Sunday, October 31, 2010

First, find an old Mac

As a schoolboy in Grafton, I was greatly amused by a well-known English essay that we were studying: A Dissertation upon Roast Pig by Charles Lamb [1775-1834]. The author explains that, in ancient China, the meat of pigs was eaten raw, simply because the advantages of cooking had not yet been discovered. Be that as it may (I suspect that Lamb was exaggerating, for the sake of his tale), the taste of roast pork became known for the first time ever when a farm house was destroyed by an accidental fire, along with the family's pigs.

[Click the engraving to access a copy of this short essay.]

As an outcome of this accident, people throughout the region learned that roast pork was delicious food. In their minds, the recipe for roast pork started as follows: Acquire a farm property with a pigpen, and set fire to it. It took them a while to discover that you could in fact obtain roast pork without seeing your entire farm property go up in flames.

I've often encountered situations of that kind. Shortly after our marriage in 1965, Christine and I invited a Breton priest, Abbé Chéruel, to lunch. Proud of my recently-acquired knowledge of the procedure for making genuine French mayonnaise, I got into action… but all my energetic manual mixing was to no avail: my mayonnaise mixture remained in a liquid state. Making an effort to remain cool and act efficiently, I decided to transform my planned tomato salad into something entirely different. I hollowed out the tomatoes, mixed the seeds with my failed mayonnaise mixture, added herbs, stuffed this into the tomatoes and put them in the oven to cook. The result was excellent. For years afterward, my personal recipe for eggy stuffed tomatoes started out as follows: Screw up your preparation of mayonnaise…

These days, my "recipe" for using a pair of sophisticated software products—Flash and FreeHand, both originally manufactured by Macromedia—starts out as follows: First, find an old Mac… What I mean by this is that my aging copies of these two tools won't work on my new iMac with an Intel chip, whereas they continue to work perfectly on an older iMac sitting on an adjacent desk.

Concerning the first product, Flash, the latest version is far too sophisticated and expensive for my needs. I only had to drop in electronically (so to speak) at Adobe's recent grand mass called Max, in Los Angeles, to confirm that Flash has become a gigantic web-development tool, particularly in the corporate world. The fact that Steve Jobs doesn't want his iPhone and iPad to be polluted by the presence of Flash-based stuff is neither here nor there. In the vast world of desktop computers (such as iMacs, for example, as distinct from mobile gadgets), Flash doesn't look as if it's about to disappear. On the contrary. As for me personally, in my modest computing world, I carry on using my antiquated version of Flash, on my older iMac, for many different tasks. For example, I've used Flash to build and update websites that enable me to distribute downloadable chapters of my genealogical monographs.

As for second product, FreeHand, Adobe considers that their customers should switch to Illustrator, which is almost certainly a more modern and powerful software tool. In fact, Adobe announced explicitly on May 15, 2007 that it would discontinue development and support of FreeHand. Now, this annoyed me considerably, because I've been using FreeHand for years for all my genealogical charts, and it turns out to be quite a messy affair to convert them into Illustrator format. Here's a typical example of such a chart, produced using FreeHand:

Since FreeHand was still running perfectly on my older iMac, I've got into the habit of producing genealogical charts on my second machine, and then using an external storage device (a USB key) to load the finished charts onto my new Intel-based iMac.

BREAKING NEWS: Half an hour ago, while writing the present post, I wanted to check the exact spelling of FreeHand (with an uppercase H). I opened by chance the Wikipedia article on this product. I noticed a paragraph about users who were disgruntled because the FreeHand tool refused to work on the latest iMac running Snow Leopard. And lo and behold, I stumbled upon a reference to an Adobe patch that fixed this problem. Five minutes later, I had FreeHand running perfectly on my new iMac! There's a moral in this story. Blogging is good for you. It can even give rise to therapeutic benefits at the level of the blogger. If I hadn't set out to describe my woes concerning these tools that were implemented solely on my old iMac, then it's quite possible that I would never have heard about that great FreeHand patch. The phenomenon of a chance discovery, while seeking something else, is referred to as serendipity [Wiki]. So, both my invention of a recipe for stuffed tomatoes and my discovery of the FreeHand patch were serendipitous.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn weather and colors

It's cold and damp at Gamone, and the sky is gray. During the night, France will be changing to daylight saving time. The view of the slopes on the far side of Gamone Creek is (to employ an unusual but lovely English adjective) autumnal.

The donkeys are getting along fine together. Sylvie phoned, and we agreed that they should remain at Gamone for another week.

Besides, Fitzroy seems to be getting bored with barking at them, because he realizes that the donkeys are taking no notice of him whatsoever… which must be demoralizing for a little Border Collie whose mother plays a professional role in the midst of cattle and sheep.

I glimpsed Moshé seated on his backside with the females standing on either side, as if they were posing for a group photo. By the time I got my camera out, they had ceased posing.

There's a log fire blazing in my living room. This evening, exceptionally, the TV programs are all uninteresting. So, I think I'll simply curl up in front of the fire with my iPad, in the semi-darkness, to start reading (at last) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams... who was one of the greatest friends of Richard Dawkins.

Eye for an eye

An eclectic choice of some of the world's finest news photos is displayed regularly on the website of Le Figaro.

I've clipped grossly this photo of two cheetahs, so that the facial details remain visible:

The photographer Luis Casiano has taken this remarkable shot at the exact instant when the eyes of the two animals were aligned. This makes it hard to determine, at a glance, which cheetah owns the visible eye. The reclining mother or her cub?

Friday, October 29, 2010

No longer with it

In my post of August 18, 2010 entitled Electronic versions of my novel [display], I explained that, in order to get my novel All the Earth is Mine published electronically by Smashwords, I was obliged to purchase a copy of the legacy product Word, bundled with lots of other stuff that didn't interest me at all. I started out by registering the product with Microsoft. [I seem to recall that I was obliged to do so, to get it working.] After my initial shock to find that there's apparently no such thing as user documentation for Word, I soon got used to playing around with this dull old dinosaur… which apparently remains, for many folk, a synonym of word processing.

A few days ago, Microsoft sent me an email informing me that I could update free-of-charge to the latest version of their product. Now, Microsoft's update procedures involved entering three 25-character codes (transcribed manually from stickers on a piece of cardboard) and forwarding them an image of the sales invoice from the online Apple store. They were by far the most complicated operations I've ever been expected to perform in order to obtain the latest version of a software product. And I'm not even certain that these nitpickers are really going to give me an update. For the moment, they've merely stated that they intend to "review" my submission.

I've had professional contacts with Microsoft for a long time. In the early '80s, in Paris, I collaborated in the production of an Apple II demo disk for the Multiplan spreadsheet, which was an ancestor of Excel. A few years later, another project led to my meeting up personally with Bill Gates at a reception in a Paris hotel. Then, on April 2, 1991, as a freelance journalist, I was invited to Microsoft's marketing meeting in the Château d'Esclimont, located between Versailles and Chartres.

[Click to access the website of this luxurious establishment.]

Today, when I discover antiquated manual procedures of the kind proposed for an update of Word, my little finger tells me that an imminent destiny of decrepitude is surely looming over the head of this once-famous software corporation.

Fitzroyal happenings

The other day, when Sylvie and I arrived at Gamone with the three donkeys, I noticed the carcass of a pheasant alongside the road, just twenty meters from my house. Most of its feathers had been plucked, and its flesh had been ripped apart a little, but apparently not yet eaten. I said to Sylvie that it looked like the work of a roaming fox. Later on in the day, I was puzzled to find that my dog Fitzroy had not touched the food I had served him. Besides, from time to time, he would disappear from the yard for ten minutes or so. By the end of the day, it had dawned on me that the "fox" behind the dead pheasant was almost certainly Fitzroy. After all, these birds are raised on farms for the hunting season, and they're probably accustomed to docile farmyard dogs. So, Fitzroy could have easily pounced on the poor bird. When I checked the spot the next morning, only feathers remained… but Fitzroy was still searching around among the feathers for any remaining scraps of pheasant flesh. Sophia, too, joined in this frantic hunt for tidbits (molecules) that might still be hanging around in the mass of feathers.

On Monday, during our long walk down from Presles to Gamone with the donkeys, Sylvie had given me an interesting item of news. Back on September 3, before Christine and I "dognapped" Fitzroy from his birthplace up in the Alpine commune of Risoul 1850, I had taken several photos in which we see his twin brother. In the following photo, our Fitzroy is staring at the photographer (me), while his brother seems to be poking his tongue out:

Here's a nice portrait of the brother:

The following photo evokes the end of an amusing incident:

The two brothers had decided to stalk this hen. For five minutes, the little dogs had been simply strolling along just behind the hen, at the same pace, following her wherever she went, in whichever direction she turned. The hen got quite upset, because she probably imagined that the pups were about to pounce on her. Finally, the dogs' mother intervened and made it clear to her pups (in canine language) that they should cease their stalking... and the frightened hen fled to safety. Meanwhile, that was surely great training for later encounters with, say, pheasants...

Well, Sylvie informed me that Fitzroy's brother now lives with a young family not far from her flat in Presles. The dog's name is Eole (a French variation on Aeolos, the Greco-Roman wind god). So, Sylvie took Fitzroy on her knees and we drove back up to Presles for a surprise call on Eole and his new family. Now, at this point in my story, I'm obliged to admit that all my preconceived anthropomorphic visions of canine behavior simply fell apart. I had imagined vaguely that the two brothers would look at each other in stunned amazement, as if to say: "What the hell are you doing here? What's happened in your life since we were last together up in the Alps?" Not at all. They attacked each other (or so it seemed), as if they had just been brought face-to-face with a mortal enemy! It was all I could do to grab Fitzroy in my arms to prevent him from getting into a terrible brawl with his brother. Meanwhile, the young lady of the house came out onto her snow-covered front yard, intrigued by all the noise, and she prevented Eole from trying to jump up at Fitzroy. I think it was Sylvie who finally decided that, since the two males were of equivalent physical capacities, they couldn't really harm each other. So, we decided to let them confront each other on the ground. And the friendly miracle took place instantly. The two little animals raced around crazily like a pair of long-lost brothers. At times, their contacts were highly excited and physical, with lots of barking and snarling and rolling around in clinches on the ground... just short of a fight. So, five minutes later, we all decided that the encounter had lasted long enough. In the heat of this get-together, I was constantly trying to avoid slipping on the icy road in front of the house, and I didn't have an opportunity of taking photos. But there'll surely be other opportunities of us all getting together again in the future. Meanwhile, I like this idea of the two brothers living within a stone's throw of each other.

This morning, I removed the roof of Fitzroy's kennel, in order to modify slightly its form (making it more sloped). This operation enabled me to look down into Fitzroy's cozy little straw cocoon, with the bowl shape left by his curled-up body in the upper left-hand corner.

I took advantage of the fact that the roof was removed to add another thick layer of straw. Jean Magnat and his son then came along in a truck with the firewood I had ordered last week from my neighbor Gérard Magnat. In this photo, Fitzroy seems to be inspecting the quality of the yellowish acacia wood:

Later on in the day, I introduced Fitzroy to the pleasure of cleaning up my pressure cooker, while Sophia, confined to my kitchen (as is often the case since the arrival of Fitzroy), no doubt sensed with envy what was happening.

Having made that remark, I hasten to point out that Sophia is treated by me—from both a food and a tenderness viewpoint—like the grand old queen of Gamone that she is. I'm happy to find that her diet, over the last couple of months, has resulted in a significant weight loss.

In the evening, Sylvie phoned—in the style of a mother who had left her kids with a neighbor—to ask if the donkeys were OK. I was happy to reassure her that everything was calm at Gamone.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Devil in the clubhouse

A few years ago, I was saddened to hear that one of my favorite singers, the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, had apparently been fleeced financially by a female associate while he was playing around at being a Buddhist monk in a California retreat. [I say "apparently", and I refrain from quoting names, because there still seems to be some wrangling going on in this sordid domain.] For me, it's difficult to imagine that anyone would set out deliberately to injure, by betrayal, such a fine individual. But I guess I'm naive. Maybe Cohen, too.

I have similar sad feelings when I learn that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is suing an employee named Josh Timonen for reasons that include fraud and embezzlement.

Click the photo to access a website that provides details on this affair.

The main reason I mention this unexpected matter is to explain why I decided to remove the red A (for atheism) banner from my blog. Apart from displaying that A banner, I've never had any contacts with the foundation or the people who appear to gravitate around Richard Dawkins. I'm in no way a member of the Dawkins "club". Personally, I would be far happier if my scientific hero were a more reserved and inconspicuous individual, avoiding the limelight. In my humble opinion, he should limit himself to what he's really good at: writing or maybe documentary movies. I can't understand why he wanted to start his foundation, create a website, get into public debates with idiots, etc. I have the impression that it's through this flamboyant worldly dimension of his existence that Dawkins has ended up getting screwed, apparently, by one of his closest friends: in fact, a highly-paid collaborator.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Donkey expedition day

In my article of 2 August 2010 entitled Moshé's future companion [display], I spoke of my intention to acquire a young donkey named Fanette, as soon as she was old enough to be weaned from her mother.

Last Monday was donkey expedition day. Sylvie in Presles (the girl who was responsible for finding me my dog Fitzroy) had agreed by telephone, a fortnight ago, to drive down to Gamone to pick me up at 9.30 so that I could accompany her in the operation of bringing the donkey Fanette down here, along with Fanette's mother Nina and another adult female donkey named Margot. (Sylvie's irregular working hours at the hospital in St Marcellin mean that she has to plan ahead precisely for "leisure-time" activities such as this.)

When I crawled out of bed in the semidarkness, I sensed that this was the first really wintry day of the cold season. I could see snow on the slopes at the end of the valley (my regular "barometer" for approaching winter conditions at Gamone), and a mild blizzard was blowing gusts of freezing rain through the air at Gamone. My first reaction was that this was not a day for creatures such as me to be wandering around out in the open on the mountain slopes. I wondered whether Sylvie might phone to suggest that we should postpone our expedition for a nicer day. But I nevertheless went ahead dressing in warm clothes, because I realized that a young rural woman who has grown up on a farm in the mountains is unlikely to be impressed by a bit of sleet and wind. When Sylvie arrived at exactly 9.30, the first thing I noticed was that her small Renault car carried traces of a layer of snow. And the first thing that she noticed here was the fine kennel I had built for Fitzroy. She was also struck by the fact that Fitzroy's snout had grown amazingly in a Pinocchio fashion since the last time she had seen him (at the start of September). I left Sophia in the kitchen, while Fitzroy remained outside, as usual.

The road up to Presles was bathed in fog. The snow started as soon as we reached the plateau. Sylvie had been sufficiently forward-thinking to install snow tires on her car a few days ago, so she had no trouble in driving to the place where her three donkeys were located. She left the vehicle by the roadside and we trudged through a wind-swept field to the donkeys' paddock. There, I waited in the blizzard while Sylvie disappeared into the mist with a bag of apples and stale bread, calling out to her animals: "Margot, Nina, Fanette…" Fortunately, I was decked out in my long R M Williams oilskin coat (seen here drying).

I was also wearing a woollen bonnet with waterproof lining, rubber boots and leather gloves. It took Sylvie some twenty minutes to locate the three donkeys and lead them back to the wire gate of the enclosure. Then we set out walking in the direction of Choranche. We were particularly worried that the donkeys might refuse to enter the short tunnel on the cliff face, just a hundred meters down the road from the plateau of Presles. In fact, there was so much fog that the donkeys didn't even realize that they were entering a tunnel. So, an hour later, we were down at Gamone.

The three female donkeys moved calmly into Moshé's paddock. Since then, their coexistence with Moshé has been perfectly peaceful.

One of these days (there's no hurry), Sylvie will take her two adult females back to Presles. Between now and then, if all goes well, Moshé and Fanette will have become accustomed to one another.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poetry of Pont-en-Royans

Today, for illiterate 21st-century youth, the very idea of poetry has a dinosaur flavor. What the fuck is that, man? And yet, that's not quite the case. In fact, it's not at all true to suggest that the modern world is losing its archaic poetry. On the contrary, poetry is emerging constantly in new forms, called rap, slam, etc.

From my privileged observation post alongside Pont-en-Royans and the Bourne, old-fashioned 19th-century poetry still moves me immensely. Click on the following image to obtain a readable display:

Meanwhile, our Bourne flows majestically:

Here's my interpretation of what the anonymous poet of 1871 was saying… which was surely both profound and beautiful:

In the abyss
Wild Bourne, turning
Flowing, rolling
With terrifying screams

Fantastic stream
Diabolical noise
In the night, it pursues us
Complaint of a curse

Like an emerald
Your sordid green flow
Affects me: vision of the
Fearful eye of a hawk

The immense rock
Is there to defend you
Your river bed warns me:
"God Almighty, man is small."

Then, on a crest
Above the emptiness
Human traces, fortified ruins
Six centuries old

That stuff transmits
Thoughts that make me
with fear, my heart
Feels an approaching calamity

With or without translation, those are great thoughts and words, which speak directly to my heart, or whatever it is that records marvelous moments and visions.

Kandlbauer in the wind

A laconic article in the Aussie press (of all places) informed me of the life and death of a 22-year-old Austrian guy, Christian Kandlbauer, designated as Austria's "bionic man". In September 2005, this headstrong lad apparently climbed a high-voltage electricity pylon as a dare. When he came back down to earth, his two arms were missing. Specialists succeeded in replacing them by artificial thought-controlled prostheses. A year or so later, Chistian managed to get a driver's license, enabling him to scoot around in a specially-fitted-out automobile.

To my mind, without wishing to cast aspersions upon anybody, I would consider that the above-mentioned series of events definitely placed the courageous youth in the category of dangerous drivers. What I mean to say is that I wouldn't feel comfortable about walking along the roadside while knowing that the audacious high-voltage pylon climber was about to swoop past bionically in his amazing automobile.

On 19 October, Kandlbauer's car suddenly swerved off an Austrian road and wrapped itself around a tree. After three days and nights attached to another great machine, whose role consisted of keeping him alive, Christian Kandlbauer was found to be clinically brain-dead. And all the machines were shut down.


Nobody will be surprised to hear me say that, in my eyes, Sophia and Fitzroy are a beautiful pair of dogs.

Ever since Christine and I brought him down from his Alpine birthplace, on September 3, Fitzroy has been a very cuddly animal, both because of his soft fur and, above all, because he seems to be happy when he's seated on my knees, in the sun. So, a lot of time, I have a back view of Fitzroy's head.

Seen from this angle, Fitzroy reminds me of the dolls called Golliwogs, which were popular when I was a child. The French composer Claude Debussy wrote a piano piece named Golliwogg's Cake-Walk, performed here by the guitarists Julian Bream (left, British) and John Williams (Australian):

We are now widely aware that this woolly-headed depiction of an African cake-walker has racist connotations, alas, linked to the horrifying phenomenon of slavery. Besides, the "wog" syllable (derived innocently from the verb "to wiggle") evokes the ugly term employed by Australia's "chick chick boom girl", seen here doing her act:

For all these reasons, and inspired by the rear view of Fitzroy's head, I suggest that "Golliwog" be replaced from now on by a new word, Wollidog, derived from "woolly dog". It goes without saying that, if toy manufacturers were to start producing fuzzy Wollidogs, the facial features of these new-style dolls should cease to look anything like our black genetic cousins from Africa. They would remind us rather of Fitzroy.

History of wine at Choranche

When I arrived in Choranche and settled down at Gamone, many of the local folk were surprised to find an Australian in their midst. They seemed to imagine that, not so long ago, I had surely been sunbaking on a beach in the tropics, with kangaroos hopping up to me from time to time, and the lilt of didgeridoos in the background, and then I suddenly cried out: "Jeez, I just gotta get to Choranche, as soon as possible!" So, I jumped aboard a jet, and there I was. Naturally, the local folk were curious to know what exactly had motivated that sudden decision. I suppose they saw it as some kind of revelation, like Archimedes yelling out Eureka in his bathtub, or Newton inventing the laws of gravity after getting hit on the head by an apple. The locals wanted me to describe my bathtub, my apple tree. They were a bit disappointed when I explained that I'd been working in computers for most of my life, and that it was normal to accept an interesting job in a celebrated high-tech city such as Grenoble. Soon after that, the company that had hired me changed its marketing strategy, and they no longer needed a senior technical writer. But I decided to stay on here, because I had grown fond of the wilderness. Then it was time for me to retire…

Meanwhile, I've acquired a certain reputation here in an unexpected domain. It's a domain in which I was utterly ignorant when I left Paris. In fact, I still wonder whether I really have any genuine credentials in this field, because it's not exactly my cup of tea. You see, I've acquired a reputation here as a specialist in the history of the ancient monastic vineyards of Choranche.

Retrospectively, I can see how this has happened, as the outcome of a well-defined series of small events. Often, they were chance events. When I bought the property at Gamone, for example, I had no idea that it had once been a vineyard. I only started to realize this when I found that the vaulted stone cellar was full of the debris of rotted wine vats and casks.

At the same time, I was intrigued by an intriguing juxtaposition of names that can be observed both in a map and in the local road signs. The neighborhood below Gamone is known as Choranche-les-Bains, where the term "bains" (baths) indicates that this place used to be a spa.

But, if you turn around at that spot, there's another sign, suggesting that this tiny neighborhood has a second name.

The Chartreux were members of an ancient monastic order inspired by the life of the medieval hermit Bruno [1030-1101], who has become one of my legendary heroes. [See my humble website concerning this personage.] These monks journeyed regularly to Choranche from their ancient monastery of Val Sainte-Marie at Bouvante, located 15 kilometers to the south of Choranche.

Soon after my arrival, local people informed me that this neighborhood of Choranche-les-Bains (midway between Gamone and the village of Choranche) had been transformed into a fashionable spa just about a century ago, when the health properties of the local mineral springs were advertised. Here's an old postcard of the main spa building:

Opposite the spa, a fine hotel, the Continental, was erected to provide accommodation and meals to the throngs of visitors who came here to relax in the cirque de Choranche (cirque, meaning circus: a geological term designating a bowl-shaped landscape surrounded by cliffs).

The popularity of Choranche-les-Bains ended just before World War II, but the spa building remains, today, in a perfect state, and is used as a holiday place for children.

The hotel building, too, is still there, but in a rather sad state.

The other day, I happened to be chatting about that epoch with my neighbor Georges Belle, shown here with Madeleine Repellin at our recent annual dinner for senior citizens of Choranche:

Georges recalls that, as a child, he used to see crowds of tourists getting out of buses to have lunch at the Continental in Choranche-les-Bains, which was a most fashionable watering-hole (as we might say today), in spite of the fact that there was no entertainment for visitors, not even a gambling casino. Today, Georges resides in the house that was built by the monks after their purchase of this domain back in 1543. (I've found the actual notarial record of this purchase in the archives at Valence.)

And what were the links between the popular spa of Choranche-les-Bains and the Chartreux monks, to the point that today's signposts carry the two names for this single neighborhood? It has been suggested that Chartreux monks at Choranche might have been interested in these mineral waters. Why not? After all, the Carthusians (as they are called) have been associated over the years—rightly or wrongly—with all kinds of scientific and technological endeavors, from metallurgy to pharmacology. So, why shouldn't they have moved into the neighborhood of Choranche-les-Bains, at an unspecified date in the ancient past, to investigate the interest of running a "spiritual spa", based upon monastic solitude? Nice idea… particularly the spiritual angle. But this explanation of the presence of the monks is false.

Let's get back to the red stuff, wine, upon which much of southern France has been turning for ages, with or without the crazy notion that this excellent beverage might be associated with the blood of an ancient and obscure miracle-man, in faraway Palestine, named Jesus of Nazareth. I soon found out that wine, not mineral springs, was the real reason why various monks had moved into the commune of Choranche, as long ago as the Middle Ages. Today, people still evoke the existence of a Mediterranean microclimate at Choranche, because the commune is surrounded by cliffs, which capture the warmth of the sun and act like a giant energy accumulator.

At that stage, I started to explore the in-depth history of wine-making at Choranche, using many kinds of resources, often of an unexpected nature. For example, a neighbor showed me this ancient oaken vat which she had found in a cellar alongside her house.

Above all, I learned that an old man named Gustave Rey [1910-2001] was actually born in my house at Gamone. I invited him along here, and we had a lengthy conversation (during which I took notes) about olden days at Choranche. Later, when I organized all this precious information, I had before me the fascinating history of the cunning ways in which the local folk had reacted to the calamity of the phylloxera invasion (a plant louse imported inadvertently from the USA), which destroyed the totality of French vineyards during the second half of the 19th century, reducing countless winegrowers to poverty.

I've evoked this subject in my blog because I've just completed an article on the history of the Choranche vineyards [in French, downloadable here] at the request of Les Cahiers du Peuil: a reputed historical journal published by the communes up on the Vercors.

Fine ancestors

On the Skyvington side, one of my direct ancestors in Dorset—my 5-times-great-grandmother—was Amelia Sevior [1756-1837]. Now this unusual surname is subjected to all kinds of spelling variations: Seviour, Sevier, Sevyer, Seeviour, Siveyer, Sivier, Sivyer, etc. I was intrigued by the fact that, in changing a single vowel, you end up with Savior or Saviour. Maybe I'd hit the genealogical jackpot: an ancestral line running back up to the distinguished family from Nazareth.

In fact, the Sevior surname is derived from the Old English word for a sieve. So, I surely had ancestors in the Middle Ages who worked as sieve-makers. That might explain why I'm fond of sieves: in the kitchen, of course, but also around the house, where a plasterer's sieve is an ideal tool for removing excess stones from typical Gamone soil.

Talking of sieves, look at these two portraits of the virgin queen of England, Elizabeth I.

The painting on the left [1579] is by George Gower, while that on the right [1583] is by Quentin Massys the Younger. In both portraits, the queen is holding a sieve in her left hand. Apparently this is a literary allusion to Tuccia, a vestal virgin in a story by Petrarch [1304-1374]. Tuccia succeeded in carrying water from the Tiber in a sieve, and this was thought of as proof of her purity and chastity.

In my native land, prospectors use sieves in their search for precious stones such as sapphires.

Now, you're surely wondering whether I've inherited any wonderful old medieval sieves from my Dorset ancestors. Well, no, I haven't. Neither sieves nor gems of any kind.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I'm told that Françoise drops in on my blog from time to time. So, I'm sure she'll be happy to see this fine photo of her mother and their dog Vriska, taken this afternoon.

For the moment, the relationship between Fitzroy and Vriska is—let's say—undefined. In his usual cattle-dog style, Fitzroy attempts to challenge the visitor (held firmly on a chain by Madeleine) by circling her and snipping at Vriska's rear legs from time to time.

Fitzroy behaves like that with Moshé. In fact, he's not nearly as courageous as he makes himself out to be. The donkey only has to move towards Fitzroy in a threatening manner, and the dog darts for protection on the other side of the electric fence. I'm reminded of a story concerning a splendid Border Collie named Looky (no longer alive today) who once came down here from Presles to meet up with Sophia and father her pups (including Christine's lovely dog Gamone). Well, Looky was a professional sheep dog, and he couldn't resist the urge to round up every group of living creatures in his vicinity, including the family's hens. Now the hens weren't necessarily happy with the idea of being rounded up by a dog. The owner's wife told me that, if ever a hen looked as if it might peck the annoying dog, Looky would scramble to safety like a terrified child. Fitzroy, too, is a speedy runner.

Fitzroyalty update

Sophia had grown accustomed to a pair of pillows in her wicker basket. It had been an idea of my daughter Emmanuelle. But Fitzroy believes that pillows are not for sleeping on; they're for tearing apart.

Here's a photo of Fitzroy playing with a doormat, taken from a first-floor window:

Did I say "playing"? Here's what the doormat looked like this afternoon:

Fortunately, Fitzroy lives outside, day and night. By now, he has destroyed almost everything that was offering. So, I'm hoping that things will improve from now on. The relationship between the two dogs is excellent.

Fitzroy is constantly challenging Sophia to jousting competitions, but Sophia's weight and size advantage mean that she's always in control of the situation. Meanwhile, Fitzroy tries out every combat strategy he can imagine, and only stops his jousting when he's exhausted.