Saturday, 18 December 2010


We (almost) live along the old local railway between Chalon-sur-Saône and Mâcon (nowadays a cycle and walking track, the Voie Verte). The heavy duty railroad between those two towns is still in use, and follows more or less the Saône. Further, luckily outside earshot, there is the TGV line between Le Creusot and Mâcon. Whenever one wants to hear the sound of trains, one has to travel. One of the tourist attraction around here is the Parc des Combes in Le Creusot. Le Creusot is a former industrial town, in its heyday heavily involved in coal and steel industries. The Parc is mainly aimed at children, but it also hosts steam events every so often. Besides it offers home to one of the fastest steam locomotives ever built, the 241P17 .
It is not only here where the locomotive was restored and is maintained; throughout the year Le Creusot is the starting point for trips, often made in double traction with the Mistral - the name of the 241P17, to places like Mulhouse, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Dijon or Marseille, using the SNCF network. The loc was designed by the French engineer André Chapelon, the inventor of the Compound loc. I quote a friend of mine, an expert on steam and trains: “Compound machines are machines with small high pressure and big low pressure cylinders. The steam expands in two steps from boiler pressure to atmospheric pressure. When starting up all steam goes full on the cylinders; once at speed the compound cylinders are utilised. The machines are not easy to handle, but the French were experts at it.”
One can see the Mistral regularly in the neighbourhood, because quite a number of the train’s trips are coming past or through Chalon, Chagny, Tournus and Mâcon. In Chalon, Tournus and Mâcon there is normally a long stop to enable the Anoraks to shoot their films, photos or sound bites. The picture with this Blog was taken while the train came towards a viaduct near Chagny with a speed of approx. 100 km/h. What is more thrilling than seeing this piece of technical ingenuity ploughing through the beautiful Burgundian landscape?

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Old friends

The regular readers of this blog might remember a blog I wrote quite some time ago about a quick bite for lunch. In that blog I made reference to a restaurant in Cluny, Cass’ Crout’, where we have had, every Tuesday, a very pleasant and tasty lunch for over a year. After some time we were considered to be regulars there, and we came to know Martine and her husband a bit better, to the extent that we became more or less friends. One can imagine that we were unpleasantly surprised when Martine told us that her husband was going to retire and that they had sold the restaurant. A new restaurant, Le Comptoir has opened its doors at he same premises, but we never got the hang of that one. We soon found a suitable alternative in La Petite Auberge, and we are more or less accepted by the staff there the same way we were at Cass’ Crout’.
On a Saturday we normally go into Cluny to the market, to buy our ration of good Dutch cheeses from the Ladies van der Linden and fruit from Malik & Kedi. Because the market is very popular by the people from miles around, we regularly meet there friends and relations. And since the first weekly outings to the market coincided with the closure of Cass’ Crout’, we regularly bump into Martine when she is carrying heavy bags of shopping down the main street or whilst she is browsing at the market stalls. During one of these encounters she told us that she was going to start a new business. I immediately had a vision of steak haché frites with a glass of very tasty Belgian beer Leffe, but, no, that was out of the question. Martine was going to open a shop selling local art work, and mainly handicrafts or artisanal products. She had already obtained a venue: a shop in Cluny’s main street, not even a stone throw away from her old restaurant. Recently she told us that she would open shop early December.
Whenever we come past that shop, we try to peer inside to see what is going on there. But the curtains were always hermetically closed, and hence we had no idea what the status of the shop was. But yesterday it was different. This time there were no more curtains, and Martine was standing behind the counter, sorting her business out. Of course we could not do anything else but walk in, and she explained in great detail what her plans were, and from which artisans she bought her merchandise. Her brand new shop is furnished very tastefully, and the products she is selling also show extremely good taste. She sells ceramics from an artist in Martailly-sous-Brancion, she has artfully decorated pebble stones in all sizes on display, there are statues of fairies and gnomes, made of beautifully painted tree leaves, figurative sculptures made of iron and steel....
Her timing to open now, just before the Christmas season starts is perfect. In the short period we were there, we saw at least three potential customers entering the shop, of which one left almost immediately. But not because he did not like what he saw. He returned a few minutes later with cash he had withdrawn from the nearby bank, in order to pay for what he wanted to buy!
When we came back from our lunch at Café du Centre (where we eat occasionally; normally we have a kebab at Le Bosphore on a Saturday) we peered into Martine’s shop window again. And although the shop was closed for lunch, the door was still open, and we could hop in to say hello to Martine’s husband as well. I asked them whether I could take some pictures for future use. Of course that was no problem, but they were quite curious why I wanted pictures. So I explained to them that I regularly publish a blog about things that are happening in and around Cormatin.
Needless to say, that we were not allowed to leave the shop without having promised to send them a link to this blog.....

For our own website click here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Partir, c’est mourir un peu...

One of the few thing I miss every so often in France is a snackbar. What would make me happier than being able to get a bag of French fries or a simple sandwich during the weekly shopping on the market, whereby the price should be well under € 5? Well, Burgundians think differently! Lunch time is the time for a good, solid meal, moistened with some red or white wine. The only alternative appears to be the omnipresent kebab shop, where one can get a sandwich or galette kebab for around € 5.00. However, we also had found a different alternative in Cluny. In the main street we found a small hole in the wall restaurant, called Cass’ Crout’ (casser une croûte = have a quick bite), where French fries, steak haché with French fries and sandwich americain were served. Very soon we had adjusted our shopping habits to suit the opening times of Cass’ Crout’. However, early this year, during one of our shopping sprees, we went in, when the patronne took us apart with the news that they had sold the place. He was just 60, she was 55, and they were getting fed up with the work. We were not very happy with that news, but on the other hand, what can one do about it? Anyway, in the weeks that followed, the place was still open, and we secretly hoped that the sale was off. Until a number of weeks later the lady who runs the shop told us, that this was going to be our last meal with her; she was closing down the next day for good.
Obviously this still came as a shock to us, and we wanted to go back the next day with a bottle of wine, to say properly good bye to them. However, when we reached Cass’ Crout’ the next day around 4 o’clock, the lights were off and there was nobody inside. There we stood like a pair of plonkers with our bottle of wine.... Anyway, we took another chance the next Friday, and this time we caught the couple who were giving the place a last cleaning, chatting with some of the regulars. Luckily we had a chance to say properly good bye to them, and drink a glass of wine with the other regulars. The bottle we brought was well appreciated.
Of course we feel happy for them, but since that time we are desperately looking for another alternative. And I can assure you, that this is not a doddle, but serious, hard work!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 20 November 2010


I have never been a great fan of pizzas, the reason being that in the Netherlands pizza bottoms usually resemble thick cardboard or leather, and the filling seems to be put on top for colour effect only. A holiday in Provence changed all that. A simple pizzeria, embedded with many other small shops in the building of a hypermarché sold pizzas with a thin, nice bottom, and the filling contained all sort of goodies, and was not just a thin layer of tomato ketchup.
That pizzeria was in an Auchan in Le Pontet, on the other side of the river from Avignon. Since my encounter with the first edible pizza, every so often I indulge in one. But only when I am convinced that the pizza baker knows his trade!
When we arrived in Cormatin, there happened to be a take-away Pizzeria, called Pizz’Annie. Of course one day, when we did not feel like cooking, Pizz’Annie had to be tried out. We should not have done that. The verdict over Annie’s pizzas was not very flattering. We advised her to close shop and move to the Netherlands; most Dutch people do not really mind a one inch thick pizza bottom.
However, we do not give up that easily. One day, more or less by accident, we found a restaurant in Cluny that served excellent pizzas. The bottoms are extremely thin, and the fillings are superb. As a little extra, on each table one finds a bottle of olive oil which apart from the oil contains a number of spices as well as some bird’s eyes chillies, to spice up the pizzas for those who like them a bit more spicy. The restaurant also serves other good dishes (including pastas) at a very reasonable price. The name of the restaurant is “Le Loup-Garou”(The Werewolf), and it is located near the postoffice, at the beginning of the main street (Place du Commerce). We recommend the place for a good meal, but also for a quick bite during lunchtime on a Saturday after the market is finished.
Among the ex-pats the opinions are divided. One half is adamant that Loup-Garou is the best one in this part of the world, the other half maintains that there are no better pizzas than those at “Le Maronnier” in Saint-Gengoux-le-National. We have also tried the latter, but we still prefer Loup-Garou.
We think that Annie has followed our advise. In any case, she has sold her restarant to Marco, who rechristened the place to Pizz’A Marco. His pizzas are certainly good, although not as good as Loup-Garou’s. Of course Marco has the big advantage of living next door, but apart from that, he also makes the pizzas while you wait. If you would like to have a different ingredient on your pizza than is mentioned in the menu, you can ask Marco, and he will certainly heed your call.
The amount of empty pizza boxes near the bin on the campsite proves, that Marco certainly draws some clientele from La Tuilerie de Chazelle!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Lost and found

The last few days have been rather traumatic. When we came back on Tuesday from the Tabac at around 17h00, we saw Fifi roaming around the house. Nothing unusual so far. Wednesday morning however, no trace of the cat to be found. What happens normally? One of us opens the front door, and either Fifi tries to walk into the house, or we hear a distinct click-click, caused by the cat flap, and afterwards some purring noises followed by Fifi jumping up the stairs towards our front door, begging to be stroked. But not that morning. We got a bit worried when we had not seen her at 10h00. After lunch Sue went out, walked around the property, looked in every gutter, but no trace of the cat.
A walk around the house, whilst ringing the bell that normally produces the cat approaching with Mach 5, wherever she is, had no effect. By the evening we were both more or less convinced that she had been killed by a car, a hunter or a fox; although neither of us dared to mention that to the other party. Thursday morning passed by without seeing a trace of Fifi. By the evening Sue had actually switched of the light in Fifi’s apartment under the stairs, but left the food in there. After the quiz Sue was about to go out to put some empty bottles into the recycling bin. And to our endless joy, when she opened the door, who stepped into the house, without even looking the slightest embarrassed? Fifi. We both almost cried with joy, but of course we were quite curious what could have happened to her. A thorough medical examination brought nothing to light. No broken bones, legs or other means of transport. Anyway, where she has been will obviously remain a mystery forever....

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Local specialities

Whoever has lived abroad for a while will recognise the following. Because no matter how adventurous one is, there are always highlights, or simply treats in international cuisine, that require an acquired taste.
Well known examples of for foreigners “inedible” Dutch goodies are liquorice and raw herring. Throughout the years I have built up quite some experience with international cooking. However, before I lived and worked in Singapore, a fried rice from the local take-away Chinese around the corner was the height of my adventurism. In Singapore I learned to know and appreciate the various multi-cultural kitchens, each with their own etiquette. Malay food, eaten with the right hand, Indian cuisine, eaten with the right hand from a banana leaf, EurAsian cookery, eaten with spoon and fork, the various Chinese cuisines, such as Hainanese, Cantonese, Peking and Cheochew with chopsticks from a rice bowl and from plates in the middle of the table...A few of the things I really hated were seacucumbers and little cubes of dried blood, leaving one with an after-dentist taste in one’s mouth.
Through my British partner I got to know some of the highlights of English cuisine. English tend to get all lyrical about things like Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and marmite; things an average Dutchman would not even look at. But I also cannot get excited about the rest of the yearly extravaganza, the Christmas lunch. As a child I never liked Brussels sprouts, and I still think it is a sneaky way of capital punishment to feed sprouts to children.
So let us analyse an average English Christmas lunch. Which wonderful things can one (I say one, but there is a whole nation eating the same thing on the same day at the same time - frightening or what? -) indulge in? There is dry turkey (give me a juicy steak any time), to be moistened wit gravy (beyond description), stuffing ( only one or two varieties deserve the word nice), Brussels sprouts (the bigger the more horrible), roast potatoes (nice, but not exactly exciting on a festive day), mashed potatoes (same), carrots (same), roast parsnips (same). No wonder the British lost their empire....
But even the culinary champion of the world, France, has things that do not arouse any form of enthusiasm with me. In this part of France, whenever there is something going on, wine is accompanied with something called brioche. Brioche is a bone-dry sort of cake, slightly sweet, and in my view as nice as turkey. Having said that, the French eat it like it is manna from heaven.
Even worse is andouilette, a sort of sausage filled with various sorts of offal. My partner had once told me she had tried it in Arles, but had to throw it away because of taste and consistency. We both like haggis, hence I knew it was not caused by the knowledge of what was contained inside the skin. Anyway, I wanted to try this local speciality (from Lyon) as well. We bought a can of andouilettes, not the cheapest, in order not to end up with low quality stuff. We were going to barbecue them on one of our long Burgundian summer evenings. Of the four andouilettes I ate two, and the other two disappeared in the bin. The taste was certainly not very nice, although not inedible. It was the smell coming from the sausages whilst eating them, getting stronger with every bite, that finally killed my appetite. A very strange experience indeed, knowing that most Frenchmen would commit murder to get hold of a good andouilette. Fortunately we have a cat nowadays. Whenever we make a similar mistake in the future, maybe Fifi will know what to do with the left-overs....

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Topographe à la française

Spelling in Dutch has always been a subject of heated discussions. Every ten or so years a commission of Dutch and Flemish wise men will come up with yet another way of writing the language. And with every spelling change journalists, columnists and the man in the street are engulfed in heated debates about the usefulness of the whole thing. Very often the debate centres around matters of world importance, like electriciteit versus elektriciteit (electricity), groenteafval versus groentenafval (vegetable waste), etc.
But, at least, once all the changes are accepted, there is in theory a uniform way of spelling words, or so it seems. The French are also quite keen and proud of the fact that correct spelling is important and that it should be adhered to. Or should it?
On one of our researches into the history of our old brick factory, we stumbled upon a few strange discrepancies. The founder of the factory was a guy named Noël Marembaud, and we knew the man had only one son, who died during the Great War in 1916. On the Cormatin war memorial his name was Noël Marembaud, like his father; on a plaque in the church of Chazelle however his name was René Marembeau. Most likely his full name was Noël René.
On a tile which was made by La Tuilerie, our village was called Chazelles in stead of Chazelle. We found a broken marble plaque, in memory of old Noël, where his name had been changed to Noël Marambaud. However, this discrepancy might be excused; we think, that the stonemason who carved the stone, had made a “writing” mistake, reason why the plaque ended up broken in the corner of a shed. But there is more than just those mistakes in spelling surnames, or an occasional place name. We have a client, who lives in Rimont. That is how one finds it on the Michelin or IGN maps, and on some of the direction road signs. On the sign at the edge of the village itself however, as well as in the Register of the Cadastre, it says Rimond. And there are more. Cortemblin (IGN, Cadastre) is also known on road signs as Cortemblein. Crêches-sur-Saône (IGN) is signposted as such in Mâcon, where one also finds signs to Crèches-sur-Saône. The Cadastre gives no solution; place names are written in capitals, and the French generally do not use accents on capital letters. Chazeux (road sign, Cadastre) is called Chaseux on the Michelin map. And these are only the discrepancies I stumbled upon accidentally. If I set my mind to it and write a thesis about it, I might get a degree in French Spelling! It also puts the popularity of the yearly French Dictée (dictation), broadcast on national TV, in a slightly different light….

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Wok, Woc or Woque?

During one of the meetings of the Amicale de Cormatin concerning the yearly Loto, a decision had to be made which prizes were going to be bought for the lottery. The chairman of the Amicale produced a catalogue of the hypermarché “Carrefour”, and announced which prizes he had in mind for this event. The secretary kept record of prizes and prices. Somewhere around the first prize of the sixth round something went wrong. Monsieur G. read out “wok, € 39”, and the company went quiet. A number of people looked at each other, and the secretary finally asked “How does one spell that word?”. The French may be renowned for their gastronomy, but when it comes to international cuisine in Burgundy, a Vietnamese or North African restaurant, or a kebab shop, is about the limit of how exotic foreign cooking is around here. For most of those present a wok was something completely unknown and how to write it, wok, wock, woc, woq or woque, was a mistery to them. Fortunately there was one person who knew what it was, and Madame B. was not unwilling share this information. Stir frying obviously did not rank high in her cooking skills, because she happily explained that she had an electric wok, once won in a local lottery, and that she only used the thing to ..... cook large quantities of sauerkraut. And although sauerkraut is an Alsatian specialty, served with big quantities of meat, such as streaky bacon, pork and sausages, it is around here also a very popular winter dish. I am convinced that my Chinese Singaporean friends would laugh their head of if they ever found out to what purpose a wok is used around here.

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Camping Championship Results 2010

Our company statistic cum bookkeepster cum housewife cum cook has been cooking the books again. As she did last year, she made a stunningly sharp analysis of all those people who made our campsite a success.
And in stead of copying it in, I challenge all interested to click on this link.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Know your classics!

Sue, my better half, cannot suppress a grin whenever I know the answer to one of the questions of the TV quiz Questions pour un Champion, based on what I remember from reading comic strips. A fact is, that, contrary to the UK, comic strips in the Netherlands, and even more so in France and Belgium, are looked at as lecture for grown-ups, and not so much as children’s books. When I was a child, my mother was not very happy when my sister and I were continuously trying to persuade her to buy a copy of Donald Duck, a brand new weekly in those days. She was convinced that reading comic strips would damage our brain. Having said that, traditional Dutch comic strips did not have balloons like American (and French and Belgian) comic strips. Dutch comics had two or three illustrations per episode, with a big field of prose underneath the pictures describing the events. Not dissimilar to Rupert Bear in England, one could say. With the popularisation of Asterix (French) and Tintin (Belgian) the comic strip with text balloons became quite common. But that even real children’s comic strips can have some educational value, may be deduced from the following. When my son was about 10 or 12, he sometimes made remarks of which I thought: ”Where the heck did he pick that up?”. The answer was most of the time “Oh, I read that in one of my comic strips”. In this case he was referring to a very popular Belgian comic strip “Suske and Wiske” by Willy van der Steen.
In the quiz mentioned above one of the questions was “Which painting of a shipwreck caused quite a bit of unrest under the visitors of the Salon of 1819?”. I immediately shouted the answer : “The raft of the Medusa”. That I was right, was confirmed by the quiz master: “Le radeau de la Méduse (The raft of the Medusa, 1818) is the name of a famous painting by Théodore Géricault, nowadays displayed at the Louvre in Paris”. When I had heard the questions, a newspaper article from 1967 sprang to mind, in which was explained that one of the scenes in “Asterix and the first legion” was based on the painting by Géricault. Also questions about famous comic strips, like Asterix and Tintin very often are part of the quiz. And not only the great classics are part of the questionnaire; also modern comics such as XIII and Largo Winch by Vance and van Hamme are regularly coming back as part of the questions. But what I like most is, that I can blurt out the answer at the time a cryptic remark, only meant for the TV audience, appears on the screen even before the question has been read out. One of those hints was something like “A classic nose”, at which point I shouted out immediately “Cleopatra”. Not that I know anything about this Egyptian queen, but in “Asterix and Cleopatra”, throughout the whole book, Asterix, Obelix and Panoramix are continuously referring to Cleopatra’s nose with remarks like : “Oh, what a beautiful nose!; Have you ever seen a nose like this?”. And my answer turned out to be correct! Which proves, that it pays off to know one’s classics….

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Quest for a book

Although Internet shopping is getting more and more popular, I still prefer to walk into a book shop, browse around a bit and buy something if I find what I want. In my view, book shops are superior over Amazon and the like. And of course book shops can only survive if they have regular clients like us. Cluny has a book shop which has served us well in the past, and since I needed 3 sequels in a series of books, I orderded them in Cluny. The books would arrive on Friday; if there were any problems, I would be phoned. I told them I would pick the books up on Saturday. That Saturday, under a beautiful blue sky, I got onto my bicycle, cycled the 8 miles to Cluny only to hear that the delivery was delayed. Not very happy I cycled back, to find a message on the answering machine that the books had arrived in the mean time. After lunch I got on my bike again, returned to Cluny, and heard in the bookshop, that volume 2 was not available. Would I mind to take volumes 1, 3 and 6 (!) in stead? Yes, I did mind, and returned with volumes 1 and 3. I had also made up my mind never to order anything from that shop again. The next stop was The book seemed to be available, although not through Amazon themselves, but through a third party. Not long after I had placed my order, emails started coming in from Amazon as well as from the third party. The book was in reprint, hence not available; no money would be taken out of my account, and that was the end of my order. The following option was Fnac, a French competitor of And they had a number of copies in store! After a session of literally hours (the Fnac site is top heavy, and works at snail speed through our narrow broadband connection), creating an account, ordering the book and paying via credit card, I found out that something under way had gone dramatically wrong. I had not created an account, not ordered the book, and (luckily) not paid. A few weeks later we had to go to Mâcon for something different, when we passed by a good bookshop called Univers du livre. Out of habit we walked in, and out of curiosity we looked for part 2 on the shelves. And lo and behold, part 2 was available, and on special offer, so our quest for this book ended happily after all!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Let nature take its course

On 7 August 2009 we finally managed to get hold of a very small cat, so small it hardly deserved that name, which up to that day had earned a living by scrounging at dinner tables in a village not so far from here.
We were looking for an outdoor cat to keep the mouse and mole population at bay, our friends in Vaux had more than enough wild cats roaming around their house, and that same evening we became the proud owners of a very young cat.
How old she was we did not know, but we guessed she must have been roughly 8 weeks old then. Even though Fifi has grown a lot since, she is still a very small cat given her age.
Recently she started to put on a lot of weight, which more or less coincided with the sighting of an orange-red cat on the premises. This cat seemed very at ease in the courtyard, not being bothered by Fifi, which made us think that this well could have been one of the 3 cats which were born here early May 2008.

Our first thought was that Fifi had been scoffing too many mice, but slowly we started to put Fifi (one) and the red cat (one) together, and the fact that Fifi had not been “done” yet made us think that she could well be pregnant. One evening something unusual happened. Fifi was not to be found in her usual hang outs, like in her own cave, or in the roof of the toilet block for the camp site, but she had draped herself on the doormat in front of our front door, and she certainly did not feel at ease. She even did not make one attempt to slip inside as soon as we opened the door to see how she was. At the end of the evening we decided to sit with her for a while, and finally managed to get her down to her own dwelling, and in her bed lined with her favourite blanket. Around midnight she was the proud but tired mother of two, and the next morning we found out that she had had a litter of four. In the mean time we are looking for a vet, because, however nice these young cats may turn out to be, five cats on the premises could well be more than enough!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 31 July 2010


More and more often the local newspaper goes on about D-day, the day that France will go digital. On D-day “someone” will turn a switch somewhere, and from that day on the broadcasting of analogue TV signals will stop and will be replaced by the broadcasting of digital TV signals only. If your TV is older than a couple of years, tough. Most expats here have a satellite dish, so they will not have a problem. However, we, old-fashioned as we are, have an aerial in the attic as old as Methusalem, and an analogue TV. In order not to be deprived of France 1, 2 and 3 in the future, we went to “Boulanger”, asked for information, and went home with a decoding box of € 30 under our arm. At home we installed the box, and yes, as we had feared, no more signal.
Through the grape vine we had heard, that there was a shop in Cluny specialised in digitalisation. The same grape vine had told us, that there were various possibilities : a) our aerial was too old, b) that it was pointed at the wrong transmitter, and c) that there was too much interference of hills or forests to receive a digital signal. We made an appointment in the shop, discussed the possibilities of old or new aerials or a satellite dish, and went home. The engineer of the shop turned up on the day of the appointment, and it turned out that the guy did not even have to see the aerial. He only switched on the TV to see which channels we received, and from that he could deduce that we were pointed at Mont Saint-Vincent. They presently transmit digital and analogue; however, the digital signal is not (yet) transmitted in our direction. His advice was : wait till around D-day; if the box does not work by that time, obviously there is too much interference or too few people this way to start broadcasting in our direction. In that case Sarkozy will most likely take care, that we will get a subsidy either to have a new higher aerial or a satellite dish. So with a bit of luck, the French state might pay (partially) for our satellite dish!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Practice makes perfect

After the last ceremony on the eight of May, where the Marseillaise played a prominent part, it was time for a new episode on the fourteenth of July. Everybody was gathered around the mairie, waiting for marching orders, when the flag carrier Monsieur N. whispered something in Monsieur P.’s ear. He in turn opened the boot of his car, got the new amplifier out and started prodding and poking at the back of the thing, following the whispered instructions of Monsieur N. After a short while we heard the beginning of the Marseillaise at an acceptable volume. In one word, Monsieur P. was ready for the challenge! Although ten minutes later than usual, we were ready to face the music in front of the monument, at quarter past eleven. The wreath was laid, and it was time for the obligatory speech dictated by Paris. However, this bit was skipped, and Monsieur P. asked for attention. He read out a letter he and some of his friends had written to FNAC. FNAC is a big French chain, which recently had written out a photo competitition. The winning photograph in the catagory “Politically incorrect” had been one of a young guy, trousers down on his ankles, wiping his behind with the French Tricolore. This sort of thing does not go down very well in Sarko’s France, and it certainly did not go down well with Monsier P. He ended his speech with the words “And I am curious to read their answer”, after which we indulged in a shortened version of the Marseillaise.
In the mean time the "Journal Officiel" has published a decree instigated by Michèle Alliot-Marie (Minister of justice), whereby an insult of the French flag is punishable with a fine of max. € 1500. Monsieur P. should be a bit more careful in the future; before you know it, fooling around with the Marseillaise could become a crime as well!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Say cheese, please

What could possibly be wrong with French cheese, to invoke me to write a Blog about Dutch cheese? There is certainly nothing wrong with French cheese, even better, I love it, but what they sell in the supermarkets as Dutch cheese here (Gouda, Edam, Leerdam) resembles putty, or at best plastic. Everybody has sometimes, all of a sudden, a craving for a good strong cheese, in case of the British a nice hard cheddar.
One day we were having lunch in Cluny, in our favourite hang-out, when the lady who ran the show came to us, told us about two Dutch women who had set up shop in Cluny’s Saturday market, and gave us a flyer.
The next Saturday, not 100 % convinced yet, we went looking for these two women. Opposite the ticket office for the abbey, on a little square, we found them.
Suus en Paula van der Linden are living in France for some time now, sell on various markets around here, sell cheese from their place as well, and from the look of it, they are doing quite well. Their cheeses are selling like hot buns, and even the Brits are impressed with the variety of cheeses they are selling. And the sell not only cow’s cheese, no, they also sell sheep’s and goat’s cheeses.
Not just to support Suus and Paula, but also to help our French, Dutch and Anglophone friends, we have picked up a handful of flyers from Suus and Paula, and we are distributing those among them. We have also put flyers in the information folders we use for the gîtes and the campsite. That this sort of publicity works, may be deduced from the piece of cheese we got off them the other day when we went to buy some cheese. And really, believe me or not, that is not why we are doing it!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Back to the future

Since I started this blog I have already written so many articles about the various ceremonies around here, that I have created a separate label for those pieces. Those interested in the continuing story of Monsieur P. and our mayor, and the struggle with modern technology of those two, can click on the label “Ceremony” in the right hand menu.
The call to arms of General de Gaulle in which he ordered the French to take up arms against the Germans in stead of collaborating with Pétain and his gang 70 years ago was celebrated big time this year in France. We were rather curious how the ceremony at Bois Dernier would go this year. Would Monsieur P. be able to handle the brand new amplifier, or would he again require the assistance of the flag carrier Monsieur N.?
Around six thirty in the evening an extremely small group had gathered near the Mairie. It was really only a handful of people, which surprised us in view of the 70 years celebration of the event. Even the thriving force behind it, Monsieur P. was not there. Anyway, what had to be done had to be done, Monsieur P. or no Monsieur P. We were spread over fewer cars than normal, and the co-voiturage equippe drove off to Bois Dernier. To our relief we saw that Monsieur P. was already there, his car parked near the monument. After the wreath laying was done and after the mayor had read the speech from “Paris”, Monsieur P. asked one of the youngest pompiers, a girl in her early teens, to read out De Gaulle’s words. After this had been accomplished, it was time for the musical closure of the ceremony.

We were completely baffled when Monsieur P. walked to his car, opened the boot, and revealed to us his pre-historic cassette player. As if it had never been away, it churned out a shrieking, howling and crackling rendition of General de Gaulle’s speech (very authentic!), a ditto version of the Chant des Partisans and the best version of the Marseillaise ever played (apart from the one in Casablanca of course).
May we draw the conclusion that Monsieur P. has given up when it comes to modern technology? Time will tell....

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Country bumpkins and concert etiquette

It is summer, and hence festivals around here are all in full swing. Cormatin boasts each year two important festivals, the guitar festival (Guitares en Cormatinois - June/July) and the theatre festival (Les Rendez-Vous de Cormatin - July/August). The guitar festival is quite popular, also with tourists. Most likely music is much more accessible for foreigners than plays in French. Almost every year the opening of the guitar festival takes place in the romanesque church of Malay with a concert by the nationally well known French guitar player Emmanuel Rossfelder. This year he did not open with a solo concert; this time he accompanied the mezzo-soprano Yana Boukoff (of Yugoslavian origin) with a program called Viva España.
The program consisted of mainly Spanish music (not illogical, given the title), although the program also showed pieces like Bach’s “Jesus joy of man’s desire”, two pieces by Heitor Villa Lobos (Brasilian) and the well known aria from Bizet’s (French) Carmen “L’amour est une oiseau rebelle” (Habanera). As an encore they played Bach/Gounod’s “Ave Maria”, a German/French cooperation. But who cares, as long as the music is good! The program was nicely balanced between instrumental and accompanied vocal pieces. For me, as the father of a classical guitar player, it was really nice to hear again many pieces my son once had on his repertoire. There were “Andaluza” written by Granados, the famous tremolo piece “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and the “Jota” by Tárrega, all played with gusto and technically perfect. And also the “Canciones antiguas” by Garcia Lorca were not unknown to me.
What I find very amusing during these sort of concerts in this environment is the (lack of knowledge of) concert etiquette. I have learned it, as many people, the hard way, e.g. by applauding at the wrong instant. And that certainly took me a number of concerts. I must say, that it all sounds easy for the average visitor of concerts, but what about those who rarely see the inside of a concert hall? Applauding during the performance? Very normal during jazz concerts; almost impolite not to clap after a solo. Applauding during an opera, after a beautifully performed aria? Perfectly ok, even shouting Bravo is allowed. Clapping after a good solo dance in a ballet? Nothing wrong with that either. But during a classical recital, after each part of “Seven popular songs” by de Falla? Ai, ai, ai, almost a deadly sin. It is also not uncommon, not to applaud in between pieces when the pieces are written by the same composer. But there are also exceptions to this rule....
I have to confess, that sometimes I lost count, causing me to applaud with the majority of the audience as well. Having said this, for those who lost count or do not remember whether a piece consists of three or four parts, it should be clear from the body language of the artists whether a piece is finished or not. Rossfelder for example raises his guitar demonstratively when he finishes his piece. But again, in this audience of farmers, ex-farmers or villagers the lack of etiquette seems to be no problem for the performers. Rossfelder as well as Boukoff were very grateful for every “illegal” applause. Most likely they thought to be better of with a public that did not exactly know how to “behave”, but was at least appreciating the music they played to the full extent!

For our own website click here.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A blogging community

What is more flattering for a blogger than to discover that people are actually reading his articles, and even enjoy them?
Not much, really.
I have had some unexpected positive reactions from an American couple living part time in a nearby village, but who else but family and friends is reading those little stories one churns out every so often?
Well, more than one thinks; living proof can be found on the following links.

Keith Eckstein reviews blogs about France on a regular basis, and I was happy, not to say a bit proud that he chose my blog recently to be reviewed, and published a nice rundown of it. Read for yourself what he has to say about it!

Before my blog was chosen, my better half’s blog has been reviewed by Keith as well.

Chris and Linda are (in my eyes) real bloggers.
At least Linda Hubbard blogs every day, which makes her stories in general short and very readable.

Chris Gulker writes less frequent, and consequently his articles are slightly longer, however not less readable.

My own blogs are normally published once every fortnight, unless I have got extra material to be published on my Saturday off. Since I have just made a new exception to my own rules, I can finally make an attempt to be a bit less long winded!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Repeated offenders

My better half has already published a Blog dedicated to guests who not only are regularly coming back to La Tuilerie, but who also (on a voluntary basis!) help out in making the vegetable plot ready for the summer and by splitting big logs which are to big to fit in the wood burner.
Fortunately they are not the only ones who seem to like it so much here. We have a number of guests, campers as well as gîte lodgers, whom we can welcome on a regular basis over a number of years. And what is better than discussing the state of affairs in Cormatin as well as in their home country over a nice glass of whine in a sunny patch in our garden?
People come here for a number of reasons. Part of our clientèle are very much attracted by the vicinity of Taizé, where they can follow the services whenever they wish, but where they are not submerged in the hubbub of 6000 youngsters; others come here with bicycles, skeelers or good walking shoes in order to do reconnaissance of the many possibilities the Voie Verte has to offer; some people come to indulge in the over abundance of romanesque (norman) architecture; and of course there are those who like to chill out for a week after having been in the rat race for a year.
Recently we had a couple here for the third year, who came here the first time after in depth investigations. Their son in law, an acquaintance of ours, popped in one day in 2008 on his way to a different holiday destination in the South of France, seemingly for a cup of coffee. however, he was told by his in laws to take pictures, inspect the place thoroughly and find an answer to the question of questions “Is everything clean there?”.
Obvioulsly his reconnaissance satisfied his in laws, because that same autumn Hermann and Carla became our guests. We got on very well, and when they left they booked straight away for 2009. That year they ordered a meal, a service we render, if convenient for both parties, on their arrival day. Our guests share our table, and we as well as they find it a pleasant way to getting to know each other a bit better. Sue always tries to come up with something local, and her boeuf Bourgignon can compete with the same dish pepared at La Terrasse in Cormatin (which we find the best within a radius of 50 miles). And although Hermann and Carla could not give us a definite date for 2010, it was quite obvious that they would come back again.
And lo and behold, by the end of 2009 they made another reservation for two weeks, under the “condition” that we would feed them again a boeuf Bourgignon. But that was not all. A couple of days before they arrived, another e-mail came in with the question whether we would appreciate it if Carla brought an Indonesian meal over for the second evening.
There are few things in this part of the world that I miss every so often, and one of them is a genuine Indonsian meal, in the Netherlands, and certainly around the Hague, readily available everywhere. So the second night the tables were turned, as a matter of speech, and we sat at their table and enjoyed a wonderful meal with nassi putih (white rice), sajur lodeh (vegetables in coconut milk), babi ketjap (pork in sweet soy sauce), rendang (spicy beef) and ajam semoor (well simmered chicken).
And that is, irrespective of the quality of French cooking, one of the few things I miss every so often; a simple, good Indonesian meal.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Questions pour un champion

How to improve your French listening skills, if you hardly ever have contact with Frenchmen? One way is listening to radio or TV. However, whilst living in the Netherlands I was never a keen TV watcher, and the French channels we can get, France 1, 2 and 3, are not much better than the Dutch ones. The only watchable programs were the weather forecast and the news.
Clear pronunciation and diction, known subjects, at least that did not have disaster written all over it. Some time later we discovered game programs and quizzes. After watching some rather stupid programs for a couple of weeks, we stumbled upon Questions pour un Champion. The program has just celebrated its 20th birthday, has all these 20 years been presented by the same charismatic presenter, Julien Lepers, and is immensely popular. I will not bore the reader with a description of the rules of the game, but the candidates, each having a tremendous general knowledge, must answer question on many subjects, such as art, science, gastronomy, geography, history, etc. The presenter asks the questions in a tempo that makes a machinegun sound like an old lady, because there is also a time limit in answering. We normally switch on the subtitles for the deaf, because without that it really goes far too fast most of the time. Not only is it good for our French, but we started to like the program as well. Nowadays we both are sitting in front of the TV, shouting out the answer on the rare occasion that the candidate has not got the answer before us. By now we are so addicted, that we switch on the answering machine between 17h50 and 18h30, because we do not want to be disturbed during that time!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A tragedy

When we came here, in 2005, there was a huge building bordering the Voie Verte, on which was written in mega letter size “MUSEE DU VELO”. It would be quite difficult to come up with a better location for a museum dedicated to the bicycle. The owner, a man from Tournus, rented the building and had on display a collection of over 200 old and new(er) bicycles, bicycle tax shields from the Netherlands and Belgium, posters for the Tour de France, trophies, jerseys in various colours, in short anything remotely connected to bicycles and bicycle racing. We have been there a number of times, and not just for the collection (after the 3rd visit one knows what there is on display). It was also a place where one could, after a long cycle ride on a hot day, sit down and have a drink or an ice cream. Unfortunately, in 2007 the museum closed down. According to those in the know it closed because of the declining number of visitors, and because the commune of Cormatin did not provide sufficient support (read subsidies). The next year the building reopened, this time carrying the name of Musée du Poilu. Poilu (=hairy) was the name for the French soldiers fighting during the Great War. The museum displays artefacts and utensils made by the soldiers in the trenches in between charges. As materials they used everything that was abundant in the trenches: shrapnel, cartouches, even aluminium from the ignition mechanism of grenades, brass, cartridge cases, shells. The collection is interesting enough, but, although the Great War has asked its toll in this part of France just as in any other part, the real fighting took place much further North from here, this location seems to me (literally) a bit out of place. Having said that, the museum is still open, and features in the summertime theatre plays about the home front during the Great War. There certainly seems to be a market for this museum.
In our local variety of the Cormatin Times we saw recently articles emerging about a resurfacing of the Musée du Vélo (in the words of their PR manager “Unique en France”), not in Cormatin however, but in Tournus. And indeed, the museum will reopen on June 19, and the Commune of Tournus has offered the space for this museum, for a trial period of 3 months. The tragedy of it all is, that the owner of the collection, Michel Grézaud, did not live to see the day. He died beginning of this month, just before his dream would have come true again.....

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Living history

The nerve centre of all information in a small village like Cormatin is undoubtedly the local Tabac. Everybody visits this shop either daily or weekly, to buy the local paper, cigarettes, a magazine or a greeting card. During one of my visits I noticed an announcement, saying that the following evening a lecture would be held with as subject Cormatin and the resistance during WW II and the influence of general de Gaulle in Burgundy.
The connection between those two subjects was not immediately clear, but that would undoubtedly be revealed during the lecture. And although we were expecting guests for our gîte that day, we had decided that on early arrival of those guests (which they did) we could attend the evening. So on the night concerned we drove up to Salle Beun, the village house, where everyone in our village who could read was gathered.
The object of this particular Blog is not to give a run down on the lecture itself. But one has to admit, that Gilles Plattret, historian, writer, journalist, politician and lecturer (he appears to be quite popular as “conférancier” - meaning stand-up comedian in Dutch! - in Saône-et-Loire) delivered an excellent story about how the war started, what the influence was of the line of demarcation (which ran not far from Cormatin) between “free” Vichy France and its occupied northern counterpart, when and how the resistance movement started and what the influence was of de Gaulle in ’40-’45 in communities like Cormatin. The lecture was illustrated with a projection of images of this period. No need to say, that those who were born and brought up in Cormatin regularly threw in remarks and comments about the contents of those pictures.
What I found most interesting during the presentation was the personalized way Plattret interacted with his audience. Of course our Monsieur P. was prominently there. Plattret told several anecdotes, in which Monsieur P.’s father (deported and victim of the camps), and Monsieur P. himself (deported and survivor of Buchenwald) played an important role. But not only Monsieur P.’s name was mentioned. Several (even for us) well known names were mentioned, of whom in many cases the descendants were amongst the audience.
This evening proved to me that a presentation about history, no matter how well documented and presented, certainly gains accessibility for a bigger public when the presenter somehow has personal ties with the subject and with the audience itself.
I was well impressed. and I will keep an eye out for the name of Gilles Plattret as of now.

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Village gossip

It may be clear from this Blog that village life in Cormatin is not dissimilar to the stereotypical life in the fictitious village of Clochemerle.
A previous posting got an unexpected follow-up.

Understanding of modern technology by older citizens and progress of this technology do not always go hand in hand. The new amplifier cum CD-player, recently obtained by the commune (and not, as I wrongly stated earlier, by our war veteran and deportee Monsieur P.) was supposed to make the most recent ceremony (the wreath laying at the Monument for those who gave their lives for France during the wars) last Liberation Day a feast for the ears. After the various speeches the Marseillaise was supposed to be played through the amplifier at an acceptable, but clearly audible volume. However, Monsieur P. had forgotten how the thing worked. After what seems to be an eternity, during which Monsieur P. pressed buttons, turned knobs, at the end assisted by the flag bearer, who had to lower the flag for this purpose, all of a sudden the Marseillaise blurted out over Cormatin at House Party volume. It was loud enough to wake the fallen from their graves. But the official part was not over yet. Once every heart had recovered from the sudden shock, the whole group moved off to the monument for the deportees, just outside the village. Those who thought that Monsieur P. had left the amplifier running, just to be sure, were wrong. This time he could not get the thing working at all. The crowd started to get a bit restless, but Monsieur P. had a solution: if the blooming thing would not work, we could beat it, by SINGING the Marseillaise! There are French politicians, who are adamant that foreigners and French should be able to sing and know the words of the Marseillaise. If these politicians had had their way, the performance would have been great. However, obviously they had not had their way, and the majority of those present hummed away, or (amongst others the mayor) kept their mouth shut.
Anyway, after this rather embarrassing intermezzo the mayor announced the venue of the vin d’honneur, and he also explained that a number of ex-combatants and/or resistance fighters would be presented with “Un diplôme d’honneur pour les vétérans de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale”. This had to be handled before the wine started to flow, and one of the “lucky” ones was Monsieur P. After this last eruption of the ceremonial part of the day, Monsieur P. said that he would like to say a few words. But instead of thanking Mayor and Government for this generous diploma, he complained about the fact that “Paris”, so many years after the events, could not come up with something better and more apppropriate than a shoddy piece of paper in flyer format. Every other word he used was “ridicule”. And I think, that most people present, including the Mayor, deep down in their heart agreed with what monsieur P. had to say that day.

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 8 May 2010

How to read a traffic sign?

Until recently there was an agricultural path between Chazelle and La Bergerie, the other hamlet that resorts under the jurisdiction of Cormatin. It was, apart from the last 100 m, a macadam road. Since the road has been used as a deviation during roadworks in Chazelle, the status has changed to road “Communale”, and the last bit of sand has made place for asphalt. After the road had been opened to the public (before that it was a “secret” road only known by insiders) a new traffic sign appeared on the side of La Bergerie. At the Chazelle side the old sign (voie agricole) is still there. The new sign consists of a no-entry sign, and underneath it it says : “Except for school busses from 8h15 to 8h30 and from 17h00 to 17h15”. That seemed a bit strange to me: it suggests that the road is closed throughout the day, and only school busses are allowed there twice a day for a period of 15 minutes. In the other direction the road is open all day. It would effectively turn the road into a one way street. Since we had to go to the mairie for something different, we asked the question about the new road sign. No, we had completely misunderstood it, was the answer.
It clearly said - according to the deputy mayor: the road is only closed for all cars driving from La Bergerie to Chazelle during 15 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon, at the time the school bus uses the road from Chazelle to La Bergerie. This would prevent the school bus from having to dive into the roadside when cars are approaching from the other direction. Obviously the guy who wrote the sign wanted to make it extra clear, but doing it this way he actually obscured the issue. He should have said “Only between 8h15 and 8h30 and between 17h00 and 17h15”, without mentioning school busses. Anyway, we are now in the know, and we are happily using this handy short-cut, but only outside the mentioned hours!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Fancy a quick bite?

The people who live in Burgundy enjoy an extensive lunch. In the evening they eat a light meal, often composed of the leftovers of the lunch. In that sense we have not really integrated; we have a proper dinner, and prefer something light for lunch. It would be nice to be able to walk into a fish and chips shop when one is not at home during lunch time; however, these do not exist in this part of the world… Although, by now we have found some alternatives.
The most logical one seems to be a “Sandwicherie”. Although French sandwiches do not resemble British ones; a French sandwich is usually a French loaf with savoury filling. Normally baker shops (Boulangerie and/or Pâtisserie) offer these French sandwiches, but in the tourist season they might sell slices of pizzas and small quiches as well. But be aware, bakers open extremely early in the morning, and usually close around 12h00 for a couple of hours. Along the Voie Verte near Chazelle there was a Sandwicherie, but unfortunately this will not re-open this year.
For those who want something not too heavy and warm for lunch, the kebab shop might be worth considering. Again, kebabs here are quite different from the English equivalent. They sell all sorts of kebabs in different guises. There is an “assiette kebab”, a “sandwich kebab” and a “galette kebab”; the assiette is a plate with meat, French fries, green salad and sauce blanche and/or harissa (spicy). The sandwich is identical but does not come with French fries; everything is propped into half a loaf of Turkish bread. The galette is again the same as the sandwich, but in stead of bread they use a thin wrap. There is a good kebab shop in Cluny, called Bosphorus”, and every bigger place or even village might host one or more kebab shops.
There is also something called “casse-croûte”, which literally means “packed lunch”. It is often displayed on signs (L’Orée-du-Bois, along the Voie Verte), and sometimes it even is the name of the establishment. The menu is simple; there is normally a choice of sandwiches, salads, and French fries with a choice of meat. Our favourite in Cluny is steak-haché frites, a hamburger like piece of (quality) minced meat with French fries. The whole concoction is also available as sandwich steak-haché frites, where everything is propped in between the two halves of a baguette. Still another variation is something called steak-haché au cheval, where the “au cheval” does not stand for the type of meat; the hamburger is topped by a fried egg, which sits on top of the hamburger as if riding a horse (hence “au cheval”). It is safe to eat, even for Brits!
Of course there also pizzerias and normal restaurants. It is often worth to look out for the plat du jour. Usually restaurants offer a menu du jour (starter, main course and dessert - price range approx. € 13) and a plat du jour (price range under € 10), which is the main course only. Our Monique, the owner of La Terrasse in Cormatin often has Boeuf Bourgignon as plat du jour. In my opinion, and I tried a few in the region, she makes the best within a radius of 30 miles. Another of our favourites at La Terrasse is the salade Bressane, a green salad with maïs and chicken livers. However, most salads there are good quality and big enough for a normal meal.
But the real die-hards, craving for fast food, will have a hard time in this part of France. The nearest McDonald’s is either in Mâcon or in Chalon, hence approx. 35 km from here. Saône-et-Loire, our Département, boasts 6 McDonald’s outlets. Do you think that this is much? Saône-et-Loire covers an area of 8500 square kilometers and a population of 550000. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands has a (land) area of 220 square kilometres and 750000 inhabitants. For those who love statistics:
Saône-et-Loire has 1 McDomald’s outlet per 90000 inhabitants; Amsterdam has 1 per 47000, hence a density twice as high.
Saône-et-Loire has 1 outlet per 1400 square kilometers, Amsterdam 1 per 14 square kilometer, hence a density 100 x as high.
As far as I am concerned, I will stick to the local food; I was never keen on beef burgers anyway!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle