Monday, 31 May 2010

Portes Ouvertes

Vignerons de Buxy“Portes ouvertes” are quite frequent events around here. The words literally mean “open doors” and most businesses choose one weekend a year to open their doors to the public, let the public sample their produce and generally have a good snoop around. It is a nice way to see a business, but usually you can sample their produce any other time so what is the big deal? The Vignerons de Buxy (the place we buy most of our wine) had an open day last weekend. Having worked in the food industry for many years, the thought of seeing lots of stainless steel vessels, pumps and pipework was not something I really needed to do, particularly in a crowd, but Cees persuaded me to go.

We arrived in Buxy and the place was heaving. There were two huge catering tents outside and a band was playing very swingy music. There were stalls selling local produce, cheese, honey and a basket weaver making and selling baskets. It was one huge party. We arrived just after lunch to avoid the crowds, not realising that you could have lunch in these tents, for a VERY reasonable price. Ah well, that was one culinary experience we missed out on. So straight into the cave itself. We were handed a glass as we entered and a little map of the tour and down we went into the cellars to follow the arrows.

Wine barrelsAs we entered the basement, we were given a piece of paper, which had various questions on it, a bit like a treasure hunt and off we went to find the first answer. The first part of the tour was in the very dark cellars with all the oak caskets, they were massive, I had no idea they would be so big. Then on to the stainless steel tank room. Again all much bigger than I had expected and then on to the grape handling areas, where grapes are crushed, separated, tested and mixed to give the right juice and also where the first fermentation took place. What really made it interesting were the signs that had been put up all over the place explaining what happened when in the process.

At different stages on the tour there were red wine, white wine, rosé and crément sampling points. There were small cookery demonstrations, food sampling, a large display of all the flavours that go to make up wine, vanilla, blackcurrant, mushrooms and many others that I can’t remember. All of this had been put in place to enhance your perception of the flavours when tasting the wines and to demonstrate how certain food complement and even alter the taste of the wines.

Basket weaverWhen we had answered all the questions on the treasure hunt form, we posted it in the box at the exit, there was one magnum an hour to be won, but no on has been round with our magnum yet!

After all that, there was a mini-bus tour of the vineyards, but the queue was too long by that time, so we didn’t bother to wait. I think you have to be early if you want to do that.

The doors opened at 09.00, lunch was available from 12.00 and in the evening there was a concert which started at 20.30 after which a simple evening meal was served. Bravo to the Vignerons de Buxy, they really pulled out all the stops for a very interesting and fun day.

Buxy is in the Côte Chalonaise region but the Mâconnais, Beaujolais and Côte d'Or are all very near here, so we will be keeping our eyes open to see when other caves in the area are having their open days, these are “portes ouvertes” well worth visiting.

To have a look at the website for our gites click here.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

BIG NEWS!!!

Fifi just before birthingFor all our Fifi fans out there, we have BIG news. Fifi has been getting rather tubby these last few weeks, but there again she has been tucking into a lot of mice and moles. I had my suspicions that she might have had a secret romantic liaison, but Cees was not convinced at all (typical father). Anyway the last few days she has been very clingy towards us and on Wednesday she did not move more than a few feet away from our front door. I was fairly confident that she was going to produce a couple of Fifiettes and sure enough as the evening wore on, it looked like she had gone into labour. She was insisting on staying our front door mat, not an ideal place to birth her litter, but Mum should know best. At about 7 o’clock after a failed attempt to climb into a removal box full of kindling, she finally moved off to her cubby-hole and into her own bed. One by one she produced her offspring. When we left her at just after 12 o’clock there were three and by Thursday morning there were four squeaking mouse-sized animals to be seen.

Fifi's babies She has let us pick them up and stroke them - so much for my worries about not being able to get near the litter. At the moment all is calm around La Tuilerie, Fifi is looking after the little ones in her own house, but who knows what chaos they will cause when they are capable enough and brave enough to walk out and about on their own.

For those who have missed previous Fifi postings click here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Concert Season

Throughout the summer, there are concerts every weekend at various villages around here. Most are played in the Romanesque churches that almost every village seems to have. I don’t know what it is about these churches, but their acoustics are quite amazing. The start of the season tends to be Easter, but then there is a lull until Ascension Day when the real summer season starts. When we lived in The Netherlands, Cees and I always used to go on holiday on Ascension Day as it meant we could squash in the most bank holidays into our holiday period, four weeks off for just three weeks holiday!

Roundelay This Ascension Day we went to one of our favourite concerts of the year. There is a Dutch madrigal choir that comes to Chapaize every year where they give a free concert. The standard of the concert is very high indeed and it is difficult to imagine that these are all amateurs. One couple in the group have a holiday home in Chapaize and the concert is given each year to raise money for the renovation of the two churches in the commune of Chapaize, the Chapaize church itself and the church in the hamlet of Lancharre. Whilst the concert is free, you are encouraged to donate money as you leave the church and people donate generously, I didn’t see a single coin go into the collection baskets held by the choir members’ children.


This concert is part of a series called Chapaize Culture. These are held in the beautiful Romanesque church in Chapaize, just down the road from us. Another very popular music festival is ”Guitares en Cormatinois” held every year in churches in and around Cormatin.

As I mentioned in a blog last summer, there are free walk-in concerts all over the place during the summer months, in particular Chapaize, Brancion and Tournus and we have even been treated to an impromptu concert in Ameugny. One year we were there looking for the secret inscription and we heard singing and went in. Going into the church when there is music adds a new dimension to these magnificent buildings. Click here to see when are where the regular ones are.

ChapaizeBurgundy is blessed with an enormous number of Romanesque churches. Cluny was the centre of the Christian world for a while and this is one of the main causes. But there were other powerful forces in the area one of which was Brancion and they too built Romanesque churches to ward off the local influence of the Abbey in Cluny. That coupled with the enormous wealth of the area at that time and you end up with a lot of buildings. Chapaize and Lancharre are just two of the churches that fell under Brancion. Now, 1000 years later, Cluny has only part of its abbey left and Brancion doesn’t even have a town hall any more, it is attached one of the villages down the road – how the mighty have fallen! Having said that we still have the beautiful remains of their power struggle.

Just a couple of tips if you want to go to a concert in Chapaize, take a cushion to sit on, the pews are murderous. And don’t worry about getting the “best seats” at the front which everyone fights over. We turned up very late the other day for a jazz concert in that particular church and ended up being stuck right at the back. For me (at my height) that means you can’t see a thing, but the organisers said “Don’t worry, most people don’t know this, but you actually have the best seats in the house” and he was right, the focus of sound seemed to be right where we were sitting. Now I understand why the organisers of these concerts always sit at the back.

Our website latuileriechazelle.com gives lots more information at the bottom of the tourist page about things going onin the area.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Ice Saints

Saint SophiaIt was 15th May yesterday and we went to Cluny market to get some tomato, courgette and cucumber plants. Every other stall was selling plants, because NOW is the time to plant. The last of the Ice Saints has had their day and so today I will be in the garden putting my precious plants in the ground.

The Saints de Glaces are big in this country, they even get a mention on the weather forecast although Evelyn (France 1’s weather reporter) was quick to say that they are not a meterological phenomenun, but still this year the news is full of them.

The old wives tale goes that you should not plant out non-hardy plants until after the Ice Saints name days: St. Mamertus – 11th May; St. Pancras – 12th May; St. Servatius – 13th May; Bonifatius – 14th May and St Sophia (Cold Sophie) – 15th May. It is said that these days always produce a dip in temperature, bad for the settling in and growth of new plantlets and it is also said that after these days there will be no more night frost. But is it true? Actually it isn’t true. There is a dip in temperature that can be seen in the middle of May, but it is in fact around the 20th.

Rome changes the saint name days every so often to reflect the changes in society, different names and to try and eliminate the influence that paganism and superstition still rife in many areas of the church. Just take the date of Christmas, this date has nothing to do with the birthday of Christ, the date was chosen to coincide with the old mid-winter festival, trying to woo over the pagans in early Christian times. That is how the Ice Saints got their nick-name, they just happened to be saints allocated to the cold days in May. Many farmers prayed to these saints to protect their crops and in the 1960s name changes, the Ice Saints were eliminated to stop this idol worship and superstition. St Estelle has replaced St Mamertus, St Achille replaced St Pancras, St Roland replaced St Bonifatius, St Matthew replaced St Servius and even Cold Sophie has had the chop, being replaced by St Denise. It doesn’t stop this period being called “Saints de Glaces” though.

I myself grew up with “Ne'er cast a clout till May is out”. Clout meaning (winter) clothing and May refering to the May flower (hawthorn blossom). So it is saying summer has not arrived until the may flowers are in full bloom. Around here, that is usually around the 20th May. Ah ha, back to that date again.

 So it appears that the saints have got it wrong. A little more searching and the mystery is solved. The Ice Saints had it right all along, it is all down to the fiddling of dates by the Catholic church again. Pope Gregory VIII rearranged the calendar in 1582. Cold Sophie was 15th May in the Julian calendar, that date stayed with her, but her day was effectively moved in time. If we were to put Sophie back to her real day (not date) she would have her day on 22nd May, which means that the Saints de Glace are in fact 19th – 22nd May in today's calendar system, corresponding exactly with the meteorological phenomenon of the temperature dip and my Mum’s favourite “clout” warning.

So I shouldn’t be planting today at all, but in 5 days time. Looks like my little plants will have to wait a couple more days until Cold Sophie has gone.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Horses in Cluny

Since my blog back in November last year about the Haras Nationaux (National Studs) branch in Cluny closing down, it has been announced that this Haras has been given a reprieve for at least the next ten years. Cluny Show JumpingThere was a great sigh of relieve in Town and it has somehow rejuvenated the town’s horse connections. After a lull when the imminient closure was announced, works have restarted on at the Equivallée (the show jumping facility) and have been going on all winter with a fascinating array of different layers being added to the all-weather rings and now there are two fully up and running all-weather rings, the grass ring, which has had some of the pressure taken off it, is in excellent condition and there are two practise rings as well..

Since the spring, there seems to have been at least one event every week. We have stumbled across various shows and jumping events in and around the Haras. This does tend to disrupt the traffic through the town as the temporary stables are on one side of the main road and the Equivallée is on the other, but it does brings a lot of life into Cluny.

Cluny Parade Last weekend’s event was an auction of thoroughbreds. The auction started at 10.00 according the posters but, as veterans of Cluny events, we decided to arrive about an hour after the published starting time in the hope that things had got going. We were entertained to a number of demonstrations in one of the all-weather rings amongst which there was a cowboy like chap breaking in a young foal. We also saw the officials from the Haras parading round the Haras itself, then into the Equivalée and there were loads of stalls selling all sorts of horsey things including some ghastly 70’s looking horse paintings on velvet. But sadly no auction.

We asked a number of official-looking people what time the auction itself would start and had varying answers from “any minute now” (accompanied by the dangerous word normalement which usually means, I haven’t a clue when) to “in about an hour’s time”. However, we were already approaching 11.30 so if you add an hour to that you are well into lunchtime. As nothing happens during lunch round here (12.00 – 14.00), our educated guess was that the auction would not actually happen until about 14.30. Just in case we were wrong, we hung around until 12.00 then sadly we had to leave as were expecting guests in our gites.

With the amount of activity going on, in and around Cluny this year with Cluny 2010, I am sure we will bump into some more horse events, so at the end of the day we weren’t too disappointed.

Our webiste La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Bells, the Bells!

I’ve mentioned before that the bells of Taizé are the first thing I hear when I wake up in the morning, OK I know I should be up before 08.15, but that’s life in Burgundy for you. La Tuilerie Seen from Taizé In fact I was told that the reason that people sleep so well here is the extra oxygen in the air from being next to the forest. As you can see from the photo our house is nestled amongst the trees and when people come to stay here it is true that they sleep very well and deeply. I had always thought that it was the long journey they had just made, or the fact that at last they can sleep somewhere where there is no light pollution or somewhere where it is truly quiet, but Mme R reliably informed me that it is the potency of the air that does it.

Now Mme R is an interesting person, she has lived here all her life, she has an ingrained disrespect for all in authority be that local government, the police, the Catholic church or anyone else who puts their head above the parapet and she has an opinion on everything and she “knows” a lot. We love to listen to her rantings about local dignitaries, in particular the one about the Mayor (not ours I hasten to add) who was caught stealing milk from a neighbour’s farm to make cheese. His cheese farm is out of bounds to us now, we are not allowed to buy from there in case we incur Mme R’s wrath. She has a host of such stories which all go together to prove her general conspiracy theory of authority figures.

We were at Mme R’s house one day a couple of years ago when the Taizé bells started to ring and that prompted a story about how there had been a pond under the bells originally, to act as a “sound mirror” to reflect the sound far and wide. The local villagers had complained about the noise and these complaints had prompted the monks to change this situation. Another conspiracy theory, but at least the monks did the right thing in the end. We take these stories with the pinch of salt that they deserve, but we enjoy them none the less. Oh yes and don’t get her started on windmills, we have had too many hours of stories of money grabbing officials just after lining their pockets with gold at the expense of us residents!

Original Taizé Bell TowerThe other day I found a picture which shocked me to the core, I dragged Cees over to look at the picture and we finally agreed that some of what Mme R had told us was in fact true. As you can see in the photo, when the bells in Taizé were originally installed, they were indeed installed over water. What’s more, they were in a completely different tower construction, much more open and no more than 1 m from the ground with a small pond underneath. Also this old tower was in the middle of a large open space in-between the living accommodation of the monks and the new church. Those bells must have been deafening for many villages around. No wonder there were complaints!

Having said that the original bell tower is aesthetically pleasing to look at unlike the truly ugly gate-like construction the bells now hang in. However with the bells now at a height of at least 10 m above the ground, with them being relatively boxed-in in their new tower and of course with there being many new buildings around the bell tower, the sound of the bells is very pleasant indeed and not a bad sound to hear when you first wake up.

So I think an apology in order here: Sorry Mme R we will believe you next time!

For more photos of the house and where we are Click here.
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