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A few weeks after I decided to write about Jacques Cousteau, I went to St.-Andre-de-Cubzac, France, where he was born and is buried. It's a typical market village on the fringe of Bordeaux with a busy highway running through the center and narrow streets off to each side that are deserted during the day because almost everyone works in the city. The second-floor bedroom in which Cousteau first drew breath is now part of an apartment over a pharmacy, across the street from the windowless stone abbey that anchors St.-Andre to the twelfth century and the Roman Catholic church. Two blocks west, I found a civic monument to Cousteau at the traffic circle on the approach from Bordeaux. Above a splash of carefully tended annuals in summer bloom, a twice-life-size wooden dolphin is mounted 10 feet off the ground on a steel pole. Rendered by the sculptor in the act of leaping from the sea, the dolphin holds in its mouth a red knit watch cap like the ones worn so famously by Cousteau and the crew of Calypso. On a separate pole, arrowed signs guide visitors to the local highlights—the Philippe Cousteau Professional Academy, City Hall, and the Forty-fifth Parallel Ecological Observatory, one of several founded in the eighteenth century to study the earth precisely halfway between the equator and the North Pole...