A Burgundy diary – 20 October 2021

La Cave de Bourgogne

I was first in this part of Paris – at the foot of the rue Mouffetard – nearly 30 years ago. I stayed in a hotel which had been recommended. Early every morning I used to wander around, anonymously, absorbing the autumn early morning, the streets, the people. I discovered a part of Paris I’d not known at all before: les Goblins, place Monge, Boulevard de Port-Royal. I sat in the Cave de Bourgogne – not knowing then how much Burgundy would later mean to me – in a sort of back room (too blurry in the photo below: sorry). I drank coffee and ate a croissant (I am sure I did: I was truly a tourist then). I inhaled the smell of Gauloises and Gitanes, the true and ubiquitous smell of French bars at the time.

In those days the bar was narrow, with the room I sat in at the back, and another room behind the bar. Now the bar is along the side of the room formerly behind the bar, and where was the bar are tables for people to drink an eat. The lavatory is no longer a la turque, no one smokes, I expect it’s all a bit cleaner; but to me it has echoes of the bar I knew those 30 years ago.

Outside in the rue Mouffetard is a reminder – which I learned when I was first there – that Paris is not all boulevards and formal gardens – as I had thought until then. (True, now I have found out so much more of the varied Parises: the Marais, St Martin Canal, the parallel older streets which run from the Gare du Nord to the river, and all those varied streets around Le boulevard St Germain and La rue de Cherche Midi.) The street – rue Moffetard – rambles up a gentle hillside still keeping its medieval plan. Mostly it is flanked by small – and very varied – shops. The buildings must span a period of eight hundred years or more.

And at the foot of this ancient narrow street is La Cave de Burgogne, surrounded by a book-shop (still in business), a green-grocer and one of Paris’s evergreen chemists.

A Burgundy diary –  18 October 2021

Viévy: stone houses and its church tower

It’s a strange time in my life. Leaving Paris (see note of a couple of days ago), when I’ve lived in a city all my adult life; and – entirely by choice – going to live in deep country-side in Burgundy.

The village of Viévy is just north of us: the contrast with Paris could hardly be greater. It consists of only a few houses. Many are no longer occupied. It has a very small village square which probably once had a shop and a bar. Its church has a fine Romanesque tower (I’ve not been in the church), and alongside is its mairie with old blue sign.  

I love that village. I’ve only stopped there once: to take these photos back in July. I’ve remembered the church tower from most of the time I’ve been coming to Burgundy. And now I know more of how it stands in the greens of the fields around and amid the sandy coloured stones of a of its short village street.

A Burgundy diary – 15 October 2021

A thought of Paris

Now we’re leaving Paris I am sad, very sad. It’s always the way, I suppose. I’ve been so lucky to live here – or right on the edge of Paris – for nearly nine years, less 18 months for the confinement. I’ve profited from that as if a tourist: wandering round the streets in various parts of Paris; eating lunch in bistros or a drink in bars here and there; and – yes – just living here, or hereabouts. And soon that will come to an end.

I’ve been wandering around this evening. Lucie is meeting an old university friend. I was just in the area to the west of Place d’Italie. I walked back from the indifferent place I had eaten. Lights fell on the cobblestones by a bar. The metro came up the slope to an overground station, and another sank bustling beside me. Leaves scrolled on the wide pavements. Cars came and went as ever. But the anonymity greeted and lulled me.

I want to live in the countryside; but to have breathed in Paris, and existed in Paris, is something truly special. And as I write and remember there are tears pricking at my eyes.

A Burgundy diary – 10 October 2021

The colours or autumn

Autumn advances. This morning is sunlit with the warmest of light; but the air outside is fresh and cold. Below us the valley is like a sea over and around the trees and hill-side. The dew is thick and wet on your shoes as you walk out in the grass.

The colours are so varied still: some firm summer green, others with brown and orange leaves. Leaves have fallen – a few lie on the grass. The oak trees and the wall-nut are deep green, the fruit trees more variegated. There is a crab-apple tree (from which we made crab-apple crumble and mashed potato last year) in the middle of my view. I fear for it. Many of its leave have fallen, and its drooping grey branches look not long for this world.

A Burgundy diary – 6 October 2021

Autumn comes

Rich autumn colours smile at me as I write this. Rich greens and turning trees reflect the evening sun shine. What a strange summer and early autumn. There was no fruit on the trees, save for a few pears on the old pear-trees. The tail-end summer produced some black-berries before the local farmers hacked back the hedges; and there a few hazel-nuts (noisettes) but no wall-nuts (noix).

A bicycle ride into Épinac was brisk: colder that I’d expected, but – again – sunlit in the wind. Twigs had been blown down from the trees onto the cycle track. Sun light lay across the way in front of me like a series of benign steps, a shadow lain tapis roulant.

I’ve had the fire lit a couple of times. The barn awaits a colder winter with fuel stacked ready.

A Burgundy diary – 9 August 2021

Yes, yes this is Brittany, not Burgundy. And on a grey day with shoulders shaking slightly as I zoomed in on the operative part of this cross, I am afraid the picture is a fuzzy reproduction.

All over France are calvaires, or crosses of this height, often at road junctions. I cannot comment on all France, but only of near us in Burgundy and here in Brittany. The difference between Burgundy and here is striking. Without my having conducted any enquiry, I reckon most – perhaps all – in Burgundy are fairly prosaic mostly 19th century efforts.

In Brittany there are modern versions, I am sure; but many are like this: simple, crude and intensely moving. The faith poured into it – as it seems to me – is palpable. Or is that romantic guff? The local sculptor was paid. He (probably it was a ‘he’) did his best. That is all…

A Burgundy diary – 21 July 2021

Paris opens

To central Paris last Saturday as the weather just began to warm up. And Paris was warming up. People were out and eating and drinking on the pavements. Shops, bars and restaurants were open.

I’ve not been into central Paris since the confinement started. It was great to be there again. Lunch at Nemrod, in rue Cherche Midi (I love that name for a street), a brasserie we know; shopping in the Rue de Rennes; and then – oh joy – the discovery that the central part of Gibert Joseh – which I was told was closing many of its outlets – was still open. The small section with English books was there in the surviving shop in Boulevard St Michel. So trips to Paris can be completed with a trip to the book shop.

Meanwhile Burgundy, which I left in grey and rain, is now smiling broadly under sun and enough breeze to make it fine summer weather. The joy of being – as I am – in a stone house is that the temperature keeps more level – cooler – than outside; and in winter it keeps out some of the deeper cold. The pottager is thriving, the bees are busy – and buzzing, of course. The hives – two now – are a cluster of industrious abbeilles who I meet also in all sorts of parts of the garden.

A Burgundy diary – 26 June 2021

Disappearance of butterflies

The picture quality is terrible, the definition is all wrong and you can hardly see its object. It is hardly worth posting, save perhaps for the colour of the patch of thyme we have there. But look carefully. There is a small tortoise-shell butterfly who was almost impossible to photograph. He or she tantalised me: opening wings briefly; then as I closed in closing them again and reverting to camouflage.

I learned a little about butterflies when I was eight, at school: that they have all around vision, but can only see a metre or two (as I recall). I found that very difficult to imagine; and if it is right, I could have gone closer for my photograph. We learned mostly only about cabbage whites and their family: the red admiral, peacock, painted lady and small tortoise-shell.

And then at lunch-time today I read a book review – truly sobering – of The Disappearance of Butterflies by Josef H Reichholf (tr, Gwen Clayton, Polity Press £25; review in New Statesman, 4-10 June, 42, by Mark Cocker). Since the 1970s, in Germany – and presumably this applies also in most of Western Europe  – bees have declined in number by 80%. Tidiness of landscape is not good for the countryside generally, and also for butterflies. Neatness is not necessarily ‘best farming practice’ if you care about butterflies. Untidiness and wildlife abundance are closely connected.

Our bee-keeper friend excoriates the mowing of grass road verges. Why trim hedges when – as mostly around here – you are just flailing at them, assaulting them; and alongside the assaulted hedge, you (the farmer) will have a barbed wire or electric fence, often both. We all of us have so much to learn; and the octo-decimation (8 times 10 = 80%) of butterflies is but a part of it.

A Burgundy diary – 24 June 2021

Climate crisis in action: Midsummer Day

It is Midsummer Day and the rain is nearly joined up as it falls steadily from a stolid grey sky. The rain-filled air is windless. From the wide window ahead of me, I cannot see the Morvan hills away to the north-west. Floods will get more frequent; and, round here, serious forest fires – not this year, probably – are inevitable.

I sound Eyoreish? No, just realistic, I believe. I fear for my grand-children. Anyone who is not remarkably stupid – like the awful Mr Trump – can see clear evidence of the crisis. And if they let themselves see. You don’t have to be a member of Green Peace, or hear and understand what David Attenborough is saying, tirelessly, to realise that a nasty future is not very far away, unless we change our lives radically.

If people on this planet go on like this, we – and our grand-children after us – will burn, be burned, or starve in not too many years; or, of course, a handful of the many atom bombs around the world will get us. A grisly end – gradual in flood or fire, or bomb-fed – awaits us. How anyone can fly in an aeroplane (save for matters of life and death; possibly for the essential sake of family) is beyond me. Holiday, and many other flights, flights should be outlawed. A lot of business, we now know, can be conducted on-line; or we can work out how it can be done without air travel.

Till then – today and beneath the rain – the flowers grow, there is green everywhere; and trees and hedges stand greenly in the moist air…

And, yes, its Midsummer Day, one of the quarter days (eg for payment of rent). At law school I learned to remember the quarter days – 25 March, 24 June, 29 September and 25 December. The last is easy, it’s Christmas Day; and for the remaining three, count the letters in the month, and there you are…  

A Burgundy diary – 21 June 2021

The maire, a path and a work in progress

Midsummers Day, and a  trip to the mayor (maire) in the mairie in Sully. I cycled down. First I could congratulate him on one of his special schemes: to have in Sully, which is the commune where I live (in Creusefond), a café multiservice – that is to say, a small outlet for some groceries, a bar, a depot de pain (sale of bread) and so one. In that respect, the aim is to give Sully some heart. My neighbour – now 93 – recalls that when she came here 50 years ago there were at least three shops. I can remember a bar, one summer in the 1990s. And there is a large 1930s building, which was once the post office: it says so still on the outside.

I went to see Emmanu Roucher, the maire – we’re on tu toi terms – about le Chemin du Pont Romain (it is not Roman at all); and to say the signs which have been posted (there are others around the commune) need some more follow through before the job is done. A farm called Mousseau is the object of the path, but to get there now would call for perseverance, and a good pair of Wellington boots. I want here to do no more than record what is still a work in progress. I shall return to the subject. But I want also to help – even financially – with a gate or two, stiles or stepping-stones, if the mayor will let me.

For now I record only a modest dream: that when my grand children (now aged 5 and 3) next are here – covid19 etc, permitting – I can give them some sandwiches and a bottle of local drink, point them to the chemin and the Pont Romain and tell them to walk down to the stream at the bottom of the hill for a picnic. That sounds fair; but for now the path just beyond the pont is stinging nettles and long – 1 meter + – grass; and a high metal gate the farmer has closed again (my grand children could neither climb it, nor undo the latch securing it). Nextthere is a boggy stretch of path leading to two defensive lines of the local farmer’s impassable barbed wire fence; a wet slope after you pass the barbed wire – if you can: I cannot without risking my virility. Beyond the wet slope, there is scrub, brambles (ronces) and dead wood, down to what I imagine to be my grand-children’s picnic site by the stream (500-600 yards – metres – from here).

And beyond the stream, if you can scramble across it, you mount on a soggy track which leads to the farm (Mousseau), the object of the expedition, started at the pont romain. The fgarm iks a cluster of buildings like a small hamlet. Last summer I chatted with a bloke who was out between the buildings, playing his saxophone: the sound carried to us here. At Mousseau you are on a former voie romaine (an old Roman pathway). And from a glance at the map, I would say you’ve travelled about a kilometre (little over half a mile)…