Monday, July 31, 2000

31/07/00 What we did in the holidays

Here we are in Pesselières for the traditional rainy 14th July celebrations, en famille for once. I managed to get a mockup of my website running and e-mailed off to the client on Wednesday, so we left as planned (although not in quite as organized a manner as the word suggests) on Thursday.

On Day 1 of our stay the kids went tadpole-hunting and of course wanted to take the lot back to Paris with them. "But what" we asked "will you do with them when they have beome little frogs, and you go on holiday?" Quick as a flash Jeremy replied "Cuddle them!" and then, after a moment's reflection, "or eat them."

The weather's been 'mitigated', which makes a change from unmitigated rain and temperatures down to a high of 18°. Which is what we've been "enjoying" for the past week or so. I'm seriously considering turning the central heating back on.

Just spent an agreable afternoon mainly chatting in a chateau. We went off to a brocante yesterday and quite by chance Margo went into a tiny patchwork stand where they gave her the address of the place and suggested that we stop by. Which we did, and were glad we did so. They were a very pleasant couple who bought the place about 10 years ago and have been doing it up ever since, partly as chambre d'hote and partly with the intention of making it into a sort of patchwork centre. The sort of thing Margo would've liked to try if we had the money and the time. We promised to try and keep in touch.


Well, we made it back home - a day earlier than planned, but as everyone else was headed back to Paris and the weather was so grotty, we thought we might as well leave too. Took the scenic route this time, rather than head back to Avallon and catch the autoroute from there: as it happens there's a C13 chateau in the Morvan which, every year, hosts an international quilt competition at around this time. On top of it Margo knows the quilter-in-residence for the year, and a number of the exhibitors as well (the theme this year was, it seems, Australian quilts), so it was pretty much a must. So we headed more or less dead south from Pesselières, and had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Laughing (or chuckling, if you prefer) Yonne (the Frog name is actually La Rigole d'Yonne - you translate it if you think you can do better!). Then we arrived at the chateau: not a chateau-fort, just a nice little country home with three floors and a dungeon, a couple of towers at each end, walled park and garden, stables and dove-cote, stuff like that. A bit crumbly now for want of enough money to do it up properly, but definitely a chateau. The 4m stud is a dead giveaway, as are the 80x80 oak beams in the ceiling.

It's actually quite interesting - if you're into that sort of thing - to see where a place like that fits in to the general evolution of chateaux over time. This one is very definitely a house - as opposed to a castle - but a very modest house to boot. The Bordeaux wine chateaux have the same general look, but they all have a fairly massive front entrance a couple of metres up from ground level giving onto a large balustraded terrace with sweeping flights of steps down from each side. The Chateau de Chassy (such being the name of the place we visited) has the same idea, except that the steps are narrow and the terrace is just about large enough to put a humorous welcome mat on. More modern chateaux have the same pepper-pot roofs on the towers, but with slate rather than earthenware tiles (thank Catherine de Medicis and her Italians for that one). And then there's the use of internal space: the early chateaux tend to have enormous roms opening off the central staircase and from corridors on each side (a model taken up again in C18) whereas the C15-17 ones tend to real rabbit-warrens of small rooms.

Anyway, the place is definitely a domestic, human-sized chateau, and we left the kids downstairs curry-combing the ponies and avoiding attacks from the chickens in the courtyard (no peacocks here) while we went off to look at the quilts. Up in the attics. Which are also quite fascinating. St-Fargeau, near Pesselières, was built by ship-wrights, and its attics look like the ribs of a boat: Chassy was evidently put together by Boris Build-on-spec the Cowboy, and its attics look like something put together in a hurry and never mind if it doesn't last more than a century or two, some bugger's sure to come and burn the place down soon enough. But noone did, and the pile is still there, sort of grown into the surroundings (more vice-versa, really - the surroundings have grown into it) and slowly decaying. Very slowly.

The quilts themselves were a surprise to me, at any rate - more figurative or abstract art than what most people who've seen "The Making of an American Quilt" would think of as a patchwork quilt. They're pictures of things, or expressions of ideas, or a combination of both, using fabric quilting as a medium. Perhaps they should just call it "textile art". That aside, there were quite a number that I wouldn't have minded having and hanging around the place, if we had the space and the cash.

We eventually left and took the D985 (or something) vaguely southeast through to Autun (which has important Roman ruins) and then through vineyards and forests to Chalon and the autoroute. A very pleasant drive, through places like Mercurey and Gevrey which I think we'll repeat - in the opposite sense, and with ample time for stopovers - next time we go back: early August, with any luck. This time round there was no time to get some Burgundy to replenish the cellar, and it's starting to look a bit empty down there.


Last week we had a man in, as they say, attacking our terrace. He finished putting the stairs down to the courtyard, restored my decking to its previous state and then went on to repair the concrete railings on the balcony, which were, as visitors can testify, in a precarious state supported mainly by string. All for the very reasonable price of 5500F, material included. Margo is very happy. And I must admit, it really changes the way we use the place. "Going down to the courtyard" used to be the last resort: now we can just wander down and enjoy it.

Jeremy needs to learn to read. He gets a rather idiosyncratic view of things from just looking at the pictures, as witness what he told me last night: "And you know Daddy, they put the baby Jesus up on nails, on a croix, and then he woke up and went picking flowers in his dressing-gown.". It seems unlikely that religious studies will be his strong point.

We seem to have had the wettest July on record. About double the usual rainfall, it seems. And I'll spare you the temperatures - we might as well have been in NZ for the winter. At least it's started to clear up - at least a little bit - and as Sunday dawned clear and fine we had a barbecue again. Steve and Isabelle and Joc the New York lawyer and her husband Hervé and assorted kids, and to general surprise no casualties were reported. I had vaguely been hoping to get some work done so as to e-mail off the results on Tuesday before heading back up to Pesselière on Wednesday, but as usual we didn't wrap things up until about 18:00 and at that point I was wandering about in an alcoholic haze so I'll just have to catch up tonight and tomorrow, and then submit things late as usual.

I shall also have to bring my rudimentary carpentry skills out of hibernation so as to build a couple of units for Malyon's bedroom: one with a desk in it and the other with lots of shelves and drawers and things. We could buy a very nice one if we were willing to pay at least 10,000F, which I'm not: if I'm careful and work nicely I ought to be able to knock together the equivalent for about 2,000F in wood and accessories, which sounds much more reasonable. Time to dust off the circular saw, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to pretend to get a bit of work done so I'll send this off now rather than next month some time.

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