Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday Opening and Tourist Towns

Cluny - worth a detour
I can remember the debate about Sunday opening, when I lived in the UK, more than 25 years ago. But the battle, to keep Sunday special in England, has long been lost and sadly every High Street is now open. The Dutch held out longer and they went to Sunday opening in the last year or so, but here in France, the debate is just starting.

The current law (dating from 1906) states that a weekly day of rest must be given to employees and that day shall be a Sunday. There are exceptions to this law, one is for establishments that “are essential to life”. Hospitals are an obvious example of this category, but food shops creep in, as well as hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and interestingly tobacconists. Another exception is for establishments in a designated tourist zone.

Chateau de Cormatin, most visited tourist site in Saône-et-Loire
In the lead up to Christmas, the big department stores in Paris wanted to open every Sunday to cash in on the Christmas rush, but apparently the Boulevard de Haussmann is not classified as being in a tourist area. However, they and the DIY stores around Paris cocked a snook at the government and defied the ban by opening anyway. A wonderful French solution was been found to this problem. Rather than confront these establishments, DIY shops have been included (rather dubiously in my opinion) into the category of shops that are "essential for life" and the Boulevard de Haussmann has been granted opening status by declaring it a “tourist site”.

All of this has raised some interesting debate in the newspapers, but particularly interetsing is that we now know the official list of tourist sites in our own corner of the world.

Paray-le-Monial, not even mentioned
If you were to choose only 5 tourist towns in our département (Saône-et-Loire), which ones would you choose? Well Cluny is an obvious one for starters and that is in fact the case - Cluny is on the list. Being rather parochial, I’d go for Cormatin, we do after all have the site the most visited in the whole département – the chateau. And yes! We make it into the hallowed five. Tournus gets in there and with it’s Abbey church I can see why, but then the list gets a little confusing for me. The last two communes are Dompierre-les-Ormes and Montceau-les-Mines. Umm interesting choices. What about Autun, with its cobbled streets and stunning cathedral? What about Mont Beuvray with Bibract? What about Paray-le-Monial, Anzy-le-Duc, Semur-en-Brionnais? I could go on.

Dompierre-les-Ormes, worth a visit?
I must be missing something. What do these two privileged towns have that the others don’t? Well Dompierre-les-Ormes has a wood museum and an arboretum, but it must surely have more to offer than that to get such glorified status. We went there this week to find out and I took some photos. Does this look like a town that is going to attract a multitude of tourists? And as for Montceau-les-Mines, that is not even worth wasting my time by taking a photo.

But what does this mean for the tourists? Does Cluny open up in all its glory? If you are a Sunday opening fan you will be disappointed - the vast majority of the shopkeepers would prefer to stay at home with their families. Here in Cormatin, you can always find the wine merchant, the jeweller and the arts and crafts centre open, but on the other hand Tournus always seems pretty shut to me on a Sunday and whether the pharmacy in Dompierres-les-Ormes will bother to open, I very much doubt.

What are all those avid Sunday shoppers going to do? Chalon and Mâcon are not on the list, consequently they should be shut on the day of rest, so it looks like everyone will have to go to Montceau-les-Mines. Montceau-les-Mines has therefore become a tourist attraction as the only large town for miles around that has its shops open on a Sunday. That must be why it is on the list!

Montceau-les-Mines - one of the top tourist sites in Burgundy ummm...

For information about holiday accommodation in an official tourist town, that's actually worth the visit click here.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

January Stupor

What a mover!
What is it about the first week of January? I always feel lethargic and not up to doing much, hence my two week blog silence, we’ve done plenty, but I just haven’t got round to writing about it. Don’t worry I won’t bore everyone with all that we have done, suffice to say we had a lovely Christmas with my mum, brother and his family, then new year with some French friends - lots of good wine and good food on both occasions of course.

I have finally started to wake up this week, buoyed up by the arrival of my very first Tai Chi suit, all the way from China via Italy - long story let’s not go there. I was so excited I had to pose in it didn’t I? What a picture.

This morning I went up to my first service in Taizé for quite a long time. The local parish was having its weekly mass in the main church, so I thought I would go along and see how it went. The brothers had sensibly put benches down the left-hand side of the church, these were full as were the steps and the usually benches on the right, so it was a very good turnout. The floor was mostly covered, but with space to move - unlike the summer months which can get very claustrophobic in the crowds. It was a pity though that the parishioners hadn’t been given a few tips in advance, very few on my side of the church had the song book or the song sheets, which left them sitting in the sidelines as spectators rather than participants.

Taizé  songs with verses
So how was it different from a normal Sunday morning service? We actually had some songs which had verses, unheard of in the usual Taizé repertoire. As they were rather Christmassy, they may have been used for the Christmas services which will also attract a number of locals I think and this way, it gives the service a little more familiarity to non-regulars. Another move away from the norm was that we were treated to organ playing as we arrived as opposed to the usual taped music. I have not heard the organ played that much so it was an interesting experience. The organ was built to be quiet, which it is by church organ standards, but I felt that the higher notes lacked something. By taking the power out of the instrument, it has lost that glorious organ effect, it wasn’t so noticeable on the lower notes, but it left the higher ones a bit shrill.

As anyone who has been to a service will know, the majority of the brothers leave at one point, but you can stay as long as you like, accompanied by a few remaining brothers who will sing along, as long as anyone remains. As usual I left just after the main bulk of the brothers, but the vast majority of the congregation remained sitting, probably wondering what was going to happen next. It made leaving the car park very easy!

Finally, for those waiting with bated breath about that chap who was lurking around the church a couple of weeks ago. It turns out he was one of wise men, phew, I was a bit worried he might be trying to steal the chicken feed. So here is one final photo (taken last week) and we will now have to wait another year to see the crèche again.

Happy new year to everyone!

For information on the gites we rent out, very near Taizé, click here.
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