Saturday, 25 July 2015

Citeaux – The Mother Church of the Cistercians

Senanque - a Cistercian monastery in Provence
We are very keen on church architecture, particularly Romanesque (Norman) churches and our first love has always been the Cistercian monasteries. Last year we yet again visited the beautiful trio in Provence and yet again vowed to visit the mother church, Citeaux, which is almost on our doorstep.

We have been to Citeaux more than once, the first time we failed to find anything except the shop selling the monks produce – honey, cheese etc. The second time we found the new church, which is worth a look, but not exactly old (built in 1998) and finally we discovered that you could visit some of the old buildings, but of course the day we went for a visit (last November) everything was shut and wouldn’t open for tours again until this summer.

Quote from the Abbot of Citeaux
Even when the monastery is open, organising a visit is not as simple as it may seem. You have to book in advance as numbers are restricted, so on to their website and try to make a reservation in French - it kept crashing out. Eventually I managed to make a reservation on the English website but that involved having a number of pages open at one time. For instance you have to say what time you would like to visit, but on the order form page, the times are not listed and you can’t just guess, as times are restricted as well. I won’t go on, it took me ages – enough said. I finally managed to complete the form for a guided tour and to see a film about the abbey. But nothing in the reservation system is automated, so you have to wait for an email from the abbey, to confirm that you have been added to the list for the required visit time. That confirmation arrived relatively promptly, within a day.

No good me being a monk, I'm not getting up that early
All that hassle forgotten, we went off to Citeaux, on the allotted day and at the allotted time, excited at last to be seeing the mother church. We knew there was nothing remaining of the original buildings, but we were hoping to understand a bit more about the Cistercian movement and its unique architecture. Our names were on the list, but only for the guided visit not for the film as well, which I only noticed after I had paid. After I queried this error, the nice lady on the till gave us different types of tickets, but didn’t charge us any more money, so I assume we got a bargain. At that stage I didn’t care enough to say anything.

The young girl doing the tour was incredibly nervous, but became more confident as we moved from one area to another. I noticed her eyes kept flicking towards one of the men in the tour and I suspected that she was actually being graded on her performance, hence the nervousness. I kept my eyes fixed on him and I notice the tell-tale sandals. At that point I was sure that this man was one of the brothers incognito. The fact that he kept shutting doors after us everywhere and kept an eye on the movements of all in our group made me more and more convinced that he was not a genuine tourist. So here is our mock tourist “casually” looking at the copies of illuminations displayed in the library.

Mystery tourist
So after all this wait and trouble was the visit worth it? Well yes and no. I am glad to say we have finally visited the mother church, but there wasn’t anything really to see and the tour itself was not at all scintillating, the photo exhibition in the waiting room, the “carvings” on slabs along the path leading to the start of the tour and the posters near the parking area were the best bit of the day. It was a missed opportunity in my opinion, no mention of the simpleness of the architectural style, no mention of the fact that the daughter churches were almost identical to each other, following strict rules of sobriety and layout. No real information of why the movement spread so far and wide and only a cursory mention of how they were actually a Benedictine breakaway movement.

Timetable of a monk's day
There is so much that could have been said that wasn’t and that has nothing to do with our young guide, she was genuinely following the set plan and she did a good job at that. I personally think that they should change the script to give a bit more of a background and history to the Cistercian movement, but maybe they thought that everyone who had come to visit actually knew what they were visiting and so they concentrated on descriptions of what the standing buildings are/were. In any case, I am sad to say that the tour itself was boring.

At the end of our tour, the mystery tourist admitted who he was and that this was the girl’s very first time doing a tour for real tourists, which despite the palpable nervousness at the beginning, she had completed very well indeed. Unfortunately, I won’t be recommending this visit to people who stay here.

Monday, 13 July 2015

News embargo lifted

Test version
The post you have all been waiting for !!! The news embargo on what I have been crocheting for the last few weeks, has been lifted. I knew you would be excited.

First design
I think a bit of background info is in order before I give more details.

A few weeks ago, Cees’ son-in-law posted some pictures of a stunning crocheted armband on Cees’ daughter’s Facebook timeline.

 I was asked by her, if I could make something like that and I foolishly said yes, maybe, possibly or something like that – I really can’t remember - but it was definitely a rash comment. Anyway, before I knew it, two tonnes of beads and a thousand kilometres of crochet cotton had been delivered to my house. If that is not throwing down the gauntlet I don’t know what is.

Birthday shock
So I set to, no pattern, just photos and a lot of guess work. My first attempt was a simple one, to get used to crocheting with beads and to see just how many of these beads you need for a bracelet and to see how it was all done. Hence the first one is rather subdued - besides I didn’t think my little wrist would cope with too much more. But I knew that for Cees’ daughter this was not going to satisfy her. So when she was staying with us, the two of us set to, designing something a bit more like the photos. A weekend’s worth of work and I came up with a first design – not bad for a first attempt, but a number of design flaws and boy was it heavy!

I just can't stop.. a little extra for the birthday girl
I have been busily making bracelets since then. The reason for no mention on my blog is that I know that Cees’ daughter follows the blog and I didn’t want to spoil her birthday surprise or should I say shock. Now this is more like it. Colourful and creative, still a couple of flaws, but I am getting there.

But then I got carried away and here is a poppy style bracelet - how many arms does one person have?

This is more my style
I have made myself a less loud bracelet and received a few very favourable comments when it had its first outing to a guitar concert last week.

So onwards and upwards, the sky is the limit - is this a new career move in the making?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Jazz concert in Charolles

Inside the magnificent Basilica - Paray-le-Monial
We are fanatical concert goers, well Cees is a fanatical concert searcher actually. If there is a concert worth going to within about 60km of here, he knows about it. We have been known to travel through blizzards to get home from concerts, not something I would like to repeat, but it is now summer and the concerts are plentiful, they are good and they are blizzard free.

The other week we went to a concert in Charolles. We decided to visit Paray –le-Monial before the concert, a town we really do like. The Basilica can never be visited too many times, there is just so much to see. This time we bought a book called “Les Sculptures Cachées de la Basilique” which you can get at the tourist information office and we checked out all the hidden treasures in the building - there are some amazing carvings there. Sadly my camera’s zoom is not good enough to capture them, so here’s a photo of the inside of the Basilica just to give an idea of the majesty of the place.

A tower - the only thing worth seeing in Charolles
On the other hand, we have never really “visited” Charolles. We have travelled though the town many times and we even visited the offices of our builder during the renovations, but we have never taken the time to actually look around. So this time, we decided to investigate what the town has to offer and to have dinner there. A word of advice to all you tourists or non-tourists for that matter, don’t bother, there is really nothing worth visiting in Charolles – sorry guys to trash your town, but we wandered around for a few hours, from one café to the next drinking coffee to while away the time until the restaurants opened for dinner and then on to the concert and the only thing we found was a tower in park which you couldn’t visit.

The day’s outing was really to see a concert of course and fortunately that was superb and well worth the whole trip. It was an Aretha Franklin homage concert – not my favourite type of concert as they tend to not be up to the original (how could they be?) and they are not innovative either, so they are usually the worst of both worlds, but this lady could sing and I mean SING and the band could play as well. I couldn’t understand the names of the songs as she spoke them in her French announcements, but her articulation when singing was magnificent.

Superb concert
The only negative point about the concert was the venue itself. It was far too small for the number of people in the audience and yes I know I am excessively safety conscious after my years in industry, but I don’t think that anyone can say that squashing 120 people seated into a room of 8 by 10 meters (which included space for the band and the bar) with only one exit that was blocked by chairs during the concert, is the safest of environments. Sadly for the organisers, I won’t be going to that venue again no matter how good the band is.

Claim to fame - my poster
But there was a real piece of excitement that I noticed in the bar. When we entered, I looked at the wall and couldn’t believe my eyes, my very own artwork was pinned up on the notice board! As I am not an internationally renowned artist, you must be wondering what I am talking about. A few years ago, I made a poster for a friend of a friend who plays in a rock band – Drugstore Rock . To be fair there was no artistic skill required in making this poster, just good Photoshop skills and there you have it - a poster for a rock band.

Anyway it is my claim to fame and fortune, I even felt like signing the poster, but didn’t dare of course – what a wimp!

For information about holiday accommodation near to a summer full of concerts to meet every taste click here.

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