Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Delville wood

I wanted to blog on Delville wood on 11 November, the day of celebrating the end of WWI. Alas, time didn't allow and after reading Nerina's blog I've decided that she captured the spirit in such an accurate way, I'll just direct you to her site. www.weskusbanneling.blogspot.com especially since I'm currently not able to upload photos.
But before going there, you can read the first part of a poem about Delville wood that is in the museum and another one, written by a soldier.

Delville wood
By ruined houses in Montauban, by trench and sunken road
All resolute and strong the living stream of khaki flowed
Through land laid waste and seared and torn by ruthless giant guns -
And so that stream South Africa had lent her sturdy sons.

The soldier
I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go
and did what others failed to do.
I asked nothing from those who
gave nothing and reluctantly
accepted the thought of eternal
loneliness...should I fail.
I have seen the face of terror - and enjoyed
the sweet taste of a moment's love
I have cried, pained and hoped...
but most of all, I have lived times
others would say were best forgotten
At least someday
I will be able to say
that I was proud of what I was...

I don't know how many of you have read PG du Plessis' book 'Fees van die Ongenooides' - about the Second Boer War from 1899-1902. The hardships the women and children had to suffer in British concentration camps eventually got to the grandfather of the family who is featuring in the story who then questioned God.  I can just say that after visiting Delville wood, I knew that God used a terrible war in SA to limit the enormous amount of lives lost during WWI.  For those who don't know - it was during that war in SA that guerilla war and trenches had its origins. You might still question why God allowed WWI - it was man's choice and God gives us the freedom to take our decisions in life...

Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to admit, studying is even more demanding than what I've expected, so sorry for being so quiet! I'll try to give you a snapshot of what happened the last 2 months.

Yes, it is a business school in Paris, created by two well-known management schools in Reims and Rouen.  I have class every second week, Thursday to Saturday, and take the TGV (the high-speed train) with JL in the morning at 7h20 on the Thursday & Friday and then returning from Paris at 19h28, arriving home at 20h30. On a Saturday I take it at 7h43 and returning from Paris at 18h28.
The classes and notes are all in French. I had to stop the one prof on the third day, asking him to speak slower. A young guy who didn't take it so well...
The first 3 days we had 5 different people teaching us, the second week another person, but at least for all 3 days, and the last 3 days 2 people. Each one with their speed of talking and articulation (pronouncing the French words clear or less clear) and own handwriting (they have a different handwriting here than what we have in general, making it sometimes difficult to read what is written, more so because it is in another language).
I'm grateful for the classes I'd followed in September as I've defnitely picked up some necessary vocabulary. But for now I have no time to revise, so sometimes I recognise a word I've learned in Sept, but cannot remember what the meaning is...
On Thursday, a month after starting class, the prof responsible for the M finally agreed that I can follow the obligatory e-learning in French rather than English. After one month....
The case studies are several pages and small print and high level French. I'm halfway through reading it, then the others are already busy working on the case study. Fortunately I'm not the only étranger, there's also a Chinese and a lady from Ukraine.
We've heard two weeks ago we'll write an exam just before Christmas. It came by surprise and my stress levels are quite high. Even though they have agreed that I can respond in English, the question is still whether I'll understand all the French (if you misinterpret one sentence you risk to do the whole exercise in the wrong way...) and whether I'll read everything fast enough to finish...
We're a small group, only 14. But not being French def makes it more difficult, as I do not always have the vocabulary to convince people of my point of view during group work (and they continue with their wrong answer).
The volume of work is enormous and it takes me so much longer than what it would have if I was French. For that reason I've opted to stay at home rather than traveling during this week to Lyon with JL for his work for 3 days, as I'll have to study for the exams.
Watching the Springboks playing
I had class on Saturday and fortunately we've finished earlier than usually on a Saturday. JL told me beforehand that he thinks the Irish pub next to his office in Paris will broadcast the rugby match. So off I went in the hope to see the Springboks playing. Arriving just after the second half started.  Nerve wrecking so JL sent me a sms while watching that I'm not allowed to scream in the pub, I must remember he is working in the area... :)
Making friends on the train
On Saturday I had two delightful journeys. It is not often that one has a discussion with the person seated next to you, but on Saturday morning I was chatting to a young French woman who studied for a dr. Her dad is also a dr and her parents did volunteering work in African when she was young. She loves SA and Namibia and went there often.
The afternoon I was seated to a girl who had finished her matric and is busy to prepare for the concours. It is a competitive exam you have to write to try to enter the prestigous universities in France.  She's from Ardenne and was delighted to hear that I think it is a beautiful region.  We were talking all the way to the platform and agreed to assist each other in French/English, specifically with business terms, as she would like to follow international business.
The famous truffe of France and Italy. We pick cèpes (wild mushrooms) in the forest during autumn, but I didn't realise we have truffe not so far from here.  On Saturday night we've joined some friends at a restaurant in a small village on the other side of the mountain.  We chose a menu to discover truffe. I never really had truffe, so was curious to know why everyone is raving about it. The owners of the restaurant search their truffe not far from there. Everything, from the amuse-bouche (a little thing to taste) to the starter (5 different things) to the main (beef fillet and mash potato) to the cheese (brie and mascarpone) to the dessert (5 differnt things) had truffe in it. To accompany each course, we had 3 different glasses of champagne. The meal was excellent, we had a good evening out with friends, but I was exhausted at the end of the evening(we left at midnight), especially since I had class during the day.
Swopping champagne for whisky
JL's sister and her husband visited us end of Nov and we've decided to visit the distillery in the Montagne de Reims, being the only whisky maker in the area.  It was an interesting visit and even though I'm not fond of whisky, I've wet my lips to taste the difference between all the types (with my brother-in-law happy to finish my little tasting glass).  It is set in the mountain in the forest.
(I wanted to incl photo's here, but google is telling me I've exceeded the 1GB free space...not so sure what they are counting and what not, but i fear you'll have to wait for a while before having photos on the blog again...)
We've passed a group of hunters parked not far from there.  The hunting season is in full swing and one needs to take care when you go for a walk to not take a route where hunting takes place...
The new market in Reims and tasting champagne in a cellar
This one is specially for those who have already visited us, but before the new (old) market was opened in Sept.  It is an ugly concrete structure built during 1927-1929.  In 1988 the market was closed down due to safety reasons and the municipality planned to destroy the building. However, the minister of culture insisted that it is a special building and needs to be saved for future generations.  Therefore the municipality started with a renovation programme about 2 years ago and re-opened in Sept this year, hosting the main market of Reims again. In addition to Saturday mornings, it is now also open on Wednesdays & Fridays.  I went for the first time during Vernon and Sandra's visit early Oct.  I was impressed with the end result and it will be easier to go the market on a rainy day or icy winter's day!  I also took them to our favourite cheese shop and bought several types of cheeses that they could explore during their few days of stay. At the end the guy told me the amount of cheese I bought is what a French family will eat in 15 days - well, by the time they left there were hardly any left... (but I have to add that the reblochon I've used in the tartiflette and the beaufort I've also used in cooking). We also went to a wine shop, as they were so kind to replenish our cave that was desperately empty.  You go down a staircase to the cellar.  After a long wait, as the guy was serving other customers, we were served and asked if we would like to participate in a competition - it is to select the best champagne maker under 40 years old and we have to taste 3 champagnes and just rate them as nr 1,2 or 3. Since they have only arrived the day before it was their first opportunity to taste champagne and they've jumped at the opportunity. But we had nothing to eat or drink since brushing teeth the morning, so the other guy in the shop went to fetch a knife for us and I opened our beaufort cheese, not that cheese is always good with champagne!  Vernon and Sandra thought they've arrived in 7th heaven and we've spent much more time than planned!
Replenishing our very empty cave
After all our visitors we've had this past year, our wine stock was very low (the majority that we have still need to age in the perfect condition we have in our underground cave).  Every year the independent wine growers (they have to grow the vines and make the wines according to certain criteria to belong to this group) have a salon in Reims in Nov.  This is my third year and by now we know very well who are good producers (which cut down on time required and glasses of wine to taste!). I've requested our favourite, a wine maker from the Languedoc-Roussillon, beforehand via mail to please ensure that she keep some wine for us, as we'll only be there on the Sunday, due to me being in Paris for class before then.  We had a long chat at her stand, while tasting all the wines (and got a bottle of dessert wine as a gift, not normally a wine we'll buy but one that they are well known for and had won many prizes for, so we'll definitely taste it some time).  After buying good Saint-Estèphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, other Rhône and southern wine, our budget was exceeded and we left.  At least I have decided our 'guest house' are closed until after my studies have been finished, so hopefully our stock will last us till next year Nov!
Saying good bye to the butcher
The economical crisis gets blamed for many places shutting down. Personally I think the main reason is the high social charges you have to pay in France and the fact that the socialists had introduced a 35 hour week a number of years ago.  None of these contributing to job creation...
According to an article I've read in a recognised French magasine earlier this year, the gap between France and Germany have increased significantly during the past few years (and they have reduced their social charges a few years ago and work longer hours than the French...).
To add insult to the injury France was recently rated in the press as the 4th highest tax paying country in the world.
Despite all of this, I was still shocked and sad when I arrived at our butcher in Taissy (2 villages from here) last week and heard that they are closing down the end of the week - permanently. I've heard the discussion between the lady in front of me and him, but was hoping that I'm misunderstanding the conversation. So when it was my turn to be served, I've asked him whether I understood them correctly. And sadly I did.  The owner of the butcher's shop decided it became to expensive to pay the social charges on the salary of the butcher and rather close the shop down (he owns 2 other shops and is closed to retirement). The butcher is now searching for a job and we're without a good butcher :(
I fear slowly but surely the big monopolies of the world are taking its toll and the long standing culture of France of the small individual specialised shops is more and more threatened.
It was always a pleasure to go there and explain the type of dish I want to prepare, he'll advice me what to buy (sometimes even how to cook it). Besides for fillet and rum steak, the cuts (and names) are different, so it was good to be able to explain what I want to prepare.
We'll surely miss him and I hope the French government will soon wake up and start with constructive measures rather than destructive ones...
Shopping in Troyes
One more time. I desperately needed a new handbag and after seeing the prices in Reims and Paris, I've insisted we go to Troyes (where you can buy branded items at huge discounts and 1hr from here by car).  I was happy when JL finally agreed last Saturday to this daunting task.  And I was happy when we've bought him 2 new pair of jeans and me 2 new handbags (for less than what one would have paid here!). But I was disappointed in some shops which had far less clothes than when I went there in May with my mom and Hennie & Nerina. I guess sometimes one is lucky and other times not. At least we didn't return empty handed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Which Paris?

And I'm not talking about whether it is Paris in France or Parys in the Free State. No, I'm talking about whether it is JL's Paris or Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  My mom and I always tease JL, as according to him, it never rains in Paris (like on the golf course, you know).  So we've started talking about JL's Paris (as I'm not that fortunate when I'm visiting Paris...).  Then we were watching the dvd of Midnight in Paris earlier this year (for those of you who haven't watched it, do yourself the favour - and if you're not too clued up with some French writers/history, etc, watch it with a French person...And just to brief you - the guy gets transported back to Paris in the 1920's when midnight arrives...)
So when my mom and I decided to go to Paris for a day during her visit a few months ago (yes, I'm very behind on the blog, I hope to catch up soon!) we were making a joke, asking which Paris will we visit - the one of JL or the one of Woody Allen....
The idea was, since we've visited all the tourist sites in 2000, that I'll show her all the places I have since discovered in Paris, not necessarily tourist spots.
The TGV tickets are quite expensive, so after some calculations we've decided it will be less expensive if we drive to Disney, leave the car there and take the RER to Gare de Lyon.  The last time JL dropped me there, I told him the station look very different from what I can remember when my mom and I spent 10 days in Paris in 2000.  He didn't believe me and told me nothing changed. But the building just didn't look familiar at all and I remembered a train station a bit in the bundus, definitely not such a huge building.  My mom confirmed my thoughts and eventually we've confirmed with JL that the new building was constructed to accommodate the TGV line, which was not operating in 2000.  A huge change in 12 years. Not a Midnight in Paris.  The weather looked promising - JL's Paris, we have sunshine.
We arrived at Gare de Lyon and started searching the restaurant that I've seen one night on a documentary programme on the French TV. We were about to give up, when we finally bumped into it and given the prices, decided to only have a coffee.  Well, it arrived with a little croissant, pain au chocolat and other viennoisseries.  It was delicious.  But the highlight was the beautiful interiors.  We were in Woody Allen's Paris, transported back in history.  The walls and roof are decorated in beautiful large paintings of all the towns to which the trains left at that era from Gare de Lyon - Grenoble, Avignon, I cannot remember all the names.  Everything inside were like it was in that era, we've decided it was worth it to pay more for the coffee than what we would have in another place.
The decorative steelwork just outside the entrance to the restaurant
And the beautiful building of Gare de Lyon
And we've hardly left Gare de Lyon, still in awe about the experience in the restaurant, when we've been convinced even further that we're in Midnight in Paris:
When telling JL, Nina and Damien during lunch time we've seen this group, they had no explanation as to why we were so lucky, it is not something ordinary to experience in Paris.
Below: no it is not the famous arc de triomphe, but porte saint-denis, constructed in 1672 in honor of Louis XIV to celebrate his victories over the Rhine and Franche-Comté, on the site of one of the original entrances to Paris that was destroyed before then and not far from porte saint-martin. It is not far from the shop that Sophie showed me where one can buy designer clothes at much less than what you'll pay for in the shops. 
Our discovery of Woody Allen's Paris continued as we were following interesting looking roads and arcades...
 We finally had to rush to meet JL, Nina and Damien for lunch - in another narrow old Parisian street, which we had difficulty to find. But the restaurant was a continuation of our Midnight in Paris experience. A lovely old restaurant with french food and no tourists.
We left Paris late afternoon, not having had enough time to show my mom all I wanted to show her, but happy that we had JL's sunshine and an extra-ordinary experience, being transported back into another era.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A night on the Seine

We were so lucky to receive a gift from our dear friend Sophie - a night in a luxurious boat on the Seine, including a dinner and a cruise.  We left to Paris last Sunday afternoon, happy we've postponed it from the weekend before, when it was raining strings (to use the French expression - and I could understand why, it looked like strings coming from the sky as it was pouring).  It was the first warm weather in a long time and a blue sky, which I definitely treasure more than when living in SA.
We had to be at the boat at 6pm.  We've decided rather than changing metros along the way, we'll take the metro from Gare de l'Est to Gare Austerlitz from where we'll take a short walk crossing the Seine.
Walking across the Seine we could see our boat close to Bercy and across the road the beautiful tower of Gare de Lyon.
Above: the building going across the road with its pillars in the Seine is Bercy, where the financial ministry of France is based. Below the pillars are motorboats, taking the minister to the Elysees, for meetings (quicker by boat than by road...)
Below: Gare de Lyon in the background (dress code for the boat - no jeans, an occassion to dress up a bit)
Above: we were a bit early, but they've welcomed us onto the deck
Below: one of the many beautiful bridges crossing the Seine in Paris (unfortunately we don't have a high tec camera for good night photos)
Below: the hôtel de ville
The bridge where people attach locks to it (you can see some shining on the photo) - apparently if you attach the lock to the bridge your love will last forever (I fear the bridge might not last for ever under the for ever increasing weight, some of those locks are enormous)
no explanation required:
Le Conciergerie: one of the most ancient buildings in Paris, the first royal residence in Paris and jail during the French Revolution:
 The building with its peculiar green structure, opposite the mooring place of the boat (where we were anchored for the night):
The next morning was an even more beautiful day (by 10 I was in a t-shirt, absorbing as much Vit D as possible) - my intention was to work in the mediatheque of the Alliance Française, but I forgot they only open at 11.  As the Luxembourg gardens are not far from there, I headed to the gardens, thinking I'll go there by 11 until I have to take my train back to Reims at 1. But it was such a beautiful morning, I've spent the whole morning doing my work on one of the many chairs arranged around the fountain
 Then the afternoon back in Reims, it was monthly shopping and a few more photo's of the vineyards.  I'll include them (as the colours change so quickly), as well as the ones I took only 2 weeks before the ones of yesterday's posting, when we were having friends from SA, Vernon and Sandra, staying with us. The vineyards were just starting to change colour.
2 days before:
2.5 weeks before:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Destressing in the vineyards

I'll do another blog on my studies that have started this month. All I'll say for now is that it increased my stress levels significantly...
This week I could breath a bit after 3 consecutive days of class in Paris last week.  Going through the notes and reading articles that were handed out in the class to read at home.  All in French of course.  To explain my dilemma: I have three different dictionnaries next to me while doing this, a normal one, one specialising in financial and economical terms and a french only dictionnary, describing the words in more detail.  Some words you'll find in the first dictionnary you'll look, some in the third, many not at all. Then you start searching on the internet, finding that the word is not in the online dictionnary either, but there's a whole debate as to what is the correct translation. Finally you start searching under wikipedia what the concept means and end up having to read an article just to understand one word.
So given this background, by Wednesday afternoon I needed a break.  Since Sunday we had lovely weather (so much so that I've said on Sunday I don't know when last did we have such lovely weather and a clear blue sky, terrible isn't it?).  The vineyards change colours rapidly and with us leaving in the dark and arriving in the dark, I've missed out on the changes during end of last week. 
I took a quick walk up the main road leading to Mailly and then a side street leading into the vineyards.  Then a steep walk up the hill towards the moulin.  The fresh air and beautiful sunshine being medicine to the soul (and the stress levels). 
Above: the road to Mailly taken from the moulin (for those who have been here)
Below: Verzenay and its phare (unfortunately it was a bit hazy)

The harvest time started very late this year, at the end of Sept, and lasted much longer than usual (two weeks compare to about 8 days). The reason being the miserable weather we had this year, so many grapes were not completely ripe and the harvesters took their time to select the best grapes and allowing some to mature a bit more.  (Despite the much lower volume that was harvested this year, in general the champagne growers are very happy with the quality of the grapes, against all expectations)
By the end of the harvest season many small grapes were left on the vineyards and since then, they have started to ripen (some not even completely yet).
I was picking pinot noir grapes as I walked through the vineyards. 

At the beginning I wiped the outside of the skin, as the farmers had to spray a lot of produce this year against diseases.  The small grapes were tasting good and the pips crunching under my teeth.  My fingers got more and more sticky until I finally gave up on wiping the grapes and just popped them into my mouth.  I could understand why they are attracking wild pigs from the forest. (we were so lucky to see some 'big' baby ones one evening coming from the station, busy feasting on the grapes)
Walking through the vineyards I was thinking how far this is from the rush in Paris, which is yet so close with the TGV only taking 45 min. And that I prefer to travel from here to Paris rather than living in that rat race.

By the time I got home my hand was a mess but I felt it was very good 'vinotherapy' and I can face the studies again.
Alas, the stress release didn't last long. JL phoned me at about 7.15pm (his train leaves Paris at 7.28pm).  There was a big mess at Gare de l'Est and no trains, neither the high speed trains, nor the suburban trains, were leaving.  The police had to control the huge number of people all stranded on the platforms.  I proposed he take the RER train to Disney, as it departs from another station and I'll fetch him there by car (as it is just more than 1 hour's drive from us).   The problem, he took the car the morning, so I need to get to the station.  Fortunately my friend, Céline, was so kind to take me, despite her having to get up at 3am the next morning to leave to the Pyrennees to market their champagne there. I had to quickly print his train ticket as proof for the car park payment in order not to pay a huge fine for having no parking ticket, search the extra car keys and then off to the station.  We got back home by 10.37pm, just more than 2 hours later than usual. But while parking the car the radio news were talking about the big mess and that trains are delayed for more than 5 hours, so I guess we were lucky.  The sad thing is that it is the second disruption in less than a month, which will force us to eventually move to Paris, having to say goodbye to this beautiful region.