of the UK Passport Office, hoping it would eventually emerge renewed in no more than the estimated ten weeks. It felt as if we then spent most of May on medical checks of teeth, eyes and ears. In between, we sorted out a usable part of the potager (the manure still needs to rot down further on most beds), cut the 15″ high grass, sowed onions, broad beans, French beans, courgettes and squash and also cheerful cornflowers, marigolds, candytuft and Sweet Williams seeds in the garden tubs our Letchworth neighbour had given us. The garden was colourful with clematis and peonies.

Our strawberries (including wild ones) were prolific this year. As they do not freeze well (to our taste, at least), John invested in a fruit-and-vegetable dehydrator which gave us dried strawberries with a good flavour. It was also handy when, just before we left for Burgundy, we were offered two kilos of freshly picked cherries from the orchard of the old ferme La Soyotte (one of the organisers of the farm museum lives in the village with our ex-mayor). Amid all this, the twentieth anniversary of our settling in France passed unremarked!

With travel outside France impossible until John received his new passport, we decided to take a short June break in France before the frenzied surge of holidaymakers and the crowded motorways throughout July and August. Who better to consult about comfortable gîtes than frequent-users, Roger and Dorinda. We are fond of Burgundy and they could recommend one of their recent gîtes, La Trélie, to the east of Macon. We booked it for the six days in June that it was still free.

We then unearthed our Michelin Green Guides to Burgundy (from various eras) and popped into one of our supermarkets, Cora, (now open on Sunday mornings, a change since our earlier days here) to get the Green Guide to the Lyons area, which covered the countryside round La Trélie. On the way back, despite the rolling grey rain clouds, we stopped briefly at the village sports field where the annual flea market was gamely taking place, despite the dire forecast. There were a lot of gaps where stallholders had not bothered to turn up, and a hasty walk round did not locate any bargains. Clutching our as yet unopened umbrellas, we met the mayor. “I’ve sent my wife to save places in the food tent. We’ll need to be under shelter shortly.” We reach home before the rain.

It was cool and wet when we organised the trip, but the heatwave began five days later on 11th June, the day we set out. Air-conditioning in cars is such a boon as the temperatures reached 34°C+ outside.

colza (rapeseed)

The non-motorway route that we chose took us through the rolling pastures of the Vosges, where elderly gents on tractors were just starting hay making in their small fields, round Vesoul, where we stopped for petrol, coffee, and almond croissants (a weakness of ours, even at lunchtime), over the river Doubs with its dramatic gorge, then wandered cross-country on narrow roads (guided by Waze and white on our ancient Michelin map) towards Mâcon, then turned up an 800 metre rough farm track to a large restored farmhouse in the middle of blonde fields of grain and colza.

We had been sent two lots of contact details for La Trélie, but the old man who answered the phone before we set out either misunderstood or forgot our arrival time. Fortunately one of the owners was in the area seeing to her three hundred and fifty chickens. We later learned that her wealthy family owns all the land and fields around and the house is let to companies during winter as well as tourists in summer. Within five minutes of another phone call, a car disgorged an elegant woman (no sign of chicken feathers or muck) who gave us the key and showed us round the spacious interior: a large open sitting, dining and kitchen area, three bedrooms, shower room and loo. French windows opened onto a roofed terrace and a barbecue building. We would certainly not feel cramped there.

As the weather was so hot, we enjoyed protracted breakfasts in the shade of the terrace, lingering over lunch in different restaurants, and reading or playing games on the cooled terrace in the evenings, and we did not do as much sight-seeing as we usually would.

a misericord at the Royal Monastery of Brou

Royal Monastery of Brou puppet prop

Our gîte was mid-way between Mâcon (and the vineyard villages of Burgundy) and Bourg-en-Bresse (and farming villages of Ain). On trips to Bourg-en-Bresse, we visited the nearby Royal Monastery of Brou, looked at the elaborate tombs, comic misericords, and art collection in the former monks’ cells, and puzzled over a dramatic “happening” in the courtyard which involved a prowling knight in armour and beautifully crafted puppet props.

In the narrow streets of the old town we enjoyed a risky-sounding but refreshing cocktail of beer, Chardonnay, rhubarb and geranium at the oddly named Scratch restaurant, followed by their menu of the day with its crowning glory of a hazelnut dessert.

Meillonnas church fresco

How better to finish off an interesting day than with the frescoes in the fourteenth century church in the village of Meillonnas.


Another day we enjoyed strolling round the market town of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, with its brick and timber houses, spacious outdoor covered market (empty and echoing that day), and sole surviving gatehouse (where a man on the first floor balcony was assiduously pruning his honeysuckle). We sat down for a coffee outside the basic Café Restaurant de la Poste, then, after watching large plates of food being served to two old men at the table next to ours, ate our way through the menu of the day, finishing with a very good tarte Tatin.

Having dawdled through the rolling fields of ripening cereals of the west of Ain with its Romanesque churches and long, brick and timber farmhouses, some with “saracen” chimneys, our thoughts turned to the vineyards of Burgundy and Beaujolais. As so often on this holiday, we were guided by our stomachs. Roger and Dorinda had recommended the l’O des Vignes in Fuissé, and we thought that, after lunch there, we would climb the nearby Roche de Solutré.

The village of Fuissé lies peacefully among its vineyards, its old washhouse is hung with geraniums rather than scrubbed linen, most of the courtyard buildings are wine producers, as is the Romanesque former church, and a garish circus poster adds colour to the square. The only people in streets in the midday heat were heading to l’O des Vignes, until a truck swerved to a halt and five overalled men leapt out into a shabby building – possibly a rival bar.

After the bright sunlight outside, the bar of L’O des Vignes seemed dim, but the friendly bistrot waiter in his traditional apron led us to a table on their terrace which was shaded by tall trees and busy with locals who seemed to know each other as well as tourists. Behind us lay their more up-market restaurant with its aloof waiters in suits and what looked like untied cravats. The bistrot food was excellent, and we enjoyed the bustle and the informality. (Another day we did try their Michelin-starred restaurant, but preferred the lively bistrot).

Roche de Solutré

Of course, by the time we finished our post-lunch coffee, Helen felt distinctly disinclined to scramble up any rocky promontories in the heat (shame on her when former President Mitterrand climbed it every year between 1946-1995 at Pentecost). Instead she proposed looking at the finds in the Museum of Prehistory at the foot of the Roche de Solutré. The striking escarpment loomed above the vines, disappearing tantalisingly as we drove from Fuissé along the winding narrow roads, then reappearing dramatically. After looking at the finds of animal bones, including a geological layer of compacted horse bones, even John had lost the urge to get to the top of the hill.

Driving carefully down the vineyard roads we passed a car upended in the ditch, with a couple of our age, refusing offers of help and awaiting a tow or lift out. Had they been wine-tasting a little too enthusiastically? The car looked as if it needed something with more power than the small tractors lying idle among the vines.

We did not go wine tasting, though we did look in the old church building in Fuissé to see how it had been converted to wine production, with large barrels in an air conditioned chamber where the altar would once have been. Outside a hosepipe was delivering wine to a large container lorry to be bottled and sold by their client. Seeing the hosepipe was a reminder of holidays in the seventies and eighties when we would take empty bottles into the dingy village wine co-operative to be filled by hosepipe with cheap wine. Ah, those were the days! This time the Beaujolais wine we sipped of an evening on the terrace came from the supermarket.

Hotel Dieu in Belleville-en-Beaujolais

A contrast with the hot Beaujolais wine villages was the cool interior of the 1733 Hotel Dieu in Belleville-en-Beaujolais where the needy used to be cared for and its elegant apothecary. The original furniture of three small wards has hardly changed and it was still in use until 1991 as a hospice.

Eglise de Notre Dame in Belleville-en-Beaujolais

Equally cool was the town’s 12th century Eglise de Notre Dame and its interesting capitals.

Back in Entre-deux-Eaux this year’s baby kestrels were growing fast. We mentioned in the last newsletter the “home improvements” which John made in spring to the attic windowsill on which the kestrels had nested last year. They obviously approved of the protective partition and the balcony extension with its raised edge, as the female took up residence while we were in the UK in April, and laid her first egg on 3rd May just before our return. We were able to follow progress remotely thanks to the videos from the cameras/network storage John had installed.

day 0

The first egg hatched just before we left for our short Mâcon break. This year all four chicks survived and vociferously demanded food. We watched as they grew and began to lurch and waddle. As the time approached for them to fly, John spent quite a lot of time sitting with his camera in the vegetable patch, next to the compost heap, observing the adults bringing food and the juveniles flapping their wings.

day 30 – the first juvenile kestrel to leave

The first one flew early in the morning of 8th July just before we woke. Unlike last year’s trio, it returned occasionally to the ledge to feed and sleep – and perhaps encourage its siblings to test their wings. And over the next few days they have all flown (but occasionally return)! If you haven’t already seen to day-by-day photos and videos, they are on our The return of the kestrels – 2022 website.

Other birds, those greedy ones that somehow find a way into our large fruit cage, are less fascinating as they blunder around unable to find their way out again. However, last week it was Helen who felt trapped in the fruit cage when a button on a pocket on the back of her trousers got caught in the netting. At that moment the mobile phone, which was also in a pocket, rang. Our next-door neighbour, Danielle was offering to bring us some eggs. Since they rebuilt their hen-house, the deep foundations, wire and netting (we used the same for the fruit cage) have protected their hens from theft and murder. Eggs are now plentiful. Helen disentangled herself, phoned John who was doing the weekly shop (“don’t get any eggs!”) and proffered in return some of the blueberries she had been picking. A discussion of crime writers, the library in Saint Leonard, and meeting up to play Scrabble followed. That night’s dinner included poached eggs.

Danielle has been a good addition to the Scrabble players at the Entre-deux-Eaux Oldies’ monthly cards/chat/cake and champagne reunions. At the June session, another of that group, Marie Therese, who lives in the oldest house in the village, brought a cherry clafoutis to celebrate her birthday. And, yes, the cherries from her freezer had come, like ours, from the ferme La Soyotte’s harvest. A few days earlier, we had heard the church bells tolling at length. Sad to say, another of the villagers who had been welcomed us when we bought our house in 1990, had died. He was one of the four farmers who raised cattle and grew crops in the fields around the village. Apart from their house, which is the grandest in the village, he and his wife owned a couple of gîtes. They welcomed us into their kitchen, where we compared notes on letting out properties to holiday makers. He retired some years ago, and had recently been looking very bewildered when he came with his wife to the Oldies sessions. Over our game we recalled this gentle farmer with sadness.

July, and the break-up for summer of local groups, also brought an “end of term” lunch in Taintrux village for Helen’s brain exercise group. The Echauguette restaurant, opposite the mairie, like many now, belongs to the commune, and new managers have recently been installed. The food was typical, with starters of crudités or Vosgesian salad (with breadcrumbs, bacon strips, Munster cheese and poached egg), hearty main courses, plates of cheese and desserts covered in cream, followed by coffees. The star of the show was the Calvados sorbet between courses (wow, was that apple brandy potent!) As ever, it was a noisy, lively affair, also fuelled by the kir aperitifs and carafes of rose wine. It was a surprise to discover that one of the group had been in Fuissé for a family celebration around the time we were there – how surprised we would have been to meet. After the meal we drove to Ghislaine and her husband’s house on the edge of the commune and stood around their vegetable patch admiring it (presumably it would have been too intimate to have been invited indoors).

Our favourite restaurant, l’Imprimerie in the book village is also one that is owned by its commune, we learned recently. But they aim for less hearty fare, offering a menu of the day and two surprise menus of seasonal ingredients, accompanied by unusual and mainly organic wines. With eight small courses, we rarely have room for a cheese course. “Do you not like cheese?” the waiter asked during our July meal there. We confessed that we had in fact indulged in a cheese platter the previous month, when he was not there. He looked unconvinced until John showed him a photo. “Ah,” he sighed, “that would have been the day of my father’s funeral.” He surprised us at the end by producing the dockets listing the dishes we, and other regular customers, had sampled over recent years. What an archive. No wonder we never have exactly the same dishes twice and rarely the same wines.

Much of the décor of l’Imprimerie relates to printing and books. Les Innocents is a restaurant in Strasbourg that we have only been to once before, but a July medical check-up gave us a good excuse to return. For some reason, the décor there aims to recapture the ambience of the thirties and prohibition, with sepia photos of 1920s Australian gangsters and the wine bottles imprisoned behind metal bars. Even the photos of the chefs recall Chicago gangsters with their hats pulled low over their eyes (these were the same chefs who opened Coté Lac in Schiltigheim, some of you may remember from the past?) We again enjoyed our lunch there, served by an efficient, friendly waitress, who was, thankfully, not disguised as a gangster. Afterwards we strolled down to the protestant Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune church to see its striking frescoes which are being restored in a ten-year project.

We try to avoid indulging in too many delicious patisseries here, but were tempted to stop one morning after another appointment for coffees and a lime tart or chocolate confection. What an idyllic image, as beloved of birthday cards, of a patisserie, tables, parasols and the odd bicycle, only slightly marred by the strong smell of fish from the establishment next door.

Thus began our twenty first summer of retirement in E2E, with its long, hot days (did we also mention the hailstorms with hail the size of golf balls and the multiple warning e-mails from insurers to park cars inside and, later, how, if necessary, to make a claim?), leisurely travel, kestrel watching, restaurant lunches and the occasional cake.

E2E fireworks

How did the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully in the fields all day, and the kestrels now perching somewhere in the trees, cope when this rural tranquillity was disrupted on the evening of 13th July? As it got dark and we walked down to the parking area round the village shop and café, we could hear the loud music and had to stand aside for cars from outside the village nosing up our small road in search of parking spaces. It was time to celebrate the storming of the Bastille once more. All the village children and young people must have been there, some dancing, others sliding between the teeth of an inflatable monster, while their elders sat at tables with drinks. Torches flashed in the field as men checked their fireworks. Then, around 10.45pm, bang! A stunningly loud volley as flashes of light shot into the sky and cascaded down. The lights went out, the music and dancing stopped, and everyone dashed to the edge of the field. What a racket! And then it was all over for a year. Liberte, egalite, fraternite and all that.

Should we wish to escape briefly from la Republique, John’s passport has now arrived, so, despite the increasing Covid cases everywhere, a summer UK visit is now feasible.

Additional photographs
A short stay between and Bourg-en-Bresse and Mâcon
Royal Monastery of Brou
The return of the kestrels – 2022


The return of the kestrels to Entre-deux-Eaux – April 2022

The kestrels returned on 13 April and have visited the nest every day since. It could be several weeks before any eggs are laid. The eggs are usually laid at 3-4 day intervals. It is only after 3-5 eggs are laid the birds will start sitting.

11 May update – four eggs have now been laid – on 3 May, 5 May8 May, and 10 May

I made some changes to the window sill nest to enclose it but now regret not having had time to review the layout and new camera positions properly before we went to Letchworth at the end of March. I was doubtful the kestrels would return and did not put a camera outside the nest as I had originally intended (it is still in the box). The cameras are connected to network server in E2E and I can access them remotely.

I now have one camera live streaming feed on YouTube The feed occasionally fails and I have to restart it.

Both the female (falcon) and the male (tercel) (easy to identify differences) are visiting the nest more frequently now, especially in the early morning. The camera times are French time (GMT+2)

There is a 2022 kestrels web site with regular updates of daily photographs and videos


The 2021 kestrel web site pages and 

Our unexpected kestrel visitors – first update