Showing posts with label François Skyvington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label François Skyvington. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #6

Episode #6 of the road movie was presented yesterday afternoon.

François and his moped left the sunny south of France for another exotic corner of Europe: the German Bight, on the edge of the North Sea.

His excursions started at the North Frisian port of Husum, where François boarded a vessel for a bit of prawn fishing.

Funnily enough, the crew members were intrigued to find that their French visitor was accustomed to crunching into small cooked prawns without removing their shells.

Next, François abandoned temporarily his moped and took a plane out to the remote archipelago of Heligoland, some 50 km off the German coastline, where he had a rendezvous with Rolf Hagel, in charge of the local seal population.

They started out immediately, on foot, to inspect seals on the nearby beaches.

They soon came upon a pair of baby seals that had been abandoned by their mother.

They would have to be captured rapidly and transported to the local seal nursery for feeding and care.

Next, François boarded a ferry for the bleak windswept island of Pellworm, which seemed to lie in the middle of nowhere.

Here, men were constantly building and repairing sea walls made of wooden stakes and bundles of branches.

Taking advantage of the least strip of earth emerging from the waters in this steel-gray setting, these warriors of the sea strive ceaselessly to prevent the island from disappearing into the North Sea.

François was guided by a local resident, Knud, who, besides his work as a seawall supervisor, has a job as a barefooted postman, walking across the beaches to deliver mail brought across on the ferry. On this particular day, the island's postman got a helping hand from François and his moped.

François' final encounter in this lonely but lovely universe was with a lady named Ruth.

After meeting up with François in a mainland food-supplies store and piling his moped into her van for the trip towards her island home, Ruth parked her vehicle and took control of her personal train for the journey along a narrow causeway with the sea on both sides.

She explained that she only owns the train, whereas the railway line belongs to the German Republic.

As for her home, it's built on a mound of earth that rises magically out of the flat sandbanks and the sea.

Whenever the sea surrounds the house, they simply close the doors and windows.

François saw amazing photos of what the house looked like whenever there was a tempest, several times a year.

Apparently, at the top of the house, an emergency attic has been built on four hefty concrete pillars. So, even if the rest of the house were to be swept into the sea, Ruth and her children could wait in safety for the waters to subside.

For the second time in his road movie, François was surrounded by a big flock of sturdy sheep, which enable Ruth to earn her living in this exotic setting.

When François asked Ruth naively if it might not be better to reside on the mainland and only step across to the island to take care of the sheep, she replied with a smile that her ancestors had been settled in this remote paradise for the last two and a half centuries, and that she felt fine there.

Finally, François trudged back along the causeway beside his trusty steed.

A big fat ewe watched him leaving.

The animal seemed to be saying to itself: "Why would anyone decide to leave this marvelous island?" In one of Ruth's amazing photos, we saw that, in times of tempest, the sheep gather on the lawns of her house as if it were Noah's Ark.

It's easy to understand that—for Ruth, her children and her sheep—abandoning this kind of existence for a mainland house at the other terminus of her railway line would be unthinkable.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #5

Episode #5 of the road movie was presented yesterday afternoon.

Still in the Cévennes, François met up with a friendly pipe-smoking shepherd.

The traditional grazing method involves seasonal operations known as transhumance. The shepherd walks his flocks up to highlands for the summer season, then back down to the plains for winter.

During the brief sequence, no less than three new lambs were born, with no problems.

François and the shepherd looked on, amused (there was no cause for alarm), as one of the ewes continued to follow the flock with the head of her half-born lamb sticking out behind her.

A few minute later on, the baby was sitting on the ground.

The shepherd collected the lambs by their front legs and carried them over to where the main flock was located.

Next, François met up with a man who organizes walking excursions in the company of Provençal donkeys.

The conversation moved inevitably to the story of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson [1850-1894], author of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. As a Scottish Presbyterian, Stevenson had been fascinated by tales of the Protestant insurgents in the Cévennes, back in the time of Louis XIV, who became known as Camisards. At that time (1879), Stevenson was troubled by his romantic attachment to a married woman, Fanny Osbourne, ten years his senior and the mother of three children, who had abandoned him temporarily. (A year later, she would later become his wife.)

What better way to meditate about religious history and romance than while walking across the Cévenol mountains in the company of a faithful donkey...

François then followed an itinerant butcher on an excursion to isolated villages and houses.

In this sparsely-populated corner of France, Didier's meat van has remained a vital service.

François then met up with a rural puppeteer.

Here we see the most famous puppet of all time: Polichinelle, from the Italian Commedia dell'arte.

The puppets' heads have been created by talented sculptors.

Then the puppeteer paints them and dresses them up.

In former times, puppeteers would operate at rural fairs, in order to attract customers to the merchants' stands.

François was thrilled to discover that he had his own puppet.

They all set off on the orange moped—François, his puppet and the puppeteer—to reach the place where the puppeteer's mobile theater was parked.

François and Polichinelle were the stars of the show...

At the end of the day, François stopped for a moment in the village of Ganges to pay homage to Charles Benoit, inventor of the moped. He left an orange scarf attached to the commemorative plaque.

Finally, the episode terminated with a short trip in a hot-air balloon: an 18th-century French invention of the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier.

The orange moped surely enjoyed the excursion into the skies of the Cévennes.

François certainly did.

Friday, September 7, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #4

Episode #4 of the road movie was presented yesterday afternoon.

As usual, the program was particularly didactic... whether or not that was the intention of the producers. We learned, for example, that an old-fashioned man-powered meteorological observation station still exists in Provence.

Next, François met up with bees, kept in the wilderness on a Cévenol hillside in ancient tree-trunk hives.

You only have to lift a trunk to admire the fabulous activity of the bees.

The beekeeper explained the advantages of this ancient technique.

François (bitten by a bee in real time) appeared to be fascinated nevertheless by the beauty of Cévenol beekeeping.

Then he turned to goats. More precisely, to goat cheese.

Bisons, of course, were a different kettle of fish. This sequence was particularly didactic in the sense that an observer (like François himself) needed a little time to be reassured that these Provençal graziers of bisons must not be looked upon as nostalgic cowboys.

Their job consists of breeding and grazing bisons for meat.

From a distance, the setting evokes the Far West.

The animals are not necessarily dangerous, but they have to be respected.

François told his hosts that he had been impressed by his encounter with these beasts. After all, it's not an everyday affair, in France, to venture out onto the empty plains to take care of bisons.

The departure of François, in the setting sun, was of a lonesome cowboy style.

On the slopes of the Cévennes, he got off his faithful moped steed—like Lucky Luke on the other side of the Atlantic—and settled down to watch the last rays of the Sun.

It was too dark to see, but I imagined my son chewing nonchalantly upon a stalk of prairie grass, and looking back upon his experiences of the day.

A delightful episode, as usual.