Showing posts with label Sophia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sophia. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rear view of Fitzroy

This has become a frequent view of Fitzroy. You see, I place his food dish just inside the door of his kennel, in the front left corner. There are several advantages to this technique:

— The food won't get wet when it rains.

Sophia will be less tempted to gulp down Fitzroy's food (in the wink of a dog's eye) when she just happens to be strolling around in the vicinity of his kennel. In other words, Sophia seems to realize that the interior of the kennel is definitely out of bounds for her, since it's Fitzroy's territory.

— In this position, with his head in the semi-darkness, Fitzroy is less likely to get distracted in the middle of his meal. In the outside world, he jumps constantly from one preoccupation to another. And, if he runs out of plausible preoccupations, he resorts to racing around furiously, like a greyhound, in a big figure-of-eight trail.

In any case, Fitzroy eats heartily, as expected: warmed-up pasta of a morning, and croquettes later on in the day.

His body is a solid mass of muscles. I realize that he's a very physical dog, who rarely calms down. In fact, the only time he's totally calm is when I pick him up of an evening, bring him into the living-room and let him lie on my knees in front of the fireplace (for ten minutes or so) while I'm watching TV. His presence at Gamone has brought me a lot of joy, and I'm convinced too that his nonstop jostling with Sophia, when she's outside for a walk, has done her a lot of good from a physical health viewpoint. She needs all that exercise. In a way, Fitzroy has become Sophia's aerobics instructor.

Recently, during our frequent walks up the road beyond the house, the dogs inevitably discover a large male ring-necked pheasant that beds down overnight in the weeds of Gamone. The bird only darts off when the dogs are right alongside him, and he flies rapidly in a straight line to the opposite side of the creek, making a weird clicking noise like a motor. Of an evening, the dogs start barking as soon as they pick up the scent of the pheasant who has returned to roost in his usual corner of the weeds. I'm starting to look upon this bird, reared to be shot by hunters, as a new member of our Gamone family. But I wouldn't bet on his lengthy survival.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black labrador

I've acquired the latest version of Photoshop Elements. Bewildered by its amazing visual gimmicks, I'll need to get used to employing this tool in place of my archaic existing software. Here's a start.

The dog comes through quite clearly, in spite of my massive filtering. A splendid black labrador with a red collar. His owner in pink and white was another affair. Did I take this photo because I was charmed by the dog, or rather by his lovely mistress? Or maybe both? The Bourne at Pont-en-Royans has always been Sophia's summer Riviera.

Sophia discovered the black dog, and they frolicked around in the water. Then the mistress (whom I had not noticed) emerged slowly from the river, like Ondine, nymph of the waters. She didn't seem to see me. She gazed solely upon the black labrador. This was normal. She had no reason to acknowledge my presence, whereas the black labrador was her dog. This lady was superbly beautiful in her aquatic pink and white simplicity, with her feet lost in the stony sands of the shallow Bourne.

I recalled this kind of shock, many moons ago, in a similar setting, on the banks of the Dordogne, in the region of our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Having arrived in France a few months previously, I was on my first hitchhiking excursion. And a juvenile Ondine emerged from the ancient river—like all self-respecting water nymphs—when I was least expecting a vision. In fact, I wasn't expecting anything much at all, since I had just sat down in the hot air to gnawl at a sandwich.

Nymphean visions are rare and precious, as Vladimir Nabokov explains elegantly in his Lolita. These days, unfortunately, sentiments of this kind tend to get churned up crudely in the meat-mincer labeled pedophilia… particularly in my native Australia, where they don't refrain (until the censor moves in) from exhibiting stupid little bum-twitching girls on TV variety shows.

Personally, my life has been dominated (the word is not too strong) by a nymphean vision that overcame me when I was an 11-year-old boy in South Grafton. Half a century later, when I was revisiting my home town, I hastened to take a photo of all that remained: the pair of quaint houses in Spring Street, just opposite the Catholic school, where I had once glimpsed, for a few minutes, the girl in the fawn dress.

I've never known anything about her beyond the fact that her uniform identified her as a pupil at the Catholic school. In my eyes, she was divinely glorious, for reasons I never understood… and still don't. In a way, she was a sunburnt version of the lady in blue seen at Lourdes by Bernadette Soubirous. Visions are visions, and we can't hope to analyze them. Nymphs are nymphs.

The black labrador in the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans would understand me. His mistress stared at him, motionlessly. Her simple presence demanded obedience. Her boyish haircut evoked Joan of Arc… but the only flames were in my feverish regard. She was so lovely, staring at her dog (with never a glace at me, the photographer), that I felt like a voyeur… which I certainly was. But that mild sentiment of shame didn't prevent me from adjusting the frame and pressing the button of my Nikon. Her small breasts were held tight by a cross-over garment that rose behind her slender neck. She was wearing white cotton thigh-length trousers that accentuated her Venus-like thighs. Above all, her simple pose was strangely passive, as if she were awaiting a reaction from the black labrador. She was the dog's mistress, certainly, but it was the black labrador who would dictate her next move. Against the green background of the Bourne, it was a poem in black, white and pink, built upon a dog and a water nymph.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fitzroyalty update

Sophia had grown accustomed to a pair of pillows in her wicker basket. It had been an idea of my daughter Emmanuelle. But Fitzroy believes that pillows are not for sleeping on; they're for tearing apart.

Here's a photo of Fitzroy playing with a doormat, taken from a first-floor window:

Did I say "playing"? Here's what the doormat looked like this afternoon:

Fortunately, Fitzroy lives outside, day and night. By now, he has destroyed almost everything that was offering. So, I'm hoping that things will improve from now on. The relationship between the two dogs is excellent.

Fitzroy is constantly challenging Sophia to jousting competitions, but Sophia's weight and size advantage mean that she's always in control of the situation. Meanwhile, Fitzroy tries out every combat strategy he can imagine, and only stops his jousting when he's exhausted.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Is your iPad fond of bones?

The British actor Stephen Fry, who loves Apple toys, has come up with an amusing comparison for an iPad. “The way I see it is it’s like a dog.” [source] When most people decide to get a dog, they don't necessarily say to themselves (unless they're hunters, security-minded individuals, etc): "I need a dog to perform a precise set of functions." You get a dog because you're simply craving to have a dog. We're humans, and dogs are dogs. That's all there is about it.

Today, I'm not absolutely sure I could tell you why I bought an iPad. I think it was a mixture of curiosity and wonder. Rationalizing, I said I needed an iPad to see how my novel All the Earth is Mine would look as an electronic book. That explanation was partly true, but it didn't really justify the purchase. As for my second dog, I must admit that I didn't bother trying to invent reasons why I needed him, nor did Fitzroy express reasons why he might (or might not) need me.

Meanwhile, Fitzroy is receiving a top-quality canine education from his wise and experienced great-aunt Sophia. Much of their work might be referred to as tactical combat training.

It can be tough at times, like in the army, but the dogs have never once lost their tempers nor harmed one another in any way.

It's not always easy to get good shots of the dogs when they're romping around together. I've been trying vainly to get a meaningful photo of Fitzroy's latest invention: a technique that consists of squeezing in between Sophia's hind legs until his whole crouched body lies directly beneath the belly of the bigger dog. In that position, with his head well protected, Fitzroy can safely nip the back of Sophia's front paws. Since Sophia's hind legs are jammed apart by the bulk of Fitzroy's body, she finds it difficult to turn around in order to dislodge the smart pup. Of course, Sophia finally succeeds in doing so, whereupon the audacious little Collie has to imagine another technique for attacking the giant Labrador citadel. As my ex-neighbor Bob (subjugated by Fitzroy's charm) remarked the other day, Sophia had reached a stage of life at which she was entering into calm retirement, untroubled by forces in the outside world. Overnight, a tiny black-and-white furry whirlwind swooped into her life from nowhere. Well, not exactly "from nowhere"; rather, from the top-of-the-world village of Risoul 1800 in the Hautes-Alpes: a most prestigious Alpine address for a distinguished dog.

Amazingly, Christine has just discovered that, among her maternal Provençal ancestors, an odd couple ("odd" meaning different) came from Risoul 1800, the same village as Fitzroy. Christine and the little dog were already bonded into a lovely relationship while she held him tenderly on her knees for several hours during our return trip to Gamone, after our having "dognapped" him from his family environment at Risoul 1800. Before then, for a day or so in Arles and the region around Aix, this brief Provençal excursion in the company of my ex-wife had been transformed into a largely family-history affair... which delighted me in the sense that I've always been interested in Christine's genealogy, both in Brittany and in Provence. Well, now that we learn that our "Fitz-Risoul" came from the same remote village as some of Christine's ancestors, I'm sure that her affection for this wonderful little animal has been amplified.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fetching Fitzroy

On the second day of our Provençal excursion, Christine and I drove through the Camargue region of the Rhône delta, then visited several sites, to the west of Aix-en-Provence, associated with her maternal grandparents: the charming little hilltop village of Miramas-le-Vieux, the former military explosives factory of Saint-Chamas (where Christine's grandfather was an engineer) and the village of Ventabren (where the grandparents' splendid old stone roadside house still exists, transformed into a gift boutique).

After succeeding in driving through Aix-en-Provence without getting lost, we headed in a north-east direction to a delightful rural gite located near the Verdon.

The following morning, we left early and headed north through Digne-les-Bains and Embrun. We finally reached the ski resort of Risoul 1850, located not far from the celebrated mountain fortress of Vauban [1633-1707] called Mont Dauphin. We were picked up by the Welsh stockman William (the companion of Sylvie) who drove us up a further hundred or so meters (in altitude), in his four-wheel drive vehicle, to his mountain cabin.

There, we were delighted to meet up with Cheng Tsi, a former aeronautical engineer, now engaged professionally in herbal medicine, who had been staying with William for the last few days in order to collect large quantities of various wild Alpine berries, which he'll be drying (on the floor of William's stables) and taking back to his patients in Marseille. We also encountered William's Border Collies in their everyday mountain environment.

We had imagined that it might be difficult to kidnap Fitzroy from his family circle and bring him back to Gamone. On the contrary, it was a pure poem. Christine nursed him while I drove up along the fabulous mountain roads—past Briançon, over the Col du Lautaret, between Bourg d'Oisans and the Alpe d'Huez—to Grenoble. Early in the evening, we reached Gamone, and promptly installed Fitzroy in the kitchen… where he spent his first night here, not surprisingly, complaining bitterly. The next morning, things quietened down to a calm rhythm.

The first thing I did was to take Fitzroy to the veterinary for his vaccination. I came away with a big bag of top-quality pup's food.

At the start of the afternoon, we drove up to Presles to pick up Sophia, who had apparently been a perfect guest at Sylvie's place during our absence. Back at Gamone, the two dogs seemed to deliberately avoid one another. Meanwhile, Christine and I got to work arranging ideally the comfort of Fitzroy.

We've been impressed by the little dog's intensely serious regard.

Within a day of bringing Sophia and Fitzroy into contact, they suddenly took the first big step of playing together. And they've now become perfect companions. There'll be future photos in my blog on this theme.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dog and donkey stuff

In my recent article entitled Construction of a kennel [display], I explained that I've started to build a kennel for Sophia's future companion Fitzroy, who'll be moving into Gamone next month. Here's another photo of my ongoing work:

That's in fact the base of the kennel. I've fixed a bit of roofing metal there so that the fragile pine wood won't be in direct contact with the damp earth, thereby reducing the risk of it rotting.

Yesterday, I shifted my operations up to Moshé's old shelter, on the slopes, a hundred meters south of the house.

This was one of my first constructions at Gamone, back in 1994, and it's starting to become rather ramshackle. However there are still a few solidly-placed poles, so I'll try to patch up this shelter, as far as possible, before the arrival of Moshé's future friend Fanette.

Moshé has always appreciated this shady spot during the warm season (and old Mandrin, too). In any case, Moshé and Fanette will be able to use the sheep shed, which is in good shape, down alongside the creek. While nosing around in the vicinity of the old shelter, I came upon a baby green whip snake (aggressive but harmless).

Since August is their breeding season, this fellow was probably just a week or so old. His gray body was as thick as a pencil, about 25 cm long, and his head was crowned by a bright yellow and black mosaic. He didn't seem to like being disturbed, and snapped viciously at a stick when I tried to coax him outside the cement block, for a better photo. I could imagine the poor little bugger grumbling to itself: "Jeez, I've only been on Earth for a few days, and already there's a big rough guy poking a bloody stick in my face." So, I left him alone. Meanwhile, here's an image of Moshé (far too fat), near his derelict shelter, acting like a silly rock 'n' roll donkey:

A panel forming the rear wall of the shelter had become detached, so I dragged it out into the open, sliced up the boards, stacked them on my Honda petrol-powered "wheelbarrow" (with rubber treads) and brought them back down to the house.

These planks were rapidly integrated into my kennel construction. Although the roof is not yet fixed solidly in place, the kennel is starting to look like a genuine abode for a dog.

Stuffed between the inner walls and the external planks, there's a layer of thermal insulation material.

Once again, Sophia did a rapid site test, and indicated her approval.

Incidentally, please admire Sophia's new line, since I've started giving her exactly the right daily ration of food, with never a surplus gram.

DOG WORSHIP: Talking about dogs, a funny thing happened to me on my way to the blog this morning. I dropped in, as I often do, on the Pharyngula blog [display], which provided me with an unexpected opportunity of listening to a charming but most unusual Christian song of joy. Not exactly a hymn. More like a nursery rhyme for brainwashed kids in a hospital run by a born-again sect. While forcing myself to listen assiduously to this stuff, right through to the end, I was beset by weird urges, of a kind that had never before overcome me. I'm most embarrassed and ashamed to describe my uncouth compulsions. I wanted desperately to raise a leg and piss all over the singer. Worse, I imagined that I was circling the guitarist, while sniffing the ground all around him, with my arse at the level of his instrument. In an ugly nightmare, I was arching my backside, and I finally dropped a few massive smelly turds into the hole in his guitar, which somewhat dampened his ode of joy. Since I'm not normally scatological, I don't know what came over me. In any case, listen to this delightful song, and see if it produces weird reactions in you too.

Did you succeed in surviving to the end of the song?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Construction of a kennel

In my article of 9 August 2010 entitled Sophia's future companion at Gamone [display], I presented Fitzroy and his family. Although he won't be arriving at Gamone before the middle of September, I've already started to build him a kennel, because I want him to feel at home as soon as he moves in. I've designed the future kennel for an adult dog, even though Fitzroy is still, of course, a tiny pup. As a basis for the dimensions, I've used Sophia's big wicker basket.

As you can see in this photo, the interior walls will be pine panels (as used for cladding), while the exterior of the cubic frame will be covered in rough slabs of Douglas-fir. The space between the two walls will be stuffed with glass wool, since Fitzroy will be spending his winter nights out in the kennel. The flat roof (removable for cleaning, but sufficiently heavy to stay in place in strong winds) will be of ridged metal.

Sophia is testing the entrance for size. The kennel might appear to be rather tall, but you mustn't forget that the floor will be padded with a thick layer of straw. When it's raining or snowing outside, a Border Collie likes to dry itself by rolling in straw, and this is how it keeps its fur clean and glossy.

In a setting such as Gamone, constructing a kennel is a pleasant summer activity. It's not so much the actual woodwork that gives me pleasure (although I do indeed like to fiddle around with saws, hammers and nails), but rather the idea of building a sturdy home for a future friend.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sophia thinks it's hot

After an unusually snowy winter and a rainy spring, Sophia has a problem adjusting to the warm weather. No longer interested in her big wicker basket, she wanders around with a grim expression, looking for a cool spot, as if she were trying to escape from a heat wave.

Often, she decides that it's preferable to stay inside the house, which is generally fairly cool.

I've never understood what it is that attracts her regularly to that spot under the stairs. Then there is, of course, the dust bowl she recently scooped out for herself in a northern corner of the house.

A great advantage here is that the rim of the hole makes a nice firm pillow, softened by the presence of a paw, for a heavy drowsy head.

ANECDOTE: There are two amusing images that I've never yet succeeded in capturing on my Nikon. The first is that of my dog upright in the driver's seat of my Citroën, with her snout up against the steering wheel. Sophia gets into this lookout position as soon as I leave her on a parking lot. She scrutinizes every approaching human, awaiting my return. As soon as she spies me, even at a distance of a hundred meters, Sophia scrambles back down onto the floor. She surely recalls old incidents about the Master (that's me) getting upset when he found his dog lying on a sofa or a bed. So, to avoid a conflict, she considers that it's preferable to abandon the driver's seat immediately, before the Master gets back into the vicinity of the automobile. And I'm left with the task of using a brush to remove dog hairs from the driver's seat. The other difficult-to-obtain image is that of the donkeys stretched out on the ground at Gamone, or sitting upright on their rumps. Insofar as it takes them a few seconds and a lot of effort to get back up onto their hoofs, the recumbent position would have been dangerous for a donkey back in Africa, eons ago, when they would have been great fodder for rapid predators such as lions. So, surviving donkeys have a gene that instructs them to get back up onto their legs rapidly, as soon as they spot a large intruder… such as me and my Nikon. One of these days, I must remember to obtain both these images with a telephoto lens.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bunyip still protecting lizards

In my article of 15 April 2010 entitled My bunyip has broken a leg [display], I explained that temperature variations had split a stone that has been lying in front of the house for ages. But this fracture hasn't prevented my bunyip from persevering in its protection of lizards, much to the disgust of Sophia.

I'm always amazed to realize that the dog's sense of smell is sufficient to inform her whether or not there's a lizard hiding behind the bunyip. A universe in which even tiny lizards have a distinctive odor must be a fabulous place.

After waiting impatiently for the lizard to reappear (which it never does, because I would suppose that the reptile senses the presence of a predator), Sophia resorts to barking… which provides the lizard with an additional motivation to lie low. At that stage, to break the vicious circle, I often intervene by moving the bunyip a little, which gives the lizard an opportunity of dashing to a more tranquil shelter. Sometimes, though, the lizard makes the fatal mistake of moving too close to Sophia, who instantly breaks the reptile's spine.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tineke's portrait of Sophia

From time to time (but not often), I've met up with gifted artists capable of creating portraits. On such occasions, I've always wondered naively: How do they do it? This skill has intrigued me greatly in the case of my Choranche neighbor Tineke Bot, with whom I've had countless fascinating conversations about the ways in which she perceives the world around her. I've had opportunities of noticing, often in trivial contexts, that Tineke's awareness of the physical environment of forms and colors in which she exists is surely many times more subtle and sensitive than my own vision of these same things. At times, she reminds me of the proverbial Eskimo with his dozens of words for all the many kinds of snow. The other day, on the telephone, I was deploring the fact that the current abundance of wetness and scarcity of sunshine at Choranche have given rise to a uniformly green environment in which there are not yet any colorful flowers (apart from yellow buttercups in the fields). In this context, Tineke exclaimed her enchantment upon the discovery of such a vast array of subtly different kinds of greenness, forming a magical mosaic all around her.

As an accomplished artist (sculpture, painting, drawing, etc), Tineke demonstrates constantly that, not only does she see the world with fine sensitivity, but she can transmit her special visions through the works she creates… even in the case of a hastily-sketched portrait of my dog Sophia.

This morning, I took this photo of Sophia's head in about the same position as for Tineke's portrait:

Tineke obliged Sophia to participate in a sitting, as it were, as she needed to have the dog directly in front of her, staring up at her while she was executing her drawing. I was amused to find that Tineke's husband Serge has apparently become an essential collaborator in this kind of animal portrait project. He crouched alongside Tineke and distributed little bits of bread to Sophia throughout the sitting, in order to keep the dog more-or-less fixed in the necessary spot. If I understand correctly, Serge became patient and proficient in this technique with sheep, back at the time that Tineke was creating little masterpieces such as this one:

In the animal domain, Tineke has also done fine sketches of horses.

The brown horse, momentarily endowed with Tineke's colorful vision of the landscape, seems to be saying to itself, in amazement: "Wow, the Vercors is truly extraordinary today!"

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sophia photo update

Yesterday, my dog complained that it's ages since I last spoke about her or included her photo in the Antipodes blog. (Well, a fortnight.) Sorry about that laxity, Sophia. Here's a formal portrait:

Over the last few days, Sophia has been accompanying me on snail excursions. What, you ask, is a snail excursion? Well, a hundred meters up the road, at the level of the shed where Bob's daughter Alison used to house her horses, I discovered a colony of newborn snails, apparently of the Burgundy variety (though I may be mistaken). I've been collecting them and bringing them back down here to my compost heap. In the following photo, the snails are roughly the size of peas.

Will they thrive here? I have no idea, but it's worth trying. As for my dog, she can understand a man who prepares dishes of cassoulet, and bakes walnut bread, and buys the very best Isigny butter and cream. For Sophia, however, the idea of collecting tiny snails by the roadside and bringing them back to the house in a plastic saucer is quite crazy… just like growing roses and peonies. But she seems to find it fun to accompany me in these operations.

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.