Saturday, 18 May 2013

les Saints de Glacé (The Ice Saints)

In past years if Easter was late or we were at La Railliere for the May Day bank holiday, when we put our geraniums outside for the coming summer, we got quizzical looks from our elderly French neighbours. Later we learned from a French friend that we should not put our plants out until after 14 May.
 Why?    Apparently throughout France and across several European countries, farmers have invoked the help of three Saints, Mamert, Pancras and Servatius to help guard their crops against sudden frosts. Their feast days are on 11, 12 and 13 May respectively. In colder parts of France a further saint (St Urbane whose feast day is 25 May) is added.

Who were these saints?
St Mamertus was the Archbishop of Vienne in Gaul. He introduced 3 days of prayer and processions prior to Ascension Day ( termed Rogation) to ward off those frosts. He apparently came from a wealthy family in Lyon and died in AD 475.

St Pancras was a Roman who converted to Christianity and was beheaded at the age of 14 in AD 304. He was a nephew of St Denis.

St. Servatius, who died in AD 384 was considered a great diplomat and was renowned for his holiness. It is said his grave remained clear of snow whilst all areas around were covered in snow.

So what is so special about these 3 days in May? There are several theories.
In France these days are included in a period from 21 April to 20 May when the appearance of the moon is called "la lune rousse". Rousse refers to roussir which means to brown that is the frost damage which turns green shoots brown. The period follows Easter when nights are often cloudless.

Some meteorologists think around these days warmer air over Central Europe comes in contact with cold air from the Atlantic, causing temperatures to plummet over Central Europe.

Some astronomers think that around these days the Earth passes through dust clouds which deflect some of the Sun's rays causing temperatures to fall.

In the UK the period is called a "Blackthorn Winter" when the blackthorn's pale blossoms are in full bloom matching the frosty bushes and grass all around. The blackthorn has the reputation as being a witches tree.

So what's the truth about it all, well certainly cold spells around these 3 days in May are not unusual. Is this due to the 3 Saints?
The Catholic Church does not think so as in 1960 it removed these saints from duty as they sought to remove what was probably a pagan tradition.
Also the change in 1582 the  change from Julian to the Gregorian calendar added 10 days to the dates so the periods would now be May 22-25.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

On becoming Victor

This became all too clear when we recently took a friend staying with us to visit the wonderful chateau at Chenonceau. Here are a just a few examples of items and peoples behaviour that encouraged the “Victor SyndrFor several years I have felt that I was increasingly becoming a cut down version of Victor Meldrew.
ome” to rear its ugly head on that day:
1. Audio guides
I am sure that they are very informative and can be delivered in many languages and are also a great money spinner for owners. However with their headsets on, the wearer becomes a vehicle totally oblivious to the rest of the world. They glide about the site in their own little dream-world. You can be looking at an exhibit when one of them floats in front of you blocking your view, in a seemingly trance like mode. If you ask them to move so that you can view the exhibit or simply want to pass them, it’s a waste of time because the volume on the damn thing is turned so high they just do not hear you.
2. Digital Photography
I have always been a great lover of photography, and I know that digital photography has enabled more people to take more pictures but.... why do they always think they are David Bailey (that shows my age), stand in the way, stop suddenly arms outstretched (no viewfinder looking for them), and take copious pictures of uninteresting things that you can’t imagine they will never look at again.  Have you also passed someone taking a shot of something, but when you look as you pass them, you cannot see anything remotely interesting to take a picture of? Also there are those instances when you have seen a potentially lovely shot only to find people (usually but not exclusively from the far east) who need to be photographed (not only once but several times) in front of that beautiful building or object, just to remind them in later years they have been there. It’s getting worse with phones which include good quality cameras. Also on that day I saw someone walking about taking pictures on his Ipad. In the old days when film abounded, because of the cost involved, people actually thought about the pictures they took.
3. Camcorders
These are great for taking pictures of kids and family occasions to remember people and events in later years. However I am sure you have all seen people who walk around beautiful and historic sites looking at it through the little screen on their camcorders. You have to feel sorry for the poor folks back at home who have to sit through 17 hours of someone else’s holiday movies. Just put the b.....y camera down and take in the beauty around you.
4. Guided tours
At Chenonceau we arrived at a room at the highest part of the chateau which is my favourite room there; not very large, but with a story to tell. All of a sudden a guided tour of about 50 people swept in pinning you to the wall, with the guide speaking loudly in some other language, essentially forcing you to leave for your own sanity. Pity those coming up the narrow winding stairs when the group has had enough and swarms en masse down the stairs.

Apart from that we had a delightful visit and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves

Saturday, 21 July 2012

La Tour de France

 We first got seriously interested in “La Tour” when it passed through a neighbouring village of Le Grand Pressigny in July 2008. We visited the local Office de Tourism, and could only find one notice on the wall which said the Caravan would pass through at 2.30 p.m and the race at 4.00 p.m. We were not sure what this all meant but we decided to attend.
Luckily our friends Jim and Pauline have a house virtually on the route of the race and hosted a BBQ on the day. The first thing we noticed was a small bus with a little stage in front sponsored by PMU, the French betting organisation. On stage was a compere and two young ladies holding quizzes and giving away hats and large hands for prizes.
Gareth with prizes won
The crowds began to gather to see the caravan, and they were rewarded with the site of hoards of sponsor’s floats, jettisoning all kinds of goodies to the crowd. We, so called professional people, found ourselves scrabbling on the ground competing to pick up hats, key rings, mini-saucisson etc. Not an edifying sight!
The Peleton sweeps through
Suddenly we saw three cyclists approaching, they were a break away group in the lead of the race. After a delay of five minutes the main group of racers, the peloton, arrived. The group of 150 cyclists wheel to wheel and six or seven abreast swept through. They were followed by copious support cars with five or six cycles on each roof, and then it was over.

Since then we have watched the highlights program each evening during the period of the race. We enjoy seeing the differing countryside of France and enjoy watching the animal behaviour of the peloton as it sweeps around roundabouts and swallows up those cyclists who have the temerity to try to escape from its clutches. We also marvel at the strength, courage and fitness of the competitors as they scale huge mountains with pedal power.
So what’s the history of the tour and what are the mechanics of the race?

George Lefevre a journalist with “L’Auto” magazine came up with the concept and was encouraged by his editor, Henri Desgrange, as a publicity stunt to end a circulation war with its competitor “Le Velo”. So in 1903 sixty intrepid competitors set off on the inaugural race. It was won by Maurice Garmin, nicknamed the chimney sweep, only to be disqualified the following year  when it was discovered that he had taken the train part of the way!
Float in Caravan

In 1930 the concept of the Caravan was enacted. These days the sponsors are charged 150,000 Euros for three floats. There are approximately 250 floats and the Caravan starts about an hour and a half in front of the race. The caravan proceeds in groups of five, takes forty minutes to pass and stretches out for 25 kilometres. In1994 the bank GAN gave the following details the freebees it threw away:
  • 170,000 caps
  • 80,000 badges
  • 535.000 copies of the race daily newspaper
The whole lot weighed 32 tons.

The modern race is a team event of  between 20 to 22 teams each of 9 members. The teams are invited to attend by the ruling body, the “Amaury Sport Organisation”. The race lasts for three weeks and covers some 3,200 kilometres and always ends in Paris.

At the end of each day the cyclist with the lowest aggregate time wears the yellow jersey. The ultimate winner is the one wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the race. Points are awarded for winning each stage and for being first at intermediate places on the route  each day. The cyclist with the most cumulative points wears the green jersey. The best climber in the mountain stages wears a polkadot jersey and the white jersey is awarded to the person with the lowest cumulative time who is under twenty six years of age.

Tour trivia:
·         Average calories consumed per day for a competitor is 5,900 calories
·         217 miles of barricades are erected along the route manned by 13,000 gendarmes
·         15 million spectators line the route
·         On French TV there are 2965 hours of coverage
·         The cyclists cumulatively use 42,000 water bottles during the race
·         The cyclists are supported by 4,500 support staff using 1,500 vehicles
·         A survey indicated that 47% of spectators first and foremost came to see the caravan!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The funeral of Mme Le Roux

This week we attended the funeral of our neighbour for over 20 years Mme Marcelle Le Roux.
Ever since we bought our house in La Railliere, she with her youngest son, Jackie, have lived across the lane. From day one she was always warm, friendly and welcoming. On our every visit to our house she insisted that we went over and had a coffee with her. She and Jackie lived close to the land. They grew most of their fruit and vegetables in their small holding, kept at various time geese and rabbits for the pot, and she insisted on keeping chickens (Jackie used to remark that the eggs they collected must have been the most expensive in France). Jackie used to go hunting and often we would see Madame sitting in the evening sun plucking something or other. She would bottle tomatoes, store apples in trays, crack walnuts to make oil and preserve all other matters of fruit and vegetables for the winter months.

As you would expect she spoke not a word of English but we managed to converse well enough with her at our coffee visits. Our conversations would be about the weather, the family and any local news, beyond that it would be difficult to continue and we would give our thanks and leave. We would always leave with a gift from her of fresh eggs and in the summer she would give us some of her large, often ugly but delicious tomatoes. On one notable visit she gave us first a drink and then a bottle of her Eau de Vie; it actually evaporated on my lips! She was in the kindest sense a simple country woman.

She had in total seven children all of whom are still alive, over twenty grandchildren and countless great grandchildren. There was always family dropping in to see her, and it was clear she was deeply loved by all. She had been widowed before we met her but was the centre of her family’s life.

Being ninety-seven on her death meant that she was born in the middle of the First World War and must have lived through some turbulent times here in Lesigny. We have pictures of the Marie draped in Swastikas and being guarded by German troops, and have found in local books pictures of the bridge across the Creuse after it had been bombed by Allied forces  The village was eventually liberated by a force of the SAS{in the Marie is a plaque of the SAS badge).

Madame Le Roux always told us that she wished we could stay at the house longer, but we explained that we had to work to pay the mortgage. She prophetically told us she would be too old by the time we could stay longer. In recent years her health began to deteriorate, she became diabetic and had to have insulin injections twice daily from the diabetic nurse, who would arrive with a loud vroom when she parked her Porsche outside our house (this would not happen with the NHS). Her balance deteriorated and for the last eighteen months she had to live in a care home, though Jackie said she never complained

We did not know quite what to expect at the funeral, not being French or catholic, we just hoped that we could sneak quietly in at the back and observe. We are aware that different communities have different traditions around funerals. I remember in the 1970’s Liz being dumfounded at the funeral of one of my aunts in South Wales. The service was in the house where after the men went off to the burial whilst the women remained in the house. This has changed now.

Back to the funeral, we arrived at the church to find the mourners outside awaiting the hearse and the family. The coffin and the family entered the church where after we all filed in. We were pleased to see the church almost full. The service was recognisable in parts, but not the hymns. Members of the family read prayers and poems, and we recognised the 23rd Psalm, the Lords Prayer and the bible reading beginning “in my father’s house there are many rooms” etc. We were partly expecting a mass , but we gathered that a memorial mass would be held in a few weeks time.

At the end of the service we were requested, from the back rows forward on either side, to proceed down the centre aisle to where the coffin was positioned. There people sprinkled water on the coffin and placed money in collection boxes at the side of the coffin before walking before the family and out of the church via the side aisle. Outside the church we waited for the coffin and the family to arrive, before the hearse set off slowly to the village cemetery followed by family and friends walking slowly behind. At this stage we thought it best not to follow. We found this part very moving and felt that Madame had received a good and respectful send off.

We are sad that she is no longer our neighbour but glad that we knew her,

Monday, 9 July 2012

Le Criquet

Recently I heard from Nick, our local French builder (via Blackburn), that cricket was coming to our local town, La Roche Posay.

The plan is to create a pitch at the local hippodrome. The town website had an announcement that at 14.00 hours on 27th May 2012 cricket was coming to the town. It said that the site was ideal for the pitch and it could use the facilities already in place such as easy parking, changing rooms and the use of a grandstand. The opening event was a match for Poitou Cricket Club (formed in 2011) with the Samur Club. Nick had also heard that they further hoped to establish a national training centre there (unconfirmed).

Having caught my attention I decided to do some research into the present standing of cricket in France. According to France Cricket, the French governing body, there are some 69 registered clubs in France with some 850 registered players. Interestingly over half of the registered players are French with no expat or commonwealth connection. They are presently ranked 49th in the world but this did not stop, in 2001, their under 17 team winning the World ICC Championship in Corfu. They are also the reigning Olympic Silver Medallists, more of that later.

 When the ICC sold world broadcasting rights recently, they allocated some $300K to the development of the game in France. Progress has been made by being able to incorporate the game into the national curriculum for primary schools in the Haut Vienne Dept. They further hope to expand this into the Nord Dept in September 2012. This of course is the indoor softball version, but the advent of 20/20 and the other shorter versions of the game are within the sights of the National Governing Organisation. I think the full test match format may prove too much. It is likely that our French cousins will fail to understand how you can play for 5 days for an honourable draw.

There is a document in the French National Archives from 1458 which mentions "Le Criquet”. Horror of horrors does this mean the game was invented in France? The game mentioned also records the death of a player, but as the match was played near Calais, it is highly likely that it was played by the English. There are other historical French cricket records available such as the proposed MCC tour of France being called off in 1798 because of the Revolution, and there are also records of a match, in 1860, between the  Paris Cricket Club and a team called Warwickshire Knickerbockers!

The Olympic Gold Medal Match was a 12 aside match against Great Britain held at Vincennes, outside Paris, in 1900. After close first innings scores,  the French collapsed to 27 all out in the second innings. The match was largely irrelevant as the only two other teams in the competition, Belgium and Holland, had already withdrawn. Cricket has not appeared in the games since.

The Daily Mail in typical style has offered likely translations for our French cousins:
Batsman    Batteur
Bowler       Lanceur
Leg Before Wicket (LBW)    Jambe Devant Guichet (JDG)
Silly Mid Off        Milieu fou
Sticky Wicket      Wicket gluant
Maiden Over       Fin de serie d’une jeune fille
Daisycutter        Couper de marguerites
My mother could have hit that with a stick of rhubarb.      Ma mere pourrait avoir frappe avec un baton de rhubarbe.
That’s just not cricker.   Ce n’est pas le cricket
Owzat!!?    Er… owzat!?

Poitou Cricket Club promise a full program of matches in 2013, until then we shall have to wait for the sound of le cuir sur le saule.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Not so much where's Joan more why Joan?

In our part of France (Southern Vienne) in most of the churches you will almost always find a statue or stain glass window of Joan of Arc. Those of you who follow our friend Jim’s loievalleyexperience daily blog will be familiar with the “where’s Joan” item when describing his church on Sunday item

Because she has become such an iconic figure discussions of her life are inevitably mired in controversy:
·         Where the voices she heard genuine or was she delusional?
·         Was she divinely inspired or a political tool of others?
·         Was she the saviour of France or merely the enemy of the English?

She genuinely believed she had been called by God (speaking through Saints Michael, Katherine and Margaret) to save France, but conversely Henry V believed that” God was on his side to restore to him to his rights and inheritance in France

To complicate matters further records on both sides of the argument must be to a great extent biased. Joan was illiterate and those who recorded her triumphs would almost certainly have played up her role, whilst the other records available, from her trial, were written by the English who were justifying their predetermined judgement.

So first a short potted history of Joan.

She was born Jehanne d’Arc (the English anglicised her name to Joan) in the far north east of France to a poor family. She was 13 when she first heard her “voices” which at first told her to be a good child. She became increasingly devout and took a vow to remain a virgin, and strenuously avoided two potential marriages. A defining moment for hers seems to be in July 1428 when a Burgundian raid on her village caused the family to flee. This left an abiding hatred of the Burgundians and their allies, by association the English.

When she was 17/18 the voices told her to go into France, aid the Dauphine and help him to be crowned King of France at Rheims. She eventually met the Dauphine at Chinon and persuaded him to enlist her help against his enemies. At the time Orleans was under siege by the English, Joan within days of her arrival managed to raise the siege. For her supporters this was a great victory which certainly gave encouragement to the French. Some accounts by English historians point out that the majority of the English forces were conscripts on contracts for only a year, and that year was nearly up. They were also located to the South of the bend of the Loire leaving their supply lines in Normandy strained. These historians also describe the lifting of the siege as  unimportant in the scheme of things. What is not in dispute is the great victory by the newly inspired French troops at Patay shortly after. Months later in 1429 the Dauphine was crowned king in Rheims.

Throughout the period she insisted in being called “La Pucelle” (the maid or the virgin). Why was this important? The hermit Marie Robine of Avignon had a vision and prophesised that a pucelle would come and save France from its enemies. Was Joan the real deal or was she aligning herself to the prophecy?
From then on Joan's influence with the King declined. She was wounded on the failed attack on Paris and was captured in the defence of Compiegne by the Burgundians who promptly sold her to the English
She was tried by an ecclesiastic court in Rouen for heresy, found guilty, unsurprisingly, and burnt at the stake on 30th May 1431. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine to avoid their becoming a shrine. Sadly she had served her purpose for Charles V and he effectively washed her hands of her by refusing to ransom her.
Subsequently her guilt on heresy was overturned in 1456 and she was canonised in 1920.

For her supporters her lifting of the siege of Orleans lifted the spirit of French Forces and changed the course of the 100 Years War which lead to England intrusion into France being left with just the port of Calais 20 years later. She was a heroine who inspired the likes of Napoleon, and even during WW1 she became an inspiration to French Troops and became their Patron even though she had not at that time been canonised.
Her detractors would point out that two years after the siege of Orleans Henry V1 was crowned King of France in Rheims and that the 100 Years War carried on for 20 years until the War of the Roses distracted the English Monarchy

So opinions of the importance of Joan depend on ones faith, patriotism and possibly from which side of the channel you hail. So heroine or heroic failure the choice is yours.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The wonders of the Internet

Some might have noticed that I have alluded to my having some French ancestry.
My great grandfather Funning was a Prussian sailor, who settled in Le Havre, married a local girl and had four children there before very sensibly moving to South Wales.

Some years ago Genevieve, my wife's penfriend of  nearly 50 years, was working for a while in Rouen. Whilst there she undertook some family research for me. It proved relatively easy for her to track back to my  gggg grandfather, Michel Rabby. He was born in in 1771, and as that was around the time of the French Revolution I thought that would be as far back as it was possible to go but I was more than pleased with that.

However last week I was casually surfing the net when I looked at a genealogy site called GeneaNet and found that there was a match to Michel Rabby  on a family tree posted a lady, Monique, who originally lived in in Normandy but now lives near Nimes. I am descended from Michel Rabby's daughter Lucille and she from Lucille's brother (who I had no knowledge of) Louis Xavier Rabby. Her research goes back two further generations to Nicolas Rabby born in 1656. Amazing!

I sent an email to Monique to make contact, and received a reply saying that she was delighted to have an English (? !!) correspondent and offering to help further with my researches. In a second email to me, she enclosed a list of further siblings and we have agreed that she will write in French and I in English. We both concurred that whilst we could both read English /French writing in that language was harder and takes much longer.

A third email arrived with details of 7th generations back from my great-grandmother showing marriages back to 1682. All this within a week or so plus an invitation to stay with Monique and her husband in a village outside Nimes.

In the UK if you have a British grandparent you are entitled to a British passport. With a French grandfather would I be entitled to a French passport? The answer is no, to be entitled to one, if you were not born there you need to have a French parent. Good to see the harmonisation of laws across Europe !