Sunday, 31 March 2013

Time to wash those feet again

A brother washes feet at Taizé (Journal de Saône-et-Loire)
I was reminded of last year’s visit to Taizé for the Maundy Thursday evening service and feet washing “ceremony”, when I read on the internet that Pope Francis was washing feet in Rome.

When I researched the feet washing thing, this time last year, I found instructions about how to prepare for the ceremony, but it was not the preparations the guy/gal doing the washing, but the instructions for the Washees that intrigued and somewhat irritated me. The Washees should make sure that their feet are clean before they come to the service, with the implication that the Bishop (or other Washer) should not be confronted by any form of dirt or smelliness. Was that what Jesus said at the last supper? “Make sure your feet are clean or I won’t wash them”. Err excuse me, washing is about cleaning, about showing you are no better than any one else and are not too important to do any task, no matter how unpleasant - it’s about being humble.

That aside, with the stinking cold I have had since our return from Malta, I decided not to go to the service at Taizé on Thursday evening and I now really regret that I didn’t go. The Taizé service has always been inter-brother feet washing experience, all of who would have equally clean or dirty feet, so probably not too many surprises. But I read in the paper, the next day, that the brothers washed the feet of the congregation for the first time. So this year there were no rules, no regulations, take it as you find it, not necessarily a nice job, but it is an action that reminds all of those involved, that we are none of us better than others, and we could all do well to remember that sometimes.

The Pope washes feet (Reuters via BBC website)
Now back to the pope’s feet washing. I am not sure whether it is unusual for a pope to wash feet or not, but I am sure that it would have been only be feet of the important, pious, invited few and I am doubly sure that the rules would have been very strict indeed. But this new pope set new standards this year, he went to a young offenders institution and washed and kissed the feet of twelve young criminals and not all of those feet looked particularly clean to me. What a gesture to make - that is leadership. Whether Pope Francis influenced the Taizé brothers actions this year or not, I don’t know, but it is an interesting and adventurous change all round.

I can’t help but be intrigued by this new pope, he has set in motion a refreshing wind of change which is wafting through the Vatican and I suspect he is sending some ripples of discontent amongst the diehards. He is reported to have shunned the almost palatial Pope’s residence and is staying in a two room suite in the building next door. I quote the BBC’s reporting directly on this one:

His spokesman said he was "trying out this type of simple living" in a communal building with other priests…. He said he could not say whether the Pope would remain in these quarters in the long term.

The new pope and  popemobile (NRC)
Maybe they are hoping he will come to his senses and soon start behaving like a normal pope, I personally think there are a lot of people who hope he will not. In any case I couldn’t resist posting this last photo (from the NRC) of a rather cute model of the new pope (taken in Izalco, San Salvador) in his super, non-bullet-proof popemobile.

Happy Easter to everyone, Washers and Washees alike.

La Tuilerie Website, giving details of accommodation within walking distance of Taizé.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A Week In Malta

Our gîte season is 1st April to 31st October, so finding time for a holiday for ourselves, when the weather in Europe is acceptable, is quite difficult. My mother came up with the idea of Malta and after some research it seemed the place to go in March. A pinprick of an island in the Mediterranean sea between Sicily and the north African coast, lovely warm weather, little rain, a nice place to go to soak up much needed sun and see interesting sites. So off the three of us went.

Coming in to land in Valletta, the captain announced that the weather was 10 degrees, rain and a very strong north-westerly wind, so strong in fact that they had to abort the landing and go round again and even when we did come down is was reminiscent of landing in a Fokker 50 at Rotterdam airport when there was a fierce cross wind and all this in an Airbus 319. Not exactly what we expected and poor Mum was nearly blown off her feet when we left the aircraft heading for the bus to take us to the terminal. We then took a kamikaze taxi ride to the hotel through the rain and I wondered what we were doing there !

Marsaxlokk fishing village
Things cheered up the next day and by day three we were at a steady 20 degrees, sun, sun, sun and we spent the morning wandering round the bay of the fishing village of Marsaxlokk looking at the Sunday morning fish market and everything in the world was as it should be when you are on holiday.

Malta itself was not at all what I had expected. It boasts more churches than the days of the year and that is no mean feat for an island that is about 316 square kilometres (about size of Rotterdam) that’s more then one church per square kilometre, all of which are almost full on a Sunday. Having said that, the architectural value of most of these buildings was not very impressive and whereas I thought we would spend our time church hopping, wondering at the over-the-top Rocco style, promised to be so abundant on the island, we gave up after the first one or two. Wandering the small side-streets looking up at the covered balconies in Valletta and Vittoriosa in the spring sunshine, was a pleasure in its own right, but the main “attractions” in Valletta itself were not as interesting as I had expected them to be.

Ħaġar Qim Temple
What was an eye-opener, was the amount of Megalithic remains to be found. The islands of Malta and Gozo seem to be littered with these remains and a number of the temples have been excavated and preserved. They are well worth a visit. I was stunned by the completeness and complexity of these edifices and to think that these were built 1,000 years before Stonehenge.

All in all we had a lovely relaxing week, pottering around, soaking up much need sun to revitalise us for the season to come.

It's time to be thinking about your own holiday, so why not click here for details of our holiday homes which are nowhere near Malta but they are in our own little bit of paradise here in Burgundy.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A Day out in Beaune

The Hospice de Beaune
We tell everyone who stays here in one of the gites, that they must visit Beaune. It is not too far from here and it's well worth the visit. So with my brother and sister-in-law staying for a couple of days, there was no doubt in my mind where we would spend one of those days.

The absolute highlight of Beaune is the mediaeval hospital. The view of the roofs when you enter the courtyard, never fails to take my breath away. The quality of the hospital facilities is incredible considering the general conditions people lived in, in those days. The founders were very generous people, they were people with a real social conscience, people who believed in good healthcare for all, no matter what their status in life.

The hospital was roughly split in two, the huge ward for the masses and the smaller rooms for the rich who could pay and it was partly these rich who kept the whole thing going. But the financial endowment from the founders and the fees from the rich, were not enough to keep this very modern hospital running and that is where wine comes in. Of course Burgundy is the home of wine and so an endowment of vineyards is as valuable, if not more so, than mere money.

Every year the wines from the Beaune vineyards are sold at auction and make a fortune for the hospital. This money kept it running, as not only a hospital for the people, but as a cutting-edge medical research establishment and the same is true for today.

Tasting the wine
Obviously the other thing to visit in Beaune when you are there, is one of the wine cellars and this time that is exactly what we did. We went to visit the Marche aux Vins housed in the church of the monastery of the Courdeliers, a most impressive building. You have a choice of an eight or a twelve wine tour. We took the twelve. I had no idea what to expect. We were let loose in the cellars to taste the wine that was at each tasting station. Each wine was described and there was an opportunity to buy each step of the way. There were notices warning about drinking too much and saying that the total time in the wine tasting area was not allowed to exceed an hour, but in fact that was just their get-out clause for drunkards. In total we were in there for more than an hour and a half and lot of that time was in the last, supervised, section where the really good (read expensive) wines were served. The chap there was extremely knowledgeable and had a whole host a stories to tell, whilst we also enjoyed the wine and wondered at the timpanum on the wall, that once graced the entrance to the ancient church.

Where the expensive wines were kept
It was in this section that we got to taste some serious wine. Not the best available (which could be up to a thousand Euros a bottle) but at 45 Euros a bottle, I think that is good enough for the likes of me. Sadly I was the driver, so all my wine was either spat out or poured away... what a waste. So now for my expert opinion of these stunning wines. Yes you can tell a difference, in the smoothness and what I can only describe as the “complexity” of tastes, but really for me, I prefer something simpler - read cheaper.

We didn't but any wine, but I am really pleased that I have at last tasted some real Beaune wine and I must say it was not bad at all !

For information about our gites (holiday home rentals) click here.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cluny Abbey Revealed

The Paschal Lamb from the Abbey
Cluny Abbey has undergone some dramatic restoration over the last five years and as regular visitors, we have watched every stage of the way.  On the first Sunday in February the Administrator of the Abbey gave a guided tour of the latest changes. Unfortunately we had already paid for our St Vincent lunch when we found out, so sadly, we missed out on that one. On talking to some friends who had gone, they said that the Administrator had agreed to do another tour in March and that was last Sunday.

About 100 people turned up for the tour and we were taken around all the work that has been done, not only in the last year, but in the last five years, some open to the public, some almost open to the public and some that you will only be able to see by special permission. His objective with the tour was not only to let us see the work (something we could have done on our own) but to put the work in context. He explained not only what we were seeing but why these works had been chosen over things and the ongoing hopes for the future.

View from the dortoir
Because of the desire of the authorities to totally destroy the abbey after the revolution, different parts of the original footprint have been built on. The Engineering School ENSAM owns most of the 18th century parts of the abbey and the National Stud has its stables over a large part of the church itself. This of course makes renovation or reconstructing parts of the mediaeval church and monastery very difficult indeed. Not only do you have to demolish buildings to get access to the ancient foundations, but there have to be negotiations between a number of different parties, all with their own agendas and requirements.

The tour started at half past two and we would still be going now if our guide had had his way, but as the abbey closes to the public at five o’clock in winter, he had to let us go. It was two and a half hours of incredibly interesting historical, archaeological and architectural details interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. Boy could this guy talk and he could project his voice so that all hundred of us could hear him clearly as well.

The highlights? Seeing the abbey from inside the church. That sounds strange, but because of the way the National Stud has been built, up until recently (when one of their buildings was demolished) the only “internal” parts of the church that could be visited were a small chapel on the short transept and half of the long transept. Now you can stand in amongst the reconstructed pillar bases actually inside the main body of the church which gives an incredible view of just how enormous it all was.

The farinier restored
The Farinier (flour store) was an unexpected highlight. We have seen this building many times, but it has now been cleared of all the broken stones that were kept in there, cleaned up, restored and given a new entrance.

Another highlight was seeing the mediaeval pillars of the chapter house, which were found by accident when restoring the walls of the 18th century chapter house. Seeing the altar base stone from Cluny II, the only visible remains of that church, was also something special. We were surprisingly treated to a visit into the, as yet un-restored, area where the monks’ cells were, which was very interesting. I had expected the 18th century ablutions to be one of the highlights, but it didn’t look too different to any other 18th century sink to me, although the visit outside that part of the building, to look at the St Anne chapel, was an unexpected bonus.

All in all a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, I only wish we had had more time.

For our holiday accommodation near Cluny click here.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Big News Events

The daily newspaper of choice round here is the Journal de Saône-et-Loire and rightly so, this quality newspaper covers all the news that is important for us to know about, not only local but also national and international news as well. We are kept updated about everything.

They have arrested the bank machine robbers !
The newspaper of the 1st of March as usual had all the important world events on the front cover. The leading story was that the police have found and arrested the people who stole our bank machine, the second story is that this winter has been the most depressing since 1943 and the third was about some chap who had resigned from his job in Rome.

The big headline gave us a double page spread on how the gang, that stole Cormatin’s bank machine, have been found and how four of the six gang members have been arrested. Now here is an interesting bit of information I gleaned from the article, this gang can remove a bank machine from a wall and make a getaway within two minutes. Their technique has not been very subtle, drive a stolen large piece of machinery into the side of the bank, destroying the walls, use a stolen crane to yank the machine out of the rubble and put it on the back of a stolen lorry and drive off quickly. For that 2 minutes of work, they get between 10 and 50 thousand Euros a go. Because no bank is safe to keep your money in (thanks to them) they had to bury the loot in their back garden, hence the fact that they were found out. Let’s hope that this arrest will encourage the bank to give us a new machine.

Grey sky winter
The weather headline led to a single page article. Meteorically speaking, the winter ended on 28th February, so of course you expect the newspaper on March 1st to update us on all the winter’s weather statistics. This winter has been the wettest on record since 1943, wet weather means clouds and lots of them, so whereas we should have an average of 198 hours in the winter months, this winter we were 40% down on that figure, the least amount of sunlight since 1950. No wonder everyone is calling it a depressing winter. The meteorologists are predicting that it will cheer up soon, let’s hope so.

Benedict XVI waves to the crowds
And finally the third story in the news - the Roman retiree. A small item, buried in the international section of the paper told us that this chap (Benedict) retired from his job in Rome aged 75, apparently he left his last day of work in a helicopter wearing a red cape and brown shoes – him, not the helicopter. No other details, but he must be quite important if he gets a mention in the paper.

So there you have it, news (almost) hot off the press, from our little piece of Burgundy.

La Tuilerie Website
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