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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pierrot wanted a wife

I devote time and energy to family history for two basic reasons. On the one hand, we have a moral responsibility to celebrate the lives of our forefathers. On the other hand, in the spirit of a detective, I'm thrilled personally by the pure problem-solving aspects of genealogical research.

In the rural French context where I settled down some two decades ago, I have no known ancestors, but I often carry out investigations of a family-history kind. I'm interested in the history of my house, and of individuals who were members of its various households. Today, we're accustomed to the idea that individuals and their families might move through several different houses, maybe located in different places. There's an obvious complementary notion: a particular house often supports the existences—births, lives and deaths—of numerous individuals and families.

[Click to enlarge]

Concerning the background of my old stone house at Gamone (which was in a deplorable state when I discovered it in 1995), I've already acquired quite a lot of information. I know above all that its occupant in the middle of the last century was Hippolyte Gerin [1884-1957].


Indeed, I think inevitably of my predecessor Hippolyte whenever I gaze out upon the glories of the Choranche Circus and the Cournouze.


Naturally, I've been intrigued by this man Hippolyte, who once lived here in the very room in which I'm writing this blog post. I sense his presence constantly, not as a ghost, but as a factual figure of the past. The spirit of Hippolyte accompanies me whenever I wander around Gamone, and I have come to hallow his memory as if he were an ancestor. Which he is, of course, in a certain sense. I often come upon tiny and trivial elements of my Gamone existence (such as a fragment of metal from an agricultural device, for example) that cause me to believe that Hippolyte must have surely been at the origin of such things. I was only half-surprised therefore, a decade ago, when I came upon a daft oldtimer stumbling up to Gamone, carrying bottles of red wine in a grocery sack, who informed me that he wanted to "have a little drink with Hippolyte". After phoning his alarmed daughter, I didn't have the courage to tell the old man that Hippolyte had disappeared from Gamone half-a-century ago. But had he, really and totally?

I've just learned that Hippolyte's ancestors came from a nearby village named Echevis whose current population is around 60.


Arriving in Echevis, you have a vague feeling that you might have reached a tiny remote Paradise, far from the agitations of the world. And you're right. Besides, Echevis was one of the six villages involved in the amazing survey known as the Terriers du Royans, carried out on behalf of the lord of Sassenage in the middle of the 14th century.

 
Click here to access my French-language presentation of these extraordinary medieval documents, which are currently being transcribed and translated.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove to mysterious Echevis for the nth time. But this time, I was like an obsessed pilgrim, because I was searching for the roots of my friend Hippolyte. And I struck up a conversation with an 86-year-old resident named Rochas. When I informed him that I was seeking traces of the Gerin family, he told me the terrible tale of Pierrot Gerin, who had been in love with Angélique. (I've been obliged to invent the given names of our characters, who have passed into obscurity.) Pierrot, mentally retarded, worked well for his widowed father, who did everything that was possible to take care of his son. But the caring father was taken aback when Pierrot informed him that he was in love with Angélique, and wanted to marry her.


"No, Pierrot, I can't allow you to marry Angélique and leave our home. As long as I'm alive, I must protect you, and take care of you."

One of Pierrot's dumb mates summed up the situation abruptly: "What a nasty bastard. As long as he lives, your father won't let you marry Angélique. Your only hope is to kill the old bugger."

That was bad advice for a simple-minded fellow such as Pierrot. That evening, he walked back down from Echevis towards the neighboring village of Sainte-Eulalie, to meet up with his father, who was returning from his agricultural labors in the valley. They met up in the middle of a series of five dark tunnels alongside the Vernaison, on the clifftops, known as the Petits Goulets (no more than two or three kilometers from my home in Gamone).


And Pierrot promptly pushed his dad down into the abyss.

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.