Palm Sunday (Rameaux) From Both Sides

Palm Sunday started on Saturday with a rare service at our 12th century church, St Clair’s, in Nouzerines. It’s seldom open so we make sure we go to every event that’s held there to show our support for this wonderful building.

The service was taken entirely by lay preachers. In generally pedantic and rule-following France, that was something of a surprise. Generally everything has to be done by someone with proper qualifications in triplicate. I guess that there’s not enough priests to go around any more.

Another surprise was that Chris was asked to carry the cross in the opening procession. Stéphanie, who led the service, pounced as we came in the door. Chris was delighted to be asked, but a little embarrassed since he, Rors and I had cycled down, so he was wearing cycling longs and a bright yellow cycling jacket. He removed the latter – to reveal his very old Denis the Menace jumper! But nobody seemed to mind his unconventional appearance and he did a very good job. The cross, a jug of water and a picture of Jesus were left on the altar.

The most interesting feature of the ceremony was the blessing of buis, boxwood or box elder, at the end. Those in the know, that is everyone except us, had come clutching a generous spray of it. There was a basket with some in at the door for people who’d either forgotten or never known to bring their own. The water from the jug, which was blessed during the service, was emptied into the font at the end. Then as people went out, they dipped their buis into the font, gave it a little shake and took the damp shrub home to display in the house over Easter.

Today, the day itself, we saw the secular side of Easter preparation celebrations. It was the school chasse d’oeufs, Easter Egg hunt, this year at the stadium in Nouzerines. We cycled down again and were nearly late since I had to do a last minute bike swap due to a puncture. It was its usual happy and disorganised chaos. Rors found five eggs and claimed his prize.

It was a fundraising do, naturally, but I was happy to buy the two very impressing objets (objects) – that’s how the teachers described them! – that Ruadhri had painstakingly made. Rors isn’t a great one for crafting so these took real application and dedication on his part. First there’s a noteholder with a wonderful pin and cotton éolienne (windmill). Rors chose to do the background in my favourite colour blue and added some pretty ribbon round the edge.

And the other gift was a tissue holder made from layers of card and wallpaper. I’m mega impressed and now have high expectations for what’s coming my way on Fête des Mères at the end of May. And that one will be free!

On The Road With ACSNEC – Nouzerines Cycling Club

ACSNEC assembly point

I’ve been cycling, well, forever, but today I went on my first ever club ride.

Chris and I both got emails from the indefatiguable Fatima, who keeps Nouzerines going, inviting us to come along for a ride on Sunday morning with ACSNEC. AC-what? The French love their acronyms with a passion, so whereas an expat might settle for Nouzerines Cycling Club, the organisers have come up with ACSNEC – Amicale Cycliste et Sportive Nord Est de la Creuse. We were to meet at 10 in the village square.

So this morning Rors, Chris and I set off. We were a tiny bit late, what with losing an hour and having to feed our three hungry anglers first, but we made it in time. We did our cheek-kissings, which can be a little bit awkward with bikes, but are an indispensable start to the morning ride. And then we were off. I’m not sure if a route was planned in advance. There seemed to be lively debates at each significant junction, but we didn’t mind. We were happy to follow along and enjoy being out on the bikes. Ruadhrì wasn’t at his best to start with, and there was grumbling going on, but he perked up eventually. We might have to look into a road bike for him. We VTT-ers (mountain bikers) were outnumbered. I think there were four of us. I should get Dave on the road again. Dave is my twenty-five year-old, hand-built touring bike. It was made to measure by Dave Yates at Steele’s cycle shop in Tyneside, back in our pre-kid days when we could buy ourselves nice things occasionally! I reluctantly abandoned Dave when we moved to Ireland since we had kids either on bike seats or on the trailer bike, and that extra weight plus Irish roads was too traumatic a combination for a thoroughbred machine like him. A tough mountain bike was the only option. So I got my Diamondback in 1995 and it’s been going strong ever since. But the roads here don’t demand a VTT, and we no longer have Rors attached, plus we don’t do a lot of offroad cycling (we end up with too many punctures from the brambles) so it’s time to go roadster again. It’ll be a culture shock to go back to drop handlebars and a gear changer on the crossbar!

The sun shone, car drivers respected our peloton, and we did about 20 km with plenty of small breaks to allow us to regroup and have a quick chat. It was very sociable and very enjoyable. There were three ladies – Fatima, myself and young Rachelle, and I think eight blokes ranging from 10-year-old Rors, the baby of the group today, to three teenagers, and up to the four seniors with a maximum age of mid 60s. We’d tried to get Caiti to come along too but she had only just surfaced and anyway, claimed she was sore from yesterday’s judo. I shall persuade her to join us in the future since we girls need more representatives in the club.

It was a great way to spend a Sunday morning. The rides take place each week so we’ll go along whenever we can. We usually cycle then anyway, but it was certainly fun to join the gang and it did make us push that bit harder at times. Anglo-Irish pride is at stake!

 

Installing the Crèche at Nouzerines

For starters, here’s a picture of my in my moment of glory at the carol service!

Photo provided by Wendy Collier-Parker

Today we were at Nouzerines church. Every year, to coincide with the Marché de Noël in the village, there’s a small service aimed at the children to install the crèche. There’s a different theme every year. We’ve had tents and wool in the past. This year it was lanterns. Rors and I rustled up a few paper ones, simple but effective.

I had my camera with me for the first time in the church so I made the most of the opportunity to take some photos of this wonderful old building. Parts of it date from the 12th century. It began life as a priory founded by the Abbey of Déols and there’s a reference to it as “prior de Nozerinis 1201”. The Condé princes took it over from the abbey, and then in 1627 it passed to the Lords of Nouzerines, the de Bridiers, and from them to the de Ligondés. Then the King decided he should have a shot at ownership of it in the 18th century, but, because of the Revolution, not for long.

Up until this point it was called St Clérence, and this saint’s body is buried in the church. However the name changed to St Clair’s and that’s what it’s known as today. Just down the road is St Clair’s miraculous spring which apparently has the ability to cure eye diseases.

It’s a beautiful church. I’ve blogged about it before since we’re in the middle of much-needed renovations for it. The tower has been replaced but there’s lots more to do still. Here’s the old weather vane, lurking in a corner of the church.

And here’s the crucifix and a statue of St Anthony.

The crèche was beautiful. During the service we all put lighted candles in and around it – always slightly worrying – and the lanterns went in front of it. We had a guitarist this year and it made the ceremony even more enjoyable. It turns out this was the mysterious guitarist who appeared at our carol rehearsal the other week!

At the end the children gathered for a photo. That’s Rors in the yellow coat, looking pensive.

I spotted this plaque on the wall, referring to the benefactor who paid for the bells to be electrified in 1963.

The Beaufils family have a lot of connections with our home, Les Fragnes. They lived here for quite a long while. In St Anne’s church in Boussac, there’s a plaque commemorating the fallen from the Second World War. André Beaufils is listed. We had an André Beaufils here. I wonder if it’s the same man, and if Reine was his widow. Time I went back to the archives in Gueret. The electric carillon referred to in the plaque was removed during the renovations and replaced. Chris and I found the old one at the back of the church one day while waiting for Rors to come home on the school bus. Here it is. This must be what Mme Beaufils paid for. It lasted nearly 50 years.

Père Noël, this year accompanied by Mère Noël (something I shall never get the hang of – there wasn’t a Mrs Claus when I was a kid and it was better that way!), came down to the church for the candle lighting. This added another element of anxiety since he had a very large, nylony beard. He brought a big basket of sweets with him which were much appreciated! It was a very enjoyable occasion and I’m even starting to feel a little bit Christmassy at last.

 

 

 

 

Armistice and Apples

We’re just back from the Armistice Day commemoration ceremony at Nouzerines’ war memorial. It is the most perfect day, sunny, warm and still. It’s hard to think it’s November. Look at that blue sky.

The occasion begins a little after eleven when the three flagbearers followed by the Maire carrying a wreath leave the Maire. Everyone falls into step behind them and we walk to the side of the war memorial dedicated to the solidiers who died during the First World War.

The Maire lays the wreath and then two messages are read out, one from the association des anciens combattants en france and one from Monsieur le Président. Both end rousingly with ‘Vive la République. Vive la France.’

The Nouzerines-based children from the three schools in our local co-opérative always stand at the front during the ceremony and every year they contribute.

For the last few years they have recited a poem by a local person. This year they went musical, and sang the first verse and chorus from La Marseillaise. They did brilliantly. A lot of the older people were humming along and they got a good round of applause when they finished.

Here’s what they sang:

Allons enfants de la Patrie
 Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
 Contre nous de la tyrannie
 L’étendard sanglant est levé
 Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
 Mugir ces féroces soldats?
 Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras.
 Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes citoyens
 Formez vos bataillons
 Marchons, marchons
 Qu’un sang impur
 Abreuve nos sillons

Now this translates as:

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived.
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised.
Listen to the sound in the fields,
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts.

To arms citizens, Form your battalions,
We’ll march, we’ll march march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows.

That’s one impressive national anthem!

Then the bearers lowered their flag and there was a minute’s silence for everyone who died during the First World War. Finally we processed round to the other side of the memorial which commemorates the soldiers who died during the Second World War and later conficts, and there was another minute’s silence.

It was over. There is always a cup d’amité on offer at the Auberge, but since we always cycle down to the ceremony, we never partake as we many not get home! Drinking and cycling don’t go together.

Now we’re back I must carry on tackling the apples and pears we’ve harvested this week. I’m peeling, chopping, stewing and freezing them. I may diversify into a little chutney making over the weekend.

There’s at least 10 kg in the three biggest bags, so I’ll be busy for some time. And there is still plenty of fruit lying around beneath long abandoned trees, calling for me!

 

Dogs Go To Church But Cats Drink Beer

We’re just back from getting Nessie and the unusually-named Reaper the guinea-pig blessed at church. It’s St Francis’ Day and the fourth animal-blessing ceremony to be held at Nouzerines’ St Clair’s church has taken place.

We offered to take Treacle the cat with us, but she said she had more important things to do!

We didn’t take camelids this time either . You might remember from blog post last year about the event, Stressed but Blessed, it isn’t a llama and alpaca-friendly occasion. There are too many people around wanting to poke them, and too many yappy small dogs getting under their feet. They don’t enjoy it so we won’t inflict it on them again. However, Nessie and the guinea-pig took it all in their stride, both the ceremony and getting there and back by bike.

I was half tempted to take the turkeys. I’m sure a blessed turkey will taste even better than a normal free-range one. In the old days, turkeys were herded from Norfolk to London for the Christmas market. That’s roughly 110 miles! Les Fragnes to Nouzerines is only two. In theory it should be a doddle! The turkeys wouldn’t notice the distance. They walk miles every day, mooching up and down the sheep field, in between the patience-trying routine of getting them through the three gateways between the stable (their night-time accommodation) and the paddock.

There wasn’t a massive turnout this year sadly – half a dozen dogs, several caged (and very spitty) cats and Reaper, who the priest was convinced was a hamster!

The animals being blessed

It’s a chaotic but enjoyable occasion. There’s a 5 km walk afterwards through the quiet lanes around the village, but since we’ve already cycled 2.5km there, with the return trip to make obviously, and have the usual million things to do around the farm, we don’t partake in the ramble but get straight back home for elevenses. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep Reaper in the bar bag for any longer anyway.

Sadly, and very ironically, during the ceremony there were the sounds of gunshot in the distance as hunters took out a few of St Francis’s wild companions. However, the priest had explained in his sermon that God gave us animals to be our companions and serve us … and also be served up as our dinners!

Tour de France Action in Creuse

We have had a brilliant morning watching the Tour de France.

We woke up to rain, which was a blow. We wanted the rain, we’ve been praying for it – but not today! However, it dried up shortly before we set off at just after 10 am to claim our spot for watching the spectacle, after a quick face painting session.

Caiti's loyalties are split 3 ways - Ireland, France and the UK

We had to get off our bikes at the junction of the D2 and D97. At first the gendarme there didn’t seem to want to let us get past at all, but we told him firmly we would walk our bikes along the road. He wasn’t happy but he let us past. As soon as we were out of sight, we hopped on again and zoomed down to a good viewing point.

First past was one of the official merchandise vans.

I invested €20 in one of the kits. I’ll be amazed if the Tour de France ever comes so close to us again, so it was a celebration. Here’s what I got …

… not forgetting the tee-shirt too!

Cars and motorbikes, mainly gendarmes who all looked rather smug, roared past at intervals. Then came the caravan. This is brilliant! Everyone shouts and cheers and waves, and then jumps nimbly out of the way as the freebies come flying.

Ruadhri was thrilled to see the Smurf lorry, dishing out Smurf sweets!

I think this Banette one was my favourite.

Banette threw out clicky-clacky things, which are awesome!

The caravan took about half an hour to go by, and then came the waiting time. However, it wasn’t boring. In just ten minutes, 80 cars and 3 motorbikes went by. What most of these vehicles are actually contributing to the Tour I have no idea. I think a lot of people in them are there on a corporate junket. But they’re jolly and wave as they go by, so it’s fun.

Five helicopters buzzed past, a sure sign the cyclists are close by, a wave of more gendarme motorcyclists smirked by, and then, about ten minutes ahead of schedule, the cyclists arrive. First came the breakaway group of nine riders.

A couple of minutes later the peloton zoomed by. I only managed to get one photo as they passed, it was that quick. I’ve got Geraint Thomas in this shot.

The last cyclist went by and then some more team cars and finally the broom wagon. And it was all over.

It’s a breathless spectacle, very exciting but over way too fast. However, we had a ball and came home with all our goodies, apart from the ones we’d eaten at the time (mini-sausages, savoury nibbles and madeleines, all delicious). Here’s about half our haul.

The only naff items were the portable ashtrays from Bic, but if we were smokers I’m sure we’d be very appreciative.

Caitlin is going to try and get a job with the caravan next year. It would be a great way to spend three weeks of her summer. I’ve suggested she becomes one of the mini-sausage-distributers. She could accidentally drop her sackful as she goes past us, because we’ll be there somewhere along the route I hope!

Tour de France Build-Up

There’s a great atmosphere in Nouzerines and Boussac. People are definitely excited about the Tour de France passing through tomorrow. I was in the Tourist Office in Boussac very briefly this morning, and Pascale took two calls about it while I was there, and she wasn’t officially open yet! There were piles of crowd barriers around the place, waiting to be put up and lots of signs about traffic and parking restrictions.

This afternoon we’ve just been for a ride around Nouzerines to see how preparations are coming on. First up, there’s a nice big banner about our church restoration at the crossroads.

Outside the Auberge is a rather fancy yellow Tour de France flag.

There are crowd barriers by the church, which someone has decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper flowers.

Up at the junction on the D2, all the road signs have been raised up (and in Nouzerines too – something to do with preventing them causing crashes perhaps?) and a Sylvain Chavanel fan has added his name to the bicycle hanging from the wooden sign.

Further along the D2 towards Tercillat is this smashing hay-bale, cycling shirt and bicycle structure. Isn’t it cool?

We’re looking forward to tomorrow. We’ve picked our spot along the D2 and eyed up a few TDF official bright green arrows that won’t be missed after the race is over. Caiti is making signs to wave and planning a face-painting design to do on us all.

Vive le Tour de France!

Tour de France 2011 in Creuse

Only ten days until the Tour de France blasts through Nouzerines in a blur of coloured lycra and reflective sunglasses. As you’ve seen in previous posts, signs and banners have been put up to advertise the event. However, the banners aren’t in very good nick at the moment. Strong winds last week tangled them both up. The Maire will have to get his ladder out.

The big day is 9th July. The eighth stage of the Tour goes from Aigurande to Super-Besse, via our village. The caravan is due in Nouzerines at 11.15 and the riders at 12.57. But celebrations will be underway from 9.30 with – you’ve guessed it, this being France – food and drink being on sale. Then at some point during the morning, Nouzerines will be declaring its independence. It will become a cité Royale. I’ll let you have more details when I found them out!

The Tour then hits Boussac, our local town. The caravan gets there at 11.35 and the riders at 13.14. In case you haven’t noticed, the riders are going faster than the caravan. It usually takes 15 minutes to drive to Boussac from here, Les Fragnes. The riders will only take 2 minutes longer. Awesome. Boussac is celebrating with a small market of local goods, an exhibition of old Tour jerseys and jazz music.

The villages of Lavaufranche (11.44 and 13.23) and Soumans (11.50 and 13.28) are the next on the Tour route, and will be doing a lot of eating. A giant barbecue is lined up for Lavaufranche, and Soumans is planning a pig roast. I wonder if the riders mind cycling past all this food?

To get you in a cycling mood, here are some photos from old magazines and papers of Tours gone by.

Octave Lapize in the 1910 Tour
Strasbourg 1926 - the 108 riders collect their food
The 1928 Tour
The itinerary of the 1913 Tour
The 1951 itinerary
A rider in 1961 cooling down

 

 

 

 

 

Lavoirs

For the occasion of the Nouzerines Fête, someone did a wonderful job cleaning the lavoir in the village.

Clean St Clair's Lavoir

This is right next to St Clair’s spring, which allegedly has miraculous properties where eyesight is concerned.

St Clair's miraculous spring

The lavoir was sparkly clean for the special event. A mere two weeks later it is all green and scummy again, sadly.

This little lavoir is not far from us

You come across lavoirs in every town and village in rural France, and sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were the places where women used to do the washing in the past. They were places to meet friends and have a chat while doing the backbreaking work of handwashing everything from handkerchiefs to sheets. There was a bit of competition attached too – everyone would be watching out to see how many of a certain item their neighbours had, and what sort of quality it was.

 

 

 

The women came to the lavoir in the second stage of the washing. They would already have soaked and scrubbed the laundry, and boiled it in a cauldron with cinders, caustic soda and, unlikely as it might sound, lard. Then they would heave the wet, heavy washing down to the lavoir, or river, in wicker baskets on their back to rinse it. Most lavoirs have wide edges to them, where the women could spread out their laundry, and kneel, often on a wooden sort of step they brought with them which had straw in to give some padding for their knees, to carry on with their labour.

After rinsing, the women would batter the wet washing with a wooden battoir, a sort of small paddle, to get the water out. They would either carry these back in their wicker baskets or, if they had a great deal of laundry, in a wheelbarrow. Then it would need to be hung up to dry somewhere, either indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather, and finally it would need to be ironed.

 

 

 

 

It was incredibly hard work. The women had to carry heavy, wet washing to and from the lavoir, rinse, wring and bash it, their hands permanently cold and wet and their backs bent all the time. And in all elements. I for one never cease to be grateful for my washing machine. It comes in as number 12 in the Tesco Mobile list of greatest inventions ever (4000 people polled) list is herehttp://thevibe.socialvibe.com/index.php/2010/05/21/list-of-100-most-important-inventions-of-all-time-includes-email-ibuprofen-sliced-bread/. I think it merits a much higher placing, but it’s something we take so much for granted these days that it easily gets overlooked, particularly by the younger generation.

So next time you come across a lavoir in your travels in France, do stop for a moment and think about the women who used to use it.

 

The lavoir at Boussac

Tempting Fête

Nouzerines in the morning

June and July are the month for fêtes in France. Pretty much every little village with have one at some point, often tying in with its ‘saint patronale’ (patron saint). Nouzerines is connected with Saint Clair, whose day is 1st June. So the weekend closest to that is when the Nouzerines fête takes place. The drawback is that early June has a tendency to be unsettled and stormy in this part of the country. We should possibly consider swapping St Clair for a less meteorologically challenged saint.

 

 

 

 

 

Trish and Michel, my co-manners

I was at the fête Sunday morning, manning the AIPB cake stall. I got there shortly after 8am and the vide grenier (car boot sale / bric-a-brac stalls) was in full swing already. I dread to think what time they must have arrived to get set up. There was a mass and procession from the church to St Clair’s spring at 9.30am, but I couldn’t participate, which was a little disappointing, since I was busy selling slices of carrot cake and flapjacks and scones to mainly French customers. However, this is a very important duty. There are certain things French people really need to know about British culture, and English cakes are near the top of the list. A French person who can master a scone with butter and cream is well on the way to becoming an Anglophile.

Sunny vide grenier scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nouzerines in the afternoon with my nephew James

Fêtes are very popular. They’re all quite similar, but it’s a winning formula. Dancing and fireworks the first night after a repas (meal), then next day a vide grenier followed by some sort of spectacle (show), often musical, and some kind of concours (race) or defilé (parade). Nouzerines was set to have troupe of 45 Portuguese dancers (I hope the stage was well screwed together) and the Sapeurs-Pompiers batterie-fanfare, followed by the course de la patate. This latter looked great. It was a relay involving carrying potatoes on spoons. There was a long list of rules on the posters advertising it, which included not touching your potato or eating it or throwing it, and you were definitely not allowed to stop to do such things as scratch or pee! But sadly the whole afternoon was washed out by rain as these photos show. Chris, Ruadhri and I went down with Chris’s visiting sister and brother and their families. We got well and truly soaked. However, the kids won some tat on the ‘hoop a duck’ stall and then had a toffee apple each, so they were happy enough. It was worth going.

Rors, wet and thoughtful

Maybe we’ll get the sun next year!