Thursday, 24 September 2009

The end of an era

In my last Blog I was rather lyrical about the “old-fashioned” cattle market in Saint-Christophe. Unfortunately I was not aware of the changes that had taken place in the meantime. There was an article in the latest bimonthly magazine of the Chamber of Commerce about the market in Saint-Christophe. The article very proudly announced the introduction in June this year of a “marché au cadran”, which is a market by means of a clock. Because we had not been there for a while, we decided to see how dramatic these changes were.

The moment we arrived we saw what had happened. The traditional market still exists, but at a much smaller scale. Next to the old covered market hall a new building had appeared, a modern circular building. Inside the building was a small ring, with around it a sort of amphitheatre. One man brought a cow or cows in from the outside, and made them make a little round in the arena. In the mean time all the particulars, such as vaccinations, weight, lot number, etc. were displayed on a big screen. The farmers were bidding electronically, this time in Euros, although the price in Francs was still displayed as well, and after the highest bid the cow was lead outside the arena, to make place for the next one. It is needless to say that the sterile environment and the efficiency has advantages for farmers as well as cows. However, it is, at least for the tourist lacking the charm of the noise, the smell and of manoeuvring around heaps of cow dung, in order to see what is going on. For those who want to see an old fashioned market in its full glory, the motto is : do not wait too long. It looks like that within a year the old market will completely be replaced by the bidding via a clock. Something similar already has happened to the other big cattle market in Burgundy, the one in Moulins-Engilbert (Nièvre).
The blow was finally softened a bit by an excellent lunch at La Tour d’Auvergne. For € 13.30 we got steak frites, a cheese platter and a mousse au chocolat. Ever been to a restaurant, where, because one of the steaks was a bit on the small side (according to the waitress, they looked the same to us!) the cook had thrown in an extra, third steak? It happened to us that day!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cattle market

When I look out over the meadows from my windows, I see some beautiful white Charollais cows (bred for meat, with AOC, and not for milk) wondering through the field. That is less strange than it seems; although we do not live in the Charollais region (Charolles is approx. 60 km from here) these sort of cows can be found throughout Saône-et-Loire. In the département there are two markets where this cattle is sold. The most important, biggest and oldest is the one in Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais, a village even further from here than Charolles.
The market possibly dates back to the X-th century; in 1488 Charles VIII declared the market to be “perpetual”, and ever since there have been cattle markets here. We arrived at about 12h30, and the streets were completely deserted. All we saw were a few market stalls along the main street selling rubber boots. A bit disappointed we walked into a restaurant, it being lunch time. Here it was the same thing; a tiny room, with a few empty tables. We waited a few minutes, until a waitress walked in. We told her that we would like to have lunch, and the moment that magic word was spoken we were whisked away to the back of the restaurant. All of a sudden it became clear. The actual restaurant on a Wednesday (market day) was a great big hall, with endlessly long tables and benches. The hall was completely filled up with noisy farmers, obviously already having started negotiations about cattle prices at the lunch tables. The waitress found us a place, and we joined a bunch of shouting farmers at their table. The restaurant was run like a factory; very efficient. There were lots of waitresses, whizzing around the tables; unlike some busy French lunchtime restaurants around here, there was plenty of choice (although not à la carte), and not just one set menu. Within half an hour one had finished his meal, and made place for yet another farmer. Around one o’clock the hall emptied, but for a handful of tourists, and obviously that was the time the market started. The market is held in an immensely big hall, where the farmers are negotiating the prices by writing offer and demand on little bloc notes. It appears, that prices are still in Francs, although by now I do not think they are still using old Francs.
Farmers here are, as they were in the Netherlands, easily recognisable. French farmers however are generally scrawny, wear blue or dark-blue dust-coats and green or brown rubber boots, unlike Dutch farmers; the common denominator is the walking stick they carry around to hit the cows when necessary. Even though the farmers are different, the whole atmosphere on the market, with its smell of cattle and dung, the shouting and the negotiating, brings back memories from when I was a child, when I wondered across the weekly cattle market in Delft, the place where I was born. Every so often we still go back to Saint-Christophe, to taste the atmosphere, but also for lunch. Those lunches are excellent; of course no restaurateur would dare to come up with a lousy piece of meat when you serve farmers who breed what they are eating….. Saint-Christophe has two restaurants, but we find that the one we tried during our first visit, La Tour d’Auvergne, has, although the same sort and quality of food as the other, the better atmosphere of the two.
Click here for part 2.

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cluny 2010 - Ouvrez les portes!

My better half has written a very interesting Blog about Cluny and its history, in view of the festivities around 1100 years Cluny Abbey. In stead of copying it in, it seems more logical to give the link to the Blog.
Click here to read Sue’s blog.
The Blog gives a very good written impression of how big and influential the monastic order of Cluny has been. Unfortunately there is not much left of the third church built there, but when visiting the remains of the church one can admire a 3D film, produced by the ENSAM, which shows what the Cluny church must have looked like in its high-days.
In the eighties I have seen a similar project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT - Cambridge MA); however, if I remember correctly, that was not a 3D film, but an ordinary 2D film. Although it also showed what Cluny must have been like, the emphasis in that film was much more on what the MIT could do, than on what the monks around 1000 AD could do.
The film from the ENSAM is short (10 minutes) and in French, but is far superior compared to the 30 minute film from MIT.
Apart from this film there are a great number of models of the abbey around; the abbey museum hosts a very nice collection of various models, showing the exterior as well as the interior of the church.
The only part of the church that is still in tact is part of the transept; on the picture it is the right hand side part with the small tower with the blue roof and the slightly bigger tower next to it.
Click here for a photo album of “Ouvrez les Portes!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Monday, 14 September 2009

Frog legs

As a child I was told that there were actually people who eat frog legs. In English this does not sound so horrifying, but the Dutch call them frog bottoms, and who would want to eat some creature’s bottom? Of course, in those days I was not aware that steak is just a nicer word for cow bottom! When I lived in Singapore, one of the (Chinese) consultants I worked with, thought it was big fun to take westerners to restaurants where they served 100-year eggs, blood cubes, snake and turtle soup, iguana and frog legs. Even though I never got the hang of a couple of these things, frog legs certainly became one of my favourites. Some time ago we wanted to try out Le Rochefort, a restaurant in Cluny. It was packed each lunch time and the car park was full of local cars; normally a very good sign for a restaurant around here.
Unfortunately I had had escargots (snails Burgundian style) and frog legs a couple of days before in a different restaurant. Both dishes were served in a rather fluid sauce, completely covered in parsley (quite a common way to serve this sort of food around here). The plate with frog legs resembled a bit too much a stagnant pond covered in duck-weed with frogs floating in it (the frog legs are still attached to each other when served). Anyway, I ordered something else in Le Rochefort that day. However I saw several plates with frog legs being served around us, and they looked a lot more appetising than the ones I had had before.
A couple of days ago we decided to give it another go. And that turned out to be an excellent choice. The prices give here are the 2009 prices. One portion of frog legs costs € 21.00; a set meal (I chose Terrine foie de volaille = chicken livers, frog legs and desert) costs € 25.00.
Luckily I had shared the excellent starter with my partner, because the main course was so big and labour intensive, that I actually had eaten more than enough after an hour picking meat off minuscule bones. The desert went also to my partner, who was quite happy with the salad she had ordered and my leftovers. The frog legs were fried or deep fried, and were seasoned with parsley. Yesterday, when we were having a picnic at long tables with the inhabitants of Cormatin in the streets of Cluny to celebrate the opening ceremony of Cluny 2010, the conversation veered at some point towards local delicacies. After having been informed on how to catch snails, how to feed them flour for two days and then how to dissect and prepare them, the word frog legs fell. The consensus appeared to be that the best frog legs in the area are being served in, indeed, restaurant Le Rochefort in Cluny. A piece of advise of those who happen to stay around here and are adventurous with food : do not forget to have a meal there, and order a portion of frog legs. It is well worth the money, and not only is it famous in this part of the woods, but also delicious; take my word for it!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Postman Pat

Delivering post can be quite tricky in a country like France. Apart from big towns and cities, smaller towns, and certainly villages and hamlets in the Campagne do not have street names, let alone house numbers. A village like Cormatin was given street names about two years ago; however house numbers still do not exist.

Whether one has the courtesy to inform friends and relations that the address “Bourg 71460 Cormatin” can be replaced by e.g. "Rue de la Sablière, 71460 Cormatin” is entirely up to this person. Most of the 500 inhabitants in Cormatin still live, as far as the addresses on their letters are concerned in the “Bourg” (bourg = village, town). The only people with a proper address are the ones who live in house with a name, such as “La Filatiere, 71460 Cormatin”. And although Cormatin now has street names, the online telephone directory still gives all inhabitants the same address “Bourg”. When one clicks on the “town map” option, all Cormatinois live in the same house, indicated with a star somewhere in the middle of the high street.
Hamlets like Chazelle do not even have street names. Hence everybody lives in “Chazelle, 71460 Cormatin”, again with the exception of those living in a house with a name, e.g “La Tuilerie de Chazelle”.
The postal code is not much use either; 71460 is an area with a radius of approx. 15 km, with 34 communes. And each commune has a handful of hamlets as well.
This system, or lack there of, has serious consequences for the Postal service. The lady who drives around like a lunatic in her little yellow car delivering mail (we estimate that she delivers in approx. 30 villages and hamlets) must know everybody by name! Hence it is obligatory to have your name displayed on your letter box.
As a consequence, whenever our Post lady is going on holiday, she always drives around with her temporary replacement sitting next to her for at least a week, in order for him or her to learn names and addresses by heart.
Is not it amazing, that (as far as we know) hardly any letters get lost? The only problem we have encountered in the beginning was how the French look at, in their eyes, strange names. All my official mail is addressed to “Cornelis van Halderen”, and in a nearby village of Ameugny another Durtchman lives with the name “Cornelis van X”. One day the post lady had to deliver a letter to this “Cornelis van X”, stopped reading at “Cornelis van”, and since we were first on her route, decided that there was only one “Cornelis van” in 71460. We solved this the next day, by handing over the letter to her, but whether this had been a one off or not, of course we do not know…..

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Treasure hunt (part 2)

Click hear to read part 1 of this story.

Since we live here we have been looking out for other tile making factories in the vicinity, if only to get a bit more information on how these factories worked in the past. We thought we more or less found them all, until two of our gîte guests came back from a cycle ride, and told us enthousiastically “We have found another tuilerie nearby!”. What else could we do but get our bikes out, and have a look for ourselves? Indeed, we found this tuilerie in Saint-Forgeuil and had a chat with the owner. The man, a Belgian, knew of a few other tuileries around here. We knew then, in 2008 of the existence of seven factories (including his and ours), and he knew the location of three more. One of them, according to the man, was “easy to find, and well visible from the road between Joncy and Chevagny-sur-Guye”. The other two were indeed easy to find, but no matter how often we drove the distance between Joncy and Germagny, we did not find that one. In the end we decided that the man had made a mistake.
However, a few months ago we had a meeting with some people about a randonnée which would stop at our tuilerie for a vin d’amitié. And during this meeting the guide of the randonnée, who lives near Joncy, mentioned that particular tuilerie. We finally got a detailed IGN walking map out of the area, something we should have done long before, and found the tuilerie along that road. And again we got into the car, and drove off to investigate the road between Joncy and Chevagny-sur-Guye. We stopped at the given location, parked the car on the westside of the road, and crossed the road to the eastside, the side where on the map it said “tuilerie”. There certainly was a building, but at this time we are quite good at spotting tuileries or remains there of.
The building we were looking at had no resemblance to a tuilerie what so ever. we studied the map again, and came to the conclusion that maybe there had been a tuilerie once, but that there was no trace of it to be found any more. We crossed the road again to get into the car, when all of a sudden I saw a trace of a roof through the abundant foliage of some trees. We had parked on the edge of a small field, overgrown with stinging nettles and a cluster of trees. Once I had waded through the field, I saw, in between the trees, the remains of a drying shed (séchoir) and a kiln (four)! We finally had found our last tuilerie, we thought. However, the same gîte guests who pointed out the tuilerie of Saint-Forgeuil, had bought a book about the Voies Vertes in Burgundy. And this book mentioned a working tuilerie in Corbigny (in Nièvre, a bordering department). This was not exactly next door, but when it comes to tuileries, there is nothing to stop us. We visited the place, got an excellent guided tour by one of the workers, and learned a lot of things we did not know before (thanks to Paul and Jany).By then we thought we really had found everything there was to know. However, when I was surfing on the net this morning, in search of some updated tourist information, I came across an advert for a gîte in Lancharre (a hamlet near Chapaize) on the website of Chapaize. In the mean time we have visited the place, got a warm welcome and a tour from the owners, and we are now waiting for a counter visit. And again, we are finally complete ….. until another tuilerie emerges!

Click here to see the latest update of photographs of tuileries in Burgundy

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Sometimes, wondering through a museum, an exhibition or just through the streets one stumbles on a piece of art. Sometimes it is clear what it is, a bust or statue of someone, or a sculpture of playing children. Other times it is not so clear what it depicts, and that goes for abstract art as well as for figurative art. And when you find out the name or title, it often obscures matters in stead of giving you an “Aha-Erlebnis”.
A good example is the sculpture by the famous Dutch sculptor Wessel Couzijn, which brightens up the Unilever Building on one of Rotterdam’s busy streets, the Weena. I like this piece of art, although it does not look like anything. My partner, who worked for Unilever for many years called it the “Scrap metal heap”, which certainly describes it well, and shows her appreciation for it.
But does the “meaning” of the sculpture becomes clearer when one knows the real title? I doubt it very much. The sculpture is entitled “Embodied unity”. I can imagine the “Aha-Erlebnis” displayed on the faces of my readers…
Despite this sort of abracadabra I really do like the sculpture.
I had a similar experience recently, when we visited the studio of Monique Dégluaire, a sculptress (who makes ceramic sculptures) living in the nearby hamlet of Bessuge. the woman makes beautiful stuff, and one day we decided to pay her a visit. Click here to join us.
One of her works stood in the garden, not in the studio. I actually should say sat in the garden , because it was a statue of a seated woman with a ball on her head. The woman had a hairdress like Cleopatra in “Asterix and Cleopatra” (one’s got to know his classics!). People with a bit more artistic feeling should stop reading here, because the following shows my ignorance when it comes to the deeper feelings of art and artists. I am a Philistine deep in my heart, and I feel quite happy about it. Anyway, I asked the sculptor casually what the name was of this Egyptian beauty, and I got my answer. She was called “La consolation des tempêtes”, loosely translated as the “Consolation or consoler of the tempests”. February this year we had a tempest raging across France, bringing down two trees in our garden, and breaking the overhead electricity cable. I wonder who needs consolation, the storm or the victims of the storm? Or is it the idea that the tempest consoles its own victims? Ask those who lost relatives and goods in the February storm that ravaged the western parts of the Netherlands in 1953. I still clearly remember that night in 1953, when the whole family stayed up until the small hours, listening to the radio, fearing that a nearby dike would break and inundate Delft and surroundings, while the “consoling” noise of the tempest was howling around the house…
Of course this has got noting to do with the beauty of the said work of art. Despite its name it is something I would not mind having in the garden.
The moral of this story: do not ask for the name of a piece of art when you like it; sometimes it is better not to know at all!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle