Sunday, 28 February 2010


In the last few days, spring has sprung. Despite the dire weather forecasts, we have had beautiful warm sunny days and the rain has only come at night. It has given us the opportunity to spend time outside and listen to the wildlife again.

Red-backed shrikeWe have had several guests staying here, who have come specifically for bird watching. One chap let me look through his telescope at a red-backed shrike perched on a post in the field at the back of our house. I am reliably informed that we have an amazing range of birds that can be seen here, in the garden, in the fields and in the forest.

Sadly I do not know enough to identify all the bird song, I would love to know which bird it is that sounds like it’s laughing in the forest or the one that sits in dead the tree in the field and sounds like a telephone, but I can identify the nightingale that sings in the tree outside our bedroom window, it has a quite amazing variety in its song.

In the garden we have all the usual suspects of course and we have great tits, redstarts and wrens that nest in and around the house every year. The little ones are such fun to watch when they have their first flying lessons.

HoopoeOne of my favourites is the Hoopoe who hovers in mid-air in front of our kitchen window before darting off to land on the roof of the séchoire. He never fails to amaze city dwellers who come here, with the strange fan-shaped plumage on his head rather resembling a mohican. And I will never forget the crowd of long tail tits that invaded our cherry tree one late summer afternoon, zooming around and wobbling their tails.

One gite guest, who comes back regularly, told us she just likes to sit in the garden and listen. At home she can’t hear any natural sounds and here she can’t hear any man-made sounds except the bells of Taizé three times a day. She described the quiet as wrapping itself around her like a comfort blanket, and on a day like yesterday, I fully understand what she means. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why so many people come back year after year.

La Tuilerie Website has more pictures of the wildlife around here.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Bumper Year

 It is official, Burgundy has had its best harvest in 10 years. The weather last summer was fantastic, no hail or frost in the growing season and so far fewer damaged grapes leading to more grapes being suitable to be turned into wine. In fact Burgundy has produced 1,584 million hectolitres (potentially 211,200 million bottles) of wine this year. This is the largest harvest since 1999. However, what are those remarks about quality not quantity? Amazingly because of the many hours of sun last summer and rain at just the right times, the grapes were also of a very high sugar content, leading to the possibility of one of the best vintages in living memory. So not only quantity but quality too. The farmers must be rejoicing.

Anyone who has ever been involved with farmers will know that they are very pessimistic creatures and one can understand why. Not only do they have relatively uncontrollable variations in quality and quantity but they also have uncontrollable variations in their market. The French wine market has been under threat from new world wines for many years now. The methods of the new world wine makers produce consistent wines, they have ironed out the quality so that the average wine drinker will get just what he is expecting, every time he opens a bottle. The traditional production methods of the French, produce a different bottle every year, some years not so good, but some years exceptional. The new world wines will never be able to beat those exceptional years. Interestingly the two countries who buy the most Burgundy wine are the UK and the US, the UK has moved very clearly over to new world wines and the US has a booming “new world” wine trade of its own, but the connoisseurs in both these countries have always been willing to afford the good Burgundies.

 So, as I said, the farmers must be rejoicing, sadly no. The economic crisis and the drop in both the Dollar and Pound against the Euro have already dealt a blow to the French and now just when the Burgundian winemakers can cash in after a number of poor years, even the connoisseurs have run out of money.

My advise - if you want an excellent vintage at bargain basement prices, 2009 is the vintage to be laying down and 2010 is the time to buy it before the UK and US economies pick up and send the prices to the astronomic levels this vintage deserves.

La Tuilerie is in Cormatin which is on the edge of both the Mâconnais and Côtes Chalonaise wine growing areas. Here is our website

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Food in Taizé

When people I meet tell me they have spent a week at Taizé, after the stories of the group discussions and meditation, there is always a comment about the food. The comments tend to be vague, but words like “simple” are often used. Anyone can sample the cuisine up on the hill by buying a meal ticket for 1.50 Euros. To be honest I amazed they can fill up those hungry young stomachs for that price, no matter how “simple” it is.

 I am very impressed with the organisation that goes into feeding so many people at once – up to 6,000 at peak times. The menus and buying in of the food are managed by the Taizé permanents (lay people who live within the community for a long period of time) and the preparation work and serving is done by the youngsters who have chosen that as their work duty for the week. The kitchens are semi-open air in the summer and as you walk through the community you can see the kids stirring huge cauldrons full of the next meal. The meals are distributed at various locations around the community and you queue up at your allotted spot at meal times.

One blog I found said this about the food at Taizé: “The food at Taizé is basic! Mostly pasta, rice, potato based dishes, with little meat. If you find that you don’t like the food, don’t worry because there is a place called OYAK which opens three times a day and serves food such as hot dogs, pizza, croque monsieurs and drinks to supplement the rations!” Does that say something about the food in Taizé or modern unhealthy eating standards I wonder?

Many of the people who stay in our gites for their week in Taizé quote the food and living in barracks as the main reasons they want to stay with us rather than in the community itself. Having said that, they could stay in one of the silent houses, I have heard complements about the food there.

There are always exceptions of course and one young chap who stayed on the campsite the week before his stay in Taizé told us he always volunteered to do the cleaning of the church as his work duty because you could eat as much as you liked – he obviously loved the food. The church cleaners have to clean during meal times and so are fed later with unlimited rations. Another camper mentioned how attached she became to her red bowl during her stay at Taizé. The bowl is used for many things, drinking coffee at breakfast time, tea at tea time and soup with the meals. I think that so many people fall in love with their bowls, you can even buy these things in the shop. I think I would prefer one of the lovely pottery bowls that the monks make over the red plastic ones, but then I have never eaten at Taizé, if I had I might change my mind!

Click here for more about the accommodation we have at La Tuilerie.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


 Bingo is BIG in this area. The January Bingo in Cormatin (held on the last Sunday of the month) attracts people not only from the town itself but from places as far away as Charolles (60km). Having said that the local villages of Ameugny, St Gengoux-le-Nationale and Cluny provide the bulk of the players.

The big event starts months in advance as members of the Amicale (the organising club) are charged with selling advance bingo cards which are a kind of interactive raffle ticket, to be played on the evening before the real bingo day. As members, we duly sold our allotment of tickets to our friends and family and arrived on the Saturday evening to play bingo on behalf of the people who had bought the 500-odd cards.

As we played, the portable DVD player was “won” by three different people. To determine who would win the prize itself and who would get a consolation prize, lots were drawn. We were excited to find out that one of our friends had one of the winning cards, but sadly they did not win the lottery and so we were told to collect a “terrine” as a consolation prize for our friends the next day. My image of a terrine was one of those large pottery dishes filled with pâté that you seen on deli counters, failing that it could be just the dish itself, in any case I excitedly let them know of their winnings that evening. Imagine my surprise when we collected the “terrine” to see that it was a tiny little glass pot of pâté. Our friends haven’t talked to us since….

 Playing bingo is not exactly our cup of tea, so we volunteered to man the bar on the Sunday itself. We had wine, beer, soft drinks and “bugnes” (small deep-fried doughnutty kind of things) to sell. Most of what had been bought in was sold, with the bulk being sold in the 10 minute half-time break. It was rather frantic trying to not only add up the orders, but to relay the price to the waiting customers in understandable French. The rest of the time was dedicated to silent contemplation of the bingo cards with the underlying tension and excitement mounting as the prizes increased in value. The top prize of a Wii was won by a chap from Taizé and I couldn’t help wondering if he was one of the monks!

The whole event raised just under 700 Euros to go towards the old people’s lunch and the kids’ Christmas party. We ended the day by relaxing with a glass of wine, and a chat with the other organisers and the day was duly classified as a success.

Click here to look at the website for the holiday accommodation we have here at La Tuilerie.
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