Monk-eying around or was it a monastic life?
Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
146Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Old monastic farm
Interspersing our passage south towards Italy we stopped at the old monastic farm in Ruffepeyre, Our host, Nicholas, is renovating the building. When it got really cold, we put plastic in the window openings, large openings the size of barn doors, in the living area. We're staying on a building site and it is now a bit like sitting around in a large tent.
It has been a very fun and lively helpex with Nicholas and other volunteers Kim and James. Work has been to fit a door to the cellar so I chiseled away at stone that had been in situ for hundreds of years and then we took a circular saw to a 200yr old door, to restore an old wood fired oven, collecting and drying huge amounts of walnuts, make shelves for the tools shed and then try to re-home the chickens in the corner of the shed designed and built by James and Laura, to cut and gather poles from local woodland and then to erect the fencing around the lower field
We've had trips out to local historic centres, birthday parties and Bourre (local traditional peasant dancing), a day of circle dancing, relishing wild mushrooms (you have to learn to identify the parasol mushroom, superb food), silly ideas, home haircuts and sarcasm laid on in a way that only the British can understand. Fortunately, Nicholas, despite being French, was conversant with sarcasm courtesy of 17 years living in London. To complete the cultural exchange, he taught us the important differences in pronunciation in French, especially "merci beaucoup". I had no idea that if you say the "coup" bit incorrectly, you could be saying "thank you nice neck" or "thank you nice arse" or "...nice willy", or even "...nice bollocks"! And I thought the French shopkeepers were smiling because they were pleased to hear me try to speak French!
We're off to Italy next, with a detour or two to see friends on the way. We've got a week of olive picking in the Umbrian Hills arranged. The host has warned us it's boring. We'll let you know if we get so bored that we nod off and fall out of the trees.....
Guest entry from James:
In my cold sunday morning mild hangover, after a night out with the fifty year old party animals of Rodez, I seem to have agreed to add as few words to this..
Before arriving in Ruffepeyre, I had heard that there were going to be a couple of english girls here. I'm single - i thought it might be fun. But it seems that everywhere I stay in France I am accompanied by a female couple... Never-the-less [without shenanigans] we have indeed had a lot of fun staying here with Nicolas.
Laura and I have enjoyed a bit of the natural world together - we saw a 4ft whip snake while out picking mushrooms - the latter of which we ate and have survived to blog about. Its been lovely to spend time with someone so interested in all things furry and feathered, and its revived my interest too. We two also constructed a three storey chicken condo in the corner of the tool shed, complete with chicken-drummer sized staircase, nest boxes and realistic 'its like you're sleeping in the wild because I'm just a stick screwed to a wall' perches. Unfortunately they prefer the under stairs cupboard.
Alex and I can now fence gardens at a speed of approximately 0.05km/hr. We had the 'position, hold, drill, insert nail, hammer the fucker in' routine down to an art form. We seemed to bond over doing things to maximal efficiency. I found it fun, despite the bossing around I received from time to time!!! It was a success, and the little house on the prairie fence seems to have made the vegetables look bigger and juicier. I have never met anyone who seems to know the finer details of so many things. Even that the odour of fart that Laura just produced was probably caused by H4S3 [some kind of sulphide gas]...
Thanks very much ladies
A bit of architectural history:
The site used to be a "transumanse" where shepherds would rest over night prior in memoria. A Roman villa then settled on the site as there was water and good clay for a local clay tile factory. The Cistercian monks, following donations of land from local lords, established a small settlement in the early 13th century for the Cistercian brothers to farm and the remains of this settlement are what we have been staying in and renovating. The Cistercian monks, cloistered locally, had satellite farms to provide their food but this grange also had the chamber of justice where the abbot sat. After the departure of the English, French rogue bandits, called Les Routiers, ransacked the site and caused damage and fire in the late 14th century. According to legend the brothers were buried alive by the bandits. Becoming a grange in the early 15th century afforded the settlement the protection of the Pope and the King. A little late for the brothers and damage to the buildings
There is a square tower over 8m wide built in the 13th century originally built to house the abbot, storage, and a justice chamber. The external staircase and gallery were removed and the tower was extended upwards in response to the fight with the invading English during the late 14th century. There remains some wall paintings on the lime plaster in the tower that are thought to be from the mid 13th century
The other buildings have also changed shape and use several times. The monk's accommodation has almost disappeared entirely with only one original wall remaining and a tantalising foundation showing the old wall. There is now a smaller building with an enormous fireplace in a tiny room, clearly designed for a giant room, presumably the monk's dormatory. The two buildings (tower and what remains of the monk's accommodation) have been joined together to create a high ceilinged room where a blacksmith worked for 50 years until the 1960s.
Over time, the cellar became a cistern and now is a cellar again. The well has been filled in sometime after the middle ages when, it is rumoured, that the monks were thrown down the well and left to die by marauders who took over the site
Jenna's excellent gateau des chataignes (sweet chestnuts not conkers)
500g chataigne of prepared product - boil for half hour boiled until soft, peel both shell and inner skin
240 ml milk
6 eggs separated
125g almond powder or flakes
125g butter melted
lemon zest and juice
Puree sweet chestnuts with milk & a tbsp of sugar in food processor
Whisk egg yolks and sugar until thick.
Add puree and combine
Whisk egg whites until soft peaks
Fold egg whites into mixture
Butter and lightly flour a cake tin
Bake at 180C for 40mins or until cooked but Jenna found that it works at gas mark 7 for 30 minutes then lowered to gm 5 for 15mins