Friday, June 12, 2009


A week ago, nothing was planned. But this Friday, in my personal circle, turned out to be a day of celebration. In the Antipodes, it was a matter of bidding farewell to my brother Don. Here in the corner of France where I live, my Choranche neighbors Tineke Bot and Serge Bellier invited me to celebrate the spring opening of their floral park, Rochemuse, which had taken place last weekend.

I had written them a small text in French, which I have translated here:


In the setting of the Rochemuse park, on the slopes of the Royans at Choranche, the terra concept can be declined in several ways. A gardener working the limestone soil of the Vercors might consider that a small error has slipped into Genesis. Surely, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the rocks. Long afterwards, petra gave rise to terra under the effects of time and nature. Then the first farmers arrived on the scene—quite recently here, merely six millennia ago—to plant crops and graze animals upon the earth of Eden.

In the name of the park, Rochemuse, the rock (roche) is the gigantic cliff that overhangs the circus of Choranche. As for the muse, she presides over the poetry of this place, inspiring Tineke Bot in the creation of works of sculpture that visitors encounter in every corner of the park.

The archaic alluvial deposits of the Bourne on the slopes of Choranche and Châtelus, referred to as terraces, were formed in the Quaternary era, when the river burrowed violently into the gorges surrounded by beige-colored limestone cliffs described by geologists, in French, as Urgonien. The soil on the slopes, full of fragments of stones called marne (which gardeners have to remove constantly), is not particularly rich. However the vegetation on this exceptional terrain has been taking advantage, for countless millennia, of the heat energy accumulated and then radiated by the cliffs, which endows the site with a Mediterranean micro-climate that encourages the blooming of wildflowers and shrubs.

Ever since the Middle Ages, the Choranche territory (to use another declension of terra) was dedicated primarily to grapevines, producing a highly-reputed wine.

At the castle in Sassenage, a territorial survey written in medieval Latin in the middle of the 14th century, referred to in modern French as a terrier, describes in detail the ancient vineyards of Choranche. That wine industry declined when the monks were chased away after the French Revolution, then the phylloxera disease ravaged the vineyards in the latter half of the 19th century.

To create Rochemuse, terra had to be accompanied by aqua. Thanks to an archaic spring, the park was able to come into existence. The forms of its creation were inspired, naturally, by the environment, which is magnificent and magic at Choranche.

To thank me for writing this simple evocation of their glorious park, incorporated into their brochure for last weekend's opening, Tineke and Serge insisted upon taking me out for lunch today. I wondered, for a moment, whether they intended to cheer me up after my brother's death... but I believe that the timing was purely serendipitous.

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