Daily Archives: July 8, 2012


“Guyot,” he said, raising his glass slightly in salute. “I’m doing some vine training.” He chuckled slightly as he sipped his Burgundy. “Ah, c’est beau,” he said. “En fait, c’est Beaune. Savigny-les-Beaune.”

“I say,” I said, “that’s a rather good Burgundy. Guyot, you said?” I pronounced it as he had, /gi o/.

“Not as in guillotine,” he said. “Like you got rearranged without the o. Like Jules Guyot, the French agronomist who invented the vine training method named after him. It’s a version of cane pruning.”

Guyot, whatever his first name was, did not elaborate, leaving me to look it up later. Leaning on his cane, he turned his flat-top brush-cut head (a military man?) to the nearby table, which was covered with glasses variously part empty, part full.

“Ah, look,” he said, “my namesake. As it were.” He started moving himself slowly towards the nearest chair.

It took me a moment to guess what he meant by his namesake. “A tabletop under water,” I said.

“Oui,” he said. “That is what a guyot is. It is an underwater volcanic mountain – of some size, at least 3000 metres above the sea floor and typically at least 10 kilometres across the top – isolated, and flat-topped, and at least 200 metres below the sea surface. Probably originally an island, worn flat by wave action and then gradually sunk by plate tectonics.” He set down his glass, pushed an empty dinner plate aside, and gripped the table edge as he eased himself almost glacially into his chair. “It was named by Harry Hammond Hess,” he said with a grunt, “whose theory of underwater seafloor spreading helped gain acceptance for plate tectonics.”

“I’m going to assume he didn’t name it after the viticulturist,” I said.

“No,” Guyot said, “after Arnold Henry Guyot. A Swiss geologist who taught at Princeton in the 1800s. Guyot figured out how glaciers move – flowing rather than sliding, and faster in the middle.”

I paused, trying to see the connection.

“Some have pointed out that Guyot Hall, at Princeton, housing the Department of Guyotsciences – ah, sorry, Geosciences – named after Guyot, has a flat top,” he said. He added, with a slight air of confidentiality, “This may not be coincidence.” He sat back. “But it is more of a castle-type building, and not so very much like a mesa in the ocean.”

He leaned his cane against the table and looked at his right foot, which he had extended forward. “Gouty,” he said. “I am sentenced to it by my name, it seems, though I had always hoped there was some sort of mix-up. I suppose it is better than a problem with the gut – oy. Then I would have to eat yogurt.”

I smiled. “Indeed. But Guyot is a nice, smooth name, and moves the tongue in a way similar to how one does when tasting wine.”

He smiled and picked up his glass. “Ah, wine. A pleasure, but –” he nodded to his foot – “a bit of a curse too. My volcanic toe, I would like it to be cut off some days.” He sipped. “Oh, dear. You know, I must not forget. Jules Guyot died at Savigny-les-Beaune.”