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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Vegetal ball

My maternal grandmother, Mary Jane Kennedy [1888-1966], used to tell me about her first doll, when she was a little girl up on her father’s bush property on the banks of the Clarence at Riverstone (Seelands), above Grafton. Her Irish mother, Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926], had used a short stout bone from a steer to fashion a doll for her daughter. It must have been a rather primitive creation, with a painted face and rag clothes, but my future grandmother was enchanted by her “little bone doll” (as she put it). Whenever my grandmother told us this story, she insisted above all on the idea that a loving mother, with a little bit of imagination, was capable of performing acts of magic in the eyes of her offspring.

My Fitzroy receives lots of bones every time I buy minced lamb at the supermarket, when the butcher supplies me with a big bag of tasty odds and ends for my dear dog. As for toys, he invented one for himself this morning: a round pumpkin or squash (I don’t know which) that he found in the weeds on the edge of my vegetable garden.

Click to enlarge

Fitzroy knows that his vegetal ball can roll. In a nutshell, my dog has reinvented the wheel. His ball seems to have a mind of its own.

So, he has to keep an eye on it, unless it suddenly decides to roll away and hide in the bushes.

Once it escapes, by rolling down onto the road, Fitzroy has to run to keep up with his vegetal ball.

Fortunately, because of its color, the vegetal ball is easy to see in the icy greyness of Gamone.

Furthermore, although you wouldn’t describe it as edible, the vegetal ball emits a subtle effusion when you happen to sink your teeth into its skin. All in all, it’s an excellent toy... invented by Fitzroy.

Helico visit

In the early hours of the morning, when your house is lost in autumnal mists, and everything around you is so quiet and motionless that the landscape and its creatures (including humans) seem to have gone into hibernation, there’s nothing better than the low-altitude flight of a helicopter over your roof to jolt you back into reality.

I recognized immediately the blue aircraft used by electricity engineers to verify that recent snow has not brought down branches over their landlines. They swooped down low over Gamone to get a close look at the various lines, then they disappeared up over the slopes on the other side of Gamone Creek. Their visit lasted no more than half a minute: a short lapse of time during which Fitzroy and I—and no doubt the donkeys too—wondered whether we might be under air attack by the forces of a hostile village. Thankfully, our visitors did not stay for long. Helico fuel is expensive, and this is not the right time of the year for sightseeing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Construction of wood shed

In my previous blog post, entitled Wood shed finished [display], I stated proudly that the structure was “sturdily-built”. Prudent, I had preferred to wait until the entire construction process was terminated successfully before showing how I had gone about building the shed. It would have been so embarrassing to have described my building work, only to be followed by a dramatic image of a pile of wood and tiles beneath a mound of snow on the lower slopes beneath my house. But I really don't believe we're likely to be faced with such a situation.

In this blog post, I intend to present a few images, taken at the start of October, that highlight some of the more difficult phases of the construction process. As explained on 8 September 2013 in Getting ready for the cold season [display], I started out by bolting a metallic base onto each of the six hefty pieces of timber to be used as upright posts.

Click to enlarge

For each post, I then dug a hole 50cm x 50cm x 50cm and placed the post in the hole in such a way that its lower edge was more-or-less at ground level. To hold a post upright, I surrounded it by a couple of chestnut fencing stakes, and used struts of timber held in place by steel clamps to secure the post while I adjusted its verticality. Throughout the entire construction process, I made constant use of my precious collection of steel clamps (which have gathered rust through being left outside in all kinds of weather).

Once each of the six upright posts was surrounded by a block of concrete, my friend Serge Bellier used a simple hand-saw to level off the posts at the top. Then I was faced with the question of how to raise the heavy horizontal beams. The following photo shows you the makeshift system I invented for this task:

Placing a beam on the foreground posts was a slightly more difficult operation, since these post are considerably taller than the posts on the valley side. The following photo shows my enhancement of the block-and-tackle solution to deal with this increased height:

As you can see, the main difference is that the ladder had to be held in place by chains to prevent it from toppling over. The next photo shows the last of the four big beams being raised to the top of its supporting posts:

Here’s a closeup view of the block-and-tackle system at the top of the ladder:

It goes without saying that, when carrying out such operations, I was wearing a hard hat at all times, and never positioned at any moment beneath the beam being raised. Once the beams were resting on top of the posts, I used an assortment of nails to fix them in place.

The remaining phases of the construction process were quite straightforward: installing rafters, corner stays, and finally the tiles. I didn’t bother to take photos of these activities, because they weren’t particularly photogenic. Concerning the final result, I’m particularly pleased with the system of corner stays (there are probably more technical terms for these various pieces of timber) that keeps the structure perfectly rigid.

It was a matter of creating a set of triangles covering every point at which the global structure might be capable of shifting under the weight of the tiles and snow.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wood shed finished

Except for a few details (such as screwing on the final side tiles, aligning and protecting the protruding rafters, and paintwork), my wood shed is finished and operational.

Click to enlarge

The piles at the rear are composed mainly of wood that Gérard Magnat delivered in September [click here for my blog post with a photo of that pile of firewood], whereas the front pile is some of the extremely dry wood that the Barraquand firm in St-Laurent-en-Royans delivered a few weeks ago.

The structure is sturdily-built, and unlikely to collapse under the weight of snow. As you can see in the following photo, there’s an appropriate system of braces beneath the roof. Besides, I’ve systematically used timber of dimensions somewhat larger than what you could get away with.

The position of the wood shed is ideal in that firewood can be delivered just alongside it, and it’s not too far away from my front door. Meanwhile, there’s also a large stock of dry firewood inside my cellar: enough to keep the house heated until well after Xmas.

For the moment, I haven't yet got around to lighting up my new wood stove, because it hasn't really been cold enough, and the fireplace is perfect for watching TV of an evening (often with Fitzroy dozing on my knees).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great weather for dogs and donkeys

This morning, Choranche received the first autumn snow. (Winter won’t start, of course, before a month’s time.)

And the view from my bathroom window proves that I’m unlikely to be dining outside on the front lawn in the near future.

Like last winter, I’ll soon be receiving a visit from Australian relatives who choose this time of the year to drop in on Europe. Inside the house, it’s not at all cold… and I haven’t even got around to lighting up my new wood stove that I’ve been installing over the last year. Outside, my dog Fitzroy adores this kind of weather, and he races around madly, burrowing into the snow whenever he halts. The donkeys, too, don’t seem to be troubled by the snow. Jackie and I had a look at them this morning, and put a small block of hay in one of my old animal shelters. But some of them preferred to stay outside, burrowing into weeds beneath the walnut trees.

The only way in which this kind of weather affects my daily existence is that it would be crazy to go out driving… supposing that I were able to get the car safely to the bottom of Gamone Road without sliding off into the creek. Between now and the arrival of my sister’s family (just before Xmas), I intend to get a set of four snow tyres installed on my car, to maximize the possibility that I’ll be able to collect them at the train station in Valence.

BREAKING NEWS: I've just received an e-mail with a warning for "level 2 snow" in our region.

Level 2 is an orange warning, one step below the red warning.

Click to enlarge

The weather folk explain that residents of an orange zone must be "very careful, because dangerous phenomena are likely". Do you find that clear? Me neither. So, I'll stay at home in front of the fireplace.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Donkey situation at Gamone

A few months ago, I deliberately refrained from indicating on my blog that my young female donkey Fanette had suddenly died. At the time, shocked and saddened, I simply failed to understand what might have killed her, almost overnight… so I preferred to remain silent. I shall never know, but donkey life goes on… and it looks like this, today, at Gamone.

[Click to enlarge]
Left to right: Bella [young Monaco female], Alice [black Monaco female], Victor [Alice’s son], Louise [gray Monaco female], Fernand [Louise’s son], Moshé and Barnabé [young local male, obviously gay].

There are seven animals: a donkey for each day of the week.

After the above-mentioned tragedy, my kind neighbor Jackie had the impression that Moshé was depressed by the disappearance of his female companion. So we decided to join our neighboring properties, donkey-wise. And the consequences are happy for all of us… particularly since the birth of the two young males.

For the moment, all these splendid beasts are grazing on my backyard slopes. Jackie has gone to the trouble of installing fine winter lodgings for his animals, but the chances are that they’ll spend the cold season outside. Tomorrow, Jackie and I plan to reinforce all the electric fences around our properties. Incidentally, I'm immensely happy to have a friendly neighbor such as Jackie who adores donkeys, chooks and my omnipresent dog Fitzroy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Luxurious breakfast

In my blog post of November 2010 entitled Master mushroom chef [display], I spoke of Coprinus comatus mushrooms, which are one of my favorite breakfast dishes. For the last few days, I’ve been feeding the donkeys and hens up at Jackie’s place, and these mushrooms flourish on his lawn. The tastiest specimens are the small mushrooms that have made their appearance during the last 24 hours.

Their preparation is simple. I simply put them in a non-stick frying pan with butter for a few minutes.

A good part of the pleasure of such exquisite food comes from the fact that my mushrooms were taken out of the ground just 20 minutes before being eaten. These days, that’s pure gastronomical luxury.

PS Jackie once told me that he has never been tempted to eat such mushrooms… and I replied that I agreed entirely with his wariness.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Collision with a cloud

I didn't hear the noise of the impact, but my photo proves that the catastrophe did in fact occur... this afternoon, at an undetermined moment.

A low-flying cloud apparently hit the hill just opposite Gamone, and then subsided into the Cirque de Choranche, where it is henceforth firmly entrenched. The cloud has descended upon a rural pathway, blocking it completely. The mayor has called upon emergency services, equipped with helicopters, to see if they can dislodge the cloud, which threatens citizens of the commune with its terrifying vaporousness.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Door in my cellar

My stone cellar finally has a stout wooden door at its southern end.

One of these days, I'll build a staircase up to the ground level, where my lawnmower is parked. But there's no urgency. The immediate purpose of this doorway is to keep out the winter cold. A craftsman in Pont-en-Royans built me this tailor-made door for a quite reasonable price, and he installed it firmly in the opening by means of long screws sunk into the stone. But it's up to me now to use concrete to seal the gaps between the wooden frame and the stone wall of the cellar. As you can see from the following photo, these gaps are quite irregular in width and form:

That photo also reveals that the oval form of the stone at the top of the opening is totally asymmetrical, meaning that the door, too, has to correspond to this asymmetrical shape. That's Gamone! Everything here is out of alignment... as if the fact that the property is located on mountain slopes meant that the builders were no longer capable of getting anything straight. But I've come to take asymmetry for granted. I think of it as the normal state of affairs. I would surely be terribly anguished to live in a house where all the flat surfaces were perfectly horizontal, all the walls were perfectly vertical, and all the angles were right angles. Happily, Gamone is considerably more topsy-turvy.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pheasant in my rose garden

From my bathroom window, I glimpsed a pheasant in my rose garden.

I rushed downstairs with my camera, hoping to get closer to the bird. I had just enough time to obtain a poorly-focused closeup shot before Fitzroy scented the pheasant's presence, and chased him away.

In flight, a pheasant makes a strange sound, almost as if it had a motor. I can't imagine what kind of satisfaction a hunter obtains by firing at such a disoriented and defenseless creature.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mysterious objects at Gamone

Up until today, my collection of mysterious objects at Gamone has included as star exhibits the following specimens (all of which have been presented on my Antipodes blog, which seeks constantly to stay abreast of avant-garde technology):

[Click to enlarge]

The red machine peels apples (the fruity kind, not the Cupertino models), the spiral prong enables you to roast unpeeled apples over an open fire, and the device at the bottom helps you to blend butter and flour when you're about to prepare an apple pie.

Well, this new mysterious object (purchased this morning in St-Marcellin) has nothing to do with apples... but rather with other Gamone fruit. My new mysterious object is not particularly photogenic, since its principal organ is composed of elliptically-shaped wires, and it's not easy to take a photo of an empty oval space. I warned you: This object is elusive! The following vague photo suggests that it's a kind of wire-framed rugby ball attached to a long stick... which is almost what it is, in fact.

My scientific/literary hero Richard Dawkins indicated recently (I forget where) that he didn't like the idea of swimming in rivers where nasty fluvial creatures (that's an elegant synonym for carnivorous fish) might bite his balls off. Imagine, for a moment, a momentous scenario in the underwater kingdom. A mother fish returns home with a fabulous gastronomical feast for her baby descendants in the wondrous chain of procreation: Dawkins's balls! Then there's that nasty business in Dawkins's autobiography about a schoolmaster who, in the words of the author, "pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts".

While I hardly imagine that my favorite writer reads Antipodes, I would not wish to evoke dramatic memories. I hesitate therefore before revealing that the mysterious object I purchased this morning is a nut grabber. To be clear, that's the French name. In English, I should specify that it's a walnut grabber... but, as the bishop said to the actress, nuts are nuts. Now, if ever Richard Dawkins were reading this blog post, I would suggest that he shut his eyes while I publish this closeup image of the metallic rugby ball (Dawkins, if I understand correctly, is not of a South African sporting nature) that grabs nuts that happen to be lying around indolently on the ground, as if they'd never heard of Saturday night fever.

In fact, my new toy is an old man's device that enables you to pick up walnuts without bending over. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm old enough to appreciate such inventions. But don't get wrong: I've never been particularly accustomed to bending over—neither forwards nor backwards—during my long and fulfilled existence in the domains of science, philosophy, technology, sex and walnuts.

As you will have gathered, there was no prize for guessing the identity of my newly-acquired mysterious object... but I offer you, as a gift for participants, a delightful everyday image—which you can share with my dog Fitzroy (a nutty connoisseur)—of a basket of Gamone walnuts.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Baby donkey at Gamone

The day before yesterday, as I was about to set out on my usual early-morning stroll with Fitzroy, I was alarmed by a strident donkey bray from one of my neighbor's animals. Rushing up the hill, I witnessed the presence of a baby alongside the black female named Alice. The new-born donkey was struggling to get up onto its legs. No sooner had it done so than it toppled over and slid a few meters down the hillside. Reaching the Ageron home, I rang the doorbell frantically and yelled out to Jackie. Fafa appeared at the window, and I explained that a baby donkey had just been born. Within a few minutes, we were all down alongside the mother and her baby, who appeared to be in perfect shape.

Jackie announced that it was a female, whereupon Fafa proclaimed that it would be called Victoria. We looked on for half-an-hour to make sure that the baby Victoria had found her mother's teats. Jackie then picked up the baby and carried her down to the donkey shed, built on relatively flat ground.

Click to enlarge

Throughout the day, both Jackie and I wandered back to the shed frequently to admire the mother and her baby. Jackie was enraptured by the beauty of the young animal, and caressed it as if it were his own baby. All of a sudden, he yelled out:

"Victoria has balls!"

We laughed a lot. I advised Jackie to get his eyesight tested. In any case, as the old French saying goes: "If my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle." From that moment on, the glorious baby donkey had a new name: Victor.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Country lanes

Here in the Old World, the rural landscape has naturally inherited a vast assortment of ancient and less ancient man-made features. This is particularly true in the case of thoroughfares. In south-west England, for example, I've always had the impression that the main roads between big towns are often simply macadamized transformations of the old pathways used by horse-drawn vehicles. Passengers on the upper level of double-decker buses hurtling along such country roads are anguished by the experience of brushing up against overhanging branches of trees. On my few occasions of moving around in such settings in Britain, I've often had feelings of claustrophobia, and wondered what would happen if a driver were to find he had a flat tyre on a narrow road of this kind. The truth of the matter, I think, is that well-heeled Brits in this part of the world drive expensive vehicles that simply don't break down... As for the rest of humanity, they're no doubt smelly creatures from the mainland continent. So, as Shakespeare hinted, all's well that ends well.

Here in France, fortunately, narrow major roads of that British kind do not exist, since the state has systematically intervened to make sure that the public administration can knock down old buildings and acquire the necessary land surface to create thoroughfares of a decent width. And users of our rural roads include, of course, not merely local residents, tradesmen and tourists, but agricultural workers as well.

In the middle of summer, the mayor of Choranche (an agriculturalist) decided to set up an official enquiry into the idea of selling off some of the ancient public paths in Choranche. In the context of the enquiry, which culminated in a public meeting last Monday evening, residents of the commune (a hundred or so individuals) were surprised to discover that there had never been many significant requests to privatize parts of our public domain, apart from a few flagrant cases of tiny sections of paths that happened to pass uncomfortably close (for certain residents) to their houses... for the obvious reason that, once upon a time, householders were more than happy to have a track from their front door to the village.

In fact, the only noteworthy case of a lengthy segment of a public lane crossing a large area of privately-owned land concerns land owned by... the mayor himself! Insofar as it's thinkable that the mayor may have taken advantage of his elected role to tackle a purely personal problem (I hasten to point out that I totally refrain from expressing publicly my personal opinion on this matter), we might well be heading towards a situation in which the conclusions of the ongoing enquiry will be simply nullified by an administrative tribunal invoked by citizens who feel that the mayor has gone too far.

Aware that this official enquiry had been set up, I hastened to write a document aimed at protecting and indeed enhancing the public nature of the marvelous path that runs along the crest of the hill up behind Gamone. Known in olden times as Greenery Lane (le chemin du Vert), this ancient path—whose geographical contours remain perfectly detectable—was a segment of the principal itinerary between Pont-en-Royans and Presles. It came as no surprise to the mayor of Choranche to see me submit to the enquiry a document concerning Greenery Lane, because he knows that I've been trying for years to promote the idea of removing weeds from this track, setting up pathway signs, and encouraging hikers to discover this fabulous itinerary. Click here to download a PDF copy (with photos) of my 22-page French-language paper on Greenery Lane.

In fact, since I have to climb up the steep hill behind my house (donkey territory) to reach Greenery Lane, I don't wander up there very often. Over the last 20 years, my preferred pathway for almost daily walks—once with my dear departed Sophia, now with Fitzroy—is Gamone Lane, which is the non-macadamized extension, further up the slopes in the direction of Presles, of the roadway that leads up to my house and the neighboring Ageron property.

A fortnight ago, when I was wandering exceptionally up along Greenery Lane, I discovered an excellent viewpoint down onto my everyday Gamone Lane (the pathway crossing the slopes).

These ancient rural lanes are patrimonial treasures, which must continue to belong to all of us, both residents and visitors. The idea of privatizing and selling them off is utter heresy. Fortunately, there are now so many informed and patrimonially-sensitive citizens dwelling in this part of the world that the mayor's crazy intentions are surely doomed to fail.

There will be municipal elections in France early next year. Some of us who've attempted to do the electoral arithmetic for Choranche conclude sadly that the commune has a sufficient quantity of conservative old-timers to guarantee the reelection of the present mayor. Fair enough. Enlightened citizens—most often "foreigners" whose ancestors were born in faraway places beyond the tiny confines of Choranche—will continue to oppose any stupid attempt to sell off our country lanes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reached the roof

In November 2012, I started to purchase pipe elements for the erection of a chimney system for a future wood stove. Prior to that date, I had devoted days of effort to a tedious and horribly dusty operation that consisted of making a wide hole in the 20cm-thick slab of reinforced concrete between the ground level and the upper floor of my house. Finally, last January, I decided upon the stove model that I preferred (a French-manufactured Invicta Bradford), as indicated in a blog post entitled Installation of my wood stove [display]. Since then, I've carried on purchasing and installing all the required elements of galvanized steel tubing (Poujoulat), according to the following schema:

Click to enlarge

This afternoon, Serge Bellier and I carried out the ultimate operation, which consisted of placing a chimney on top of the roof, linking together the final elements of tubing, and firmly attaching the external chimney to the rafters of the house. Everything fell into place perfectly, and we didn't even have to cut through any rafters, or slice into any roof tiles. Here's a photo of Serge alongside the new chimney:

Serge was happy to discover that the chimney, now fixed firmly in place, turned out to be perfectly vertical.

 Retrospectively, I realize that there were several stages in the chimney construction process at which I might have possibly run into nasty obstacles of an almost insurmountable kind. Fortunately, in every case, I managed to avoid such traps, often through sheer luck. In other words, the entire installation process has been carried out in a very smooth fashion. Besides, the stove itself (from Bricomarché) and all the items involved in the erection of the chimney (from Castorama) were purchased for a global cost that is a mere fraction of what I would have paid if I had called upon a professional stove vendor and chimney installer.

At this stage, all that remains to be done is to order some extra-dry firewood (to be delivered in November). Then I'll simply wait for the start of the cold season.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Getting ready for the cold season

As I said in a recent blog post [display], I've just built a new version of the small website for the Châtelus camping site of my friends Daniel Berger and his wife Michèle. A few days ago, Tineke Bot translated the text of the website into Dutch, which means that the website [display] is now in French, English and Dutch. Daniel was so happy with my work on the website that he insisted upon doing something in return... although I tried to make it clear that I certainly don't create website stuff on local themes with the intention of receiving any kind of payment. Daniel told me he owned a mini digger (which had played a necessary role in the creation of his camping site on the slopes of Châtelus), and he suggested that there was surely some kind of job to be done at Gamone with the help of such a great little device. I replied that it would indeed be good if the track behind my house could be modified a little so that surface water coming down from the slopes would not tend to leak into my stone cellar. Daniel understood immediately the exact nature of the task to be carried out. A few days later, after working late at night on my computer, I happened to sleep until the middle of the following morning. When I awoke, I discovered with surprise that Daniel had arrived early in the morning, with his mini digger, and completed the job.

Last night, there was a heavy storm at Choranche, and I was happy to find that Daniel's remodeled angle of the track has succeeded in bringing surface water directly down onto the macadam road, so that there's no longer any trace of moisture getting into the house.

The day before yesterday, I drove to Valence to pick up the final two sections of tubing for the chimney of my new wood stove. Consequently, Serge will be helping me to install the rooftop chimney in the next few days (preferably at a moment when we're sure that there's no rainstorm on the horizon, because we have to cut a hole in the roof).

Meanwhile, my neighbor Gérard has delivered my annual order of top-quality firewood.

This new wood supplements a big stack of dry wood (not visible in the photo) left over from last winter. And it's quite likely that I'll purchase a small additional quantity of extra-dry wood, for the new stove, from the high-tech Barraquand factory in the nearby village of St-Laurent-en-Royans. I now need a convenient roofed zone, alongside the house, to store all this wood. So, that implies another quite big construction project, to be carried out as rapidly as possible. Here are the six basic posts, ready to be set up in concrete-filled holes.

It's timber that I purchased about 15 years ago, when I was thinking vaguely of erecting a more elegant shed for my donkey Moshé. I've bolted a steel base onto each post, and painted the wood with a nasty-smelling but highly effective protective product.

Over the last couple of days, I've already got my concrete mixer back into action and erected two posts. (When the rain stops, I'll take photos.) The future construction will occupy an area 5 metres wide and 2 metres deep, with a sloping tiled roof (in the style of my carport), located to the left of Fitzroy's kennel (just behind the pair of old brown wooden doors in the above photo of the wood pile), on a flat site that has been built up, over the years, by landfill.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tricked by a donkey

Yesterday afternoon, when giving my donkeys a bunch of fresh thistles (their caviar), I was suddenly alarmed by the physical appearance of Fanette. Alongside the sleek silvery hide of Moshé, the 3-year-old female was terribly shaggy, and I had the impression that the forms of  bones were protruding in the region of her rump, as if she were becoming dangerously skeletal. The following photos, taken this morning, prove that Fanette is indeed shaggy, but they don't quite reflect the vision of my donkey that shocked me yesterday afternoon.

I jumped into the car and set off to St-Jean-en-Royans to ask the veterinarian for advice. When I explained that Fanette had not yet eliminated all her winter fur, the veterinarian told me that this has something to with the exceptional weather conditions over the last few months. Apparently he encounters a steady stream of owners of all kinds of animals—dogs, cats, horses, etc—who have observed the same phenomenon. In any case, the shaggy appearance of an animal that has retained a lot of its winter fur must not be interpreted as a symptom of any kind of health problem.

Have you seen any traces of diarrhea? No.

Are the donkey's rib bones visible? No, not at all, merely something that looks like rump bones.

Does the donkey appear to be eating well? Yes. Fanette gulped down the bunch of thistles so quickly that Moshé couldn't get in for a nibble.

Are you sure that your vision of "protruding rump bones" is not simply an illusion brought about by the presence of patches of thick fur alongside areas of bare hide? When I think about it, maybe you're right...

After leaving the veterinarian, I nevertheless dropped in at the local agricultural store to buy a bag of oats, on the off-chance that Fanette might be needing some kind of a boost in her summer diet. This morning, I had the impression that the donkeys looked at me as if they wondered whether I had gone crazy, serving them up fresh thistles and oats in the middle of their season of plenty, when they're surrounded by acres of luxurious grass and tasty weeds of all kinds.

In the following photo, you can distinguish the ridges of thick fur around Fanette's rump that looked to me like protruding bones, particularly when she was standing on sloping ground, and I was looking at her from behind.

You can also see the excessively fat bellies of both animals. The veterinarian told me that, ideally, I should be able to run my fingers over the sides of a donkey and feel the rib bones. For the moment, the main thing I feel on Fanette is fur. But how can you persuade a donkey to go on a diet?

OK, I was tricked by Fanette's fur. Now, when you've stopped laughing at me, let me ask you a simple question. Why do animals grow fur in winter, and then lose it in summer? Many of you probably said: To keep themselves warm in the winter cold. No, that's not a good answer. Keeping themselves warm in winter is indeed a favorable outcome of growing fur... but what I want to know is: What is the mechanism that makes the animal grow fur at exactly the time it's needed? You might have answered: Animals are designed that way. Fair enough... so long as you don't intend to say that God made them that way. Some of you might have added: Animals that happened to grow winter fur had a greater chance of survival (in the Darwinian sense) than animals without fur. That's true, too. But the answer I was looking for is the presence of genes, inside the donkey, that might be designated as a biological clock. A biological alarm clock, that rings a bell when the animal's fur-growing genes need to be triggered, in preparation for the forthcoming winter.

Geneticists have now identified precisely such biological clocks inside humans, and they are capable of studying the ways in which the operation of such devices can be upset by various external factors. We all know, for example, that some of our biological clocks become quite dysfunctional when we step onto a plane and fly to the Antipodes. And it takes a few days for the clocks to get back into a perfect operational state.

Getting back to Fanette, it appears that the internal mechanisms of her gene for shedding old fur have got screwed up by the weird weather. One day, donkey specialists with advanced training in genetic engineering will surely invent a technique for repairing biological clocks that have become temporarily unphased. Meanwhile, Fanette appears to be less upset than me about her shaggy appearance. And her old fur will inevitably be replaced by new fur by the start of the cold season.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Butterflies at Gamone

There's no doubt about the preferred flowers of butterflies at Gamone. Disregarding my roses, they spend all their time on the lavender bushes. Here's a lone specimen of Euplagia quadripunctaria, nicknamed the Jersey Tiger (Ecaille chinée in French), which is rather rare here.

Iphiclides podalirius, nicknamed Swallowtail (Flambé in French), is quite common here at Gamone, where I found a couple flitting around the lavender this morning.

Click to enlarge, enabling you to see a visiting honey bee.

Media reports speak of an alarming diminution in the quantity of butterflies in rural France, due to the use of pesticides. So, their abundance here is what might be termed (metaphorically) a blessing. At the level of their wonderful park, Tineke and Serge have found, like me, that the butterfly population at Choranche seems to be intact. In an adjacent domain, Serge was happy to inform me that his hive of honey bees appears to be, not only healthy, but in a prolific state of honey production.

I say to myself constantly that we have the privilege of living in a lovely corner of France.

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.