Saturday, 27 March 2010

Hunter Gatherers

The rural French have a close link to nature. If there is something that nature is offering for free they will be out there to make sure it does not go to waste. At this time of year the local villages make money out of daffodils, not by picking and selling them but by setting up a stall selling wine and other goodies, near a spot where people come in their thousands to pick these wild flowers. Each village jostles for the most customers by putting up competing signs ranging from large wooden daffodils to the more subtle and enticing signs simply displaying the magic word “Jonquilles”. Jonquilles/wild daffoldils The roads are made unsafe over the two to three weekends spanning the flowering period as loony daff hunters zoom around zigzagging across the countryside heading off to find the best spot to pick as many daffodils as they can carry, preferably not too far from a parking spot and of course as close as possible to a wine selling stall to refortify themselves after their hard labour of plucking these delicate blooms. Even on weekdays, the really canny pickers go out choosing a day that they think is the most likely to yield a good harvest. So the wine stalls are manned almost 24 hours a day to maximise sales during the picking weeks.

If nature were left alone, vast areas of forest around here would be great swathes of yellow, but the intrepid French have been out in their thousands, making sure this is a sight that no one will ever see. Maybe I am being a bit dramatic, but I can’t get my head around picking wild flowers. Since I was a small child it has been drummed into me that this is just not done, flowers should be left in their place for all to enjoy, not selfishly stolen for the pleasure of just one person. Having said that, in this instance, the French might indeed be right in what they are doing.

At this time of year (and for the coming month or so), my previously adopted homeland, The Netherlands, has huge fields in the north west that are ablaze with colour as the hyacinths, daffodils and then, more famously, the tulips come into flower. Whilst some of these flowers will end up in a vase, the vast majority of bulbs are being grown to be sold as bulbs. Tulip field So huge lawnmower like machines drive over the fields when all the bulbs have come into flower and the flowers are cut off, leaving only the leaves standing. This allows the bulb itself to strengthen and develop into a saleable product. The flowers are then dumped at the end of the rows as a splash of colour. So maybe what the locals around here are doing, is in fact beneficial to this wild species and not what I would call it - stealing from nature - I don’t know. In any case I couldn’t bring myself to pick even one little flower, it just didn’t seem right.
I did have a glass of wine though - just to support the local economy you understand!

Check out La Tuilerie Website for more picture of the fauna and flora around here.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

First Cycle Ride

ChapaizeIt is the middle of March and as is usual around here, the season has changed from the depths of winter to nearly summer. Some people call it spring, but spring is really an unknown season here in Burgundy, the weather changes like a light switching on and off. Tuesday night was minus 4 degrees and Thursday it was 18 degrees in the shade. That is not to say we won’t get any more frosts, the old saying “ne’er cast a clout till May be out” is just as true here as it is in the UK, but it looks like the summer is arriving. The birds are going crazy, all the trees have sprung new green life, the herbaceous plants are shooting out of the ground and Cees has got our bikes out of the shed.

Thursday was the first chance for us to go for a cycle ride in comfort in months and it was lovely to be out and about on the Voie Verte again.  I thought my cycling days were over when I left the Netherlands to come and live here (I only do flat) but the Voie Verte which runs very close to our house, is an old railway line that has been converted into a cycling path. It is safe and almost flat. The path travels from near Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon in almost one smooth ride. A bit of a warning about Cluny to Mâcon though, whilst there is the interesting Tunnel du Bois Clair, the path is very steep in places, far more than I can do. Having said that, we have had campers or people in the gites here that have even managed to do it on a normal bike however, a mountain bike and strong legs would be more appropriate.

So off we went, rather unfit after our winter of doing no physical activity and we set off on the boucle that goes past our property.  There are a number of boucles off the Voie Verte, they are graded signposted tours that give you access to the many interesting villages around here. The grading goes from one spot which is easy up to four spots which is very difficult (the trip to the tunnel for instance). So we chose an easy boucle for our first outing. This particular one goes up through the forest to Lys with its assortment of artisans (pottery, blacksmith, tapestry maker) and of course the adorable little church with relatively well-preserved wall frescos and then on to Chapaize with a church tower that can be seen for miles around but when viewed from the village itself definitely seems out of proportion and finally, all the way downhill, back into Cormatin. About 15km in all and it took us less than one and half hours after stopping to see the churches and having a beer in Cormatin to fortify us for the final leg back home.

We came home to find a happy little cat wanting to play and so we got the garden chairs out sat down had fun playing with her with string and ping pong balls. A very relaxing end to a beautiful day and hopefully the start of summer.

For a link to the Voie Verte check out the tourist information page on our Website

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mothers' Day

It was Mothers; Day in the UK on Sunday, so I popped over on the train to see my Mum. Cards for Mothers’ Day have always been made not bought in our family, so my meagre artist skills have to come into play every year. For the last couple of years (since I became a crochet addict), I have used my craft skills to make a present rather than buy one, after all how many boxes of chocolates does one need in a life-time?  OK I wouldn’t mind getting lots of chocolates and my Mum’s petite figure could survive many extra boxes, but like it or not Mum got another crocheted gift this year. A few weeks ago I found a pattern for a miniature potted plant on the internet, on the Lion Brand website and so I set to, making my own version of this little plant. I am rather proud of the results I must say and Mum liked it as well - at least she said she did. In any case, we had a lovely few days together in London. On the train I always keep an eye out of the window as I near Mâcon to see all the landmarks that tell me I’m nearly home, I can often spot Cortevaix but the first clear landmark is the water tower in Ameugny, after that are the tents in Taizé and then the towers of Cluny Abbey and when I see the beautiful imposing castle at Berzé le Châtel I know I am almost at Mâcon Loché station. Getting off the train came as a freezing shock to me after the warmth of London! On the way home, driving through Cluny, we decided to have dinner at one of our favourite restaurants Loup Garou, but they were on a week’s holiday so we shivered our way up past the Abbey and ended up at the Brasserie du Nord for a nice meal. All in all a satisfactory end to very nice few days away.

Our website about La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Sunny Sunday with Songs and Silence

I decided to go to my favourite Taizé service today, the Sunday morning Eucharist. The service starts at 10.00 and it basically follows the Catholic Eucharist in French, but with a Taizé twist. from the Taizé website I left home with plenty of time to spare, but at this time of year that isn’t really necessary as parking is easy and near the church. In the summer I don’t bother with the Taizé car park, it is always full to overload and then there is the nightmare of getting out of Taizé itself after the service with all the busses and people milling around. I usually park in Ameugny and walk from there, this means I don’t have to drive in Taizé at all. Many of the people staying in our gites, walk or cycle up the hill, but I know I would end up marching for fear of being late, even though I know it doesn’t take that long to get there and I would be all hot and flustered when I went in. So it is the car for me - well that’s my excuse anyway, the other theory is that I’m just lazy, but I don’t hold with that one!

It is still the quiet season, so the church is at its smallest, but as always, it feels full and the singing is strong. Today there were a surprising number of tourists on the benches at the side. The tourists stand out as they usually have a badge with their name on it (yes some holiday tours include a service at Taizé!) and they rarely sit on the floor. Because of the way the church was built, one side of the front of the church rises up like a baseball stadium and the tourists sit on the benches at the top or on the steps leading down into the main floor area. It gives them a bird’s eye view of the proceedings. From my lowly position on the floor, I have noticed that the tourists rarely sing or participate and they shift about a lot during the silence, I think it makes them feel uncomfortable and I do often wonder why they came. Hopefully some of them will have absorbed some of the essence of the community and been touched by the experience, but I am not really so sure.

In contrast there was an elderly couple next to me on the floor. Obviously not regular Taizé goers, but at least they came to join in. He had decided to try out one of the little kneeling stools rather than sit on the floor, however, he didn’t check how others were using them and he also didn’t spot that the top of the bench slopes. So when he sat on it (rather than kneeling within it) he tumbled over backwards as the slope was leaning to the back. from his second attempt he checked out what other stool users were doing and did the same, with significantly more success. I have never tried the stools, to me they look uncomfortable, but people I have spoken to who use them are very happy with them. One of our campers used to set off up the hill every morning with her stool strapped to the back of her bike, the parcel shelf being just the right length and width for it to fit on nicely. My main reason for not trying the stools is that during the service you have to turn round and stand up and down a couple of times. The aforementioned elderly gentleman, had enormous problems with this manoeuvring and in the end gave up on the stool altogether. Sitting on the floor became preferable to wobbling off with every turn.

The service followed its usual pattern of songs, bible readings, prayer and silence but I was rather surprised that there were no Alleluias sung at all during the service today, a great pity as I always find them very uplifting and to my confusion, the Lord’s Prayer was sung in French. If they have changed over from English to French permanently, I need to brush up on the words, I don’t mind sight reading the songs that I don’t know, but it feels rather inappropriate to have to read out the Lord’s Prayer. It has been a while since I have been up the hill to Taizé - it was good to follow a service again, in fact it was lovely just to be out and about on such a beautiful sunny winter’s morning.

For more information about Taizé Click here.
This is our website La Tuilerie de Chazelle.
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