Our Life in Burgundy

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July 26, 2013

Making Ocarinas

Filed under: Events,Village Life — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 16:10


The ocarina is a very ancient sort of flute made for thousands of years especially in China and South America. It was the Aztecs who introduced the ocarina to Europe and an Italian who changed the concept of them from a toy to a musical instrument.

Ocarinas come in all shapes and sizes and are just a hollow sealed vessel with mouthpiece and finger holes. They are traditionally made of clay but they can be made of almost anything, including carrots and apples.


I was sent on a mission this week to learn how to make ocarinas. Pascale had a mad idea that a group of us should learn to make them and form a band. There are more artistically adept people in the village, in fact everybody is more talented than I, but I was the only one willing and available…..


Some of my classmates

The course was held in the Orangerie in the Parc Abbatial, a lovely setting next to the Mairie in Cluny. The teacher was Marie-Jo who, despite the wide ranging skills of the group, managed to ensure that everyone was successful in producing at least one working ocarina and left with some skill in modelling clay.


We were shown two ways to make ocarinas. The first is to roll out a circle of clay and drape it round a tennis ball to get the hollow shape. Remove the tennis ball and press the edges of the clay together. It’s rather like making a Cornish pasty.

The second way is to push your thumb into a round ball of clay and gradually fashion a hollow ball which can be brought together and sealed at the top.


The tricky bit is making the holes. The sound hole is made with a hollow pen top. Then a metal nail file is pressed on the side of the hole and slid upwards to make a slit above the sound hole.

Marie-Jo said not all ocarinas work. Three out of four of mine didn’t and I don’t really know why. The mouth slit is too big? Not in the right place? The clay too thick?

If you blow into the mouthpiece there should be a single note, the depth of which depends on the size of the ocarina. You can then put in some finger holes, two, four or  eight, to give a wider range of notes.

I’ve left my single working ocarina to be fired. Hopefully when I get it back I will be able to replicate it. So you never know, there might be the Cortambert ocarina band one day.


August 14, 2011

The Wood-turner of Sigy-le-Châtel

Filed under: Events,People,Places — Tags: , , , , — Mary @ 18:17

It was an interesting experience to go to a one-man show performed by Philippe Dyon, the wood-turner of Sigy-le-Châtel. Sigy is near Salorney-sur-Guye, just to the east of Cormatin.

The show was entitled ‘The History of Wood Turning’. M. Dyon is an excellent narrator who told the story from the Stone age via ancient Egypt, the invention of lathes, the use of robots for mass production, to the art it is today. At each stage he wore amusing costumes and there were interesting effects with a stroboscope and flying ribbons of shavings. During the story M. Dyon turned some chair legs, a cup which became a lampshade, and a spinning top for which he is famous. He made it look so easy!



The wood-turner was adamant that photographs should not be taken as he wants his work to convey an emotion and if a camera gets inbetween you and the work then the effect is lost. Having thought he just meant during his performance I did take a couple of photos in his exhibition room afterwards and was thoroughly admonished for it. So I would doubt you will see many photos of his work.

Exhibition of wood turning

Exhibition of wood turning

Friday night was also the big Night market at St Gengoux. This is held twice in the summer, in July and August. There  was a carnival atmosphere with music, wine and food,  enjoyed by families, locals and tourists alike. There were stalls with all sorts of decorative work, painted containers, wooden plaques and jewellery, all made locally. As usual we stood entranced watching this fellow making glass animals.

The glassblower at St Gengoux nightmarket

The glassblower at St Gengoux nightmarket

There is a lot of artistic talent in this area, an amazing number of potters. Often there are  exhibitions in Cluny. And of course if you can visit La Filaterie, the old textile mill down by the river in Cormatin, to admire and buy the work of many local artists.

I can’t go without showing you the latest picture of the kittens, now 8 weeks old! They spend their days running about on the woodpile while White Cat tries to keep an eye on them all.

8 weeks old!

8 weeks old!

July 9, 2011

Homage to Brother Daniel of Taizé

Filed under: Events,People — Tags: , — Mary @ 22:39

Saturday is market day in Cluny, a good place to meet friends and neighbours. This morning, on the way to meet friends at the Café du Nord, it began to rain heavily so we ducked into the Ecuries de St Hugues, the old stables by the market that are now used for exhibitions.

We found an exhibition of pottery, entitled “A chacun sa créativité”  a tribute to Brother Daniel de Montmollin on his 90th birthday. Fifty potters are exhibiting until September. Not only can you admire their work but you can meet the potters in person and attend one of the regular workshops.

Some of Brother Daniel's work on display

Some of Brother Daniel's work on display

Brother Daniel is the potter famous for his work at the community at Taizé. He set up his first workshop in 1949 and developed distinctive stoneware glazes using vegetable ashes. He attaches great importance to working with his hands, moulding simple materials in tune with the elements. The clay and many of the materials for the glazes are sourced locally.

There are about a hundred brothers at Taizé who come from all over the world. They look after the thousands of young people who arrive at Taizé every week. They accept no donations and have no inherited wealth. Neither do they have personal possessions, even their clothes are communal. They cover their living expenses entirely through their own labour, so as well as their spiritual work they all have manual jobs.

There are now two workshops at Taizé and most of the pottery is produced in the winter when there are fewer visitors. It is displayed and sold in the exhibition room next to the church. The shop is closed on Mondays and during the services but do try and visit. The brothers also make jewellery, postcards and wall decorations, and there are recordings of the Taizé chants on CD. All are beautifully produced and very affordable.

August 15, 2010

Le Marché de Potier

Filed under: Events,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 16:41
The Potters' Market at Cluny

The Potters' Market at Cluny

There was an excellent potters’ market this weekend in Cluny. There were fifty stands with artists from all over France exhibiting wonderful pieces that were useful or quirky but always beautifully made.

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