Thursday, 9 June 2011: Cluny in the sun
Written 18 June 2011
Thursday morning, after the hotel's lovely continental breakfast, we drove over the mountain again to Cluny, this time to see the abbey. Not really in the sun, as you can see from the photos, but at least not in a steady, heavy, pelting rain all day, like last time. Walking up from the parking lot, I got this shot in through the back gate of the School of Arts and Occupations. Its students were everywhere, some biking like these, others walking from building to building carrying, e.g., architectural models or cases full of drawings, and all recognizable by their billowing silver-gray gowns/smocks, which they are free to decorate with paint, decals, patches, embroidery, etc. We also passed, each time coming and going from the car, a glass-walled orchestra practice room, right at sidewalk level. You could not only watch whatever musicians happened to be using it but see right through and out the glass walls of the other side. Fun.
For lunch, we settled on the Café du Centre, where, to get something light, we ordered from the "snack" menu and got these three-egg omelets, mine with lardons, David's with mushrooms and lardons.
For background on Cluny, I probably can't improve on the "Cluny in the rain" entry from my 2009 travel diary, at http://bio.fsu.edu/~thistle/blog09/09-06-19.html, but since we were here then, things have changed. 2010 was deemed the 1000th anniversary of the abbey church, so huge changes and improvements were planned for that year. They were in preparation when we were here in 2009 and have now been realized. We took a wonderful guided tour, mostly outdoors in 2009, but now the huge, shiny new museum has been opened, which permits self-guided tours with almost as much information. And during the outdoor parts, we could stand and study the architecture without getting drenched. The terrific electronic viewing screen I described from the last visit has multiplied. You can now stand at three different screens, tilting and revolving them to see very realistic views of what would have been there, looking in any given direction, if the church were still standing. They must be weather-proof, as two of them stand right out in the open, unprotected.
The museum also includes a glass-walled workshop (empty and quiet when we were there) where you can watch as restorators work at fitting back together the thousands upon thousands of broken fragments of sculpture from the site. The current project is reconstruction of the carving around a particular doorway of the church, of which descriptions exist.
On our way back out, through the gift shop, I broke down and bought a book I'd seen there last time, Histoire des Peurs Alimentaires du Moyen Age à l'Aube du Vingtième (History of Food Fears from the Middle Ages to the Dawn of the 20th Century) by Madeleine de Ferrières. That should be fun.
From the new museum, we walked over to the old museum, past this sort of golf-card/rickshaw advertising a radio station and offering tours of the town in many languages. The old museum is the one we toured in 2009, in the palace of Jean de Bourbon, the first "nonreligious" abbott. It's much less crammed with stuff than it was before the new place opened, but its colored tile floors are still as striking. Since we last visited, they've apparently repaired the roof, because signs and caution tape no longer warn passers by away from zones menaced by falling tiles.
Finally, here's another shot of the model I showed on my 2009 page, together with a view down the axis of the abbey church. Here, I'm standing at the head of the stairs descending to the church's west door (at the extreme right on the photo of model. The two square buildings nearest the camera are the truncated remnants of the two square towers flanking the entrance. Beyond them, one descends more stairs to enter the "avant-nef" (narthex?), the part of the building where the roof is lower, between the square towers and the nave proper. The end of that low section is marked by the low vertical wall directly in front of the camera (viewed between the square towers and below the little white tent. Only at that point did one enter the actual nave of the church. The tower to the right of the axis is the tallest tower of the right-hand large transcept. The only parts of the structure still actually standing are that large transcept and the small transcept behind it (note on the model that the church had two transcepts between the nave and apse). The little white tent marks the site where a building has just been torn down, part of the efforts to uncover as much as possible of the footprint of the abbey church. The building behind it is part of the national stud, the place where we bought our tour tickets, still sitting squarely within the church's footprint. The long wall bounding the view to the left, beyond the square tower, is the Hotel de Bourgogne, also well within the footprint. That church was big.
Dinner was back at Igé again. Amuse-bouche, both: The same cold cauliflower soup, garnished as before with a dab of caviare; a small glass with crisp cooked vegetable dice, topped with anchovy whipped cream; miniature pots of warm vegetable soup.
First course, David: Ravioli of snails and a fricassée of mushrooms, all smothered in a creamy sauce of "l'ail des ours." Very tasty.
First course, me: Frogs, "comme aux Dombes," that is, cooked as they are in the nearby Dombes region, where they are a specialty (with butter, parsley, and so much garlic that David says his eyes water every time a serving enters the room). Yummy. Nine of them, by my count. Alas, they don't actually come from France anymore, where they're protected. Instead, they're shipped in live from eastern Europe, and the restaurant takes over from there. Definitely not the giant disembodied legs that show up in U.S. supermarkets.
Second course, David: Filet of wild daurade with potato scales, accompanied by a risotto topped with a few mussels and a roasted tomato.Second course, me: A steak—filet of Charolais, cooked medium rare as requested, accompanied by sauce Béarnaise, fluffy potato (topped with more 0f the crispy waffle chips), and a little pastry cup of braised mushrooms (mostly oyster mushrooms).
Dessert, me: Theme and variations on the raspberry—a ball of sorbet; a small, hot, creamy chocolate soufflé with fresh raspberries baked into it; a great tower built of round, flat tuile cookies sandwiching two layers, each of which consisted of five superb fresh raspberries and a central filling of pistachio cream; and a glass containing a slightly cloudy clear jelly, poured on a slant, and topped with fluffy raspberry cream. I never identified the jelly, but it had a familiar, delicate flavor—maybe almond?
David ordered the "chocosphere" again. Here's what it looked like as it arrived at the table.
And here are the the next two steps.
Mignardises: tuiles, the same little fruit tarts, chocolates.
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