Saturday, 14 November 2015

The whole town is one great big party

Prize Limousin bull
It’s that time of year again, Cluny’s big street party, the day we celebrate the feast of St Martin. There is a competition for the best cow/bull/cart horse with and without foals, displays of all types of farm animals, pigs, chickens and sheep and an array of shiny new tractors and unfathomably complicated farming equipment.

Then there is the real reason that the good citizens of Cluny come every year, there is a street market the whole way down the high street selling tat from all four corners of the planet but, more importantly, also selling some of the best food and wine to be found on this terrestrial globe.

Carthorse and her foal taken through their paces
I was interested to read in the paper that this particular market had been going since the 12th century, one of the few markets that has stood the test of time.  I am not sure they would have been selling Peruvian hats and dream-catchers back then, but the display of animals would have been the same.

Most years, it is the last warm Saturday of the year and an opportunity for us all to get out and about after the tourists have gone home and have the town to ourselves. This year the temperatures soared to 24 degrees which is very unusual, but welcome none-the-less.  It is one last chance to charge up our vitamin D levels to carry us through the winter which will probably be with us in less than a week.

The animal market, in amongst the houses

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A not-so-obscure African duo

Toumani & Sidiki Diabate from
Last night we went to a concert of African music in Chalon. Not expecting much from an obscure pair of players we were rather surprised at the number of people in the audience. Unbeknown to us, these guys – father and son Toumani & Sidiki Diabate from Mali- are very famous.

When the music started, I was surprised how like a celtic harp it sounded, not the African sound I am used to. The music was mesmerising and as the evening wore on I was quite blown away by the cross between early jazz rhythm and Gallic music that they created. I can’t describe it any better than that. I have found a video from Glastonbury 2014 (I told you they were famous) where they are playing if you are interested in hearing what it is all about.

Beautiful kora from
The instruments they were playing were koras. Father (Toumani) took time out to explain the instrument and how it is played. It is half a calabash covered in antelope skin, the strings used to be made of antelope skin as well, but nowadays they use fishing line instead. The tuning pegs have also been modernised and now they are built using harp/guitar technology. He didn’t say how many strings he had, but internet sources suggest that there are 21 or 25 strings. Only four digits are used to play the instrument, the thumb and index finger of each hand. The left thumb plays the base rhythm, the right thumb plays a basic tune (a bit like guitar scale plucking) and the two index fingers are used - in his words - to “improvise”.

There is no written music, the tunes and playing skills are passed down from father to son and their family, in particular, can be traced back for 71 generations, in the case of Toumani and so 72 generations for Sidiki, all kora players - quite some family tradition.

Intricate finger work - from the BBC video
In true French style every man and his dog was thanked just before the last number even the “village chief of Chalon-sur-Saône” got a thank you, although I am not sure they would have thanked him if they had known of his political views.

Their final piece was entitled Lampedusa, a haunting melody that they had written lest we forget the continuing tragedy of all the people who have drowned off that coast.

It was an enchanting evening and one I would certainly repeat if they came to somewhere near here again.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Mushroom hunting

It’s that time of year again - wild mushroom time. The forest just outside our courtyard gate beckons.

Everyone we meet at this time of year talks about all the lovely mushrooms they collect from our forest, we have seen friends leaving the forest with baskets full, but we’ve never found any and to be honest as we don’t know an Agaricus bisporus from a Champignon de Paris we would be in danger of picking the wrong ones and poisoning ourselves - so we leave it to the natives.

The other day we saw our friend Francette collecting specimens at the entry to our forest so we stopped for a chat. She is a member of the Cluny mycological association and she was collecting things to be displayed in Cluny that weekend. On Friday we went to see the exhibition and asked specifically to see “our” mushrooms. So here is proof that our forest contains some very delicious specimens indeed.

"Our" Cèpes and "our" Girolles

So what edible mushrooms do we have?

Telling the difference between the right ones and
the wrong ones is not always obvious
Boletus edulis - Porcino – the French Cèpe; Cantharellus cibarius - chanterelle – the French Girolle; Hydnum repandum - Hedgehog mushroom – the French Pied-de-mouton and Craterellus cornucopioides - Horn of plenty – the French Trompette de la mort. Those are just the ones I saw at the exhibition - there may be others as well.

Having said that, telling the difference between the poisonous ones that look just like the edible ones is not something I  and willing to risk doing.

Safe Girolles
So when I went mushroom picking with Hélène yesterday, I let her have all the goodies we found. I actually found her a lovely cèpe which of course I didn’t think to take a photo of – my first wild mushroom find!

As she left in her car she gave a cheery wave and said that she hoped she would see me again, but you never know what might happen as she was going to eat the “cèpe” for her tea - I hope she’s OK, I haven't heard from her today.

I myself will be sticking to what the supermarket has on offer.

For holiday accommodation just to or three meters from a forest full of wild mushrooms click here.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sunday afternoon amongst the vines

Mile after mile of vines
Autumn is certainly here now, the nights are chilly (but still not freezing) and the leaves are beginning to turn. We have to light the fire every evening to keep warm, but during the day it is mostly off. The last giters of the season have just gone home and so we are settling into a different season, a different rhythm, a different lifestyle.

Being an autumn baby, I like this season with its vibrant colours. I have often thought I would like to go back to Canada at this time of year and relive the colours I saw as a small child, but I have never got round to it and now I live here I don’t have to go that far to see autumn in all its glory.

Still on the vine, beautiful and sweet
Whilst driving home from a meeting in Buxy on Tuesday, I passed through the vineyards and saw that such a show of colour is not exclusive to the Canadian maple, we have our own version here. The extensive vineyards between us and Buxy do a pretty good attempt at a stunning autumn colour display. The vine leaves were starting to turn yellow and some were turning red, as far as the eye could see, neat rows of red, green and yellow.

This lonely chap was discarded on a pile of
uprooted vine stocks
So this afternoon I decided to get out and see what display of colour I could capture.

As we drove along the main road towards Buxy it seemed that the vines were not going to cooperate with me. There was lots of yellow, but the reds I had seen on Tuesday were hiding. I managed to capture a few images, but I will be trying again next week to see if I can find a more photogenic display.

It doesn’t really matter about the lack of photos though, it was a lovely, sunny afternoon to be out and about enjoying autumn.

For information of our holidays homes to rent near some beautiful vineyards click here.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Long cold night

The moon was hiding - I had to settle for stars
When I heard back in March that we were going to be able to see a total eclipse of the moon in September, I started to plan. Although this event is not so rare, I have only ever seen a quarter eclipse, looking through the front window of my house in Benthuizen. This time I was determined to see the full blood moon and as the months passed, the thought crossed my mind that I might be able to snap a photo of it as well.

As the day approached, I was practising more and more with night photography and started to understand what was required to photograph the moon and an eclipse. The moon moves very fast, but it is very bright so it is relatively easy to photograph and still get some detail, but an eclipse is different, the moon is dark and needs long exposures which will cause blur, so you have to find the right balance. I could only practise so much, in reality I only had one chance at this.

And we're off
While setting up my final practise run, I waited and waited for the moon to creep above the trees in the forest, but it never came.  I decided to do some star trails instead. My conclusion from this was that when the moon was being eclipsed, it most probably would be behind the trees in the forest or below the horizon created by hill where Taizé is, so I had to find another photo location. I found a spot on the hill at St Roch, not too far from home and tarmaced so the tripod would be steady and I wouldn’t get wet feet. Then I just had to keep my fingers crossed it would be a clear sky.

The alarm went off at 02.30 and I got up to see a beautiful clear sky, the photo shoot was on. I expected to find lots of people on the hill, but I was alone apart from a camper van which, if it had any people in it, never showed any sign of life.

The camera set up, I started focussing at about 3am. The focus kept altering which was either due to the temperature drop for the camera or my inexperience or nervousness. In the end I had one last try and decided that was it - it was either OK or it wasn’t. By this time the eclipse was underway and the light was fading. Every shot needed adjusted settings to get the details on the moon clear and by the time the blood moon appeared I was punch drunk from all the changes I was making.

Blood moon over Cormatin
The blood moon appeared at about a quarter to 5 by which time I was tired and wanted to go home. I had done what I had set out to do, but I had no way of knowing if it had been a success. So, tired and cold, I took the camera off the tripod and started packing up my gear. It was only when I went to walk back up the short slope to get the tripod itself that I realised I couldn’t feel my feet.

Finally home at 05.15 and disaster struck, I couldn’t find the house keys. Cees, being on the deaf side, would probably not hear me knocking or telephoning, but more to the point I didn’t want my keys lying around somewhere. I prepared to set back off to St Roch to find them, but did one last search of my (rather too copious) handbag and out they popped, that was 15 minutes in the cold I could have done without.

Before I went to bed I just had to look at the photos to confirm or not whether I had one good shot out of the roughly 200 I had taken and I was stunned to see it had worked!

In the morning after I sorted out a sequence of the moons, I had a little regret that I hadn’t stayed for another two hours to get the full show back to full moon, but as it took until lunch time for me to be able to feel my feet properly again, it was only a slight regret.

I’m glad I did it, I’m proud of the photos, but this is a one off.
The full show

For information about holiday accommodation where the next total eclipse of the moon is July 27/28 2018 click here

Saturday, 26 September 2015

25th September

The war memorial in Cormatin
We popped into the village of Cormatin on Friday to get a newspaper and noticed that the war memorial had flags on it. These flags only come out on special occasions, they are not there all the time otherwise someone would probably pinch them. So what was the occasion? It certainly wasn’t one of our wreath-laying days, the last one was 14th July and the next one is 11th November.

Names of those killed from our village, engraved on the memorial
A knowledgeable friend was coming out of the baker’s shop next to the church, kiss, kiss and a little chat. Then I asked why the flags were out. She couldn’t tell me, her solution was to go and ask at the town hall - they would know. Well I have had many confusing conversations at the town hall about just such subjects and as it was such a beautiful day, I didn’t want to spoil my or their mood by getting the whole staff into a confused mess.

The flags are out
Back home and after quite a bit of Googling I came across a government site that gave a list of all days of commemoration in France and how they could/should be honoured. and the 25th September was there.

The 25th September is the day of remembrance for the “Harkis” and other auxiliaries. That didn’t get me a lot further, but at least it was a start.

Googling further I found out that the Harkis were Algerian volunteers who aided the French forces in the Algerian war of independence. Obviously these people were considered as traitors and not heroes by their nationalist brothers and when independence came in 1962, it was felt that they should be protected in some way. Instead of repatriating them to France (which was officially and actively blocked) they were specifically mentioned in the treaty of independence and they were protected by law from persecution. That must have been reassuring for them…..

A hummingbird hawk moth feeds on the beautiful flowers
About 90,000 of them managed to get to France, but most did not and there are estimates of up to 150,000 of them being killed in reprisals after independence. It took until Jaques Chirac was president (somewhere between 1995 and 2007) for the Harkis to be recognised and a day to be dedicated to these French people who are "Français par le sang versé" - "French by spilled blood”. But they are not really assimilated into French society, also they are not allowed to return to their native country, they are floating in a social no-man’s land and even though they have their own day, no one here seems to know anything abut it. Only the guy who has control of the flags knows. Not much of a recognition for so many who gave their lives for France, is it?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Guitares en Cormatinois

Chazelle church - the concert venue
The concert season is well and truly over and now is the time to look back, reflect on the concerts we worked so hard to get up and running, try and learn from what happened this year to make next year’s series a success. To that end, we have just had our end of season meeting and dinner at the president of our association’s house.

During the series of concerts I rather despaired at the lack of audience numbers for the better concerts. Jérémy Jouve was absolutely magnificent, but he played to a house half full. Franceries Sound Connection (strange name) was the same story, excellent quality, but not many people to enjoy it. The two other concerts were not as inspiring to my taste, but still well worth the ticket price at only 15 Euros, again few takers.

Jérémy Jouve - a real talent
Then we had the last concert. It was a band called Irish Kind Of (where do the French get these names from?) and this one was more than a sell-out, it was a pack them in, squeeze them in, use Japanese rush-hour pushers, then leave the doors open so they can breath, kind of concert. The church is full when we have 120 people in it, but for this concert we managed to squeeze in 145. I have heard better Irish bands to be honest, but the audience was thrilled and to be fair that concert saved the whole series. The financial figures, presented at the meeting, showed that because of that one concert we had not made a loss, which is quite an achievement in this day and age of reduced subsidies and less money in the common man’s pocket.

Franceries Sound Connection - an excellent concert
So our association and concert series lives to see another year and after last year’s losses of 2.5 thousand Euros, I was not convinced that 2016 would see any concerts at all.

But here is the conundrum: We are an association that is dedicated to bringing a concert series of quality guitar music to the local public, but the really excellent guitar concerts had virtually no takers and the one concert that performed music that is currently in vogue, was a sell-out. For me that is disappointing to say the least. Should we go back to filling the series with more popular music and be just like anyone else, bend with the current trends or should be stick with quality and have it reach just a handful of people?

The public arrive - selling tickets
Last night we had a long discussion on just this subject and we have come up with a compromise. Thankfully we are going to stick with quality, but also have some obvious crowd-pullers to fill the coffers. Listening to the CDs of the potential performers for next year, I think the balance will be good. Now we will have to wait and see if any of them is willing to come to our small festival for a price we can afford.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Listening to Radical Nuns

Nuns on the bus
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I went to see Sister Simone give her talk “A Nun on a bus” in Taizé. The organisation of which she is a part (Network) had been pilloried by the Catholic bishops in the US, what on earth had they done that was so terrible?

Network is a group (mainly nuns) that lobby government on issues facing the poorer elements of society. For instance, those people in America who cannot afford any healthcare, those who live at the margins of society. Amongst other things, Network believe that they should have access to healthcare. Now that is shocking isn’t it? Just imagine how radical it is, in one of the richest societies in the world, to dare to suggest that everyone should benefit from such a basic need. Network promoted the signing of a letter addressed to congress supporting the Obama healthcare bill. Very radical indeed.

The nuns themselves - very radical looking!
To me what is really shocking in this story is that the Catholic bishops in America opposed the bill! How can anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but particularly the church itself, oppose helping the poorer elements of society and then accuse those who do, of going against the church’s teaching? If we are gracious we could say that the bishops were badly advised, but none-the-less, they made Nework's life a misery and Network were censured by the Vatican in 2012, something that has only recently been rescinded by Pope Francis.

This must have been an enormous emotional weight to carry and many would have shut up and hidden away, but these nuns regrouped and fought through. As Simone so eloquently said, they could not and did not fight against the injustice, because fighting against something will only reinforce it, you have to fight for a vision that you have. Instead of being intimidated by the media attention that all this row provoked, they used that attention to get their own vision seen and heard. To that end these nuns got on a bus and toured the US giving their message, hearing the stories of the people they met on the way and bringing those stories back to congress to reinforce their battle against the injustice of the poor. Their vision – care for those who are left out and to deliberately misquote a phrase I grew up with – they wanted to “mend the gap” in America, enable everyone to live with dignity in a wealthy society. Simple and clear.

Mind and mend that gap
We were invited to split into small groups to discuss way that politics, faith and the needs of people that struggle intersect, what happens to the marginalised in our countries, what should happen and what can or could we, the church and politicians do to help. We had English, German, French and Dutch people in our group and there was some lively discussion about what actually goes on and whilst we came to no conclusions, we all agreed that everyone could and should do more.

At the end of the afternoon, Simone summed up her experiences and I was impressed with the way that she and her collaborators were able to shrug their hurt, heartache and injustice off. But at the end of the day, to them, it was nothing compared to the injustice inflicted daily on those they were dedicated to helping.

How many could do that?

For more information about the work that the nuns on the bus do click here.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Return to School

Cormatin school
There is a very French phenomenon called “La Rentrée” – literally translated as “the return to school” but it means so much more than that. It marks the end of summer and summer life and back to the grindstone and for us back into winter mode.

But with all the talk of the rentrée I started thinking about how different schools are in France and in England. No uniforms, academic subjects on only fours days week just to mention a couple of  things, but passing the school a few days ago I saw on the school notice board what must be the biggest cultural difference.

School is all about preparing you for life and part of that preparation is cultural and what is more ingrained in French culture than food?

UK's idea of a balanced meal for kids
Everything centres around food. No decent meeting or gathering of any nature is complete without some good food and for the adults a glass of wine. Yet as I look around I don’t see a nation of overweight adults and that is because they learn from a young age to eat correctly and appreciate good food. Check out UK school dinners, these days kids can stuff themselves with burgers and chips every day and when they get home they are fed factory-made ready meals, this is no preparation for life as a food connoisseur.

French school dinners
So let’s look at the offerings for the coming weeks at Cormatin’s infant and Junior school. The menus are designed by a dietician to give a balanced diet but more importantly they include all the elements of a “proper” meal, a starter, meat or fish, vegetables (which includes rice, potatoes and pasta in the French definition), cheese and dessert. No wine, but they are only 5 years old!

These kids will be well prepared for their lives as little French citizens, not only will they learn to read and write, but they will learn to eat properly as well.

Maybe the UK could learn a thing or two from this approach, teach them young and they will take it with them through life.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Theatre in Cormatin

New theatre show for Cormatin?
We used to have a theatre festival in Cormatin “Les Rendez-vous de Cormatin” which took place every year in the chateau grounds in July and August. Sadly the theatre company went bankrupt and whilst they have been saved from complete collapse, they are no longer allowed by their financial monitors to take on such large projects. Sadly that is the end of that.

Every year in January, we receive the “Bulletin de Cormatin” a little booklet issued by the town hall telling us of the most important events coming up in the village that year and we were really excited to read that a theatre festival was planned! This came a as a real surprise to the committee of “Les Rendez-vous de Cormatin” who knew nothing about it. It took a little while to get to the bottom of this mystery, but it transpired that a Le Monde journalist who has a (holiday) home in Cormatin was involved in the organisation of the festival. Why? When? How? Where? All still a mystery.

Things move slowly in our little community and even if rumours do move fast, we don’t get the hot off the press gossip as we are too far from the hustle and bustle of Cormatin city life. Details of the plans for the festival came slowly in our direction.

Finally in about June, when were sure the theatre festival had died a quiet death, we heard what was being organised. There were indeed to be theatre performances, but very small ones in people’s “homes”. There were many who thought this was a daft idea and lots of talk of “no one will want to host one of those”, “who’s going to go anyway” and as none of our contacts showed the least bit of interest we thought that that was the end of that.

Out of the blue, one of our neighbours asked if we would like to go to a performance in their house! I was thrilled to bits. We were to see one of these performances after all. On top of that it was free, all we had to do was take along some food and drink to share as a snack after the show.

The weather has been stunning this summer, but as the day of the show approached it appeared that it was going to rain, I did wonder if it would be called off. The evening before the show, we were sitting outside and we heard some operatic singing coming from Chazelle and applause. On no…. had we got the date wrong? A quick check confirmed the date. Maybe they had brought the performance forward one day and forgotten to tell us, or left a message on a mobile phone that is never switched on. All phones checked - no message.

What would you do?

The play was in the middle of the audience
The next day, I hovered over the phone wanting to phone the neighbour concerned, and yet not wanting to do it. Should we just turn up with food and drink that evening? After a lot of pondering, we plucked up the courage to go round and ask. We were greeted by our neighbour arranging chairs in his courtyard and a cheery “you’re 8 hours too early”. Phew. I clumsily explained why we were there and was told that another house in the village had had a performance the night before and we beat a hasty retreat to go and start on some samosas, my contribution for the evening.

The audience hanging on every word
The evening was a great success. It turned out that the writer(s), the director, the technicians and the actors were all in training and as part of their course they had to organise an event of this nature. They did it with gusto and imagination and it all went very well indeed, everyone there enjoyed themselves immensely. The evening ended with sampling the culinary offerings of the audience and chatting with the youngsters.

Who knows maybe there will be a repeat performance next year, it would be fun if there were.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

In search of Radical Nuns.

Map of Taizé
Sounds like a contradiction in terms doesn’t it? But it’s true, last week I went searching for radical nuns.

These last few weeks, Taizé has been very busy leading up to the major remembrance of Frère Roger’s death, 10 years ago. There has been a week of “reflection on the relevance of a religious or monastic vocation” and this last week has been a “gathering for a new solidarity”. I happen to know one of the speakers, Sister Simone, who is based in Washington DC. I wanted to hear her story; I wanted to hear how she and her organisation had been branded as “radicals” and almost called traitors of the Catholic church.

I went up to Taizé on Sunday to find out more about the week’s programme ands when and where she would be talking. It was heaving with people and the queue for the information centre was out the door and around the block. I left pretty quickly and checked out their website. It appeared that she was talking on Tuesday and Thursday and her talk was called “A nun on a bus”. Intriguing, but no more details than that.

On Monday I went back to see if more information was available and then I saw that “today’s workshops” were posted on the walls at strategic points, so all I had to do was to go back Tuesday morning. Her talk could be at 10.00 or 15.00 so I arrived well in time on Tuesday morning and found the lists for “today’s workshops” posted at strategic points telling me what the talks had been yesterday, not super useful but it was at least a start.

A Taizé kampong
Then I spotted a couple of people who seemed to have got their hands on a copy of “today’s workshop” for today! I asked the two Dutch ladies concerned if I could see their paper and they kindly explained that it was in English, if that wasn’t a problem for me, I could have it. I reassured them that I could read English and they gave it to me. And I could at last see that Sister Simone was to talk in tent/room T at 15.00.

I was off to a good start, all I had to do was to find tent/room T and I had plenty of time to do it. It wouldn’t be difficult because I was standing next to room S at the time, T couldn’t be far away. Well life isn’t that simple is it? Next to room S were rooms L, M and N. Moving towards the bell tower and I came across tents P and R. At that point I decided a visit to the information centre was in order, otherwise I would miss the talk altogether, after all it had taken me an hour to get this far and I only had 5 hours left.

The map on the wall of the information centre kindly told me where the church and car park were, but no T, not even an S for that matter. So off to Morada (the other information point) to ask. It was heaving with people. Finally I found a map on the wall there that showed where T was. Not too far from F (logical) at the far end of the site where the adult and family area is.

So off I went to find T. I took a wrong turn and ended up in one of Taizé’s kampong areas which in itself was worth the visit, but no T not even an F.

Empty and letterless
Back to the road and the next turn took me to F, just where the map had said it would be, so off in search of T. Finally I found a large letterless tent locked in a field with no access. OK maybe I had to access it through the adult campsite. Back up the road into the campsite and I could see the letterless tent, but still no access. Back down the road and then I read the notice on the locked gate, only open between 11 and 12 and 14 and 19. I went home just hoping that I had indeed found the right venue.

Back to Taizé at 2 o’clock and I walked down to the letterless tent. It looked sadly abandoned. There was however a nice young lady sitting under a tree reading a book, I asked her if this was tent T and she confirmed it was, strange that there were no other people or chairs, it didn’t look like any conference venue I’d ever seen before.

These must be them, it says so on their backs
Then I saw them approaching - the radical nuns on a bus. I just hoped that some other people would find the venue and turn up to listen to what they had to say.

That’s the cliff-hanger folks – you’ll have to wait for another blog to find out what happened next.

For information on holiday accommodation near a letterless tent that is indeed T click here.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

In search of hidden treasures

The path to the chapel with the woods on the background.
We have been known to go to some lengths to find remains of Romanesque churches and chapels but the chapel at Dracy-lès-Couches has proved to be a very difficult one to find.

We have been twice before to try and locate this little chapel, to no avail, mostly because the route to where we thought the chapel should be, was so wet that we just couldn’t go any further.

Is this a wall or just a pile of stone?
With the drought that we are now experiencing, we decided to give it one more go. To be more precise, I decided, I think Cees had given up on the idea of ever finding this one.

The last time we had been to the site, there was a sign up saying chapel 200m, where a path led into a field and a cluster of trees beyond. On this visit, the sign had been removed, but fortunately my memory for places is good enough to know which path we had to take. We walked to where we had last managed to get to which was a cross roads of foot paths in amongst the trees and dense undergrowth. We then we proceeded to walk down each of those paths. All to no avail. This chapel looked like it was going to remain on the never-to-be-found list.

A gravestone - we are on the right track.
A bit disheartened we headed back to the car through the woods when I saw something. It looked like a small wall, it could have been just a pile of stones, but a quick check on the sun’s position in the sky and I could tell this was an east-west pile of stones, perfect as a foundation row for the side of a church. Cees was not convinced and I think he wanted his picnic lunch which was long overdue, due to the amount of walking we had done. He didn’t follow me into the undergrowth.

Finally the apse is in view.
I followed the row of stones towards the east to see if they would curve off and become an apse or not. I had to divert a bit to avoid the undergrowth and then I literally stumbled over a gravestone. I was very excited and called Cees over, and we headed eastwards together, to see if there was an apse or not. Not far from the gravestone and there it was – the apse.

It pays to be persistent and have a good sense of direction. So we can now declare one little Romanesque chapel has been found and it has been marked on Cees’ map.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Landscape photography

First idea - not bad
When I had to make a landscape photo for my photography group challenge, I got on to the internet to find out how the experts say you do it. With landscapes, I am always disappointed with the results. They never turn out right; they never look as good on the photo as in reality.

So what makes a good landscape photo?

Everywhere you look on the internet, there are tips as to how to set out a good, interesting composition and then there is the number one tip on every website, you MUST take a landscape photo in the “golden hour”.

So what is the golden hour?

There are actually two in every day and they are the first and the last hour of sunlight. I have heard of the golden hour before and tried to use it, not too successfully, mostly because I really find getting out of bed that early very difficult. The last hour of the day I have been more successful with, but in general I have avoided this rule as being too restrictive. Rules are there to be broken aren’t they?

Second idea getting there - but still lacking something
But with landscapes apparently, you can’t take a decent photo outside of these hours and so armed with this information and all the other tips I went out to find a photo opportunity - not an easy task.

Eventually Cees suggested a vineyard we know which has a lovely cadole (an old stone building) in it. I took a few photos in the middle of the day to find the best angle and then to my dismay I realised that the evening sun would not work for this shot, this was a morning golden hour job.

The vineyard at dawn
On to the internet again to find a site that could calculate the morning golden hours. Adding driving time and setting up time, I needed to leave the house at 05.30. This is art of course, so you have to suffer for it. The next day promised to be clear, so up I was at 05.30. It was 14 degrees, but even so it felt chilly. I was on site in time and I waited for the sun to appear. I was so excited when the sun hit the copse of trees on the hill behind the cadole and at that moment it had all been worth it. However, no sooner had the sun hit the copse than a cloud came in front of the sun and it was gone. An hour is a long time to wait for the sun to come out again, particularly when it doesn’t. I went home at 07.15 and bought a consolatory croissant from the baker’s shop on the way.

Blast - that's as far as the sun goes at this time of day
Two days later and this time the weather forecast predicted sun all the way through H hour. Sure enough the sun lit up the copse and then slowly but surely slid its way down the hill towards the cadole. But then, what I had feared all along, actually came to pass. There is a blooming big tree between the sun and cadole at that time of day and the golden hour sun never lights up the thing. I left at 07.30, bought a baguette from the baker's shop on my way home and had bacon and eggs on it for breakfast.

I then looked through my mid-day sun photos and saw this lovely thing, against all the rules, this is a well lit and not washed out photo of a vineyard landscape.

Let's break the rules and use the mid-day sun

It will be a while before I get up at that sort of crazy hour again to make lousy photographs.  I have to admit though that the copse looks stunning in the early light, pity about the rest of the photo though. I think I am just not cut out to be a landscape photographer.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Citeaux – The Mother Church of the Cistercians

Senanque - a Cistercian monastery in Provence
We are very keen on church architecture, particularly Romanesque (Norman) churches and our first love has always been the Cistercian monasteries. Last year we yet again visited the beautiful trio in Provence and yet again vowed to visit the mother church, Citeaux, which is almost on our doorstep.

We have been to Citeaux more than once, the first time we failed to find anything except the shop selling the monks produce – honey, cheese etc. The second time we found the new church, which is worth a look, but not exactly old (built in 1998) and finally we discovered that you could visit some of the old buildings, but of course the day we went for a visit (last November) everything was shut and wouldn’t open for tours again until this summer.

Quote from the Abbot of Citeaux
Even when the monastery is open, organising a visit is not as simple as it may seem. You have to book in advance as numbers are restricted, so on to their website and try to make a reservation in French - it kept crashing out. Eventually I managed to make a reservation on the English website but that involved having a number of pages open at one time. For instance you have to say what time you would like to visit, but on the order form page, the times are not listed and you can’t just guess, as times are restricted as well. I won’t go on, it took me ages – enough said. I finally managed to complete the form for a guided tour and to see a film about the abbey. But nothing in the reservation system is automated, so you have to wait for an email from the abbey, to confirm that you have been added to the list for the required visit time. That confirmation arrived relatively promptly, within a day.

No good me being a monk, I'm not getting up that early
All that hassle forgotten, we went off to Citeaux, on the allotted day and at the allotted time, excited at last to be seeing the mother church. We knew there was nothing remaining of the original buildings, but we were hoping to understand a bit more about the Cistercian movement and its unique architecture. Our names were on the list, but only for the guided visit not for the film as well, which I only noticed after I had paid. After I queried this error, the nice lady on the till gave us different types of tickets, but didn’t charge us any more money, so I assume we got a bargain. At that stage I didn’t care enough to say anything.

The young girl doing the tour was incredibly nervous, but became more confident as we moved from one area to another. I noticed her eyes kept flicking towards one of the men in the tour and I suspected that she was actually being graded on her performance, hence the nervousness. I kept my eyes fixed on him and I notice the tell-tale sandals. At that point I was sure that this man was one of the brothers incognito. The fact that he kept shutting doors after us everywhere and kept an eye on the movements of all in our group made me more and more convinced that he was not a genuine tourist. So here is our mock tourist “casually” looking at the copies of illuminations displayed in the library.

Mystery tourist
So after all this wait and trouble was the visit worth it? Well yes and no. I am glad to say we have finally visited the mother church, but there wasn’t anything really to see and the tour itself was not at all scintillating, the photo exhibition in the waiting room, the “carvings” on slabs along the path leading to the start of the tour and the posters near the parking area were the best bit of the day. It was a missed opportunity in my opinion, no mention of the simpleness of the architectural style, no mention of the fact that the daughter churches were almost identical to each other, following strict rules of sobriety and layout. No real information of why the movement spread so far and wide and only a cursory mention of how they were actually a Benedictine breakaway movement.

Timetable of a monk's day
There is so much that could have been said that wasn’t and that has nothing to do with our young guide, she was genuinely following the set plan and she did a good job at that. I personally think that they should change the script to give a bit more of a background and history to the Cistercian movement, but maybe they thought that everyone who had come to visit actually knew what they were visiting and so they concentrated on descriptions of what the standing buildings are/were. In any case, I am sad to say that the tour itself was boring.

At the end of our tour, the mystery tourist admitted who he was and that this was the girl’s very first time doing a tour for real tourists, which despite the palpable nervousness at the beginning, she had completed very well indeed. Unfortunately, I won’t be recommending this visit to people who stay here.
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