Saturday, 28 May 2016

Antillean Week

It's not often such a colour outfit is seen in Cormatin
Every year the Antillean society in Saône-et-Loire has a week of events in this region. They seek to promote understanding of the Antilles, their culture, their gastronomy and their history and each year their week centres on a theme. This year the theme was the abolition of slavery.

France abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon reintroduced it in 1802 and it wasn’t until 1899 that all French colonies had abolished slavery once and for all. It wasn’t clear to me why this year was chosen to dedicate itself to history surrounding the abolition of slavery, but this year it was.

Plaque on the chateau wall
There were a number of different events throughout the week but the one that caught our eye was of course the event in Cormatin. The day started with an Antillean mass in Cormatin church, then proceeded to the unveiling of a plaque at the chateau, laying a wreath in Ameugny cemetery and a glass of wine and a presentation on the history of slavery in Ameugny village hall. In the afternoon there was a play in St Roch hall in Cormatin, but sadly we were expecting a gite guest to arrive and we had to miss the afternoon session.

Poppies on the walk through Ameugny village
So why Cormatin and what was on the plaque?

There was a certain General Lavaux who was the governor of St Domingue (Haiti today) who bought the chateau and he died there in 1828. He was a good friend of both Toussaint Louverture and Lamartine and these relationships proved to be critical in the eventual abolition of slavery.

The tomb of General Lavaux
Toussaint Louverture was the leader of the Haitian slave uprising which was a pivotal moment in the fight against slavery in the colonies and through him, General Lavaux became convinced of the anti-slavery cause and was able to lobby the influential Lamartine and other government officials to formulate the abolition of slavery bill, which he sadly did not live to see being passed in parliament. So a plaque has been erected to honour the work of this man who has been a little bit forgotten by history and it was his grave we laid the wreath on.

We think of this as only a lesson in history, but we were reminded that even with all these noble treaties, there is still slavery today, in many cases clandestine but in some areas just accepted and ignored.

All in all a very interesting, sobering and worthwhile morning contemplating the horrors of slavery and hopefully spreading the seeds to enable us to learn from our past and abolish this trade for ever.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ponies, peacocks and piglets

Duckling huddling in a crate
Bank holiday Monday and off we went to Louhans. It is been a while since we’ve been there for the market selling small animals and we couldn’t have chosen a better day if we had planned it.

It was beautiful and sunny, the first nice day in a while and the place was heaving. Thousands had come for what turned out to be one of the really big markets of the year.

Point of lay chickens, just rearing to go
Every Monday there is a market in the town, but late spring is the time to get your livestock for the coming year and so people had come from far and wide to buy their chickens and ducks for the season. There were a lot of chirping and quacking boxes that passed us as we entered the market area.

Need a cockerel to wake you up in the morning?
The fun fair was in town as well and the atmosphere was electric. We had to squeeze through the crowds to get past a rather terrifying, gravity defying, twirling ride, that was eliciting screams from the teenagers brave enough to get on it and I was worried I might lose Cees – in the crowd not on to the ride you must understand. We decided our meeting point would be by the lamas if we got separated, but fortunately we made it round the market without losing sight of each other.

What a beautiful chappy
The selection of animals was amazing as always, you can buy anything from day old chicks up to laying birds, cockerels, guineafowl, peacocks, ducks, quail and geese and then there were the rabbits, sheep, piglets, lamas and ponies - we were spoilt for choice.

I was very tempted by a peacock, who was a snip at 150 Euros (!) but Cees wasn’t so keen so we left empty handed.

Maybe one day - for now we’ll stick to just having a cat.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Flying Elephants

Balloons over Chalon - photo from JSL
Every Whitsun weekend there is a display of hot air balloons in Chalon. We have never managed to see the balloons fly and so this year, yet again, we decided that this was the year we would actually see them. Checking out the programme we spotted that the balloons were to fly at 19.00 on Saturday, but I also spotted that at 17.00 there was going to be the opportunity for “dou dous” to fly in special small hot air balloons.

While flying dou dous may sound strange to English ears, I should clear up any confusion by saying that a dou dou is the French word for soft toy or comforter, so you could take your favourite soft toy along and it would be able to fly in a hot air balloon. There seemed to be no age limit for the owners of the soft toys, so I decided that a member of my little menagerie should be treated to a flight.

A flying elephant
- with a little help from photoshop
Timothy, my trusty teddy bear who has accompanied me around the world on all my business trips, is getting on a bit on years now (being only a few months younger than me - which may not be old for a human, but it is very old for a teddy bear) so I decided that he might not survive the trip. It then fell to Guus my fluffy elephant to be the one to venture into the unknown.

The only trouble was that we had a gite changeover, so the new giters had better turn up early or he would miss his flight. They didn’t arrive until 17.45 and Chalon is more than half an hour away, so I had little hope for Guus as we left. We headed off anyway as the other part of our mission was to see the main balloons flying - at least we would be on time for them.

As we neared the balloon launching site, many cars were coming the other way- not encouraging. The tops of the trees were swaying rather a lot and I feared that the wind was getting up too much for a flight. Undeterred, we walked up to the launching site with Guus under my arm, just in case the dou dous were still allowed to fly, but as we approached the main area it became obvious that all the balloon flights were cancelled.

Certificate to "prove" he actually flew
Guus and I looked wistfully at the miniature balloon baskets which had been grounded and as I started to take photos of what might have been, a man approached me, not saying a word he whisked Guus from under my arm and took him to one of the baskets for his “flight”. Guus was thrilled to sit in a basket, but sadly, as with the large balloons, it was too windy and hence too dangerous for the little ones to go up. It didn’t stop that lovely man from giving Guus a certificate marking his initiation in the ballooning world and he made one dou dou and its owner very happy.

The real balloons eventually went up at 06.00 Sunday morning when I was still tucked up in bed, so I have stolen a photo from the Journal de Saône-et-Loire website to show you what a sight it really was.

As we say every year - we really must see this next year. Who knows..

Monday, 9 May 2016

Supermarket Trauma - again

Wisteria in Cormatin - no relation to the story whatsoever
I just thought it was pretty
When we first arrived in France, we checked out the local supermarkets and quickly settled into using the Intermarché in Cluny.

We did our shopping on a Tuesday and all was well with the world.

Until that fateful day in 2014 when we returned from a short holiday to find our supermarket gone.

After a long search and difficult times, we settled into using the Atac in Cluny.

Our supermarket is a crime scene
We did our shopping on a Monday and all was well with the world.

Until one fateful day last week, when we received a newsflash email from the local newspaper - our supermarket had burned down!

We hot footed it into Cluny to find out that it was in fact the stock room that had burned down, but when I say stockroom I mean more than 200 square meters and all the stock. The supermarket won’t be up and running very soon. The police suspect arson and the whole place is one big crime scene.

So we were back to searching for somewhere to shop. The Carrefour is hellishly expensive (both milk and coffee are 50% more expensive than the Atac) but we reluctantly went there last week.

Our new shopping heaven?
It came to our attention that the other supermarket (Netto) is no longer closed at lunchtime (our preferred shopping time), so this week we decided to try it out again. It is nice, roomy and light, the selection is limited but adequate, but the clincher is that they now stock fresh milk, as opposed to sterilised. An added bonus is that it is less than half the price of the milk in Carrefour!

I think we have found our new supermarket, no matter whether Atac re-opens, we will be using Netto from now on.

We are still shopping on a Monday and it looks like all is well with the world – again.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

May Day

Brrrr.. more like 1st March!
The first day of May is a holiday in France and usually it is beautifully warm, the summer is just around the corner and the temperatures are suitably high.

Not this year though brrrrr.. As we set off in the car to go to lunch it was 3 degrees!

We were going out with some friends to sample the delights of a lunch at a goats’ cheese farm. The lunch was superb even if we did have to wrap up warm as we huddled together in black polythene covered tunnel that served as the dining room.

The menu was suitable goaty with warmed goats’ cheese on toast with salad, boeuf bourguignon with goats’ cheese oven cooked potatoes (I had hope for a goat curry, but that is not really done round here!) fresh soft goats' cheese with cream and sugar, then a non-goaty dessert and coffee.  All that for only 15 Euros each, with wine included. No bad at all I thought.

Goats' cheese waiting to go into the oven
Samples of of the different flavours

The farm was on top a hill with spectacular views, well I suppose they were, but at it was grey and drizzly it was difficult to see.

The girls themselves
After lunch we popped in for a quick visit to the goats themselves. It was nice and warm in their shed and we enjoyed watching the kids jumping around like only young animals can do and watching their mothers munch away the the hay laid out before them. We then skedaddled home to get back into the warm.

Traditional lily of the valley
When we got home we were very excited to see that at least one of our lily of the valley was starting to flower. Lily of the valley is the traditional May Day flower in France and everyone picks them or buys them to bring the lovely scent into their homes. Because of the recent cold snap, the flower growers have very few on offer, so it was a double pleasure to see this little chap smiling at us from the cold garden.

Instead of our usual May Day BBQ we’ll be tucked up in front of the fire tonight, waiting for summer to start which is promised for later this week.
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