Year 7 Trip to France Report
Tunnock’s tea cakes will be for us the Madeleines of involuntary memory for our somewhat lengthy road trip to Maison Claire Fontaine. We were all happy to settle early to sleep lulled by Burgundy rain and streams.
Today we have been challenged by M. Olivier to hone our circus skills in a big top erected unforeseen in the grounds of a priests’ house nearby. An exhausting warm up led on to rope climbing, tightrope walking, juggling, plate spinning and diabolo, all conducted in swift french and with great humour.
Remembering the alliance of old between the houses of Lancaster and Burgundy Valois, so incendiary for Jeanne d’Arc, we also received instruction on Archery in the afternoon and on the geography of the region from our french teachers.
For Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts, which he unified with fire and the sword. Our challenge this evening requires less sanguinary exertion but the number of parts is greater in proportion as teams compete to reassemble a 250 piece puzzle map of France.
Shrine of the Magdalen, part of the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela, site of the proclamation by St Bernard of the Second Crusade, birthplace of Theodore Beza, successor of Calvin, and the very image of the “Town on a Hill” of Matthew’s Gospel, Vezelay also does a very fine line in salted caramel ice cream. To this we are all witnesses after our visit today.
This morning we added the element of creativity to our theme of reconstitution by making mosaics, while practising our growing vocabulary. Breaks were spent in games of touch rugby in which the spirit of Serge Blanco was naturally and regularly invoked, if not customarily imitated. Dejeuner – excellent as always at Maison Claire Fontaine – was an opportunity for the children to sample a spécialité bourguignonne, turkey curry, thereby incidentally demonstrating that Burgundy remains as much a crossroads of culture as it ever was in the days of Les Grands Ducs.
The sun shone magnificently on our visit to the town, allowing jeunes filles (et garcons) to cast their ombres in the grounds of the magnificent Romanesque basilica. Pilgrims with their minds set on heavenly things were reminded that they labour yet in this transitory world as they were accosted in good french by Sandroydians demanding their place of origin for the questionnaires it was our own pelerinage to fulfil.
This evening’s activity is petanque, whose simple rules have been most clearly explained. It is now for us to make a start on the acquisition of the repertoire of shrugs, pfffts, and bahhs that distinguish the true and French professional from the parvenu anglais.
The fate of the Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, whose chateau we visited today, is a salutary one for the would-be chronicler. Exiled to his – admittedly delightful – Burgundy estate, his downfall arose from the publication of some fruity contes recounted to his girlfriend on the mores of the Court of Versailles. His fate admonishes us to refrain from giving a detailed account of the Year 7 Maison Claire Fontaine disco, which took place this evening, relating only that our neighbours could have said with Gatsby’s “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights…”
Oriane de Guermantes, meanwhile (we are now in volume 3) would not have turned up her nose at the tartiflette aux pommes that the children produced today. The anticipated consumption of these delights drew us, like Ariadne’s thread, from the maze in which we were set to run in the grounds of the chateau, which had not one but many Minotaurs – as French teaching professionals should surely be known – lurking within. These beasts sated themselves, not with the consumption of our young Athenians, but on information about the life of the Count memorised and provided in French.
The Fraises Imperator prepared by Escoffier for the Kaiser in 1913 were surely in the minds of some of our foragers in the market at Vermonton this morning. While eschewing the admonition of St James that the body, like a great ship, should not be guided by the small rudder of tongue, our young chefs did not neglect the principle that food should appeal to all of the senses.
Another Escoffier dish, the fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt, was invoked for us as the spirit of Thespis hovered over performances in French reenacted highlights of our week, now sadly drawn to a close. This evening’s sketches recalled fractally, and in the manner of a recherche du temps perdu, the experiences we have had in the land of Gunther and the Nibelungenlied.
We are most grateful to the staff at Maison Claire Fontaine for their welcoming hospitality and their pedagogic endeavours, as a result of which the entente cordiale is that little bit stronger.