Saturday, July 12, 2014

Napoleonic cavalryman on moped

This week, the latest series of moped movies starring François Skyvington has been showing on the Arte channel. Sensing that they’ve created an exemplary TV style, with a finely-dosed blend of form and content, the production team has respected scrupulously the approach developed throughout their two previous seasons, which gave rise to a total of 40 half-hour documentaries (which are being aired by Arte on the same afternoons as the new series). The general idea is that François—wearing a yellow helmet and an orange scarf—continues to take advantage of his archaic orange moped to crawl around picturesque byways, where he meets up with all sorts of friendly and interesting individuals, generally in most spectacular places.

To fit half-a-dozen such encounters into a 30-minute documentary, and to maintain the smooth rhythm of each road show, the production people are obliged to condense events and to take constant shortcuts. Viewers are expected to accept the principle that François simply “runs into” all these fascinating people, places and situations. There is no time in the documentaries for didacticism or dreary explanations, which would of course be fatal for the harmony and entertainment value. Ordinary viewers are not likely to examine these moped documentaries with a view to planning their forthcoming family vacations. On the other hand, each programme comes across as an inducement to travel and an element of touristic motivation in the sense that TV viewers are brought in contact immediately with the essence of such-and-such a site and its people. François and his primitive old two-wheeled vehicle take us directly to the heart of the subject and put viewers in immediate contact with the spirit of place.

Click to enlarge

The 5 programmes aired this week dealt with Corsica. Not surprisingly, the man on his moped soon met up with the world of Napoléon Bonaparte in Ajaccio. Down in the street in front of the house where the future emperor was born, François was received by an honor guard.

Images on the screen were then metamorphosed magically, as TV viewers stepped inside the splendid Salon napoléonien in the city hall of Ajaccio. The emperor's marble gaze did not appear to be unduly disturbed by the arrival of one of his cavalry officers on a moped.

As for the awestruck expression on the face of the cavalryman, it suggested that his mechanical steed rarely brought him into such prestigious settings.

He wondered whether it was appropriate that a humble moped man such as himself should be attired in such a fine outfit, and surrounded by vestiges of Corsican imperial splendour.

Why not? He would have time enough, later on, to get back to his faithful vehicle and his yellow helmet and orange scarf on the rural roads of France. For the moment, he could savour calmly this exceptional situation.

Besides, there was no time for dreaming. Much was happening out on the battlefields, and the cavalry officer was obliged to adopt a firm tone of persuasion when discussing certain life-and-death military matters with his senior commander.

It wasn’t long before François left this imperial setting, and the yellow helmet reappeared on the macadam of the rugged roads of Corsica.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dangers of the didgeridoo

Our gloriously narcissistic Rolf Harris—an almost Australian of the year—has finally been caught out and condemned heavily for ancient sexual offences involving underage females. What this means is that a hugely popular Aussie guy such as our Rolf might have a right to tie his kangaroo down, but he mustn’t allow the beast to raise its ugly tail and go groping around in the undies of young girls.

Jeez, there are things I don’t understand. Rolf wasn’t even a serious musician/entertainer, let alone an ordained priest! In cases like this, I can’t help wondering whether the innocent young victims, before running up and sitting down naively in Rolf’s enticing lap, had been wisely and sufficiently instructed by their parents about the terrible and ever-present dangers of the didgeridoo. Click here to start learning.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Detained for questioning

This morning, about an hour ago, the French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning over alleged influence peddling.

These days, whenever we see photos of the former French president, he seems to have stopped shaving for several days.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First two victims

Exactly a century ago, on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was visiting Sarajevo—the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina—with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

They were a nice couple, who might have gone on to worldly glory at the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

Instead, they were cut down by the bullets of an assassin.

They might be thought of as the first two victims of the ensuing First World War. Their killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a fervent Serbian nationalist who belonged to a movement named Young Bosnia, which hoped to separate Bosnia from the Austro-Hungarian empire and unite it with the Serbian kingdom.

In the years that followed, millions would die in the senseless butchery of the so-called “Great War”. And much water would flow under the lovely Latin Bridge of Sarajevo where the act of an enraged 18-year-old student had plunged the planet into a time of mindlessness from which the nations of the Old World are still striving to emerge.

White whale

This amazing creature—a white whale—is both rare and well known in the waters of eastern Australia. He even has an Aboriginal name: Migaloo.

Experienced whale-watchers know that, at this time of the year, Migaloo always heads off northwards on his annual holidays.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Biting artistically the dust

The Italian artist Sandro Giordano offers us a fascinating series of 15 photos on the theme of falling artistically onto (or often into) the ground. The series bears the title In extremis, and Giordano’s subtitle states explicitly that the various fallen bodies were “with no regret”. So, all’s well that ends well. Click here to view this series of delightful photos, presented by the French weekly Nouvel Observateur.

In the following photo from the series, the dog is wagging its tail with joy:

To my mind, this proves clearly—if need be—that no innocent animals were hurt or even distressed in any way whatsoever during the production of this set of artistic photos.

Magnificent France

The Unesco world heritage list includes 39 French sites. They are presented here by a series of excellent photos within a French-language article. The most-recently elected member of this prestigious list is the cavern at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche). Located 25 metres beneath the ground level on a limestone plateau, this fabulous site will never be opened for ordinary tourists. Instead, starting next spring, people will be able to wander around inside an elaborate replica, constructed by experts in a natural setting close to the real cavern.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Elements of my future pizza oven

Throughout winter, the elements of my future wood-fueled bread oven were stored in my cellar, because I had once imagined that I would actually install the oven in a corner of my stone cellar. But I changed my mind at that level, finally deciding that it would be a much better idea to install the oven out in the open, at the southern end of my house, at a spot where a wood-fueled bread oven had once existed, long ago. So, today, I decided to bring all the 14 elements out onto the lawn, alongside the place where they will soon be assembled.

To move the heavy elements, I used the simple two-wheeled device that’s known in French as a diable (devil).

Now that the weather is sunny at Gamone, it’s a pleasure for me to work outside. In the immediate future, before thinking about assembling the elements of the oven, I first have to erect the base on which the oven will be installed. For me, this is likely to be quite a demanding project (I’ve never built such a structure before), but there’s no reason why I can’t do it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Beyonce or not to Beyonce

Truly, the actress Nina Millin has elevated the words of Beyonce to a transcendent level, and she's offering us Hamlet. All that's missing is a skull in her outstretched hand.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Accommodation for remains

Microsoft built a thing called Bing, which would probably like to catch up with Google. Click here to use this tool.

Apparently Bing has the courage to get involved in the dangerous domain of language translation. Here’s a French-to-English specimen (slightly edited, to make it readable) that I found this morning:

Readers might well be intrigued by the translated line at the bottom of the tweet: a reworking or art to accommodate the remains. Are we talking of human remains? Maybe this has something to do with the idea of creating artistic accommodation to house deceased humans. I was reminded immediately of the fantastic Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, which have been offering excellent high-style accommodation for corpses, of a most artistic kind, for several centuries.

In the beginning, the lodgers were exclusively deceased monks. But the idea caught on at the level of the local population, and posthumous accommodation was soon being offered to all and sundry. One of the most charming inhabitants of this extraordinary home for the dead is a two-year-old girl named Rosaria Lombardo, who took up residence here in 1920. Her calm appearance is such that an onlooker might imagine Rosaria as a sleeping child who only moved into the catacombs quite recently.

On looking more closely into the wonderful work of Bing, we find that the original French-language tweet from the investigative website Mediapart concerns a minor ministerial shakeup (remaniement) in the Greek government, reflecting the victory of the extreme left wing in the European elections of 25 May 2014. The French expression “accommoder les restes” designates the familiar home-kitchen theme of grabbing all the left-overs lying around in the refrigerator—after a couple of major meals, for example—and blending them together intelligently and harmoniously (whence the word “art”) with the aim of creating a new meal. Personally, I’ve always done this automatically and relatively skilfully, which means that I almost never throw out fragments of good food. In the Greek political context, the journalist was suggesting that the Greek prime minister grabbed various credible survivors of the electoral calamity and made an artful attempt to blend them together into a new and edible, if not tasty, government.

Clearly Bing is as dumb as they come. But so what? It has provided us with an opportunity of going on a tiny virtual trip to a strange place in the centre of the fabulous Mediterranean world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bees are toiling non-stop at Gamone

Long ago, when I was working at IBM headquarters in Paris, a friendly but loud-mouthed French colleague, whose first name (if I remember correctly) was Michel, used to amuse us greatly by his regular phone call, every afternoon around 4 o’clock. He was young, and had not been married for long. Jewish, he liked to enhance his conversation by throwing in bizarre Yiddish exclamations, which only our elegant and brilliant young French-Moroccan colleague Jacques Cohen-Rothschild seemed to understand and appreciate. The subject of Michel’s phone call was always the same: “Darling, what are you cooking for dinner this evening?”

Whenever visitors are due to arrive at Gamone, my first and foremost question is: “What am I going to give them to eat?” That’s not all that surprising because, at Gamone, it’s not as if I can step out rapidly to a nearby shop to buy foodstuffs, or even decide that we might eat in a nearby restaurant. What I mean to say is that there are few nearby shops and restaurants.

Knowing that my swarm of bees would be moving in at Gamone the day before yesterday, I asked myself the same question: “What are they going to eat?” Well, it appears that there’s no problem whatsoever. My property includes about a dozen giant linden trees, which are all in bloom at present.

I can’t actually see the bees in the trees, because they’re probably attracted by flowers in the upper branches, warmed by the sun. But, whenever I stroll beneath one of my linden trees, I detect buzzing in the branches above my head. I’ve got into the habit, since Sunday, of standing for long periods of time near the narrow takeoff and landing zone at the front of the hive, and watching the fascinating movements of the tiny aircraft. This morning, at dawn, I noticed that all the bees entering the hive seemed to be wearing thick yellow woollen socks. It’s linden-blossom pollen, of course, caught up on their hind legs. I’ll try to obtain photos of this delightful scene, but I don’t want to get so close to the hive (protected by my beekeeper's costume) that I might upset the insects. They’ve got a lot of work to do in the near future, building cells on the 5 empty frames in the hive and then starting to use these new cells either to make and store honey, or maybe to create a maternity ward for new bees. It’s all extremely mysterious, enthralling and indeed awe-inspiring: a very Dawkinsian environment.

People more shocked by art than by warfare

On 29 May 2014 (a week before the gigantic D-Day commemorations in Normandy), the Luxembourg artist Deborah de Robertis created a sensational but profoundly poetic happening in the Parisian Musée d’Orsay by calmly sitting down on the ground beneath the celebrated painting of Gustave Courbet [1819-1877] entitled L’Origine du Monde, drawing up her skirt, spreading her legs apart, and showing startled but generally appreciative onlookers a hairy real-world specimen of the anatomical place where human life originates and emerges.

I am the Origin.
I am all Women.
You have never seen me.
I want you to recognize me.
Virgin like Water.
Creator of Sperm.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Once upon a time: an English friend in Paris

It’s weird to be googling around casually on the off-chance of finding out what might have happened to an old friend, and to run into an obituary [access], indeed an old obituary.

Anthony Richard Sutcliffe [1942-2012]

In the years 1963 to 1965, Tony was an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter. That’s to say, we were colleagues.

Whenever I think of Tony, who had what you might call a quietly-spoken Oxfordian personality, I remember his excitement concerning the birth of the Beatles phenomenon. He talked of them often, and his enthusiasm intrigued me. During a short holiday break, he returned to England and attended a Beatles concert (one of the group's first-ever big events). At that time, to my mind, the Beatles were nothing more than a group of new kids on the block, as it were. And I simply couldn’t understand why Tony seemed to take them so seriously, as if they were about to create a pop-music revolution. I soon learnt, of course, that Tony’s tastes were spot on.

Tony spoke excellent French. Meanwhile, he looked like a typical young English gentleman, always attired in a tweed coat with a necktie.