Monday, November 8, 2010


A l'aise, Blaise
During the early 1990's a recently implanted costume manufacturer began promoting Halloween in France; by the middle of the decade it looked as though celebrating it had truly taken hold, much to the delight of all concerned in the  manufacturing and merchandising end of the fête. In 2000, however, a Halloween backlash supported by the Christian community was started, and for all practical purposes it snuffed out the candle in the Jack-O'-Lantern. Celebrated still by some, it's nonetheless difficult today to find the dedicated party decorations that were once so easy to find.

I mention in particular that the anti-Halloween movement was officially launched by the bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, because this is a city to which I had once beaten tracks to visit after I learned that it was twinned with my home-away-from-home, Norman, Oklahoma.  (It is also from this remote and ancient place that the first crusades were preached by Pope Urbain II in 1095, giving the Halloween backlash extra symbolic umph.)

The statue then.
First on my list to do when I arrived was to photograph a statue of Clermont-Ferrand's most famous native son, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), to accompany an article I was writing for The Norman Transcript.  It was just a few days after Halloween, and coincidentally or not, the statue had been vandalized.

It was a discreet misdeed worked in a reasoned and rascally way, considering the long hours Pascal must have spent reading and studying. The statue's eyes had been carefully painted bloodshot red, an uncondonable prank, which except for its finesse, made me feel more like home than anything.

More about Pascal

Seventeenth century mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher and religious writer, Pascal is especially revered in Clermont-Ferrand for his celebrated Puy-de-Dôme experiment in 1648. Proving that atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude, the experiment was conducted just outside the city, which lies at the foot of the Puy-de-Dôme, an extinct volcano. (It was again repeated in Paris from the Tour Saint-Jacques.)

Pascal, who had poor health and suffered from migraine headaches, left an important legacy--including the Pascaline, the world's first mechanical calculator which he invented at age 16; the creation of the first public transportation system where paying passengers could ride a coach in Paris; as well as Pascal's Law, Pascal's Triangle, Pascal's Theorem and Pascal's Wager.

Through the centuries Pascal's Wager has stirred up a lot of pulpit, sitting room and armchair debate on probabilities and theology. In a nutshell it's that if you believe in God, then you have everything to gain if he does exist, and little to lose if he doesn't. Conversely, if you don't believe in God, and God does exist, then you have everything to lose.

Vocabulary lesson: à l'aise: at ease

Text & photo © P.B.Lecron

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