Thursday, 24 September 2009

Taizé Silence

La Tuilerie Website

One of the underpinning concepts of Taizé is the use of silence. Each monastic community has a Rule, which is in fact a set of rules by which the community lives. In the Taizé Rule (which is called “The Parable of Community”) Frère Roger wrote that the brothers should "keep inner silence always”. In the world we live in today there is so much noise and distraction from without and within and he saw the use of “external” silence as the means to achieve “inner” silence and it is this inner silence that "makes possible our conversation with God."

There are special houses in Taizé for those who want to spend a whole week in silent contemplation, where no word is spoken even around the meal table. The people choosing this type of week only leave the house for the three services a day where they can sing along with the rest, but in principle not one spoken word will pass their lips while they are in Taizé. In the morning a monk or nun will give an explanation of the Bible reading for the day. This is not a discussion, it is merely to give a basis for the day’s contemplation. This type of week is not for the faint-hearted but it enables these people to come to rest, to give them a different and profound experience and to hopefully find that inner silence Frère Roger believed we should all aspire to.

For those seeking silence in smaller doses, there is the old Romanesque church in the village, around the St Etienne well and most of the time there is a room available so that you can spend your mealtimes in silence. Even if you don’t make use of these possibilities, everyone will experience silence during their time at Taizé because silence is an important part of the three daily services.

The first time I experienced the silence was a very strange feeling. There is no clue that the silence is about to start, the prayers stop, no singing starts and silence falls. If you walk around Taizé during the day, there is always chatter and laughter of the thousands of youngsters who are there, but when the silence falls in the church every one of those people is quiet. That could be up to twelve thousand on a Sunday morning and all you hear is an occasional cough but further there is just an enveloping blanket of silence. It seems to go on for ever and not wearing a watch I had no idea how long it was, but my guess was about 5 minutes. The silence is broken by a lone monk whose task it is the bring the congregation back to singing.

I have read many stories of Taizé experiences and the length of the silence seems to cause a lot of discussion. After my original estimate of five minutes, I was perfectly satisfied and never gave it any more thought. But I have been intrigued by others’ experiences and interestingly many believe that the silence is 10 minutes and I read one account where the writer stated that the silence was 20 minutes.

This summer one of our campers was a person who had lived as a volunteer in the community for two years when she was in her twenties. She was returning to show hers kids and her husband the place she had spent so much time. She was telling me of a time when she went to a “Taizé” service near her home town in The Netherlands. Along with the singing there was of course silence. One of the participants was given the responsibility of timing the silence to ensure that it was exactly 7 minutes. The organisers had been to Taizé that summer and had used a stopwatch to time the silence during a service and this information had been brought home with them to ensure that the “rules” were followed correctly. This story amused me intensely as when I took my parents to a service, having warned them that there was a long silence, my Father timed it and agreed that my 5 minute estimate was correct. But it irritated our camper and she never went back for another service at that church and I understand now that she was right, these people had missed the point entirely.

The truth of the matter is that the silence varies in length at every service, the monk responsible for breaking that silence uses his own inner clock to know when to break. Also each individual in the congregation will experience a longer or a shorter silence depending on how restless he or she is inside. Sometimes 2 minutes is too long to be silent and sometimes 20 minutes is not long enough. If you experience the silence as too long, it is because your inner noise is too loud and you are a long way from reaching “inner silence”. So it is not the length of silence that is important, it is the process of silence in itself that matters so that we can all strive to find that “small voice within” which only emerges when we have inner silence and which has, since ancient times, been one of man’s goals no matter what his religion.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


Canon Kir in offical mayoral gear Kir is the local aperitif named after Canon Félix Kir (1876 - 1968) who was not only a priest but an active fighter in the Résistance during the Second World War and later he became the mayor of Dijon. The drink was named after him because he always served it to visitors who attended functions during his time as mayor. Before this time it was known by its original name blanc-cassis.

Kir is 1/3 Crème de Cassis (a local blackcurrent liqueur 20 °) and 2/3 Bourgogne Aligoté a local white wine. Nowadays the proportions are more like 1/4 - 3/4 .

If any other white wine is used, the drink reverts to its original name of blanc-cassis.

A whole family of drinks has grown up around the Kir name.

A Kir Royale is made by replacing the wine with Champagne and a Kir Impérial is created by adding a shot of Marc de Bourgogne (the local firewater) to a Kir Royale although some sources say that a Kir Impérial is Champagne and raspberry liqueur. If the local sparkling wine Crémant is used it becomes a Kir Téméraire, Crémant from the Alsace makes it a Kir Alsace and if any other type of sparkling wine makes it a Kir Pétillant.

A Communard is made using burgundy red wine instead of white and a Cardinal is made by using a strong red wine instead of white most usually a Bordeaux.

There are many other variations on this theme. The white wine can be replaced to create the following:
Kir Normand - made with Normandy cidre and if you add a shot of Calvados and you get a Cidre Royal
Kir Breton - made with Brittany cidre
Tarantino – or a “Kir-beer” – is made with lager or light ale
Kir Savoyard – made with Rousette de savoie, apremont or abymes
Kir Médocain – made with rosé
Canon Kir also created the Double K when Krushchev visited him in Dijon and it is a normal Kir with a shot of vodka in it.

Staying with Bourgogne Aligoté, the type of liqueur can be changed to create:
Kir Mûre using wild backberry liqueur
Kir Peche using peach liqueur.
Kir Lorrain using mirabelle plum liqueur

Changing both elements of the drink and you can get:
Kir Celtique a mix of chouchen (a honey based liqueur similar to mead) and muscadet
Kir Pamplemousse using red grapefruit liqueur and sparkling white wine
And finally the most complicated of all
Hibiscus Royal is made with sparkling wine, peach liqueur, raspberry liqueur, and an edible hibiscus flower.

And who ever said an aperatif was easy?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Cluny - La Lumière du Monde.

La Tuilerie Website

The name Cluny is synonymous with the spiritualism of the Middle Ages. The Cluny order exercised a considerable influence on the religious, intellectual, political and artistic lives in the whole of the western world at that time. Guillaume d’Aquitaine founded the Benedictine abbey in 910. The abbey’s growth in both size and power was very rapid. In the 12th century there were about 460 monks in the abbey and Cluny controlled 2500 other abbeys throughout the west.

The first church built on the site of the abbey was constructed in the Carolinian tradition. The second, built over the first in the 11th century was early Romanesque and the final church, Cluny III - built between 1085 and 1130, was a magnificent Romanesque basilica called the St Peter and St Paul Basilica. The church was 177m long, 32m high, it had 5 naves, 2 transepts, 7 towers of which 5 were bell towers and 301 windows. The complex around the church had 4 cloisters and numerous buildings to house the monks and all the other people necessary to maintain the order. St Peter and St Paul Basilica was the largest church is Christendom at that time and has since only be beaten in size by St Peter's Basilica in Rome, at 184m long, which was completed in 1626 some 500 years after Cluny III was finished. The Basilica and abbey buildings were built to impress and dominate. At the time of its building, Pope Urbain II said to the monks in Cluny “You are the light of the world”. Cluny was invincible and in charge.

However, the Cluny order were becoming too dominant, too important and too rich. There were many forces working against Cluny, most critics were after their power and wealth but others such as St Bernard of Clairvaux condemned the lifestyle of the monks. He in particular felt that the monks’ richness and luxurious lifestyle did not suit the spiritual life they were supposed to be living. It was this way of life that prompted him to found the Cistercian order, which promoted a return to an austere life of physical work, self sufficiency and contemplative spirituality. But it was not until the the 14th century that Cluny’s influence really started to wane and the wars of Religion in the 16th century were the last blow for the church. Between 1793 and 1823 the abbey was sold off literally piece by piece, the stones that once were the great Basilica were used around town and elsewhere in the area as building materials and today all that remains of the Basilica are two towers and a little chapel. The large cloister and some of the other buildings did survive and are now used by the National Stud and the Grande Ecole ENSAM.

Next year 2010 it is the 1100th anniversary of the foundation of this once great and influential abbey and this anniversary is being celebrated throughout Europe at various Clunisien sites. The start of the celebrations was “Ouvrez les portes” held last Sunday where the twelve ancient gates of Cluny were reconstructed. Each gate was given a different colour of the rainbow and these coloured segments were radiated out on a map of Europe symbolically showing Cluny as it was in ancient times as "La Lumière du Monde". Each village or town in the area was allocated to a gate according to which coloured segment they fell under. We in Cormatin were assigned the Porte de la Chanaise, which was the white gate, the most important gate, the one that included all the colours of the spectrum. We all had to dress in white and bring a picnic to share with our neighbours based on the theme of white. The street leading into town from the gate was decorated in white and was filled with tables ready for the picnic. There were opening speeches, an aperitif with white snacks during which time we all had to sign a letter to be sent out to the countries in our segment (Belgium, The Netherlands and Norway) inviting them to the closing party next September. Then we all walked through the gate symbolising the opening up of the gates to the city and thus opening the 2010 celebrations. Then on to more important and less symbolic things. Picnic time had arrived and all the Cormatinois sat together at the tables we had brought and we shared vast amounts of white food and white wine. After this enormous picnic, cavaliers arrived at each gate to collect our letters and take them out into the world. Then everyone from all the gates formed a multi-coloured human chain around the city. A helicopter zoomed overhead registering the event for posterity. The day went on with more speeches, music and dancing in the Abbey park, but we were too tired after a long day and we cycled home along the Voie Verte.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

How many people can you get in a two-person gite?

To read details of our gites click here

Sounds a bit like a trick question doesn’t it? But no there do seem to be some individual differences when answering this simple question of arithmetic. You can sit in the peaceful garden and listen to the birds and look at the flowers

Our gites are rented out for two people. This keeps the gites a haven of peace and quiet for all the guests who come here. Having said that, with two gites, nothing stops a family from renting both properties and then of course they can have their family around them and will not disturb the other party. I did think, when we started this enterprise, that this was clear and unambiguous, but apparently not.

We have had many requests for three people in a gite – “don’t worry the third person can sleep on the floor” and in our first year we were talked into agreeing to that on a couple of occasions, against our better judgement, and it just doesn’t work. Three people generate more noise than two and when you have two of everything (sleeping places, pillows, towels, chairs etc etc) the third person always comes up short. So after those experiences, we have had our original thoughts confirmed that a two-person gite should be just that, rented out for a maximum of two people.

We regularly get telephone calls from the French saying that they want to rent one of our gites for six people. They seem most baffled when I explain that they are for a maximum of two people – “don’t worry the rest can sleep on the floor”. And early in the year we had one person who wanted to come alone for two weeks but it then emerged that she was coming with her son and daughter for a couple of nights -“don’t worry they can sleep on the floor” and then the following week her daughter's parents-in-law would come for a few days “don’t worry they can sleep on the floor”. We reminded said person that we have a simple rule – each gite can be rented out for a maximum of two people, above that number both gites need to be rented.

One Monday this year we saw to our surprise an extra unidentified car in the courtyard. Obviously one of our gite guests had visitors, a bit strange that they didn’t tell us when the visitors arrived, but hey they are on holiday. The guests stayed all afternoon and into the evening and then stayed the night. We explained the two-person concept the next day “don’t worry they don’t mind sleeping on the floor”, the extra guests left to find alternative accommodation and the only noises to disturb the peace and quiet went back to being the woodpeckers in the forest and the frogs in the pond.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Boeuf Bourgignon

La Tuilerie Website

Every region has its own food specialities and what is conjured up in your mind when you think of Burgundy? It has to be Boeuf Bourgingnon. This is a dish that is surprising difficult to get hold of around here and if you find it, most are very poor indeed. There is one exception and that is Monique’s version served every so often as the “plat du jour” at La Terasse in Cormatin. She is very precious about her recipe and rightly so, all she will say is that it is cooked for a very long time – not giving away much there Monique!

Anyway, a lot of research and trial and error and I have come up with a version that comes close. You don’t need the extra cocktail onions or in fact the carrot, I sometimes put them in and sometimes don’t, they just add a bit of interest. It is always a favourite with our gite guests.

Bon appétit!

1kg stewing steak chopped
1 med onion chopped fine
1 bottle red wine
20/30 small cocktail onions drained and washed (optional)
Bay leaf
100g butter
100g pork belly chopped finely
1 large carrot
Corn flour

If using them, fry the cocktail onions in 50g butter until brown, remove and set aside.
Add the second 50g of butter and fry the stewing steak, pork belly and onions on high in the same pan until brown.
Pour in the bottle of wine, add the bay leaf, chopped carrot and some salt and pepper, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 to 4 hours or put in the oven at about 100 degrees for the same amount of time.
Just before serving, mix a tablespoon of corn flour with some water until smooth, add to the pan with the previously fried cocktail onions. Bring to the boil stirring and serve with mashed potatoes or pasta and a vegetable of your own choice.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


My Website

Taizé BelltowerI live within the sound of the bells of Taizé. When I hear the bells, here in Chazelle it reminds me three times a day what time it is. When the bells stop in the morning at 08.30, I know I should have got up, when they ring in the middle of the day at 12.15 I know I need to get lunch on the table and when they start in the evening at 20.15 and we still haven’t eaten I know I am running behind schedule!

When I heard the bells this morning I started thinking about how strange it was that I seem to have lived near bells almost all my life. As a child in Ickenham our house was within the bells of St Giles church, my first house in Worksop was next to the Priory church, my second next to St Leonards in Hythe, my third across the valley from The All Saints church in Highbrook, in the Netherlands whilst living in Benthuizen, I lived within the sound of a carillon that sounded the hour and now it is the bells of Taizé. I was struck by how all of these bells were very different and all were played differently as well.

How the Taizé bells are operated has been a mystery to me. I have always seen a monk scurrying into the services late after the bells have stopped ringing, I recognised him not only because of his lateness but that he look like a ex-colleague of mine, Rick. I was convinced that he was the “bell-monk” and he was the one that started and stopped the bells, but quite how that worked I had no idea.

Saint Leonard's, Hythe In most English churches the bells are operated by one bell ringer per bell, each person pulling his rope and ringing his own bell on cue to create “rounds”.

Worksop PrioryTo add variation to this process the director of the group will call out a change during the ringing to alter the order of the bells in the round, commonly called “change ringing”. This was the case for both the Worksop Priory and St Leonard’s at Hythe . However, the bells in St Giles were operated by one or other of the choir boys.

Saint Giles', IckenhamAll the bell ropes came down into a box about 2 feet wide and one choir boy would operate the bells by pulling the ropes in the set pattern. I found it fascinating to watch the frantic action of these boys. As this was a tiring job, to complete the full ring prior to a service, two boys were needed, one taking over from the other half way through the ring. During the changeover the two would work together to synchronise the rhythm then one would duck out and return to the vestry.

Another type of bell and belling ringing are carillon bells. These are a set of bells that play full tunes rather than just ringing out.
Highbrook carillonMy first experience of carillon bells was when I lived in Horsted Keynes. All Saints in Highbrook played tunes automatically at mid-day, three in the afternoon and six in the evening. The sound echoed through the valley and were clearly audible from our garden.
Benthuizen carillonIn my house in Benthuizen, The Netherlands, I was within earshot of the carillon mounted on a post outside the old town hall. When the town hall had been shut down and sold off as a private house the carillon had been in a poor state of repair and no longer worked. The new owner had the bells retuned and the whole mechanism overhauled and reinstated the hourly ringing, 24 hours a day. There was soon an uproar in the village as the neighbours started to suffer from sleep deprivation because of the noise! The bells were really deafening from close by, even in my garden (a block away) you could not talk over sound of the bells. Having said that they were beautifully tuned and from a distance they made a pleasant sound. Finally it was agreed that the bells could play a tune on the hour starting at nine in the morning with the last tune at nine in the evening.

Today I decided to get to the bottom of the Taizé bell mystery. The Taizé Belltower The five bells are hung in a very ugly (in my opinion) tower. We had heard that originally under the bells there was a small pond, this was intended to act as a “sound mirror” and reflect the sound increasing its potency, but complaints from the neighbours have meant that the pond was filled in and now wooden planks lie under the bell tower. Each bell is operated independently by an electro-motor connected to the top of the bells by a chain. The motor makes the chain oscillate back and forward, waggling the bell, if you like. Each motor operates at a different frequency, with the motors for the smaller bells moving quicker than that for the largest bell. When the bells are ringing, the “tune” created by the bells constantly changes because of this lack of synchronicity. We lay in wait for the bell monk and he never arrived, the bells just started and stopped most probably and quite boringly on a timer switch.

So now I know the truth about the late monk, he is just late and nothing else!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Les Vendanges

La Tuilerie Website

Yes it’s grape picking time again! Normally the vendanges are strictly regulated by the relevant authority and grape picking starts in mid-August around here. This year it was announced at the beginning of August that viticulturists would, for the first time, be free to decide their own harvesting dates.

Many of the vineyards around here are small estates who sell their grapes to the local cave co-operative in return for a small amount of money or copious amounts of table wine. These are the vineyards that use machines to harvest. These machines are often co-owned and rotate around the fields at harvest time. Most will only take one pass at their vines which means that after harvesting is over there are plenty of grapes to be had free of charge from the vines. The machines only pick ripe bunches and so late developing bunches and bunches too deep in the foliage to be caught, remain on the vines for the birds and other (human) scavengers. If you want to make your own wine, you can certainly do that with free grapes if you have the time and patience to go searching.

The hand-picking is for the better crus, where the quality of grape is more important. Pickers can go up and down the rows of vines a number of times during the two to three week picking period and make sure no decent grape is left.

The first pickers appeared in the vineyards yesterday. This new flexibility in picking times means that the pickers will have more work as they can move between vineyards in the same area and also all vineyards will have enough pickers. It is not badly paid (up to about 200 Euros a day) but picking is really hard work, not for the faint-hearted and not for those with a dodgy back! Apart from the pay, a full-blown meal at lunch time is included and accommodation is often also part of the deal.

At the end of the picking there is a huge party, called "une paulée" round here, where lots of the local brew is consumed and the party can go on for more than twelve hours. Traditionally these parties were for the pickers to round off a few weeks of hard work, but now they have been institutionalised and have been taken over by the wine growing towns. These parties usually called “Fêtes des vendanges” are held in all the towns and villages which live from the wine trade, all have their own particular events and way of celebrating the end of another season. There are very famous large fêtes in the Côte de Nuits area particularly in Nuit St George where the fountains flow with wine. Closer to home Beaune, Pommard, Chardonnay, Peronne, Givry and Buxy all have their share of fun. It is also a welcome boost to the tourist trade just as business is trailing off at the end of the summer.

The last two years have been mediocre years for Burgundy wine as for most of the French wines, but this year there are stories of a very good year. Not that farmers of any nature are optimistic creatures, but there are rumours that this crop could be destined to make some of the best wine ever. Time will tell.
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