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28 July 2014

June/July 2014 at Chậteau

Our neighbour and long time friend Madame Suzanne Laforêt passed away in her 99th year in early June.  We gathered to farewell her at the local church where John spoke some thoughtful words about our long friendship and her kindness to us. She was buried in the family tomb.  What an interesting and long life - her years during the war sheltering the Resistance fighters from the Germans made many a great tale.  Even in her latter years, she loved to sing and often would break out into an old song while telling us a story. 

Spinning and Weaving day at Marizy:

It took me about 35 minutes to drive due west to Marizy along narrow winding roads through beautiful countryside unfamiliar to me, for the day long session with the regional Spinners and Weavers group, Guilde de Filage en Bourgogne.  It was a dyeing day, and amusing that they had chosen to dye with Kool Aid – a powdered drink very popular in the USA.  The powder seems to be simply sugar and dye, and I hate to think what it is doing to children’s insides.  It is banned here and in England for use as a drink.

A very pleasant day with lots of dyeing in a micro wave, or boiling in a saucepan – such bright colours, a big change from the natural dyes I am used to.  Had a lovely lunch and got to know some of the members – about half of them French, and the rest a mixture.

Randonne at Jalogny
Randonné at Jalogny – the next day we started early because of the heat, picking up Alain at 8am.  We had the option of a 24 km, a 13km or a 10 km walk.  Needless to say we chose the 10km and were provided with a map, coffee and snack to start us off.  What a magnificent walk around the countryside on the small country lanes and to my surprise the 10kms passed easily – not at all difficult.

I love to walk here, the views are always stunning, and the season changes continually.  My weekly long walk with Katia, always a pleasure.   We walk through woods and always along country lanes les petits chemins.    Although most farmers have finished making hay and have had several crops already, there are still some fields with big round hay bales waiting to be collected.  A contrast on the background of rich green fields after lots of rain and storms.

On our regular daily walks we pass an area called Nanton where we descend into the valley using a country lane passing an isolated house.  The owner has decorated the lane near his house with all sorts of interesting odds and ends which he has picked up at flea markets.  He has wrapped some of the trees in colourful shawls, placed small animals, mirrors, and nick knacks in small holes in the rocky wall. 

I decided for fun to knit a hat for one of his animals, and to knit slippers for a pair of legs which he had set into the ground.  Although it was a mystery to him he was surprised and delighted to see the addition to his display, later John dobbed me in, so no more surprises!

There have been a lot of strikes here, protests against various cuts, and how difficult it becomes for those trying to get to work. One day we drove to Geneva to pick a friend up from the airport on a flight back from Scotland as she didn’t want to risk taking a return flight to Paris in case she was stuck there without a train to get home.

Midsummer's night
John Budd and Lindy Magoffin came over from Geneva to celebrate midsummer weekend with us.   We had a great picnic on the high plateau in front of the ruined windmill and watched the sun go down gradually, very late.  A small fire kept us warm as the evening got cooler, and we could hear faintly the sound of music coming from Cluny – it was the midsummer night music festival.

During the week Joelle and Bob appeared on their way back to Australia – they were flying out of Geneva and find it convenient to stop overnight on the way passing through here.

Oscar Wilde tomb
Our next adventure was a trip to Paris to visit Stewart and Lesley Maclennan.  We booked a hotel at Bercy near to where their Barge is moored, at least within walking distance.  It’s also very close to Gare de Lyon where our TGV arrives, so very convenient for us, as we could walk from the station to the hotel.  That evening we walked over to the barge and had an apero with Lesley and then dinner in a local bar.  It was good to catch up and hear news of Stewart who at the time of our visit was in the American Hospital, for treatment, but also waiting to be transported back to Australia.   We arranged to visit the hospital the next day.  An interesting trip across Paris to the north west and Lesley had very kindly brought a picnic lunch which we all enjoyed together on the balcony outside Stewart’s room.    This has been a very tough and worrying time for both Lesley and Stewart, and I am very glad to say that at the time of writing they are both back safely in Australia and Stewart is being treated at Royal North Shore.   He is improving gradually and hopes to move to a rehabilitation centre shortly.
We managed to visit famous Père Lachaise cemetery and paid our respects to Oscar Wilde - we walked our feet off on the steep cobblestoned paths - exhausting.  Also the graves of Edith Piaff,  Colette, Jim Morrisson, Maurice Thorez and many other famous people are buried there, but difficult to find.

Another favourite in Paris was the Gobelin Factory where we visited carpet weaving and tapestry workshops - unfortunately they would not allow photographs!  The guide was excellent - very knowledgeable, she went into a lot of detail, all so interesting.

The July holidays have arrived and sadly the end of the breathing, stretch and relaxation course for the summer holiday period.  We had very pleasant drinks afterwards at the instructor’s house.

Marcia, Dougal and John at the lavoir
Our next event was a visit from Marcia and Dougal.  How lovely to see them, as I had not seen Marcia for nearly four years.  Although we keep regularly in touch, now that they are in Queensland it’s a bit harder to meet up. We had a lovely few days with them including a delicious dinner at the local restaurant at Mazille, before they set off to Paris to continue their round the world trip, and visit Marcia’s grand children in Canada on the way home.

The garden is always a challenge, if mostly a pleasurable one.  I am ignoring the weeds appearing in hordes after some heavy rain.  However, it has been a fantastic year for fruit, there is so much its difficult to know what to do with it, as everyone local has heaps already for themselves.   Well a rainy day prompted me to make marmalade and jam, and now the pantry shelves are lined with neat jars that I guess will do us for a year or so!!

Dinner at Château d’Igé
We celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary on 13th July, by having a superb dinner at the Chateau d’Igé with Rachel and Alain.  A boutique hotel set in an ancient château, with stone towers and a small river running through the grounds.  We had our apero out in the garden, and moved inside for a delicious long evening, finishing up with grand marnier soufflé, always our favourite. 

Mike and John at Blanôt
The next day our best man Mike Bingham, arrived to help us continue to remember our anniversary!  He lives in Hobart, but was visiting his daughter and grandchildren who now live in Brussels.   It’s a fairly easy TGV train ride to here, although he had to make a change in Paris.  We chose a lovely summer evening to do a small tour around the countryside stopping at Chapaize for an apero, and continuing on to Blanôt for dinner to the l’Auberge du Prieuré.  A very simple country inn, with good honest food.  We sat outside and passed a most pleasant few hours there.  On discovering their wine list, and that the wines were local, John and Mike set off the next morning to the nearby winery to stock up on some really good local wines. A very good pinot and chardonnay.

I finished spinning and knitting a beanie for a local farmer who gave me some of his wool.  The problem is that Charolais wool is very short, so it wasn’t easy, but I had to take it and give it a go.  In the end the beanie turned out well and I will give it to him before we leave.

It's time to catch up with the dentist and we both had our annual check ups, we are fortunate to be able to do this here in France - so much more reasonable than at home in Australia.

Fête des voisins:   Each year we celebrate in our immediate neighbourhood with what I guess would be called a street party.  We all take it in turns to be hosts and this year it was Rachel and Alain’s turn. Everyone contributes to the meal, and we were appointed to make the main course -  chicken garam masala and pork curry, both seemed to be very popular.  The food was delicious and a great variety with one course after another.  There were 20 adults and 6 children and a gorgeous evening all round.  We sat at a long table outside – we had some anxious moments as a storm was forecast, but managed to get through a very pleasant evening which went on until all hours.  Don’t know when we have been up so late, it was so warm it just seemed to flow along gently until we suddenly realised it was 2am!  Needless to say some of the children were asleep by that time.

Picnic at Vergisson
This past week we had a visit from Bill McLeod and Pauline McGuire at the end of their French/Italian holiday.  We managed to climb La Roche de Solutré, and have a picnic on Vergisson despite the uncertain weather.  Although  the view was great, it was a bit hazy in the distance towards Switzerland, so Mont Blanc was not visible.  What a gorgeous scene - the sweep of vine covered hills, interspersed by tiny villages with clusters of tiled red roofed houses around a tall church spire - always delightful and something to remember. 

View towards Vergisson

Life passes along quickly, this is holiday time in France, we are content to stay at home and avoid the very busy autoroutes.   Our next visitors - August!

Selection of photographs below - not always in order...

We are starting to plan our trip to New York on the way home.

Roses and honeysuckle

Roses for the house - beautiful perfume

Cherry cordial

Madame Laforȇt farewelled and covered in rose petals

Randonné at Jalogny

Last of the red currants - what a year for fruit

Weaving around a cardboard box

Favourite Lombard church at Mazille

midsummer night - the sun goes down at our picnic

washing and drying wool preparing for spinning

Memorial at Père Lachaise

Edith Piaf at Père Lachaise

Pompidou Centre - "Let us hope, dear friends"

Pompidou Centre exhibition

Pompidou Centre exhibition

A walk at Nanton - scarf by Marcia

Marcia drawing a flower at Nanton

lots and lots of jam made on a rainy day

enormous lilies

Dinner at Blanôt

Aliya cutting the vegetable in jel starter - street party

Alain holding our youngest neighbour

strange plants along the roadside

09 June 2014

Chateau June 2014

It’s always a little overwhelming when we arrive and have to start cleaning up the weeds, and the millions of dead flies in the house.   However, the warm welcome we receive from our neighbours and friends makes up for it all.

The day we arrived was VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, so a public holiday in France.   We drove through the lush green countryside coming from Geneva passing through several tunnels and emerging into yet another dramatic scene of tree covered mountains, with still some snow on the tops and sparkling lakes.

The wild flowers are beautiful, meadows covered in buttercups, roadside covered in
cowslips, dandelions and clover flowers, hawthorn bushes loaded in creamy white blossom, poppies in abundance.
Crashed pergola, oh dear!
The drive to our village takes 2 hours, and we arrived in the village about midday.  As we drove up the road there was a crowd of our old friends standing outside the Mairie, celebrating VE Day with a Vin d’Honneur.  So we had to stop, massive kisses and hugs and a very warm welcome.   Eventually we made it home, and Alain had opened the shutters and lit a fire, as the house inside was very cold, the fire made a huge difference.

Our pergola had crashed during the winter with the weight of thick snow.  It is normally covered in a beautiful pink rambling rose.  Sadly we have had to cut that back, but it is a pleasure to work outside, writing at the stone table beneath our new pergola, ably put up by Alain.

It was very cold when we first arrived, so a good time to plant the vegetable garden.  Neighbours offered excess plants and seeds, so now there are tomatoes, beans, spinach, carrots, salad, peppers, onions, sorrel and one courgette.  No room for anything else.

The fruit trees are absolutely laden with young fruit.  In our garden, we have a pear, an apple, a quince, a fig tree and lots of currants and gooseberries, cherries, plums and raspberries.  They are all laden, but I guess some of the fruit will fall.

The roses are incredible, and sometimes I walk in the garden just to be surrounded by that wonderful heady perfume.

wild rose on side of the house
wild strawberries & raspberries
in the garden
 We have harvested buckets of cherries, and are picking raspberries every second day.  The currants and gooseberries will be ready in no time.  I have made elderberry flower cordial and cherry cordial, both delicious in a long glass with ice.

We have just returned from a trip north to Belgium, Flanders and Picardy for John to research an article he is writing for the Goulburn Post on 4 young Tallong men who fought in the 1st World War, and are buried there.  A very moving experience. It was a good trip, but very long.  

We stayed in the nature park of ornithology at the Baie de Somme for a few days, a wonderful place to see.   So after our hard work looking at excellent museums and sad cemeteries, we needed a treat.  We stayed in a very nice hotel - on a small hill overlooking the bay, in grounds of 15 hectares, a kind of series of cottages, - very pleasant, with a good restaurant etc and set by the bird sanctuary.   We treated ourselves to a very special sea food platter, wonderful. Always amusing to see the dogs tucked under arms and on laps in the hotel restaurants, I was astonished to see them arriving even at breakfast time as well as dinner!!

We have been drowning in cemeteries galore, French, commonwealth, even German (mind you crosses shared with 4 dead) the weather was very cold, I was wearing my down coat every day, and so glad of a quick crochet hat I made before we left our home!!!

What a surprise to find a Chinese cemetery - to learn that thousands of Chinese were
brought here to work during the first world war, not only backing up the armies with munitions skills, but also working on farms because there were no longer any men to do so. The Chinese were prisoners in camps supervised by the British, but strangely enough paid the same rate as a French journalier. 5 francs a day.  Most of the unfortunate Chinese died after the war of Spanish flu.   The other surprise was that the cemetery is kept by the Commonwealth War graves commission just like the thousands of others, and kept beautifully.

I never thought we would go into a church or cathedral to keep warm, to get out of the cold wind - in the past it has always been a trip into history, beauty of art work and to cool down in the heat….  the weather has been terrible. We ran into First Communion day when we got to Reims - the cathedral was packed and we couldn’t walk around.  Listened not for the first time to a sermon on the five loaves and 2 fishes!  don’t know how many of the young things were listening...

However, the grey cold, damp, foggy weather went with our project, a melancholy one.  In Flanders we were treading on the dead everywhere.   How can people live from day to day on top of 500,000 dead?  would you not wake up at night thinking of a young man’s face as he drowned - wounded - in the mud???   I imagined their ghostly voices talking, crying…      cemeteries everywhere, we have done enough…  

We visited the Vis en Artois cemetery where my uncle’s name is carved in stone. Robert William McMurtry.

Sadly he died at the end of the war, 20 years old, having fought in and survived the most horrific battles, including the terrible battles at Passchendaele, in the previous few years.  This is a place where there are thousands of unknown soldiers - bodies have never been identified, and were never accounted for, presumed dead.  One very sad addition on a cemetery register was a young man of 24 years who was shot at dawn for deserting. Couldn’t cope with the horror and was punished by death.

Ypres cathedral, completely rebuilt after the bombing
Amiens cathedral was so rich and luxurious - (even a little cage with a “genuine” head of John the Baptist!!)…… everywhere gold, I thought several times of the child abuse enquiries and the wealth of the church, the carvings, ornaments, paintings too  much.  I always find the confessional cages worrying. 

We stayed overnight in Troyes before setting off for home.  Nice town with half-timbered houses and the River Seine snaking around it linked with canals.  You can see at the end of this blog, we took lots of photographs.

This is a photo of a sculpture in a museum in Groesbeck, near Arnham, Netherlands – very moving – it says it all.
Groesbeek museum by Fransje Povel-Speleers

For those who read the Goulburn Post, there will be a series of articles by John soon.

After a drive of 2,000 kms and 10 days, we are back home after climbing hundreds of steps in towers and view points, and touring the champagne cellars at Pommery. 

Summer has arrived with a vengeance.  
Wow it’s hot, particularly in the afternoons and evenings.  We are enjoying having meals on our galerie (stone balcony), but have to wait until after 8pm to have dinner, when the sun goes over the hill opposite. There is a warm breeze and we listen to the blackbirds singing.  I love the warmth of the huge stone slabs.

We have had some lovely dinners with neighbours, and some great walks.  I have rejoined a relaxation/Tai Chi group who meet once a week in the village hall, which is always a pleasure.  

John has started playing bridge in Charnay again, he has a fan club there, and enjoys the challenge of the game very much.  

I am delighted to have found a spinning and weaving group in the region, Le Filage de Bourgogne, and will spend next Saturday with them, when they plan a dyeing day.  I have been spinning while watching the tennis to accumulate some skeins of wool for the dyeing day, and will have fun experimenting with colours and meeting the other members of the group. 

Our valley on a warm summer's day
This is one of the many public holidays in June in France, so today is quiet - no one cutting their lawn (yet) and the heat is building up.  I will soon have to escape indoors.

For the rest of the month - we plan a picnic on the plateau with a group of friends for midsummer’s night and will make a trip to Paris for a few days on 28th to visit Stewart and Lesley McLennan.   They have their barge parked in a bassin off the Seine near Bercy and we have managed to book a room in our favourite eco chain of hotels, the Ibis Style, within walking distance of them.

Next weekend we will go on the randonné at the next village, Jalogny, the shortest walk is 10 kms, so we might be forced to take a short cut!  However there are plenty of resting stops with refreshment and food, so we can take our time. Hope it’s not too hot.   The weather forecast says there will be a thunderstorm on Wednesday, so that will give me a break from watering the garden, and I guess will knock down the last cherries that are too high up for us to pick.

Photos below - I am afraid mixed up, but most have captions.
Open market at Reims

Reims Cathderal - pulpit

Reims cathedral

Weeping angel - Reims

St John the Baptist???

Ypres cathedral - completely rebuilt

Champagne country

Reims - Les Halles

Tasting at Pommery

Maison des Oiseaux

Sea food platter at Cap Hornu

A cooler at Troyes

artistic neighbour...

donkeys and buttercups

200 year old ledger

construction of new pergola 

Alain with new pergola - almost finished

a walk in the woods

pre dinner at neighbours - cat begging to get something

Tasting at Pommery cellars, champagne country

The unknown soldier - in every cemetery

1st world war cemetery

German cemetery, two names each side

Our hotel at Cap Hornu - Baie de Somme

our garden
roses everywhere

Elderflower juice -delicious

Cherry cordial - delicious

improvised weaving - without a loom
Tasting at Pomery in Champagne country
Passchendaele museum