Our Life in Burgundy

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February 15, 2013

Being Benedict

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Mary @ 10:00

Calling our cat Benedict was like calling a tall chap Shorty.  Would he have grown more angelic if we had called him Lucifer? 


Benedict as a kitten

The kittens were born in the pitch black in our neighbours’ tackroom. Soon afterwards I went in with a torch and the first thing I saw was a white cross,  luminous in the dark. As I am not of a religious disposition Varanges did not become a shrine for pilgrimage, but we did call the kitten with the cross Benedict, after the Pope.

It seemed a suitable name as Benedict was always the leader of the gang. But he was also the naughtiest,  the only one to try and scavenge leftovers if we were slow to clear away after a meal.

His name caused no end of confusion as he is male and Bendict becomes Benoît in French. Bénédicte is a girls name. Our lovely lady vet Bénédicte says he is called after her. (We did manage to get reduced rates once but only because all five were there at the same time!).

Since Pope Benedict resigned last week I have realised just how unpopular a name it is. Apparently the most infamous traitor in the US was called Benedict Arnold. He swopped sides during the War of Independence and his name is synonymous with betrayal, like Judas. But, as Benjamin Franklin commented, “Judas sold one man, Arnold three millions”.

Benedict at breakfast this morning

 So besides the Pope there are no glamourous role models for our Benedict. He continues to be the troublemaker in our normally peaceful existence. Shouting his usual name  Oy!Benedict!  has no effect; the only deterrent from his errant ways is the occasional spray of water. But he is probably our most interesting cat.


February 10, 2013

The Fight for Truth and Freedom

Filed under: Events,People — Tags: , , — Mary @ 16:35


Although I was born not such a long time after the war I always felt remote from it. My mother had lived next to Biggin Hill aerodrome, and in fact met my father while delivering milk to the sergeants’ mess. He was not flying Spitfires but developing the photos taken by bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, although he used to tell me he won the war single handed.  I grew up with tales of the war, and was often slightly irritated that wartime seemed the best part of my parents’ lives.

As I grew up in Leeds I saw no aftermath of the war apart from an uncle who was rescued from the beach at Dunkirk. He was henceforth difficult to live with. A family holiday boating down the Thames nearly turned into ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’!

However in Burgundy there is plenty of evidence of the part war played in the lives of the ordinary people. This area was heavily involved in the resistance movement. The Maquis  hid in the wooded countryside and relied on the sympathy and cooperation of the locals.  In 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. This included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the French Resistance was active.  Suspects were arrested and taken off to concentration camps in Germany.  At the end of the war vengence was taken,  the épuration sauvage, against the informers who assisted the Germans.There were many executions and women collaborators had their heads shaved.


The laying of the wreaths


 This morning, at the Place des Martyrs de la Déportation, Cluny remembered the people that were rounded up in a Gestapo raid on 14thFebruary 1944.  Amongst them were the mayor, the stationmaster, shopkeepers and teachers. They were taken off to concentration camps such as  Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Fifty two men and twenty women were taken. Only thirty nine people ever came back. Fifty children were left orphaned.

A speech by the Amicale des déportés

The leader of the Amicale des déportés de Cluny urged us to remember that truth and freedom were won by these brave people and should not be taken lightly. Carved on the monument were familiar names, the names of families living here now.



What life here was like in 1944 is just unimaginable. A world away from the safety and freedom we enjoy today.



I must mention the band who gave the most stirring rendition of the Marsaillaise.  Some of the men were wiping their eyes. It might have been the icy wind although I suspect not.

A resounding Marsaillaise


There is an exhibition in Macon, 12th – 27thFebruary about the French prisoners of war. It’s at the Centre of Deportation of Saône-et-Loire entitled Prisonniers de guerre, soldats mâconnais en captivité, 1940-1945.  It gives an idea of the life of the prisoners, 300 000 of whom died of hunger, cold  and exhaustion.

Exhibition revealing the life of the Mâconnais in the concentration camps


February 4, 2013

Discovering Cluny Abbey

Filed under: Places — Tags: , — Mary @ 16:35


Once a year les Clunisois are invited to see how the restoration work is getting on at Cluny Abbey. I’m never one to miss an opportunity of free entry to see the areas not yet open to the public. Each time I go a little bit more of the jigsaw of the history of Cluny Abbey falls into place.

The tower at Cluny Abbey


Cluny Abbey was founded in 910 by a handful of monks. As it grew in importance a larger abbey, Cluny II, was built alongside the first.  In 1088 St Hugues de Semur  initiated Cluny III, the Maior Eclesia, which took 40 years to build. The small town of Cluny grew up around the Abbey to accommodate the builders, artisans and their suppliers, whose medieval shops and houses can still be seen today.


The Maior Eclesia had five altars, four steeples, two towers and was the largest and most important building in Christendom until the rebuilding of St Peter’s in Rome. Under its control were 1,200 monasteries and 10,000 monks. Its organization included priories in Germany, England, Scotland and Spain.

Richlieu's doorway reinstalled.

Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII’s first minister, was one of the abbots. A legacy is the magnicent doorway which has just been reinstalled after lying in pieces for a hundred years.

Eventually the Catholic Church became so rich and influential that the King of France tried to erode its powers and the Revolution finally put an end to Cluny in 1791. The Abbey was sold to a building contractor who rapidly pulled it down to sell off the stone in the early 1800s. Many houses in Cluny are built of this stone, not least the Haras, built by Napoleon in 1850. Recently the wall between the Abbey and the Haras was taken down and bases of the pillars have been built on the original foundations to show where the Abbey used to stand.


Pillars built on the original foundations

Even the 5% of the building still standing gives an idea of the sheer scale of Cluny Abbey before its destruction more than two hundred years ago. The remains of the monastic buildings are now the college of Arts and Metiers.


Millions of euros were poured into restoration before the celebrations of Cluny 2010, the 1100th anniversary of the Abbey. Work continues and the change from year to year is astonishing. To be honest I’m not too keen on the modern stuff, bar the introduction of the virtual reality screens which are absolutely fascinating.


The five arches of the cloisters

This year attention has been on the small cloisters which are the remains of Cluny II. Excavations at one end have revealed a stone slab with supports under which the reliquary would have been kept. The original pillars and capitals of the cloisters have been revealed within the wall built later which cut the cloisters in half.

The pillars of the cloisters revealed

There is evidence of two tiers of seating for 180 monks. The old decorated floor tiles have also been revealed.


We skipped the visit to the grenier as time was getting on. The restoration of its impressive boat roof had been completed before last year’s tour and everyone was keen to get to see the monks’ bathroom. This had been used for many years as a storage cellar. The question is, how many monks could get washed in the two sinks? I am awaiting the transcript from the talk and I will let you know what was said. Unfortunately with loitering behind I missed it.

The bathroom before restoration


Restoration in progress

A visit to Cluny Abbey gives a glimpse of the incredible power and wealth of the medieval Christian church and the influence of the medieval church over the people of the area. It’s one of the most important historical sites in Burgundy, if not in France.

February 2, 2013

Did I tell you we’ve taken up knitting?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Mary @ 18:16


I haven’t knitted since I made a horrible emerald green scarf at primary school. But recently we were lent a handicrafts book and saw the most lovely patchwork blanket. The patterns for all the different squares looked quite simple so we begged bits of leftover wool from a knitter friend and set to. Of course Chris proved himself up to the task immediately, making up his own patterns and getting inches done before I even got up in the morning. My laborious squares turned out all shapes and sizes, some not even square.

As with all geniuses Chris turned his mind to bigger things like this –

Ponies with pullovers (Scottish Tourist Board)

But on reflection he thought we didn’t have enough wool so what about this?

Cat with pullover

 A bit tricky needing four needles. So inspired by his brother who made this dalek  in the back garden

Dr Who and his snowman

Brother Paul as Dr Who and his snowman

he settled for making egg cosies.

Dalek egg cosies

I’ve been looking at patterns to make cats. Now perhaps we could replace our three with these…….

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