Saturday, 31 December 2016

Our new website (part 1 of 2)

The weeks around Christmas we normally reserve for patching up our own website.

This is what our website (previous version) looked like on a PC screen
Most of the time we just check out the external links which are convenient for the visitors of our site, e.g. the links to the arrival and departure times of public transport from and to our property. Those links are provided by others, and we do not have any influence on the validity of those links. It is amazing how many sites are changing URL addresses throughout the year – without providing a new link connecting the obsolete URL with the new one. And it is even more amazing how many external links we actually are providing on our own pages.
And this is what it looked like on an I-phone 5
However, before we started on our regular (2 to 3 times a year!) check of external links we thought it might be a better idea to redo the whole website. There was a good reason for that: some customers actually had made remarks in the past about the user-unfriendliness of our site for those opening the site on a mobile phone. In hindsight I must say that those people had been extremely polite in their addressing this "flaw"…
Because we are not I-phone, I-pad or tablet users ourselves, these sort of remarks were registered with us, but that was about it. Fortunately, we discovered that Chrome (among others) could provide us with an application that simulates a wide range of hardware. With this application one sees on the screen of a PC, on scale 1:1, what an I-phone or tablet user sees on his or her screen. And that gave us a scare! We chose, for checking purposes, to simulate an I-phone 5, one of the smallest available models.
To be continued.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 24 December 2016


I thought I had seen it all when it comes to laïcité (separation of church and state) with the arrival of the burkini, the injunction of the same bathing suit and with the cancellation of the injunction of the burkini.

Burkini arrest (picture The Mirror)
The elimination of Sarkozy as presidential candidate during the primaries seemed to confirm that. Until…
Until a small nativity scene in the hall of the town hall in Paray-le-Monial hit the front pages of the regional press. the pictures in this blog come from the local newspaper, and from the pictures one can deduce that had not Sherlock Holmes personally been involved in the search, the stable would never have been discovered.

Nativity scene - Paray-le-Monial (picture JdS&L)
Showing or wearing of religious symbols in public spaces is more or less forbidden in France, and the LDDH, a self-appointed watchdog on the subject, has brought this "case" to court, and the mayor of Paray lost this case.
What followed was predictable: Paray is a busy place for all sorts of roman-catholic pilgrimages, evry 4th building in town is a church or chapel, the mayor is a staunch roman-catholic jurist, in a word the proverbial shit started to hit the fan.

Nativity scene - Paray-le-Monial (picture L'observatoire de la Christianophobie)
According to the mayor this decision has serious consequences for the democracy in this country.
And for the Front National, which has hardly any influence in Burgundy (yet), this is grist to the mill. In a pamphlet about this case issued by FN this is the beginning of the end: a tsunami of minarets, headscarves, terrorists, etc. is heading for Burgundy. And yes, this sounds all very familiar. Maybe I can get hold of a cheap Linguaphone course Arabic somewhere….

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Musée de la Mine - Blanzy

That the area around and west of Montceau-les-Mines and Le Creusot once was a thriving coal mining basin is only reflected in some of the place names: Montceau-les-Mines is an obvious example.

Musée de la Mine - Blanzy
Apart from those names there is not much that reminds one of the glorious days of the industrial revolution. Many towns and villages in the Charolais however had in those days such an influx of miners from Italy, Portugal and Poland (all staunch roman-catholic countries) that the old Romanesque churches soon became too small to cater for this rise in population.

Of those original churches only the bell tower is till old; often the Romanesque nave has been demolished and replaced by a longer and/or wider edifice. The coal exploitation in the area ended between 1992 and 2000.
In Blanzy however there is something more that reminds us of those days.

There is not much remaining of the many mines in the area, but Blanzy boasts an original mineshaft lift tower of the Puits Saint-Claude (exploitation: 1857-1882), and the area around it has been converted into a mining museum.
The museum appeared to be very interesting and is daily open in the summer months (not on Tuesdays, and only in the afternoon) and outside that period in weekends only.

The group managing the museum runs (among others) the machine room, it has an interesting collection of miner's lamps and organises very interesting guided tours through replicas of old mine galleries, including old and "modern" machinery, built just under ground level. This way the visitor gets a good impression of what life underground has been.

The lift tower
Blanzy is about half an hour's drive from here, and for those who are interested in industrial archaeology a visit to the museum is well worth its while.
For our own website click here.

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….
For our own website click here.

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.

For our own website click here.

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.

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.

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

For our own website click here.

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
For our own website click here.

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!
For our own website click here.

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".

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.

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!
For our own website click here.

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!

For our own website click here.

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.
For our own website click here.

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.

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…

For our own website click here.