The third weekend in September marks the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine – let’s call them European Cultural Heritage Days. Since their inception in 1984 they have been organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. They went Europe-wide in 1991, encouraged by the Council of Europe; and now 49 countries take part in the scheme.
Here in the Morvan this is a weekend to mark in one’s diary.There was so much going on! Some places we know already. We have tramped round the Grands Lacs du Morvan (‘Bring your own transport and sensible shoes’, the blurb advised). We live five minutes’ drive from the 14th century Château de Lantilly, built on the site of a gallo-roman villa, which was offering guided tours and a gymkhana too. We could pass up the free admission to the Résistance museum in the Maison du Parc at at St-Brisson, having taken several visitors there in the past.
Digression: Several years ago they spurned my offer to share my translation of the memoirs of a Scottish baronet who masterminded Résistance activities in the Morvan. He had presented a signed copy of his book, That Drug Danger, to a local farmer, who prevailed upon me to translate into French what to him were the interesting bits, and very interesting they were. You'd think the people at St-Brisson would want to read them, but no…
While many well-known tourist sites offer free visits or lay on special activities during the heritage weekend, there are also opportunities to visit places which are not usually open to the public. We had never heard of the former granite quarries at Saint Germain de Modéon near Saulieu, billed as part of the Morvan’s industrial heritage. They offered a free guided tour on the Saturday afternoon.
Could we fit in several visits during the weekend? We could take in the free guided tour of the mediaeval Château de Chissey-en-Morvan on Saturday morning and still fit in the granite quarries in the afternoon. Sunday morning featured ‘In the Steps of the Bear’, a ramble round Saulieu, famous for the animal sculptor François Pompon . The bear refers to his most famous work – click here and take your pick.
Another little-known treasure, the mediaeval Château de Roc’h Morvan, was offering free guided tours all day on Saturday and Sunday. We could go there on the Sunday afternoon…
Well, we were geared up for what the French call un weekend mouvementé with cultural overload; but it was not to be. Around 3 pm on Wednesday 16 September we were enjoying our weekly scrabble session with our friend Simone, a retired chartered accountant, 89 going on 60, when a violent storm struck. Gales, thunder, lightning, rain, hail…all in the space of a few minutes.
The house and Charity Cottage escaped serious damage, but our garden was a disaster area. Several fruit trees were uprooted. A giant with a machete had split our beautiful weeping willow from top to bottom. A splendid conifer snapped like a matchstick and fell across our drive. Simone was frantic. How could she get home? I realised that it might be possible to drive across the grass, around the fallen tree. Simone is no wimp. Scorning our offers to take the wheel, she stormed across the grass, crunching fallen branches as she went – and came to a halt in front of the three-inch kerb which separated the gravel drive from the grass.
Enter Yvonne, our wonderful cleaning lady, with a crowbar, who made short work of the obstruction. Simone drove off in triumph.
We have good neighbours. Nicolas from across the road arrived with his chainsaw. He cut up the fallen conifer and pushed the pieces to one side to enable us to get our car out without repeating Simone’s feat of derring-do. I pressed a bottle of champagne on him and promised him an honourable mention in my next Expat Focus article.
Simone telephoned to say that the storm seemed to have been quite localised: her home in Corbigny was unharmed. I called our insurers, who confirmed the damage had been confined to a 2-mile radius. We arranged to call at their offices in Avallon, an hour’s drive from Maré, and make our declaration in person. The power outage lasted 24 hours. We had plenty of candles and I cooked supper on the hob which uses bottled gas.
And now for Rosy’s Theory of Mitigation. When we are due for a real catastrophe, our guardian angel steps in and reduces it to a contretemps. This has happened to me so many times that I find it hard to believe otherwise. Someone up there approves, however grudgingly, of me and decides to let me live a little longer. We could have had our roof blown off. We have two huge oaks and a giant redwood, any or all of which could have fallen on our home. Or ineed we could have been struck by lightning, there being plenty of that at the time.
The weekend was devoted to tidying up and arranging for our paysagiste to inspect the damage and prepare a devis for the insurers.
Digression: Back in Suffolk we were used to estimates, which were – er – subject to variation according to circumstances. Here in France you get a written devis, a detailed quote apparently written on tablets of stone.
We were not allowed to do anything major in the garden until the insurers gave the all clear, but we could sweep the patio clean of leaves and other debris. We invited friends to harvest the fallen fruit (I still have jam and jelly from last year). We forgot all about the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine until it was too late. Well, there’s always 2016.
Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas. Rosy runs Charity Cottage in aid of Combat Stress. The cottage has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk , which has links to Combat Stress.
The Rabsons are taking bookings for autumn 2015.