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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Peony time at Gamone

All four peonies of the shrub type are in flower, whereas my five herbaceous specimens are waiting for some prolonged sunshine.

Pink Adzuma Nishiki and white Godaishu.

Red Higurashi.

Crimson Hana Daijin.

They appear to coexist well with the surrounding plants and a few weeds.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dog contemplating the greenery

With all the recent rain, it's not surprising that Gamone is surrounded in greenery.

Often, Fitzroy remains motionless, pensive, apparently contemplating the surroundings, soaking in the greenery.

On the roadside up beyond the house, he turned his head around for the photo:

Otherwise, he's more interested in the greenery than in me.

I wonder if he recalls the scene, not so long ago, when all this was covered in snow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring has sprung... at last

Over the last few days, Gamone has been bathed in sunshine: a pleasant change from being bathed in chilly wetness. Prolonged periods of overcast skies, low temperatures and dampness end up by demoralizing us at a physiological level. Our brains run short of whatever it is that comes from sunshine (vitamin D, I'm told), and we start to slow down. It's as if an audacious Lance Armstrong were to tackle the tortuous slopes of Alpe d'Huez with nothing more in his athlete's body than miserable food and water. Sooner or later, you stop... and the only possible strategy is to wait around until the sunshine returns.

Around the house at Gamone, there are several indubitable signs that the time has come to stop hibernating, and get back into outside action. Here, for example, is one of the more obvious signs:

Once upon a time, I used half an old fuel barrel, screwed onto legs made out of steel bars, to erect a makeshift barbecue, but the heavy contraption was unstable, and it finally rusted away. A few days ago, I was attracted by the relatively low price of a charcoal barbecue at the local Leclerc supermarket. The model on display looked remarkably solid, and it seemed to be a better deal than similar-looking products (but with one less leg) from the German firm Weber. I soon realized that the low price was due to the fact that this barbecue—brand name Rhodes—came as a kit, made in China, which had to be assembled by the purchaser. Maybe I was intrepid, but I liked the sturdy style of the model on display, and I guess I was intrigued to see how a Chinese manufacturer would behave in the build-it-yourself world dominated by Ikea. Well, let me say that I was totally amazed by the high quality of the Chinese presentation, which made it a pleasure to assemble the barbecue on the basis of extremely detailed diagrams of a down-to-earth kind. I had the impression that I was being invited to perform the assembly tasks in an old-fashioned environment of nuts and bolts, solid steel and precise measurements. Fortunately, I went about things by examining closely the big pile of items that were crammed inside the cardboard box from China. And I also took time to analyze every minute detail in their almost-wordless diagrams. Opening a plastic bag full of an undocumented assortment of nuts, bolts, screws and washers, I said to myself that it was highly unlikely that I would discover the intended role of every small item in this pile. On the contrary, when I reached the end of the assembly tasks, I was amazed to find that I had succeeded in identifying every object in the pile (including dozens of metal and fiber washers of differing sizes), and that not one single surplus item remained. All in all, the Chinese approach to the manufacture and presentation of this product was perfectionist. I had the impression that every minor element of the product had been designed by a team of engineers, and manufactured according to millimetric specifications. I found myself in the old-fashioned world of sustainability, where things are made to last. Needless to say, this was a quite unexpected experience.

On a nearby table, I've assembled a trivial demonstration of sustainability of a another kind.

On the left, you have the remnants of plastic Gardena devices that didn't survive the combined assaults of winter and Fitzroy. On the right, you see specimens of metallic items that I've just purchased to replace the cheap plastic junk (which turns out to be expensive when you have to replace it each year). I find it inadmissible that a manufacturer proposes an item such as the plastic nozzle while knowing full well that it will develop cracks if left outside in wintry conditions. And I have the impression that the orange parts of their plastic products have been designed deliberately to attract the teeth of dogs.

Now that the weather is starting to warm up, one of my first tasks will be to finish work on the carport, which needs to be boarded up on the far side.

The remaining firewood that was stacked up in the vicinity of the carport has now been shifted down to a place alongside Fitzroy's kennel.

Between now and next winter, I intend to erect a big wood shed in this zone, so that a truck can simply unload wood right alongside the shed.

Another sign of work about to start is the presence of a big pile of gravel at the entry into the front yard.

Meanwhile, a curious wall of small rocks has appeared on the edge of the huge embankment in front of the house, just to the right of the gravel heap.

So, what's happening... or about to happen? First, let me explain briefly—while refraining from jumping ahead in my story—that I spent a strenuous day raking up all those stones from inside the cellar of my house, and using a wheelbarrow to deposit them at this convenient spot. Now, as far as future Gamone projects are concerned, the following photo provides an answer:

Those pinkish objects are the elements of a future wood oven for baking bread, pizzas, etc. The dozen or so fragments have been molded out of a special refractory cement composed primarily of crushed volcanic rocks mined in the nearby Ardèche département. The oven I've chosen, produced by the Ephrem company in Provence [click here to visit their website] is called the Pizzaiollo... which is a Frenchified (but misspelt) version of the Italian word for a guy who makes pizzas.

Now, where am I going to install my future oven? For a long time, I imagined using a spot outside the southern façade of the house, where I discovered vestiges of an ancient bread oven (since turned to dust) when I first settled down at Gamone, some 20 years ago. But I've often wondered: Would I be prepared to wander outside the house on cold evenings, into the darkness, to fire up an oven to bake a loaf of bread or to cook a pizza? Maybe I would do so for a while, but I would probably drop the habit. No, the ideal solution would consist of placing the wood oven inside the house, where I can access it easily and use it regularly at all times of the year. But that would mean constructing an additional chimney to evacuate the smoke... and I haven't yet terminated the project of installing such a chimney for my wood stove. Well, it was Christine, in the course of a casual phone conversation, who first evoked a possible location: in a corner of the ancient cellar alongside my house. Why not?

It's not easy to take meaningful photos of my cellar at Gamone, because there's little light and you're in an essentially closed space surrounded by stone. Here's my attempt to take a photo of the far wall at the northern (cold) end of the cellar:

The vertical sections of the cellar walls are composed of irregularly-shaped blocks of calcareous stone (no doubt picked up on the slopes in the vicinity of Gamone) held together by lime mortar. Then, starting at a height of about 2 meters, the ceiling of the cellar is composed of finely-cut and precisely-assembled blocks of an exotic mineral substance commonly called tuf calcaire in French. I've only just discovered that the correct technical name of this sedimentary rock, in English, is travertine. [Click here to see the Wikipedia page on this subject.] In a blog post that I wrote back on 2 July 2009 entitled Vegetal rock [display], I referred to this substance (rightly or wrongly) as "calcareous tufa", but I shall make a point, from now on, of calling it travertine.

In the above photo, one has the impression that there's an arched doorway blocked by earth. This remains a basic Gamone mystery, which I have not yet elucidated satisfactorily. For the moment, I'm convinced that the earth blocking that would-be doorway has been there forever. That's to say, the doorway has never been open at any moment of its existence. The earth was there when the doorway was constructed, and it has never been touched since then (except by me, a year or so ago, when I started scratching at that wall of hard earth with the idea of maybe erecting a staircase at that place). Indeed, that earth is part of a layer that was used as formwork (coffrage in French) when that entire far wall was erected... maybe in the vicinity of the year 1600 (judging from similar constructions at the Chartreux monastery in Bouvante). And, if the builders never got around to removing the earth and transforming the alcove into an effective doorway, that was no doubt because their building operations were hindered by obstacles (maybe even religious warfare) and finally abandoned. But I've never succeeded in putting together a clear and convincing explanation of what might have happened. So, we're left with a blocked would-be doorway... which I will surely end up opening, one of these days, by means of a staircase ascending to the outside level, just beneath the arch.

As for the slanted and cemented opening near the summit of the vertical wall, that would appear to be the result of a relatively recent operation carried out by a grazier, rearing animals in the cellar (maybe goats), who wanted to be able to toss hay down into the cellar.

In any case, it's here, in the right-hand (north-eastern) corner of the cellar, that I intend to install the future wood oven, so that I can take advantage of the "hay hole" in the ceiling as a convenient exit for a smoke chimney.

The following maquette provides a rough idea of the form of the future wood oven:

The area covered by the oven is a square of 140 cm x 140 cm, which fits neatly into the corner of the cellar. I hasten to point out that the proportions and layout of this maquette are basically valid, but it's rather fuzzy as far as the external finish of the oven is concerned. For the moment, I can't guarantee that I'll succeed in covering the upper part of the structure with stone bricks (maybe composed of travertine). It's possible that I'll finally resort to a solution of roughcast ocher plaster (crépi in French). And I'm not yet sure of the way in which smoke from the oven will be channeled from a point just above the oven entry to the "hay hole".

Now that spring has sprung at Gamone, I've got "du pain sur la planche" (bread on the breadboard: a French metaphor for problems to be solved, work to be done). That's the way I like life.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pink rock fragments

Accustomed to the usual colors of rocks around Gamone (gray, ochre, whitish and black), I was surprised to discover pink-hued fragments on the slopes, a few days ago, a hundred meters above the house.

Since these fragments were located in the middle of a flat pile of rocks covering a small zone of a few square meters, I first imagined that there might have been a fireplace at this spot. But that is almost certainly a false explanation. For the moment, therefore, this pleasant color remains a mystery.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Big-beaked finch has flown

An adjective that amuses me in the case of wild birds is "sedentary", which evokes a vision of a couple of tiny birds that have just flown in from Africa.

The male bird says to his wife:
"I don't know about you, dear, but I'm exhausted. In any case, I like this place. I got the address from a finch I ran into down in Morocco. He told me it's called Gamone, and the owner provides a regular stock of sunflower seeds. Why don't we settle down here for a while?" 
 And the female bird replies:
"Sure, dear, you're preaching to the choir. You know I've always told you I wouldn't mind leading a sedentary existence, at least for a while, instead of our usual jet-set lifestyle, traveling constantly from one land to another. I'd be happy to just sit around in the sun... as soon as it appears. And I'm sure we'd have more opportunities to spend time with the kids."

It's time that I got around to naming correctly the beautiful bird that stopped here at Gamone for a week or so. I used to referred to it disrespectfully, here, as the "Galapagos guy". That was a silly nickname, because everybody knows that the passerine birds studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos were not in fact real finches.

My ex-wife (and constant friend) Christine Mafart succeeded rapidly (I don't know how) in identifying my big-beaked visitor. He was a Hawfinch [Coccothraustes coccothraustes, known in French as a Gros-bec casse-noyaux]. I use the past tense "was" because I think my bird has finally flown, after a brief stay at Gamone. I'm left with a set of splendid images of this exotic big-beaked creature, while hoping that he'll retain my address for a visit next winter.

This morning, I found another family of finches hanging around in the same area.

These dark little birds don't match the majestic beauty of my glorious pink-legged big-beaked Hawfinch... who liked to tap on my bedroom window, imagining his mirror reflection as an alien bird. I hope he'll be back here at Gamone in a year's time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Primroses in the snow

The burgeoning primroses of Gamone were surely surprised to discover that, during the night, flakes of late-winter snow had fallen upon their delicate cream petals.

This chilly remnant of the cold season will no doubt stimulate the tiny flowers, and incite them to hurry up in their urge to welcome the approaching spring. As they might say in Rome (if their Latin was as elementary as mine, and if they weren't preoccupied by other less natural arrivals): Habemus primulam, primum tempum. The primrose has arrived and, with it (soon, in any case), spring.

Owner of Gamone in 1823

For the first time in ages, I drove up to Grenoble yesterday and spent an hour or so in the archives. In the context of my research concerning the history of my house at Gamone, this short visit to the archives was most fruitful, in that I succeeded in obtaining the name and identity of the man who owned my house and property at Gamone some two centuries ago. Let me explain how this happened.

A few years after crowning himself in the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, on 2 December 1804, in the presence of the pope Pius VII, the emperor Napoléon Bonaparte created the interesting concept of a national cadastre: that's to say, a vast map indicating the ownership of every fragment of real estate in France. Here in the corner of the Isère department where I live, the Napoleonic cadastre was only published—as indicated in the following oval title box [called a cartouche in French]—on 19 March 1823, a year or so after the death of the former emperor on the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.

[Click to enlarge]

Here's an outline of the central parcels of the Napoleonic cadastre for my house (parcel #717) and land at Gamone:

Today, my property includes parcel #723 (a former vineyard) as well as a group of additional parcels up in the top left-hand region of the map. As indicated in the diagram, I discovered yesterday that my Gamone property was owned in 1823 by Michel Grégoire Tézier [1761-1833], the mayor of the neighboring village of Pont-en-Royans... shown in this spectacular panoramic photo that I found on the web:

[Click to enlarge]

Now that I've unearthed the identity of this eminent landowner (who had used his personal fortune to acquire real estate that came onto the market in the wake of the French Revolution, when the great religious establishments were disbanded, and their possessions sold), I should be able to move further backwards in time, and discover the exact identity of the owner of Gamone on the eve of the French Revolution.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What is there in common...

... between me and the Sistine Chapel?

Did I hear somebody say that, what's in common is that both William and the Sistine Chapel are fine examples of Renaissance splendor? Well, if you insist... but that's not the right answer. I'll give you a hint. The answer to my question has something to do with our respective roofs (or rooves, if you prefer).

Here's the answer.

Like me, the people at the Sistine Chapel are installing a new chimney on their roof.

Here's my Gamone chimney, which I intend to install as soon as possible.

I don't know what brand of chimney the Sistine Chapel has decided upon, but I can assure them that the French-manufactured Poujoulat product is excellent.

As soon as my new chimney and wood stove are installed, I intend to test the system by burning some old papers. If all goes well (that's to say, if the chimney joints are all OK), then I should see white smoke emerging from my new chimney. (If not, it's my house that's likely to fill up with white smoke.) Now, to avoid potential misunderstandings, I want to make it perfectly clear, by means of the present blog post, that I have no intention whatsoever of electing an antipope at Gamone. On the other hand, I cannot deny that I've often thought that my dog Fitzroy has all the necessary qualities for that job. There's a technical problem, though. Fitzroy has not yet become a cardinal.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Change of clothes

Over the last two days, the sun has reappeared at Gamone, after weeks of damp overcast skies. I decided to take out my my warm-weather working clothes, to give them an airing.

As you can see, from a sartorial viewpoint, they're not particularly attractive. I've been thinking that it might be a good idea for me to change to bright garments of the following kind:

Admittedly, if I were to start wearing stuff like that when I'm working outside at Gamone, I would have to make sure that Fitzroy didn't jump up onto me with his muddy paws, as he usually does. My summer hats, too, are rather dull:

Something of the following kind would add a gay note to Gamone:

There's no doubt about it: the ex-pope had a fabulous taste in clothes, and I'm sure we'll all miss him. Personally, I was particularly impressed by his early gold period, when Benny looked like an ancient Aztec chief.

Attired in gold lamé, the pope had a kind of Elvis look, which surely appealed to Catholic youth throughout the world.

Benny's gold period was a trend-setter for an all-too-brief moment. If only he had stuck to his job until the bitter end, the full impact of the pope's influence upon fashion would have been recognized throughout the world. Today, in any case, Catholics everywhere are hoping that his successor will look just as elegant as Benny.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Exotic winter vegetation

At this time of the year, rare species have started to bloom on the slopes of Gamone.

The long thorns of the ice tree are as sharp as daggers, making it difficult to pick the fruit.

The soft white blossoms of snow flowers are extremely delicate, making it impossible to gather a bunch.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Galapagos guy

The bird I've nicknamed the "Galapagos guy" is a finch that I presented in a blog post on the eve of Darwin Day [display]. He seems to like the general atmosphere at Gamone, which wet and snowy these days.

In any case, he has moved in here permanently. He never enters the wooden bird house where I put sunflower seeds for the yellow-and-black tits. The Galapagos guy dines outdoors at all times, in all kinds of weather.

Besides, he seems to prefer to dine alone, and gets upset whenever a tit dares to join him for dinner.

He tried for a while to use aggressive body language to scare away intruders. But thankfully, at this level, he appears to be evolving towards a certain degree of sociability.

I often wonder whether, deep in the mind of each tiny creature, they realize that they're all members of the bird family. Probably not. After all, they are a still a lot of people who refuse to admit that we humans are all members of a single family.

Please excuse the poor quality of my bird photos. There's simply not enough light at Gamone these days, and I'm trying to take photos through the double thickness of glass in my bedroom windows. Incidentally, the birds don't seem to notice my presence behind the window glass, provided I don't move. Even Fitzroy likes to spend long moments there, observing calmly the birds. As for the Galapagos guy, he apparently notices his own mirror reflection at times, and he starts to peck furiously on the glass, trying to chase himself away.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Recently, I received a short visit from my cousin Mitchell Smith and his wife Melissa, who are medical practitioners in Sydney.

On the eve of their departure, Mitchell noticed my daughter's small upright piano, and asked me if I happened to play at times. The instrument has been out of tune for ages, and I hardly ever touch it these days. I nevertheless sat down at the piano and started to strike the keys in my typical amateurish style. I was amazed to find that my dog Fitzroy started instantly to howl. The more I played, the more he howled. So, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to join up with Fitzroy for a rough recital of the famous doggy-in-the-window song. And Melissa had the presence of mind to record our performance for posterity.

POST SCRIPTUM: Tineke and Serge have just dropped in, and I showed them this amusing video. Then I sat down at the piano and played a bit, to see how my dog would react. As in the video, Fitzroy started to howl immediately. My friends speculated that the dog might in fact be howling in discomfort, as a consequence of painful vibrations in the piano sounds. I think we must admit the plausibility of this hypothesis, because a dog's auditory system is different to ours. In other words, it's a bit silly to jump to the anthropomorphic conclusion that Fitzroy is surely howling with joy because he "likes my music".

Another minor fact tends to disprove completely, however, the all-too-easy conclusion that Fitzroy's howling indicates suffering. These days, in my personal dog vocabulary, there's a trivial term—pronounced a little like a soft "hurrah" (derived from my own failed attempts, months ago, at producing sounds supposed to resemble a wolf's howl)—that is a sufficient cue for Fitzroy to start howling loudly. In other words, this term "turns on" his howling like a kitchen tap, and he stops howling as soon as I pronounce any other word. So, it's a kind of silly game. He also howls whenever he hears a donkey braying (even from afar), and he howls too (with genuine excitement, I believe) whenever he's observing a pack of hunting hounds pursuing a wild boar on the slopes opposite Gamone. So, Fitzroy's howling seems to emanate from some deep archaic corner of his brain, where it's a reaction to stimuli of several different and seemingly unrelated kinds. As for genuine pain, Fitzroy got an unexpected taste yesterday when I was giving a bit of hay to my neighbor's donkeys, and Fitzroy was jumping around my legs in such an excited way that he was likely to cause me to stumble onto the 10,000 volts of the electric fence (which Fitzroy himself darts under at a speed greater than that of electricity). When I gave my dog a slight kick that connected harmlessly with his backside, he didn't howl, nor did he even bark. He yelped... and scrambled back instantly to annoy the donkeys and me. 

BREAKING NEWS: I've just found a practical use for Fitzroy's howling talent. My neighbor Madeleine phones me from time to time to tell me that my dog is roaming around on the road in the vicinity of her house, and causing her own dog to bark. When I reply that Fitzroy is in fact dozing on the floor alongside my desk (meaning that
Madeleine has seen another stray black dog), I often have the impression that she thinks I'm telling her a lie. Five minutes ago, when Madeleine told me that she could actually see my dog sitting on the roadside near her house, I replied: "Madeleine, I'll put Fitzroy on the phone, so he can assure you personally that he's here beside me." Then I used the magic word to turn on Fitzroy's instant howling. The demonstration was fabulous. I've rarely heard my dog howling so loudly and so enthusiastically. I had the impression that he was determined to get things straight with Madeleine, and make matters perfectly clear. I didn't turn him off until I was sure that the message had got through to Madeleine... who, by that time, was in a fit of confused laughter.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finch drops in for sunflower seeds

In this poor-quality photo—taken yesterday through the smudgy glass of my bedroom window on an overcast afternoon—the little creamy-hued tit seems to be awed by the massive beak of the finch.

The visitor loitered on the edge of the clay pot for about five minutes, during which time no tit dared to dive in for a sunflower seed.

I don't see many finches at Gamone. Rare visitors impress me and obtain my respect (I'm as awed as a tit) in the sense that I've always imagined finches as co-inventors, in the company of Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, of the principle of evolution.

Clearly, if this solitary finch happened to go out of its way to visit an evolutionary enthusiast at Gamone, I would imagine that the bird was aware of the approach of Darwin Day [display], which falls tomorrow, on 12 February.

[I'm aware that Darwin's so-called "finches" were not in fact common chaffinches of the Gamone variety.]

To celebrate Darwin Day, I urge you to visit the WWF website [access] and sign a petition aimed at "killing the trade that kills the elephant".

BREAKING NEWS (announced an hour ago)
Miracle on the eve of Darwin Day: Benny 16 resigns!
Darwinians of the world, let us unite and launch a lobby designed to spread a great idea: namely, that nobody should ever replace a pope who has resigned.