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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

07 July 2006

July back home again

Enjoying our gallerie

We had to drive all the way home in one go to get back in time for Jean Paul’s farewell party. It was a long and tiring 9 hour drive, but we made it fine, to enjoy a great party.

It has been a busy time socially, as only a day later, there was the annual dinner for the village held in the courtyard of the mairie. Again lots of fun, but another late night eating and drinking. Since then it has been all go almost non-stop.

We have had Monsieur Garcia (Gilbert) working here tiling the floor of the downstairs bathroom and living room, a big job. We had to move all the furniture out and pack it into a bedroom. That was bad enough on a hot day, but much worse was the several trips to Macon to buy the tiles and bags of cement and grouting. It must have been about 38 degrees, and we were a ball of sweat. The load was far too heavy for our car so we had to make 3 trips. Then there was the
loading and unloading!!

I picked some cassis and the last of the gooseberries, and the next day while recovering had a cool day inside topping and tailing for the freezer.
Another trip into Macon to pick up a pergola we had ordered, and we were just too tired to start putting it up. Wednesday we went into Cluny to watch the match.
John Paul told us that there would be a few big screens for the match in town, so we decided to go in for the fun. And it was great fun. The cafe de paris had the street closed at their corner with a huge screen (rained out later) and our old pals the Bistro had a screen, plus a few others. We decided to go to the Bistro and eat there so we could have a good view of what was happening all over, and it was sheltered so we didn't have to worry about the storm..Talking about the storm - such a relief to have some rain and the temperature cooled down a bit, so welcome. Anyway all a lot of fun and all I can say is I am glad we were not staying in Cluny, such a great excuse for the 'young' to make a lot of noise, horns blowing, mini fireworks etc. It was good to eventually leave for the peace of the countryside. Sunday will be quite something with France in the finals. As they say 'allez les blues'.
Now we have managed to put up the pergola, what a struggle. We had to get two other bodies to help lift it into place. Its bigger than we wanted but I think it will be fine when the climbing rose grows all over it.
John has been helping set up our little local church for a concert tonight which we are all looking forward to. It is so rare to have such an occasion in a little village like this. There are three young people coming from the Paris Conservatoire to play - a flautist, pianist and a singer. The programme is Bach, Handel, Schubert, Ravel and Boehm. Should be lovely. We are eating at the little house beside the church first with some friends who are staying here for a few months.
Otherwise it’s the garden, walks, French lessons etc. After a massive storm, and a lovely drenching of rain, it is steaming up again, but don’t think the rain has finished. The phone broke down as it often does in a storm, and left us without a contact line for a few days. All working and fine again.
Gilbert’s tiling work looks superb – in the end I think it will be much improved.
Our palaeontologist neighbours have a dig going on the hill above for the next three weeks and have a team of students and professionals helping. Jacqueline and Alain have to provide meals for all, so it’s a lot of work, and I have undertaken to provide two meals a week to help her. They are marvellous neighbours, and it’s good to find a way to be of help.

04 July 2006

July, visit to Brittany

The farm Keres in Northern Brittany

Maria's house

Angers was an absolute treasury of history.

Just about to enjoy Maria's goose

It’s a long journey from here to Brittany across country. Most of the main autoroutes stretch north south in France, and to go across country you go from bits and pieces of good road, to some interesting small country roads. Much as we love the little roads, they take so much longer, particularly at this time of the year when farmers are making hay and there are loads of tractors on the road. We set off with the plan of exploring the Loire Valley a bit, but as the rain was coming down in stair rods along the river, we decided to continue on to Angers. What a fortunate decision, it was an absolute treasury of history. We found a very pleasant place to stay, first night in an ancient convent, and second an old hotel on a large square. The owner and his wife worked on Lindeman Island for two years, and in fact their daughter was born in Brisbane! He was delighted to watch the match with John – Aus/Italy, despite the sad finish for Australia. We visited the 12th century chateau and alone, would have made a visit to Angers worth while. It was the residence of the Ducs d’Anjou, and was in a key position on a headland dominating the river Maine. In 1151 Henry II Plantagenet became Count of Anjou and was in residence. It was heavily fortified with 17 towers and houses one of France’s most famous tapestries, made to order in the 14th century by Louis I, a Prince of Anjou.
The tapestry illustrates the Apocalypse. It is 106 metres long – I know that’s hard to imagine – its made up of large panels, one above the other, interspersed with massive full length panels, it just kept going on and on around 3 sides of a massive hall. It is extraordinary, I cannot find words to describe it. Full of symbolic creatures and people, of interpretation of dreams and stories. The continuous bands at the top are woven to illustrate heaven and at the bottom the earth. We had a special guide to explain it all which was very helpful.
We then moved on to the 12th century cathedral to see a poster advertising a concert the next evening for the Mozart anniversary, featuring organ, strings and a soprano. We thought what a pity to miss it, at that time the next evening we would be tucking into Maria’s goose, specially prepared to celebrate our arrival. ( I should draw a picture of a knife or something here…) However, we were very lucky – when we went inside the organist was practising and doing a test for the sound engineers who were setting up. What a building, and incredible stained glass windows, which have survived. The only thing is they illustrate such gruesome stories, I hope they are not explained to children!. A beautiful church, and lovely to sit there amongst the soaring archways listening to wonderful music. Afterwards the organist came down to be interviewed by the local press, and we could see he was blind. An experience to be remembered.
The next day we reached the Brittany south coast and wandered a long a bit, looking at the bays and little houses. Very picturesque – a reminder of the south of England or even the south of Ireland.
(John’s cousin) Maria’s house is terrific and she has done a lot of work herself to make it habitable. Like us she bought a veritable ruin with four sturdy walls and has done it up. She has a marvellous vegetable garden and lots of animals for self sustenance. It was lovely to see her after all that time and we had a great dinner enjoying one of her geese. The next day we talked non stop and later went to the North of Brittany to visit a farm which specialises in raising rare fowl. They have more than 100 different breeds, but have had a tough time this year because of the avian flu. Maria bought some Orpington chicks for a friend. A great day, and we were sad to leave the next day.