Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Circus Came to Town

Every year a travelling circus visits Cormatin. We see the posters go up a couple of days in advance, then the trucks roll into town and the tent goes up. It is a family affair, Mum, Dad, the kids and the grand kids and it is very small-time. Due to an overabundance of embarrassment at not having small children to take with us, we have never gone, but this year we steeled ourselves and decided to go anyway and see what they had to offer - we weren't disappointed.

We parked near the Plan d'Eau (the fishing lake) and walked towards the circus tent. The first thing we saw was a small hump-backed cow (a miniature version of the ones you see in India) a very long horned cow, a lama, a goat and lots of chickens. My mind boggled what they were going to get the chickens to perform, or maybe they were just there to feed the other animals?

There were 36 chairs set out in the small Big Top for the audience, so the circus company obviously didn't have great expectations as to the crowds they would pull. We took our seats and waited. Some friends, who had come with their 4 year-old grandson, told us it was only for little people, which prompted a remark from Cees about my height, which I won't repeat. Indeed we were the only adults that turned up without very small children, the average age of which was about 3.

The show opened with a horse, who trotted round the ring in one direction, then the other, then the other, then the other etc etc, then it left. Next were little girls who did a little bit of tumbling. I must say that if they were my kids or grand kids I would have been very proud, but... The whole thing then started to really hot up, on came the ferrets, who wiggled in and out of some sticks and up and down a tube. The hula-hoops next - that girl really shouldn't wear a leotard it is not very flattering... On to the tightrope walking cat - oh yes this circus had it all ! The belly dancer (with as much belly as me to dance with) invited the local nurse to join her in the act, something she came to regret, when a boa constrictor was put round her neck. Then the finale, the goat who climbed to the top of a tower.

Absolutely brilliant, I haven't enjoyed so much in a long time.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Crime-Free Zone

One things we love about living here is the total lack of crime. We have been away on holiday and forgotten to lock our doors and indeed we have some friends who didn’t have any locks on their doors at all for the first five years they lived here, they only went out to buy some locks when they were going away for a month and thought it prudent not to leave the house open for that long ! We don’t have a policeman in town and we rarely see the boys in blue, except when they set up a speed trap by the chestnut tree. So imagine our surprise when we saw three policemen, two police cars, a security agent (identified by the word SÉCURITÉ in huge letters written on his back), a security agent’s car and lots and lots of people milling around late on Tuesday afternoon.

We were on our way to the library where Mlle B, the mayor’s secretary, manages the town’s motley collection of books. So we asked about the heavy police presence in town. Mlle B looked baffled, this is not an unusual reaction from her, we do seem to cause more than our fair share of confusion for her and the other town hall workers by asking weird questions. Fortunately the deputy mayor was there and he chipped in, quite disappointed that Mlle B did not know about the hottest gossip in town in the last two hundred years. Some one had tried to rob the new bank machine, the previous night.

The bank machine is Cormatin’s pride and joy, or should I say the mayor’s pride and joy, as he had been trying to get one installed in town for the last 10 years and finally succeeded just two years ago. We were all so proud of this achievement that a party and opening ceremony was held in its honour, with a representative from the French government in attendance, yes it was THAT big an event.

Anyway, the bank machine is installed in the wall of the town hall and the money is held in a locked room where the town jail used to be (maybe there was crime around here once upon a time). The town hall is in a relatively uninhabited part of town, except for Monsieur M, the recently retired Guard Champetre, who lives in a flat above the town hall itself. He was woken up at about 1 am by the sound of an angle grinder, he looked out of his window and saw some guys trying to break into the bank machine, he called the gendarmes, but the thieves escaped empty-handed (in a dark coloured car) before they arrived.

For whatever reason the bank were not been able to remove the money from the machine on Tuesday or Wednesday and only managed to send someone to empty the machine about mid-day Thursday. So what do you do if you have thousands of Euros in a damaged bank machine in the criminal capital of Burgundy? Yes that’s right, you put a plastic garden chair next to the machine and you hire someone to sit there day and night, with SÉCURITÉ written in big letters on his back, just in case the bad guys come back. If the security guard needs to go and have lunch or just to stretch his legs, what does he do? He leaves the chair and the thousands of Euros unattended and un-amazingly they are still there when he gets back. I love this town.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Roche de Solutré

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in the month and this is when lots of museums are free or have reduced entry fees. One museum in particular we have wanted to go to for ages is the Museum of Prehistory at the base of Roche de Solutré. The temptation of a free visit has kept us from going during the week and for whatever reason we have never managed a first Sunday in the month until this weekend.

The rock never ceases to impress me, as you stand at the base looking up. Since our last visit, they have built a nice new car park, even though it is a bit difficult to get in and out of and to be honest it is nowhere near big enough.

When we entered the museum, we were given a audio guide device, which you can have in any language. We really like these gadgets as they allow you to get in-depth information about the exhibits at your own pace. On this occasion, the English voice was a female non-native speaker who stumbled over a lot of words, and words like Palaeolithic and Neanderthal caused serious problems, which is not too clever when those are the sort of words used rather a lot in a museum of prehistory. Another very annoying thing, is that the everything in the museum is laid out right to left so 2,000,000 BC is on the right and 1,000 BC is on the left, it took me ages to match the commentary to the exhibits, it just shows how pre-programmed we all are at reading everything from left to right.

The museum continued outside, quite why I am not sure, as there was nothing in the commentary that had to be said outside. The dreadfully small steps (shorter than the length of my huge size 2 ½ shoes) that undulate up and down outside did not help our mood or enjoyment of the views, constantly having to watch our feet so that we didn’t fall over.

Back inside and I had given up on the irritating woman doing the commentary and I went to play in the kids’ section, which was actually fun and interesting.

Overall, I am glad it was free, but to me the whole thing was a missed opportunity, far too much boring detail on what is actually a very interesting subject. Our mood dampened by the cool and cloudy weather and the uninspiring museum, we put off the walk to the top of the rock and went back to the car.

As we walked along, we were greeted by a paraglider who was swooping over the rock. We had more fun watching him zipping back and forth, catching the thermals, than in the whole of the museum. We went to retrieve our car, as he landed nearby. Having seen signs to a different car park, we decided to have a look at it. This second car park is much bigger and nicer and has a stunning panorama over the area and it is only 200 metres further away from the rock. It made me laugh that all these visitors preferred to park on the side of the road, half in ditches, or in the cramped car park, rather than walk the extra few metres, when the whole reason they had come here was to walk to the top of the rock !

The paraglider had actually landed in this second car park and as I took a photo of the magnificent view of Roche de Solutré and Roche de Vergisson, he was packing up his kit in the foreground.

Next time we come, we will choose a sunny day, we will avoid the museum and we will climb the rock.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pruning Roses

I love pruning roses, I don’t know why, as they are tricky, prickly little devils, but I enjoy it anyway. Hybrid tea roses are the ones I am most familiar with as this is what we had in our garden in Ickenham, when I was a kid. Now I have quite a selection of different types, scattered all over the garden and I have never been too sure what to do with some of them, particularly the climbing and rambling roses.

The beautiful, red, persistent flowering, climber by the entrance to the toilet block (in the photo) has been a worry to me as it only seems to flower at the top, but over the years I have slowly got it to flower lower down, by guessing at what I should do. So imagine my excitement when there was a FREE rose pruning course at the rose garden in Cluny last weekend.

The poster said that there were two courses, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, bring your own secateurs. It was obviously a way to get all the roses pruned in as short a time as possible. A case of “We tell you how to do it for free, then you prune our roses.” Not a bad idea I thought.

I arrived with my secateurs on the dot (I know I should have learned by now that all things start late in this country, but I am chronically “on time” - I just can’t help it) and then the few of us that were there, hung around getting cold, until the bulk of the people turned up. A rose grower and breeder had come up from near Marseille to do the pruning session and he had other ideas about using amateur, slave labour to prune the precious roses he had supplied to the rose garden. He did all the pruning himself, talking as he went, explaining what he was doing and giving loads of tips along the way.

It was a cold morning and many people drifted away, perhaps bored by the lack of action, but I was transfixed. I told him about my climbing rose and what I had been doing to get it to flower lower down and to my great surprise and pride he told me I was doing exactly the right thing ! I was also thrilled to find out that all my rose pruning techniques (mostly based on gut feel rather than anything else) were the text-book French way of doing things, so now I can confidently prune our clients’ roses without feeling that I might be doing it wrong.

Even though I do look rather cold in the photo, I really enjoyed those couple of hours. Thank you Mr Rose Man.
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