Saturday, December 23, 2006

Earthmoving

All the Earth is Mine is a yet-unpublished technico-political fable about large-scale earthmoving activities, primarily in Israel. I wrote a first version of this novel some fifteen years ago, before leaving Paris, and I completed this new typescript six months ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to contact literary agents in the US and the UK who might be prepared to read it, but I haven’t found anybody yet. So, up until now, I’m the only person on the planet who has read my novel. What a privilege! US publishing houses inform me that the best way of finding a literary agent is to use the hundreds of names, addresses and descriptions in an annual publication known as the Literary Market Place. Unfortunately, the purchase of a paper copy of this document runs into several hundred dollars, but I’ve noticed that I can pay just twenty dollars for a one-week subscription to an Internet version of this information, which would be an ideal solution for me. So, as soon as the holiday season ends, I intend to do this. In the course of a week, I should be able to download all the names and addresses I need. And after that, I’ll start a massive snail-mail operation aimed at finding an agent who’ll accept me.

This afternoon, I finally got around to discussing an infinitely more modest earthmoving operation with a local contractor, René. I would like to remove the present embankments located at both the northern and southern ends of the house. This would provide me with flat space to build a garage, and it would also eliminate the problem of trying vainly to keep down the weeds that grow on these steep embankments, close to the house. At times in the past, I’ve ventured onto these embankments with a hand-held weed cutter, but it’s a risky operation, to be avoided. At one stage, I used a ladder propped up against the embankments to plant all kinds of shrubs, but few of them survived. I have the impression that Mother Nature thinks you're joking when you try to grow plants on a steep slope. She looks down at me with a cynical smile and says: "Ok, my fine fellow. If you show me that you can lie down at such a spot, I'll do my best to make things grow there. But, if you're not able to lie down there, then plants won't be able to grow there either." In other words, you can't fool plants. They know the meaning of top and bottom, up and down. They know just as much about gravity as you and me and Einstein.

It’s all very well to simply let the grass and weeds grow wildly on these embankments, but this can turn into a fire hazard in summer. So, the ideal solution would consist of removing a lot of earth, starting well behind the house, in order to create more gentler slopes.

If I decide to accept René’s offer (which I should receive within the next few days), I’ll then need to demolish two buildings that I put up, several years ago, with my own hands, both of which would be in the way of the planned earthmoving operations: my wood shed and my hen house (see photos). I would rebuild a more sturdy wood shed alongside my future garage.

As for the hen house, I might be able to drag it further away from the house, and set it up once again... in which case I would use it to house creatures such as geese and peacocks. As part of my anti-cholesterol measures, I've given up eating eggs, and there's little sense in raising my own chooks (Aussie word for hens) for meat in a region such as this, where it's so simple to buy top-quality poultry.

René used a wheel device to measure distances enabling us to calculate the approximate volume of earth that needs to be moved. We reached a figure of about 550 cubic meters. Well, when you think about it, that doesn’t sound like a gigantic quantity of earth. It’s merely a square block, ten meters along each side, rising to a height of five and a half meters. Nevertheless, the visual consequences of scraping up that volume of earth on one side of the house, and depositing it on the other, are not likely to go unnoticed.

And what am I going to do with all that earth? People who live on the slopes of a mountain, as I do, have the wonderful possibility of increasing almost magically the area of flat land around their house... which is something unthinkable when you occupy a block of flat land with roads or neighbors on each side. We slope-dwellers simply use a common-sense method that was devised, at the dawn of agriculture, by people who wished to grow crops on hillsides. They would gouge out the earth and rocks so as to create a horizontal ledge spiraling around the slopes. And the gouged-out material would be used to form the outer rim of the newly-created flat area. In the nearby vineyards of Tain-l’Hermitage on the Rhône, there are splendid examples of this method. What this means, for me at Gamone, is that the 550 cubic meters of earth and rocks that René will gouge out of the hill behind the house will be simply dumped a few meters further on, in the direction of Gamone Creek, thereby augmenting, cubic meter by cubic meter, the area of what might be termed my “front yard”.

I get a tremendous thrill out of calling upon a splendid earthmover such as René (who once lived meagerly with his parents and brothers in the original house at Gamone, long before I arrived here) to reshape the surroundings... as he has already done, timidly, on two separate occasions. To my mind, René possesses the same kind of pioneering skills, aided by his heavy equipment, that enabled our predecessors to build (with a little help from a friend named Nature) a magnificent place such as Gamone.

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