Saturday, October 3, 2009

Flatland creature

I'm sure you won't believe me, but I'll nevertheless reveal, tardily, the truth. As an adolescent, about to start university studies, I imagined for a moment that I might apply to be trained as a fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. It sounded like a fascinating occupation... although I must admit that I had never, at that time, flown in anything bigger (as a thrilled passenger) than the tiny yellow Tiger Moth belonging to a distinguished South Grafton gentleman named Eric Hudson, father of my childhood friend and current blog-commentator Bruce Hudson.

Retrospectively, I believe that this professional choice would have been a mistake, even though I love to get into big airplanes of the kind that fly between Paris and the Antipodes. I know today that I'm essentially a flatland creature... in the spirit of my ancestors who moved around over the flat grasslands of Africa and later the steppes of Asia. Back in those days, our archaic brains had to be good at detecting the presence of wild beasts, edible plants and nubile females. Since none of these entities hung around in the air, our brains (if I can speak for all humankind) had no reason to get adapted to bird's-eye views of things.

Today, there are two environments in which this inherited weakness hurts: mountains and seas. Here in the Vercors, I'm often stunned to realize just how hard it is for me to comprehend the topography of the landscape in which I reside. To put it bluntly, mountains seem to move, not only sideways, but up and down. A peak that looks tall when viewed from Saint-Jean-en-Royans becomes a pimple at Pont-en-Royans. Distant summits that lie far apart when seen from Saint-Marcellin nudge closer to one another when I get up close to them... or maybe the opposite. It's all very disconcerting, particularly the weird phenomenon of neighboring summits that change their respective altitudes, depending from the place and angle of view. Somebody said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He might have added that geographical coordinates seem to behave exactly like beauty. It's a kind of idiot version of Einstein's theory of relativity. When I drive from one village to another, or when I stroll on foot from one vantage point to another, mysterious space-time dilatations—contractions and expansions—come into play. Up until now, I've never bothered contacting the scientific world to let them know that I've made these observations. So, you might consider this blog article as a personal coming-out. Others take pride in announcing that they're homo, hetero or travelo. As for me (big news), I'm basically flatto: a flatland being.

A case in point. In recent articles, I've evoked the newly-acquired cliff-top property of my son François (also known as Chino in his ancestral Breton territory):

Rapid trip to Brittany [display]

Ocean silence [display]

Virtual dream house [display]

My son's place lies somewhere in the following bird's-eye view of the region:

But, even with highly-enlarged satellite images, I find it hard to determine exactly where my son resides, and what kinds of inaccessible beaches lie at his doorstep. What I really need is a new-fangled high-tech system of powered wings—à la Nicolas Hulot–that would enable a flatland creature such as me to explore at ease these questions, from the skies of Brittany. Or maybe, simply, a boat.

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