Our Life in Burgundy

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August 31, 2014

The Fête des Lavoirs


It seems that around here you can have a fête for just about anything and this weekend the society Cortambert, notre patrimoine held the Fête des Lavoirs, an event all about lavoirs, rivers and water.

The lavoir at Cortambert


Inside the lavoir

Cortambert has two hamlets, Varanges to the south and half of Toury to the north, Toury being divided between Cortambert and Bray. In the 1850s their lavoirs were built by the same architect. Hence they are all pretty similar. It’s interesting to note that Toury Bray would not contribute to the cost of a lavoir but Cortambert built it on Bray’s side of the road.

Until the 1950s these communal washhouses were as much a part of a woman’s life as the town market. It was their space and men were not welcome anywhere near. Men sat and talked at the café while the women discussed local politics and made the important decisions at the lavoir. They ‘read’ clothes as one would tarot cards, compiling information about people. A case of clean clothes and soiled reputations.

The fountain at Cortambert

At each of the lavoirs there is a fountain into which the water runs first. From these the household water was collected in buckets. Then the water flowed through a horse trough so the animals could drink. Then into the lavoir. Each woman had her place at the lavoir according to status, the dominant women being at the end where the water came in and was therefore the cleanest. After leaving the lavoir the water flowed down into the Grosne. We learned a lot about our local rivers and water supply from an excellent exhibition at the foyer rural. 

At Toury Claire gave us a demonstration about the properties of water

Throughout the weekend there was plenty of entertainment on the theme of water. We had extracts from the works of the local philosopher Pierre Boudot read by Mme Boudot, and members of the Cluny amateur theatre group recited poems.  We heard some Georges Brassens songs, all about rain. 

Songs and recitals in Varanges


The lavoir at Cortambert was decorated by our local scuptor, Guy Forge. With the light reflecting off the water it was an excellent setting for his works.

Guy Forge

Maryse Labaune and Gilles Dury, as Dame Ninon la lavandière and M. Le Garde, entertained us with ‘La Lessive’ a lighthearted look at the roles of men and women in the age of the lavoir.

Mme Ninon arriving with her washing

We had fun guessing who in the village the clothes in the washing basket belonged to.

Saturday evening was rounded off with a buvette and a concert by Christal’fragil from Lyon.

A good crowd of spectators at Cortambert


Sunday’s highlight was a déambulation with la Compagnie Marie Braun and Thomas Casey. Not knowing what a déambulation was we saw the parade rather than took part in it.  Marie led them down with her flute like the Pied Piper, and Thomas danced ahead. At the lavoir they danced on the wall above the horse trough and we waited to see if they would fall in.

Marie and Thomas dancing above the horsetrough


And Marie is still playing the flute!


Afterwards the children were taken for a ride in the calèche.

So thanks to Raymond and Pascale and Claire, and everyone else that joined in, we enjoyed a very educative and sociable weekend that included all three lavoirs of  the commune, now monuments to a bygone age.


August 25, 2014

To Aix-les-Bains by Steam Train

Filed under: Events,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 13:24

The first 241P locomotives were built between 1947 and 1949 and were the last new class of passenger steam locomotives  in France.  They could haul trains of up to 16 coaches weighing over 800 tons at 120km/hr. But even as they were introduced  the large scale electrification of the SNCF was underway. 


The 241P17 arriving in Mâcon station


Our train, the 241P17, ran from 1950 until  September 1969 and, after being left to rust for many years, was destined to grace the centre of a roundabout. That is until a group of enthusiasts from Le Creusot decided to save it. After 13 years of hard work it was back in operation and in April 2006 it was authorised to run on SNCF tracks. At first the SNCF did not let it go very far in case of breakdown, in fact one time it did run out of coal. But now Les Chemins de Fer du Creusot run trips each year to Switzerland, le Puy du Dôme, Reims and Aix-les-Bains. The next trip is to Avignon in October.

The engine drivers

We boarded at Mâcon and were pleased to see there were proper compartment carriages with the corridor outside. Most people hung out of the windows getting gritty eyes from the smoke.

A halt for maintenance at Bourg en Bresse

It was a short hop to Bourg en Bresse where we stopped for an hour to fill up with water. The water was supplied by a couple of old fire engines. We watched as the engineers did things with oil cans and kicked the wheels. A huge crowd had turned up to see the train.

An old fire engine refilled the tanks

After Bourg en Bresse we crossed the Rhone and ran along a gorge through the hills. Near Aix-les-Bains there were several long tunnels which plunged us into darkness, à la Agatha Christie.

Into the hills


We arrived in Aix-les-Bains at lunchtime and set off to see the lake at Petit Port.

Petit Port on Lac du Bourget

Aix-les-Bains and the Lac du Bourget were instrumental in the poet Lamartine’s love life and his emergence as France’s foremost romatic poet. In 1816, aged 20, he arrived to take the waters and happened to save a woman from drowning. They fell in love despite her being married and a good deal older than he, and arranged to meet the following year. In 1817 he waited expectantly by the lake but she was too ill with consumption to leave Paris. It is while he was waiting for her that his most famous poem, Le Lac, was written. He continued to visit Aix-les Bains every year and it was here he met his wife Mary Ann Birch.

Victorian Spa hotels

Aix-les-Bains was very popular in Victorian times. To me it looks very colonial with magnificent hotels and exotic gardens.

Chris having a rest in the park

The trip back to Mâcon was spent waving to groups of people that had gathered to see the train go past. In this sophisticated world it was good to see such enthusiasm and passion abounding in everyone, no matter whether volunteer, passenger or spectator.


August 18, 2014

A visit to Saumur

Filed under: Events,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 21:40


Despite living in the department of Saône-et-Loire for six years we had never ever seen the Loire but always thought we should. Then Claude, having been given a card for the Cormatin Loto, won a free night away in a B&B so we thought we would use it to visit Saumur in the Loire Valley.


Saumur on the Loire

Saumur is a very busy place, chock-a-block with English tourists, but it redeems itself with its horses. On arrival we took a ride around the town centre in a calèche pulled by two beautiful Percherons.


Round Saumur by calèche

We visited the old  stables of the Cadre Noir, a magnificent building now housing the Cavalry Museum.  The museum tells the history of the French Cavalry from the time of Charles VII (1445) to the present day. The French cavalry were a ferocious brigade and there didn’t seem to be a time when they weren’t fighting somebody or another. It was interesting to read the accounts of battles between the English and French from the French point of view. I always thought that the English had won the odd skirmish but apparently not.


Claude playing on a tank outside the cavalry museum

In the first world war horses couldn’t fight against mud and cannons and so they were replaced by tanks. There were plenty of armoured vehicles to see at the Musée des Blindés, the biggest tank museum in Europe. Chris took the opportunity to examine the real life versions of the models he makes.


Chris with the tanks

The highlight of our stay was the performance of the Cadre Noir.  This military academy was founded in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars had decimated the cavalry. Faced with the urgency of retraining riders and horses, elite instructors came to Saumur to train the officer pupils of the cavalry.  They included several great civilian riding masters from the Manèges of Versailles, the Tuileries and Saint-Germain.


The Cadre Noir


Having had dressage lessons for the last four years we saw what our moniteur had been trying to teach us, performed immaculately by the écuyers. A team from the Cadre Noir will be competing at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, 23rd August to 7th September. We saw a preview of the proposed voltige routine and were suitably impressed.


Chateau de Brézé

We couldn’t leave Saumur without visiting at least one chateau. Dating from the 11th century, the Château of Brézé is interesting as it has an 18m deep dry moat which acts as a passage between caverns carved in the rock around the base.


The moat of the Chateau de Brézé

 Underground are living quarters, stables, workshops, kitchens and wine cellars. There are dungeons from when it was a prison; later the ancient guard house was used to breed silkworms. Outside was the biggest dovecot in the region, in those days a status symbol. Each of the 3700 niches corresponded to a half acre of tillable land on the estate.


A house built into the rock

On the way home we visited some troglodyte villages, houses and craft workshops cut into the stone by the banks of the Loire. The constant temperature and humidity make troglodyte caverns idea for raising mushrooms and maturing wine. Otherwise they are considered a des res, cool in summer and warm in winter. Not for me though. I prefer windows and a view.

So thank you Claude for our trip away. Even after only a couple of days in the flatlands to the west we were glad to see our hills again.

postscript : Why on earth does the tourist office of Saumur spend thousands of euros printing a beautiful brochure in three languages in which the English version is so dismal? Translated by robot. Occasionally I am tempted to correct a museum leaflet and send it back. Is that being pedantic?

More photos of Claude on his facebook page

August 1, 2014

Today is Yorkshire Day

Filed under: Events,People,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 11:11



August 1st is Yorkshire Day.  It began in 1975 as a protest against the re-organisation of the Ridings. On Yorkshire Day dignitaries recite the Yorkshire Declaration of Integrity which affirms Yorkshire’s ancient founding in 875 as the kingdom of Jorvik by the Vikings and asserts the immovability of its boundaries.

“I, [Name], being a resident of the [West/North/East] Riding of Yorkshire declare:

That Yorkshire is three Ridings and the City of York, with these Boundaries of 1139  years standing; That the address of all places in these Ridings is Yorkshire; That all persons born therein or resident therein and loyal to the Ridings are Yorkshiremen and women; That any person or corporate body which deliberately ignores or denies the aforementioned shall forfeit all claim to Yorkshire status.

These declarations made this Yorkshire Day 2014. God Save the Queen!”

After this solemn start Yorkshire Day involves having a good time involving a lot of welly wanging, Yorkshire pudding eating and ferret racing. Followed of course by a rousing rendition of the Yorkshire anthem, On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘At.    www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8MWb1FlODQ

The Tour de France really put Yorkshire on the map.  It was strange to see all the places we know so well on French TV. When we lived in Leeds we used to come to France to watch the Tour.  This year we  had to travel only as far as Beaujolais.

Yorkshire seems to breed good athletes. In the London Olympics Yorkshire won 12 medals. If Yorkshire had been a country it would have come in 12th place ahead of Jamaica, Spain and Brazil. In Nicola Adams we have the first woman boxing gold medalist. We have Jessica Ennis and Lizzie Armitstead the road cyclist. And the famous Brownlee brothers.

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee

Yorkshire is well represented in Glasgow. The Leeds Diving Club supplied half of the swimmers and divers for the England team, including Jack Laugher. Even Yona Knight-Wisdom, diving for Jamaica, was born and brought up in Leeds.

So if Yorkshire were independent we could hold our own in competitions. In the Commonwealth Games there are 4,100 athletes representing 71 nations in 17 sports. Expect a fair few of the medals to be won by Yorkshire’s finest.

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