Our New Car and our Renault 4 Van
It’s really only by watching British TV that I would know Christmas is coming. OK, there are a few decorations up in the supermarket and lights have been strung across the street in some villages, as yet unlit. But other than that Christmas in France seems to begin much later than in the UK. It’s a bit like England about 50 years ago. As a child I remember going on the bus to Leeds market with my father on Christmas Eve and bringing back a turkey and a tree (yes, on the bus!). I much prefer the last minute rush to the commercialism in the UK which now seems to start soon after August Bank Holiday.
A similar thought occurred to me while watching a programme tonight about how motoring in Britain has changed during the last 50 years from the pleasures of touring on the open road to a nightmare of traffic jams and fines. I am pleased to say that motoring in our bit of France is still a pleasure. I will make an exception of going to Lyon airport, and we always make a huge detour around Paris. But there are still plenty of empty roads here and sometimes you can travel miles without even encountering another vehicle. This lunchtime I went out for a test drive in our new car (well, new to us). As it’s the first modern car I’ve driven for a good while so I needed try out the brakes and steering which both need the lightest of touch. And it’s such a monster compared with my little Renault 4. As it was Sunday lunchtime there wasn’t another car on the road. Which was just as well as the first time I braked I nearly set off the airbags!
This week’s local event was a visit from a Swiss male voice choir. They were very good indeed, with an excellent pianist and conductor who were both very amusing. The choir finished by singing national anthems from several countries. As soon as the Swiss anthem began the Swiss people in the audience shot to their feet and stood like ramrods while it was sung. A bit different from the French who raggedly struggled to their feet for La Marseillaise. We must learn the words for next time so we are not like those World Cup footballers who stand looking embarassed before a match.
I know now why songs and operas are best sung in their original language. The Italian anthem, sung in Italian, was absolutely beautiful. However the Welsh ‘Land of my Fathers’ was sung in French so I could not conjure up the image I normally have of bands of Welsh miners singing in the Valleys.
I’m glad to say the weather has improved greatly this week with several warm sunny days. We are especially glad to be living here following the news from the UK of fierce gales, torrential rain and widespread flooding. I used to find November in the UK gloomy and depressing but here there is much more daylight.
We have started our English conversation meetings for the people in the village. We were most surprised how many already speak extremely good English, which I would not normally expect in a village in deepest Burgundy. Our English friends laugh and say that it is a good way for us to get out of learning French if we can get the neighbours speaking English. However it is still our most fervent wish that one day we will be able to speak French with conviction, if not accuracy. We are helped enormously by our kind neighbours who are most patient with us.
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! The third Thursday in November is the day that the new Beaujolais wine is released for sale. We are accustomed to the crazy ritual that goes into transporting Beaujolais around the world in a race to serve it as quickly as possible. So we were rather pleased to see it in the local supermarket first thing in the morning and bought some to accompany our dinner that night.
The highlight of this week was the dinner dance held in the Foyer Rural. It was a lot of fun and different from what we remember from dinner dances long ago in that we got up and danced between courses, not just afterwards. The meal was superb as were the wines, produced in the nearby village of Azé. The tables were beautifully decorated with flowers and the napkins were folded into a fleur de lys. We spent some time folding and unfolding them trying to learn how it was done.
We joined the clearing up party this morning and found everyone surprisingly cheerful seeing the dance hadn’t finished until 4am. Finishing off bottles of left over wine was a good enough excuse for becoming slightly tipsy before midi. There is no waiting until the sun is over the yardarm here in the pays de bonvivre!
Winter really seems to have set in. Although today has been a bit milder than of late we have had torrential rain several days this week. There was quite a gale on Friday night too. Most people here rely on wood burning stoves to heat their houses and need to be stocking up with wood.
A suitable time then to commence this year’s affuage. This concerns the right of the villagers to be able to cut their own wood for the home. This is our second year of doing it. You first have to register with the Mairie and pay a small tax. Then yesterday morning the men met in the forest to walk this year’s plots and mark them out. Each part of the forest is cut about every thirty five years. Lots are drawn to see who gets which section. Slashes are made in the trunks of the larger valuable timber trees which have to be left and will be sold commercially. The rest is gradually cut down and stacked during the winter, finishing in mid March. We were pleased with our plot this year as it is near a good track which will make it easier to take in the chainsaws and equipment, and to cart away all the stacks of wood in the summer.
Cutting wood is a splendid occupation for the cold winter days. They say that wood warms you up three times with cutting it, stacking it and burning it. Also all the twiggy bits have to be burned so it’s good to get a roaring bonfire going. The majority of the wood is oak which must be kept two years before burning, but there is also beech and hornbeam which can be used after one year.
I am hoping this grim weather will revert to the blue skies and sunshine I remember from last winter.
Ox cart at the horse fair
I have just realized it’s a while since I wrote about what’s happening around here. It’s not for lack of news but time has been taken up with looking after our 10 month old grand daughter while her mother is away.
Unfortunately the weather has been atrocious during the last week or so. We’ve had lots of rain and it’s been very very cold. It’s a shame as it has been the half term holiday for the children, the holiday of Toussaint (All Saints). All Saints’s Day is on the 1st of November. This is a Catholic holy day of obligation and a public holiday in France. Families come together and go to the cemetery to put chrysanthemums on the graves of their dead relatives. Chrysanths are sold in large numbers for this event but are never seen otherwise as they are associated with death and never displayed in the house or given as a gift.
The next day is All Souls’ Day when people are supposed to go to the cemetery but, because the 2nd of November isn’t a public holiday, the French tend to go the day before. There is a curious side to Toussaint as in rural areas it is customary to visit the houses where the dead relatives used to live. We know of English friends who have had strangers on the doorstep demanding entrance. Our house used to be a cowshed so I don’t think we will be troubled by anyone.
The highlight of the week was the horse fair at Cluny. Luckily we arrived early as there was heavy rain for the second part of the day. Besides the different breeds of horses there were prize goats and cows, sheep and hens. Two oxen were yoked together to pull an old cart. There were prizes for the best turned out heavy horse. Up close the farm machinery was most impressive; I hadn’t realized how huge the maize harvesters were.