Showing posts with label Gamone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gamone. Show all posts

Sunday, December 14, 2014

De-extinction

The awkward term “de-extinction” designates the idea of recreating a living organism that had become extinct. This idea gives rise to two quite different questions:

• First, of course, it’s a matter of deciding how to attempt to perform such a de-extinction operation, at a purely technological level.

• Second, there’s the question of the ethical implications of such an act. In other words: Would we have a right, morally and socially, to perform such-and-such a de-extinction operation?

The de-extinction of dinosaurs would appear to be a failure at both levels. So, you should feel free to go ahead with plans for a nice wedding, say, with no fear of unexpected interruptions.


Things get somewhat more complicated when we envisage the de-extinction of Neanderthals.


Let’s suppose that we did in fact succeed in carrying out a successful de-extinction operation. What would you then do with such a fellow? It would be unwise to let him wander around freely as if he were a normal citizen of the world, because he would surely run into trouble, for countless obvious reasons. You could always try to get him adopted by a nice family of well-off God-fearing American Republicans. Or maybe you might think about packing him off to an outback cattle station in Australia to work as a jackeroo. But, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, there would be certain unknown unknowns… including the ugly idea that our Neanderthal friend might be enticed into becoming a militant in a jihadist organization.

The de-extinction of a woolly mammoth would appear to be a far more reasonable project.


On the one hand, with the help of modern elephants, the operation is probably feasible, and there would be room enough in the wilderness of lands such as Canada or Siberia to organize an ideal home-place for the resurrected creature, and maybe create a family environment.

In my native Australia, there are two fascinating candidates for de-extinction. The first is an amazing creature that was last seen as recently as 1985: the Gastric brooding frog.


Its mode of reproduction was really weird. The female swallows her fertilized eggs and then uses her stomach as a womb, finally giving birth to baby frogs through her mouth (as you can see in the above photo).

The other perfect candidate for de-extinction is the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which became extinct in 1936.


An Australian scientist, Mike Archer, has made a brilliant presentation of the case for de-extinction of these two creatures. Click here to watch his fascinating talk on this subject. At one point in his talk, Archer presents an old-timer who led him to his bush hut which used to be visited by Tasmanian tigers. And he introduces the marvelous theme of maybe keeping these animals as pets. Personally, I almost broke into tears of emotion when I heard Mike Archer making his case for this aspect of a de-extinction project. I looked fondly at this painting of a Thylacine and her pup:


And I said to myself that, since my dog Fitzroy has now developed the regular habit of sleeping inside the house, his charming old kennel is free to receive a guest.


So, if ever Mike Archer were looking for a nice place to house one of his future Thylacine pups, Fitzroy and I would be more than happy to receive such an adorable creature at Gamone. As for the idea of also accepting the Neanderthal fellow, to look after the tiger pup, I’m prepared to look into the question… but I would probably prefer a Neanderthal maiden who wouldn’t mind combining her Thylacine-care activities with housekeeping work at Gamone.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Medieval meat

Maybe I’m exaggerating when I refer to these huge pieces of freshly-shot wild boar as medieval meat.


You’ll have to excuse me. My head is in the historical clouds. I’ve been preoccupied for several weeks now by my work on the next book to be published by my Gamone Press.


It’s not so much the meat itself—which has been cooking slowly for the last few hours, in white wine, in my marvelous French-made SEB slow cooker (“crock-pot”)— that is medieval, but rather the means by which I obtained it. In a pure feudal spirit, one of the hunters who had killed the animal, on the outskirts of Gamone, dropped in yesterday with a big white plastic bag holding the pieces of wild boar. In contemporary terms, this spontaneous gesture is the way in which the hunting community (often denigrated by rural newcomers) expresses thanks to the land-owners on whose properties they’ve been operating.

To tell the truth, it took me some time to become accustomed to all the agitation and noise of hunters on the slopes opposite Gamone. I suppose I imagined naively that I might get hit by a stray bullet. These days, on the contrary, I’m fond of these wild weekends, which must be thought of as expressions of ancient traditions in the valley of the Bourne. Besides, Fitzroy and I are well-placed—on our Gamone balcony—to see and appreciate what’s going on. This afternoon, for example, two hunters were wandering around with their dogs in the tall grass on the slopes. Suddenly, the fixed gaze of my dog led my regard towards the presence of a big roe deer, sprinting down towards Gamone Creek, just a few meters below the hunters and their dogs… who were clearly unaware of the deer’s presence.

For Fitzroy, too, there’s the pleasure of gnawing into a wild boar bone.






Getting back to my future book, I’m often tempted to say that living in a place such as Gamone without seeking to find out a little about the previous occupants strikes me as mindless, indeed immoral. I didn’t invent Gamone. I only “own” the place in a short-lived legal sense: the time to write a book, you might say. To use a quaint Victorian term, Fitzroy and I are lodgers at Gamone.

My historical research unearths many surprises, some of which are pleasant with a touch of sadness. Today, if somebody in this corner of the world were to evoke the name of the Macaire family, they could only be thinking, normally, of my aging neighbor Paul Macaire and his dear wife. You have to delve into local history to learn that members of this family once attained great world heights… but outside of France. These illustrious Macaire individuals belonged to a celebrated category of French religious expatriates: the Huguenots. Funnily enough, insofar as these Huguenots disappeared from the local scene, the French are not particularly aware of their existence and of the gigantic role they played on the world scene. I would bet that, if you were to carry out random street interviews in nearby Pont-en-Royans (once 100% Protestant), few people would have the vaguest idea of the meaning of the term Huguenot.

In this global context of forgetfulness and false ideas, I am keen to write my Gamone book during the all-too-short time that I remain a lodger here…

Friday, November 21, 2014

Alarms

In my house at Gamone, I’ve just assembled and installed two alarm panels like this:


The alarm on the left is a smoke detector, while that on the right detects lethal carbon monoxide gas. They both run on batteries.

I’ve installed one panel in the staircase, in the vicinity of my ground-floor wood-burning stove. The other panel is installed on a wall in the kitchen. These detectors are not expensive, and they’re easy to install. So, I’ll probably get around to installing other identical panels throughout the house.

My son François told me that he inadvertently tested his CO detector when cleaning the interior of the chimney pipe that evacuates smoke from his wood-burning stove. There were two 90-degree bends in his piping (which have since been eliminated thanks to a single vertical pipe from ground level to the roof), and it would appear that CO had collected between these bends. Consequently, as soon as François started to brush away the soot that had gathered in these bends, the CO floated down into his living room and set off the alarm.

François and I both felt that it would be reassuring if we were able to test our smoke detectors… without setting fire to our houses. At lunchtime today, I succeeded in doing just that, thanks to half-a-dozen barbecue sausages from my deep freezer. I cooked them on a flat iron pan of the kind used for making pancakes, heated by my gas range. Naturally, as the temperature rose, and the sausages sizzled, a bit of smoke escaped from the pan. Suddenly there was a piercing whistle, but I had no idea of its origin. Since I was also using an induction plate to cook vegetables to accompany the sausages, I had the crazy idea that the molecules in the induction system might be “resonating”  weirdly and catastrophically… and I half-expected something to explode. The whistle continued to shriek. Finally, I noticed that the smoke detector was also flashing a red lamp… and I realized what had happened. So, I rushed to the kitchen door and opened it to let out the smoke, which ended the whistle shrieks.

It was a successful and convincing test. Besides, I had the impression that the sausages and vegetables—which I ate on an outside coffee table, in the autumn sunshine, sharing tidbits with my dog Fitzroy (who had been just as disturbed by the alarm as I was)—tasted better than ever.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Morning mists and an autumn chill in the air

In French, the word for mists is brume. So, the new calendar that was invented in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 invented the lovely term Brumaire to designate the autumn month extending from the middle of October to the middle of November.


This morning, my surveillance camera was awoken by the first rays of light streaming down through the mists.


A few seconds later, the romantic charm of the misty morning was shattered by the arrival of an unexpected vehicle, which made such a noise that my dog Fitzroy seemed to fear that we were being attacked by an army tank.


What the hell was that? I suddenly remembered that my neighbor had told me that they were planning on starting the construction, this November, of an outdoor swimming pool! Why not? At a lifestyle level, nothing could be more pleasant than lounging in the sunshine of Choranche on the edge of a pool of clear Alpine water, while a barbecue on the lawn exudes a mouth-watering aroma of grilled sausages. Chilled beer? Or would you maybe prefer a glass of icy Sauvignon?

We often tend to forget that Choranche is just a stone’s throw to the north of Provence. From a sunshine viewpoint, however, you need to be a champion stone-thrower to cover the distance.

Selfies of an unexpected kind

Just as I decided long ago to have nothing whatsoever to do with the childish but pernicious Facebook phenomenon, I’ve always been determined to avoid the temptation to start publishing so-called selfie portraits in this blog. I hasten to add—lest I be considered as more egocentric than I really am—that humanity is unlikely to suffer greatly from my absence on the terrain of Facebook and selfies.

Yesterday afternoon, the weather at Gamone was a little less wet than usual, so I decided to climb up onto the tiled roof of my carport in order to continue work on the triangular section of red-pine boarding (a tough hardwood called Mélèze in French) that closes the empty opening above the carport roof. This is the place where I recently installed a powerful LED lamp and a camera.


Well, having finished my work up on the roof, I wandered back to my faithful computer to see if I had received any e-mail. Surprise! My surveillance camera had sent me a bunch of e-mails with photos of an unidentified old guy who’d apparently been hovering around in stealthy circumstances on top of the carport roof.






Do they count as selfies? Maybe we should refer to these photos as stealthies.

Friday, September 5, 2014

French-fried potatoes

In the USA, they’re known as French fries. In Australia, we call them chips (not to be confused with the thin dried potato crisps sold in cellophane packets). In France, they’re frites.

— photo (found on the web) by Rainer Zenz

I recently purchased an Actifry appliance, from the French Seb company, which makes it easy to cook frites with a minimum volume of oil: roughly a big spoonful.


I buy big fat potatoes of a kind that are specially recommended for frites (as distinct from potatoes that are ideal for baking or steaming).


Then there’s the question of peeling. I’ve found that the red device shown in the photo (apparently designed for peeling tomatoes) is ideal. Its double-edged blade swivels slightly, and glides smoothly over bumps in potatoes. In France, this kind of peeling tool is inevitably referred to by the trademark of its inventor in 1929: L’Économe, which evokes thrift and the waste of over-thick potato peels.

Next, there’s the task of transforming spuds (as we used to call them in Australia when I was a kid) into future frites. This involves the use of a device that is generally designated in US English as a French fry cutter. A few weeks ago, I was seduced by the following elegant little fry-cutter device from Amazon:


For an outlay of 27 euros, I bought their device... then tried to use it.


Amazon marketing had blatantly screwed me. Their kind of fry-cutter gadget might be fine if French fries happened to be made out of soft cheese, or boiled eggs, or ripe pears. But real potatoes cause this flimsy device to explode in mid-air… and the Amazon people surely know this perfectly well. You then have to use a pointed knife to extract the potato fragments mixed up inside the disjointed metallic structure. What an ugly Amazon mess! Yet they continue to sell such shit. Really, I’ve decided that I must get around to ceasing to buy stuff from this unfriendly corporation…

Fortunately, a local second-hand shop provided me with an ideal professional solution, for 3 or 4 times the money I had wasted at Amazon. In any case, from a size/weight viewpoint, when compared with the ridiculous Amazon toy, I certainly got more for my money.


Above all, this professional fry cutter really works!


Conclusions: I’ve solved a problem, while discovering (with displeasure) that I had been hoodwinked by Amazon into believing that their flimsy toy can cut up real-world potatoes for French fries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Elements of my future pizza oven

Throughout winter, the elements of my future wood-fueled bread oven were stored in my cellar, because I had once imagined that I would actually install the oven in a corner of my stone cellar. But I changed my mind at that level, finally deciding that it would be a much better idea to install the oven out in the open, at the southern end of my house, at a spot where a wood-fueled bread oven had once existed, long ago. So, today, I decided to bring all the 14 elements out onto the lawn, alongside the place where they will soon be assembled.


To move the heavy elements, I used the simple two-wheeled device that’s known in French as a diable (devil).


Now that the weather is sunny at Gamone, it’s a pleasure for me to work outside. In the immediate future, before thinking about assembling the elements of the oven, I first have to erect the base on which the oven will be installed. For me, this is likely to be quite a demanding project (I’ve never built such a structure before), but there’s no reason why I can’t do it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bees are toiling non-stop at Gamone

Long ago, when I was working at IBM headquarters in Paris, a friendly but loud-mouthed French colleague, whose first name (if I remember correctly) was Michel, used to amuse us greatly by his regular phone call, every afternoon around 4 o’clock. He was young, and had not been married for long. Jewish, he liked to enhance his conversation by throwing in bizarre Yiddish exclamations, which only our elegant and brilliant young French-Moroccan colleague Jacques Cohen-Rothschild seemed to understand and appreciate. The subject of Michel’s phone call was always the same: “Darling, what are you cooking for dinner this evening?”

Whenever visitors are due to arrive at Gamone, my first and foremost question is: “What am I going to give them to eat?” That’s not all that surprising because, at Gamone, it’s not as if I can step out rapidly to a nearby shop to buy foodstuffs, or even decide that we might eat in a nearby restaurant. What I mean to say is that there are few nearby shops and restaurants.

Knowing that my swarm of bees would be moving in at Gamone the day before yesterday, I asked myself the same question: “What are they going to eat?” Well, it appears that there’s no problem whatsoever. My property includes about a dozen giant linden trees, which are all in bloom at present.


I can’t actually see the bees in the trees, because they’re probably attracted by flowers in the upper branches, warmed by the sun. But, whenever I stroll beneath one of my linden trees, I detect buzzing in the branches above my head. I’ve got into the habit, since Sunday, of standing for long periods of time near the narrow takeoff and landing zone at the front of the hive, and watching the fascinating movements of the tiny aircraft. This morning, at dawn, I noticed that all the bees entering the hive seemed to be wearing thick yellow woollen socks. It’s linden-blossom pollen, of course, caught up on their hind legs. I’ll try to obtain photos of this delightful scene, but I don’t want to get so close to the hive (protected by my beekeeper's costume) that I might upset the insects. They’ve got a lot of work to do in the near future, building cells on the 5 empty frames in the hive and then starting to use these new cells either to make and store honey, or maybe to create a maternity ward for new bees. It’s all extremely mysterious, enthralling and indeed awe-inspiring: a very Dawkinsian environment.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

BeeMan’s inaugural solo flight

When BeeMan stepped out onto the lawn in front of flight headquarters this morning, the onlookers were in a state of excitement. Even a dog rushed up, out of the crowd, to get a closer look at the hero of the day.


BeeMan’s spacesuit and helmet were impeccably white, almost as if they had never been worn before. In his hands, he clutched a high-tech device that he had learnt how to use in all kinds of situations, to protect himself.


BeeMan knew that his mission was dangerous, but he had faith in the engineers who had designed his equipment and taught him how to use it. In the early hours of the morning, BeeMan’s precious payload for his inaugural flight had arrived in a big truck that had traveled all the way from Slovenia to France. On the outside, it looked like an ordinary cardboard box. But, as soon as you held your ear up against the box, you realized that much was happening inside.


Exactly 90 minutes earlier on, BeeMan had carried out personally a delicate task that consisted of cutting a hole at one extremity of the box, whereupon parts of the payload started to escape.


As soon as he arrived on the launching pad, BeeMan started to pump on his smoke gadget.


Then he used a cutter, courageously, to slice open the payload.


The air was suddenly filled with buzzing, and BeeMan pumped harder than ever on his smoke gadget. Then the real action started when BeeMan got around to extracting frames from the payload and placing them carefully in the 5 empty slots of his hive.


Often, to carry out particularly delicate operations, BeeMan would get down onto his knees.


My neighbor Jackie took dozens of other photos that recorded for posterity all the operations of BeeMan during this momentous adventure. But all these photos look much the same, and I’m sure that my readers have grasped already the sense of BeeMan’s daring solo flight. Finally, the job was done, and BeeMan closed the lid.


As he contemplated his new hive, BeeMan was relieved and elated… like Sisyphus watching his rock roll down the slopes.


BeeMan was happy.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Getting ready for summer projects

I’ll be fetching my swarm of bees tomorrow afternoon. They’re arriving on a truck from some mysterious place in the Middle East, so I hope they haven’t suffered during the voyage. If I understand correctly, they’re a race of calm honey bees designated as Armenian. God only knows what language I’ll speak with them. Everything’s ready for their arrival at Gamone, where they’ll moving in to a hive located on a grassy roadside mound in the middle of the hairpin bend at the level of my house. Alongside, there’s an old cherry tree, a pair of recently-planted fruit trees, and the grave of my dear dog Sophia.

Click to enlarge slightly

Behind the house, this afternoon, I used a white ribbon (old electric fence material) to trace a big rectangle, some 9 meters behind my house, on slightly sloping ground (by Gamone standards) at the base of the hill.


The rectangle—8 meters wide and 5 meters deep—encloses an area of 40 square meters. I intend to construct a wood cabin here. First, of course, the ground will have to be levelled. This will involve the removal of about 15 cubic meters of earth, which will be pushed down onto the zone between the rear of my house and the lower edge of the future cabin.

The cabin will be used above all to store garden tools such as lawn-mowers, weed-cutters, etc. I haven’t yet worked out the exact form of the future cabin. Unlike the simple mono-pitched roof of my wood shelter, the roof of the future cabin will certainly be dual-pitched. Will it be possible to build the roof high enough to envisage the creation of a small attic with Velux skylights looking out over the roof of my house, in the direction of the so-called “circus” of Choranche? We’ll see.

Incidentally, this is the basic kind of structure that I'll have to build:


The massive triangular assemblage is called a ferme in French (the same word as for farm, but meaning "closed" in the roof-carpentry context). In English, I believe it's referred to as a closed couple, where the couple in question is of course the pair of diagonal rafters. For a cabin that's 8 meters wide, I'll probably need to erect 4 such assemblages. For me, it's quite fulfilling to discover the world of carpentry, and to examine the mechanics of the traditional solutions.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A drone flew over Gamone

Using drone images obtained by Hakim, I attempted to learn enough about the Final Cut software to put together the following short video:


Monday, May 19, 2014

Another baby donkey at Gamone

For a long time, Moshé (who’s over 20 years old) was the only donkey at Gamone. Today, on the contrary, he has no less than seven donkey companions. But he retains his independent character. Here’s a photo of him striding up the hill, brushing flies away with his tail, and using his ears as a kind of rear-view mirror.


The latest birth, a week ago, was a female.



Her name is Violette. The mother is Bella, and the father (a Provençal donkey, like Moshé) is Barnabé (French version of the biblical “Barnabas”). Here are the three of them, posing for a family portrait in front of my archaic shed:


There’s an opening in the fence between Jacky’s property and mine, so the donkeys can roam freely between the two. Here are some of them in my walnut paddock:



The presence of all these donkeys has cleaned up considerably the weeds on my land. This is an advantage for my dog Fitzroy, above all. When he dashes out on a tempestuous excursion aimed at reminding the donkeys that he's the boss at Gamone (a dozen times a day), Fitzroy no longer returns to the house covered in prickly burs, as was the case up until now. But don't imagine that my dog would ever get around to thanking the donkeys for that service.