Monday, December 3, 2012

Hanging donkey shed of Gamone

A few days ago, I was woken up by a phone call from my neighbor Jackie, who informed me that the constant rain over the last week or so had finally resulted in a small landslide at the level of his donkey stable. And Jackie's car was blocked, meaning that his wife was unable to get to her teaching job. By the time I had dressed and made myself a cup of strong Ethiopian coffee, René Uzel had arrived on the scene with his mini-excavator.

By the end of the day, René had moved all the fallen rocks and mud to the other side of the road, onto my property. (During the morning, the mayor of Choranche had actually dropped in at my place, to ask for my permission for this operation.)

The donkey shed looked strange in its new setting. Jackie considers that the concrete floor of the shed has held it in place on the rim of the embankment.

[Click to enlarge]

But personally, I wouldn't bet on the shed remaining in that precarious position for too long. Meanwhile, this image of the donkey shed reminds me of the famous hanging houses of Pont-en-Royans, just down the road.

As far as I know, no building has ever slid off the cliff and fallen into the Bourne. In certain cases, it's hard to understand the static forces that hold the outhouses and balconies in place.

Maybe, in the future, the donkey shed at Gamone will still be settled on the brink of the embankment, and tourists will come to Gamone to take photos of the amazing structure.

POST SCRIPTUM: Jackie's donkey shed at Gamone was built about ten years ago by my former neighbor Bob. I often used to ask Bob whether he wasn't afraid that he had placed his construction at a fragile spot, close to the edge of the crumbling embankment. He would reply laughingly that it would take ages before all the stones beneath his shed dropped off. He was forgetting, of course, that the periodic fall of a few stones must be seen as evidence that an invisible aquatic process is in play, and that the inevitable outcome will be that loose stones and gravel, instead of merely dropping off, will start to slide.

In my two photos of the naked embankment, you might be able to make out a horizontal layer of big blocks of stone, halfway down. This is a stratum of the "poor man's stone" named marne in French (marl or mudstone in English), found in many places throughout the land. If you click the following closeup view of the embankment, to enlarge it, you can clearly distinguish the big blocks of marl, with good earth above them, and clay below.

[Click to enlarge]

Far more fragile than genuine limestone, the marl ends up developing fissures, or breaking into pieces, and this fragmentation "guides" trickles of subterranean water down the slopes, where they emerge at one place or another (often changing locations) in the form of "springs". In the present case, the heavy upper layer of waterlogged earth has ended up sliding slowly but surely on the slippery surface of the marl.

Ever since I've been living at Gamone, I find myself explaining constantly (often to local folk who should know better) that the phenomenon above my house that I often refer to loosely as a "spring" is in fact merely an emerging rivulet that has flowed down along the marl layer. Unlike a genuine spring (whose waters come from deep underground), the water obtained from a marl outlet does not flow constantly at all times of the year. For example, for several months of the year, my "spring" at Gamone delivers huge quantities of water (which are then channeled down through surface drains into the nearby creek), but it dries up completely from the start of summer until the middle of autumn. So, you can't count upon a marl outlet as a supply of domestic water.

I should have mentioned that Jackie's donkeys are not at all disturbed by the new situation that has arisen at Gamone, since they now have the possibility of residing in the section of the stable that Jackie had reserved up until now for keeping the supply of hay.

And no intelligent donkey would ever complain about being obliged to reside in a place that's stacked with fresh hay. Normally, there was a wooden barrier intended to prevent the animals from having a constant self-service relationship with the fodder, but four sturdy donkeys form a very good team for breaking down barriers of that kind.


  1. The story of your "spring" reminds me of the challenges of finding a leak in a roof - the water enters in one spot and travels under the roofing to a beam, to be distributed to whence it shows evidence, below, on the plaster walls.

    And, of course, I love the donkey photo :-)

  2. A different kind of landslide here in northern nsw. Community saying no to CSG...just thought you might be interested.

  3. Great post, I would be pretty scared to live up there on that, let alone walk across it. Still a gorgeous architecture.

    -Keystone Contracting Corp.