Friday, 31 July 2009

Organ and Harp Recitals

La Tuilerie Website

There are a wealth Romanesque churches around here, you could spend days visiting them all. A middle-aged couple renting one of our gites two years ago, spent a full two weeks visiting churches and they hadn’t seen them all before they left. Chapaize Church with its exraordinary tower However, for me a church benefits from being put into “context”. Churches are places of worship and places of music and are best visited when one or other is taking place.

After the French Revolution Napolean took over ownership of all the churches. They say it was to remove the links between the church and the state, that logic is lost on me as it seems to increase those links, but who am I? I really think that it was to reduce the power of the church and strangle their financial hold over the community. Interestingly what that means today is that the church no longer has the financial burden of maintaining these ageing buildings but it also no longer has their exclusive use. These two facts combined mean that the local communities have to use the churches to provide income to maintain them. Very beneficial to the many visitors here, as the main use of these beautiful buildings is for concerts. In my humble opinion, there is no better acoustical venue than a church.

Brancion church overlooking the valley I’ve mentioned the “formal” concerts before in this blog and will undoubtedly mention them again when I go to another one, but there are other types of concerts here, the walk-in ones. Visiting a church when music is being played by a musician (as opposed to a tape recorder) adds so much to the atmosphere of the place.

Both Chapaize and Brancion have these walk-in concerts and although both churches are worth a visit in their own right live music adds just that little bit extra. Visitors are asked to make a small contribution which they are more likely to do under the watchful eye of the artist and so everyone is a winner!

Every Thursday afternoon in the summer from 17.00 to 18.00 there is an organ recital in the church at Chapaize. The organist Paul Chambers comes up with an interesting selection of organ pieces every year, which he has transcribed to fit the peculiarities of the organ in that church. Didier Kugel It is a very pleasant way to spend an hour or just wander round the church while he is playing, if you want to stop and listen, bring a cushion, the seats are murderous.

Most afternoons in the summer from 14.00 until 18.00 Didier Kugel plays the harp either alone or with a flute player or a violinist, in the church in Brancion. Some of the compositions are his own and some are traditional music, but all add a gentle atmosphere to these churches. His music fills the whole place and spills outside so that you can also enjoy his music when you are looking at the stunning views over the valley, it adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to a visit to Brancion.

For pictures of more churches in the area click here.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

To stay or not to stay - that is the question

La Tuilerie Website

The continuing story of the cats..

 We left that exciting story at the point that Poepie, our new lovely white cat with a black tail, had adopted us and had settled into life at La Tuilerie. She had discovered moles and was learning to stalk and catch them, not successful as yet, but she is only young. We have been feeding her, initially we rattled two cans together to attract her attention which worked very well but then we moved over to ringing a lovely Buddhist bell I bought at the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (Bright Hill temple) in Singapore.
Just a tiny ring on the bell would see her darting out from her current hiding or stalking place to come and be fed and have a cuddle. She had found a few different sleeping places dependant on the position of the sun and she was really settled, so we thought.

As suddenly as she had arrived, she disappeared. One morning we rang the bell and no Poepie; lunch-time, no Poepie; evening meal still no Poepie. The next morning no cat in sight so off we went direction Chazelle ringing the bell. We rang it all round the village and still no Poepie. When the campers started meowing when I rang the bell I decided it was time to admit defeat - she’s gone.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Cardinals and Archbishops

La Tuilerie Website

During the Sunday morning service at Taizé, all the visiting clergy sit at the front left of the Church of Reconciliation dressed in special white cassocks and they wear a cleric’s stole. A Cardinal wearing a calotteAt this time of year the stole is green which it is for most of the year. All the clergy wear the same outfits except for their head gear. Orthodox priests wear their traditional hats, not dissimilar to a mitre and Catholic Cardinals wear their red calotte (small cap). This morning in Taizé there were two cardinals which for some reason I always find rather exciting even though I am not a catholic myself.

If there is a Cardinal present he will normally be the one to open the service and to officiate at the blessing of the bread and wine. All the clergy at the front take part in the blessing process by standing with their hands outstretched but there are usually three clergy at the altar who do all the talking. Today the two Cardinals and Brother Alois were at the altar. The Cardinal who conducted most of the service was a Spanish guy with a very long bushy beard. When the second Cardinal (who was out of my view) took over, I heard a familiar voice. To my amazement it was Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. There is something very special about hearing an English voice officiate at a Taizé service, it happens so infrequently. Somehow I have managed to be at a service where Cardinal Murphy O’Connor has officiated for three years in a row now. I don’t go to a service anything like once a week so it is a really special coincidence as his visits are never made public in advance. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor and The Archbishop of Canterbury However, the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been announced, he is coming to Taizé from the 6th to the 9th of August. As the head of the Anglican church his visit is considered to be very prestigious to the Communauté. I have never heard him in a service so I will definitely be there on Sunday the 9th and hopefully he will conduct the service. As an Anglican, that will be for me a very special moment indeed.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


La Tuilerie Website

Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted a cat. I used to pester my mother something rotten, but to no avail, she didn’t like cats (even though Dad was crazy about them) and so no cat. As I got older I realised the responsibility that comes with ownership of animals. When I owned chickens in the UK, every time we wanted to stay away just for one night, we had to make arrangements for them to be looked after and holidays were a big problem. Recently, I have developed allergic reactions to cats, so I thought I would just have to give up on the idea. But I would still like to have an outdoor cat to keep the mole population on the campsite at bay, but where do you find such an animal?

Last year at the beginning of May, I heard some meowing in the lock-up we keep our bikes in.  As always with Cees being rather deaf, he said I was imagining things, but I was certain I heard something and so I kept looking. It was however another week or so before I saw a beautiful little kitten walking around on top of the lock-up. For several days I watched and I was convinced that there were more than one, but how many I didn’t know. The area is totally inaccessible for us, so we could just climb up and see what was going on. Gradually we realised that we had three kittens, being fed by their mother who went off every day returning to feed them. We went out and bought cat food and put that down for the mother, which she gobbled up every morning. However, we couldn’t get near any of the cats and so they grew up shy of people.

 I was thrilled to bits, at last a cat (or four to be precise!), no responsibility regarding days away or holidays (we bought an automatic feeder for those occasions) and none in the house to upset my asthma as they were real outdoor cats. Sadly though Mummy cat left for good one day in July and took the kittens with her trotting behind in a little row (see the photo). Funnily enough after two weeks the kittens came back, three stayed until mid-August when one disappeared, another disappeared at the end of September and the third one last ate from the food on Christmas Eve. Since then no cats. They must have found somewhere warmer to live or somewhere where they got better food.

 The other evening, we heard meowing again, just as some campers returned from a walk. They had been followed by a little cat. The cat is very friendly and immediately made herself at home in the shower block of the campsite. Where she comes from we don’t know, but she has adopted us. Since then we have been feeding her and playing with her, I hope she stays, I’ve missed having cats around.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Randonnée de Patrimoine

La Tuilerie Website

We’re on the map ! Well we always knew that in fact if you look at the IGN walking map of this area it clearly marks the location of La Tuilerie. We are also findable by GPS if you type in La Tuilerie for the road and Cormatin for the town, and you will end up in front of our gate. But that is not what I mean literally.

The local tourist information office organise walks from either St-Gengoux-le-National or Cormatin throughout the summer with different themes. The themes centre around the local architecture or nature and they are led by a guide who give information on the way. At or near then end of the walk there is a stop for a drink and a nibble. The walks last about 4 – 5 hours, but don’t cover much more than 5 kilometers, so there is plenty of stopping, looking, talking and time to enjoy the surroundings.

A couple of months ago, the tourist information office approached us to see if we would like to host the so called “vin d’amité” and we were delighted to show off La Tuilerie to a group of walkers. The wine, water, squash and buns arrived in the morning and the walkers duly arrived, almost on time, at half past four. We split the group of twenty walkers into two groups and I gave a guided tour. We do a tour for people who stay in the gites or on the campsite very regularly, so that is not a problem. We have researched how Tuileries worked when ours was in its prime and we know a lot on the subject so we can field most questions with confidence. Before the walkers arrived I was brushing up on my vocabulary and I did my best to give a good story and in the end I was quite pleased with how it went.

St Boil Tuilerie when it was still in productionIf I made a mistake of tense or conjugation of a verb, I was gently corrected but I was a bit thrown by the correction of a word I used. The heart of the tuilerie is the oven and this was filled with the bricks and tiles covered by a layer of lime which partially acted as insulation but it also needed to be “cooked” itself to be used in mortar. The whole oven was heated up to one thousand degrees Celsius. On the second tour around the tuilerie, when I was describing the layer of lime (chaux) I was corrected by one of the walkers and he told that the word I should use was “chaume”. La Tuilerie todayFair enough, they are French, they speak the language better than me. So for the rest of the tour there was a layer of chaume on top of these very hot bricks. We later looked up the words, because both Cees and I were a bit baffled by this correction. We then discovered that chaume is a rather obscure word for straw! So we now have a bunch of French people wandering around telling their friends that a layer of straw was used to top the oven working at one thousand degrees. What was in the guy’s head when he corrected me? Ah well, we’ll know better next time!

Having said all that, we were very happy that the walkers came here, it means we are on the map and in the system and who knows maybe we will have another group next year.

For Cees’ blog on how tuileries worked click here

Friday, 17 July 2009

Expanding churches

La Tuilerie Website

You can tell that Taizé is filling up to its peak occupancy when the number of hitchhikers at the bottom of the hill starts to build up. We call them “escapees” as these are the kids who are fed up with attending bible readings or workshops or they are the kids who are just here for a cheap holiday, pretending to their parents that they have a higher mission in life! During the height of the summer, you see rows of them at the bus stop at the bottom of the Taizé hill from about ten in the morning until lunch time all looking for a lift to the nearest town. On a busy day there could be up to fifty in total which actually pales into insignificance when compared to the 6,000 (yes, six thousand) young people that Taizé attracts per week.

The Church of Reconciliation Driving through Taizé is almost impossible at this time of year, outside of the church service or activity times, as the whole lot of them swarm over the road. That is not to mention the numerous bus loads of tourists who go to see what it Taizé is. They are greeted by eager, earnest youngsters in the welcome centre who are more than happy to explain what Taizé is all about. They come to look and be amazed at the numbers, they come for the beautiful pottery the monks sell to fund their life in Taizé and they come to attend a service.

Taizé is an ecumenical community which tries to get Christians to see through the differences and to concentrate on the central core themes of what Christianity is all about. The future of Christianity lies in the common factors and not in the differences, but these differences should be cherished and celebrated. Just as each person is different, each group of Christians should be allowed to be different and they need to accept and enjoy the differences in their neighbour’s group. The monks themselves come from catholic, protestant and orthodox backgrounds so there is a wide-spread of understanding in the community.

The services are a mixture of songs, prayer (in various languages), a short bible reading (repeated in various languages) and silence. The songs are normally multi-voiced and to get everyone to sing, the church needs to be “full”. There is nothing worse than a large church with a few people, hardly anyone sings and the thin sound dwindles into nothing. So, how do you solve a problem like that? In the middle of winter on a Sunday morning, the congregation will be about 200 locals plus the monks so maybe 300 in total. In the middle of summer on a Sunday morning the congregation will be more then twelve thousand. So how do you always keep the church full? The ingenious Taizé solution is: you create an expanding church!

The altar The Church of Reconciliation was built with just this idea in mind. The “core” church, remains a church all year long and all day long. According to the number of people who have signed up to attend a week at Taizé, and according to the service (some are more popular than others) the church expands and contracts to make sure that it is always full. The church building is in fact a series of smaller rooms with vertical roller partitions.

The church is so full you can barely see the altar During the day these rooms can be used for discussion groups and during the services the rooms disappear and they become part of the church.

So the church is always full, the singing resounds around making everyone join in. Having said that, when the church is at its fullest at this time of year, the shear quantity of voices is quite something, when I am there within the singing on a Sunday morning it surprises me that the people here at La Tuilerie can’t hear us and join in as well.

If you want to read my other blogs on Taizé go to the Category list on the right-hand side of this blog page and click on Taizé.

The photos have been taken from the Taizé website. To get to the Taizé website click here.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Concert in Chapaize

La Tuilerie Website

Starting Easter weekend and going on throughout the summer, there are classical concerts of all genres in the beautiful Romanesque church of Chapaize. Saturday night we went to see “Les Symphonies du Roy” playing an interesting selection of Baroque music. They had a woodwind section of five instruments (three oboe d’amours, one cor anglais and one bassoon) a four man brass section (two trumpets, one unknown instrument the size of a trumpet but looking a bit like a French horn [if anyone knows what it is please let me know] and a French horn), finally they had a percussionist playing two kettle drums. They were fronted by a narrator who told the story about the pieces that were about to be played, filled in the gaps when the group were re-tuning instruments and (very handy indeed) he gave the lead as to when we should clap, always useful as you can never be sure when to clap when the pieces are so short and there are so many of them!

The woodwind section were well balanced and very good for an amateur group but the brass (as usual in my opinion) were a bit varied in abilities! The first trumpet mostly played the right notes, the second trumpet played with gusto but not always in tune or on time, the unknown instrument was played well and the French horn was played very well indeed. The percussionist was also very good.

Les Symphonie du RoyIt appears from the bumph that the lead oboist is a woodwind teacher at the music school in Montceau-les-Mines and that the bulk of the players were students. The brass section looked too old to be students, which may explain the difference in quality of playing between them and the rest.

The whole group were dressed up like musketeers including hats with feathers, which was sort of cute, but the silly waving of the hats in a musketeer bow after a piece gave a very amateurish and comic effect that I am sure was not intended. The front-man was dressed in “gentleman’s” period clothing with a long white wig, which I suppose fitted in with the theme but well ummm….

The acoustics in the church are fabulous for music, which is what makes this such a popular venue and this old music resounded round the church quite beautifully. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.

You can find out about concerts organised by Chapaize Culture for the rest of the season by clicking here. They also have free organ and harp concerts in the daytime throughout the summer, you can just wander in and listen, however, you are expected to leave a donation for the church restoration fund, having said that they are worth every penny. One thing though, if you do go to any of the concerts, don’t forget to take a cushion, the seats are unbearably hard!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Non-changeover day

La Tuilerie Website

It is Saturday morning, I don’t have to dash around and clean the gites and I don’t have to fight for washing-line space with the campers - I have a non-changeover day. I must say it is really nice for a change, but it means that we have no-one in the gites. Well actually that’s not true. We do have a mother and son in one of the gites, they have come to Taize for a long weekend.

They have been watching the website very carefully and spotted a non-changeover weekend and have been monitoring it for a couple of weeks now and last week they Bedroom Gite L'Etable asked us if we would do a long weekend. Great for us and just what they wanted! What I am also very impressed with is that they have been analysing the photos and spotted that the large double bed in L’Etable (the gite with the bedroom upstairs) can be converted into two singles (spot the legs!). So even better for them, two single beds and no need to put the son in a blow up bed on the floor. All they had to do was bring their own duvet and hey presto.

This is not the first time we have had two people stay in that gite in separate beds and it works well. This is our first “Taizé long weekend” and so far that’s working well too.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

What is this Phenomenon called Taizé?

La Tuilerie website

I am woken up every morning by the bells of Taizé, the single bell for the monks rings out at 07.45 for about 5 minutes, calling the monks to their morning prayer then the bells start in earnest at 08.15 and ring until 08.30, letting all the pilgrims at Taizé know that the service is about to start. When the bells stop I know I really must get up. The bells ring from 12.15 to 12.30, so I know lunch should be on the table and if dinner is not ready when the evening bells go at 20.15, I know I am very late. And that was what Taizé was to me when I arrived here in 2005.

The monks during a Taizé serviceAfter Easter in 2006 we went to Taizé to have a look around and we were amazed at the number of young people milling around. We didn’t go to a service as that seemed inappropriate, with all these kids around it seemed like a young person’s thing. I wanted to go to a service, but I didn’t know how it worked, so I didn’t dare go alone. In July some campers (Ans and Simon) arrived, she had been to Taizé for the first time that spring and wanted to camp nearby to take in a few services and tempt her husband to go too. He however wasn’t interested and she didn’t dare go alone. At last my chance to go to a service, so on a Friday evening Ans and I went up the hill to Taizé.

The services are made up of singing and silence. The songs are mesmerising. With pilgrims from all over the world the songs need to be simple to enable everyone to sing. There are a mixture of languages, Latin, German and some sort of Slavonic language are the most popular with French, English and Spanish there too. Each song has two lines and these are sung over and over again. The songs are a mixture of four voices, rounds and solo singing with the congregation singing the chorus. It is not to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love them. In every service there is silence, five minutes of it. Five minutes is a very long time and it is quite amazing that a church full of people can be so quiet for so long. The singing continues after the monks have left and on a Friday and Saturday night this can go on into the early hours of the morning I have been told.A service at Taizé

The peace that pervades in a service is tangible and I can quite understand why some people come back year after year, just to regain that and to take a little bit of serenity back home with them. It is definitely not just a young person’s thing at all. Everyone is welcome to the services. Many, many of the visitors in our gîtes or on the campsite come for Taizé, to take part in a couple of services while being on holiday and enjoying other things that this area has to offer.

The photos are from the Taizé community website. For more information click here

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sunday Constitutional

La Tuilerie Website

VineyardsSunday morning and it is randonnée time. Every week from mid-April to the end of June and all during September and October, there are organised walks in the area around here. I must say that “organised walks” kind of put me off from trying them, the very thought of having to walk with a bunch of other people didn’t thrill me to bits, but we tried one anyway and now we are hooked. There are basically two types of walk, the ones that are set out and which you walk at your own speed and those where you walk in a group. The groups walks are not our cup-of-tea. You have to walk at the speed of the slowest and you have to stop every time someone wants to pick flowers! The one time we did a group walk, it took us nearly 4 hours to do about 10 km, I was EXHAUSTED, never again.

We like the walks that are laid out and that you just have to follow the arrows chalked on the ground or nailed to fences or trees. You pay a couple of Euros and then off you go. There are one, two or three stops along the way for refreshments, depending on the length of walk you are doing. This is France, so the refreshments are wine, cheese, sausage and a bit of bread - what more do you need?Cees walking

What we really enjoy about these outings is that we get to see different footpaths and areas that we would not normally venture into. Last Sunday was Flagy and the walk was beautiful. Some of the paths were rather difficult to walk on (large wobbly stones) but most were really nice. The whole course was well thought through, not too steep and yet hard enough work for 30 degrees. We got slightly lost having missed a little blue arrow somewhere, but we weren’t the only ones and we had a map, so we were soon back on course.

The season is now over as the holidays are starting. I can’t wait until September when they start again, but if we want to go for a walk in the meantime, we have a mass of information on the nice walks round here, the only trouble is you have to take you own food and wine!
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