Showing posts with label Chartreux monks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chartreux monks. Show all posts

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Legendary bridge

This is a photo of Natacha and me standing on a legendary bridge over the Cholet in the nearby village of St-Laurent-en-Royans:

This massive archaic structure is known as the Pont des Chartreux: that's to say, the bridge of the Chartreux monks.

I heard about this fabulous bridge for the first time back in 1993, soon after I purchased the property at Gamone. A monography on the Chartreux monks of Bouvantes explained that they had owned vineyards in Choranche ever since the 14th century, and that they transported wine from Choranche down to their monastery along a track known as the Path of the Chartreux. The bridge over the Cholet was therefore an ancient element of this infrastructure. But I was often intrigued by the fact that such a huge "heavyweight" stone bridge was necessary to enable a few mules to cross a small stream.

I wondered, too, about the obvious question of how the monks might have built such a splendid bridge. They must have devoted enormous resources to this project. Seeking the Almighty day and night, through their non-stop prayers, didn't the monks have a sufficient density of divine preoccupations without getting involved in such an enormous worldly engineering task as the construction of this bridge over the Cholet? That's a line of rhetorical reasoning that I'd often used in my discussions with Natacha, while visiting splendid monastic sites.

I would imagine that I was trying to say something like that to Natacha on that beautiful day when we were strolling over the lovely old bridge.

Besides, for someone like me who suffers from vertigo, it was frankly weird that the monks would have built a bridge without parapets. OK, the height wasn't frightening… but I would have imagined that animals such as donkeys and mules might have balked at crossing a stream on such a structure. There's the question, too, of why the monks would have decided to build a bridge at this particular spot, which doesn't lie on the beaten track between, say, Saint-Jean-en-Royans, Pont-en-Royans and the Choranche vineyards.

As you can see on this map, the bridge is located on the edge of the vast forest of Lente. Last but not least: How could the monks of Bouvantes have obtained an authorization to carry out bridge-building on territory that simply didn't belong to them? (Saint-Laurent-en-Royans was the ancestral home of the Bérenger/Sassenage lords.)

There's another interesting question concerning the wine-making and wine-selling industry. Everybody knows that the monks didn't make wine at Choranche merely in order to satisfy their eucharistic needs. To call a spade a spade, only a tiny portion of their beverage was transformed regularly and miraculously into the blood of Christ. The rest was sold, maybe to remote clients, to make money enabling the monks to pursue at ease their life of meditation. Now, if they resided in a secluded mountain abode at Bouvantes, whereas their money-making vineyards were located in Choranche (where they owned comfortable premises), why would they cart their produce from Choranche up to their mountain retreat? That doesn't make sense. They would have done much better to drag their heavy barrels of wine down to the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans, where they could be floated to Saint-Nazaire-en-Royans and then placed on barges drifting along the Isère. The idea of moving these barrels up to the monastery in Bouvantes is totally illogical. So, no stone bridge at Saint-Laurent-en-Royans would have been required.

Faced with such doubts, one falls rapidly into the idea that the monks and the Holy Spirit operated surely in mysterious ways. Our humble interrogations merely accentuate the fact that marvelous operations were enacted in unbelievable, indeed miraculous, ways. So, let's keep our minds and mouths shut, and believe what we're told.

Today, I attended a wonderful regional-history colloquium at Léoncel organized in the context of the Cistercian monastery of Léoncel.

The star speaker was Michel Wullschleger, a celebrated professor of history and geography from Lyon, pillar of the Léoncel heritage community, whom I've known and admired for years. At the start of the afternoon session, he promised us that the day would end with a bombshell. Finally, it exploded:

"The so-called Chartreux Bridge was in fact erected by forestry engineers and workers during the Napoleonic era, at the beginning of the 19th century." The absence of parapets reflects the necessity of having to rotate bovine-drawn log wagons, on this delicate corner over the Cholet, without damaging the bridge.

I was startled by this unexpected announcement, because part of the charm of the meager history of Choranche has always been associated with the image of the monks and their mules traveling back and forth between their monastery and our village by means of the famous stone bridge over the Cholet. But the monks had disappeared from our region about a quarter of a century before this forestry bridge was built.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

North-west corner of my house

I'm trying to get a feeling for the newly-acquired visual aspect of the north-west corner of my house, so that I'll know how to best handle the various operations that will be facing me as soon as the warm weather arrives. Here's a rough sketch of the basic ideas I have in mind:

That's to say, I would build a carport, 3 meters wide and 6 meters long. The roof of this carport would join up with a new roof over the small stone structure (a former pigpen) that juts out from the façade on the left. The empty inside space at the far end of the carport would be used to store my firewood, and a staircase would lead down from there into the main house.

To take the following photo, which looks down onto the start of the new ramp, I climbed up the slopes behind the house:

Here's a side view of the old pigpen as it exists today:

And here's a view of the place under the present roof that I'll be using to store my firewood:

The total surface of the new ramp is quite large, and only the upper half of that area will be used for the carport. The total area of the ramp will be covered in pale gravel.

Finally, here's an unexpected feature of this corner of the house: an intriguing hole into the hill!

In fact, it's the entrance of a horizontal tunnel, about 20 meters long, which ends abruptly in a vertical wall of earth. It appears to be an ancient construction, and I've never found any obvious traces of the place where all the excavated earth might have been placed. Most people who try to imagine the reason why this tunnel was dug evoke the idea of a farmer (winegrower?) hoping to find water. But that idea doesn't add up, because there has always been an ample supply of spring water a hundred yards further up the road. Besides, at the place where the tunnel has been dug, there are no visible indications whatsoever suggesting the presence of subterranean water. The interior of the tunnel is perfectly tidy, and devoid of vegetation, as if it were dug quite recently. I prefer to imagine that the tunnel was dug as a hiding-place for wine-making tools and equipment, or maybe for stocks of wine in small casks or bottles. When would the owner of Gamone have wanted to hide such stuff? And from whom? I believe that a plausible answer is provided by events that took place long ago at Choranche. One of the rare books mentioning the history of Choranche, written by the Abbé Jean Morin, states that Carthusian monks acquired their first vineyard in this commune in the year 1381. Then, in the 16th century, the Royans region was the scene of bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. Here is my translation of a paragraph from the book by Abbé Morin:

At the end of the wars of religion, in 1593, a former prior of our Chartreux monastery wrote that "the grapevines of Choranche have been cut down and ruined, and the cellars demolished, by the adepts of the reformed religion who lodged their garrison here".

I have always imagined—without being able to prove my beliefs in this domain—that the wine cellar at the heart of my house was built during that century of the so-called Wars of Religion, because it resembles a similar construction of that epoch that still exists today in the ruins of the Carthusian monastery at Bouvantes. So, I believe that the mysterious hole behind my house could have been a hiding-place for the possessions of the vineyard, which was dug rapidly at some time during the devastating Protestant raids of the 16th century.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


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, November 7, 2008

Master Bruno

I encourage readers of my Antipodes blog to browse through what I've published concerning my Alpine hero, the hermit Bruno.

His story has always inspired me at Gamone. I've often imagined myself—in a fuzzy non-religious fashion—as a kind of "disciple" of Bruno. I admire particularly his absolutism, which culminated in his abandoning the trivialities and superficial comforts of the everyday world and living in direct contact with harsh nature. Whenever I have the privilege of wandering through the so-called desert of Cartusia, where he settled in 1084 (at about the age of 54), I am awed by the wild beauty of Bruno's territory, and amazed that he was capable of settling down there in solitude.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Republican Calendar

French researchers in genealogy or local history inevitably run into a quaint but annoying thing (little known outside France) called the Republican Calendar. Shortly after the French Revolution of 1789, and for a period of fourteen years (from 1792 until 1805), France abandoned the ancient Church-inspired calendar, designated as Gregorian, and replaced it by a rapidly-contrived system with new names for years, months and days. For example, my birthday, on 24 September, is named Chestnut in the Republican Calendar, while Christine's, on 8 January, is Marble. [It's not hard to understand why our marriage couldn't possibly be harmonious!]

The inventor of the new names was a romantic author referred to as Fabre d’Églantine, who joined the revolutionary leaders as a secretary in 1792. [In this concocted name, Églantine designates a wild rose.] An egoistic scoundrel, he was guillotined with Georges Danton on the Republican date of 17 germinal an II [April 5, 1794]. These days, we remember Fabre d’Églantine as the poet who wrote the words of a famous lullaby: Il pleut, il pleut, bergère. It's a love song addressed to a girl who's minding her sheep out in the fields.

It's raining, raining, shepherdess! The singer tells the wet girl that rumbling thunder indicates an approaching storm, and he invites her into the warmth of his house. Recently, in a splendid TV saga entitled Voici venir l'orage [Look, a storm is coming! ], concerning the dramatic flight from Russia of the Jewish ancestors of the French movie directrice Nina Companeez, the words and music of this lullaby symbolized in a moving manner the trials they had to face, first in Bolshevik Russia, and later in Nazi-occupied France.

The revolutionaries of 1789 imagined that their cause and spirit were, not just French, but universal. It's amusing to discover that, in their eagerness to replace the old names of the Gregorian Calendar, they invented terms that are anything but universal, because they're based upon French seasons and agricultural activities. My birthday, for example, falls in the first month of the Republican Calendar, called vendémiaire, which is related to the word vendanges, meaning grape-picking. But Fabre d'Églantine and his friends forgot, or ignored, that, during the month of September in Australia, say, there's not much in the way of grape-picking. All the other names for months are similarly parochial in a naive fashion: October/November is brumaire, evoking autumn mist and fog; July/August is thermidor, evoking hot sunny days; etc. The revolutionaries would have surely been upset by the upside-down maps of the world in which tiny France looks as if it would be crushed if ever the giant African continent happened to "drop down" onto her.

Incidentally, my writer-hero Richard Dawkins refers to the kind of naming anomaly made by Fabre d'Églantine as a case of "unconscious northern hemisphere chauvinism". Here's how he speaks about "consciousness-raisers" in our atheists' bible, The God Delusion:

It is for a deeper reason than gimmicky fun that, in Australia and New Zealand, you can buy maps of the world with the South Pole on top. What splendid consciousness-raisers those maps would be, pinned to the walls of our northern hemisphere classrooms. Day after day, the children would be reminded that 'north' is an arbitrary polarity which has no monopoly on 'up'. The map would intrigue them as well as raise their consciousness. They'd go home and tell their parents — and, by the way, giving children something with which to surprise their parents is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can bestow.

[If only Nicolas Sarkozy were to read Antipodes, if not the books of Dawkins, I'm sure he would promptly "invent" the idea of decreeing that upside-down maps of the world be pinned on the walls of every French classroom.]

Close the Dawkins parenthesis. The Republican Calendar dominates the decade that concerns me in my research about the origins of my property at Gamone. I've always believed that the place once belonged to the Chartreux monks at Bouvantes whose monastery and other possessions were auctioned off between December 1790 and March 1791. It's quite likely that their outlying properties in Choranche were sold during the years that followed, maybe at a time when the Republican Calendar was operational.

In the archives that I've examined already in Grenoble, I was astounded to discover that, in the notes on political events in the Isère department during the three or four years following the French Revolution, there's no serious mention whatsoever of Choranche or even Pont-en-Royans. A possible reason for this curious absence is the fact that, throughout the revolutionary period, this part of the Royans still remained, to a certain extent, under the influence of the ancient Bérenger family, lords of Sassenage. [In medieval times, there was a so-called prince of Pont-en-Royans!] I even came across a parliamentary note about a complaint lodged by the lord Bérenger of that epoch because the revolutionaries had not yet returned various documents that he had apparently lent them. In about 1793, the archives of the commune of Pont-en-Royans were deliberately burnt in the middle of the village. On the other hand, the good lord's precious Sassenage archives concerning the Royans "principality" were saved for posterity in his charming little castle on the outskirts of Grenoble... which means that we're able to consult them today on our computers.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Unsaintly stuff

This typescript has been sleeping in a drawer at Gamone for two years. It needs to be rewritten, but I haven't found time to tackle the task.

Concerning the true story of Bruno [1030-1101], his official biography contains little factual information. In my novel, I've taken liberties by imagining events that might have taken place, such as Bruno's efforts to acquire metallurgical know-how and mineral resources enabling the Church to manufacture high-quality weapons for the forthcoming First Crusade. I gave a copy of the typescript to the head of the Chartreux monastic order. Later, I learned from a common friend that the Reverend Father (as he's often called) was most dismayed by the fact that my tale describes a brief romantic encounter between my fictional Bruno and a young rural woman, giving rise to the birth of a child. This invention—demanded by the fabric of my story—never appeared to me as outrageous. There was a lot of sexual liberty within the Church at that epoch. Besides, there's even a theory about Bruno himself being the illegitimate son of a high-ranking ecclesiastic and a noble woman in Cologne.

This morning, my small website about Bruno [display] received this amusing spam in French:

Seeing that my Free webspace is named "saint.bruno", the spammer—a pharmaceutical firm called Pharmaxite—imagined that the webmaster's surname is Saint and that his given name is Bruno. So, Pharmaxite started the spam by addressing me as "Dear Bruno Saint". The subject line of the spam might be translated as "Bruno Saint, the end of malfunctions for less than a euro". And the spammer then uses calm therapeutic language in an attempt to get the receiver interested in a pharmaceutical product of the Viagra variety.

In the list of mortal sins, I would imagine that trying to sell sex drugs to a saint, regardless of the fact that the potential customer has been dead for nine centuries, would be just as evil as trying to conjure up a mental image of the Virgin Mary under the shower. Maybe I should forward this spam to the Reverend Father so that he can look into the idea of asking Rome to excommunicate the Pharmaxite firm... if that's theologically possible. It's not unlikely, though, that they would start out by excommunicating me... which might have a negative affect [one never knows] upon my ongoing attempt to obtain French nationality. So, I'll refrain from taking any kind of action, while praying that God and the Holy Spirit are already fully aware of the ugly phenomenon of spam, and are drawing up plans to eliminate it in one way or another.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Strange skills

In my article of 23 July 2007 entitled Wandering in a spiritual wonderland [display], I indicated that Natacha, Alain and I had visited a fascinating Carthusian site: the spring that has been providing the monastery with water, nonstop, over the last nine centuries. As I pointed out in that post, we were surprised to discover considerable stone vestiges at the place where the water emerged from the ground. There was another anecdotal aspect of Natacha's encounter with the Carthusian spring that I didn't bother to mention in my post. She told us, as soon as she reached the site, that she experienced weird physical sensations, of a distinctly uncomfortable nature. In fact, these sensations were apparently so unpleasant that Natacha left the site almost as soon as she had reached it... which surprised me, because she's the sort of person who normally takes pleasure in observing calmly all the curiosities of such an exceptional place.

A few days after this excursion, Natacha and Alain dropped in for a moment at Gamone, before their return journey to Marseille. Natacha returned to the subject of her curious sensations at the Carthusian spring, shown here [surmounted by a whitish building whose role remains unexplained for the moment] in an 1894 photo:

On the off chance of finding some kind of explanation for her sensations, I asked Natacha if she had heard about the strange and ancient phenomenon of dowsing, which consists of prospecting for subterranean water by means of primitive tools such as metal rods, a Y-shaped branch of a tree, or a metal pendulum.

Shortly after my arrival at Gamone, in 1994, my son François used a pair of thin plastic-covered steel rods, bent in such a way that he held them like a pair of revolvers, to provide me with dubious but nevertheless surprising demonstrations of dowsing.

In particular, François claimed that he had sensed the alignment of the water supply from Pont-en-Royans. I immediately informed him, with a snigger, that his finding was some ten meters off the correct alignment, which I thought I knew. In fact, I was a sneering idiot. Several months later, during a Gamone summer, the exceptional dry-weather vegetation revealed that the apparent alignment of the subterranean water pipes corresponded exactly to the results of my son's dowsing.

Faced with the question of Natacha's strange sensations, I handed her my son's dowsing rods and invited her to wander around my lawn at Gamone, looking for possible sensations. The results were, in fact, sensational! Natacha seemed to function with the precision of an aquatic gauge. Alain, too, seemed to have the same skill, to a lesser degree than his wife, whereas I remained inert, as usual, unresponsive to any sensations whatsoever. Natacha would say [and I'm delighted with this evaluation, evoking one of my French intellectual heroes] that I'm simply too Cartesian.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Acquiring knowledge

My article of 23 July 2007 entitled Wandering in a spiritual wonderland [display] includes a photo of an iron nugget that Alain discovered during our excursion to the Grande Chartreuse. Since then, Natacha and Alain have shown me several other mineral specimens they found while wandering around in another Carthusian site [which I've never visited personally]: the former monastery of Saint Hugon, about 40 km north-east of Grenoble, alongside the road to Albertville [in the Savoie département]. One of these specimens was a small rectangular fragment of iron whose surface was similar to that of the first nugget. The other day, the three of us sat outside at Gamone, under the linden trees, gazing at the mineral specimens on a table in front of us, and trying to understand their origins.

In this kind of situation, I've often had the impression that, if I were to concentrate sufficiently upon such-and-such an object that intrigues me, it would end up releasing some of its secrets, providing me with a better understanding of its nature. That was how I felt, a couple of years ago, when I tried to seize the nature of this mysterious object that I unearthed in nearby Châtelus, on the other side of the Bourne:

Since I found this object at a place where there's a legend about an ancient Roman settlement, I imagined it immediately as a sculptured fish. But it was equally likely that natural forces had given rise to this form. No doubt, if I were to show this "red fish" [as I call it] to an archaeologist and then a geologist, I would soon learn which of these two hypotheses is correct... but I've never done so. Instead, I've spent a fair amount of time simply gazing intensely at this object, hoping that it might suddenly send me a message revealing its nature. But no such message has ever reached me yet.

Getting back to the iron specimens from the two Chartreux territories, there were two basic questions:

(1) We referred to these specimens as "iron" because they were attracted by a magnet. But what was their exact geological nature?

(2) How come these specimens were lying around in open fields, waiting to be picked up by a passer-by with keen eyesight such as Alain?

In fact, once Natacha and Alain started out "thinking aloud" with me, I soon realized that they already possessed a good deal of information concerning such specimens:

— They had learned that there was a very special kind of iron ore in the vicinity of the monastery of Saint Hugon. What made it so special was the fact that the ore melted at a relatively low temperature, which meant that it could be transformed into iron by means of a simple wood-fueled furnace.

— The monks soon realized that the most profitable approach to marketing this precious raw material consisted of carrying out an elementary smelting process at the exit from their mines, using the ample timber resources they had on hand. Then the resulting crude iron could be brought down into the valley by mules, and subsequently transported to large-scale furnaces for final processing.

Little by little, as we talked about these operations, we started to obtain answers to our queries about the specimens placed on the table in front of us. They were fragments of crudely-smelted iron that had probably dropped off the back of mules on the way down to the valley. The special variety of iron ore found near the Saint Hugon monastery apparently existed also in the vicinity of the Grande Chartreuse. A final query: How come the two specimens have such a lovely smooth brown surface, with no traces of rust, even though they've been lying out in the open for centuries? There again, Natacha and Alain had acquired information that enabled us to obtain an immediate answer to this question. The ore of Saint Hugon contains a certain amount of manganese, which tends to give the resulting iron a kind of "stainless steel" quality. So, there we had a fairly good comprehensive picture of the context in which these two iron specimens had been found.

Now, why am I relating all these trivial anecdotes? It so happens that they take me back to my recent article about the work of David Deutsch entitled Brilliant book [display].

One of the four so-called strands proposed by the author for a future Theory of Everything is inspired by the philosophical ideas of Karl Popper. Scientists used to claim that they acquired knowledge by a famous process known as induction, which consists of examining things in the real world while hoping that the things in question will end up revealing spontaneously their inner secrets. One of the most celebrated examples is that of Isaac Newton watching an apple falling from a tree, and using this observation to induce the laws of gravitation.

Popper pointed out that the time-honored explanation of the creation of scientific principles by induction is a convenient piece of fiction. Nobody can truly acquire knowledge simply by waiting for real-world happenings and things to "reveal their inner secrets". Newton's apple didn't transmit enlightenment into his head. If there was a revelation, it came from Newton's brain, not from the fallen apple.

What really happens in a context of alleged induction is illustrated eloquently by the brainstorming carried out by Natacha, Alain and me concerning the two specimens of Carthusian iron. These objects did not radiate out magically a beam of information about themselves, enabling us to acquire knowledge about their nature. On the contrary, our emerging knowledge concerning the specimens was based upon information that was forged in our brains, and this information came from our reading, our talking, our experiences and our imagination. Rather than stating that the specimens gave rise to a phenomenon of induction, we can conclude that our brains created this knowledge, in much the same way that a writer invents a good story. And, talking of stories, maybe it's time I ended this one, which is becoming long and complicated...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wandering in a spiritual wonderland

The ancient inhabitants called it Cartusia. I've always been fond of that Latin name. Bruno and his six companions entered this spiritual wonderland in 1084, in search of God. Today, the French name of this magnificent Alpine territory is Chartreuse. The peak in the middle of the photo is Chamechaude, which means "bald head". Bruno's descendants are called Chartreux [or Carthusians, if you prefer a more English-sounding term]. Ever since arriving in the Dauphiné, I've admired the tale of Bruno, with whom I sense a vague affinity. A few years ago, I made a small website on the theme of this hermit [display].

This morning, Natacha, Alain and I set out from the Grande Chartreuse monastery in order to climb up to the primordial spring whose waters have enabled generations of monks, over the last nine centuries, to survive and indeed thrive in this rugged wilderness.

The stacks of wood in front of the quaint old sawmill will be keeping the monks warm during next winter. In fact, the immense timber riches of the Grande Chartreuse belong now to the French Republic.

Alain found an iron nugget. What is this specimen of iron doing in such an unlikely place? My unpublished novel entitled God's Metal answers that question in a roundabout conjectural way.

Curiously, Bruno's superb spring is hardly mentioned in Carthusian literature. Natacha and I don't understand the reasons for this absence.

The splendid limestone fountain is full of icy water and fat tadpoles.

The ruins above the spot where the water comes to the surface resemble those of an ancient Greek temple. For the moment, we ignore the nature and purpose of the edifice that once existed here.

Walking upwards beyond the spring, we approached the aerial summits of the cliffs surrounding Bruno's great valley. The wind blowing up from the valley was focussed here into a gale-force blast that almost knocked me over from time to time.

This sign says that we're in the so-called desert of the Chartreux monks, where silence is the rule.

On the way back down, we passed alongside Carthusian settlements of an economic nature: the old farming installations that once enabled the monks to earn an income as graziers.

At the end of this lovely day, I was intrigued by the same questions that arise every time I visit Bruno's exotic wilderness, which is extraordinarily beautiful but harsh, particularly in winter. Why and how did a renowned middle-aged scholar [from the great medieval city of Reims] settle down as a religious hermit in such a remote place?