Clues in the clouds?

Dossier ~ Thursday 25th June 2009
The Calculus Affair (1956) - Page 02]

It's the summertime, the holidays are beginning, and it's the perfect moment to let your imagination run wild. Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of something in the clouds, appearing for a few seconds before dissipating forever... as we head towards the sky.

Freedom reedom of the imagination

A few of the children who have already visited the Hergé Museum, stopped to admire some the architecture in the main hall exclaiming, " Oh ! That's Snowy !" What they were looking at is some of the scenery from The Black Island, blown up to a gigantic scale by the man who designed the museum, Christian de Portzamparc. But you have to know it to recognise the part of the huge drawing which conjures up a little dog, sitting obediently waiting for a sugar cube ! Some people won't see anything at all, while others will discover further pictures hidden away. That's what's called freedom of the imagination ! If there is one place into which the imagination can literally take off, it's the sky. Off we go for a flight of fancy in the world of dreams and clouds...

Cumulus clouds accumulating...

Cumulus clouds look like tufts of cotton wool. They are the most common clouds around. They don't usually produce rain, unless they are of a particular type called " cumulus congestus " which, as their name indicates, are congested with rain ! The bottom of a cumulus cloud starts at around 2,000 metres altitude. Another variety of cumulus is the cumulonimbus (also see the following page), which typically blocks out the sun completely. Within the grey mass of these clouds, sometimes lighter patches can appear which can turn almost bright white... while never letting a single ray of sunshine break through. The diverse forms of cumulus collectively make them the most popular species of cloud, the stuff of which dreams are made. Who'll be the first to spot Captain Haddock ? Be quick... he will only last a few seconds !

Better be nimble as the nimbus approaches...

Turn to the beginning of The Calculus Affair. Tintin, Snowy and Haddock are taking a walk in the peaceful countryside around Marlinspike Hall (in reality the countryside of Walloon Brabant in Belgium). Suddenly some fat clouds roll in and rain begins to fall. Fat clouds ? Meteorologists would prefer to call them " stratocumulus ". Heavy and dense, they have an air of menace, even when they aren't full of rain. On the other hand, " cumulonimbus " clouds always herald a shower. The experts call the cumulonimbus the " king of the clouds ". To some they look like huge anvils  -  as if crafted by angry gods ! In this particular instance, it looks like we may have found the link between angel Snowy and devil Snowy...

Stratus clouds stratify...

Stratus clouds are the worst kind of clouds for claustrophobics, giving the impression of a carpet of lead ! These vapours well and truly block out the sky. This type of clouds hangs at around 500 metres altitude, which is very low, relatively. In mountainous environments, a stratus can often be seen trapped in a valley, plunging part of it into half-light, while the upper sides of the mountains break out into the open sunshine. In the city, stratus clouds appear to be impaled upon skyscrapers, the highest floors of which they hide from view. In general, strati (plural of stratus) form above cold air. Humidity in the air condenses to create a thick cloudy lid. It goes without saying that these clouds are not the best contenders when it comes to interesting shapes and suggestive outlines.

... and the asperatus doesn't aspire to anything

As amazing as it may seem, new types of cloud formation are still being discovered. In England and New Zealand, an odd-looking crooked cloud has been spotted, which looks as if it is indicating an approaching storm. But then, in a strange turn of events, nothing happens and the clouds disappear just as mysteriously as they arrive. This type of cloud has been named " asperatus ", which means " brutal " in Latin. The discovery of this new cloud is a big event in meteorological terms, as the last time a new cloud was found was 50 years ago. Some more observation is necessary before asperatus clouds can be listed in the encyclopaedia of clouds, edited by the World Meteorological Organization. You can find out more through the website

Dreaming in white

From a sky full of clouds to the world of dreams. Dreams are often inspired and symbolised by the sky, a waking experience of mystery and depth. Hergé was extremely interested in dreams, and was an avid reader of Jung, who took the interpretation of dreams very seriously. It was a turbulent period in the life of Tintin's creator which inspired him to write Tintin in Tibet. Hergé was plagued by " white " dreams in the 1950s.  These were colourless nightmares, set to no scenery other than a terrifying white background. He sought the advice of a psychiatrist, and it was as he was completing his therapy that he got underway in the creation of his " whitest " story. The desolate peaks of the Himalayas inspired the Hergé to draw some of the most beautiful pages of his entire career.

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