La batterie et la cueillette

A few days ago Verena was taking a nap when I decided to do something I had been interested in since we arrived in Palaiseau, but she wasn’t: Climbing up the steep hill behind the railway station to have a look at the ruins of the fortress of Palaiseau. There are several ways up, and I chose the one that looked the most interesting, namely the path through the forest. The path is narrow and not well maintained, but I managed to climb over the odd tree blocking the way, and to not get cut to pieces by thorny bushes growing across it. The forest ist too dense to see much besides trees, so I cannot offer any spectacular views over our valley.

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Up on the hill are the last remains of the Fort de Palaiseau, which according to the French Wikipedia was built after the war of 1870, in which German troops occupied the whole area around here. It was one of a whole ring of fortresses meant to protect Paris. Apparently it was never useful and was finally burned down by occupying German troops in 1944. One part still survives in ruins, called the Batterie de la Pointe. (The French word batterie here means an artillary battery. It also has other meanings, including drum kits and batteries in cars and mobile phones. It does not refer to most other electrical batteries, which are usually called pile. It’s almost as flexible a word as baguette, which refers to most stick-shaped objects including chopsticks and magic wands.)

The entrance to the batterie is guarded by a gate that is apparently meant to be locked but, this being France, isn’t. Trespassing is prohibited, but I sneaked in and took a peek. I wasn’t the first one, judging by the graffiti.

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Sometime around September last year there was some sort of heritage festival thing which included some event up in the fort. It felt a bit strange creeping around up there all alone and illegally, but it might be interesting to come again if there is some sort of guided tour. We’ll see this fall.

The more exciting thing this weekend was the cueillette or harvest. We got a free magazine with news about our departement, which I didn’t read closely, but at least I found out that a young woman from Palaiseau is French champion in synchronized swimming. (Not alone, obviously.) Verena read the thing more thorougly and found out that there is a farm nearby where you can go and harvest fruit and vegetables. It’s up on the plateau, not all too far from where I work.

There is a direct bus to the farm, but not on weekends. Instead we took one to the village of Saclay and walked the rest of the way, about a kilometer or two. On the way we passed the two lakes of Saclay. These are artificial lakes, originally created to supply water to the palace of Versailles (maybe 10 to 20 km away). Nowadays, according to Wikipedia, they are fed by water used in some way by our nuclear research center. They are also a restricted military area off-limits to the public, and their water is used to cool the defense research agency’s adjoining center for testing propulsion systems. Despite all this there was a surfer in the water, but, well, this is France.


We arrived at the farm and were hit by a strong scent of strawberries even from a few hundred meters away. The photo doesn’t do the smell justice, but at least you might be able to see the size of the farm.


There weren’t too many other people, but apparently the nicer weather the day before had brought many people, so we weren’t sure how many strawberries we would be able to harvest. Verena wasn’t too successful in the beginning, but I got lucky with my row of strawberries, and in the end we managed to fill up a big bowl. Then we moved on to raspberries, which are a bigger variety than the ones I know. Many of them are not completely ripe yet, but as a sunny week is coming up, they should soon be perfect. All in all we collected a kilogram each of strawberries and raspberries as well as a cakeful of rhubarb and a big bunch of parsley.


All together we paid 14.06 EUR, which is really cheap, especially considering the freshness and quality. Verena already has plans to go there again with our next visitor, and to tell a friend from her language course about it. And who knows how many times we will go back; according to the farm, their strawberry season runs well into October!

We completed the visit to the farm by feeding grass to cows (young bulls, we think) who seemed happier to take it from human hands than off the ground. And who would blame them. Verena also gave one a strawberry, which was well received, but she was opposed to my idea of handing them a whole stick of rhubarb. At least without asking a qualified adult or researching the question first. I intend to return, and to do it well prepared!


Appelles tes parents!

We got an ad by a locksmith in the mail. It’s a leaflet you (are supposed to) put next to your landline, so you have all the important numbers handy, should there be an emergency.

I have so many questions regarding this thing:

  • Who even has a landline anymore?
  • If I lock myself out of the apartment, what use is this leaflet, lying next to my landline?
  • If mum’s and dad’s numbers are so important, wouldn’t I know them by heart? (I used to, when we all had landlines)
  • Why does a company that advertises being open 24/7 advertise with a landline number and not a cell phone number? (Cell phone numbers start with 06 or 07 in France)
  • I didn’t realise that the emergency numbers are only two digits long! What emergency service is the number 16 for? Why would you leave it out?


I didn’t learn that word for a long time, because I didn’t need to. Whenever I bought a postcard I’d go “Do you also have …” and then trail off. Everyone knows what you ask for when you are holding a postcard.

Then I thought it’s “tamps” for a while. So many words are similar to the english term, so why not? Only now I looked it up to find it’s timbre, like the word for tone used in German.

French stamps also confused me in other ways. They don’t have their value printed on them. When I bought them for the first time I even briefly wondered what kind of currency g is the abbreviation for. Not my brightest moment. The g stands for grams, of course. The area the stamps are valid for is printed across the top – these are valid for Europe. The France on the bottom right stands for the issuing country, I think. I have to admit, I have no idea why she’s wearing a smurf hat.