Friday, June 27, 2014

First two victims

Exactly a century ago, on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was visiting Sarajevo—the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina—with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

They were a nice couple, who might have gone on to worldly glory at the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

Instead, they were cut down by the bullets of an assassin.

They might be thought of as the first two victims of the ensuing First World War. Their killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a fervent Serbian nationalist who belonged to a movement named Young Bosnia, which hoped to separate Bosnia from the Austro-Hungarian empire and unite it with the Serbian kingdom.

In the years that followed, millions would die in the senseless butchery of the so-called “Great War”. And much water would flow under the lovely Latin Bridge of Sarajevo where the act of an enraged 18-year-old student had plunged the planet into a time of mindlessness from which the nations of the Old World are still striving to emerge.

White whale

This amazing creature—a white whale—is both rare and well known in the waters of eastern Australia. He even has an Aboriginal name: Migaloo.

Experienced whale-watchers know that, at this time of the year, Migaloo always heads off northwards on his annual holidays.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Biting artistically the dust

The Italian artist Sandro Giordano offers us a fascinating series of 15 photos on the theme of falling artistically onto (or often into) the ground. The series bears the title In extremis, and Giordano’s subtitle states explicitly that the various fallen bodies were “with no regret”. So, all’s well that ends well. Click here to view this series of delightful photos, presented by the French weekly Nouvel Observateur.

In the following photo from the series, the dog is wagging its tail with joy:

To my mind, this proves clearly—if need be—that no innocent animals were hurt or even distressed in any way whatsoever during the production of this set of artistic photos.

Magnificent France

The Unesco world heritage list includes 39 French sites. They are presented here by a series of excellent photos within a French-language article. The most-recently elected member of this prestigious list is the cavern at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche). Located 25 metres beneath the ground level on a limestone plateau, this fabulous site will never be opened for ordinary tourists. Instead, starting next spring, people will be able to wander around inside an elaborate replica, constructed by experts in a natural setting close to the real cavern.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Elements of my future pizza oven

Throughout winter, the elements of my future wood-fueled bread oven were stored in my cellar, because I had once imagined that I would actually install the oven in a corner of my stone cellar. But I changed my mind at that level, finally deciding that it would be a much better idea to install the oven out in the open, at the southern end of my house, at a spot where a wood-fueled bread oven had once existed, long ago. So, today, I decided to bring all the 14 elements out onto the lawn, alongside the place where they will soon be assembled.

To move the heavy elements, I used the simple two-wheeled device that’s known in French as a diable (devil).

Now that the weather is sunny at Gamone, it’s a pleasure for me to work outside. In the immediate future, before thinking about assembling the elements of the oven, I first have to erect the base on which the oven will be installed. For me, this is likely to be quite a demanding project (I’ve never built such a structure before), but there’s no reason why I can’t do it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Beyonce or not to Beyonce

Truly, the actress Nina Millin has elevated the words of Beyonce to a transcendent level, and she's offering us Hamlet. All that's missing is a skull in her outstretched hand.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Accommodation for remains

Microsoft built a thing called Bing, which would probably like to catch up with Google. Click here to use this tool.

Apparently Bing has the courage to get involved in the dangerous domain of language translation. Here’s a French-to-English specimen (slightly edited, to make it readable) that I found this morning:

Readers might well be intrigued by the translated line at the bottom of the tweet: a reworking or art to accommodate the remains. Are we talking of human remains? Maybe this has something to do with the idea of creating artistic accommodation to house deceased humans. I was reminded immediately of the fantastic Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, which have been offering excellent high-style accommodation for corpses, of a most artistic kind, for several centuries.

In the beginning, the lodgers were exclusively deceased monks. But the idea caught on at the level of the local population, and posthumous accommodation was soon being offered to all and sundry. One of the most charming inhabitants of this extraordinary home for the dead is a two-year-old girl named Rosaria Lombardo, who took up residence here in 1920. Her calm appearance is such that an onlooker might imagine Rosaria as a sleeping child who only moved into the catacombs quite recently.

On looking more closely into the wonderful work of Bing, we find that the original French-language tweet from the investigative website Mediapart concerns a minor ministerial shakeup (remaniement) in the Greek government, reflecting the victory of the extreme left wing in the European elections of 25 May 2014. The French expression “accommoder les restes” designates the familiar home-kitchen theme of grabbing all the left-overs lying around in the refrigerator—after a couple of major meals, for example—and blending them together intelligently and harmoniously (whence the word “art”) with the aim of creating a new meal. Personally, I’ve always done this automatically and relatively skilfully, which means that I almost never throw out fragments of good food. In the Greek political context, the journalist was suggesting that the Greek prime minister grabbed various credible survivors of the electoral calamity and made an artful attempt to blend them together into a new and edible, if not tasty, government.

Clearly Bing is as dumb as they come. But so what? It has provided us with an opportunity of going on a tiny virtual trip to a strange place in the centre of the fabulous Mediterranean world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bees are toiling non-stop at Gamone

Long ago, when I was working at IBM headquarters in Paris, a friendly but loud-mouthed French colleague, whose first name (if I remember correctly) was Michel, used to amuse us greatly by his regular phone call, every afternoon around 4 o’clock. He was young, and had not been married for long. Jewish, he liked to enhance his conversation by throwing in bizarre Yiddish exclamations, which only our elegant and brilliant young French-Moroccan colleague Jacques Cohen-Rothschild seemed to understand and appreciate. The subject of Michel’s phone call was always the same: “Darling, what are you cooking for dinner this evening?”

Whenever visitors are due to arrive at Gamone, my first and foremost question is: “What am I going to give them to eat?” That’s not all that surprising because, at Gamone, it’s not as if I can step out rapidly to a nearby shop to buy foodstuffs, or even decide that we might eat in a nearby restaurant. What I mean to say is that there are few nearby shops and restaurants.

Knowing that my swarm of bees would be moving in at Gamone the day before yesterday, I asked myself the same question: “What are they going to eat?” Well, it appears that there’s no problem whatsoever. My property includes about a dozen giant linden trees, which are all in bloom at present.

I can’t actually see the bees in the trees, because they’re probably attracted by flowers in the upper branches, warmed by the sun. But, whenever I stroll beneath one of my linden trees, I detect buzzing in the branches above my head. I’ve got into the habit, since Sunday, of standing for long periods of time near the narrow takeoff and landing zone at the front of the hive, and watching the fascinating movements of the tiny aircraft. This morning, at dawn, I noticed that all the bees entering the hive seemed to be wearing thick yellow woollen socks. It’s linden-blossom pollen, of course, caught up on their hind legs. I’ll try to obtain photos of this delightful scene, but I don’t want to get so close to the hive (protected by my beekeeper's costume) that I might upset the insects. They’ve got a lot of work to do in the near future, building cells on the 5 empty frames in the hive and then starting to use these new cells either to make and store honey, or maybe to create a maternity ward for new bees. It’s all extremely mysterious, enthralling and indeed awe-inspiring: a very Dawkinsian environment.

People more shocked by art than by warfare

On 29 May 2014 (a week before the gigantic D-Day commemorations in Normandy), the Luxembourg artist Deborah de Robertis created a sensational but profoundly poetic happening in the Parisian Musée d’Orsay by calmly sitting down on the ground beneath the celebrated painting of Gustave Courbet [1819-1877] entitled L’Origine du Monde, drawing up her skirt, spreading her legs apart, and showing startled but generally appreciative onlookers a hairy real-world specimen of the anatomical place where human life originates and emerges.

I am the Origin.
I am all Women.
You have never seen me.
I want you to recognize me.
Virgin like Water.
Creator of Sperm.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Once upon a time: an English friend in Paris

It’s weird to be googling around casually on the off-chance of finding out what might have happened to an old friend, and to run into an obituary [access], indeed an old obituary.

Anthony Richard Sutcliffe [1942-2012]

In the years 1963 to 1965, Tony was an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter. That’s to say, we were colleagues.

Whenever I think of Tony, who had what you might call a quietly-spoken Oxfordian personality, I remember his excitement concerning the birth of the Beatles phenomenon. He talked of them often, and his enthusiasm intrigued me. During a short holiday break, he returned to England and attended a Beatles concert (one of the group's first-ever big events). At that time, to my mind, the Beatles were nothing more than a group of new kids on the block, as it were. And I simply couldn’t understand why Tony seemed to take them so seriously, as if they were about to create a pop-music revolution. I soon learnt, of course, that Tony’s tastes were spot on.

Tony spoke excellent French. Meanwhile, he looked like a typical young English gentleman, always attired in a tweed coat with a necktie.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

BeeMan’s inaugural solo flight

When BeeMan stepped out onto the lawn in front of flight headquarters this morning, the onlookers were in a state of excitement. Even a dog rushed up, out of the crowd, to get a closer look at the hero of the day.

BeeMan’s spacesuit and helmet were impeccably white, almost as if they had never been worn before. In his hands, he clutched a high-tech device that he had learnt how to use in all kinds of situations, to protect himself.

BeeMan knew that his mission was dangerous, but he had faith in the engineers who had designed his equipment and taught him how to use it. In the early hours of the morning, BeeMan’s precious payload for his inaugural flight had arrived in a big truck that had traveled all the way from Slovenia to France. On the outside, it looked like an ordinary cardboard box. But, as soon as you held your ear up against the box, you realized that much was happening inside.

Exactly 90 minutes earlier on, BeeMan had carried out personally a delicate task that consisted of cutting a hole at one extremity of the box, whereupon parts of the payload started to escape.

As soon as he arrived on the launching pad, BeeMan started to pump on his smoke gadget.

Then he used a cutter, courageously, to slice open the payload.

The air was suddenly filled with buzzing, and BeeMan pumped harder than ever on his smoke gadget. Then the real action started when BeeMan got around to extracting frames from the payload and placing them carefully in the 5 empty slots of his hive.

Often, to carry out particularly delicate operations, BeeMan would get down onto his knees.

My neighbor Jackie took dozens of other photos that recorded for posterity all the operations of BeeMan during this momentous adventure. But all these photos look much the same, and I’m sure that my readers have grasped already the sense of BeeMan’s daring solo flight. Finally, the job was done, and BeeMan closed the lid.

As he contemplated his new hive, BeeMan was relieved and elated… like Sisyphus watching his rock roll down the slopes.

BeeMan was happy.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Getting ready for summer projects

I’ll be fetching my swarm of bees tomorrow afternoon. They’re arriving on a truck from some mysterious place in the Middle East, so I hope they haven’t suffered during the voyage. If I understand correctly, they’re a race of calm honey bees designated as Armenian. God only knows what language I’ll speak with them. Everything’s ready for their arrival at Gamone, where they’ll moving in to a hive located on a grassy roadside mound in the middle of the hairpin bend at the level of my house. Alongside, there’s an old cherry tree, a pair of recently-planted fruit trees, and the grave of my dear dog Sophia.

Click to enlarge slightly

Behind the house, this afternoon, I used a white ribbon (old electric fence material) to trace a big rectangle, some 9 meters behind my house, on slightly sloping ground (by Gamone standards) at the base of the hill.

The rectangle—8 meters wide and 5 meters deep—encloses an area of 40 square meters. I intend to construct a wood cabin here. First, of course, the ground will have to be levelled. This will involve the removal of about 15 cubic meters of earth, which will be pushed down onto the zone between the rear of my house and the lower edge of the future cabin.

The cabin will be used above all to store garden tools such as lawn-mowers, weed-cutters, etc. I haven’t yet worked out the exact form of the future cabin. Unlike the simple mono-pitched roof of my wood shelter, the roof of the future cabin will certainly be dual-pitched. Will it be possible to build the roof high enough to envisage the creation of a small attic with Velux skylights looking out over the roof of my house, in the direction of the so-called “circus” of Choranche? We’ll see.

Incidentally, this is the basic kind of structure that I'll have to build:

The massive triangular assemblage is called a ferme in French (the same word as for farm, but meaning "closed" in the roof-carpentry context). In English, I believe it's referred to as a closed couple, where the couple in question is of course the pair of diagonal rafters. For a cabin that's 8 meters wide, I'll probably need to erect 4 such assemblages. For me, it's quite fulfilling to discover the world of carpentry, and to examine the mechanics of the traditional solutions.