Showing posts with label Pont-en-Royans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pont-en-Royans. Show all posts

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our GP on overseas disaster mission

In my previous post [display], I mentioned our good fortune in having a resident GP, Xavier Limouzin, with many qualities, including that of being an officer and active member of the Sapeurs-Pompiers (fire brigade) of Pont-en-Royans. Here's a photo of Dr Limouzin in Haiti after last year's earthquake:

[Click for an enlarged view]

And here he is (on the right), with comrades, working at night alongside the rubble in Haiti:

With that kind of professional experience, Dr Limouzin was perfectly at ease in dealing with the trivial case of an old-timer at Gamone who happened to get pinned to the ground by a branch of a walnut tree.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Many years ago, back in Paris, one of my former employers told his assembled staff: "The challenge of becoming rich involves two aspects. On the one hand, you have to earn as much money as possible. On the other hand, you must spend as little as possible."

I've often thought that our health situation is similar. On the one hand, you must have access to top-quality medical services… including, above all, an excellent GP (general practitioner). On the other hand, you have to avoid running into health problems. Elementary, my dear Watson. (Apparently Sherlock Holmes never pronounced this apocryphal phrase in any of the sixty detective novels written by Arthur Conan Doyle.) I consider myself fortunate in the sense that, in my personal case, both these conditions appear to prevail.

I drop in at the GP's rooms in Pont-en-Royans once every three months for a renewal of the prescription for three or four pills that I've been taking over the last six years. The ritual is always the same. The GP tries to imagine what kind of medical tests he might be able to impose upon me, through his specialist colleagues in the nearby cities of Valence and Romans. Since my prostate has been removed, and since I perform regular checks for colon cancer, I've become a relatively dull candidate for tests… but I'm sure my GP will think of something one of these days.

A long time ago, he informed me that my cervical vertebra resembled worn-out parts in an aging automobile, and that this could well bring about fits of vestibular giddiness. Back at the time the GP said that, I didn't really believe his diagnosis. On the one hand, I never have a stiff or painful neck (in spite of sitting upright in front of a computer screen for hours on end, seated on a hard wooden chair). On the other hand, if I felt giddy at times, particularly when I looked skywards, I imagined this as the first symptoms of some terrible form of cerebral decay. Maybe I had inherited it from my ancestor Charles Walker, innkeeper on the Braidwood goldfields, who used to drink too much of a beverage invented by a Scotsman named Johnnie Walker who, I believe, was his brother. If Charles had died in 1860 of delirium tremens, and if his great-great-grandson felt giddy from time to time when he was wandering around on the slopes with his dogs at Choranche, it's clear that this had nothing to do with neck bones; it was the inherited fault of bad neurons.

Reluctantly, however, I was obliged to admit to my GP that, one morning a month or so ago, I woke up with both a sore neck and a bit of giddiness. Later on in the morning, just to see whether or not it might work, I performed energetic exercises with my arms, neck and shoulders. By midday, both the pain in the neck and the giddiness had totally disappeared. So, that certainly proved something… and my GP agreed! I did have the impression, however, that he looked at me with a puzzled expression when I was telling him this story, as if I might indeed have decaying whisky-soaked neurons in my inner brain.

The GP's test for blood pressure always follows a similar ritual. Lying on my back, I tend to forget that he's busy trying to determine my blood pressure, and I carry on talking, in anything but a relaxed state. He frowns because his reading is lower than expected. At that stage, he always asks me the same question: "Do you check your blood pressure regularly at home?" And I always tell him that I wouldn't have the faintest idea about how to perform such an operation. By that time, I'm standing up, and my body is no longer tense. And, in this position, the GP's new reading of my blood pressure reverts to its normal value, which seems to please him greatly.

After that incident, the GP sets his computer in action, so that it prints out a new copy of my regular prescription. He functions in multi-processing mode by simultaneously recording my payment, signing my prescription and talking on the phone with his wife. Besides, this red-blooded lady's man seems to be amused when I say that this kind of aptitude is generally strictly feminine.

At that point in my visit to the GP, the serious part of our encounter can get under way. I'm talking of our regular conversations about books, science, the Internet, etc. The other day, the GP set the ball rolling.

GP: "I bought the two Dawkins books you mentioned, and found them highly interesting."

Knowing nothing of the quality of French translations of books by Richard Dawkins, I had nevertheless recommended that he might read The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth. Parts of the first book, on atheism, had apparently impressed my GP greatly. In particular, he liked the explanations about the plasticity of the minds of tender children, who can be made to believe anything they're told. Meanwhile, the overall American situation was news to him.

GP: "I was amazed to learn that declaring oneself an atheist in the USA prevents you from being considered as a decent citizen, capable of becoming an elected politician."

William: "At least it's not like that in France."

GP: "It's the opposite here. Politicians like to make themselves out to be free-thinking Republicans, liberated with respect to religious bias. But, as soon as one of their leaders dies, they all flock along to the cathedral of Notre-Dame to pray for the soul of their dead companion."

Talking of believers and non-believers, an interesting Harris poll has just been conducted here in France, where we imagine that the faithful continue to flock to Sunday Mass, albeit in dwindling numbers.

Roughly a third of the population say they're believers, and a third, atheists. The remaining third is characterized by the fact that they simply don't know whether or not God exists. Among them, most people feel that this question is interesting, whereas others say it's not. Those results are unsurprising. What amused me greatly, on the other hand, is the fact that a third of the religious folk who said they were Catholics went on to reveal that they nevertheless don't really believe in the existence of God. Now, I like that approach! That's the kind of Catholic I myself might be, if I set my mind to it. Besides God, the Devil and the Holy Ghost, though, I would also refuse to believe in popes, saints, miracles, priests and all the rest of the ugly rubbish, including relics.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tranquil but treacherous

This delightful stretch of the Bourne lies below the Trois-Châteaux mountain, which separates Choranche from Pont-en-Royans.

The mountain was so-named because because medieval sentinels, posted on its slopes, could keep watch over three impressive feudal domains down in the Royans: the Bâtie fortress of the powerful Bérenger lords, the Flandaines castle erected on clifftops (reputedly inviolable, and consequently razed to the ground, in a fit of jealousy, by king Louis XI) and the exotic castle of Rochechinard, whose ruins are still perfectly visible today.

At this spot, the Bourne emerges from beneath the Rouillard Bridge, near the ancient mill of my neighbor Jack Oyhancabal, and flows just twenty meters down from the road, alongside a convenient parking zone for vehicles.

As everywhere in the Bourne, there are huge fragments of limestone—some as big as a house—that have tumbled down from the slopes in remote eras.

This is an ideal place for sunbathers and trout fishermen.

But the river, so tranquil most of the time, can become abruptly treacherous. Passers-by who have the privilege of being able to read French would do well to take notice of warning signs put up at this spot, and elsewhere alongside the Bourne between Choranche and Pont-en-Royans.

The meaning of this pair of signs can only be grasped, however, by local people who are already fully aware of the situation.

—The top sign, of an old-fashioned and straightforward appearance, has been pasted over an earlier version in which the phrase "Il est dangereux" was not yet in upper-case characters. We're told that it's dangerous to wander around in the river or on the banks of gravel (?) because the water level can change abruptly as a result of the presence of hydroelectric works and dams upstream.

— The lower sign is inextricably complicated. First, it's funny to discover that the sign has been installed by two quite different partners, who apparently combined their efforts in order to design this warning message: the national EDF authority (in charge of French electricity), and the local AAPPMA (fishing association). Maybe the presence of the latter partner is due to the fact that trout fishermen are the most vulnerable potential victims of surges in the level of the river. Instead of saying this, though, the fishing folk have terminated the sign by a couple of lines of banal propaganda, in red letters: "The river is a fragile environment. Thanks for avoiding all pollution." Then they've inserted their big colorful logo. But the most intriguing part of this sign, by far, is the small print about a so-called "warning wave". Truly, few passers-by could be expected to imagine what this might be. I myself, having lived here for 17 years, have never actually seen such a "warning wave", but local folk have told me about this phenomenon. To understand the situation, you have to go upstream a few kilometers. Unknown to most of the tourists who drive past on a road up on the slopes, there is a dam on the Bourne, just upstream from the village of Choranche, and it backs up a big lake.

From time to time, after high rainfall up on the Vercors plateau, or following the melting of snow, the EDF authorities realize that they'll be obliged to release a lot of the water that has been accumulating in the lake. Now, they've invented the notion of a "warning wave" as a way of letting people know, between Choranche and Pont-en-Royans, that the river is about to evolve into a roaring torrent. That's to say, five minutes before opening the valves completely, they release a relatively small quantity of water: just enough to let sunbathers and fishermen know that they should immediately scramble out of the water and up the banks to safety, before the massive overflow reaches them. Those EDF people are thoughtful, aren't they…

Not long after my arrival in Choranche, I recall a sunny afternoon when I was having a beer at the Jorjane in the village of Choranche, and chatting with Georges. We were annoyed by the repeated shouting of what sounded like a few boisterous youths wandering around in the woods alongside the Bourne. It took us about twenty minutes to realize that the cries came from stranded fishermen. Meanwhile, fortunately, village folk who were more alert than Georges and me had called the local firemen, who rapidly got the fishermen out of trouble.

Incidentally, the fly-fisherman seen in the above photos is in a particularly dangerous situation, because there's a vertical cliff behind him, and he would have to wade across the river to get to safety.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Restaurant facelift at Pont-en-Royans

The restaurant and bar known as Le Picard at Pont-en-Royans are composed of two former cafés, which were united a few years ago by the present owner, my friend Jean-Noël Soulié. Attempting to sell his establishment, he has just given the combined façades a new coat of paint, to make them look a little more uniform.

I wondered why Jean-Noël didn't take advantage of this repainting to create a spectacular vision: for example, the name LE PICARD plastered across the entire combined façade. Well, I've just learned that this whole repainting operation was carried out under the strict control of French state authorities who dictated exactly the colors, dimensions and forms that were to be employed. The outcome, in any case, is high-class. It'll be interesting to see what kind of potential buyers might be attracted by this exceptional but high-cost affair. An obvious restraint must be respected. The future purchaser will need to step into the shoes of a fellow who actually played rugby in the local team. But, whenever we start talking about such-and-such an individual who cannot possibly be replaced, facts and imagination inevitably replace him overnight.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Awkward doorways

I've always been intrigued by this series of three doorways that give out directly onto the main road entering Pont-en-Royans from the Drôme.

A passerby has the impression that it's a long while since anybody ever opened any of these doorways. In the case of the one on the right, severely attacked by humidity, its days of being opened are surely a thing of the past. I refer to them as "awkward" because the proprietor of a doorway, prior to opening it, would need to ask the gendarmes to halt the traffic on the road. And I don't think these busy officers would be happy to intervene in that way for any significant length of time.

The proprietor of the middle doorway (and the space behind and above it) is none other than my neighbor Dédé Repellin, whose photo appeared at the top of my recent article entitled Down by the riverside [display]. A few weeks ago, Dédé told me the full story of his curious doorway. To appreciate the details, you need to know that, at the rear of this building with the road-level doorways, there's a prominent and ancient street: the rue du Merle (Blackbird Street), which lies two or three stories higher than the doorways and the road. Dédé purchased this place long ago, and he used the upper space (not shown in these photos), giving out onto Blackbird Street, as his workshop, enabling him to look after his trade vehicle. In the space above his doorway, to the right of the wooden ladder, you can see a curious box structure, composed of concrete bricks and apparently fixed to the far wall. Well, this was in fact a cavity that Dédé built so that he could drive his vehicle into the workshop, up at the Blackbird Street level, and then crawl down underneath it, inside this concrete box, to change the sump oil. Fair enough. He could still do that, if he wanted to… but Dédé's personal garage at Choranche offers him, today, a more comfortable environment in which to replace his sump oil.

The most amusing part of the story concerns the stuff to be found today behind Dédé's road-level doorway. Apparently, long ago, he bought a secondhand metal lathe, weighing a ton, and installed it in the space behind that door. It's still there, and Dédé would be thrilled to be able to make use of this precious equipment. But this is unthinkable as long as he's faced with the problem of opening and closing that doorway. So, the ideal solution would consist of extracting the metal lathe from that place and reinstalling it up at the Repellin home in Choranche (just down from my place at Gamone). But this transfer would be a major undertaking, requiring that the road be blocked for a period of at least a few hours, so that a mobile crane could be brought in to grab the lathe and lift it onto a truck. Dédé has concluded that a such a project is far too complicated to be imagined. Consequently, his precious metal lathe is likely to remain forever imprisoned behind the old brown door.

Incidentally, this story suggests that vague dreams may have been unfolding in Dédé's mind, a few days ago [see my earlier blog], while he watched the movements of the giant mobile elevator work platform…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Down by the riverside

It takes a special attraction to bring my neighbor Dédé Repellin down to Pont-en-Royans, and get him leaning over the stone parapet and staring down into the Bourne like a run-of-the-mill tourist.

Here's the special attraction:

This huge mobile elevator work platform enabled a couple of workers to install a plastic tarpaulin trough along the stone wall. Repair work will soon start on this section of the wall, and the purpose of the trough is to catch fragments of old stone and mortar instead of letting them drop down onto the vegetation on the banks of the Bourne. In other words, the future stone craftsmen will be able to work cleanly (no doubt from cables hung down over the parapet) without making a mess of the surroundings. Incidentally, the installation of the tarpaulins demonstrates the extent to which environmental issues are handled seriously these days. Not so long ago, workers would have simply let their rubbish fall down into the river.

Specialists in the domain of mobile work platforms (which is not my case) will recognize immediately that the device is not being used here in an orthodox fashion. The telescopic boom is designed to take the platform up in the air to a maximum height of some fifty meters, whereas it's being used here to attain a "negative height" (expression employed by the operator) whose maximum value is merely ten meters.

The French truck-driver operates the platform. The two fellows installing the tarpaulin were Portuguese and Polish, and they didn't appear to speak a word of French.

This stretch of the Bourne appears to be turbulent, but the volume and behavior of the water vary constantly, depending on the recent meteorological conditions up on the Vercors plateau. For the last few days, there has been no rain here, and this is a view of the Bourne this afternoon, taken at approximately the same spot:

Behind the big square rocks in the foreground, the waterfalls have disappeared. So, what is actually happening here as far as the river is concerned? To answer that question, we need to move upstream some fifty meters, to a point just above the patch of white frothy water in the upper right-hand corner of the previous photo. Here's what we find:

As you can see, somebody has built a small primitive dam here. The river is channeled into what looks like a tiny cavern, where it promptly overflows, as shown here:

Normally, the stream of water created by the dam should flow along the channel cut into the cliff, which you can see distinctly in the above photo. The problem is that a big chunk of the stonework has fallen out of this channel, creating a big hole that allows all the water to escape… whence the white frothy stream.

Exceptionally, the other day, when I was taking photos of the mobile platform, there was a huge volume of water in the Bourne. Consequently, some of the water leaving the dam actually got past the hole at the start of the channel. Then, however, it encountered a section of the rock channel where a dozen meters of the stone wall have disappeared, as seen here:

The waterfalls that I photographed the other day were caused by water spilling through this big break in the old channel.

Now, what was the intended purpose of the dam and the stone channel? A century ago, a local engineer built this system in order to canalize part of the flow of the Bourne into a narrow tunnel through the rock. At the point where this falling water rejoined the Bourne, a hundred meters downstream, it drove a turbine to generate electricity for the village of Pont-en-Royans. In the following photo, you can see the rusty remains of the equipment used to regulate the volume of water about to enter the tunnel.

But, because of the damaged channel, no water has entered this tunnel for half a century.

Today, down below the famous dwellings attached to the cliff face, visitors to Pont-en-Royans probably wonder why the ugly red-brick structure in the middle of the following photo is left standing.

This building, located at the exit of the tunnel, housed the turbine and other equipment for the generation and distribution of electricity. As far as I know, it's still full of archaic hardware. Meanwhile, it remains an element of the riverside landscape of Pont-en-Royans, protected automatically by the French national heritage authorities. So, even though the structure is unattractive and has been useless for ages, it's likely to be around for a long time to come.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Riverside excursion

This afternoon, it was warm enough for an excursion with Sophia to the edge of the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans. Seeing me getting ready to leave the house with my Nikon, Sophia sensed that something interesting might be about to happen. She stood tensely in front of me, staring me in the eyes. I stared back at her in silence for a few seconds. Sophia realized that the absence of a negative stay-at-home order (such as "Guard the house") indicated that she was being invited along. So, she dashed outside and waited for me alongside the Citroën.

She appreciates a minimal contact with the water.

I don't know whether it might be called "swimming". I think that "cooling off" is a more honest expression.

People come here with bags of stale bread, to feed the ducks. This means that Sophia always manages to find a few chunks for a riverside snack. She has become an expert at convincing people, particularly children, that she's starving.

Are those ducks naive enough to imagine that Sophia is getting ready to throw them a bit of bread?

I think the ducks are starting to realize that Sophia won't even be leaving them a few crumbs. We bid farewell to the ducks and wander upstream to the pool beneath the cliff houses.

An optimistic angler imagined that he might find a trout lurking beneath the Picard bridge (the "pont" in the name of the village: Pont-en-Royans).

Above us, the sharp crest of the slopes marks the dividing line between Pont-en-Royans and Choranche.

Normally I'm not particularly good at leaning out over parapets to take photos, but I was enticed by this interesting view of the foundations of the ancient bridge alongside the flimsy wooden poles supporting the cliff houses.

Local people are proud to point out that these ancient dwellings have never yet slid down into the Bourne, so it's quite possible, indeed probable, that they never will. (Poor logic!)

Personally, I wouldn't be happy residing in such a scary place.

Here's a view from the other side of the bridge, looking downstream from the road that leads up to Choranche.

Sophia, still soaked (with that marvelous smell of a wet dog), scrambled into the car and we drove back to Gamone, a kilometer up the road.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More fallen rocks

Last Monday morning, I set out early to drive into town. Half a kilometer down the road, a roadblock had been set up just before the Pont Picard (which marks the entry into Pont-en-Royans) due to rocks that had tumbled down from Mount Baret during the night. This sight is becoming familiar.

The employee told me that several rocks had fallen, reaching the roadway at distinct spots over a distance of fifty meters. There seemed to be four separate rocks.

The "footprints" of rock #1, before it terminated its itinerary in the middle of the road, can be seen in the macadam. Rock #2 must have bounced off the slopes at a certain height and landed directly like a bomb on the edge of the roadway, where the violence of the impact shattered it into fragments of creamy limestone.

Rock #3 was halted by the protective net, whereas rock #4 smashed a wooden post, broke through the netting and left a telltale hole in the roadside earth where it bounced before ending its trajectory down on the edge of the Bourne.

An hour later, a civil-security helicopter was flying over the scene, taking a close look at the spot on the top of the mountain where the rocks had been dislodged. Their verdict: Bigger rocks were poised, ready to roll down the slopes. So, the road was immediately closed... probably for several weeks. To escape from Gamone without going through Pont-en-Royans, there are several solutions, all of which involve roundabout routes up over the surrounding mountains. You might say that this is the price I pay for living in such an exotic setting as Choranche.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Intrusive views of my street

The Google Maps squad arrived in town. Apparently in the first week of April 2009. They've worked through my street—that's to say, the D531 road—from Choranche down through Pont-en-Royans, and the results are spectacular and surprising. Google's street-view approach produces a shock when you see it applied in a sparsely-populated rural zone, and I have the impression that certain local residents are likely to be somewhat scandalized by this invasion of privacy. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that the French authorities would have given Google the green light to carry out such an operation, of an intimate village nature.

[CORRECTION: As explained in a comment, Google's visit actually took place on Friday, 13 March 2009.]

To see the images on your computer, start up Google maps and type Choranche, France. Here are some specimens of what you'll find, with my comments:

I start out with the image that shocked me most of all: the patio of the Jorjane hotel-restaurant in the village of Choranche. The photo gives the impression that the place is in a sad state of abandon. Now, it's a fact that my friend George Pontvianne often puts his business into hibernation for short periods. Besides, he has been trying to sell the Jorjane for some time. But it's quite unfair that Google should display this particularly dismal image for anybody and everybody, in the future, who might happen to look up the Jorjane for one reason or another. It's the static and permanent nature of the fallout of Google's intervention that shocks me. What I'm trying to say is that, a few days later, a photo taken at the same spot would have shown a patio thronged with joyful bikers. So, the Google photo is wrong, in that it's not at all a typical vision of the Jorjane. In any case, I've just phoned up George and suggested that he should ask Google to delete their images of the Jorjane.

About a kilometer to the east of the village (a few clicks on Google maps), this is a view of the house of my great friends Tineke Bot and Serge Bellier, who are clearly recognizable in this Google image. Their two visitors are probably recognizable, too, for professional viewers. Here again, it's unacceptable that the entire planet should be offered the image of Serge and Tineke accompanied by X and Y. And, for reasons of security (Tineke is a famous sculptor), it's equally unacceptable that roadside views should indicate precisely the fenced edges of their Rochemuse domain. Clearly, Google is going too far. And I wouldn't be surprised if Serge and Tineke were to raise their voices at this level...

Much further to the west, Google lets you explore the roadside house of my neighbors Dédé and Madeleine. As for my place, Gamone, up on the slopes, you can't see too much. Google has not yet provided me with justifications for updating my existing old-fashioned resources in the way of self-defensive firearms. (I'm joking!)

I'll let you follow Google Map down along the D531 into Pont-en-Royans... where there are other surprises. I've just been sitting in on an Internet session on this subject in the home of neighbors in Chatelus. Their kids were thrilled to find perfectly-recognizable images of themselves on a sporting arena in the village. Is this good? Sure, the kids in question are going to astound their school friends with the revelation: "We're all on the Internet!" But that raises an obvious delicate question: Is it right that a giant US corporation should be able to move into our French villages and then display recognizable images of school kids at play? The answer, I think, is a resounding no.

I conclude by a quiz question: How have my neighbors and I been able to determine the exact date at which these images were obtained?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hot dog

When I arrived back home after my trip to Valence yesterday, it was so hot at Gamone that I decided to drive Sophia down to Pont-en-Royans for a dip in the Bourne.

Sophia obviously appreciates this kind of excursion. First, of course, she can cool off. More importantly, I think, there's the pleasure of exotic odors and encounters with the vast world beyond Gamone.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fabulous legends

There are countless reasons for visiting Paris, which include the possibility of climbing to the top of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, taking a boat trip along the Seine, or spending an evening at the Crazy Horse. [Personally, during my thirty or so years in Paris, I never did any of those three things.] As far as I'm concerned, one might decide to spend time in Paris solely in order to visit the medieval museum of the Hôtel de Cluny in the Latin Quarter.

Here, in the curious vault-like setting of a circular room with dimmed lighting, you can gaze upon the six magnificent tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn.

Now one comes upon them by chance, among chance corners, and is almost frightened to be here uninvited. But there are others passing by, though they are never many. The young people scarcely even halt before them, unless somehow their studies oblige them to have seen these things once, because of some particular characteristic they possess. Young girls one does occasionally find before them. For in the museums there are many young girls who have left the houses that can no longer keep anything. They find themselves before these tapestries and forget themselves a little.
Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke

The tapestries were commissioned by a wealthy judge in Lyon named Jean Le Viste, and woven in Flanders towards the end of the 15th century. These masterpieces are extraordinarily beautiful. They exploit a narrow palette of colors—mainly reddish orange, greenish blue and pale gold—but the hues are blended exquisitely to produce enchanting visual poetry. The themes are strangely sensual, although we cannot readily decipher the coded language of the scenes. One wonders, obviously, why the fair lady is accompanied constantly by that exotic white beast with a huge horn jutting out from its forehead.

The most mysterious of the six tapestries is the one shown above, in which the elegantly-attired lady stands in the opening of a luxurious tent labeled with an enigmatic inscription: A mon seul désir (To my desire only). She has removed her necklace, and is placing it in a jewel box held by her maid. Is she simply starting to undress, or does this ritual removal of the necklace have a deeper signification?

Not surprisingly, the beauty and the mysterious nature of these amazing medieval creations gave rise to legends about their origins. I'm particularly fond of the most ancient and tenacious legend, because it places the origin of the tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn in the immediate vicinity of my home alongside Pont-en-Royans. Funnily enough, although the story I'm about to relate culminates in a fictitious explanation concerning the reason why the tapestries were created, almost everything else in the tale is perfectly authentic. Like all good stories, this one will take a little time to be told... particularly when it's me, the story-teller.

One of my earliest blog articles, appearing on 23 December 2006, was entitled When is a castle not a castle? [display]. I pointed out that there's an ancient watchtower on the slopes of a nearby mountain, just above Pont-en-Royans, at a place designated as Three Castles. It has that name because, once upon a time, from that observation point, you could in fact see three great castles down in the valley, in the territory known as the Royans. In my article of 20 June 2008 entitled Old times, forgotten places [display], I evoked the greatest of these three castles, called La Bâtie, which was the home of the Sassenage lords. Today, it has totally disappeared. But the ruins of one of the three ancient castles still stand, at Rochechinard, seen here:

In the 15th century, this fairy-tale castle received an unexpected and exotic guest, and modern authors are still writing books about him. Everybody has heard that the great Byzantine city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, whereupon its name was changed to Istanbul. In fact, many scholars consider this event and this date as marking the end of the Middle Ages. The conqueror of Constantinople was named Mehmed II. He had made it clear that he wished to be succeeded by his second son, Djem Sultan, also known affectionately as Zizim. Understandably, the elder son, Bajazet, didn't like this idea one little bit. So, after Mehmed's death, Bajazet chased his brother away. Zizim sought refuge in Rhodes with the knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.

The grand master of that order was Pierre d'Aubusson, from the Château de Monteil (known today as Le Monteil-au-Vicomte, to the south of Guéret, and to the west of the great tapestry town of Aubusson). Acting no doubt with the approval of the pope, Pierre d'Aubusson actually kidnapped Zizim, in the vague hope of using him as a hostage capable of playing a role in the recovery of Constantinople. So, poor Zizim, who had dreamed of becoming the prince of Istanbul, found himself transported to France.

A senior member of the knights of the Order of Saint John was a certain Charles Alleman, whose family owned the castle at Rochechinard, not far from Saint-Nazaire-en-Royans, at the delightful spot where the Bourne runs into the Isère. One thing led to another, and our Zizim soon ended up as a permanent castle guest at Rochechinard.

At this point in my story, the plot thickens through the inclusion of a delicate dose of sexy spices, or spicy sex (depending on your tastes, if I may be excused for using that soupy metaphor)... To appreciate this new dimension of the tale, you need to know that, just down the road from my place, at the time of Zizim's extended holiday in our charming countryside alongside the Bourne and the Isère, the village of Pont-en-Royans happened to be the home of one of the most beautiful noble females who had ever appeared on the surface of the planet Earth. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the lady in question, but I can tell you that her name was Philippine de Sassenage, and that she was the fourth child and second daughter of Jacques de Sassenage, the lord of the Royans. She was such a stunning female that people had given her the Grecian nickname Helen, evoking Helen of Troy. But I hasten to add that her three sisters—named Françoise, Huguette and Isabeau—were said to be equally attractive. Here's a contemporary description of Philippine:

"Her face was oval. Her mouth was small. Her eyes were profound, black and full of spirit. Her physionomy was happy, and her character was surprising. She was only sixteen years old when she emerged from the convent at Saint-Just where she had been educated. Upon her return to the family castle of La Bâtie in the Royans, she was pursued by a crowd of admirers, including Saint-Quentin, Baron de Bressieu, Philibert de Clermont, the young man of Hostun, the lord of Claveyson, the lord of Murinais, and several others." We are told that Prince Zizim "soon joined in, increasing the number [of admirers] by placing his Ottoman pride at the feet of lovely Philippine".

Now, we've almost got back to the tapestries. There are just a few final phases in our complicated story. At about the time that Zizim started to fall madly in love with Philippine, his crusader keepers decided that he should be moved to another region: the Creuse department in the center of France. [I drive through there, with immense pleasure, every time I visit Christine in Brittany.]

The crusader folk arranged for the construction of a tower to house Zizim in the village of Bourganeuf, not far from the family castle of the individual who had betrayed Zizim in Rhodes: the knight Pierre d'Aubusson. Zizim remained imprisoned in his tower at Bourganeuf for about four years, giving him ample time to forget about Philippine before being bundled off to Rome, where he was imprisoned and finally poisoned.

I return, at last, to the tapestries, which became the focal point of a lovely legend. Maybe this legend was fueled by the fact that the patronymic of Pierre d'Aubusson evokes a great tapestry town in the Creuse. Maybe the legend reached a climax when the famous tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn, inherited by descendants of the judge Jean Le Viste, were hung for a century or so (before being purchased in 1882 by the museum in Paris) in the Château de Boussac, not far from Aubusson, Bourganeuf and the region associated with Zizim.

According to this legend, the tapestries are so splendid, so ethereal and so mysterious, that they were surely a gift that the Turkish hostage Zizim had commissioned for the most beautiful creature on Earth: his future bride Philippine de Sassenage.

One final word. It is said that, if he had been liberated and given the opportunity of marrying Philippine, Zizim would have gladly abandoned his Islamic faith to become, like his wife, a Christian. In such circumstances, the crusader armies would have surely helped him defeat his evil brother Bajazet and obtain the throne that his father Mehmed had bequeathed to Zizim at Constantinople. Lady Philippine and her exotic Turkish unicorn Zizim would have surely changed the entire future course of world history. And today, we would have hordes of tourists from the Bosphorus and the eastern Mediterranean flocking to Rochechinard to take photos of the place where it all began...