For the first decade of my existence, I lived in a rural house in South Grafton (Australia) that did not have a so-called WC (water closet). This dull aspect of my early life has often appeared to me as exceptional: an extraordinary caveman anecdote that I'm including proudly in an autobiographical book on which I'm working. Like many lucky people, I tend to forget that, today, over two billion citizens of the planet Earth have no access to satisfactory toilets.
Click here to examine a project for a low-priced high-tech loo known as the Nano Membrane Toilet, invented at Cranfield University in England, to be put on trial soon, probably in Ghana.
For more information, click on the following video:
I learn with interest that kangatarianism is a new nutritional approach, popular in my native land, which consists of avoiding all meat... with a single exception: kangaroo meat.
Critics have claimed that kangatarianism tends to make its adepts somewhat jumpy, but I reckon that negative remarks of that kind come from jealous folk in remote lands such as Europe, Asia and the Americas where you can't simply step outside and get yourself a roo steak. (In retarded Australia, ordinary citizens don't have the right to carry guns, so the only legal do-it-yourself approach to catching a roo is to use your automobile.)
But the automobile approach can be more messy and costly than using an old-fashioned gun.
Talking about guns, it was only this morning that I learned about the existence of this fabulous weapon, made in the USA.
It's called the Bug-a-Salt (pronounced "bug assault"), it's not expensive, and I immediately ordered one. The following video demonstrates the power of this new kind of arm.
Personally, I can't work at my computer when there's a fly or a wasp buzzing overhead, nor can I go to sleep of an evening in such circumstances. I've always got a can of toxic spray alongside my desk, my dinner table and my bed. But I've never liked the idea of breathing in such shit. So, I'm all excited about soon becoming the proud owner of a high-tech Bug-a-Salt weapon. Already, I can sense that it's going to change my daily existence...
Maybe they have a superior model that would work on snakes, spiders, cane toads, etc. Maybe they might even look into the possibility of designing an effective hunting weapon for kangatarians.
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell us kids that the best way to catch a wild bird was to sprinkle some salt on its tail. It's amazing to discover that an old-fashioned piece of "bush knowledge" such as that, handed down orally from one generation to the next, was in fact scientifically sound, and has finally been translated into an advanced technological device such as the Bug-a-Salt.
This morning, I received an official letter from a fellow-citizen reminding me that my property at Gamone is located within one of the ecological zones defined in the context of a European chart, Natura 2000.
The following map indicates, in dark green, all the Natura 2000 zones (26 in all) in the Rhône-Alpes region, which includes many prestigious landscapes and extraordinary sites.
[Click to enlarge]
Our tiny local zone, in the middle of the map, has an exotic official label: Prairies of wild orchids, tufa deposits and Gorges of the Bourne. Here is the exact location of the zone that includes Gamone:
[Click to enlarge]
It's funny to learn that you're living in the middle of some kind of ecological museum. Normally, after next week's meeting in the municipal hall at Choranche, I'll know more about the down-to-earth implications of this affair. In any case, I'm such a profound admirer of my magnificent adoptive abode that I could hardly love and respect it any more than I do already. I even get around to thinking that the situation might be reversed. Maybe this wild and glorious land should have a little bit more respect for an awkward but intrepid old Antipodean such as me, living dangerously at times, who will never conquer its challenges, master its mysteries, nor fully behold its beauty.
In France, it's fitting that the ministry of Jean-louis Borloo , which promotes wind energy, should have a long-winded name: Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Land Use Planning (Aménagement du territoire). Yesterday, I noticed that this ministry has announced that this is Sustainable Development Week. Thank goodness they reminded me!
I was intrigued by the symbols in their banner. I see a low-energy light bulb, a plastic garbage bin and another plastic container that might hold anything at all, maybe garden compost. The tap symbolizes one of the world's most precious substances, water, and the bicycle stands for non-polluting transport. The house symbol is probably intended to remind us that we should pay attention to domestic energy consumption. That leaves us with an apple symbol. What, in fact, is it meant to symbolize? Maybe it's meant to promote fresh fruit and vegetables. Fair enough, but the Apple symbol also makes me think of a marvelous range of modern electronic gadgets that are not directly associated with fresh fruit and vegetables. Thinking that the sense of the symbols might be explained inside their web site, I accessed it... and here's what I found:
Hey, that apple symbol has evolved a bit, and it's starting to evoke explicitly the famous products that I had in mind. Is it thinkable that Borloo's ministry in France is promoting my favorite computer? Why not? The latest Apple products are relatively ecological, and I can vouch for the fact that the Macintosh is a tremendously sustainable tool. I imagine, too, that concerned specialists could use Macintoshes profitably to perform projects in land use planning.
Incidentally, the sustainable energy domain provided a theme for an excellent April Fool's Day joke yesterday, on the national TV news. The likable anchor man David Pujadas, who's good at keeping a straight face while making preposterous statements, announced that recent research has revealed that the countless wind machines scattered over the French countryside are slowing down the rotational movement of our planet, and that drastic steps will have to be taken to make amends for this unexpected situation.
One of the consequences is that our traditional 24-hour day is being stretched out into a period that's slightly longer, and that the nation's clocks and watches will have to be replaced sooner or later. Everybody knows that the French complain constantly about everything. The owner of a shop that sells clocks and watches, interviewed by a TV journalist, complained bitterly that this change is likely to leave him with a lot of unsellable stock. A radical solution would consist of reducing the height of existing wind machines, so that they create less drag in the upper atmosphere, with a reduced effect upon the speed of the Earth's rotation. This would have an unpleasant consequence, though. The tips of the giant whirling blades would pass just above the heads of motorists, cyclists, farmers in tractors, pedestrians and all the other innocent citizens of our Gentle France (douce France).
I've realized for ages that France and Australia are rarely on the same wavelength on sociopolitical issues. Today, in the environmental domain, there's a particularly striking contrast.
— In France, the Grenelle of the Environment is in full swing. I evoked this major national get-together at the end of my article entitled Wild rabbits and environmental issues[display]. The latest news is that the president Nicolas Sarkozy will almost certainly announce the creation of a "carbon dioxide tax".
— On the front page of today's The Australian, there's an article about two "experts" in the UK, named Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner, who back the refusal of Australia and the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
It goes without saying that I find the French approach more reassuring than the Prins/Rayner hot air. Incidentally, you might do a Google search on the Pommie jack-of-all-trades Gwyn Prins to determine whether you think he deserves to be thought of as an environmental expert. As for the dilettante American Steve Rayner, he refers to himself as an "undisciplined scholar, committed to changing the world through social science". Big deal! Pretentious fellows such as the Prins/Rayner duo are definitely bad news for the future of the planet Earth. But I would imagine that only idiots would be prepared to take them seriously.
Often, I like to see how new words have come into existence. And sometimes, to understand a new word that appears to be modern— a neologism, as they are called—you have to start a long way back in time. Let me tell you how a curious new word has appeared in French.
It's a roundabout story, which starts with rabbits. As an Australian brought up in a country town, I've always thought I knew a little bit about these animals. On countless occasions, out in the bush, I saw my father take his rifle from the back of the Jeep to shoot rabbits. They were Dad's number-one enemy, because they consumed the precious grass intended for his beef cattle. In France, I discovered that the word lapin designates the huge backyard rabbit reared in cages for meat. To talk about small wild rabbits running around in the fields and forests, as in Australia, the French use the expression lapin de garenne.
Most French people, asked to define a garenne, would probably reply that this word designates patches of uncultivated land in the country where you're likely to find wild rabbits. In the Middle Ages, a garenne was a hunting reserve. At that time, in Paris, much of the land to the south of the place where the Eiffel Tower now stands was a swampy garenne. Finally, it was cleaned up and cultivated by the monks of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, who grew vegetables there. The track leading down to the former garenne came to be called the rue Garanelle, and this was later changed to rue de Grenelle. From the start of the 18th century, numerous aristocratic mansions—called hôtels in French—were erected in this fashionable street.
One of these splendid dwellings was the home of the Duke of Châtelet [nothing to do with the famous square of that name in the center of the city]. When this gentleman was guillotined in 1777, the Hôtel du Châtelet became state property. For many years, it was the palace of the archbishop of Paris. After the separation between the State and the Church became law, in 1905, the Republic asked the archbishop to pack his bags, and the noble mansion was henceforth occupied by the ministry of Employment.
In this building, on 25/26 May 1968, at the height of the social turmoil in France [referred to, since then, as mai 68], representatives of the government of Georges Pompidou [including a certain young secretary of state named Jacques Chirac] negotiated with trade unions and management organizations, resulting in a 25% increase in the basic wage, an average 10% increase in effective salaries, and the adoption of the 40-hour working week. Since then, the historic outcome of this meeting has been referred to as the accords de Grenelle [Grenelle agreement].
Today, the name of the street where this agreement was signed has become a common noun in everyday French: grenelle [still spelled incorrectly, most often, with an uppercase G]. The new word is used to designate a major national get-together involving participants, often with widely differing viewpoints, who are intent upon achieving a consensus. At the present moment, for example, a vast process of debate and study aimed at finding solutions to environmental problems is designated by this neologism: the grenelle of the environment. For wild rabbits, that's a big hop.
I've translated into English the flyer for a big outdoor reunion in Paris, next Sunday at the Trocadéro, organized by the Nicolas Hulot Foundation. If you feel like listening to Nicolas explaining in French his ecological pact, clickhere.