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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Construction work in progress

In my blog post of 23 September 2012 entitled Preparing winter wood [display], I said that I intended to stack up the newly-arrived pile of firewood in the usual place, under a corner of the roof in the north-west corner of the house. On second thoughts, I decided to leave most of this wood outside, so that I would have room to start erecting a concrete wall.

As of today, I've almost finished the part of the wall that incorporates reinforced concrete, and moved a small part of the firewood under the roof. I have to prevent surface water from attaining the area where the wood is to be kept, so I've installed an underground drainage system alongside the emerging wall, at the place in the following photo where you see freshly-dug earth.

Meanwhile, the rest of the firewood remains outside, protected from the rain and snow by a big green tarpaulin.

As I said in a recent blog post, I've started to erect a carport outside the north-west corner of the house (which is never reached by the winter sun). That explains the presence in the above photo of new roofing timber, which I brought here in my trailer.

A ramp was created in this area over two years ago.

After those earthworks, this corner of the house was totally bare, as you can see here:

In my blog post of 23 February 2010 entitled North-west corner of my house [display], I presented a project (created by means of Photoshop) for a carport at this place.

Today, the new earth in this area has been well compacted, and it's high time to go ahead with the construction. Here's a photo of the site that I took this morning:

[Click to enlarge]

As you can see, my project mock-up was wrongly-proportioned and rather off-target, since the carport roof in the mock-up was far too low. Here's another view of the site:

Except for the six vertical posts (Douglas-fir wood, treated in a vat in a sawmill at St-Marcellin), and the pale pine rafters at the top (seen lying on the green tarpaulin in an earlier photo), all the rest of the timber comes from an old green-painted wood shed that I built in this area soon after arriving at Gamone.

It was a fine structure, built of sturdy timber, which fitted ideally into the Gamone surroundings.

At that time, I had my first opportunity of getting accustomed to building on sloping ground. The shed was located just alongside the dirt track that used to lead up to a barn on the neighboring property (now replaced by a house). When major roadworks were carried out in order to create a smooth hairpin curve at this spot, I decided to demolish the old shed.

As you can see from the above photo, unless I removed the shed, it would have been impossible to envisage a car ramp leading up to the north-west corner of the house. So, sadly, I decided to knock down my charming construction.

These days, while I'm working on the carport, everything is being held in place by clamps.

Above the northern doorway into the house, a pair of steel brackets (almost a century old) has always intrigued me, and I still have no firm idea of their purpose.

I was able to use one of these mysterious brackets as a firm support to hold the posts in a rigid position up until such time as I insert all the necessary triangular ties to ensure the stability of the structure.

During my work, I'm being constantly observed by a conscientious ever-present foreman.

Exceptionally, the foreman's surveillance was interrupted briefly this morning when he took time off to consume a Kleenex that had dropped out of a pocket of my overalls.

But he's a friendly foreman, who rarely criticizes the quality of my work.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Building a carport

Up until now, I've never had any kind of automobile shelter at Gamone. So, in winter, the car is often covered in ice and snow. At other times of the year, leaves and oily berries from the linden trees fall onto the car, creating a mess. A fortnight ago, I decided that it was time to build a carport. And the nice sunny autumn weather made it a pleasure to work outside. Last Saturday, I was thinking about writing a blog post with photos of the work in progress. That would have enabled me to explain that the construction of the carport hasn't left me much time for blogging. Then, on Saturday night, the weather changed abruptly. Heavy snow—rare at this time of the year—started to fall all over the Vercors range. By Sunday morning, the slopes of Gamone were covered in a thick blanket of snow. The lines of the electric fence around the donkeys' paddock had become heavy cylinders of snow, and they sagged to the ground, enabling Moshé to escape. Fortunately, he headed down towards the old sheep cabin, where I was able to lock him in for Sunday night. By Monday, the sky was clear again. The following photo of the Bourne valley presents an unusual mixture of leafy green trees and snow:

I've continued to work on my carport, although it's unpleasant to slosh around in the muddy dampness. I'll put up photos of my construction work as soon there's a bit of sunshine. For the moment, the structure is little more than half-a-dozen wooden posts set in the ground on the northern edge of the house.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin scones

In the middle of a hot summer, life's not easy for pumpkins, which crave for water.

But they survive, and perk up—as sprightly as ever—as soon as the sun goes down. Then, in autumn, the harvest is so impressive that you end up wandering what you might do with all your glorious pumpkins. Well, here's my well-tested suggestion: Make pumpkin scones !

First, you need to produce pumpkin purée. Slice the pumpkin into big pieces. Remove the seeds, but don't touch the skin. Place the pieces on a non-stick tray (called Tefal in France) and bake at 200 degrees for an hour and a quarter. Let the baked pieces cool, then detach the soft pumpkin from the skin and place the fragments in a big bowl.

To transform the baked pumpkin into a purée, the ideal solution is a a gadget such as you see in the above photo. (My daughter Emmanuelle first informed me of the existence of this inexpensive soup-making device, many years ago, and told me that it would change my life... and she was spot on.) I soon had a pile of pumpkin purée.

Pumpkin purée is great stuff in that you can ladle it into plastic bags, each bag holding a cupful of purée, and deep-freeze it for your winter scones. Now, let's look at the recipe for pumpkin scones. At one stage, you'll need an essential ingredient that Americans (world champions in the domain of pumpkin scones) designate as pumpkin pie spice. In France, this product is obtained by mixing together four familiar spices, shown here:

Here's the precise recipe:

— a tablespoon of cinnamon (cannelle)

— a teaspoon of ginger (gingembre moulu)

— half a teaspoon of nutmeg (muscade moulue)

— half a teaspoon of ground cloves (girofle moulue)

Add a pinch of salt and mix. Keep the mixture in a sealed jar. For each batch of pumpkin scones based upon the preparation I'm about to describe, you'll only use a teaspoon of the mixed spices.

Here in France, people who would like to try out superb Anglo-Saxon recipes such as scones are often mystified unnecessarily by the names of three basic ingredients, whose French equivalents are shown here:

For French readers of my blog, here are the explanations:

— So-called buttermilk is simply fermented milk: a Breton product designated as lait Ribot.

— Anglo-Saxon baking powder is simply the French stuff known as levure chimique alsacienne, sold in its familiar little pink paper packets.

— Anglo-Saxon baking soda is simply the French product designated as bicarbonate alimentaire.

In France, these products can be found in your local supermarket. Once you've got everything in place, the preparation of pumpkin scones is quite simple.

Dry ingredients. In a big bowl, mix together 2 cups (260 grams) of flour, a third of a cup (75 grams) of sugar, a teaspoon of spices (as described above), a teaspoon of baking powder (levure chimique), a half-teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate alimentaire) and a dose of genuine vanilla.

As far as the vanilla is concerned, a convenient solution is the sachet of powdered vanilla sugar. If you resort to the liquid extract, then a few drops should be added to the moist ingredients (described below). The nec-plus-ultra solution that consists of grinding dried vanilla beans from Madagascar is applicable if you happen to have a son such as my François who visits all kinds of exotic places on his archaic moped.

In the usual pastry-making manner, use a pastry-blender device or a pair of knives to insert 125 grams of unsalted butter (beurre doux) into the flour. Here's a photo of a pastry-blender:

Stir in a generous quantity of raisins (I prefer the soft white variety) and walnuts (from Gamone, of course).

Moist ingredients. In a small bowl, mix half a cup (an 8th of a liter) of pumpkin purée with the same volume of buttermilk (lait Ribot). Stir well.

Insert the moist ingredients into the big bowl of dry ingredients, and stir lazily until everything is humid: just enough, but no more. On a floured board, pat the dough into a flat slab, and cut out eight fragments. Place them in small non-stick pie cups of the Tefal kind: a must for pie-makers.

Flatten each scone in its tray, then brush the top surface with a mixture of an egg beaten with cream. Sprinkle the top of each scone with chunks of pistachio nuts or sesame seeds. Place the Tefal cups on a large Tefal tray, so that the underside of the scones won't be scorched. Bake at 200 degrees C for some 20 minutes. Here's the result:

In all modesty, I have to admit that these are surely the finest scones I've ever tasted. To be eaten with a glass of cool Sauvignon.

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.