Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Choranche rock 'n' roll

My recent article entitled Rock is ready to fall [display] described the giant rock at Choranche overhanging the road from Pont-en-Royans up to Villard-de-Lans. This afternoon, lots of spectators gathered on the slopes of Châtelus to watch the successful dynamiting of this rock.

Tineke and Serge are standing alongside the painted marks delimiting the safety zone for spectators. Many of the people who turned up here, mingling with road-workers in their bright uniforms, were residents who had been evacuated by the authorities. Since it was quite cold outdoors, the mayor and councilors of Châtelus had the brilliant idea of setting up a roadside stand to serve us free drinks: cups of warm red wine flavored with cinnamon. The mounting excitement of the onlookers may have been enhanced by the wine. In any case, the atmosphere was festive. At one stage, a Belgian dentist who has recently moved into an old farmhouse in Châtelus started entertaining us with his accordion.

Meanwhile, the truck that had delivered its precious cargo of dynamite to the site started to unload big rolls of plastic.

A red mobile crane had hoisted the heavy plastic to the top of the rock, where workers were draping it over the rock, so that houses down to the left might be protected from projections due to the blast.

The first indication that the explosion had taken place was visual. The rock was encircled by brilliant red flashes. Then everything was hidden by a gigantic cloud of yellowish smoke, and an enormous dull thud resounded throughout the so-called Circus of Choranche. A minute later, when the smoke had cleared, we were amazed to see that the rock had disappeared, the road was perfectly intact, and all the vegetation on the slopes beneath the site had been cleared by the hail of rocks, forming a twenty-meter-wide path down to the edge of the Bourne.

When I succeeded in photographing the site from a closer distance, I was intrigued to discover that the interior of the rock contained the same blue limestone found below my property, commonly referred to as Gamone bluestone.

Down at the site, everything was now calm. Except for a few big fragments and a lot of rubble, most of the rock had been disintegrated and blown clean across the road, as planned, and I had the impression that not even a single tire had been touched by the blast. But the site was ghostly, as if a great crime had just been perpetrated here.

For Tineke, in a way, this was the case. As a sensitive sculptor, from the moment she bought the property thirty years ago, she had always imagined the great rock as the fist of an outstretched arm, ready to protect her from the obscure forces of the surrounding mountains. Now the authorities had come along and blown the hand off her protector. But Serge and Tineke were thrilled to discover that the engineers had carried out their task impeccably, and that the houses adjacent to the explosion had suffered no damage whatsoever.

I was amused to see that grubby leather gloves, abandoned by a worker a few days ago, were still lying on the parapet, a few meters away from the heart of the explosion. I pointed them out to Tineke, who confirmed that she too had seen them lying there yesterday. Maybe, I thought, they were magic gloves, no longer serving any useful purpose, that had dropped to the parapet from the hand of Tineke's protector.

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