Saturday, 4 April 2015

Day out with the Office de Tourisme

Beautiful day
Every year about this time, the gîte and B&B owners, who are members of the Tourist office in St Gengoux, have a day out. We visit gîtes and B&Bs and various artisans in the area, normally have an excellent lunch and generally have a good chin wag.

It helps us feel more of a group rather than isolated service providers. We may be competitors to an extent, but we are also co-workers and this day helps to boost that side of things, we pass on clients from time to time, when we are full or if we feel a potential client would prefer a different type of accommodation and these visits help us to assess if we would want to pass on customers and to be able to stand behind any comments on the quality of accommodation provided.

Spinning disaster
When visiting the artisans in the area, we are treated to demos, something you would be hard to have if you visited alone and it lets us see what is on offer in the area, so we can pass on that information to visitors.

And last but not least we generally have a good meal and can put another restaurant on our list of places to recommend. I never recommend an artisan or a restaurant that I haven’t visited myself, I like to speak from my own experience, that way I can be confident about the information I am giving.

We were blessed with a sunny but cold day this year. Our day started in a large gîte (for 16 people) in St Gengoux, where we had coffee and brioche and then we moved on to the Weber’s new venture, cloth making. Apart from being able to buy the lovely hand made cloth, you can also have lessons in weaving and spinning. My attempts at spinning were hopeless, hence the almost hysterical look on my face. Magrit was very patient, but in the end she had to undo all my efforts to disentangle the whole mechanism - better luck next time..

Cappilati's designs
Sadly lunch was a disaster and I won’t give the restaurant any more publicity, but the rest of the day was very interesting with a lovely visit to Kathy Cappilati’s brand new studio where she does leaded glass designs, bronze sculptures and spectacular calligraphic ink designs.

Wine to end the day
It wouldn’t be a Burgundian day out if we didn’t finished up with a glass of wine or two. This year we were treated to pink crément or red or white wine and gougères at the cave in St Gengox-le-National.

I can’t wait for next year’s offerings.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

More Food Changes in Town

The butcher is open for trade
The new butcher in Cormatin has finally opened its doors and so off we went to try it out earlier this week. We bought two different types of pâté, some celeriac salad for lunch and some steak for dinner. The pâtés and salad were very nice indeed, but the steak was absolutely divine. Cees said he could not remember having such good meat ever in his life before - I am tempted to agree with him and it was at a price comparable to, or cheaper than, the local supermarkets which do not deliver anywhere near the same quality. I am sure that we will be making many return visits to this shop.

Change of ower and style for the grocer
The new grocer has opened too, pretty much the same as the old one, but much brighter and more room to move around inside, letting you see the merchandise without knocking jars off shelves. We didn’t meet the new owner, but all stories point to a younger more vibrant approach to running the establishment whilst still stocking the products that everyone loved so much – fresh-ground coffee, ham to die for and hot rotisserie chickens. The only complaint I have heard so far is that she cuts the ham too thin, funnily enough my only complaint about the previous owner’s ham was that it was cut too thick – each to their own.

La Terrasse doubles in size
Another change on the food front is that La Terrasse, the restaurant opposite the chateau in the middle of town, has been extended into the building next-door, doubling its internal seating capacity as well a consolidating its extended terrace in time for the good weather.

Talking of restaurants, we went out to lunch on Thursday, with a group of people from the Office de Tourisme, to the Auberge de Malo in Etrigny, a village nearby. They were going to show off their culinary skills to our group of gîte and B&B owners, so that we could recommend their restaurant to our guests and I was hoping to dedicate a blog to them. I won’t bore you with the whole sorry story, I will just sum up my experience in a few words: too expensive; tasteless; cold and amateur; some people find this charming – I don’t. We will be recommending that our guests go to La Terrasse which is quite excellent or Les Blés d’Or which comes in at a close second, right here in Cormatin - few people are disappointed in either of these places.

New chique look for the baker
There is yet another change on the culinary front in our village. The baker Delice de Cormatin has upgraded its shop and it is looking very swish and professional, to match his superb patisseries.

All in all, with the new deli, the organic food market and the pizza parlour, not to mention the second baker (Roi), a wine merchant come semi-deli and the food section at the Filaterie (a place that sells handicrafts) Cormatin is creating a reputation for itself as being a foodie heaven in these parts. Long may it last.

For holiday accommodation, a short walk or bike ride from all of these gastronomic delights, click here.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Week in Paris

The metro's free if there is smog
We have just returned from a short week in Paris - a city I absolutely love. Cees and I like to go there once a year if at all possible, we rent a flat and just enjoy being Parisians for a few days.

This year our flat was a tad on the small size – won’t stay there again – that’s the problem with booking last minute, the ones we have stayed in before had all been booked. We’ll have to be more on the ball next year!

Le Pantheon
After breakfast of croissants (fresh from the bakery Le Coquelicot) and espresso in the communal courtyard, we headed off each day to soak up the atmosphere. Sadly, for the second year running, there was a little more “atmosphere” than we would have liked - Paris was drenched in smog, but at least the metro is free when that happens.

We enjoyed ourselves visiting places we hadn’t seen before - Pantheon, Hotel de Cluny, Museum des Arts et Metiers and going back to old favourites – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Petit Palais and of course Galeries Lafayette. All well worth the visit. We even steeled ourselves for the huge queue at the Louvre and paid that a visit too.

Eiffel Tower
The Louvre is exceptional value and you can spend days in there. The signposting is abysmal which makes navigating your way around a bit difficult at times, but that doesn’t take away from the incredible collection of art and artefacts that they have in there. It only took us about 20 – 25 minutes from leaving the metro station to getting into the museum and that was only achieved by buying our tickets from a rather dubious looking tabac in the station ie not waiting in the one hour queue for the official ticket office and then accidentally getting in the wrong queue at the entrance. A big thank you to the obnoxious Chinese visitors who had a blazing row with the man checking that particular entrance as we walked past him enabling us to miss the 45 minute queue if we had gone in the correct way. Goodness only knows how long the whole process would take in the height of the tourist season and if you were to do it properly. Once inside, apart from the scrum at the Mona Lisa, it was pleasantly empty.

Galeries Lafayette
We found a fantastic new (to us) restaurant in Rue des Trois Frères - Le Jardin d’en Face, which was just down from our flat, where the food was exquisite and the prices very reasonable indeed.

So that’s our holiday over with and now we are gearing up for a full working season - roll on summer!

For information on holiday accommodation one and half hours from Paris click here.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The mystery of the wonky candles

St Claude's wonky candles
On one of our many church visits we managed to get into the church in St Jean de Vaux. Not an easy task as the thing is normally locked and the town hall is only open once in a blue moon.

This is a nice church and I am sure Cees will be able to fill you in on all the architectural high points, but I was fascinated by the candles. It had wonky candles, not just little a bit either, I mean REALLY wonky.

In the north chapel (for St Claude) I noticed that all the candles were leaning. As anyone will be able to see, they are leaning away from the window, so I thought that the sun had been shining through the window and melted one side slightly and the things had started to wonk.

Thinking about it now though, as this is the north chapel, no sun will come in through those windows, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

Mary has them too
On to the south chapel (Mary) and interestingly enough, all the candles wonk TOWARDS not away from the window. However the candles are wonking in the same direction as St Claude’s - top towards the south. Not quite as dramatic as St Claude's, but a definite lean. The sun could come in through these windows, but would that bend the candles towards the light?

The church is full of them - what's going on?
In yet another chapel (not sure for whom) where there was no window at all, the candles all wonked the same way as well, less than Mary's and definitely less dramatic than St Claude, but the tops were happily displacing themselves towards the south. For completeness, the nearest window would probably have been to the west in this case.

Strange goings on I must say. All the candles wonk top towards the south no matter the direction of the nearest window.

Any ideas why?

Saturday, 7 March 2015


Praying for clear skies
One thing that surprises people who stay here is just how dark it is at night and you can see millions upon millions of stars. I just love looking up at the stars, something I could never do, in most of the places I have lived.

When the theme for my photo group a couple of weeks ago was “sky”, I decided to get out there and take a picture of a beautiful starry night.

Never having taken a photo of the night sky before, I did a bit of research. It all looked simple enough and out I went on what turned out to be the only starry night that week. It was a total failure.

I couldn’t get the camera to see what I was seeing, no matter what I did to the settings, not helped by the fact that you can’t see anything on the blooming camera in the dark! Back to the drawing board, or should I say - more research and a proper set up of the camera in daylight.

Orion over the forest
Then of course the rain set in and not a starry night to be seen.

While photographing miserable skies I came across the little angel above, who must have sent up a prayer for clear skies to return and I managed to capture Orion over the forest opposite our house, but too late for my sky-week photo, besides the moon was too bright anyway, not to mention the settings that still need some tweaking.

Stars over the house
A clear night was promised for last night, so I was out again and managed a view of some stars over our house, not a brilliant photo, but the settings on the camera are starting to be approximately right and at least you can actually see some stars, even though I haven’t a clue what they are called. The moon was full so there was a lot of light pollution – note to self to do this kind of thing next time on a new moon night.

I never realised there would be so many problems being a star photographer..

For information on holiday accommodation where you can see millions of stars at night with or without a camera click here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Last Sunday of winter

Entance to the abbey
It is official, we have passed the last Sunday of winter. How do I know? Well I’ll tell you - you can get into the abbey in Cluny free of charge on the first Sunday of every month throughout the winter period and this Sunday was the last free Sunday of the season. So even though the weather left a lot to be desired, we went to Cluny to enjoy the abbey one more time before we had to pay for the pleasure.

It never ceases to amaze me how many changes we notice every time we go there.

The cloister - always worth a photo
When Cees’ son came to visit a couple of weeks ago, he went to the abbey while we were at our tai chi lesson and mentioned how impressive the film was. Yes, the film is impressive, but as we had seen the original film, all the replacements for that one have been rather under-whelming. But we were there and I managed to convince Cees to go and see it one more time. Surprisingly the film has undergone some spectacular changes since our last viewing and it is now a not to be skipped experience.

Above what the abbey looked like in its glory, below what's left
It is a great pity that the commentary is only in French with no subtitles in any other language as non-French speakers will miss out on a lot of information and explanation. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the film which now has reached a stage where the whole abbey comes to life and really makes you imagine you are there. Then when you go into the abbey ruins and see just what a tiny amount of it is left, it makes me mad that this architectural carnage was allowed to happen. What is even more incomprehensible is that it was done deliberately, not as an act of crazed anger against religion, or collateral damaged caused by war, this was a financial decision by the town itself to fund its expansion by selling off the stone. A real crime.

Always the opportunity to take another photo
Having said that, even with so little of the original buildings left, we enjoyed our wander round the whole place and the museum as well which is so much better laid out than it used to be and now no longer qualifies as the “most boring museum in the world” in fact it has entered the “you really must visit this museum” category – no mean feat. Despite the weather I managed a few nice photos and just enjoyed walking around the whole place soaking up enough of the atmosphere to last me until next winter.

Now the summer can begin - I could do with some sunshine.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jewels of Dijon

Newly rennovated ex-leper colony, Meursault
An added bonus of having family and friends to stay is that we have an incentive to get out and about and visit things even if the weather is not perfect. We love Dijon and have been many times, but it has been about a year since our last visit, so when Cees’ son came to stay for the weekend, it was an ideal opportunity to get in the car and enjoy what Dijon has to offer.

Although it was a miserable day, the drive through the vineyards and small (and not so small) wine villages is always a pleasure. The stunningly renovated leper colony in Meursault is worth a detour, they have done such a beautiful job and brought a beautiful old building complex back to life – very appropriate.

Musée de Beaux Arts, Dijon
Then on to Dijon itself. The advantage of a Sunday visit is that parking in town is free and abundant, even if the one-way system can lead to some heated discussions as to which way to go. All in all we managed a parking space near to the Dukes’ Palace which was our main destination.

Pompon has his own room
The palace has been turned into the Museum of Fine Arts and whilst the art alone is worth the visit, the tombs of Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur, make it an absolute must-see. And of course, a visit to Dijon would not be complete without spending a long moment enjoying the works of Pompon. The stylised lines of his animals are truly amazing and as a native of this region, he has a room all to himself in the museum.

After that we set off for the Museum of Archaeology which is housed in an old abbey (Saint-Bénigne) and yes you guessed it, it is a Romanesque one. The museum is quite interesting, but we were there for the architecture of the building itself and the displays on the first floor of capitals from various monasteries and churches in the area.
Ex-Abbey Saint-Bénigne
The last time we visited, there was a conference going on in that room so we couldn’t see it, but this time we could go in and it was well worth the return visit.

All of that combined with a delicious Dijonais lunch and a wander around the streets looking at the lovely half-timbered houses and coloured tile roofs, we had a great day out.

For holiday accommodation within a day-trip distance of Dijon click here.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Great food comes to town.

New organic market
I mentioned before our new deli which does really nice pâtés and cold meats, not to mention lots of other interesting things, but this last week has brought more excitement to our little community. The defunct Musée du Vélo, turned Musée de Poilu, then a very expensive knife maker, has reincarnated as an organic food market!

This came as a bit of a surprise. We had heard rumours that something was a foot, but we had no idea what was going to happen. Last week they opened for trade. A weekly organic indoor market and an outlet for organic bread at the weekend as well.

Delicious bread
The bread on offer is from “Le Pain d’Antonin" who is very well known around here, he sells on various markets and has a good strong following and if the queue by his stall for Friday’s opening is anything to go by, this latest venture will be a big success. The other stalls were for terrines from Donzy-le-National, a vegetable grower obviously selling his own in seasonal products, a wine grower from Cruzille who’s white wine is truly magnificent at any price even though the red I thought was rather overpriced for the quality, when we visited his establishment a couple of years ago and there was also someone selling lentil terrines/patés which looked interesting.

Interesting pâtés
So get yourselves down there on Fridays between 17.00 and 19.00 and for bread all day on Saturdays as well.

But that is not all the excitement - we knew that the butcher was going to re-open in Cormatin and low and behold a sign went up this last week as well. We’ll be there on the 12th to see what he has on offer.
The butcher announces his opening

So now all we need is a date for the opening of the new grocer’s in town and we will have a full house!

Cormatin in certainly starting to turn into something of an epicurean centre - long may it last.

For holiday accommodation near all of these delicious food outlets click here.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Death of the Auvergne Tower

Much loved Tour d'Auvergne
Whenever we were in the Brionnais, we had lunch at La Tour d’Auvergne, a fantastic restaurant in St Christophe en Brionnais. This is serious cattle country, virtually all the customers are cattle farmers and the steak was sublime. About a year ago (or maybe a little longer I can’t remember) we had to weave our way through a camera crew videoing the restaurant as we were ushered to a table. The waitresses were dressed in smart new aprons especially for the event. We asked one of them to let us have a closer look at what was written on the apron, she seemed to think it was all a bit over the top but we noted that the name on the apron was Lys'Toire du Charolais - Frédéric Navez - obviously a new supplier or someone who had donated the aprons for the video shoot. When we were leaving we shook hands with the owner as usual and then we were invited to shake hands with a chap who was introduced as “the boss” - we left saying “see you soon”.

Our next visit and the owner was not there, but the aprons were and the man called “the boss” was there too. Sadly it dawned on us that the restaurant had changed hands and we hadn’t been on the ball enough to wish the now ex-owner a happy retirement! Never mind, the customers were there, the steak was there and that was why we went there anyway. The menu hadn’t changed, but for the first time ever, the steak was a bit tough. Well that can happen can’t it? The following visit, I had to send about a third of my steak back to the kitchen as it was too tough to get my fork into. This was too much of a coincidence, methinks he has changed suppliers and not for the right reasons…...

A lot more than just a change of name
As we left the restaurant we were surprised to see that the new owner had changed something else as well. The name of the restaurant had become Lys'Toire du Charolais with the name of the new owner Frédéric Navez very prominent as well. This was in our opinion not a very sensible move, the old name is so well known in these parts and the restaurant had an excellent reputation, on the other hand the ex-owner should be happy that the name of his restaurant has died with the departure, as he certainly wouldn’t be happy about the current culinary standards.

Resaurant du Midi - don't let the scaffolding put you off.
This last week, we went looking for another restaurant. We checked out Restaurant du Midi, just down the road, even though it looked like a building site with scaffolding covering the front. The ambiance was that of a school canteen, with lots of noisy farmers - just what we like about this town. The menu was similar to La Tour, but for just 50 cents extra, you apparently got an as-much-as-you-can-eat buffet of starters as well. We decided to give it a go. The starters were copious and delicious and the steak was perfectly cooked and as soft as butter, no fromage fort with the cheese, but the mousse au chocolat made up for that. We are sold, we will definitely be going back to Restaurant du Midi and we will be recommending it to everyone we know who visits the market.

So it is a very fond farewell to La Tour and here is a little hint to the owner of its replacement - you can’t serve such rubbish steak to the men who dedicate their lives to raising the best beef cattle in the world and hope to survive. I hope he realises in time, but no matter, for now we have found a new place to eat.

For information on holiday accommodation near the biggest Charolais cattle market in the world click here.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Emergency Trip

Home for a week - the black ship on the left with a white cabin
We had an emergency trip last week to The Netherlands, that sounds rather dramatic and it was rather, but it shouldn’t have been. You see we have known for months that this might happen - we were just in denial. To be honest I just couldn’t (and still can’t) get my head around what has happened.

It all started when Cees noticed his passport was about to run out, mine still had 7 months to run. We started planning our day out in Lyon, a sightseeing trip, a long lunch then hand over the paperwork, have a nice chat with the Consul lady, give your fingerprints and away you go, you will receive passport in the post a week later. But not any more. The Dutch government in its wisdom has decided that issuing passports via consuls is no longer cost effective. It does beg the question what a consul is for, but let’s not go there.. That means that all Dutch people, resident in France, have to go in person to Paris to hand in the paperwork and then return in person about a week later to collect their passports. We live quite close but even so, we would have to pay 100 Euros each to get to Paris to hand in the paperwork then another 100 Euros to collect them - 400 Euros just in train fares!!!

This must be some sort of joke? What about the people who live even further away than us? They still have to travel to Paris then either go home or stay in a hotel for a week. What about people who are too old to travel? Tough - costs must be cut and anyway if they can’t travel they don’t need a passport do they?

One of the country's most important cities?
Another option is to go to The Netherlands and get a passport, but hang on a minute, you can only get a passport in the town hall where you live can’t you? No, the Dutch government have graciously nominated a handful of town halls that can do it for you. The Hague – 3 months waiting list for an appointment! That was fine for me, but Cees’ passport had only a week left to run. OK, let’s find another large town where we can do it, Amsterdam? No, Eindhoven? No, Rotterdam? No, Utrecht? No - I’m running out of big towns here, give me a hint? Finally we found the list, Echt-Susteren (where?) Bergeijk (Huh?) Montferland (are they making these names up?) the list goes on. We had to get a map out to find out where these huge places were. Finally the decision was taken, Bergeijk it would be, their efficient website site allowed us to make an appointment for both of us for the following week, then it was panic stations to find somewhere to stay for the week’s wait - I am not making two 8 hour drives at this time of year if I can help it.

The town hall - looks like an Escher print
Cees’ daughter to the rescue, yes we could stay on her canal boat in Den Bosch only about an hour away from Bergeijk. Phew!

We tagged on a nice weekend and Monday afternoon we had a trip through the Dutch countryside to the metropolis of Bergeijk. Not being modern enough to have a GPS, we rely on maps, but the ANWB (the Dutch automobile association) doesn’t consider this place worthy of a mention, so we had to pray we found some signs near to the place. We made it and as you can see it doesn’t really have “world city” written all over it, does it?

There you have it, what should have been a leisurely day-trip to Lyon ended up as a panicky visit to The Netherlands. At least we have stocked up on unmissable Dutch goodies like filet American and smoked sausages, not to mention affordable spices and we did have a lovely week with Cees’ daughter catching up on news and gossip, so all was not lost. I also tucked into all types of delicious Dutch food that are unavailable here.

Gastronomy - Dutch style
So 2kg heavier we returned with our new passports, just before the snow started to fall. Fortunately they are valid for 10 years this time.

Finally here is a message to all you Dutch ex-pats out there, if you don’t live within convenient distance of an Embassy, start planning your trip to Bergeijk, they are very friendly and efficient and the café next door to the town hall does really good kroketten!

For information on holiday accommodation about 7 hours drive from Bergeijk click here.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Je suis en colère

Not happy at all...
For those non-French residents amongst you, I will explain what the title of this post means, as it is crucial that you understand the gravity of the situation. The French use the expression “en colère” to express their extreme dissatisfaction with something or other. It can be roughly translated as annoyed with, angry with, but neither really brings across the true emotional strength of the concept.  In this instance, I can only use the French phrase for my intense, emotional distress at what has (or should I say has not) taken place.

His dsappointment is tangible.
I know this post is a little late coming out, but I have been waiting in the (vain) hope that I wouldn’t have to post it. But even in its lateness, its message is not any less heartfelt. Actually it is the fact that I have given the perpetrators enough time to correct their error that I have waited so long to post and every day I have waited has just increased my colère.

I am normally a placid, happy-go-lucky kind of soul - or at least I like to think I am, others may disagree of course - so it takes some doing to get me really “en colère”. If it were only me, it could be ignored, but I am not the only one, just look at the faces of Mary and Joseph, and poor little baby Jesus and you will see they join me in this one.


Have you seen these guys? - Photo taken in 2010

I really enjoy watching the Taizé nativity scene every year as it grows and changes over the weeks leading up to Christmas and on to Epiphany, but this year, not only has it been rather boringly static with minimal changes, but the wise men never showed up.

I went to see them arrive on Epiphany Sunday - no wise men. OK it was before the 6th so I assumed they were waiting for their entrance on the day itself. The 6th came and went and still no wise men. This last Sunday (the 11th) and still no wise men, even the donkey enclosure had gone by then and M & J were looking crosser by the day. Now the whole lot have given up and gone home or gone back into storage or whatever they do when it is not Nativity scene season.

How is this possible? I have often heard it said that if the three wise men had been women they would have 1. asked for directions 2. arrived on time 3. helped to deliver the baby and 4. brought practical gifts, amongst other things, but such tardiness and uselessness, I have never seen in the three wise men before. They had better show up next year, or in typical French fashion, I will organise a march round Taizé expressing my sentiments and there are plenty who will join me.

We will be out in force if they don't show up next year!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Strange Week

It has been a strange old week. It started as normally as any other and then as the violence of the terrorist actions in Paris unfolded, it took me on a disturbing trip down memory lane. I grew up in London in the 1970s, police on every underground train and troops on the streets, trying to protect us from the bombs that seemed to be going off everywhere. A quick search on Google and I found mention of more than 40 successful terrorist actions in the 1970s in London alone. So we were always vigilant and even an innocuous abandoned umbrella would be cause to evacuate a station or a building. We regularly had drills and exercises at school and we knew what we had to do in a crisis and this was the way we lived for the whole of my adolescence and beyond.

This week has forced me to reflect how this still affects my actions and thoughts today, just little things like I am very uncomfortable standing near rubbish bins and containers and as for an abandoned suitcase, you won’t see me for dust, subconsciously I am always aware of where the emergency exits are and I check escape routes if I am ever talked into being in a crowd - something I normally try to avoid. I and all my friends got through it unscathed, although I had several near misses, I was on a train that left a station just before a bomb went off and also on a train that was evacuated because of a bomb at the next station, but that was life back then, it went on and we didn’t think it that abnormal, we were just grateful we didn’t live in Belfast or Beirut.

And as I heard stories this week of children locked down in their schools, it reminded me of the number of times that happened to us. One thing that is sad or reassuring (I am not sure which) after the first time, we weren’t scared any more and life and lessons went on as normal. The terrorists can kill and maim and cause disruption, but normal life will continue for the majority.

I don’t understand what makes people do these things, I never did and I never will, how can so much hate be in your heart that you want to kill, maim or just frighten people who have nothing to do with you and who are going about their daily lives, all because you have a grudge to bear - how is that right or just? Let’s pray that these misled souls end this stupidity soon and leave all the rest of the people of this nation to carry on their lives without the fear of being involved in an attack.

Marchers assembling as the sun goes behind the hill over Cluny
Saturday evening we went on a march in Cluny, a silent candle-lit march to show our defiance against these deluded morons. There must have been several thousand people walking but I am sure it won’t have any effect on these fanatics, they are too stupid or brainwashed to understand what freedom of speech and thought is all about, but if it makes one citizen feel a little safer, then it will have been worth it.

I just hope that another generation of children who are growing up in a civilised, democratic and, above all else, free country such as the one that we are privileged to live in, will not come to think of this barbaric behaviour as part of normal life, as I and my generation of London’s children were forced to do. But I do have my doubts.

People as far as you can see

Sunday, 4 January 2015

If you go into the woods today….

How does that timer work?
It's a new year, so time for a new project.

A friend asked me to join in with an on-line group working together to improve their photographing skills. I must say it sounded fun, so I decided to give it a go. All you have to do is one photo a week for a whole year - what could be easier?

The first task was to take a self portrait. My selfie attempts in the past haven't been too successful, so off I went into the woods with my tripod and camera, to get something with a little bit more "ambiance". Being a Sunday, I had to catch a relatively small window of opportunity between the hunters going for their lunch and them coming back after their siesta. After all, I only wanted to appear in the sights of my camera and not their guns!

Too far to walk
First lesson, how does that timer thingy work? After a couple of self portraits with me missing entirely, I went back into the house to get my glasses - good job I was only a few yards from my front door.

The timer set, off I struggled through the undergrowth and thick layer of dead leaves. Click!

It doesn't give you much time does it?  Better move the tripod closer to the tree I was supposed to be photographed beside.

Da dah!
Finally a self portrait with me actually facing roughly in the direction of the camera.

Thinking about it, the one showing my back sums up my current standard rather better!

Well at least I have a year to develop some level of skill - looks like I’ll need every week of it.

For information on our gites, just yards from this lovely forest click here.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Pagnol Country

Santons by Daniel Scaturro
With Christmas coming up I think of Santons, those little characters you see all over France these days forming crèches or window displays, in shops and houses. Whilst they have kind of taken over the whole of the country, they are in fact from Provence and traditionally were made of the inside of a loaf of bread, squished between your fingers and rolled and prodded into shape, left to dry and then painted. The traditional Christmas characters are depicted but actually in the olden days it was more likely to be the butcher, baker and candlestick maker whose images were reproduced. Just looking at them and looking at the traditional Provencal scene created in the photo I found on the internet (from a blog of a Santon maker takes me back to our last holiday in Pagnol country.

Inside the church, then and now
I love Marcel Pagnol’s books, they are very easy to read, the stories are excellent and the images he invokes are so vivid. He was born and brought up in the heart of Provence, just north of Marseille and the sights and smells of Provence ooze out of almost every word he wrote. I have always thought of him as a novelist, but interestingly Pagnol was a film maker first. He didn’t write my favourite novels (Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources) until ten years after he had made the films of them, even though the most famous filmings of these books nowadays, are the Claude Berri versions made in the late 80s.

When we were in Provence in September, we decided to go on a Jean de Florette hunt. As this was a spur of the moment decision, sitting on a warm terrace, watching the sun go down behind the hills of the Luberon, we didn’t have time to do too much research. Out came the laptop and I put Google to work. The next day we were off to see the church and the fountain which were just down the road, the other locations were too far for a day trip.

Outside the church then and now 
Interestingly the inside and outside of the church are not in the same village, in fact the two churches are not anything like the same shape, which is rather bizarre. The inside is in Ansouis a lovely, attractive village perched over the planes and the outside is in a village called Vaugines, a rather boring but traditional village in the hills. When I saw the inside of the church, I had no sensation of being anywhere special, just another Provencal church and not a very nice one at that, but as soon as I saw the outside of the church in Vaugines it was obvious where we were, we were with César and Delphine as she told him the secret that had been kept from all those years. Who can ever forget that scene in the film as César’s world comes tumbling down round his ears as he finds out that his revengeful and narcissistic actions have destroyed the one thing that he always wanted. As I walked up to the front of that church, I was there.

The fountain then and now?
The other place I wanted to visit was the village square with its fountain, which according to Google was also in Vaugines. However, when I saw the fountain I was a bit surprised, it didn’t remind me of the film at all, the fountain had become horribly overgrown with moss and didn’t seem to be either the same shape or have the same number of spouts as I remembered, even the square didn’t look right, but I took the photo anyway, to show I had been there.

On arriving home, we watched the films again and sure enough the village didn’t look the slightest bit like Vaugines, mainly I suppose because it wasn’t Vaugines at all, it was a village just down the road from there called Mirabeau. Oh dear, looks like we will have to back to Provence again to get that fountain picture and while I’m there I will have to stock up on some Santons for next year’s Christmas display.
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