Saturday, 27 February 2016

The community of Taizé

The bells of Taizé
I am woken up every morning by the bells of Taizé, the single bell for the monks rings out at 07.45 for about 5 minutes, calling the monks to their morning prayer then the bells start in earnest at 08.15 and ring until 08.30, letting all the pilgrims at Taizé know that the service is about to start. When the bells stop I know I really must get up. The bells ring from 12.15 to 12.30, so I know lunch should be on the table and if dinner is not ready when the evening bells go at 20.15, I know I am very late. And that was what Taizé was to me when I arrived here in 2005.

After Easter in 2006 we went to Taizé to have a look around and we were amazed at the number of young people milling around. We didn’t go to a service as that seemed inappropriate, with all these kids around it seemed like a young person’s thing. I wanted to go to a service, but I didn’t know how it worked, so I didn’t dare go alone. In July some campers (Ans and Simon) arrived, she had been to Taizé for the first time that spring and wanted to camp nearby to take in a few services and tempt her husband to go too. He however wasn’t interested and she didn’t dare go alone. At last my chance to go to a service, so on a Friday evening Ans and I went up the hill to Taizé.

A service in Taizé (Photo © Arnd Waidelich)
The services are made up of singing and silence. The songs are mesmerising. With pilgrims from all over the world the songs need to be simple to enable everyone to sing. There are a mixture of languages, Latin, German and some sort of Slavonic language are the most popular with French, English and Spanish there too. Each song has two lines and these are sung over and over again. The songs are a mixture of four voices, rounds and solo singing with the congregation singing the chorus. It is not to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love them. In every service there is silence, five minutes of it. Five minutes is a very long time and it is quite amazing that a church full of people can be so quiet for so long. The singing continues after the monks have left and on a Friday and Saturday night this can go on into the early hours of the morning I have been told.

Pottery made by the brothers
The peace that pervades in a service is tangible and I can quite understand why some people come back year after year, just to regain that and to take a little bit of serenity back home with them. It is definitely not just a young person’s thing at all. Everyone is welcome to the services. Many, many of the visitors in our gîtes or on the campsite come for Taizé, to take part in a couple of services while being on holiday and enjoying other things that this area has to offer. Something not to be missed is a look at the stunning pottery the monks make to pay for their upkeep.

Special service - 5 years ago: Frère Roger killed; 70 years ago: he arrived in Taizé (2010)

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Text Sue Nixon

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Golden Hour

Years ago, in February 2007 to be precise, we made a picture of the Romanesque church of Ameugny, using a small Olympus point-and-shoot camera. The colours of this picture were quite superb; it seemed like the church was bathing in a golden glow.

The church of Ameugny, 15 February 2007 17h20
However, the quality of the picture was quite low (72 dpi, good enough for internet use, but too poor to make prints), and since we got a request of an acquaintance to deliver some pictures of Cormatin and surroundings to be blown up and framed, I decided to dig in my archives in search of higher quality pictures. That turned out to be not too difficult; most of the more recent pictures were taken with a Nikon D50 or D90, they were sufficiently big and had a 300 dpi value.

The church of Ameugny, 2 December 2012 15h54
Only, the golden glow was missing. Since my better half has been heavily involved in photography last year, the term "The Golden Hour" has been discussed quite frequently. Not that I really believed in the rather euphoric description of pictures taken during that magic hour, but one never knows. The picture taken in February 2007 was indeed from around 17h00, an hour the sun is really low in the sky.

The church of Ameugny, 21 January 2016 15h10
According to her the sun is very low in January anyway, hence she saw no reason why it would not be possible to reproduce that picture around 15h00. That was just as easily said as it was done. However, even though the colours were marginally less dull than those of the older pictures taken with the D50 and D90 (most of them taken in the summer, during the day), I was not really impressed with the result.

The church of Ameugny, 21 January 2016 16h44
So, on one of the few sunny days in January around 17h00 we went back to Ameugny, and took again some pictures. After comparing the photographs, it looked like the golden hour certainly exists: the picture from early February 2007 and from late January 2016 were, in terms of colour, almost identical.
For those who are like a doubting Thomas: look, compare and be convinced!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Walking along the Balades Vertes

Quite recently Saône-et-Loire, South Burgundy has completed the Balades Vertes which are a large number of signposted walking routes throughout the whole of the département (71). Together with the Voie Verte (check out the article) these routes make this area a Mecca for walkers.

In the capital of our canton, St Gengoux le National, the tourist information office has a little book with details of the walks that are in the area between the rivers Grosne and Guye, rather unsurprising called "Guide les Balades Vertes entre Grosne et Guye". The book contains 26 signposted walks and costs €8.00, a little map and description of each walk can be bought separately and they cost € 2.00 each. All the signposts or markings on trees and fence posts are in yellow and are very clear.

A large number of communes along the Voie Verte have a starting point for their walks. The routes to these starting points are clearly marked with large signposts “Randonnée - Balade Verte” on the main roads. By each start point there is a carpark and a map with an overview of the routes that start and finish at that point and the route reference number, for instance the routes from Cormatin are CO1 and CO2, from Taizé TA1 etc. Click here for an album with some more pictures of the Balades Vertes.

Taking a break along the Balades Vertes
For those who want to be a bit more adventurous and make their own way around here, there are very well detailed maps from IGN in their Série Bleue (1:25000) which you can use to find all the footpaths in the area. One of the Grande Randonnées passes close to Cormatin (GR76) and Cluny is one of the starting points for the road to Santiago de Compostella.

Over and above all this, from early in the spring until late in autumn, there are organised randonnées most weekends. The routes are marked by different coloured spray paint arrows on the road or wooden arrows on temporary posts and the walks usually range from 5 to 30 km. At strategic points on the way there are refreshment stalls where wine, water, French bread, cheese and sausage are distributed. The prices vary by distance and range from €3.00 to €10.00.

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Chinese New Year in Mâcon

I can't say "Pardon my French", because the title of this blog is not in French at all. It is in Chinese, or more accurately Mandarin and stands for "Happy New Year". France does not host huge groups of Chinese, most likely because the French never had a big influx of cheap Asian labour like the USA during the laying of the railroads, nor did many Chinese sailors get stuck in the thirties in France during the big recession because their shipping company went bankrupt (like in the Netherlands in Rotterdam).

Chinese buffet - Palais d'Asie Mâcon
Only in some big cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille one can find decent Chinese restaurants, something that is difficult to find in Burgundy. Most restaurant owners (but not all) here are of Vietnamese extraction (Vietnam being a former French colony).
Hence it was quite a surprise when our taichi group was invited to give a demo during the Chines New Year's Celebration in Mâcon.

The Group Hong Teck sets off
That resulted in a couple of weeks frantic training and a day out in Mâcon, a town we normally only visit to visit the prefecture or the tax office. The festivities were planned in the middle of town, with as a highlight a Chinese lion dance performance. Lion dances are not excactly a novelty for me. Whilst I was working and living in Singapore I did experience three Chinese New Years, and often when a new shopping centre was opened the festivities included lion or dragon dances.

The woman on the left can't stand the noise
The organisers had engaged the Hong Teck lion dance group from Lyon, and that turned out to be a great success. The group consisted of three (Southern) lions, a laughing Buddha and five percussionists, who made noise for at least ten. Most spectators had never seen anything like this, and quite a few of them covered their ears to block the noise at least a bit, and one little girl started to cry uncontrollably when a lion came too close to her for comfort. Fortunately the group distributed a leaflet called "Lion dance for Dummies" among the crowd!

Lion Dance for Dummies
The group set off from a square in the centre of town, "danced" its way through a busy shopping street and gave their proper show on the Place Saint-Pierre, not far from the place of departure. There they performed their show culminating in "cai qing = plucking the green", where a lion has to find and "eat" a lettuce hanging from a stick. All in all it was an excellent show, in my case bringing back sweet memories; it was certainly worth the trip. After the lion dance hundreds of red and gold coloured balloons were released, and the inevitable "vin d'honneur" was served. And then it was time for the lunch break.

The lion plucks the green
After which our group had to do our demonstration. That was (fortunately) a success; public as well as the performers of "La Spirale d'Or" were very content with the way we did the Yang and Chen 24-forms and the fan- and stick forms. This was the very first time we performed in public using music, which simplified the synchronisation of the movements considerably. The taichi pictures in this blog however were taken during other occasions, for the simple reason that my camera was used to make videos of our show.

La Spirale d'Or (fan form) in Cluny
And what about a Chinese meal? Well, that will have to wait a couple of weeks, when we visit Paris. We know near Place d'Italie there an excellent Chinese restaurant!

Click here for the link to one of the videos of our performance in Mâcon (Yang 24-form).