February in the Morvan

We love Cervon!

We have lived at Maré le Bas in the commune of Cervon since 2005. This magnificent poster (pictured above) celebrating Cervon recently appeared on our local notice boards. I hope it will encourage some of you to visit when le confinement (which conveys the pain of parturition with none of the joy) is eased.

Readers of my effusions already know what a great job M le Maire and his team do. I have praised their cheerful newsletters during this difficult time. Well, a few weeks ago, a magnificent A4 glossy magazine, Vents du Morvan Coeur de Bourgogne, arrived in every mailbox in the commune, a gift from the Mairie. The main feature is Dossier Cervon, crammed with interesting articles and glorious photographs of local scenes and characters. John and I found it so enthralling that we bought a copy – a bargain at only €6.50 – to send to our son and his wife in California. Read all about the magazine on the Vents du Morvan website, and see why the Rabsons are so fond of our commune.

 

Pancakes and Valentines

In late January, our local supermarkets are full of pancake paraphernalia. A little early for Pancake Tuesday, surely? Well, yes. They are, in fact, gearing up for Candlemas, La Chandeleur, on 2nd February. For an avowedly secular nation, France is strong on Roman Catholic tradition. In the French calendar, every day is dedicated to a saint (my birthday commemorates St Léonce). Candlemas celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus 40 days after His birth. Like Christmas, Candlemas is a pagan festival that has been sanitised and adopted by the Christian Church.

In my student days, research required hours in a library, paper-chasing through dog-eared index cards. Today, I can sit in my warm study, type a key word, and see what pops up. So now I know that Candlemas started life as Lupercalia, a festival in honour of the god of fertility and shepherds – Pan to the Greeks; Lupercus to the Romans – with torchlight processions and streaking through the streets. Lupercalia was celebrated in mid-February and is also thought by many to have been the origin of St Valentine’s Day. Read all about it on FrenchMoments.eu.

Plutarch wrote:

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“At this time, many noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

It sounded such good fun, especially the nude magistrates and shaggy thongs, that I am not surprised that in 472 AD Pope Gelasius I moved Lupercalia to 2 February and renamed it the Purification of Mary.

And the pancakes/crêpes? Let us skip the surfing and just say they are a symbol of prosperity for the year to come. There are many recipes, but I favour the basic pancake recipe in my gravy-spattered copy of Delia Smith’s 1976 Frugal Food (reissued in 2008). However, while Brits stock up on lemons for our pancakes, the French favour jam or Nutella.

 

Saint Valentine

14th February is La Saint Valentin.

Digression: Why is St Valentine’s day La Saint Valentin in French? ‘Saint Valentin’ is masculine, and therefore the article associated with it should normally be ‘le’. However, what we mean here is ‘la fête de Saint Valentin’ – fête is feminine, hence the ‘la’. Pedantry rules OK.

I predict a glut of Valentine greetings and a dearth of meals out this year. Here in the Morvan, a 6 pm curfew is in force. Our favourite eatery, Le Marode in Corbigny, offers only takeaway pizzas and burgers, in contrast to the Valentine dinner at €35 euros a head, including kir and champagne, which John and I enjoyed in 2018, when our new kitchen was being installed and a home-cooked celebratory meal was not an option.

I have subscribed to Jacquie Lawson, since all she offered was a Christmas card depicting her cottage and labrador Chudleigh. Her website is a triumph of animation and music, puzzles and games.

Or how about a DIY greetings card? Try CountryLiving.com. A rich source of free stock photos is on
Dreamstime.com. I particularly like these homegrown greetings:

A cheerful website from the village of Saint-Valentin in the Indre tells you more than you ever wanted to know about Saint Valentine (there are several candidates, all Christian martyrs) and the many activities on offer. I came across a Saint-Valentin in Quebec, but the only St-Valentin in France is in the Indre. See their website for their action-packed 2020 programme. This year, all they are offering is a competition for the best declarations of love.

 

We blame Brexit!

We rely on the British Corner Shop for self-raising flour, crumpets, suet and many other items, which supermarkets in the Dordogne probably stock for their Brits, but which are unknown here in the Morvan, where expats are rare. BCS is beyond praise.

BCS parcels are a miracle of packaging, always with a card signed by the person responsible. I plead guilty to recycling their brown paper and bubble wrap.

Well, Brexit has done BCS a great deal of harm. Shortly after Christmas, I emailed an order and received the standard acknowledgement. Here is their next email:

“As you know, on the 1st January 2021, the UK left the EU, and we now need to comply with different rules and regulations, which has impacted the service we provide to you.

Unfortunately, it’s come to light that there are restrictions on certain products, so we have had to remove some products from your order to enable it to successfully clear customs.

We will therefore be processing refunds for the affected items, and you will receive a separate email confirming the refund transaction has taken place.

We are so sorry about this. Please know we are doing everything in our power to sort this issue, so that we can continue to provide you with your favourite British goods.

We have also had to make the difficult decision to temporarily suspend these items on our website for EU residents. We see this as a short-term fix and are hopeful that you will be able to buy these items again soon. We have a dedicated team currently reviewing the documents and restrictions and will continue to update our live service updates page with our progress.

Please know we are doing our absolute best to get your parcels to you as soon as possible. We know this is a challenging time for everyone, and our teams have been working round the clock to find a solution.

We would like to take this time to say a massive thank you for your ongoing support; we see and appreciate you.”

Bad news for everyone. But there was worse to come.

“We have had to make the difficult decision to process a refund for your order. We did not make this decision lightly and are truly sorry for the disappointment this may cause. The past few weeks have been our most challenging yet, and we are so grateful for your ongoing patience and support.

There were multiple hurdles to overcome, and we thought when the courier suspension was lifted, finally, your order would be on its journey to you. However, with the latest developments and product restrictions, this process became more complex than we could have ever anticipated.

We have tried several different approaches, with the goal of delivering your favourite British brands, but as time has passed and more new rules are coming to light, we have been unsuccessful in finding a solution. As your orders were marked as dispatched on our systems (meaning they were ready for collection), we cannot make any amendments to the documents, which unfortunately means it would be refused at customs. We have had experts consult on this issue, and they too have not been able to reach a resolution. Regrettably, our only option in this instance is to provide you with a full refund.

Our Customer Services team will be working hard to process these refunds, and you will receive a confirmation email once this has been actioned for your order. We kindly ask that you allow our Customer Services team a couple of days to complete this process. Depending on your bank, it can take up to five working days for the refund to credit your account.

If you want to reorder, we’ve secured a fantastic deal with DHL. We have pushed orders through with them recently, and they’ve made it to countries in the EU with no problems.

The refund of ***** GBP has been made back to the same card that you paid with and will show in your account shortly.

Kind regards,
The British Corner Shop team”

Bless them. They will survive this setback, but leaving the EU has cost them dearly.

Rosemary Border Rabson

In 2005 Rosemary Border Rabson and husband John Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy, where few other Brits have ventured. Their chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas which they run in aid of Combat Stress (money donations) and Help for Heroes (free accommodation). Since 2012, when Charity Cottage won the Daily Telegraph’s Best British Charity award, the total amount raised for Combat Stress, comprising UK royalties and donations from visitors to Charity Cottage, is nudging £10,000.


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