Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday Night

A week in Taizé starts on a Sunday with the huge morning service (Catholic eucharistic with a Taizé twist) and the week ends with the same service the following week. But the last real day of the week is the Saturday and that is the day that prepares people to go home. The final Bible explanation and the final discussion groups are in the morning and the last evening service starts at eight thirty. This service often goes on until very late in the night - as long as there is even just one singer left, some monks will always stay behind to accompany them.

Whilst the Saturday evening services are like all the rest of the evening services in content (songs & silence) they culminate in the lighting of candles, a gesture that has is roots in the lighting of the Paschal candle on Easter Sunday.

For most people who come to spend a week in Taizé, Saturday evening is the last time they will be with their newly found friends, people they have spent a week with, people they have shared their beliefs with and people they come to know and trust. This service is the real end to their week, a parting of the ways - but it is also a new beginning.

At the end of the service the candles of the people at the edge of the central “garden” area are lit and then the light fans out into the whole church as everyone with a lit candle lights the candle of their neighbour thus passing the light on until everyone in the whole church is holding a flickering candle. Whilst as I said, this ceremony has its origins in Easter (the risen Christ as the light of the world) I believe that the act of passing the light on to your neighbour is more about passing the message on, passing the light, that your week has given you, on to your home community when you return to “reality”. For many it is a very moving and emotional end to a week’s stay in Taizé.

It must be said though that the thought of 6 thousand candles burning in such a tightly packed environment put me off attending that service for a long time, what would happen if……….? My factory, engineering and safety background sent chills down my spine at the very thought and when I did pluck up the courage to go to the service, I made sure I was close to an emergency exit. But as ever, the amazing organisation up on top of the hill has come up with a solution - candles that self extinguish. The candles are in fact quite thin (about 6 mm), they are non-drip but more cleverly they can only burn for 6.5 minutes, leaving about 14cm of un-burnt candle, then they go out and they cannot be re-lit. There is enough time for all the candles in the church to be lit and to have a very stilling and stunning effect, but it is not long enough for people to start walking around with lit candles, possibly tripping up or causing some other accident. I did once discuss the safety aspects with one of the brothers and he said that in all the years they have been doing this, there has never been an incident, yet another testimony to the sense of responsibility of the young people that attend.

In any case, it is a very special service to attend, certainly in the darker months when there is no additional light from outside and the church just glows with candle light.

Two of the pictures are from the Taizé website. Copyright © Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, 71250 Taizé, France and the other one is an old postcard also from the Taizé Presse.

Our website describes the accommodation we offer near Taizé. La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Spring is in the Air

France is starting to wake up after its winter sleep, not only will the jonquilles (wild daffodils) be in full bloom soon, this is the weekend of the Mimosa festivals.

Mimosa at Cluny Market
Whilst the mimosa is not native to these parts it didn’t stop Cluny market being full of the stuff this morning. Almost everyone leaving, had a bunch of these fluffy yellow flowers, giving the whole town a yellow spring glow to it.

At this is the time of year, when nature starts to get on the move, it is obviously time for the national agricultural show in Paris. The fact that this most prestigious of shows is held in Paris shows that the French still hold agriculture in high esteem. The president visits the show every year and samples the farmers’ produce from wine to beef to lamb to cheese, jams and jellies, fruit and veg, everything needs to sampled and almost every exhibitor needs to be spoken to. Well that was how it used to be done until a tee-total, almost vegetarian, Spitting Image puppet took over the job that is. The previous president, President Chirac, went every single day of the 9 – 10 day show but President Sarkosy attends for about half an hour, normally on the last day and only if he cannot make an excuse to be somewhere else. Such is his apparent disinterest in the industry that still employs more people than any other in the country.

In 2008 he showed up on the last day and such was the contempt that some of the farmers felt for him, when he tried to shake the hand of one of them he was rebuffed with “Don’t touch me, I’ll never feel clean again”. Being an eloquent man our wonderful president replied with “Casse-toi alors, pauvre con !” not too far from “ you bastard” – very presidential and all caught on video. This phrase has since followed him around and was used on a banner last week by a French teacher in Cairo during the demonstrations in Tarhir Square. The teacher claimed that this was the message that Sarkozy should be sending to Mubarak – maybe he did send it, as we all know Mubarak did step down.

This incident is just one of many that has embarrassed Sarkosy since that episode a few years ago, but this year he seems to have set out on a charm offensive regarding the farmers, he has actually officially opened the agricultural show in Paris and has spent a significant amount of time talking to farmers and apparently listening to their concerns. One farmer is even quoted as saying “this was just like a visit à la President Chirac”. A far cry from the headlines in 2008. So it looks like spring fever has come to Sarkosy as well as the rest of us and it really is just a coincidence that there will an election next year.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Thanksgiving for the Wine

Saint Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of winemakers and his day is 22nd January, he is BIG in Burgundy. His day has been celebrated since the middle ages but for some reason the celebrations gradually dwindled in popularity in the late 19th early 20th centuries. In 1938 la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Wine-Tasting Cup) an exclusive Burgundian club for wine connoisseurs decide to revive the tradition. Amongst the aims of their club are:
"To hold in high regard and encourage the use of the products of Burgundy, particularly her great wines and her regional cuisine. To maintain and revive the festivities, customs and traditions of Burgundian folklore".
So thus began La Saint Vincent Tournante. One town in Burgundy is chosen to have the official Saint Vincent party each year, this choice rotates around the great winemaking areas and around the Départements of Burgundy. This year was the turn the Département of Yonne and the Chablis wine area.

But not to miss out on the fun, this area also has its own mini St Vincent Tournante covering 12 villages in the South Chalonnais and North Maconnais winegrowing areas. This year it was to be held in St Ythaire, a village that some friends live in and we have been hearing about the preparations from them for ages. Every Thursday evening since late November they have been making paper flowers. Not just one evening but probably about 10 evenings with the whole village involved. Countless thousands of flowers have been made. Each evening was dedicated to a different flower. Some roses, carnations, daffodils, tulips, wisteria, forsythia, apple blossom, you name it they made it. These flowers were finally used on the weekend of 5th/6th February to decorate the village in preparation for the parade on Sunday morning which we were to attend.

We arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at 09.30 to find loads of people sampling the local produce. Some where dressed in medieval outfits, some in brightly coloured cloaks and funny hats and then there were the rest of us, dressed suitably against the cold. We set off up the hill for the 15 minute walk to the church with a horse and cart carrying barrels of wine in front of the parade. Each village had their own banner and small statue of Saint Vincent that two men carried on a carrier balanced on their shoulders. It was quite a site as the parade wound its way through the vineyards past hedgerows full of a dazzling array of very realistic paper flowers.

The church was packed leaving standing room only for those at the back of the parade, we fortunately managed to get a pew not realising that we were right by the hunting horns which were to herald the start and finish of the service. They nearly blasted us out through the stained glass windows! (The photo shows how close we were). The parade then continued on to the war memorial where a wreath was laid, I won’t mention the rendition of La Marsaillaise, suffice to say it was very memorable mostly by not really resembling the national anthem – must be all that wine so early in the morning. Then of course on to the Town Hall for more wine and nibbles.

Ah but you can’t just stop there - no the day has only just begun. Everyone jumped into their cars and off to Saint Gengoux le National for lunch. What a lunch !

Pâté de canard avec son foie gras, dôme de sole, queues d’écrevisse sauce du chef avec riz et fleuron, trou Bourguignon, souris de cerf braisé, fromages plateau, mignardises, café. Roughly translated as heavenly food presented beautifully with a different wine for each course all exquisitely matching the flavours of the different dishes and everything efficiently served to 220 people simultaneously. What an organisation!

There were speeches and awards, new Knights were named and each was duly knighted by using a huge corkscrew in place of a sword. By 19.00 the coffee had arrived (don't forget this was a lunch!) and the dancing had begun, at that point we beat a tired retreat back home and left the revellers to it, we heard later that they carried on until midnight when they had soupe à l’oignon and then they carried on some more until the early hours by which time this pair of wimpish foreigners were long in bed!

La Tuilerie Website

Friday, 4 February 2011

Is Winter Over?

As in most countries, the weather is always a topic of conversation when bumping into friends and neighbours. Not normally noteworthy discussions, but I was intrigued when a neighbour said to me on Tuesday that winter was over because it was a cloudy miserable day. The logic baffled me somewhat and to ascertain how he “knew” this interesting fact, I asked for clarification and he explained that the 2nd February was La Chandleur (Candlemas) and

Si la Chandeleur dégoute, l'hiver est passé sans doute.

Well it was a pretty disgusting day so he may be right. Punxsutawney Phil?

When I got home I looked around on the Internet and I found an old English saying:

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter is gone and will not come again

Over and above that, I was reminded that Candlemas is also “Groundhog Day” and anyone who has ever seen the film with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell will not be able to forget Punxsutawney Phil poking his head out of his burrow to see if he casts a shadow or not. Truly inspired I decided to put all this to the test.

As many will know I have a bit of an obsession with the weather, I write down every day what the weather is in the morning, in the afternoon and during the evening/night. I read off the maximum and minimum temperatures for each day as well as measuring the rainfall. Not extremely scientific but close enough to create an interesting record. So out came my spreadsheet and I set to work.

Weather on 2nd February whilst we have been in France:
2006 misty all day, under zero for another 12 days and snow was lying on the ground for 6 days only 4 days without freezing weather in next 60 days.
2007 cloudy all day, very little frost after this date.
2008 sunny all day, very cold until the end of March.
2009 sunny all day, very cold until the end of March.
2010 sunny all day, very cold until the end of March.
2011 cloudy all day, it has warmed up already but who knows what will happen.

So apart from 2006, which could of course have been a sunny day just trying to break through the mist, it seems like it works!

And with that exciting discovery my mind wandered on to Saint Swithun's day (July 15). The weather on St Swithun's day is said to continue for the next 40 days, so if it rains on that day, 40 days of rain will follow and if it is sunny, we will get 40 days of sun. Well without going into copious boring details, this does not work at all, not one single year whilst we have lived here comes anywhere near meeting the criteria above. However, I then spotted in Wikipedia that in France it is Saint Medard’s day (June 8), that influences the weather not old St Swithun from Winchester, logical really why would an English saint have any effect on French weather? Back to the spreadsheet.

June 8th - July 18th
2006 sunny. Apart from three late evening thunderstorms there was no rain and it was sunny almost every day.snowdrops
2007 cloudy morning and sunny afternoon. We had changeable weather right through to 11th July then it was sunny.
2008 cloudy morning and sunny afternoon, cool weather. It stayed cool for another 2 weeks then hot and sunny for 2 weeks then cool and rainy.
2009 sunny morning and rain in the afternoon. Amazingly enough half the days until the 18th were very similar.
2010 drizzle all day. It rained for next 12 days, then it was sunny until after the 18th.

So how does St Medard fare? My unscientific analysis of this one is that he only seems to predict the weather for about 2 weeks, then the next 3 – 4 weeks of his prediction time are a bit hit and miss.

Anyway, back to winter - is it over or not? The spring bulbs are all poking out of the ground, Fifi is spending a lot of time outside and there is a lot of chattering of birds and frantic activity in the hedges, so maybe my neighbour is right and winter is in fact over. Time will tell.

La Tuilerie Website
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