Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Lay(wo)men Who Govern Us

Contrary to his son Red Baron has little knowledge of financial matters. So I was shocked opening the Badische Zeitung of today reading an article: Finanzkonzept mit Fragezeichen (Financial concept, question marked).

A salt mine in 500 meter depth as "permanent" repository below Morsleben (©dpa)
Although in Germany the "permanent" disposal of highly radioactive waste is not yet solved I had so far assumed that its financing was at least assured by the provision of money nuclear power plant operators (PPO) must set aside according to our Atomic Law. These provisions - so far 38 billion euros - however are on shaky grounds. I learned that provisions (Rückstellungen) must not be confused with allocations to reserves (Rücklagen). Provisions are costs the PPOs are placing into their balance sheets. These costs generally are no cash but money on paper and, e.g., may be covered by power plants that still have to earn their money. The biggest PPO, the RWE, alone must provide 10 billion euros for nuclear dismantling and disposal but the stock market value of the company is only slightly higher.

Since there are also hints that the present provisions will not be sufficient to finance the "permanent" disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear power reactors it will again be taxpayer's money to fill the financial gap and future generations to pay for.

Who made that law about the disposal of radioactive waste? Did the PPO's bamboozle the lay(wo)men of our government whose experts apparently did not know the difference between provisions and allocations to reserves? Now our Federal Government hastily tries to iron out the blunder. In the future the PPOs shall pay their radioactive waste money cash into a fund, a solution successfully practiced in Switzerland since the beginning of their nuclear age.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ville Rose and Ville Rouge


Driving north we arrived at Toulouse, capital of the former province Languedoc and nowadays headquarter of Airbus Industries. At an elevation of 130 meters above the Mediterranean sea level the Canal du Midi passes through the city.

The Canal du Midi from Sete to Toulouse and the Robine de Narbonne (©Wikipedia/dringend)

Toulouse's Capitol was built in 1750 on the site of previous official buildings that date back to 1160 not regarding earlier Roman constructions.

Toulouse's Capitol version 18th century
The building shows the typical pink color of the local terracotta bricks so Toulouse is also called Ville Rose (Pink City). One of the highlights of Toulouse is the Romanesque abbey church of Saint Cernin or in Latin Sanctus Saturninus.

The impressive steeple of Saint Cernin

Closer look on the choir of the basilica

Saint Cernin's Romanesque nave gives the impression
of a rather Gothic interior

Saint Cernin's ordeal (©Wikipedia/Polylerus)

In 250 the pope sent Bishop Saturninus to bring the gospel to Gaul. One day in passing Toulouse's Capitol the Roman authorities ordered him to worship Caesar in sacrificing a bull. When Saturninus refused they attached him to the beast killing him by dragging his body over the steps of the Capitol.

Toulouse's curiosity is the Gothic cathedral Saint Etienne a patchwork construction both from the out- and the inside.

The main entrance to Saint Etienne

An altar for many holy popes

Toulouse's Jacobine Priory (©Wikipedia/Pom)

The breath taking interior
The impressive church building of the former Jacobine Priory houses the relics of the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. As Doctor of the Church Thomas is regarded as the greatest theologian and philosopher of the Catholic Church.

Thomas Aquinas' illuminated shrine below the altar

Jacobine's cloister is an oasis of tranquility.

Here repose Toulouse's rich people at the end of the 17th century, the craftsmen:
The shoemaker and his beloved
The chandelier maker, RIP

Leaving the Jacobine priory
Red Baron admired a guy playing some sort of viola la gamba ...

... for this couple embraced in love?


While Toulouse is called the Ville Rose Albi is known for its red brick buildings as Ville Rouge situated on the river Tarn.

Old bridge over the river Tarn
One of the highlights of Albi is its Gothic cathedral Sainte Cecile.

All cathedrals in the world are building sites, forever 

High Altar: The gospel is knocking at the door

Sainte Cecile's altar
Albi's other highlight is a museum dedicated to the painter Henri de Toulous-Lautrec.

No, this is neither the entrance to the museum
nor are these the girls of Moulin Rouge

This is how we all know Toulouse-Lautrec's artwork ...

... but here is Napoleon ...

... and here is the arrogant Prussian lieutenant entering
Paris following France's defeat in the War of 1870/71

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cathar Land

The problem of digital photography is that you take too many shots when traveling. Although I use to clean out as much photos as possible in the evening of an interesting day there remain enough pictures that I take home. Then I sit in front of my computer and spend hours in selecting the best shots and in "photo shopping" them.

What follows is a continuation of the report about my trip to the cathedrals down south in Cathar land visiting Fontfroide Abbey, Narbonne and Carcassonne.

L'Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide

Our group visited this former Cistercian monastery located in a secluded valley 15 kilometers south-west of Narbonne. Together with Pope Innocent III the abbey fought the heretical Cathars who were particularly strong in the region. As many monasteries the Abbey was dissolved in the course of the French Revolution.

Church and cloister

A well kept cloister garden

Effective lighting inside the church

Peter Kalchthaler explains a reliquary altar

A midieval pieta


The Romans established Narbonne in 118 BC, as Colonia Narbo Martius. It later became the chief city of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis. Narbonne was located at the important crossroads of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul, built at the time of the foundation of the colony, and connecting Italy to Spain and the Via Aquitania connecting the Mediterranean via Toulouse and Bordeaux with the Atlantic.

Uncovered stretch of the original Via Domitia in front of the bishop's palace
Later the two "seas" were linked by the Garonne river/canal and the Canal du Midi to which Narbonne is connected by the Canal de la Robine.

Shady promenade along the Canal de la Robine
We arrived in Narbonne in time for lunch. With a full dinner in the evening Red Baron generally looks for small things to eat. Strolling along the Canal de la Robine I found a place serving Pastis and later had a Sable Occitan.

Classical set-up: Pastis 51, water, and ice cubes

Cookies formed like Occitan crosses
While eating my cookie I contemplated Narbonne's war memorial for the wars of 1914 - 1918, 1939 -1945, and T.O.E? For me as a physicist the abbreviation means Theory of Everything but a closer look in Wikipedia revealed that it stands for Théâtres d'opérations extérieures, somehow mantling the wars France fought in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (1952 - 1962) and in Indochina (1945 - 1952) until the US-Forces took over.

A war memorial showing the Gallic cock

Gallic cock from behind eventually announcing PAX (peace)

Narbonne's former episcopal palace
Narbonne's former episcopal palace is now used as city hall. The connected Cathedral Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, one of the tallest in France, was never finished. The rear of the ambitious building is frozen in time. The continuation of the 41 meter high nave would have required demolishing the city wall dating from the 5th-century. Historians evoke several reasons why the wall was not torn down. The most important causes were the waves of plague between 1348 and 1355 so it was better to retain the city wall.

Impressive construction abandoned


The Romans strategically fortified Carcassonne around 100 BC and the lower parts of the northern ramparts date from that time. Carcassonne became famous during the crusades against the Albigensians for the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of the Papal Legate, Abbot Arnaud Amalric, forced its citizens to surrender avoiding their holocaust as in the case of Béziers but not their slaughter.

Today with its reconstructed fortifications Carcassonne is a Disney-like tourist attraction.

Dame Carcas greets the visitor at the Narbonne gate

The lower layers of Carcassonne's mighty fortifications
date back to Roman times

Basilica of Saint Nazaire and Saint Celse

Inside we listened to impressive Russian singers
selling their album following their brief performance

Saint Roch again

Entrance to the fortress proper nowadays a museum of medieval art

Beheaded Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus as
Schmerzensmann (Man of Sorrows): Ecce Homo

Jesus risen from the dead
Walking through Carcassonne over lunchtime the following sign caught my attention: Degustation of cheese and dry sausage. This looked original and was just enough to keep my stomach quiet. I decided to down the offered specialities with a local dry white wine.

While the patron was preparing the selection of cheese and saucisson a couple from our group passed by and joined me for the treat although ordering red wine.

Atelier du Maître where the patron prepares the plates

The cheese came in various colors. My plate is in front. The food was simply delicious.