Saturday, 18 December 2010

Funny old world, funny new year

As we move into 2011 (Happy New Year by the way) I pause and take stock of my life here. A couple of odd little things have happened over the last week or so and I'll share them with you now for no particular reason other than they made me think. When I started my little blog it was primarily to share my adventures, in words and pictures, with friends and family. It's great to see a following and I'd like to say a big THANK YOU for caring enough to read, follow and comment. Yet my little blog has also caused a bit of a stir and I was brought to account twice recently. I'd been spotted whilst taking photos for the remembrance day service by a local dignatory who enquired after my motives to my neighbour. My blog was explained and the said official then used a translation tool to uncover my comments and thoughts. I give a frank and, humourous (well it makes me laugh) account of things here and I spent several days fretting over what would be made of my scribblings. I was eventually summoned to put my case forward (having told Mark to bag our bags as we'd probably be drummed out of the village) and explain some of the terminology that google,translate hadn't been able to offer an intelligible interpretation of. I came away from the meeting unsure of my future - did they prosecute in France for libel? Much to my amazement (and huge relief) I was contacted a few days later with a request to become a contributer to next years village magazine!
My next surprise was to come across a blog dedicated to reviewing other peoples blogs (I wonder whether there is a blog that reviews blogs of people that review blogs - could be an opportunity here). There, for all to see, was a review of mine. Whilst the final message the audience was left with was that mine was a nice little blog, the word 'dissapoinment' in the first para left me feeling a bit empty. The reviewer was anticipating great recipes for snail and rabbits (the latter was mentioned a few too many times in my humble opinion) and, failing to receive these, felt let down. Always one to please, I was going to include a recipe here but decided to wait until my cook book comes out.

As things happen in threes, another odd thing happened to us recently. we'd been having a spot of bother with the front door lock. Although most people round here don't lock their front doors, for some reason we have a bolting device on our door that would rival Fort Knox, until it refused to lock that is. So, having looked up the word for locksmith 'serrurier' I duly made an appointmen and the gentleman came round to size up the problem. Having removed the five bolt locking mechanism, he explained that he would need to order a new one and this could take three or four days. Not a problem said I. It was some time later that I noticed he'd taken away the old locking system with him leaving the door not only unlockable but also unshutable. Our solution was to fill two suitcases with heavy clothing and baricade ourselves in each night. Bizarre.

Anyway, here's looking forward to another year filled with lifes little mysteries, rich wonders, joy and laughter.

New list of events now available at

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A time for reflection

Today is Remembrance Sunday and across the world, people are gathering in cities, towns and, in my case, small villages, to remember those who died during wars. There are two monuments in Montmelard and, as a consequence, there were two services of remembrance today. The anticipated rain held off and the first gathering took place as the bell from the village church struck 11. A few kilometres outside the village is the memorial at Combrenot. Here on the 11th September 1943, the first exchange took place between the resistance fighters and the germans. Four yound villagers lost their lives and there were further reprisals when the germans burned a number of homes and deported Jean and Jeanne Labrosse to concentration camps from which they never returned. I was able to speak to their daughter in law, an elderly lady now, who keeps their memory alive by posting the story of what happened to them on the monument every armistice. Her father in law was almost 70 years old, a frail man, who had moved to the farmhouse, just a few hundred yards from this monument, some 10 days before the nazi soldiers arrived. After killing all the farm animals (even the cats and dogs) Jean was sent off to Mauthausen in Austria whilst his wife ended her days in Ravensbruck, Germany. Both were dead within the year.

But as we stood by the roadside, listening first to a local band and then to the mayor before accompanying an elderly 'combatant' to lay a wreath, there was an air of quiet and peace about the gathering, a feeling of camaraderie and closeness.

Once the fallen from the second world war had been honoured, we returned to the Place des morts in the village centre. A repeat performance was given before a slightly larger crowd before, in time honoured tradition, we moved into the village hall for wine and chocolate biscuits. A lady moved among us collecting for the French equivalent of the British Poppy appeal, here known as Le bleuet - cornflower. Instead of a flower, we were given a small sticker to display with a picture of a cornflower on it and the words: La memire se transmet, l'espoir se donne - Memory is handed down and hope is given.
I don't have any great words of wisdom to offer on all this, I just know that as I walked back down the lane to my home, it was hard to imagine mans inhumanity to man, great suffering and great heartache. I feel for the lady who lost her in laws and for anyone who has lost someone they love. I am just grateful that, whilst conflict rages in many parts of the world, here we are safe and protected. I am also glad that so many children and joung people were present today, I hope this acts as a reminder to us that we have a lot to be grateful for.


Monday, 8 November 2010

In remembrance of times gone by

Whilst life here comes as close to perfect as it gets, there are those odd moments when things get a little shaky and this week I was confronted with a bit of a dilema. One of the French institutions that I find unfathomable but intriguing all the same, is the village dispute. Passions run deep over here and fence sitting is not one of the french strong points. Our village has a population of around 300 and we are deeply divided along the lines of 'For the mayor' or 'Against the mayor'. To some our mayor is a jumped up oportunist with ideas above his station. He is more interested in a quick deal and personal glorification than the welfare of the village. To others he is seen as progressive, outward looking, seeking to place Montmelard on a wider platform than the village boundary lines. To me, he gave permission for us to put up some signs highlighting where we are, gave his blessing to the barn conversion and seemed genuinely happy to conduct our wedding service as and when we get around to naming the date. So, my dilema- Last weekend a flyer arrived in the post box announcing an afternoon of cine film up in the village hall depicting village life from 1973-1980. I enjoy history, particularly local history, so this seemed a great opportunity to take a look at the village pre my arrival. I called my neighbour, full of enthusiasm, to see whether she wanted to come with me. 'Non!!' It appeared that the film had been put together by a group that were 'against the mayor' and as such we should boycot. My neighbour has been a good friend and so I decided that, on this occasion, I would stay home. Two days later I was visiting Cote Pain, an exceptional baker just at the top of our road, who specialise in rustic 'artisanal' breads. Their chocolate and nut bread really is to die for and it is one of our little treats we indulge ourselves with. The lady who runs Cote Pain had said she was happy to display some of our leaflets so I had taken a batch up to her and these had been lovingly displayed on a small table next to the 5 grain loaves. As I was leaving, a sheet of paper was pressed into my hand. I recognised it as the advert for the film show. 'Please will you come and support us at this show, it would mean a lot?' I mumbled that I would love to and left, blushing. So, support the show to support my breadmaking friends (who were supporting my business) but be labeled as 'against the mayor' or stay at home, please my neighbour and be labeled as a mayor follower. How did this happen? In the end, interest in the film won the day and, dragging Mark with me, we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours watching footage from 35 years ago. We spotted people we now know, all well into middle age, as youngsters and tried to recognise places that have since been renovated. At the interval there was home made cake (we took 5 pieces to save the young lady serving having to find some change) and a raffle. By the time I got home there was an email waiting for me from my neighbour. her mother in law had spotted me in the audience. I owned up and emphasised that I was there purely in a research capacity and in no way did it reflect my politics. I think I've been let off.

So, onto one other great french institution - Jean Michel Jarre. Mark and I have quite different music tastes and when we first moved in together were astounded when we could only find one album we had in common (The Pussycat Dolls!)Yet we both like JMJ, although I confess I probably haven't listened to any of his music since the 80s. In need of a night out we headed down to Lyon to watch this legend in concert. What a showman, what a show. The celebrated laser show was jaw droppingly impressive and JMJ, although he must be into his 50s, moved with the energy and suppleness of someone half his age. Excellent. We've now been humming Oygene IV and Equinox for a week so probably need to get out again soon!

By the way, the postcards of Montmelard are from the turn of the last century, we're a little behind the times here but had moved on from horse and carts by 1976!!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Seasons of mist...

John Keats, 'To Autumn'

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the ground, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

I was wandering back along the lane from my neighbours house this evening trying to summon up the words that would do justice to the world around me. Suddenly I was struck by the realisation that I had stumbled into John Keats’s poem ‘To Autumn’. Now it’s been a good 35 years since I studied this poem at school, and as I tried to draw long forgotten stanzas from the depths of ‘o’ level memories, fleeting words reappeared whilst whole lines played just outside by consciousness. I remembered the embarrassment at having to read the word ‘bosom’ out loud and a faint nausea at the thought of the ground swelling. I also know that the poet was describing early September and not the first of November but somehow so much of this verse describes this valley this evening so perfectly. I am used to seeing the dips in the landscape filled with mist (or more accurately for this time of year - fog) in the early morning. But as the sun was setting it reflected on pockets of low lying cloud in the lower valleys beyond our own. The vines around our living room window are heavy with fruit that I really should have harvested several weeks back. Now they have swollen to the point of bursting and, departing from a poetic vision for just a moment, I will have to get the Windolene out soon to wipe off the smears of exploded grape from the French windows. We have ‘moss’d cottage trees’ a plenty here and as I drive 100 metres in any direction I am bound to leave a trail of apple juice as my tyres mulch the wind falls – not long until the smell of cider permeates the morning air. Unfortunately the quinces have been filled with ripeness to beyond their core (again, an oversight on my part had left them a tad too long before collection) and are now brightening the lawn in the orchard with their yellow, decaying bulk. The raspberries have decided to have one last bash at fruiting before winter arrives and provided me with little snacks as I transplanted black currants and gooseberries in the potager. This is the land of plenty!

Just re-reading the poem and picking up on some pertinent words – ‘swell’, ‘plump’ and yes, ‘bosom’, makes me think of a picture that I was given by one of the artists here two weeks ago. Christine Angell painted ‘The lady of the cake’ – a play on Tennysons ‘The lady of the lake’. I love this painting, this is a woman who, to my mind, has had too much of everything good in life. She positively bursts with energy and exudes joie de vivre. She has certainly been blessed, and, I feel I have too.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


I drove home from the supermarket the other day pondering what I wanted to blog about this week. The trees were turning gold and fiery- that would provide some great photos, the mushrooms were pushing through the damp grass – a recipe for risotto perhaps? It was then that I was suddenly struck by a huge sense of déjà vu; I’ve been writing my blog a year and am in danger of repeating myself!

This week we’re hosting ‘Art from Imagination’ with Nicola Slattery here at Les Cerisiers but one of the guests, the hugely talented and generous mixed media artist Milliande Demetriou has been here a few days already. We’ve been chatting about our desires to live authentic lives – lives that reflect who we are and what we want to get out of our time here. Having been discouraged from pursuing an artistic career at an early age, she trained in the sciences. It has taken a while (but she got there in the end) to reconnect with her creative self and live the life she chooses for herself. Milliande has got me thinking of how authentic a life I am now living.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I stood in the barn alongside a group of wonderful North American women belting out the lyrics from Edith Piaf’s ‘Je ne regretted rien’. What a powerful song. As I understand it, the message is that everything that has gone before, the good, the bad, the painful and the joyous, all combine to create where and who, we are now. There have certainly been a few painful moments along the path to setting up the really big dream company – most of these connected with France Telecom and plumbing (the house’s, not mine!!) but some connected to self doubt, fear of failure, being overwhelmed by the amount to do and fatigue. There have been a number of times when I have had to take myself outside into the orchard and give myself a stern talking to –
‘OK, if you think it’s too much effort just pack your bag, put the house on the market, go back to the UK and get yourself a 9-5 office job’.
I come back at myself with –
‘But I love it here. It feels right. I’ll just concentrate on one or two things for a day or two and see how it goes’. I then come back inside ready to get on with things. The ‘being authentic’ for me, is simply knowing that being here, surrounded by this beautiful valley, living in this inspirational space, feels exactly right.

In all the running around, setting up events, marketing, publicising, cooking, cleaning, organising – I do sometimes forget to ask myself what I’d like to be doing for me (why is it we so often put our own pleasures, hobbies, indulgences to one side?). To remedy this I’ve set up a writing group with a couple of friends and our first assignment is to enter a writing competition with the theme of ‘Paris’. I’ll be taking as my subject another woman who lived an unconventional yet ‘authentic’ life Colette. As well as writing about Colette, I’m also planning on spending a bit more time ‘in the moment’. It is easy to spend time analysing what has gone before. It is also a habit of mine to focus on the future, what I want to do, whom I need to contact, etc. But amazing things happen when you are completely in the present. I went and sat in the barn the other morning – carefully selected the chair I wanted to sit in and then closed my eyes. After a moment or two I heard a scuffling and opened my eyes to see that a coal tit had somehow flown in. I watched as it flew from one end of the barn to the other, clutching to the stone interior walls to reassess the situation from time to time. Despite opening a window, the bird flew into a pane of glass, stunning itself. I picked it up and cradled it in my hands gently stroking its head. We sat, both of us surprised by the close presence of the other, for several minutes before the bird flew off. Before it left in pooped on my hand – my mum says that’s lucky!
Sketch by Milliande Demetriou

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Let's perfect perfection

Following on from last weeks ‘perfect’ retreat here at Les Cerisiers (and I use the word ‘perfect’ advisedly) there has been much reflection and sharing of thoughts between Mark and I and our wonderful new friends across the Atlantic.

Today an interesting blog was forwarded to me penned by Brené Brown on the subject of perfection.

To quote a little of the text:
‘For many years I believed that being my best self meant trying to be perfect. After studying shame, authenticity, and courage for ten years, I realized that I was wrong. Yes, it took that long. I'm hardheaded and I was very invested in being right. Here's what I learned:
Being our best selves is about cultivating the courage to be vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It's that simple. Perfection is not about healthy striving or being our best, it's how we protect ourselves’.

Brené ends with a rally cry for a protest against perfection: ‘A protest might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing worthiness is an absolute act of resistance! My new battle cry: Authentic and messy is the new perfect!’

As I stirred pumpkin soup in my kitchen, I mulled over the definitions I hold on what perfection is. Perfect- is it something to strive for knowing, as all of us do, that it is something we shall never attain or is ‘perfect’ much simpler than that? Does perfection mean ‘without flaws or faults’ or does it mean (or do we choose it to mean) complete and whole? Perhaps it is more a question of semantics. Without perfection how can we ever be perfectly happy?

I have recently started a series of three minute interviews with tutors and facilitators who come to Les Cerisiers (Karen Ely will be our next star respondent). One of the questions asks for them to describe the elements of a perfect day. No-one has come up with wanting to get out of bed with perfect hair and make up, slip into a size 0 dress then step out onto a perfectly manicured lawn. Ironically, most peoples ‘perfect’ day does not include any element of idealised perfection.

It strikes me that when people (women) talk about wanting to be perfect, they are talking about living up to other people’s ideals and not their own. Learning to be true to yourself, to living an authentic life is, in my humble opinion, what it’s all about. To turn
Brenés first sentence around ‘being perfect means being my best self’ and understanding that we are enough, whole, complete. Perhaps we could have a campaign to proclaim that we’re perfect just as we are?

Here are some perfect friends enjoying the perfect end to the perfect evening in my idea of the perfect venue- just for good measure.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Do you have those moments when time stands still and you know that in a few moments time, things will never be the same again? Well, I had one of those recently. For 5 years I have followed my dream to establish an activity centre here in Southern Burgundy. Marketing campaigns have been launched, interviews have been conducted, phone calls (seemingly by the thousand) have been made, friends and family have rallied to the call and arrived with paint brushes and mops. Holiday makers have come and spent their holidays here enjoying the space, generosity of the locals, views and the house itself, I've listened to their thoughts of how to make this place even better and implemented some of their suggestions, and throughout all this time, Mark has worked away in the barn turning it from a ruin (see photo on first ever blog) to a usable environment where people can come and do what they love to do - writing, painting, music or, as is the case right now, taking time out in a group to reflect on life and plan the way ahead.

So, there I stood on Macon Loche TGV station platform as the train from Paris pulled in. On board was leading retreat organiser and facilitator Karen Ely and a group of women from North America. This was the moment when I moved from being someone who really wanted to own and run an activity centre to being someone who does own and run an activity centre. And the barn (or 'Atelier' - workshop as it has been renamed) has certainly seen some activity this week. To start the week off on the right note, friend and wine buff Mike Harper hosted a wine tasting event breathing life and colour into the rich history and characters that makes the wines from this region known the world over. Next up Alexia Fachon, yoga teacher and all round health and vitality motivator, came to run a yoga session that left everyone feeling rejuvenated and ready to face the day ahead. Two local musicians, Michael Carver and Roland Walrawens, rounded off the week by entertaining and teaching our American guests with a medley of much loved french folk songs - the acoustics were put to the test and passed with flying colours.

As I sit here in my office typing this, I hear laughter coming from the open windows of the barn. The air is warm and the last faint scent of lavender hangs in the air. Having an activity centre was a dream, an experiment to see how far I could follow my aspirations before 'reality' kicked in and I hit the barriers, real and imaginary, that are so common in the human condition - no-one will come, I won't find the support, well known tutors won't be interested. Well, I now know that you can leave the job you no-longer love, buy the house in the foreign country, renovate a barn to create a beautiful space, ring up people who are leading lights in their field and invite them over to run events- and they will come. I now know, beyond any doubt, that it is possible to achieve anything you put your mind to.

The barn, Atelier, feels different now. It's not just me who has noticed. It has a warmth, a sense of purpose about it now. Talking to my best friend Brenda yesterday, I mentioned that it felt as though all these special people had left something of themselves behind. She corrected me -'It's not about leaving anything behind, it's about adding something special to make the place even better'. The people who came and supported this first event as either guests or as participants have made this such a success. Karen will be back next July with a new group of retreaters (or is that retreatees?), Nicola Slattery arrives in just a few weeks to bring art to Les Cerisiers and courses for the following months are filling up nicely.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A small thank you

We're so fortunate to have met some extraordinary gifted people who have played a part in making the really big dream company, not only a reality but something incredibly special. Today I'd like to tell you about three of them who have offered insights and ideas and have brought laughter and fun to our world.

Alan Stevens, who came to visit us here at Les Cerisiers with his wife Heather Waring, (walkers coach) has written a fantastically useful book PING. The theme of the book is how to make social media work for you and your business. Anything that sounds like it will save me money gets my vote and this book has become invaluable. Many people starting new businesses, myself included, may, from time to time, lose their way a bit. With PING in one hand I set about (re)defining exactly what the really big dream company was all about. There may be some tweaking (as opposed to tweeting which I've yet to get to grips with) still to be done but here's a brief preview of the message I want to broadcast: Stop day dreaming and get off your backside and come to Burgundy where you can do something that makes you feel great and happy to be alive! Feedback welcomed. PING is packed with all sorts of tips on how to market your business, write half decent news letters, use Twitter and face book to optomise your visibility and a host of other practical ideas - the book has led me by the hand along a path I had a fear of treading and encouraged me to enjoy the experience. You can get your own copy of PING by following this link: Thanks Alan.

Helen Pointer is a wonderful, warm and generous friend who certainly seems to be making the most of her life. Helen left a hugely successful career in senior management within the medical profession to follow her dream of becoming a sought after caricaturist.
As a freelance trainer, Helen embodies the spirit of being the best you can be and works with others, in the most entertaining way, to tackle areas such as: Self-esteem and Leadership, Presentation and Communication Skills and personal impact and interpersonal skill areas. All of this whilst sketching humorous caricatures.

Helen was with us recently so we decided to ask her a couple of questions (sketching some wonderful cartoons of her time at Les Cerisiers):

Q: What does 'Follow your dreams' mean to you?
H: To maintain high levels of optimism, courage, flexibility, fortitude, humour and phlegm!

Q: What does 'Burgundy' conjure up for you?
H: The smell of lavender, pasta bake, good wine and shameless women!

Q: What are the elements of your perfect day?
H: A perfect day – the certainty of good health, the opportunity to DO what you love doing and the expression of appreciation when you achieve it.

To find out more, or to contact Helen (who is available for public speaking, training, personal commissions, weddings and just about any other event you could imagine), please feel free to visit her website

The third person I wanted to mention today is Adam, Marks son. A constant source of energy and enthusiasm (not to mention a great help with some rather dullish jobs), Adam has recently discovered the joys of home movies. Hours have been spent over the past couple of weeks detailing, with the aid of his mobile phone video facility, every aspect of life here at Les Cerisiers. The use of videos in Blogs as promotional clips should really be kept to around a minute max. apparently, so Adam edited his magnum opus to exactly 60 seconds to have it included here. You're now witnessing the first steps towards realising Adam's dream of becoming a camera man (once he's retired from his international running career of course). I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

An Australian in Burgundy

This blog is dedicated to the memory of someone I have never met, indeed someone who’s been dead almost 100 years and, before today, I had never heard of, William Edwin Gravell.

Mireille, my lovely neighbour, after hearing about my recent trip to the Millau viaduct, wanted to show me the bridge at Mussy, our very own viaduct right here on our doorsteps. So, at 9 o’clock she picked me up and we drove the short distance to the pretty village of Mussy sous Dun. When we turned the corner of the road and I saw the enormous span of the viaduct before me, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t discovered this wonderful feat of engineering before. The viaduct soared above us as we parked the car in the shade below and began our ascent to the village centre. The facts and figures are impressive:

We chose a relatively short walk to follow as the temperature was already beginning to rise, it was nearing midday and I was going out later that afternoon to a night market in St Gengoux le National, some 50 kms north of where we live. The walk promised to take us above the town giving an excellent view of the viaduct and the valley it spans. The tree lined track that lead us upwards, provided little shelter from the sun and we were soon glowing with the exertion of it all.

'Nous sommes jeunes et dans bon forme' (We're young and fit) became our mantra as we climbed. We emerged into a clearing to find a group of cows clustered in a field close to a statue of Mary that positively shone as the sun reflected from its white stone. Mireille suggested that maybe we shouldn't disturb the cattle that had so obviously come to pray. There ensued a brief discussion as to what cows would likely pray for given half the chance: enough grass to eat; a little shade from the elements and; their calves not to be taken away from them.

The Madonna had been erected at roughly the same time as the viaduct, presumably to watch over it, but narrowly missed destruction during an incredible storm - a mighty tree, struck down by lightening, missed it by inches. A miracle!

We descended by a steep path to a crossroad named the crossroads of the fabricators (Le carrefour de Fabrique). We assumed they must have fabricated roof tiles as our progress on the way down had been hindered by walking on a shale of broken tiles. From the road we now had a magnificent view of the viaduct. It would certainly give Millau a run for it's money.

The road wound back towards the village past the local cemetery and as we passed I happened to notice a Commonwealth War Graves Commission placard at the gate. Thinking that there was possibly

'some corner of a Mussy field
That is for ever England'

I hurried in to pay my respects. After searching for the better part of half an hour with no joy, I conceded defeat and determined to seach on the internet when I got home. So, onto Mr William Edwin Gravell. The internet is an amazing tool, the details you can uncover with just a couple of clicks. This is a sad tale to tell, of a young man signing up to fight a war on the other side of the world. Gravell left his native Australia on board HMAT A38 Ulysses on 27 October 1915 bound for Egypt but was then transferred to join the British Expeditionay Force in France. He arrived in Marseilles on 29 June 1916 but was accidentally killed, near La Clayette Station the following day.

'A Court of Enquiry, 1 July 1916, found that (a) No 2856 Pte. W. Gravelle met his death by misadventure. He fell from the train near La Clayette Station while attempting to urinate through the open window of the carriage door. (b) That no blame whatever can be attached to any Officer, NCO or man of 60th Bn, as on account of the lack of sanitary conveniences on the train and the small number of haltes repas, men were compelled to urinate through the windows'.

For reasons that are unclear from the records, he was originally listed as 'No known grave', and his name inscribed on the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, even though details of the accident and the post-mortem were communicated to the Australian authorities. People from Mussy-sous-Dun notified the CWGC in 2005 that his body had been recovered shortly after the accident and buried according to Catholic rites in the local cemetery.

I shall go back to Mussy again and this time I'll find the grave of this poor man who wasn't able to enjoy the beauty and peace of this place in his lifetime.

Post card courtesy of Mireille Jugnon - thanks.

Un Australien en Bourgogne

Ce blog est dédié à la mémoire de quelqu'un que je n'ai jamais rencontré, en fait quelqu'un qui est mort depuis près de cent ans et dont, avant aujourd'hui, je n'avais jamais entendu parler: William Edwin Gravell.

Après avoir écouté le récit de mon récent voyage au viaduc de Millau, Mireille, mon aimable voisine, voulait me montrer que nous avons notre propre viaduc ici, à nos portes. Ainsi, à 9 heures, elle est venue me chercher et nous a conduits à une courte distance du joli village de Mussy sous Dun.

Lorsque nous avons tourné le coin de la route et que j'ai vu la longueur de l'énorme viaduc énorme devant moi, je ne pouvais pas croire que je n'avais pas encore découvert ce merveilleux exploit d'ingénierie d'autrefois. Le viaduc semblait planer au-dessus de nous quand nous avons garé la voiture à l'ombre de ses arches et commencé notre ascension vers le centre du village.
Les faits et les chiffres sont impressionnants- voir photo audessus.

Nous avons choisi un chemin relativement court tandis que la température commençait déjà à s'élever. Il était presque midi et dans l'après-midi, j'allais me rendre à un marché de nuit à St Gengoux le National, à quelques 50 km au nord de l'endroit où nous vivons. La promenade allait nous emmener au-dessus de la ville, offrant une vue imprenable sur le viaduc et la vallée qui s'entend en dessous. Bordée d'arbres, la piste qui nous amenait vers le haut offrait peu d'abri contre le soleil et nous fûmes bientôt ruisselants de sueur.

‘Nous sommes jeunes et en forme’ est devenu notre mantra pendant notre ascension! Arrivant dans une clairière, nous sommes tombés sur un groupe de vaches rassemblées dans un champ près d'une statue de la Madone qui brillait comme le soleil réfléchi par la pierre blanche. Mireille a suggéré que nous ne devrions ne pas déranger les bestiaux qui, à l'évidence, étaient venus prier. Il s'ensuivit une brève discussion sur ce que les vaches demandaient dans leurs prières: assez d'herbe à manger, un peu d'ombre contre les éléments et qu'on ne leur enlève pas leurs veaux.

La statue de la Vierge a été érigée à peu près en même temps que le viaduc, sans doute pour veiller sur lui, mais a manqué de peu d'être détruite pendant un orage incroyable car, tout près, un grand arbre fut frappé par la foudre. Un vrai miracle!Nous descendîmes par un sentier escarpé jusqu'à un carrefour appelé Le Carrefour de la Fabrique. Nous avons supposé qu'on devait y fabriquer des tuiles car notre descente sur le chemin vers le bas était entravée par des amas de tuiles brisées. De la route, nous avions maintenant une vue magnifique sur le viaduc de Mussy-sous-Dun: cet ouvrage n'a certainement rien à envier à celui de Millau.

La route serpente vers le village et, tandis que nous étions devant le cimetière du lieu, j'ai soudain remarqué, sur la porte, une plaque commémorative de la Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Pensant qu'il y avait peut-être:
«Un coin d'un champ de Mussyqui à jamais sera l'Angleterre ' [un poème anglais],
Je me suis hâtée d'entrer dans le cimétière pour rendre hommage à cet homme. Après avoir cherché en vain la tombe pendant une demi-heure, j'ai concédé la défaite, déterminée cependant, une fois rentrée, à effectuer une recherche sur Internet sur M. William Edwin Gravell. L'Internet est un outil extraordinaire: on y trouve des détails en quelques clics de souris.

C'est une triste histoire à raconter, celle d'un jeune homme qui s'était engagé pour faire la guerre à l'autre bout du monde. Gravell a quitté son Australie natale à bord du HMAT A38 Ulysse le 27 octobre 1915 à destination de l'Égypte, mais a ensuite été transféré pour rejoindre le Corps expéditionnaire britannique en France. Il est arrivé à Marseille le 29 Juin 1916, mais a été tué accidentellement, près de la gare de La Clayette le jour suivant.

"Un tribunal d'enquête, 1 Juillet 1916, a constaté que:
(a) n Pte 2856. W. Gravelle a trouvé la mort par accident. Il est tombé du train près de la gare de La Clayette en tentant d'uriner par la fenêtre ouverte la portière.
(b) on ne pouvait incriminer ni un officier, sous-officier ou homme du 60e Bn car, à cause de l'absence de commodités sanitaires dans le train et du petit nombre de haltes repas, les hommes étaient obligés d'uriner par la fenêtre».

Pour des raisons qui ne sont pas claires dans le dossier, il est indiqué qu'il n'y a «pas de tombe connue >> et son nom est gravé sur le monument commémoratif australien à Villers-Bretonneux, même si les détails de l'accident et le post-mortem ont été communiqués aux autorités australiennes. En 2005, les habitants de Mussy-sous-Dun ont informé la CWGC que son corps avait été retrouvé peu après l'accident et enterré selon les rites catholiques dans le cimetière local.Je vais retourner à Mussy et, cette fois, je vais retrouver la tombe de ce pauvre homme qui, de son vivant, n'a pas été en mesure de profiter de la beauté et la paix de ce lieu.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Tour de France

Yay! My first tour de France. Two of our loveliest friends, Jonquil and Franck, live in the village of Ratanelle just outside Tournus and today the Tour de France was passing their front door. We were invited over to share in the excitement - what could be more French? We got there early as we'd been told that the roads would be closed and Franck had very kindly provided us with a circuitous route that would bring us into the village via farm tracks and hidden turnings thus avoiding having to park miles away.

Although we'd arrived some 4 hours before the cyclists were due to leave Tournus (some half an hour away if you pedal at the speed of light), the main drag of Ratanelle was already peppered with representative inhabitants, well wishers and the local gendarmes. I asked one of these young police folk, in my best French, what time the proceedings were due to start. He replied, in equally splendid English, '58'. Well, that told us.

The warm up acts were quite something. Sponsors, with imaginative and often bizarre, floats drove along distributing promotional material in such a way as to leave the casualty wards of Southern Burgundian hospital casualty units busy for weeks. Key rings were tossed death star like into the crowds. Haribo sweets were hurled at babies in prams. Mark, having been too slow to dodge a rolled up local newspaper that caught him just above his heart, sprung into action to ensure he wasn't knocked from his perch on a safety barrier as a second paper careered toward him.

Once our adrenalin levels had been pumped up to near explosive levels, the TV cameras and overhead security helicopters heralded the arrival of the stars of the day. Five cyclists had already broken away from the rest of the pack and came hurtling through the village. We were amazed at the whoosh of cool air their passing produced. I was also surprised at the casual way in which they seemed to be chatting and sharing a joke with each other along the way. mark assured me that the killer, competitive edge only kicked in for the final 100 metres or so.

Soon all that remained to remind us that the Tour de france had just passed was a handfull of dust whipped up in breeze. The street emptied and ratanelle returned once more to the sleepy village that it is. Mark climbed down from his barrier and we moved inside to watch the replay of what we'd witnessed live on the telly. Thankfully, as Jonquils Mum had been sporting a dashing cerise parasol and her Dad a pirates outfit (?), we were able to recognise our party from the blur that was the crowd.

We wound our way home cross-country, and stopped to admire the view. For no reason other than I love this photo, I thought you may enjoy seeing that, as well as vineyards and Charollais cattle, we also have fields of glorious sun flowers here. Happy days indeed.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Trees a crowd

Let's start with an exerpt from a poem by Wilhelm Müller today:

The Linden Tree

At wellside, past the ramparts,
There stands a linden tree.
While sleeping in its shadow,
Sweet dreams are sent to me.

The reason I wanted to mention this gorgeous tree is that mine (and all the others in the area) has just come into flower. I remember when I first came here sitting in the garden with my Mum and smelling a scent similar to orange blossom. We hunted through the flower beds, sniffing as we went, but it was only when i stood up that I realised the aroma was wafting from above me. The avenues in Macon are lined with linden and the scent pervades the streets, squares and gardens. I can't wait til we get scatch and sniff blogs!

In the spirit of the poem, Harry Cat enjoys the sweetest of dreams in the shade of this tree (and others in the garden) and I caught him cat napping this morning. As I pointed the camera at him he shifted his position to a pose that showed him in a better light (this cat is vain) turning his tummy towards the warming sun.

Whilst I'm still on the subject of trees, let me tell you how lovely and tasty our cherries are this year. Not quite the bumper crop we had in 2009 but not bad. I was going to pick a dishful to photograph but somehow my hands decided to cut out the middle-man and send the cherries directly from the tree to my mouth. I'm hoping to try out a number of cherry themed recipes this coming week and will share some with you later on.
And finally, I'm really excited to announce that pastel artist, Malcolm Jarvis, will be running a workshop here in 2011 (18-24 September so put the dates in your diary) 'From Village to Vineyard Exploring Southern Burgundy in Pastels'. Malcolm specialises in 'plein air' landscape art and loves trees (as can be seen in the beautiful painting). I'm really hoping that he, and our group of art students, will be inspired by the scenery around Les Cerisiers. Who wouldn't be?
To find out more about Malcolm, please visit

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Words, Music and Mosaics

This has been an amazing week thanks to three immensley talented people whom I am delighted to have welcomed to Les Cerisiers - writer Miriam Halahmy, mosaicist (if that is the right term for someone who makes mosaics) Brenda Hazeldine and musician Roland Walravens.

I had only spoken to Miriam, who will be running a creative writing event here next year (watch this space for more details), on the phone before so to meet this warm, energetic and thought provoking woman face to face was brilliant. Having finished reading her novel 'Secret Territory' (see below) the week before it was great to be able to ask questions (interrogate) and learn more about the process of writing.
By way of introduction to this very special region we drove out into the hills around Macon and, after a freak down pour of rain, took photos in the vineyards at the foot of Solutre, our legs being cooled by the damp grass. Miriam managed to find a gift for her husband, who loves bread, at Cote Pain, a traditional 'rustic' bread manufacturing enterprise at the top of our road and has learned to appreciate Cremant - the regions sparkling wine and a convincing alternative to Champagne.

Brenda has been a friend of mine for longer than either of us care to remember and I was thrilled when she agreed to design one of her stunning mosaics for the entrance to the barn. I am all the more grateful as she spent 5 days of 'holiday' lying on a stone floor to produce her colourful work. The reception area for our activity centre has been given a vibrancy boost as a consequence. I have already started muttering things about the pool side terrace needing a bit of an overhaul - we shall see...

Finally I'd like to mention Roland. My idea of the perfect evening is a group of friends gathered in the garden sharing good food (courtesy of Mark and his BBQ), good wine (courtesy of the vignerons of burgundy), good conversation and Rolands music. The ambiance he creates is wonderful and his playing is equally marvellous. The singing may need a little fine tuning but the atmosphere is warm and filled with bonhomie.

From Miriam Halahmy's website:
SECRET TERRITORY ( Citron Press 1999)

A journey to the Promised Land – a circular journey, across generations, charting dreams and aspirations of father and daughter. Feeling she should have been born in the homeland, Eve travels to Israel in search of an identity, unaware that her quest will painfully expose her family’s hidden history. Her father, Jack’s story, is of London in the ‘40s –
a time of idealism, political terrorism and conflicting values.
In their separate ways both confront the discord between collective ideals and personal needs; both must make their choices and live with them. This is their story – an honest and evocative account of what it means and feels to be Jewish in the modern world.
Miriam Halahmy’s sharp, concise style helps to sum up contemporary Jewish dilemmas. Jewish Chronicle.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Creating an impression

I've spent a fair bit of time extolling the virtues of the landscape of Southern Burgundy - the beauty, the colours, the textures and hues. However, nature is not the only provider of such wonders, the people of this region offer a huge array of splendour all of their own making and I'd like to share some of this today. As Mark and I have had so many friends and family members over visiting recently, we finally got around to taking some time out to visit places and events that we'd only ever heard of or read about. First up for an afternoons jaunt were two artisans just a hands throw from home. Pascale Grisard paints on fabric and her colourful designs capture the flora and fauna of these parts. I was bought a great painting of a charollais cow as a house warming gift several years back. I named her 'Monalisa vache' as her big brown eyes seemed to follow me around the kitchen. This time I received a cockerel (thank you aunty Jean!) who now proundy presides over the living room. As well as paintings, Pascal also produces lampshades, cushions, scarves - the list goes on.

Next it was off to glass artist Jean Charles Doyen. We were treated to a demonstration of his remarkable skill as he crafted a goose from two sticks of glass. His minute insects were incredible to see (we've now started a collection of these) and I now know where this years Christmas presents will be coming from. In contrast to Jean Charle's miniature marvels, the magnificent metalic sculpture that stands sentinel at La Butte de Suin is immense. La butte de Suin is a prominent rocky hilltop above the small village of Suin where bullet holes can still be seen in the wall marking the place the village's mayor was shot for failure to comply with Nazi occupiers.

But on to jollier things - cakes.
The effort and craftmanship that goes into these delicacies is remarkable and the cake shop in Cluny has to be my all time favourite place to buy cakes. Exquisite!!

Art comes in many forms and we were blessed with fine weather (after an unseasonaly bad start to June) for the Macon Music Festival. Every street corner, every square and every car park had a stage, amps, fancy lighting and music eminating. As we wandered from one street to the next we were treated to rock, blues, folk and trance. The dancing (organised and spontaneous alike) lifted spirits and a natural high ensued. I had to be dragged away but not before one last enthusiatic cavort with my friends on the third floor of the central carpark.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Reconnaisance in Beaujolais

One of the offerings from the really big dream company is Burgundy Bike Breaks, guided motorbike tours of this wonderful region of ours. Through our endeavours to promote this we have met a number of smashing people (no pun intended), two of whom, Pete and Chrissy who run Bikiers lot, are spending a couple of days with us. We're planning to offer twin centre holidays so, after our trip down to the Lot region (finally visited the magnificent Millau Bridge) Pete and Chris have come to see what we have to offer at this end. The roads in the Beaujolais area, just to the south of where we live, are great for bikers: hills, bends, good surfaces, stopping points for photo opportunities, not much traffic and plenty of places for a coffee or comfort break. As luck would have it, we woke to dense fog the day we were due to go on our grand tour and were obliged to take the car. However, we were still able to use our time to plan routes and see what was out there for the discerning tourist. Fleurie has long been my favourite red wine and one of my favourite wine villages too. I hadn't been there for a while and was surprised as we turned into the place to find a new resident - Father Christmas! I suppose everybody likes a change of scenery once in a while and Fleurie is a beautiful place but to move your centre of operations (and Christmas is a BIG operation) to a small village in France seems a little odd. I took a sneaky photo then turned my attention to another operation - wine tasting. The wine producers of Fleurie have come up with a great idea. They have a large salle (room) where all of their wines are represented and take it in turns to man the place. A lovely lady, Mme Lardy (who was anything but lardy) was at the helm and we sampled her wine along with that of three other vignerons. Bottles in bags, the urge to purchase was upon us and we dipped into the local shop to seek out more quality buys. Chris found a candle in a wine glass that she just had to have and we spotted some beautifully painted wine bottles. Not bad value at 44 euros each (about £40) until Mark pointed out that they were empty!! We stopped at the lovely Roses hotel in Julienas for coffee and cake and then later visited the old station at Romaneche Thorins which has been turned into a restaurant and entrance to the Georges Duboeuf world of wine. We'll come back for a full tour another day but on this coldish and damp afternoon, we comforted ourselves with the most delicious hot chocolate - blocks of belgian chocolate on a lolly stick that you stirred into steaming milk. Perfection.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

No shrinking violets here!

I had a truly splendid time yesterday. One of the wine villages, Chaintre, was holding it's annual 'Rare plant fair' which gave me the chance to combine several of my favourite pass times: gardening, being among vineyards and meeting up with my girlfriends, in one blissful, sunny afternoon. I was accompanied by two of my dearest friends, Veronica and Di, two wonderful souls guaranteed to lift the spirits. Veronica was a little sceptical as we set out as she had been to one of these rare plant shows before and had been dissappointed when the rarist plant on offer had been a lupin!

The wine villages of the Macon Village route are splendid, each has at least one chateau and the ornate tiles and towers take your breath away. The vines grow right up to (and around) the houses and if the plot of land is over a metre square, there will be grapes growing on it. We found ourselves ooohing and ahhing at every bend in the road and frequent stops for photos meant the event until it was in full swing by the time we arrived. As we stepped from the car, the smell of sweet lilac and wisteria wafted on the warm air and the heat reflected from the ancient stone buildings added to the already balmy temperatures.

There were plenty of stalls and whilst the plants were not necessarily exotic, they all looked incredibly healthy and tempting. Mark and I are in the process of creating a rockery and adding to our culinary patch so I was particularly keen to root around the veggie stands. Di is starting a garden and was taken by all things delicate, unusual or both. Veronica had filled her wicker basket to bursting point with aromatic herbs and then turned her attention to catching up with old friends, Veronica knows everyone!

Overcome with heat and excitement, we decided to take a breather in the pretty main square. The villagers were selling sugared waffles and local wine at only 1 euro a glass. We found a shady bench and people watched as we sipped cooling drinks. It's so uplifting when everyone around you has a smile on their face. Having placed our entry tickets, now marked with our names and contact details, in an urn to win a prize (another trip to Lourdes?), we completed one more circuit of the fair to ensure we hadn't missed anything. I bought Morocaine mint, some rather unusual tomato plants that promise to deliver black, yellow and orange tomatoes later in the year, a pretty little blue flowering plant whose name escapes me at the moment and an astilby. Back at Veronicas I was presented with a linseed plant from her amazing garden and went home eager to dig and plant and water...