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05 October 2012


5 October 2012
Greetings from an autumnal Burgundy.  We are surrounded by rich autumn colours, the change from summer to autumn has all happened so quickly.
This has been a very busy month, starting with my birthday, and culminating in a celebration of our joint 140 years at the end of the month. 
This little gate was a birthday surprise from our kind
neighbours Jacqueline and Alain Argant

Birthday delivery!
We celebrated my birthday with an outing to a restaurant in Cluny, a beautiful meal and lots of fun.  At the table next to us a couple were speaking quietly, and we were curious to make out what language they were speaking.  Eventually we realised they were speaking Irish, and finally asked them if that was so. It was indeed, and they were surprised they were ‘sprung’ so to speak.

John’s brother Stephen and partner Barbara arrived later in the week with their new Labrador puppy, Coco.  They were breaking the journey on the way from Ireland to their home in Spain.

Breakfast juice for months!
Amazing grape harvest this year
One of the major happenings this month has been – at long last – the installation of ADSL in our house. We signed up immediately it became available. And we get free phone calls to 100 countries! So hopefully that is the end of our internet struggles.

John holding the big horn of a very
tame sheep
 Sunday 16th we drove to Geneva airport to meet Jane, John and Ciara after their long trip from Sydney. It all went well, and home they came to establish themselves here for a while.  Since then, we have had no time to ourselves, busy, busy, busy.  Doing things with the children, cooking, walking etc etc. Jane went to Ireland the following Thursday, so we applied ourselves to entertaining the children with outings.  This included a visit to the Plassard woollen mills, and their park with 96 breeds of sheep and goats.  John and Ciara had great fun running around feeding all the strange kinds of sheep. The next day a farmer friend took the children for a ride on his tractor and allowed John to steer.  All very exciting for the children.  Another day we visited Cluny Abbey as well as having a very popular bonfire in the garden. Sunday we started with the vendage at Chateau, where the children joined in picking grapes in our one remaining small, vineyard. Later we took a picnic to Azé, and went on a conducted tour of the underground ‘grottes’ - prehistoric caves.  All fascinating!

Fun in Pierre's tractor
Chateau Vendange
Solitaire lessons....
What a load!
Jane came back on Monday, and we prepared ourselves for the arrival of Brigid, Conor and Daniel the next morning at Geneva.  They had spent a few days in Singapore on the way here.  After that it was all go, the children were crazily happy to be together, and suddenly our house was full of warriors with spears and swords.  The caves below became an ancient battle ground… wow!
On Wednesday, Jane’s friend Una arrived from Ireland, and as our house filled up, we organised ourselves to move into Le Nid, a neighbour’s gites complex, where several of our friends were also booked in, and Marilyn and Paul Collins had arrived that day.  We all returned here to have dinner, and were presented with a beautiful blown up photo of the grandchildren on canvas as our gorgeous present.  However, we were glad to go to the peace and quiet of our lodgings that evening.

Harnessing up
The next day Nick arrived from Canberra, via Geneva again, and Friday Patrick arrived.  Both fathers/husbands, had picked up hire cars at Geneva so we were saved the long drive.  Friday with the help of some friends we organised a ride in a caleche, drawn by a very beautiful dray horse.  We went to the owner’s farm at Jalogny, a village nearby, saw the horse being harnessed up, and then the children with their mothers rode from Jalogny to Chateau and were deposited at our gate.  Great fun all round.
During the week we had a panic about the weather – it was obviously going to be too cold to have the party in our courtyard, the numbers had now grown to 52.  This is a gathering that started off with a small group of family and very close friends. We contacted the mairie and had an anxious 24 hours before finding out that the community hall was available.  What a relief.
Friday evening lots of other guests arrived, so a pre-party party at Le Nid.
Eli and his Orgue de Barbary
Saturday was a busy day, setting up, decorating the hall.  But all organised by Una, Jane, and Brigid, with another friend, Amanda, doing the flowers and the candles and the guys helping.
We pushed off at 5pm, and the hall quickly filled up.  A local played the Orgue de Barbary, old fashioned French songs – gorgeous, the children loved having a go.
At 7pm we sat down to dinner and the other musicians had arrived -  a cellist and piano keyboard player.

The evening went very well, lots of music, singing and dancing.  Former colleagues from our Moscow days sang – Kyle Wilson, a friend with a very deep base voice - “God save the Czar” in Russian, and another folk song about the steppes.  Powerful and moving.  Another journalist colleague, Trevor Fishlock, from Moscow days sang Happy Birthday in Welsh, beautiful, and the French guests sang it in French, as well as an old Burgundy folk song.
It was a great occasion, and a happy one.

Sunday morning a big clean up at the hall and in the evening - another gathering around the piano at Le Nid, and most of the guests left Monday morning.  We moved back home with old friends Humphrey and Amanda.  Jane and Patrick and their children left for Basel, Una left for Ireland and we had Brigid, Nick, Conor and Daniel until Wednesday, when they left for Barcelona for a week. Amanda and Humphrey left for long drive to Caen in Normandy where they caught the ferry to England.

The last two days have been continually washing sheets and towels and tidying up toys, sorting out the warriors’ equipment and putting everything back in order.

During the month I had some wonderful walks with Katia.  Around 8-10kms on the local walking tracks, up hill and down dale and so enjoyable.  Katia knows all the tracks and the various historic points we passed on the way. Including a Merovinginian burial site, a cross dated 1242 where the Abbot Guillaume of Cluny met St Louis… and so on. 

We continue with the big tidy up, and look forward to a several evenings of quiet dinners with friends to say farewell until next year.

We leave for Geneva on Wednesday, where we will be meeting Jane, John and Ciara.  We are all staying overnight in a hotel ready to fly out the next morning.  We are going as far as Abu Dhabi, and then on to Istanbul for a week, Jane and the children fly straight back to Sydney.

Enjoying the orgue de barbary

Rachel and Jean Sabitini

Kyle singing Russian song about the steppes

Too tired.......

01 September 2012

August onwards

Unbelievably, its September, and in just less than six weeks we will set off for Istanbul for one week, on the way back to Australia.

Another frustrating month with the internet - now I am reduced to visiting a friend who has good internet to enable me to write and post my blog.

August was a truly beautiful month, great summer weather, with lots of good veggies and fruit to eat in the garden.  Many pleasant siestas taken in the hammock under a shady tree in the courtyard.

To continue on through August - we had a very enjoyable dinner at our place with French friends, and lots of chat and catch up on village news.   It seems strange, but there are 8 houses for sale in this village and its hamlets at the moment.  I think the market has slowed down, everyone is asking too high a price, and very little is moving.   The house opposite us is for sale, and the question is who will buy it and who will live there?  Its very close to us!  A little bit of anxiety here....

Sunday is a day of brocantes or flea markets in villages around here, so we sometimes go and wander around and see what people are selling.  A bit like a car boot sale, when everyone clears out their attics and sometimes we can find something useful.  But also every second year there is a pottery/ceramics fair in the gardens of the Cluny mairie.   Its always worth going to, with terrific work displayed and for sale.   This year, we didn't buy anything!

Lots of walking along the little country lanes, picking blackberries, taking photos etc etc.

A car arrives and pulls up outside our house - we can almost guess who it will be.  It is one of the Marchandeau family who used to live in this house for some generations.   The last family had 13 children, and of course there are many grandchildren.  This time it was the 10th child, a daughter, Irene, who wanted to show her grandchildren the house that she was born in.  In those days, the house just had two rooms and an outside kitchen - no plumbing of course.  In the courtyard they had two pigs, 3 goats, 2 cows and a horse!   Each year, her father killed a pig for a family feast.   She told us that one year when her father went to kill the pig, he found the pig already dead, and horrors, he had to go and buy or trade to get a pig for the occasion.  

I think the word has gone around that we don't mind showing them around, and one or another of them shows up each year.

A cousin from Brittany arrived with her two teenage children on their way back from summer holidays.  We had a very pleasant few days showing them around, with only one rainy day fortunately.

We went for some long walks picking blackberries, and made a delicious crumble and blackberry tart in the evening.  Another day we climbed La Roche de Solutré - a beautiful day and had a picnic on the summit of another rock - Vergisson - enjoying the vineyards around us.  From that height, it is possible to see the mountains of Switzerland, and on a clear day, even Mont Blanc.

We have a wonderful grape harvest this year, the front of the house has huge heavy bunches of grapes hanging from the fragile branches.  Now the battle begins with the wasps....   I have found a new 'truc' as they say here, to trap the wasps.  Its working superbly, as a result we bought four more!

This little bird is a redstart or 'queue rouge' there are many of them around our house.  They are known as the nightingale of the stone walls

On Sunday afternoon the musicians who will play at our 70th came to see us and discuss logistics.  They are a couple with four children - all of the children play instruments beautifully - and they are about to go to the US for 3 months and drive across the county in a camping car, playing concerts with their family orchestra!  No doubt we will talk them into doing the same sometime in Australia.

We went to a friends house for dinner one night, and suddenly an enormous storm whipped up very quickly, we ran inside and watched huge trees bending over in the wind.  Our host had a barbeque going and the sparks flying around were quite scary.  After dumping a heap of rain it quickly calmed down.

I had to have a repair done to my spinning wheel, and took it to a wood turner in a village nearby.  He made a new part that had been damaged by woodworm, and at the same time asked me if I would demonstrate spinning on the day of his exhibition a week later.  I said yes, of course, and enjoyed doing it.
 It was all very amusing, he presented it well and illustrated the story of wood turning from early Egyptian days when very basic tools were used up to the very sophisticated tools of today.

You can see two new gates if you look closely, one
out of the courtyard, and the one behind into our garden
Alain has been doing a lot of work here, first of all putting in some new gates, followed by repairing our wall at the corner of our garden and the road. Cars stopped frequently to say hello to him and admire his work.  He carved a stone with a picture of a face and a large ear in the shape of the symbol of the shell of Compostela, to mark the spot where everyone stops to chat and gossip.   The new garden gates are terrific, and they make it so much easier for me to take wheelbarrows and tools in and out of the courtyard.

Our neighbours next door were inspired to kindly make a small gate at their end of our garden and it looks really great.  They said it was for my birthday!  how kind.

The weather has become cooler very suddenly, and we are wearing jumpers.  Do hope it doesn't last for long.  Our families start arriving in two weeks, Jane and her children first, 10 days later Brigid and her two boys, followed by husbands a few days later.

Maybe we will even light a fire this evening...    John cut some wood yesterday anticipating that we might need it!

Ah well, the fire is now going, and Rachel and Alain are coming to dinner!


Up to mid- August:
Another week gone by - how does this happen?  This has been a busy week, with lots of walking, some entertaining of neighbours, a great deal of discussion about  the history of the village which we both love.

Rachel found some old post cards in their house.  They would have belonged to the original owners, the Mansonge family who lived there for several generations.  This is the oldest house in our village that we know of.  The postcards were sent to Louis Mansonge who was  called up for the foot artillery during the first world war.   The pictures are revealing and how we pour over them, not just us, but sharing them with neighbours and analysing which house was there, who lived in it, discussing the families and their day to day lives.  In those times the valley was covered with vineyards - not at all like it is today.  Now it is covered with woods and fields and probably much more beautiful to our eye than it may have been before.

we passed a field of wildflowers
After milking
I had a wonderful long walk with Katya on Wednesday, around St Leger, and Carmel.  We decided to visit the Monastery at Carmel, as I had never been there before.  The chapel is very beautiful with a very modern organ, the pipes are all carved wood, wonderful.  We visited the little postcard shop, and I bought a postcard of the Mazille church which is John's favourite Lombard church.  Katya told me that the nuns make cane baskets, and repair the woven straw seats of chairs. I would have loved to see their work, but its not open to the public. We also passed by her sister-in-law's goat farm, I love to go into the barn and have a close up look at the new babies.

The week was interspersed with lots of work in the garden.  On Friday I first of all went for a walk with a local friend, we tried a small footpath/lane, but were blocked, so had to retrace our steps and take a long circle around the valley.  It was a beautiful day, and the green everywhere was spotted with the white of charolais cows, and fields full of round hay bales.  A scene to be remembered.

Katya and Rachel on the banks of the
Saone at Tournus
Later I went with two French friends on a very pleasant outing to Tournus, another ancient Abbey town.  But we were not going for a history outing, but a very up to date girls outing to shop at the factory shop of the Inox  group.  After a wonderful shopping spree, we had lunch along the banks of the river - the huge river Saone - everywhere decorated with flowers.

Sunday - after a heavy shower overnight, thankfully saving me the job of watering, I opened the front door.   Everywhere smells so fresh - the morning sun sparkling, moisture glinting on the vine leaves and on the grass.  I love that first walk around the garden in the mornings - checking if anything has magically grown during the night, getting rid of those large Burgundy snails which people love to eat here - and just smelling the roses and the air.
One way to carry a baby!!

My French has improved a lot this year, perhaps because I spend quite a bit of time with French friends, and particularly with those friends who don't speak English.

We are in the midst of planning for our big event at the end of September when we will be celebrating our combined 140 years!  The locals are very reassuring about the weather - they say there is always a good Indian summer, but of course we cannot rely on it.

Stone sink in the cave
an ancient lintel
I am continuing to research the history of French villages, which is helping me to fill in the history of this village.  Very little was written or recorded before the revolution, so its hard to trace our house for example.   However, with the help of some research, I can at least imagine the life of whoever lived in our house hundreds of years ago.   We have just done a big clean up of our caves (cellars) and have had windows put in where windows or openings would have been originally.  The road is much higher now, so I have to think about the small openings looking out on a country track much lower down, and perhaps with a door opening on to the road.    I found an old stone sink with the shallow bowl carved out of solid stone.   This is the second one we have found in our house, we also found one in the original old kitchen.    Also an arch is carved out of the beam over the window - and some very lovely stone work framing the windows on the roadside.   There are small openings in the wall - perhaps for candles, with roughly carved lintels above.  In the main cave there is a big fireplace.
new window
When I look up at the huge beams supporting the house above me I ask - how did they do it?
Cattle with huge harnesses, pulleys and chains maybe.   The neighbours in the village helping each other no doubt.

The 'lieu dit' or place name for our small part of the village, is le nière, the place where hemp is grown.  Hemp was handspun and had many uses.  Ropes, sacks, peasants shirts and aprons, to mention a few.
Think of the women spinning the yarn, then plying or twisting it into ropes.  Others weaving cloth on a simple loom.  Embroidering aprons, head bands or scarves.  Perhaps table cloths.

They planted onions, beans and turnips, sometimes on shared ground up on the plateau.  Some families had a donkey or a mule which they used to carry water containers, or linen to the lavoir.  When harvesting the donkeys carried baskets filled with turnips or onions.   Women carried loads on their heads.

There is a small public path around our garden giving access to a pump at the bottom of the garden which was for everyone to use.  A good place to exchange news and gossip.

04 August 2012

July 2012

It must be just about a month since I published the last post about our life in Château.  Hard to believe that we are beginning the month of August already.  The weather has changed for the better, and I can now safely say summer is here at last.   

There have been some wonderful, gentle, warm days, leading up to very hot afternoons and evenings,  hot enough to force us to close the shutters on the front of the house to protect us from the western sun in the afternoon and evening.   The galerie has been so warm, we have had to wait each evening to have dinner outside, until the sun has gone over the hill, around 8 - 8.30pm.   

As the sun disappears, everyone emerges, and there is that lovely sound of the creak and groan of the shutters being opened and fastened against the stone walls, as it echoes around the valley.  Then its all business, voices chattering, plates clattering as families prepare to eat.  

There have been several local events this month, starting with the Fêtes de Voisins, held at a neighbour's house this year, a really great occasion.   I guess it would compare to a street party.  In this part of the village we take it in turns to host it, and this year it was Patrick's and Fabienne's turn.    You would never know from the photograph - we are all sitting at a very long table in their - luckily large - garage.  We had just started sipping our aperos when the sky went black and a fearsome storm, hailstones included, bucketed down on us!!  Despite the storm we had a great evening and wonderful food.  Everyone made an effort to prepare something delicious. The main course was le lapin a la crème. The oldest participant was 92 and I guess the youngest about 12!

The garden has started producing well, and we are able to eat fresh salad every day, the tomatoes just turning colour at last. As always courgettes are plentiful - and I suppose we will soon be eating stuffed marrows as they get away on me.

The month continued with several visitors.  Mike Bingham from Tassie, who was best man at our wedding 44 years ago, appeared early in the month and we had a great time catching up on every kind of gossip imaginable. Politics, footy.....
Mike bravely subjected himself to a very local French evening, the Repas d'étè, our annual local village dinner, held in the hall at the Mairie. Unfortunately the weather was too unpredictable to hold it in the courtyard.  Some of the village spent most of the day preparing - two large lambs were roasted on a spit, and consumed enthusiastically by the noisy, happy crowd of around 80 people.

We managed to find some English speakers for Mike to sit amongst, so it wasn't too painful for him, in fact he reassured us that he had a good time.

Its always a pleasant occasion, and a good chance to meet new people who have arrived in the village.

One of the new arrivals is a baker - he has opened a new Boulangerie in Cluny, amazingly painted purple - he provided the delicious desert.

A view from Daniele and Alain's
winery in Beaujolais
After a quiet Sunday, with just a leisurely walk around the valley paths, we planned a trip to Beaujolais the next day to visit our favourite winemakers, Daniele and Alain Germaine, at Charnay amongst the countryside of 'la pierre doré', the golden stones.  All the buildings, the walls, houses etc are built from beautiful golden rosy stones.  When the sun shines on them they are especially beautiful.

Danielle invited us to lunch - it was a perfect day, and we ate produce from her garden.  Relaxed and beautiful.   We loaded the car up with our wine order - we are now well prepared for the festivities at the end of September, and returned home through gorgeous countryside.
Beautiful bouquet - a surprise gift

 A few days later, Irish/French friends arrived from Paris, including their nine year old daughter, Madeleine.  We visited our local goat cheese farm to buy some cheese, and Madeleine love the two bucks with their magnificent horns.

Friday was 14th July and a day of big celebrations in France.
We went into Cluny for dinner in the evening, and continued on to a fun fireworks display beside the town.  Madeleine adored it, so at least we kept her happy!

Bread oven
The next day, a visit to the market in Cluny in the morning, and in the evening a delightful jazz concert at a friend's house.  About 30 people were invited, they put on a great meal, and we listened to music out of doors as the sun went down.   It was a beautiful home, and the owners had managed to repair and preserve their magnificent ancient bread oven.   Sunday Madeleine and her mother went to a magnificent puppet show in Cluny, illustrating the history of the Abbey in a very amusing, but educational way.

 We have been taking some great long walks at the weekends.  Its perfect to walk in the woods on a warm day with a slight breeze, shaded by the whispering trees.  Our first attempt was a long walk around the western side of the valley.  We set off climbing up above the valley on a small track beside our house.  The track is covered in wild mint and thyme, the perfume wafted around us in the warm air as we walked.   There has been so much growth this year because of all the rain, but that isn't always good, as the paths are also thick with nettles.....

As we climbed we stopped to watch a pair of buzzards gliding around the valley, and listened to their gentle weird cries, like the mewing of a sad cat.   From time to time their huge wings created a shadow as they passed over us swooping low, while hunting for a mouse or perhaps a lizard, or a young bird.

Continuing into the woods, and appreciating the shade at last, we were surrounded by a massive carpet of wild flowers.

Wild flowers are prolific this year, and so colourful in the rays of sunlight flickering through the trees and alongside the edges of the tracks where they get a bit more light.
a monster....

I love this weird fallen tree covered in moss, it conjures up fairy tales with long legged monsters crawling along through the brush.

The following weekend we walked around the east side of the valley.  We climbed up to the top of the hill, crossed over and descended into the village of Jalogny.  To return we took another path, this time a steep climb to the top of the plateau and passed the old ruined mill and descended via the hamlet of Borde and continued into the centre of our village.  Both walks took about two hours, the second one about half an hour more.

There is almost a full moon at the moment... I wonder what weather it will bring?