A gathering for apéritifs
The apéritif is a ritual especially popular in France. Having a glass of alcohol before a meal is said to stimulate the appetite. But the main benefit is the gathering together of friends and neighbours for a good discussion at the end of the day.
This evening we held our first ever apéro for our neighbours. Earlier in the week we had been invited out twice so we were pleased to take our turn. We had been able to observe the modus operandi closely. The drinks tend to be light or sweet. The most popular is kir which is white wine with crème de cassis. Kir is named after Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon from 1945-68. Cremant is often used instead of wine, cremant being the locally produced version of champagne, much nicer in my opinion. Another favourite is pastis which is mixed with water and drunk with ice. The water makes the pastis milky and releases the flavour.
Snacks are provided to accompany the drinks, often crackers and nuts, saucisson and dips. Chris made tapanade which is a mixture of olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Tapanade originated in the South of France and had been introduced to us by our neighbour from Narbonne. Chris also made hummus with chick peas, tahini and garlic. His homemade cheesestraws were very popular although you are not supposed to eat cheese before a meal.
We find have not quite adapted to life in France. On days when we are invited out for apéritifs we try to have a good lunch à la française as we know that after a couple of hours of drinking and talking we will not be wanting any dinner!
Fresh from the breadoven at Blanot
It is beautiful sunny weather once more so we set off early to Blanot to visit one of the most popular local brocantes/vide greniers. At brocantes dealers are allowed which usually means better stuff and antiques are for sale. But disappointingly there was the same old truc for the same old prices. Goodness knows why everything second hand is so expensive in France. To my mind if you have a lot of unwanted junk it’s better to sell it at bargain prices so you don’t have to pack it all away again at the end of the day. The prices people ask are just silly so you show interest, ask the price then go home empty handed.
However there were some items which caught our attention which you would never see at the average car boot sale – shotguns and extremely large knives, ‘Napoleon’s’ hat, gin traps, a mirror set in a carthorse collar…. But nothing that we couldn’t live without!
The winepress at St Gengoux le Scisse
As usual when coming home we meandered round to look at the views from the hills and do a bit of sightseeing. This morning we stopped to have a walk round St Gengoux le Scisse, a pretty wine village with a popular cave set amongst the vineyards. We came across this enormous wine press from 1869, by far the oldest and biggest we have ever seen. And we thought they just used to tread the grapes!
Showjumping at Cluny
For the last four days Cluny has been taken over by horses. Over 700 of them aged 4,5 and 6 years are taking part in the inter regional competition which will qualify them to enter the National Finals for young horses in Fontainebleau. The event also includes tests and training to prepare them for their future careers.
I still cannot believe that we live a just a few km away from one of the most exciting venues for horses in Europe. This afternoon two jumping competitions were in full swing at the Equivallée. You can wander round or sit and watch wherever you like. I am always interested to watch the horses in the practice rings and mingle with the owners and riders.
The Haras promises many events for this special year of the Cluny 2010 celebrations. On Tuesdays evenings of 3rd, 10th and 17th August there is the Cavalcade des Peuples, staged in the courtyard of the magnificent Haras stables. This is a procession of carriages and costumes depicting the life of the horse in different countries which promises to circumnavigate the world in 90 minutes. The stunt riders will do their utmost to impress with their daring acts, perhaps in the roles of cowboys, picadors and cossacks.
There are plenty of horse shows at the Equivallée in Cluny during the summer, not forgetting the horse racing at the Hippodrome on the 7th and 22nd August.
By the way, have you noticed those black clouds in the photo? The last few days have been a welcome relief from hot sunshine and temperatures in the 30s. The garden has greatly appreciated the downpours and the melons and courgettes are growing like Topsy.
We’ve been following with interest David Cameron’s proposal of a ‘Big Society’ in Britain. His vision is that people should work together to help build amenities like schools and take part in projects to improve their local environment.
At this time of reduced Government funding this vision has been mocked for simply being a scheme to try and save the Government money. Taxes are already paid to highly paid officials so why should people do it for free? Cash-strapped voluntary organisations say that recent cutbacks in funding do not allow them to take on any more projects.
I think David Cameron has a mountain to move to persuade ordinary people that they must take responsibility for their own street or town. It’ll be very difficult in estates with a ‘council house culture’ where folk expect the council to do absolutely everything from minor repairs to their houses to clearing up their litter.
Also the councils would have to relinquish some of their power. In Hackney, a run down part of London, a group of people set to and cleared up their local park and planted new trees. The council weren’t at all appreciative but charged the group for public liability insurance. Where we lived in Leeds everybody used to cut the grass verges outside their own houses. Officially this was not allowed as it was council property.
GF demonstrating his wares
This is one of the reasons we prefer life in France. The Mairie oversees the commune but everyone is given free rein to make it a good place to be.
The Foyer Rural is the centre of village life in France and its success depends on the energy and hard work of the local people. It has to be completely self sufficient as it receives no funding except for that raised by the activities and events organised by the Committee. Whenever there is a rallye, a randonée or a visiting theatre the Foyer Rural organises a buvette. This year there is plenty of scope to set up buvettes in Cluny on weekends when there are the illuminations and spectacles for the Cluny 2010 celebrations.
Yesterday was the annual vide grenier. It was a long day for a willing band of volunteers that set up at the crack of dawn and manned the buvette and the indoor stalls until packing up in the evening. In true village style however everyone sat down for a banquet of leftovers and worked on emptying the beer cooler. So they were not completely unrewarded!