Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas time again

Christmas full moon through trees
It is Christmas time again. How quickly it seems to come around each year.

We had Christmas at home this year.  A real Christmas dinner - roast turkey and all the trimmings, I know it’s boring but it just isn’t Christmas without it!

With the lights twinkling on the tree in the living room and a full moon outside shining through the trees, it was a perfect day

A proper Christmas dinner
In the morning I made my final visit to the Taizé crib for this year, baby Jesus had been shoved in behind the sheep, but at least he was actually there. The real sheep had gone back to their farmer and the whole place was deserted. Even though the dream catchers from last year had been stuck on the walls of the church to brighten things up and there were Christmas trees in front of the stable itself, it all seemed rather bare and incredibly sad.

Oh no, not turkey again...
This is a little plea to those planning to be permanents next year, I really love my weekly visits to the crib during advent, so please do something a little bit more exciting than this year’s lot and do something about M and J’s miserable faces - moan over.

So it's onwards and upwards towards the new year and I've only got one week to come up with some resolutions....

Thinking about next year's summer holidays in these cold and dark days? Don't forget to click here for details of a wonderful location in Burgundy!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Pig Racing

A quick visit back to the UK to deliver presents and get in a last bit of shopping and we were delighted to see that Ickenham had its annual Christmas fayre while we were there. All the usual stuff, mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, Santa’s grotto (although I do object to this Americanism – what’s wrong with Father Christmas?) stalls for the local associations offering tombolas and lucky dips and of course, where would a Christmas fayre be without pig racing?

Yes Ickenham hosted a pig race this year of grand proportions and we had to be in the thick of the action of course. My mother and I each bet on a pig, mine was no2 and Mum’s was no 1 and what a piece of thrilling action it was. The pigs were rounded up behind the starting gate and they were off, no 4 made a great leap forward followed by the others, then no 2 dashed into first position, but no 4 was determined to make the end gate and shot ahead again. Much to the annoyance of the little girl who had bet on no 4, it stopped just a hair’s breath from the finish and refused to budge that last millimetre thus allowing the others to catch up.
Under starter's orders
They're off - no.2 leaps out ahead

It was a photo finish. How no 2 was declared a winner is still a mystery to me but who cares I walked away with the prize of a box of English chockies which was great because Cees doesn’t like them so I can scoff them all by myself. Hooray for pig racing!

No 4 stops just short
Photo finish

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Light show in Cluny?

Scary start..
A couple of weeks ago we saw a piece in the newspaper that said that there would be a light show in Cluny on Thurs 3rd Dec at 18.00. Not wanting to miss anything, we put the date and time in our diary. Low and behold, last week we saw another notice saying that the aforementioned light show was to start 1 hour earlier than we had previously noted. Don't you just love French organisation? We decided (against our better judgement I might add) to visit the Office de Tourisme in Cluny to ask.

The fire begins
What a waste of time that was. Despite there being 4 staff in the office 1) they only vaguely knew that there was “something” on and 2) they had no idea what time it was. On the other hand they were VERY friendly. They said that they would receive the flyers the next day (BTW it was already the 1st , who receives flyers the day before an event?) and they would phone me with the time. I gave them my email address as well and they promised faithfully to contact me either by phone or by mail. Yer right..

Weds came and went and no contact. Thursday arrived (the day of the show) and it was foggy to the extent that we couldn't even see the hedge at the bottom of the garden by 5 o'clock, so we aborted mission.

Juggling with fire
Friday, Cees found a link to a video on the internet page of the local paper and we watched the superb show that we had missed the evening before. Strangely, in the video, it was not foggy and to be honest it didn't look like Cluny at all. We then read the article and found out that the show was not Thurs 3rd but Tues 8th and this was a video taster of what would happen. To cut a long story short we eventually found out when and where the show would be (no thanks to the OT) and we were there at the barriers long before anyone else, to make sure that we had a good view.

Fireworks and more fire
After waiting about a quarter of an hour, the locals started coming and coming and coming until there was quite a crowd. Then the noise began and smoke and fireworks and finally the “actors” arrived on stage at 7 o'clock and the show began. Wow!

We are often disappointed with things that happen round here, they are always sold as enormous and spectacular and they turn out to be small town and frequently very, very small scale. This was none of those things. It was an acrobatic, fire show par excellence. I wasn't too keen when they dangled loops of fire dripping petrol over my head into the crowd behind me, but it was certainly exciting.

An explosive finale
So marks out of 10 for this one? 15 out of 10 for the show, the actors and the town of Cluny for organising it, but it is 2 out of 10 for the Office de Tourisme and they only get that high a mark because they were very nice. Just in case you are wondering, they still haven't contacted me to tell me when the show is. I'm glad we didn't rely on them or we would have missed it and that would have been a real shame. Oh and why did we have the wrong date to start with? I won't mention names, but someone in this household who wasn't me or the cat noted down the wrong date, but at least it was him who found the real details in the end, so all's well that ends well!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas is coming

Now that Sinterklaas is over, we can talk about Christmas and think about decorations. Getting into the spirit of things, at sundown this afternoon, we decided to get out and about and sample what the local villages have to offer in terms of decorations this year.

Chazelle - looking very Christmassy
I must say that Chazelle looks lovely. It is understated and sophisticated. It doesn’t look too impressive in daylight, but when the sun goes down and the lights come on, I think it looks the best ever.

A good show from Cormatin -
I couldn't resist a bit of long exposure
Cormatin as usual has a superb display of white fairy lights all along the high street which I always like. Those and the different scenes around the village make it all very festive. It is a pity Mary and Joseph have disappeared, but some revellers took a fancy to them a couple of years ago now and they have never been returned.

Taizé has started its annual progression with its nativity scene, but it didn’t look any different to last week, so no photo of that one today.
Taizé could learn a bit from this nativity scene - smile it's Christmas!
However, this year’s prize for sheer silliness, goes to an unnamed village not too far from here. Mary and Joseph have been relegated to a side street – I mean what do they have to do with Christmas anyway? The village’s usual display of penguins, igloos and wigwams have all been relocated to a position even further out of sight than Mary and Joseph. The main attraction this year is – wait for it……. a bunch of Smurfs on a roundabout!

Spaced out Smurfs
Can someone enlighten me about how Smurfs fit into the story of the birth of Jesus please because it is something I must have missed in Sunday school. Not only do these blue things appear on this spaced out Magic Roundabout, but they appear in at least three other villages’ decorations.

So there you have it, Christmas is Burgundy or is it now Burgundy Franche Compté after today’s elections? The times they are a changing my friends...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Rare Birds and Miserable Sheep

Each nest had a caricature of its owner
outside - this is Iris Griot
Como Una Flore

This weekend Les Oiseaux Rares (The Rare Birds) were opening their “nests” for their annual exhibition. The Rare Birds are a group of arts and crafts men and women concentrated in Cormatin and the surrounding area and this year 14 nests were open to the public, housing 28 exhibitors. All the usual suspects were present (Monique Dégluaire, Pacale Ponsard, Patrick Balleriaud, Silvyane Sabato, Jean-louis Choffel just to name a few) along with some other local and not so local talent.

Beautiful basketry made by a visiting bird
As we walked around the nests just after lunch on Saturday afternoon, we soon realised that we couldn’t do them justice in just a couple of hours, so we decided to go back on Sunday as well. OK I’ll admit it, the real reason for returning was to get some soup.

Pierre's bowls waiting for some soup
Sounds odd? Well for 6 Euros you could buy a unique handmade soup bowl. Each one of the 300 available was made with a different design on it by Pierre Arnoud the potter in the high street in Cormatin – a real collector’s item. On purchasing the bowl at any of the nests, it was promptly filled with soup made by the relevant crafts-person and as you moved from nest to nest, you could have your bowl re-filled with the soup available there. On a cold winter’s day, it was a delicious way to stay warm, whilst inspecting the stunning items on display.

The recipes will soon be available to those who have subscribed and I just might share some of those recipes with you, how does carrot, curry and orange sound, or celery, hazelnut and apple - just two of the ones we tasted, all of which were very good by the way, so our village is not only filled with artistic talent, but culinary talent as well.

Oh dear, is it so miserable to be in a stable in Taizé?
After warming up on the soup, I couldn’t resist taking a look at Taizé’s nativity scene which will develop over the weeks of advent. Last year’s Mary and Joseph have been re-used and they, along with the shepherds, sheep and donkeys, have been given an expert new coat of paint, but sadly, they have the same miserable look as last year. I know they are stuck in a grotty, cold stable, but surely they would have been slightly happy as they awaited the birth of their child? Even the two sheep outside, the only live animals this year, managed to look rather miserable as well.

So please permanents, give Mary and Joseph a smile in time for Christmas - this is supposed to be a joyous occasion!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Seeing one of my heroes.

After a couple of false starts (last minute hospital appointment and then an injured arm which stopped me driving) we finally made it to The Netherlands last Saturday, just in time to see one of my heroes.

Ready ------ Boom -------Smoke

Saint Nicholas visits The Netherlands for about two weeks every year. He comes on his steam boat all the way from Spain and he was due to arrive about the same time as us. His official port of entry this year was Meppel, a town in Drenthe, not exactly on the coast, so how his steam boat got there is a mystery that we won’t be exploring in this blog, because I didn’t go there. More importantly, Saint Nicholas was arriving in Den Bosch (where Cees’ daughter has her house ship) the Sunday after we arrived and I was definitely planning to see him there.

Dancing Petes - he is there somewhere

It was rather rainy as I ventured off the ship to wait at the impressive Citadel on the edge of the old city. It appeared that to be present at the “intocht”, grown-ups really need to be accompanied by a child, so I took Cees’ daughter with me (we’ll skip over the fact that she is over 40 and taller than me) and she took me – which is more logical as I am not much taller than a small Dutch child – all that cheese, you know.

The band plays and the Petes greet
We stood in the rain and waited for the 5 gun salute to announce his imminent approach. I nearly jumped out of my skin with the first one, I thought it would be a gentle plop not to scare the kids, but no, it was a full throttled kaboom. Due to unpreparedness and camera shake, the photo shows the second firing when I was a little more ready!

Then the “pakjesboot” (parcel boat) arrived with thousands of his colourfully clothed helpers - all called Pete so you don’t get confused.  The main man was sheltering at the back of the boat. I can’t blame him for not wanting to dance on the roof like his Petes, but still he was a little too incognito for most of the kids near me in the crowd.

Special wave for me - yes he did make my day!
After the band played a few rousing Saint Nicholas songs, he left the boat and mounted his white stallion (the one he uses to ride over the roofs and drop presents down chimney with) and surrounded by multiple bands and hundreds of Petes, he set off on a grand tour of the old city where the Mayor would greet him at the town hall about two hours later.

As you can see, he saw me in the crowd and gave me a special wave; I even got a chocolate letter in my shoe that night. What a hero.

For information on holiday accommodation about a day's drive from where you can see the next intocht, click here.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The whole town is one great big party

Prize Limousin bull
It’s that time of year again, Cluny’s big street party, the day we celebrate the feast of St Martin. There is a competition for the best cow/bull/cart horse with and without foals, displays of all types of farm animals, pigs, chickens and sheep and an array of shiny new tractors and unfathomably complicated farming equipment.

Then there is the real reason that the good citizens of Cluny come every year, there is a street market the whole way down the high street selling tat from all four corners of the planet but, more importantly, also selling some of the best food and wine to be found on this terrestrial globe.

Carthorse and her foal taken through their paces
I was interested to read in the paper that this particular market had been going since the 12th century, one of the few markets that has stood the test of time.  I am not sure they would have been selling Peruvian hats and dream-catchers back then, but the display of animals would have been the same.

Most years, it is the last warm Saturday of the year and an opportunity for us all to get out and about after the tourists have gone home and have the town to ourselves. This year the temperatures soared to 24 degrees which is very unusual, but welcome none-the-less.  It is one last chance to charge up our vitamin D levels to carry us through the winter which will probably be with us in less than a week.

The animal market, in amongst the houses

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A not-so-obscure African duo

Toumani & Sidiki Diabate from
Last night we went to a concert of African music in Chalon. Not expecting much from an obscure pair of players we were rather surprised at the number of people in the audience. Unbeknown to us, these guys – father and son Toumani & Sidiki Diabate from Mali- are very famous.

When the music started, I was surprised how like a celtic harp it sounded, not the African sound I am used to. The music was mesmerising and as the evening wore on I was quite blown away by the cross between early jazz rhythm and Gallic music that they created. I can’t describe it any better than that. I have found a video from Glastonbury 2014 (I told you they were famous) where they are playing if you are interested in hearing what it is all about.

Beautiful kora from
The instruments they were playing were koras. Father (Toumani) took time out to explain the instrument and how it is played. It is half a calabash covered in antelope skin, the strings used to be made of antelope skin as well, but nowadays they use fishing line instead. The tuning pegs have also been modernised and now they are built using harp/guitar technology. He didn’t say how many strings he had, but internet sources suggest that there are 21 or 25 strings. Only four digits are used to play the instrument, the thumb and index finger of each hand. The left thumb plays the base rhythm, the right thumb plays a basic tune (a bit like guitar scale plucking) and the two index fingers are used - in his words - to “improvise”.

There is no written music, the tunes and playing skills are passed down from father to son and their family, in particular, can be traced back for 71 generations, in the case of Toumani and so 72 generations for Sidiki, all kora players - quite some family tradition.

Intricate finger work - from the BBC video
In true French style every man and his dog was thanked just before the last number even the “village chief of Chalon-sur-Saône” got a thank you, although I am not sure they would have thanked him if they had known of his political views.

Their final piece was entitled Lampedusa, a haunting melody that they had written lest we forget the continuing tragedy of all the people who have drowned off that coast.

It was an enchanting evening and one I would certainly repeat if they came to somewhere near here again.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Mushroom hunting

It’s that time of year again - wild mushroom time. The forest just outside our courtyard gate beckons.

Everyone we meet at this time of year talks about all the lovely mushrooms they collect from our forest, we have seen friends leaving the forest with baskets full, but we’ve never found any and to be honest as we don’t know an Agaricus bisporus from a Champignon de Paris we would be in danger of picking the wrong ones and poisoning ourselves - so we leave it to the natives.

The other day we saw our friend Francette collecting specimens at the entry to our forest so we stopped for a chat. She is a member of the Cluny mycological association and she was collecting things to be displayed in Cluny that weekend. On Friday we went to see the exhibition and asked specifically to see “our” mushrooms. So here is proof that our forest contains some very delicious specimens indeed.

"Our" Cèpes and "our" Girolles

So what edible mushrooms do we have?

Telling the difference between the right ones and
the wrong ones is not always obvious
Boletus edulis - Porcino – the French Cèpe; Cantharellus cibarius - chanterelle – the French Girolle; Hydnum repandum - Hedgehog mushroom – the French Pied-de-mouton and Craterellus cornucopioides - Horn of plenty – the French Trompette de la mort. Those are just the ones I saw at the exhibition - there may be others as well.

Having said that, telling the difference between the poisonous ones that look just like the edible ones is not something I  and willing to risk doing.

Safe Girolles
So when I went mushroom picking with Hélène yesterday, I let her have all the goodies we found. I actually found her a lovely cèpe which of course I didn’t think to take a photo of – my first wild mushroom find!

As she left in her car she gave a cheery wave and said that she hoped she would see me again, but you never know what might happen as she was going to eat the “cèpe” for her tea - I hope she’s OK, I haven't heard from her today.

I myself will be sticking to what the supermarket has on offer.

For holiday accommodation just to or three meters from a forest full of wild mushrooms click here.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sunday afternoon amongst the vines

Mile after mile of vines
Autumn is certainly here now, the nights are chilly (but still not freezing) and the leaves are beginning to turn. We have to light the fire every evening to keep warm, but during the day it is mostly off. The last giters of the season have just gone home and so we are settling into a different season, a different rhythm, a different lifestyle.

Being an autumn baby, I like this season with its vibrant colours. I have often thought I would like to go back to Canada at this time of year and relive the colours I saw as a small child, but I have never got round to it and now I live here I don’t have to go that far to see autumn in all its glory.

Still on the vine, beautiful and sweet
Whilst driving home from a meeting in Buxy on Tuesday, I passed through the vineyards and saw that such a show of colour is not exclusive to the Canadian maple, we have our own version here. The extensive vineyards between us and Buxy do a pretty good attempt at a stunning autumn colour display. The vine leaves were starting to turn yellow and some were turning red, as far as the eye could see, neat rows of red, green and yellow.

This lonely chap was discarded on a pile of
uprooted vine stocks
So this afternoon I decided to get out and see what display of colour I could capture.

As we drove along the main road towards Buxy it seemed that the vines were not going to cooperate with me. There was lots of yellow, but the reds I had seen on Tuesday were hiding. I managed to capture a few images, but I will be trying again next week to see if I can find a more photogenic display.

It doesn’t really matter about the lack of photos though, it was a lovely, sunny afternoon to be out and about enjoying autumn.

For information of our holidays homes to rent near some beautiful vineyards click here.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Long cold night

The moon was hiding - I had to settle for stars
When I heard back in March that we were going to be able to see a total eclipse of the moon in September, I started to plan. Although this event is not so rare, I have only ever seen a quarter eclipse, looking through the front window of my house in Benthuizen. This time I was determined to see the full blood moon and as the months passed, the thought crossed my mind that I might be able to snap a photo of it as well.

As the day approached, I was practising more and more with night photography and started to understand what was required to photograph the moon and an eclipse. The moon moves very fast, but it is very bright so it is relatively easy to photograph and still get some detail, but an eclipse is different, the moon is dark and needs long exposures which will cause blur, so you have to find the right balance. I could only practise so much, in reality I only had one chance at this.

And we're off
While setting up my final practise run, I waited and waited for the moon to creep above the trees in the forest, but it never came.  I decided to do some star trails instead. My conclusion from this was that when the moon was being eclipsed, it most probably would be behind the trees in the forest or below the horizon created by hill where Taizé is, so I had to find another photo location. I found a spot on the hill at St Roch, not too far from home and tarmaced so the tripod would be steady and I wouldn’t get wet feet. Then I just had to keep my fingers crossed it would be a clear sky.

The alarm went off at 02.30 and I got up to see a beautiful clear sky, the photo shoot was on. I expected to find lots of people on the hill, but I was alone apart from a camper van which, if it had any people in it, never showed any sign of life.

The camera set up, I started focussing at about 3am. The focus kept altering which was either due to the temperature drop for the camera or my inexperience or nervousness. In the end I had one last try and decided that was it - it was either OK or it wasn’t. By this time the eclipse was underway and the light was fading. Every shot needed adjusted settings to get the details on the moon clear and by the time the blood moon appeared I was punch drunk from all the changes I was making.

Blood moon over Cormatin
The blood moon appeared at about a quarter to 5 by which time I was tired and wanted to go home. I had done what I had set out to do, but I had no way of knowing if it had been a success. So, tired and cold, I took the camera off the tripod and started packing up my gear. It was only when I went to walk back up the short slope to get the tripod itself that I realised I couldn’t feel my feet.

Finally home at 05.15 and disaster struck, I couldn’t find the house keys. Cees, being on the deaf side, would probably not hear me knocking or telephoning, but more to the point I didn’t want my keys lying around somewhere. I prepared to set back off to St Roch to find them, but did one last search of my (rather too copious) handbag and out they popped, that was 15 minutes in the cold I could have done without.

Before I went to bed I just had to look at the photos to confirm or not whether I had one good shot out of the roughly 200 I had taken and I was stunned to see it had worked!

In the morning after I sorted out a sequence of the moons, I had a little regret that I hadn’t stayed for another two hours to get the full show back to full moon, but as it took until lunch time for me to be able to feel my feet properly again, it was only a slight regret.

I’m glad I did it, I’m proud of the photos, but this is a one off.
The full show

For information about holiday accommodation where the next total eclipse of the moon is July 27/28 2018 click here

Saturday, 26 September 2015

25th September

The war memorial in Cormatin
We popped into the village of Cormatin on Friday to get a newspaper and noticed that the war memorial had flags on it. These flags only come out on special occasions, they are not there all the time otherwise someone would probably pinch them. So what was the occasion? It certainly wasn’t one of our wreath-laying days, the last one was 14th July and the next one is 11th November.

Names of those killed from our village, engraved on the memorial
A knowledgeable friend was coming out of the baker’s shop next to the church, kiss, kiss and a little chat. Then I asked why the flags were out. She couldn’t tell me, her solution was to go and ask at the town hall - they would know. Well I have had many confusing conversations at the town hall about just such subjects and as it was such a beautiful day, I didn’t want to spoil my or their mood by getting the whole staff into a confused mess.

The flags are out
Back home and after quite a bit of Googling I came across a government site that gave a list of all days of commemoration in France and how they could/should be honoured. and the 25th September was there.

The 25th September is the day of remembrance for the “Harkis” and other auxiliaries. That didn’t get me a lot further, but at least it was a start.

Googling further I found out that the Harkis were Algerian volunteers who aided the French forces in the Algerian war of independence. Obviously these people were considered as traitors and not heroes by their nationalist brothers and when independence came in 1962, it was felt that they should be protected in some way. Instead of repatriating them to France (which was officially and actively blocked) they were specifically mentioned in the treaty of independence and they were protected by law from persecution. That must have been reassuring for them…..

A hummingbird hawk moth feeds on the beautiful flowers
About 90,000 of them managed to get to France, but most did not and there are estimates of up to 150,000 of them being killed in reprisals after independence. It took until Jaques Chirac was president (somewhere between 1995 and 2007) for the Harkis to be recognised and a day to be dedicated to these French people who are "Français par le sang versé" - "French by spilled blood”. But they are not really assimilated into French society, also they are not allowed to return to their native country, they are floating in a social no-man’s land and even though they have their own day, no one here seems to know anything abut it. Only the guy who has control of the flags knows. Not much of a recognition for so many who gave their lives for France, is it?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Guitares en Cormatinois

Chazelle church - the concert venue
The concert season is well and truly over and now is the time to look back, reflect on the concerts we worked so hard to get up and running, try and learn from what happened this year to make next year’s series a success. To that end, we have just had our end of season meeting and dinner at the president of our association’s house.

During the series of concerts I rather despaired at the lack of audience numbers for the better concerts. Jérémy Jouve was absolutely magnificent, but he played to a house half full. Franceries Sound Connection (strange name) was the same story, excellent quality, but not many people to enjoy it. The two other concerts were not as inspiring to my taste, but still well worth the ticket price at only 15 Euros, again few takers.

Jérémy Jouve - a real talent
Then we had the last concert. It was a band called Irish Kind Of (where do the French get these names from?) and this one was more than a sell-out, it was a pack them in, squeeze them in, use Japanese rush-hour pushers, then leave the doors open so they can breath, kind of concert. The church is full when we have 120 people in it, but for this concert we managed to squeeze in 145. I have heard better Irish bands to be honest, but the audience was thrilled and to be fair that concert saved the whole series. The financial figures, presented at the meeting, showed that because of that one concert we had not made a loss, which is quite an achievement in this day and age of reduced subsidies and less money in the common man’s pocket.

Franceries Sound Connection - an excellent concert
So our association and concert series lives to see another year and after last year’s losses of 2.5 thousand Euros, I was not convinced that 2016 would see any concerts at all.

But here is the conundrum: We are an association that is dedicated to bringing a concert series of quality guitar music to the local public, but the really excellent guitar concerts had virtually no takers and the one concert that performed music that is currently in vogue, was a sell-out. For me that is disappointing to say the least. Should we go back to filling the series with more popular music and be just like anyone else, bend with the current trends or should be stick with quality and have it reach just a handful of people?

The public arrive - selling tickets
Last night we had a long discussion on just this subject and we have come up with a compromise. Thankfully we are going to stick with quality, but also have some obvious crowd-pullers to fill the coffers. Listening to the CDs of the potential performers for next year, I think the balance will be good. Now we will have to wait and see if any of them is willing to come to our small festival for a price we can afford.

Fingers crossed.
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