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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.