Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter in Taizé

Well it’s that time of year again when Taizé fills up to over capacity. For the 9,000 young people who will officially be staying in Taizé over the two weeks of Easter, there have been some interesting things going on. The Holy week started with an unusual Palm Sunday service down at Saint Stephen’s spring. With the congregation holding their sprigs of green surrounding the brothers, it had an air of the druids’ spring solstice even though the message was clearly Christian.

Holy week culminated this morning with the Easter Eucharist. The size of the crowd for this service frightens me, the church is packed to over capacity and the brothers tip-toe through the crowds parading the huge lit Paschal candle, so I stayed at home and imagined the scene from the safety of my garden.

This year the crowds were so large I could hear the singing while I was outside hanging up the washing and then the bells rang out and I could hear, in my mind, the shouts and cheers as “Christ is risen” would have been spoken in too many languages to count. A joyous day on this beautifully sunny Easter morning.

Happy Easter to everyone!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Fame and fortune

Monday evening we were invited to the opening of a photo exhibition of Romanesque churches and the first exhibition of the season at Buxy Office de Tourisme. We had a look at the lovely photos and generally chatted to those there, waiting for the speeches and the obligatory glass of wine and nibbles to celebrate the event. But on this occasion, we were not just there for the free glass of wine, we came to see the launching of a book.

This particular book give architectural details of the 19 Romanesque churches in and around Buxy. “But why is this such an important book?” you might ask. Well I’ll tell you.

A few months ago Cees received an email asking if he would be willing to allow some of his photos to be published in a tourist guide. He was of course thrilled to agree and sent off all the relevant photos that he had. The problem that the writer was having, was that one of the churches to be in the book was under internal restoration and so photos could not be taken. But snap-happy Cees had of course captured the relevant church in enormous detail before the scaffolding went up and so he saved the day!

Cees' name in print
One of the perks of this inaugural evening was to receive a copy of the aforementioned book, with Cees’ name in it. So when you go an buy your copy at Buxy Tourist Information Office, flip to Saint Martin du Tartre and admire the internal church photos taken by our resident photographer. Sadly he is not receiving any royalties, just the honour and prestige of seeing his name in print, but if you would like any commissions done, just drop us an email, his rates are very reasonable.

For holiday accommodation near Buxy and some wonderful churches click here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Picnic Weather

Picnic in the woods
We have had such beautiful weather these last few weeks, what else can you do than to go out for endless picnics? And while your on a picnic mission, why not visit a few Romanesque churches on your way? Our latest picnic turned out to be a voyage of discovery.

The source St Thibault
We had heard that there was a chapel near a source called St Thibault, not far from a village called La Chapel-au-Mans. The internet revealed no more information and no pictures, so we were on our own. First we headed for the village in the hope that someone might know where the chapel was. No one in sight.

Up the hill to the chapel
What is it about French villages, they are relatively well inhabited (you can tell that by the open shutters and locally registered cars) but you rarely see anyone, even at the weekend. After scouring the notice boards at the church in case there was a clue there, we were just heading out of town and we saw a notice board with information on local walks and low and behold there was our chapel. It was several kilometres away and we had a long day ahead of us, combined with the “fact” that navigator said he knew what road it was on, so we headed off by car.

Romanesque cheapel, worth the search
Many kilometres further and a random left hand turn landed us in a housing estate (thanks navigator) but at least we saw a person! I zipped out quickly to ask where this chapel might be to be greeted with the reply “Oh goodness, that’s nowhere near here”. I’d figured that one out for myself, but I smiled and asked if she could give me instructions. She seemed hesitant but then she started at speed. It seemed to go like this, you go right here, and keep turning right. The road goes up and down, then you go right again, then the road goes up and down, then you turn right at the house with the well, then the road goes up and down, then you get to the end by a lake and it’s on your right. With all the right hand turns and the ups and downs, I wasn’t at all confident that she either knew where it was or that we would find it. Off we went, turning right and going up and down through some lovely countryside for many kilometres and just when I was about to give up and knock on a farmhouse door, there it was!

Well worth the detour. The climb and the picnic were worth it too.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Secrets of the Taizé Pottery

Taizé pottery
I love Taizé pottery, the simplicity of the designs and the beautiful colours of their glazes. I have one of their oil lamps and I drink my wine out of a pottery beaker I was given, which is in my favourite of their glazes “Bleu”.

Last weekend, Taizé held an open weekend to show their workshops to the public. We were there straight after the Sunday morning service, champing at the bit to see all the inner workings of the brothers’ studios.

How to make a bowl, Taizé style
So how do you make pottery? Well you get hold of some clay and you model it, you dry it to make “biscuit”, then you glaze it, then you fire it and you have a plate a bowl or a cup depending what you wanted to make in the first place. Simple right? Well I was really surprised at the lengths they go to, to make their pottery. They don’t start with a lump of clay at all, they start with earth, they mix it with various other types of earth and water to make the clay.

Dip the bowl in a glaze
Depending on what they are making, they then chomp it up into bits and using various machines (the one in the photo is one of the more manual ones, they did have slightly more automated ones) they turn out plates, bowls saucers, cups, beakers, depending on the day’s production order.

These are dried then dipped in the day’s glaze and the fired in one of the two kilns.

The glazes are mixed by hand in small quantities made from various ashes, iron oxide, cobalt oxide but one of the prettiest is Omnia, which is made up of leftovers!

Half a jug - cut open so we could see how it worked
The real surprise for me was the jugs and other small delicate items. How do you make a jug? I assumed it would be thrown on a wheel and made that way, but no, the jugs are moulded. Very running clay (ie liquid) is poured into a mould until it is full, left to stand for 20 minutes and the runny stuff is poured back into the liquid clay vat. The mould is made of plaster and so absorbs water fast, so there is a layer of clay that is “stuck” to the mould. Once that dries, a perfect jug emerges. Now isn’t that clever!

Next time I’m in the shops, I will certainly look at their offerings with different eyes.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

How do you prove who you are, when you are not who they think you are?

Just call me Rose
When we registered to vote in French local elections about 10 years ago, I didn’t put in too much thought about the consequences of my actions. The French (and the Dutch for that matter) have an obsession with only using maiden names for women. They do not realise that a woman in England can legally and forever change her name and that, that maiden name no longer exists, has no legal value and is non-traceable.

When I was young and first registering in The Netherlands I entered into endless arguments with officials about my name and at the end of the day, they did understand, not everyone addressed me by the name Nixon, but enough to keep me happy and all important official paperwork was in that name. When I arrived in France I was a lot older and more chilled out and took the approach, I couldn’t care less what you call me, I’ll answer to it anyway. It did not occur to me that I might have actually created a rod for my own back by not being argumentative.

For the first time, voters in small communes (less than 1000 people) were having to show identification when they went to place their votes. After waiting with excitement for polling day to arrive, it dawned on me yesterday, how do you show identification for a name that is not legally yours? So this morning when preparing for our election visit, out came the Big Folder, the one with all our paperwork, births, deaths, marriages and my cycling proficiency certificates and I proceeded to construct a legal paper trail to show that I was in fact not who they thought I was, but I am in fact, me.

Wrong Nixon
Armed with all this stuff and two passports with the name Nixon in them, off I went to vote. Our non-French national voting cards caused a bit of confusion, but they were stamped by the Mayor himself, so they were accepted and then on to attempt the vote itself. I popped into the voting booth and put the list I wanted to win in my blue envelop and then went to be crossed off the list to enable me to put my envelope into the ballot box.

Deep breath. Kiss, kiss from the Mayor who then went to the foreigners’ list. I took out my passport and started with “It’s a bit complicated”, to be met with “Oh don’t bother with that, I know who you are. Is that you?” pointing to a name he had never heard me use before. I agreed it was me and signed with the name Nixon and the deed was done. Oh how I love our little town.

On leaving the town hall we went to buy this morning’s paper and in it we found, that at the last minute the requirement for identification had been scrapped for small communes, because in small rural towns many old people don’t have any identification papers anyway. So despite all my worries, I was off the hook this time.

The next election will probably be next week, when we get to have the final fight for power in our little part of the world. But I think I am going to have to have that difficult discussion with the Town Hall one day soon and get my name changed to Nixon. I don’t want any more sleepless nights like last night!

Sunday, 9 March 2014


Lovely bunch of daffodils, BTW he didn't pick
them, he only posed for me!
It’s that time of year again when wild daffodils spring up in the forests and people turn out in their hundreds to pick them. I can’t bring myself to do it, it is so against everything I was brought up to do, to respect nature and not to pick wild flowers, it is even illegal in England, so quite why it can be done here, I don’t know. But it is done and people in their hundreds come to pick flowers in their thousands and the social clubs for miles around vie for a good place near a parking area on the edge of a forest to sell drinks and food to the punters.

Keep those waffles coming ladies
Friends of ours were manning just such a stall today, so off we went to watch the event from close up.

After eating a gauffre (French waffle) and drinking a glass of wine, we went on our way and being such a lovely day we decided to go for a drive.

At the Tourist Office annual general meeting a week or so ago, we heard what had been done this year with the tourist tax which we collect every year from people who stay in the gîtes or on the campsite. The Merovingien cemetery at Curtil-sous-Burnand, one of this year’s beneficiaries, was not far from where we were looking at the daffodils, so our little expedition was to see how some of that tax money had been spent.

Curtil-sous-Burnand Merovingian graves
The signage at the Merovingien cemetery has been updated and I was very impressed with what they have done. The new signs clearly show how the cemetery is laid out in relation to the hill you are on and the road you have driven on to get there and there is also some very interesting information about that time period and what the archaeologists found when they dug up the site. So well done to all of you who have contributed with this tax and well done to our local group of town councils for upgrading this site.

For information on holiday accommodation near Curtil-sous-Burnand click here.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Getting old ? Me ?

A third of our delivery, being supervised by Fifi
I still have a good head of dark hair, I have kept my youthful good looks (not too many wrinkles) and when I do a Facebook test it says I am only 19 years old, so it has come as a bit of a shock to me to realise that I am not as young as I once was. So what has happened? I hear you say. Well this last week has happened actually and two events that have dented my faith in my everlasting youth.

Firstly the annual load of wood arrived. It took us seven hours to shift all the logs into their stack and I have an aching back, shoulders, hands, knees etc etc etc to prove it. About halfway through Cees decided we should get gas central heating, but we both agreed it wouldn’t be so much fun!

My first selfy
So there we were, wheel barrow in hand shifting the best part of ten tonnes of logs that will take us through another year. As the picture shows, not all the residents of La Tuilerie were helping, one of them decided that as she is not allowed into the house to enjoy the log fire, she would just loll around and supervise, even that got too exhausting after a while.

In focus this time - mastering new technology!
The second event was a new telephone. I have been dreading the day that I would be dragged into the 21st century and get a phone that does more than just make calls, this one takes photos too, sends smses and connects to the internet. Wow.... I used to love gadgets, but I am beginning to dread them. It took me the best part of a day to get to be able to telephone my Dutch mobile (the sole reason for getting this contraption) and the only SMS I could send was HI as it has pre-programmed things that I can’t fathom. I took my first selfy and isn’t it very, ummm, out of focus, I even had to put my glasses on to find the photo button. And as for internet access, I have given up.

So all in all a week to realise that I am getting older than I was, I can’t shift wood all day without consequences and as for mobile phones let’s not go there………

For information about holiday accommodation near a big wood pile click here.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Village Politics

For or against mulled wine?
Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with local gossip about who has fallen out with whom. I am not going to go into why we no longer have a village gallette des rois at Epiphany - suffice to say not everyone agrees you can drink mulled wine it and it certainly can’t be eaten in the open air.... I am not even going to go into why we no longer have a proper village party at the end of the summer.... No I am talking about REAL politics. The type you go to a polling station for to put your cross on a ballot paper. Election fever is gripping our small community, even uniting the mulled wine and anti-mulled wine factions and creating two new groups, the “for” and the “against” our current mayor. In March (the 23rd to be precise) we will be going to the polls to elect a new town council.

Who's on the ballot paper?
Elections in France work differently to any system I have seen before. As a commune of over 500 people (only just mind you) we have to have 15 town councillors. But you can’t just get your name on the ballot paper by registering and letting the masses say if they want you as an individual or not – definitely not - you have to be part of a “list”. So the current mayor has set up his list of 15 people and on polling day, we will be asked if we accept the list or not. That means that if someone wants to stand against him, they have to come up with a different list of 15 people who want to run the council. In a community the size of ours, trying to find 30 people who want to run for council is a tall order, in fact finding 15 is difficult enough, after all this is a thankless task and only the ultimately elected mayor and his/her deputy will get a small monthly payment - the rest do it for free.

So you can imagine that election day tends to be a bit boring, you go to the polls and you generally vote for the only group available. There is however, another little French twist to add a bit of spice to the occasion. Even if there is just one list, you can always scrub off the names you don’t like and replace them with someone you would prefer and if enough people do that, coming up with the same set of scrubbees and additions, the finally elected 15 could in theory be changed.

Well this year big moves are afoot. It looks like there may be a second list. Furtive meetings are being held in front rooms all around the commune, telephones are buzzing, swapping names of those in the pro- and anti-mayor camps and it looks like we may actually have a real election. The mayor’s list has been published and I don’t know when the others have to go public with their list, but they are running close to the wire I think, so we are all on tenterhooks.

Our future council members?

I hope we do have a real election, it will silence the whingers and moaners from both camps and give us a council that is seen to have the majority vote, so that they can get on and do their work rather than fighting off criticism. So good luck to all the candidates and may the best man (or woman) win. You never know, next year we may even have mulled wine.

For information on holiday accommodation near this hotbed of politics click here.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Burgundian Wave

After last week’s blog, I have had a number of questions about the caption to the photo of Cees. What is the Burgundian wave and why did you take a photo of Cees not quite doing it?

Well the Burgundian wave (Ban bourguignon in French) is done as a sign of appreciation during most, if not all, events round here. For example “let’s do a Burgundian wave for the organisers” - everyone stands up and we do it. “Let’s do a Burgundian wave for the caterers” - so we all stand up and do it again. “Let’s do the Burgundian wave for… well who the heck cares let’s do it anyway” - so we all stand up and do it yet again. It is probably one of the silliest things I have been talked into joining in with in my life, but it is great fun.

So what is it? First a bit of history. Legend has it that it originated in a café called Le Marais in Dijon in about 1900 and whilst it fell out of fashion during the war, it re-emerged with greater strength all around the region in about 1945. It is described as a song/action which consists of 5 notes, 2 onomatopoeias and 9 hand claps. It involves raising your hands to either side of your head and wiggling them back and forth whilst singing the song to a cute little tune, then you have to clap nine time in groups of three claps, wave again, clap again and at the end of our the local version, you raise your right hand and shout “hoy”.

I managed to find a website which actually gives the lyrics, so you can study these and learn them to join in with the video.

La la la la lalalalalère
Lalala Lalala lalala lalalala
La la la la lalalalalère
Lalala Lalala lalala

So altogether now….. just click and join in the fun…

Back to Cees’ photo last week. Cees is not a great one for things like this and so he manages to get away with not joining in most times, but last Sunday he did. I just missed him wiggling his hands, he’d already moved on to the clap, but it was an event worth recording for posterity. I hope you agree.

Monday, 3 February 2014

A Sunny Day at Last.

St Vincent parade in Malay
Sunday lived up to its name this week and actually brought us some sun, which made the St Vincent parade all the more pleasurable. It wasn’t too cold to go and watch and was as colourful as ever. The whole of the village of Malay was cut off for the parade, so we ended up parking on the main road and walking the last kilometre or so to the main square. Malay has only 220 inhabitants, so the parade was small, but very vocal as they all sang “Proud to be a Burgundian” as they walked from the town hall to the church.

We headed home to change for lunch, forfeiting our chance to go to mass - the hunters’ horns blasting during the service don’t do your eardrums any good!

Looks like shadow to me..
When we got home I realised that whilst it was lovely to see the sun after months of grey cloud and rain, it was in fact 2nd February – Groundhog day. Groundhogs aren’t native to this part of the world and so we have always relied on our trusty cat to tell us the weather for the coming months. And oh dear, it looks like there’s a shadow on this photo, let’s hope Fifi didn’t notice it.

Off we went to lunch - programmed to start at 13.15. The lunch is always late, but if we had known we’d start at 15.00, I think we might have had a snack before we left. It was well worth the wait though.

Pâté en croûte volaille, foie gras – divine
Cassolette d’escargots aux champignons des bois – I’m told was superb, I have never plucked up the courage to try snails, I’m not sure if I might be allergic or not, so I just watched as mouths around me drooled.
Trou Bourgignon – blackcurrant sorbet with the local fire water poured over it – burns a nice hole in all the food that’s already gone down, making way for the main course.
Filet of goose, with Maxime potatoes and Provencal tomatoes – my first taste of goose and I was not disappointed, lots of complaints from my neighbour about the colour (it shouldn’t have been so dark apparently) but no complaints on the taste and definitely no complaints from me.
Plate of cheeses - brie, goats’ cheese and St Agur – truly yummy
Tiny desserts – chocolate mousse on a feather light sponge base, a mini mille feuilles and a little cherry tart – what can I say?

Cees almost caught doing the Burgundian wave
Now it wouldn’t be a celebration of the patron saint of viticulturists if there wasn’t a stunning array of wine. Sadly just tasters for me as I was driving. Yet again, we started with OK wine and moved up to superb, not a concept we understand. By the second glass I am not sure many people can tell the difference. I was one of the few I think who really appreciated the Domaine de l'Echauguette with the cheese, I wish I could have had some more of that one. Crément and coffee finished it all off.

We were invited to the home of some friends for pancakes, as the 2nd February is also Candlemas - pancake day in France. How anybody could have squeezed another crumb into their mouths after that lunch I do not know, so we politely declined the offer and waddled to our car just as the dancing started at about 19.00.

Another successful Burgundian lunch, I’m looking forward to next year already.

For information on gites to rent not far from Malay in Burgundy click here.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday Opening and Tourist Towns

Cluny - worth a detour
I can remember the debate about Sunday opening, when I lived in the UK, more than 25 years ago. But the battle, to keep Sunday special in England, has long been lost and sadly every High Street is now open. The Dutch held out longer and they went to Sunday opening in the last year or so, but here in France, the debate is just starting.

The current law (dating from 1906) states that a weekly day of rest must be given to employees and that day shall be a Sunday. There are exceptions to this law, one is for establishments that “are essential to life”. Hospitals are an obvious example of this category, but food shops creep in, as well as hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and interestingly tobacconists. Another exception is for establishments in a designated tourist zone.

Chateau de Cormatin, most visited tourist site in Saône-et-Loire
In the lead up to Christmas, the big department stores in Paris wanted to open every Sunday to cash in on the Christmas rush, but apparently the Boulevard de Haussmann is not classified as being in a tourist area. However, they and the DIY stores around Paris cocked a snook at the government and defied the ban by opening anyway. A wonderful French solution was been found to this problem. Rather than confront these establishments, DIY shops have been included (rather dubiously in my opinion) into the category of shops that are "essential for life" and the Boulevard de Haussmann has been granted opening status by declaring it a “tourist site”.

All of this has raised some interesting debate in the newspapers, but particularly interetsing is that we now know the official list of tourist sites in our own corner of the world.

Paray-le-Monial, not even mentioned
If you were to choose only 5 tourist towns in our département (Saône-et-Loire), which ones would you choose? Well Cluny is an obvious one for starters and that is in fact the case - Cluny is on the list. Being rather parochial, I’d go for Cormatin, we do after all have the site the most visited in the whole département – the chateau. And yes! We make it into the hallowed five. Tournus gets in there and with it’s Abbey church I can see why, but then the list gets a little confusing for me. The last two communes are Dompierre-les-Ormes and Montceau-les-Mines. Umm interesting choices. What about Autun, with its cobbled streets and stunning cathedral? What about Mont Beuvray with Bibract? What about Paray-le-Monial, Anzy-le-Duc, Semur-en-Brionnais? I could go on.

Dompierre-les-Ormes, worth a visit?
I must be missing something. What do these two privileged towns have that the others don’t? Well Dompierre-les-Ormes has a wood museum and an arboretum, but it must surely have more to offer than that to get such glorified status. We went there this week to find out and I took some photos. Does this look like a town that is going to attract a multitude of tourists? And as for Montceau-les-Mines, that is not even worth wasting my time by taking a photo.

But what does this mean for the tourists? Does Cluny open up in all its glory? If you are a Sunday opening fan you will be disappointed - the vast majority of the shopkeepers would prefer to stay at home with their families. Here in Cormatin, you can always find the wine merchant, the jeweller and the arts and crafts centre open, but on the other hand Tournus always seems pretty shut to me on a Sunday and whether the pharmacy in Dompierres-les-Ormes will bother to open, I very much doubt.

What are all those avid Sunday shoppers going to do? Chalon and Mâcon are not on the list, consequently they should be shut on the day of rest, so it looks like everyone will have to go to Montceau-les-Mines. Montceau-les-Mines has therefore become a tourist attraction as the only large town for miles around that has its shops open on a Sunday. That must be why it is on the list!

Montceau-les-Mines - one of the top tourist sites in Burgundy ummm...

For information about holiday accommodation in an official tourist town, that's actually worth the visit click here.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

January Stupor

What a mover!
What is it about the first week of January? I always feel lethargic and not up to doing much, hence my two week blog silence, we’ve done plenty, but I just haven’t got round to writing about it. Don’t worry I won’t bore everyone with all that we have done, suffice to say we had a lovely Christmas with my mum, brother and his family, then new year with some French friends - lots of good wine and good food on both occasions of course.

I have finally started to wake up this week, buoyed up by the arrival of my very first Tai Chi suit, all the way from China via Italy - long story let’s not go there. I was so excited I had to pose in it didn’t I? What a picture.

This morning I went up to my first service in Taizé for quite a long time. The local parish was having its weekly mass in the main church, so I thought I would go along and see how it went. The brothers had sensibly put benches down the left-hand side of the church, these were full as were the steps and the usually benches on the right, so it was a very good turnout. The floor was mostly covered, but with space to move - unlike the summer months which can get very claustrophobic in the crowds. It was a pity though that the parishioners hadn’t been given a few tips in advance, very few on my side of the church had the song book or the song sheets, which left them sitting in the sidelines as spectators rather than participants.

Taizé  songs with verses
So how was it different from a normal Sunday morning service? We actually had some songs which had verses, unheard of in the usual Taizé repertoire. As they were rather Christmassy, they may have been used for the Christmas services which will also attract a number of locals I think and this way, it gives the service a little more familiarity to non-regulars. Another move away from the norm was that we were treated to organ playing as we arrived as opposed to the usual taped music. I have not heard the organ played that much so it was an interesting experience. The organ was built to be quiet, which it is by church organ standards, but I felt that the higher notes lacked something. By taking the power out of the instrument, it has lost that glorious organ effect, it wasn’t so noticeable on the lower notes, but it left the higher ones a bit shrill.

As anyone who has been to a service will know, the majority of the brothers leave at one point, but you can stay as long as you like, accompanied by a few remaining brothers who will sing along, as long as anyone remains. As usual I left just after the main bulk of the brothers, but the vast majority of the congregation remained sitting, probably wondering what was going to happen next. It made leaving the car park very easy!

Finally, for those waiting with bated breath about that chap who was lurking around the church a couple of weeks ago. It turns out he was one of wise men, phew, I was a bit worried he might be trying to steal the chicken feed. So here is one final photo (taken last week) and we will now have to wait another year to see the crèche again.

Happy new year to everyone!

For information on the gites we rent out, very near Taizé, click here.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Someone's lurking round the corner

The stable is getting busier by the day.
The Taizé nativity scene is a source of fun and intrigue at this time of year. Even though I’ve been photographing it now for a few years, I can’t get enough of it. I promise myself every year, I will not bore you all with how it pans out, but well…

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, this year’s theme is Mexico. As with previous years, if you go on a Sunday you will see some live farm animals. But this year, the sheep and chickens are there all week, it is only the donkey who does just the Sunday shift. So with animals in the places where the main characters in the story normally go, everyone is crowding into the stable in Acapulco.

Who's lurking there?
Mary and Joseph started out alone. First of all, they were joined by some minstrels and this week some multi-coloured sheep turned up along with a cut-out donkey and ox and a little Mary icon next to the “real” thing. But there is one chap I cannot place, he is lurking around the corner, where they keep the chicken feed. I’m not referring to the chap in red, that’s Cees talking to the chickens.

So who is he and what is he doing there? All will be revealed soon I am sure. I’ll let you know.

For information on accommodation near to Taizé's nativity scene click here.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Fog, freezing weather and fancy food.

View of Chazelle with haw frost
The slight thaw last weekend didn’t last. Fog set in on Monday and stayed with us all week. From what we have been hearing on the news, France had been bathed in sunshine, except for the Saône valley – who says we don’t have a micro-climate? We had a few minutes of fog free time on Wednesday morning which was when Cees managed to take this beautiful photo, the sun didn’t stay long, but the haw frost did.

Unfortunately it has been a busy week for being out and about and the freezing conditions have made all journeys very long and tedious.

Fromage blanc with herbs
Tuesday I had to go to a meeting in Verdun-sur-le-Doubs for the Office de Tourisme, which is a good hour and half away at the best of times, but with visibility down to less than 100 meters it was painfully slow, not helped by tractors and road works as well. After the meeting I had culinary treat in a nearby restaurant. Between the main course and dessert, you are normally offered fromage blanc (similar to quark or fromage frais) or a selection of “dry” cheeses. The fromage blanc is served with salt and pepper or sugar depending on your personal preference which I normally reject in favour of the dry cheeses. But this time, the choice extended to herbs as well and so I chose that. When it arrive it was also decked with minced shallots as well as the selection of fine herbes I had been expecting and it was absolutely delicious, I will definitely be trying that again.

How to block the traffic
The journey home was as tedious as the journey there with one added bonus. Small businessmen decided to block the main roundabout leading into Chalon which added yet another hour to the journey. The French have a national obsession with disruptive protests, if it’s not the farmers, it’s the lorry drivers or someone else, you name them and they will block roads, drive slowly or just generally cause chaos. I must say the police didn’t help matters as they turned up in large numbers and proceeded block a lane on the roundabout as well with all their cars and bikes. Anyway, it meant I was given a flyer, with some truly lovely French rhetoric on it. Apparantly all small businesses are being executed by the fiscal policies in place at the moment, haven’t noticed it myself, but hey I’m a Northern European. I love them really, I just wish they wouldn’t block roads I want to travel on!

The week ended with a scary drive into St Gengoux for the end of year dinner with the Office de Tourisme at La Jouvance, a restaurant which changed hands in the summer. Very good food and certainly worth the trip.

For information on our holiday accommodation that is usually basked in sun click here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

St Nicholas comes to Burgundy

Wine tasting with no wine
Two bank holiday fall conveniently around St Nicholas in Spain, which meant the Cees’ son was able to join us for the weekend. Hearing this, his daughter hopped on a plane too and so our first St Nicholas in Burgundy came to be. For those who don’t know, St Nicholas comes from Spain (just like Cees’ son) in a steam boat (not like Cees’ son who cheated and opted for Iberia Airlines instead) and he gives presents on the eve of his birthday, to all the boys and girls who have been good during the year. As an adult you write poems to go with the presents you give, including funny or embarrassing stories you have been able to amass over the previous year. Great fun for all the family.

Both of Cees’ children were landing at Lyon airport within a few minutes of each other on the Friday and so we decided to spend the day in town and watch the festival of lights in the evening. The predicted heavy rain started at the same time we arrived at the airport and so we aborted mission and went for a Chinese meal in Mâcon instead!

Raku pottery, Genouilly
Saturday we were out and about, first the Téléthon in Cormatin (mulled wine before lunch - very decadent) and on to the market and lunch. In the afternoon we attempted to go for a wine tasting. To be honest, we only went to see the chapel the wine tasting was going to be in, we weren’t interested in the wine at all, which as it turns out was a good thing. When we tried to see the chapel in the summer we were rather rudely told to go away, they only let people in for wine tastings - not exactly customer friendly. On this occasion, things were open and we went into the chapel, we could have swiped a dozen or so bottles, because we waited a good 15 minutes for someone to spot we were there and talk to us about their illusive wines. After taking all the photos we wanted to, we left, disappointed in both the winery and chapel, neither had been worth the visit.

Then on to a raku pottery exhibition in Genouilly. The pottery was absolutely lovely, some very original figures had been created using this Japanese technique. Finally a visit to the spice sellers in St Martin du Tartre and a quick look at the church in the village, which is being restored and the day had been well spent.

Mary and Josheph being serenaded
After a lovely evening sharing poems and presents, we had a very slow start on Sunday. By the afternoon we were in need of some fresh air and what better way to get some than to walk up to Taizé to look at the pottery there and check out the ever expanding nativity scene - some Mexican minstrels have joined Mary and Joseph.

All in all a busy and enjoyable weekend, roll on the next St Nicholas!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Rare Birds

Taizé nativity with a Mayan touch
The first Sunday in advent in Taizé is a must visit.  It is great to see what they have come up with for their yearly nativity scene, that develops over the advent period. This year the theme is Mexico and the Mayan culture, to make the link with the Mexico meeting at the beginning of January. The traditional sheep and donkey were there after the service along with tea and pain d’epice (ginger cake).

Chickens installed for Christmas
This year’s novelty was an enclosed area full of chickens and considering the way they have been penned in and the fact that there is a heat lamp above their coop, I think they might be there until Christmas, rather than just for the day like the other animals.

After buying some last minute Christmas cards, we headed off into Cormatin where a group of local artists and artisans called Les Oiseaux Rares were opening their “nests” to the public, by exhibiting their work.

Pascale poses with her rare bird!
My absolutely all time favourite sculptor Monique Degluaire was showing her works in the shop of La Galadrielle who make quite superb jewellery. Pascale Ponsard had opened her workshop, giving exhibition space to Jean-Louis Choffel’s stunning paintings and was selling her lovely hand-painted silk scarves as well. We visited Iris Griot for the first time and saw her intriguing double sided earrings and necklaces, quite an original idea and finally the new portrait artist who lives in Chazelle, Patrick Ballériaud, was touting his trade in the Wooden gypsy caravans which have all sorts of interesting games and music making things in them, which have been parked outside the church for the weekend.

All in all, a very interesting morning of visiting different types birds in their nests.

For holiday accommodation just down the road from Taizé and a stone's throw from some marvellous artisans click here.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Winter has arrived – or has it ?

Snow on leaves
We heard that snow was on its way this week, but even so it was a surprise to wake on Wednesday morning to see the world covered in white. The leaves still haven’t dropped from the trees in the forest, which made for big problems. The heavy snowfall weighed down on the leaves and many branches have broken under the weight, taking electrical cables with them. We had a few mini-power cuts (5 minutes or less) but not everyone was so lucky. Large chunks of Cluny and the surrounding villages were out for most of the day and when we spoke to our fruit seller in the market on Saturday morning, he said that Trivy (a village not so far away that has a very good jazz festival in the summer) was still cut off!

The snow fell for four nights running, big thick layers of it, which has now all melted, swelling the river running through the village almost to breaking point and leaving huge puddles in our already waterlogged garden. With such wet conditions we have had some thick fog as well the other morning. In any case it has given us a lot to chat (moan) to the neighbours about and a whole new set of proverbs and sayings to learn.

Here are just two of them:

Brouillard en Novembre, l'hiver sera tender - Fog in November and the winter will be gentle

Quand il neige sur les feuilles, l'hiver a avorté. – When it snows on leaves, the winter is aborted.

Winter rations
So good news all round - a warm non-existent winter. We’ll see - I’m not taking any chances though, I have made a huge batch of thick Dutch pea soup to keep us going for a while.

For information on holiday accommodation in Burgundy, where it doesn’t snow in the summer click here.

Monday, 18 November 2013

It’s official - I’m famous

Screen dump of the moment
The day has at last arrived. It is now official. I am famous.

Back in the summer, in Cluny, we saw a blue blob drive by on top of a car and now, a picture of me looking over my shoulder saying “what was that?” has been recorded for posterity and can be viewed by millions around the globe.

Just go on to Street View and there you’ll find us, standing outside the bookshop next to our favourite restaurant La Petite Auberge, just before 12 o’clock when they weren’t quite open and we didn’t want to lose “our” table to those two tourists also lurking close by.

Here we are again - this time an action shot
After lunch we walked back to our car and were caught on camera again, this time in the Rue Porte de Paris.

What more can I say?

Signed copies are available at very reasonable rates!

For information on holday accommodation near Cluny who's streets have been made famous by our appearance on Street View click here.
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