Saturday, May 31, 2008


During a brief period in 2003, I was tempted to make fun of the USA's search for mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which I likened to a quest for the Grail [display]. I didn't carry on with this website for long, because I soon discovered that things weren't in any way funny. Back in those days, everybody laughed a lot at the comical declarations of the Iraqi spokesman Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf.

You can find several amusing samples of al-Sahhaf's outpourings on YouTube. As for the man himself, it's said that he's currently leading a happy family existence in the United Arab Emirates. Maybe, observing the situation in Iraq, al-Sahhaf is having the last laugh.

In my sarcastic website, I imagined a certain Aristobulus Flavius, Scribe of the Oval Office, latter-day image of Josephus Flavius, author of The Jewish War. The real man in question was Ari Fleischer, who resigned in 2003 after getting horribly mixed up in the Scooter Libby affair... which I've often mentioned briefly in the past:

— article of February 3, 2007: All my trials, Lord [display]

— article of March 7, 2007: Goat stories [display]

— article of July 9, 2007: Woman who has paid the price [display]

— article of August 14, 2007: Brain removal [display]

All of that is past history. Today, we learn that a dyed-in-the-wool Bushman, also a former presidential spokesman, has just turned traitor. The mere title of the memoirs published by Scott McClellan sets the tone: What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception.

Obviously, we've reached the stage where it's no longer wise for a head of state such as Saddam or Bush to employ a spokesman. Would this mean that chiefs should henceforth speak personally for and by themselves, unaided? That could well be a greater calamity.

Magic talents

This is a rare photo of me engaged in the mysterious activity known as dowsing. If you don't happen to know the meaning of this term, you might take a look at my article of 13 August 2007 entitled Strange skills [display], or you might do better to go directly to the Wikipedia article on this subject [display]. Basically, I'm using a pair of metal rods to search for water beneath the lawn at Gamone. The image is rare in the sense that I don't usually authorize people to take photos of me when I'm engaged in dowsing, because this art involves a set of secret principles that I do not wish to divulge. Exceptionally, this particular photo and the one that follows were taken by a professional dowsing colleague from Marseille who was visiting Gamone in order to watch me in action, and partake of my wisdom in this domain.

In this second image, you might be able to discern, on my black tracksuit trousers, my sponsor's logo. As you can see from my tense concentration, this activity is akin to a high-level competitive sport such as curling.

So, it's normal that the big guys in the sponsorship arena seek out talented dowsing athletes such as yours truly.

To be perfectly truthful, on the particular day these photos of me were taken, I did not actually succeed in detecting the presence of water alongside my house in Gamone. But that was neither here nor there, because it rained for most of the weekend. And, in any case, I'm hooked up to the municipal water supply at Choranche.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Religious insanity in God's own country

In the following video clip, we see a funky guy introducing, in boxing-match style, a white pastor named Michael Pfleger who then made fun of Hillary Clinton while preaching last Sunday in Barack Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ:

When I see such clownish antics, bordering on some kind of clinical emotional problem, words fail me. If I were a Christian, I would pray that the pastor might be forgiven by his brethren and maybe even enlightened by the Lord. If I were a US voter, I would also be inclined to do a bit of praying, no matter whether or not I believed in God. It goes without saying that I wouldn't dare to suggest that the silly preacher should be punished in hell. On the other hand, I do feel that everything in the world would go a little more intelligently if all the religious crackpots in America, including—above all—those in presidential spheres, would quietly go to hell... at least until after the election's over.

Horse sense

When I was a child in Australia, the expression "horse sense" evoked common sense of an ordinary kind: nothing to do with the ability to whisper in horses' ears, or anything of that kind.

Bob's charming teenage daughter Alison, my unique neighbor for several months, is an expert horsewoman who reminds me of my sister Jill back in Australia. Alison has been playing around with horses for years, and she doesn't even bother to put a saddle on her beige Bessie and white Aigle before riding around on the slopes of Gamone. Bob informed me recently that his daughter plans to move down to Spain, next September, to work in a professional equine context. [This information concerns me primarily in that it means that Bob will surely put his property up for sale... and I won't have any neighbors at Gamone for a while.]

Although I admire Alison's expertise with her horses, I'm not convinced that the girl has a great degree of horse sense, as I defined it earlier on, because she doesn't seem to be able to prevent her two adorable animals from cantering across my lawn every so often, eating my rose plants, digging up tufts of earth and transforming the slopes alongside my house into mud.

Generally, as soon as Alison realizes that her horses have escaped to my place (where I immediately set up an electric fence to keep them in a field beneath the walnut trees, where they can't do any damage), she strolls down here to take them back up home. I tell her constantly that I would prefer to have her horses here permanently, where there's a lot of grass to eat, rather than find them arriving here on my lawn in the middle of the night, as they did yesterday, or early in the morning, as they did today. Bob himself tells me he doesn't understand why his daughter won't turn on their electric fence to keep her horses at home, instead of imagining that the huge beasts will remain calmly in place behind a few flimsy pieces of string. My own explanation, as I said, is that it's basically a lack of horse sense.

Birthday of Moped Man

Happy birthday, my dear 39-year-old son François... finalizing at present the cutting and editing of a TV documentary based upon his recent excursion to Madagascar.


This is surely the naughtiest image of Mary you could ever imagine. It's the sort of porn stuff that the police in my native Australia will surely be banning and burning during the Pope's July visit to Sydney for Youth Day. The Virgin is fondling a serpent with her left foot, and the rigid reptile seems to be enjoying every moment of the caresses.

Seriously, this image reflects a legend about the Greek goddess Eurynome [whom you can look up on Google: today's cornucopia of facts, if not necessarily of knowledge and wisdom].

It appears that the whole Catholic thing about the mother of Jesus being a virgin is based upon a translation error. The origin of the legend is a statement in Isaiah 7, 14. Here's how it reads in the antiquated King James Version:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The Revised English Bible introduces an interesting surprise: the word "virgin" has disappeared!

[...] the Lord of his own accord will give you a sign; it is this: A young woman is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Immanuel.

The change from "virgin" to "young woman" reflects the true content of the original Hebrew, which speaks of almah ["young woman"], not bethulah ["virgin"]. The error of the King James Version was introduced way back before the birth of Jesus, when scholars translated the Hebrew almah into Greek as parthenos ["virgin"]. Much later, in Matthew 1, 22-23, the evangelist is inspired by this Greek translation error when he declares:

All this happened in order to fulfil what the Lord declared through the prophet: "A virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel..."

That's to say, Matthew was the ignoramus in elementary biology who set out to mystify everybody by claiming that the conception of Jesus had never been preceded by the sexual penetration of Mary and the introduction of male sperm. Many Catholics persist in considering that Mary's hymen membrane had remained perfectly intact although she was in a state of pregnancy. The least that can be said is that they have a lot of explaining to do! These days, high-tech interventions enable a woman's reproductive cell to be fertilized without an explicit sexual union with a male. Otherwise, failing technology, we remain in the fairy-tale domain of frogs that metamorphose into princesses.

Sadly to say, ever since the Isaiah translation bug and Matthew's failure to do his Hebrew homework, the trivial concept of virginity has become a Big Thing among Christians and Moslems. Amazingly, a French marriage has just been canceled, as if it had never been enacted, because a dissatisfied husband discovered with horror that his legal wife wasn't a virgin. Somehow or other, the court in Lille has contrived the delicate argument that the canceled marriage was a transaction founded upon the presence of "goods" [my word, not theirs] that did not conform to what was imagined by the male "acquirer" [again: my word, not theirs]. In other words, it was as if the guy imagined that he would be obtaining a fresh piece of meat, only to discover that it was tainted.

Most cases of canceled marriages in France are due to the fact that the consent of a partner had not in fact been obtained. The case of a ruptured hymen is something new... and shocking.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gamone strawberries

These days, this is my regular breakfast delicacy, served up with sour cream and sugar. I have to pick the strawberries early in the morning, before they're discovered by several big fruit-eating birds that make Gamone their home at this time of the year.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Falling faster than sound

Around noon on Monday [French time], a few hours after the successful landing of Nasa's Phoenix vessel on the surface of the planet Mars, a 64-year-old French parachutist named Michel Fournier will be ascending in the Canadian skies for two and a half hours by means of a giant helium-inflated balloon. Then, at an altitude of 40 kilometers, he will be detaching his nacelle. Finally, he will be falling to Earth for over seven minutes at speeds in excess of the velocity of sound.

Fournier is no newcomer to parachuting, having made some 8,600 jumps. He has been planning this high-altitude tentative for years, and training intensively for the exploit in the style of an astronaut.

If he succeeds in his exploit, Michel Fournier will gain no less than four world records: (1) altitude of balloon ascension, (2) altitude of parachute jump, (3) speed in free fall and (4) duration of free fall.

BREAKING NEWS: The website for the Big Jump [visit] indicates that weather conditions have enforced a 24-hour postponement of operations. So, rendezvous Tuesday morning in Canada.

Has life existed on Mars?

Ever since the 19th century, people have speculated seriously about the possibility that living organisms might have come into existence on the red planet. Tonight, like hosts of observers throughout the world, I shall be waiting anxiously to learn if Nasa's Phoenix lander has arrived safely on our neighboring planet, and deployed correctly its rich assortment of scientific equipment.

There are now several excellent videos describing the Mars rovers named Spirit and Opportunity, which landed respectively on 4 and 24 January 2004. The following video uses synthetic images to indicate what should happen tonight if everything goes fine for Phoenix:

The cosmologist Giordano Bruno was convinced that life existed beyond the planet Earth:

For no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies that may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human Earth.

For expressing thoughts of this kind, the Inquisition accused Bruno of heresy, and he was burnt at the stake in Rome, thereby becoming the world's first martyr for science.

These days, people have ceased imagining that Mars might be populated by little green creatures who built canals. We have few ideas on the nature of self-replicating organisms that might exist elsewhere in the universe. Even the great Charles Darwin [1809-1882] may have been wrong when he suggested that life probably started, here on Earth, in a "warm little pond ". For all we know, life might be able to spring into existence in a volcano, or deep inside clouds of gas. But the presence of liquid water would appear to be conducive to the development of primitive forms of life in a context of carbon-based chemistry, as on Earth. The Phoenix laboratory might be able to inform us if this was, or is, the case on Mars.

Harsh Hillary

Back in the early days of Hillary Clinton's project aimed at becoming the Democrats' presidential nominee, I recall the unexpected warning of a perspicacious journalist who pointed out that many older Catholic women in the USA might tend to associate the concept of a female head of state with a widespread negative image from their adolescence: the stern nuns in convent schools.

At the time of my childhood in Australia, Audrey Hepburn probably did more than Rome to propagate the rigorous realities of a woman's existence as a bride of Jesus. But certain ex-students of Catholic schools, such as my aunt Nancy, for example, had their own vision of the intellectual style of some of these veiled women, many of whom were bigots of Irish ancestry. My mother Kathleen, who had attended a convent school in South Grafton, married my father, brought up in the Protestant Church of England, in Grafton's Anglican cathedral. The next day, a nun told the little girl Nancy that her sister Kathleen would surely end up in Hell because of her heretical marriage. And my future aunt was no doubt traumatized by this announcement.

I don't know to what extent Hillary might or might not sound at times, to some of her fellow citizens, like a stern nun. Be that as it may, there seemed to be a touch of fire and brimstone in her recent awkward reminder that a political candidate can be removed from the contest by the bullets of an assassin. One can't help thinking that Hillary was underlining the fact, maybe unconsciously, that this kind of calamity could arise because the assassin happened to dislike the candidate's religion or the color of his skin.

Talking about veiled women, I love the following photo, which I picked up some time ago on the Internet:

The only thing that's missing is the voice of the male photographer: "Ladies: Smile, please! "

Friday, May 23, 2008

Scientists sitting on the religious fence

Many scientists continue to affirm that they believe in God. For example, there's a reunion of such folk every two years in the precincts of my native Anglican cathedral in Grafton, but they've made such a minor impact upon mainstream thinking that I've never received the slightest inkling of what they have to say... which, I feel, is probably so much the better. Let sleeping gods lie.

Richard Dawkins informs us, with a certain dose of his typical humor, that a giant US thing called the Templeton Foundation is using its vast financial resources to waylay scientific personalities by offering them incentives for claiming that there might indeed be a bit of godly stuff in their research conclusions persuading us that "He" (the fabulous Man in the Sky) has not yet said His Final Word. In other words, the Templeton Foundation is tempting prominent scientists to declare publicly that they've forsaken neither God nor, above all, the idea that He might in fact exist. All of this inoffensive stuff is most folkloric, like Druidic get-togethers at Stonehenge.

I try to avoid science books that attempt to shove Old-World magic down my throat. If I'm looking for a book on modern genetics, for example, I don't want to be waylaid into purchasing a document with religious overtones. Pollution zero! No religion!

Aussie prudishness: a taste for censorship

Outsiders probably imagine my native Australia as an open-minded nation whose citizens are accustomed to basking around half-naked in a carefree atmosphere of sea, sand, sun and sex. This is not the case. Australians are an exceptionally prudish people, who don't hesitate in using police intervention and censorship to handle certain situations. In my article of 13 March 2007 entitled Rambo caught with his pants down [display], I sketched a few notorious examples of this amazing prudishness and abhorrence of explicit sensuality that might be interpreted as sexual misbehavior... with the sole exception, curiously, of the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Once again, this subject has come to the forefront of Aussie news concerning vaguely erotic images of adolescents by the celebrated photographer Bill Henson displayed in a Sydney gallery.

Yesterday, in the dawn hours preceding the opening of the exhibition, police invaded the private gallery and seized more than twenty photos. And this could well be the prelude to legal prosecutions.

The photographer Bill Henson is acclaimed internationally. His works have been exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Venice Biennale, not to mention the national galleries of Victoria and New South Wales. A deplorable aspect of this Philistine affair is the fact that justifications for this dawn seizure of works of art have been coming from the likes of Kevin Rudd (prime minister of Australia, who apparently employed the adjective "revolting" in describing Henson's photos), Morris Iemma (premier of the state of New South Wales) and representatives of the New South Wales police force. These individuals are deciding whether Bill Henson's work has artistic merit or whether it should be condemned as pornography.

Personally, since I harbor no desire of returning to my native land, let alone trying to get onto the same wavelength as my former compatriots, I guess I shouldn't get worked up by such a silly storm in an Aussie teacup. But I see it as interesting data of a genealogical kind. Maybe "anthropological" would be a more appropriate adjective.

Official portrait

In Great Britain, where official portraits of royalty and other distinguished folk are a serious business, Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated photographers. Even here in the French Republic, the concept of official portraits exists, but solely for one individual: the president. Photos in this category have always amused me. Between an official portrait and an ordinary photo taken by a news photographer, there's the same difference as between the bright smiling face in my blog photo and me in the bathroom mirrror when I get up in the morning.

Now, the reason I've brought up this subject is that I'm happy to publish this photo, taken by Natacha last weekend, that corresponds ideally to what might be termed an official portrait of Sophia.

I have the impression that Sophia, reclining majestically upon her big wickerwork throne, is making an effort to look like a dignified dog. As if she'd just been elected president, or raised to the status of Royal Duchess of Gamone.

Colored umbrellas

This a quiz, in the domain of general knowledge and culture, based upon the above photo. To help you answer, I'll give you a few hints. Last weekend, when Natacha and Alain came to visit me at Gamone, the weather was mainly wet, but the three of us were equipped with umbrellas. Two of us do their shopping systematically in a chain of international stores of Scandinavian origins, whose name starts with I. The colors of the flag of the home country of that celebrated commercial organization, largely present in the stores themselves, are well known. The third umbrella owner is less organized, purchasing goods in any old boutique at all.

Question: Who are the respective owners of the umbrellas?

Piss stories

The elegant old cylindrical public urinals in Grenoble, molded out of reinforced concrete, have always reminded me of upended sarcophagi from an ancient Roman burial ground. They're fit for a dead emperor to pee in. In fact, Grenoble is full of all kinds of decorated concrete constructions dating from the second half of the 19th century. This is largely due to a pair of related facts, one historical and the other geological.

The inventor of artificial cement, Louis Vicat, was a native of Grenoble. With his son Joseph, he founded a cement company that is still in full swing today. Visitors who arrive in Grenoble by the northern highway (passing along the valley of the Isère, between the Chartreuse and Vercors mountain ranges) drive beneath an archaic system of Vicat conveyor buckets that descend minerals constantly from mines in the nearby mountains. Geologically, the Chartreuse range is one of the rare regions with sources of the precious mineral required for the manufacture of rapidly-setting concrete, which is essential for the creation of molded objects.

Talking about urinals, two young Belgian guys invented recently a mobile video game, named PlaceToPee, for outdoor festivities where people are downing large quantities of beer.

As you can see, their main logo is inspired by the celebrated statue of the Manneken Pis in Brussels. When the device is in operation, the open booth receives a pair of contestants with full bladders and good aim, and each contestant stands in front of his personal urinal.

Above the urinal, a video screen displays the graphic elements of a typical contest such as a downhill skiing race.

Inside the urinal, elegantly described as interactive, several sensor pads, distributed on the outer edges of the bowl, react instantly to the impact of a strong jet of urine, and this input is processed by a computer in such a way as to impinge upon the video contest between the two players.

To avoid being accused of sexism, the inventors offer cardboard funnels to female contestants, enabling them theoretically to focus their fire. I'm convinced that a smart girl with dexterity could win comfortably by concealing a powerful plastic water pistol in her cardboard funnel. She would really take the piss out of male onlookers, who wouldn't be able to witness her stealthy manipulations and certainly wouldn't dare to search her for cheating equipment. As they say in the classics, with a hint of inverted syllables, if the lady could get her act together, that would be a truly cunning stunt.

For me, the very idea of pissing onto electronic sensors brings to mind one of the most memorable funny lines in modern French cinema. The actress Marie Laforet was evoking sarcastically the death by electrocution of her former husband, who happened to piss onto a high-voltage cable. During our entire relationship, that was the only time his prick ever produced fireworks."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Coincidences that appear to be amazing

In Eugene Ionesco's crazy play entitled The Bald Soprano, an English lady and gentleman discover, in the course of their casual conversation, an amazing series of coincidences. They both happened to take the same train down from Manchester and they live in the same street, in the same apartment. Furthermore, it would appear that they sleep together in the same bed. After each new revelation, there's a constant refrain, along the following lines: "How curious! How bizarre! And what a coincidence! "

In the domain of absurd exclamations, I've always been amused by the amazing coincidence concerning the indisputable fact that the Seine happens to flow right through the middle of Paris. After all, it might have flowed to the north or to the south of the city, or even far away from Paris, out in the country. Surely, the fact that the great river flows through the center of the French capital can only be explained by an intervention of the Egyptian deity Isis, namesake of the City of Light.

Last night, on TV, splendid documentaries showed us great Mediterranean ports such as Marseille and Tangiers. There was a lengthy presentation of the ancient Ionian port of Ephesus [now in Turkey]. Long ago, the temple at Ephesus dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Today, all that remains of the temple at Ephesus is a field strewn with stone fragments.

At the epoch of its splendor, many pilgrims were so amazed by the vision of the temple of Artemis that they refused to accept the idea that it had been built by humans. To construct such an edifice, divine power was surely necessary. In the same way that Isis may have guided the Seine through the heart of Paris, Artemis had once dropped down from the heavens into Ephesus to build this place in which she would henceforth be worshiped. Why not? Gods are gods, and goddesses, goddesses. Elvis Presley once built Graceland. Why wouldn't Artemis have devoted her immense resources to building a Wonder of the World? Admittedly, divine operations of this kind have never been everyday events, but there's no other way of explaining the amazing coincidence that such an edifice should come into existence at the very place whether it was intended that Artemis should be honored.

I've just been reading a fantastic little book, entitled Just Six Numbers, by Britain's Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. As the title suggests, this well-written and inspired text by 65-year-old Baron Rees of Ludlow presents half-a-dozen numbers whose precise values have determined the kind of cosmos in which we exist. The strange thing about the precise values of these six numbers is that, if any one of them were slightly different, we would simply not be here today as human beings in the Cosmos, for the "familiar" Cosmos, and we along with it, could never have existed if the six numbers had been different.

The small book by Rees is perfectly readable and fascinating. Here's a comment from the New York Times: "Manages to be both a deep and an accessible book, and it answers a lot of the questions produced by natural wonderment. A marvelous little book." [I love the expression "natural wonderment".] So, you might like to buy it and find out for yourself what each number represents.

Rees designates his six fundamental numbers by exotic symbols. I was particularly struck by the case of the second crucial number, epsilon, whose value happens to be 0.007. Physicists say that this value of epsilon represents the force of the strong interaction that holds together the protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus. When the fusion reactions in the Sun convert hydrogen into helium (like an endless series of explosions of hydrogen bombs), Einstein's equation E = mc2 indicates that 0.007 of the mass of the hydrogen disappears, transformed into the heat that enables us to exist. Now, we might wonder what would have happened if the epsilon value were slightly different to 0.007, say 0.005 or 0.009. Well, without going into details, we can say that the complex chemistry that has given rise to life on Earth could have never become a reality if epsilon were not in the range of 0.006 to 0.008.

Rees demonstrates that there are similar constraints in the case of the other five all-important numbers. To put it bluntly, we are faced with an amazing set of six values that appear to have been chosen precisely (by Whom?) in such a way that we humans have been able to appear here on Earth. "How curious! How bizarre! And what a coincidence! "

How might we explain such an amazing set of coincidences? Well, one possible answer that springs into the mind is that things might have unfolded in much the same way that the goddess Isis directed the Seine to flow through the middle of Paris, while the goddess Artemis dropped into Ephesus to build herself a temple. That's to say, God would have sat down in front of His personal computer and twiddled the values of the six crucial numbers until He got them right: exactly what would be necessary to insert us humans into the Big Picture.

But there's an infinitely simpler explanation. Today, Professor Rees and the rest of us privileged mortals are able to marvel at the amazing coincidences behind the six values for the obvious reason that, if these particular values didn't hold, then we wouldn't be here to talk about anything at all!

In general, this line of reasoning is referred to as the anthropic principle, and it's the only sane approach to posing and answering the fundamental question: "Why is there Life in the Cosmos? " When I wake up of a morning, I never ask myself: "Isn't it amazing that I'm still alive? " On the contrary, I declare: "Apparently I'm still alive. That's profoundly wonderful! "

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rimbaud, adolescent journalist

WARNING: In a comment attached to this post, my friend Corina has pointed out that the subject of the present article is possibly a literary fraud, perpetrated by a self-declared hoaxer. So, maybe I was naive in believing immediately what I read on the Internet. If so, mea culpa!

Literary historians were aware that the French poet Arthur Rimbaud [1854-1891] had thought of working as a journalist when he was an adolescent, but nobody had ever unearthed any specimens of such activity. This changed recently with the discovery of a short article signed Jean Baudry [a nom de plume employed by Rimbaud] in an ephemeral newspaper dated November 1870.

The article—a kind of mini prose poem—evokes a dream of France's enemy: the Prussian chief Bismarck.

Insofar as it's rare to come upon an unpublished text by a celebrated 19th-century author, I seize with joy this exceptional opportunity of translating Rimbaud's article into English.

Bismarck’s dream


It is nightfall. Beneath his tent, full of silence and reverie, Bismark is meditating, a finger on the map of France. A blue wisp escapes from his pipe.

Bismark is meditating. His tiny bent index finger traces a path on the fine paper, from the Rhine to the Moselle, and from there to the Seine. His finger nail scratches the paper imperceptibly around Strasbourg. He steers clear.

At Sarrebruck, Wissembourg, Woerth and Sedan, he trembles, along with his small hooked finger. He caresses Nancy, lacerates Bitche and Phalsbourg, obliterates Metz and draws short dashes along the frontier. Then he stops.

In triumph, Bismark has stamped his index finger upon Alsace and Lorraine! Ah, beneath his yellowy skull, what miserly joy! What delicious clouds of smoke spread out from his happy pipe! Bismark is meditating. Hey! A big black dot seems to halt his nervous index finger. It is Paris.

So, the nasty little finger nail scratches. It scratches the paper with rage, from one side to the other, then it halts. The finger remains there, half hooked and frozen.

Paris! Paris! Then the fellow has dreamed so much, without closing an eyelid, that somnolence overcomes him. His forehead leans towards the paper. The smoldering rage of his pipe, fallen from his lips, drops geometrically upon that nasty black dot...

Hi, povero*! Detached from his paltry head, his nose—the nose of Sir Otto de Bismarck—fell into the burning mass. Hi, povero! Va povero! Into the incandescent furnace of the pipe. Hi, povero! His index finger was posed upon Paris! His glorious dream was ended!

The nose of the aging first diplomat had been so splendid, so spiritual and so happy! Hide it, hide that nose! Well, my dear friend, when you return to the palace to partake of the royal sauerkraut...

[a couple of missing lines]

There you go! You shouldn’t have succumbed to dreaminess!

Jean Baudry

Italian: Hey, poor fellow! Maybe an evocation of Garibaldi.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kitchen implements

Intending to visit Grenoble, I called in this morning at the pretty little railway station of St-Marcellin. But they haven't got their act together yet. More precisely, their ticket window was closed, and their ticket machines expected me to have twenty or so euro coins on hand to pay for a return ticket to Grenoble. Impossible. So, failing this, I got back into my automobile and drove off towards the capital of the Alps.

Why was I intent upon visiting Grenoble? In the context of my ongoing research about Gamone, Natacha had advised me, this weekend, to try to ascend the various notarial affairs concerning sales of the property. Why not? A great idea... So, I set off for Grenoble, to the departmental archives. They informed me that the early 20th-century affair concerning Gamone, handled by a notary public named Gaston Mollet at Pont-en-Royans, had been taken over by Taulier at St-Romans... whom I happened to know personally. So, the classical upwards-research process (from known documents to conjectures) is now in full swing.

Finding myself in Grenoble on a lazy Monday, I purchased a few extraordinary but all-important cooking objects, which you may or may not discover in the usual suburban kitchen:

The big nylon skimmer is designed for pizzas in a pan, or omelettes. The bulky stainless-steel thing in the lower left corner is for flattening meat such as veal scalopinas. And the stainless-steel rings with handles (manufactured in Spain) are for frying eggs neatly.

French cry, requesting that people sit down to eat : A table !

Visit of my friends from Provence

This weekend, Natacha and Alain came to see me, with a pile of gifts.

These included a Corsican pocket knife and its black leather pouch, an exquisite olive-wood container for salt, a packet of exotic vanilla-flavored tea from Mauritius, a splendid album of aerial photos of Provence and, last but not least, an Ikea lounge chair for watching TV, guaranteed to send me to sleep more rapidly than usual.

Soon after the arrival of Natacha and Alain at Gamone on Saturday morning, where it was raining, we set off for Villard-de-Lans, where they invited me for lunch in an excellent little restaurant. On the return trip, the rain had stopped, but the slopes were shrouded in clouds.

On Saturday evening, we watched a TV variety show that was broadcast live from one of the most magnificent places, not only in Provence, but in the world: Avignon.

All in all, it was a delightful but brief visit, barely a day and a night (since my friends lead professional lives in Marseille, with little spare time). I'm awaiting an Internet delivery of photos of our short weekend together taken by Natacha and Alain.

Ave Caesar

At the age of 12, at Grafton High School, I started learning Latin under the guidance of a marvelous teacher named Robert Sinclair... who was present at a delightful gathering of friends, at the home of Cathryn Prowse (née Fuller), when I returned to Sydney in August 2006. Like generations of students throughout the world, I encountered that archaic but lovely language through fragments of a literary work written by a celebrated Roman general and statesman: Gaius Julius Caesar [100-44 BC]. The English title of Caesar's book: Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Now, this didn't mean much to me, back in Grafton, for the simple reason that I hadn't fully realized that the adjective "Gallic" designated a real place, known today as France. But Caesar's Latin was lucid, and even a Grafton schoolboy in 1952 could understand that the author was a victorious soldier who must have been some kind of a mixture of Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.

Much later, I discovered the splendid city of Arles, birthplace of Christine's maternal grandfather, Paul Marteau [1896-1976]. I even got around to taking my children there to watch to watch bull fighting in the Roman arena. And I finally realized that this charming city on the banks of the Rhône was closely associated with the ancient Roman named Caesar who came here to fight his famous Gallic Wars.

A few days ago, archaeologists announced that they had found a splendid life-size bust of Caesar in the Rhône at Arles. The marble sculpture was probably created during Caesar's lifetime, around 49-46 BC, when he was founding the Roman colony of Arles. After 56-year-old Caesar was assassinated in Rome by Brutus on the Ides of March, folk in Arles probably decided that it would be wise to dump his effigy in the Rhône... not far from the right-bank neighborhood of Trinquetaille, where Paul Marteau had grown up without ever knowing that Caesar's marble head was lying alongside in the mud. Meanwhile, a string of Catholic popes had reigned at Avignon, and hordes of folk had danced beneath [not upon] the famous bridge. Countless bulls were slaughtered, too, over the centuries, in Caesar's colonial arena. Later, I started learning Latin. Not long after, Christine and I were married, then Emmanuelle and François came into existence. To my mind, it was high time that Caesar's head resurfaced at Arles!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crazy Dutch website

Click the logo and simply wait. You'll be thrilled to discover one of the most crazy websites I've ever seen. When I say "crazy", I mean insanely wonderful. Apparently, Hema is a chain of department stores in Holland. The first one opened in 1926 in Amsterdam. Today, there are 150 Hema stores throughout Holland. This extraordinary website has obviously been developed by a creative genius with a sense of humor and some brilliant computer people.