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16 September 2006

Early misty morning in September

A cool misty morning with fog lying on the valley

The same picture about half an hour later - a beautiful sunny autumn day.

Looking across the other side of the v alley with the mist still sitting there

And a bit later - the sun has arrived

More September pictures

This tiny little bat got caught on the spines of a cactus and my neighbour Jacqueline had to get a scissors and cut the spines to release him

Here he is safe and sound and a bit angry!

A not so welcome visitor stuffing itself in the garden - nice nourishing green leaves

The autumn crocus are everywhere and the courtyard is full of splashes of gold

A very welcome visitor to the bottom of our garden, a pretty little hedgehog - he didn't seem to be at all upset at having his picture taken

And a bumble bee hard at work in our neighbours garden - you can see his long tongue gathering pollen

15 September 2006

September pictures

It was time to get a new load of gravel for the courtyard, and Monsieur Charmouton and John are hard at work unloading from his antique tractor and trailer

Later we had the heavy work of spreading it around. It looks good!

07 September 2006

September 7th

The hedges are laden with blackberries and we picked at least 5 kilos last week between us.

Just had a big morning in the garden, composting, weeding tying up the myriad of tomatoes, and generally preparing the garden for next year. I collected a pile of Iris corms from next door and started planting them around the edge of the garden. It will eventually be encircled by beautiful iris. It’s just too hot now to work out of doors, so have to get all that physical work done in the mornings. September heralded a beautiful autumn, cool misty nights and mornings, but hot in the afternoons. A huge improvement after August, and a very sudden change. They say it’s going to be a cracker year for wine in Beaujolais, and the vendange started this week. I haven’t read any reports yet about Burgundy.
We decided to have my birthday dinner at the beuatiful Château d'Igé, as it is a bit special. A small château with round towers, with lovely garden surrounds, and a very good restaurant. About 20 mins drive from here. The people who own it now bought it about 16 years ago and have spent some years doing it up. They have excellent rooms and suites. They also seem to have a super chef or two, who must have been slaving away that evening. We were surprised - this is a small village in the middle of nowhere, and the restaurant was almost full. It must be a great asset to the village and wine community of Igé. When we arrived, it was raining and as we parked our car, a women rushed out with an umbrella to help us in, then we were shown into a sort of lounge sitting room where we had an aperitif and made our menu choices, but also the sommelier came to help us chose our wine etc. Then we were served an aperitif looking out on a beautiful garden, amuse bouches, etc etc. Moved into the restaurant - a smallish room with about six tables old beams etc, opening into other similar small rooms. Beautiful food, I will have to think about what we ate as the menus were quite complicated, but the basis was for our starters - crab, caviar, some kind of jelly and salad, I had foie gras, some kind of chutney and salad, then for mains, John had veau and I had rack of lamb, but with beautiful additions. Then we had the 'pre desert' John had cheese which i declined, then desert which was quite something. I had souffle only because it’s something that I would never cook myself, and John had roasted peach embellished with all sorts of things. We then moved into the withdrawing room for coffee and little sweetie things . Wow it was superb. A wonderful experience. What a choice we have around here.
On Saturday we had dinner next door with Jacqueline, Alain and Madame Laforet. It was superb - a home made kir to kick off with, then a beautiful crisp salad from Jacqueline's garden, followed by a plate of mushrooms Alain and Jacqueline had picked early yesterday morning in a field near the vieux moulin, followed by a delicious andouillette, a kind of sausage, (which we've always been terrified to eat in the past cos we didn't know what meat might be in it!), and spuds from their garden, and finished with a tart of their own little mirabelle plums and a bottle of champers to celebrate France getting to the world cup final! Just general chat but all good for my French. I rarely have to have things translated now, and can contribute to the conversation most times. Still a long way to go, and I frequently lose my confidence, need lots more practice.Also we learned a very nice French phrase which could apply to us all, which translates as "keeping one foot in the stirrup" - ie keeping your foot in the door.Time for me to cook lunch - poached eggs!

John accepted a UNICEF job in Moldova. 5th – 15th September. He has been contracted to do some media training for politicians there. He was ambivalent at first but was talked into it, so do hope he enjoys it. He is not really enthusiastic about working any more, so we will see. He keeps a close eye on politics, me very little, but he does keep me up to date.
He went to Moldova on Tuesday so we set off for the 100kms + to Lyon airport very early to get there in plenty of time. Of course there were the usual buchons so we were glad to be early. We have had a bit of a busy time, all before he left. Saturday a nice brekky with Rachel and Alain, neighbours down the road, then back here – Gilbert, our workman helper, came in the afternoon and put up new light fitting in the living room, he came back early this morning to clear the caves. We have had a big clean up, got rid of the old fridge, cooker, washing machine etc which have been sitting there for years. He will repair them and use them for his family members - he says he always does this and is glad to get them. He is also fixing some tiles in our bathroom, putting a windowsill in the living room the one where we usually put table mats to cover up the fact that there never has been one there, and is making a gate for the garden. We are feeling pleased with ourselves for the amount of improvements we have managed to make this year.
The weather was awful for the whole of August. We even had a fire several days, and there has been so much rain. Nothing was ripening, so don’t know what the farmers are doing, perhaps despairing.

One Sunday we went to a concert about 50 kms away, at a little church at St Didier en Brionnais. The concert was on a Sunday evening at 5.30pm - a good time - and featured local talent. One was a Russian woman, described as coming from east of the Urals, and she was a powerful mezzo soprano. Sang beautiful Russian love songs among others, and finished with an encore of Moscow nights. Lovely, brought a tear to our eyes and floods of memories. I suppose she must have been around 50 ish, tall and handsome, and a powerful voice, but perhaps untrained. She has settled in this region. It was all very enjoyable and worth the drive. There are some really nice concerts here held in Romanesque churches and although they vary in talent and comfort (dreadful wooden pews) mostly they are really worth going to, and a dip into local rural French life here, usually very well supported.

All well here - hard to believe that we have only a few weeks left before we leave on our return journey. We are stopping in Ireland for a week, and two nights in Singapore, due back in Sydney 11th October. Where has the time gone?

We read a lot, walk and travel. Love the garden and its produce, and do lots of work on the house. We have made quite a lot of improvements this year and planted two trees, so hopefully they will be strong in the winter.The hedges are full of blackberries and we picked about 5 kilos last week between us.

My computer here is so frustrating, it keeps crashing all the time. I would like to take it to the top of the nearest hill and throw it.... but instead I have taken it into the repair shop in Macon and have decided not to get it fixed as the quote was as much as a new computer.
We went to Geneva for the weekend to catch up with John and Mehr Williams, also Peter George and his daughter Scarlet who have arrived this week to join Susan who has taken very important job as Communications Director at UN Human Rights. Had a great weekend, Geneva is a lovely town if expensive, did lots of walking around the old town and spent some time in a huge bookshop with large English section.
Rosamond’s rose is already growing really well on the pergola and think it should be in good shape for next year. The two new trees look happy, and just hope they survive the winter and that it’s not too severe.
Have made some blackcurrant jam this morning, and am about to cook some of our apples. We had to take some off the tree because it was so heavily laden even though they are not quite fully ripe as yet.

I went to my book group last night we were discussing Toni Morrisson’s book Beloved, a horror on slavery and an extraordinary fragmented style of writing, I hated it but the discussion was passionate. Some nice people at least.
I think that’s about all for today.

07 August 2006

Planting a tree

I am always trying to find a solution to shade in the courtyard when the weather is very hot. Earlier this year we put up a pergola, and we have roses and grape vines planted around it hoping they will to cover it quickly. Yesterday we went to a garden shop in Macon and bought a liquid amber tree. It’s already three metres tall, and was quite a challenge to get home with it hanging out the back of the car. However it’s done now and planted. It was almost root bound in the pot, so it must be really feeling happy today spreading its roots in delicious new soil with freedom! It looks as if it is smiling this morning, with its leaves dancing in the breeze. Apparently they are supposed to grow quite quickly up to 10 metres, so hope that happens eventually. After the planting I dashed down the road to Madame Desthieux who had plants for me from her garden. So now I look forward to planting a whole lot of iris around the garden, and planted yesterday some of her salad seedlings.

The tree just before planting you can see the hole against the wall, and here it is afterwards - a liquid amber in place and smiling after being released from a pot.

Cluny tourist office has started a new program for visitors with a kind of game “in search of old Cluny” At the office they give out a form with questions and the tourists search for and identify sites of old Cluny. Karen and I are going to try it out this morning to see if it is suitable for the tour next year.

visitors and Sunday lunch with our neighbours

Well “les fouilleurs” have finished and it has been a most interesting four weeks watching them working and extracting many interesting bones, including the tooth of a rhinoceros.
So my cooking stint has finished, and begun again with a house full of visitors here. Friends from Geneva and Ireland were here and we had some good times together, eating out in the courtyard in the evenings. We were very glad to see a change in the weather as the hot weather had just dragged on for too long, almost 40 every day. The countryside was scorched and rain is so badly needed. The garden is much happier.

We had a great lunch here on Sunday with several of our neighbours. There were four generations of women; the great grandmother who is 90, the grandmother who is our age, the mother who is in her thirties and a little girl of 5 years. Also two other near neigbouring families. It was great fun.
Our youngest guest And our senior guests

In the evening we went to a concert in Blanot of English music around 1600 for violes de gambe, it sounded interesting. Instead it was agony, you would need to be pretty keen on that sort of music. It was slow, dull and often discordant. Much of the time was spent tuning and re-tuning, as with original type strings the instruments went out of tune very quickly. On top of that the wooden church pews were agony, sticking sharply into one’s back, so I am afraid I escaped at the interval and went for a walk. John stuck it out, as I think most of the audience did, very courageous.

There were four generations of women from the family next door.

We had Rosie and Jeremy Hill from Ireland staying for a few days - Rosie got working washing up

We had a good trip to Autun for Mozart’s Requiem in the grand cathedral of St Lazare. A wonderful occasion with a huge international choir and a very enthusiastic woman conductor. We found a pleasant restaurant to have dinner in first and walked up along with the crowds to the cathedral. It was so hot – after 4 weeks of hot weather even inside that great cathedral the heat had built up. If only the local dignitaries didn’t need to make speeches… I guess its their moment of glory, but just boring for the audience who are there for the music. Great music and great acoustics.

On Sunday Mehr’s son, Amer, gave a lesson on water colours and perspective at Mehr’s request. It was very interesting for me to watch. He is a very talented young man, a fashion designer who has been through the training of art school. Mehr, Anna and J, the three students were exhausted by the end of the day.

What a relief to get some rain and less intense heat. All the visitors spent some time in Cluny and Cormatin.

John, Mehr, Amer and Anna left on Monday and we went off with J and Rosie for a lovely drive in the Beaujolais hills. Their visit ended with a lovely meal at the Relais de Maconnais.
All our visitors have gone now and we are back to normal. On Wednesday we had a trip to Dijon with a friend, and yesterday we were dashing back and forth to Macon like hairy goats to buy a Burgundy marriage cup for an Aussie friend who had been here for Jane’s wedding and loved the ceremony. We got what they wanted in the end and safely posted it off to Canberra.
I had a basket making session Monday morning with Karen, but am not making much progress, it’s kind of hard to make the willows do what I want them to do!
We continue to see Mademoiselle Desthieux to hear about her life in the village in the past and whenever possible John slips in a question to Madame Laforet, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Dinner in the courtyard on a beautiful evening with John and Mehr Williams , Mehr's son Amer and his Italien wife Anna

What a relief to get some rain and less intense heat. All the visitors spent some time in Cluny and Cormatin.

We are back to normal again, the washing all done and the weather perfect. Just ideal for gardening and walking. I have been spending some hours in the garden, some hours working on basket making and very little time indoors. There is heaps of vine trimming, and as always weeding. A lot of tomatoe plants have seeded themselves, over the compost and elsewhere in the potager. I have been picking tomatoes now for a couple of weeks, and they are delicious as usual.

26 July 2006

Romanesque churches in the Brionnais

The south door at Anzy
Anzy with the guide and magnificent sculptures

Anzy le Duc

Monceau l'Etoile

26th July

Our neighbours say its “infernal” everyone is complaining about the heat, it just goes on and on. Apparently it hasn’t been so hot since 1943… well there you are. Everyone closes their shutters and hides indoors or in their cellars, wherever they can find a cool spot. With the afternoons reaching almost 40 degrees, it’s hard to go outside.
However sometimes we go out for trips just to have some relief in the air conditioned car. Yesterday we did so and had a nice little tour of some Romanesque churches in the Brionnais region close by. We started with Monceau l’Etoiles, then on to Anzy le Duc and Saint Julien de Jonzy. By the time we reached Charlieu we were exhausted and decided to leave the Benedictine Abbey for another day. The three churches we saw were marvelous and we were lucky to visit Anzy when there was a volunteer guide available. This was very worth while as the guide not only told us stories, but pointed out beautiful sculptures which might be hidden to the casual eye. Just incredible they have survived in such good condition and a pleasant way to pass a hot afternoon!.
This morning, Wednesday, I have a French class. I am reading Irène Némirovsky’s “La Suite française” in French at the moment and read part of it with my teacher. The rest of the day will be spent cooking gollipis for tonight’s meal with the paleontology diggers, 14 of us. Also prepare for the arrival of four visitors from Geneva tomorrow and an additional two from Ireland on Friday for five days. So now it means cleaning up and planning menus, although I expect we will eat out quite a bit. On Saturday we will go to Autun (85 kms) to hear a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at St Lazare Cathedral, hopefully a grand occasion. The acoustics always superb in the churches here.
Yesterday John and I went into the Hotel Dieu in Cluny to visit 95 year old Mademoiselle Desthieux to continue hearing about her childhood in Château. She is so bright and energetic for her age. She told us very cheerfully that she is just waiting for her next life. However, she chatted away telling about her life as the “factrice” post lady. She walked 15 – 20 kms a day with her sac over her shoulder delivering letters around the countryside.
We went to the Germaines in Beaujolais at Domaine du Moulin Blanc recently to buy some wine and arrange a meal for the group next year - they are the nice family who did the wine for Jane and Patrick's wedding and we try to go to see them and buy wine now and again. Its always good fun to talk and we enjoy their company. She gave us some delicious creamed honey which they make with the help of their bees.!
Our little birds (goldfinches) have all grown up and flown away, so it’s peaceful again on the galerie and we don't have to creep in and out anymore. Tomatoes are coming good and just enough at the moment to eat one or two with a salad lunch, but i expect much more soon. I have lots of plums, but unfortunately the insects got there before I could do anything about it. We are not here at the right season for spraying which makes it difficult with plums and apples. However, the grape vines are absolutely laden and we should get lots of fresh grape juice in September. With the heat they should be reasonably early. I am encouraging the rose to grow over our new pergola and I plan to plant two new shade trees in a week or so in the courtyard. Just have to think ahead to other years when it’s hot and especially if the children are here!

21 July 2006

Enjoying Red Gum on the galerie and at le Nid with Karen on Marc's birthday

here are the babies - they have now all grown up and flown off into the big wide world

18 July 2006

Tuesday, 18th July 2006

We have just finished reading “In Search of Cluny: God's Lost Empire” by Edwin Mullins and thoroughly enjoyed it. It really has brought the ancient Abbots alive giving them distinct personalities. Information obtained by the author from their letters which amazingly still survive. The obvious book to read after that was the story of Heloise and Abelard, and now its all fitting into place.
So what do I read next? I am now reading “Reporting” – David Remnick’s writings from the New Yorker. He was a journalist in Moscow the same time as us. At the same time I am reading Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française again, this time in French
The last week has been busy socially, but so hot without a break. It’s beginning to be the scorched earth here again, a repeat of 3 years ago. Basically we have to do everything possible in the mornings early, the afternoons are just hopeless and only for reading or lying down in a stupor. Sometimes we go out in the afternoons to have some relief in the air conditioned car, and take a trip looking at historical sites. There are many choices within easy reach of here.
I am having single French lessons again as I find I do more study that way. So up and out early on Wednesday mornings for an intense work out in French.
Last week we had a great late afternoon/evening with the Tailfer family who live in a Chateau on the hill at Nancelle, near La Roche Vineuse. We spent at least an hour in their pool with their visiting grandchildren, and dinner on the terrace as soon as the shade arrived. Thursday was our 38th anniversary, so after I had delivered the cooking next door for the paleontology team, we went into Cluny to try out a new restaurant. It was the eve of Bastille Day. As we sat on the terrace of the restaurant we watched a parade go by, with antique cars, bands etc. Then everyone, including us, headed over the bridge to watch a grand firework display. It was quite good and a lot of fun.
On Friday my French teacher, Agnès Raynard, had a big party for Bastille Day. There were about 30 people crammed into her courtyard, her students and partners and some of her former students. Saturday we had a peaceful day, and were planning a quiet evening and early night, but one of our neighbours phoned and invited us for a last minute aperitif – we put our dinner away and of course that turned out to be the whole evening, sitting under a tree, eating and having a few glasses of wine.
In the meantime Gilbert continues to work on our living room floor – we so long for it to be finished. Its looking really good so far.
Sunday evening I cooked again for the team next door and this time we joined them for dinner.
All this time we have been watching the activities of the goldfinch family residing in the vine outside our front door. Watching the mother or father standing on the edge of the nest for hours with their swings spread to shade the babies from the scorching sun was incredible. The babies were growing so big that they simply could no longer fit in the tiny nest. On Monday morning three of the babies took off, leaving the smallest and weakest alone in the nest, chirping sadly. After a night alone, he struggled out on to branches feeling his way around and eventually took off, landing down in our courtyard amongst the plants. Goodness knows if it will survive, it may not be strong enough. We put water and bread crumbs down for the little mite. We haven’t seen it again since, but hear plenty of chirping around us, so hope he has done well and survived the scorching sun!
We went to the movies last night – the award winning Volver, featuring Penelope Cruz. (Spanish Director Almovadar) It was on in Cluny with French sub-titles. The cinema was packed – no air-conditioning of course, so we were dripping by the time we emerged. However, it was much easier for me to understand with the sub-titles, even if they did move a bit fast and it was certainly worth seeing.
Today I have been working early in the garden, pruning the vines and tying up tomatoes. As usual we will have an overdose of tomatoes, they are growing everywhere. We are already eating the tomatoes from the first plants, and are now on our second lot of salad. Gooseberries are finished, lots of rhubarb, and the apple tree is too heavily laden. Plums will soon be ready.

10 July 2006

Chateau events in July

Yellow roses planted by Elizabeth Dickens

There are five babies in the nest and the parents are working very hard to feed them

Dinner before the concert
There was a concert in our little church on the top of the hill here at Chateau on Friday, organized by our small local cultural group. It was really great. Two young artistes, a soprano and a flautist just out of the Paris Conservatoire who were in their early twenties and have just started performing professionally. They were terrific and the acoustics brilliant. The piano accompanying was a bit ordinary but it didn’t matter. Marvellous to have such a high standard here – they both must be destined for a brilliant future.

We read in the paper that there will be a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at Autun Cathedral of St Lazare at the end of the month, and it sounds as if it will be a great occasion. It times in with our visitors at the end of the month, so hopefully we can all go. It’s about 85 kms, and we went yesterday morning to see how it was. It took us nearly an hour and a half, but fine. So we’ll see. We got to the cathedral just in time for mass, which on this occasion was being conducted by the Archbishop, and as he was wearing a red scull cap, we think he must also be a cardinal. The congregation was in a group down the front and there were stacks of empty rows between where I was sitting down the back on my own. I had no idea that they would process right in front of me. I was hidden by a pillar and suddenly they came around a pillar and were upon me – I was the only person in the whole church who wasn’t standing up. His eyes went straight to me and gave me a big smile, which I can only think was ‘why is that woman sitting down’ I was very embarrassed, but said to John later, perhaps he thought I was a ‘handicapé” John was sitting far away down the front, standing up when he was meant to!
Checked out parking and went to see the old Roman amphitheatre which was an amazing sight. Then had a leek and potatoe pie for lunch from a little shop while sitting on a bench in the town square. We bought some postcards for the grand children and went for pictures that might not be too hard to explain. They are sculptures from the 11th century cathedral! One is Noah’s ark, with Mrs Noah looking out of the top window as if it was a doll’s house. The other is a little devil with a cheeky face – so the mums can make up whatever story they like about that!!
I made a huge stirfry/fried rice for 14 last night. There are a team of palaentologists next door who are working on the dig up on the hill behind us for the next three weeks. I agreed to cook
twice a week for the three weeks of the dig to help Jacqueline who has the responsibility of feeding them twice a day. We ate with the diggers last night before going to Jean Paul’s house down in the village to watch the disappointing finals of the soccer on his big screen.
John is starting his talks or interviews with Mademoiselle Desthieux on Tuesday, who is now 94 or perhaps even 95, to try to get some history of this village and area from her. She was the former postwoman, and walked 20 kms every day with her bag over her shoulder. She is now in the Maison de Retraite in Cluny. He will bring the little tape recorder and hope she can cope with being recorded.
On Saturday evening night her sister in law, Madame Desthieux invited us for an aperitif and the diggers too
I spent this morning in the courtyard working with a friend preparing osiers(willows) for a basket making session tomorrow. She is very keen to give it a go, and it will be fun for me to have company. I have just about finished the enormous basket I am making.

The new pergola and basket making