Saturday, January 12, 2008

Valley on the move

Yesterday afternoon, the wind at Choranche was strong enough—as they say in French—to blow the horns off a cow. At six o'clock, I told Sophia, settled snuggly in her huge wicker basket on the kitchen floor, to "guard the house". That's our code phrase (in French) informing my dog that I'll be absent for a moment. Then I left for the annual January get-together of the citizens of Choranche in the municipal hall.

The mayor told us that 2008 will be a year of vast projects within the commune: a new sewerage system for residents on the eastern side of the village, a totally-reorganized village square and even a new bridge over the Bourne between Choranche and Châtelus. For a commune of about a hundred individuals, that's not bad. In this electoral year (for municipalities), we're a valley on the move, and you can't stop progress!

In a corner of our municipal hall, alongside tables heaped with food, drinks and even multi-colored sweets for Choranche's rare kids, a tiny group of concerned individuals talked enthusiastically about political strategies and possible technical methods for bringing the Internet to the totality of our citizens. I even met up with two new neighbors: a dynamic and intelligent administrator who works in the ski country up on the Vercors plateau, and his charming Brazilian wife, who teaches marketing. Yes, at such rare moments of conviviality, I do indeed have the impression that the valley is moving.

After a period of a few wet and chilly weeks, the sudden arrival of warm rays of sunshine makes the valley "boil", as it were. Huge steamy clouds ascend rapidly from the damp vegetation and disappear into the sky. In astronautical terms, you might refer to this spectacular phenomenon as a thermic shock. And the oldtimers know that such a happening is likely to leave traces in the valley. Like this:

At about the time I was talking with my fellow citizens about Internet in the valley, a rock fell onto the road below Gamone. This uncouth and uncommunicative mineral mass didn't even bother to send us an email announcing its intention to abandon its archaic location and slide a few meters down onto the road. It just fell, spontaneously. And woe betide the occupants of an automobile that might have been driving at that instant along the one-kilometer stretch between Pont-en-Royans and Gamone. In this case, nobody was present when the rock fell.
Mindless rock, rolling without spectators! You must have made a big noise when you hit the road, but nobody was there to hear you. Your big noise disappeared into nothingness. A waste of audio resources. We might pose a fabulous philosophical question that intrigued me when I was young and silly: If nobody was actually present to hear the sound of your fall, do we really have the right to assume that such a sound did in fact shake the hills last night? We think so, but how do we know? What proof persists of this hypothetical audio event?

Neighbors with whom I've spoken on the phone this morning feel that Choranche might indeed be entering into a permanent rock 'n' roll age. When I was taking the above photo, I looked upwards and realized in an instant that the worse is still to come. We have seen now that rocks can fall, not only from the summits, but from primordial contexts just a few meters above the road. There are violent falls, and there are gentle falls. There are obvious falls, and there are unexpected falls. But, when a rock falls, it falls... and the potential damage depends, not so much upon the rock's height and weight, but upon the unfortunate presence of folk whose itinerary happened to intersect that of the rock. Mathematical, my dear Watson.

Tineke Bot, an artist and a philosopher [visit her website] said: "William, we must not look upwards in anguish towards the rock-strewn summits. We must stroll through our valley like children, looking solely at the road ahead of us." Through our moving valley.

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