Wednesday, August 22, 2007


A striking plant grows along the banks of the Lot river and in neighbouring gardens. Often over three metres high, it has bunches of white flowers that turn into clusters of black berries. I asked locals what the plant was called and was met with shrugs. It was just une herbe folle, a weed. Given that I have been lectured about other weeds, notably the rare giant hemlock, there seemed to be a gap in local knowledge.

The problem was solved by a visiting friend (a botanist of note), who immediately recognised the plant as a phytolacca, an invader from North America. Also known as pokeweed in the States, its leaves and poisonous seeds are credited with healing powers. The juice of the berries has been used as a dye and a colourant of inferior red wine (never in the Cahors area, of course). French botanists call it "le raisin d'Amérique", one hopes with tongue in cheek.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


click to enlargeA young friend from the Paris area consulted her career counsellor and was given a barrage of tests to determine what profession was best suited to her (considerable) education and interests. The answer came back that she should be a roundabout designer.

Perhaps she will be inspired by this roundabout at the South end of Cahors. In July and August, when roundabout maintenance and design staff are presumably on holiday, the flowers are replaced by watering cans.