Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Source of the cheese industry

In the nearby town of Vinay, the old-fashioned façade of this modest white building, which looks like a reconverted house, is studded with air-conditioning units. In the driveway, the entry of a huge garbage-collection truck suggests that the activities carried out inside this building must give rise to a lot of waste stuff.

The name panel carries a single term, Danisco, with no further explanations. Old-time residents of Vinay are nevertheless aware of the industrial operations carried out by some 32 employees inside this unobtrusive building. This biochemical production unit, whose present owner is a giant Danish-based corporation, might be considered as the source of the cheese industry throughout the world. I hasten to add that not a gram of actual cheese is manufactured here on the Danisco premises at Vinay... although the town of Saint-Marcellin, whose name is associated with a world-famous cheese made from cows' milk, lies just a few kilometers down the road.

A century ago, a Vinay man named Joseph Carlin [who would later become the mayor of this small but prosperous Dauphiné city, at the heart of the walnut region] invented a process for extracting the milk-curdling enzymes found in the stomachs of young calves. The final product, called rennet [présure in French], is the ingredient that causes milk to curdle: the primordial step in the making of cheese.

To produce this magic potion, the biochemists at Vinay import huge quantities of frozen calf stomachs from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Brazil. After being thawed out, they are ground into small fragments and pressed like grapes. The precious liquid obtained in this way from the tons of calf stomachs is finally subjected to a lengthy series of processes [whose exact nature remains a company secret] of filtering, purification, concentration and quality control. And Danisco's world-famous rennet products for cheese-making are finally exported from Vinay to more than a hundred countries [including China, Uganda, Yemen and Mauritius].

As indicated in the company banner [click to visit the cheese pages of their website], the Danisco recipe is not a total secret. They reveal, at least, its initial ingredient: First you add knowledge...

Understanding pictures

If you submitted the above pair of images to a computer equipped for visual processing, the machine should be able to determine that the thing on the left is a hedgehog, whereas the object on the right is a wire brush. Initially, the computer would exploit the hints provided by the image captions, "animal" and "tool". Then it would search through its databases to examine hypotheses about various wiry-looking animals and wiry-looking tools. But suppose we were to submit the images without any captions, as follows:

In this case, the computer would no doubt find it much more difficult to identify correctly the two images.

The point I'm trying to make is that computers have a hard job trying to perform various tasks that are trivially easy for humans. And tasks that depend solely on visual cues, with no linguistic hints whatsoever, are particularly difficult for the computer. A simple glance informs us that the thing on the left looks like an animal, in that the dark "holes" are surely eyes, and the rectangular bit that protrudes in the foreground is surely a snout. As for the object on the right, its sharply-defined contours reveal instantly that it's a manufactured artifact. However, it still remains an extremely arduous task to try to instill this kind of common-sense visual approach in computers.

As a child, I used to see my father shaving with an old-fashioned steel razor. One day, while being driven through the outback countryside by my grandparents, I saw a hillside whose trees had suffered recently in a bushfire, and I had the sudden impression that the dark stumps could be likened to my father's face when he was in need of a shave. I imagined that it might be possible to attach a giant steel razor to our automobile, enabling us to shave down the burnt trees. Some people might say kindly that I had a vivid imagination. In fact, I was reacting like a poorly-programmed computer, incapable of making instantly a clear distinction between hedgehogs and wire brushes. Since evolving into an experienced adult (?), I'm no longer inclined to associate an unshaved face with a hillside of scorched tree stumps. You might say that my childhood power of imagination has disappeared. On the other hand, I don't confuse hedgehogs with wire brushes.

When I started work in the research department of the ORTF [French Broadcasting System] in 1970, a TV producer asked me whether it would be possible to develop a computer program enabling the machine to "watch" old movie sequences, for days and nights on end, with the aim of extracting all the top-quality images, say, of trees. The fellow was concerned with the use of TV as an educational medium in certain African nations, and he felt that tons of existing images could be recycled to make excellent documentaries for African audiences. I disappointed him by pointing out that a computer would be incapable of separating images of people into males and females, so it was premature to talk about software capable of selecting attractive images of trees.

Google has been working for a long time on image-recognition algorithms, and two of their engineers have just presented a paper on this subject at a web conference in Beijing. Their experimental tool named VisualRank attempts to weight and rank web images that look alike... in much the same way that the familiar Google tool weights and ranks websites that would appear to talk about a given subject. It goes without saying that the practical exploitation of such a tool would be immense and profitable. Users interested in a certain kind of object or article (such as clothes they would like to purchase, for example) could expect to start with a rough visual outline of their goal, and go on to access pictures of relevant items supplied by the search engine.

I have the impression however that Google still has a long way to go before reaching that point. So, if you intend to use the web to purchase either a hedgehog or a wire brush, be wary about supplying nothing more than a vague image of what you're looking for. For the moment, it would be wiser to write down in words exactly you want.

Monday, April 28, 2008

God is an aircraft

My 700th post.

Two months ago, when I was getting my prostate ablated, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins provided me with ideal reading material. In the context of a hospitalized "survival machine" (an expression that made its first appearance in this book, which I've reread several times), there's nothing better than a dose of Dawkins to encourage you to survive.

Insofar as Dawkins considers that all gods—including one's favorite personal God, with a capital G—are a delusion, certain opponents would claim that the professor's atheistic philosophy might depress a sick person (or even a perfectly fit individual, for that matter) to the point of suicide. On the contrary, I've always found Dawkins elating. I look upon him as the finest scientific author I've ever encountered, and I'm convinced that there are no more noble philosophical questions than those—about evolution, genes and memes—tackled so brilliantly by this great thinker and writer.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins uses an unexpected title for his major argument against the existence of gods and God. He calls it the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit, and it's such a delightful argument, simple yet profound, that I wish to describe it here rapidly... as a way of celebrating my 700th Antipodes post. Apparently, the English astrophysicist Fred Hoyle [1915-2001] once used an aeronautical metaphor to emphasize the extreme unlikelihood that life could have originated by pure chance on our planet... that's to say, without a divine nudge. He likened this probability to that of a hurricane, blowing in a junkyard, which just happened to assemble a Boeing 747. I'm convinced that most people who cling to the notion that Creation necessitated divine intervention justify their beliefs by a variant of this Boeing metaphor. In a nutshell: "It's unthinkable that a phenomenon as rich as Creation could have just come about by chance." Dawkins agrees totally with that last statement. The answer is certainly not chance. The explanation is Darwinian evolution. Getting back to the Boeing metaphor, Dawkins points out simply that the chance arrival on the scene of an "intelligent designer", God, is vastly more improbable than the idea of manufacturing Boeings with the assistance of hurricanes in junkyards. So, in this sense, God can truly be referred to as the Ultimate Boeing 747!

Imagine the following scenario. Suppose that you go out to inspect the damage after a terrible hurricane. In a junkyard alongside your house, you're amazed to discover that the wind has blown together bits and pieces in the form of a makeshift aircraft... a little like a cargo cult artifact. Why not? Intrigued by this extraordinary chance event, you climb up onto the neatly-assembled pile of junk and you peer into the cockpit. There, at the controls of the would-be aircraft, you're utterly astounded to find a well-groomed white-haired middle-aged gentleman wearing a pilot's uniform. Noticing the expression of amazement on your face, he says in a mellow voice: "Don't be surprised, my friend. I'm God. I just happened to get Myself blown together and placed here by that bloody terrible hurricane."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fallen with the last rain

Compared to English, the precision of the Latin-based French language is splendid... and I often feel that this explains why French literature and philosophy—not to say French thinking in general—have a superior quality.

There's a delightful anecdote, maybe apocryphal, about the great French linguist Emile Littré, author of a celebrated dictionary that is still in use today. He was having a good time with a lady friend when his wife burst in unexpectedly upon the naked scene.

Madame Littré: I'm surprised!

Monsieur Littré: Not exactly. It's my lady friend and I who have been surprised. You, my dear wife, are merely astonished.

For readers who might not have seized the nuance: People are surprised when, like Littré and his female friend, observers catch them out doing something that might be judged as reprehensible. From a strict etymological viewpoint, surprise is the notion of being caught with your pants down. As for being astonished, that's merely a question of one's coming upon something unexpected.

A French expression of which I'm fond is "tombé de la dernière pluie". Fallen with the last rain. It's a synonym for naïveté (naivety).

On countless occasions, I've had the impression that Australia is a naive nation whose citizens are prepared to believe the latest information that the local media have fed them. The intellectual baggage of a typical Aussie fell down with the last media rain.

In the context of Anzac Day, the daily newspaper The Australian attempted (successfully, it would appear) to promote the idea that it would be more appropriate to put an accent on honoring the dead of the battlefields of France, where 46,000 Australians died in the Great War, rather than those of Gallipoli (original inspiration of Anzac Day). Fair enough. Why not?

A Sydney reader has reacted enthusiastically to this suggestion by referring to France in the following naive terms: "This is the forgotten front that people just don't know about." Hey, just a moment, Sir. You're talking about the Great War. Verdun, etc. Millions of mindless deaths. You, personally, may have forgotten (or never known) that this terrible conflict was fought essentially in Europe. But please don't generalize your ignorance. In the historical context of that appalling conflict, France has never been a "forgotten front". On the contrary. Pay attention to your dumb and offensive language, Sir.

As I said, I feel that much Aussie thinking fell down with the last rain.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Accessing old Antipodes posts

Ever since I started the Antipodes blog, on 9 December 2006, I've been aware that it's not necessarily easy to find an old post on such-and-such a topic. One might say that this is a non-problem, in that a blog is essentially a vibrant entity geared to the present, like a daily newspaper. Readers shouldn't normally be too concerned about past posts. For me, though, as a blog author, the question of past posts is primordial, for the simple reason that I would like my current posts to conform, more or less, with what I said on similar themes in the past. So, I've been constantly interested in the question of being able to look up easily my past posts.

Today, I'm happy to release a software tool named Accessor that lets you find old Antipodes posts by means of author-provided keywords.

In other words, it's me, William Skyvington, author of the Antipodes blog, who provides readers with keywords (referred to as keys) enabling you to access rapidly the posts that concern you.

As of today, I think my new system works OK, but there might still be technical bugs or operational things that should be improved. To meet up with the Accessor tool, you can click on either the above graphic or the logo in the righthand sidebar of the Antipodes blog.

Please be patient. The Accessor device will only function ideally when I've found time to index (manually, as it were) all my past Antipodes posts... and this will take a week or so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wet world

For a long time, swimming spectators in France were fascinated by Laure Manaudou. Recently, they've discovered an amazing muscle-bound phenomenon, Alain Bernard. For the moment, this friendly and lucid lad from Aubagne, near Marseille, is simply the fastest swimmer in the world.

These days, there's a lot of talk about high-tech swimsuits, which can account for precious milliseconds in the pool. The other day, for example, when Laure Manaudou was beaten in her favorite category, we saw her in tears on TV explaining that everything would revert to normal as soon as she could reappear in her new swimsuit.

In the swimsuit manufacturer's logo, the phallic arrowhead is in fact a stylized boomerang, because the Speedo company was born in Australia, a century ago, at Sydney's Bondi Beach.

When I was a kid, we grew up with navy-blue Speedo "swimming costumes" (as we used to say). They weren't yet exactly high-tech, but they had the charm of revealing as much as they concealed. In the following extract from his Unreliable Memoirs, describing his adolescent years in Sydney, Clive James evokes an insalubrious set of tiled swimming pools fed by sea water at Botany Bay:

The water in each pool would be green on the first day, orange on the second and saffron the third. The whole place was one vast urinal. But there were diving boards, sand pits and giggling swarms of girls wearing Speedo swimming costumes. The Speedo was a thin, dark blue cotton one-piece affair whose shoulder straps some of the girls tied together behind with a ribbon so as to tauten the fabric over their pretty bosoms. On a correctly formed pubescent girl a Speedo looked wonderful, even when it was dry. When it was wet, it was an incitement to riot.

I recall vividly the image of teenage nymphs in Speedos, and I agree retrospectively with Clive James when he suggests that, because of the Speedo phenomenon, various potential male swimming champions no doubt spent too much time on dry land:

Falling for — not just perving on, but actually and rackingly falling for — a pretty girl in a Speedo certainly beat any thrills that were being experienced by the poor bastards who were swimming themselves to jelly in the heats and semi-finals. So, at any rate, I supposed. Every few minutes you could hear the spectators roar as they goaded some half-wit onward to evanescent glory. Meanwhile I concentrated on the eternal values of the way a girl's nipples hardened against her will behind their veils of blue cotton...

In their current publicity [display], the Speedo corporation presents its latest fabulous swimsuit product, with an ingeniously sensual name: Fastskin. I wonder if the Scotsman Alexander MacRae — who started out in 1914 by manufacturing underwear, not to mention mosquito nets during World War II — realized what he might be unleashing in the way of watery dreams when he invented Speedo stuff.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anzac pilgrims on the Western Front

After their calamitous initiation into warfare in Turkey in 1915, Australian troops were brought to the region in northern France that the Germans referred to as their Western Front.

Today, in a few hours, when the sun rises over Picardy, crowds of Australian visitors will be assembled for an Anzac Day celebration at Villers-Bretonneux.

The geographical heart of Anzac Day commemorations seems to be shifting from Gallipoli to France. By an amazing coincidence, the successful Australian action that liberated Villers-Bretonneux took place on Anzac Day in 1918: exactly three years after Gallipoli. But, between the events of Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux, by far the greatest number of Australian casualties on the Western Front had occurred in 1916 at Pozières: over 22,000 dead.

We must remember and celebrate solemnly these terrible happenings, but it would be a monstrous mistake to imagine for an instant that there might have been anything glorious or heroic, or even vaguely rational, in all that mindless butchery.

I feel ill at ease about the idea of a nice touristic "twinning" atmosphere between Australia and Villers-Bretonneux, culminating in the preposterous notion that people in that modern township might be expected to express some kind of gratitude to today's Australian war pilgrims. Obviously, the citizens of Villers-Bretonneux are unlikely to complain about this situation. Pilgrims are pilgrims, here as in Lourdes, and tourism is a business.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Premises of an ordinary crime

When you think about it (or even when you don't think about it at all), there's nothing more ordinary than an ordinary crime. That's to say: We have almost nothing to say about such everyday events. So, why shouldn't we say whatever there is?

At the moment I'm writing this blog post, like everybody else, I know nothing whatsoever about a certain 60-year-old notary public named Vincent Passebois who was gunned down yesterday evening in the delightful Provençal town of Carpentras. I imagine that friends and members of his family are devastated by this event, and would like to know how and why it happened... but, for the moment, we would appear to know nothing in this conjectural domain.

If ever the facts concerning the death of a human being were to be described as simple, then we might say that the facts surrounding the assassination of the notary public Vincent Passebois are indeed (at least for the moment) terribly simple.

The parents of Vincent Passebois were pharmacists. A single bullet killed him, around 8 o'clock last night, but there were no witnesses of the crime. A newspaper claims that he was "a man without problems, enthralled by his profession, married, father of children, who had never received threats and was unaware of enemies." In other words, I insist upon the fact that, for the moment, there is nothing whatsoever to say concerning the death of this man.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gene business

In the fascinating domain of modern genetics, one of the most exciting activities costs next to nothing. I'm referring to the possibility of purchasing and reading a few books on this subject by Richard Dawkins. But other interesting branches of the gene business can be far more costly.

Apart from the fact that they are both celebrated scientists in the field of genetics, what do these two men have in common? Well, they are among the rare human beings whose personal genomes have been totally mapped.

Several US companies are now offering services in this domain, but the fees are rather high. [Click any of the following company logos to visit their websites.] If I understand correctly, it suffices to send them a sealed tube of your saliva.

The Knome company in Massachusetts offers you the same treatment as for the above-mentioned scientists: that's to say, your entire genome will be sequenced, analyzed and interpreted. But the job will set you back a third of a million dollars.

The services offered by Navigenics, 23andMe and deCODE are far simpler.

They are cheaper, too, starting around the thousand bucks level. Navigenics and 23andMe are located in California, whereas deCODE is based in Iceland.

In all cases, the results are supposed to provide you with interesting data about potential health problems caused by the inheritance of dubious genes. In certain cases, you might be able to compare your genetic profile with that of friends and relatives, and maybe acquire genealogical information.

At the low end of the scale, for a few hundred dollars, you can send a saliva sample to the so-called DNA Ancestry Project, but I'm not sure that you can necessarily expect rewarding results.

The ideal approach to the question of the likelihood of inherited health problems still consists of compiling family health data, such as the causes of death indicated on death records. And it's hard to see how DNA analysis could provide us with more meaningful facts than those obtained through conventional genealogical research.

Personally, I'll no doubt take a closer look at the DNA Ancestry Project, in the hope of obtaining enlightenment, if possible, on a genealogical question that has always intrigued me. My maternal background was marked by a striking marriage between a respectable and industrious man, probably Scottish, named Charles Walker [1807-1860] and a younger Irish girl, Ann Hickey [1822-1898], whose father and at least one brother were notorious criminals. [Click here to visit a website about these ancestors.] I've often wondered whether it might be possible, today, to determine how their respective genes were allocated to various descendants, including myself. Sometimes, I end up thinking that I might have received a disproportionately large dose of bad Hickey genes, making me rather different to more respectable relatives with nice Walker genes. Or vice versa. But this reasoning could well be bad science. Rather than a question of bad genes.

AFTERTHOUGHT It would be fitting that my relatives might have their word to say on this fundamental question... but I'm not at all sure that they read Antipodes, and I'm even less certain that these dear folk (who didn't even wish to help me obtain retirement benefits from the supposedly-rich Australian government) might like to get involved in DNA analysis. At times, I feel that I should put a practical cross on my Australian past. Since my French naturalization, I see sadly that this is actually happening.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Moments of truth

In general, I don't have much faith in the common sense of Americans. I'm convinced that the Old World remains a better source of everyday wisdom, particularly concerning the sense of our human existence. But countless Americans can't be wrong about moral questions.

As soon as he set foot in the USA, Pope Benedict XVI and his multinational Catholic business were splashed by mud called pedophilia. Once upon a time, blind Papists were branded as passive accomplices of the Shoah. Which is worse? Silly question. The real question is: Why does the modern world tolerate the persistence of the nasty brand of mindless magic named religion?

Today, there's a magnificent thing called science. Name it knowledge or wisdom, if you prefer. There's no longer any place on the planet for would-be magicians such as Bush or Benedict, to name just a few. I'm rarely pessimistic (because I'm generally enchanted and elated by scientific awareness), but I predict a short-term future in which mindless prelates will be downtrodden (in a metaphorical sense)... opening the way for their fellow human beings to rediscover reason.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fair at Beaucroissant

I spent the afternoon with Linda (a local nurse who has become a personal friend) at the Beaucroissant Fair, in a rural setting to the north of St-Marcellin.

It's a vast and ancient event, which takes place twice a year. The April session lasts for two days. By tomorrow evening, they're expecting a quarter of a million visitors.

As for the September session, it dates back to the year 1219, and is expected to attract about a million visitors.

The April session specializes in farm animals, but there's a little bit of everything at the Beaucroissant Fair. There are many presentations of tractors and farm machinery, while other stands propose kitchen stoves and cooking equipment.

The only thing I bought at the fair today was an ice cream. But I got expert advice on interesting topics such as breeding peacocks, rearing llamas and installing wood-burning ovens. To be honest, in such an environment, I would be capable of returning home with boxes of geese, rabbits, etc. As I said to Linda: "If you see me about to purchase an animal, please stop me."

In general, the people who flock to this famous fair would appear to be country folk who need to purchase goods of a practical nature. You can tell at a glance, from their typical appearance, that most visitors to the fair are not refined urban residents. On the other hand, there's a standing joke about the fact that one should never buy a horse or a cow at Beaucroissant, because you might get home and discover that the beast has only three legs... or maybe five!

Many visitors, of course, are young people from the surrounding villages who come here for the simple thrill of the fair.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Today, the term "pirates" is often applied (both in English and French) to software thieves... who are more like the members of an elite international club, rather than old-time bandits.

The pirates who captured the French vessel Ponant were neither software nor Hollywood. They were pure specimens of the ancient international art of the Jolly Roger.

Fortunately, French military services were able to intervene efficiently. Some of the Somalian delinquents are likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison, and we might expect that others will be hunted down and eliminated in one way or another. Meanwhile, steps will surely be taken to eradicate this infamous phenomenon of ruthless bygone ages.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rough riding

I've always had a soft spot for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the 34-year-old State Secretary in charge of Ecology, referred to by friends as NKM, mentioned already in my article entitled Same name as Australian mountain [display]. In spite of being a member of Sarkozy's cabinet, she's nice and she's ecological.

NKM had to apologize for rude remarks about her fellow-ministers, in the context of the all-important debate about genetically-modified crops. Otherwise she would have been sacked. I hope she survives in Sarkozia.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Paris restaurants

On Sunday, we had lunch at the charming Café Louis Philippe on the Right Bank, just a hundred meters east of the Hôtel de Ville, opposite the Ile St Louis.

It's a delightful setting, with interior decor dating from 1810. The food is traditional, so Christine and I chose a dish that we would not normally cook at home: veal blanquette.

On Monday, just before leaving Paris, we had lunch in a quite different but equally charming place: the restaurant Le Bourgogne, near the St-Martin canal.

François and his friend Stéphane often go there, and it's a great address. As its name suggests, if it weren't located in the heart of Paris, you might refer to it as a typical provincial restaurant.

Tourists in Paris

It was rather unusual, for Christine and me, to wander around Paris as tourists. Naturally, we did the sort of things that tourists do, such as crossing the St-Martin canal on one of the old arched bridges.

I was happy to see that the Rue Rambuteau had not changed considerably. Christine and François sat down at the old café on the corner, which has always been an ideal observation point for watching everybody in the street.

Meanwhile, I started to take the kind of photos that tourists take.

Outside the Palais-Royal, we admired our reflections in this big pile of chromium-plated balls:

In general, we were both favorably suprised by the quality of Parisian gardens, which seem to be designed differently, with more imagination, than when we lived here.

Christine had never strolled around the Place Vendôme before.

I was keen to visit the place where I had started work with IBM in 1962: a private street named Cité du Retiro. Today, the inner sanctum has been acquired by Cartier and transformed into a vast citadel of glass and shiny steel.

Finally, if I were asked to indicate the change that impressed me most in my rapid vision of Paris during the weekend, I would not hesitate in replying: the huge quantity of scooters parked everywhere.

Christine's colorful admirer

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the City of Light, Christine introduced me to one of her old-time admirers from the world of books.

This colorful gentleman, named Pascal, started his professional activities by pushing a trolley around the Latin Quarter and collecting unwanted books from shops. Then he would sell them to tourists. Today, he's a celebrated merchant with an outdoor stall on the Right Bank of the Seine. And filmmakers hire him regularly for small roles in movies about Paris.

Pascal owns a house in Normandy where he grows roses. He even told us his secret for the rapid creation of vast rose gardens. You simply push freshly-cut rose twigs into the earth, and about twenty percent of them finally grow into bushes with flowers. Besides roses, Pascal has lots of apple trees, and he transforms the fruit into a Normandy specialty: strong Calvados spirits, which is just the stuff you need to keep yourself warm when you're standing outside all day selling books.

From what I gather, Pascal decided long ago that his colleague Christine (who once had a bookshop in the Latin Quarter) would be the ideal woman in his life... but his dreams have not yet come to fruition. As a token of his constant affection, he presented Christine with a precious gift: a wine bottle full of his genuine homemade Calvados. Inside his stall, Pascal appeared to have a certain supply of warming beverages, which could be accessed by moving aside a few books. In the course of a normal working day, I suspect that Pascal probably moves those books aside quite a few times. To be honest, I should explain that, when we met up with him, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, Pascal had almost certainly not yet touched a drop of the strong stuff from Normandy. A glass beneath his shelves of old books revealed that he was still at the red wine stage.

Pedestrian minister

It's only a short walk between the ministry of the Interior and the presidential palace, but it's nice to have a couple of guys to carry your dossiers and an umbrella. On her way, Michèle Alliot-Marie halted to shake hands and chat briefly with each of the police officers she encountered. Not surprising; she's their big boss.

A minute later, François Fillon dashed past us in a motorcade comprising motor cyclists with sirens and a mysterious vehicle that looked like an ambulance. Great stuff for provincial tourists such as Christine and me. We concluded that Nicolas Sarkozy had organized a meeting at his place down the road.

Brilliant photographer

Alongside Christine and our son François, the fellow with the white shoes is Stéphane Gautronneau: a professional photographer who knows how to handle motor bikes and other interesting subjects. Click the following photo to visit his splendid website: