Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ponies, peacocks and piglets

Duckling huddling in a crate
Bank holiday Monday and off we went to Louhans. It is been a while since we’ve been there for the market selling small animals and we couldn’t have chosen a better day if we had planned it.

It was beautiful and sunny, the first nice day in a while and the place was heaving. Thousands had come for what turned out to be one of the really big markets of the year.

Point of lay chickens, just rearing to go
Every Monday there is a market in the town, but late spring is the time to get your livestock for the coming year and so people had come from far and wide to buy their chickens and ducks for the season. There were a lot of chirping and quacking boxes that passed us as we entered the market area.

Need a cockerel to wake you up in the morning?
The fun fair was in town as well and the atmosphere was electric. We had to squeeze through the crowds to get past a rather terrifying, gravity defying, twirling ride, that was eliciting screams from the teenagers brave enough to get on it and I was worried I might lose Cees – in the crowd not on to the ride you must understand. We decided our meeting point would be by the lamas if we got separated, but fortunately we made it round the market without losing sight of each other.

What a beautiful chappy
The selection of animals was amazing as always, you can buy anything from day old chicks up to laying birds, cockerels, guineafowl, peacocks, ducks, quail and geese and then there were the rabbits, sheep, piglets, lamas and ponies - we were spoilt for choice.

I was very tempted by a peacock, who was a snip at 150 Euros (!) but Cees wasn’t so keen so we left empty handed.

Maybe one day - for now we’ll stick to just having a cat.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Flying Elephants

Balloons over Chalon - photo from JSL
Every Whitsun weekend there is a display of hot air balloons in Chalon. We have never managed to see the balloons fly and so this year, yet again, we decided that this was the year we would actually see them. Checking out the programme we spotted that the balloons were to fly at 19.00 on Saturday, but I also spotted that at 17.00 there was going to be the opportunity for “dou dous” to fly in special small hot air balloons.

While flying dou dous may sound strange to English ears, I should clear up any confusion by saying that a dou dou is the French word for soft toy or comforter, so you could take your favourite soft toy along and it would be able to fly in a hot air balloon. There seemed to be no age limit for the owners of the soft toys, so I decided that a member of my little menagerie should be treated to a flight.

A flying elephant
- with a little help from photoshop
Timothy, my trusty teddy bear who has accompanied me around the world on all my business trips, is getting on a bit on years now (being only a few months younger than me - which may not be old for a human, but it is very old for a teddy bear) so I decided that he might not survive the trip. It then fell to Guus my fluffy elephant to be the one to venture into the unknown.

The only trouble was that we had a gite changeover, so the new giters had better turn up early or he would miss his flight. They didn’t arrive until 17.45 and Chalon is more than half an hour away, so I had little hope for Guus as we left. We headed off anyway as the other part of our mission was to see the main balloons flying - at least we would be on time for them.

As we neared the balloon launching site, many cars were coming the other way- not encouraging. The tops of the trees were swaying rather a lot and I feared that the wind was getting up too much for a flight. Undeterred, we walked up to the launching site with Guus under my arm, just in case the dou dous were still allowed to fly, but as we approached the main area it became obvious that all the balloon flights were cancelled.

Certificate to "prove" he actually flew
Guus and I looked wistfully at the miniature balloon baskets which had been grounded and as I started to take photos of what might have been, a man approached me, not saying a word he whisked Guus from under my arm and took him to one of the baskets for his “flight”. Guus was thrilled to sit in a basket, but sadly, as with the large balloons, it was too windy and hence too dangerous for the little ones to go up. It didn’t stop that lovely man from giving Guus a certificate marking his initiation in the ballooning world and he made one dou dou and its owner very happy.

The real balloons eventually went up at 06.00 Sunday morning when I was still tucked up in bed, so I have stolen a photo from the Journal de Saône-et-Loire website to show you what a sight it really was.

As we say every year - we really must see this next year. Who knows..

Monday, 9 May 2016

Supermarket Trauma - again

Wisteria in Cormatin - no relation to the story whatsoever
I just thought it was pretty
When we first arrived in France, we checked out the local supermarkets and quickly settled into using the Intermarché in Cluny.

We did our shopping on a Tuesday and all was well with the world.

Until that fateful day in 2014 when we returned from a short holiday to find our supermarket gone.

After a long search and difficult times, we settled into using the Atac in Cluny.

Our supermarket is a crime scene
We did our shopping on a Monday and all was well with the world.

Until one fateful day last week, when we received a newsflash email from the local newspaper - our supermarket had burned down!

We hot footed it into Cluny to find out that it was in fact the stock room that had burned down, but when I say stockroom I mean more than 200 square meters and all the stock. The supermarket won’t be up and running very soon. The police suspect arson and the whole place is one big crime scene.

So we were back to searching for somewhere to shop. The Carrefour is hellishly expensive (both milk and coffee are 50% more expensive than the Atac) but we reluctantly went there last week.

Our new shopping heaven?
It came to our attention that the other supermarket (Netto) is no longer closed at lunchtime (our preferred shopping time), so this week we decided to try it out again. It is nice, roomy and light, the selection is limited but adequate, but the clincher is that they now stock fresh milk, as opposed to sterilised. An added bonus is that it is less than half the price of the milk in Carrefour!

I think we have found our new supermarket, no matter whether Atac re-opens, we will be using Netto from now on.

We are still shopping on a Monday and it looks like all is well with the world – again.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

May Day

Brrrr.. more like 1st March!
The first day of May is a holiday in France and usually it is beautifully warm, the summer is just around the corner and the temperatures are suitably high.

Not this year though brrrrr.. As we set off in the car to go to lunch it was 3 degrees!

We were going out with some friends to sample the delights of a lunch at a goats’ cheese farm. The lunch was superb even if we did have to wrap up warm as we huddled together in black polythene covered tunnel that served as the dining room.

The menu was suitable goaty with warmed goats’ cheese on toast with salad, boeuf bourguignon with goats’ cheese oven cooked potatoes (I had hope for a goat curry, but that is not really done round here!) fresh soft goats' cheese with cream and sugar, then a non-goaty dessert and coffee.  All that for only 15 Euros each, with wine included. No bad at all I thought.

Goats' cheese waiting to go into the oven
Samples of of the different flavours

The farm was on top a hill with spectacular views, well I suppose they were, but at it was grey and drizzly it was difficult to see.

The girls themselves
After lunch we popped in for a quick visit to the goats themselves. It was nice and warm in their shed and we enjoyed watching the kids jumping around like only young animals can do and watching their mothers munch away the the hay laid out before them. We then skedaddled home to get back into the warm.

Traditional lily of the valley
When we got home we were very excited to see that at least one of our lily of the valley was starting to flower. Lily of the valley is the traditional May Day flower in France and everyone picks them or buys them to bring the lovely scent into their homes. Because of the recent cold snap, the flower growers have very few on offer, so it was a double pleasure to see this little chap smiling at us from the cold garden.

Instead of our usual May Day BBQ we’ll be tucked up in front of the fire tonight, waiting for summer to start which is promised for later this week.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Technological Changes at La Tuilerie

We offer peace and quiet
We pride ourselves on offering accommodation that guarantees peace and quiet. So that means no more than two people in each gite, no children in a gite unless both are booked by the same party, no TV or noise, just the sounds that nature provides, the frogs in the pond, the cows in the field and the owls in the trees. Doesn’t that sound poetic and idyllic?

It is not everyone’s cup of tea and I understand that, those who want those things need to look elsewhere, but even for some of our guests who do want what we offer, our little island of tranquillity would be just that little bit better if there was a some wifi, to stay in touch with the real world, just in case…

Wouldn't it be nice......
This has been a major problem for us, our old building has walls up to half a meter in thickness and try as we might, experiment as we might, the wifi just won’t go though them. Last year’s experiment brought wifi into the bedroom of one of the gites, but no further.

This has troubled me as I know that even the people who love what we have would sometimes like to continue that game of scrabble with their best friend whilst on holiday in the garden, or send an email to their family to say they are safe and well and to tell them what they have been up to and so I have been searching for a solution for some time now.

I'll only give the password if you want it!
As of last week, I have managed to get hold of the kit that gives wifi in the gites - or so my laptop told me. The proof of the pudding will be our guests' experiences.

Our first guests have just left and they say that they have had no problems with the signal!

So as of now, we officially have wifi in the gites. But if you want to remain cut-off from your work, don’t ask for the password and I won’t tell your boss!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

A tale of two pyramids

A Starry Night - Musée d'Orsay
So where have I been for the last few weeks? Well I’ve been in London and then Paris and since I’ve been back we have been so busy that I just haven’t had time to sit down and write about what’s been going on. I won’t bore you with all we saw in Paris as we saw a lot, we walked and walked and visited museums until they were coming out of our ears and even though I have visited Paris every few years for the whole of my adult life, I am still finding new things to see. The adorable flat we rented in Montmartre is ideally suited, not far from restaurants, the Sacre Coeur and a metro station, what more do you want?

Impressive Buddha - Musée Guimet
A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Museum D’Orsay, I am such a fan of impressionist and post impressionist art and just love this museum for its collection. Our favourite new thing this year has to be the Museum Guimet which has an impressive collection of Asian artefacts. We will definitely be going back for a second look next time we are in town

Of course we had to check out the pyramid at the Louvre, a strange blot on the classical landscape between the main Louvre building and the Tuilerie gardens. We didn’t visit the museum this time, we just fitted it in in-between Maxime’s and the church St-Germain l’Auxerrois.

Pont Alexandre III
As soon as we returned from Paris, we were off on day out with the Tourist Office to visit some artisans in the area, a couple of B&Bs, have a nice lunch together and to visit the Pyramid of Cormatin!

We have wanted to see what was going on behind the walls around the Pyramid for a number of years and we were not disappointed. The rather intimidating wall and local stories of Horuses with red glowing eyes, the eccentric appearance of the owner and his completely weird website, have led to all manner of things in my imagination.

Grave stones and elephants
Trumpet playing bulls

The reality is as weird as I expected! The owner however is one of the most charming people I have met and he was very welcoming and eager to tell us all about his artistic adventure that eventually led to what he has created. The whole is too much to tell here, but he has been inspired primarily by the great Egyptian builders and artists and their use of the golden ratio in their creations. His interpretation is impressive, but not solely Egyptian in its design, there are gravestones and shop dummies and the weirdest art you could imagine. When he is open to the public later this year, it is worth a visit.

After all that excitement I have been dashing around to get the gites up and running for our first guests of the season who arrived this week and so we are now back into our normal summer mode. Roll on the longer warmer days!

For holiday accommodation near the pyramid of Cormatin click here.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Learning the songs

The bell tower in Taizé
Whilst browsing round the Taizé website the other day, I found a completely new section, well I think it is new, maybe I have just never fully investigated it before.

There has always been a section on how to sing the songs, with the words and sheet music, but I have never noticed that you can listen to each “voice” if you click on the relevant links.

Click on the photo to go to the Taizé website
This is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to really learn how to sing these lovely meditative songs. There are four voices in most songs and I have always sung along to what I heard as the “female” voice. But being an alto, the songs are often a tad too high for me so I generally sing an octave lower. Listening around me, I am not the only one who does that either. In fact, I have always assumed that the alto voice was just that, the soprano with an octave twist every so often, until I started to investigate a few songs on the website.

Take one of my favourites In Manus Tuas. I listened to all the voices and discovered that I have never actually heard either the alto or the tenor before, the only ones I’ve noticed during a service are the soprano and bass, with the tenor voices doing the same octave twist to the bass tune, that I had been doing with the soprano, but in the other direction. I will certainly be paying much more attention next time I am at a service and I will try and listen out for any real alto singers.

A wall sculpture at Taizé, originally on the church

As you can imagine, a whole new world of songs has opened up for me and just in time for the “season” to start as well. I will definitely be brushing up on my alto skills as that voice gives a completely new dimension to the songs and it is a pity that it is not more dominant. It won’t be long now before the place is swarming with young people and the church will be full again, I’ll be much less conscious of my own voice when there are loads of others around, so who knows I might actually sing the right part for a change!

For accommodation near Taizé click here.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Wine Tasting.

Living in Burgundy, you cannot escape the influence of wine. We are surrounded by some superb wine growers. One thing surprised me when I first got to know how things worked was that there is in fact no “Burgundy” wine as such. To make a wine and label it Burgundy, you have to follow the rules laid down by the AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) committee which include how, when and what to plant, how and when prune, how and when to spray and with what chemicals, how and when to harvest and then how to make the wine.

Having said that, wine from each parcel of land will have its own personal flavour which will vary from year to year, some will be labelled as being from a certain plot of land, or a certain area, some will be labelled as grand cru or premier cru, the list and complexity goes on. The essence of it all is that the flavour comes from the elements in the soil, the amount and timing of the rain and sun and so year to year and plot to plot, the wine will vary in quality, flavour and keepability. It is no wonder that such mystery, myths and wizardry surround wine making.

2015 was an excellent year for the vines and the quality of the grapes was superb, the best vintage since 2009. Sadly though, the weather that gave such a high quality grape, also restricted the actual growth, so most vineyards in this vicinity were down at least 30% and in some cases 50% on their usual harvest, but will the quality be such, that a high enough price can be sought, to cope with that shortfall in quantity? Time will tell on that one as we wait for the wine to mature enough to be drunk.

In the meantime we have to settle for the lesser vintage of 2013 from which the offerings at the annual wine tasting at the wine makers of St Gengoux and Buxy were this week. We are invited every year to attend a wine tasting because we have the gites and campsite. By chatting up the local tourist accommodation providers they hope to make sales – but we only recommend them if we think that they are good enough!

I have to say that the white Montagny premier cru (Buissonnier) was quite superb, the Crément blanc de blanc was also very good and the red Rully (Buissonnier) was not bad at all. As usual the aperitif snacks that we were given to go with the wines complemented them quite superbly. So if you are in the area for your summer holiday, don’t forget to pop in to take a couple of bottles home with you.

For holiday accommodation near some superb wine growers click here.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sculptures in clay

La Consolation des Tempêtes
surrounded by flowers
Anyone who has visited here will have seen the wonderful statue in our front garden. The sculpture is called “La Consolation des Tempêtes” The Comforter of Storms, made by a local artist Monique Dégluaire. The statue has a tumultuous world balanced on her head, which she brings back into equilibrium. You can belief in her or not, but you can't fail to be transfixed by her very tranquil expression and delicate colouring.

Last year I was surprised to receive an invitation to sign up for a course that Monique has started to run - sculpture in clay. It is a three day/weekend session starting usually after lunch on Friday and going through to a Sunday evening. To get you started you begin by shaping a simple form using coils of clay, this gets you used to the modelling medium.

Monique at her outlet in Cormatin
Then you identify the project you are actually going to do. Monique has loads of resources available and you may choose a photo, an existing template or an idea you have had prior to your visit. You sketch out your idea then move on to choosing your clay and preparing it. After making a quick prototype you move on to the real thing. You learn not only how to make the model, but how to scoop out the article to minimise the clay used and minimise the chance of firing problems and how to disassemble your sculpture to optimise firing. There are shared mealtimes, where everyone comes with something they have prepared which gives a break in the day where you can reflect on how your design or work is going. Then as a round up everyone shares what they have learned during their three day experience.

When the sculptures have dried, Monique glazes and fires them for you and you can come and collect them or she can send them on. Her next course is next weekend, from what I have heard there are still a couple of places, which is very unusual, so you could still get in there. Failing that she has new courses in both May and August.

Here's a little video of Monique at work, showing what you could actually try yourself.

It strikes me as a very relaxing and creative way to spend a long weekend. You never know, the next sculpture to appear in our garden may be a Sue Nixon original!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Setting up camp

Dome of the church standing out against the dark sky.
With it being so cold, wet and miserable at the moment, it is very difficult to imagine that Easter is just a few weeks away, but the tell-tale signs of tents going up in Taizé mean that time is moving on and soon there will be thousands of people up on the hill again.

It is a Herculean task to get all the tents up every year and that is just one small part of the impressive organisation that goes on, in and around the Taizé complex, to house and nourish the thousands that turn up every year.

Hawthorn just coming into flower - must be spring
On Sunday we went for a walk to have a look at progress. It is a very pleasant walk from here to Taizé via the forest and then back through Ameugny and Chazelle. It takes us a leisurely 45 minutes to walk to Taizé, just perfect for a Sunday afternoon constitutional, a chance to get out, get some fresh air and enjoy our surroundings. It is always a very peaceful walk, surprisingly few people take that route.

The big church overflow tents are the first to go up
While we were in Taizé, we took the opportunity to have a wander around the old village. We bumped into several groups of Americans and Germans whilst visiting the Romanesque church. We also met quite a large number of very young French people.

It is half-term here and groups of youngsters are encouraged to spend a few days in Taizé. The brothers organise short taster sessions (weekends or mid-week stays) for groups of 14 to 16 year olds - younger than the usual crowd. Their stay is not quite as intense as for the older ones who spend a week here in the summer months and these youngsters are accompanied by a number of adult helpers.

Hundreds of huge accommodation tents
under construction
But the main action, in the community, is the putting up of tents. You can see how large the tents are and how many of them there are, much better when they aren’t covered in canvas, the rows seems to go on forever.

So, it won’t be long now and spring will be here with Easter bringing us warmer, dryer weather. At least I hope so, for all those campers.

For holiday accommodation within walking distance of Taizé click here.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

End of the road for the Cluny Stud.

The historical buildings of the Haras in Cluny
Back in November 2009, I reported that the Cluny branch of the Haras (National Stud) was going to be closed down. In May 2010, it was announced that the Haras was saved and had been given a ten year reprieve, but last week we read in the paper that it is finally the end of the road. The buildings are worth more than the income, or the value of the work done at the stud and it is curtains for Cluny.

As it turned out, since 2010, there has been no horse breeding in Cluny anyway and there are only eight horses and 4 employees. How you can have a stud without any studding is a mystery to me, but apparently they have been doing research into a national horse tracing/tracking system - not really worth keeping several millions of Euros worth of buildings open and maintained for.

One of the eight remaining horses
“Living on borrowed time” springs to mind and ten year reprieve or no ten year reprieve, it matters not one jot, Cluny Haras is terminated.

So what will happen now? Well, the council has come up with a fiendishly clever and very French plan.

The council has put a special kind of compulsory purchase order on the property. This is not like an English CPO where the authorities buy the property whether the owners like it or not, oh no, this is far more ingenious. The owners have to pay all the costs to prepare for the sale of the property, they have to find a buyer and then when a price is agreed, the council can step in and trump it!

Fun and games with ponies in the arena
Don’t you just love ‘em? Now who the heck is going to go to all the hassle of attempting to buy the property when they know the council will just step in and take it anyway?

So what does this mean for the buildings and the horses and the employees? What does this mean for the horse spectaculars in the summer and the horse events at the Equivallée? I don’t know, but I will keep my eyes and ears open and keep you posted.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Chinese New Year

Lion dance in Mâcon
I have been a bit lax in blogging the last couple of weeks as we have been very busy practising for Chinese New Year. This year for the first time ever, our Taiji group had been asked to perform during the Mâcon Chinese New Year festivities. So almost every day has been dedicated to practising at home or with our group to make sure we didn’t make complete tiddly-winks of ourselves in front of a big crowd.

Red and gold balloon released to
celebrate the New Year
T-day finally arrived this Saturday. We already suspected that the room we had to perform in wasn’t big enough for our group, so it was with some trepidation that we set off, in convoy, to Mâcon. On arrival we got to see our space. It wasn’t as small as we feared, but cramped none the less and the cable running the length of the room looked destined to trip one or other of us up.

No time to worry, we had to go and see the lion dance, watch hundreds of red and gold balloons being launched and savour the inescapable glass of wine on offer to celebrate the New Year. Not too much mind you, we still had to “do our thing”.

Red Chinese lanterns decorate the planters
After a very non-descript and not very nice lunch (I won’t be recommending this particular culinary outlet) the time arrived to set up and warm up. A quick practise showed that with a bit of a squeeze we wouldn’t end up smashing the glass walls with out sticks, so the show was on!

We had two time slots allocated; in each time slot we would do three demos. I was in all three for the first show (Cees in two) and two of the second show (Cees in only one). Cees set up the video camera and between him and another taijier, they managed to film all six performances.

Forms listed left to right, 24 Beijing, stick, fan

They went really well, no one slipped or tripped or got so muddled up that they fell over, so all that practise had paid off. I won’t bore you with all of them, but this is the video of my favourite. It is the first form I learned with this teacher and is the ,ost commonly practised form in the world - the 24 of Beijing in the yang style. And even though the stick and the fan are fun to do and are more impressive, this form has the simple elegance that taiji is all about, especially when performed by a largish group.

So a big congratulations to our taiji group La Spirale D’Or of Cluny, we did ourselves proud!

Sunday, 17 January 2016


The mimosa man - wrapped up against the cold
This Saturday morning, in Cluny market, I saw my first sight of spring. The mimosa man was there. After the winter that wasn’t quite yet, we were plunged into freezing weather this week, so it was a big surprise to see this hope of spring brightening up the rather depleted market.

Beautiful flowers - hope of spring
Instead of giving a feeling of hope that the cold is going to leave us, he looked like a rather incongruous misfit. The fact that he still had so many flowers as the market was about to close, shows that not too many people were as optimistic as his display.

Right now it seems that winter is just starting. I have at last had to drain down the gites, a job I nearly always have to do early in December, but this year, the weather has stayed at such ridiculously high temperatures, it hasn’t been necessary to even consider draining out the water.  It has been so warm that in some gardens the fruit trees are starting to blossom and daffodils are starting to flower.

Snow in the forest
It does seem, however, that Mother Nature has other ideas and on returning home, she was determined to show us that winter is not over at all and put on a magical but brief display. This was the view of the forest from my front window.

Tonight’s low is predicted to be -8. So is winter coming or is the mimosa man right and spring is just around the corner?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Life as we know it has changed

Emoticon from Julien's tweet
It is true, life as we know it has changed or to be more precise will change on 20th February.  We found out on Friday. To be fair, we should have suspected something when we received an invitation mid-December to go to Paris in January [Venez assister et découvrir le nouveau plateau en janvier de "Questions pour un Champion"] but we didn’t, we spotted it on the back page of Friday’s edtition of the Journal de Saône-et-Loire.

So what is this dreadful thing? I hear you ask; well, the man who taught us to understand French has been sacked. After 28 years, he has not been given a golden handshake, just told not to come back tomorrow. Some would say, that sounds familiar and welcome to the real world, but this is France, the country of workers’ rights, however, it seems that they can also be very vicious to those who don’t conform.

Me posing with the real contestants
I couldn’t really believe it was true, so I found our daily companion Julien Lepers’ Twitter account and it was confirmed there.

« Grande tristesse de devoir quitter cette émission sans avoir pu saluer les équipes, le public et les téléspectateurs. »

“Great sadness to have to leave this show without being able to say goodbye to the team and the viewers.”

Meeting the man himself
Since then I have found an article in the Huffington Post, written by Julien, in which he gives what would have been his farewell speech had he been allowed to give one. It starts with “I leave Question Pour un Champion against my wishes and with my heart broken.” And then goes on to give a very moving farewell to his team and some good insights into the success of the programme that the new presenter and France TV would do well to read and understand. He finishes this short article by giving homage to his audience. “The viewers that have followed me for a long time are a part of my life. That will continue, with them, and I thank them for that.”

Everyone laughs at us when we tell them not to ring between 6 and half past each evening as we are watching Julien, but it has been our daily routine now for about ten years and he has helped us so much with learning French in a fun way. From 20th February, that will be over.

So that’s it - the end of an era. I for one will miss him.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Village of a 100 Nativity Scenes

Hundreds of miniature African Nativty scenes
And you thought Christmas was over? Well you’re wrong, until 12th night nativity scenes are still de rigueur. So much so that one town in Saône-et-Loire has more than 100 of them on display. Every year they call themselves the town of the nativity scene and every year we say we will go, this year we actually went.

Before going to something of this type in rural France you have to be prepared for amateurism. But to be honest, nativity scenes, just like nativity plays, owe a lot of their charm to the way you can tell that everyone has done their utmost to produce something spot on but which still has that home-made look about it. I love it.

Arty picture - I got the settings wrong!
With that in mind we drove the one and a half hours to Melay to see this year’s exhibition. We arrived to see a strange vision of an African village outside the lavoir and a similar one outside the town hall, not very nativity scene like - this was going to be more weird than I was expecting. On entering the lavoir building we handed over our 3 Euros entrance fee and we were asked if this was the first time we had been to see the nativity scenes or if we were “habitués” – habitual visitors! As newbies we were told how it all worked. But after an immensely complicated explanation, I had no more idea what was going on than before, except that the exhibition in the lavoir had been borrowed from a nativity scene museum in the Lorraine somewhere and the exhibition in the town hall had been borrowed from the artisans of Arles.

I was quite stunned. There were literally hundreds of small beautifully crafted nativity scenes (carved in wood, ivory or made from pottery) mostly from African origins. But my question was, where were the amateur bits and pieces? the ones that showed that someone in town cared enough to build something each year? What about the shepherds with tea towels on their heads and the wonky mangers?

The original Nativity scene that started off the village's quest for more
To say I was disappointed was an understatement. Somewhat irritated at not finding what I had expected, my camera then decided to change all its settings so that none of my photos worked. I then spent the best part of 20 minutes trying to figure out what I had done to upset it so much, however, I did manage one rather arty photo with these weird settings.

We looked for a while, then left for the town hall, at least we would see something French there. In Provence the figures used in nativity scenes are called Santons, originally made out of old bread rolled through your fingers then painted, nowadays they are made by, amongst others, the artisans of Arles.

We opened the door of the town hall to be greeted by more of the same, more and more and more, small, delicately made African nativity scenes. I asked where the santons were, only to be told that these African scenes had been borrowed from the santon makers of Arles from their museum, the santons had been left in Arles.

Even the Dutch got a look in
So what can I say, I am sure it was an absolutely terrific exhibition, but if I had known that I would be driving for a three hour round trip in the fog to see miniature nativity scenes made in Africa, I wouldn’t have gone. On the other hand Cees was really pleased to see such delicate work, so you win some you lose some.

Our decorations are coming down now and so Christmas is finally over. The local nativity scenes are being packed up until next year. Snow White and her 5 dwarfs (two were stolen this year) are being put back into storage, maybe she won’t reappear next year, just like Mary and Jospeh who have stopped coming to Cormatin because Jesus and the sheep were stolen two or three years ago. Maybe we will just be left with the Smurfs.

All that said, I suppose I shouldn’t complain as there will be more than one hundred beautifully crafted real nativity scenes in Melay next year. I just won’t be there to see them.

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