Monthly Archives: December 2013

Golden Note


Last Sunday of 2013, and the sun slivered through heavy rain clouds now and then to cast a brief, golden light on an otherwise grey day.

We finished off our Whisky Advent Calendar with a 40-year-old Glenfarclas, a real treat. I’ve had a bit of a cold, so I can’t really say as much as I’d like to about the taste, but I just got too impatient to wait another week to try it.

A chandelier of olive oil jars, seen in Geneva Old Town. Photo: PK Read

A chandelier of olive oil jars, seen in Geneva Old Town.
Photo: PK Read

It’s rich, with a lot of butterscotch, resin and leather notes – which all blend into something I feel like I should be drinking while sitting in a fine leather armchair in my own private club, maybe next to a fireplace.

The Whisky Advent Calendar was a bit of a mixed bag this year, but it finished with a golden flourish.


Small Potting


Pothole gardens. Tiny gardens that fill urban potholes. The Pothole Gardener, Steve Wheen, creates tiny gardens in potholes (‘mostly on footpaths’), and takes pictures of them. Others do the same around the world.

Steve Wheen has a book out on his tiny garden installation project.

Steve Wheen has a book out on his tiny garden installation project.

Act locally, think globally. These are almost snowglobe sized gardens – it doesn’t get much more local than a pothole.

A before picture of a pothole in Bogotá, Colombia Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

A before picture of a pothole in Bogotá, Colombia
Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

The gardenered pothole in Bogotá, Colombia Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

The gardenered pothole in Bogotá, Colombia
Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

Steve Wheen started a public collaboration map for pothole gardens. Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 6.13.59 PM

Seeing as they are probably short-lived, and quite possibly outlasted by their host potholes, uploading an image seems prudent.

If I can find a pothole in Geneva, I might just do some local potting myself.

Solstice Unspools

Another winter unspools

Winter’s coil

Welcome Winter Solstice 2013. Last year I was relieved that the Mayan End of Days turned into just another day; this year, I’m relieved that the icy grip of early winter thawed for long enough to do some end of year, last-minute garden work.

We’ve been keeping ourselves warm with our Whisky Advent Calendar, and there are a couple of standouts thus far. Both of them are Speyside single malts.

One is the Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask, which is aged in oak casks for fourteen years before being transferred to rum casks for a finishing touch. Very smooth and rich in caramel and vanilla notes, it also carries a swingy basket of exotic fruit – mango, nectarine.

The other current favorite was a discovery for me, a Tomintoul 14 Year Old. It had a creamy, almost buttery taste, like an almond croissant, with a bit of apple and orange. It also seems to be a good value for its reasonable price.

Mistletoe hangs in a tree near our house

Mistletoe hangs in a tree near our house

I’m ready – well, as ready as I’ll ever be – for the snow to pile up.

Better, I’m ready for my favorite part of the winter solstice, the lengthening of days, the shortening of nights.

That said, now that the fog of the last couple of weeks has lifted, it’s almost ungrateful to wish for shorter nights, as the clear sky has been an indigo veil cast with countless gems and the crown jewel of the Full Cold Moon.

A little moon music to warm the coming winter nights.

Pruina Indulgence


It’s not that the only thing in life is hoarfrost and fog. I know that. It’s just that hoarfrost and and fog are a big part of my own life right now.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, hoarfrost is one of many types of frost, and the name “hoar comes from an Old English adjective for showing signs of old age, and is used in this context in reference to the frost which makes trees and bushes look like white hair.”

Maybe.13120005I went on a run yesterday, my first in a couple of weeks. Between being down with a tenacious cold, and the danger of running on country roads in thick fog, I’ve been keeping close to home.13120013The sun deigned to show itself at our altitude yesterday, if only for a couple of hours, and I ventured out, wrapped in numerous layers of hi-tech running gear in bright, visible colors (just in case the fog should suddenly ascend).

The fog line on the other side of the field, obscuring the view of Lake Geneva.

The fog line on the other side of the frost-coated field, obscuring the view of Lake Geneva.

I hadn’t brought my camera because I meant to actually run. But it ended up being less of a run and more of a stroll of wonder, smartphone out and at the ready.13120015Firstly, because the sunshine was so unaccustomed after almost two weeks of a thick grey blanket.

Secondly because it remained cold enough for the hoarfrost to stay intact.

Again, Wikipedia: Hoarfrost (also known as ‘pruina’) is composed of ice crystals “that form on cold clear nights when heat is lost into the open sky causing objects to become colder than the surrounding air.”13120030The moment has passed, the fog has returned, but for a short time yesterday, every aspect was one of stunning clarity.

Sea of Sun

Sea of fog, Geneva basin Image via Monts Jura live web cam (Crozet)

Sea of fog, Geneva basin
Image via Monts Jura live web cam (Crozet)

Yesterday I posted images of atmospheric life at our altitude, all fog and frost.

Today, this is the view from several hundred meters above our heads, taken from a ski station web cam that’s twenty minutes from our place. The view is out over Lake Geneva, with the Alps in the distance. All of the Pays-de-Gex and Geneva, including our village, is beneath that white sea.

It’s comforting to know the sun is right there, if we feel the need to go visit.

Frosted Fig


Last week, I went for a short walk in the late afternoon. It was sunny, and although it wasn’t warm, it was tolerably above zero.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Then the temperature plunged, and the first real winter fog of the season settled in.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t mind fog. Probably because I grew up along the notoriously foggy coastline of northern California.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

It’s not pleasant to drive in, but otherwise, I find it a more comforting and comfortable weather condition than, say, sheets of rain or hip-deep snow.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Many in the Lake Geneva area succumb to gloomy moods during our long foggy sessions, which can last for weeks. I took most of these photos early this morning. The fog had thinned a bit, allowing a much longer view than I’ve seen in days. I can even see the roofs of neighboring houses.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

The garden has gone into sugar-frosted glory. The fog itself floats in tiny crystals, and after three days of this, the layers of fine ice have become thick and heavy.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

In a pinch, though, there’s always a simple solution to escape the fog: A half-hour drive up into the Jura, above the fog line. Our village is at an altitude of around 1500 ft (470 m), and I can often see a tinge of blue above, where the blanket of fog stops and sunshine begins.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Every so often, the lower part of our road will be in the fog, while we look out across a sunny sea of white. Not today, though. And probably not this week.

This is the week an ambitious patio dandelion thought it had one last chance at seeding out before winter. It didn’t.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read



Between Bodies


An agreement being hailed by some as historic was signed this week between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

It has to do with one of the great motivations for both war and peace: Water.

At heart, it’s a desalination project. Water will be taken  from the Red Sea, pumped through a pipeline to a desalination plant in Jordan, with the resulting fresh water distributed to different points in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The briny water that remains will be pumped into the Israel’s Dead Sea, which has been losing water at an alarming rate.

From a political perspective, any sign of cooperation has to be seen as a positive step. If parties who are so at odds can agree on this, then perhaps there are other areas for agreement.

From a societal perspective, viable and peaceful solutions for cross-border fresh water supply are always welcome.

From an environmental perspective, well–I guess there always has to be that pesky fly in the ointment.

Environmental groups close to the $200-400 million project are none too pleased that briny processed water from the Red Sea ecosystem is going to be pumped wholesale into the entirely separate Dead Sea ecosystem, even if the Dead Sea water levels are dropping.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, told The Telegraph, “The link to the Dead Sea that’s being proposed here threatens the viability of the project from an environmental and economic perspective. It will bring foreign water into the Dead Sea that would upset its ecosystem, creating Gypum and quite probably algae.”

It’s worth noting that Friends of the Earth Middle East is, itself, an organization which brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists.

Dead Sea Image: Atlas Tours

Dead Sea
Image: Atlas Tours

I find myself usually landing on the side of the pesky fly, and it gives me little pleasure. Time will tell what happens when the waters of these two seas are combined.

Still, I deeply hope that this agreement is both a sign of potential cooperation in other sectors, and a signal that some cross-border water challenges can be solved through cooperation.


Thank you, Dr. Mandela


One of the many legacies left behind by the great Nelson Mandela will be his attention to conservation issues and his awareness of the role these issues play in society. In honor of his life, I thought I would highlight one of his many laudable projects today, one that brought together the dual challenges of conservation and peace.

Dr. Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 6 December 2013, was a founding member of the Peace Parks Foundation, together with Dr Anton Rupert and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

In Dr. Mandela’s words: “I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all.

“In a world beset by conflicts and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.”

Nelson Mandela opens a gate between South Africa and Mozambique, creating a corridor for elephants to freely cross transnational boundaries. Photo: Tony Weaver / PPF

Nelson Mandela opens a gate between South Africa and Mozambique to allow elephants to be moved from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to a protected area in Limpopo National Park..
Photo: Tony Weaver / PPF

Peace parks are also known as transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs). The Southern African Development Community(SADC) Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement of 1999 defines a TFCA as “the area or component of a large ecological region that straddles the boundaries of two or more countries, encompassing one or more protected areas as well as multiple resource use areas”.

The Protocol commits the SADC Member States to promote the conservation of shared wildlife resources through the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas.

From the Peace Parks Foundation website: “The establishment and development of peace parks is a dynamic, exciting and multi-faceted approach to jointly manage natural resources across political boundaries.

“Peace parks are about co-existence between humans and nature, about promoting regional peace and stability, conserving biodiversity and stimulating job creation by developing nature conservation as a land-use option.”

Follow the Money (1)


One of my favorite data visualization sites, InformationIsBeautiful, made a Billion-Dollar-O-Gram awhile ago, putting into relative perspective the amounts of money that go into various human activities around the world. Data sets include activities of giving, fighting, losing, spending, and others. Earlier this year, they updated the graphic for 2013, and I thought before the year is out, I’d post it here for future reference.

As always, it makes for interesting and surprising reading. The new graphic is interactive, and allows viewers to pick and choose their subjects for comparison. Well worth a visit.

Billion-Dollar-O-Gram (excerpt) Click for interactive graphic. Source:

Billion-Dollar-O-Gram (excerpt)
Click for interactive graphic.

Some of the juxtapositions seem random, but are thought-provoking nonetheless.

Billion-Dollar-O-Gram (excerpt) Source:

Billion-Dollar-O-Gram (excerpt)


Bubbly Surprise


It’s been an icy couple weeks here in the foothills of the Jura, with a strong bise wind blowing down from the Alps, funneling down through the Lake Geneva basin and wearing itself out to points south of here. It’s dry, it’s cold, and it can be unrelenting for as long as it lasts, usually a few days.

A bise is the word used for the traditional French kiss-on-the-cheek greeting (three kisses in our region), but the bise wind feels more like a sharp slap.

In the heart of winter, a strong bise can whip the waters of Lake Geneva into a frenzy, leaving behind well-known images like the one below. We aren’t there yet, although we did get some snow and ice.

Lakeside at Evian-les-Bains, Lake Geneva, during a 2012 bise. Photo: thedarkpond

Lakeside at Evian-les-Bains, Lake Geneva, during a 2012 bise.
Photo: thedarkpond

Not only did the bise finally come to an end this weekend, but I found some other good news.

In spite of a cold winter, a wet spring, a hot summer punctuated by extreme storms and hail, and the latest grape harvest in years, the Champagne region managed to increase its harvest results over those of 2012, and had the best harvest of the past five years.

Not bad, all things considered.

Other wine-producing regions haven’t been as lucky, especially the Alsace and Bordeaux areas, which were badly affected by hailstorms.

This is unfortunate, but as a Champagne drinker, I stay focused on the positive:

Photo via DestinationsPerfected

Photo via DestinationsPerfected

According to the Confédération des coopératives vinicoles de France (CCVF), the French collective of wine-producer cooperatives, there are hopes that this vintage may turn out to be exceptional in quality, as well.

The first tastings of the vin clair, the still wine that precedes the production of champagne, will give some indication in early 2014. The first bottles of this year will be sold in 2016.

No more bise and a promising Champagne vintage after a challenging year? I feel my mood lifting already.

Now here’s some divine bubbly stuff that comes, appropriately, from a movie called Stormy Weather.