Monday, 26 July 2010

Water and Guitars

I am starting to fear Saturdays. They are the busiest and most stressful day of the week, we have to prepare both gites for new guests, clean everywhere, repair any damage and have the gite looking just right in time for the new arrivals. It is intensive work, but if the leaving guests leave on time (before 10.00 am) and the new guests do not appear too early (after 3.00pm) then it can be achieved. Little repairs can knock the day off schedule and the last two Saturdays have been just like that.

Last week, along with the trauma of having to collect Fifi the cat from the vet’s in Cluny, I found out that the sink discharge in one of gites has been leaking for some time, mess everywhere and only a few hours to repair the damage, clean up and dry the walls (yes the water had really been going everywhere!) So the afternoon was spent with my head under the sink with hairdryer in hand pumping hot air on to the wall, all that with 30 degrees outside. This week, it turns out that the sink in our own kitchen has been leaking down into the bathroom below, mess everywhere, call out the plumber - I didn’t dare do it myself, I didn’t know what I would find when I opened up the joint. Monsieur Kotas our trusty plumber was called and he agreed to come out on a Saturday afternoon, what a star. Job done, we now have water again in the house and not pouring down the gite bathroom wall.

The guests arrived on time and fortunately on both occasions they were none the wiser about the frantic activity going on before their arrival.

photo Michèle ESPOUR-DUREUIL We had earned an evening enjoying ourselves and that was just what we did. We went to the last concert in the ”Guitares en Cormatinois” series. We went to Saturday’s concert to “cheer ourselves up”, not really expecting much. The group was called Poivre et Celte (a typically French play on words) and they were playing “world music” umm... We have had renditions of how obscure French groups have treated the music from other countries, but it was local and this series is normally good. Much to our great surprise and enjoyment the group were superb! A guitarist, a viola player and a drummer who played what I think was a Makuta drum, he also played an African thumb piano to great effect in one song. The viola player changed instruments a number of times playing at different times the didgeridoo and a recorder and he had a beautiful singing voice. They played music from many countries in their own style and I for one will not forget their punk rendition of “Dirty old Town” in a hurry!

Maybe Saturdays in Cormatin aren’t that bad after all.

For more information on the accommodation here, click here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

July 14th

July 14th is Bastille day in France, the one really French holiday. Many villages have fireworks on the evening of the 13th which is when the party kicks off. Most villages have something on the 14th and in Cormatin it is the annual Brocante de Qualité (read very expensive) semi-antique fair. The public have to pay to get in and this money goes into the coffers of the Amicale a village organisation that raises funds for the old people’s annual meal and the Christmas party for the kids. This is the biggest event the Amicale organises during the year and all hands are called on to the deck to help. The work starts on the 12th collecting the tents from other villages, the tents are all built on the 13th, taken down on the 14th, then returned to their rightful owners or reconstructed at the Chateau on the 15th ready for the Rendez-Vous de Cormatin, a theatre festival which starts at the end of July.

As usual we were there putting up and taking down the tents as well as taking entrance money off the public. We finally returned home at about 10 o’clock at night completely broken and poor Cees still had another day to go! Fifi, our cat, was feeding the babies when we got home and we sat down in the vide to enjoy a well earned glass of wine. Suddenly Fifi screamed and started hissing at one of the kittens, who was so shocked she ran off and the others froze as well. Is this the way a mother cat tells her young it is time to stop feeding? She has been such a patient and tender mother we couldn’t believe what she had just done. We soon found out why. As she got up to move, it was completely obvious she could hardly move her back legs, one couldn’t be moved at all and she was screaming from the pain. We decided to settle her down on her special chair with a cushion for the night and see how she was in the morning. In the morning she was not really any better, so off to the vet in Cluny.

I left her there in the morning and phoned a couple of hours later to be told she had a smashed pelvis and a broken neck that needed to be operated on, perhaps it would be best if we went in to discuss it. When Cees came back from his tent building at the Chateau, we went off to Cluny to see the vet. We both thought it was going to be a discussion along the lines of maybe we should put her out of her misery and it was not a conversation I was looking forward to. The “neck” that was broken turned out to be the “neck” of the femur, bad enough, but not life threatening and the “chat” was just to reassure us that all would be well and we could take her home on Saturday morning, no more feeding the kittens though, so it is a good job that they have been weaned and don’t really need her milk anymore.

Fifi is now home and she has to stay in a cage for three weeks to stop her jumping around too much. Cees, ever practical, managed to pull together enough old wood to make a cage and we welcomed her home this morning.

This is one Bastille day we won’t forget in a hurry!

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Silence Garden

We have had many visitors who have come specifically for Taizé, just to see what it was, to come for one or two services, to follow one service every day or to take part fully in what Taizé has to offer but who were not allowed to stay in Taizé because of their age or those who wanted a bit more comfort and/or privacy. Almost all of these visitors have mentioned the Silence Garden and the natural spring of St. Etienne and all have talked about how special it was.

You can see the garden from the Voie Verte the cycle route we use to go from Cormatin to Cluny and it has never looked very special to me. There is a lake, some trees and a grass area to sit on, big deal give me Wisley or Kew anytime! However, Cees convinced me a couple of weeks ago that we really should visit the garden and see what it was like and when we were on a walk through Taizé to Ameugny to visit some friends, we decided to see what the garden had to offer.

Unless you know where the garden entrance is, finding it is difficult. You walk down past the last building heading towards the “cliff edge” and then you take one of the many windy paths that travel steeply down the hill. Just the walk down itself is worth the effort as you meander through the wooded hillside. At the bottom you come out of the trees and into a lovely grassed area surrounded by trees and you see the lake and you see the real size of it. Further along you come to the waterfall which is where the natural spring of St. Etienne tumbles water down into the lake. There are several bridges that go over the lake to the other side and there are a number of little chalets where you can sit out of the sun (or rain!)

Dotted here and there on the grass and on the bridges were people sitting enjoying the silence, sleeping or reading. Just walking through the garden you get a real feeling of peace, people in groups talk at a whisper, but most people make no sound at all. This is in sharp contrast to the Frisbee games and general noise of the youngsters on top of the hill. I was dreading the hike back up the steep hill (244 steps I have been told), but actually it was not as daunting as I had feared and it certainly is a way to improve your fitness!

The garden in a horticultural sense has little to offer, but I now agree with our visitors, the garden is special, why or how I don’t know, it is just “special”.

More information about the accommodation we have is on La Tuilerie Website.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Slow Food

The snail hunting season has been officially opened for this year. Not with the trumpets and show of Saint Hubert’s day for the larger animal hunting season, but with plastic carrier bags and sticks at dawn.

There is an amazing variety of snails throughout the planet in terms of size, shape and colour but only one is the hero of the day. In Roman times “escargot” was considered to be a food for the elite (widely documented by Pliny the Elder I will have you know) and this Roman snail was the Helix Pomatia, now more commonly known as the Burgundy snail.

The great popularity of the Helix pomatia and the fact that it is almost impossible to farm, has led to it becoming a protected species. In reality this means that it can only be hunted in France for personal use and not for resale, it can only be hunted from 1st July to mid-February and then only if its shell is more than 3 cm diameter. It remains therefore an expensive delicacy.

As I write this blog, France is in the depths of a snail shortage, snail processing companies can no longer procure sufficient snails on the open market to fulfil the 25,000 tonnes needed to feed the French population every year. Whilst many claim that dry summers are affecting this shortage it is interestingly enough more likely to be the fault of the EU - an institution of which the French are fiercely proud. Extending the borders of the EU has opened up greater financial possibilities for the people of Poland and Hungary than collecting snails ever could. Two thirds of the 700 million snails eaten in France every year, came from Eastern Europe and at a sale’s price of just 2 cents a snail you can see why these people have gone looking for better jobs!

Snail farms have been geared up to cope with the shortages, however the snails that can be farmed are the Helix apersa aspersa (le petit gris) and the Helix aspersa maxima (le grand gris) and the true epicurean can tell the difference between them and the “real thing”. Most shockingly of all, tonnes of Helix lucorum (a significantly inferior creature even than the Helix aspersas) are being imported by unscrupulous traders from the Balkans and Turkey and are being passed of as Burgundy snails.

It must be said though that our local sources are adamant that there is not a shortage of snails in either Burgundy or France, but there is however, a shortage of people who can be bothered to get up at 5 o’clock on a damp summer’s morning, who have the knowledge of which snails to choose and where to find them and who are therefore out there collecting their own. Most snail collectors round here will collect and preserve hundreds in a summer and these home preserved snails still make up one quarter of all the snails eaten in France.

Just for interest, this is how they do it:

Put the live gathered snails in a box with a layer of flour on the bottom and leave them to wander around the box for 3 days or until their droppings are white. They have then been cleaned from the inside. Some people add fresh herbs to the flour on the last day.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and drop these cleaned snails into the water (shells and all) and boil for about 10 minutes. Remove the snails from the water and then extract the snail itself from its shell and remove the intestine and any other black parts. These snails then need to be cooked for a further 10 minutes before being preserved either frozen or traditionally place in sterilised jam jars and covered with Burgundy escargot butter.
1kg butter, 3 heads of crushed garlic (note heads not cloves), 3 shallots finely chopped, a large bunch of fresh parsley finely chopped (about 100g), salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly then bring to melting point before pouring over the snails.

The snails should be served hot either on a plate or in their shells which should be sterilised before use.

And you thought a snail was just something that left a slimy trail on your garden path…

La Tuilerie Website
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