Showing posts with label Choranche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Choranche. Show all posts

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rose that glows gold

I've owned a Blue Ray machine for almost a year, but I hadn't got around to turning it on, in spite of the ten or so DVDs I'd purchased during my visits to the Fnac store in Valence. I'm rarely in a receptive mood for sitting down and watching video stuff. But this was a special evening, in that I'd invited along my marvelous Choranche friends Tineke Bot and her husband Serge Bellier for a dinner of spare ribs (soy sauce and red beans) followed by a screening of Avatar. Normally, I don't cut the flowers in my rose garden, but this was a special event, so I sacrificed a magnificent Gold Glow specimen.

[Click to enlarge]

The following morning, I was overjoyed to receive a phone call from François Skyvington informing me that he has received promises of a wonderful TV career in prime time on a national channel. Details will emerge, as usual, at the desired rhythm of my son.

It was also a fine day to say that "enough's enough" to certain would-be international Internet friends whose pretentious dullness was starting to bore me. They may not have understood what I was trying to say (they certainly don't), but I feel liberated.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wintry view from behind the house

Normally, I wouldn't think of strolling up behind the house and taking a photo in the direction of the cliffs of Presles. If I did so this afternoon, it was because I happened to be up there taking photos of my donkeys, and I was intrigued by the thick layer of snow remaining on my roof (which proves that my thermal insulation is sound) combined with the relative absence of snow on the slopes beyond Gamone Creek, and the patches of blue sky smiling out from behind the clouds above the plateau of the Coulmes (alongside Presles).

This photo is interesting in that it demonstrates how, in a mountainous region, a field of vision can change abruptly from one spot to another. In the case of this scene, somebody down in front of my house, just a few meters away from where I was standing to take this photo, would fail to see that giant cliff up in the top left-hand corner.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Unexpected cultural links

I've mentioned already—in my articles entitled History of wine at Choranche [display] and Wine of a kind [display]—my interest in the almost-forgotten history of the vineyards of Choranche. My article on this subject (in French) is due to appear in the forthcoming issue of a Vercors historical journal. This activity as a local historian has led to my being invited, this afternoon, to the annual get-together of the Vercors cultural-heritage authorities. The assembly took place in the ancient convent of the Carmelite monks at Beauvoir-en-Royans, inside the domain of Humbert II [1312-1355], the last prince of the Dauphiné.

The proceedings started with a brilliant 20-minute exposé of the history of the Carmelites by my friend Michel Wullschleger, who's a professor of history and geography at the university of Lyon. Once we were all reminded of the historical background of the splendid building in which we were seated, it was time to tackle the true subject of the day: namely, the genesis and spirit of an entity such as the PNRV [Parc naturel et régional du Vercors: Vercors regional nature park], which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather when I heard that the guest speaker—a young academic from the university of Saint-Etienne—was going to explain to us how the origins of the concept of our celebrated regional park were profoundly geared to the ideas of Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862]. For me, retrospectively, it's natural that my adolescent fascination for the magnificent story of Thoreau's Walden Pond—which I used to read, fascinated, in Sydney's Mitchell Library, when I would have been better off brushing up on my mathematics—should have led me to my present solitary existence in the mountainous wilderness of the Vercors.

I was elated that a bright young French historian might give a lecture on such links. He explained that, in former British conquests and colonies (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc), the creation of nature parks usually meant that remnants of indigenous populations were chased away (like Red Indians), so that they wouldn't interfere with environmental issues and tourists (not necessarily in that order of priorities). When I dared suggest that maybe we Australians had created nature parks in which the Aborigines were welcome (to say the least), I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the French speaker mastered all the fine details of the Down Under dossier. He thanked me kindly for bringing up this interesting and pertinent question (about which he knew a lot, following research visits to Australia), then he summarized the Australian Aborigine affair in a brilliant five-minute résumé (typical of French-educated intellectuals, who've been taught to aim at essentials)… and we became instant soul friends. I wondered, for a moment, whether a young Australian academic might be able to summarize in the same style, say, the complex relationship between the French Republic and Corsican autonomists. Meanwhile, I must admit that my neighbors Tineke Bot and Serge Bellier are vastly more "Walden Pond" than me, for the simple reason that they've actually installed several artificial ponds (now vibrant with life, including frogs) on their splendid property, Rochemuse.

Towards the end of the afternoon assembly in the ancient convent, speakers turned to contemporary creative writing about the Vercors. This talk was so stupidly superficial, absurdly urban and artistically empty (from a literary viewpoint) that I got up and left. I had to return to my Vercors wilderness to feed Sophia and Fitzroy.

AFTERTHOUGHTS: Frankly, I'm not at all sure that Thoreau had anything whatsoever to do with the inspiration of nature parks in France. I hardly need to say that, when talking about a return to Nature and such matters, we cannot forget an all-important Geneva-born philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778].

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Autumn dawn

A quarter of an hour ago, viewed from my bathroom window, the Cournouze looked this:

Within five minutes, the cloud layer was starting to reflect the pale light of the rising sun upon the trees on the slopes of the valley of the Bourne.

Five minutes later, the Technicolor show was over. One has to act rapidly to obtain images such as these. Often I say to myself that my Antipodes blog has started to instill in me something akin to the reflexes (but not, alas, the skills) of a photographer.

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.

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
Shiver
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.

History of wine at Choranche

When I arrived in Choranche and settled down at Gamone, many of the local folk were surprised to find an Australian in their midst. They seemed to imagine that, not so long ago, I had surely been sunbaking on a beach in the tropics, with kangaroos hopping up to me from time to time, and the lilt of didgeridoos in the background, and then I suddenly cried out: "Jeez, I just gotta get to Choranche, as soon as possible!" So, I jumped aboard a jet, and there I was. Naturally, the local folk were curious to know what exactly had motivated that sudden decision. I suppose they saw it as some kind of revelation, like Archimedes yelling out Eureka in his bathtub, or Newton inventing the laws of gravity after getting hit on the head by an apple. The locals wanted me to describe my bathtub, my apple tree. They were a bit disappointed when I explained that I'd been working in computers for most of my life, and that it was normal to accept an interesting job in a celebrated high-tech city such as Grenoble. Soon after that, the company that had hired me changed its marketing strategy, and they no longer needed a senior technical writer. But I decided to stay on here, because I had grown fond of the wilderness. Then it was time for me to retire…

Meanwhile, I've acquired a certain reputation here in an unexpected domain. It's a domain in which I was utterly ignorant when I left Paris. In fact, I still wonder whether I really have any genuine credentials in this field, because it's not exactly my cup of tea. You see, I've acquired a reputation here as a specialist in the history of the ancient monastic vineyards of Choranche.

Retrospectively, I can see how this has happened, as the outcome of a well-defined series of small events. Often, they were chance events. When I bought the property at Gamone, for example, I had no idea that it had once been a vineyard. I only started to realize this when I found that the vaulted stone cellar was full of the debris of rotted wine vats and casks.

At the same time, I was intrigued by an intriguing juxtaposition of names that can be observed both in a map and in the local road signs. The neighborhood below Gamone is known as Choranche-les-Bains, where the term "bains" (baths) indicates that this place used to be a spa.

But, if you turn around at that spot, there's another sign, suggesting that this tiny neighborhood has a second name.

The Chartreux were members of an ancient monastic order inspired by the life of the medieval hermit Bruno [1030-1101], who has become one of my legendary heroes. [See my humble website concerning this personage.] These monks journeyed regularly to Choranche from their ancient monastery of Val Sainte-Marie at Bouvante, located 15 kilometers to the south of Choranche.

Soon after my arrival, local people informed me that this neighborhood of Choranche-les-Bains (midway between Gamone and the village of Choranche) had been transformed into a fashionable spa just about a century ago, when the health properties of the local mineral springs were advertised. Here's an old postcard of the main spa building:

Opposite the spa, a fine hotel, the Continental, was erected to provide accommodation and meals to the throngs of visitors who came here to relax in the cirque de Choranche (cirque, meaning circus: a geological term designating a bowl-shaped landscape surrounded by cliffs).

The popularity of Choranche-les-Bains ended just before World War II, but the spa building remains, today, in a perfect state, and is used as a holiday place for children.

The hotel building, too, is still there, but in a rather sad state.

The other day, I happened to be chatting about that epoch with my neighbor Georges Belle, shown here with Madeleine Repellin at our recent annual dinner for senior citizens of Choranche:

Georges recalls that, as a child, he used to see crowds of tourists getting out of buses to have lunch at the Continental in Choranche-les-Bains, which was a most fashionable watering-hole (as we might say today), in spite of the fact that there was no entertainment for visitors, not even a gambling casino. Today, Georges resides in the house that was built by the monks after their purchase of this domain back in 1543. (I've found the actual notarial record of this purchase in the archives at Valence.)

And what were the links between the popular spa of Choranche-les-Bains and the Chartreux monks, to the point that today's signposts carry the two names for this single neighborhood? It has been suggested that Chartreux monks at Choranche might have been interested in these mineral waters. Why not? After all, the Carthusians (as they are called) have been associated over the years—rightly or wrongly—with all kinds of scientific and technological endeavors, from metallurgy to pharmacology. So, why shouldn't they have moved into the neighborhood of Choranche-les-Bains, at an unspecified date in the ancient past, to investigate the interest of running a "spiritual spa", based upon monastic solitude? Nice idea… particularly the spiritual angle. But this explanation of the presence of the monks is false.

Let's get back to the red stuff, wine, upon which much of southern France has been turning for ages, with or without the crazy notion that this excellent beverage might be associated with the blood of an ancient and obscure miracle-man, in faraway Palestine, named Jesus of Nazareth. I soon found out that wine, not mineral springs, was the real reason why various monks had moved into the commune of Choranche, as long ago as the Middle Ages. Today, people still evoke the existence of a Mediterranean microclimate at Choranche, because the commune is surrounded by cliffs, which capture the warmth of the sun and act like a giant energy accumulator.

At that stage, I started to explore the in-depth history of wine-making at Choranche, using many kinds of resources, often of an unexpected nature. For example, a neighbor showed me this ancient oaken vat which she had found in a cellar alongside her house.

Above all, I learned that an old man named Gustave Rey [1910-2001] was actually born in my house at Gamone. I invited him along here, and we had a lengthy conversation (during which I took notes) about olden days at Choranche. Later, when I organized all this precious information, I had before me the fascinating history of the cunning ways in which the local folk had reacted to the calamity of the phylloxera invasion (a plant louse imported inadvertently from the USA), which destroyed the totality of French vineyards during the second half of the 19th century, reducing countless winegrowers to poverty.

I've evoked this subject in my blog because I've just completed an article on the history of the Choranche vineyards [in French, downloadable here] at the request of Les Cahiers du Peuil: a reputed historical journal published by the communes up on the Vercors.

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…

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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jazz at Presles

On the rare occasions that I encounter a hitchhiker on the road below my house, I feel obliged to halt and see if I can be of help, particularly if it's a moment, like this afternoon, when there aren't too many vehicles in the vicinity. The young lady named Nina, from Katoomba (Blue Mountains, Australia), was more than happy to share the front seat with Sophia. She had made a booking to spend a few days up at Presles, with intentions of maybe doing a bit of rock climbing.

Nina had found the best address in the world, chez Ezio.

My wonderful friend Ezio is transforming his place, in an idyllic mountain setting, into a celebrated temple of modern jazz.

It's just twenty minutes up the road from Gamone. Yet I've never got around to attending Ezio's concerts… through laziness, Internet addiction, and my perfectly-understandable wintry-evening habit of snuggling into a cozy fireplace spot and watching TV.

I promised Ezio that I'll abandon these apathetic habits for a concert at Presles next Friday evening… and maybe even a long weekend of jazz. What a wonderful cultural environment, here in the wilderness!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Special spire

In the village of Choranche, our church is humble but ancient. It was one of two churches in the commune of Choranche, mentioned for the first time in a financial assessment [pouillé] carried out by the diocese of Grenoble in 1104. In that document, the village church was referred to in Latin as ecclesia Beata Mariæ de Chauranchis : the church of Saint Mary of Choranche.

The stone structure that we see today has resulted, no doubt, from numerous modifications to the primitive church over the centuries. The square church bell-tower, of a distinctive Dauphiné style, is surely quite ancient. Its squat red-tiled spire is surrounded at the base by four short stone pillars, standing like sentinels at the points of the compass. Now, you have to walk around to the other side of the church to discover that this red spire of the tiny church of Saint Mary of Choranche has an unexpected feature that maybe makes it unique among all the countless village churches of France.

As you see, the spire of our ancient church has a square skylight, of the modern velux variety, to let in the light of the Holy Spirit. Tineke tells me that the decision to install this roof window resulted from a municipal vote that was carried out a couple of decades ago, when the mayor of Choranche was Jean-Louis Salazard. But nobody, today, seems to be able to throw light upon the precise technical purpose of this velux. As far as we know, the spire has never been the abode of a dwarf Quasimodo. So, we have no idea why the municipality decided, once upon a time, that light was needed in this remote extremity of the ancient church. Let's call it a Christian mystery.

God said: "Let there be light."
And there was skylight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Views from the village

I don't spend much time in the village of Choranche, because it's a couple of kilometers up in the "wrong direction". What I mean to say is that, when my destination is Pont-en-Royans or Saint-Marcellin, not to mention Grenoble or Valence, I'm obliged to turn my back on the village of Choranche. Besides, there's not much to do or see there… unless, on rare occasions, I need to visit the municipal office. But I often drive into the village of Choranche out of curiosity, to see if anything has changed. In general, needless to say, nothing has changed there. I lay my head willingly on a block in saying that nothing could ever change in the village of Choranche. A village observer has the impression that everything stopped, long ago, with the following image:

Today, the village offers us a magnificent view of my magic mountain, the misty Cournouze:

In the opposite direction, we have the fabulous cliffs of Presles:

And, between these two geological masterpieces, there's a humble but beautiful stream, the Bourne:

From my lookout up on the slopes of Gamone, I sense constantly the mystical tellurian presence of these three great entities that dominate our landscape: the fairy-tale mountain to the south, the stark cliffs to the north, and the river in between. But it's a fact that Choranche village is a good place to take photos of these geological giants.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

French website on medieval Latin parchments

After years of refusal, the people in charge of the archives of the Sassenage family finally gave me an authorization, a week or so ago, to publish copies of some of their medieval parchments on the web. Click the following image to visit my new website, which is in French.

Click the fourth line of the menu to see a sample of a few lines of one of the six parchments.

I'm expected to keep an eye on requests to examine the files of the parchments, so I've installed a password device. If any readers of this blog happen to be particularly interested in accessing the 59 folios available through my website, please let me know.

The purpose of this website, as I've explained at length to the person in charge of the Sassenage archives, is to find a scholar (maybe at the Sorbonne) who would be prepared to accept a contract to transcribe (into typewritten documents) and translate (into French) these six terriers (land registers drawn up for a feudal lord) describing Sassenage lands in the Royans. Personally, of course, I'm interested most of all in the parchment concerning Choranche, since it contains a description of my property at Gamone (known then as Chaléon) in the middle of the 14th century.

Monday, March 8, 2010

More snow

On Saturday, the annual lunch for senior citizens of Choranche and Châtelus took place up in the restaurant at the entrance to the famous limestone caves of Choranche.

There you see some of my neighbors. The fellow on the left is Gilles Rey, mayor of Châtelus. Then there's my neighbor Madeleine. The woman in red is Bernadette Huillier, alongside her husband André, whose property is located on the opposite side of the Bourne with respect to my place. Finally, at the end of the table, there's Georges Belle, who resides in the old dilapidated building that was once the residence of the Chartreux monks who made wine at Choranche.

This man in a red pullover is Bernard Bourne, a farmer: the mayor of Choranche. The woman is Monique Rancoud-Guilhon, whose late father was once the mayor of Choranche. These are the two oldest families in Choranche. Their Bourne and Rancoud-Guilhon ancestors have lived here since before the French Revolution. Every time I see Monique, she asks me to send her all the most recent printed results of my research into the history of the commune. As for Bernard, when he saw me taking these photos, he asked me to send a few of them to the local newspaper... which I did, this morning. The journalist at Pont-en-Royans was happy, because I'd done his work for him.

After this lunch, snow started to fall again. It continued throughout the night. Early Sunday morning, the donkeys managed to burst through the damp electric fence, and I found them knocking on my kitchen door. I gave them a generous supply of oats. Besides, the snow was so powdery that the donkeys had no trouble brushing it aside and devouring the grass on my lawn. Then they took advantage of their relative freedom (since I couldn't patch up the fence in such conditions) and wandered all around the property... which meant that I had to install rapidly a barrier to prevent them from going down into my future rose and peony garden.


The next thing I knew, they had discovered the seeds for wild birds, just below my bedroom window. I was surprised to see that, within reasonable limits, the presence of the donkeys didn't deter the finches and tits from dropping in to get seeds. Later, I noticed that the three suspended balls of fat had disappeared. By that time, the donkeys had strolled down to the former sheep shed, to settle in for the night. And this morning, I was finally able to get them back into their paddock and fix up the electric fence. So, everything is back in order.