Saturday, 30 December 2017

A Christmas Carol

Unwrapping presents
Ever since I have an English partner we spend Christmas in England. Since I am from a country where traditionally one part of the population celebrates only Saint-Nicholas (I was part of that group), another part celebrates only Christmas, and still another, greedier part celebrates both, I look, compared to the Brits, at Christmas in quite a different way.
I will make a concise list of things that, in the eyes of a stranger, are characteristic for an English Christmas.

Yummy, Brussel's sprouts!
The first thing that draws a stranger's attention are the overfull shops with frantic shoppers until seconds before the shops close on Christmas eve, and the often ghastly Christmas decorations displayed in gardens and against the facades of houses.

Ymmy, turkey!
And then there is the stress obviously indispensable in order to prepare a meal which is the same year in, year out, in every household from the Orkney Islands to the Isle of Wight.

The Christmas crackers
Then one eats this food (which I do not particularly like, but that is my personal problem) whilst wearing a silly paper hat; listen to and laugh about Christmas cracker jokes so boring and stupid that one wonders how a country that has produced Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers can come up with "humour" like this, and finally listen to the Queen's speech.

The Christmas lunch
And when one thinks to taste a bit of culture in London after Christmas, forget it! Between Christmas and New Year not only most restaurants and shops are closed, also the vast majority of the Museums do not open their doors during this week. My partner calls me Bah Humbug; I wonder why?

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Air pollution

A haze over Parijs
Air pollution is a worldwide problem, something also France is confronted with from time to time. During our yearly holiday in Paris we have twice experienced that the Eiffel Tower, normally clearly visible from Montmartre, was hidden from view by what looked like a dark blanket. The only advantage for us tourists was that the Metro in Paris was for a number of days free of charge, just to reduce the amount of CO2 producing vehicles.

Free public transport
One of the measures taken by the French President Sarkozy at the time was a ban on burning garden waste. However, thinking of the amount of gardens in a city like Paris the effect of this ban would not have been very impressive.
This ban of burning garden waste however is also valid in the country side, with the exception of agricultural "garden" waste. As I have described in my previous blog we ended up with huge quantities of green waste after a day of cutting brambles. So what to do?

Our modest contribution to the problem
Fortunately laws in France are not always implemented to the letter. When we noticed that one of our village's officials was happily lighting bonfires every so often, we decided to follow his example. And why not? Sarkozy will certainly not return to politics in the near future to tell us off for it…

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Saturday, 2 December 2017

A holiday job

Voor de grote schoonmaak
This summer I was "told" to cut down some brambles, located on a corner where the person who often drives around on a lawnmower got severely scratched on head, shoulders, arms and legs by whizzing past the thorny branches. Well, cutting down some brambles, that should be a doddle for any guy, wouldn't it?

Na de grote schoonmaak
And that is how it all started: one thing led to another. What started as cutting back some branches somewhere at the beginning of July, turned out to be a full-time job, because after each bramble bush another was hiding, and another, and another…

En opeens was er uitzicht!
Anyway, some time ago, to be precise Saturday November 4, the job was ceremoniously declared finished, and celebrated with a cold Belgian beer. In the meantime I had cleared a big area of brambles, and one day I hit upon a ditch so overgrown that I did not even know it existed. The ditch also gave me an unpleasant surprise. In the ditch, at the bottom of the slope I found, more or less vertically sticking out the remains of an old fence. Fortunately the removal of the fence was less tricky then I thought, and on that last memorable working day we drove off to the dump with a car full of muddy wire fencing.

Een groot deel van het werk: de sloot ligt rechts
As can be seen on the picture of that bit of garden, the 1 to 2 m wide strip of brambles, separating our garden from the meadow has completely disappeared. For as long as it lasts, of course….

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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Les Oiseaux Rares 2017

Grande Rue - Cormatin
In the past I already published a blog on the subject of Les Oiseaux Rares, a group of artisans from Cormatin and surroundings. They still have their yearly exhibition which is, even after all these years, still worth a visit.

Contributions of the public
This year, for the first time, the public was invited to participate. Everybody who felt the urge was asked to write or copy a poem, a piece of prose, a drawing, a photograph or a collage on an A4-sheet. The only restriction was, that the contribution should have some relation to the theme "Time".

Time heals all wounds
The first thing that sprang to my mind was a short poem by a Dutch poet/comedian Hans Dorrestijn entitled "Time heals all wounds". No Frenchman will understand the Dutch words, however, our contact within the Oiseaux Rares thought it was a nice idea to have something real foreign amongst all the French contributions. A rough English translation:"Fate is ranting on / For hours, minutes and seconds / Time heals all wounds, however / It causes many more".

Tempus fugit (1)
After another brainstorming session I remembered having taken a picture of a clock with an exposure of 4 seconds; the picture showed clearly that the second hand moved four times with one second interval.

Tempus fugit (2)
And finally I remembered a more recent picture of a sundial on the wall of the cloister in Cluny III. My theme's title was born: "Tempus fugit".
The A4-sheets were quickly made; it took a bit longer to find them amongst the approx. 350 contributions hanging from trees, gates, hedges and window facades throughout Cormatin.

At Pascale Hautefort-Ponsard - Cormatin
And whilst looking for one's own contribution one also wonders into the exhibition space of again another artisan. Which is exactly the object of the exercise, no doubt….
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Saturday, 18 November 2017

A hill with a view

Panorama - Brancion
Even though our department Saône-et-Loire is not really famous for its viewing points, when one is traveling through the vineyards or along castles, churches etc. there certainly are some places in the vicinity offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
To start near home: Brancion is built on a hill which, when the Tour de France visits the area, is part of the Mountains Classification.

Roche de Vergisson (left) and Solutré (right)
The village has been totally restored recently, the medieval castle ruins can be visited and the Romanesque church also merits a visit. The open area in front of the church offers stunning views of the Grosne Valley.
At the other side of the valley one finds Mont-Saint-Vincent, one of the highest point in the department. It also boasts an interesting Romanesque church, a small museum housing a Merovingian sarcophagus and lovely views over the surrounding landscape.

Roche de Solutré
The Roche de Solutré is a well-known place in the Mâconnais (bordering the Beaujolais area). The rocks towers high above its surroundings, and hosted, when he was still alive, the yearly pilgrimage of François Mitterand and his family. The rock is easy to negotiate via a path to the top, has an archaeological museum and lovely views of the Roche de Vergisson (another plateau in the vicinity) and of the vineyards of the Mâconnais.

Panorama with "Le guetteur" (left) - Suin
The Butte de Suin is located not far from Cluny. The hill has a Madonna towering over the surroundings, the plateau offers ample space for picnics, and the Romanesque church on the plateau is certainly worth a visit. The picnic area is guarded by a metal sculpture, "Le guetteur" (the sentry) van Laure Frankinet, keeping guard over the Butte.

Towards twilight - Beaubery
And finally, direction Brionnais, one can visit Beaubery, where a hill houses a monument for the resistance fighters from the surrounding villages who gave their life fighting the Germans. The monument itself consists of a Cross of Lorraine (a symbol adopted by General de Gaulle) flanked by two cannons. This hill also offers stunning views of its surroundings.

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Steaming up to the Alsace

Every so often, approx. 6 x per year, one can recognise the unmistakable sound of a steam locomotive not so far from where we live. And I am not talking about a small narrow-gauge locomotive, or a shunting locomotive, no, this concerns one of the last great express train locomotives in the series 241P that crossed France until the end of the 60-ies. The train has a power of 4000 hp, and can easily drive at 120 km/h even though the French railways have restricted the speed limit to 100 km/h.

Between Chagny and Beane
The locomotive's home base is Le Creusot (wher she was built as well with the Schneider Company) and makes yearly trips to amongst others Nevers, Aix-les-Bains, Villars-les-Dombes, Lyon and Dijon, the Loire Valley… This year there was a special trip planned. The idea was to travel from Le Creusot to Mulhouse, have a dinner with candle light in the Cité du Train (one of the biggest museums if not the biggest railway museum of Europe), stay in a hotel near the railway station.
The next day there would be a visit to the museum proper and then of course the return trip under steam.

Public in Vesoul
We had watched the train go by standing on a viaduct near Rully, but we had never been on board. Until September.
Because we had something to celebrate we had splashed out financially in order to make the trip with some friends.

A young spectator
The smell of oil, coal and steam, the sound of the cylinders and of the steam whistle, combined with a beautiful late summer's day which allowed us to hang from the windows to take pictures, the stops at various stations on our way to take in water with the help of the local fire brigade, the spectators along the tracks and especially the crowds on the stations of Chagny and Vesoul, all this made the weekend to be an unforgettable one.

Dinner Cité du Train
And not only the trip itself had been perfectly organised (the steam train had to be fit into the SNCF timetable). The lunches we had ordered were of good quality, the dinner in the museum was excellent with local specialities, the hotel was very efficiently organised, the museum which we had visited before was certainly worth another visit, and this is hopefully not the last time we boarded the 241P17.

A sister of our locomotive
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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Grand rassemblement de véhicules agricoles et automobiles d'antan in Lux

Steam in motion
When it comes to steam our area is not very well served, with the exception of the trips with steam locomotive 241P17. In 2007 and 2013 we attended in and around Digoin the Festi'Vapeur event, which appears to be a two-yearly steam venue during the last week in June, of which we had missed the 2015 and 2017 editions.

Steam in motion
Recently we discovered that in Lux (near Chalon-sur-Saône) a second "Grand rassemblement de véhicules agricoles et automobiles d'antan" was organised. In the newspaper we saw that apart from old agricultural vehicules there would also be a number of vintage cars on display, including some old military vehicles and… some working steam engines.

Steam stationary
As I said before, it is not often one can see steam in action, and on a beautiful sunny day we took off for Lux. The emphasis was on agriculture, however, there were also some steam driven vehicles driving around the lake, and there was a nice collection of vintage cars (mainly French, like Simca, Citroën Traction Avant, etc.). Further there were some old Jeeps on the road as well as an armoured amphibian car.

Amphibian vehicule
In a word: this day has been noted down in next year's diary!
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Saturday, 7 October 2017

Forum des Associations Cluny

Fan form
If, living in this part of France, one wants to take part in leisure activities but does not know where to look, once a year that person is waited on hand and foot. In almost every village of over 4000 inhabitants a yearly event is being organised where each club or organisation has a stand where those interested can get some information about the activities.

Yang 24
In Cluny this is called the Forum des Associations. are you interested in pottery, painting, writing, parachute jumping, aikido, judo, collecting mushrooms, birdwatching, line dancing, donating blood, or just in walking? I would be very surprised if you would not find what you are looking for. That was the way we got in touch with La Spirale d'Or, a club organising and giving lessons in various forms of tai chi.

Fan form
And since we really enjoy what we are doing with this club, we have become quite fanatic members, also taking part in the demonstrations given during the forum to attract new members. We learn, or at least our association teaches amongst others qigong and tai chi (yang and Chen form, with bare hands, stick, sword or sabre). One of the most attractive forms we have learned is the fan form.

Chen 24
The form we are performing has been used during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games of 2008 in Peking; the various parts of the performance are based on diverse Chinese martial arts (Shaolin, Chen, Yang, Kung fu). And without blinking an eye I dare say that the demonstrations of La Spirale d'Or are a highlight of Cluny's yearly forum.

A complete performance of the fan form (approx. 4 minutes) can be found on this Youtube link.

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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Café du Centre in Cluny revisited

As I wrote in an earlier blog of the3rd of June, around that time our Saturday's local Café du Centre changed hands.

The big question in those days was when and in what way the Café would be re-opened. At the moment we are a couple of months down the road, and we know a bit more.
The café-restaurant has been re-opened in the meantime, with new staff, and although it looked as if in the first few weeks the amount of customers had diminished, it appears that the new owner has overcome those problems encountered in the introductory period. Again it is wise to reserve a table for our Saturday lunch. And although the menu has not changed since the re-opening (under the previous management the menu changed weekly) it is again a good place for a simple lunch.

Like in the olden days
The service however is not as good as it used to be, but the quality of the steak frites is considerably better ánd cheaper than a few months ago, and that more than makes up for it. A positive sign is that part of the old clientele has returned; we see quite a few familiar faces around the tables. And even though we still miss the previous owner and his personnel we cannot find a good reason to move our loyalty to another place.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Sound and light show

The façade in daylight
Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 01) hosted this year for the first time during various evenings in the summer a sound and light show. The most interesting we thought would be the show projected on the façade of the Monastère Royal de Brou, a beautiful Gothic building with a pure white façade decorated with elaborate stone carvings.

Sound and light show
Apart from this show there were two similar ones in the centre of town, on the facades of the Hôtel de Ville and on that of the theatre.
Because the last two were quite far away from the first one, we decided to stick with the Monastery. Another reason to see only one show was, that Bourg is approx. a one and a half hour's drive from our house, and even though we had waited till early September (when the first show takes place at 21h00 instead of 22h00), this outing would keep us occupied for the best part of the evening.

Sound and light show
We left home at 18h45, and arrived in Bourg well in time. And since there is a café-restaurant located right in front of the monastery, we could watch the show comfortably from behind a glass of wine. The only drawback on such occasions is that there are always some people who feel the need to park themselves on top of a low wall just in front of our table.

Sound and light show
Apart from the obligatory projections (flowers in all sort of colours, the various sculpted parts of the façade in different colours), there was also quite a bit of attention paid to those who had the monastery built, mediaeval history in general and to the way a building of this stature was built in the middle ages.

Sound and light show
The show lasted a good 15 minutes, and especially the projection of the construction of the monastery was very well done. And even though we reached home at about 22h45, I was very happy we had made this "long" journey just for this show.

Sound and light show
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Saturday, 26 August 2017

A facelift

Église de la Réconciliation
Taizé has two churches: the big Église de la Réconciliation and the small Église romane Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. Both are in use by the international Christian ecumenical monastic order of Taizé. the small however is hardly ever used for services; only around New Year's Eve, when there are hardly any guests in Taizé only a few services are held by the monks.

Église romane Sainte-Marie-Madeleine
Because I am interested in Romanesque architecture I had visited the Sainte-Marie-Madeleine a few times. However, the church had two drawbacks. Even though the church is not really in use it is very often occupied by quite a few Taizé visitors, who feel the need to tun that particular church in a meditation centre. That is also the reason why in the summertime it is virtually impossible to take pictures of the interior without having people in the viewfinder.

Church before the renovation (with flash)
Further the church more resembled a burial chamber than a church. The walls were plastered in a sober dark grey (bordering on black), and the windows are very small and not very transparent. Both factors made it virtually impossible a) to photograph without using a flash, and b) to walk around in the pitch dark without breaking your neck over stools, empty or occupied, left behind by Taizé visitors. All in all, I never felt at ease inside that church.

Church after the renovation (without flash)
When recently I decided to have a look inside the church again, I found a very pleasant surprise. The interior had been completely renovated, there was new furniture and the awful grey had been replaced by a beige colour. In word: the church had been transformed from burial chamber into a church.
And what did the bible say? "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."
Only why did it take the Taizé Brothers so long to come up with this bright idea?

Church after the renovation (without flash)
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