Showing posts with label Châtelus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Châtelus. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

Camping site in Châtelus

My old friend Daniel Berger (an experienced wild-boar hunter) and his wife Michèle operate a delightful camping site across the other side of the Bourne, in Châtelus. Here's a photo of Daniel with his dog Milou.


I've just created a new version of their website, which can be accessed here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Draw me a tree

The great Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a distinguished aviator [display], wrote a marvelous tale in which the Little Prince asked a space-dweller to draw him a sheep.


This morning, just alongside Gamone, a helicopter was literally drawing felled trees out of the dense woods on the slopes above Pont-en-Royans, and depositing them on empty land in nearby Châtelus.

Click to enlarge

It was funny to see entire trees, foliage and all, suspended at the end of a cable, floating across the slopes. Thankfully, it was never a sheep.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cournouze bride

Yesterday afternoon, I was surprised to look up at the Cournouze and discover that she was bedecked with a delicate bridal headdress trimmed in white lace.

[Click to enlarge]

There were ominous patches of grey sky up above: not exactly an encouraging moment for a wedding. Besides, isn't she a little bit too old to be dressing herself up like a young bride and getting married? And to whom, might I ask, is my mountain betrothed?

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]

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bugged bells

Yesterday morning, at around 11 o'clock, I was surprised to hear the chimes of the Angelus ringing out across the Bourne Valley from the church in Châtelus.


I imagined that a marriage was probably taking place in the village. At midday, my neighbor Madeleine and her sister Paulette had invited me down for lunch. The first thing that Madeleine said to me was: "The bells of Châtelus are broken." What she meant was that the electronic timing device that was normally programmed to produce the chimes twice daily, at midday and at 7 o'clock in the evening, had gone haywire, and the Angelus was now being rung in a random fashion, at any hour of the day or night. I was reminded of the Parisian teashop that displayed a sign in the window announcing proudly that they were able to serve English-style "four o'clock tea" to clients "at all hours of the day". Clearly, for a pious and practicing Catholic such as Madeleine, the messages delivered by the electronic chimes had a more profound sense than the mere musicality that charmed my atheistic ears. Consequently, the fact that the bells were bugged disturbed her in the same way that my day is messed up whenever the Internet goes down.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Red mountain and white blob

This is a recent specimen of a red Cournouze photo (untouched by Photoshop in any way whatsoever), taken from my bathroom window:

[Click to enlarge]

Here, taken on the same day, is a telephoto shot of the white blob in the first photo:


The "blob" is in fact the village of Châtelus. That's their church on the left. The big white building on the right, which shares a common wall with the church, is the municipal office and official residence of the mayor of Châtelus. In fact, since the present mayor has his own house about a kilometer away, the official residence is rented out to ordinary citizens.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pastel valley

This morning, the valley of the Bourne was shrouded in floating mists, while the sunny sky was pale blue and studded with cumulus clouds.

On autumn mornings like this, my son and I used to have mock-serious conversations in which we would reminisce about the precise exotic regions of faraway China that were most evoked by the misty mountains of Choranche and Châtelus.

I would air my erudition: "Choranche has always reminded me of the upper regions of Fu-Ching, in the vicinity of the great Wong."

François would beg to disagree: "No, not at all; your judgment and visual memories are flawed. The Bourne provides us with exactly the same kind of splendid vision that I recall during my extensive journeys through the Min-Yang, on horseback, in early October."

At other times, I would show the above photo to friends and ask them what they thought of this image of the Bourne in the vicinity of Gamone. Let me cease my trivial joking. It's an old photo of the Clarence River at Jackadgery, not far from where I grew up in Australia.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Busy days at Gamone

If I haven't blogged much over the last week, it's because I was busy tidying up the house for the arrival of Manya and Hakeem.

I rarely behave in the manner of a conscientious Chartreux monk who keeps his abode spick and span for the simple reason (so he thinks) that God is observing him non-stop. Why should I act that way? I tend to clean up the house only when I'm expecting a visit from somebody who ain't the Almighty. Otherwise, I don't bother too much about unmade beds, dusty floors and furniture, and a backlog of dirty dishes. Whenever I think about housekeeping tasks, I've inevitably got something more urgent to do. Consequently, the countdown to a forthcoming visit is always an exceptionally busy period, during which I clean up the mess.

In these circumstances, last Monday, Henri-Jacques Sentis, the ex-mayor of Choranche, dropped in unexpectedly to ask me if I would be prepared to participate in a documentary movie that was about to be shot at Choranche. Why not? The following afternoon, two members of the movie team turned up at Gamone to talk with me and get a feeling about what I might be able to contribute to their future movie. At that moment, I had no idea whatsoever concerning the intended theme of their future film, nor did I know who—besides myself—would be participating in it.

Late on Thursday afternoon (following a brief and violent rainstorm), the movie crew turned up at Gamone… where I was still preoccupied by last-minute cleaning-up in view of the arrival of my daughter on Friday evening. I discovered that the camera-man was an experienced Moroccan filmmaker named Mohamed Chrif Tribak, who had been invited to the Vercors by a French movie association in order to organize a workshop. And he was calling upon workshop participants (local individuals) to perform the various production tasks.

Most of the interview with me was shot in my living room. But I talked so much about my computers and the Internet that Mohamed suggested that it would be a good idea if they were to create some footage in my upstairs bedroom. Everything worked out fine… except that I still couldn't guess the intended theme of the movie they wanted to make. At one moment, I had the impression that they wanted to create some kind of a cultural document aimed at promoting the lovely idea that, in the Vercors, we're all a bunch of jolly neighbors. Unfortunately, I had already squashed that concept by explaining at length that the Vercors is an abode of solitary "fools on the hill".



On Saturday afternoon, my daughter and her friend (both of whom are media professionals) accompanied me to a viewing of the final result: a short documentary entitled Three Voices of the Vercors. Why three? Well, Mohamed and his crew had in fact shot interviews with seven local individuals, but they concluded that it was preferable to exploit only three. I think everybody agreed that the video is a tiny gem, of an unpretentious kind. In a nutshell, the three of us seemed to be saying, in very different ways, that the Vercors is indeed a haven for loners who are determined to live as such, and to remain that way. Inversely, the Vercors is not exactly an environment for friendly house parties and neighborhood barbecues. Well, we've all known that, all along… but it was nice to see it said so succinctly in the movie.

Funnily enough, the screening of this austere video summary took place in a splendid bucolic atmosphere, at the homestead of lovely Angélique Doucet, who's a goat-cheese producer on the slopes of the Cournouze at Châtelus. At the foot of the magnificent limestone cliffs, the sun was shining, and everybody sat around chatting with one another in such a friendly manner that one might have considered that the three "voices" in the movie were exaggerating when they suggested that this was a harsh land for loners. The truth, I think, is that the Vercors is both: a mixture of soft and hard, sweet and sour, cultural togetherness and solitary extremists. It's not a land that can be described by any single adjective.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Singularities

In a landscape context, I like to apply the term "singularity" to any kind of more-or-less unique phenomenon that is either exceptional or indeed vaguely inexplicable. OK, my criteria for singularity are not exactly rigorous rocket science, but I like my word… so please don't knock it. For example, the ghostly appearance of the neighboring Mount Barret in a certain late-afternoon light (seen from my bedroom window) is a kind of singularity.

The other day, a specialist in local history dropped in at Gamone, to ask me for an article on the Royans for their journal, whose title includes a strange regional term: peuil. When I asked him the meaning of this word, he explained that a peuil is any kind of eye-catching singularity in the landscape. Since we were seated in front of my house, facing up towards the Cournouze, he pointed up in that direction and exclaimed: "There you have a perfect example of a peuil."

He was designating the curious little mound in the middle of the saddle-back crest between the Cournouze and the Barret. I've always said that its smooth tapering rounded shape reminds me of a young woman's mons pubis (pubic mound, often designated as her "mound of Venus"), particularly when it's covered in sparse early-Spring vegetation (I'm speaking of the landscape entity). I guess I must be imagining the Cournouze and the Barret as a pair of mountainous thighs. In any case, at last, I could associate that exotic and erotic tuft with a dialectical name. The personage Malte of Rilke exclaimed with joy, while reading Verlaine in the great library in Paris: "I have a poet!" As of yesterday, at Gamone, I could cry out: "I have a peuil!"

Long ago, when I first observed this most noticeable peuil at Châtelus, I wondered whether it might even be a man-made Roman earthwork… since the village was designated in 1260 as a "castrum" (evoking the possible existence of a Roman fortification). I once mentioned this hypothesis to a member of the farming family installed up there. A young guy, imbued with the oral culture of his birthplace, told me: "No, the mound's surely not a man-made construction. Our great-great-grandparents settled here in the early 19th century, when the entire area was deserted. If the mound had been a man-made thing, they would have noticed it." Fair enough. In the early decades of the 19th century, it's a fact that there were no longer any Ancient Romans strolling around on the slopes of Châtelus. To my mind, though, the question still remains open: Is my Châtelus peuil a virginal affair, resulting from Nature. Or was it fashioned by Man? Only an archeological dig could answer that interesting question…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cols

When you're talking about shirts and sweaters, the French noun col means collar. For a French bartender drawing beer from a tap, the col is the head that must appear at the top of the glass. For somebody serving wine, the col is the neck of the bottle. For a woman giving birth, the col of her uterus, through which her baby will encounter the world, is the narrow necklike part of her anatomy known in English as the cervix. So, col is a word that reappears in all kinds of contexts.

For people who live in mountainous regions, a col is a gap in the cliffs that can often be used as a pass enabling animals and humans to move from one valley to another. From my house, I can see two such mountain passes. To the north, the Col de Toutes Aures—literally, the "pass in several directions"—is an intersection of four roads on the territory of Choranche, one of which leads up from the vicinity of my house, while another takes you down into the valley at the delightful neighboring village (with a small castle) of St-André-en-Royans. To the east, on the other side of the Bourne, the Col de Mézelier separates the two mountains that I see from my house: the Cournouze and the Baret.

The reason I'm talking about nearby mountain passes is that the mayor of Choranche, Bernard Bourne, dropped in at Gamone a couple of days ago to give me news about the road down to Pont-en-Royans, which remains closed because of threatening rocks up on the slopes of Mount Baret. In particular, he informed me that certain people are contemplating a project for opening up a road that would enable the residents of Choranche and Châtelus to reach the valley through the Col de Mézelier. Now, that idea pleases me, not only for practical reasons, but because of the historical dimension of this itinerary. That was the route that enabled the Chartreux monks to travel to and from their vineyards at Choranche.

Their monastery of Val Sainte-Marie was located a dozen or so kilometers to the south of Choranche, at Bouvante in the Drôme, just beyond St-Jean-en-Royans. In 1543, they purchased a property at the Clos de Salomon (now known by two names: the Chartreux or Choranche-les-Bains), a few hundred meters away from Gamone. Their building is still standing today:

The track between le Val Sainte-Marie and their vineyards at the Clos de Salomon was known, for centuries, as the Path of the Chartreux, and it went over the Mézelier mountain pass. The following diagram indicates the general layout of this area:

In this diagram, I've only indicated the presence of the two most prominent mountains: Baret and the Cournouze. But readers must realize that most of the white area in this diagram (which is not drawn to scale) is a maze of cliffs and steep mountain slopes, with the two rivers flowing down from the right to the left. For the last century or so, a road has existed between Choranche and the region in which the Val Sainte-Marie monastery (now in ruins) was located. An observer, today, finds it difficult to understand why the monks didn't simply skirt Pont-en-Royans, to the left of the Baret, on their way to the Clos de Salomon. We are so accustomed to the modern road that we easily forget that this itinerary was unthinkable at the time of the monks. Arriving from the south, the monks would have had no problem in coaxing their mules across the Vernaison, a little further upstream from where today's road crosses that river. But, from that point, they would have found it impossible to climb up towards the Picard Bridge that leads out of Pont-en-Royans. Instead, they made their way up to the Col de Mézelier. After moving through the pass, it's quite likely that they crossed the shallow waters of the Bourne in the vicinity of the present-day Rouillard Bridge, before continuing their journey eastwards to the Clos de Salomon.

Today, this itinerary is once again "unthinkable", temporarily... because of the danger of rocks in the section of the road that lies between the two bridges over the Bourne. And that's why I'm thrilled by the idea that the Path of the Chartreux, through Mézelier, might be opened up for modern vehicles.

POST-SCRIPTUM: Readers in faraway lands such as the USA and Australia are likely to find the above details quite boring. I ask them to realize that I'm talking of primordial preoccupations for the residents of this secluded valley. So, please forgive me for being parochial.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Angelus at Châtelus

On the slopes of the Cournouze (see the above image in the Antipodes header), on the other side of the Bourne, there's a tiny white blob... which looks like this when photographed with a telephoto lens:

It's the center of the commune of Châtelus: a name that evokes the castellum (fortified residence) of a certain Lucius, maybe a Roman settler. The earliest surviving trace of the name of the commune was the term Castelucii in a document of the year 1100. The left-hand structure is the church of Saint Martin, which lies alongside the municipal building. Apart from that, there's little else in the village of Châtelus. The hundred or so residents of the commune are scattered over isolated properties.

Throughout the countless municipalities of France, there is usually a strict separation—both symbolic and material—between the architectural structures of the Catholic Church and those of the French Republic. At Châtelus, on the contrary, the church and the mayor's offices share a common wall, which suggests that they've always been good neighbors.

The municipal elections took place well over a year ago, but my neighbor Madeleine still speaks of Gilles Rey as the "new mayor" of Châtelus. One of the republican mayor's first operations was to repair the bells of the church.

The bells of Châtelus now ring out the Angelus at three moments of the day: 7.45 in the morning, noon and 7 o'clock in the evening. The chimes reach Gamone almost as clearly as if I were located in Châtelus.

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.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Milady has a prominent nose

Imagine a fellow who has been living alongside his lady for ages, admiring longingly and lustfully her physical beauty, and exploring intimately her body on countless occasions... without ever noticing that his loved one has a big nose. Why not? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than in the nose of the beholden.

Mountains are like maidens. Up until now, I hadn't really noticed that my cherished Cournouze has a distinctly aquiline proboscis.

Clouds normally conceal, but an autumn mist has revealed the unexpected truth. So what? For all you know, chers voyeurs, I'm turned on by big noses. I've always found the Cournouze sexy. Maybe it's her voluptuous nose that has been arousing my Alpine libido all this time. The worst thing of all would be the idea that it's a Pinocchio nose, that of a liar. Indeed, if ever I were to learn that my dear Cournouze was unfaithful, and that she loved another solitary gentleman, not me, then I would surely succumb from a rare malady named Gamone Despair. But nothing proves yet that we are at the gates of this affliction. I think the real problem was an unusual spread of morning mist over the slopes of Châtelus.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My sunbathed mountain

During the years from 1882 until 1885, the painter Paul Cézanne [1839-1906] produced some 80 images of the giant Sainte-Victoire mountain near Aix-en-Provence, trying to capture it in every imaginable context of weather, luminosity and hues.

In a hugely more modest fashion, I find myself behaving similarly, using a Nikon instead of watercolors, with respect to "my" mountain, the Cournouze.

I captured this twilight image late yesterday afternoon, when a final broad shaft of sunshine from the valley of the Bourne above Pont-en-Royans was hitting the tiny white church of Châtelus and the wooded slopes to the south.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Choranche rock 'n' roll

My recent article entitled Rock is ready to fall [display] described the giant rock at Choranche overhanging the road from Pont-en-Royans up to Villard-de-Lans. This afternoon, lots of spectators gathered on the slopes of Châtelus to watch the successful dynamiting of this rock.

Tineke and Serge are standing alongside the painted marks delimiting the safety zone for spectators. Many of the people who turned up here, mingling with road-workers in their bright uniforms, were residents who had been evacuated by the authorities. Since it was quite cold outdoors, the mayor and councilors of Châtelus had the brilliant idea of setting up a roadside stand to serve us free drinks: cups of warm red wine flavored with cinnamon. The mounting excitement of the onlookers may have been enhanced by the wine. In any case, the atmosphere was festive. At one stage, a Belgian dentist who has recently moved into an old farmhouse in Châtelus started entertaining us with his accordion.

Meanwhile, the truck that had delivered its precious cargo of dynamite to the site started to unload big rolls of plastic.

A red mobile crane had hoisted the heavy plastic to the top of the rock, where workers were draping it over the rock, so that houses down to the left might be protected from projections due to the blast.

The first indication that the explosion had taken place was visual. The rock was encircled by brilliant red flashes. Then everything was hidden by a gigantic cloud of yellowish smoke, and an enormous dull thud resounded throughout the so-called Circus of Choranche. A minute later, when the smoke had cleared, we were amazed to see that the rock had disappeared, the road was perfectly intact, and all the vegetation on the slopes beneath the site had been cleared by the hail of rocks, forming a twenty-meter-wide path down to the edge of the Bourne.

When I succeeded in photographing the site from a closer distance, I was intrigued to discover that the interior of the rock contained the same blue limestone found below my property, commonly referred to as Gamone bluestone.

Down at the site, everything was now calm. Except for a few big fragments and a lot of rubble, most of the rock had been disintegrated and blown clean across the road, as planned, and I had the impression that not even a single tire had been touched by the blast. But the site was ghostly, as if a great crime had just been perpetrated here.

For Tineke, in a way, this was the case. As a sensitive sculptor, from the moment she bought the property thirty years ago, she had always imagined the great rock as the fist of an outstretched arm, ready to protect her from the obscure forces of the surrounding mountains. Now the authorities had come along and blown the hand off her protector. But Serge and Tineke were thrilled to discover that the engineers had carried out their task impeccably, and that the houses adjacent to the explosion had suffered no damage whatsoever.

I was amused to see that grubby leather gloves, abandoned by a worker a few days ago, were still lying on the parapet, a few meters away from the heart of the explosion. I pointed them out to Tineke, who confirmed that she too had seen them lying there yesterday. Maybe, I thought, they were magic gloves, no longer serving any useful purpose, that had dropped to the parapet from the hand of Tineke's protector.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rock is ready to fall

We've just been informed that the dynamiting of the huge rock overhanging the road at Choranche has been pushed back 24 hours, because light rain is falling this morning, and this could interfere with the ignition of the explosives. So, the ignition is henceforth scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, 12 December, at 13.00 hours.

The rock is located several kilometers up beyond my property, and a kilometer or so to the east of the village of Choranche. There are relatively few houses in the vicinity of the rock. The pretty beige house with pale green shutters is quite close to the rock, and could be damaged by the explosion. The property of my friends Tineke Bot, the Dutch sculptor, and her husband Serge is a hundred meters further down the road. The constructions in the foreground of the above photo are in fact located at Châtelus, and separated from the rock by the Bourne. It goes without saying that all these properties will be emptied of their occupants a few hours before the explosion.

As you can see from the above photo, the section of road directly beneath the rock is supported by a man-made stone wall, which in fact juts out into the valley, forming a hairpin bend beneath the rock. If the overhanging rock were to be dislodged in a relatively calm fashion, with a minimum charge of explosives, it would slide down vertically onto the road, and its gigantic weight would then carry the roadway and the stone wall down into the Bourne, creating a nasty mess. So, the strategy adopted by the engineers will consist of placing a huge charge of explosives behind the left-hand (Choranche) side of the rock, so that it will be blown out into the empty valley to the right, in the direction of Villard-de-Lans.

Beneath the rock, the engineers have created a huge pile of old tires, covered in gravel. Ideally, this should cushion the shock of big chunks of rock falling onto the road, and nudge them off into the valley... where hikers will be discovering, for years to come, wedged between the trees and the rocks, mysterious fragments of damaged tires. The next time the Bourne is flooded at Pont-en-Royans, residents of the cliff houses will be intrigued by the strange vision of rafts of old tires floating beneath their balconies.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Camping site at Châtelus

From Châtelus, on the other side of the Bourne, there's a magnificent view of the limestone cliffs above the village of Choranche.

My friends Michèle and Daniel Berger run a camping park in Châtelus named Chez la Mère Michon, located just below their house. I've just reinstalled an updated version of the simple website I built for them. Click on the above photo to access this website. You can then click on a Union Jack flag to display the English version.