Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sleeping Barrels

Cutting the ribbon
There are some advantages to being a volunteer for the Office de Tourisme in St Gengoux-le-National, I get invitations to things I wouldn’t otherwise see. The other day was just one example. The president of the OT rang up and asked if I would like to join him to the official opening of the “tonneaux couchant” (literally translated as sleeping barrels) at a prestigious viticulturist near Lugny - a very good white wine and crément area. I jumped at the chance, I thought it would be very interesting to see the new barrels in place, in time for this year’s harvest. and I am not adverse to a couple of glasses of Lugny wine. I tentatively asked if Cees could come, but that was gently rebuffed explaining that it was because I was the head of the committee for holiday accommodation, he was inviting me. Tough luck, Cees will just have to miss out on the wine.

So on a blisteringly hot afternoon we headed off into the countryside for the opening. The president of the OT is himself a viticulturist and produces some very nice bottles too. So the conversation was easy in the car all about how you make wine and why the barrels are horizontal not vertical, how big they are and so on. Many of my questions were (as usual) met with a slightly confused look, a bit like the time I asked him for a good variety of vine to plant in my garden for big leaves, he couldn’t grasp the concept that I wanted to use the leaves in cooking to make dolmades and I was not interested in either eating the grapes or making wine – ah well cultural differences are the spice of life round here.

New barrels?
When we finally arrived, I noticed that they had used the old wooden barrels to make little houses just outside the winery buildings. I thought that was a clever idea, so while we waited for the official opening and tour, I took a few photos. I seem to remember have a confusing conversation about whether it might be a bit smelly inside, but I’m not too sure about that one.

Finally the big-wigs arrived and the ribbon was cut so that we could go through to the winery itself and we all oohed and aahhed at what he had done with the old barrels as we passed them on the way to the wine making area. The wine making area was not very big. Not many people seemed to be interested in that area and what intrigued me was that I couldn’t spot any new horizontal barrels. Now I am confused.

On to the speeches – lots and lots of them, the local MP, the chief man in our département (the Prefect), our Senator, you name it they were all there and they gave a speech. The owner told us how much it had all cost and thanked every man and his dog for helping him and he was convinced that it would increase tourism in the area etc etc etc.

As it all went on, I was beginning to suspect that I was not exactly on the same wavelength as everyone else. And then it dawned on me…. The “tonneaux couchants” were barrels to sleep in and we were at the opening of these brand new wooden barrels imported from Norway. These barrels have never, and will never, see a drop of wine in their lives unless the occupants spill some in a late night binge.

After the speeches were over, I tucked into the very nice wine and yummy snacks in a quiet corner of the courtyard, trying to be inconspicuous and I sincerely hoped that everyone would put the drivel I had been coming out with for the last hour or so, down to me being a foreigner and that they would forgive and forget. As I left I congratulated the owner on his ingenious accommodation that will be an asset to the region, in a vain attempt to make it look like I had known all the time what was going on.
New barrels in situ

For non-barrel accommodation, near some barrels that people and not wine actually sleep in click here.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

July 14th

July the 14th is a national holiday and it is always a busy day. The party tends to start on the evening of the 13th with fireworks and goes on into the next day. This year, our evening of the 13th was marked not by fireworks but by a different and very special event. I actually watched a football match, or more amazingly, Cees actually watched a football match. It wasn’t the most exciting World Cup final ever, but it was worth it for one glorious moment. No, not the goal that Germany scored, even though I wanted them to beat Argentina, it was the shots they showed of Christ the Redeemer seemingly holding on to the setting sun. Absolutely stunning.

July 14th itself started off early, with us doing our shift on the entry of the Cormatin Brocante de Qualité. We were stationed at the new back gate, that lead up from the car park. We sat there doing nothing for the first hour and a half and then the first few people trickled in from the car park. I am glad we didn’t have too many entries because all, bar one nice French couple, felt the need to make a sarcastic remark about how far they had had to walk - all off 100 meters poor loves. I was glad when we were replaced. The final score was a record 1,300 entries but I do hope for our replacements’ sake they didn’t have such a grumpy bunch !

We then went on to the July 14th wreath laying with a twist this year - no music. Monsieur P announced before we started, that he was proposing the we should sing the Marseillaise. A number of people looked a bit panicked, but to his word, when we arrived at the war memorial Monsieur P stood firm and said we would all sing. If we didn’t know the words we should just mouth something! I wasn’t sure if that remark was aimed at the kids or us foreigners.

I started off well:

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Then I was on tricky ground and so decided to pretend, I managed to pick it up again at

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

The Mayor looked very pleased with all our efforts and said that that must be a first for Cormatin, but I know for a fact that Monsieur P had done it at least one time before, when he was a young teenager. He and his friends were even arrested by the Germans for doing it, so bravo for reintroducing a real version of a very stirring National Anthem. I’ll definitely have to practise before the next session on November 11th.

After a quick lunch we headed off for a day out to see some Romanesque buildings that have been closed on our last attempts to visit them. One of those was the museum of the Priory in Charolles and this time we managed to get in. As we had only gone to see the inside of the building, I was a bit disappointed by what we could actually see until we went into the temporary exhibition of sculptures by René Davoine.

The first sculpture I saw a beautiful young girl and something about it reminded me of the image I had seen the evening before. The second large piece was of Christ also giving off the same vibes. Having been carved in 1932, the similarity could not have been a coincidence. Both were very serene and quite mesmerising and the trip was worth it just for that.

To comeplete our holiday, we had a celebratory BBQ of chicken tikka and freshly picked salade. La vie est belle!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Culinary Trail

On Sunday we went on the culinary walk in Ladoix-Serrigny. It is an annual event and about 3 – 4 thousand people take part each year. There are six food and drink stations, aperitif, starter, fish course, main course, cheese, and dessert. Not only do you receive your meal elements when you arrive at each station, but you have the choice of a number of the excellent wines from the area. In Burgundy, I think this area must have the most Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels of land, so you can imagine the wine is quite superb.

The grapes were damaged in the last storm we had
In the last week, we have had some spectacular thunderstorms and lots of rain and the weather for Sunday was predicted to be rain all day with more thunderstorms in the afternoon - just what you need when you are walking through the vineyards. Although the total length of the walk is only about 5 kilometres, as you meander through the vines, you are very exposed to the elements and even the feeding stations are only partly covered.

Heading off and the sun comes out
The bus left - in the rain - at 11 o’clock and we arrived - in the rain - in time for our start time of ten to one. As we waited for our hats, wine glasses and cards (which would give us access to the food and wine en-route) it drizzled and I had a sinking feeling about the whole walk.

As we headed off into the vines, the sun peaked out from behind a cloud, then the clouds parted and who would have believed it, we had a glorious day walking though the vines and sampling the wine and food along the way. The weather could not have been better for us, not too hot, a gentle breeze, clear blue sky and sun. It was if it had been laid on to order.

Eating bouef bourgignon in the sun

After the coffee post, we moved to the dancing area and then the heavens opened for those much promised thunderstorms. It poured with rain all the way home and as we gazed out through the dripping windows, we all realised just how lucky we had been.

For information on holiday accommodation where you can find some truly superb wine click here.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

End of Term

The kids doing their form
The summer holidays have arrived and our Tai Chi lessons have stopped for the year. But you can’t stop without a bit of a party can you?

So last Friday we had just that. Everyone brought a plate of something good to eat and we set up a picnic in the playground of an old school in the centre of Cluny, right next to the park.

Fortunately the weather was good and so each group was able to demonstrate what they had been learning over the last year. The Tai Chi Chen style group was so diminished for that evening that only one person was doing the demo, but what a demo it was. She did an amazing job.

Baton form, fan form and five animals
The little ones did a surprisingly complex Chen style form, and they are all only about 8 or 9 years old.

The two groups of Qigong demonstrated the five animals and the eight pieces of brocade and then it was on to the bulk of us, the Tai Chi Yang style groups.
The third years did the KungFu fan dance which is a very impressive form developed for the Bejing Olympics, they then joined us second years for a traditional baton form and then all three years did the 24 Beijing form together.

Sadly there are no photos of the 24 form as the two photographers of the evening (Cees and Nathalie) were both taking part. I am trying to lay my hands on some photos, so if anyone out there has any, send them to me please and I will publish an update. Considering that the three years rarely meet and train together, I think we managed an impressive show.

Watch out when Sabrina gets going
To popular demand, our teacher then did a demonstration of a sword form - dangerous lady our Sabrina!

After working up an appetite, we tucked into the delicacies that everyone had brought with them. The guacamole was to die for, I don’t know who made it, but bravo.

So it is onwards and upwards and we are all looking forward to next year’s challenge whatever that might be.

Anyone interested in starting TaiChi or Qigong in the autumn, just click here for the Spirale d’Or website.

For anyone interested in holiday accommodation where we occasionally practice in the front garden click here.
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