Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Newspaper's new name doesn't sound right

When I first arrived in Paris, I didn't know enough French to take advantage of an excellent newspaper such as Le Monde. So, I contented myself with another fine daily: the New York Herald Tribune, made famous by Jean Seberg.

It has just been announced that the name of this famous publication—edited conjointly in Paris, London and Hong Kong, not to mention New York—will soon be changed to International New York Times.

Alas, that new name just doesn't sound right. I reckon that, if Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo and their charming young American accomplice had been obliged to work with a name like that, their Breathless might have been a gigantic flop.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Exotic winter vegetation

At this time of the year, rare species have started to bloom on the slopes of Gamone.

The long thorns of the ice tree are as sharp as daggers, making it difficult to pick the fruit.

The soft white blossoms of snow flowers are extremely delicate, making it impossible to gather a bunch.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Red cliffs in the winter sunset

At this time of the year, I don't usually drive across in the vicinity of Châtelus, on the other side of the Bourne. But I went across there a few days ago for the combined luncheon for the senior citizens of our three neighboring villages: Châtelus, Choranche and Presles. The food (prepared by a restaurant in the nearby village of Saint-Romans) was excellent, but I was dismayed to find that conversation was ruled out through the presence of a DJ who did his best to make everybody dance and sing. On the way home, I was able to take a lovely photo of the cliffs above Choranche in the direction of Presles.

[Click to enlarge]

Galapagos guy

The bird I've nicknamed the "Galapagos guy" is a finch that I presented in a blog post on the eve of Darwin Day [display]. He seems to like the general atmosphere at Gamone, which wet and snowy these days.

In any case, he has moved in here permanently. He never enters the wooden bird house where I put sunflower seeds for the yellow-and-black tits. The Galapagos guy dines outdoors at all times, in all kinds of weather.

Besides, he seems to prefer to dine alone, and gets upset whenever a tit dares to join him for dinner.

He tried for a while to use aggressive body language to scare away intruders. But thankfully, at this level, he appears to be evolving towards a certain degree of sociability.

I often wonder whether, deep in the mind of each tiny creature, they realize that they're all members of the bird family. Probably not. After all, they are a still a lot of people who refuse to admit that we humans are all members of a single family.

Please excuse the poor quality of my bird photos. There's simply not enough light at Gamone these days, and I'm trying to take photos through the double thickness of glass in my bedroom windows. Incidentally, the birds don't seem to notice my presence behind the window glass, provided I don't move. Even Fitzroy likes to spend long moments there, observing calmly the birds. As for the Galapagos guy, he apparently notices his own mirror reflection at times, and he starts to peck furiously on the glass, trying to chase himself away.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cheesy awards

In the cheese domain, my native land seems to have invented the equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest. At the annual dairy awards of the Royal Agricultural Society in Sydney, the major prize-winner was neither from France nor even from Australia. Maximum awards went to an international chain of discount supermarkets, based in Germany, named Aldi. That choice strikes me as weird in the sense that I didn't even know that Aldi produced cheese.

I'm told that Australia has many excellent artisan cheesemakers (which doesn't surprise me), but their products were swamped by those of the giant low-cost multinational.

Michael McNamara, cheesemaker at Pecora Dairy in Robertson, NSW
— photo Sahlan Hayes, The Sydney Morning Herald

I wonder whether horsey lasagne from the French Spanghero company would be an award-winner in Australia

BREAKING NEWS: Many people in France (and elsewhere, of course) have been shocked by the lasagne affair. In their eagerness to get to the roots of the problem, French authorities have been jostling with several key concepts such as credible and complete labeling, traceability (enabling consumers to know the origins of foodstuff) and DNA testing (to distinguish horsemeat from beef). This morning, people concerned with dairy products have drawn attention to the astonishing fact that 90% of French cheeses are made with milk imported into France. Ideally, consumers should be aware of the origin of milk used by French industrial groups in the dairy products domain. They should be informed as to how the dairy cows were fed, and how the milk was collected. For the moment, this is not at all the case.

A few days ago, on French TV news, journalists presented the "Australian made" phenomenon as an exemplary system, which might serve as a guide for France. Fair enough. I trust that Aldi's award-winning dairy products bear this celebrated green and yellow logo.

Unexpected links

A few days ago, a friendly reader of my blog sent me a link to a list of online genealogical resources [here]. I replied that an all-important resource was glossed over in the list. Genealogical research is often dominated by black swan happenings, in the sense suggested by Nassim Nicholas Taieb: that's to say, totally unexpected events that upset the nice and tidy little applecart upon which the researcher had been basing his beliefs.

The biggest black swan that has alighted upon my genealogical research over recent months concerned my Pickering relatives (through the family of my paternal grandmother). On 3 March 2012, my bucolic blog post entitled Vicar's garden [display] evoked the rural existence of our forebear Henry Latton [1737-1798],  the vicar of Woodhorn in Northumberland. I ended that blog post by saying that the vicar would have surely disapproved of my science-based atheism.

Be that as it may, my dear great-great-great-great-grandfather did not deserve to be murdered by bandits while returning from an afternoon of betting on the horses at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.

Six months after having evoked this Latton ancestor, I got an unexpected e-mail from an unknown Englishman named Latton who told me an amazing tale. He alleged that his own grandfather, known to him as John Edward Latton, was in fact the same individual designated in my document They Sought the Last of Lands [display] as John Edward Latton Pickering [1851-1926]. In other words, my correspondent was saying that we had a skeleton in one of our family-history closets: a respected Londoner (archivist at the Inner Temple law library) who had invented a new name for himself (borrowed from our Latton ancestors) and forged a marriage certificate enabling him to become a full-fledged bigamist and raise a second family in parallel to his first one. Needless to say, I've got over the surprise by now, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with my new English cousin when he drops in at Gamone with his wife this summer.

That wasn't the only recent black swan. In April 2012, I became really excited about a possible research avenue aimed at elucidating the mystery of the Norman origins of the Skeffington family. In blog posts entitled Patriarch [display] and Skeffington/Verdun links [display], I evoked the identity of a celebrated Norman family with close attachments to the Leicestershire village of Skeffington at the time of the Conquest. I concluded my first blog post, on 27 April 2012, as follows:
Another fascinating question emerges. Is it thinkable that our patriarch Bertram de Verdun might have descendants today in France and elsewhere? Well, to put it mildly, judging from what I've seen through a rapid visit to the Genea website, it would appear that the community of my so-called "genetic cousins" includes many present-day members of the old nobility of Normandy and France.

When I asked that "fascinating question", I had not yet started to look around in France with the aim of contacting living de Verdun descendants. From this point on in the present blog post, I'm obliged to be deliberately vague, because I wish to avoid mentioning names that would be picked up by search engines. Let me explain in roundabout terms that, in April 2011, French police had come upon a nasty crime scene in the city whose mayor was our present prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. They unearthed the bodies of a mother and her four teenage kids. As for the father, he has totally disappeared. Most people consider that the father—whom I shall refer to as X—is indeed the culprit. On the other hand, X's sister is convinced that her brother never murdered his wife and children. In the ongoing crusade aimed at protecting the honor of her brother, this determined lady is assisted by her husband... who happens to bear exactly the same ancient Norman name as the Conqueror's companion associated with the Leicestershire village of Skeffington, evoked in the "fascinating question" that I have just quoted. For all I know, X's brother-in-law could well be a direct descendant of the 11th-century personage who interests me. Naturally, in the context of my Skeffington research, I would be interested in the possibility of examining a description of the Y chromosomes of this present-day Frenchman. For the moment, though, such a request for DNA data would be out of place, and unwise.

POST SCRIPTUM: In the wake of my initial enthusiasm about the possibility that Bertram de Verdun might have been the "elusive patriarch" whom I've been seeking for so long, I now believe that this was a false track. Click here to download the latest version of chapter 1 of my slowly-emerging Skeffington One-Name Study.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Several things that make sense

Over the last hour, a guy named Richard Dawkins has been using Twitter to create a brilliantly succinct treatise on Christian theology.

Here are the basic points of his theological wisdom, which all make sense... even though they are necessarily so esoteric at times that common mortals might not grasp their profound sense immediately:
• Joseph Ratzinger became infallible in a puff of smoke 19/4/2005. About to become fallible again 28/2/2013. Makes sense.
A wafer, if blessed by a priest (who must have a penis and intact testicles) literally becomes the body of Christ. Makes sense.

God is simultaneously himself and his son (and a ghost). Makes sense.

God couldn't think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.

Adam didn't exist, but his sin was so huge that the Creator of the Expanding Universe needed a blood sacrifice to pay for it. Makes sense.

The SUBSTANCE of the wine truly becomes the blood of a 1st century Jew. Only the ACCIDENTALS are fermented grape juice. Makes sense.

Jesus's 12 apostles all had penises. Therefore if you don't have a penis you can't be a priest. Makes sense.

Isaiah prophesied "young woman" would bear a messiah. Mistranslated into Greek as virgin. So Jesus had to have a virgin mother. Makes sense.
"Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak" Makes sense.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." Makes sense.
Creator of the Universe went to great trouble to create the foreskin. Then insisted that you cut it off. Makes sense.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Recently, I received a short visit from my cousin Mitchell Smith and his wife Melissa, who are medical practitioners in Sydney.

On the eve of their departure, Mitchell noticed my daughter's small upright piano, and asked me if I happened to play at times. The instrument has been out of tune for ages, and I hardly ever touch it these days. I nevertheless sat down at the piano and started to strike the keys in my typical amateurish style. I was amazed to find that my dog Fitzroy started instantly to howl. The more I played, the more he howled. So, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to join up with Fitzroy for a rough recital of the famous doggy-in-the-window song. And Melissa had the presence of mind to record our performance for posterity.

POST SCRIPTUM: Tineke and Serge have just dropped in, and I showed them this amusing video. Then I sat down at the piano and played a bit, to see how my dog would react. As in the video, Fitzroy started to howl immediately. My friends speculated that the dog might in fact be howling in discomfort, as a consequence of painful vibrations in the piano sounds. I think we must admit the plausibility of this hypothesis, because a dog's auditory system is different to ours. In other words, it's a bit silly to jump to the anthropomorphic conclusion that Fitzroy is surely howling with joy because he "likes my music".

Another minor fact tends to disprove completely, however, the all-too-easy conclusion that Fitzroy's howling indicates suffering. These days, in my personal dog vocabulary, there's a trivial term—pronounced a little like a soft "hurrah" (derived from my own failed attempts, months ago, at producing sounds supposed to resemble a wolf's howl)—that is a sufficient cue for Fitzroy to start howling loudly. In other words, this term "turns on" his howling like a kitchen tap, and he stops howling as soon as I pronounce any other word. So, it's a kind of silly game. He also howls whenever he hears a donkey braying (even from afar), and he howls too (with genuine excitement, I believe) whenever he's observing a pack of hunting hounds pursuing a wild boar on the slopes opposite Gamone. So, Fitzroy's howling seems to emanate from some deep archaic corner of his brain, where it's a reaction to stimuli of several different and seemingly unrelated kinds. As for genuine pain, Fitzroy got an unexpected taste yesterday when I was giving a bit of hay to my neighbor's donkeys, and Fitzroy was jumping around my legs in such an excited way that he was likely to cause me to stumble onto the 10,000 volts of the electric fence (which Fitzroy himself darts under at a speed greater than that of electricity). When I gave my dog a slight kick that connected harmlessly with his backside, he didn't howl, nor did he even bark. He yelped... and scrambled back instantly to annoy the donkeys and me. 

BREAKING NEWS: I've just found a practical use for Fitzroy's howling talent. My neighbor Madeleine phones me from time to time to tell me that my dog is roaming around on the road in the vicinity of her house, and causing her own dog to bark. When I reply that Fitzroy is in fact dozing on the floor alongside my desk (meaning that
Madeleine has seen another stray black dog), I often have the impression that she thinks I'm telling her a lie. Five minutes ago, when Madeleine told me that she could actually see my dog sitting on the roadside near her house, I replied: "Madeleine, I'll put Fitzroy on the phone, so he can assure you personally that he's here beside me." Then I used the magic word to turn on Fitzroy's instant howling. The demonstration was fabulous. I've rarely heard my dog howling so loudly and so enthusiastically. I had the impression that he was determined to get things straight with Madeleine, and make matters perfectly clear. I didn't turn him off until I was sure that the message had got through to Madeleine... who, by that time, was in a fit of confused laughter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blog article by Jacques Attali

Yesterday, I came upon an interesting blog article in French by the celebrated writer Jacques Attali. [Use Google to discover the many talents of this eclectic French intellectual.] When I contacted the author, he gave me permission to translate his article and include it in my Antipodes blog. I've since discovered that an English version of Attali's blog already exists here.

The US is bankrupt
Jacques Attali

One day, we'll be obliged to thank English-language media and English-speaking politicians for having talked so much, at the start of this second decade of the 21st century, about the plight of the euro and the predicaments entailed in building Europe. These "Anglo-Saxons" (as the French say) will have made Europeans aware of such problems, and nudged them into looking for solutions.

It's a fact that, over the last three years, the European Union has transformed considerably its administrative institutions. Devices such as the Central Bank's LTRO (long-term refinancing operation), their OMT (outright monetary transactions) and the Luxembourg-based ESM (European stability mechanism) have been installed in order to fend off attacks against the euro. Financial tools have been invented with the aim of stabilizing Europe's banking system. We've witnessed initial attempts at budget convergency and even taxation uniformity. Much remains to be achieved, of course. Eurozone budget potential must become the source of large-scale investments. It must finance job training for the unemployed. It must promote the emergence of a genuine eurozone parliament. All those ambitions will be attained sooner or later. Europeans have finally started to realize that austerity is not an answer. Economic growth is the only acceptable democratic reaction to excessive debt and unemployment.

Meanwhile, the English-speaking world doesn't seem to realize that its bankruptcy is approaching fast. The British like to make fun of the eurozone, at the same time that they tolerate a budget deficit exceeding 8% of their GDP (gross domestic product) combined with uncontrollable public debts. As for Americans, they refuse to admit that, in many domains, their situation is far worse than that of Europeans. Within the eurozone, there is a balance of payments surplus, which is not the case in the US. Unemployment (based upon meaningful figures) is far greater in the US than in Europe, to the same extent as social inequalities and crime. Life expectancy is increasing in Europe, while dropping alarmingly in the US.

As for public debt—an Anglo-Saxon theme song whenever they start preaching to eurozone members—the US is in a state of crisis. Indeed, it's hardly an exaggeration to speak of bankruptcy. The level of US public debt has soared to 16,000 billions of dollars, which represents 100% of their GDP. Needless to say, this is far beyond the ceiling that Congress and the president had once set themselves. Recent calculations based upon data from the US Office of Budget indicate that the public deficit will be some 800 billions of dollars in 2014. Wishful thinking places the figure at 590 billions of dollars in 2018, provided that intended spending cuts are respected and that growth beyond 2015 remains superior to 4%, but these hypotheses are improbable. It's more likely that the deficit will stagnate, year in, year out, between 800 and a thousand billions of dollars. In other words, the best possible hypotheses would place the US public debt in the vicinity of 20 thousand billions of dollars in 2018, maybe even  22 thousand billions of dollars.

This public debt will be financed more and more in the only possible way, by the US Federal Reserve System. In other words, the US will persist in financing their defense system, their health services and their administration by means of new banknotes! And this paper will have no greater real value than the goodwill and trust of friends who need the presence and assistance of the United States of America...

What's more, the US balance of payments has had a yearly deficit, over the last decade, of some 500 billions of dollars.

Clearly, the US is in a far worse state than the EU as a whole. Their situation is even worse than that of the most debt-ridden nations in Europe.

One might imagine a day when China is suddenly alarmed by an anti-Japanese syndrome (capable of evolving through alliances into frank anti-Americanism), or a moment when the Gulf States (under the influence of Islamic fundamentalists) decide to invest in another currency and to cease quoting oil prices in dollars. A scenario of that kind would entail the fall of the US superpower, or its decision to use warfare in a vain last-minute fling aimed at resolving the nation's contradictions.

That kind of future would be repugnant to everybody concerned. We Europeans must offer Americans the same kind of sound advice that we have recently received from them. We must shout out to them, on the rooftops, that they're about to go bankrupt... so that they'll take steps immediately—if there's still some time left—to avoid such a fate. They have the necessary means to save themselves, provided that they realize that this salvation will not arise automatically and spontaneously, as something the world would owe them.

When great empires start to see themselves as immortal, they're inevitably on the edge of a fall.

 [translation by William Skyvington, submitted to Jacques Attali for approval]

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finch drops in for sunflower seeds

In this poor-quality photo—taken yesterday through the smudgy glass of my bedroom window on an overcast afternoon—the little creamy-hued tit seems to be awed by the massive beak of the finch.

The visitor loitered on the edge of the clay pot for about five minutes, during which time no tit dared to dive in for a sunflower seed.

I don't see many finches at Gamone. Rare visitors impress me and obtain my respect (I'm as awed as a tit) in the sense that I've always imagined finches as co-inventors, in the company of Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, of the principle of evolution.

Clearly, if this solitary finch happened to go out of its way to visit an evolutionary enthusiast at Gamone, I would imagine that the bird was aware of the approach of Darwin Day [display], which falls tomorrow, on 12 February.

[I'm aware that Darwin's so-called "finches" were not in fact common chaffinches of the Gamone variety.]

To celebrate Darwin Day, I urge you to visit the WWF website [access] and sign a petition aimed at "killing the trade that kills the elephant".

BREAKING NEWS (announced an hour ago)
Miracle on the eve of Darwin Day: Benny 16 resigns!
Darwinians of the world, let us unite and launch a lobby designed to spread a great idea: namely, that nobody should ever replace a pope who has resigned.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Unforgettable female

I'll never forget that splendid woman. It's true that her facial features have become a little blurry in my aging memory. But not the rest of her being. If her fabulous image were to reappear magically in front of me today, I would mistake her for no other female creature I've ever known. Her beauty has remained forever the source of all my passions, the origin of my world of desire.

                                     — photo afp.com/Pascal Guyot

An expert in females at the Paris Match weekly, Jean-Jacques Fernier, has alleged that I never knew that woman as a whole. So he insisted upon revealing intimate features of her body that I had supposedly neglected. For example, he showed me a face. And that face had an expression.

But it had nothing in common with the sensual expression that had remained in my mind for so long. Maybe the specialist thought he was going to reveal a secret: the naked truth behind the vision. On the contrary, I had the impression that he showed me nothing more than a dull image of pink flesh, parted lips and a mass of dark hair.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Old family portrait

In my blog post of 22 October 2011 entitled What science is saying [display], I spoke of a fabulous book for young and old alike: The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. And I borrowed a couple of Dave McKean's wonderful depictions of our prehistoric ancestors. Now, those illustrations were largely figments of the artist's imagination. Today, we are offered a considerably more authoritative portrait of an immensely archaic granddaddy:

Illustration by Carl Buell

This fellow is the outcome of a lengthy study of primeval mammalian genealogy some 66 million years ago. The creature in the portrait was about the size of a rat, and it weighed about a quarter of a kilogram. Like the dormice that I mentioned in my blog post of 31 December 2012 entitled Walnut war [display], it had a bushy tail. Its scientific name is Protungulatum donnae, but I'll refer to him here as Adam.

It's important to understand that the scientists at Stony Brook University (Long Island, New York) who've just presented a picture of Adam to his living descendants did not dig him up out of the ground, as if he were a run-of-the-mill monarch in search of a horse. Nobody has ever set eyes upon an actual fossil of this "first ungulate" (hoofed beast). Instead, Adam was created virtually on the basis of a whole set of fossil specimens and evolutionary facts.

Visual data in my blog post of the day before yesterday entitled Wolf territory [display] indicates the presence of a furry hoof attached to the extremity of the bone that Fitzroy was gnawing. I wondered for a moment or two whether my dog might have unearthed a specimen of a modern descendant of Adam, but I soon realized that Fitzroy's beast was much larger than a rat. So, I was obliged to rule out the likelihood that my dog had got involved in paleontology.

Adam is looked upon as humanity's most recent common ancestor with other mammals. The scientists say he ate insects. His long furry dormouse-like tail makes me wonder if he didn't appreciate walnuts, too. One thing about Adam's appetite for fruit is certain. As revealed in a celebrated book of archaic wisdom, he acquired a taste for apples. And that's where everything got totally screwed up for the rest of eternity.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Carport update

As soon as winter sets in here at Gamone, it becomes difficult to pursue any kind of outdoor work. Consequently, construction of my carport hasn't advanced a lot since the end-of-year progress report [display]. When I stopped working on the site in the middle of January, it looked like this:

As you can see, the tiled roof was finished, and I was starting to fill in the triangular zone above the roof with narrow reddish planks of tough larch (mélèze in French), which is highly water-resistant. And I had ordered all the necessary timber to board up the sides of the future carport (in ordinary pine), so that a vehicle left there overnight would not be covered in ice the following morning.

At that stage, however, my construction was marred by two almost invisible but annoying defects. On the one hand, I had failed to lop off the extremities of the four horizontal beams upon which the roof has been built. Professional observers warned me that, however esthetic they might look, these protruding ends would be an invitation for dampness and rot to invade the beams. The problem was complicated by the fact that these extremities concealed the ends of nails holding down the outside rafters. Besides, I had boarded up the sides of the tiling, which meant that it would be hard to find a good angle in the use of a saw to cut off the extremities of the beams. Despite these problems, my friend Serge Bellier (a former house carpenter) confirmed that these extremities would have to be removed.

The second defect was far more serious. I had inserted into my carport various pieces of used timber that I had recuperated from a demolished wood shed. Among these, the four horizontal beams gave the vague impression that they might be sagging—ever so little, and almost imperceptibly—under the weight of the tiles. Without hesitating, I decided that each of these old beams should be strengthened by means of an identical new beam, to be bolted onto the old one. But, when I took delivery of this new timber, I soon realized that it would not be a simple task to insert them into the existing structure.

Fortunately, Serge dropped around last Saturday afternoon, and he soon succeeded in solving all these problems. So, here's a closeup view (with snowdrops) that shows how he had used a chainsaw to lop off neatly the extremities of the old beams.

And here's an inside view (also with streaks of falling snow) that shows how we managed to wedge in four new beams, which I shall soon attach to the old ones by means of sturdy bolts.

There's still a lot of work to be done before I can call it a carport (even though I've already started to park my old Citroën underneath). But I'm now confident that the initial defects have been corrected. Serge told me that, if I had been his carpentry apprentice, he would have been pleased to see that I made an effort to correct my building blunders. For the moment, though, he wouldn't be prepared to look upon me as a competent carport builder, and award me an apprentice's diploma, until I had erected correctly, all on my own, another dozen or so similar structures. So, I'm not yet in a position to start looking around for jobs as an independent and experienced tradesman.

Wolf territory

Wild wolves are now proliferating successfully in France, and their current population is 250.

Wild wolf, 13 November 2012, in the Mercantour park, southern France.
Photo AFP/Archives, Valery Hache.

A new 5-year "wolf plan" concocted by government authorities will become operational in spring. Since the geographical zone inhabited by wolves has been expanding by 25 per cent a year, their slaughter of grazing animals has been increasing at a similar rate. In 2012, for example, wolves in France killed 5,848 animals, mainly sheep, compared with 4,920 in 2011. An intriguing aspect of the forthcoming plan consists of trying to train wild wolves (the verb in French is "educate") to attenuate their slaughter and consumption of grazing animals. This will be done by capturing wolves that attack flocks, and keeping them locked up and fed with prepared meals for a while, during which time the imprisoned wolves will hopefully become aware of their sins and promise to mend their ways. It's a lofty goal (I'm reminded of the way in which religious authorities attempt to re-educate pedophile priests), but I'm not sure it'll work.

I often wonder whether my dear dog Fitzroy ever had an opportunity of meeting up with wolves in his birthplace in Risoul 1850. Apparently these beasts are thriving up on the slopes of the Hautes-Alpes department, where Fitzroy's parents looked after sheep and cattle. This morning, after reading about the good intentions of the new wolf plan, I walked outside to admire the falling snow. And I found Fitzroy devouring eagerly an unexpected breakfast meal.

It was the leg of an adult sheep, with tufts of wool still intact, suggesting that it had been killed quite recently. When I used a shovel to shift the bones to another spot, where I could examine them more closely, Fitzroy growled with displeasure. So I let him carry on gnawing at the bones. Notice, in the following photo, how he uses a paw to stabilize one end of the bone, just above the sheep's ankle.

Since I'm an optimist (like the folk who intend to educate wild wolves), I'll persist in believing, for the moment, that the sheep was already dead when Fitzroy came upon its carcass. This is a reasonable assumption. If ever Fitzroy were to return home from a sheep-slaughtering excursion, I would normally notice his blood-stained appearance and greasy smell. I shall nevertheless phone up my neighbor Gérard Magnat, this evening, to talk with him about this incident.

Needless to say, there's at least one perfectly plausible explanation, which we should not fail to consider, of how this sheep might have died. I'm referring to the possibility of a nocturnal visit from a genuine wolf.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

X marks this Latin Quarter spot

This remarkable color photo of a spot in the Latin Quarter (Paris)—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—was taken almost a century ago, in 1914:

Click to enlarge

The street names evoke famous edifices. The Ecole Polytechnique, founded just after the French Revolution, has always been a temple of scientific research and education.

The entry into the Polytechnique is still much the same as in this old monochrome photo:

The school itself has now been relocated in Palaiseau, on the edge of Paris, and the old buildings have been taken over by the French Ministry of Research.

The Montagne-Saint-Geneviève is a hill in the Latin Quarter that takes its name from the primeval patron saint of Paris, Geneviève [423-512], who is said to have saved the city from being overrun by the barbarian Huns of Attila. In her later years, Geneviève used to climb up a track (itinerary of today's rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève) in order to pray in an abbey founded on top of the hill by Clovis [466-511], the first Christian king of France, and his queen Clotilde.

Saint Geneviève, King Clovis and Queen Clotilde.

Today, the only remnant of the original monastery that still exists is a splendid white stone edifice, referred to as the Clovis Tower, in the grounds of a nearby school.

The school in question is the lovely and prestigious Lycée Henri IV, where I spent three of my earliest years in Paris (from 1963 to 1965) working as an assistant teacher of English.

That marvelous period of my life in the heart of Paris (while residing at the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement) marked my initiation into the French language, culture and traditions... and it was no coincidence that the 1965 semester culminated in my marriage to a French girl from Brittany, Christine, and my decision to consider France as my adoptive land.

Let me return to the opening image of this blog post. The publication of that photo was accompanied by a recent image of the same spot, which hasn't changed a lot, visually, over the last hundred years:

Google Maps provided me with another view of this intersection, including a glimpse of the start of the block a little lower down in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève:

In the company of staff from the Lycée Henri IV (including my friend François Leonelli, now an honorary French prefect and—according to recent news—vice-president of Unicef France), the corner café with a red-brick façade was a regular haunt during those carefree days in the Latin Quarter.

The name, Les Pipos, was an old-fashioned term for students of the nearby Ecole Polytechnique... more commonly referred to by means of a single capital letter: X. I should explain that many of my students at the Lycée Henri IV were in fact "preparing" (as they say in French educational jargon) their possibly-forthcoming entry into the great X establishment.

I like to think that X marks this Latin Quarter spot—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—that symbolizes a far-reaching change in my existence.

Friday, February 1, 2013

US gun problem finally solved

Who's this young lady? And what's she doing?

She's an American schoolteacher, and she's using a commonplace whiteboard to deflect bullets fired at her at point-blank range by a disgruntled 10-year-old pupil. The shooter—an innocent orphan girl—had been using a nice pink handgun inherited from her lovely mum, who had used it earlier on in a vain attempt to avoid getting gunned down by the child's father in a fit of rage.

Click here to see a description of this amazing whiteboard invention, destined to save the lives of countless schoolteachers and children.

Inspired by this fine example of humanitarian inventiveness, I'm proud to tell you that I went one step further. I've just been in contact with manufacturers of tablet computers throughout the world (starting, naturally, with Apple and their iPad), and I'm thrilled to announce that they're all enthusiastic about my forthcoming product named BulletPad: a bulletproof shell for computer tablets, manufactured robotically by 3D printing (carried out in my garage at Gamone). Here's a photo of a nice couple who were prepared to test my invention on a US gun range.

I asked the nice guy to fire at his delightful wife, protected by one of my miraculous iPad products. As you can see, both my friends survived joyfully. And I might add that no innocent automobiles or other shit were sacrificed during the production of my demonstration. So, guys, grab a gal, grab a gun and order a BulletPad.