Lacemaking in Cluny
The first international ‘couvige’ of lacemaking was held in Cluny this weekend. ‘Couvige’ literally means ‘neighbours’ but is now applied to a meeting of lacemakers. It was organised by the Cluny association who invited 80 lacemakers from all over France, Germany and Switzerland to demonstrate their art. They exhibited at various sites around the Abbey which meant a pleasant amble between them in the sunshine.
Demonstration of bobbin lace
We saw demonstrations of bobbin lace, needle lace, needle tatting, lace imprinted pottery, lace jewellery of silver wire and the finest embroidery imaginable. At the museum of Jean de Bourbon there was also an exhibition of ‘coiffes’, traditional headresses worn a century ago by women from areas around Cluny. The different syles would indicate where the wearers were from and their marital status.
Work in progress
Traditionally, lace was always used as a fine decoration on clothing – collars, edgings, cuffs, veils, trimmings, and handkerchiefs. But now lacework is framed to decorate the home, used to make jewellery or greetings cards, runners and tablemats.
A decorative horse
We were assured that lacemaking is not difficult, somewhat on a par with basketmaking. But it must be a test for both patience and eyesight as a small piece of lace can take hours to produce.
Part of the banner presented to Cluny by the lacemakers
There were two banners presented to Cluny by the lacemakers as an extension to the festivities of Cluny 2010. One depicts the medieval buildings and places of interest in Cluny, and the other depicts the Clunaic sites and the influence of Cluny in Europe. Another huge event is being planned for September 2012 and hopefully our friends from the German, English and Scottish Clunaic sites will be able to join us for another celebration of Cluny Abbey.
The sword of Damocles hangs over us in May when it is time to complete and return our tax forms. Every household in France has to do this. And there is not just one form but different ones for earnings and pensions from abroad and gite income, and a third which might be partly filled with income the tax office already know about. For those of us who were used to PAYE it is a bit of a challenge.
Filling out tax forms.....with a little help from my friend
The French tax year runs from January to December, rather than April to April, and everything earned abroad, such as pension payments and interest on UK savings, has to be totted up and the pounds translated into euros. Theoretically you should find the exchange rate at the exact time any amount goes into your UK account which would be a marathon exercise. So for small frequent sums the tax office is happy to accept an exchange rate based on an average throughout the year. This rate is always debated at great length by ex-pat forums as the advice you get from one local tax office invariably differs from that of another, or even from person to person within the same office.
You don’t get taxed individually but you are assessed on the total income of a household. This is divided by parts, a couple being two parts and their first two children being half a part. Subsequent children are one part. The total income is divided by the number of parts and the tax scale rates are applied to the lower figure, then multiplied up by the number of parts.
You can apply for a reimbursement for any ‘green’ home improvements although the amount refunded diminishes from year to year. I am hoping to get back 22% of the cost of our new heatpump; two years ago it would have been 40%.
You also pay social charges on your taxable income which bump up the total tax enormously. As a rule of thumb most people pay a month’s wages in tax each year.
All in all it is very complicated. It has taken me three tax returns to work out which boxes I have to fill in. The people at the tax office are extremely helpful and friendly, and you can always go and see them and even ask them to fill out your forms. I imagine though that after sorting us out they go round the back and throw their coffee mugs at the wall or kick something.
Putting the completed forms in the post is like the end of an exam. You have endlessly checked your sums, and hope that you haven’t filled in the wrong boxes or forgotten anything. When the papers are gone you breathe a sigh of relief and await the result in September. Will it be a tax demand or a rebate?
May has arrived, and so did the warm sunny weather for the bank holiday.
In the big cities May 1st is Labour Day, a day of trade union parades and protests. This year there is the added interest of the presidential election which finishes on Sunday. It was an opportunity for the finalists, M. Sarkozy and M. Hollande, to woo the six million people who voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round.
One of several rallies in Paris
M. Sarkozy addressed a rally of 200,000 workers in Paris appealing for national unity for his Gaullist vision of France “I tell the unions, put down the red flag and serve France!” Meanwhile M. Hollande sympathised with the unions regarding the effects of high inflation.
But here in Deepest France it is Lily of the Valley Day. The tradition is you go into the woods and pick wild lily of the valley, enjoy the spring weather and have a nice walk. You then give a sprig to the people you love. If you get a sprig with 13 bells you are assured of good fortune.
I went down to the woods this afternoon and found swathes of lily of the valley beneath the trees. I felt like a six year old, a little guilty about picking them, walking back up to the village with a bunch of wilting flowers clutched in a hot sticky hand.
Lily of the valley in the woods
May has a succession of bank holidays where people faire le pont to make a long weekend. We look forward to a holiday on May 8th (Victory in WWII), and May 17th (Ascension Day).
Yes, I know that life for us is one long holiday. So roll on those hot sunny summer days!