Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bonfire of the vine-ties


This morning’s news is that the piles of vine-posts around the farm are finally being burnt. Once that’s done these fields can be tilled and turned to the task of sprouting grass.

Vines 28 April 2011 
If we rewind to April of this year we can see the vineyards prior to being torn up by the lease-holders. I wrote about this arrachément back in June.  That’s left us with the fields as seen below for five months.

20111129 vineyards

When we sauntered down to inspect the scene mid-morning, there were four or five stacks ablaze. One guy with a front-loader was taking care of it all, combining smaller stacks where appropriate, clearing some space around them and then finally dousing them with fuel and setting them alight. The intense heat kept one from comfortably approaching closer than about 4-5 metres.

front loader at work  my front loader at work
By lunch time he’d reached the row of vine stacks on the other side of our pond and there was soon a large plume of smoke obliterating the sun. Gustav and I went down to check it out after a while. The warmth was a bit wasted today with an unseasonable 16C before the fire heat was added in.

closest fire  Gustav despatches wood scraps
Late afternoon saw the piles having burnt down to flickering embers wrapped in coils of vine-wire glowing white to yellow hot.


A curious addition to the sunset and fiery embers was this loop of sun-illuminated cloud which I thought may have been a contrail from a turning jet, but Brent claims there have been similar cloudy curlicues here lately due to some local weather patterns. Whether the loops match up to similar figures etched on the landscape below by alien invaders, I can only wonder. If giant tripods start riding across the Gers, you will read about it here first.

sky light
As the sun receded and the only light came from the bonfires dotting the landscape before me, I thought “ooh bonfires .. bon + fires .. must be French”. Mais non. Bonfire comes from bone+fire, and not from the torched remains of martyrs, but of cattle bones thrown to the flames. The French call their bonfires feux de joie or in the more garden-variety sense of burning rubbish, feux de jardin.

If one is burning books or heretics then you may recognise auto-da-fé (“act of faith”) from histories of the Inquisition. Sometimes the word bûcher is used where English-speakers refer to a pyre, related to the word bûche for log or stake, and so to be burnt at the stake is to die sur bûcher. This is not related to the words butcher or its French cognate boucher which literally mean goat-slaughterer. The word buck for a male goat or other animal shares this lineage.

Half a millennium ago, the famous Bonfire of the Vanities was an autodafé held in the centre of Florence by the influential friar Savanarola. The “vanities” were a reference to the symbols of “moral decay” thrown to the flames, including books, ornaments, diamond-studded malamute collars and paintings depicting classically posed figures.

evening bonfires

With ten red-hued bonfires standing out of the darkness, Gustav seemed rather pensive. I think he was having Viking flashbacks to the good old days of village burning.

P1070328 P1070336 
A further bonus on top of today’s warm weather and clear skies is the sight of the Pyrenees riding the horizon. Is there a pyre connection?

The name Pyrenees may derive from one of several sources. The most popularly quoted is that it comes from the Gallic princess Pyrene*, who in mythology was the daughter of a king that hosted Hercules during his labours, in point of fact while stealing the cattle of the giant Geryon. It’s not clear if the name is truly a Gallic one, or a Hellenic one that might be linked to pyr/pyros for fire. Maybe she was a “hot one”.  Many sources simply claim pyrene as the Greek word for fire, but I don’t think that’s the case. There was a very famous manufacturer of fire-extinguishing equipment, The Pyrene Company of Delaware. However pyren is Greek for the stone of a fruit, and pyrene may be used in that context today. Also there are several females of the name Pyrene in Greek mythology and the derivations may be different.

Another source says the name Pyrenees comes directly from pyr (fire) in reference to “a great conflagration which, through the neglect of some shepherds, destroyed its woods, and melted the ore of its mines, so that the brooks ran with molten silver.”

Lovely view** anyway.  I hope some scholarly geographer may be able to set us all straight on the true source of the name.

* I’ve had a horrible audio nightmare of some mum calling out for a daughter of this name in some Australian shopping mall: Py-reen! Some people get a bit excited and say she was a goddess rather than just a mortal princess.

**Which reminds me of when I had my tonsils out in the Buena Vista hospital, Bellevue Hill in Sydney. Shades of La Brea Tar Pits! I hope my otolaryngologist had a belle vue when peering down my throat.


  1. Well, once the fires were lit, did Rohan answer?

  2. Ha! I came so close to taking this post in that direction as I've got some other local material related to beacons. Maybe the follow-up post...


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