Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mini Font glossary

Everyone speaks English these days, right? So will the French understand the following climbing terms?


An “arête” is a “ridge” in French. And in English too, the word is written with that little funny accent that they call a circumflex – according to Oxford dictionary anyway.


Although more terms get into French thanks to the supremacy of American English, this term supposedly coined by Texan climber Jack Mileski in 1981 is unlikely to replace its French equivalent, méthode. Interestingly, method is probably a rare example of jargon that was first used by boulderers. In the context of climbing, it was first used by the Bleausards.


This is the Latin word for “cross”, which for Christians, is synonymous of “crucifixion”. The French share with the Italians the belief that their language is more Latin than the Pope’s. So while French climbers will certainly know and use this term, they will firmly believe it is a French word. And wrongly so: the word is not in their dictionary and was probably borrowed to English. Incidentally, to tick a problem is faire une croix in French (to make a cross mark) and a tick list is a carnet de croix (cross mark book).


Supposedly first used by John Gill in 1969, this very useful word started to infiltrate the French climbing jargon only recently. It would be a great addition to French climbing lingo as it has no equivalent.


Short English words tend to be perceived as cool in French, especially if they look like something familiar, which is the case of this shortening of mouvement dynamique. Having said that, the French did not wait for John Gill to practice dynos – and they could have waited a long time since he’s never travelled to Font. Before the Internet was invented, dynos were called jetés (throws).


Thanks to the popularity of web platforms promoting the competitive way of life, everyone is aware of the importance of first ascents. Yet it is unlikely that the English term will replace the French term. Indeed, FA are called openings (ouvertures) in French, because after all, FAs are about sharing.


The name of this climbing move was supposedly coined in 1982 by British climber John Arran. But the French don’t know who John Arran was (er… is?). They do know Tony Yaniro however, who popularised this move – so in French, this is called Le Yaniro.


French speaking climbers and boulderers climb à vue (on sight), après travail (red point) or, like in English, flash. All three expressions are used as adverbs, not as verbs, duh.


This popular nickname in not used by the French. As far as the Bleausards are concerned, Fontainebleau has always been called Bleau – pronounced a bit like “blow”. Why would you change the name of your pond? Plus, everyone knows that a font is a type of printing characters, right?


This was a popular baby name in the French city of Marseilles in the 1920s. So it was the name that Mr and Mss Rebuffat chose for their son when he was born. He later climbed lots of mountains including the Grandes Jorasses and the Annapurna. Despite this fame, the French call the gaston move a shoulder move (épaule). Shameful really.


According to Sherman, the term “highball” derives from the similarity between a highball climb and a highball cocktail glass. Both should be enjoyed with moderation. The French know what moderation is, but they usually think highballs have something to do with balls. And getting high.


French climbers don’t climb on their mantelshelf, they prefer to “re-establish” themselves, hence the climbing term réta (for rétablissement). Réta Authenac, for instance, is a famous 6b mantel of the Cuvier sector in Font, first climbed by Charles Authenac, in the 1930s, in his hard walking boots. He originally graded it 5+ but it must have taken him more than one session.

Rose move ✗ 

The English term derives from the world known French sports route La Rose et le Vampire, at Buoux. The French may feel honoured by this English choice of words, but they prefer to use the word derviche tourneur, or derviche for short, which in Farsi language refers to someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path in poverty and austerity. That’s because derviches from the Mevlevi Order perfom a famous whirling dance, hence the name given to this move.


John Sherman was born in 1959. The First Fontainebleau guidebook was published in 1945. Do your maths and you’ll understand why Font grades take precedence.  


Réta Authenac, in bas Cuvier, a famous mantle from the 1930s

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Who's the True First?

The making of authenticity requires mysticism.

Roots cannot be authentic without legends, heroes and Gods, figures who newcomers can look up to.

As early as the 1940s, kids were riding boards on each side of the Atlantic.

This is a fact. 

There are photographs and written reports - US army auxiliary Betty Magnuson, for instance, reported in her letters having seen children in 1944 Parisian Montmartre riding boards with roller skate wheels (info sourced on Wikipedia).

That's what kids used to do. They'd screw the wheels of roller skates to a wood board, like this:

Actually, four-wheeled roller skates were patented in 1863, so it is likely that kids started to build skateboards even at the time of the rinkomania.

But such activity is not perceived as ‘proper’ skateboarding by today's skateboarding community because, authenticists argue, these kids were children'. 

They were not skateboarding for the sake of it. They were ‘messing
. They were ‘just’ playing. 

Authenticists claim that skateboarding ‘as we know it
’ or as an end in itself, was born when adult Californian surfers decided to invade the urban realm while sea waves were flat. 

In the authenticist discourse, the people who give the legitimate birth to the practice are often called ‘pioneers’. They’re usually described as the ‘first’ to have done something.

Here are the actual words of an authenticist, John Severson, publisher of The Quarterly Skateboarder, in his first editorial in 1964:

Today's skateboarders are founders in this sport—they're pioneers—they are the first. There is no history in Skateboarding—it's being made now—by you.

The authenticity of skateboarding had been forged i
n a couple of sentences. The coronation of 1964’s skateboarders as ‘founders of the sport’ forged the myth and initiated a cult. 

Even more striking is the denial of any pre-existing skateboarding facts – 
there is no history in Skateboarding - which means that any previous recorded skateboarding activity, such as that of kids having fun in the streets 20 years earlier, is considered as pre-historic and therefore illegitimate. 

By writing up history, the authenticist forges history, n
ever mind the facts.

To conclude, here's an inspiring video archive from the 1930s (maybe?), featured on Gizmo!, a documentary by Howard Smith, released in 1977. Among the daredevils could be John Ciampa, the ‘Human fly’ from Brooklyn, and the German stuntman Arnim Dahl.

Does this qualify as authentic buildering? Or as parkour, perhaps? Gosh, no, wait... They're not doing it as an end in itself, right? 

Well, never mind, let's call it ‘fun’.