Monday, 23 November 2015

Friendly concert

It's not uncommon for Harmonie wind bands in France to stage joint events, combining two or more Harmonies into a single, multiple-concert event.  They're always a bit competitive, in a friendly way, and our conductor at Ste Suzanne had been polishing us up for the joint event last Sunday with the Harmonie at Chateau Gontier.

The event was at the ex-convent Les Ursulines, a fine building, recently renovated, and featuring an excellent auditorium where we played.  First, Chateau Gontier, then us, then finally the two of us together.

Security was tight as you can imagine.  In fact the concert nearly didn't happen, since the town had decided that only one event per week could be held, and ours would have been the second in a week.   Our conductor persuaded them that Sunday is the first day of the next week, so we went ahead.

I suppose I shouldn't have, but curiosity drove me, before the concert started, to open an unmarked door at the edge of the stage.  I followed a narrow unlit spiral stair to the 1st floor balcony, where some of my colleagues were already installed waiting for Chateau Gontier to start the proceedings.  The door I came through was marked "Interdit au Publique", on the balcony side.

Since I had gone up that way, and it was much shorter, I ignored the sign and went down again when the time came to prepare for our part of the concert.  Missing the bottom two steps, I clattered against the wall at the bottom, then staggered out of the door.  The look of fear then relief on the face of the poor sound engineer was something to behold.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Mill for sale near Mayenne

The place here at Le Domaine des Hallais is not small, and needs a fair amount of maintenance and attention.  The guests can also be quite tiring.   Given that we're not getting any younger, we're keeping an eye open for a smaller place to move to, this time for a real retirement.  I'd like to have a water mill, not least for its electricity-generating potential, and today we went to look at one not far from the town of Mayenne.  It's a lovely place, dating from the 15th century, but too big for us.

The mill complex has been split into two parts, and it was a friend of mine who told me that both are currently for sale.  The smaller part is on the market at about €130,000 euro, the bigger one that contains the water wheel, the big house and two large outbuildings, at about €540,000.

I liked the place a lot, and I think that if we had seen it at the time we were looking for Les Hallais, we might well have bought it.   As it is, I think it would suit a younger couple who want to run gîtes, chambres d'hôtes, or B&B, etc.  At current exchange rates, it's up for about £400,000 for the bit with the water wheel.

The buildings with the pink shutters are the outbuildings that were operated as gîtes in the past.  The mill building itself is the yellow one on the left of the right-hand photo.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


I met my friend Lucie at the Ste Suzanne harmonie, where she organised my reception into the group, and ensured I had the necessary support to properly integrate.   She left the band a couple of years after I joined, in a storm of personal and political upheaval.

I remain grateful for her help, and we're still in touch.  We plan to play some duets from time to time, as she settles into a new life, with promotion at work and new partner.  She alerted us to a free concert given by the Harmonie at Laval, and we went along to cop an earful, and to meet her and her new partner.

A good time was had by all, and perhaps she will join the Laval group, and integrate regular harmonie concerts and practices into her schedule.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


Red and white Fucshias  in full bloom in mid-November.  A bit late in the year for them, I think.  I have Delphiniums in full bloom too, for the second time this year.  Frosts expected the week after next, so it'll be all downhill from then on.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Arboretum National des Barres

Our last stop on this holiday was Fontainbleau, to visit the chateau, of course, but between Sens and there is the Arboretum National des Barres.    It could even be considered to be on the way, if you don't mind driving two sides of a triangle.  ;)   So, we have an arboretum, they have Maple trees, and it's Autumn.  What's not to like?

There was also a temporary mushroom exhibition at the arboretum.  The thing I don't like about wild mushrooms is that at exhibitions like this one you get descriptive panels saying things like "This mushroom here is delicious, ideal for beef soups and stews.  Not to be confused with this identical-looking one over here, that if you as much as sniff it, will cause a lingering and painful death".  On average about 30 people die in France each year from eating poisonous mushrooms.  That's even more than die in France each year when hunters mistake people for deer or wild boar or some other thing with four legs.  Nah.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Sens cathedral

Moving on from Villeneuf l'Archeveque, we stopped for a flying visit to Sens.  The cathedral there is quite special, being essentially a model for many of the gothic style churches in France.  It's famous for, amongst other things, sheltering the turbulent priest Thomas à Becket for a time, when he had to distance himself from the English king Henry II.

The story of this visit, and of other scenes of religious importance are depicted in some of the fine stained glass windows around the building.  This site shows them better than my photographs, so I'll let you read about it there.

To bring us down to earth, a local brewery has capitalised on this piece of history, and is marketing Becket beer.  I took a photo from the car as we whizzed past.

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