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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Home-made furniture is fun

Maybe I disregarded a wise saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. In a corner of my kitchen, there wasn't really anything wrong with the little cupboard holding my bread machine and a press grill for making toasted sandwiches.

However, since the above photo was taken, I had painted the cupboard gray, and the painted wood wasn't reacting well to the heat of the machines and occasional drops of hot cooking oil. So, I thought it would be a good idea to glue ceramic tiles to the upper surface. Above all, my daughter was spending the weekend at Gamone, and she has a reputation for being quite an expert in the installation of glazed tiles on floors and walls. First, she glued the tiles in place perfectly.

Then she filled in the gaps between the tiles with white mortar and smoothed it all down to obtain a perfect finish.

We both agreed that it was a job well done. All that remained was to let the mortar dry and put the cupboard back in the kitchen, along with its drawers. Alas, the following morning, I discovered with surprise that the mortar, in drying, had developed big cracks.

When I inspected the situation more closely, I found that the wooden plateau was hugely warped.

The warping—no doubt caused by the moisture of the mortar—was so pronounced that the central row of wooden pegs attaching the plateau to the left and right sides of the cupboard had been completely drawn out of their holes.

The warping had started to detach many of the tiles from the plateau. What's more, at the front of the plateau, the warping prevented the drawers from being inserted.

In other words, the wooden plateau had played a trick on us, and all the nice work carried out by my daughter was henceforth a total mess, which could not be rectified. This time, my cupboard was well and truly "broke", and I would have to fix it, one way or another. So I decided to use a clawbar to remove the plateau.

I told my daughter on the phone that her tiled plateau was so nicely curved that it would make an ideal base for a home-made rocking chair.

Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity of actually trying out my rocking chair. When I tried to move it, all the ceramic tiles fell off.

Clearly, the tiled plateau was a doomed object. So, I scratched my head a bit and decided that it was time for an excursion to Grenoble, to purchase a table top at Ikea. And here's the final result:

An observer would never guess that I had to saw off a couple of centimeters of the base so that the cupboard with its thick new plateau would fit in beneath the windows (which I don't usually open).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Garden flowers are back

I'm pleased to discover that I haven't lost a single rose or peony plant since I planted them in 2009. This year, the Gay Paree is splendid, and doesn't appear to be bothered by its position alongside a giant rose bush and a clump of lavender (neither of which are flowering yet).

The Princess Margaret is thriving, but its huge flowers are weighted down by all the recent wetness. (Please disregard all the vegetation in the aisles between the plots, which I haven't had an opportunity of removing.)

On the opposite side of my garden, the Manou Meilland is a rose reflection of the peonies.

But the most glorious flower of all, at this time of the season, is the Don Quichotte, whose aroma is intense.

A month or so ago, in a quite heavy-handed manner, I cut away all the climbing rose branches protruding from the top of the pergola. Today, they've all sprouted even more abundantly.

It's a bit like a scruffy-haired boy whose mother needs to send him to the barber. Notice, on the left, the first small red blossoms of Albertine, whose stalks are also reddish.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saving Sophia

Over the last week or so, my lovely 13-year-old dog Sophia has been affected by alarming health problems, and I'm trying desperately to save her.

For ages, she has has been afflicted with a "running nose": that's to say, a daily effusion of greenish mucus from her nostrils, which has never seemed to worry Sophia and which I simply wipe away with absorbent paper. The veterinarian has explained to me that this mucus is no doubt an external symptom of some kind of serious internal problem. Unfortunately, this superficial symptom doesn't indicate automatically any kind of effective medication. And it's a fact that none of the several products suggested by the veterinarian have succeeded in stopping the mucus effusion.

A week or so ago, things became more dramatic when Sophia started to lose her appetite. The veterinarian put her on cortisone tablets, and this seemed to produce a positive reaction. Since yesterday, though, Sophia has refused all food, no matter what appetizing products I've offered her. Worse still, she refuses to eat additional cortisone tablets. So, this evening, I'm terribly anguished...

It's all very well to say that she's an old dog, and that her time is up. Fair enough. But I'll be devastated if and when she goes. Sophia is Gamone, and Gamone is Sophia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First peonies of 2012

I'm thrilled to discover that all the 22 rose bushes and the 9 peonies that I planted back in 2009 have survived the harsh winter. There are no rose blossoms yet, of course. But yesterday, I was greeted by the first peonies of 2012 at Gamone.

My Adzuma Nishiki surely needs a lot more sunshine, and less rain and wind, to acquire a more rosy robust complexion.

24 HOURS LATER: Look at the difference, this morning, brought about by just a few hours of sunshine:

Donkeys are fond of plum trees

Grass is great for cows, but donkeys prefer by far the fresh leaves and delicate blossoms of plum trees.

A tempest has been blowing at Gamone over the last 24 hours. Personally, the wind always drives me crazy. I wasn't born to reside in the Rhône valley, where the Mistral can blow for days and nights on end. I guess I wasn't born to be a yachtsman, either, or a glider pilot. Windy cities are the worst of all, particularly when the presence of tall buildings focuses the wind blasts upon unwary pedestrians. But the donkeys can thank the tempest for breaking this branch and offering them this unexpected feast.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fragile as a cherry blossom

Chapter 8 of Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins starts with a charming personal anecdote:
I was driving through the English countryside with my daughter Juliet, then aged six, and she pointed out some flowers by the wayside. I asked her what she thought wildflowers were for. She gave a rather thoughtful answer. ‘Two things,’ she said. ‘To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us.’ I was touched by this and sorry I had to tell her that it wasn't true.
Today, here in my Gamone wonderland, if I were conversing with a Juliet, I would ask her why the cherry tree has flowers.

And why are the cherry blossoms so light and fragile? There today and gone tomorrow. I don't imagine (although I may be wrong) that the flowers remain intact for long enough to interest passing insects.

Yesterday, a strong breeze sprung up at Gamone, and the cherry blossoms disappeared within 20 minutes. Afterwards, their petals were strewn across the grassy slopes and the roadway like vegetal dandruff. Dawkins's daughter might have explained that the ephemeral cherry blossoms were put there by God's angels to remind people who are fond of cherries (such as me) that there'll soon be a great crop of fruit.

Incidentally, last year, I put a big bag of cherries in the deep freezer, to see how they might survive. Well, once they're thawed out, they're a little lifeless, naturally, and their red color has changed to brown. Their texture is altered, too, as if they might have been cooked. But their taste remains excellent. And it's nice to be able to savor last year's cherries at the end of winter.

I might receive a technical reaction to this blog post from my old friend Bruce Hudson in Young, Australia. Farmers of Young are apparently some of the world's leading producers of cherries. On the other hand, I've never heard whether these Young folk know the secrets of distilling cherries to produce the 48° alcohol called kirsch, which happens to be the specialty of the Guilhermet family in St-Hilaire-du-Rosier (Ratafia variety of cherries), 20 minutes down the road from Gamone.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Donkey neighbors

This is the first group photo I've ever succeeded in taking of all the five donkeys of Gamone.

From left to right: Fanette, Moshé and the three female donkeys acquired by my neighbor Jackie last year. The two donkey families are not in direct physical contact, because their respective paddocks are separated by a couple of electric strands. So, they observe one another at a short but respectable distance... which is fine for everybody. Donkeys are aware of their precise territory, and they prefer that things stay fixed at that level.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Imagining today as if it were tomorrow

I've just been reading a news article that mentions a street in Paris, the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, that has apparently become so crowded with tourists that it is periodically closed down to traffic. Well, that street is in fact the continuation of the rue Rambuteau, where I lived for ages. It was like my backyard: a quiet place where I would often wander home after an evening at the nearby Petit Gavroche, or go out on my bicycle of a Sunday morning. A place becomes so familiar, so banal, that we take it for granted. Then, one day, it becomes so sought after that the authorities have to close down the road traffic.

Sometimes I think that this might happen, one day, to Gamone. For the moment, I'm the only person in the world who has the extraordinary privilege of existing here—day in, day out, in the sole company of my dogs and donkeys—in this magnificent setting. But one day, Gamone will surely be discovered, and the authorities will have to close the road to keep out tourist buses.

Yesterday, when driving back from Romans, I literally ran into a rainbow. It followed me all the way back to Gamone, where I had a few precious minutes to take a photo before it dissolved into thin air.

As I say, the funny thing about that rainbow was that it followed me all the way back home here, as if it were taking care of me. As soon as it saw that I had arrived safely at Gamone, the rainbow disappeared.


In memory of a dog named Gamone


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mondo cane

Sophia's primary wish, as she grows older, is to lead a peaceful and lazy (non-strenuous) existence... like all of us, you might say.

Whenever I happen to wander up the road on my own, to fetch water for the donkeys, Sophia gets upset and starts to bark. She wants to keep me in sight all the time (except, of course, if I go out in the car, which doesn't seem to bother her).

In the turd domain, Queen Sophia has become a little like the French "Sun King" Louis XIV at Versailles, who apparently had the habit of sitting on the royal chamber pot every morning, and doing his business, in the company of selected members of his court. My dog Sophia expects Fitzroy and me to accompany her to a precise place on the slopes, 50 meters beyond the house, and to wait there until not the least fragment of a turd remains to be ejected from her anal tract. I'm always amused by the way in which Sophia, up until the latter question has received a definitive answer, continues to beat around the bush, coming and going, hesitating, and turning in circles. It's clearly a fundamental matter of making a good decision.

Fitzroy now accepts the principle of being chained up for certain periods during the day (in the middle of the morning or afternoon, for example, after having eaten), to remove the temptation of setting out on exploratory expeditions along the roads, no doubt in pursuit of magic female odors. He doesn't seem to be traumatized by this necessity, as he comes readily when I call him to be attached to the chain.

During the night, he's totally free to do as he pleases. And one of the activities that pleases Fitzroy immensely is the destruction of colored plastic objects.

It goes without saying that I'm not happy to see the nozzle of a hose subjected to this treatment. But how can I possibly explain to my dog that I need those plastic objects for several good reasons? Just imagine if a grass fire broke out, and I suddenly found my hose nozzle in that state. Fitzroy, of course, would never worry about such things as grass fires. On the other hand, he has always been infatuated by water hoses.

We humans see the Large Hadron Collider and its beams of particles, beneath the Franco-Swiss border, as an extraordinary tool capable of maybe providing answers to some of the basic mysteries of our existence. Fitzroy seems to see the jet of water emerging from a hose with a similar degree of awe. Even if it means getting soaked for the nth time, Fitzroy would like to break through this mystery, and get to the bottom (or maybe rather the top) of it all.

My dog performs astonishing jumps of well over a meter into the air. I tried to manipulate the hose and take photos of Fitzroy's spectacular jumps at the same time, but my images cannot possibly hope to convey the intellectual rage of my dear dog.

A jet of water emerging from a hose looks like a tangible thing... and yet it seems to evaporate into thin wet air as soon as you attempt to grasp it. Maybe it's a matter of adjusting one's angle of attack, even in mid-air.

Fitzroy's determination to solve this problem knows no bounds... apart from his own, which are truly superb.

I would never dare attempt to explain to my dog the curious physical nature of liquids, because he has clearly discovered these mysteries all on his own. I prefer to leave Fitzroy with his permanent determination to catch the Snark one of these days. Others might wait for Godot. Meanwhile, Fitzroy jumps.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Exceptional vision of the valley

Late this afternoon, when I caught sight of extraordinary hues in the valley, I grabbed my Nikon and took the following shot from the bathroom window:

My motivations behind this photo [click to enlarge] were actually a little more complicated, and confused. While opening the bathroom window to take a look at the dogs, I glimpsed the blurry mirror image of the Huillier houses in Châtelus, at the foot of the Cournouze. The two on the right, one superimposed on the other, gave the impression of the presence of a Byzantine chapel with a tower. I realized immediately that the extraordinary reddish light was playing tricks on me.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sunny end-of-winter morning

Over the last few days, weather specialists on TV have been warning us that the apparent early arrival of spring is an illusion, and that we should remain prepared for further cold days. Be that as it may, primroses have made their annual appearance at Gamone.

These lovely little flowers have always been the first tangible sign that spring is not far away. Meanwhile, the landscape remains brownish. On the slopes, patches of bare soil, left naked between tufts of dead grass, have a dry lifeless look. After the harsh days and nights of ice and snow, the earth will need a little time to revive and nourish the dormant vegetation. We must be patient.

Already, the weather is sufficiently sunny to invite me outside for my morning cup of Ethiopian Arabica [see my blog post on this subject].

Fitzroy looks on, while Sophia lounges in the morning sun.

Funnily, whenever I step outside the front door at Gamone for a cup of coffee in the sun, while admiring the Choranche valley and the Cournouze mountain, I'm reminded inevitably—by an immediate and automatic mental flashback—of a spring morning in 1962, not long after my arrival in France, when a couple of Australian friends and I were driving through the French Riviera, on our way to the F1 Grand Prix in Monaco. We halted for coffee at a café on the edge of the Mediterranean. It was a simple enough event, and yet I realize retrospectively that it was probably the first time in my life that I had sat down for coffee at an outside table in such a magnificent natural site. Normally, as a youth back in Australia, I should have had similar opportunities at the seaside or in the mountains… but none of them have remained in my memory as vividly as that marvelous first morning on the French Riviera.

For the last two decades, I've been fortunate in being able to rediscover any number of marvelous mornings on my doorstep… at least when the weather's warm.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Donkey feed buckets

This afternoon, I installed new plastic feed buckets for Moshé and Fanette.

I purchased these buckets through the Internet, since they're much better than anything I could find in local stores. They're made out of heavy-duty plastic, they have handles so that I can fill them with oats back at the house and carry them down to the donkey paddock, and they have solid steel brackets enabling me to slip them onto a thick wooden plank that's bolted to a pair of upright posts. So, the system appeared to be foolproof.

Alas, donkeys are no fools. When they had finished gulping down their oats, Moshé (on the left) used his powerful jaws to lift up each bucket and remove it from the supporting plank. Then he kicked them down the slopes, meaning that I had to scramble down the hill for 50 meters to get hold of the empty buckets, and then carry them back up to the house. That's exactly what I would like to avoid, particularly when the slopes are slippery or covered in snow.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Biting off a bit of water

Over the last week, when the weather was bitterly cold, I allowed Fitzroy, exceptionally, to sleep in the kitchen with Sophia. Inside the house, however, Fitzroy becomes rapidly bored, because he's a hyperactive dog (that's the adjective used by French journalists to describe Nicolas Sarkozy) who needs to race around and jump in the air, scrambling up and down the slopes of Gamone, snapping at the donkeys' hind legs, racing after birds (who surely can't imagine how an earthbound animal such as a dog could ever hope to catch an aerial creature), or killing field mice. Yes, Fitzroy has a distinctly feline feature: he's a skilled mouse-killer. It's true that I train him in this art as often as possible. You see, inside the house, I use a couple of metallic cages as mousetraps.

When the door of the trap springs shut, the rodent is simply imprisoned, but otherwise unharmed. Then, with the generosity of a Nero, I give the captured mouse a fighting chance of survival in a confrontation with Fitzroy. The other evening, I organized such a combat in the dark, on the snow-covered roadway. I used an electric lamp to see where I was walking, and to open the cage enabling the mouse to dart out with the speed of an arrow (or almost), but Fitzroy relied solely upon his sense of smell to locate the escaping mouse in the dark, pounce upon it, scrape it up out of the snow and break its backbone. In the style of a cat, Fitzroy will then toss the mouse in the air a couple of times, to see how it reacts upon landing. I believe that this is not merely a cruel game, but rather a way of evaluating the physical state of the captured prey. In the case of a field mouse in the snow, in plain daylight, Fitzroy's skills are quite spectacular. He will pounce into a heap of snow—where there's no visible sign of life—and emerge instantly with a mouse clutched between his teeth.

Inside the warm kitchen, Fitzroy usually squats Sophia's big wicker basket. But Sophia is just as happy spread out on the tiled floor, which contains electric heating. The problem, alas, is that Fitzroy's boredom is often transformed into vandalism.

He dissects minutely everything he can find. Let us not forget that, over a year ago, Fitzroy was no more than a pup when he destroyed my thick hessian and rubber doormat by tearing it into smaller and smaller fragments. Fitzroy is fond of applying this fragmentation process to smaller objects such as supermarket cheese trays, yoghurt containers and Kleenexes (preferably used). Since I'm rarely on the spot at the moment when the damage is being done, I can't really adopt a negative attitude that might inform Fitzroy that his vandalism pisses me off. So, I merely chase him out of the house and clean up the mess. If there's one word that Fitzroy does understand perfectly, it's the command "Out!". For him, it's an invitation to return to his normal pleasant outdoors environment.

Incidentally, talking about the dogs' environment, I'm always happy to rediscover that both Sophia and Fitzroy are resolutely winter animals, indeed snow creatures. Whenever they've got something on their mind such as the investigation of an unidentified external presence or odor or noise, they immediately ignore the fact that a Siberian snow blizzard might be sweeping across the slopes of Gamone. Finally, it's only when they've got nothing better to think about that they get around to thinking that life might be more pleasant indoors.

Yesterday afternoon, I was relieved to find that the temperature had become quite mild and the sun was shining. I took a few gardening tools up the road, to break up the thick layer of ice (a driving hazard for my neighbor) that had formed just below my spring.

A steady stream of water continues to emerge from a hose attached to my spring. Since this running water is a few degrees warmer than the frozen surroundings, it can actually be used to melt the ice. Now, Fitzroy has a theory about water streaming from a hose. It's cool and tasty, and Fitzroy reckons that a smart dog should be able to bite off a bit, to grasp between his teeth, as if it were an agonizing field mouse.

He jumps ceaselessly at the nozzle of the hose, with constant determination, trying to get his teeth firmly around the stream of icy water. There again, as in the case of Fitzroy's vandalism, I can't find the right words to communicate effectively with my dear dog. To be perfectly truthful, I don't wish to exclude totally the possibility that Fitzroy might come running towards me proudly, one of these days, with a short fragment of still-running water clenched in his mouth. That would merely make him a quantum-theory dog... which wouldn't amaze me unduly. Anything's possible...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Covered in snow

Snow hit us massively during the night. Nobody can say we weren't warned. TV weather reports have become amazingly precise.

Yesterday, the visiting goldfinches were basking in the sun on the tiled roof of the bird house. Today, they would need to wear snowshoes.

In the middle of the morning, just after the passage of the municipal snow plow, I ran into my neighbor Jackie walking down the road on his way to Pont-en-Royans.

In fact, I had already discovered why Jackie was unlikely to do much driving, today, on the slopes of Choranche. Early this morning, I was taking my dogs out so that Sophia could "do her business". She only defecates at a fixed place, a hundred meters up above the house, and prefers to be accompanied for the occasion.

Continuing up the road a little, I was alarmed to find Jackie's little white vehicle in the middle of a snow-covered field.

I was relieved to find footprints leading from the stranded vehicle back up to Jackie's house. So I rushed up there to find out what had happened. Jackie told me that he had an appointment this morning with his GP up in Grenoble. Having heard that driving conditions might be difficult, he decided to set out early, at 6 am, in the dark. But, before he had done 50 meters, his journey ended abruptly. The vehicle started to slide on the very first slope, and refused to stay on the road. It continued to slide in a straight line, and that line lead into the field, where the vehicle only stopped sliding because of a conveniently-placed big bump in the grassy ground.

He was lucky in that the rough terrain prevented the vehicle from gathering speed, overturning and sliding into Gamone Creek.

As for me, I simply rule out any attempt whatsoever at using my old automobile whenever Gamone is covered in ice or snow.

New unidentified birds at Gamone

Yesterday, a new group of tiny colorful birds arrived at Gamone. The following poor-quality photo (with my telephoto lens, there's not enough depth of field) gives you an idea of the bird's appearance:

Instead of darting into the bird house and flying out with sunflower seeds in their beaks, like the mésanges [tits], these newcomers simply hang around as a group on the roof of the bird house, and dine calmly on the seeds I placed there.

Meanwhile, on the ground, where I've also spread several kinds of seeds, finches chase each other around, as if there weren't enough seeds to go around. The little creatures give the impression, viewed from my bedroom window, that they're competing aggressively in some kind of rough soccer match.

For the moment, I haven't been able to identify these new visitors.

BREAKING NEWS: Christine just phoned to inform me that these birds are European goldfinches [chardonnerets in French].

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Teapots in my life

Here's an assortment of teapots that I've had for ages:

My favorite is the glazed stoneware object on the right, created by the potter Maurice Crignon. The little metal teapot with red hearts came down to my daughter as a memento of her aunt Catherine Vincent, and Emmanuelle then gave it to me. It remains my daughter's favorite teapot whenever she visits Gamone, because she can make herself a single cup of tea for breakfast, knowing that I prefer coffee. Manufactured in what used to be known as Yugoslavia, this lovely little object is unfortunately so light and round-shaped that it has a tendency to roll over if you touch it abruptly… which is not reassuring behavior for a teapot. And the thin metal radiates heat rather than keeping it in the brew.

Here are my two high-tech cast-iron made-in-China teapots:

They incorporate the excellent idea of a built-in tea strainer, whereas my older teapots require the use of a small spherical tea-container that is not very user-friendly. The big green teapot on the left is a family-size device, whereas the lovely little beige teapot (which I've just purchased, through the Internet) is perfect for me on my own, and particularly esthetic.

If you happened to read yesterday's blog post entitled Internet shopping [display], you'll understand immediately how I've succeeded in obtaining top-quality leaves of Chinese jasmine tea.