Archive for French Alps

journal of the [second] plague year [deconf’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2021 by xi'an

Read the third volume of Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, The Escapement. Which I found very slow-paced, with loads of mechanistic vocabulary I did not know, and it took me a while to read the book! Still, some sections are definitely worth reading, like the one on Necessary Evil, seen as the tolerance zone between exactitude and error, from and engineer viewpoint… And the final chapters are truly terrific, very dark and pessimistic, keeping me awake till the wee hours. Even though all pieces of the machinery fit too well in the end! But I also reflected on the ambivalent role of the very few women in this third novel, dooming the entire country while remaining stuck in the lover-wife-mother triangle, with no engineering or military role…

“He didn’t for one moment doubt the accuracy of the tables, but how on earth did the book’s author know these things? It could only be that, at some time in the past, so long ago that nobody remembered them any more, there had been sieges of great cities; so frequent and so commonplace that scholarly investigators had been able to collate the data-troop numbers, casualty figures-and work out these ratios, qualified by variables, verified by controls (…) to be inferred from the statistical analyses in a manual of best city-killing practice. Extraordinary thought (…) suppose the book was the only residue left by the death of thousands of cities, each one of them as huge and arrogant in its day as the Perpetual Republic—the Eternal City of this, the Everlasting Kingdom of that, squashed down by time and oblivion into a set of mathematical constants for predicting the deaths of men in battle.”

I also read La Saga des Écrins, by François Labande, in the iconic Guérin series, about the Écrins range in the French Alps, where we spent a fortnight last summer, a rather classical if enjoyable story of the climbers making firsts on the peaks of this “wild” area of the Alps. (As an aside, François Labande started Mountain Wilderness France, whose goal is to keep mountains as a place of wilderness and to clean them from artificial infrastructures.) The cover includes a very nice drawing of La Meige by Jean-Marc Rochette. I also read another delightful short story by P. Djèlí Clark, The Angel of Khan el Khalili. Obviously set in the same fantasy steampunk Cairo of the early 1900’s.

Still turning the crank of the new past machine, I made bigoli, the Venetian equivalent of soba noodles, with both an anchovies sauce and a clam sauce as well (if not from the Laguna!), a rhubarb clafoutis (not yet from our garden), Lebanese humus (without the skin!). Noticed a sharp rise in the price of BrewDog beers, thanks to the new taxes courtesy of Brexit! But still ordered a box of their Nanny State for the summer…

Watched the movie Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage (!), which makes a great job of setting characters and installing a seedy atmosphere of violence and corruption but completely fails at delivering a convincing story, still gripping enough to watch till the end. And binge-watched a Korean TV series called Signal related to the stunning Memories of Murder (and a collection of real crimes in South Korea from the 1980’s to the last decade). While far from perfect, with a tendency to repeat some scenes twice, the usual theatrics of such series, and the paradoxes of temporal travel (!), the show is nonetheless one of the best Korean dramas I watched… Had  a quick look at the very Netflixy Shadow and Bones. To discover that the trilogy was merged with Six of Crows. Which is strange as the time lines completely differ. But logical if considering that Six of Crows is better written and paced than the earlier trilogy, albeit not outstanding. This is a 12⁺ YA read after all..!


ABC in Svalbard [update]

Posted in Mountains, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2020 by xi'an

Even though no one can tell at this stage who will be allowed to travel to Svalbard mid April 2021, we are keeping the workshop to physically take place as planned in Longyearbyen. With at least a group of volunteers made of researchers from Oslo (since at the current time, travel between mainland Norway and Svalbard is authorised). The conference room reservation has been confirmed yesterday and there are a few hotel rooms pre-booked through Anyone planning to attend just need to (i) register on the workshop webpage, (ii) book an hotel room for the duration of the workshop (or more)., and (iii) reserve a plane ticket as there are not that many flights planned.

Obviously this option should only attract a few brave souls (from nearby countries). We are thus running at the same time three mirror workshops in Brisbane (QUT), Coventry (University of Warwick), and Grenoble (IMAG & INRIA). Except for Warwick, where the current pandemic restrictions do not allow for a workshop to take place, the mirror workshops will take place in university buildings and be face-to-face (with video connections as well). Julyan Arbel has set-up a mirror webpage as well. With a (free) registration deadline of 31 March, the workshop being open to all who can attend. Hopefully enough of us will gather here or there to keep up with the spirit of the earlier ABC workshops. (To make the mirror places truly ABCesque, it should have been set in A as Autrans rather than Grenoble!)

a journal of the plague year [lost September reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2020 by xi'an

Read a (red) book I bought in Chamonix last January (sounds like last century, at the very least!) at the Éditions Guérin bookshop, The Bond, by Simon McCartney, translated in French as The Ghosts from Denali. It starts more or less like a traditional mountain climbing story, with a pair of cocky young climbers attacking a new and difficult route and managing the opening despite severe adverse circumstances, which is what Simon McCartney and Jack Roberts did for the north face of Mount Huntington in Alaska, having run out of food and facing the constant threat of collapsing seracs. It however turns into a inner introspection as McCartney gets stranded on the mythical Eiger Nordwand (just like many before him!) after his large group keeps breaking their Charlet Moser icepicks due to the cold (!) and end up being airlifted. He later manages a Winter climb of the Eiger and reunites with Roberts to attempt the south face of Denali, never climbed before. This is when the book takes off, from the sheer difficulty of the route to the amazing unpreparation of the climbers, to Simon’s cerebral embolism building up and bringing him a hair away from death, to the altruism of several other climbers on the mountain to bring him down from the death zone, especially Bo Kandiko, and to a trauma-induced complete break from climbing when McCartney got out of Anchorage hospital. This is gripping and moving and unbelievable. The book received a Banff Mountain Festival award and no wonder. The story told by McCartney is actually seamlessly completed by diary excerpts by Roberts and Kandiko, where they question their own involvement against the very real danger of dying from staying with McCartney, much more than giving up their own attempt against the deadly mountain. A terrific mountaineering book, truly. As a sad coda, Roberts died ice-climbing Bridal Veil Falls a few days before McCartney’s attempt to reunite with him.

Spent several evenings baking fig jam when returning from the Alps as the fig tree was full! And ended up with a total of 35 jars. Resulting into a full “marmalade closet”, as in the past weeks my mom home-made the same amount of peach jelly and my wife’s mom even more rhubarb marmalade jars. Enough to stand a whole year of lockdown, jam-wise. And ate some of the few but tasty peppers that grew in our garden, for the very first time, despite the welcomed tomato and squash invasion! Also ate a terribly greasy risotto in a supposedly highly noted restaurant…

Started watching Dark on Netflix, a German dark time-travel fiction. But while I enjoyed the complex story, the play of the young actors, and the appeal of watching a show (and a Greek play within the show, with Ariádnê and Thêseús of course!) in German, the endless paradoxes of time-travel and the duration of the series made me stop after a few episodes, the town of Winden keeping most of its mystery for me.

a journal of the plague year [October reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2020 by xi'an

Read two more “little red” books from Éditions Guérin/Paulsen, the fantastic Chamonix editor, namely, Lénine à Chamonix by François Garde, a former Secretary-General of the Government of New-Caledonia, and Les Hallucinés (Un voyage dans les délires d’altitude), by Thomas Venin. The first book is a collection of short stories related to mountains, ranging from the realistic to the fantastic, and from good to terrible. I think in particular of the 1447 mètres story that involves a Holtanna like big wall in Iceland [good start then!], possibly the Latrabjarg cliff—although it stands at 1447 feet, not meters!, and the absurd impact of prime numbers on the failure of the climbing team. Lénine à Chamonix muses on the supposed day Vladimir Illitch “Lenin” Ulyanov spent in Chamonix in 1903, almost losing his life but adopting his alias there [which clashes with its 1902 first occurrence in publications!]. The second book is about high altitude hallucinations as told by survivors from the “death zone”. Induced by hypoxia, they lead hymalayists to see imaginary things or persons, sometimes to act against their own interest and often to die as a result. The stories are about those who survived and told about their visions. They reminded me of Abele Blanc telling us of facing the simultaneous hallucinations of two (!) partners during an attempt at Annapurna and managing to bring down one of the climbers, with the other managing on its own after a minor fall resetting his brain to the real world. Touching the limits of human abilities and the mysterious working of the brain…

Cooked several dishes suggested by the New York Times (!), including a spinach risotto [good], orecchiette with fennel and sausages [great], and malai broccoli [not so great], as well as by the Guardian’s Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, like a yummy spinash-potatoe pie. As Fall is seeping in, went back to old classics like red cabbage Flemish style. And butternut soups, starting with our own. And a pumpkin biryani!

Read Peter Hamilton’s Salvation, with a certain reluctance to proceed as I found the stories within mostly disconnected and of limited interest. (This came obviously as a disappointment, having enjoyed a lot Great North Road.) Unlikely I read the following volumes in the series. On the side, I heard that fantasy writer Terry Goodkind died on Sept. 17. He had written “The Sword of Truth” series, of which I read the first three volumes. (Out of 21 total!!!) While there were some qualities in the story, the setting was quite naïve (in the usual trope of an evil powerful character that need be fought at all costs) and the books carry a strong component of political conservatism as well as extensive sections of sadistic scenes

Watched Tim Burton’s 2012 Dark Shadows (terrible!) and a Taiwanese 2018 dark comedy entitled Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的) which I found rather interesting and quite original, despite the overdone antics of the mother. I even tried Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd for a few minutes, being completely unaware this was a musical!

a journal of the plague year [latter August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2020 by xi'an

Read during the first week of our Alpine vacations a Japanese gore novel by Natsuo Kirino, Out, which I found in the book exchange zone at Dauphine earlier in July. The book is more impressive for a social criticism of the condition of working class women the Japanese society than for its psychological thriller nature, even though the later is well-enough conducted to induce a page-turning commitment… The four women at the centre of the story are drawn in fine and convincing details and the practical cynicism of most of them makes the novel avoid the easy and rosy idealisation of a crime sisterhood. The slow unraveling of the past of these women exhibits how they ended up in a food-packaging night-shift job by virtue (!) of a gender inequality inherent to the social structure. The book is not 100% perfect, especially in the final moments, even though the surprising readiness of Masako to turn herself (almost) into a victim is much more subtle than it sounds (spoiler!). Still a major novel, if one can manage to stand the gory details..!

Had another chance great meal in a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Briançon, Au Plaisir Ambré, with a surprising sea-food theme including Granville whelks tartare, lobster samosas and grayling en croûte (except the crust was not salt but brioche!), the later with the distinctive taste of river fish. The more pleasant as an earlier experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was not so exciting, with a risotto smothered by Gruyère!, a culinary lèse-majesty! Also tasted wonderful tartes aux noix made by the housekeeper of one of our vacation rentals. Rich enough for a whole day of hiking.

Read the Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, of which I expected much and which I alas found quite poor (compared with the fabulous Ancillary series). Maybe because I found too many connections with the stunning Ka, which takes the raven’s perspective on human history. Maybe because the Raven is the bad guy/god in this story. Even taking the story as a theatre play (as it builds on Hamlet) did not really work for me. The few characters are not sufficiently deep, the interaction between gods and humans is rather simplistic (although the world-building shows promises) and the conclusion is botched in my opinion. The style is original and the book well-written, however. Plus the book is short and single-volumed! (But I do not get the rave reviews!)