Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amazon lists my novel

There’s no doubt about it: my novel All the Earth is Mine is now available through Amazon like any ordinary book… and probably right throughout the world (at least, wherever Amazon is accessible).

Click to enlarge

This proves conclusively that my self-publishing adventure has become a concrete reality, and that Gamone Press is indeed an operational publishing house.

The next title to be published by Gamone Press will be A Little Bit of Irish — My Mother's People in Australia.

BREAKING NEWS: A Google search for the expression ALL THE EARTH IS MINE carried out on my home computer here at Gamone (which probably behaves differently to other machines and Internet contexts throughout the planet) brings up a dozen or so references to Exodus (which has always been a top-of-the-charts book, for as long as I remember) followed by links to the present blog post and other stuff related to my novel. I'm up there with the best authors. Watch out, Yahveh, here I come!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nice fellow

The more I hear about the encounters of Pope Francis with the modern world, the more I get the impression that this nice fellow (an exceptional compliment in the papal domain) is acquiring inexorably and rapidly the status of a Silly Old Bugger. That’s to say, programmed to lead the existence of a high-ranking Catholic robot, he’s evolving successfully. In any case, Frankie Boy, welcome to the club!

The US magazine Time put a grinning photo of him on their cover, naming him Man of the Year 2013.

Then Rolling Stone presented him on their cover as a “pope star”.

Finally, the Vatican itself (obviously brain-damaged) posted a tweet with a graffiti image of Frankie as Superman.

It's time for somebody to teach him to sing, and to write a song for him, so that the silly old guy can get around to showing himself off on YouTube. Meanwhile, I remain struck by Frankie’s words about the spirit of curiosity, spoken in a homily, three months ago, at the Casa Santa Marta chapel. Here's how Vatican Radio and The Catholic World Report of 14 November 2013 informed us of Frankie’s feelings on this fabulous theme of curiosity… which, to my mind, is the basis of science and philosophy, not to mention human life and love:
The spirit of curiosity distances us from the Spirit of wisdom because all that interests us is the details, the news, the little stories of the day. … And the spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much. And Jesus also tells us something interesting: this spirit of curiosity, which is worldly, leads us to confusion.”
Curiosity, the Pope continued, impels us to want to feel that the Lord is here or rather there, or leads us to say: “But I know a visionary, who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady”. And the Pope commented: “But look, Our Lady is the Mother of everyone! And she loves all of us. She is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.”
Such responses to these situations, he affirmed, “distance us from the Gospel, from the Holy Spirit, from peace and wisdom, from the glory of God, from the beauty of God.”
“Jesus says that the Kingdom of God does not come in a way that attracts attention: it comes by wisdom.”
“‘The Kingdom of God is among you,’ said Jesus, and it is this action of the Holy Spirit, which gives us wisdom and peace. The Kingdom of God does not come in (a state of) confusion, just as God did not speak to the prophet Elijah in the wind, in the storm (but) he spoke in the soft breeze, the breeze of wisdom.”
“The Kingdom of God is among us: do not seek strange things, do not seek novelties with this worldly curiosity.”
Yes, there’s no doubt about it. A superbly unscientific Silly Old Bugger. Maybe he's a nice fellow... but Man of the Year, Superman, my arse!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Longest European train ever

I suggest that you start the following video immediately. 

Like many people, I love to watch trains go past. I hope you share with me this passion. The merit of the above video is that the pleasure of watching this train go by is made to last for over a quarter of an hour. Your first view of the approaching train is a tiny white dot at the far end of the empty line on the left-hand side of the video. It only appears after you're about a minute and 20 seconds into the video. So stay calm, and wait. You'll recognize it as soon as it appears. Then the dot turns into a whitish blob, and the blob starts to get bigger and bigger. It's terribly exciting, but you've got to be patient.

When the train was in full view, I even had time to go downstairs and make myself a coffee… and, when I got back to my computer screen, the train was still going past. It’s the longest train in French railroad history, or something like that. That’s a great kind of a record, n’est-ce pas ?

I bet that strongmen are already contacting the French railway authorities, hoping to get into the famous Guinness book by showing that they can drag this train with their bare hands and arms over a distance of so many metres. That would be another great kind of a record.

Aussies are always going on about the length of their road trains on Outback roads.

But I reckon they wouldn’t get anywhere near the length of the French train.

Now, if ever you were bored, you don’t have to watch the video right up until the end. If you’re thinking of hitting the stop button, I can tell you what happens later on in the video. Nothing at all ! The train simply keeps on moving past.

POST SCRIPTUM: My son François Skyvington phoned to express certain doubts concerning this train video. In particular, he felt that neither the train nor the products being hauled appeared to be French. So, I’m inserting a few items of information that I discovered on the excellent websites of French TV and Challenge Nouvel Observateur.

The train seen in the video was 1.5 kilometres long and it weighed 4000 tons. As such, it was the longest train that has ever existed up until now in Europe. The experimental excursion whose departure is presented in the video took place on January 18, 2014. The departure was Lyon (Rhône) and the destination Nîmes (Gard). The train was composed by linking together two normal trains, each of a length of 750 metres and with its own pair of locomotives. (This kind of linkage is a standard operation in the case of TGV trains.) For the experimental run seen in the video, this linkage was carried out in a railroad freight zone named Sibelin, on the outskirts of Lyon.

In my title, I've replaced the adjective "French" by "European". The project, named Marathon, is not purely French, but European, guided by the European Commission and involving 16 financial partners. In the experimental train shown in the video, you may have noticed the presence of two French-made Alstom electric locomotives and two German-made Vossloh diesel locomotives. For this first experiment, as my observant son noticed, the rolling stock (wagons and goods) was indeed German, made available by the Kombiverkehr company.

In normal operational circumstances, train-watchers won’t have the luxury of spending a quarter of an hour admiring such a long train, because their cruising speed will be about 100 km/hour. At level crossings, drivers will therefore be held up for an extra 30 seconds. So, make the most of your opportunity to admire the above video. Viewing conditions won’t always be so leisurely once these trains become operational in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile, I thank my son for his keen observations and feedback.

Must change my thinking

In a split second of intense revelation, I was stunned by an amazing video produced by Infinite Circularity Ministries. It convinced me that I must change my thinking.

It’s a fabulous package deal. Every New Believer gets a wonderful free gift: a lovely colorful image of Saraswati (hope I've got the name right).

The message reached me in the nick of time (thanks to a tweet from Richard Dawkins). Up until then, funnily enough, I had been thinking seriously about contacting my Canadian cousins to ask them how I might become a Freemason.

Click to enlarge

I’m still not quite sure about whether we’re allowed to mix together all of this stuff... but I would imagine that it's feasible, mystically speaking.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chimpanzee returns to the jungle

This moving video contains amazing moments of tenderness between the chimpanzee Wounda, about to be released in the Congo jungle, her carer Rebecca Atencia and Jane Goodall.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Celebrated Dutch painter of Pont-en-Royans

Bob ten Hoope [1920-2014]

One of the most interesting individuals I encountered when I came to live in Choranche in 1994 was the Dutch painter Bob ten Hoope, who had decided to set up his home in Pont-en-Royans back in 1954. In the beginning, I was impressed by his sketches of men playing cards in a local café.

But I soon learned that this was a small domain of his work, which encompassed large oil paintings of nudes and many local landscapes.

It was through her friendship with Bob ten Hoope that the sculptor Tineke Bot discovered this region, and decided to settle down in Choranche.

                        — photo by Roger Latton [2013]

The last time I saw Bob, maybe a decade ago, he had set up his easel and painting material on the Rouillard Bridge, just down the road from my place. He was already afflicted with arthritis in his hands, making it extremely difficult for him to carry on painting. Finally, he decided to move back up to his native land.

And that is where he died, last Saturday, 18 January 2014.

Gamone has been Google-mapped

I’ve just discovered, by chance, that Google Maps apparently carried out a street-view operation at Gamone in May 2013. Here’s the road leading up to my house:

Click to enlarge

Here’s a panoramic view of my house:

The Google vehicle carried on up the road to my neighbors’ house. There’s a nice view of the Cournouze seen from a point just below Jackie’s house:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cover for my book on paternal genealogy

I’ll soon be needing a cover image for They Sought the Last of Lands, which describes the paternal dimension of my family history. Here’s a possible maquette:

For the moment, I’m not convinced that this maquette is good. My choice of the theme of wild horses in the Australian Outback (an image that belongs to Les Hiddins and ABC Books) evokes, above all, my grandfather’s childhood dream of leaving London and finding freedom in the Australian bush. Meanwhile, I've contacted ABC Books in the hope of obtaining a high-resolution file of this image.

We’ll see. All suggestions are welcomed. I plan to bring out this title at Gamone Press as soon as possible, shortly after the publication of A Little Bit of Irish.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm aware that a talented graphics artist (highly paid) would solve rapidly my cover-design challenge. But a professional operation of that kind would propulse me out of the self-publishing field, and disrupt the whole friendly common-sense idea of producing and distributing a family-history document without falling into the trap of paying a fortune to vanity-press printers. Please accept my amateurism!

My mother's birthday

I must admit that I tend to talk and think as if everybody in the universe has been enthralled by Kurt Vonnegut [1922-2007] in general and his eye-opening novel Deadeye Dick (1983) in particular. Maybe they have, and I simply haven’t noticed…

Employing Vonnegut talk, I celebrate today the fact that the peephole of my dear mother Enid Kathleen Walker [1918-2003] opened exactly 96 years ago, on January 19, 1918. Here’s a lovely studio portrait of Kath when she was two years old:

If ever it could be said that one’s date of birth is “chosen” (how, and by whom?), then the least I can say is that the occult forces of the universe chose a crazy date for the opening of my mother’s peephole, in the year of the end of the Great War. I find it fascinating to be able to throw a simple argument at Google, such as the date of my mother’s birth [display], and to discover everything that was happening at that moment in the past.

In the posthumous celebration of my mother’s birthday, the best man at the party is surely Wikipedia. And all I can hope is that he’ll be constantly in attendance at my own future birthday celebrations…

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gamone panorama

My English cousin Roger Latton (on my paternal Pickering line) came to visit me last summer, with his wife Sue. An excellent photographer, he has just sent me this splendid panoramic image of the Bourne Valley at the level of Gamone, taken from the Croix de Toutes Aures (a spot just above my property):

Click to enlarge
On the left, there’s a corner of the cliffs of Presles. In the middle, the Cournouze promontory is crowned by clouds. On the right, the Bourne Valley is closed by the twin mountains of the Barret and the Trois-Châteaux. This is surely the most spectacular photo of my corner of the world that I've ever seen. Bravo, cousin Roger!

Monday, January 13, 2014

She-wolf of France

Up until recently, the principal subject of discussion in France was the sad state of the nation and the apparent failure of François Hollande and his Socialist government in the economic domain. Then an amazing affair was created out of the blue by the French chief of police, Manuel Valls, seen here in a Jewish context.

Valls finally succeeded in censuring the black-skinned French anti-Zionist comedian Dieudonné, whose presentations were promptly outlawed through draconian laws and methods that would be surely unthinkable in many English-speaking nations (such as the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia).

All this agitation was taking place just a few days ago, and dominating the media in France. Then, in the space of a few hours, everything changed. Overnight (literally), a new affair eclipsed the old ones. The world learned with amazement that stealthy ScooterMan had been sighted in the middle of the night, at an out-of-bounds location not far away from the Elysées Palace, and that paperazzi photos would be appearing in a French magazine the following morning.

The next day, we were bombarded with images of a new glamor couple: the French president and a beautiful actress, Julie Gayet.

Now, I wish to make a humble and totally irrelevant personal statement concerning this lady. A few years ago, I was stunned by her portrayal of Isabella, the She-wolf of France [1295-1358], wife of the gay king Edward II of England, in the TV series entitled Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings).

At that time, I was unearthing genealogical links between the Skeffingtons and the Plantagenet monarchs. For a few days, my mind was filled with the crazy idea that maybe this mysterious creature named Julie Gayet—who struck me as one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen—might be an ancestor of mine. [Since those days of fanciful thinking, I've become aware that my authentic Skeffington ancestors had branched away earlier on, at the Tudor epoch, from those who would get mixed up with the Plantagenet monarchy. In any case, the real Isabella may have been less beauteous than her modern representation.]

Today, in any case, when I hear that Julie Gayet has apparently been swept off her feet by ScooterMan, I feel strangely relieved, for I see retrospectively that she was never really a make-believe creature associated with my imaginary past, but merely a modern and perfectly normal French woman, attracted by a quite normal French president. The following American cartoon provides a good summary of the situation:

Cover for my book on maternal genealogy

Up until now, I’ve been using the following cover for the typescript of my book on maternal genealogy, soon to be published by Gamone Press.

I’ve always been aware that this dull cover (based upon a Xmas card sent to me, 33 years ago, by an Australian uncle) was a temporary thing, and that it would need to be replaced, sooner or later, by a more attractive design. This morning, I created a couple of possible models for the cover, making use of Australian images that I can purchase (for some 50 euros) in high-resolution format (300 dots per inch).

Click to enlarge

In both cases, I’ve used the metaphor of a rural road, symbolizing, as it were, the paths of my pioneering ancestors in Braidwood and the Clarence River region. An observer can no doubt guess that "my mother's people" came from Ireland, but we cannot know, of course, what lies ahead, beyond the crest of the hill. A little bit of greenness by the roadside reinforces the title (without seeking to “explain” it, since there are several subtle reasons for my choice of this title).

You might say that the left-hand maquette is classical, whereas the right-hand maquette is more “modern”. I would appreciate any reactions to these models.

FIRST REACTION: Each new blog post that I publish gives rise automatically to a Twitter message from my @Skyvington account. And that's how I received my first reaction, from a friendly Canadian woman, Diane Rogers, whom I thank greatly.

SECOND REACTION: And here's another Twitter vote in favor of the right-hand model, from a Skeffington lady in Scotland. I thank her very much.

VARIATIONS: It's not all that easy to submit variations that might respect the suggestions of critics. Here, for example, is a version of the right-hand cover with a totally different typography:

The title—A Little Bit of Irish—is certainly highlighted here, and the readability of the cover text is surely maximal, but I have the impression that the heavy typography is being shoved down our throats. I prefer the lightweight style of the initial version with its intriguing font. To be honest, though, I simply don't know how artistically-gifted critics (that's not my case) end up evaluating questions of this kind. So, please, help !

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Authenticity versus decoration

Following up on my previous blog post [display], I wish to tackle here the interesting questions of basic distinctions—both structural and purely visual—between an authentic old-fashioned wood-burning oven, on the one hand, and a trivially-decorated concrete shit-house, on the other. In a nutshell, it’s the same kind of distinction that exists between two vastly different kinds of bread that we encounter these days. Once upon a time, in France, loaves of bread were generally round or oblong.

Industrial sliced bread (of the kind I recently purchased for my Australian visitors at Xmas) then arrived on the scene… without making any kind of gigantic impact in France.

Notice the striking geometrical contrast between the lovely curves of old-fashioned bread and the harsh rectangularity of the plastic-enclosed industrial product. That’s exactly the distinction that concerns me between a nice old-style stone oven and the nasty flat rectangular shit-house shape that arises inevitably when you’re tempted to install your bread oven inside an external structure made out of so-called CMUs (concrete masonry units) of the kind used to erect modern housing.

Now, I’m not saying that everything of a flat rectangular kind is necessarily ugly in the bread oven domain. That would be a stupid evaluation of the historical situation, because countless ancient bread ovens were incorporated into farmhouses of a basically rectangular architecture. All I’m trying to say is that we should strive to steer clear, as far as possible, of the ugly shit-house shape derived from the use of CMUs.

In the catalogue of examples from the oven manufacturer, let’s start with the worst. Here’s what I would call a Mickey Mouse oven:

I have the impression that a pizza emerging from such a flimsy oven (if ever such an emergence were indeed possible) would have a curious flavor of lollipops. Such an oven might maybe produce cup cakes (?), but nothing more substantial.

This second example embarrasses me a lot, because I must admit that my Photoshop vision of a “dressed up” wood oven in my Gamone cellar was largely inspired by the following esthetic atrocity, which stinks of pretentious nouveaux riches design:

Fortunately, not everything is mildly nauseating in the manufacturer’s photo album. Here’s an oven that I would qualify as “heavy-handed, but not at all bad”:

And here’s a second example that I would qualify as “bad at the bottom, but quite good at the top”:

From a design viewpoint, the creator of a structure housing a wood-fuelled oven should do his utmost to move away from the flat verticality of the amorphous shit-house model, and he should make the structure attractive without any need for abominable decoration. In the context of this noble ambition, a fundamental factor is the nature and quality of the building materials. You can’t build the Parthenon using nothing more than CMUs and a painted plaster coating.

Great news!  Yesterday afternoon, I was thrilled to learn, by chance, that there’s a supply of superb construction stones just a few kilometres away from Gamone, in the village of Auberives-en-Royans. The stone costs next to nothing, but there’s a hitch. The purchaser has to sort through the huge pile of stone in order to to extract the actual fragments that he wishes to purchase. So, next spring, I foresee long hours spent in the Auberives quarry, with my Kangoo and my trailer in the background. Meanwhile, here’s a specimen of this wonderful limestone that I brought back from Auberives yesterday afternoon:

Insofar as one might fall in love with stone, I fell in love immediately, yesterday afternoon, with this magnificent limestone product. Admire its cream-hued density. The firm at Auberives, Fromant (my enemy, a few years ago, in the battle—which we won—to prevent quarrying next to Gamone), designates this stone as Rencurel (the next village up from Choranche). I learned with stupefaction that the small quarry in question belonged to my former friend Roger Zanella [deceased a few years ago and buried in the cemetery of Choranche], who was one of my primary contacts during my installation at Gamone. (I could talk for ages about my friendly contacts with Roger.) If indeed Roger’s limestone were soon to house my bread oven at Gamone, that would be (in my mind) a minor but magnificent miracle. In the case of Roger Zanella (a native of the Vercors, of the Bourne, and a celebrated hunter), all was authenticity. There was no place for decoration.

For my future wood-fuelled oven, I'll have to select and bring back to Gamone an adequate stock of this splendid Rencurel limestone. Then, starting next Spring, I'll erect patiently my Gamone bread oven—day by day, stone by stone—which will emerge slowly with all the sensuous pastel-hued roundness of a nicely-baked female from Auguste Renoir.

Pizza oven obstacles

Towards the end of my recent article entitled Damaged wood shed [display], I made the following announcement:
I would like to install my future pizza oven beneath a wooden canopy—roughly half as wide as the wood shed, and of a similar style, probably not quite as high—located approximatively at the current place of Fitzroy’s kennel… which would be moved to the spot where the compost box is currently placed.
Not surprisingly, whenever I come out with news of that kind, I realize that I’m likely to receive feedback. To a large extent, that’s why I’ve got into the habit of making such announcements on my blog. And it’s most likely that this feedback will impinge upon the announcement itself, causing it to be modified or even abandoned… to be replaced by a later announcement of a different kind.

Here’s a photo of the entire area to the left of the point where the road meets up with my house at Gamone:

Click to enlarge

On the left, there’s my mailbox, alongside a gigantic poplar tree that I really should remove one of these days, because its branches could possibly be blown onto the house during a blizzard (such as the one that struck us at Xmas). For the moment, the area between the mailbox and the old linden tree is a work zone, where I stock sand and gravel, and park my trailer. After the linden tree, there’s my recently-built wood shed, followed by Fitzroy’s kennel, a wooden compost container, and then my sunken rose garden (directly in front of the house).

Yesterday, when I explained to Serge and Tineke that I was thinking of erecting my future pizza oven at the spot where the kennel now stands, they reacted quite negatively, telling me that it would be a pity to set up a big mass of concrete (1.5m square and 2m tall) at this central point of visual contact with both the ancient stone house (on the right) and the magnificent Bourne Valley and the Cournouze (to the left).

Concerning my future pizza oven, I must make it clear that there is indeed an underlying Big Problem—in fact, a Big Ugliness Problem—which I shall now attempt to describe. You see, the future oven is composed of a small set of heavy pink stone elements that have to be assembled on a metre-high platform and glued together by a special mortar. In the following photo, two men are installing one of the final elements of the oven:

The man on the left is standing on the ground, whereas the fellow on the right has climbed up onto the square platform, whose minimal area is about 1.5m by 1.5m. Here’s a view of the fully-assembled oven, with a metal smoke pipe emerging from an opening above the entry into the dome of the oven:

You can detect the presence of three concrete walls surrounding the oven, and extending upwards to a height of about 40cm above the highest element of the assembled oven. The general idea is that the builders will now use concrete bricks to close this façade of the structure, in such a way that only the element with the semi-circular opening (including its flat threshold) remains visible. Finally, the interior of the cubic box enclosing the oven will be filled with rockwool and sand (up to the top of the above photo) in order to isolate the oven thermally from the outside world. It goes without saying that this total isolation is absolutely necessary if the burning wood inside the oven is to generate an inside temperature capable of cooking a pizza or baking bread.

Now, what this means is that the starting point of the building operations generally consists of using ugly concrete bricks to erect the platform upon which the oven is to be assembled.

Once the platform (capable of supporting a weight of about half a ton) is in place, you carry on upwards for another metre or so, with more concrete bricks, in order to erect the three above-mentioned walls forming a box around the future oven. And you finally close the top of this concrete structure with some kind of a roof supporting an external chimney. Here is the precise French-language schema for this structure, as supplied by the oven manufacturer, named Ephrem:

At this point, I would imagine that my readers are starting to understand what I meant, a moment ago, when I spoke of a Big Ugliness Problem. We started out imagining that we were going to erect some kind of old-fashioned wood oven, and we seem to be ending up with a nasty box-shaped concrete structure that looks more like an outdoor shit-house with a chimney coming out of the roof! Clearly, something has gone wrong… and something must be done to retrieve a minimum of esthetic harmony and old-fashioned charm. But what?

If you read the brochures produced by the firms that manufacture such ovens, or if you talk with bricklayers or the employees of hardware stores, you’ll soon encounter the French verb habiller, which might be translated as “to clothe”. In other words, you’re encouraged to “dress up” the harsh concrete surfaces of the shit-house with some kind of decorative material such as glued-on tiles, slabs of stone or even (horror of horrors) plaques of fake stone. Here’s a Photoshop presentation of how I imagined naively that I might be able to “clothe” the concrete shit-house if it were to be erected inside the ancient cellar of my house at Gamone (an idea that I've since abandoned):

However, anybody with an ounce of construction experience and imagination knows that, no matter how hard you try to “dress up” a vertical wall of concrete bricks, the end result will always look like… an unhappy attempt to “decorate” a vertical wall of concrete bricks. So, it’s better to refrain from even trying to cheat in this way.

Another “solution” consists of simply plastering the eyesore shit-house in a minimalist fashion and then making an effort to hide it as best you can, either by erecting it in an out-of-sight corner, or by covering the ugly structure in a more-or-less attractive wooden shed, or by a combination of these two remedies. To tell the truth, those were the approaches that I was contemplating sadly over the last day or so, since the visit of Tineke and Serge.

Happily, there is in fact a pleasant and authentic solution to this challenge, which would consist simply of using noble materials (local stone) to build a genuine and attractive small stone “cabin” in which to assemble the oven... maybe in the zone between my mailbox and the linden tree. As of this afternoon, I have ascertained that this honest down-to-earth approach is perfectly feasible, and that I could carry out the construction operations on my own, single-handed… but I’ll leave my detailed explanations for a future blog post.