Sunday, 29 November 2009

No more horses in Cluny?

La Tuilerie Website

 Cluny and horses go together. Since Napoleon re-established The Haras Nationaux (National Studs) and built one of the establishments on the grounds of the abbey in Cluny, Cluny has been inextricably linked with horses. One of his reasons for building in Cluny was to prevent the re-building of the once powerful abbey, but in reality it transformed Cluny. Cluny was able to leave its faded-glory days behind and became an important horse town.

The Haras Nationaux were created by decree on 4th July 1806. The country was split up into 6 so called “arrondissements” each of which had 1 stud and several depots totalling 36 establishments throughout the country, all involved in producing horses for the military. Of the 36 establishments created by Napoleon, only 12 are left with Cluny being one of the oldest and most established.

The changes over the years have seen the Haras Nationaux move away from their military role and develop and adapt with the times. The core thrusts today concentrate not only on breeding horses, but also on horsemanship, horse racing and horse championships.  Because of that, Cluny has a thriving Hippodrome where flat racing, harness trotting and steeple chasing take place in the many meetings per year and numerous private riding stables and private breeders have sprung up to meet the increasing demand from the public for horses for leisure purposes. The most recent addition has been the Équivallée - a show jumping venue next door to the Haras. The creation of this facility was meant to cement the future of horses in Cluny. The General Council of Saône-et-Loire committed a total of eight million Euros to finance the infrastructure of Équivallée in 2005 and in May 2009, the first phase was completed which included an all-weather ring and a safe and secure area for visiting horses to be stabled. So far just under 2.5 million Euros has been invested and the second phase, which involves building a large stable complex, is expected for 2010. The Équivallée is rapidly becoming one of the most popular show jumping venues in France because of its facilities and location.

 Having said all that, prior to all this investment, in 2003, a new government policy was announced which had the objective of altering the fundamental structure of the Haras. Last spring, the merger between the Haras Nationaux and the École Nationale d’Équitation (the school set up to train the Cadre Noir [the elite of the French cavalry]) was announced and it will become effective on 1 January 2010. The merger will result in the creation of a single public institution for the horse industry and for horse riding in France. To be effective and efficient, this will mean closures around the country. There are currently 22 Haras Nationaux in France and one huge site of the École Nationale d’Équitation, which on its own is as big as, if not bigger than, 3 or 4 of the Haras sites put together. Something will have to give and the threat of closure of the Haras at Cluny is real and raises serious concerns for the area.

But what will become of the public investment in Équivallée if the Haras is closed? This new site has become a good source of jobs for the area and it provides a significant income for the town. The closure of the Haras at Cluny could force the General Council of Saône-et-Loire to re-think its investment plans and that could deal a fatal blow to Équivallée and it will be disastrous for the local horse breeders and for the development of equine tourism in the area.

So will Cluny lose its horses? I don’t know, but if the locals have anything to do with it, the Haras won’t be shut down! Watch this space.

Sunday, 22 November 2009



 It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
By labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago.
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.

John William Burgon (1845)

 This poem inspired a little girl with long dark ringlets living on a little farm in South Wales, seventy years ago. It fired her imagination and made her want to travel and although she travelled throughout the world she never managed to get to Petra, until last week. And that is how I went there as well. The little girl was my Mum and at the age of seventy nine she finally achieved her dream with me and Cees in tow. We were not disappointed.

Jordan, the land of John the Baptist, the Crusades, the Greek, Roman and Ottoman Empires, Lawrence of Arabia, spice trade routes, rocks and deserts and magic; what a place. An earthquake many thousands of years ago tore the rocks apart to create a canyon (the Siq)  which you walk through to access the ancient city of Petra. The city, carved out of the multi-coloured rock face, reveals itself when you emerge at the end of the long walk through the canyon.

Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.

What more can I say?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Deportee’s Memorial, Cormatin - Bois Dernier

Another wreath laying day has come to France. Armistice Day is a public holiday here and at 11 o’clock in the morning on the 11th of November, the signing of the Armistice, marking the end of the First World War, is remembered. Well over fifty of Cormatin’s residents attended, which is the most we have seen at any of the ceremonies. Maybe Sarkozy launching his debate on national values had an effect on numbers, who knows.

 This year there was a double celebration in Cormatin when the 60th anniversary of the erection of the Deportee’s memorial was also celebrated. To mark the occasion, the memorial has a new inscription and a large flagpole has been placed behind the memorial which will fly the French flag continuously. The inscription reads:

"Nous sommes libres, notre drapeau flotte à nouveau, ils ont fait don de leur vie"

"We are free, our flag flies anew, they gave their lives"

It is quite incredible to think that there are still people around who remember those events and the session in a local bar after the ceremonies always brings up stories of the war when Cormatin (which was in Vichy “free” France) came directly under German occupation, the deportations, the executions, the pain and suffering of the adults but more poignantly the children - now well into their sixties and seventies. Quite a sobering event, even considering the amount of Kir being drunk.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Bells and Bells

La Tuilerie Website

Anyone would think that I am obsessed with bells, but they are fascinating things and I am not the only one who notices the bells around here. One of our neighbours was telling how she could no longer hear the sound of the Taizé bells through her new double glazing. It was suggested by the rest of the company present that as she lived next door to Chazelle church, they would go out in the morning and ring those bells for her instead.

However, at the moment it’s not possible to ring the Chazelle bell. During Madame P’s funeral quite recently the solemn bell ringer was charged with ringing to bell to call the mourners to the mass, imagine his surprise when all of a sudden he was hit on the head by the bell rope that had detached itself from the bell and now had the aforementioned rope wrapped around his neck. In a church that can barely seat eighty people, this happened in full view of the whole congregation and set off giggles rather inappropriate to the occasion.

This little story brought a lot of laughter to our gathering as well and set Monsieur B off, reminiscing about funerals in Chazelle. He reminded the avid listeners of his own father’s funeral where no one could get up to the church because of the snow leaving his father stranded at the bottom of the hill because the hearse didn’t have snow chains. Everyone in the village had to chip in with digging a path to get his father up to the church. Not exactly what you want to do in your Sunday best. However, Monsieur B saved his best funeral story for last.

It is common here for people who have moved away to return to be buried in their family grave and this was exactly the wish of Monsieur S who had spent the last years of his life near his son in Paris. His funeral was to be in Chazelle and on the appointed day at three o’clock in the afternoon, the priest and mourners arrived. Monsieur S however, was nowhere to be found. By four o’clock the priest was getting restless, saying that something should be done to find Monsieur S. The funeral directors in Paris were called and yes he was on his way, in fact he had left at nine o’clock that morning and even with the Parisian traffic problems, he should have arrived before lunch. Frantic phone calls to the hearse revealed that Monsieur S and his pallbearers were indeed in Chazelle, but they just couldn’t find the funeral. Now considering that Chazelle has only three streets connected in a triangle and consists of about twenty house and a church, this all seemed a bit far fetched, even people who forget to bring their instructions as to how to find us never spend more than about 10 minutes in Chazelle before someone gives them directions.

This story all boils down to the beauty of a satellite navigation systems. All you have to do is type in where you want to go and you get there. Cormatin is easy, there is only one Cormatin in France, but there are a couple of villages called Chazelle and also some called Chazelles. It is a pity that the funeral director didn’t check which Département he need to go to before he set off on that fateful morning, but Chazelles in Département Puy-de-Dôme is not very close to Chazelle in Saône-et-Loire in fact it is about 200km away.

Now the priest and mourners were really getting restless. Let’s have the funeral anyway and maybe Monsieur S will be here in time for the burial. But how do you have a funeral for someone who’s not there? Brilliant idea, a relation in the village had a large portrait of Monsieur S on his wall, we can put that up near the altar, surround it with candles for a bit of extra ambiance and it will be almost as good as the man himself. Off to get the portrait which was duly placed in position and the mass commenced. The priest in full flow waving his incense around bashed into the portrait which went flying smashing the frame and sending some of the candles across the church. Quick repairs to the portrait and the mass ended without further incident but totally without Monsieur S. The burial however, had to wait from him to arrive which he finally did at nine o’clock that night. The priest returned to do the honours, but most of the mourners were long gone.

The moral of the story, don’t mention your double glazing over a glass of wine unless you want to set someone off on a story telling session and think before you use your sat nav. It is a pity Monsieur S’s hearse had not used the instructions of how to get to Chazelle on our website, at least we could have directed them back to the church, if they had overshot.

For instructions as to how to get here click here.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Chicken in Cream

La Tuilerie Website

 Back on to one of my favourite subjects – food. I love trying out all regional dishes. We are just on the edge of the country’s biggest chicken farming area, the Bresse, so chicken is one of the local specialities. The Bresse chicken is the first animal/meat to be awarded its own AOC (in 1957) which means that the farming of these birds is strictly regulated and they can only be reared in the Bresse itself. During the bird flu scare a couple of years ago, all the chickens in the country had to be kept indoors to prevent migrating birds contaminating the human food chain. This caused enormous problems for the Bresse. Part of the AOC rules for Bresse chickens is that they spend a large proportion of their time outside and there are at least 10 m^2 available for each bird. These rules had to be modified temporarily whilst the outdoor ban was on and that caused an uproar around here. This chicken is said to be the finest in the world and commands a suitably high price.

This recipe is chicken in cream. It is very filling and fattening, but very nice. I don’t make this dish with Bresse chicken although maybe I should try it!

Bon appétit!

Click for my recipe for Boeuf Bourgingnon

1 chicken portioned or 2kg of chicken bits
1 onion (chopped)
100g button mushrooms (sliced thinly)
4 whole cloves of garlic
1 litre cream
100g butter
2/3 bottle of white wine (dry)
1 bay leaf
1 bunch of thyme
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, fry in the butter on a medium heat until light brown. Add the onions, mushroom, garlic and herbs and cook for a further 5 - 10 mins. Add the whilte wine, stir to release any residues from the bottom of the pan, reduce to half, then add the cream, cover and simmer for 30 mins. I fish the garlic cloves and herbs out, put the chicken surrounded by the onion and mushroom directly on the plates, then quickly "whizz" the sauce (check for seasoning) then pour over the chicken to serve.
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