Saturday, 26 December 2009

Never again! (part 2)

Summary : this is part 2 about cutting down trees in a forest.
We do not own a chainsaw, so we were relying on friends, who, in exchange for their labour and chainsaw, would get half of the wood. We paid the mairie, and helped with splitting and stacking. On top of that, because our friends were not exactly living next door, we would take care of transporting the wood from the forest to our field behind the house in September.
We would keep it, until they found time to collect their share. Well, cutting down trees sound easier than it really is. It is quite dangerous work, because trees tend to fall into an unexpected direction when the chainsaw is handled by someone who is not a professional. Further, thin trees are cut easily, and the pieces are easy to handle. Thicker trunks (mainly oak and beech), even when cut up in 50 cm length, are almost impossible to lift. The only way to move those pieces is to split them, with he help of steel wedges and a sledgehammer. I know now from experience, that even when one manages to split the wood, the 2 pieces are stuck to each other by the fibres, and that getting those two pieces physically separated from each other is damned hard work. Oak is worst, but beech is not much easier. When we started it was still quite pleasant weather, but soon it started freezing. The froze sap of the trees made the chain blunt in no time, which made cutting extra difficult. But the real challenge came at the end of the affouage. We had cut down and stacked everything but one last thick tree. There were still quite a few other ‘untouchables’ on our plot. And of course our last tree fell into the wrong direction.
Its crown landed in another tree, and there we were, stuck with a very dangerous situation. We had to choose between the evil and the deep blue see: either warn the forester and make fools of ourselves, or keep our mouths shut and illegally cut down the extra tree. We chose for the last option, and ended up with a bonus tree.
Finally, after 8 half days of very hard work, the four of us had managed to generate a few nice stacks of wood. The only remaining chore was getting the wood from the forest to our premises. But that seemed a doddle, by that time the wood having dried and hence being not so heavy anymore.
(To be continued in 1 week's time)

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Never again! (part 1)

Another typical French phenomenon is ‘affouage’. In the wooded areas of France the communes have the right, in consultation with the forester, to allocate plots of wood which have to be cleared, and to offer the clearing to the villagers. The affouage however is strictly regulated. One can normally register around September in the local town hall.
The forester determines which part of the wood must be cleared, and will, depending on the number of villagers having registered, divide the area in the same number of plots. Every plot has a number, and on the day one goes to pay, the payer gets allocated his plot. This goes literally by taking a number from a hat. In Cormatin there were roughly 18 registered ‘lumberjacks’ and hence there were 18 plots, at € 35 each. The size of the plots was roughly 30 x 30 m (between pole no. 7 in the foreground and myself), hence approx. 1000 square meters. On the plot everything had to be cut with a diameter under 25 cm; the forester had marked a few thicker trees as well which had to go. Twigs and branches had either to be stacked neatly, or to be burnt. There was also a time frame. Cutting down the trees had to be finished before April; the wood could stay in the wood all summer to dry, but had to moved from the forest by September.
Of course we did not have the foggiest idea what this meant, but it sounded interesting. We live in an area, where water comes from a tap, where (3 phase) electricity is almost always working, and where we have telephone and even ADSL. However, excrements disappear into a septic tank, and gas comes in bottles from the local supermarket. For our heating we are completely relying on wood, because neither electric nor gas heating is really an option (price wise). We have 2 wood burning stoves in the kitchen and living areas, and two kerosene heaters for emergencies and for our studies. It sounds a bit dramatic, but the bottom line is that we can generate very comfortable temperatures in the winter. Anyway, € 35 for a piece of a forest sounded like a bargain. I did a rough estimate, based on (guessed) numbers of trees, diameters and heights, and came to the conclusion that anything between 10 and 20 stère sounded realistic. 1 Stère is as much wood as you can get into a volume of 1 x 1 x 1 meter; depending on the way you stack 1 stère equals (effectively) between 0.6 and 0.8 cubic metres. Knowing that we get through 6 or 8 stère in a winter à € 50 per stère, the decision was quickly taken. We went to the mairie, payed our € 35 and felt like landowners, who had just acquired a piece of forest.
(To be continued in 1 week's time)

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Monday, 14 December 2009

Johnny B. Goode

I have always thought, that sensational journalism was a monopoly of the English tabloids, and that serious media, TV stations such as France 1 and BBC 1, were not sensation-prone. Well, I have changed my mind about France 1 (which is not a public, but a commercial station). On one of those days the climate conference in Copenhagen and accompanying demonstrations were on every front page of the newspapers, the (national) TV news of 20h00 on France 1 spent ten minutes on the topic of French rock star Johnny Halliday being admitted into an American hospital. No, the guy did not die; he was simply admitted into hospital. To demonstrate how disproportional the coverage was: the journal lasts 30 minutes, of which the last ten normally are reserved for culture and sports. Hence the remaining ten minutes were reserved for such trivia as the climate conference, an escaped murderer, problems with the magistrates, the debate about the national identity and the like. Artists in France, and certainly French artists, have an enormous status compared to artists in other countries. Still, I cannot get to grips with journalists waiting in front of a hospital, interviewing people like Charles Aznavour, Sylvie Vartan and other celebrities who went to the USA head over heals; obviously there is absolutely nothing else they can talk about. Having said that, Johnny is a national hero, manages to get his face day in day out in the tabloids, and recently did a very successful farewell tour along all the big podia in France. He certainly deserves a place somewhere in the news, but not necessarily everyday as the first topic. Only yesterday, when Berlusconi got kicked in the teeth Johnny was given a second slot of 10 minutes after 2 minutes for Berlusconi. Even our local daily, the magnificent Journal de Saône-et-Loire, has got Johnny’s portrait on the front page of each edition. The hype around the death of lady Di seems to be calm behaviour compared to the hype around Johnny. Whatever will happen if the man really dies one day? Three days of national mourning, entombing his body in the Panthéon in Paris, orchestrated by Sarko himself? Time will tell....

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Cats come and go...

For those who have been following the story about our love-hate relationship with various cats, we have now another sequel. Some friends of ours have decided to return to he UK. Last year, during their holiday, we were asked to look after their cat Charbon, a big black one. The cat arrived in some sort of cage, was released, and disappeared straight away in the eaves of the toilet block of the campsite. We hardly saw the cat during his stay. He ate here, and the few times we saw him, he disappeared straight away in the wood or in the roof of the toilet block.
Our friends thought that it might be a good idea to bring Charbon again before they were leaving for England, but they had decided not to pick him up again. After all, Charbon “knew” us. Anyway, the friends arrived, the cage was put in the garden, to let Fifi get used to her new mate, and we had lunch together. After lunch we all were going back into the garden, to release the cat. Sue, who wanted Charbon to feel welcome, went back into the house to get some treats for Charbon. But before she returned, our friend had opened the cage. The only thing Sue could see was a tiny bit of a black tail, disappearing through the hedge into the meadow, heading for the forest.
And that was the last we saw of him. It all happened so fast, that I could not even take a picture of Charbon; hence a picture of Fifi, the “winner” in this duel.
Of course there is a possibility that Charbon will become a wild cat, but there are also cat theoreticians who seem to suggest that cats sometimes, after months of wandering around, return to their old home. Anyway, we still keep our eyes and ears wide open, because it would be a real pity if Charbon would become a victim of a fox or a wild boar....

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Monday, 7 December 2009

Charity (2)

The whole of Saturday 5 December was dedicated to the Téléthon, in the papers, on TV and in the streets of every self-respecting village and town in France. We have finally found out what the Téléthon is all about; it is a yearly nationwide fundraising event for a research institute for myopathy. Something like this on a yearly basis is unknown in the Netherlands, but maybe it is comparable with Red Nose Day in the UK. Each year another (mostly) French celebrity is godfather of the Téléthon, such as Alain Delon, Mireille Matthieu, Julien Clerc and this year the famous actor Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources). We also found out why this event is so important in Cormatin; one of the village children is suffering from myopathy, and with only 500 inhabitants almost everybody knows kid and parents personally.
We did not have time (and had no intention!) to sit and watch TV all day. After we had helped putting up the tents in front of the church in Cormatin, carried and put up long wooden tables, emptied car boots and carried boxes from car to tent, the Téléthon in Cormatin slowly got going after 10 o’clock. One tent was hosting second hand books, DVD’s and videos, another stall was selling mulled wine, snacks, wafers, ready made boxes with petit salé aux lentils (a typical winter dish from the North of France), in another women were making and selling Christmas decorations, and in yet another one they were selling roses. Throughout the day some children were playing guitar and accordeon, a local bicycle club had organised a tour around all Téléthons in the vicinity, buying something in every village, like a sandwich, some wafers, a glass of mulled wine....
Slowly it started to dawn why we had been making paper roses the week before. On the steps in front of the war memorial a huge board was mounted, with in it cut out the Téléthon logo. For each sold real rose (à € 1 a piece) a paper rose was stuck in the openings of the wooden board, thus producing a multicoloured Téléthon logo by the end of the day! Half the population was in the mean time trying to make the event a success, and the other half was supposed to hang around, buy roses or a second hand book, or spend money in any other way, thus enabling the organiser Monsieur P. to phone the central fund raising authorities to proudly announce that Cormatin had managed to clock up another € 4000 (roughly the average over the past years). This was not the first time that I had noticed that some Cormatinoises are very good in selling package deals. After we had helped putting up the tents we went off to buy the Saturday edition of Le Monde at the local Tabac. However, Mme B. did not let us leave with just Le Monde; we were more or less forced to buy two boxes of petit salé aux lentils. She was very persuasive, with arguments as “I have bought them myself as well”, it makes an excellent and easy luch, and it is for a good cause. Finally we did not leave the shop before we had dished out € 11 in return for two slips of paper entitling us to two boxes. We walked back to the stand with the snacks and in exchange for our pieces of paper we obtained the food, consisting of a layer of lentils garnished with various pieces of meat, such as streaky bacon, sausage and pork. How much the final result for Cormatin is going to be is still unknown; however, Mme B. did not exaggerate about the food; we absolutely do not mind to support next year’s Téléthon exactly the same way!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Charity (1)

Because we are finally involved in Cormatin’s seething social life, we were asked to come and help out with “folding roses” for the yearly Téléthon. We still do not exactly know what this is, apart from a big national fund-raising event. Anyway, we were asked, and we said yes. We were one of the first to arrive, and once the lady with the key to the village hall arrived, we entered and started putting chairs around the table. Soon the crowd came in, one by one. For us it is every time a surprise who the volunteers are going to be; there seems to be a reservoir of about 50 people in Cormatin, who take turns in helping out
However, there is also a small hard core who is always there. This time the majority of volunteers were women.
Cardboard boxes were carried in, which were filled with pieces of crêpe paper in various colours, pliers, and rolls of thin metal wire, normally used in gardening. Once everything was distributed across the tables, the game could begin.
One takes the corner of an oblong piece of crêpe paper in one hand, and folds the bottom long side of the free hanging bit into an harmonica shape with the other hand, whilst pushing it in the first hand. This hand also slowly revolves the folded bit, thus creating something which, with a lot of fantasy, resembles a flower. The bottom bit of the flower is then secured with a piece of wire, whereby the extra length of the wire resembles a stem. And voilà, there is one of the 360 roses ready for.... yes, ready for what? We still have no idea. It involves selling real roses, and giving the paper ones away, or the other way around, or there might still be another possibility. Anyway, all shall be revealed on the day of the Téléthon.
To be continued...

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle