Archive for the ‘Festivals and events’ Category

Culture in the Sticks

November 21, 2018

I was born in the hospital of a small Swiss village called Männedorf, a place on the northern shore of the Lake of Zurich. It was one of the coldest years of the century and I have been told that my father came to see me in the maternity hospital on skates from our home in Uerikon, a sleepy place which is known for its pretty wedding chapel and its two imposing knights’ dwellings.

During my childhood, my mother went weekly to take organ lessons in the protestant church of Männedorf. It was partly because of her teacher that I started the trumpet, as she knew an excentric trumpet player who came especially from Germany on a motorbike to teach me at home.

The old organ in the protestant church of Männedorf was known in musical circles, because it was constructed in situ by one Johann Nepomuk Kuhn, who at that time worked for a Swabian organ builder. After the job was finished in 1863, Johann Nepomuk, charmed by the beautiful lake, decided to stay in Männedorf, where he set himself up on his own. The factory boomed in the late 19th century, and was awarded the organ contract for St. Gallen cathedral and the Grossmünster in Zürich. The firm is still going strong, now mainly specializing in organ restoration.

In 1963 the chapel next to my childhood home in Uerikon was equipped with an organ and my mother became the chapel’s organist. Not surprisingly this instrument was manufactured by Kuhn of Männedorf. I have a vivid memory of my mother, who was a small lady, perched dangerously on the edge of the organ bench struggling to reach the pedals with her feet.

Kuhn organ in Uerikon

She played mainly for weddings, and I clearly remember her taking a trowel and a bucket into chapel, so she could scoot out after the ceremony to collect the horse dung left by the animals who were employed to pull the bridal carriage. Apart from music, she loved gardening, and in her opinion there was nothing better for roses than fresh horse manure.

Markus with his mother some years ago

Now this does not seem to have much to do with the Ardèche. But wait!

Kate and I are part of a cultural association, based in Désaignes, a pretty medieval village close to Lamastre. The ACD is an independent organisation which co ordinates diverse activities from chess and scrabble to hiking, circus arts, yoga and bee keeping. The logo on our membership cards is a stylized drawing of a church with three organ pipes.

A few weeks ago the Cultural Association of Désaignes celebrated its 50th birthday and marked the occasion with a  concert performed by the local choir, conducted by Laurent, choir master and director of the ACD, who had been rehearsing the choir for over a year in preparation for the event. The concert took place in the Temple, the protestant church, which was packed.

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Concert 2018 Ars Nova choir Desaignes

In the same venue 50 years earlier a memorable concert had attracted a television crew and hundreds of people to mark the launch of the Cultural Association, an idea which was considered rather unusual in the 60’s, when villages and small towns all over France were suffering from an inexorable drain of their population towards the cities and the traditional cultural events and meeting places were in decline. Désaignes could not reverse the trend, but could give the people the opportunity to meet, to improve their skills and to share their interests. So this concert would be the symbolic start of cultural events to come.

1968 outside the church

1968 filming the concert

The driving force behind this idea was the young vicar of the protestant parish. The church had been rebuilt after a recent fire and he expressed the wish to install an organ. Shortage of money meant that a new instrument was out of question, so the vicar, who originally came from Switzerland, looked for an alternative and found a bargain in Lausanne. But how to get it to Désaignes? The parishioners readily took up the challenge and despatched eight of their number in a blue lorry to Lausanne. There they stayed for a week, dismantling the organ, numbering the pipes, and packing everything into crates, after which they returned in triumph to Désaignes. They were later heard to observe that the Swiss eat too much cheese and that the wine glasses are too small, but the operation was an undoubted success. The organ was re-assembled, not without difficulty, as the ceiling of the church was too low for the big pipes, and had to be cut out – no problem for our eight heroes.

 

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But finally there it was, ready for the big concert. A recital performed by the organist of Lausanne cathedral in front of 1000 people.  A spectacular launch of an institution that is still going strong and includes the whole community.

And of course ……. the organ was manufactured by Kuhn of Männedorf, thus linking my childhood place, a tiny little dot on the map with my region of choice, another tiny dot on the map.

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Kuhn organ in Désaignes

Just before this year’s celebrations in Désaignes I wrote to the director of Kuhn and told him the story. I received a polite letter in reply, thanking me and telling me that Kuhn had been interested to update its archives, as they had no record of the removal of the organ from Lausanne. I haven’t yet told him that the organ is kaputt, and it would be very nice of him to restore it. But unless sacks of Swiss Francs are forthcoming, it is probably wiser to rely on eight guys with a blue lorry to sort things out!

Charlie meets Roger

August 21, 2018


After the massive success of Swing aux Sarziers last August, we had considered taking a break from our annual summer concert. But then our friend François told us that some of the tour dates for his group Latin Bird had been cancelled. Would we be up for a concert, in which Markus would be playing all of the second set? You don’t refuse an offer like that!

François is an amazing musician, who plays double bass and heads up several jazz groups, exploring different styles. For Latin Bird, his idea was to re-work Charlie Parker tunes in Latin and Cuban rythms, with Linda, his wife on keyboards, Pierre on a specially adapted and pretty amazing percussion set and a brass solo instrument (usually Selim on saxophone in homage to the legendary “Bird”).


The result is intoxicating and unpredictable, and they kicked up a veritable storm at les Sarziers last Saturday night. Everyone, including Markus, was on top form and around a hundred people enjoyed a memorable evening of music, followed by the traditional buffet dinner under the chestnut tree.

Our neighbour Claude did a one-man animation du parking with his bass clarinet and cymbal contraption and Julien, a guitarist newly arrived from Belgium, performed a couple of solo numbers to start the evening off.

People often comment on how beautiful the setting is for these concerts. The musicians love their perfomance space in the calabert and the great accoustics, whilst the audience enjoys settling down in the lovely summer courtyard as the moon rises, the bats flit about, the stone walls glow gently in the fading light and the music takes over everything.

Guests also tell us how much they enjoy mingling and chatting to old friends and new in the interval and during dinner. It is true that the atmosphere is quite unique and, as we were mulling things over later we were struck by the hugely diverse range of people who gather for such events round here.


As you can see there are always quite a few children, either with their parents or brought by the grandparents with whom they are staying for the summer. Ages range from under two (hello Boris!) to well over eighty and our guests included a vet, a mason, two poets, a psychiatrist, an electrician, a winegrower, a painter, a translator, cheese makers, teachers, social workers, blacksmiths, photographers, philosophers …..
and ….
in an absolute first ….
our neighbour Roger!


Yes, there he is, accompanied by two neighbouring ladies, sitting on three of his four kitchen chairs, up on his field above the courtyard wall. Roger is extremely shy and has never accepted our invitation to join us for a concert but this time Anne-Marie managed to persuade him out, and even to come down and sit in the courtyard for the second half. We haven’t seen him since, but we are delighted that he came and from the big smile on his face and enthusiastic applause, we are pretty sure that he had a good time.

PS The following morning we had a gig with a different group to kick off a Swing Dance Festival in Vernoux. I don’t know how we managed it but Markus swung that trumpet, I sang and we all had a great morning in an enchanting little square, playing for the local café crowd and and a bunch of talented and enthusiastic dancers.

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PPS we’ve just received a some great photos of the concert (merci Margote!) here they are.

Par Ici les Artistes!

August 13, 2018

If you have followed this blog over the years you will probably have realised that  apart from hiking in our lovely hills a considerable amount of our energy has been put into encouraging the musical events in the area, mainly as spectators, but also as performers and organizers.

Now we rarely talk about the presence and activities of the artists, painters and potters  who have settled in the area.  This does not mean they don’t exist.  Like all of us, they have been attracted by the beauty and diversity of the Ardèche landscape and by the affordability of food and lodging.  Like all artists they come and go, but we have some real pillars in the community.

To celebrate this, the ever inventive Laurent – now joined at Kaopa by his very creative partner Sandy – recently  organized an event which he called “Art à la Criée” in the little alley in front of his café in Lamastre.

La Criée is normally associated with fish markets  (especially the one in Marseille) where the catch that has just come in on the fishing boats is sold off in a boisterous and noisy auction, in which shouting has an intrinsic role.

Lamastre is landlocked – so no fish from the Mediterranean, but art work freshly produced by local artists!

Fifteen artists, using diverse media, set themselves up and worked away steadily all morning, despite the rain and the crowds of people chattering and peering over their shoulders.

It was impressive to see how calmly absorbed they were and to observe different techniques and ways of working.

Periodically Laurent and the auctioneer , a professional tourneur , would select a piece to be sold.

Bidding started at 5 euros and the final amounts were mostly very modest, but the notion of acquiring a work of art which had scarcely had time to exist before being sold made for a lively auction and an exhilarating atmosphere.

The morning concluded with a Match d’Improvisation  between two teams of artists – the idea being that the teams had to create a painting on a single given theme, with handicaps introduced from time to time, such as closing one eye, painting with the left hand or using an imposed colour.

Unfortunately our day was busy and we couldn’t stay …. so we don’t know who won.

Echoes from April

July 23, 2018

Faithful readers may be wondering how Carla’s concert went.  It’s taken a while to get hold of these great photos (merci Gerald), which give a good idea of the atmosphere.  It was a hugely successful event, with full houses for both dates and a powerful experience for all of us.  Carla is a tremendously engaging performer – as you can see – and the audience loved her music.

 

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We are still waiting for an audio file of the concert, but meanwhile, here is the text of one of the songs – words by Elena Hoyer, set to music by Carla and sung by Kate.

Corridor 

Down the corridor of my family tree

Hidden skeletons silently beg

to come into the light,

Like dangerous fireflies

And then . . .

 

So let’s take a walk down memory lane,

The longing of a long forgotten land

Exile – and dreams to come.

The rising of a fuller moon

So far . . .

 

So many times – You cried and bled and fled away

My dear Elders – I swear I’ll try to heal your wounds

Leave it to me – I’ll find a way to set us free.

Open the book –

Where do I fit in?

Where do I belong?

I am the black sheep,

I’m the question mark,

I’m the bearer of tomorrow and the early morning star . . . .

                                                                                                dancing on chaos.

 

Down the corridor of my family tree

Forgotten heroes send me strength

And hope – For my blue days,

The falling of the golden leaf

And yet . . .

 

So let’s take a walk down memory lane

I see their shifting shapes dissolving . . . .

Silence – heaven and back

Leaving behind a trail of roses

For me.

Photo credits Gerald FAY

Le Grand Evènement

June 11, 2018

Roll up, roll up!

 

… there’s something going on in Arlebosc.

Excitement and anticipation …

It’s a big moment ….

and everyone is here ….

Can you spot a theme?

Yes!!   “habemus pistorem!”  No Papal balcony for the announcement, but in the village the arrival of a new baker is almost as momentous an occasion!

Our previous baker left Arlebosc in the early spring and it felt as though the life had gone out of the village.  Although he never really seemed to have his heart in the job and the boulangerie was not exactly buzzing, the fact that we would no longer be able to pick up our bread still warm from the oven, and chat to other villagers as we did so, was a huge blow to everybody.  So much so that the Mayor and municipal council put everything into finding a successor, and to this end bought the premises and bread oven (which is installed next door in the “château” with the tower that you see on the photos), greatly reducing the financial burden on anyone wishing to take up the challenge.

Now for the speeches

The mayors of four neighbouring villages were present, together with representatives from the local region and the Département.  They all echoed the speech by the mayor of Arlebosc, Jean-Paul Agier, emphasising the importance of farming, craftsmen, small businesses and artisans to the rural economy.  The municipality was offering a free baguette to everyone present, and as Jean-Paul said, we’d all be back the next day, since bread needs to be bought fresh daily.

… couldn’t agree more!

Smiles all round.

This really does look like a new beginning.  Nathan, our new baker (he’s the one looking a bit shell-shocked to the right of the mayor) is only 19, and has just completed his professional training.  The great thing is that he is accompanied by his parents, who will be running the shop and organising distribution of depôts de pain to other villages less fortunate than we are.  They are friendly and welcoming and are all obviously prepared to work hard and make a success of the venture.

Nathan and his father David

The boulangerie has been spruced up, reorganised and repainted and Nathan is making rye bread, wholemeal and country loaves as well as the traditional baguettes and flûtes.  It’s a tricky business getting the hang of a new bread oven and pleasing all the clients.  The locals generally like their bread well browned, but not so crunchy that the denture-wearers can’t get their teeth into it!  Nathan is getting a lot of feed back, and the general opinion is that his bread is really good.

Nathan’s mother selecting a loaf

He is also turns out excellent croissants and pains au chocolat, no mean feat, since for the time being he has to bake them in the bread oven whereas they should go into a pastry oven, fan assisted and with no steam.  All this really pinpoints how crucial a boulangerie is to local life.  Each baker is a true artisan: absolutely everything is made fresh on the premises – no question of freezing dough or baking industrially produced items – so inevitably, each baker has his own touch, within the basic sacred parameters, just as everyone’s pastry comes out slightly differently.

So it’s all good news!  The Milhots are a local family from Satilleu, about 20 miles away, so they know that the Ardèche, although wonderful in every way, is not all sunshine and holiday makers, and that the winters are much quieter.  Best of all, Nathan is also a qualified pâtissier, so once he has got his head round the business, they will be investing in a pastry oven, and cakes will be back on the menu.  Hooray!

 

 

Et ça swingue aux Sarziers

August 10, 2017

 

When we found Les Sarziers 30 years ago, Kate fell in love with the spectacular view over the Doux Valley and I a was taken by the enclosed courtyard of the house.

Last Sunday 150 people shared our love of Les Sarziers by first having a drink in the garden and then moving via dinner under the horse chestnut tree to the courtyard for our annual summer concert.

We organised our first summer concert five years ago and since then had on average a audience made up of friends of around 60 to 80 people.

Last Sunday the number of spectators doubled and there was a slight flair of Woodstock in the air. Not really surprising as we had invited 8 musicians and 2 professional dancers to join me (on the trumpet) and Kate (singing).

The programme was made up of music to dance to from the Golden Age of American Jazz. Tunes that everyone can hum along with, like “Ain’t misbehaving”, “Bei mir bist Du Scheen”, “After you’ve Gone”, “Why don’t you Do Right”, “It don’t mean a Thing” etc.

Towards the end Les Sarziers Junction became Tuxedo Junction and the dancing spread onto the “stage”. The weather could not have been more perfect and the full moon accompanied us all along.

Many thanks to my sister Vreni and my brother-in-law Jürg for setting up and helping with the logistics of catering and of course thanks to “my Band” of the night:

Linda Gallix (Keyboard), Kate (Voice), Emilie Blache (Voice), Jean-Pierre Almy (Tuba, Bass, Harmonica), Nicolas Thé (Drums), Anthelme Millon (Guitar), Manu Falguière (Cornet), Hans Verschoor (Trombone), Thomas (Washboard), Christophe and Arnaud (Bass), Jean-Yves and Ashley, who joined us spontaneously on a couple of numbers and of course Jean-Phi and Emilie for their dance demos.

Markus

Photos by Sabine Carlier and Brice Banchet

La Plume de ma Tante . . .

February 10, 2017

. . . est sur le bureau de mon oncle.  This famous, grammatically interesting but practically useless phrase started many of us off on our journey into learning French.  The reverse equivalent is “my tailor is rich” which is supposed to reassure French learners that they already understand more than they think of the impenetrable English language, (tailor/tailleur and rich/riche).  Once again it is an improbable phrase of extremely limited use, but the biscuit has to be taken by the opening sentence for study in my German book:  “Mein Bruder hat die gleiche Harpune wie du”  My brother has the same harpoon as you!  Oh yes?

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We both remember our school French teachers.  Mine was Miss Downer, a dedicated middle aged lady who drove herself to school sitting very upright in her duck egg blue Morris Oxford.  She was a grammarian and a stickler for correct pronunciation, but also guided us through the intricacies of the poetry of Rimbaud and the overwrought alexandrines of Racine’s Phèdre.  Markus cannot recall the name of his French master but describes him as an “extraordinary vehicle” with a fondness for the films of Jacques Tati, which is honour enough in itself!

At all events these two must be considered as having had a major influence on our life choices – from where we live to the fact that we ever met at all.  So thank you to both!

So it was with school-time memories and trusting to our earlier grounding that we decided to try our hands at the Dictée à l’Ancienne held in Arlebosc last Saturday.

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Dictation tests are still used in French primary schools and, predictably enough, there was an article in the paper recently bemoaning a decline in standards.  For the same short text, 10 year olds scored 10.6 errors in 1987, 14.3 in 2007 and 17.8 in 2015, most of the mistakes being grammatical faults.

The chief difficulty in a French Dictée is not so much the spelling, as it would be in English, but more the agreements, plurals and grammatical traps, many of which cannot be heard but need to be applied according to the rules.  For example, qu’il soit poli and qu’elles soient polies.

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However the linguistics professor writing the article did make the point that children nowadays are confronted with so many new subjects that there is not sufficient time available to drum grammatical rules into their heads.  She went on to raise the question, do we want to produce proficient little grammarians or children who can function effectively in society?

Anyway back to our Dictée.  This was an altogether less stressful affair and around 45 of us, all adults, gathered at the Mairie to be issued with a blotter, a dip pen, an ink bottle and a page of that infuriating squared writing paper that the French (and Swiss) know how to use and I don’t!

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The atmosphere was good humoured with us all trying out our nibs and remembering blots, scratches and ink monitors from our primary school days.  There were to be prizes for anyone scoring fewer than ten mistakes and hot drinks and crêpes (we’re just past la Chandeleur) to cheer us up whilst marking was in progress.

In fact outside the schoolroom la Dictée has been a favourite French pastime since the 19th century.  The most famous is the fiendish text dreamed up by Prosper Mérimée in 1857 at the request of Empress Eugénie to amuse the court of Napoleon III.  Results:  the Emperor 75 errors, Eugénie 62 and ….. the punctilious Austrian Ambassador, Metternich junior, THREE!

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More recently the cultural TV host, Bernard Pivot, organised regular televised dictation tests up to 2005 and it is still possible to take part in the annual Dictée organsied by the Rotary Club.

We all settled down and listened attentively.  It must be said that there were frequent calls to repeat certain tricky phrases and a great deal more chattering and comparing of notes than I remember from my school days.  A collective drawing in of breath and exclamations of Aïe aïe aïe! helpfully signalled the more fiendish traps to the otherwise unwary.  When it came to the results, the well deserving winner had made only 4 errors and a further three or four people came in under 10.  The rest of us lagged way behind but, as the only non native speakers there, we felt we had acquitted ourselves fairly well with 19 and 22 ¼ mistakes, which was far from being the worst score.

Even in these dreary dark days of winter there is always something going on in the village.  It could be a fête du boudin (black pudding) boiled up on the village square, competitions of the card game belotte or a matinée dansante – a sort of tea dance.  Spring won’t be here for a while but there’s enough to keep us all busy.

 

Swingin’ on la Dolce Via

December 13, 2016

Faithful readers may recall that in August 2014 after our walk along the Ballastine we were all set to test out the stretch of disused railway line between Le Cheylard and the Eyrieux valley on bikes.  The entire line has now been revamped for use by wheelers and walkers and has been re named La Dolce Via.

La Dolce Via

Well time flies by and we were simply not getting round to it until  our friend JP took matters into his own hands and organised the whole excursion for us.  We drove, on brilliant little twisty roads, as far as les Ollières sur Eyrieux, where we had arranged to hire bikes.  There was time for a quick coffee before the local bus rolled up and we hitched them to the back for the ride up to le Cheylard – another super scenic 30 km trip, along the river valley and an absolute snip at 3 euros.  Then it was saddle up and away!  A short stretch of open road brought us to the track and we had a beautiful ride down on a gorgeous day passing through tunnels and over viaducts as we followed the course of the river.

The views are varied but always breath-taking and quite different from those you get from the road, the surface also varies but is mostly excellent and at lunch time JP knew the perfect place to stop.

La gare

The station at Chalencon at le Pont de Chervil has been closed for years along with the hotel, but this summer a brand new food truck appeared.  Having been made redundant from the local jewellery factory, which is in difficulties, Raphaelle decided on a career change and persuaded her husband to graft a holiday chalet onto a trailer base to create a bespoke and very nifty kitchen.

Raphaelle's food truckShe’s an excellent cook and we parked the bikes in the shade to enjoy a delicious lunch and a pleasant break.  Altogether a fabulous day!

And that might have been that but for this intriguing poster which caught our eye some months later.

l'Autre Nous

It was the day after Jazz n Cakes, but we couldn’t miss it and we rolled up, somewhat groggily, mid morning to find the station buzzing in a delightful and peculiarly French way.

There was bunting up, couples dancing on the goods platform, pétanque players on the track, children everywhere.  Raphaelle was busy cooking up a giant paella whilst her husband and daughter served jugs of cool white wine to people sitting at tables in the shade and bemused cyclists rode by.  Emilie and Jean Phi led the lindy hoppers and a jazz trio provided the music.

It was just a great scene.  We had met Emilie before when Markus played for her at Kaopa, but now it transpired that Manu, the trumpet player was moving to Bordeaux ……

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No doubt you can guess the rest!  Markus has been rehearsing regularly with the Emilie and the band and they had their first gig at the end of November.  Watch this space!

 

 

Le Morlanche Nouveau

October 13, 2016

Day one

Things have been pretty hectic around here recently and the news is stacking up, but it’s time to backtrack a little and tell you about the exciting new developments at Morlanche.

We are so thrilled to have Brice and Lisa as our neighbours.  Since Brice’s grandparents moved to sheltered accommodation eight years ago their house has been empty and things haven’t felt the same.  We bought our house from them and we have developed a close attachment to the family, so when, after the old couple had passed away, Brice decided to move to Morlanche and to revive the vineyard and traditional wine making activity we could not have been more delighted.

the vineyard

They have been here for just over a year and in that time so much has been achieved.  Brice has completed a course in winemaking and vineyard management and Lisa has done an incredible job renovating the house and getting an amazing vegetable garden going.  Together they have been systematically rejuvenating and encouraging the vineyard, using natural methods and a minimum of chemicals and their efforts were rewarded with a bumper crop of excellent quality Gamay when the time came round for the vendange.

The weather had been warm and sunny, the grapes were testing well for a projected alcohol content of 13% when Brice made a snap decision and called the vendange for Saturday 24th.  A small band of family, friends and neighbours spent a hot but very cheerful day harvesting what turned out to be just under 500 kg of grapes.

However, what made this vendange really special is that, for the first time in 40 years, the grapes weren’t sold on to a local wine maker, but taken to the vast cellars under the house to be trodden, before being poured into the vat to start their journey towards becoming the cuvée Morlanche 2016.

The pictures tell their own story:

the vendange arrives in the cellar

the vendange arrives in the cellar

and is carefully weighed

and is carefully weighed.

Treading the grapes

Treading is next – a messy business!

Into the vat

Into the vat . . .

and the adventure begins!

and the adventure begins!

There’s still a long way to go and constant monitoring, testing … and tasting are required.

Measuring the alcohol level

Measuring the alcohol level

checking the vat

checking the vat

Tasting

tasting . . .

But the old cellars are once again filled with the wonderful aroma of fermenting grapes – Brice says that you can even smell it in the kitchen – and the centuries’ old tradition of wine making at Morlanche lives again!

la cave

It ain’t necessarily so – Jazz n’Cakes

September 19, 2016

it-aint-1

The little dog is Philibert Froidevaux who we purchased (or was he a free gift?) about 25 years ago at the Arlebosc bakery together with a baguette.  As we did not know what to do with him, we stuck him into a small hole in the outside wall by the house steps.  A few days ago a guest asked me “Did you notice there is a dog in the wall?”

it-aint-2

This gave me the idea to make him the star of my first Jazz video clip based on last weeks Jazz n’Cakes concert.  After a quarter of a century being rained on, he still looks the part!

So here is the link              It ain’t necessarily so – Jazz aux Sarziers

Kate is working on a Rhone Cruise so it is up to me to keep you informed about our last event at Les Sarziers.  Jazz n’Cakes was a great success, with over 70 people attending and no cake crumb left at the end of the evening.  Here are a few pictures …

 

Baking started three days before the concert and by Saturday afternoon the “n’cakes” part of the evening was ready.

 

 

The barn had to be cleared and the seating to be set up and an hour before the concert – between a bite to eat, getting the drinks ready (and washing the hair) we moved the piano from the sitting room to the barn (Thank you Brice).

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… and then the show started

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The night was beautifully warm and many stayed until ’round Midnight.

PS.       Don’t forget to watch Philibert in his star role.

 


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