Showing posts with label Christine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christine. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is ancient France disappearing?

Readers who know French will have understood that my title is an awkward attempt to translate our fear that « la France d’autrefois fout le camp ». The concept of a legendary France has always been fuzzy but nevertheless perfectly real... at least in my mind. And the rhetorical question behind the present blog post might be rephrased as follows: Are there alarming signs, at the present moment, suggesting that the France of our dreams might be receding inexorably into the world of dreams?

Let’s leave aside Vercingétorix… who didn’t necessarily correspond to my idea of a typical Frenchman.

And Joan of Arc, too… who wasn’t exactly a typical Gallic female. (Many modern French women often find that English gentlemen can be charming.)

My legendary France might be thought of as starting with Denis Diderot [1713-1784], the brilliant instigator (with d'Alembert) of the Encyclopédie, which was intended to encompass all human knowledge of “sciences, arts and crafts”. To my modest mind, Diderot was one of the greatest intellects that the planet Earth has ever known.

His fabulous novel Jacques le Fataliste remains an astounding literary creation. Recommended to me enthusiastically long ago—for reasons that I was incapable of understanding at that time—by a lovely young student at the Sorbonne, Christine, who would become the mother of our children, this primordial work of Diderot happens to be my current bedside book.

Jumping shamelessly over countless scientists, philosophers and artists, I would next name Louis Pasteur [1822-1895] as a symbol of my legendary France.

He would be followed, soon after, by a woman who (like many famous French people) wasn’t even born in France: Marie Curie [1867-1934].

In the contemporary era, it’s not surprising that I’ve always been captivated by the spiritual presence of Charles de Gaulle [1890-1970]. Besides, his widespread arms inspired the gadget that enabled me to uncork countless bottles of wine throughout my early years in Paris.

Today, a trivial news item makes me think that all that gigantic intellectual heritage of France might be disappearing down the kitchen sink like dishwater. Let me explain.

Many of my Australian readers are familiar with the embarrassingly-stupid story of the railroad from Sydney to Melbourne, culminating in a notorious break-of-gauge singularity at Albury, on the frontier between the rival states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Insofar as the adjacent states failed to agree on a a standard common gauge, passengers have to descend from one train and get up into another. This innocent-looking country platform is in fact a monument to human stupidity, to the apparent impossibility of ever seeking agreement on simple issues.

For ages, I was convinced that nonsense of that deplorable kind could never occur in my hallowed France, where everything was conducted under the metrical auspices of René Descartes [1596-1650] for the mathematics and Napoléon Bonaparte [1769-1821] for the creation and enforcement of laws.

Well, my dear old France has just become involved in an astronomical fuckup. The dumb bastards in charge of French railways have recently ordered 50 million euros of rolling stock that’s slightly too wide for some 1300 stations! They simply forgot to take out a tape and get down on their hands and knees to measure the existing reality. So, more millions will have to be spent in shaving off the excess width of countless existing train platforms.

Once upon a time, this kind of error would have been unthinkable in France. Something has obviously changed... for the worse. Between now and the delivery of this rolling stock, certain human heads will surely roll. But this will not erase the nasty conclusion that my beloved ancient version of an eternal France—superbly philosophical and mathematical—would appear to be simply fucking off before our sad eyes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Extraordinary performance

The Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel [1929-1978] composed the celebrated song Ne me quitte pas [Don’t leave me] in 1959. Click here to access a video of an extraordinary performance of this masterpiece by Brel himself. This performance was recorded in Paris on 10 November 1966. A week earlier, in Brussels (where I was working as a computer programmer), Christine had given birth to our daughter Emmanuelle.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fitzroy locomotive

Once or twice a day, as usual, Fitzroy lets off steam by means of a short but intense session of hose running.

I tried to “freeze” him with my Nikon as he dashed alongside me like a locomotive.

Most of my images were total failures. Finally, though, they’re the images I most prefer, because their fuzziness conveys the spectacular motion of my dog.

It’s important to understand that Fitzroy’s hose-running field is studded with various random obstacles, which must be avoided by the dog. On the other hand, no points are lost if the hose grazes such obstacles, or even knocks them over.

Often, Fitzroy has no more than a thousandth of a second to determine the ideal itinerary.

I hope that Christine will enjoy this blog post. She has a beautiful dog named Nushka, of the same elegant Border Collie race as Fitzroy (but no doubt considerably purer).

In the grounds of a Breton castle, a day or so ago, Nushka (on a leash) made an abrupt and energetic movement that caused Christine to fall flat onto the ground, severely injuring her left wrist. She tells me that she has received exemplary treatment from medical professionals in Brittany, whose standards of friendly excellence merit praise. So, she's quietly recovering in her lovely Breton home.

It’s funny to recollect that Christine and I, back in Paris many years ago, were the least “doggy” individuals you could possibly imagine. Today, both of us are the proud owners of magnificent canine locomotives…

Sunday, February 3, 2013

X marks this Latin Quarter spot

This remarkable color photo of a spot in the Latin Quarter (Paris)—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—was taken almost a century ago, in 1914:

Click to enlarge

The street names evoke famous edifices. The Ecole Polytechnique, founded just after the French Revolution, has always been a temple of scientific research and education.

The entry into the Polytechnique is still much the same as in this old monochrome photo:

The school itself has now been relocated in Palaiseau, on the edge of Paris, and the old buildings have been taken over by the French Ministry of Research.

The Montagne-Saint-Geneviève is a hill in the Latin Quarter that takes its name from the primeval patron saint of Paris, Geneviève [423-512], who is said to have saved the city from being overrun by the barbarian Huns of Attila. In her later years, Geneviève used to climb up a track (itinerary of today's rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève) in order to pray in an abbey founded on top of the hill by Clovis [466-511], the first Christian king of France, and his queen Clotilde.

Saint Geneviève, King Clovis and Queen Clotilde.

Today, the only remnant of the original monastery that still exists is a splendid white stone edifice, referred to as the Clovis Tower, in the grounds of a nearby school.

The school in question is the lovely and prestigious Lycée Henri IV, where I spent three of my earliest years in Paris (from 1963 to 1965) working as an assistant teacher of English.

That marvelous period of my life in the heart of Paris (while residing at the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement) marked my initiation into the French language, culture and traditions... and it was no coincidence that the 1965 semester culminated in my marriage to a French girl from Brittany, Christine, and my decision to consider France as my adoptive land.

Let me return to the opening image of this blog post. The publication of that photo was accompanied by a recent image of the same spot, which hasn't changed a lot, visually, over the last hundred years:

Google Maps provided me with another view of this intersection, including a glimpse of the start of the block a little lower down in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève:

In the company of staff from the Lycée Henri IV (including my friend François Leonelli, now an honorary French prefect and—according to recent news—vice-president of Unicef France), the corner café with a red-brick façade was a regular haunt during those carefree days in the Latin Quarter.

The name, Les Pipos, was an old-fashioned term for students of the nearby Ecole Polytechnique... more commonly referred to by means of a single capital letter: X. I should explain that many of my students at the Lycée Henri IV were in fact "preparing" (as they say in French educational jargon) their possibly-forthcoming entry into the great X establishment.

I like to think that X marks this Latin Quarter spot—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—that symbolizes a far-reaching change in my existence.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Old friend in Brittany

Christine phoned early this morning to inform me that her father, aged 94, had finally slipped away peacefully yesterday evening. In the context of a large family, characterized by diversity along with a strong current of coherency, Jacques had become a patriarch in a similar fashion to his own father (whom I had known well). I believe that Jacques and I knew each other in depth. Christine has told me that her father, during his long journey into old age, often asked her for news about me. It will indeed be weird for me to imagine Christine's corner of Brittany without Jacques Mafart.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Is your iPad fond of bones?

The British actor Stephen Fry, who loves Apple toys, has come up with an amusing comparison for an iPad. “The way I see it is it’s like a dog.” [source] When most people decide to get a dog, they don't necessarily say to themselves (unless they're hunters, security-minded individuals, etc): "I need a dog to perform a precise set of functions." You get a dog because you're simply craving to have a dog. We're humans, and dogs are dogs. That's all there is about it.

Today, I'm not absolutely sure I could tell you why I bought an iPad. I think it was a mixture of curiosity and wonder. Rationalizing, I said I needed an iPad to see how my novel All the Earth is Mine would look as an electronic book. That explanation was partly true, but it didn't really justify the purchase. As for my second dog, I must admit that I didn't bother trying to invent reasons why I needed him, nor did Fitzroy express reasons why he might (or might not) need me.

Meanwhile, Fitzroy is receiving a top-quality canine education from his wise and experienced great-aunt Sophia. Much of their work might be referred to as tactical combat training.

It can be tough at times, like in the army, but the dogs have never once lost their tempers nor harmed one another in any way.

It's not always easy to get good shots of the dogs when they're romping around together. I've been trying vainly to get a meaningful photo of Fitzroy's latest invention: a technique that consists of squeezing in between Sophia's hind legs until his whole crouched body lies directly beneath the belly of the bigger dog. In that position, with his head well protected, Fitzroy can safely nip the back of Sophia's front paws. Since Sophia's hind legs are jammed apart by the bulk of Fitzroy's body, she finds it difficult to turn around in order to dislodge the smart pup. Of course, Sophia finally succeeds in doing so, whereupon the audacious little Collie has to imagine another technique for attacking the giant Labrador citadel. As my ex-neighbor Bob (subjugated by Fitzroy's charm) remarked the other day, Sophia had reached a stage of life at which she was entering into calm retirement, untroubled by forces in the outside world. Overnight, a tiny black-and-white furry whirlwind swooped into her life from nowhere. Well, not exactly "from nowhere"; rather, from the top-of-the-world village of Risoul 1800 in the Hautes-Alpes: a most prestigious Alpine address for a distinguished dog.

Amazingly, Christine has just discovered that, among her maternal Provençal ancestors, an odd couple ("odd" meaning different) came from Risoul 1800, the same village as Fitzroy. Christine and the little dog were already bonded into a lovely relationship while she held him tenderly on her knees for several hours during our return trip to Gamone, after our having "dognapped" him from his family environment at Risoul 1800. Before then, for a day or so in Arles and the region around Aix, this brief Provençal excursion in the company of my ex-wife had been transformed into a largely family-history affair... which delighted me in the sense that I've always been interested in Christine's genealogy, both in Brittany and in Provence. Well, now that we learn that our "Fitz-Risoul" came from the same remote village as some of Christine's ancestors, I'm sure that her affection for this wonderful little animal has been amplified.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fetching Fitzroy

On the second day of our Provençal excursion, Christine and I drove through the Camargue region of the Rhône delta, then visited several sites, to the west of Aix-en-Provence, associated with her maternal grandparents: the charming little hilltop village of Miramas-le-Vieux, the former military explosives factory of Saint-Chamas (where Christine's grandfather was an engineer) and the village of Ventabren (where the grandparents' splendid old stone roadside house still exists, transformed into a gift boutique).

After succeeding in driving through Aix-en-Provence without getting lost, we headed in a north-east direction to a delightful rural gite located near the Verdon.

The following morning, we left early and headed north through Digne-les-Bains and Embrun. We finally reached the ski resort of Risoul 1850, located not far from the celebrated mountain fortress of Vauban [1633-1707] called Mont Dauphin. We were picked up by the Welsh stockman William (the companion of Sylvie) who drove us up a further hundred or so meters (in altitude), in his four-wheel drive vehicle, to his mountain cabin.

There, we were delighted to meet up with Cheng Tsi, a former aeronautical engineer, now engaged professionally in herbal medicine, who had been staying with William for the last few days in order to collect large quantities of various wild Alpine berries, which he'll be drying (on the floor of William's stables) and taking back to his patients in Marseille. We also encountered William's Border Collies in their everyday mountain environment.

We had imagined that it might be difficult to kidnap Fitzroy from his family circle and bring him back to Gamone. On the contrary, it was a pure poem. Christine nursed him while I drove up along the fabulous mountain roads—past Briançon, over the Col du Lautaret, between Bourg d'Oisans and the Alpe d'Huez—to Grenoble. Early in the evening, we reached Gamone, and promptly installed Fitzroy in the kitchen… where he spent his first night here, not surprisingly, complaining bitterly. The next morning, things quietened down to a calm rhythm.

The first thing I did was to take Fitzroy to the veterinary for his vaccination. I came away with a big bag of top-quality pup's food.

At the start of the afternoon, we drove up to Presles to pick up Sophia, who had apparently been a perfect guest at Sylvie's place during our absence. Back at Gamone, the two dogs seemed to deliberately avoid one another. Meanwhile, Christine and I got to work arranging ideally the comfort of Fitzroy.

We've been impressed by the little dog's intensely serious regard.

Within a day of bringing Sophia and Fitzroy into contact, they suddenly took the first big step of playing together. And they've now become perfect companions. There'll be future photos in my blog on this theme.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Provençal excursion

Christine arrived at Gamone a week ago. On Wednesday, we set out in the car for a short excursion to Provence, leaving Sophia in the capable hands of Sylvie in Presles: the girl I mentioned in my article entitled Moshé's future companion [display]. After a delightful drive down along the right bank of the Rhône (on the Ardèche side), we dropped in at Avignon just long enough to discover that they still haven't rebuilt the missing arch in the bridge.

It's a dangerous situation, because it's said that people dance there. Apparently they dance there, all in a circle, and it would be so easy for a dancer to fall into the Rhône. At the top of a stone staircase at one end of the esplanade in the center of the city, we discovered a gigantic elephant doing a remarkable balancing act.

Although it's obvious to me, I'm not sure that many folk are aware of the existence of an elephant in the Palace of Popes.

We stopped for the first night in Arles… or, more precisely, in the right-bank neighborhood of Trinquetaille, where Christine's grandfather Paul Marteau [1896-1976] was born. We had dinner in the middle of the Place du Forum, on the patio of the Café van Gogh.

Of an evening, the yellow façade is lit up in such a way that it looks much like it probably did on a summer evening in 1888, when painted by Vincent van Gogh [1853-1890].

Wherever you go in Arles, you're never too far away from sunlit scenes that evoke the great painter.

On the façade of the Museum of Arles, the wistful image of an Arlésienne in traditional costume, wearing a construction worker's hat, informed us that the place was closed for restoration until 2014.

Nearby, the façades of stately old buildings were in serious need of restoration, but their owners probably don't have the necessary finance to tackle such work.

Admiring the Rhône from the bridge that links Trinquetaille to the main city, Christine was able to understand clearly why her grandfather always evoked the great river as if it were an ancient divinity.

On Paul Marteau's birth certificate, we noticed that the family's address designated a rural zone on the outskirts of Trinquetaille, and mentioned the word for "gardens". We were thrilled to succeed in locating this neighborhood.

Personally, this new contact with Arles confirmed my long-held opinion that it's the most splendid little city I've ever encountered.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dog with a ball

Christine's dog Gamone (daughter of my Sophia) is enraptured by this soft rubber ball… which once belonged to Natacha's dog Jojo.

She takes it around with her and deposits it at the feet of anybody who's likely to toss it away, so she can race after it. That is truly Gamone's idea of bliss.

Gamone is capable of chasing after that ball until she's totally exhausted, almost to a life-threatening degree. This happened recently when a visiting child carried on throwing the ball for half an hour.

I built this pine-wood kennel long ago for my first dog, named Bruno. Then I brought it up to Brittany in my trailer, and it has become Gamone's rainy-days shelter.

Christine told me a delightful story. At the seaside, her dog loves to swim. At a nearby beach, orange buoys are attached to lobster traps. Gamone has got into the habit of swimming out to such buoys to make sure that it's not her rubber ball that's floating out on the water. After taking a moment to verify that this is not the case, she swims calmly back to the beach. I wonder what Gamone must think when she sees a reddish moon rising over Gommenec'h.