Heritage Days

We always look forward to the Journées du Patrimoine – European Heritage Days – during the third weekend in September. You can visit the European Heritage Days website here.

European Heritage Days enable us to visit public and private buildings, including some which are rarely open to the public. For many years, friends, family and devotees of Charity Cottage have timed their visits to take advantage of the many activities on offer. We have visited the château at Bazoches so often, with friends, family and Charity Cotttage guests, that we have a permanent free pass. But in 2018, we had the opportunity to see parts of the château which are not normally open to the public. We took an Australian visitor to see the pédiluve, a sort of footbath for muddy horses. The trouble with these special days is the impossibility of fitting in all the wonderful sights.

This year, the Chinese Pestilence has kept everyone away, and Charity Cottage stands empty. However, to mark the Journées du Patrimoine, our friend Alain Fraval of the Musée des Mondes Imaginaires advertised the official opening, on September 19th, of their new premises. They have moved from a delightful old barn at Sauvigny to the centre of Corbigny. Congratulations to everyone who toiled to transform a dilapidated old building in the Rue de l’Anguison. There will be art exhibitions.

Digression: The Anguison is the little river which trickles through Corbigny. The annual Rallye de l’Anguison is the occasion for John and me to welcome a crowd of enthusiasts who bring their sleeping bags and donate generously to Combat Stress. Not this year, however: scheduled for April 4th and 5th, the rally was cancelled à cause de la crise sanitaire du coronavirus.

We visited the exhibition, which suffered as a result of the restrictions imposed by the lockdown. Masks were obligatory. Only 10 visitors were admitted at a time, so we queued in a very narrow street with no pavement and large vehicles passing through, endangering life and limb. Five steep steps down led to the new premises that feature art exhibitions and handicrafts, as well as the ReFeRe (Alain’s astonishing model railway). Read all about it, and enjoy the pictures, on this website. The next big event is the vernissage of an art exhibition on 3rd October.

Digression: In this context, vernissage is the private viewing of an art exhibition. The lockdown constraints are spelt out: “NB : les lieux ne peuvent accueillir que 10 personnes masquées et hydroalcooliquisées à la fois. Dura lex sed lex.”  Yes, the law is harsh, but it is the law – rules is rules. For an interesting exposition on this Latin tag, attributed to Bichop Buchard of Wurms in the 11th century and often invoked in modern times, see this website.

Many years ago, I translated Alain Fraval’s two ReFeRe guidebooks into English, in return for two of his astonishing paintings. Alain is several kinds of engineer, an entomologist and an artist. In common with the current occupant of no 10 Downing Street, Alain knows Latin and classical Greek, but there the resemblance ends.

“A Note from the Translator

In October 2011, I visited an exhibition at Sauvigny-sur-Yonne. There, in an old barn, was a model railway like no other. I was entranced, and immediately (and possibly rashly) offered to translate Alain’s book as a labour of love.

Translating this work was a tremendous challenge.  Firstly, I am not a railway buff, and purists might disagree with my rendering of some items. If so, I apologise. Secondly, Alain is a master of the neologism. Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll are famous for inventing new words to suit their needs: well, Alain is more than a match for them. You will not find Khartesurgie, Wagonville, Patouille or Strepsidromie in a normal dictionary. Sometimes I knew what he was driving at because I had enjoyed a classical education. Sometimes I was able to guess from the context. Occasionally I resorted to the web – and frequently was referred to Alain’s own websites.”

Let us all hope that our friends from the UK will be allowed to visit us soon, and that they include a visit to the Mondes Imaginaires in their programme.

 

Signs of life

Every year, John and I receive forms from the pensions people. We must prove we are still alive and therefore still entitled to our UK old age pensions. Apparently, grieving relatives forget or neglect to inform the authorities that their loved ones are no more, and draw their pensions until some other branch of government catches up with them…

Monsieur le Maire, or one of his deputies, was required to sign our forms. Nobody was available when we visited, so the secretary arranged for our forms to be signed and delivered by hand.

Our Mairie is like that. They have issued cheerful newsletters since the pandemic began, and old folk on their own receive frequent telephone calls and offers to do their shopping. To the best of my knowledge, nobody in our neighbourhood has contracted the virus, but we all observe social distancing and remember to wear our masks. As I said before, “dura lex sed lex”. Check out Cervon on this website.

 

Porlocks

The poet Coleridge was composing Kubla Khan when he was interrupted by “a person from Porlock”.

Stevie Smith – on the poetry foundation website – sums it up nicely, even suggesting that Coleridge may have been glad to abandon his poem. Well, John and I have a name for unwelcome interruptions: Porlocks. Someone gets hold of our home telephone number and tries to sell us anything from astrology to insurance.

We are always courteous – someone is being paid peanuts to make this call and does not deserve to be insulted. However, they tend to hang up when we say in fractured French, “French is not my mother tongue. Please speak slowly and clearly.”

I must admit, however, that no Porlock has ever interrupted me in creating a work of genius like Kubla Khan: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree… / It was a miracle of rare device, /  A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!” Google “pleasure dome” and most images look more like the Taj Mahal than somewhere to have fun.

Xanadu in China is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. At Ottery St Mary, Coleridge’s birthplace, Coleridge’s poem is engraved on the granite kerb in the public park. At nearly 70m long, the Coleridge Memorial Trust believe this to be “the longest line of outdoor poetry in the world.” See this website for more.

Digression: No person from Porlock interrupted Coleridge’s 696-line Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Perhaps the best-known quote is: “Water, water everyehere, Nor any drop to drink.”

Now turn to this website and read ‘The 1798 Poem That Was Made for 2020’, which just happens to have dropped with eerie appropriateness right into our thirsty and atomized pandemical condition: “People, people everywhere, nor anyone you can hug.” Too true, especially in France, where hugs and bisous are so important.

 

A glut of quinces

A quince is un coing, which grows on a cognassier. I had never seen a quince until we came here, but this year our cognassier is so prolific that we have a disposal problem. Quince jelly is magical; the rock-hard yellowish-green fruits yield a beautiful scarlet jelly. In my glory days I was quite handy with a preserving pan, but my wrists aren’t what they were and cutting up quinces isn’t fun anymore.

Digression: I inherited my preserving pan from my grandmother, together with many foolproof recipes and handy tips. Une astuce is a tip or trick of the trade, as in les astuces du métier. A website called Les astuces des grand-mères passes on the knowhow I learned at my granny’s knee and adds tips for these pestilential times.

John and I do not much like quince jelly, but a jar of the stuff with a pretty label and a frilly cap is well received. But received by whom? Not by visitors to Charity Cottage, alas. I can’t blame Boris and his buddies for the current fiasco, but I am reminded of the old adage, “Take care what you wish for.” Boris’s wish to become Prime Minister came true at a most unfortunate time both for him and for Britain.

Well, that’s enough of that. Let us all keep safe, keep well, keep busy, remember to shop for housebound friends, and count our blessings.

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.