Friday, April 30, 2010

Aussie gangster worship

Ever since I was a child, I've realized that one of the surest ways of being admired in Australia, particularly posthumously, is to become a celebrity gangster. Our celebrated bushranger Ned Kelly surely established this fashion:

At about the age of 25, he was captured after a police shootout.

This photo show him a day before his execution in Melbourne:

There's an etching of his hanging:

Today, Ned Kelly's handmade armor is proudly displayed in an Australian museum:

This Aussie fascination with grand criminals goes all the way back to our convict system, since it's a well-established fact that many of the unfortunate individuals transported to the Antipodes, often for petty offenses, were inoffensive, often fine, individuals.

Be that as it may, there is still, in Australia, a certain fascination with big bandits... who are rarely models of humanity. We see here the gold-plated coffin (Michael Jackson style) of an underworld figure, Carl Williams, who was recently bashed to death inside a prison.

Ridiculous outpourings from his wife Roberta allege that Carl killed for nice personal reasons. Carl only mowed down Melbourne rivals because he loved his family and wanted to protect them. These stupid statements are being placarded disgustingly across the Aussie press.

Every society ends up with the gangsters it deserves. Right down to his fat little daughter, treated as a celebrity, Carl Williams is Australia's ideal dead gangster. He's set to become, like Ned Kelly, a hero.

Blue people

When I was out in Western Australia with my son François, in 1987, at the time of the fabulous America's Cup regattas, we collected various trivial souvenirs… including three Louis Vuitton bags and a stock of Moët Hennessy champagne that were awarded to me as a prize for my having predicted (with the help of software I wrote specially for my Macintosh box) the winner of the cup for contenders. A classy trophy was a sky-blue wind-jacket as worn by members of Bruno Troublé's organizing committee. François had picked this up from one of his girlfriends employed in this committee. Since it wasn't the sort of jacket he wished to wear around Fremantle, François promptly gave it to me… as is often the case with corny clothes he picks up. (That's how I acquired a fabulous yak-wool jacket from Siberia. I once created a sensation by wearing it to a meeting of local folk in Choranche… and that, I believe, is how I came to be respected, if not feared, in this one-horse cowboy village. You've got to be careful when you're dealing with a guy in a yak-wool jacket. Thanks, François.)

Well, getting back to the Louis Vuitton yachting jacket, I once wore it to an outdoor concert at the Jacques Brel festival in the Dauphiné village of St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, where I was settled for three months in the summer of 1993. A vicious Parisian stand-up comic named Merri was in search of a victim for his next act: "Hey, I need a volunteer up here on the stage. How about that guy down in the middle of the tenth row, the Schtroumpf." [In English, the exotic term Schtroumpf is rendered by a duller invention: Smurf.] I realized immediately that, thanks to my fine sky-blue Louis Vuitton jacket, it was me, the Schtroumpf. So, I schtroumpfed up onto the stage and allowed Merri to make a fool of me. The following morning, I tossed that jacket into the trash can alongside the ancient church in the middle of the village. I didn't wish to be recognized as Merri's Schtroumpf for the rest of my stay at St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

Recently, Schtroumpfish blue skin and four fingers (unless you're a hybrid avatar, retaining five fingers) have become quite fashionable.

On the other hand, people have said that this extraordinary movie gives certain viewers the blues (weak pun intended). A Romanian woman has even claimed that her daughter committed suicide after seeing James Cameron's masterpiece. Maybe the kid was depressed when she realized that she would never be able to look like lovely Neytiri, and romp through tropical jungles floating in the clouds. For me too, after watching that movie in a cinéma at Romans, it was a letdown to get back into my old Citroën and drive home to Gamone.

A few days ago, I saw an intriguing article about a Californian fellow, Paul Karason, who's a victim of an ailment called argyria. His skin turned blue because of his use of colloidal silver as a dermatological product. If, like me, you did not know that silver was once used as a medical agent, then click here.

This story rung a bluebell in my childhood memories. At a pharmacy in South Grafton, in the 1940s, one of the employees was a blue man. As a child, I was intrigued by this phenomenon, but I never learned exactly what had produced this strange situation… apart from "health problems". A few days ago, when I brought up this topic with my sister Anne Skyvington-Onslow (who's an expert on all things weird and wonderful in our birthplace), she informed me that this man had been a patient of the great local physician and statesman Earle Page, who was a surgeon and gynecologist with his own private hospital in the heart of South Grafton.

Out in Australia in 2006, I took a photo of the miraculously-surviving glass panel with the name of this obstetric clinic in Through Street, South Grafton, where Earle Page (a future prime minister of Australia) had given birth to my mother Kathleen Walker in 1918.

If I understand correctly, Earle Page had removed a diseased lung from the South Grafton pharmacist. Bravo! Apparently, the patient was treated with colloidal silver, as an antibiotic, which explains why he developed argyria and turned blue. A recent distinguished commentator (the Australian academic Carl Bridge) suggested that this blue-skinned pharmacist in South Grafton served as a constant colorful reminder, to customers, of the surgical excellence of Earle Page. Today, I would prefer to consider that this poor blue man was a living monument to an age of archaic medicine.

As I pointed out to my sister Anne, that same blue pharmacist once sold me a little brown-glassed bottle of silver nitrate, enabling me (at the age of eleven) to test a hobbyist formula for the production of photographic paper. Happily, I never posed any industrial threat to Kodak and Ilford… and I washed my hands well after my experiments. So, I'm still basically white… or pinkish in summer.

Some people would say that blue is a rather unnatural color, because it doesn't occur very often in nature. But Christine tells me that neighbors in her Breton village are growing blue-skinned potatoes. And there are a couple of marvelous lines in a poem, Le Dormeur du Val, by Arthur Rimbaud [1854-1891].

Un soldat jeune bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu.

A slain soldier lies open-mouthed, naked-headed, and his neck is shrouded in crisp blue watercress. The color of that watercress has intrigued generations of literary critics.

Finally, the major evangelist of blueness was surely the painter Yves Klein [1928-1962], for whom it was a fetishistic hue… long before our discovery of the people on the planet Pandora.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Likely victory of science and the Internet

It's a fabulous idea, which is so simple and obvious that I'm surprised to think that I never became famous through shouting it out on the rooftops. Sure, I started to shout out exotic things (both scientific and environmental) on Paris rooftops back in the early 1970s, when I was making documentary stuff for French TV. But they weren't necessarily the right things, or the right rooftops, or I wasn't really shouting loud enough. So, I have no claims to fame. Merely retrospective pride in my quiet evaluations and judgments.

Together, science and the Internet are surely about to conquer religious obscurantism, lies and crimes committed in the name of horrible and groundless belief systems such as Judaism, Christianism and Islam.

[Click the image to view a Thunderfoot video.]

Within the context of the Internet web, countless active nodes handle the veracity of science. But religion can participate merely as a passive object of historical interest, not as a current player. Like the Eskimo boy at MIT:

QUESTION: What's he studying?

ANSWER: No, he's being studied.

Concerning this beautifully limpid video, Richard Dawkins wrote:

This is brilliant. Many congratulations to Thunderfoot. This deserves to go viral in a big way. Please spread it around as widely as possible.

God travels incognito

I've just finished reading an excellent novel, with an unusual title: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.

The author, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, is a philosopher who's working at present as a research associate in the department of psychology at Harvard.

[Click the portrait to visit her website.]

The novel's hero, Cass Seltzer, is an academic at Frankfurter University in Weedham (Massachusetts)… which is possibly inspired by Brandeis in Waltham. His unusual field is the psychology of religion, where Cass has become a celebrity through his book entitled The Varieties of Religious Illusion. Readers of Goldstein's novel are offered a close look at this treatise on "illusion", in that the novel contains a lengthy appendix summarizing succinctly the 36 arguments that are said to have been presented and analyzed by Cass in his book.

Up to that point, everything appears to be rather ordinary. So, what is it that makes Goldstein's 36 Arguments for the Existence of God such an extraordinary novel? Well, the first thing that strikes a reader who turns to the appendix is that every one of Cass's 36 arguments has been enunciated scrupulously and then promptly demolished! In other words, the Seltzer treatise is hardly likely to substantiate any kind of belief in the existence of God. Indeed, Cass Seltzer has become a celebrated atheist. But, as TIME magazine put it in their cover story, Cass is an "atheist with a soul". What does this mean? Well, as a reader of the Goldstein novel, I would say that Cass Seltzer appears to be a profoundly religious individual, but with a slightly unconventional bend: He simply doesn't feel it necessary to believe in God!

To come to grips with this unusual but exciting notion of godless religion, one needs to set aside Cass Seltzer's treatise and return to Rebecca Goldstein's novel. For she too offers us 36 arguments for the existence of God. Why shouldn't she? After all, that's the title of her novel, which is composed of exactly 36 chapters, each of which is presented as an "argument"… often of an unexpected kind, such as "the argument from prime numbers", or "the argument from tidings of destruction", or even "the argument from the New York Times". So, the next logical question is: What is the exact nature of the goods that this novelist is trying to market by means of this curious mixture of an appendix of 36 unsuccessful arguments concerning the existence of God, juxtaposed alongside 36 narrative chapters that don't really appear to be striving to argue in favor of anything of a specifically religious nature? Well, I would say that Rebecca Goldstein is simply marketing a new vision of God, who doesn't need to exist concretely (like a tree or a giraffe) in order to enable us to adopt a profoundly religious attitude towards life. And Cass Seltzer, in that case, is Rebecca's extraordinary salesman.

Why does the number 36 appear, first in the title of the novel, then in the number of items (Cass's arguments) in the appendix, and above all in the number of chapters in the novel? For a while, I delved into my books on Judaism, the Kabbalah and the Hebrew language in the hope of finding an answer to that question, but I was unsuccessful. Then it dawned on me that 36 is the product of the squares of the first three primes. 36 = (1 x 1) x (2 x 2) x (3 x 3). I wouldn't swear to the validity of this interpretation, but I have the impression that the novelist's preoccupations are systematically closer to numbers and science than to the tenets of Judaism and the Kabbalah. I tried, too, to find Jewish explanations for the choice of the hero's name: Cass Seltzer. Here again, I found nothing capable of adding Biblical weight to the diminutive of the Latin Cassius combined with a wrongly-spelled reference to a town in Germany that gave its name to carbonated water. So, I conclude that this name highlights the fact that our hero is not a conventional Jew, not an ordinary believer… in fact, an unbeliever.

I have the impression that the goods that Deborah Goldstein and Cass Seltzer are proposing correspond to a vast system of mathematical truths and human values in which there's a bit of God in almost everything. I would call it scientific pantheism. Since God is everywhere, then He is nowhere. We don't need to search for God, as if He were a hidden diamond, because there is in fact no place in the cosmos where He would not be present… if only He existed, which He doesn't! Cass is sensitive to this ubiquitous religiosity, but he is often obliged to clean up his home and his haunts by sweeping trivial avatars of God under the carpet.

Some of the characters in the novel are admirable, indeed lovable. Besides Cass himself, and his longtime sweetheart Roz Margolis, I'm thinking of the young Azarya Sheiner, a master of numbers, destined to become the future spiritual chief of the Valdener sect. Certain characters are exasperating. They can be stupidly exasperating, like the ultra-Orthodox professor Jonas Elijah Klapper: "one of the most prominent, if not the pre-eminent, propounders of poppycock of our day". Others are brilliantly exasperating, such as Cass's former partners Pascale Puissant, absurdly Cartesian in her affections, and Lucinda Mandelbaum, "the Goddess of Game Theory", incapable of retaining the visual memory of human faces.

The novelist Rebecca Goldstein writes superbly, and she skips effortlessly from poetic songs of awe to hilarious laughter. In the 36th and final chapter of the novel, Cass is attending a joyous assembly of Jewish Hasidim of the Valdener sect in a fictitious village in New Jersey misnamed New Walden (nothing to do with Thoreau).

Although Cass is in fact related to the Valdener rabbinic dynasty, through his mother, the main reason for his attending this assembly is his affection for Azarya Sheiner, the new Rebbe. Normally, Azarya's intellectual prowess would have enabled him to become a great mathematician at MIT. Instead of that, he has decided to make himself constantly available as a guide for his Hasidic brethren. There are no limits to Cass's respect for the traditional culture of his tribe. The assembled Hasidim imagine that they will be able to watch their Rebbe enacting an ancient costume, which consists of dancing with his week-old firstborn son. Normally, all this is so silly, because there could be so many greater things on the mind of Azarya Sheiner than prancing around in front of the ecstatic crowd with a baby in his arms. Was it simply the force of the novelistic art of Rebecca Goldstein, or might I too be some kind of emotional adept of atheism with a soul? Whatever the explanation, I devoured the vision in the final line of the novel:

And the Valdener Rebbe holds his son and dances.

And I, William, an atheist goy, burst into tears.

His Royal Quackness

This photo shows Prince Charles visiting a laboratory of a British company that markets various kinds of natural salts.

I'm sure that Charles is a nice chap, like his dad. But, from an intellectual viewpoint, I've never held him in high esteem. And, if he knew me, His Royal Highness would no doubt be in a position to inform the kingdom that this feeling is mutual. At a medical level, I'm not convinced that the future king would be able to take care of a pimple on his bum. But this has never prevented him from promoting would-be solutions such as herbal medicines and homeopathy.

I evoked British homeopathy in my article entitled Snake oil [display]. It's a pity that a charming celebrity such as Prince Charles, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, goes out of his way, in a great scientific nation such as the United Kingdom, to support quackery. He should know better.

Fasten your video belts

From an artistic viewpoint, this English road-safety video is particularly aesthetic:

One might wonder, though, whether this strong dose of loveliness (that's the first silly word that springs into my mind) is really effective in getting the message across. Maybe the whole thing could backfire completely, in that recollections of this video might soothe the driver into imagining dangerously that he's accompanied constantly by a pair of guardian angels, ready to intervene miraculously as soon as a bad situation arises. Besides, I find that they guy has a dumb grin on his face. I wouldn't feel safe as a passenger with that fellow at the wheel.

Encounter with local history

Today, in St-Laurent-en-Royans, I met up with an 80-year-old former politician, Gérard Sibeud, to talk about local history. He was the Gaullist député (member of parliament) for the Drôme département from 30 June 1968 until 1 April 1973. During those five years, he was a member of the UDR party (Union des démocrates pour la République).

For many years, Gérard Sibeud was the mayor of St-Laurent-en-Royans. In 1997, he was the founder and initial president of the so-called commmunity of eleven communes located in the Drôme part of the Royans region: Saint-Jean-en-Royans, Saint-Laurent-en-Royans, Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans, Saint-Nazaire-en-Royans, Saint-Thomas-en-Royans, Oriol-en-Royans, Saint-Martin-le-Colonel, La Motte-Fanjas, Rochechinard, Léoncel and Échevis.

We had planned to talk about Royans history in general, but the principal motivation of this encounter, for me, was to evoke a great scholar who was responsible for the rare historical texts concerning our region. I am referring to a Catholic priest, born in St-Laurent-en-Royans: Abbé Jean-Louis Fillet [1840-1902]. See my article entitled Place with a name [display] concerning this man. Gérard Sibeud gave me a copy of the following poor-quality photo (which I saw for the first time today), which would appear to be the only existing image of Abbé Fillet.

[Click here to see the original photo before I cleaned it up.]

Gérard Sibeud married a woman named Fillet who was a descendant of the Abbé's family, and she inherited the old farm where the future priest was born. And that's where my meeting with Gérard Sibeud took place this afternoon. This property looks out across a plain towards the bare hillock where the great medieval castle of the Bérenger family, called La Bâtie, once stood.

I was pleased to find that Gérard Sibeud was enthusiastic about my suggestion that we should look into the possibility of publishing a modern edition of the collected Royans monographs of Abbé Fillet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First peony at Gamone

Not only is it the first peony; it's in fact the first flower in the garden of rose and peony bushes that I prepared last autumn. It's a Chinese species, Paeonia suffruticosa (tree peony), called Adzuma Nishiki. I was reassured (in a silly way) that the flower and the plant correspond exactly to information in the superb album on peonies that Christine gave me as a Christmas gift:

Semi-double peony. Rose-pink, pale at the tips of the petals, darker and deeper towards the center. The petals get smaller and smaller at the base. White pistil and stigma. Dark green foliage with purple flares.

It would have been strange indeed if my alleged Adzuma Nishiki had emerged say, looking like a rosy geranium! Still, an exotic plant such as a peony is surrounded by an aura of Oriental mystery, and it comes as a surprise to discover that you can unwrap it from its plastic bag [display my Christmas article entitled Planting peonies], bury the sweet-smelling mass of nondescript roots in the earth, and then discover, exactly four months later, that the resulting plant corresponds precisely to what was written in the book. Like my hero Richard Dawkins, faced with the wonders of the world, I've remained essentially an awestruck child.

POST-SCRIPTUM: If I note down the date of flowering of every one of the 9 peonies and 22 roses that I planted last year, then I'll be able to look forward to welcoming them back individually, in future years, like the return of so many Prodigal Daughters.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

There will be apples

At the same time I'm saying this (because of the profusion of white blossoms), and the donkeys might be dreaming about this (for they are the major consumers of Gamone apples), countless small creatures—ranging in size from fruit flies and wasps up to field mice and squirrels—are also looking forward, no doubt, to a good apple harvest towards the end of summer at Gamone. As usual, it'll be a matter of sharing out the produce to all interested parties... but often on a brutal "first come, first served" basis. Nature hasn't yet discovered organized gentlemanly democracy. The world has never been a welfare state.

Necessary rebuttal

In my article of 8 February 2010 entitled Mystery as philosophy [display], I deplored the announcement of a book (which I'm not at all keen to read) entitled What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, in which they apparently contend that Darwin's idea of natural selection is illogical and unsupported by empirical evidence.

Like countless Darwinists, I was shocked that distinguished academics would dare to write such stuff today. I was aware, though, that their arguments were technically complex, and would require some serious unraveling. Fodor (professor of philosophy at Rutgers) and Piattelli-Palmarini (professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona) are far removed from the arena of crackpot creationists. One had the impression that they were thoughtless renegades rather than declared enemies. In any case, it was clear that it would take a talented heavyweight scholar to bring these deserters to their senses.

Fortunately, Jerry Coyne (professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago) has set himself the task of cleaning up the mess. Click the banner to read his excellent article in The Nation entitled The Improbability Pump. Before his rebuttal of the groundless ideas put forward by the philosopher and the cognitive scientist, there's a bonus: a beautiful review of The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Please allow me to quote Coyne quoting Dawkins quoting the DNA of a tiger:

Dawkins describes selection as an "improbability pump," for over time the competition among genes can yield amazingly complex and extraordinary species. Here's how he describes the evolution of tigers:

A tiger's DNA is also a "duplicate me" program, but it contains an almost fantastically large digression as an essential part of the efficient execution of its fundamental message. That digression is a tiger, complete with fangs, claws, running muscles, stalking and pouncing instincts. The tiger's DNA says: "Duplicate me by the round-about route of building a tiger first."

Only Dawkins could describe a tiger as just one way DNA has devised to make more of itself. And that is why he is famous: absolute scientific accuracy expressed with the wonder of a child—a very smart child.

Tiger building! What a splendidly imaginative way to produce new stocks of a chemical product known as deoxyribonucleic acid...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Riverside excursion

This afternoon, it was warm enough for an excursion with Sophia to the edge of the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans. Seeing me getting ready to leave the house with my Nikon, Sophia sensed that something interesting might be about to happen. She stood tensely in front of me, staring me in the eyes. I stared back at her in silence for a few seconds. Sophia realized that the absence of a negative stay-at-home order (such as "Guard the house") indicated that she was being invited along. So, she dashed outside and waited for me alongside the Citroën.

She appreciates a minimal contact with the water.

I don't know whether it might be called "swimming". I think that "cooling off" is a more honest expression.

People come here with bags of stale bread, to feed the ducks. This means that Sophia always manages to find a few chunks for a riverside snack. She has become an expert at convincing people, particularly children, that she's starving.

Are those ducks naive enough to imagine that Sophia is getting ready to throw them a bit of bread?

I think the ducks are starting to realize that Sophia won't even be leaving them a few crumbs. We bid farewell to the ducks and wander upstream to the pool beneath the cliff houses.

An optimistic angler imagined that he might find a trout lurking beneath the Picard bridge (the "pont" in the name of the village: Pont-en-Royans).

Above us, the sharp crest of the slopes marks the dividing line between Pont-en-Royans and Choranche.

Normally I'm not particularly good at leaning out over parapets to take photos, but I was enticed by this interesting view of the foundations of the ancient bridge alongside the flimsy wooden poles supporting the cliff houses.

Local people are proud to point out that these ancient dwellings have never yet slid down into the Bourne, so it's quite possible, indeed probable, that they never will. (Poor logic!)

Personally, I wouldn't be happy residing in such a scary place.

Here's a view from the other side of the bridge, looking downstream from the road that leads up to Choranche.

Sophia, still soaked (with that marvelous smell of a wet dog), scrambled into the car and we drove back to Gamone, a kilometer up the road.

Garden ready

Over the last week, I planted perennial flowers in the empty spaces between the roses and peonies in my future garden. So, I'm hoping that everything's ready to bloom soon.

I also installed a pair of water tanks of 500 liters each. That's a total capacity of a cubic meter.

I figured out that a cubic meter of water should represent a reasonable irrigation of the future garden by watering cans, in summer (when the spring will have ceased to flow), for roughly a month… depending on the weather. This enabled me to make an interesting observation. Even today, by which time the level of my spring pool up above the house has dropped considerably, it took no more than a few hours to fill the two plastic tanks by means of the narrow hose that comes down from the spring. In other words, the quantity of water that could be obtained from my spring in the course of a year is at least a thousand times greater than what my future garden might require. Even if I were to capture some of this water in an artificial pool up behind the house (which I intend to do before next winter and spring), it's inevitable that most of my spring water will overflow from this future pool and end up trickling down, wasted, into Gamone Creek.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

King-sized Jesus in Oklahoma

I found this funny story in the excellent Pharyngula blog by PZ Myers [access].

The history of Catholicism is filled with magic happenings. In the case of St Francis of Assisi (the fellow who preached to birds), we encounter the phenomenon of a talking cross, shown here:

In the church of San Damiano, the image of Jesus on the cross said to Francis: "Repair my church. As you see, it is falling into a state of total ruin." Francis immediately set about repairing the actual building, but he soon realized that the words of the cross of San Damiano were to be interpreted as a metaphorical order, meaning that it was rather the ecclesiastical institution and its members that were in need of repair. So Francis finally started work on that much bigger task.

Over the centuries, the San Damiano Cross has inspired countless reproductions. The latest copy, some three meters in height, has been hung above the altar of a church in Oklahoma. And the least that can be said is that it's well hung.

This copy was executed by a local artist named Janet Jaime. She has highlighted the abdominal muscles of Jesus to such an extent that a naive observer might imagine that the King of Glory is exhibiting a king-sized erection. Needless to say, this copy has given rise to controversy among Catholic parishioners in the Oklahoma town of Warr Acres, where the church is located. The artist, though, gives the impression that she doesn't understand what the fuss is all about.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the illicit sexual behavior of certain Catholic prelates and priests. The last thing the Church needed was yet another much-publicized sex-oriented incident, particularly when it takes the form of a giant phallus emerging from the crucified body of the Lord. One can't help wondering whether this Oklahoma painting is in fact yet another element of an international conspiracy, orchestrated by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, aimed at screwing Joseph Ratzinger. And, talking about screwing, that awesome Oklahoma apparatus elicits an exclamation of admiration. In a word, as Mary Magdalene might have gasped: Jesus!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Visit of feral flock

Yesterday afternoon, since the weather was sunny, I decided to clean up my vegetable plot. Looking up towards the slopes behind my house, I was astonished to find that Gamone was being visited by the feral flock that some neighbors still refer to as "William's sheep".

Back in 2006 at Gamone, I had reduced my flock to three lambs, probably siblings. One day they strayed onto the property of my neighbor Gérard Magnat, and decided to stay there. So, those three lambs became the founders of the feral flock (ten animals at present) that has been roaming around at Gérard's place for the last three or four years. Today, I see that there's a splendid Merino ram with curled horns. I tried get close to them, but the donkeys suddenly raced up to see what was happening, and the sheep promptly took off back home. There was evidence of the places where they scramble through the barbed-wire fencing.

Upon reaching the crest of the hill that separates the valleys of Gamone and Sirouza (once called Chirouze), I looked down and discovered with surprise that the sheep had already arrived back at Gérard's place. They're familiar with the tracks, of course, but they must have done some rapid sprinting.

Since the weather was splendid, I decided to continue my excursion. It would take me twenty minutes or so to edge my way down the slopes, cross the steep and slippery banks of Sirouza Creek, and reach the old house. Taking a path that was slightly different to the one I usually follow, I came upon a fragment of an ancient stone wall that I had never noticed before (or maybe simply forgotten).

I gazed out over the precarious graveled slopes, on the far side of the valley, where I had once trudged wearily for hours, trying to locate my sheep, the first time they had escaped from Gamone.

Apparently the members of today's feral flock no longer venture up there. Gérard's brother explained to me that the animals have discovered that they've got everything a sheep needs down in the vicinity of the house: grass, creek water, hay in winter (intended primarily for Gérard's cattle) and shade in summer. I have the impression that Sirouza is indeed "better sheep country" than Gamone (for a tiny flock, of course), because there are stretches of more-or-less flat prairies where the animals can race around madly, which they seem to appreciate.

At the level of the house, I met up with Gérard's brother Jean Magnat. He told me that Gérard, now retired, had sold all his cattle. For me, it was strange that the old buildings were uncluttered by traces of agricultural activity. They seemed to be tidier, in a weird way, than I had ever seen them before... but it was undeniable that the property was moving already into the quiet and timeless state of an abandoned farm. The three women whom I used to encounter there regularly—Madame Magnat (the mother), her daughter, and Jean's wife—have died, and Sirouza is moving inexorably towards the end of an epoch.

On the way home, I noticed other sheep: four animals purchased a few months ago by Jacques, owner of the old water-mill on the Bourne, midway between Gamone and Pont-en-Royans.

I strolled alongside the stone quarry, which is still in exactly the same abandoned state as several years ago, when Tineke Bot and I devoted our energy to creating documents designed to prove that this quarry should not be reopened and enlarged. Clearly, I can conclude retrospectively that we won that tiny environmental battle.

When you turn around, so that your back faces the quarry, here's the view out over the Bourne towards the Circus of Choranche:

It's unbelievable that the ancestors of my former neighbor, the local political personality Bernard Pérazio, would have decided to set up a stone quarry at a place with a view like that! That was the way the world was, not so long ago.

Finally, I reached the simple rural signpost whose names read like the words of a magic poem that was written especially for me by a lovely muse of the mountains:

Gamone, Saint Estèphe, le Château, la Ranconnière, la Bournière, les Nugues, Campeloup, le Faucon, les Champs... What splendid old terms, evoking ancient times and places. Opposite, another signpost:

I'm almost home. From the road, there's a good view of the farms of my closest Châtelus neighbors, on the other side of the Bourne.

Finally, there's a signpost with a warning that this is not a road for heavy vehicles, and that the road can't really take you beyond Gamone (which is not exactly true).

On this sunny afternoon, the feral flock provided me with an excellent pretext for making a delightful excursion through places that I know fairly well... which doesn't prevent me from feeling that I rediscover them every time I go out on such a walk. And, talking about sheep, on my way back up towards the house (where I had imprisoned my dog Sophia, so that she wouldn't disturb the sheep), I passed alongside the place where it all started.

That sheep shed is surely one of my finest constructions at Gamone. It's a pity that the former occupants seem to have abandoned it forever.