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.

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