Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sculptures in clay

La Consolation des Tempêtes
surrounded by flowers
Anyone who has visited here will have seen the wonderful statue in our front garden. The sculpture is called “La Consolation des Tempêtes” The Comforter of Storms, made by a local artist Monique Dégluaire. The statue has a tumultuous world balanced on her head, which she brings back into equilibrium. You can belief in her or not, but you can't fail to be transfixed by her very tranquil expression and delicate colouring.

Last year I was surprised to receive an invitation to sign up for a course that Monique has started to run - sculpture in clay. It is a three day/weekend session starting usually after lunch on Friday and going through to a Sunday evening. To get you started you begin by shaping a simple form using coils of clay, this gets you used to the modelling medium.

Monique at her outlet in Cormatin
Then you identify the project you are actually going to do. Monique has loads of resources available and you may choose a photo, an existing template or an idea you have had prior to your visit. You sketch out your idea then move on to choosing your clay and preparing it. After making a quick prototype you move on to the real thing. You learn not only how to make the model, but how to scoop out the article to minimise the clay used and minimise the chance of firing problems and how to disassemble your sculpture to optimise firing. There are shared mealtimes, where everyone comes with something they have prepared which gives a break in the day where you can reflect on how your design or work is going. Then as a round up everyone shares what they have learned during their three day experience.

When the sculptures have dried, Monique glazes and fires them for you and you can come and collect them or she can send them on. Her next course is next weekend, from what I have heard there are still a couple of places, which is very unusual, so you could still get in there. Failing that she has new courses in both May and August.

Here's a little video of Monique at work, showing what you could actually try yourself.

It strikes me as a very relaxing and creative way to spend a long weekend. You never know, the next sculpture to appear in our garden may be a Sue Nixon original!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Setting up camp

Dome of the church standing out against the dark sky.
With it being so cold, wet and miserable at the moment, it is very difficult to imagine that Easter is just a few weeks away, but the tell-tale signs of tents going up in Taizé mean that time is moving on and soon there will be thousands of people up on the hill again.

It is a Herculean task to get all the tents up every year and that is just one small part of the impressive organisation that goes on, in and around the Taizé complex, to house and nourish the thousands that turn up every year.

Hawthorn just coming into flower - must be spring
On Sunday we went for a walk to have a look at progress. It is a very pleasant walk from here to Taizé via the forest and then back through Ameugny and Chazelle. It takes us a leisurely 45 minutes to walk to Taizé, just perfect for a Sunday afternoon constitutional, a chance to get out, get some fresh air and enjoy our surroundings. It is always a very peaceful walk, surprisingly few people take that route.

The big church overflow tents are the first to go up
While we were in Taizé, we took the opportunity to have a wander around the old village. We bumped into several groups of Americans and Germans whilst visiting the Romanesque church. We also met quite a large number of very young French people.

It is half-term here and groups of youngsters are encouraged to spend a few days in Taizé. The brothers organise short taster sessions (weekends or mid-week stays) for groups of 14 to 16 year olds - younger than the usual crowd. Their stay is not quite as intense as for the older ones who spend a week here in the summer months and these youngsters are accompanied by a number of adult helpers.

Hundreds of huge accommodation tents
under construction
But the main action, in the community, is the putting up of tents. You can see how large the tents are and how many of them there are, much better when they aren’t covered in canvas, the rows seems to go on forever.

So, it won’t be long now and spring will be here with Easter bringing us warmer, dryer weather. At least I hope so, for all those campers.

For holiday accommodation within walking distance of Taizé click here.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

End of the road for the Cluny Stud.

The historical buildings of the Haras in Cluny
Back in November 2009, I reported that the Cluny branch of the Haras (National Stud) was going to be closed down. In May 2010, it was announced that the Haras was saved and had been given a ten year reprieve, but last week we read in the paper that it is finally the end of the road. The buildings are worth more than the income, or the value of the work done at the stud and it is curtains for Cluny.

As it turned out, since 2010, there has been no horse breeding in Cluny anyway and there are only eight horses and 4 employees. How you can have a stud without any studding is a mystery to me, but apparently they have been doing research into a national horse tracing/tracking system - not really worth keeping several millions of Euros worth of buildings open and maintained for.

One of the eight remaining horses
“Living on borrowed time” springs to mind and ten year reprieve or no ten year reprieve, it matters not one jot, Cluny Haras is terminated.

So what will happen now? Well, the council has come up with a fiendishly clever and very French plan.

The council has put a special kind of compulsory purchase order on the property. This is not like an English CPO where the authorities buy the property whether the owners like it or not, oh no, this is far more ingenious. The owners have to pay all the costs to prepare for the sale of the property, they have to find a buyer and then when a price is agreed, the council can step in and trump it!

Fun and games with ponies in the arena
Don’t you just love ‘em? Now who the heck is going to go to all the hassle of attempting to buy the property when they know the council will just step in and take it anyway?

So what does this mean for the buildings and the horses and the employees? What does this mean for the horse spectaculars in the summer and the horse events at the Equivallée? I don’t know, but I will keep my eyes and ears open and keep you posted.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Chinese New Year

Lion dance in Mâcon
I have been a bit lax in blogging the last couple of weeks as we have been very busy practising for Chinese New Year. This year for the first time ever, our Taiji group had been asked to perform during the Mâcon Chinese New Year festivities. So almost every day has been dedicated to practising at home or with our group to make sure we didn’t make complete tiddly-winks of ourselves in front of a big crowd.

Red and gold balloon released to
celebrate the New Year
T-day finally arrived this Saturday. We already suspected that the room we had to perform in wasn’t big enough for our group, so it was with some trepidation that we set off, in convoy, to Mâcon. On arrival we got to see our space. It wasn’t as small as we feared, but cramped none the less and the cable running the length of the room looked destined to trip one or other of us up.

No time to worry, we had to go and see the lion dance, watch hundreds of red and gold balloons being launched and savour the inescapable glass of wine on offer to celebrate the New Year. Not too much mind you, we still had to “do our thing”.

Red Chinese lanterns decorate the planters
After a very non-descript and not very nice lunch (I won’t be recommending this particular culinary outlet) the time arrived to set up and warm up. A quick practise showed that with a bit of a squeeze we wouldn’t end up smashing the glass walls with out sticks, so the show was on!

We had two time slots allocated; in each time slot we would do three demos. I was in all three for the first show (Cees in two) and two of the second show (Cees in only one). Cees set up the video camera and between him and another taijier, they managed to film all six performances.

Forms listed left to right, 24 Beijing, stick, fan

They went really well, no one slipped or tripped or got so muddled up that they fell over, so all that practise had paid off. I won’t bore you with all of them, but this is the video of my favourite. It is the first form I learned with this teacher and is the ,ost commonly practised form in the world - the 24 of Beijing in the yang style. And even though the stick and the fan are fun to do and are more impressive, this form has the simple elegance that taiji is all about, especially when performed by a largish group.

So a big congratulations to our taiji group La Spirale D’Or of Cluny, we did ourselves proud!
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