Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doors are either open or closed

This little book—written by a local priest, Joseph Parsus (aged 84 today)—provides a detailed history of the Résistance in the vicinity of the village of Malleval, in the valley of the Isère to the south-west of Grenoble. Among other things, it describes tragic events at Choranche towards the end of July 1944, when German troops moved down from Presles to Pont-en-Royans. Their rule of thumb was simplistic. If the front door of a house were open, the house and its occupants didn't interest them. On the other hand, if the door were closed, then the occupants clearly had something to hide, so the house was promptly set on fire.

At the start of the 19th century, there were two houses on the banks of Gamone Creek. Notarial documents of that period, in the departmental archives at Grenoble, use the ancient Gallo-Roman term mas (derived from the Latin verb manere, to reside, as in mansion) to designate both houses. On that fateful day when the Nazis swept down alongside Gamone Creek, the door of the house up the road was closed. Here's a photo, taken today, of the remains of a kitchen wall:

Concerning the house that I own today, its front door had been left open. And, thanks to that trivial criterion, I'm able to live here today, in the ancient stone house, in the company of my dog.

Talking of my dog (which I do constantly), I'm obliged to admit that Sophia has a distinctly storm-trooper attitude towards lizards. Normally, she's totally uninterested in the colony of lovely little lizards that inhabit the stone wall in front of the house. But, if ever a tiny reptile happens to hide innocently behind her wicker basket, Sophia changes instantly into search-and-destroy mode. She stands there tensely, wagging her tail and barking, hoping that her would-be enemy is going to come out of hiding, so she can pounce upon the harmless little beast. Often, in this situation, I intervene by raising the back of the basket a little, enabling the lizard to scamper away into the grass or stones, where Sophia immediately loses its trail.

I often reflect upon the likely relationship, once upon a time, between wolves and dinosaurs. OK, specialists are going to tell me that they never existed on the planet Earth at the same time. But I prefer to imagine that they did. It's possible that wild wolves were in fact quite fond of dinosaurs... as friends, that is, not merely as meat. But woe betide any dumb dinosaur that tried to hide behind a tree...

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