Category Archives: The village of Châtillon-sur-Saône

Harry Potter à la française

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Châtillon-sur-Saône may be a village at the back of beyond, but we really know how to kick up our heels (and dance!) here, if the occasion calls for it.

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Tuesday 18 October, just before the start of the Toussaint autumn school break, saw a mass invasion by all the would-be Harry Potters from surrounding villages.

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Five schools were bussed in at 9.30am and, for the second year running, Châtillon’s Fête des Sorcières swung into action. First the kids were organised and cajoled into groups by our leading witch and the village schoolmaster.

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People work pretty hard in this village of less than 150 souls to make this a lively place, rather than a living museum.

But these witches were not just here to have fun. They also learned about the history of witchcraft from this scary young man, whose concept the first Fête des Sorcières was in 2015. Heard at an advance planning session: ‘No hangings, please, Thomas!’

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The trainee witches and warlocks spent time at the witches’ academy, absorbing the finer points of cauldron and broomstick use. Their ‘prof’ for the day  …

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Although I’m afraid she made some of the smallest cry …

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They made real broomsticks …

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And, near the Maison du Berger,

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They learned how to dance like witches …

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It’s hard with your hat on …

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So you really need to take it off …

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They painted like witches and they learned how to make pumpkin soup with the professionals …

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The dressed up like villagers from medieval Chatillon.

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And had their photos taken.

They even learnt a few English words like ‘pumpkin’, ‘skeleton’, ‘cauldron’, ‘bat’ and ‘skull’ from a crazy English-speaking resident. Just useful things like that, words that should come in very handy on their next school trip to Oxford … or wherever.

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In the afternoon we gathered in front of the church.

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Not quite as peaceful a business as you’d imagine, since parts of this Renaissance village are still falling down …

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See the Route Barrée sign below? We lost one there just a few weeks ago. A building that is, not a child.

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Don’t worry parents – the kids are safe. Except  from vampires and such like …

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Each school had come prepared with a little sketch they’d created in advance.

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A few weeks before the fête they were given key words to turn into a script, so they had time to create and practise – and after lunch on the 18th we all enjoyed their offerings.

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The small, rather perfect witch’s cat in the next picture played a starring role in one tale of enchantment. But had to be helped to leave her basket at the crucial moment.

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Some of the witches were a little too pretty to be properly frightening. These two are from Châtillon village school. (Of course … we have the prettiest of everything, even trainee witches.)

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Then the oldies presented our own masterpiece (written by vampire Thomas): The Wicked Story of King Bertrand (of Châtillon).The usual suspects are shown lounging about doing nothing …

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The story of Bertrand involves the enchantment of a dissatisfied king (by means of magic carrot) and his ultimate transformation into a cat. I was graciously allowed to be the queen who gets to marry the cat – Yvette is holding my future husband a little too casually in the picture below …

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A good time was had by all. And hats off to the handful of dedicated volunteers who have learnt how to amuse 130-odd children for six hours.

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Have a lovely witchy Halloween!

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SPANC!

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A sequence of frosty photographs that move progressively to the long view.   We have a lot of ivy at Chatillon ( we have a lot of old walls …). This can cause problems between neighbours – and I’m mostly the romantic neighbour who causes the problems in my bit of the village. I’m not too hot at hacking it back. It’s a wonderful bee plant late in the season and in winter (especially at Christmas) it is simply magical. I like holly a lot too …

 

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Moving back. My neighbour Jeanette’s delightful little orchard terraces. She was a very keen gardener until she passed away in 2014. Her grandchildren come back and mow the grass/open the shutters sometimes (the last occasion on Christmas day 2015). They clearly loved her very, very much. But I’m always hopeful that it’s Jeanette opening the shutters –  and that she’ll wave and call over to me again.

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Raise your eyes up even further above our Long Border and Jeanette’s orchards and you can see the massive old house of Jan Monchablon, sunlit to the right of the picture. Try the link if you didn’t read my post last Sunday.

But what’s all this about SPANC? It’s the acronym for the government office responsible for the inspection and (forced) modernisation of ‘assainissement non-collectif’ in France – private sewage systems to you and I. I’m fairly sure that they are not aware of the laughter and relief from tension their name affords English-speakers when they get their ‘côntroles’ through from the local office of the département. Anything to lift us temporarily out of the merde! Although, hang on … is that a threat?

Yes – this is a fosse septique update, but this time I’ll spare you the gruesome pictures and illustrate with a few winter pretties.

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One of my great joys – planted by the previous owner/gardener – the lime hedge on stilts.

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There are Brits out there who will want to suggest the micro-stations d’épuration as a solution to our problems in Châtillon (these are sewage systems not requiring a huge area of land for filtration, very suitable systems for confined spaces). British expats have fought hard to have these systems (originating in other parts of Europe) recognised in France.

It was not an easy battle and hats off to them. The rest of us are grateful for that battle. But at Châtillon we are not quite at the stage where each of the 100 plus householders are forced to install a system that is bound to cost upwards of 10,000€ (and the rest) per house.

This is still a public problem (although micro-systems are available that would serve a whole village … well worth investigating ). I would hope that we keep this a public, rather than a private issue, for as long as possible. When I lived in the middle of a field in Ireland I knew that my septic tank was my own problem. But …

We live in the centre of a village – the issue here is that our mayor, rather than spending any money on a collective system, has opted (as far as I am aware – and I would be delighted to be proved wrong) to let everyone sort out their own problems.

This is a village where almost 90% of the population are pensioners or second-home owners. With very little money to spare. And actually, in fairness to the mayor, the commune (village) is as impoverished as its inhabitants.

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Just the other side of the ‘hedge on stilts’ is one of our two long lavender hedges in the garden (the other is up in the Mirror Garden)

Add to that the problem that many people do not have any suitable land for installing large bits of kit, filtration systems, etc., in any case (supposing the necessary cash were available). The old Renaissance village falls quite sharply in terraces to either side of the ridge on which it is perched.

Fortunately I have made progress in contacting neighbours and a nearby village association in the same département (administrative region) as myself. Many inhabitants in the other village also lack the land (and cash) to sort out individual fosse and filtration systems. Both my Châtillon neighbours and the neighbouring association have made excellent suggestions.

The village association has taken the judgements of the latest ‘côntrole’ in their own village to a tribunal and the 4-yearly inspections are suspended (very important, because if one is found ‘wanting’ at one inspection, by the time the next rolls around one can be fined if the demanded improvements have not been made).

The inspections have been suspended because the matter is ‘in dispute’. So some breathing space for their village hero and his supporters, currently investigating how to install and fund a communal system.

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Looking down on the frosty garden from the balcony

I will be drawing the attention of both the mayor and SPANC (ha!) to our own case in this coming week. Particularly to the fact our house was sold to us in 2011 with a fosse septique that was passed as ‘ok’ – yes, it’s there in black and white in our own contract of sale.

Now, if the fosse had not been ok (by my understanding) it would have been up to the seller to sort out the problem or to reduce the price to the buyer. But it says, in the contract, that we are ‘ok’. So – a trip to the mairie and a letter to SPANC in Épinal asking to see the results of the previous fosse report made in 2011.

I could say ‘buyer beware’ in France, but I won’t. The legislation is being tightened up so much. We were, unfortunately, on the ‘cusp’. The documentation necessary when selling a house is now much, much clearer. In addition to ‘côntroles’ for electricity, energy efficiency and noxious materials (such as asbestos), there should, in future, be a multiple-page report on the condition of the fosse supplied to any buyer (just like the one that bombed through my letterbox in December 2015).

This information is probably of limited interest/value to many who read my blog – it is, after all, supposed to be a gardening blog? But blogs are as fascinating for their beautiful images and pertinent, informative content as for the personal challenges that their bloggers face. N’est-ce pas?

Anyway – ‘nough said.  This remains a fascinating and challenging place to live. I didn’t come here because I was wealthy and privileged. I came because I had very little dosh – and still wanted an interesting life. And by George …!

No more fosse updates until I have something more positive to report. Next time I’m going to  begin my walk round the village, introducing you to the little jewel that is Châtillon. I’m starting with my own house, the watchkeeper’s house …

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Front door of the Maison du Guetteur at Christmas

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Other end of the Maison du Guetteur, with a tempting glimpse of the drop to the beautiful valley behind …

And I’ll take a more in-depth look at the second-best view in Chatillon (after the one from our balcony).

 

If I look out of my bedroom window, I see the Ancien Hôpital and some of the most beautiful steps I’ve ever had the privilege to contemplate on a daily basis.

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Come back to Châtillon soon?

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Les lavandières

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What a lovely view for washing day, although I’m not sure I’m up to the effort required to enjoy it..

We had a light sprinkling of snow overnight and a superb Sunday afternoon. Failing the opportunity to garden, I took a walk down the valley, past the monument to Châtillon-sur-Saône’s most famous son, Jan Monchablon (of whom more later) to the old village lavoir.

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Turn away from the view of the river and you see Châtillon’s lavoir

Many reading will know that lavoirs (or communal outdoor washing areas) were the norm in France before water was piped into each home. There have been volumes of photography published on the subject, so beautiful can they be architecturally. Even our rather impoverished, backwoods area of Lorraine/Haute Saône/Haute Marne boasts some very fine examples.

It took me about 15 minutes to walk down to the village lavoir from where I live in the old village. Much of this along muddy, woodland paths.

IMG_8687Although a beautiful and easy walk in the winter sunlight, what would have this been like if I’d been carrying a basket of my family’s washing?

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I think I am resting my bottom on the stone bench that many women in the past must have used to pause, catch breath and enjoy the day a little.

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There are two long, rectangular pools to either side of the smaller central pond where the spring pops out.

Most French lavoirs are fairly central in the village, where there was also a good source of spring water. Not so in Châtillon.

I’m guessing that this is due to the fact the old village stands astride a ridge (this geography ensured its historic importance as a kind of garrison town for the Dukes of Bar, and then Lorraine, in the medieval and Renaissance periods).

There must have been no reliable source of spring water located in the village itself, and so those poor women had to toil all the way down through the woods with their heavy baskets.

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The muddy path back up to the village from the lavoir disappears uphill to the right of the picture.

During the fêtes or musée vivants in the village – and particularly in August at the Fête de la Renaissance – a small group of dancers and a fiddle-playing friend of mine (backed up by me, on flute) play a dance called ‘Les Lavandières’ (the washerwomen).

It’s pretty sprightly, a bit like the weaving tunes from the Hebrides and Scottish islands, and involves a lot of hand-clapping and stamping to emphasise the rhythm (as well as some finger wagging to symbolise, of course, the fact that women are the world’s worst gossips). Gradually it picks up speed, becoming faster and faster; everyone is supposed to be breathless by the end.

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Saturday morning rehearsal before the fête.

There are different versions of ‘Les Lavandières’ from all over France (as you’d expect of a folk dance). Let’s hope that the Vosgien version was originally performed a little slower, because if I’d been a woman living at Châtillon in the nineteenth century, I can’t imagine how I’d have found the energy to dance after walking all the way down to the lavoir and back with my washing. But they were made of sterner stuff in those days.

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Here I think they are dancing ‘Les Lavandières’, but haven’t got to the finger-wagging stage yet

I was disappointed to discover on Wikipedia that there may be no connection between the plant, lavender, and the lavoir. The name implies that there is, because its root seems to be from the Latin verb to wash, lavare. Plants that have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives over the centuries are fascinating: little photosynthesising scraps of history, as familiar to our great, great, great grandmothers as they are to us.

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Lavender flowering in the garden on a glorious July morning in 2013

But Wikipedia tells me that this little theory on the etymology of ‘lavender’ might be false. Some persist with the association, however. I discovered a lady on the net today who advises people to put a few drops of lavender oil in the fabric softener compartment of their washing machine to keep away the moths.

You’ll have to come to Châtillon in August for a demonstration of how they did their washing then – wood ashes feature more than anything as deliciously smelly as lavender.

Certainly in England there’s an old tradition of hanging your sheets out to dry over lavender hedges, both for the scent and for the antiseptic/moth deterrent value. Wish I had enough lavender to try it out! Do you have some lavender lore to share?

Just beyond the lavoir is a sandstone quarry that has been worked for over 200 years.

IMG_8660Walking through the forest and suddenly encountering the two little fish of Châtillon’s arms carved onto those towering walls made me think of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Do you remember the bit where Susan, Peter, Lucy and Edmund suddenly find themselves back in their kingdom years after they have departed – and everything is in ruin?

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On my way around the top of the valley I passed (twice, it’s not a circular walk) the monument to landscape artist Jan Monchablon (1854 – 1904). He was born here and returned to the village with his wife in later life. His house still stands on the ridge to the left in the photograph, although not visible in my picture.

IMG_8701His paintings were sold in the States at around the same time as Renoir was being marketed there – and occasionally fetched considerably more than a Renoir. Those were the days when the Impressionists were considered simply to be artists who  didn’t know how to paint.

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Only mountain goats can garden in Châtillon!

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I thought it would be fun to include a reproduction of one of his paintings made from the approximate viewpoint of my photograph above. You can see that the woodland (which is owned by the French state) is badly managed and beginning to encroach these days.

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The quality here is not too hot, but I’m particularly fond of the painting to the left because the viewpoint is from the garden terraces just along from my own garden. And when I look out in spring it really does look like this (except not so blurry!).

All those little tidy squares of veggie gardens, lovingly tended by their owners. But the grassy area by the river (where there are now sheep grazing) seems so much larger and less wooded.

 

 

 

Back at home there were cheering things stirring. Catkins on hazels thinking about opening  …

IMG_8806And my tiny little woodland garden (on a hot slope). Hellebores and snowdrops just beginning to please. It’s a surprise that we are later than some other gardening bloggers, since we face due south and catch lots of sun (if there is any).

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My little patch of Helleborus niger is fairly pristine this year and is beginning to flower properly for the first time.

IMG_8863IMG_8549The best surprise was what I think must be a self-sown H. orientalis flowering at the edge of a purple-flowered plant’s little mound of leaves.  My experience is that self-sown hellebores are usually rather wishy-washy pinks.

But this is something to brag about. Or maybe I purchased and planted it two years ago and am quite simply as muddled as our seasons?

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I’m planning on writing a little more about the special village where I live in the winter weeks ahead. Meanwhile you could always have a look at the village’s website if you are interested. And there’s always my own potted history on my old Garden Dreaming blog at Weebly.

Dig this!

Croqueurs 162 Once upon a time there was a rather overweight 31-year-old female gardener who worked in a large English botanic garden. Each winter we (yes – it was me!) had to double-dig the order beds.

For those unaccustomed to botanic gardens, the order beds are the area lingering from the original botanic garden purpose – the place where the living specimens of plants are laid out according to someone’s botanical system – I think ours was laid out according to Bentham & Hooker’s scheme.

One January I decided to go on a diet, but I was also double-digging the order beds for about six hours each day and cycling 6 miles to work – then back again.

This is not my favourite winter on record.

I remember going back into the mess room for tea break one day. One of my colleagues suddenly said, ‘Will someone please hit me over the head with a spade?’ We were all stunned, our chatter silenced – Malcolm never said anything at all (and I mean, not a word). Suddenly here it was, the awful elephant, trunk raised in protest … We all earned our living doing something that would devastate our bodies, earn very little money and bore us to death in the process. Why?

Malcolm lived in a very tiny bedsit – he was probably about my age now when he made that comment. Worth, perhaps, giving to Perennial, the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society for retired gardeners? Out with the romanticism and in with the reality, I say.Tree Following February 062

So I don’t really like digging – that’s the point, in case you’re slow on the uptake.

When I moved to a lovely little cottage in Suffolk a few years later, I remember admiring my neighbour’s grandfather. He was in his eighties and went out to dig her plot with great vigour and enjoyment. (Why wasn’t she doing it? She was in her twenties.) He’d been the head gardener at Grundisburgh Hall before he retired, and clearly relished digging, even if it was only for the sake of the veggies. The philosophy of ‘digging’ is complex, and I’ve had plenty of time to ponder it over the last thirty odd years.

Years later I was working as supervisor of the order beds in another botanic garden. That’s a working supervisor. Myself, one other female colleague, and a student had to dig the beds every winter. I will pass quickly over the terrible fantasies suffered by one schizophrenic student (clinically diagnosed, on medication) forced to do this. Unfortunately I had informed her (in my stupidity) that our beds lay over a medieval Jewish cemetery.Tree Following February 099

My full-time colleague and I used to laugh, because when she went home to her husband and two children every night she admitted (to me, at least) that she crept into the marital bed still wearing the dirty t-shirt she’d been wearing during the day because she was so exhausted.

 

Such are the joys of digging!

My husband will confirm to anyone interested that probably my worst ‘complaining day’ has been digging a bed for planting potatoes in our previous garden in Ireland. It was really difficult, I promise you, and given the number of tree roots we really shouldn’t have been planting potatoes anyway!

Fast forward to today’s digging on 5 March 2015. I had a ball. When I’m digging with pictures of beautiful plants in my head – this is a totally different experience. Visions of Hydrangea sargentiana var. villosa and Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’ dance in my head tonight. And thank goodness someone taught me how to do it!

How do you feel about digging – or how do you avoid it?

Ok – yes, I haven’t been ‘following you’, as promised in my last post. This last fortnight has been truly horrendous, but we’ll pass quickly over the details. The nicest thing that came out of it all is that a friend taught me a French country motto, which is kind of the equivalent to ‘it’s not the end of the world’. ‘C’est pas la fin des haricots’ [‘It’s not the end of the French beans’], she said to me one night, when I was recounting my woes (her own family situation is many times worse).Tree Following February 066

I love things like that – things that remind of us of how hard life used to be and how lucky we are now. Everyone still bottles French beans in brine furiously at the end of summer around here. Just imagine coming to the end of those precious summer treasures, laid by in the sunny days, and imagine living for at least a month, maybe two, without anything green to eat at all? You’ll feel better, I promise! (If you don’t, it may be time to consider eating more healthily?)

Meanwhile – here are parting shots of the ‘simples’ garden belonging to the museum at Châtillon-sur-Saône. In a way ‘simples’ gardens (for useful culinary and medicinal herbs) are the early relatives of the order beds.

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Come visit next year? We are currently renovating, and it should be lovely when we’ve all done our bit.