Sunday, March 30, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 9

Chapter 9 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Violence. Everybody in Jerusalem is familiar with the vast colorful market named Mahaneh Yehuda, not far from the center of the New City. Lanes between the stalls bear the Hebrew names of fruit, but there are vendors of all kinds of foodstuffs (vegetables, meat, fish and pastry products) and household wares.

On a sunny afternoon, Rachel Kahn had taken the Luria children, David and Lisa, on a bus excursion to the Red Sea, leaving their parents to wander around Jerusalem like carefree honeymooners. Alas, a Palestinian terrorist chose that moment to strike the crowded market.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Destination death

Last Tuesday afternoon, I dropped in at the cemetery of Pont-en-Royans to bid adieu to 46-year-old Muriel Magnat (wife of Jean, the brother of Gérard), who was one of the first neighbors I encountered here at Gamone, fifteen years ago. At one stage, I employed Muriel to clean up my house on a weekly basis, but she used to irritate me, whenever I made any specific request, by replying "Oui, chef", as if I were an army sergeant. So her role as my household employee didn't last for long. But we remained good friends... and I was saddened, over the last couple of years, to see Muriel slipping into a no-man's-land of social withdrawal, maybe exacerbated by alcohol.

The last time I ran into her, a couple of months ago, at the supermarket in Saint-Jean-en-Royans, Muriel looked like a very old woman. She invited me back to her place for a pastis. In the course of our conversation, we got around to envisaging the possibility that I might inherit their cat, because it appeared that her husband Jean hoped to replace this animal by a dog. Retrospectively, I believe that Muriel was in no position to offer the family cat to anybody at all, but she was the kind of woman whose friendly direct speech seemed to announce such possibilities as if they were certainties. That was part of Muriel's charm, you might say. Back at the time she worked for me, Muriel was immensely proud of their ancient house in the Rue du Merle, on the slopes of Pont-en-Royans. But drunken carelessness meant that a good part of the neighborhood disappeared in flames... and Muriel, the likely culprit, disappeared instantly, like the burnt buildings, from the daily village scene.

Muriel Faure was a descendant, through her mother, of the Bonnard family whose prestigious hotel, inaugurated in 1898 (still standing, but converted recently into private premises), used to be a touristic landmark at Pont-en-Royans. Once upon a time, the noble descendants of the ancient Bérenger-Sassenage families used to be lodged there... not to mention the king of Belgium along with countless New World visitors.

On the tombstone above the sepulcher where Muriel was buried, I was intrigued by an engraved name, with no date of death: Tintin Faure. Afterwards, I asked my neighbor Madeleine Repellin (an erudite aficionado—in modern terms, a database—of local births, deaths, marriages, divorces, funerals and sordid stories of all kinds) to tell me the relationship between this mysterious Tintin and the deceased woman who had entered his tombstone universe.

Madeleine: "Tintin—that's to say, the nickname for Augustin—is Muriel's father."

William: "Hang on, Madeleine. The other day, you introduced me to an old man, supposed to be Muriel's father, alongside his daughter's grave. Now you're telling me that it's his name that's inscribed on the tombstone above his daughter's grave."

Madeleine: "Right. Tintin has inscribed his name on his future tomb, without a date of death, but his daughter happened to die before him."

William: "I'm amazed. Is it normal for living people to have their names inscribed on tombstones?" I was suddenly reminded of ferry boats in Sydney Harbor that carry the names of still-living sporting heroes such as Dawn Fraser and Shane Gould.

I sensed that the subject was becoming serious, and that my questions were disturbing. My everyday neighbor Dédé RepellinDédé is the nickname for André—intervened in our discussion: "Yes, it's a common habit in this part of the Alps. Inscribing a name on a future tombstone provides us with a precise destination. While still living, we know where we're finally heading."

Talk about serious mountain guides!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When lying becomes a family affair

I don't mind admitting that, once upon a time, when Bill Clinton looked us directly in the eyes and swore that he had never had any kind of sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, I was stupid enough to believe him, because he seemed to be so tremendously sincere. I even remember saying to myself: "What great willpower and strong character Clinton must possess, to be able to refuse the cuddly advances of sexy White House women. And what a pity he has to defend his honor courageously against all those nasty people who are trying to invent false reasons for overthrowing him."

On the other hand, as soon as I heard Hillary Clinton telling us how she scrambled across a tarmac under a shower of sniper bullets, something told me there was something wrong with her story. In particular, I found it weird that she should be smiling while relating this tale, as if her alleged courage were almost a matter-of-fact laughing matter. "You must realize, ladies and gentlemen: I'm so terribly brave in such circumstances that it's almost a joke."

I believe that Hillary Clinton's bid to become the Democratic presidential candidate will suffer irreparably through this silly lie.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, seems to have succeeded elegantly and efficiently in putting his former preacher friend Jeremiah Wright back into the glass museum case from which he should never have been extracted. If Obama himself had ever made any of the kinds of fiery declarations attributed to the pastor, there would certainly be cause for concern. But this is not the case. I don't find it alarming that Obama should count this crazy preacher among his friends. The world would be an impossible stage for aspiring statesmen if they were to be judged by their notorious friends.

Law of motion

The First Law of Motion of Isaac Newton seems to concern moving objects: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. In fact, it applies perfectly well to an object whose velocity happens to be zero; that's to say, a stationary object. In other words, as long as no external force is applied to a stationary object, it will remain eternally motionless. Now, I often encounter intelligent individuals who seem to be convinced that, if an ancient structure has never yet fallen, in spite of its superficially unstable appearance, then this "proves" that it isn't likely to fall in the foreseeable future. They refuse to imagine that even the legendary butterfly, flapping its wings, could provide an external force capable of making things move.

A decade ago, my English friend Adrian Lyons was leading me on an inspection of a local dilapidated medieval castle, and he tried to reassure me when he saw that I wasn't too keen on crawling over rotted rafters: "This place was built centuries before we were born, and it'll still be standing long after us." Shortly after that outing, daredevil Adrian lost his life in the UK when he crashed his veteran jet aircraft while pulling out of a tight turn too close to the ground.

Here in the Vercors, many folk seem to consider that a precarious rock structure that hasn't yet crumbled and rolled down the slopes will no doubt remain in place forever. So, they don't sense its presence as a constant menace.

I see these cliffs, on the other side of the Bourne, from my bedroom window. In the center of the photo, the detached vertical pillar is most impressive when you look up at it from the Rouillard Bridge, a few hundred meters down from Gamone. It's composed of two sections, separated by a fissure, and the righthand section appears to be leaning down towards the road to Pont-en-Royans. If ever these rocks were to fall, they might not hurt anybody [because the zone is devoid of houses], but they would create a huge mess at the level of the road and the river.

I've often wondered whether specialists inspect such situations, to evaluate possible risks. I don't think so, because I have no idea how such an inspection could be carried out. After all, limestone cliffs of this kind are so crumbly that you wouldn't even find experienced rock climbers in such a place. So, we're left with the subjective appreciations of local folk who, for one reason or another, have their personal ideas about whether such-and-such a site is risky.

My neighbor Gérard Magnat, at Sirouza, lives quite close to this double pillar. From his balcony veranda, you look straight across at Mont Baret, and his house is located at roughly the same altitude as the pillar. When I called in at his place a few days ago, Gérard said to me, spontaneously: "For the last few months, I've had a strange feeling that the fissure between the two vertical sections of the pillar has widened a little. But I can't be certain, and people think I'm crazy..."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Return of the sheep

Prior to leaving for Australia in August 2006, I called upon a local butcher, Patrick Charvet, to spend a morning slaughtering my existing flock of sheep (with my active participation in the events). But we refrained from killing a ewe and three tiny lambs. Shortly before I left for Australia, these remnants of my flock escaped from Gamone, maybe because they smelt blood in the air. In fact, escaping wasn't difficult, since my donkey Moshe (who often shared paddocks with sheep) had the habit of leaning against the fencing, to eat greener grass on the other side, and my once-robust paddocks at Gamone had deteriorated to the point of being like a prison without padlocks.

A few days ago, I was surprised by this scene up behind my house:

The ewe and the three tiny lambs of August 2006 have now evolved into a flock of nine animals. Totally wild.

As I walk slowly towards them, they wander slowly away from me. And they usually disappear over the crest of the hill behind my house, in the direction of their familiar mountainous abode above Pont-en-Royans.

What can you do with such animals? The immediate obvious answer is: Nothing. Let them be! But this is an unsatisfactory answer for two reasons: (a) It's illegal to "own" undeclared wild sheep. (b) These animals could stray onto the road and provoke an accident.

So, I would like to eliminate them. But how? That's a good question. The only solution, I fear, will consist of my asking officially the gendarmerie to authorize the physical elimination of all these wild sheep with the technical assistance of local hunters.

Aussie readers at such-and-such a refined Sydney golf club might make fun of the fact that my handful of sheep could cause problems here in France. I could use a nice word such as Antipodes to designate our respective viewpoints, but the truth of the matter is that we're not really living on the same planet.

Monday, March 24, 2008

La Parisienne

My daughter sent me this photo, taken last year in a Paris courtyard. She was testing her newly-purchased scooter, which she now uses regularly (with a helmet, of course) for getting around in Paris.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 8

Chapter 8 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Earth. The time has finally come for Jake's first monumental earthmoving operation in the Holy Land: the transformation of the ruins of Herod's Promontory Palace at Caesarea into an artificial floating island.

At the same time that this extraordinary event is taking place, an even more spectacular project is announced, on the Sea of Galilee... where it is alleged that Jesus once walked upon the waters.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Blog comment from Marvin Minsky

For a blog author such as me, fascinated by computers and inspired by the great pioneers in this domain, receiving a comment from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Professor Marvin Minsky is like a humble political journalist getting a message from a head of state. Marvin Minsky's interesting comment is attached to my post entitled Death in Sri Lanka of a visionary [display]. It's amusing to think that Minsky, whom we imagine as a specialist in abstract computer-science domains, actually helped to design the arms and hands of the space-pod manipulator in Stanley Kubrick's fabulous film 2001: A Space Odyssey. MIT is truly a melting-pot for eclectic academics with engineering skills.

Minsky's post to my blog includes a copy of his exchange of personal email with Arthur C Clarke, whose reply to Minsky was written on February 2, 2008. In reading these moving words, I have the impression that I'm eavesdropping on a simple conversation between old friends... who happen to be two of the greatest and most exciting thinkers of our times.

Minsky's email to Arthur C Clarke mentions "a big new book". He is referring to The Emotion Machine. I intend to refer in detail to this fascinating AI [artificial intelligence] opus in forthcoming posts.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank Marvin Minsky for his congratulations concerning my recent French naturalization.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Morbid mosaic

The New York Times proposes an impressive compendium of US war casualties, presenting—as they say—"faces of the dead".

This young American happened to die on the same day that I became a citizen of France, which opposed the American intervention in Iraq. So, for what it's worth in symbolic moral terms, I wish to dedicate solemnly my French naturalization to the memory of this slain US soldier.

Nauseating portraits

Opening an album of old family photos, we might feel inclined to alter certain images. It would be nicer if an archaic ancestor were a little more visually attractive, if an aging aunt were a slightly less stern, if an old uncle could be made to appear more intelligent. Alas, the moving finger of photography writes and, having writ, moves on. Only in the virtual spheres of Photoshop can we retouch our visual past, but that would be senseless cheating. Meanwhile, certain family photos reappear with nauseating insistence.

Not only is this dumb bastard reluctant to say he's sorry for his bloody blunders in Iraq; he's proud of them!

This medieval scarecrow should have been removed long ago from the surface of our planet, if only the above-mentioned dumb American had done his job correctly. Instead, he's still there, sending out mindless menaces about how we should view his distorted religious mythology.

Finally, this silly old bugger dressed up like a white pansy continues to preach old-fashioned magic, and pollute the minds of the planet's youth with negative trash.

Ah, it would be nice if the family portraits could be changed. A little less nausea. A little more humanity, dignity and intelligence.

Attempt to knock the socks off democracy

Perpignan is a charming French city on the edge of the Pyrenees, not far from the Mediterranean. And it has a famous railway station.

You can buy a ticket from Perpignan to the Spanish border town of Portbou, just three quarters of an hour away. Then, from Portbou, you can set off on a wider railway gauge towards the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, two and a half hours further down the line. So, Perpignan is the hub of the Franco-Spanish Mediterranean world.

The Catalonian surrealist painter Salvador Dali [1904-1989] went one step further, in decreeing that the railway station at Perpignan was indeed the center of the world. His painting on this theme, three meters high and four meters wide, contains subtle symbols that can hardly be appreciated in a tiny reproduction, but they all get back to the idea that Perpignan's station is a Christian holy of holies, whose light spreads out towards the four corners of Christendom.

Holy city? Perpignan has just been thrown into the electoral limelight through a tale of holey socks. A local official was arrested on the evening of the second round of the municipal elections because he had stuffed his socks with voting bulletins, so that they wouldn't be counted.

Technically, this novel approach towards knocking the socks off democracy was a failure. Since then, local folk have been demonstrating in the streets of Perpignan, calling for a new election. Not surprisingly, as a symbol of their cohesion, the demonstrators brandish socks. Dali would have loved this affair. In his own words, the story of Perpignan's socks would have surely provided him with the stimulus for a huge "mental ejaculation".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Death in Sri Lanka of a visionary

The futuristic writer Arthur C Clarke died early this morning, at the age of 90, at Colombo in Sri Lanka, where he had been living for over half a century. In 1968, he and Stanley Kubrick created the screenplay 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the outcome was one of the most poetically breathtaking science-fiction movies of all time, which stunned me completely when I first saw it in Paris. The film's opening integrates splendidly the music of Strauss. Above all, the convincing presence of the anthropomorphic robot HAL (whose behavior was conceived apparently with wise advice from Marvin Minsky) helped to make this extraordinary work of art a cult movie.

My favorite quote from Arthur C Clarke is often applied to high-tech domains from space research and computing through to nuclear energy and genetic engineering: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New French citizen

This morning, I received a friendly letter from the French authorities in charge of naturalizations. Its opening line:

J'ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Français depuis le 03/03/2008. [I'm pleased to inform you that you are French since March 3, 2008.]

My son's spontaneous comment: "Papa, there's a part of you that France will never obtain. Your prostate remained purely Australian up until the bitter end!"

At an administrative level, a governmental decree on my naturalization was published in the Journal Officiel of March 6, 2008. At some time during the next six months, I'll be invited to a naturalization ceremony in Grenoble. On that occasion, along with my new French identity papers, I'm promised a personal letter from Nicolas Sarkozy and an instructive booklet on what it means to be French... as if I didn't already have certain clear notions on this question.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Enemies of the Internet

Reporters Without Borders [RWB] is an international NGO [nongovernmental organization] founded in 1985 with the general goal of defending the liberty of the press. [Click the banner to visit their website.] They have just issued a list of 15 countries branded as "enemies of the Internet": Belarus, Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Not surprisingly, China is currently censuring certain websites that show videos of the riots in Tibet. The following document shows Chinese plainclothes police hitting a cyclist with stones:

According to RWB, China has at present imprisoned more web journalists and bloggers than any other country in the world.

The question of boycotting the Olympic Games is certainly on the table. Observers claim, however, that such a boycott would only hurt the world's athletes, without necessarily improving things in China.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Childhood mysteries

Here in my adoptive homeland, France, we would like to know more about what happened to the great aviator who wrote the fabulous story of The Little Prince: a tale that has charmed the people of our planet, which might one day convince warring humans that naive fascination with the Cosmos should replace hatred. In fact, an 88-year-old German, a former Luftwaffe ace named Horst Rippert, has just revealed that he considers himself [what an appalling claim to fame] as the poor bastard who shot down Antoine de Saint-Exupéry over the Mediterranean on July 31, 1944.

In the Antipodes of my childhood, we would like to know more about what happened to fellows aboard this Australian boat:

HMAS Sydney disappeared abruptly and totally, inexplicably, off Western Australia on November 19, 1941, after a short and violent battle with a Germain raider, Kormoran, disguised as a merchant vessel. This last photo shows some of the 645 Australians, spread out like the icing on a cake, who disappeared with HMAS Sydney:

Shattered wreckage of the Kormoran has just been salvaged. Maybe, I hope, we'll soon find traces of the lost boys whose disappearance haunted my childhood epoch.

BREAKING NEWS: During the twelve or so hours since I published the present blog article, Australian PM Kevin Rudd told reporters in Canberra that the intact hull of HMAS Sydney had just been located some 22 kilometers from that of the Kormoran, at a depth of about 2470 meters, in waters 800 kilometers north of Perth.

Concept "bling-bling"

In November 1963 [date of Kennedy's assassination], when I started work as an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the ancient heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris, my closest friend happened to be an Italian colleague, the same age as me, named Benito Italiani. [Having nearly been christened Winston, I sympathized with the naming case of my friend.] As a typically naive Australian with zero worldly culture, I was surprised to learn from Benito that the concepts of right and left could be applied, not only to political people and situations, but to all kinds of everyday entities, contexts and events. For example, since we foreign students in Paris used to spend a lot of our time watching movies, I was particularly interested to learn from Benito that there were both right-wing and left-wing literature and films. Indeed, just as God had invented males and females, He had apparently gone on to organize the Cosmos into right-wing and left-wing things. And it was up to each of us (for reasons I could hardly be expected to understand at that time and place) to decide where we best fitted in.

Unfortunately, my Italian comrade was left with no time to attenuate a little my inbred Aussie ignorance, if not educate me in a broader sense. In the summer of 1964, I visited Benito and his American wife at their home in Pescara, on the Adriatic coast. In the following winter, I was shocked to learn by a letter from his wife that my friend had died in a skiing accident in the Apennine mountains of his native Abruzzo. Apparently Benito was an expert skier, who had the habit of venturing off the beaten track. At the base of a gentle slope, he slid into a concealed stream, and his skis got stuck. Another skier found him there, almost frozen, but was unable to set him free. He gave Benito a cigarette and dashed off to seek assistance. When they returned, Benito was slumped over on the snow, lifeless, and his unconsumed final cigarette had fallen from his lips.

Today, if he were still with us, I can imagine Benito informing me [with his charming Italian accent, which still rings in my ears] that the bling-bling concept is a universal phenomenon, which can be found in all kinds of individuals, from pop stars to presidents and princesses, and in everyday objects such as wristwatches, necklaces and computer mice. A legend concerning the origin of this expression is particularly amusing. It appears that "bling bling" is an onomatopoeia representing the jingling sound of abundant metallic jewelry. Well, a certain mohawk-haircut black American actor [a guy who once got shit belt out of him by Rocky] claims that he invented this behavior back in the days when he was a bouncer in a rough club. Every evening, there were brawls, and males tend to lose their jewelry in such circumstances. The Mohawk bouncer decided to pick up metal jewelry left lying around at the end of an evening's brawling, and exhibit it the next day by actually wearing it, so that rightful owners could reclaim it immediately at the door of the club. Nice, no?

Who on Earth [in France, let's say, to limit the research] could have had the sordid idea of referring to Nicolas Sarkozy, for the first time, as President Bling-bling? And why? I have the impression that this association has more to do with the glitzy-glinky atmosphere of a certain DisneyLand apparition than with wearing ostentatious Rolex watches... although the two contexts might combine their effects. Somebody said that Carla Bruni told a friend that she wanted a man "with nuclear power". Be this apocryphal [as it surely is] or not, the problem for fairytale people like the Sarkozy-Bruni couple is that onlookers are no longer concerned by the frontier between facts and fiction. Bling-bling, sing-song, thing-thong, ying-yong, ding-dong... Are French citizens in general still prepared to look upon Nicolas Sarkozy and the new first lady as serious individuals? I hope so, but I have my doubts.

Back in my Paris days, an awesome daily vision was the formidable construction known as the Conciergerie, with is massive torture tower, where a notorious Skeffington personage had once been imprisoned. The dungeons of this Seine-side fortress include the dismal dank cell where Marie-Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, was held. She was the mindless woman who suggested, when throngs of starving Parisians demanded bread, that they might eat cake.

When the hated Austrian princess was led from this cell, to be beheaded, the atmosphere was not exactly DisneyLand!

An impressive pageant on Marie-Antoinette has just opened in Paris, with assistance from the museum of Versailles, at the splendid Grand Palais. In this morning's press, a journalist has referred to Marie-Antoinette, cruelly and pointedly, as Queen Bling-bling.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 7

Chapter 7 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Water. Besides its major operations in the earthmoving domain, the Terra company from Western Australian has been active in the development of desalination plants. In Israel, their initial project of this kind is installed to the west of Eilat, at Taba, near the frontier with Egypt on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Meanwhile, Jake's preparations are advancing at Caesarea, while Terra has received an official request from Morocco concerning their giant canal project.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Man of trees

In my contacts with exceptional human beings, I've often been struck by their respective affinities with grand domains of the Cosmos: either living, inanimate or the fuzzy in-between. I've often found that individuals who announce clearly at the outset that they're primarily concerned with their fellow-humans can in fact turn out to be the least interesting of all, particularly if their alleged interest in others is merely a disguised form of self-centeredness. Enough of Fascist monsters patting little boys on the head, kissing little girls on the cheek, and attending church on Sunday to display their concern for the souls of their brethren. At the other extremity, individuals who are preoccupied by the purely mineral worlds of geology and astronomy, not to mention cosmology at large, are often genuinely warm and compassionate friends, with an extraordinary sensitivity towards all that is human, too-human. These days, I've grown to admire individuals such as Brigitte Bardot who are alarmed by the distress of animals. When Brigitte expresses her love or concern for a dog or a horse, or even an Antarctic whale, she's talking directly to me... just as surely as when she used to wiggle her attractive backside in movies. When a musician is impassioned by the presence of wolves, for example, she is on the same wavelength as the Cosmos at large, including my humble being. A woman who loves wolves loves me too, in a way... not because I'm a wolf, but because I feel capable of sharing her passion. Let's jump to the opposite pole: that of a person who abandons their dog on the roadside, because they are no longer concerned by their animal. People like that make me vomit with disgust. I could kill them. Let's change the subject.

Jacques Brosse, who died in January at the age of 86, loved trees, and he was considered as a world expert in this domain. There are people like that. Exceptional individuals with vegetal sensitivity. I recall the image of Christine Mafart weeping when she witnessed the destruction wrought by the tempest at the family domain of Le Rufflet in her native Brittany. I believe that my neighbor Tineke Bot, the Dutch sculptress, is endowed with a strong degree of vegetal sensitivity, but I'm personally rather dull in this domain, and I have trouble trying to comprehend the nature of this capacity.

The reason I've been thinking of Jacques Brosse is that he happens to be the author of one of the finest books that exists on the fascinating subject of great exploratory voyages in the Pacific during the 18th and 19th centuries. The English translation, entitled Great Voyages of Exploration, with rich illustrations, was brought out in Australia in 1983. To my mind, this book is a must for all Australians interested in the history of their Pacific universe at around the epoch of the arrival of James Cook. [My old friend Harvey Cohen has just informed me that the Australian scholar and writer Danielle Clode has tackled this subject in her Voyages to the South Seas: In Search of Terres Australes. I am looking forward to reading her book, in the hope that she has built upon the great work of Jacques Brosse.]

Jacques Brosse describes a man who might almost be his namesake: the great 18th-century French writer Charles de Brosses, whose History of Navigation to the Southern Lands, published in 1756, can be considered as the primordial expression of European interest in the future continent of Australia, eagerly absorbed by his friend the Scotsman Alexander Dalrymple [1737-1808], whose enthusiasm gave rise directly to the adventures of Cook. Truly, if ever my native land were seeking to identify an authentic founding father, I would discern the title to this Frenchman known as Président de Brosses.

Getting back to Jacques Brosse, the Man of Trees who has just left us (former associate of the intellectual giants Albert Camus and Claude Lévi-Strauss), I should point out that this laureate of the highest literary award of the French Academy was acclaimed primarily in France through his 30-year-old status as an authentic Zen Buddhist monk. Jacques Brosse wrote about navigators who searched for a legendary southern land, and his imagination was stirred by the vision and aromas of vegetation in this mythical continent. He finally found that land in his inner being, in the quiet contemplation of Zen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A mouth for the job

I know it's not nice to talk disparagingly about the physical features of people. But, seriously, wouldn't you agree with me that this guy has a mouth designed for cunnilingus? Call me dirty-minded, if you like, but I can't help envisaging those narrow sucked-in lips of Eliot Spitzer relishing delicately, with expertise and ecstasy, the tasty vagina of a Manhattan prostitute.

What a crooked bastard! And what a lukewarm apology: “I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong,” the governor said. “I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better. I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.” It's a pity for Hillary Clinton that this Spitzer guy has been looked upon as one of her supporters.

If you want to see some honest talk, plug in to this excellent declaration from Barack Obama, who—as he affirms—is definitely not campaigning for the vice-presidency of the USA:

The more I see this man, the more I like him.

Europe tomorrow

I'm always happy to see dear old Europe asserting its time-honored role as an inventor of the future. This afternoon, the European Parliament ratified the creation of the future European Institute of Innovation and Technology, designed to tackle research and development, initially, in domains such as new forms of energy, climate change and information technology. Where will it be located geographically? Rumors suggest either Poland's Wroclaw, Hungary's Budapest or Germany's Munich. Let's hope that European adolescents will soon be wearing T-shirts marked EIIT (a little harder to pronounce than MIT), and that projects for the future will blossom from the institute like edelweiss on the Alpine slopes or lavender in Provence. Europe is becoming a great continent turned towards the future. For the moment, EIIT is a humble signpost. May it soon become a sign!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 6

Chapter 6 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Associates. In order to acquire supplies of petroleum gas for his forthcoming project at Caesarea, Jake sails to Gibraltar and then on to an offshore platform in Moroccan waters.

Jake is somewhat surprised to discover that Moroccan authorities are perfectly aware of the technology he is implementing in Israel, and that it interests them in the context of a vast project aimed at developing the northern region of Morocco from a maritime viewpoint.

More precisely, Morocco calls upon Terra—Jake's earthmoving company, based in Western Australia—to draw up plans for cutting a canal through the northern tip of their country, linking directly the Atlantic to the Mediterranean... eliminating the need to travel through the Strait of Gibraltar. The general idea is that such a waterway will surely boost the economy of the great mountainous arc of Northern Morocco called the Rif.


In the context of my recent hospitalization and convalescence, it had been planned that my daughter Emmanuelle would come down here to Gamone for a few days, followed by my ex-wife Christine. But things got screwed up at the last moment in that my two would-be guardian angels fell ill with some kind of bronchitis. Fortunately, from the moment I got back here to Gamone, I realized that I was in excellent form, so I didn't need anybody to take care of me. Be that as it may, my friends Tineke and Serge have been dropping in with all kinds of prepared dishes. I've been leading a most comfortable life, particularly since my son François took the train down to Gamone for a few days, between his recent filming in Madagascar and the forthcoming cutting and editing operations in Paris.

Besides demonstrating his cooking talents, François has been working non-stop at Gamone as a woodman.

Over the last couple of years, many of my old walnut and cherry trees have died. Some of them have been blown over in tempests, and the wood has to be piled up and burned.

François decided to start felling certain dead trees, with a chain saw, instead of waiting for them to be blown over.

Often, when he's working, the rest of us are standing there looking on: that's to say, me, Sophia and the two donkeys. The weather is fine, and the burning wood emits a delightful fragrance. For me, watching my son working is a nice kind of convalescence.

Friday, March 7, 2008


The word "innocence", incorporating the Latin verb nocere (to harm), means "doing no harm". It's a far stronger notion than mere harmlessness. The state of innocence evokes a total incapacity for hurting one's fellow men. Although my knowledge of Judaism is superficial, and regardless of the fact that I consider all Bible-based religions as a bunch of myths and legends, I would imagine that young Jewish students of the the Tanach and Rabbinic literature are particularly innocent individuals, in the sense I've just defined, because Judaism is an immensely humanistic philosophy, and its adepts have an unbounded respect for all the planet's men, women and children. Normally, a fellow who decides to enroll in a yeshiva to study these ethereal subjects in depth, maybe with a view to becoming a rabbi, can have no place in his heart for hatred.

The Hebrew word Mercaz means "center", and HaRav is literally "the rabbi". Many Israelis think of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, founded in 1924 by the great Zionist rabbi Avraham Kook, as the national yeshiva of the modern state of Israel. The Palestinian terrorist who selected this place to vent his hatred was probably aware of its prominent status... or maybe he simply decided to strike this school because he happened to be employed there as a chauffeur.

Eight students died and nine were wounded before the terrorist was killed.

In Gaza, certain people danced with joy when they heard of this attack, and Hamas authorities said: "We bless the operation." In that trite declaration, I'm curious to know the meaning, if any, of the verb "bless". One thing is certain: it has nothing to do with innocence.

Monday, March 3, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 5

Chapter 5 of my novel has now been released (a little later than promised). Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter, entitled Installation, describes preparations for Jake's project concerning the ruins of Herod's Promontory Palace at Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In this aerial photo, the partly-submerged site is located in the upper lefthand corner:

Home again

The surgical operation I underwent a dozen days ago (with total success) is referred to, in French, as a prostatectomie avec préservation. A few months ago, a small proportion of cancerous cells had been detected in an inner region of my prostate, and a decision was made to solve the problem surgically by removing the organ while preserving intact the central nerve. [Medically-inclined readers will understand immediately what I’m talking about.] Everything went over fine, in the excellent environment of a private clinic called La Parisière in the Drôme town of Bourg-de-Péage, on the banks of the Isère opposite Romans.

The peaceful park of the clinic is the home of a couple of peacocks.

During my hospitalization, Sophia resided in a delightful dogs’ home called Bayannes, in the nearby village of Alixan. This afternoon, we're both immensely happy to be back home again at Gamone.