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29 July 2016

July in Château, a small village in rural France

Date of writing: 28th July 2016.

A few weeks ago there was a concert in the church – it was advertised as an Argentinian group, with percussion and a piano accordion.  We were expecting something tango-ish, but not so.  It was all electronic, experimental, clashing discord.   At one stage two of the musicians had what looked like cello bows and were drawing them across the sharply cut edges of a plastic storage box, just imagine the agony of that screeching sound.   In the second half two huge xylophones and a huge gong were certainly better, but not much.  How on earth does anyone write the music for something of this sort?   Three of the composers were present, giving long technical talks after each piece – oh dear.  The old fashioned wooden pews, too narrow and too upright were painful to sit on.  As our elderly neighbour said, ‘one must suffer at church’.

Afterwards they brought the huge xylophones and accordion outside and played some pleasant music while we gathered around and enjoyed a glass of wine provided by our local mayor on a lovely summer’s evening.

The following day I went into Cluny and  spent the afternoon with two friends, admiring the work of one who is a tapestry weaver, and generally enjoying their gardens.

One day we had a very pleasant short trip to Blanot, driving along that winding road while climbing all the time and at each corner being met by stunning views back over towards Cluny and the Maconnais.   We had an appointment with a small wine grower: at Cave Grison, to pick up our annual buy of his wine.  Gorgeous drink.   After a short tasting and a long chat, we loaded the car and drifted back into the village of Blanot for lunch at La Petite Auberge to fortify us for the ten minute journey back home.   Lovely way to spend a day.

Some days ago, some trucks, a digger, and several workmen arrived and parked outside our gate, “I hope you don’t need to take your car out” they said.   They were there to repair a small hole in the road, but in doing so they made an enormous hole and turned off the water.

I fled with two friends and went for a long walk over towards Jalogny and along the plateau.  We saw so many snails out for a morning stroll, heaps of them.  It is the season for collecting them, so I guess somebody will come along with a large bucket very soon and start the long preparation for eating. 

The workers were still at it when we returned. I had to edge my way into our gate along by the post box.  Oh dear, they have stopped for lunch and it has started to pour rain, they might be there for some time!!!  The garden is loving this nice shower of rain, and happily the forecast is pretty good for the rest of the week, so that augurs well.

Recently it was our 48th wedding anniversary, and we dined at l’Estaminet  to celebrate. When I woke up that morning I tried to think what I could do to mark the day. I went outside and picked a red rose to put on our breakfast table to enjoy and remember.

Tomorrow we leave for Dubrovnik where we will spend a few days before joining another Ponant cruise, this time amongst the Greek islands with a theme of archaeology and ancient history.   We will have to take lots of sun cream and large hats, it is going to be hot!  Looking at the list of excursions, it seems there will be several opportunities to swim in tiny out of the way beaches, only accessible from the sea, so we should have lots of opportunity to cool down.   We are both looking forward to it very much and are very excited to read through our folder of shipping papers and details.

First week

Second week

We have had a busy week here with Janet and Dougal Black, doing some touristy things and enjoying meals here and there.  

On Sunday evening some of our local friends joined us for a picnic on the plateau, where we grilled sausages over a fire, and generally had a great meal and conversation.  A few of our friends can speak English, at least a little, so that helped with making Janet and Dougal feel welcome.   

The Blacks then went off on a trip to Vèzelay and Beaune, returning here on Tuesday. They visited Cormatin Château on Wednesday and we all went into town last night for a pizza. 

The drive into Cluny was stunning, a beautiful evening, the colours of the countryside remarkable.  With hay bales everywhere, the hills in the distance covered with forests, patchwork fields spreading out around us, all a tapestry of beauty and peaceful rural life. 

Dougal and Janet left this morning for England and Ireland, and this evening our Dutch friend from Moscow days, Willy Slingerland and her family (including 2 dogs) will arrive for an overnight stay on their way to start a barge holiday in central France. 

Now I am getting through loads of washing, the sun is shining so everything will be dry in a shake.  Most of the packing is done for tomorrow.  We were fortunate to find a hotel on the French side of Geneva airport where we can stay overnight at the beginning and end of our 3 week tour and leave our car there while we are away.  There is transport to the airport from the hotel, so very convenient for us.

The day after we get back the spinning group is coming to spend the day here bringing their spinning wheels.  We will spread around either inside or outside, just hopefully spend a pleasant day together. Let us hope the weather is really good.

Needless to say we have been rocked by what seems to be copy-cat violence around Europe, especially France.  How very worrying, so many lives lost and so many injuries.

All the berries have finished, the hibiscus is out, figs are nearly ready, the apple tree is laden, and there are still lots of roses around.   The grapes may be ready for juicing when we return.

Blackcurrants, rhubarb and gooseberries

Perhaps they will be ready when we return


The trumpets of Jericho

Next blog will be written on the boat somewhere around Greece.

Earlier in the month: 
 Everyone is madly making hay – this beautiful weather is so perfect for doing so.   Warm, 20-28c in the afternoons with a pleasant, arm tickling, warm breeze.

The sloping fields are dotted with round golden bales, surrounded at the edges with a proliferation of wildflowers, bluets and poppies.  Valley after valley unfolding in a landscape poetic and beautiful.

Tractors with their enormous heavily loaded trailers hurry past the house, leaving behind a delightful whiff of fresh hay, on their way to unload into their barns, turn around and climb up the hill again to reload.

Despite the poor weather in June, we participated in a walk of 10 kms at a neighbouring village along little country lanes and pathways, sometimes we were wading through rivulets after the endless rain of the previous weeks.   However, we enjoyed it and it gives us a sense of achievement. 

We went on an exploration trip with John’s brother Stephen to the villages in the Jura and the Doubs that are called Lombard. We had hoped to discover the history of the naming of these villages, but the local historians were not much help!  They must at some stage in history have been settled and named after some of the Lombards from Lombardy in Italy.  

Our village celebrated the feast of St Jean at mid-summer.   We walked up the steep little paths to the church with a picnic on our backs.  Most of us were puffing, but in spite of that someone had the breath to play some lively tunes on a mouth organ.  We spent a very pleasant evening as it grew dusk, chatting eating and drinking.  We looked down the valley to the houses beginning to turn on their lights – twinkling away as it got darker.  This was the signal to build a bonfire and get out the fireworks, the mouth organ appeared again and a few voices joined in singing.

The fireworks were great fun, particularly for the young, and there was a general atmosphere of content and happiness.

Last Saturday we had the local village summer feast – the mechoui – where a lamb was cooked on a spit over a fire.  Rows of tables and chairs were set out under the branches of a tree in the mairie courtyard.  The chatter of conversation and clatter of eating was accompanied by musicians playing and singing, a very enjoyable community evening.

This evening we will celebrate la fête des voisins, or what we would call our street party.  I think we will be 10 families this evening.  Everyone shares the food, usually about five courses: our contribution is a seafood salad.  It should be a warm and pleasant evening.

After such a bad start with awful dreary weather in May and well into June, the weather has now turned around and 2016 has been a lively summer for sport – the European soccer cup and of course in this country the delight and excitement of the success so far of the French team.   The Tour de France is continuing to fill the screens every day, as is Wimbledon and the European Athletic Championships.   All of them bringing much needed tourism to France. 

I read in the local paper that the Haras (breeding centre for horses) in Cluny may be shutting down.  It has been there since the time of Napoleon providing strong horses to pull gun carriages, to carry soldiers and supplies.   When we first came here it was such a pleasure to visit and to take our visitors to walk through the stables to see those huge Auxerres mares, and Pecherons with their delicate and gorgeous offspring.  Sadly the stables were closed to the public some years ago when some young tourists behaved badly and camped in the stables overnight.   More recently some children playing with matches set fire to one of the ancient buildings housing a training and performance ring.  So I guess it is now a cost cutting measure to consolidate with other breeding centres, and soon we will no longer see those splendid proud stallions with their handsome heads over the half stable doors.  At this time they are kept for the artificial insemination laboratory.  Nor will we see open carriages drawn by magnificent horses, walking through the streets of Cluny taking tourists around.

Amongst some of our friends who are in their late 40s and early 50s, there is a sense of unease and concern about their country and Europe as a whole.   They are doing work that gives them no pleasure nor sense of achievement.   They have no prospect of change at this stage of their lives, and must stick it out in order to protect their pensions – many years away for them.   There is a great deal of concern about the rise of right wing politics under Marine le Pen and the young people who are joining and acting out violence and terrorism.   All in all very little optimism is being felt in this beautiful valley as far as I can sense. 

It is the end of the school year, and the results of the baccalaureate are posted in all the media.   We only hear about the good and exceptional results of course.

I have collected and made elderflower juice as usual, it is really good this year. The garden is very productive with all kinds of berries ripening.  We have a lot of wild strawberries, raspberries, pink and red currants, black currants, josta-berries and gooseberries.  We are enjoying them every day with our breakfast. Lots of blackberries coming on.  The figs are almost ripe, and the apple tree is laden with fruit.  There is a fungus attacking the bark of the apple tree, I am trying to treat and save it, but I don’t hold out much hope.  It was my 70th birthday present from our friends in the village, so I will be sad if it doesn’t thrive.

I am struggling to write the sequel to Claudette, but it will come if only I could stop procrastinating.  I really need to do a lot more research, and to find quirky talks in history to write around. The first step is to join the local library in Cluny and perhaps another one in Macon.  

This balmy weather makes me want to spend time in the garden, but there is no excuse as I have a beautiful and ideal spot out of doors in the courtyard to write and there is only so much gardening I can do.

I spent a hard working but enjoyable day at an old woollen mills with my spinning group La Guilde de Filage en Bourgogne.   

That same evening Sue Duyker arrived for a few days, and we also had the village mechoui.   This was followed by Sue slaving away helping me in the garden and she was even brave enough to climb a ladder and help me to trim the wild rose.

One day we received a circular email from a local Eco (organic) farm notifying us that they had killed two genisses (young cows) and that meat was available in 5kg or 10kg packs for pick up the next day.  We duly went off with a neighbour and picked up what we had ordered.  Beautiful meat, we will continue to enjoy it.

We are expecting friends from Tallong in the next few days, followed by a very old friend from Holland from our Moscow days. Should be very pleasant doing some tourist trips with them.

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