Saturday, May 31, 2014

A drone flew over Gamone

Using drone images obtained by Hakim, I attempted to learn enough about the Final Cut software to put together the following short video:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Political catastrophe

The great ship France seems to have collided with something big and nasty. On the radar screen, it looks like this:

Outside, everything appears to be eerily calm, although a thick fog hides the horizon. No shouting. No cries. No panic. Curious leaflets, washed off the vessel in distress, are floating on the still waters.

Suddenly I heard beautiful music wafting across to us. It was slow and solemn, and seemed to last forever.

The captain, appearing briefly on the bow, astonished us all by crying out, as if in a terrible nightmare: “Full steam ahead!”

Commenting upon the short and uninspiring performance of François Hollande at the start of this evening’s TV news, a journalist evoked a leader who has “run out of cartridges”, meaning that the French president has no more solutions to propose to his disillusioned citizens. I’m wondering what kind of ammunition the journalist had in mind when she decided to use this metaphor. Cartridges for an offensive firearm? Or a defensive weapon? Or rather for a harmless gun of the kind that's used to fire smoky distress signals from the deck of a sinking vessel?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is ancient France disappearing?

Readers who know French will have understood that my title is an awkward attempt to translate our fear that « la France d’autrefois fout le camp ». The concept of a legendary France has always been fuzzy but nevertheless perfectly real... at least in my mind. And the rhetorical question behind the present blog post might be rephrased as follows: Are there alarming signs, at the present moment, suggesting that the France of our dreams might be receding inexorably into the world of dreams?

Let’s leave aside Vercingétorix… who didn’t necessarily correspond to my idea of a typical Frenchman.

And Joan of Arc, too… who wasn’t exactly a typical Gallic female. (Many modern French women often find that English gentlemen can be charming.)

My legendary France might be thought of as starting with Denis Diderot [1713-1784], the brilliant instigator (with d'Alembert) of the Encyclopédie, which was intended to encompass all human knowledge of “sciences, arts and crafts”. To my modest mind, Diderot was one of the greatest intellects that the planet Earth has ever known.

His fabulous novel Jacques le Fataliste remains an astounding literary creation. Recommended to me enthusiastically long ago—for reasons that I was incapable of understanding at that time—by a lovely young student at the Sorbonne, Christine, who would become the mother of our children, this primordial work of Diderot happens to be my current bedside book.

Jumping shamelessly over countless scientists, philosophers and artists, I would next name Louis Pasteur [1822-1895] as a symbol of my legendary France.

He would be followed, soon after, by a woman who (like many famous French people) wasn’t even born in France: Marie Curie [1867-1934].

In the contemporary era, it’s not surprising that I’ve always been captivated by the spiritual presence of Charles de Gaulle [1890-1970]. Besides, his widespread arms inspired the gadget that enabled me to uncork countless bottles of wine throughout my early years in Paris.

Today, a trivial news item makes me think that all that gigantic intellectual heritage of France might be disappearing down the kitchen sink like dishwater. Let me explain.

Many of my Australian readers are familiar with the embarrassingly-stupid story of the railroad from Sydney to Melbourne, culminating in a notorious break-of-gauge singularity at Albury, on the frontier between the rival states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Insofar as the adjacent states failed to agree on a a standard common gauge, passengers have to descend from one train and get up into another. This innocent-looking country platform is in fact a monument to human stupidity, to the apparent impossibility of ever seeking agreement on simple issues.

For ages, I was convinced that nonsense of that deplorable kind could never occur in my hallowed France, where everything was conducted under the metrical auspices of René Descartes [1596-1650] for the mathematics and Napoléon Bonaparte [1769-1821] for the creation and enforcement of laws.

Well, my dear old France has just become involved in an astronomical fuckup. The dumb bastards in charge of French railways have recently ordered 50 million euros of rolling stock that’s slightly too wide for some 1300 stations! They simply forgot to take out a tape and get down on their hands and knees to measure the existing reality. So, more millions will have to be spent in shaving off the excess width of countless existing train platforms.

Once upon a time, this kind of error would have been unthinkable in France. Something has obviously changed... for the worse. Between now and the delivery of this rolling stock, certain human heads will surely roll. But this will not erase the nasty conclusion that my beloved ancient version of an eternal France—superbly philosophical and mathematical—would appear to be simply fucking off before our sad eyes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another baby donkey at Gamone

For a long time, Moshé (who’s over 20 years old) was the only donkey at Gamone. Today, on the contrary, he has no less than seven donkey companions. But he retains his independent character. Here’s a photo of him striding up the hill, brushing flies away with his tail, and using his ears as a kind of rear-view mirror.

The latest birth, a week ago, was a female.

Her name is Violette. The mother is Bella, and the father (a Provençal donkey, like Moshé) is Barnabé (French version of the biblical “Barnabas”). Here are the three of them, posing for a family portrait in front of my archaic shed:

There’s an opening in the fence between Jacky’s property and mine, so the donkeys can roam freely between the two. Here are some of them in my walnut paddock:

The presence of all these donkeys has cleaned up considerably the weeds on my land. This is an advantage for my dog Fitzroy, above all. When he dashes out on a tempestuous excursion aimed at reminding the donkeys that he's the boss at Gamone (a dozen times a day), Fitzroy no longer returns to the house covered in prickly burs, as was the case up until now. But don't imagine that my dog would ever get around to thanking the donkeys for that service.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Swarm of bees at Gamone

This afternoon, for the first time since my childhood in Australia, I had a closeup view of a swarm of bees.

My neighbor Jackie had come upon the swarm, by chance, in a small oak tree just down from his house. He immediately phoned Fabien: the experienced beekeeper whom I mentioned in an earlier post entitled Raising queen bees [display]. Fabien and one of his companions were soon on the spot, and he gave instructions to Jackie.

The basic idea was that Fabien would hold an empty hive directly beneath the swarm, and Jackie would then start to shake the branch, causing the bees to drop down into the hive. The situation was tense as everybody got ready for the shaking.

Jackie shook the branch… and I had the impression that all hell broke loose.

I suddenly found myself in the middle of an angry cloud of bees. I was totally protected by my beekeeper’s clothing, of course, but I backed away instinctively and rapidly from the scene. My dog Fitzroy was an intrigued onlooker, and he received a few stings, which sent him scrambling down the slopes to roll in the grass. Even Fabien got stung… which wasn’t surprising, in that he wasn’t wearing any kind of protective gear.

This first shake wasn’t entirely satisfactory, since a lot of bees still remained attached to the tree. Fabien had the impression that the queen was up there too, which meant that the part of the swarm that had dropped down into the hive would return inevitably to the tree. So, Fabien donned his protective gear, and they decided to have a second shake.

This time, the operation appeared to be more successful, and Fabien had the impression that the queen had fallen into the hive along with a good part of the swarm. So, he decided to close the hive.

The bees would make up their mind, overnight, about whether they intend to move down into the hive, or rather stay up in the tree. For the moment, it was impossible to guess what will happen, as there were still quite a few bees up in the tree. Fabien tried to persuade them to leave... but bees, as we all know, are determined creatures, with minds of their own.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll find out what the bees decided during the night.

PS I'm starting to realize that the Antipodes blog is likely to become terribly boring for readers who are totally uninterested in bees.

BREAKING NEWS The bees decided unanimously to remain in the oak tree, at exactly the same spot. Incidentally, I hope that my readers understand that I'm using anthropomorphic terms such as "decided", not to mention the concept of the "mind" of bees, in a purely poetic sense, because those tiny creatures arouse in me a feeling of admiration. The truth of the matter is, of course, infinitely more down-to-earth from a scientific viewpoint. For the queen and her bees, communications are largely based upon the secretion of mysterious chemical substances known as pheromones.

MONDAY NEWS Within a lapse of a few hours, the bees have totally disappeared. Don't ask me why...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Big dog in my lap

Fitzroy is a determined dog who has developed several “bad habits”, which I've never succeeded in controlling. I put the expression “bad habits” in inverted commas for two reasons:

(1) It’s not a matter of behavior of a deplorable kind, but rather things that a well-educated dog wouldn’t normally do.

(2) I tend to look upon these “bad habits” as aspects of Fitzroy’s “personality”. There again, I’ve used inverted commas to underline the fact that the word “personality” might not in fact belong to orthodox canine terminology.

For example, whenever I happen to sit in this canvas garden chair with arm rests, Fitzroy jumps up immediately into my lap.

He wriggles around for a few seconds until he finds a firm and comfortable position, whereupon he lapses into a motionless state akin to sleeping. I always have the impression that he has reverted momentarily to a mental disposition that evokes pleasant memories from his puppy years: maybe even those primordial harmonious hours on 3 September 2010 when Christine and I were driving back to Choranche from Fitzroy’s birthplace—the Alpine commune of Risoul 1850—with the “victim” of our dognapping operation dozing in Christine’s lap.

These days, Fitzroy has become quite a weighty creature. So, I never tolerate his presence in my lap for more than five minutes or so, after which time I topple him gently onto the floor. He always makes a mild effort to resist being dislodged but, once he has touched the floor, he strolls calmly to his comfortable cushion underneath the stairs.

When he finally falls asleep there, I always like to imagine that Fitzroy is dreaming of the precious minutes he had just spent in my lap. Maybe, on the contrary, he’s saying to himself: “After the regular necessity of jumping up onto old William’s knees, to reassure him that I’m a faithful hound, it’s great to be able to crawl back into a good bed.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God's green bubble gum

This fascinating photo shows a throng of pious women (?) in God-only-knows what land.

The rounded forms and pleasantly harmonious hues of this image reminded me immediately of delightful scenes from a famous French religious movie: The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.

I Photoshopped those images a little, to give them a more spiritual shade of green. In the movie, the faces were veiled by fluorescent green bubble gum. Miraculously, Rabbi Jacob (played by the great Louis de Funès) managed to get his face cleaned up before being called upon to execute his celebrated dance in the Rue des Rosiers (where I used to err regularly during my many years in the Marais quarter of Paris).

Rainbow at Gamone

Throughout the day, there was a lot of rain at Gamone. At the end of the afternoon, a double rainbow was visible from my bathroom window.

A quarter of an hour later, the sun reappeared.

Starting tomorrow morning, the weather should be fine for several days.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beautiful beehives

Beehives have to be painted, because they’re left outside all year round, in all kinds of weather. Most often, beekeepers use an aluminium-based silver paint whose brand name in France is Thermopeint. It is a thermal insulator, which plays a role in keeping the inside of the hive at a stable temperature both in winter and summer. It also protects the fragile wooden hive (and its occupants) against dampness, and acts as a fungicide. But Thermopeint is not the only solution. Recently, ecologically-minded beekeepers have start to replace the silver paint with a method that uses linseed oil.

A few days ago [display], I spoke of the work of young beekeepers who’ve installed their hives at Gamone. They've painted their hives with mixtures of linseed oil and ochre (for the reds, yellows and browns) or commercial pigments (for the greens and blues). The results, as you can see here, are truly beautiful.

We like to run into smart cousins

A few days ago, I presented a video about a smart monkey [display]. And here I’m at it again. This marvelous photo [from Gallica, here], taken on the beach at Deauville in August 1921, shows excited kids watching a lovely little monkey who’s doing a tightrope act (not a particularly hard task for such an animal).

Click to enlarge

The joyous expressions on the kids’ faces reveal their intense expectations. They want that monkey to succeed, and they’re convinced that he will in fact get to the other end of the rope without slipping and falling down onto the sand. So, they’re ready to applaud him as soon as he gets to the end of his act. Most of our human fascination for watching smart monkeys comes from the fact, I believe, that we associate ourselves with the beast. For those kids on the beach, the monkey is a kind of baby brother, and they’re tremendously proud that he can do smart things. The children are all saying to themselves: “Gee, the little baby brother is really talented, and he’s courageous, too. None of us would be able to do what he’s doing.”

If a donkey were to come along and start chewing at the rope, or throwing its weight against the rope and trying to burst through (I can assure you that donkeys do things like that), the smiles would disappear immediately from the kids’ faces. They would consider the big clumsy animal as stupid, and not at all like themselves. But a baby monkey is quite another cup of tea. It actually looks a bit like us (or like some of us, in any case… but don’t expect me to give you names). And it’s smart enough to be our cousin… which it is, in fact. Like the donkey.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Next week: an earth-shaking TV moment

In less than a week, Australia has been invited to perform actively and directly in the Eurovision Song Contest… though not strictly as a contestant. Truly, this is the biggest planetary media happening since the marriage of our queen in 1947. History—as they say—is in the making.

Click here for an exciting article on Australia’s presence at these Olympic Games of song. Above all, there’s a great possibility for the victory of an outsider such as France. This year, for the first time since the Abba epoch, the odds are stacked against all those nasty ex-Communist nations who always get in the way of good music. No doubt for the first time ever, next week, Russia is unlikely to vote massively for Ukraine, and Ukraine is equally unlikely to vote massively for Russia. The world will be turned upside down, and victory in the contest is truly up for grabs.

One point, Australia!

And here, to get you in the right spirit: “Vutta Loe” (as the lovely lady in pink put it).

PS Maybe I’m weird, but whenever I see the tall blonde Agnetha Fältskog prancing around in her shiny blue kitsch costume, she reminds me immediately—at least from the knees down—of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Worse still, I have the disturbing feeling that the lower section of one of her slender silver legs might get disjointed and snap off. And how can I possibly enjoy their award-winning song when crazy thoughts like that are going through my mind?

Shame on me: I almost forgot to sign off with the great old Eurovision theme music from my former employer, ORTF [French Radio-Television Broadcasting System], the Te Deum of Marc-Antoine Charpentier [1643-1704].

Bullshit Aussie news website

One of the most trashy “news websites” I’ve ever seen is Australian… but I don’t make a point of examining all possible contenders for this title.

Click here to see their page announced as “Australian scientists discover new element”. The title of the article tones things down a little: “Australian scientists help discover new element…” But the opening paragraph reverts to the notion of an all-Australian discovery: “Australian scientists have discovered a new element”.

The truth of the matter (which obviously matters little to the “journalists” who create this bullshit website) is that this fascinating discovery was made by a German laboratory: the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research at Darmstadt… with assistance, of course, from scientists throughout the world, including (most probably) some in Canberra.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

If you tease a monkey…

… you might get slapped in the face. I love the determined behavior of this smart little beast.

I can almost hear him saying: “Don’t fuck around with me, lady.”

PS It's nice to be fooled by an innocent little monkey act. Clearly, the trainer has taught cheeky Wilson to perform the face-slapping act. Outside of the world of movie cartoons, a monkey wouldn't normally bear a grudge against a human who had teased him by withholding a piece of food. Besides, if the monkey really wanted to "teach a lesson" to another creature, biting would be a more normal form of punishment than face-slapping. Wilson's act could be made better still (in an anthropomorphic sense) if he were to stick up his middle finger in the lady's face, or maybe even turn around, pull down his pants, and bare his bum.