Saturday, 3 December 2016

Pot d'acceuil

In the period around the fifth of December, when the Dutch are dishing out sweets and candies to kids (a tradition that is threatened with extinction by over-zealous politically correct actions), Burgundy is a haven of peace and quiet.

2012 Pot d'acceuil
Burgundians do not believe in Saint-Nicholas nor in Black Peter, hence looking in street gutters for sweets that have been trampled by the crowds is a non-starter. However, in July and August there are some places in Burgundy where freebies are distributed amongst the poor and needy.


2013 Pot d'acceuil
One of those places is Saint-Gengoux-le-National, where, in front of the tourist office, during the summer months on Sundays between 11h00 and 12h00 a table loaded with local produce is placed. The goodies are supplied by local producers and shops; suppliers as well as what is on offer varies per week.

2013 Pot d'acceuil
Just a pick at random from the available products: goat's cheese, toast, sweets such as cookies and candies, savoury stuff like sausage, ham, gougères, smoked salmon, drinks like fruit juices and of course wine, etc. My partner is the one in charge of this Pot d'Acceuil, and she certainly turns the event into a success week after week. There are also always sufficient volunteers present to give information in various languages about hotels, restaurants, cycle rides, tourist attractions, etc.

2016 Pot d'acceuil
Since approx. 2010 this Pot d'Acceuil has become a yearly tradition. The tourists like the idea, and there are even families spending a 3 week holiday, year after year, in Saint-Gengoux, and during those three weeks they do not miss one single pot d'acceuil, on the contrary. I have a sneaky suspicion, from the amount of food they manage to get through in roughly half an hour, that the "snacks" they are scoffing away is their only meal that day….
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Saturday, 19 November 2016

The hummingbird hawk-moth


When, on a summer's afternoon, we sit and relax in the garden near where a lavender plant is growing, we often see a lot of activity around the lavender flowers.

Hummingbird hawk-moth in action
Bumble bees are busy doing whatever bumble bees are doing, but a few weeks before the bumble bees become very active we notice some insects we had never seen before we moved to France.

Hummingbird hawk-moth
The insects I am talking about look like moths, and have brown wings with an orange edge. The animals hang stationary in mid-air in front of a lavender flower, and it seems like they are sucking some fluid from the plant. We are not equipped with any knowledge on the subject, and since we had observed that the thing could hang still by moving its wings with tremendous speed, we happily called it a humming-bird moth.

Hummingbird hawk-moth in action
Wikipedia, as in many cases, put us on the right track. The animal is called hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), a small moth with a wing span of 2 inches and a very long tongue with which it sucks nectar from plants. Only after I started to experiment a bit with the shutter speed of my camera I managed to take some interesting pictures of the animal.

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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Orient-Occident with Jordi Savall - Cluny

Cellier (ground floor) and Farinier (first floor) - Cluny
When we ordered tickets for the concert series "Les Grandes Heures de Cluny" there was a bit of confusion. According to the booklet with the program there were seven concerts; a season ticket for six concerts was € 125 for the best seats at € 25 pp, hence six concerts for the price of five. We either had to skip one concert, or pay extra (full price) for one more concert. We chose for the first option and decided to skip Mozart's Requiem. Strangely enough, when we ordered the season tickets via internet we were not given a choice of which six concerts we would like to attend.

The set of instruments - Farinier
We ordered the tickets anyway, deciding to clarify matters later. When we phoned the organisation they told us that there was a mistake in the program. One of the concerts was € 35, and not € 25 as all other concerts. On top of that, that particular concert was not part of the season ticket, hence we had to pay separately an extra € 35 for that concert. At the end of the day we had tickets for all six concerts of the series, including Mozart, as well as for the concert of Jordi Savall that was part of the series, but not quite.

Anouncement
When we arrived at the Farinier within the abbey grounds in Cluny the concert was completely sold out, which did not really surprise us. What however surprised us was the fact that the guy who was supposed to play the oud (Arab lute) played the qanûn (a sort of Arab harp) all evening. The hand-out program made it clear: the originally announced musicians had been replaced by the Turkish qanûn player Hakan Güngör and the Greek percussionist Dimitri Psonis. Savall played the rabâb (a kind of fiddle) and lire d'archet (a kind of viola da gamba).

The concert
The program consisted of a mixture of Eastern and Western (early) music, from amongst others North-Africa, Byzantium, Armenia, France, Italy, etc. It was fascinating to hear how the music of the various regions during or around the middle Ages had cross-fertilised and influenced each other. Apart from that it was simply very interesting and beautiful music, played by three virtuoso instrumentalists. It does not happen that often that a renowned musician like Jordi Savall gives a reasonably priced concert at spitting distance from our doorstep.

2016
Reason the more, as I said before, to keep a good eye on the future concerts in the series "Les Grandes Heures de Cluny"!

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Saturday, 22 October 2016

The inventor of photography – part 2 and last

Because they are accessible free of charge we decided, on a day more suitable for a museum visit than for a day lazing in the sun, to visit the two museums in Chalon-sur-Saône.

Statue of Nicéphore Niépce - Chalon-sur-Saône
We planned to see the Musée Vivant Denon first, and to do the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, like the one in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (see the previous blog) dedicated to the inventor of photography, afterwards.

Musée Niépce : the permant collection
We had seen both museums before; Denon for the first time in 2013, Niépce in 2011. Both had undergone some changes, and for the better.
Denon, a local museum with an archaeology and a fine arts department, had a small but interesting temporary exhibition of treasures from the Near- and Middle-East, and had extended its permanent collection with antique furniture from Senncey-le-Grand.

Musée Niépce : space for temporary exhibitions
Niépce had also been renovated or re-organised in the past years. It boasts a far more interesting collection about Niépce (and Daguerre) than Saint-Loup, including a display of antique cameras and objectives, and has ample space for temporary photo exhibitions. When we visited, there were two exhibitions running simultaneously: one with black-and-white pictures of Léon Herschtritt (La fin d'une monde) and one slightly less interesting (to my taste) of contemporary photographs in colour (L'oeil de l'expert).

Musée Niépce : space for temporary exhibitions
Two museums with the same theme: that cries out for a comparison.

The Maison de Nicéphore Niépce in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes has, as the place where the first photograph was taken, mainly historical value. It pays some attention to other inventions of Niépce, but the collection (mainly replica of inventions and re-arranged rooms) is not very impressive. The 6 € entrance fee could be better used drinking something on a sunny terrace elsewhere, to my humble opinion. I will leave the welcome and the opening times out of the equation to give the museum at least some credit. On a scale of 1 to 10: a meagre 4.

The most interesting display in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes

The Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône has a reasonable collection, and on top of that often interesting temporary exhibitions. Besides there is no entrance fee, and once one has seen the museum there are plenty of other things to see within walking distance (cathedral Saint-Vincent, Musée Vivant Denon, mediaeval houses, markets), and the old town boasts a number of terraces which invite one to sit down and watch the world go by. On a scale of 1 to 10: a good 8.

Musée Niépce : part of the permanent collection
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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Citizenship course

We have cracked many a joke about what one has to do to obtain a foreign passport. Each country has different demands in order to accept foreigners as one of their own.

It's a gas, gas, gas!
For example, to be able to pass as a Frenchman one has to adhere to a number of house rules; below is just a very small random choice.
Never walk anywhere, take your car, even between two shops which are bordering each other. Avoid leaving your car; chatting to another motorized friend can be done through the car windows, hence blocking the road for at least 20 minutes. However, if for an emergency one has to leave the car, make sure not to switch off the motor. That is the only accepted way to maintain the greenhouse effect.

Ah, what is 15 muntes among friends....
Never be on time. It is frowned upon when one arrives on time, let alone when one arrives a trifle early. Even when concerts are supposed to start at 20h00, do not appear before 20h15. That is the best way to annoy those who came "only" 5 minutes late.
As I said, this is a very small selection.
For a Dutch passport there are of course different rules.

It can be done this way...
I remember very clearly an English lady who had major problems jumping on the luggage carrier of a bicycle in motion. Most of the time the cyclist was thrown off the bike because of the sideways impact the passenger exerted. After weeks of practice and a partner with bruised ribs the lady was ready to apply for a Dutch passport.
Mounting a bike where the passenger already had taken place on the luggage carrier requires yet another skill, as attached picture shows…

Or this way!
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Saturday, 8 October 2016

The inventor of photography - part 1 of 2

Chalon-sur-Saône, the place where he was born and lived and Sint-Loup-de-Varennes, where he lived, worked and died are both proud of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a man with an exotic name, inventor of among others "photography".

Saint-Loup-de-Varennes
The last statement is open to interpretation, but fact is that he produced the very first photographic picture (exposure time over 8 hours) in 1822.
Chalon has its Niépce museum, as has Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (a stone throw from Chalon): the house "Le Gras" where he took the first photographic picture ever.

Point de vue du Gras
The museum in Saint-Loup is open all day (except Tuesdays) from 10h00 to 18h00, at least so the website says. Not closed for lunch? That is a novelty, and as such "Unique en France"!
We arrived there at approx. 13h45, found all doors locked and a sign "Next guided tour at 14h00". At 14h15 we decided to do some shopping nearby and give it another last try when we were passing by again after our shopping expedition.

Another invention of Niépce
But alas, all doors were still locked. However, the sign had been removed as well. This time we spotted a young woman nearby, whom we actually had seen earlier, but further away. She was the tour guide, and she must have thought that we were some local burglars, not worth addressing because they were only guilty of almost kicking in the locked doors.

THE window
The next tour was at 15h00, but when we told her that we had already waited half an hour for the previous tour, and that we would not really be amused if we had to wait another 30 minutes, she gave in and started the guided tour at 14h30. The shed, which we thought was "the house", turned out to be the reception area and museum shop, and the big house nearby, where we had seen the woman in red earlier turned out to be the scene of Niépce's crime.

Workshop
The museum hosts some models of Niépce's other inventions, some pots with chemicals from his original lab in Chalon, a replica of his study and workshop and of course the window from which the first photographic picture was taken. The building has obviously historical value, but one can question whether the entrance fee of € 6.00 pp is not a bit steep for the things on show.

The shield at the door
The Niépce Museum in Chalon is at least free of charge!
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Saturday, 24 September 2016

Les Grandes Heures de Cluny

In 2014 and 2015 we attended for the first time a few concerts in the series "Les Grandes Heures de Cluny", and we were very content with what we saw and heard. That was the reason we decided to subscribe to all concerts this year.

2015 Farinier : Edgar Moreau
"Les Grandes Heures de Cluny" is a series of classical concerts that takes place in July/August, which in itself is part of an even bigger event, the "Festival Musical des Grands Crus de Bourgogne".
In short: The concerts are given at various locations in Cluny. Last year the Cloister of the abbey was used for the bigger events (like the Chamber Orchestra of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra), while the Farinier of the abbey was hosting the more intimate concerts. After each concert there is a wine tasting on offer (at a price though) offered by various prestigious caves from the area around Cluny, such as Viré, Igé, etc.

2016 Transept : Ensemble vocal Beatus
This year there were even more venues. The program started off with a (free) presentation of the series with musical accompaniment of pianist Thomas Enhco and marimba player Vassilena Serafimova in the Cloître.
The first concert: : "Lux Lucis – Chants Byzantins & Grégoriens", by the Ensemble vocal Beatus in the Transept. An excellent concert of religious music by five singers in a location that was built for the occasion.

2016  Cloître : Orchestre Lutetia
Concert no. 2: A Beethoven concert by the Orchestre Lutetia conducted by Alejandro Sandler with pianist Frank Braley in the Cloître. the ouverture Coriolan, the fourth piano concerto and the seventh symphony.
The third concert:Chamber music of Haydn, Schumann and Dvorak by the Quatuor Ludwig with pianist Dana Ciocarlie in the Farinier.
Concert no. 4: "La Trompette dans tous ses Eclats", a varied but mainly Baroque program featuring six excellent trumpet players (alone, with two, three and even six players) accompanied by the Orchestre Lutetia conducted by Alejandro Sandler in the Cloître.

2016 Cloître : Simon Fournier & Nicolas André
Concert no. 5: Mozart's Requiem by the Choeur & Orchestre de l'Ain conducted by Eric Reynaud in the Eglise Saint-Marcel (again an excellent choice for this type of music).
The sixth and last concert: Music of Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich by the Orchestre de Chambre de Minsk conducted by Evgeny Bushkov with pianist Kyril Keduk and trumpet player Guy Touvron in the Eglise Saint-Marcel.

2016 Eglise Saint-Marcel: Orchestre & Choeur de l'Ain
And than there is still a seventh concert, even though it is outside the series: Jordi Savall with the Spanish percussionist Pedro Estevan and the Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi with a program called "Orient Occident". This very last concert will most likely be covered by a separate blog.
Summarizing I can say that, in hind sight, I regret that we did not take much notice of this particular series earlier. Each and every concert in the 2016 series was of excellent quality, the programming was varied and the venues for the concerts were chosen very carefully. Les Grandes Heures will certainly be on our program for the 2017 version!

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Guitares en Cormatinois 2016: the balance

Every year the same question crops up: was the programming this year good enough, did we manage to get sufficient spectators, were the receipts sufficient to cover the costs and is there still sufficient money in the kitty to pay for next year's edition?

Guitares en Cormatinois 2016
Those questions keep popping up before and after each festival, during every meeting, and in case of a negative answer the next question is undoubtedly "What can we do about it?".
Last year more attention was paid to anticipate the prevalent taste (folk music seems to be the magic word this year, a homage to popular artists long gone is always a crowd puller), to find catchy titles for the programs, to engage musicians who could be crowd pullers, but within our budget, etc.
And that has paid off.

Full house : Rossfelder
The church was more than half full during the first concert of Duo Duende, Bruel sings Brel gave, as expected, a full house, with Rossfelder there was no space left for the volunteers (they listened sitting outside the church), for the Corsican Polyphonies the volunteers found a space behind the altar while for Irish kind off we had to send people away after having sold the "places" next and behind the altar.

The volunteers
Financially it has been an excellent series, the reactions of the public concerning the quality of the concerts was positive, the blog I wrote before the festival, which I forwarded to some friends, resulted in at least 10 reservations (on a total of approx. 100 available seats!), in a word, after some festivals which could have done better financially, last series gives good hope for the future!

What one of the volunteers saw of the three Corsicans
Will be (fortunately), continued.
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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Horses and Brylcreem

When I was young, the youths of those days tried to distinguish themselves from the establishment by amongst others their hairstyle: Duck's ass for boys and Beehives for girls.

Brylcreem advert
Brylcreem was in those days something every boy used tons of. Personally I did not get excited by Rock & Roll music; Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & his Comets was simply not my cup of tea. As a result Duck's asses and Beehives also did not score very high on my list. However, recently I was confronted again with Brylcreem, or something similar.
During one of our trips in the vicinity we stumbled upon an announcement for a working horse show in Lalheue.

Working horses
Sue had heard about these shows, not unknown in England, where competitions were held in the country side, involving horses doing what working horses are meant to do (working…., ploughing, pulling carts, etc.). The horse that performed best won the prize.
On the day itself we went to Lalheue, and the dozens of parked cars showed us where the party was taking place. We saw a lot of working horses, but that was about it.

Trotting the day away
Not a plough or a farmer's cart in sight. The show was a sort of Miss or Mister Working Horse contest, where the horse was being judged on appearance, the "elegance" of its trot(?), how beautifully the animal could back up(?), etc. In a word, a Miss Burgundy contest, but this time with horses.

And back up!
After having watched two or three contestants we decided to give it a miss, but one horse caught our attention. It had a checkerboard pattern shaved on its behind, at least that was what it looked like. Looking closer we noticed that the pattern was applied using a brush, and it was kept in place by big quantities of pomade.

Brylcreem?
We were off quite quickly, but the horse? That has most likely been Rocking Around the Clock until the wee small hours of the morning…

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Saturday, 13 August 2016

Fear of flying

Or should it be "Fear of not flying"?

Montgolfiade 2009
Each year, around Whitsuntide or Pentecost Chalon-sur-Saône celebrates its Montgolfiade, a festival where dozens of hot air balloons are supposed to be launched. And since this hot air balloon festival is always held on a Saturday and Sunday, there have been quite a few weekends where we set off to Chalon to see this from close-by. However, it has always been either rainy, or too windy, so either we ourselves cancelled the trip or the balloons refused to go up.

Montgolfiade 2016
However, during one of our vain trips we once found some cold air balloons attached to a gate on the venue of the Montgolfiade. My learned assistant knew that those things normally fly around sunrise or sunset, so one fine day, towards the evening we drove once again to Chalon. There was a slight breath of wind, but who cares?

Montgolfiade on a fine day (internet)
The balloons did not fly that night. The following day they did, however, as we learned from the newspaper. The burning question rests: are we content having seen the two or three balloons flying over Chazelle, or are we going to visit Chalon on day again to see dozens floating in the air?

Mini-Montgolfiade 2014 - Chazelle
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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Killing two birds with one stone

Given the enormous amount of artisans around here who occupy themselves with all sorts of handicrafts, the artists have to go through some length to be able to sell their products.

Exposition Belles de Mai - Berzé-la-Ville
They are united in a number of associations, some rigid, some a bit more flexible, which regularly organize exhibitions of their work. One of these associations is the "Belles de Mai" (in winter they operate as "Mères Noël"), that organizes at the beginning of summer and towards Christmas an exhibition in a spot that is also of interest on different grounds.

Gypum kilns - Berzé-la-Ville
This year they had chosen the old gypsum kilns in Berzé-la-Ville. We knew the kilns from a previous visit in August 2012, when we were invited there by a group (Amis de Vieux Berzé) who occupied themselves with the restauration of the kilns. Of course this was reason enough for a revisit. http://amisvieuxberze71.org/
This exposition gave us a chance to see what the restorers had achieved, and what the artisan hat makers, potters, jewellers, etc. had wrought.

Exposition - Berzé-la-Ville
The kilns had undergone a metamorphosis over the last three and a half years and formed a perfect setting for the exhibited jewellery, ceramics, clothing, etc. The weather, which is an important factor for the success of these events did not spoil the fun. When we arrived around lunchtime (a perfect time to avoid the crowds) all the ladies were enjoying the warmth and the sunshine chatting and sipping their glasses of wine. The whole scene gave me a strange déja vu feeling, seeing all these ladies dressed in white.

Not a Chinese funeral!
That is however something very personal. It very strongly reminded me of the gatherings around Chinese funerals, where a certain generation of mourners is dressed in white, and where after a wake of 3, 5 or 7 days the mourners are behaving as a group of family or friends during a happier occasion than a funeral. Anyway, the "Belles de Mai" had every reason to be really happy and gay!

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