Sunday, 30 December 2012

Taizé Goes to Rome

The Pope joining the Taizé prayers (F1 TV)
As at the end of every year, the brothers of Taizé leave their community in France for a few days and go off to the European Meeting - this year it’s Rome. The young people arrived in Rome on Friday and they will stay until 2nd of January.

The brothers leaving the prayers in Rome (Taizé website)
The Pope joined the prayers last night in the square outside St Peter’s Basilica with the 40 thousand or so young people joining in. One of the photos was taken from the news on France 1 last night and the other is from the Taizé website. I particularly like the one showing the brothers leaving the prayers and moving towards the pilgrims in the square – from their side, it must be a very moving and uplifting experience to see so many people there just because of them.

End of Sunday's service in Taizé
But what happens here when everyone has gone? Well prayers go on as usual, there is always someone here. The old brothers who can’t travel, the sisters of St Andrews and of course, the local congregation. This morning the Sunday service was held in the small Romanesque church. It was packed with the hundred or so locals who come every Sunday, rain or shine, pilgrims and brothers or not. A very intimate and different kind of service, with the singing ringing round the Romanesque edifice, a sound not often heard within these walls, but it is what they were built for and it is good to see the church being used in this way, every so often.

La Tuilerie Website for accommodation within walking distance of Taizé.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Wine for Christmas

New wine producer in Bray
When people stay in the gîtes or on the campsite, they often ask us, what good wine there is to buy round here. Well we are in Burgundy, so you would suppose that the red is good. Actually we are in the white Burgundy wine region and good local reds are few and far between. Having said that, there is a pocket of red wines that are quite superb and only well known to the locals. Those are the wines from Bray, a couple of kilometres from here.

When we first arrived, some French people staying on the campsite, invited us to join them for a glass of red wine they had bought from Bray and we were stunned by the quality. All of the local red wines we had bought had been unmitigated disasters and expensive to boot. At around 8 Euros a bottle, Henri Lafarge is not that expensive and is every bit worthy to be called a Burgundy.

Henri Lafarge has been selling off small parcels of his vineyards over the last few years and there are now two new, young producers of wine in Bray, who do an excellent job. Peter Gierszewski – Domaine de Thalie - was the first that we got to know. He is farming organically and surprisingly his bottles do not shout ORGANIC at you, nor does the price and even more surprisingly his wine is quite superb. At long last someone who is confident of his ability as a producer not to have to rely on a gimmick.

Jeweller showing his wares at the wine tasting
A few weeks ago another new viticulteur in Bray (Christophe Perrin) had an open weekend, you could taste the wines and he had invited local artists and food producers to join in the fun. Our favourite goats’ cheese maker La Trufière from Lys was there, along with someone selling oysters and other shellfish, a local painter, potter, jeweller and basket maker, but we were there for the wine.

Apparently he had bought four different parcels of land and he started making wine in 2009. He had two parcels for white and two parcels for red wine, he also combined the two different whites to make, in my opinion, a far superior wine.

Different soil types with their respective bottles
In the wine cellar where you could taste the red wine, there was a little display of soils samples from the four land parcels and I was amazed that the content of the ground was so very different for each parcel, despite the fact that the parcels are very close to the other. No wonder the wines all had a distinctive flavour.

Now here is some really good news for all those visiting here. Monsieur Perrin is moving the Chazeux next year - just at the end of our road - so we will even less distance to go to get some really good wine.

Merry Christmas everyone – we’ll be enjoying a good bottle of local Burgundy red this year!

For details of the accommodation we rent out near Bray and other excellent wine areas see La Tuilerie Website.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Mud Huts and Prayer Stools

Taizé nativity scene 2012
It’s that “Taizé Nativity Scene” time of year again. Rather than do a rundown week by week, here’s just two pictures in one. This year the theme is Africa, so Mary and Joseph are black Africans, as are all the rest of the cast and the stable is a mud hut. I’m not sure quite what the deeper meaning is behind it, but it is an interesting twist, particularly as when there were discussions to found a Jewish homeland in the early 1900s, one of the options was Uganda. But I don’t think that that is the link they are thinking of.

Romanesque church Taizé
In any case we were in Taizé and as Cees has been trying to photograph the old church for quite some time now, we popped into the little Romanesque church to see if it would be possible. The problem is that the church is incredibly dark inside, spookily so to be honest. Most of the potential windows have been closed off leaving just one real window in the whole church and a few very small windows in the apse. All the windows, bar one, are in traditional Taizé orange which lets very little light through - a bit like the use of red light in the old fashioned dark rooms. The church also has dark grey walls and poor Cees has nearly broken his neck on a couple of occasions, when we have gone in there, tripping over a payer stool left in the middle of the walkway. The church is normally full of young people praying, which means you can’t leave the doors open to let enough light in to walk around without disturbing them. But now that there are only a few brothers and a handful of permanents in Taizé, the church can be found completely empty on some occasions, as was the case the other day.

My first attempt at a Taizé prayer stool
While Cees was photographing the architectural features that the church has to offer, I spotted a lonely prayer stool at the front and decided it was about time I tried one out. I always sit on the floor during services, but I have closely watched stool users, so I know how, in theory, to use one. Having watched far too many novices end up with their legs flailing in the air after misplacing their bottom or having the stool angle the wrong direction, I have never dared to try in public. So now was my chance.

Here is photographic proof of my attempt - not a very good photo I’ll grant you. I must say I was surprised. It was in fact very comfortable. Having said that, I am not sure I would be confident enough to try during a service, it’s that bit where you have to turn around through 180 degrees, that tends to be the death knell for many a middle aged beginner.

Next time I am at a service I will watch how the experts do the turn, then I may move on to practicing at home and then who knows, I could progress to being a fully qualified Taizé prayer stool user.

La Tuilerie Website showing accommodation with plenty of prayer stool practice space and within walking distance of Taizé itself.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Film and Food - a very French Phenomenon

The other evening we went to see the smash hit film “Les Saveurs du Palais”, which translates as “the flavours of the palace” or “the flavours of the palate”, giving it one of the more clever play on words I have seen since being here in France. It is a film about a woman who was the private cook for an unnamed French president, how she was bullied and generally how her life was made a misery by the chef in the Palais d’Elysée (where the French president lives), until she left after 2 years, then went to live on a sub-Antarctic island and cook for the resident scientists for a year and the film ends when she is setting off to New Zealand to start a truffle farm.

All that makes it sound like it could be an interesting story, but it wasn’t. In fact I found it difficult to find a coherent story line at all, the problems and ideas were not worked through and what an Australian film crew was doing in the midst of it all, is still a mystery to me. Having said that (apart from the Australian film crew) the casting is spot on and the acting was superb, but surely that is not enough to make this film such a huge hit? No it is not.

The real reason for this film’s success, is peculiarly French. It is in fact the food that keeps this film playing to sell-out audiences. The food is truly exquisite. Even the mention of the menus to be prepared drew sighs from the audience and the filming of a Bresse chicken with truffles stuffed under its skin got gasps of ecstasy. Every single dish displayed, got an ooh or an ahh and when the president ate a piece of bread dripping with butter and loaded with slices of truffles (see photo) washed down with a glass of Chateau Rayas 1969 (which sells today for over 500 Euros a bottle ex tax) the audience went into raptures of delight.

Truffles on country bread dripping with melted butter

That was what the film was about – food - French food at its best. The final dish presented, just before the end of the film, was the iconic dessert St Honoré which echoed back to her time at the Palais d’Elysée, who’s other address is 55 Rue de Faubourg-St-Honoré.

St-Honoré gateau
But a film like this would not be complete without a tasting of its own, so while the director and one of the actors answered questions after the film, four of the best restaurants around here and two viticulturists from nearby, set up a tasting of their own specialties, for the nearly 300 members of the audience. We all went down to the front of the cinema and crowded on to the stage and in something reminiscent of a rugby scrum, we all managed to try out the food and wine on offer.

Nowhere else in the world can I imagine an evening like this, it was as I said - it was very French.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Christmas Markets

Mères de Noël
We woke up this morning to a lovely crisp, very cold, white day, -4 degrees outside and frost on the fields and trees. It makes a change from the miserable, wet and foggy weather we have been suffering for the last few weeks.

Despite the temperature, it felt so much warmer than previous days and it was a joy to be out and about. So off we went to the annual Mères de Noël exhibition - this year in Massilly and Cortambert.

Massilly village hall
The Mères de Noël are a group of female artists/artisans who display and sell their work somewhere round here, in the lead up to Christmas. They move venues, as the mood takes them and I must say that this year was much nicer than some other years we have seen. The village hall in Massilly, built only about 4 years ago, is an absolutely lovely venue, very light and spacious and the exhibiters had plenty of room to show their products off in their full glory. Cortambert on the other hand was a bit dismal and cramped in comparison, but with the fluffy clouds hanging from the ceiling and the very colourful goods on sale, it still made a pretty sight.

Cortambert village hall
I had a great time looking at all the lovely pottery, jewellery, clothes, leatherwork, wooden toys and glasswork. A great place to get original Christmas presents from.

They are threatening snow tomorrow, so it should be a white day again, but this time we’ll be staying indoors.

La Tuilerie Website
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