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.