Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Inauguration

There is nothing the French like more than a good excuse to celebrate, so this week we organised an inauguration at La Tuilerie. We invited the Mayor and two members of the council with their partners and all was set for The Inauguration.

The whole story starts really from the time we opened the gîtes in 2007 - a year after the campsite was opened. We had always allowed the campers to use our washing-lines in the back garden, to hang their washing or their wet towels on, but on a Saturday (gîte change-over day) if I wasn’t very clever, I ended up with nowhere to hang the masses of washing. We stuck up signs, warned people and as a last resort even moved their washing to take up less space, so that I could at least hang up one or two of the sheets, but there is no doubt about it, it has been difficult at times. So we were always asking around, if anyone had any old washing-line posts that we could have, to put on the campsite.

Finally last year, our friends Chris and Mary, from Varanges, came up trumps and announced that they were removing their posts and we could have them. Well actually, they had already removed one post and the second was due to be removed shortly. Sadly, Chris had already chopped one of the posts in three bits, because he was preparing to take it to the dump, but the other one could be collected intact.

I may have followed a twelve week welding course back in my student days, but rather pathetically, I never mastered the art or science of electric arc welding and so I had to find someone to reconstruct the continuity-challenged post. At the village party last year, we asked the Mayor - after he had had a couple of glasses of wine of course - if he knew anyone who could weld and his immediate reaction was that he would do it for us – result !

A couple of days later we had two whole posts, but the problem did not end there of course. Anyone who has visited here will agree that, in the dry months, the ground is harder than rock-hard and Cees and I failed to even attempt to dig holes for the posts, but Cees’ daughter and partner are not the sort of people to be defeated by a little bit of clay and they dug the holes. After concreting the posts in place and putting up the lines, we had a washing-line on the campsite, for the first time in our 7 years of being in business.

But what is a washing-line without an official opening? So Thursday evening the Mayor was invited to pin the official sock, with the official peg on to the brand-new line. He then declared our washing-line well and truly inaugurated. Thank you Jean-François !

We then all retired to the back garden to indulge in the real reason for the gathering, a few glasses of crément and aperitif snacks, leaving our campers wondering why on earth we had left a sock hanging on the new washing-line.

For more information on our lovely peaceful campsite with a brand new washing line click here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Audience Participation

Two superb concerts this last weekend, two violins and a piano minus one violin and the second was piano, trumpet and accordion.

The first lot of musicians were Czech. The violins were father and daughter, but father had fallen ill a few days before the concert. They couldn’t speak French so, I was asked to assist with communication. With a gîte changeover and Cees away at a family party, time was limited, this meant that misunderstandings were inevitably the order of the day. When I arrived at the concert I was met by the President of our club (the only one who has a smattering of English) who was very wound up. I need to put this in perspective, this guy is Mr laid-back-in-the-extreme, so “wound-up” was a bit alarming. He greeted me with “Did you know her father is dead?” I immediately felt guilty that I hadn’t asked after the father’s health when I had seen them earlier that afternoon and no, she hadn’t mentioned to me that he was dead. I was sent to ask. Now how do you ask if someone if their father has just died, a few minutes before that someone has to perform a demanding concert and needs all the concentration they can muster ? But I had been sent and so I gently asked after her father and was told that he wasn’t allowed to fly (well you wouldn’t be I suppose if you are dead would you?) but from the way she said it, it definitely seemed to me that the man hadn’t yet shuffled off this mortal coil.

In any case the change of program to a much more vibrant, dramatic show than had been planned, was well worth it and to be honest, father was most definitely not missed, dead or alive.

Sunday afternoon’s concert was accessible, toe tapping music (Gershwin, Bernstein) and the church was packed, all making for a great atmosphere. One of the players let the side down a bit by failing to properly polish his performance and whilst the other two were note perfect, he fudged a few bits and missed a few high notes. We had organised tickets for the people in the gites and one of them said that they thought it was the acoustics in the church that had squashed his high notes - strange that it only affected his instrument though. Having said that, the concert, as a whole, was top-notch and the whole audience was thrilled to bits with it.

As a volunteer, you get to sit right at the back in the last available chairs and I was squashed in next to an English tourist who hummed along to all the tunes - irritating. In the second half Monsieur P sat the other side of me and clicked his false teeth in time to the music – doubly irritating. But when they struck up “I Feel Pretty”, Monsieur P started to sing along and not that quietly either. I had visions of him dancing round a ladies dress shop - but that is an aside. Madame F, who was sitting diagonally in front of Monsieur P, was extremely irritated by his Natalie Wood (or Marni Nixon) impression and threw him one of her kill-at-ten-paces looks. But this man had spent 18 months in a German concentration camp and he can cope with the likes of her - he just kept going. Madame F always seems to get her own way and she is not known for the gentle side of her nature and so seeing her looking so cross, immediately took away any irritation I had with his singing and even though he murdered “Summertime” to the extent that I could hardly hear the musicians, I could tap my feet and sing silently along to the music myself.

The rest of the concerts in the series look as though they will as good as, if not better than, these two. One thing though, I will make sure I keep away from Monsieur P at the Georges Brassens concert, I can hear him singing already.

For our website with details of the gites click here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Woman’s Place..

I am a mechanical engineer, I have worked all my life with men, I may be physically weaker than them, but I can do blokey things within the limitations of my strength. I can put up marquees, I can change a washer, I can put a fuse in a plug, I can drive a ride-on mower, but that is behaviour that just doesn’t compute round here.

I remember the first time I turned up to help put up some marquees. Lots of strange looks and probably strange remarks, but my French was not good enough at the time to register them. To be honest I didn’t notice that I was the only woman there, and even when a woman turned up with something to eat and drink and gave me a weird look, I still didn’t register. Of course now I know better and when Cees went to put up a marquee the other morning and I had to deliver the cash boxes at 6 (yes six) o’clock in the morning, I just sat and watched. I did ask if I could do anything and our president said “Yes, you can sweep”, so sweep I did. Considering the guys were lacking in numbers and really could have done with the help, it struck me as daft, but hey I’m not French and it just confuses them, so I do it their way, well most of the time.

But sometimes I forget myself. The other evening when we were discussing who was putting out the plastic chairs in Chazelle church for the concert series Guitares en Cormatinois which starts this weekend, I suggested that I could help. “Great” said the mayor “you can sweep the floor, and get rid of the cobwebs”. So it appears that I am not even man enough to carry a chair, so sweep I did and de-cobweb I did. Everyone was very impressed with my long de-cobwebbing stick and it was declared “genial”. But again I was the one girl with the blokes and after a glass of wine I made my retreat, wishing them “bon courage” with shifting the piano, I could have helped, but I knew it would just cause tons of confusion.

Anyway, back to cleaning - a woman’s primary role. I often glean tips from campers or people in the gîtes, I have learned that the easiest way to polish a floor is to spray the cleaner on the floor then in bare feet with a duster under each foot shuffle around and there you have it, one shiny floor without an aching back. I have also learned how to keep an electric kettle looking as if it has just come out of its box, fill it with vinegar once a week or fortnight depending on use, leave it to stand for 15 minutes and empty and rinse, the vinegar can be reused. I manage to keep most things looking spick and span, but it is a constant struggle to clean the stainless taps on the campsite and to keep them looking nice. I go around with special anti-cal stuff every so often, but they soon return to “normal” with their high usage. The other day, we saw the taps in the toilet block were absolutely sparkling and we went straight to Mrs S, thanked her enormously and asked her how she had done it. She looked completely baffled. Her husband sniggered away, and then gave us his secret, put a little bit of toilet cleaner on a sponge and hey presto, no more streaks of lime on your taps.

One thing this has shown me is that maybe my thinking about stereotypes is not so different from the locals after all !

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 18 June 2012

Eternity-Coloured Rose, Perhaps with Gold Reflections

Last weekend it was an open day for the Rosarie in Cluny. This was where I did my rose pruning course back in March. The garden is looking absolutely lovely and it reminded me that I did blog about its opening back in June 2010. A quick look at the blog and I saw the photo below, which I took and I was amazed at the difference that those two years have made. Now the garden is in full bloom, with not only roses, but delphiniums, ladies mantle and sedums waiting to give colour later in the year. It has turned into a really beautiful garden and an asset to Cluny.

RosarieAs I wandered around and took pictures I noticed a plaque in memory of 22 women from Cluny who were deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. Ravensbrück, was a camp exclusively for women, figures vary but it appears that about 130,000 women passed through the camp during the war and estimates of between only 15,000 and 40,000 atually survived the experience. These kind of figures always pull me up short, especially today as we are going to a wreath laying in Cormatin this evening to remember the Appeal of 18th June, which was when Charles De Gaulle made his famous speech to the French people from London, rallying the country to back the Resistance.

There was no mention at the Rosarie if any of the Cluny ladies made it home, but there was a plaque with a lovely little poem written by Marcelle Dudach-Roset. I won’t take credit for the translation, I found this on a rose website:

“I am “Resurrection”
and all through the years,
all through the seasons,
I will remain a life witness
who will protect from barbarism
all the children of the world,
even when I have become a wild rose
lighting the way for everyone.”

Having searched around since reading this poem, I found out a little background. The survivors of Ravensbrück wanted to pay homage to those who had not survived and they came up with the idea of having a rose (which they saw as symbolising femininity) to become an emblem of peace and remembrance of the horror of the camp. They started lobbying rose breeders with their request for an “eternity-coloured rose perhaps with gold reflections”.

This dream came to fruition in 1974 when finally Michel Kriloff created “Resurrection, the Ravensbrück rose”. What a very special way to remember.

Our website La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

How to confuse two engineers with vertigo

You will probably remember the crime of the century when Fifi stole one of my goats cheeses a couple of weeks ago. Well, we have been struggling with the aftermath ever since. We felt that reporting her to the police would do no good, so we had to take measures to prevent a recurrence of this dastardly deed.

Cees mounted an eye on the top of the cage and with trepidation we both climbed step ladders and hung the cage from the roof covering the staircase to our front door. I put the remaining goats cheese in the cage and away we went. To make up for the lost cheese I put some old grated emmental in the cage as well.

Last week, I then climbed a step ladder - with trepidation - to get the blasted stuff out again and started making my fromage fort. A word of advice, do not dry old grated emmental in a cheese cage. It goes mouldy (as one would expect and as it should) and then it has such a strong flavour that the resulting fromage fort is inedible. Back to square one.

I was not too impressed about having to climb a ladder to put cheese in the cage and take it out again, so my visit to the cheese farm was delayed until a suitable solution could be found. Pulleys - that’s what we need.

Off to Briconuates in Cluny to get some pulleys. It will be easier if we get double ones, less work to raise and lower the cage – I’m an engineer I know these things. We then threaded up the pulleys and proceeded to mount ladders, with wobbly knees, to attach the pulleys to the roof. I won’t draw the pulley design we used, but suffice to say both of us had forgotten our basic mechanics and whilst the concoction looked very professional, it umm, err, well, how do I put this. It didn’t work.

PhotobucketI sat down this morning and engaged my brain for attempt two. Sadly we didn’t have enough rope for attempt two, so on to attempt three - use the double pulleys as single pulleys. Unfortunately, the pulleys then wobble all over the place, so on to attempt four.

Attempt four works!!!

Blast, it’s now too late to buy cheese so we will have to wait until La Trufière, in Lys, reopens at four o’clock. Hopefully I will be able to give a success story about the fromage fort in a couple of weeks.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Day Off

Part of our little business is helping holiday home owners and ex-pats with the problems they encounter in France. From finding plumbers and builders, to helping with the endless bureaucracy that seems to be the French way of life. The last few weeks have been very busy. I have been filling in tax forms for clients, helping sort out the remnants of the damage caused by the incredible freeze we had in February, not to mention trying to catch up on gardening work that has been neglected because of the very wet weather since the beginning of April. On top of that, there is the voluntary work with the Tourist Office, Guitar Festival in Cormatin and the Amicale, the club that runs events to fund the annual old-age pensioners’ meal and the kids’ Christmas party. But everything had to be finished before the end of the month, in time to have the day off on Thursday - Cees’ birthday.

When I was growing up, you got to choose what you wanted to do on your birthday. When I was in full-time employment, I always took a day off work on my birthday and did something special. The Dutch, on the other hand, have a party on their birthday and they work their guts out looking after their guests, something I did once and refused to ever do again, bringing comments from all and sundry, I might add. Since we have been in France, Cees has slowly come round to the idea of celebrating birthdays Nixon-style and it was his birthday on 31st of May, so he got to choose what we were going to do.

He got out the Michelin guidebooks and planned our day. He decided to go to Moulins, about 1 ½ hrs from here. From the guide books he found out that there is an interesting monastery, with a lovely cloister, nearby and an old mining village with something special.

We set off early and arrived in Noyant-d’Allier (the old mining village) at about 10 am. All the roads had names like “Allée des Roses” and “Allée des Jasmines” etc, but even these pretty, colourful names couldn’t brighten up the drab terraced houses in the rather overcast light. When I saw the old mine shaft wheel, standing there, unmoving, the image was complete. It took me back quite a few years, to when I lived in a mining community on the Nottinghamshire/South Yorkshire border, during the miners’ strike, and I can tell you, that there is nothing more heart-wrenching, than a stationary pit-wheel.

But we weren’t there to see that. So, we turned our backs on this depressing sight without taking a photo (hence the old postcard image) and we searched the map of the town, to find our real destination. We headed down L’Allée des Roses and, just as the sun came out, there it was, squeezed between the old, derelict railway line and the miserable, miners’ cottages. A pagoda, surrounded by a swarm of Buddhas. This golden chap is the biggest, but there were an uncountable number of other little ones. There was a beautiful Guanyin with a real lace shawl around her shoulders and a very large Buddha, lying in the sunlight.

In 1955, when French nationals were evacuated (or expelled) from Vietnam, Noyant-d’Allier was designated as the town to be used to re-house these evacuees. About 1500 people arrived in this old mining town, to start a new life in mainland France. They brought their customs and religion with them and finally, in 1983, they built the pagoda and have been adding statues ever since.

As we walked around the little park, there were crates of elephants and yet more Buddhas, waiting to be unpacked and placed on the plinths that were being cast that morning. Sadly, I must say that the whole is very messy and looks and feels incredibly out of place, more like a car boot sale than a holy place, but I am glad we went to have a look at this rather bizarre site.

After spending some time in the Asian shop in town, looking for some edible goodies, we left for the monastery at Souvingy.

To be continued…..

La Tuilerie Website
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