Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Bresse savoyarde

The Bresse is an area which traditionally has been split up per region in three different parts; The Bresse bourgignonne (Bourgogne), the Bresse jurassienne (Jura) and the Bresse savoyarde (Ain, which historically was part of Savoy). The flat countryside as well as the typical Bressane architecture characterize the Bresse bourgignonne the Bresse savoyarde.

Typical Bressane farm house with chimney (Courtes)
The Bresse savoyarde, just across the Saône east of Mâcon is well known for its cheminées sarrasines. These are oddly shaped chimneys, adorning the typical old fashioned Bressane farmhouses. Often these chimneys carry a cross on top, sometimes the shape resembles a bell tower, minaret or mausoleum.

Typical Bressane farm house with chimney (St-Cyr-sur-Menthon)
The name however has got nothing to do with the Saracens (an Arab people; the word is often used to describe the Turkish invaders); sarrasin was used in French to indicate something strange or weird. The Bresse houses some open-air museums, like the ones in Courtes and Saint-Cyr-sur-Menthon, where a brochure is available containing a map showing where these chimneys can be found.

The cattle market in St-Denis-lès-Bourg (Sue Nixon)
Bourg-en-Bresse (an hour's drive from here), the capital of the department Ain (01) and the centre of the Bresse boasts the biggest cattle market in France. Because as a child I really liked to roam around the cattle market in my home town I decided for old time's sake to have a go at this (morning) market. The market is located in the outskirts of Bourg, in Saint-Denis-lès-Bourg, and it really lives up to its reputation. The cows, calves and bulls are neatly organized within pens for each sort (hefters, milk cows, cows and bulls for reproduction, etc.).

Monastère Royal de Brou - Bourg-en-Bresse
The sales are bargained upon and settled by handshake between the farmers. The smell, the mooing, the noise of the farmers, it all brought back sweet memories of the weekly cattle market in Delft (the Netherlands). And, strangely enough, the aisles between pens may not have been spotless, they were certainly clean, something I would not expect on a cattle market.
However, one should not leave Bourg without having paid a visit to the Royal Monastery of Brou. The early 16th century monastery was built by Margaret of Austria, in those days governess of the Spanish Netherlands.

Monastère Royal de Brou - Bourg-en-Bresse
The church is a jewel of flamboyant gothic architecture from the hand of the Flemish master builder Loys van Boghem, whilst the mausoleums of Margaret of Bourbon, Margaret of Austria en Philibert II the Handsome of Savoy were designed by another Fleming Jean van Roome. The monastery boasts, apart from the stunning architecture and sculptures, a museum, and has 3 cloisters, which come across as a bit boring compared to the church.

Monastère Royal de Brou - Bourg-en-Bresse
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Saturday, 6 May 2017

Unwanted or unexpected guests

Every so often we find some strange things in the garden or around the house.

Lost and found
Sometimes these are droppings or pellets we cannot determine, or it is a splat of bird poo which is often difficult to scrub off, or we find a piece of snake skin which some snake abandoned somewhere.
Often one finds out only after some time what sort of animal was the culprit, but not always. And since we have no cameras around the house it is more by good luck than good management that one finds out what animal was the guilty one.

One morning we saw, whilst doing the washing up, a grown up fox wondering around the garden. And before it spotted us and could make a run for it, we managed to take some pictures of the fox.

A cow between the fruit trees
At another occasion we found some cow pats in the garden. It was quite obvious who was or were guilty, however, how one or more cows ended up in the garden stayed a mystery. During a second invasion we found out that there had been, for a while, a broken piece of fencing between meadow and garden, nicely hidden by bramble bushes. The cows just barged in and ended up in our garden.

When the château in Cormatin had two storks nesting on one of the chimneys (that was before the chatelain chased them away after having put up with them for several years) they often made a pit stop at the pond in our meadow.

Wild boar (stuffed, at the market in Louhans)
Although wild boar lives in the woods around us, we hardly ever see them. Sometimes, late in the evening, we have seen a sow with young piglets wandering along the soft shoulder of the paths through the woods, but a) one does not always have a camera at hand, b) it is often too dark to take a picture and c) I am enough of a scaredy-cat (in itself a protected species) not wanting to disturb a possibly aggressive sow.

Roe deer at the gate
Roe deer are also not uncommon, but they are wise enough to stay put during the hunting season. The only roe we managed to "shoot" we saw eating leaves on the path at our gate on a cold winter morning (within the hunting season, by the way).

Dead badger
There must be quite some badgers around here. Proof are the dead badgers we have seen laying along the roadside, obviously hit by cars during the night whilst crossing the road.

Green whip snake
And the snakeskins? We find them in the weirdest places. This area knows some quite big (about 5 feet long) snakes, non-poisonous, who feed on mice and other small vermin. The species is called the green whip snake. We have never found enough skin to turn it into a purse or handbag, though.

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