Saturday, 26 February 2011

The holy corkscrew

Anyway, I was well impressed by the scale of the event. There were several hundreds of people in the procession, which started in Vaux, and climbed the short distance uphill to the church of Saint-Ythaire. The various Guilds had their banners and their different uniforms, whereby the “Chevaliers” of the “Confrérie” were not only carrying their Saint Vincent, but also other paraphernalia. Their coat of arms depicts a cork screw and something resembling a hand grenade. Today we had a better look at this coat of arms and only now we found out that the holy hand grenade, on the other side of the holy corkscrew, was in reality a side view of a tastevin, a shallow metal, often silver platter which is constructed to display the colour of the (red) wine, and used by professional wine tasters. All members of the Confrérie were wearing a big tastevin around their neck, and one was carrying a huge corkscrew.
The mass was celebrated in a normal French way. However, because the church was chocker block full, and we were seated in a recess, right behind a bunch of 10 (ten) horn blowers; I almost got a heart attack when completely unexpectedly all ten of them decided to join the congregation in a song.
Then there was the inevitable wreath laying at the war memorial, followed by a vin d’honneur at the town hall.
But what is a fête in France without a lunch? After two o’clock we piled into the Foyer Rural of Saint-Gengoux, where I did a quick count; the tables were laid for 200 people. We found out quickly who did the catering; a company from Montchanin (about 25 km away) had brought over food, professional cookers and cooking utensils and prepared a stunning meal for all present.
Just to make you jealous:
Pâté de canard avec son foie gras et quelques feuilles;
Dôme de sole, queues d’écrevisses sauce du chef avec riz et fleuron;
Trou Bourguignon;
Souris de cerf braisé et ses légumes;
Fromage plateau servi avec noix et raisins;
Mignardises - Café.
And of course there were plenty of excellent local wines served with this meal....
At the end of the meal another ritual had to be performed. A few members of the communes involved were invited to join the Confrérie, and some were even appointed “Chevalier”; they were given the accolade by means of what we have dubbed the holy corkscrew.
As usual with these sorts of events these lunches last at least four hours, after which the real diehards go on dancing until the wee wee hours. We however are spoil sports in this respect; after the last cup of coffee we were completely worn out, and only wanted to go home. And the fact that the band was in shrill contrast with the rest of the day had not much to do with our wimping out, after an excellent day....

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Saturday, 19 February 2011

The wrong Saint

January 22 is the official day of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of the wine growers. This is a festival that does not go unnoticed in this wine growing area, but having said that, because we live in a small almost wineless enclave, Cormatin itself is not really involved in this tradition. There is a yearly big festival for the whole of Burgundy, which is rotating yearly from village to village. The festival lost its importance at the end of the 19th century, parallel with secularisation of French society, but was revived in the late thirties, and last year 40000 people took part in the celebrations. In 2009 the Saint Vincent Tournante was held in the area of the Mâcon-villages appellation.
In places where there is still an active “Société de secours mutuelle” (something like a wine growers union, association or guild), in our part of the world united in a bigger society, the “Confrérie des Vignerons de St Geng de Vigny” (note the typical French subtle play on words - Saint-Gengoux or Saint-Jean and vigneron or vignoble), a yearly local St. Vincent festival is celebrated.
This festival also rotates every year, although in a much smaller area. Although not directly involved, we had heard from friends who live and are active in the local Amicale or Foyer Rural in the nearby village of Saint-Ythaire, that the local Saint Vincent this year was hosted by their village.
They have been busy for months, one evening a week together with other villagers, to fold paper flowers to decorate the village. Since we are involved in similar projects in Cormatin, we realised how big this event must be in comparison to “our” one night flower folding event for the yearly Téléthon. Anyway, we expressed our interest in this festival, and our friends kept us up to date. Recently we were issued with a program and an inscription form, we paid our entrance fee, and bingo, we were in for a day out on Sunday 7 February.
It turned out to be a misty day, when we turned up at 9h30 in Vaux, at a barn next to our friends’ house. They had indeed done a wonderful job in decorating the village. Not just in the village itself, but also along the roads leading up to Vaux and Saint-Ythaire there was an overabundance of Christmas trees along the streets, decorated with paper flowers.
The trees were partially donated after Christmas, partially freshly stolen from the surrounding woods. Also hedges and permanent trees were “flowering” in a sea of yellow, red, green, violet and blue. Apart from that, displays were made of various materials, whereby the number of “puppets” draped in wheelbarrows, surrounded by numerous empty wine bottles, suggested more than seven drunken nights. Of course nobody turned up in time; this is France after all. But by 9h45 sort of a parade was formed, headed by the various Guilds in their uniforms with banners and their own statue of Saint Vincent.
I dropped my proverbial clanger, when I saw Saint Vincent standing on a sedan chair, where the carrying structure clearly said “Saint-Vallerin”. I shouted out that these guys had brought the wrong Saint, not realising that it was the name of the village where this Saint Vincent lived, and not the name of the Saint itself.
Well, nobody is perfect....

To be continued

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Saturday, 12 February 2011

And the winner is.....

Yesterday it was finally the big day; we had to play loto or bingo for those living outside Cormatin who had bought a number of cards.
Around five in the afternoon the Salle Saint-Roch started to fill up with villagers who came to play bingo in loco parentis. Quite some cards had been sold, so every player was in charge of a generous amount of loto cards. We both played on 12 cards each; the cards had been distributed randomly, so in theory nobody was playing the cards he or she had sold. After half an hour the first prize (a flat screen TV) fell. The card had been sold by one of our council workers to his father in law. The game continued, and the next prize fell on a card that had been bought by someone from Cormatin. The card was checked by one of the officials, and yes, it contained all the correct numbers. The game was just about to continue, when somebody else rather sheepishly shouted “Bingo”. And this card turned out to be a winning card as well. When more then one card wins at the same time, each potential winner grabs a bingo ball from a bag; the highest number wins the prize, and the lowest number gets a consolation prize (often a small pot of paté from the supermarket). In this case the late comer had won. The winning card was confiscated by an official, and she looked in her paperwork which person had sold the card with no. 354 and to whom.
The poor woman than had to announce the name: after several tries she came out with the name of a certain Pocahontas from Luxemburg, who had bought the card through Sue Nixon. It quickly dawned on us that the winner was one of our last year’s campers, who follows this blog regularly. His Lithuanian surname starts wit P., and slightly resembles Pocahontas.... He contacted us immediately after he read my blog about the loto for the Amicale and forwarded money to buy some cards straight away. However, winner or not, I have to disappoint him a bit: he did not win the espresso machine which he wanted, but a brand new cordless hoover; no misunderstanding, this is NOT an old hoover whereby someone has cut off the cable!
The other members of our network who have bought cards will receive an email from us telling them that they did NOT win. But we are 100 % convinced that everybody has bought cards for the good cause, and the Amicale de Cormatin will certainly see to it that the money is put to good use!

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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Units of the world, unite!

Somebody who follows my blog on Facebook commented on my previous blog about fire wood. He lives in another part of Bourgogne, in the Bresse region, and apparently the wood there is not delivered and measured in “stères”, but in “moules”. Ever since I started work in the petrochemical industry, and got involved in working in the imperial units of length, volume, weight, force etc. I have been fascinated by the variations in archaic units; the Netherlands knew in the past at least 6 (six!) different inches, ranging between 24 and 27 mm, depending on the region. It is interesting to know, that although the metric system was developed in France during the French Revolution, the first head of state to enforce the metric system by law (in 1820) was the Dutch King William I. This fascination caused me to open the French Wikipédia and look up what they have to say about moules and stères.
The moule is a unit of volume for cut wood, which goes back to pre-(French)revolutionary times. And as with most ancient units, this one is also regionally defined. In the Savoie a moule measures 1.6 stères, in the Chablais, a part of the Haut-Savoie it measures 3 stères, and in Burgundy it is as much wood as you can get into a cube with sides of 1.33 m.
This last dimension is no doubt an equivalent of 4 ½ French feet or a number of other local units. This boils down to a gross volume of 2.353 cubic metres. When 1 stère is equal to (effectively) 0.7 cubic metres, a moule should be 3.36 stères. However, my spokesman from the Bresse states that a moule equals 2.63 stères. A simple calculation makes 1 (Bresse) stère effectively 0.89 cubic metres. And that tallies with the rest of his story, wherein he tells that his wood is delivered in 1.3 metres lengths. One has to stack neatly, and hence economically, to stack 1.3 m lengths in a cube with sides of 1.33 m!

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