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?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

New vision of a medieval structure

I’ve spoken already of Rochechinard Castle in a blog post of 23 February 2009 entitled Fabulous legends [display] and in another post of 14 November 2011 entitled Ruins of a medieval castle [display].

Click to enlarge

For the moment, Louis Arquer and his companions are toiling courageously within this environment with the intention of preventing the ruins from crumbling any further. This is a relatively modest goal, of course, with respect to the vastly more complex and costly challenge of attempting, at some undetermined time in the future, to actually restore the castle.

The drone is a potentially valuable device in that it should be able to provide Louis and his team with closeup views of parts of the castle that would not normally be accessible. They are particularly concerned by the great cylindrical tower in the center of the domain. Its ceiling (covered by tarpaulins held in place by an array of old tyres) is still basically intact, but stones are constantly working loose and dropping dangerously onto the earthen floor inside the tower. So, Louis asked Hakim whether it was imaginable that the drone might be able to hover up alongside the inside walls of the tower, to inspect the state of the stones. And Hakim was prepared to give it a go. The results were quite amazing.

In large areas of the upper walls, the builders have inserted assemblages of tiny flat stones with no apparent trace of mortar whatsoever. It’s probable that these sections were transformed or rebuilt well after the initial construction of the tower, and that the small flat stones were a convenient means of filling up irregular gaps. 

Just below the ceiling, there’s an interesting array of pigeon holes, which were surely inserted into the wall at a time when the interior of the tower comprised half-a-dozen floors. As a child, Louis liked to imagine that, if only he were able to gain access to these pigeon holes, he would surely discover that they were filled with golden coins, hidden there by wealthy medieval lords.

Hakim’s drone revealed, alas, that this mythical treasure has been replaced by dust.

Down towards the base of the tower, great windows looked out onto the splendid rolling hills of the Royans.

At the ground level, Louis and I admired the masterly manner in which Hakim succeeded in bringing his tiny aircraft back down to earth.

Throughout all the flight operations in and around the castle, Hakim was assisted by Emmanuelle, who was following the drone’s trajectory in real time by means of a small video screen.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the drone images do in fact provide Louis and his companions with a new vision of parts of the ruins.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Flying above an ancient castle

When my daughter Emmanuelle and her companion Hakim drove down to Gamone a few weeks ago, they brought a small drone with them. Louis Arquer, the proprietor of Rochechinard Castle, invited them to fly over this magnificent site. Here we are, assembled on a ledge of the ruins, looking up at the drone:

Click to enlarge

Hakim gave me a copy of the drone’s GoPro camera footage, and I’ve just completed a first small video:

I hope to present further drone views in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is ancient France fucking off?

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).