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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My neighbor's donkeys

A few days ago, a bit of half-hearted barking by Fitzroy informed me that something slightly irregular was happening at Gamone. When I rushed downstairs, I discovered that we had received the visit, for the first time ever, of my neighbor's five donkeys. Fitzroy's barking only appeared, of course, to be half-hearted. The truth of the matter was that my dog was in total control of the situation. I would imagine that, in Fitzroy's mind, this meant that the donkeys were grazing contentedly, and gave no signs of attempting to enter my house. So, in a canine sense, all was more-or-less in order. During the minute or so that it took me to race back upstairs to phone my neighbor, the donkeys had moved down the road. By the time that Jackie appeared on the scene, his animals had discovered the nice patch of green fodder alongside Madeleine's place. Jackie borrowed a rope from his aunt and had no trouble leading the matriarchal donkey, followed by the others, back up to my place... where my own donkeys, Moshé and Fanette, looked down with curiosity upon all the movement.

[Click to enlarge]

With so many donkeys now present at Gamone (count me, if you so insist, in their numbers), I've often suggested to Jackie that we should set up some kind of a business. If and when my son François finds time to visit me one of these days, now that his huge TV series of moped shows is finished (the production, but not the airing), I'll ask him for advice in the spirit of the story of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson [1850-1894], author of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, evoked in one of my son's excellent travelogues [display].

Otherwise, Jackie and I might look into the idea of bringing our donkeys up to a cabaret level, like the smart donkeys of Emilienne d'Alençon [1869-1946], who performed at the Casino de Paris.

Besides presenting her donkeys, Emilienne was quite a talented young lady, generally described in French as a courtisane. This term (for which I can find no good English equivalent) designated an attractive female who had succeeded in imagining elegant ways of marketing her charms in the context of distinguished and wealthy admirers such as the Duke of Crussol d'Uzès, King Léopold II of Belgium and the jockey Percy Woodland. Even an aging donkey such as me could surely be infatuated by the splendor of such a trainer.

Of a sexually ecumenical disposition, Emilienne got on well with the famous model of Toulouse-Lautrec known as La Goulue [1866-1929].

Emilienne also got involved with a British lesbian poetess who called herself Renée Vivien [1877-1909] and wrote in French.

Nicknamed Sappho 1900, Renée died in a suicidal atmosphere at the tender age of 32, in the purest of depressive romantic traditions.

Talking about smart donkeys (as we once were), I happen to possess a remarkable but little-known bible on donkey wisdom (a precious gift from Christine) written by Victor Hugo.

Naturally, before making plans about their future education, prior to some kind of music-hall show, I asked my donkeys for their opinion on this project. Moshé seemed to like the idea, but Fanette reacted surprisingly (she's a young female) in a strictly negative manner.

I've told my neighbor that I would be happy to go ahead with some kind of a project aimed at bringing our donkeys up to a music-hall level.

We both agree however (at the risk of appearing as old-fashioned male sexists) that it would be unwise for the donkeys and us to get involved in any kind of fragile business context with romantic lesbian dancers and suicidal female poets, no matter how enticing they might appear.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Preparing winter wood

Yesterday afternoon, my supplier of firewood—my neighbor Gérard Magnat—dumped a huge pile of wood alongside the house. Since rain has been forecast during the coming week, I promptly covered the pile of wood with a tarpaulin.

My job now—which will take me a couple of days—is to transfer all this wood into neat stacks under a corner of the roof of the house.

As I explained in a blog post a couple of years ago [display], the wood can be moved more-or-less effortlessly with the help of a hand truck.

As for the wood itself, it's a mixture of oak and European Beech. Many of the pieces of oak are irregularly shaped, and very beautiful.

I'm aware that it's a privilege to be able to burn such nice old wood to keep oneself warm.

Talking about wood, I've got a couple of pine kitchen chairs that I brought back from Western Australian some 25 years ago. Years ago, my dog Sophia discovered that it was a pleasant experience to chew away at the rungs of these chairs. And I now find that Fitzroy, too, likes to gnaw at this Australian wood.

Often, I find a sprinkling of splinters on the floor beneath the chair. Inevitably, Fitzroy is likely to bite right through one of the rungs. I hope it's the pure wood that tastes good, rather than the varnish or a chemical product applied to the wood. But dogs are not accustomed to informing us why they've acquired a taste for such-and-such a thing. Why is it, for example, that Fitzroy likes to lap up traces of wetness in the shower, even when he has access to his bowl of fresh water?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creek bed cleaned

Whenever it rains extremely heavily on the slopes above Gamone, once or twice a year, the creek becomes a raging torrent, and it often overflows onto the road. To prevent this overflow, the village council decided to clean and deepen the creek bed (completely dry at present) below my house.

The work was carried out yesterday by a fellow-citizen of Choranche, René Uzel, using his own mini digger. The previous day, with the help of Choranche's municipal employee, René had actually laid a few meters of new macadam at two weak spots on the road up to my neighbor's place. First, he used a heavy disc grinder to make cuts in the existing macadam, which he then removed with his mini digger. After smoothing the underlying earth, René then drove off in his truck to pick up a load of steaming bitumen. Finally, he used a heavy roller to obtain a perfectly flat surface. I was very impressed by his manual skills. After all, there are surely few stonemasons today (that's René's initial trade) who can lay down a macadam road single-handedly.

ADDENDUM: Yesterday evening, I was surprised to find that Choranche played an unexpected role in the latest episode of the ongoing MasterChef cooking competition. In my blog post of 19 December 2006 entitled Caves of Choranche [display], I mentioned briefly the fact that my adoptive village is world-famous for its limestone caves. Well, MasterChef had organized a trial between the members of two cooking teams who were asked to produce a gastronomical dinner, inside the main gallery of the Choranche caves, for a small group of speleologists emerging from the bowels of the earth. I was shocked to learn that the authorities in charge of the preservation of this site would have allowed it to be invaded by cooking fumes and camera lighting.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Unusual evening photo

Over a week ago, at around 7 o'clock on the evening of 22 August 2012, I took this photo of the Bourne valley, looking eastwards:

[Click to enlarge]

At first sight, it looks as if the Sun were rising. But, at that time of the day, the Sun was actually setting in the west: that's to say, in the opposite direction, behind the photographer's back, beyond the slopes behind Gamone, on the low horizon beyond Pont-en-Royans. So, what's the origin of that pink hue in the clouds above the cliffs of Chalimont? Unfortunately, I didn't pursue that investigation on the evening in question. (My attention was probably attracted by the TV news. Besides, I didn't even know yet whether my Nikon had recorded an interesting image.) I would imagine, though, that the clouds were reflecting light from a first-quarter Moon, low in the sky behind the Cournouze.

I now recall that, a couple of days later on, I had received a most unusual phone call from my neighbor Madeleine, at around 11 o'clock in the evening. She had been woken up by the barking of her dog. Looking outside behind her house, she had the impression that there was a glow in the air, like the light from a halted automobile. She asked me whether there was a full Moon that evening, and I said no. To remove her fears that there might be an intruder in the vicinity, I actually jumped into my car and did a rapid trip down to Madeleine's house and back.

When I phoned back to say that everything was pitch black and calm around her house, Madeleine told me she was sure she had heard voices at the same time that she noticed the glow. I explained to her that I had noticed lately that voices from her nephew's house can travel down along Gamone Creek in a remarkably clear fashion. On that very day, I had been cutting weeds, well below my house, when I was convinced that I was hearing the voices of people who had just stopped at Gamone. When I scrambled back up to the house, I realized that it was simply Jackie chatting with his donkeys, a hundred meters up the road.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Out on the slopes opposite Gamone

For the last few days, I had been intrigued by a golden-hued patch of vegetation located on the slopes opposite Gamone, not far from the vestiges of a winegrower's stone cabin (circled in green).

[Click to see enlarged versions of these photos]

I got dressed up for some outdoor scrambling over the slopes (overalls and solid boots), grabbed my stout chestnut stick and set off up the road with Fitzroy (who soon wandered off on his own into the woods). I discovered rapidly that the golden color was due to dead ferns, parched by the heat.

Here's a view of my house, looking down into Gamone Valley from the spot where the golden ferns are located.

I wandered up to the ruins of the winegrower's cabin.

In its original state, the southern façade of the cabin extended to the spot in the next photo, on the right-hand edge, where you see a cluster of white flowers.

In the background of the above photo, beneath the invading vegetation, you get a glimpse of the rear wall of the cabin, erected against the embankment. Here's a closeup view of that wall, from inside the cabin:

 An edifice of this kind, composed of blocks of limestone, dates surely from the time of the monks.

The French nation seized ecclesiastic properties after the Revolution. Vineyards in the vicinity of Gamone were sold by auction during the period from 1791 to 1793.

As you can see from the starting prices (957 pounds for the property that used to belong to the church at Presles, then 2992 pounds for the pair of properties belonging to a chapel in the church of Pont-en-Royans), the authorities were not giving away these highly-reputed vineyards for next to nothing. They would have been acquired by relatively well-off local citizens. New owners of the Choranche vineyards would have no doubt lived in prosperity for over half a century, up until the scourge of phylloxera destroyed the vineyards entirely. After that, the cabins would have been knocked down, slowly but surely, by wind and snow. Maybe this marked fragment of a broken roof tile might enable me to date the construction of this particular cabin:

A few meters below the ruins of the cabin, I came upon another group of stone blocks that look as if they surrounded a well or maybe the winegrower's outdoor cooking zone.

A finely-cut slab of thick flat stone is lying in the earth. For the moment, I don't understand its role in the structure. Would it have been an element of some kind of a work device used by the winegrower?

I gazed across at the valley of the Bourne, below my house, and tried to imagine a time when this area was covered in grapevines, with scores of workers moving around on the slopes.

On the way back down to the house, I broke off a small branch of pine needles, to bring home.

These pines are just a few hundred meters up from my house, but they are growing at a slightly higher altitude than at Gamone, where I have no such trees. These pine needles were a souvenir of my brief excursion into a remote mountain territory... which I admire daily from my bedroom window.

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.