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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Beating the heat

Over the last week or so, we've had a heat wave in France, and the region where I live has regularly been the hottest spot in France. But I haven't really been upset by the high temperatures. At Gamone, I merely have to leave the door open between the living room and the ancient stone-walled cellar (where I'm supposed to be installing a pizza oven), and a cool breeze floats through the house. Besides, the air passes through the stack of hay (for the donkeys) at the northern end of the house. So, I'm cooled by a sweet-smelling flow of air. But this happy experience remains solitary. It's such a delightful cooling system that I often say to myself that it's a pity I can't share my pleasure with other human beings. Ah, if only I were able to cool off in the company of friends, in a spirit of togetherness, like these lucky Chinese folk:

PS To be truthful, I was a little shocked by the fellow (in a colorful plastic tube) who's obviously taking advantage of the global situation (notice his liberated facial expression) to have a leak... not to mention the couple in the background (also enclosed in colorful plastic tubes) who give the distinct impression that they're fornicating. When the weather's hot, though, we can be excused for letting off steam in one way or another.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Walnuts in syrup

As I said in my recent blog post entitled Green walnuts, black hands [display], my first batch of green walnuts in sweet syrup has been put in jars and sterilized. The 10 or so jars are now labeled, and the product is ready to be eaten. It's a purely token production, of course, of a personal and experimental kind. But it might implicate local professionals in the walnut domain.

Last Sunday at midday, I invited Tineke and Serge around for lunch outside in the shade of my giant linden tree. After a Greek salad with feta, and a vaguely Greek main dish of braised chicken and mushrooms cooked with turmeric and ginger, we finally got around to tasting the walnuts as dessert. I believe I can speak for all three of us in saying that this product is delicious... and somewhat astonishing in that it doesn't seem to resemble any familiar fruit.

It's crunchy, and the walnut's inherent bitterness is replaced by the sweet aromas of cinnamon and cloves in the thick pinkish syrup.

I'm convinced that local restaurants would be capable of promoting this delicacy, if it could be produced in large quantities. An industrial producer of sweet walnuts would need to find ways and means of replacing all the tedious manual steps of my cottage-industry approach (such as peeling and piercing the fruit) by mechanized operations. And various quality-control tests would have to be carried out in a laboratory environment, as required by European laws. That, of course, is the stumbling block. I'm unaware of the existence of imaginative and daring local entrepreneurs who would be prepared to invest in the large-scale production and marketing of this foodstuff.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baby beasts at Gamone

About a month ago, I caught sight of a small animal cantering down the road from my house, in the style of a rabbit. I only had a rear view of the moving animal, from a distance of some 50 metres, and it disappeared quickly, so I wasn't able to examine it. I concluded that it was probably a stray cat. Still, the cantering (or maybe galloping) movement seemed to be rather weird for a cat. And I have never seen rabbits or hares at Gamone. I came across a few small black turds on the road near my house, and they too didn't seem to have come from a cat. Besides, there are no scraps left lying around the house to attract cats. So, the identity of the small animal remained a mystery.

This morning, just after the annual passage of the fellow in a tractor who cuts the weeds alongside the narrow road up to Gamone, I think I finally solved the mystery. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take photos, but here's a Web image of the kind of beasts (same size and colors) that I saw quite clearly, at close range, half an hour ago.

In the vicinity of my mailbox, Fitzroy and I suddenly found ourselves alongside three baby wild boors (called marcassins in French) which promptly cantered off down the road, with my dog on their heels. They disappeared into the grass alongside the creek, and Fitzroy didn't seem to be capable of picking up their scent. A few seconds later, one of them reappeared on the road, and he squealed in terror when he found that Fitzroy was chasing him. But the marcassin disappeared instantly, and all ended well. I have the impression that Fitzroy was just as surprised as me to come upon such small beasts at Gamone.

I left a message with a friend in Châtelus, Daniel Berger, who's a hunter and an expert in the behavior of wild boors, asking him for advice on how I should handle this affair. Wild boors, as their name indicates, are wild beasts, and I don't know whether it's a good idea to have a litter of marcassins just alongside the house. I can imagine some of my readers saying: "Oh, they're so cute. William should catch them and keep them as pets, as friends for Fitzroy." Yes, a great idea... but totally impossible!

Seriously, I don't deny that I would indeed be pushed by an obscure physical desire to cuddle such splendid little beasts (like I cuddle Fitzroy) and to experience the power and determination they would no doubt exert in trying to break free. I would be fascinated, above all, by their marvelous little snouts, used both as a marvelous sensory device (enabling them to carry on dozing in the undergrowth while dogs abound all around them) and as a tool for digging up hard soil and rocks in their search for tasty food. Of the same order as basic human sexuality, the attraction that emanates from domestic and wild animals is a wonderful and mysterious force that surely takes me back mysteriously to my evolutionary origins as an African ape (an expression employed regularly by Richard Dawkins). I often feel that the silly adjective "cute" might in fact be based upon this profound archaic association (resuscitated thanks to a handful of surviving genes) between our ancestors and us. I'm reminded of these links, every morning at about 7 o'clock, when Fitzroy wanders upstairs into my bedroom, moves his front paws stealthily up onto the bed, reaches around until he finds one of my hands (I'm usually still half-asleep), and then starts to lick it conscientiously, cleaning me up (symbolically, at least) for the approaching day.

POST SCRIPTUM: The property of my neighbors Jackie and Fafa, a couple of hundred metres further up the road, is bordered all around by woods. So, it's logical that they receive more visits from wild animals than I do. Jackie tells me that he has often seen a couple of marcassins hanging around their house.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Maybe I've outsmarted my dog

I have never, at any moment, actually caught sight of Fitzroy stretched out on the Ikea lounge chairs in the living room at Gamone. In fact, he has got into the habit of spending a lot of time dozing on one or other of those two lounge chairs. I know this because I see the traces he has left there: hairs and traces of his muddy paws. But Fitzroy only ever jumps up onto the lounge chairs when I'm out of sight, upstairs. Fitzroy has a sufficient mastery of the science of optics to know that, when he can't see me, I usually can't see him. Fitzroy also understands perfectly well that I don't approve of the idea of his jumping up onto the lounge chairs. I don't know how and when he acquired that knowledge, because I've never had an opportunity of catching him red-handed up on the lounge chairs, and yelling at him or dragging him off. From a moral viewpoint, Fitzroy has the mentality of a pure criminal. That's to say, he considers that a crime only becomes a crime when you get caught. So, as long as you don't get caught, nobody could ever claim that you're doing anything wrong. So, Fitzroy concludes that his dozing on the lounge chairs would only become an offence if I were to actually see him dozing on the lounge chairs... which, as I said, has never been the case. No matter how quickly and quietly I try to race downstairs in an attempt to catch him perpetrating his misdeed, Fitzroy is systematically sufficiently alert and rapid to scramble back down onto the floor before I'm halfway down the stairs.  Sure, I then look at him sternly and reprimand him for having been up on the lounge chairs. But, as we all know, verbs in the past tense don't really count in the dialog between a master and his dog. More precisely, I have the feeling that dogs do in fact understand all the subtleties of the past tense just as well as the finest human grammarians, but they seem to have learned that we humans believe that dogs only exist in the here-and-now, and they take advantage of this state of affairs by deliberately looking dumb whenever we speak of anything that happened in the past.

But, from now on, all of this will be ancient history, because I've invented an ideal method of preventing Fitzroy from jumping up onto the lounge chairs. I've purchased enough heavy cloth to make a new set of robes for the pope, and I've thrown all this machine-washable material over the lounge chairs in such a way (with the help of lengths of wood posed on the arm-rests) that my dog will no longer envisage the chairs as a familiar and convenient place to snooze.

At least, that's the theoretical sense of my solution. Another of my beliefs about dogs is that Fitzroy is sure to understand that I've gone to some trouble (and expense) to implement this solution, and that it would be most unfriendly of him if he were to drag the covers off, or scramble up underneath them. We'll see what happens...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Green walnuts, black hands

It's the green-walnut season at Gamone.

The hard fruit, with their reptilian skin, are impregnated with a clear bitter liquid. If you start to gather these fruit without using rubber gloves, you're in for a nasty surprise. This is a photo of my left hand taken a week ago, when I started to pick green walnuts:

And here's another photo, taken this morning:

As you can see, it's worse and worse! I refrained deliberately from wearing gloves because I needed to peel the walnuts, and it's not easy to perform this operation with rubber gloves. Furthermore, I had to stick a metal spike through each walnut, both vertically and horizontally. Here's a saucepan full of peeled and spiked walnuts, soaking in water, after a couple of days in the sun:

On the Internet, there are all kinds of tales about, say, such-and-such a young couple who had spent an afternoon gathering green walnuts just a few days before their marriage... and they turned up at the church looking as if they'd just been using their bare hands to assemble a greasy old automobile engine. You see, once the walnuts have tattooed your hands in shiny black, there's no way of getting your hands back to normal. You simply have to live with your affliction until it wears off, about a fortnight later.

Funnily, though, various individuals on the Internet offer all kinds of remedies (all of which turn out to be totally false) for eliminating instantly the black stains. Common suggestions are bleach (a solution of sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide) and lemon juice. Somebody said that common cooking oils would get rid of the stains, and there was even a woman who said that the miracle product was toothpaste.

Now, why have I been gathering green walnuts? Well, as I explained in a blog post two months ago [display], I'm experimenting with a Greek Cypriot recipe for fresh walnuts preserved in sweet syrup. The precise description of this product (both in English and in French) is quite complicated, as I would have to mention the fact that the walnuts were picked when they were green and soft, whereas they soon turn black, and that the preservation process involves lots of boiling in syrup. Then I should maybe explain that the little brown blobs floating around in the dark syrup between the black walnuts are roasted almonds and cloves. For the moment, I think I'll refer to this product, from now on, simply as sweet walnuts (noix sucrées in French).

I'm currently preparing a second batch. Ten days ago, the walnuts in the first experimental batch were smaller and softer, and I spiked them first and started to soak them in the sun before peeling them.

Today, I conclude that it's preferable to peel the green walnuts from the very start. One of the aspects of the Greek Cypriot recipe that worried me a little, when I first saw it, was their advice to soak the walnuts, in the central phase of the preparation, in a quicklime solution. After all, quicklime is a most noxious chemical product, and the idea of using it during foodstuff processing appeared to me as somewhat weird.

In reality, this phase of the operations turned out to be unimpressive. Soon after the quicklime (in a cloth bag) is placed in a basin of water holding the walnuts, the calcium oxide is transformed rapidly into harmless calcium hydroxide, with a certain effervescent emission of heat (which I did not try to observe at close range). And it's a fact that the walnuts had a nice look and feel after this quicklime treatment.

From that point on, the processing consisted of boiling the walnuts, many times, in a dense solution of sugar, with a little lemon juice. I also assembled a few extra ingredients: almonds, cinnamon and cloves.

First, I roasted the white almonds in the oven for about 10 minutes. Then I added these ingredients to the walnuts in their syrup, and boiled up everything once again... until the syrup got thick. Fortunately, I have a powerful gas range for high-temperature cooking of this kind.

The big stainless steel cooking vessel is perfect for boiling the syrup and walnuts. Finally, I filled 10 jars with walnuts, covered them with syrup, and piled them up inside the sterilizer. Incidentally, I had taken advantage of a moment when the syrup was still cool to eat a walnut, both to verify that the product tasted fine (it certainly did), and also to verify that it wouldn't make me ill (it didn't, of course).

I filled up the sterilizer to the brim with water, placed the thermometer inside, and brought it to boiling point on the gas range.

The sterilization process necessitated what seemed to be an amazingly long period of intense boiling: 2 hours! All that remains, now, is to label the 10 jars. Then I'll carry out a tasting, with friends, as soon as possible. Between now and then, I need to learn how to cook some kind of Mediterranean honey-based pastry, to accompany my sweet walnuts.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hay for next winter

I don't usually purchase hay for the donkeys at this time of the year. But my neighbor Jackie took advantage of the fact that farmers are currently cutting their grass and transforming it into blocks of hay. He ordered a big supply, which was delivered yesterday. But there was more than enough for Jackie's animals, so I was happy to buy the surplus of 30 blocks.

I'm storing it in a corner of the house (just behind my carport), and I plan to distribute small quantities only when there's snow on the slopes. Otherwise, if the donkeys have free access to such fodder, they simply set up residence alongside the bale of hay, and nibble away at it night and day... which is not a good situation. Donkeys tend to overeat constantly. For example, at this time of the year, my two donkeys are frankly far overweight. At the height of winter, they need to be encouraged to wander around, turning up the snow, searching for tasty wet weeds.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Random roses

On the rose pergola, there's a lot of intermingling between adjacent varieties. Here's a view from the south of the left-hand side of the pergola:

The small bright red roses are Chevy Chase. The bushes growing on the left are Madame Alfred Carrière, and you see a few specimens of these white roses at the top of the photo. But the pink roses on the left belong to Albertine stalks that have burrowed through from the opposite side of the pergola. On the other side of the red Chevy Chase, the small pale pink Paul Transon blossoms are in their right place.

In one of the plots, close to the earth, there's an elegant specimen of Paul Bocuse, all on its own.

Alongside, but high in the air, there are several Queen Elizabeth specimens:

Here's a superb solitary Limoux, with a few Manou Meilland in the background:

I've forgotten the identity of the following vigorous bush of clumps of white roses, which used to grow on an embankment behind the house:

The following, too, is an unidentified bush that I transplanted from behind the house:

As I've often said, one thing is certain: Gamone is an ideal territory for roses.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Green lizards in my garden

Twenty minutes ago, I noticed a couple of superb green lizards approaching one of my garden plots.

[Click to enlarge]

Maybe they're surprised to discover that familiar weeds have disappeared. When they scrambled into the vegetation in this garden plot at the foot of the stairs, I went down cautiously to see if I could get a closer look at them. No problem. They didn't appear to be particularly upset by my presence with a camera, just a couple of meters in front of them.

They're beautiful creatures, known as western green lizards [Lacerta bilineata]. The bigger of the two specimens in my garden, with a blue throat, is a male. The female is much smaller and more slender. They eat insects, and live for some 15 years. Now that I know they're inhabiting my garden, I'll make sure they're not hanging around in a plot where I'm working. They're not venomous, but will apparently try to inflict a bite upon a foe, and it's said that such a bite is quite painful. Above all, I must make a point of keeping Fitzroy out of the garden, because he would instantly declare war on these attractive reptiles.

NOTE: Australian readers of my blog might look upon these creatures as small goannas. Needless to say, I'm incapable of examining their respective genealogies, but I would imagine that the two families differ most considerably in their eating habits. Even a small goanna (some are no bigger than my green lizards) is prepared to consume birds' eggs, frogs, smaller snakes and lizards, small rodents, etc, whereas the green lizards of Western Europe would find it unthinkable to eat such stuff.

Gamone garden

After many hours of manual labor down on my hands and knees, I've finally removed most of the weeds from the garden at Gamone. Here's a global view from the southern end:

[Click to enlarge]

In the lower left-hand corner, you can see a piece of the geotextile product that I intend to lay down in all the alleys between the elements of the garden: its 8 square plots and the rose pergola. Once this geotextile covering is in place, held down by metallic staples, I plan to cover it with a thick layer of beige limestone gravel. That's the only feasible solution to prevent the annual growth of weeds. Funnily enough, the weeds that reappear abundantly in the hard earth of the alleys are more obnoxious (hard to remove) than the relatively few specimens that dare to sprout in the soft soil of the plots. Here's a view of the area in front of the house as seen by somebody coming in off the road:

As you can see, the actual garden lies a couple of meters lower than the level of the house and front "lawn". Here's a view of the pergola as you approach it from the northern end:

In the upper right-hand corner of that photo, you have a glimpse of the stairs that I built a few years ago, and the above-mentioned piece of geotextile. The following photo provides a view of the four northern plots, dominated for the moment by the luxurious Don Quichotte blossoms:

And the following photo provides a symmetrical view of the four southern plots:

As you can see, the Princess Margaret peonies are in danger of collapsing under their own weight, and I've attached them by a string to a wooden pole. I don't know how serious peony growers handle this kind of problem...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rose named Coluche

Two years ago, in a blog post entitled A rose by any other name [display], I mentioned the great French comic Michel Colucci [1944-1986], known as Coluche. In the early 1980s, when strolling between the rue Rambuteau and the Hôtel de Ville, I would often see Coluche seated in the midst of his theatre friends on the pavement of the café Le Reinitas at the corner of the Temple and Plâtre streets on the edge of the Marais.

The rose bush that bears the name of Coluche has just bloomed at Gamone, a month late (because of the wet weather and lack of sunshine), and I picked a specimen.

Back in the Rue du Temple, I would have found it weird to imagine that I might be remembering Coluche, three decades later, through a red rose growing in my garden on the edge of the Alps.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Glimpse of Gamone

For people driving down from Presles to Pont-en-Royans (not a busy road), this photo presents their rapid glimpse of my house at Gamone.

[Click to enlarge]

Emerging from a blind bend in the narrow road, drivers are not inclined to examine the scenery. So, they probably hardly notice the presence of my house on the opposite slopes. I wandered up to that spot a couple of days ago to take a look at work carried out by roadworkers with heavy equipment who removed crumbling rocks that fall constantly onto the roadway. This second photo, from a nearby viewpoint, reveals the final section of this bend, with traces of the work I just mentioned.

Many drivers coming up in the opposite direction decide to blow their horns upon reaching this corner, which is one of the first uncomfortable corners on the road up from Pont-en-Royans. A little later, most of these drivers abandon their horn blowing when they realize that there are dozens of uncomfortable bends like this on the road up to Presles. You simply have to slow down and watch out for approaching vehicles. At places like this on the road up to Presles, if the approaching vehicle happens to be a truck, a tractor or a bus, the only solution is to back up over a distance of a hundred meters or so.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grass is for rolling in

Every pagan dog knows that the gods made grass for rolling in. It's the dogs, of course, not the gods, that do the rolling.

At Gamone, I'm not pretentious enough to refer to our grass as a lawn. It's simply a patch of rocky soil on which a pleasant blend of grass and weeds has appeared... with a minimum of assistance from me and my electric mower.

Fitzroy would surely agree with me that all the wet weather over the last month or so, followed by the last three days of sunshine, has enhanced the rollability of our grass.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Moving heavy stuff

Over the years, I've become accustomed to inventing ways of moving heavy stuff single-handedly, with a minimum of effort. Here, for example, I was faced with the challenge of moving the heaviest element of my future wood oven. It had been sitting outside in front of the house, and I decided to bring it into the cellar, where the future oven is to be built.

The new door has not been installed yet on the cellar. Even though the weather has improved enormously at Gamone over the last two days, the warmth has not yet diffused into the cellar, which remains quite chilly, even though it's just alongside my living room. So, I haven't yet got back into action concerning the construction of the wood oven. To be truthful, I'm incapable of performing useful manual work in damp and chilly conditions. In my brain, there must be some kind of motivational switch that needs a certain level of dryness and warmth before it'll jump from off to on. In fact, there are probably quite a few archaic on/off switches of an electromechanical kind in my brain, which is a bit like an old factory that was built back in the early days of industrial electricity, before the introduction of modern electronic devices. To use the same term applied to aging computer systems, you might call it a legacy brain. But it still seems to work quite well, for example, in the case of inventing ways of moving heavy stuff single-handedly, with a minimum of effort.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Varieties of orchids at Gamone

This morning, once again, I strolled up along the road at Gamone to admire our splendid wild orchids, while attempting to identify as many as I could. In yesterday's blog post [display], I indicated the presence of many Monkey orchids (Orchis simia). I picked a few specimens and brought them home to be photographed. The monkeys in the following specimen have dark purple paws:

[Click to enlarge images.]

In another specimen, the monkeys are pale and slender... and the fellow at the bottom has an erection!

I don't know whether they're two slightly different varieties, or whether the first plant is simply more mature than the second. In the following specimen, probably a Military orchid (Orchis militaris), the form still has arms and legs, but it's more like a woman in a bulky skirt than a monkey:

I haven't been able to identify the following fine specimens, whose flowers have the form of a person wearing baggy pants, but they might be Burnt-tip orchids (Neotinea ustulata):

In various places on the slopes above the roadway, there are entire walls of Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

From a distance, you might mistake each plant for a single flower. But, when you examine them more closely, you realize immediately that each pyramidical head is indeed a group of orchid blossoms.

The larger flowers at the bottom reveal the typical asymmetrical form of each orchid blossom, composed of three small sepals, two small petals and a large third petal, double-lobed, called the labellum.

Finally, the most exotic orchid specimens I discovered at Gamone were members of the Ophrys variety, whose labellum looks like a large insect.

I examined this specimen from every angle, and compared it with photos on the web, in an attempt to identify the exact variety.

I concluded that it could well be an Ophrys fuciflora (Late Spider-orchid), or maybe an Ophrys apifera (Bee Orchid).

Click here to access an excellent website with examples of many wild orchids. Incapable of identifying with certainty my Ophrys specimen, I decided to contact the creator of this website, Philippe Durbin, who's an expert on French orchids. Here's an English translation of his reply:
I can understand your problem, because it's not obvious! I would imagine a hybrid between Ophrys fuciflora and Ophrys apifera. No certainty, however. See if you can find its parents in the vicinity.
Trust me, on my initial orchid excursion, to find a puzzling specimen! Now I'll have to wander back up on the slopes and look around for the mum and dad of this orchid love child. Why couldn't they simply procreate in a hermaphroditical fashion, like most self-respecting Ophrys orchids? Or with the help of a bee, like those queer orchids that get a kick out of bestiality? Maybe the parents of my puzzling orchid specimen had heard of "the good effects of intercrossing" in a book published in 1862 by a celebrated English naturalist.
Charles Darwin: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing.
Click here to access this surprising document, which proves (if need be) that the great Charles Darwin was indeed an amazing observer and scholar.