Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Modern Robin Hood

In a world in which most so-called "pollies" (Aussie term for politicians) are in the business for personal grabs, it's fabulous to find a fellow such as Julian Assange who, operating on a shoestring budget, has built a planetary reputation as a righter of wrongs. The following photo is amusing in that Assange seems to be presenting slides while wearing tinted glasses, no doubt to protect his eyes from the harsh lights. The final effect is to give him the sinister appearance of an evil personage from a James Bond movie.

I call this compatriot a 21st-century Robin Hood. Obviously, he's living dangerously, for the high sheriff of Nottingham and his ilk (not his elk, please) are assembling all their bloodhounds, and they're determined to run down Julian and string him up from the bough of a giant oak in the forest.

Meanwhile, I'm making an effort to actually browse through some of the more meaty US cables. Jeez, there's a lot of egg on a lot of faces. The so-called US diplomats imagined that they were eternally immune from eavesdroppers who might record some of their crappy communications. Hillary Clinton, of course, is furious. But so are many of the little guys. It's funny (but nevertheless disgusting, as I said yesterday) that the most bloodthirsty pursuer of our Robin Hood is none other than his fellow Aussie Robert McCelland. I would imagine that it makes the attorney-general feel important on the world stage to express indignantly his condemnation of WikiLeaks and Assange, while knowing full well that he's totally incapable of catching up with, and overpowering, a young guy who's obviously playing in a bigger ballpark than McCelland, with much more in the way of brainpower, technological resources and universal empathy. On the other hand, we're starting to hear absurd comparisons between WikiLeaks and such-and-such a terrorist attack. Soon—if it hasn't happened already—certain dickheads will start referring to this courageous and dynamic young Australian, forced to lead a clandestine existence, as "Osama bin Assange". I prefer Robin Hood.

BREAKING NEWS: China has blocked access to WikiLeaks [display], ostensibly because it "does not wish to see any disturbance in China-US relations". Consequently, WikiLeaks will join a blacklist that already includes YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Observing China's rapid reaction to the Robin Hood threat, Australia, so fond of the concept of censorship, will surely be green with envy.

People and places named Berkeley

When I visited London for the first time, in 1962, I had an account with an Australian bank whose offices were located on Berkeley Square, an elegant tree-shaded corner of Westminster.

At that time, I had no reason to be interested in the fact—if I had known it—that this square used to be the London address of an ancient family named Berkeley whose castle was located over in Gloucestershire, to the north of Bristol.

This was not the first time I had encountered the name Berkeley. As a philosophy student in Australia, I had been greatly intrigued by the weirdly imaginative ideas of the Anglo-Irish bishop George Berkeley [1685-1753].

He suggested that material objects might not really exist such as we commonly envisage them. When we perceive the presence of such an object, our perceptions of it are indeed quite real, but they don't necessarily prove that there exists, behind these perceptions, a material object that is constantly present, even when it's not being perceived. This way of looking at things raises a problem. If an object only exists when it is being perceived, then what becomes of it as soon as it is no longer being perceived? Imagine a tree in the forest. Does it cease to exist when it's no longer perceived, and then come back into existence as soon as there's somebody to perceive it once again? That doesn't sound like a very reassuring explanation of existence, to say the least. Berkeley appealed to magic to extricate himself from this puzzling situation. He suggested that the tree never really ceases to exist at any instant, no matter whether or not a human viewer is looking at it, since God is on hand permanently to perceive it. Funnily enough, in spite of the weird nature of Berkeley's theory, it receives an echo in modern physics, where commonsense notions of matter have been replaced by abstract constructs. As Bertrand Russell once said about matter: "I should define it as what satisfies the equations of physics."

George Berkeley (who wasn't yet a bishop) spent a few years in America, and he happens to be the author of a celebrated line of poetry: Westward the course of empire takes its way. These words inspired the famous mural painting by Emanuel Leutze representing the arrival of European Americans on the shores of the Pacific.

These words were also the reason why the name of the poet George Berkeley was given to the future university city in California.

It is said that George Berkeley was in fact a descendant of the above-mentioned ancient family from Gloucestershire. This idea amuses me greatly, for I too am a descendant of those folk. The patriarch of that family, Maurice Berkeley [1218-1281], married Isabel de Douvres, daughter of the Fitzroy chap—designated in the following chart as Richard Chilham, a bastard son of King John—after whom I have named my young Border Collie dog.

My findings in this ancient family-history domain are relatively recent (dating from the second half of 2009), and there are still many loose ends that I haven't got around to exploring. Among these loose ends, there have been these two men named Berkeley. I now realize that I shall only have to "plug myself into" the rich and well-documented history of the Berkeley family, and I shall surely be able to enhance rapidly and considerably my existing research results.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Should we listen to Landis?

Since Floyd Landis lied resolutely for four years about his involvement in dope, should we suddenly believe him today when he alleges that other cyclists were fueled by chemical products? When asked this obvious rhetorical question, Landis himself says, somewhat curiously, that he no longer really cares whether people believe him or not.

After seeing a revealing interview on French TV yesterday, I would say that, in my opinion, there's maybe a 20% chance that he's providing the sporting world with explosive facts, and four chances out of five that he's a sick nut case. But, whatever the likelihood of their turning out to be fables (which might never be proved or disproved), his allegations are so enormous that it's hardly surprising that they're being followed up earnestly, particularly in the context of Lance Armstrong, by US dope authorities.

Some of the tales told by Landis have a surrealist flavor, like events in a poorly-conceived script for a crime movie. For example, he explained that blood for later transfusions was collected from riders before the start of the Tour de France, and then stored in Floyd's refrigerator at his country house in Spain. He claimed that the only danger was, not so much the possibility of an intruder discovering all this blood in the kitchen, but rather an electricity outage. Then there's his description of what would happen in the team's bus prior to the start of a race.

Now, I've often observed at close range the huge buses used by professional cycling teams, parked in an enclosure near the starting line of a stage. It's a fact that such a vehicle—with smoked-glass windows and drawn curtains—looks like an opaque impenetrable fortress: the mobile out-of-bounds territory of a foreign embassy, with guards at the door. The scene described by Landis, evoking a military hospital, is truly grotesque. All nine members of the team would sit down and receive a transfusion, lasting a quarter of an hour, of their own blood. This vision of nine athletes, lounging simultaneously on reclining chairs while blood is dripping into their bodies from suspended plastic bags, is quite nightmarish. Landis, retrospectively, considers that this was business as usual. "It was routine, there was no debate to be made, we all knew we would do it. It was part of the job, it was a trivial thing." Frankly, I'm less inclined than ever to imagine that scene as real.

Later on in the interview, Landis makes huge accusations concerning specific individuals. "In the peloton, everyone knows that Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen and other leaders of the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] protected some riders and not others during the past 20 years. It was their way of manipulating and creating stars."

We used to see photos of Floyd Landis in the context of his Pennsylvania village of Farmersville, comprised of 200 God-fearing souls who practised the archaic Mennonite religion.

Many observers would say that the religious upbringing of Floyd Landis could not possibly have anything to do with his subsequent behavior in the world of professional cycling.

Others would claim that this upbringing would have normally instilled in him a respect for moral principles and righteousness. My own opinions on communities of this kind (about which I know little) are that there are loose screws somewhere along the line, and that you never know what might happen.

For example, there's a custom known as Rumspringa, concerning Amish and Mennonite youths, which might be described roughly as "fucking around for a few years while you're deciding what to do next, prior to making up your mind about whether you should calm down and enter the fold". In theory, it's not a bad idea… but the effectiveness of this technique depends on how far you run amok, for how long, and with what possibly disastrous consequences. I've often wondered whether Floyd Landis might have descended into a protracted state of Rumspringa, from which he doesn't know how to emerge.

Amazing Australian

The Western world is buzzing, embarrassed diplomats have been doing a lot of rapid late-night reading on their computer screens, and US authorities are pooping in their pants with discomfort if not fear, as WikiLeaks releases a quarter of a million US diplomatic "cables". Yesterday, five of the world's most prestigious newspapers started to reproduce data provided by WikiLeaks: The New York Times, Le Monde (France), The Guardian (UK), El Pais (Spain) and Der Spiegel (Germany).

Click the following banner to access the Guardian's coverage, which is particularly thorough. An amusing slide-show presents pithy opinions expressed by US diplomacy on assorted world leaders [display]. As for the French daily Le Monde, it has published a solemn declaration outlining the reasons why they've reproduced the WikiLeaks files.


The founder of WikiLeaks is a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, born in Townsville, described by Le Monde as "an apostle of integral transparency". As a fellow-Australian, I am disgusted by our government's reactions concerning this amazing investigator and courageous citizen of the world, who is somewhere in Europe at the present moment. Aussie police have been told to consider him in a criminal perspective, which means that he could be thrown into prison if he made the unlikely mistake of setting foot in his native land. As unbelievable as it sounds, Aussie immigration assholes have even evoked the idea of canceling Assange's passport! How's that for the fundamental principle of being protected by one's mother country? Meanwhile, read this interesting short paper about Julian's 20-year-old son Daniel Assange [display].

BREAKING NEWS: Almost everything about censorship that I've seen emerging from Australia in recent years is troubling, as if the country is becoming somewhat paranoiac. Here's a short article [display] that evokes an ugly blend of Internet censorship and anti-WikiLeaks McCarthyism. Jeez, I wouldn't be too reassured about basic human liberties if I were obliged to reside today in my native land. In any case, I'm relieved to have a French passport. The amazing thing about the WikiLeaks affair is that the US diplomatic cables apparently reveal fuck-all in the way of serious secrets affecting Australia. So, the Aussie government has got all excited merely because the USA has obviously encouraged (ordered) them to pursue WikiLeaks… maybe because of the nationality of Assange. It's a deplorable lapdog situation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is religion a force for good in the world?

The Toronto organizers of this debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens had no trouble selling their 2,700 tickets, which seems to prove that questions of faith versus godliness are a popular topic today. Indeed, the Guardian article reveals that tickets were grabbed up weeks ago, and were recently being sold for several times their cost price on eBay.

[Click the photo to access the Guardian article.]

A poll conducted upon people emerging from the hall where the debate had taken place suggested that the cancer-stricken author of the atheist best-seller God is Not Great was more convincing than the former UK prime minister, who argued in a wishy-washy style.

While I quite like the general idea of public debates of this kind, I prefer personally to snuggle down in front of my fireplace and simply read the relevant books by Dawkins, Hitchens and others. The truth of the matter is that the absurdity of religious beliefs is an outcome of objective thinking based upon science, logic and reason in general. So, to my mind, there can no longer be any debate… because science, logic and reason have ceased to be debatable questions. So, the only imaginable pleasure I can derive from a debate of this kind consists of watching the religious guy get tangled up in his words, and make a fool of himself. But, in that case, I prefer to watch an outright comic sketch. I soon get bored and annoyed by the spectacle of self-righteous and pompous brain-damaged believers sermonizing fuzzily about their immaculate faith. Worse, if the organizers of such a debate can usually succeed in roping in a lukewarm charismatic Christian to represent the believers, it remains practically unthinkable that a genuine debate of this kind could involve a Jewish or a Muslim representative.

Today, we can still witness all kinds of old-fashioned half-baked antics designed to give the impression that hordes of intelligent youth are enthusiastic advocates of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. But it's highly unlikely, if not unthinkable, that an articulate writer and speaker such as Dawkins or Hitchens could emerge in modern society as a popular spokesman for religious thinking. That would be like imagining that jet aircraft could be confronted by a spectacular new kind of hot-air balloon. It just ain't thinkable. So, why bother wasting time debating with lesser individuals about whether or not miraculous things could come to pass today? If my attitude sounds elitist, well, yes, it is. I belong to the vast elite of humans whose thinking is based exclusively upon science, logic and reason... and I no longer suffer fools gladly.

Kindling carrier

The firewood that my neighbor Jean Magnat recently delivered, which I've just stacked up, is yellowish acacia. It comes with a lot of loose bark, which is good for kindling. Fitzroy is fond of this bark, and he spends a lot of time (often at dawn) going around to the back of the house, selecting a piece of acacia bark, and then bringing it to the lawn in front of the house, which is now adorned with an assortment of bark fragments (alongside the other rubbish he deposits there).

Up until now, this habit of Fitzroy has annoyed me a little, but I don't see how I might let him know that I'm not happy. After all, he even sees me going around to the back of the house, from time to time, and bringing back wood for the fireplace. So, he might imagine that he's simply imitating the Master (that's me).

Well, I've decided that the best approach is to pick up the kindling bark left there by Fitzroy, and put it into a wicker basket in the living room, ready to be used. I seem to recall that people used to refer to this kind of wise collaborative approach by an adage: If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. I should be happy—n'est-ce pas ?—to own an intelligent dog that carries kindling wood to the house. But I draw the line at picking up banana skins and oyster shells dragged out of the compost heap. On the other hand, I think I should look into the idea of investing in a sealed compost box, which not even Fitzroy should be able to break into.

Tea

Over the years, I've acquired a taste for jasmin-flavored tea. I try to remember, on the rare occasions when I happen to be shopping in a big city (such as Valence), to buy this expensive product in a teashop. Meanwhile, I buy tea bags of jasmin tea in the supermarkets. But they often seem to run out of this stuff. Maybe jasmin is becoming a rare commodity in the industrial world. Yesterday, frustrated by the total absence of any variety of jasmin tea at the local supermarket, I came upon the shelves that propose products in the category known as "commerce équitable" (fair trade). Besides, their teas are certified as "agriculture biologique" (organic farming).

I immediately bought two of the most exotic specimens I could find, flavored with bergamot, hibiscus and ginger. OK, it's not jasmin tea, and I don't know whether I'm simply a sucker for pretty packaging… but these varieties of tea are quite delicious.

Nocturnal disturbance at Gamone

Once Fitzroy beds down for the night in his luxurious kennel, on a thick wad of sweet-smelling straw, he seems to sleep soundly. A couple of nights ago, exceptionally, he started to bark furiously around two o'clock in the morning. I opened the kitchen door so that Sophia could investigate. She has the advantage of seeing in the dark (I don't know how), whereas Fitzroy hasn't yet mastered that art. As for me, I looked around with a powerful flashlight, but I was unable to figure out what had woken up and disturbed Fitzroy.

The next morning, the two dogs were both in an aroused state, and barked frequently, as if a foreign presence were disturbing them.

I thought it might be the visiting pheasant, which I hadn't sighted for a couple of days. Or maybe it was a fox that had captured the pheasant. On the other hand, the direction of Sophia's muzzle suggested that the foreign presence might be located on the far side of Gamone Creek. Sure enough, I soon sighted a large roe deer. I even had time to race upstairs, fetch my Nikon, install a long-focus lens and take a couple of photos of the animal before it disappeared into the thicket.

For dogs, the scent of such an animal would seem to be both intense and alarming.

No sooner had I written the word "alarming" in the last sentence than I realized that it was quite stupid. But I won't remove it. My awareness of my mistaken use of this word illustrates the regular progress I'm making in becoming more and more naturally adapted to the evolutionary thinking of Richard Dawkins. The dogs are aroused by the scent of the deer for the simple reason that some of their archaic genes are screaming out (if genes can be thought of as capable of screaming) that the dogs should race out, attack this animal, kill it and eat its flesh. Wolves that reacted like that when they picked up the scent of deers ended up getting a good feed and surviving. On the other hand, wolves that didn't happen to get upset by the scent of deers were likely to starve, and die out instead of procreating. In other words, when little Fitzroy gets all adrenalized in the middle of the dark night, it's because his wolf genes are trying to persuade him that he should go out and capture a wild beast, to satisfy his hunger. But, insofar as Fitzroy's belly is already full of pasta and croquettes, his little dog's mind is puzzled about the logic of the signals being received from his muzzle and his archaic wolf genes. Ah, life is not necessarily easy when your closest ancestors were wild hungry wolves. It's easier for us humans because it's quite a long time since we dropped the habit of racing after deers in the middle of the night… if ever we behaved in such a way.

Once upon a time, I used to wonder how I might react if a glorious female creature were to sneak quietly into my bed while I was sound asleep, dreaming of Grecian nymphs. Would the powerful waves emitted by her presence react upon my archaic primate genes in such a way as to interrupt abruptly my snoring, and wake me up? Maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn't. To be perfectly honest, I've never had an opportunity of testing the experimental scenario I've just outlined. In any case, I'm sure as hell that I wouldn't start to bark or howl or race around crazily in the dark night. So, which of us males is better off, Fitzroy or me? It's hard to say...

BREAKING NEWS: Once again, at 2 o'clock in the middle of the night, Fitzroy spent half-an-hour barking. This morning, during our ritual walk up the road, the two dogs went out of their way to investigate scents in Gamone Creek up at the level of Bob's place, but without digging up anything. I've just been chatting with a hunter who strolled by with his dog, in the role of the advance scout (without a gun). He confirmed that there's a wild boar hiding in the creek up there, and that they plan to root him out later on in the day. So, we're promised a Wild West afternoon at Gamone, with gunshots, shouting and men and beasts scrambling down the slopes. I've often thought that what we need here at Choranche, particularly in the hunting season, is an elected sheriff. Meanwhile, with a wild boar in the neighborhood, the temporary winners are the roe deers and pheasants, which are considered by the hunters as relatively uninteresting small fry. Confronted by a terrified cornered boar, a hound can get its belly ripped open by the tusks of the beast. (Sophia and Fitzroy would scamper to safety before any such encounter.) The hunters no doubt appreciate this dimension of risk, and the aroma of blood. To my mind, it evokes bull-fighting accidents such as when a picador's horse is gored.

Friday, November 26, 2010

King's anus

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that many generations of French kids have been inspired by charming tales about the anus of Louis XIV [1638-1715]… but it's almost true.

All the monarch's bodily functions such as urination and defecation were analyzed assiduously at close range by a privileged group of male and female members of the royal court, invited into his bedchamber, because it was generally considered that these banal activities were an essential dimension of the king's overall existence and well-being. And who would deny that?

Last Wednesday evening, the excellent TV series on French history and heritage named Les racines et les ailes [Roots and wings] talked at length about the health problems that beset the great monarch. His most serious disorder was an anal fistula, in 1686, when surgery as we know it today did not yet exist. [I'll let you use Google to access descriptions and color images of this painful affliction.] A brilliant young physician, Charles-François Félix, invented an ingenious instrument that enabled him to perform a successful surgical operation upon the monarch's rear end. Since then, if this medical act has been revered in French history, it's because it marked the turning point at which the middle-aged monarch was truly transformed into the resplendent personage to be known, from then on, as the Sun King. Besides, it's not hard to imagine why it might have been difficult at times for the king, before this operation, to adopt majestic airs and strut around in a relaxed regal manner.

For a long time, I've been aware of the basic facts that I've just described. But the rest of Wednesday evening's story on French TV was totally new information. A curator of the museum at the faculty of medicine where the above-mentioned surgical instrument was housed informed us that a French Baroque composer—probably either Jean-Baptiste Lully or Marc-Antoine Charpentier—promptly wrote a Te Deum to thank God for the monarch's spectacular recovery from his anal fistula, and that the theme of this hymn of praise was Dieu Sauve le Roi, which translates into English as God Save the King. And here is a rendition of that French hymn dedicated to Louis XIV (it's lengthy and boring, so stop it after you've heard a few bars):



Apparently, when this hymn was first performed in front of the Sun King, sung by a choir of nuns, it was overheard by an English visitor, who copied down the music and the theme of the lyrics, took them back to his homeland on the other side of the English Channel, and offered them to his monarch: one of the early Hanoverian Georges. In other words, you can forget what we were told at school about the creation of God Save the King in the middle of the 18th century. Our dear English national anthem would appear to be nothing more than a remake of French vocal music composed in the 17th century to celebrate a surgical intervention on the asshole of Louis XIV! Now, this explanation relayed by national French TV may or may not be true. Some experts claim that it's a hoax story perpetrated by a French forger who published the fake memoirs of the Marquise de Créquy.

Be that as it may, while investigating this strange affair over the last 24 hours or so, I've unearthed an astonishing fact. But, in order to fully understand what I'm about to reveal, I urge you to do what I suggested a moment ago: use Google to display a few really ugly photos of anal fistulas. If you do this, you'll understand what I mean when I say that the infected backside of the king Louis XIV in 1686 presented a horrible vision that can be described in medical Latin as an anus horribilis. Now, let us jump forward to the great fire at Windsor Castle in 1992.

It goes without saying that our gracious queen Elizabeth II has a vast and profound grasp of all aspects of the history of European royalty. Aware of the French origins of God Save the Queen, she knows the gruesome details of the painful abscess on the butt of Louis XIV, and she has no doubt had an opportunity of examining photos of anal fistulas. So, when she looked back upon the terrible fire at Windsor, it was not unusual that her words should evoke the ugly image of the suffering French monarch: "1992 is not a year I shall look back on with undiluted pleasure. It has turned out to be an anus horribilis." She was simply using the royal metaphor of the Sun King's nasty affliction to say that 1992 had been an ugly asshole year. Unfortunately, a member of the queen's cabinet, considering that her language was a little too colorful, changed the official press dispatches (by inserting an extra 'n' in 'anus', transforming it into the Latin word for 'year') so that it looked as if the queen wasn't even referring to the horrible asshole of her royal forerunner in France. Apparently Elizabeth II was furious when she learned that she had been censored. I'll let you guess the expression she used to describe the chap who did the censoring.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stacking up firewood

In my article of 29 October 2010 entitled Fitzroyal happenings [display], I included a photo of the big heap of firewood that I had I just received. Since then, I've started to stack it up under a corner of the roof of the house, so that it will start to dry out.

Moving the wood over an average distance of four or five meters is always a tedious and tiring task, which I often carry out by tossing each piece. This afternoon, I was pleased to discover that the job can be performed easily and tirelessly with the help of a hand truck… referred to in French, curiously, as a diable (devil).

I purchased this simple device back in Paris, just before leaving for the Dauphiné in 1993. I remember a mate at the Cactus bar (in the rue des Archives) looking at me with astonishment, as I wheeled it back from the BHV department store alongside the Paris city hall. "William, you're not expected to actually purchase that kind of device. You're supposed to find a friend who can lend you one." Fair enough, I explained, but I would need it when I reached the provinces with my belongings. My mate explained that, normally, you even have the right to forget to return the borrowed diable to its rightful owner… who would then be obliged, when he next needed such a tool, to borrow one from another friend. And so on. It's a fact that certain kinds of objects (particularly tools) move around between members of a community in that fashion. Books, too, often behave like that.

Here in the country, people rarely borrow things from neighbors. The only unexpected case I can remember is that of a friend who dropped in one day and told me that he had broken his glasses, which made it difficult for him to drive his car. "Would you happen to have a spare pair of glasses that I could borrow, William?" I did, in fact: old glasses that no longer corresponded to the current state of my eyesight. He tried on a pair, and was delighted. Afterwards, for years, I was happy to see that this friend carried on wearing my old pair of glasses.

Long ago, when I was still in Paris, a brother-in-law dropped in and had an unexpected opportunity of meeting up with my most recent lady friend, who was about to catch a train for the provinces. My brother-in-law was kind enough to suggest that he could accompany my lady friend to the train station. As things turned out, he "borrowed" her like a diable, and ended up accompanying her in the train to her provincial town. I never saw her again. So, I had to find myself new lady friends. Back in those carefree days, in Paris, life could be like that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stolen computers of Parisian journalists

Recently, there has been a spate of cases of Parisian journalists having their computers stolen in mysterious circumstances. It's all the more alarming in that the victims are generally engaged in writing about the world of politics.

Now, it goes without saying that this world of politics is so noble and free of malice that it's hard to imagine why on earth any political figure would stoop so low as to deprive a journalist deliberately of one of his everyday tools of trade.

It so happens that I'm working at present on a powerful iPhone app that should normally make the theft of computers a Thing of the Past. To be called Crook Zapper, my app will necessitate the insertion of a tiny element of vicious hardware alongside your built-in webcam (located just above the screen of an iMac). As soon as an iMac is removed unlawfully, the owner merely uses his iPhone (assuming that it has not been stolen also) to activate the Crook Zapper system, which then operates automatically in a series of several well-defined steps.

— First, the webcam takes photos of the thief and sends them back to the iPhone of the rightful owner of the stolen iMac.

— Next, the Crook Zapper app uses a straightforward GPS technique to determine the exact geographical location of the stolen iMac, and this information is promptly forwarded to the rightful owner.

— Finally, the third step necessitates an OK that can only be delivered by the iPhone of the rightful owner. You'll forgive me if I don't provide you with an exact technical description of the ensuing events, because my invention needs to be protected. Basically, the tiny hardware device installed alongside the iMac's built-in webcam uses an artificial intelligence approach to focus upon a spot between the thief's eyes, whereupon it fires what might be described as an offensive nanodart, which is so small that its point of impact could not be seen (in a mirror) by any part of the thief's visual system that might have survived intact… if you see what I mean. All that remains is for the Crook Zapper app to send a "mission accomplished" message to the rightful owner… who can then accompany police and an ambulance vehicle to the place where the brave iMac is waiting to be retrieved.

Will Steve Jobs accept my Crook Zapper app when it's finished and tested, and market it through iTunes? I can't imagine why not.

Good news in Benedict's book

The book entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Sign of the Times (what a heavy-handed and uninspired title, no doubt due to the German language in which it was produced) is coming out today.

I don't intend to purchase it, but I've been reading excerpts in the French and British press, and I must say that some of Ratzinger's words are encouraging. I like particularly his candid remarks about the church being constantly under attack, and the idea of his resigning from the papacy. He is quoted as saying: "When the danger is great you should not run away. That's why […] it is certainly not the time to retire. You can resign in a moment of peace or when you can no longer carry on but you must not run away from danger. If a pope comes to realize that he is no longer capable physically, psychologically and spiritually of continuing in office, then he has the right, the obligation, to resign."

If only the pressure on the Vatican were so intense that it finally drove Benny up the wall and forced him to back down (for personal reasons), his resignation would be a great victory for enlightened humanity in our combat against the archaic forces of religious obscurity. So, it's our duty to try to discourage and exhaust him morally—day in, day out—until the holy chief of the church is as worn out and useless as a holey condom.

Keep up the prayer pressure!

Tonight's the big night on TV for the lovely Palin family. US voters, with the help of our prayers, will elevate Bristol (on the right in the following photo) to the status she deserves: one of the most brilliant dancers in the world.

So, for Christ's sake, keep up the prayer pressure, even if it hurts you… which is healthy suffering when you're doing it for a Good Cause. If only Bristol can get over this dancing hurdle (which isn't impossible for such an athletic artist), Sarah's chances of winning the presidency will be multiplied like loaves and fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And the Republican voters of the United States of America will get the fucking leader they deserve. A great tidal wave of clarity would envelop the land, and lots of things would then fall or float into place.

BREAKING NEWS: Admittedly, glorious Bristol only finished Dancing with the stars in third place.

But the big news is that she has mentioned explicitly the major role played by prayer in Monday night's finale. "It is faith that got me through this and just praying all the time and just relying on God and knowing that He is on our side and we'll get through this." What better proof could we imagine? Clearly, God exists. He loves beautiful Bristol, and He's fond of dancing in general, and dancing competitions in particular. This implies—for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear—that He's also keen on the idea that Bristol's lovely mother is destined to rise, as it is written, to the highest imaginable level in the US political sphere. Holy shit! Hallelujah!

Kate Middleton's future dad-in-law

These 18 photos are most revealing. What a great pity that the chances of Charles ever becoming king are evaporating like morning mists when the sun rises over Loch Ness.

Rear view of Fitzroy

This has become a frequent view of Fitzroy. You see, I place his food dish just inside the door of his kennel, in the front left corner. There are several advantages to this technique:

— The food won't get wet when it rains.

Sophia will be less tempted to gulp down Fitzroy's food (in the wink of a dog's eye) when she just happens to be strolling around in the vicinity of his kennel. In other words, Sophia seems to realize that the interior of the kennel is definitely out of bounds for her, since it's Fitzroy's territory.

— In this position, with his head in the semi-darkness, Fitzroy is less likely to get distracted in the middle of his meal. In the outside world, he jumps constantly from one preoccupation to another. And, if he runs out of plausible preoccupations, he resorts to racing around furiously, like a greyhound, in a big figure-of-eight trail.

In any case, Fitzroy eats heartily, as expected: warmed-up pasta of a morning, and croquettes later on in the day.

His body is a solid mass of muscles. I realize that he's a very physical dog, who rarely calms down. In fact, the only time he's totally calm is when I pick him up of an evening, bring him into the living-room and let him lie on my knees in front of the fireplace (for ten minutes or so) while I'm watching TV. His presence at Gamone has brought me a lot of joy, and I'm convinced too that his nonstop jostling with Sophia, when she's outside for a walk, has done her a lot of good from a physical health viewpoint. She needs all that exercise. In a way, Fitzroy has become Sophia's aerobics instructor.

Recently, during our frequent walks up the road beyond the house, the dogs inevitably discover a large male ring-necked pheasant that beds down overnight in the weeds of Gamone. The bird only darts off when the dogs are right alongside him, and he flies rapidly in a straight line to the opposite side of the creek, making a weird clicking noise like a motor. Of an evening, the dogs start barking as soon as they pick up the scent of the pheasant who has returned to roost in his usual corner of the weeds. I'm starting to look upon this bird, reared to be shot by hunters, as a new member of our Gamone family. But I wouldn't bet on his lengthy survival.

Funny French website

This hilarious and expertly-engineered website proposes the Sarkophone: that's to say, a personalized version of Sarko's iPhone. And the amazing thing is that it seems to work like a real iPhone… except that you probably can't actually phone up anybody. The YouTube videos featuring Sarko and Berlusconi talking with the Romanian fellow are brilliant.

There is a new wave of reason

I often think back with embarrassment to the rubbish I lapped up, as a child, in the way of Anglican hymns. I realize retrospectively that I was totally brainwashed—maybe "earwashed" is a better word—in that I found them quite pleasant to listen to, and even sing. The most appalling specimen of all, I think, was a vulgar military march entitled Onward Christian soldiers! Richard Dawkins alludes to another nonsensical hymn in The Greatest Show on Earth:

When children sing, 'He made their glowing colours / He made their tiny wings', they are uttering a childishly obvious falsehood. Whatever else God does, he certainly doesn't make glowing colours and tiny wings. If he did anything at all, it would be to supervise the embryonic development of things, for example by splicing together sequences of genes that direct a process of automated development. Wings are not made, they grow—progressively from limb buds inside an egg.

A footnote by Dawkins amuses me, suggesting that we were members of similar congregations:

I have been warned that 'All things bright and beautiful' will not necessarily strike my readers as nostalgically as it does me.

Today, I quite like the sound of this new kind of hymn, where the great Dawkins has been transformed into a disco choirboy… by a process called auto-tuning.



I was pleased to see and hear Bertrand Russell appearing at the beginning and the end of this fine composition.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

He seems to be a starter

Certain observers expressed their conviction, today, that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has produced firm signals that he intends to be a presidential candidate in 2012. I hope so. I'm convinced that France needs the ideas, outlook and experience of this man.

Wine of a kind

In my post of October 2010 entitled History of wine at Choranche [display], I explained that I was working on an updated version of my article in French concerning the former vineyards of Choranche. An anecdote that I related in this article concerns my discovery, a few years ago, of a row of grapevines on the slopes just up behind my house. I collected leaves from one of the vines, and set about trying to determine the name of the grape variety.

My Macaire neighbors told me that my reemergent vines were surely a row of Herbemont planted over half-a-century ago by Hippolyte Gerin, seen here—with a nephew (wearing a cap) and a farm hand—in front of the house.

Now, Herbemont is a hybrid of the American species Vitis bourquiniana or maybe Vitis aestivalis (as opposed to authentic European wine-making grapes of the Vitis vinifera species), and it is one of the phylloxera-resistant plants imported into France from the USA towards the end of the 19th century as a means of recreating the devastated vineyards. The other varieties of American "grape weeds" (as I call them disparagingly) were Noah, Othello, Isabelle, Jacquez and Clinton. Well, a week or so ago, I received an email from a major French agricultural organization in charge of grape varieties, saying that they needed information about the Herbemont variety for their database. I had no idea that this variety had become rare in France. I was embarrassed to have to admit that all I could offer them, for the moment, were my samples of dried Herbemont leaves and my notes concerning this variety. As I explained, the Herbemont vines at Gamone are located in my donkey paddock, and I have every reason to suppose that the animals, in spring, appreciate fresh grapevines emerging from the soil. In any case, I promised the fellow who contacted me that I would erect a fence around the row of Herbemont vines, to protect them from the donkeys. So, he plans to get back in contact with me next summer, in the hope that there'll be some actual specimens of grapes.

As I explain in my article on the vineyards of Choranche, the six above-mentioned varieties of American "grape weeds" (Vitis americana as I call them) were meant to be used in France as phylloxera-resistant rootstocks for the grafting of the vulnerable European grape varieties. In Choranche, alas, some farmers didn't bother grafting anything whatsoever onto the Vitis americana plants. They simply picked the American grapes and made wine with them! Somebody once said, about the beverage called Canada Dry: "It looks like whiskey, and it tastes like whiskey… but it just ain't whiskey." One could make a similar criticism about wine made from the six US varieties of Vitis. But the peasants whose lives had been ruined by the phylloxera pandemic were content to discover that this easily-made liquor inebriated them to such an extent that they tended to forget their misery.

I should point out that, today, all the six above-mentioned varieties of the notorious American "grape weeds" are strictly banned by European wine authorities, and apparently banned also, now, even in Texas, where a few quaint old-style vineyards were experimenting with them a few years ago. It's not merely a matter of their giving rise to poor-quality wine. The particular kinds of alcohol produced by pressing and fermenting Vitis americana grapes are toxic.

Following my email correspondence with the fellow who was interested in Herbemont, I dropped in on a retired farmer and amateur wine-producer on the edge of the nearby village of St-Jean-en-Royans, to see if he was aware that living specimens of the old American "grape weeds" had apparently become collectors' items. We got involved in an interesting discussion on this theme. Basically, he claimed that the European wine authorities have surely made a mistake in denigrating the wine produced from Vitis americana. If it really poisoned drinkers, and damaged their brains, then how come that most of the local farmers seem to have survived? It goes without saying that I wouldn't dare attempt to answer such a question…

One thing led to another, and my farmer friend said: "It so happens that I've got a small stock of rich-red Clinton that I produced a month or so ago. Would you like to taste it?" I could hardly chicken out, as if I were a scared chemist working for the European Union. In view of its young age, the fruity product could have been confused with Beaujolais Nouveau. I limited myself to a single glass, and I seem to have survived with most of my brain and senses intact.

There's a funny twist to this whole story about the wine of Choranche and the neighboring region. The authentic old wine that existed up until the phylloxera invasion had an excellent reputation, particularly since it was used as the standard house wine in all the French pilgrim taverns (equivalent to our modern hotels) operated by the Chartreux monks. Today, it is impossible to say whether this Choranche wine was really as good as it was made out to be, because so many factors have changed completely in the wine industry since that epoch. Maybe people said it was excellent wine merely because they'd never had many opportunities of comparing it with other French wines. The toxic beverages produced more recently from the Vitis americana rootstocks have also acquired a good reputation among local farmers, and I'm starting to understand why. Essentially, it's because the local toxic "wine" doesn't taste like any other genuine wine you've ever encountered (for the simple reason that it isn't really wine), and it no doubt puts the drinker into a rather special state. So, why wouldn't the local farmers have spread the rumor that the wines of Choranche are extraordinary? But the local people also state naively that the Noah variety "sends you mad". And so it probably does, in a clinical sense. So, as I say in my title, the Choranche product is best thought of as "wine of a kind".

Friday, November 19, 2010

Never been hugged

OK, I'm a frustrated outsider. How can I possibly lead a happy life when I've never been hugged by 57-year-old Mata Amritanandamayi, aka Amma, the Mahatma (honorific title once applied to Ghandi)?

[Click the photo to access a Wiki article.]

She was in France for a week in October, and it's said that she hugged 38,000 individuals. That's a massive amount of cuddling, and one hopes that the results justified such a mammoth grizzly act. And what exactly is the fallout that Amma seeks to produce by means of her powerful arms? Somebody said that she's a saint who's capable of fending off evil. That suits me fine as an explanation, because me, too, I've never liked evil, and anybody who's good at fending it off will get my votes all the time. But an underlying question remains to be answered. Is this lady truly good at fending off evil with her hugs?

In my article of 4 March 2010 entitled Autosuggestion [display], I spoke of the necessity of using a well-organized double-blind trial to settle questions of this nature. We would only need to gather together a few hundred subjects who feel that they're beset by some kind of evil. These days, that shouldn't be too hard, particularly since the global financial crisis. As I explained in the above-mentioned article, they would be split into an experimental group, who would be hugged by the authentic Mahatma, and a control group, who would be hugged by a plausible but inauthentic Indian guru of the following kind:

We must, of course, anticipate the possibility that various hot-blooded male subjects might be exhilarated by the placebo effect of being cuddled by the fake guru. These deluded individuals might be led to believe momentarily that the Devil had indeed abandoned them. But a statistical analysis would soon reveal where truth lies, and the outcome of this trial would surely cast light upon Amma's marvelous powers.

Amazing bicycle artist

The Scotsman Danny MacAskill looks like any ordinary cyclist... but, in fact, he's a quite extraordinary man on a bike.

He succeeds in riding his bike along unexpected trails that were surely never intended for cycling.



Sorry, kids, if your parents have just watched this video, and they now refuse to buy you a bike for your forthcoming holiday in Scotland.

Victims of bad water and sanitation

At a first rapid glance, this spectacular photo seems to depict a military cemetery, but it's probably simply a manufacturer's storage yard.

I found this image on the following website:

Now, it's my sister Anne who might not feel happy about the choice of this date, because it's her birthday. Be that as it may, the organizers of this celebration (?) have chosen the above photo to highlight the fact that—as they point out on their website—"the water and sanitation crisis has claimed more lives than all the wars of the 20th century". And this is no laughing matter… although they might have invented a more solemn name for their day. On the other hand, their chosen name and their photo certainly attract attention.

Hedgehog talk

I've always admired the cat of English animator Simon Tofield. I just came across this brilliant little specimen of hedgehog talk.



I love the way the cautious cat uses a single leaf to test the possibility that it could stick to a bristle on a hedgehog's back. The test is positive. So the cat performs a full-size operation. I have the impression that Simon's cat doesn't really respect that serious and talkative hedgehog.

Cinderella

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."


— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

In past ages, man and society needed gods and kings to put order into their existence. Then the 19th and 20th centuries gave us the illusion that these bastions of belief might be replaced effectively by warfare and capitalism. Today, objective and intelligent observers know (or should know) that it's time for all the antiquated stuff to give way to science and a healthy dose of socialism.

Suppose that it's true (as The Telegraph suggests) that the impending royal marriage will possibly cheer up the British people. Does a nation need to distribute that kind of expensive opium? Is it the purpose of a modern kingdom to offer its citizens fairy-tale illusions of what life might be like if they were princes and princesses? The case of a commoner such as Kate shocks me in that she's inevitably imagined as the lucky young lady who has won the super lottery. So, there's a constant hint of a dream that could come true. If Kate has managed to get the guy, then maybe there's a similar chance for ordinary folk such as yourselves. In donkey terms, it's a social carrot.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prayers are needed urgently

In the context that concerns me, the US TV competition Dancing with the Stars, several individuals need, if not deserve, our prayers. This creates a problem. I'm not sure where we should start our praying.

Personally, I decided to get into action this morning by starting to pray energetically and intensely for Bristol Palin, because logically she's the person who probably needs our prayers most of all. There she is, competing in a great nation-wide dancing competition, and she dances—as somebody said—like a dog. [I shouldn't repeat that, because my dogs Sophia and Fitzroy would surely be offended if they got around to reading my blog, since they dance quite expertly. They've never seen my blog up until now, but I must be careful. Somebody might give them an iPhone.]

I also intend to exploit at least 20 percent of my stock of prayers for Bristol's mother, Sarah Palin. She is surely devoting a huge proportion of her limited resources to the promotion of her daughter's dancing career. So, with assistance from Jesus, I feel we should all dig in to help Sarah. This brave little God-fearing woman is doing a great job to keep her lovely child dancing with the stars. And her actions are going to pay off one day when the Almighty finally decides that her time has come... to sit on the Savior's right hand as his personal US delegate on the planet Earth.

I now learn that there's another individual who needs our prayers urgently. I'm talking of a 67-year-old Wisconsin gentleman named Steven Cowan who apparently took out a shotgun and blasted his TV set as soon as Bristol Palin appeared on the dancing stage. My personal theory is that this passionate fan of Bristol was so emotionally aroused (maybe sexually stimulated) when he caught sight of his darling dancer that he immediately called upon the only tangible means at hand to vent his hot blood: his shotgun.

Lastly, if you happen to have a few prayers left over, you might use them for the dumb US viewers who apparently watch this shit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal rubbish

William is a docile blob, like his father. I find this photo hideous:

What a witch! That Kate Middleton commoner (I love to have an opportunity of slinging around that shitty term) is straight out of a Harry Potter remake. Her regard is no less topsy-turvy than her crazy hat. When I observe the physical features of this potential future queen, I fear that the kingdom is in danger. But what can you expect from the mad Windsors? I find it terribly sad that many of my Anglo-Saxon brethren still seem to take this royal farce seriously. What a fucking ridiculous phenomenon. It's high time that the British people as a (w)hole—I resisted the temptation of saying asshole—pulled its finger out. Why must this royal comedy endure?

Sadly, there are many ready answers to that rhetorical question:

• Hordes of dumb English-speaking folk, from one end of the planet to the other (including my native land), seem to get a kick out of watching the antics of these so-called Royals, as if they were exotic animals in a zoo (which they are, in fact).

• In a sociopolitical context, certain serious specialists would argue—for obscure obsolete reasons—that royalty is the best, if not ideal, solution to the challenge of national guidance.

• Many lazy apathetic bastards say: Why change something that has been working for ages?

• Certain powerful individuals say to detractors (well, they don't actually say it explicitly, but rather make it known): Hey, fuck off, old chap! The existence of royalty guarantees me my privileges.

• Countless individuals don't give a fuck.

Do you want to know what I think? Well, I reckon that the antiquated phenomenon of British royalty will soon fizzle out for reasons that are not evoked, in any way whatsoever, in the above arguments. They will disappear suddenly and mysteriously, almost overnight, like the dinosaurs many eons ago, or like the Soviet Union in 1991.

We should not waste our time and energy running in circles, screaming and shouting about the absurdity of British royalty. Things will change inevitably, no matter how much or how often we scream and shout. We should give Time its due time. And that limited time is written already in the ugly face of "Queen Kate".

Magic musical moment of torrid romance

On 19 November 2010, I changed slightly the content of this post so that it points to an operational copy of the video. The initial YouTube presentation of this masterpiece disappeared overnight.

Warning: If you have any underage children looking over your shoulder, shoo them away before playing the following sexy French video entitled Je t'aime, which can be translated into the language of Shakespeare as "I love you".

Maybe I should have warned you to turn down the volume before blasting your neighbors with that powerful suburban disco stuff.

These young artists apparently refer to themselves as Darkan and Demeter. These were the names, respectively, of a Celtic rock group and a Greek goddess. A French journalist referred to them by a quaint expression: a pair of gherkins.

Rich role

At first sight, this sounds a bit like a joke. A rich joke. In a future movie, the role of the aging French female billionaire Liliane Bettencourt would be played by the great male actor Jean Rochefort.

Superficially, I can't see how this could be done convincingly, since Madame Bettencourt has a protruding broad and short lower face like a Cro-Magnon, whereas Rochefort looks like a lean-faced British lord. But makeup (with Oréal products, of course) might do the trick in creating an illusion of similarity. Ever since James Cameron's Avatar, we know that anything is possible.

BREAKING NEWS: The French legal system has just announced that it intends to examine a request by Françoise Meyers-Bettencourt to have her mother placed in the care and supervision of a guardian. Jeez, I wish I had so much money that my daughter would seek to take out a court order preventing me from spending it on wine, women and song… or rather—as they say nowadays—on beer and sex and drugs and rock-and-roll. No, I'm joking. I prefer by far being penniless yet sufficiently lucid to have found a nasty way of describing (above) the lovely face of that nice old lady. It goes without saying that, if the future caretaker of Madame Oréal were to ask me to remove my Cro-Magnon remark, I would gladly do so immediately... without even insisting upon a small cash fee (which could be paid into my account out in Australia).

Eureka

Living all alone here at Gamone, I'm obviously concerned by the risk of stepping out of my shower and slipping like an idiot. So, I use a pile of bath mats. Besides, I refrain systematically from removing light bulbs by perching myself upon a swivel chair (like my dear departed grandfather Ernest, at the age of 93). I hardly need to add that, when I have great ideas (an almost daily occurrence), I never dart out of my non-existent bathtub shouting Eurêka like an idiot.

Really, you would have to be as dumb as an Ancient Greek to behave like that. Instead, dry as a bone, I pen calmly a blog post…

In a recent post [display], I complained about the fact that it's annoying to hear people claiming that their minds boggle when it's merely a matter of evoking phenomena that can be explained explicitly by science. But I added that I'm still awed by aspects of our real world, which I evoke from time to time in my Antipodes blog. To replace the worn-out boggle, I needed a verb capable of designating my regular blog-oriented attempts at evoking the awe of existence. The needed verb is bloggle. From now on, whenever you find me calling upon the writings of Richard Dawkins and his ilk (not elk) to clarify and celebrate our earthly existence, you'll understand that William's mind is simply bloggling.

French food

It's funny but understandable (indeed predictable) that Unesco should choose to honor French cooking by considering it as part of the cultural heritage of humanity. This morning, downing my humble breakfast (South American coffee, English muffins and French butter and jam), I felt as if I were eating inside a great museum. But I wonder why France was chosen… rather than, say, England.

I've always been impressed by Hogarth's depiction of a grossly overweight monk caressing simultaneously the hunk of beef and his own fat tummy, while salivating around his protruding tongue. Meanwhile, behind him, a priest is officiating at a burial: maybe (we wonder) that of an underfed laborer or child. Besides, the lean man clothed in white (like the priest at the burial), carrying the weighty beef, could surely do with a decent feed. Clearly, between the corpse being buried and the carcass being carried, the fat monk has made his spiritual choice.

Yesterday afternoon, I phoned Madeleine (as I often do) to inquire about a former inhabitant of Pont-en-Royans whose name had just been revealed to me, by chance, in the course of my conversation with another old-timer in a neighboring village. The man about whom I sought information had been a grocer in Pont-en-Royans, like Madeleine herself, for many years. So I figured that she would surely be able to supply me with some interesting facts. (Readers will have gathered, quite correctly, that my dear neighbor Madeleine is my living encyclopedia concerning the people of Pont-en-Royans.) Well, that's where my trivial anecdote takes on, as it were, a universal dimension. In a nutshell: How does somebody (like Madeleine) suddenly describe, in a few spontaneous words, a personage from the past who had probably almost disappeared from her everyday memory? Isn't this the ultimate challenge of human Memory (with a capital M)? What in fact do we recall immediately about an ordinary individual who was once alongside us, in flesh and blood? Personally, when I meditate upon this rhetorical question, I find myself in the same kind of situation as all those zealous well-intentioned Mormon researchers who seek data about ancient births, marriages and deaths in order to attribute entry passes to the Kingdom of Heaven. Except that there's nothing abstract in my operations, since I'm talking with real folk such as Madeleine and the above-mentioned old-timer, who were once in contact with the ghost.

Madeleine talked to me about food. French food. About a certain craving for good old-fashioned French food. Madeleine's grocer colleague was a certain Lucien. He was excessively fat, which was not necessarily an obstacle for a grocer. Madeleine, on the other hand, has always been rather slim. Well, Lucien and his wife Lucette happened to be strolling around in Pont-en-Royans on a Sunday afternoon when they decided to drop in on Madeleine, at home, just to say hello. A sort of contact between business colleagues, you might say. Now, it so happened that Madeleine had spent the morning cooking a delicious regional delicacy called bugnes (pronounced boon-yeuh), which earn the cook cholesterol-based Brownie points in Heaven.

You make a mixture of flour, yeast, eggs and sugar. Then you spread it out thin, cut it up into moon-shaped slices, and fry them in oil. Getting back to Madeleine, and the Sunday-afternoon visit of Lucien and Lucette, the bugnes were accompanied by hot chocolate, in fine cups.

The fat grocer Lucien devoured those bugnes with hot chocolate as if his survival as a mortal on the planet Earth might depend upon this subsistence. The summit of Madeleine's recollection of this Sunday-afternoon encounter was the moment of their separation.

LUCETTE: We really must get going, Madeleine. Thanks so much for those bugnes and the hot chocolate. Lucien and I hadn't intended to disturb you this afternoon.

LUCIEN: Yes, Lucette has to prepare dinner. Then the gluttonous grocer turned towards his wife Lucette. What do think, my dear, about a dish of fried sardines and turnips?

After all those bugnes and hot chocolate on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Pont-en-Royans, and the gastronomical promise of an evening meal of sardines and turnips for Lucien, Madeleine has remained a little disgusted (maybe a milder word would be appropriate) for the last half-century. Meanwhile, we are the champions of the world of food.