Saturday, 19 July 2014

July 14th

July the 14th is a national holiday and it is always a busy day. The party tends to start on the evening of the 13th with fireworks and goes on into the next day. This year, our evening of the 13th was marked not by fireworks but by a different and very special event. I actually watched a football match, or more amazingly, Cees actually watched a football match. It wasn’t the most exciting World Cup final ever, but it was worth it for one glorious moment. No, not the goal that Germany scored, even though I wanted them to beat Argentina, it was the shots they showed of Christ the Redeemer seemingly holding on to the setting sun. Absolutely stunning.

July 14th itself started off early, with us doing our shift on the entry of the Cormatin Brocante de Qualité. We were stationed at the new back gate, that lead up from the car park. We sat there doing nothing for the first hour and a half and then the first few people trickled in from the car park. I am glad we didn’t have too many entries because all, bar one nice French couple, felt the need to make a sarcastic remark about how far they had had to walk - all off 100 meters poor loves. I was glad when we were replaced. The final score was a record 1,300 entries but I do hope for our replacements’ sake they didn’t have such a grumpy bunch !

We then went on to the July 14th wreath laying with a twist this year - no music. Monsieur P announced before we started, that he was proposing the we should sing the Marseillaise. A number of people looked a bit panicked, but to his word, when we arrived at the war memorial Monsieur P stood firm and said we would all sing. If we didn’t know the words we should just mouth something! I wasn’t sure if that remark was aimed at the kids or us foreigners.

I started off well:

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Then I was on tricky ground and so decided to pretend, I managed to pick it up again at

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

The Mayor looked very pleased with all our efforts and said that that must be a first for Cormatin, but I know for a fact that Monsieur P had done it at least one time before, when he was a young teenager. He and his friends were even arrested by the Germans for doing it, so bravo for reintroducing a real version of a very stirring National Anthem. I’ll definitely have to practise before the next session on November 11th.

After a quick lunch we headed off for a day out to see some Romanesque buildings that have been closed on our last attempts to visit them. One of those was the museum of the Priory in Charolles and this time we managed to get in. As we had only gone to see the inside of the building, I was a bit disappointed by what we could actually see until we went into the temporary exhibition of sculptures by René Davoine.

The first sculpture I saw a beautiful young girl and something about it reminded me of the image I had seen the evening before. The second large piece was of Christ also giving off the same vibes. Having been carved in 1932, the similarity could not have been a coincidence. Both were very serene and quite mesmerising and the trip was worth it just for that.

To comeplete our holiday, we had a celebratory BBQ of chicken tikka and freshly picked salade. La vie est belle!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Culinary Trail

On Sunday we went on the culinary walk in Ladoix-Serrigny. It is an annual event and about 3 – 4 thousand people take part each year. There are six food and drink stations, aperitif, starter, fish course, main course, cheese, and dessert. Not only do you receive your meal elements when you arrive at each station, but you have the choice of a number of the excellent wines from the area. In Burgundy, I think this area must have the most Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels of land, so you can imagine the wine is quite superb.

The grapes were damaged in the last storm we had
In the last week, we have had some spectacular thunderstorms and lots of rain and the weather for Sunday was predicted to be rain all day with more thunderstorms in the afternoon - just what you need when you are walking through the vineyards. Although the total length of the walk is only about 5 kilometres, as you meander through the vines, you are very exposed to the elements and even the feeding stations are only partly covered.

Heading off and the sun comes out
The bus left - in the rain - at 11 o’clock and we arrived - in the rain - in time for our start time of ten to one. As we waited for our hats, wine glasses and cards (which would give us access to the food and wine en-route) it drizzled and I had a sinking feeling about the whole walk.

As we headed off into the vines, the sun peaked out from behind a cloud, then the clouds parted and who would have believed it, we had a glorious day walking though the vines and sampling the wine and food along the way. The weather could not have been better for us, not too hot, a gentle breeze, clear blue sky and sun. It was if it had been laid on to order.

Eating bouef bourgignon in the sun

After the coffee post, we moved to the dancing area and then the heavens opened for those much promised thunderstorms. It poured with rain all the way home and as we gazed out through the dripping windows, we all realised just how lucky we had been.

For information on holiday accommodation where you can find some truly superb wine click here.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

End of Term

The kids doing their form
The summer holidays have arrived and our Tai Chi lessons have stopped for the year. But you can’t stop without a bit of a party can you?

So last Friday we had just that. Everyone brought a plate of something good to eat and we set up a picnic in the playground of an old school in the centre of Cluny, right next to the park.

Fortunately the weather was good and so each group was able to demonstrate what they had been learning over the last year. The Tai Chi Chen style group was so diminished for that evening that only one person was doing the demo, but what a demo it was. She did an amazing job.

Baton form, fan form and five animals
The little ones did a surprisingly complex Chen style form, and they are all only about 8 or 9 years old.

The two groups of Qigong demonstrated the five animals and the eight pieces of brocade and then it was on to the bulk of us, the Tai Chi Yang style groups.
The third years did the KungFu fan dance which is a very impressive form developed for the Bejing Olympics, they then joined us second years for a traditional baton form and then all three years did the 24 Beijing form together.

Sadly there are no photos of the 24 form as the two photographers of the evening (Cees and Nathalie) were both taking part. I am trying to lay my hands on some photos, so if anyone out there has any, send them to me please and I will publish an update. Considering that the three years rarely meet and train together, I think we managed an impressive show.

Watch out when Sabrina gets going
To popular demand, our teacher then did a demonstration of a sword form - dangerous lady our Sabrina!

After working up an appetite, we tucked into the delicacies that everyone had brought with them. The guacamole was to die for, I don’t know who made it, but bravo.

So it is onwards and upwards and we are all looking forward to next year’s challenge whatever that might be.

Anyone interested in starting TaiChi or Qigong in the autumn, just click here for the Spirale d’Or website.

For anyone interested in holiday accommodation where we occasionally practice in the front garden click here.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Artistic Invasion

La Consolation des Tempêtes amongst the flowers
It has always amazed me just how many different types of artists and craftsmen and women there are in this region. Saône-et-Loire has the highest number of registered "artisans d'arts" in the whole of France. There are over 100 just in the small area around here and there are more and more coming all the time.

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen the opening of the Comptoir des Artistes, in Cormatin as well as the the long awaited opening of a new pottery, also in Cormatin High Street. Besides those two, a portrait painter and his pottery illustrating partner have just opened their studio, right here in Chazelle.

Comptoir des Artistes, Cormatin
The Comptoir des Artistes is owned by Martine Borzycki a contemporary artist who has opened her doors to our all time favourite sculptor, Monique Dégluaire. I have one of her sculptures - La Consolation des Tempêtes - in my front garden and I just adore the way she creates such peaceful faces on all her pieces. Hopefully being just opposite the Chateau, she will get even more exposure for her fantastic work. The shop is well stocked with a good selection of both Monique and Martine's works but to see Monique's larger works, you still need to visit her home in Bessuge, Chapaize where she has started doing modelling courses for those budding sculptors out there.

New pottery, Cormatin
The pottery in the high street is a very nice addition to our community. We have watched as the window to his studio gradually filled up with interesting things. Tall sculpted vases and dangling bird houses have been appearing, temptingly over the winter months and finally in the last week or so, he opened the doors of his shop next door. It is well worth having a good snuffle through the things on display in his shop.

Famous local artist
We missed the opening of the studio in Chazelle because we went to a concert in Cluny, so sorry Patrick the superb quartet of brass from Paris who opened the Grandes Heures de Cluny festival in the quadrangle of the abbey, won out on that occasion. His studio is open most weekends or by appointment.

But the one artistic event we did not miss, was the exhibition held in la Salle Claude Beun where only the very best artists in town were allowed to show their works.

For holiday accommodation in the middle of an artistic artisan paradise click here.

Friday, 20 June 2014

In the heat of the day

Guitar festival - starts Sunday
It has been really hot the last couple of weeks, making us rather lazy, but it is getting so close to the start of the guitar festival, that today we had no other choice but to finally go out and put flyers through letter boxes.

The concerts this year look as interesting and as varied as usual, starting with a violin and a lute on Sunday. The Italian flute players are returning again to play, we have a Mexican guitar player, a Dutch trio of oboes and guitar and the festival ends with a group of Ukranian Banduras.  Not bad for a small town festival.

Delivering flyers
We got up early this morning, to try and get things done before the sun was too high and we managed four villages before we ran out of flyers and had to put a temporary stop on our work.

One of the last houses we delivered to was the “pyramid” in La Bergerie. This house is notorious for its statues of Horus with blood red eyes that scared one of the neighbours’ children and prompted the building of a horrible concrete wall round the whole property!

Contemporary art
The gate to the property has had a sign saying “Exposition espace d’art contemporain” on it for a couple of years now, but the gate has been firmly shut. When we passed today the gate was open and we were able to snap a picture of the contemporary art they have on display. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about it.

After the second load of flyers arrived this afternoon, we were able to continue and finish Chazelle in time for the first concert this Sunday.

Café Liegeois at Les Blés d'Ors Cormatin
Well after all that work, you deserve a treat don’t you?

For information on holiday accommodation near an excellent guitar festival in Burgundy click here.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

A cat’s life can be tough

Trying to get some shut-eye
I often envy our cat, all she does all day is snooze when the mood takes her, go for a little walk if she fancies, run around chasing things and generally doing things she thinks are fun. She eats when she likes, from the food that is always available and she get cuddles on demand.

But the last couple of weeks I have really felt sorry for her. We have redstarts nesting in our vide.

Safe in their nest
Now what could be yummier for a little cat than fresh chicks from a nest? Fortunately for the chicks, the nests are well out of Fifi’s reach, but this is where my empathy with my poor cat comes in.

Anyone who has had any dealings with redstarts will know what a heck of a noise they make. Tick, tick, tick, tick loudly and endlessly, on and on they go. The noise is to divert your attention away from the chicks, but what these stupid birds don’t realise is that all this constant ticking alerts everyone else to the fact that there is a redstart nest nearby.

Poor little Fifi is being driven potty. She has found the nest but can’t get at them and is constantly reminded of that fact. The blasted zooming backward and forward and loud ticks drive me insane when I am just carrying plants or garden tools in and out of the vide, what it must be like for a little cat who is trying to snooze in her basket and ignore the fact that a nice snack is just out of her reach.

Daddy keeps watch while....
.....Mummy brings home the dinner
So here are some photos of the offenders and the quiet little chicks. Hopefully they will fly the nest soon and our garden will go back to the quiet place it once was where people and cats can snooze undisturbed.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The chateau at Berzé-le-Châtel ravaged by fire.

There is a quite superb mediaeval chateau in Berzé-le-Châtel, you can see if for miles around and it is the last landmark I see as the train nears Mâcon TGV station on my trips back from the UK, the definitive sign that I am almost home. Imagine my horror when I saw in the paper that there had been a huge fire on Thursday night that had completely destroyed the Burgundian style roof.

The fire brigades from as far away as Charolles (40km) and Le Creusot (70km) had attended. Just looking at the photos, that I have taken from Le Jourmal de Sâone-et-Loire website, you can see what a huge fire it was.

The chateau is not open to the public as people live in it, but you can have a guided tour of the grounds, the ramparts and the chapel. To be honest it is one of the most interesting tours I have taken of a chateau, the guide explains the defences of such an imposing construction, how the different walls, moats, gates and twisted internal passages combine to make such an edifice almost impenetrable.

During the weekend, I managed to talk Cees into going to see what was left of the castle. We set off into a thunder storm, which seemed quite appropriate considering the sombre mission. We neared the castle and could just make out its form through the driving rain. We parked and waited for the rain to pass and to our surprise we saw the castle in all its glory! No charred ruin at all.

Maybe the paper had exaggerated the extent of the damage. We headed off round the other side of the hill to see the roofs from a different angle. Still no sign of the damage. It had only been three days since the fire, there was no way that they had managed to repair the roof. So we headed up the hill to the castle entrance and we saw tourists with their umbrellas up touring the ramparts, but no sign of even the remains of a bonfire.

Considerabley confused we headed home and paused for one last photo, which seemed to show that part of the roof had recently been replaced. That must be it, after all it is an historical monument, maybe the National Architect had managed to come out and get someone in quick to construct a temporary (but very good looking) roof over the damage to prevent further deterioration of the building.

On arriving home, all was revealed. We re-read the newspaper article and we now realise that there are two chateaux in Berzé-le-Châtel, the mediaeval one and one that is a wine chateau. And guess what? Yes, you are right, it was the wine chateau that had the fire. No less upsetting for the owners of course, but at least “my” chateau was still in one piece even if I hadn’t believed with my own eyes!

For more information on the beautiful castle in Berzé-le-Châtel clck here or for details of our gites nearby, click here

Friday, 9 May 2014

Famous in Paris

Back in March we had a long weekend in Paris. We have visited so many times, you wouldn’t think that we could see anything new, but this weekend gave us a number of firsts.

The first, first was to be greeted by a sign, when we entered the metro system, announcing that public transport was free for the whole weekend. On the one hand great for our purse, but on the other hand not so good for my asthma, the reason for the free transport was due to very high levels of pollution.

When we arrived at the flat we had rented in Montmartre we went up to the Scare Coeur, just look at that beautiful blue sky – what pollution? Then look the other way over Paris and can you actually see the Eiffel Tower through the smog?

After seeing some tremendous art and just enjoying the wonders of Paris, soaking up the atmosphere, our last morning was to be spent in a TV studio being part of the audience of the only programme we actually watch on TV - “Questions Pour un Champion”.

The outside of the studio was not as glamorous as I had envisaged it in my mind and the studio was a lot smaller than I had expected, but it was exciting none the less.

So why a blog now about a trip to Paris in March? Well yesterday and today the programmes were/are on the TV. At last, time has caught up with us and just to prove that Cees was there, here is a screen shot of yesterday’s quiz. I've added an arrow in case you don't recognise him. Of course I am just off screen, almost on TV yet again… I’ll get there one day!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Camping is good for you – it’s official

Beautiful sunset at La Tuilerie
The camping season has started here at La Tuilerie. Our first campers of the season turned up last weekend and pitched up for the week. The fact that many people come back year after year does not really surprise me because as any real camper knows, camping is good for you.  After a week in the open air, enjoying all that nature has to offer you, you feel just fantastic and you are set up to face anything that real life can throw at you.

Snoopy's got it right
Whilst that is of course my theory, I have now had it confirmed.  I was browsing the BBC website the other day and came across an article that stated just what I say - camping is good for you.

Apparently if you spend a week camping, you reset your body clock by setting your melatonin levels straight again. This will of course bring you enormous, untold health benefits.

So get your tents out and start planning your next holiday on our lovely campsite !

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Gone crazy ? Here’s how to solve your problems.

X marks the spot..
On one of our Romanesque church hunts, we came across an unusual feature in the church of St Germain en Brionnais. We found a débeurdinoir.

So what is one of these things anyway?

Well I’ll be honest, this is not our first visit to this church. The first time we saw the notice announcing the débeurdinoir, we didn’t know what to make of it. The second visit we went searching for the blooming thing and couldn’t find it and on this, our nth visit (where n is greater than or equal to 4) I gave it a go.

The débeurdinoir
The story of the débeurdinoir dates back to the legend of Saint Menoux. He was a chappy who fell ill and died, but what happened after his body was put into a sarcophagus is what created this wonderful contraption. His servant was a bit loopy and decided to cut a hole in the side of the sarcophagus to see his master one last time. He put his head into the hole and he was cured of his craziness.

All of this happened not so far from here in a village called Saint Menoux - named after the aforementioned saint. His followers set up a priory in St Germain en Brionnais and brought the idea with them. They built a stone sarcophagus-like structure and put a hole in its side to cure the locals of their madnesses. The local patois for beast or demon is beurdin, hence the name of the contraption being a débeurdinoir a de-demoner.

I'm cured!!
So there we were, one sunny morning and I decided to give it a go. I put my head inside the débeurdinoir and I am now officially sane.

If you want to be cured too, beware, there are only two of these devices in the whole world and one of them is near our gîtes, so book early for your insanity cure!

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!
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