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One of the most sought-after sights in the Charente Maritime in late May or June is a poppy field. Poppies are sensitive to herbicides and wont grow if fields have been sprayed, but the seeds remain viable for years in the soil. The magic combination is a plowed but unplanted field and no weed killer. Here, a huge field of poppies is in full bloom in front of the ruins of the 12th century Cistercian Abbaye Notre-Dame-des-Chateliers on Ile de Re, one of the four Atlantic islands about an hour's drive from our village. (Ruined churches in the region share a common history - built in the 12th century, burnt by the English in the 15th, and definitively ruined by the Protestants in the 16th. But more survived than not, and the countryside is littered with wonderful and varied examples of Romanesque archuitecture.) The round items in front of the church are bales of hay. Ile de Re, which is reached by a bridge, is completely flat and has a good network of bicycle trails. It is known for its salt, which is produced by evaporation of sea water, and for the fact that all shutters and doors must, by law, be painted green. The other three Atlantic islands are Ile d'Aix, which is a 20 minute boat ride away; Ile Madame, which is reached by a natural causeway that disappears twice a day with the tides; and Ile d'Oleron, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
The picture on the left is of the entrance to the nearby village of Fenioux . The pointed thing in the background is a "lanterne des morts" (12th century of course). These are relatively uncommon in the region, and were built as a symbol of Eternal Light and to glorify the deceased. Thirty seven steps lead up to the lantern turret. It is located beside a church with particularly interesting carvings around the doorway, called the "Saintonge Sermon". The Romans built a city where Saintes is now (Mediolanum Santonum) partly because of the abundance of this light-coloured stone, and until recently it was exported all over western Europe. The rich made their houses from "cut" stone - the rest of the people just dug it up from the fields. Both of the houses for rent are made from this stone, but because of their humble beginnings, most of it is the "field" variety.

This is a field of colza - canola - which is a common sight in very early spring. If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you can see that the trees in the background (still bare of leaves) are full of balls of mistletoe. We often collect mistletoe from the woods before Christmas and hang it from the doorways, and then spend January cleaning the sticky white berries off the floors.


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