Showing posts with label Bourne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bourne. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gamone panorama

My English cousin Roger Latton (on my paternal Pickering line) came to visit me last summer, with his wife Sue. An excellent photographer, he has just sent me this splendid panoramic image of the Bourne Valley at the level of Gamone, taken from the Croix de Toutes Aures (a spot just above my property):

Click to enlarge
On the left, there’s a corner of the cliffs of Presles. In the middle, the Cournouze promontory is crowned by clouds. On the right, the Bourne Valley is closed by the twin mountains of the Barret and the Trois-Châteaux. This is surely the most spectacular photo of my corner of the world that I've ever seen. Bravo, cousin Roger!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bend in the river

Once upon a time, at an unknown date, a lady in a black robe and hat stepped into the River Bourne below Gamone and got her photo taken.

Here's another photo of the same spot, taken in 1926, which shows a segment of the road that leads from Pont-en-Royans (behind the photographer's back) to the village of Choranche:

In the background of the second photo, you get a glimpse of the Cournouze mountain in the upper right-hand corner. You can also see, to the left, a section of the great limestone cliffs above Choranche.

In the middle of both photos (at the level of the house of my neighbor Madeleine Repellin, behind the trees on the left), a kind of small dam—a couple of meters high—crosses the Bourne. It's an ancient structure, perpetually overflowing, that diverts water into the Rouillard mill, midway between Gamone and Pont-en-Royans.

These days, the spot where the lady in black was wetting her toes looks like this:

It's a magnificent place. And Gamone lies a few hundred meters up the slopes to the left.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You can lead a dog to water...

... but you can't necessarily make him dive in and swim. The presence of Emmanuelle at Gamone made it feasible to coax Fitzroy into the car and take him down to the Bourne in the village of Choranche. During the excursion, my daughter's role consisted of making sure that our dog wouldn't jump up onto me when I was at the wheel.

If Fitzroy's head appears to be a little wet, that simply means that I had cupped up water in my hands and annointed him. For the moment, in spite of French successes at the Olympic Games, Fitzroy seems to be quite uninterested in swimming. We must not forget that he's a mountain dog, born in the Alpine village of Risoul 1850, at an altitude (as its name indicates) of 1850 meters. Fitzroy is capable of scaling an almost vertical embankment in a few bounds, but he's apparently uninterested in the idea of jumping into a stream in the valley.

Monday, July 23, 2012

From my bathroom window

Often, when I look out through my bathroom window, I'm surprised to find an aircraft looking back at me.

It would be nice to know the preoccupations—the nature of the missions—of such visitors. But it would be hard to acquire such information. And hardly worthwhile. Most often, the aircraft disappear just as rapidly as they arrived on the scene.

I'm always a little worried, though, that low-flying aircraft might get tangled up in hard-to-see power cables that crisscross the Bourne valley. My late friend Adrian Lyons—a skilled pilot until he went down in England on 1 August 1999—once told me that this danger is indeed very real at Choranche.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black labrador

I've acquired the latest version of Photoshop Elements. Bewildered by its amazing visual gimmicks, I'll need to get used to employing this tool in place of my archaic existing software. Here's a start.

The dog comes through quite clearly, in spite of my massive filtering. A splendid black labrador with a red collar. His owner in pink and white was another affair. Did I take this photo because I was charmed by the dog, or rather by his lovely mistress? Or maybe both? The Bourne at Pont-en-Royans has always been Sophia's summer Riviera.

Sophia discovered the black dog, and they frolicked around in the water. Then the mistress (whom I had not noticed) emerged slowly from the river, like Ondine, nymph of the waters. She didn't seem to see me. She gazed solely upon the black labrador. This was normal. She had no reason to acknowledge my presence, whereas the black labrador was her dog. This lady was superbly beautiful in her aquatic pink and white simplicity, with her feet lost in the stony sands of the shallow Bourne.

I recalled this kind of shock, many moons ago, in a similar setting, on the banks of the Dordogne, in the region of our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Having arrived in France a few months previously, I was on my first hitchhiking excursion. And a juvenile Ondine emerged from the ancient river—like all self-respecting water nymphs—when I was least expecting a vision. In fact, I wasn't expecting anything much at all, since I had just sat down in the hot air to gnawl at a sandwich.

Nymphean visions are rare and precious, as Vladimir Nabokov explains elegantly in his Lolita. These days, unfortunately, sentiments of this kind tend to get churned up crudely in the meat-mincer labeled pedophilia… particularly in my native Australia, where they don't refrain (until the censor moves in) from exhibiting stupid little bum-twitching girls on TV variety shows.

Personally, my life has been dominated (the word is not too strong) by a nymphean vision that overcame me when I was an 11-year-old boy in South Grafton. Half a century later, when I was revisiting my home town, I hastened to take a photo of all that remained: the pair of quaint houses in Spring Street, just opposite the Catholic school, where I had once glimpsed, for a few minutes, the girl in the fawn dress.

I've never known anything about her beyond the fact that her uniform identified her as a pupil at the Catholic school. In my eyes, she was divinely glorious, for reasons I never understood… and still don't. In a way, she was a sunburnt version of the lady in blue seen at Lourdes by Bernadette Soubirous. Visions are visions, and we can't hope to analyze them. Nymphs are nymphs.

The black labrador in the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans would understand me. His mistress stared at him, motionlessly. Her simple presence demanded obedience. Her boyish haircut evoked Joan of Arc… but the only flames were in my feverish regard. She was so lovely, staring at her dog (with never a glace at me, the photographer), that I felt like a voyeur… which I certainly was. But that mild sentiment of shame didn't prevent me from adjusting the frame and pressing the button of my Nikon. Her small breasts were held tight by a cross-over garment that rose behind her slender neck. She was wearing white cotton thigh-length trousers that accentuated her Venus-like thighs. Above all, her simple pose was strangely passive, as if she were awaiting a reaction from the black labrador. She was the dog's mistress, certainly, but it was the black labrador who would dictate her next move. Against the green background of the Bourne, it was a poem in black, white and pink, built upon a dog and a water nymph.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poetry of Pont-en-Royans

Today, for illiterate 21st-century youth, the very idea of poetry has a dinosaur flavor. What the fuck is that, man? And yet, that's not quite the case. In fact, it's not at all true to suggest that the modern world is losing its archaic poetry. On the contrary, poetry is emerging constantly in new forms, called rap, slam, etc.

From my privileged observation post alongside Pont-en-Royans and the Bourne, old-fashioned 19th-century poetry still moves me immensely. Click on the following image to obtain a readable display:

Meanwhile, our Bourne flows majestically:

Here's my interpretation of what the anonymous poet of 1871 was saying… which was surely both profound and beautiful:

In the abyss
Wild Bourne, turning
Flowing, rolling
With terrifying screams

Fantastic stream
Diabolical noise
In the night, it pursues us
Complaint of a curse

Like an emerald
Your sordid green flow
Affects me: vision of the
Fearful eye of a hawk

The immense rock
Is there to defend you
Your river bed warns me:
"God Almighty, man is small."

Then, on a crest
Above the emptiness
Human traces, fortified ruins
Six centuries old

That stuff transmits
Thoughts that make me
with fear, my heart
Feels an approaching calamity

With or without translation, those are great thoughts and words, which speak directly to my heart, or whatever it is that records marvelous moments and visions.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tranquil but treacherous

This delightful stretch of the Bourne lies below the Trois-Châteaux mountain, which separates Choranche from Pont-en-Royans.

The mountain was so-named because because medieval sentinels, posted on its slopes, could keep watch over three impressive feudal domains down in the Royans: the Bâtie fortress of the powerful Bérenger lords, the Flandaines castle erected on clifftops (reputedly inviolable, and consequently razed to the ground, in a fit of jealousy, by king Louis XI) and the exotic castle of Rochechinard, whose ruins are still perfectly visible today.

At this spot, the Bourne emerges from beneath the Rouillard Bridge, near the ancient mill of my neighbor Jack Oyhancabal, and flows just twenty meters down from the road, alongside a convenient parking zone for vehicles.

As everywhere in the Bourne, there are huge fragments of limestone—some as big as a house—that have tumbled down from the slopes in remote eras.

This is an ideal place for sunbathers and trout fishermen.

But the river, so tranquil most of the time, can become abruptly treacherous. Passers-by who have the privilege of being able to read French would do well to take notice of warning signs put up at this spot, and elsewhere alongside the Bourne between Choranche and Pont-en-Royans.

The meaning of this pair of signs can only be grasped, however, by local people who are already fully aware of the situation.

—The top sign, of an old-fashioned and straightforward appearance, has been pasted over an earlier version in which the phrase "Il est dangereux" was not yet in upper-case characters. We're told that it's dangerous to wander around in the river or on the banks of gravel (?) because the water level can change abruptly as a result of the presence of hydroelectric works and dams upstream.

— The lower sign is inextricably complicated. First, it's funny to discover that the sign has been installed by two quite different partners, who apparently combined their efforts in order to design this warning message: the national EDF authority (in charge of French electricity), and the local AAPPMA (fishing association). Maybe the presence of the latter partner is due to the fact that trout fishermen are the most vulnerable potential victims of surges in the level of the river. Instead of saying this, though, the fishing folk have terminated the sign by a couple of lines of banal propaganda, in red letters: "The river is a fragile environment. Thanks for avoiding all pollution." Then they've inserted their big colorful logo. But the most intriguing part of this sign, by far, is the small print about a so-called "warning wave". Truly, few passers-by could be expected to imagine what this might be. I myself, having lived here for 17 years, have never actually seen such a "warning wave", but local folk have told me about this phenomenon. To understand the situation, you have to go upstream a few kilometers. Unknown to most of the tourists who drive past on a road up on the slopes, there is a dam on the Bourne, just upstream from the village of Choranche, and it backs up a big lake.

From time to time, after high rainfall up on the Vercors plateau, or following the melting of snow, the EDF authorities realize that they'll be obliged to release a lot of the water that has been accumulating in the lake. Now, they've invented the notion of a "warning wave" as a way of letting people know, between Choranche and Pont-en-Royans, that the river is about to evolve into a roaring torrent. That's to say, five minutes before opening the valves completely, they release a relatively small quantity of water: just enough to let sunbathers and fishermen know that they should immediately scramble out of the water and up the banks to safety, before the massive overflow reaches them. Those EDF people are thoughtful, aren't they…

Not long after my arrival in Choranche, I recall a sunny afternoon when I was having a beer at the Jorjane in the village of Choranche, and chatting with Georges. We were annoyed by the repeated shouting of what sounded like a few boisterous youths wandering around in the woods alongside the Bourne. It took us about twenty minutes to realize that the cries came from stranded fishermen. Meanwhile, fortunately, village folk who were more alert than Georges and me had called the local firemen, who rapidly got the fishermen out of trouble.

Incidentally, the fly-fisherman seen in the above photos is in a particularly dangerous situation, because there's a vertical cliff behind him, and he would have to wade across the river to get to safety.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Down by the riverside

It takes a special attraction to bring my neighbor Dédé Repellin down to Pont-en-Royans, and get him leaning over the stone parapet and staring down into the Bourne like a run-of-the-mill tourist.

Here's the special attraction:

This huge mobile elevator work platform enabled a couple of workers to install a plastic tarpaulin trough along the stone wall. Repair work will soon start on this section of the wall, and the purpose of the trough is to catch fragments of old stone and mortar instead of letting them drop down onto the vegetation on the banks of the Bourne. In other words, the future stone craftsmen will be able to work cleanly (no doubt from cables hung down over the parapet) without making a mess of the surroundings. Incidentally, the installation of the tarpaulins demonstrates the extent to which environmental issues are handled seriously these days. Not so long ago, workers would have simply let their rubbish fall down into the river.

Specialists in the domain of mobile work platforms (which is not my case) will recognize immediately that the device is not being used here in an orthodox fashion. The telescopic boom is designed to take the platform up in the air to a maximum height of some fifty meters, whereas it's being used here to attain a "negative height" (expression employed by the operator) whose maximum value is merely ten meters.

The French truck-driver operates the platform. The two fellows installing the tarpaulin were Portuguese and Polish, and they didn't appear to speak a word of French.

This stretch of the Bourne appears to be turbulent, but the volume and behavior of the water vary constantly, depending on the recent meteorological conditions up on the Vercors plateau. For the last few days, there has been no rain here, and this is a view of the Bourne this afternoon, taken at approximately the same spot:

Behind the big square rocks in the foreground, the waterfalls have disappeared. So, what is actually happening here as far as the river is concerned? To answer that question, we need to move upstream some fifty meters, to a point just above the patch of white frothy water in the upper right-hand corner of the previous photo. Here's what we find:

As you can see, somebody has built a small primitive dam here. The river is channeled into what looks like a tiny cavern, where it promptly overflows, as shown here:

Normally, the stream of water created by the dam should flow along the channel cut into the cliff, which you can see distinctly in the above photo. The problem is that a big chunk of the stonework has fallen out of this channel, creating a big hole that allows all the water to escape… whence the white frothy stream.

Exceptionally, the other day, when I was taking photos of the mobile platform, there was a huge volume of water in the Bourne. Consequently, some of the water leaving the dam actually got past the hole at the start of the channel. Then, however, it encountered a section of the rock channel where a dozen meters of the stone wall have disappeared, as seen here:

The waterfalls that I photographed the other day were caused by water spilling through this big break in the old channel.

Now, what was the intended purpose of the dam and the stone channel? A century ago, a local engineer built this system in order to canalize part of the flow of the Bourne into a narrow tunnel through the rock. At the point where this falling water rejoined the Bourne, a hundred meters downstream, it drove a turbine to generate electricity for the village of Pont-en-Royans. In the following photo, you can see the rusty remains of the equipment used to regulate the volume of water about to enter the tunnel.

But, because of the damaged channel, no water has entered this tunnel for half a century.

Today, down below the famous dwellings attached to the cliff face, visitors to Pont-en-Royans probably wonder why the ugly red-brick structure in the middle of the following photo is left standing.

This building, located at the exit of the tunnel, housed the turbine and other equipment for the generation and distribution of electricity. As far as I know, it's still full of archaic hardware. Meanwhile, it remains an element of the riverside landscape of Pont-en-Royans, protected automatically by the French national heritage authorities. So, even though the structure is unattractive and has been useless for ages, it's likely to be around for a long time to come.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Riverside excursion

This afternoon, it was warm enough for an excursion with Sophia to the edge of the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans. Seeing me getting ready to leave the house with my Nikon, Sophia sensed that something interesting might be about to happen. She stood tensely in front of me, staring me in the eyes. I stared back at her in silence for a few seconds. Sophia realized that the absence of a negative stay-at-home order (such as "Guard the house") indicated that she was being invited along. So, she dashed outside and waited for me alongside the Citroën.

She appreciates a minimal contact with the water.

I don't know whether it might be called "swimming". I think that "cooling off" is a more honest expression.

People come here with bags of stale bread, to feed the ducks. This means that Sophia always manages to find a few chunks for a riverside snack. She has become an expert at convincing people, particularly children, that she's starving.

Are those ducks naive enough to imagine that Sophia is getting ready to throw them a bit of bread?

I think the ducks are starting to realize that Sophia won't even be leaving them a few crumbs. We bid farewell to the ducks and wander upstream to the pool beneath the cliff houses.

An optimistic angler imagined that he might find a trout lurking beneath the Picard bridge (the "pont" in the name of the village: Pont-en-Royans).

Above us, the sharp crest of the slopes marks the dividing line between Pont-en-Royans and Choranche.

Normally I'm not particularly good at leaning out over parapets to take photos, but I was enticed by this interesting view of the foundations of the ancient bridge alongside the flimsy wooden poles supporting the cliff houses.

Local people are proud to point out that these ancient dwellings have never yet slid down into the Bourne, so it's quite possible, indeed probable, that they never will. (Poor logic!)

Personally, I wouldn't be happy residing in such a scary place.

Here's a view from the other side of the bridge, looking downstream from the road that leads up to Choranche.

Sophia, still soaked (with that marvelous smell of a wet dog), scrambled into the car and we drove back to Gamone, a kilometer up the road.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Views from Gamone

Between my property and the Bourne, there's a rugged slope where I hardly ever venture, because the bushes and weeds are so thick that you need to be equipped with a machete, in places, in order to cut your way through. But the effort is worthwhile, because there are nice views of the Bourne valley from that place.

In the above photo, we're looking eastwards along the road that leads through the village of Choranche and then up onto the Vercors range at Villard-de-Lans. Even the familiar silhouette of the Cournouze looks different when viewed from this spot.

The following photo, looking due south, shows the homes of my closest Châtelus neighbors, whose geographical sector is named Gérassière.

The white house belongs to the Testoud couple. Through their kitchen window, they have an excellent view of my land at Gamone. Funnily enough, from my own house, because of the slopes, I do not have a global view of my property, so I've often been grateful to Jacques and his wife, over the years, for phoning to let me know that my donkey or sheep have escaped onto the road.

The place where I've taken these photos used to be planted with grape vines, and the ruins of the winegrower's stone cabin are still standing.

For Sophia and me, even though we're only a few minutes away from the house, this new perspective on the surroundings is a little like an excursion to a faraway land.

Incidentally, I was happy to receive a newsletter yesterday informing us that a local government association has just been set up to implement a major project designed to clean up the waters of the Bourne.