Two things set me thinking this weekend about the English idea of ‘living the dream’ in France.
On Saturday a programme on TF1 followed the lives of three English women who had come to live in France but their dreams were shattered when their partners went back to England and abandoned them. Despite this they hung on grimly. One had been wanting to convert part of her property into two gites, another was finding it extremely expensive to disentangle her financial affairs. One was gamely braving French bureaucracy to get permission to sell her homemade chutney and lemon curd (oh for goodness sake!). What is it that keeps them in France?
Another thing is that we are looking after our friends’ chickens for a few days. Part of the dream fostered by the ‘Living France’ type of magazine encourages people to keep chickens. Don’t get me wrong, many of our French neighbours do keep chickens very successfully without too much bother.
Our friend Steve with Mabel
But starting from scratch is expensive. Coops have to be built and gardens enclosed. I remember one of our friends holding out a handful of eggs and ruefully saying “These eggs have cost me 300€ each”.
The thing about chickens is that they produce eggs most days which is great if you run a chambres d’hôtes. But the downside is that if they are let out in the garden they soon make it a wasteland and destroy every living thing. You then have to provide them with fresh vegetables to eat, as well as proprietary chicken food with crushed up oyster shells or grit. And they are prone to the most complicated diseases. And watch out for the foxes and the buzzards.
The trouble is English people are too soft. Chickens are at their egglaying prime between four months and two years. But they can live until they are sixteen. What do you do with Henny-Penny and Matilda when they stop producing eggs? And as for growing hens for the pot, forget it.
So I’m glad we didn’t succumb to the temptation to get chickens. Anyway we are otherwise occupied with the four kittens we adopted when their starving mother appeared at the door last Spring. That’s as soft as you can get.
By the way Chris reckons that one of the best bits of living in France is that at last he can watch ‘Ski Sunday’ and see our lot winning.
The address of La Maison du Curé is 12 route de Chissey. Just follow the road out of Cormatin through La Bergerie and Lys and you come upon the village of Chissey les Mâcon. Although there are only 246 Chissayons there is not only a school and a mairie but also a cinema.
Meeting friends at the cinema at Chissey
The cinema puts on a film once a month and the film evening is a chance for us to meet our friends from the neighbouring villages. I had thought that they would show only obscure French films, but this week we were treated to ‘The Artist’ which won all those Baftas at the weekend.
It felt very much like actually being in the 1920s watching the silent movie with the noise of the whirring projector behind us. It came on two rolls of film. During the interval while the roll was being changed we were treated to drinks and cake.
Throughout the history of the French film industry the French Government has been very protective of its culture. There has been a lot of criticism about the subsidies given to film companies which churn out films that appeal to the lowest common denominator, or films that are such rubbish that they would not be made if the company had to make a profit from them. In the past the French have felt threatened by the Americans, first by the success of Hollywood films, and now the Steven Spielberg sort of blockbuster movie. So money from taxes extracted from theatre goers and large companies is used to help the smaller concerns.
To cut a long story short the government encourages us all to go to see French films. If a village is more than a certain distance from the nearest cinema they give subventions to help set up a cinema in the foyer rural and pay for the film hire. Then there is only a nominal charge for entry which goes towards the hall expenses. The films are available to the village cinemas four to six months after their release so they are up to date. We will become regular cinema goers now as I love French films.
While on the subject of Chissey, we were passing yesterday and called in to see its romanesque church. Saint Pierre was built in the 12th century on the site of a previous church built in 926. Although somewhat remodelled in the 19th century you can see the original 12thcentury capitals depicting biblical scenes. The one below represents the nativity with the angel flying to tell the good news to the shepherds with their sheepdogs.
One of the capitals in Chissey church
Also the altarpiece is magnificent.
So although we have been living in this area nearly four years we are still discovering treasures on our doorstep.
I’ve not mentioned riding lately as Chris & I have lessons at the same time so I don’t get much opportunity to take photos of the action. We are halfway through our second year now and Chris, after a bumpy* start is enjoying his riding. He has reached the stage of taking his first exam. The Galop 2 qualification will allow him to ride in club competitions and sign up for more advanced treks.
There was plenty of swotting for the exam
So off we went down to the stables this morning in a temperature of –12° with a stiff northerly wind. The first job was to go round and give all the horses a bucket of water as all the pipes in the stables are frozen. Not surprising as the temperature has been well below zero for a couple of weeks.
Chris tacking up Damwer
The four people taking the exam were first checked on their grooming and saddling ability.Then out into the sunshine for a question and answer session. For this exam you have to know the parts of the horse and tack, all the different colour mixtures of the robe, and the various equitation events.
Chris at the practice jump
Then into the manège to show the examiner that you can make the horse change pace and direction and canter on the correct leg, and do a bit of jumping. Here is Chris at the practice jump. Unfortunately I took the rest on movie mode and until I work out how to take a still from it I can’t show you just how much higher the jumps became.
Reassembling the bridle
Being by this time frozen to the marrow, the next part of the exam was taken indoors. The group had to take apart and soap the bridle and put it all back together again. To me this seemed quite the hardest part of the test!
Everyone passed with flying colours. In true Burgundian style it was time to open a couple of bottles of crémant and raise a toast to their success. Bravo!
*It is the custom at the pony club that if you fall off you have to bring a cake the following week to share with everyone.
This headline is taken from today’s Journal de Saône et Loire. Burgundy has been under orange alert for a week. There are three states of warning; yellow means not so bad, orange is getting serious and red means to batten down the hatches. I’m never sure what you are expected to do for an orange alert. Stock up the larder? Fetch in some more logs? Dig out the thermal underwear?
The frozen river Saône at Mâcon - from today's Journal
To be honest compared with the UK and some parts of France we have been lucky. A little snow last week on the hills and temperatures fairly steady at -9°or -10° at night and -5° during the days. Having said that we went out riding on Saturday it was -12° with a wind that whipped up the sand in the manège and I was beginning to worry about frostbite as I couldn’t feel my face anymore.
Chez nous - not much snow but very cold
This morning it was reported that the electricity consumption in France had reached a record high of 100,500 megawatts. Thank goodness for the wood stove to save our pompe à chaleur from working too hard. I don’t know how the pompe can still extract heat from such cold air. But then I don’t know how the telephone works either, or the internet, or the TV!
The Météo forecasts warmer temperatures with snow for next week. Sounds like we might need to prepare for that whatever colour it might be.