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 http://www.malcolmjarvisart.co.uk/

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.


video

From Miriam Halahmy's website: http://www.miriamhalahmy.com/
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.