Sunday, 31 July 2011


Staff Benda Bilili
Cajarc is a small town in the south of the Lot, which every year, at the end of July, has a three day festival to celebrate Africa called Africajarc. It has been running for the last thirteen years. In the streets, alongside Tuaregs in their blue robes selling silver jewellery; sub-saharan Africans selling wooden carvings, tie-dyed clothes and batiks; are people from the Lot selling cheese, saucisson sec and the rest of their local produce. Street musicians and story-tellers entertain the crowds; you can learn to dance; play the drums; watch African films and lots more. It’s a really lively place for a day out. This is the official 2011 site.

We decided to go to yesterday's evening concert and I was impressed by the group Staff Benda Bilili. Their name means “look beyond appearances”. You should watch the video to understand why they called themselves that.  Being disabled by polio in Africa is considered at best unlucky, or at worst a curse, and other musicians in Kinshasa wouldn’t work with them, so they formed their own band and are now performing around the world. They have incredible energy and their dancing wheelchairs are quite something. The crowd was bopping, clapping and bouncing, even the older generation! The set they played did need a bit of variety of tempo, and I think Roger Landu, with his one-string, homemade and very shrill, "guitar" should also learn to play the trumpet, or possibly the flute. That would add a different sound. Nevertheless they were great!

Their style of guitar playing is Congolese, which has become universal in large parts of Africa. Have a look at these Baka youngsters in the Cameroon rainforest.

But the youngsters’ style of playing has deeper roots in the yodelling, singing and playing of the "thumb piano" or kalimba of earlier generations of forest dwellers, which you can hear on this video.

I really think it’s wonderful that people singing in the rainforests of Central Africa have influenced the music of most of a continent!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Honesty about Immigration

The other day I got involved in a conversation about immigration.  Two of our guests, both Brits, were expressing the view that immigration is out of control in the UK. Several other Brits that we know have expressed similar views, so why is there such a strong feeling about immigration in the UK?  Is there a real problem, or are we seeing the fruits of twenty-first century media campaigns, which are so significant in moulding opinion that even those having no direct contact with immigrants hold strong views on the subject?

I'm an immigrant myself. I live in France but I wasn't born French and I'll always be British. The local residents have never made me feel unwelcome and I've always been treated politely in spite of my less than perfect command of French.

In the UK we've seen waves of immigration over the centuries and generally, immigrants who have made the effort to uproot themselves, and relocate to the UK, have contributed to the economy and to society in a very positive way. Until the sixties they slowly integrated and moved on socially. Then came the doctrine of multi-culturalism under which it was felt that immigrants should be allowed to pursue their own cultures within British society.

In Islington we lived next to a Bangladeshi family who had four very polite daughters. They went to school in jeans and tee-shirts but wore traditional clothes when relatives came to visit at the weekend. The father of the household said to me once that he liked living there because there was no trouble, by which I understood he meant no racist conflict. They were the only Muslim family in the street.

the niquab
In the North of England Muslim immigrants have now established large areas where everyone dresses in their traditional costumes and some women wear the full, head to toe, black niqab of Wahhabi Muslims from the Middle East. In a motorway service station near Manchester, several years ago, I found myself in the shop surrounded by teenage girls all wearing the niqab, but they didn’t come from Saudi Arabia, they had local accents and were clearly second generation British Muslims. One can only assume that people like this, or their parents, don’t want to integrate into British society.

Immigration and National Identity is a difficult subject to discuss. Extreme right wing racists often hide their real views behind the words "controlling immigration". Others may well be expressing fears that their own culture is being overwhelmed or their concerns about the effect on jobs.  Anyone arguing for less immigration needs to be clear and honest about their own reasons.  In my view racism must be fought at all levels of society from the individual to the institutional.  Otherwise the consequences can be very grave as the history of the twentieth century and recent events in Norway have shown.  Even a tacit acceptance of racism is very dangerous because it’s a slippery slope towards the holocaust.  But it must be recognized that, when the proportion of immigrants having a different culture from that of the original inhabitants increases above a certain level, problems can arise.  The original inhabitants feel that their way of life is threatened and those that can afford to do so tend to move away.  They sell to immigrants and a ghetto is created.

To avoid immigration over-whelming local people, and the capacity to provide services, there needs to be a transparent and clearly understood method of fixing the number of immigrants and the criteria for their selection. Canada runs a points-based system, the USA has quotas for different categories of migrants and Australia selects by skills. The UK has recently introduced a blanket numeric cap for non-EU migrants which, at first was irrespective of skills, but now has been slightly modified following complaints by business interests.  This will, of course, have no effect on the many migrant workers from Eastern Europe who come and go freely and, in London at least, are to be found in most of the lower paid jobs as well as the traditional trades. Almost all of our relatives have employed them from time to time, and they do a good job for a lower price.

At present immigration policy is a national issue but, because it’s so easy to move from one EU country to another, there needs to be an EU wide policy on immigration.  No new immigration policy will, however, have any impact on the existing ghettos or the deep seated concerns of many Brits. These communities are already there, and they will continue to grow as a result of their higher birth rate.

David Cameron said in February 2011 that multi-culturalism has failed and he was criticised for it because he wrongly linked it to extremism.  After he made his speech several other European leaders expressed similar views about multi-culturalism  but, in this very sensitive area, there seems to be a lack of policy proposals.

the hijab
The pressure to conform in France is very strong. France has passed laws banning girls wearing headscarves in schools (the hijab), and banning women wearing the full length veil in a public place. In France this year the UMP, the party of Nicolas Sarkozy, in a series of speeches and propositions, has used the code words “Immigration” and “National Identity” as a shorthand way of saying, to part of the electorate, that we understand your racist views. The National Front, whilst not quite being overtly racist, is more direct and has always had policies concerning "Immigration" at the top of its list.  Both are vying for the associated votes.  France doesn’t believe in multi-culturalism and never has done, yet there are still effectively ghetto areas in some of the big cities and it is a serious social issue. 

When talking or writing about this subject my instincts are to deprecate people who are against immigration; because the next step from that position is so close to being xenophobic. On the other hand I can see the problems that the policy of multi-culturalism has lead to in the UK, and I can’t see any simple way forward. I hope, against the odds, that the renowned (and I trust deserved) British reputation for tolerance endures long enough for the passage of time to absorb and deal with these issues.

Meanwhile we need some effective political initiatives to promote integration and a less bigoted and inflammatory tabloid press

Friday, 15 July 2011

Thorium- A New Direction in Power Generation

I had one of those rare experiences last night when I heard about something entirely new to me which has the potential to completely change an important aspect of the world. A safer alternative to the uranium-plutonium fuel cycle, currently used in all nuclear power stations, exists. I'm talking about the use of thorium as a nuclear fuel.
This video of a TED talk by Kirk Sorensen, who set up the blog "energy from thorium",  summarises the case for thorium in a clear and simple way.

If you still want to know more carry on reading the rest of this blog post.

The Advantages of Thorium Fuelled Reactors

Less Dangerous - Reactors, using generation IV molten salt designs, have a greatly reduced risk of an escape of highly radioactive materials as a result of an explosion, meltdown or fire following an earthquake, tsunami or system failure. There is nothing to burn or melt down.

Less Radioactive Waste - They produce a small fraction of the radioactive wastes associated with the uranium/plutonium fuel cycle and they do not have to be stored for tens of thousands of years.

Less Expensive – They don’t use raw materials like uranium, which are scarce and expensive, neither do they need massively strong containment structures.

Less Need for Potentially Dangerous Fuel - They only require fissile materials, (with a potential to make nuclear weapons), to start them up. Afterwards they are self-sustaining.

Less Risk of Proliferation - They don’t generate fissile materials and therefore the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons is much reduced.

Thorium’s Advantages in More Detail
Less Dangerous - The generation IV molten salt reactor designs, in their breeder form, use liquid thorium fluoride ThF4 as a fuel which is mixed with other stable fluorides that act to lower the melting point.  They run at atmospheric pressure so there is no risk of explosion of the reactor vessel. They incorporate a refrigerated plug, which melts if there's a power failure that stops a cooling fan, and the liquid core is then discharged by gravity into tanks.  These are arranged so that there is not a critical mass of radioactive material in one place, the fission reaction stops and decay heat from fission products can dissipate without the need for power to drive coolant pumps. Thorium fluoride does not burn in air. There are no solid fuel rods to meltdown.  Because there are no fuel rods, and waste is removed from the liquid core, there is no need to shut down the reactor for waste removal and no need for personnel to manipulate fuel rods.

click to enlarge

Less Radioactive Wastes - The supporters of thorium powered reactors claim that they generate about 35 times less waste from spent fuel, a fraction of the nuclear waste generated by a uranium fuelled reactor with only 17% of the waste having a long half life.  They also state that a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR pronounced lifter) burns its fuel much more completely than a solid fuel reactor and therefore produces much more power for the quantity of waste generated. A comparison between the uranium and thorium fuel/waste cycles is shown below.

A variant of the design using liquid chlorides and fast spectrum neutrons can “burn” wastes from the uranium/plutonium fuel cycle and would be very useful as a complementary waste disposal technology for the existing stock of nuclear reactors. This 2003 paper from Charles Forsberg at Oak Ridge discusses "Coupling Spent Fuel Processing with Actinide Burning using Molten Salt Reactors".

Less Expensive - Thorium is four times more abundant than uranium and it’s widespread in the earth’s crust.  It is cheap and is a by product of the extraction of rare earths from Monazite sands already mined around the world. Uranium costs $121/kg (equivalent to $55/pound which rose to a high in 2007 of $136/pound). Thorium is not currently quoted as a metal in commercial quantities because its previous industrial uses were replaced in the 80’s by non-radioactive substitutes. In 1979 it was quoted at $33/kg, a price which had remained stable since 1964. The US has recently buried 3200 tonnes of thorium nitrate in the Nevada desert due to lack of demand. It has 20% of world reserves of thorium. To generate enough electricity to supply the whole of the US for a year would require 400 tonnes of thorium, if it was all generated using liquid fluoride reactors. A single mine in Idaho could produce 4,500 tonnes of thorium per year.  China, although it is not mentioned in this table, also has ample reserves and is quoted here as having 300,000 tons, which is enough to last it for 300 years.

Less Need for Potentially Dangerous Fuel - Unlike uranium, naturally occurring thorium does not need isotope separation to enrich it before it becomes suitable for use in reactors. The naturally occurring form of thorium is 232Th is only mildly radioactive and cannot be used to make weapons.

Less Risk of Proliferation - Inside the breeder version of the reactor Thorium is converted to 233U. There has only ever been one operational nuclear weapon that has used 233U as its fissile material, despite the ease of manufacturing 233U from abundant natural thorium. It was part of a test series in 1955 called "Operation Teapot".  When 233U is used as a nuclear fuel, it is inevitably contaminated with 232U, which decays rather quickly (78 year half-life) and whose decay chain includes thallium-208. 208Tl is a “hard” gamma emitter, which makes any uranium contaminated with 232U nearly worthless for both official and clandestine nuclear weapons since the gamma radiation would damage electronics and is easily detected because of its unique signature. 233U with very low 232U contamination could be generated in special reactors like Hanford, but not in reactors that use the 233U as fuel.

So Why Did Everyone Take the Uranium/Plutonium Road?

The origins of nuclear power generation are rooted in the drive to create nuclear weapons which started in 1942 with the Manhattan Project in the USA.  Although one thorium based bomb was tested later it was generally considered that thorium did not have weapons potential and, under the extreme pressure of the Second World War, the uranium route was chosen and rapidly implemented. After the war, when nuclear reactors for producing electricity were developed, it was considered at the time that uranium was a scarce and expensive resource. The perceived need to continue to produce plutonium, for weapons grade material to support the nuclear arms race and to fuel civilian reactors, was satisfied by uranium fuelled breeder reactors. The Nixon Administration chose, on the advice of the Atomic Energy Authority to support fast breeder reactors, and to progressively close down research into other alternatives. 

Why was the Oak Ridge Molten Salt Reactor Experiment Closed Down?

Much pioneering research into Molten Salt Reactors MSR’s was done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory between 1965 and 1969 where an experimental 7.4MW MSR was run for the equivalent of 1.5 years using 239Pu, 235U and 233U as fuels, the latter having been bred from 232Th. It was an engineering test system using graphite as a moderator which was intended to prove the viability of the design.  For this reason the surrounding blanket of thorium, which would normally breed 233U, was omitted in favour of neutron measurements.
This research programme was shut down in the seventies since it was felt that there was no need to pursue two lines of research in the field of nuclear power generation. The fast breeder reactor programme was favoured since it had the perceived benefit of producing plutonium as one of its objectives. Research into the thorium fuel cycle was, at best, considered a distraction and had nothing to contribute to the serious issues of keeping ahead of the Soviets in the nuclear arms race, neither was it relevant to Admiral Rickover's programme for the development of the Light Water Reactor to power submarines.

At that time Alvin Weinberg, the Director of the laboratory was becoming concerned about waste generated by the uranium/plutonium fuel cycle.  Weinberg was fired by the Nixon Administration on the advice of Senator Chet Holifield in 1973 after 18 years as the lab's director because he continued to advocate increased nuclear safety and Molten Salt Reactors, instead of the Administration's chosen Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor LMFBR) that the AEC's Director of the Reactor Division, Milton Shaw, was appointed to develop.  Weinberg also wanted to move the Laboratory towards environmental researchWeinberg's firing effectively halted development of the MSR, as it was virtually unknown by other nuclear labs and specialists. Theoretical research continues in China, Grenoble, Russia  and elsewhere.

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There Must be Some Disadvantages or Everyone Would be Doing This Already!

Wastes - “Energy from Thorium” say that you create far less waste and furthermore you can burn waste plutonium in an LFTR.
This view is supported by the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory in its 2010 position paper  which states that even when you take into account the fact that starter materials like 235U and 239Pu are needed, modest benefits in radio toxicity are to be expected.

Some environmentalists like Eifion Rees say that thorium just creates different radioactive wastes but others like Baroness Bryony Worthington, a labour peer and ex-friends of the Earth campaigner, support the use of LFTR's.

Unproven Technology - The National Nuclear Laboratory’ 2010 position paper considers only water cooled reactors powered by solid thorium fuel and dismisses the thorium fuel cycle as “.....representing significant financial investment and risk without notable benefits” [over the uranium-plutonium cycle]. It further states that they “ not believe it has a role to play in the UK context, other than its potential application for plutonium management...” by which they mean disposal. (To me this paper is very conservative and represents a view, firmly rooted in the existing nuclear power industry’s interest in maintaining the status quo).  The NNL has recently been asked by the UK government to report on the subject once again.  I have not been able to establish the details of their brief.

It’s true, however, that the technology is unproven on anything other than a demonstration scale. Many areas need further research , like the selection of materials, and their response to the conditions inside an LFTR.  The choice of waste treatment options, the handling of tritium, produced when lithium is used in the molten salt mixture, and the optimal size for thorium fuelled power stations all require detailed development. There are many technical challenges to be overcome but none are likely to be insurmountable within reasonable cost limits.

Complexity - For the LFTR designs currently being proposed you need to combine the reactor and a chemical processing plant on one site. Waste processing, whether batch or online, is an integral part of the process since without it neutron absorbing elements and isotopes are formed which poison the reactor, quickly reducing output to the point where an LFTR will not work. This adds to the degree of complexity of the installation but only to the same extent as is familiar in existing chemical plants. The Oak Ridge research showed that this plant would be very small since the waste quantities are not large. This article gives a good explanation of the chemical processing options that can be adopted for use with a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor LFTR. 

It’s not Renewable Energy - Whilst there are many informed proponents of LFTR technology the same cannot yet be said of the opponents, who don’t appear to have caught up with it yet. The weirdest “anti” argument that I have found so far is that “such potentially easily constructed nuclear power plants are likely to be installed everywhere, so that even if they generate less waste, and less dangerous waste, the net result will be that there will be a lot more waste!”

Perhaps the opponents of nuclear energy think that renewable sources will be able to replace the world’s electricity needs currently being generated by burning fossil fuels, even though in my opinion most renewable sources are unsuitable for base load power generation.  Solar energy only works during the day, wind power only works when it’s windy and wave power needs waves and a coastline not too far away!  So far, all of these renewable options are only in use because of subsidies paid for by consumers in their electricity bills or taxes.  Although, renewables have disadvantages they do, nevertheless, have a place in the future of global energy supply, albeit, in my opinion, not a dominant one.

Vested Interests – It’s always easier to maintain the status quo, even if  better options exist, than to boldly go in a new direction! Companies already working in the nuclear industry are committed to promoting their own products.  A decade ago France’s nuclear industry killed proposals for funding from Brussels for a project by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), although it must be said that a French group is still actively working on theoretical aspects of thorium powered MSR’s in Grenoble.

In Conclusion

Electricity generation from nuclear power does not generate greenhouse gases. (Don’t forget that thermal power stations burning fossil fuels typical throw away, as waste heat, 70% of the energy they consume, which is a major contribution to the increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases). Reliance on fossil fuels from politically unstable countries is neither an advisable nor a sustainable option.

Nuclear power generation is ideally suited to base load duties. If better, safer options exist than the current generation of Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR’s), based on the uranium/plutonium fuel cycle, we should be investing in them.

Critics say thorium powered fourth generation reactors are unproven technology, but if you never build any large scale plants, then they always will be.

Norway’s Aker Solutions has bought Professor Rubbia’s patent. It had hoped to build the first sub-critical reactor in the UK, but seems to be giving up on Britain and locking up a deal to build it in China instead,  where minds and wallets are more open. Fortunately the Chinese, who don’t have the heavy burden of a nuclear industry based on uranium technology on their shoulders, are taking the lead.

Thanks to Ken Pottinger of French news online for introducing the subject of thorium fuelled nuclear power to me.

Joe Bonometti's 55 minute, 2008 Google Tech Talk is full of additional detail.

Other posts about nuclear power in this blog

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Crisis of Confidence

In the Euro zone Italy is the latest country to come under pressure from the debt rating agencies and if both Spain and Italy need bailing out there is not enough money or political will in Europe to do it. It is inevitable that a breakup of the Euro would follow, allowing weaker economies to revalue their currencies and start to rebuild their economies.

If that was all we had to worry about it’s possible that a core group of Euro zone countries could weather the storm and carry on, but there’s a worse crisis on the way. The looming denouement of the USA’s debt crisis is only three weeks away. If Republican groups in Congress will not agree to extending the ceiling on US government borrowing limits the US will be in default of its contracts. This would trigger a world crisis of proportions that have never been seen before.  Everyone, not just Americans will be worse off, stock markets will crash, banks collapse, and unemployment will go through the roof everywhere because trade will slow down due to a lack of liquidity. The stronger economies like Germany and China will not be immune and we can expect civil unrest to boil up in the developed countries. The solution of increasing the money supply, which was adopted in the banking crisis of 2008, is no longer possible. The action taken then is, to a large extent, the reason why we are here now, in a situation in which governments are struggling to finance their borrowings.

Even if the US negotiations go down to the wire, but finally an agreement is reached, the effects will be felt in terms of financial uncertainty and market volatility. But, assuming that the Tea Party Republicans are not inclined to be suicidal, and don't decide to take themselves down with Obama, there remains the problem of reducing US debt.  I doubt that it is politically possible to effect cutbacks in a US election year, but if it was, a recession or slowdown in the US will affect other economies worldwide.  It's most likely that nothing will be done until the election is over and then it will depend on who wins and what support they have in Congress.

I see no way out of this crisis without a lot of people, sooner or later, being much worse off than they are now.  The easy answer for the politician's is always to "let the good times roll" using borrowed money but one day it's payback time!

Against the financial crises in Europe and the USA, News International’s ever expanding phone hacking scandal, however serious, is a mere detail of UK politics. This article by Michael White of the Guardian expresses similar sentiments.  I have written another blog piece about US government debt here.

Writing about this from an international perspective has made me think about my personal situation. I have decided that I am going ensure that my bank accounts are protected by UK Banking Codes of Practice.  Then I am going to consider selling my modest investments in unit trusts and ISA's and moving them into cash until the next crash, when I might buy again.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Concert at Cornac

Sunday 10th July 2011
There were about 150 people present outdoors in the square at Cornac, when Les Amis de Cornac organised a concert presented by two singers who have very recently moved to La Levade, about a kilometre north of here.
Nikolai Schukoff
Nikolai Schukoff (tenor) and Isabelle Cals (mezzo) gave a programme of solo arias and duets. In the first half they sang pieces from grand opera and in the second half from German and French operetta.

Performing outdoors, without amplification does a singer no favours at all and they were very brave to do it! There is nothing to add resonance and re-inforce the sound with reflections. It is the ultimate in dead acoustics! It was clear in the first piece, the duo "Già nella notte densa" from Otello, that Nikolai has the more powerful voice throughout the range. He has an open top end and he can sing the romantic arias very convincingly, somewhere between a lyric and a spinto tenor. His voice will probably darken and add weight as he gets older, especially if, as I discovered on his very professional website, he continues to sing Wagner.

Isabelle’s Séguédille "Près des remparts de Séville” came across well to me in the second row, with plenty of verve and with the lowest notes having the right quality for a Carmen.

As I have written elsewhere,  the pronunciation of French has many pitfalls for the non-native French speaker and Nikolai shared with Jonas Kaufmann in “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” the strange pronunciation of “ é “as an “ i ” (in french an i is pronounced as ee) instead of an “ay” sound. I know a certain German music teacher who would severely criticise him for this fault, and it is surprising that Isabelle doesn’t correct him. I enjoyed it nonetheless.
From the Lausanne production
At the end of the first half they both put everything they had into "C'est toi? C'est moi." the closing scene from Carmen, when she is murdered by Don José. For me it was the dramatic peak of the evening. They have sung this together in Lausanne.

Nikolai, in spite of having a Russian sounding name, is Austrian and was born near Graz. His stage presence is extraordinary. He relishes every opportunity to portray the emotions in an aria and he is very good at it! The acting re-inforces the singing and he gets everything out of the piece. He is helped by his looks!
Isabelle in real life is a lot sexier
than this classic portrait suggests
Isabelle used all her feminine wiles in the operetta arias. She was flirtatious, charming and beguiling by turns. It is clear that she is very much at home in this repertoire and the fact that they are a couple helped to make the intimacy of the physical contact between them in some of the arias feel very natural. Her light, accurate and flexible voice really suited this part of the programme.

Like some other professional singers I know, Isabelle has not cultivated a presence on the web. So apart from the fact that she is French and finished her formal studies in 1995 the small amount of biographical information available is here.

When I looked at Nikolai’s website in more detail he is already on his way to an international career at the highest level. And yes ladies, he is as virile as he looks in the pictures! But, as he said on stage, he only has eyes for Isabelle!

Here is Nikolai in excellent voice.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Ajaccio - Bonifacio

We would have been foolish not to say yes to an invitation from Marie and Pierre to stay for a week at Porticcio, nr Ajaccio, in a villa that belongs to some friends of theirs. Officially Pierre was going there to install an extension to a watering system that he put in a short while ago. I helped with that and it didn’t take long! I also changed three non-functioning light switches and replaced a damaged plug, which earned me the honorary title of Ingénieur Chef, or was that partly because I commandeered the barbecue?  There’s still an external socket that doesn’t work on the terrace, perhaps that’s for next time!

When it's very hot and humid, as it was during our stay, I recommend rosé on the rocks. I was very surprised when Pierre did this, but I soon saw the wisdom in it! It’s very refreshing and reduces the alcohol content.

Ajaccio is a busy town and nearby, all along the coast, it’s similar but near the villa there are some beautiful rocky coves and beaches.

(Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them and use the back button of your browser to return to the blog post).

The villa was right next to the sea facing west, so there were also good sunsets looking out towards Les Isles Sanguinaires. The light house, which you can just see in the picture below, is a point of reference for both ships and aeroplanes arriving at Ajaccio.

We went to the promontary near the islands one morning and inspected the “Tour Genoise” built in the 16th century. They were used as look out points to alert the island against raids by the Barbary Corsairs from North Africa. Of the 120 existing in 1730 there are 67 still standing.

Bonifacio was the most impressive place that we visited. It is on the southern coast of Corsica, from which you can see Sardinia.  The town has a spectacular setting perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.
You can zoom in or out and change your viewpoint using the pop-up buttons at the bottom of this embedded flash movie. 

Not working? Get the Flash Player to see this flash movie.

And there are superb views of the limestone cliffs.

They have their own reasons for building flying buttresses, but the Mediterranean is an earthquake zone!

Apart from having such strong natural defences Bonifacio also has a naturally sheltered harbour, which has been used as an anchorage since Roman times but these days is filled with expensive yachts.

Like other towns in Corsica it has an eerie cemetery in the Italian style.

Bonifacio used to be the base for the French Foreign Legion until 1983 and these buildings are still deserted today. Some of the old structures are impressive but dilapidated.

I think it could be made into a great luxury hotel complex. There is plenty of space, even for a Las Vegas style palace, maybe Disney would like to consider the theme of the exploits of the French Foreign Legion.  I don’t know why it has been neglected for so long but perhaps Corsica has a bad reputation amongst international investors.

I can’t imagine, however, that the even less glamorous punishment block would find a new use.

And because Pierre likes sailing yachts here is another view of Les Isles Sanguinaires.

And finally him at the wheel somewhere in the Caribbean! I like the halo all round him.  He says it's normal!