The Magic of Vézelay

After a recent visit to a favourite town, Vézelay in Burgundy, I dug out this unpublished article I wrote in 2002. Here it is with a bit of editing to bring it up-to-date, and a few photos.

The small town of Vézelay is a special gem. Visit here, and allow yourself to be entranced by its beauty, inspired by its spiritual quality, fascinated by its history, and restored by its natural surroundings.

Vézelay owes its existence to the tradition of pilgrimage. Its Basilica of Mary Magdalene has attracted pilgrims from all over Europe for over a thousand years. The main attraction was the relics of Mary, brought to the then monastery in the 11th century from St Maximin in Provence, where she was said to have been buried. Vézelay became one of four major starting points for pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostella in north west Spain (Paris, le Puy and Arles are the others).

Set along a hilltop, the Vézelay skyline offers an enticing perspective as you approach from any of several directions. If you park at the bottom of the hill, the main street winds picturesquely upwards past a selection of shops offering, among other things, provisions, crafts, wines, souvenirs and books, also galleries, bars, and restaurants.Read More »

Shooting Wildlife

We’re driving through the Limousin countryside on a Sunday morning. I become aware of strange goings-on.  A man is sat on a chair on his own on the edge of a field. A car is parked in a field entry. A man is striding along with a shotgun. Two men are in a raised wooden platform in the middle of a field. All men. All with guns.

Yes I’ve heard that shooting anything that moves is a French country pastime, this is the real thing.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no great preponderance of wildlife in this part of France. It’s much like the rest of Europe, over-cultivated and lacking in the huge biodiversity of some other parts of our planet. Even perceptibly over a lifetime, nature’s abundance has been reducing, notably with declining populations of insects and birds.

Yet still many thousands of country dwellers continue their ‘traditional’ pastime, once essential for feeding the family. Some of it is no doubt to keep down exploding populations of wild boar, due to lack of top predators. But I cannot see that this requires so many shooters, and suspect that they shoot anything that moves, rather than just what the authorities approve.

Other countries face similar problems from this apparent male bloodlust – migrating birds shot in Malta, hunting and nature conservation are almost synonymous in the US, imported birds systematically shot by ‘traditional’ grouse shooters in the UK, and on and on.

You could say it’s in our blood, the old hunter-gatherers – that is how we once survived. But now, it seems perverse to increase the stress on natural populations already struggling. There are surely now too many people on our planet for these old ways to be sustainable.

If only more people would abandon the gun for the camera. Similar skills can be deployed to ‘shoot’ the wildlife, while leaving natural populations relatively undisturbed.

Featured image of hunters by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Ebner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51244418

Five or six spots?

This post shows the benefits of just leaving a bit of land fallow, to become a wildflower meadow. What a profusion of butterflies and moths take advantage, including this five spot burnet moth!

Eyes in the back of my Head

P1080129

I recently photographed this burnet moth in the Dordogne, at a place on a walk we enjoy in the hills near the river Vezere. We’ve dubbed this place Butterfly Corner. It’s where the path through the woods opens out and joins a road which leads down to the nearby village.

Why is it Butterfly Corner for us? It’s because the patch of land belonging to the house there has been allowed to go wild and be natural, and it attracts a large number of insects – we saw bees, a hornet, and plenty of butterflies. It’s no great hardship, after a walk uphill, to hang around for a while watching and photographing what we see there, busy in the wild flowers.

I was quite excited to see this burnet moth as I’ve not seen one in the UK for several years. I said, with the confidence of the incorrect…

View original post 109 more words

Ruddy Shelduck

No, I’m not swearing at the duck/goose known as the common shelduck. We saw this pair of a different variant, the ruddy shelduck, while in transit at a park in Chauvigny, near Poitiers.

ruddy shelduck 1ruddy shelduck 2

The pair kept well out of the way of the large number of more common birds on the lake, including mallards and coots.

Also known as the Brahminy Duck, these birds are common in Asia. This is not the case in France, and these are probably escapees.

 

 

Notre Dame de Paris

How sad to see Our Lady, Notre Dame, in flames today.

My relationship with Our Lady began in 1967, on our honeymoon in Paris, a first introduction to one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. We climbed the towers, took in the views, admired the gargoyles and the magnificent architecture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Since then, we’ve visited Paris round about every decade, and of course Notre Dame always figured in the itinerary, renewal of that ever-present inspiration. She lives in my soul, is part of my conception of Paris, France and Europe.

Now, it is difficult to believe that she is disfigured, just as over the centuries, many of those great Gothic edifices have taken their turn at the destruction wrought by fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Incredibly, the spirit of man is such that they are often lovingly restored. Hopefully that will also happen to Our Lady, a glory of the exceptional beauty that religions can inspire in the hearts of men and women.

Night photo by Gpesenti via Wikemedia Commons
Featured image cut from Twitter

Fibonacci Grape Pips?

2,1,2,2,3,3,3,2,2,5,1,2,2,2,3,5,2…

I was idly counting the pips in each grape off a bunch from E Leclerc (cf Tesco, Kroger). (It seems that France has not really caught on to the fashion for seedless grapes; most on sale had pips. Yes, they were more tasty.) My idle counting had spotted a potential ‘pattern’ – so far these are all Fibonacci numbers, and it is well known that Fibonacci numbers appear frequently in nature. Could it be…?? Then came the next sequence:

4,3,3,1,2,2,5,2,2,6

Now FOUR is not a Fibonacci number, so appears to be anomalous. Well, science does allow for anomalous results that don’t fit the current theory. Then comes the SIX. But here I notice two tiny black dots in the grape – putative pips that did not develop – which makes 8, another Fibonacci number. Maybe I’d missed a black dot with the 4?

So I can hang on to my theory for a while, until more anomalous data emerges. A rather trivial example of the scientific method in action? Of course, there are far too few results to draw conclusions…

Featured image by Thamizhpparithi Maari, via Wikimedia Commons

Chiggered

It seemed a good idea to go through the local lanes blackberrying with friends in Normandy. Due to the dry weather a lot of the berries were quite small, but there were plenty if you could reach, and we got enough to make a few jars of jam.

Wearing T-shirt tucked into long trousers, there did not seem too much danger of insect bites. But then a day or two later came an insane level of itching around ankles, thighs and waist, and the discovery of 36 ‘bites’. Our friends thought they were from local spiders, but subsequent research suggests that they were bites from chiggers, or harvest mites, or aoutats in France (August pests).

chigger life cycle
Life Cycle from Wikipedia

I was not really aware of these pests. See the above Wikipedia entry. The larval stage of the lifecycle of this mite is of size about 0.007inch, so hardly visible to the naked eye. Once on you they can come and go as they please! They burrow down and eat the inner skin, and can cause skin rashes, blisters etc. Two of mine blistered and took ages to heal.

Well worth being aware of these little pests, and beware those tempting blackberries in an area you’re not familiar with!

 

 

Common Blue 2

This quick shot by zoom lens on auto gives an interesting perspective on the common blue butterfly, in that you can see the top side of one wing and the underside of the other.

common blue (2)

Taken in Dordogne region of France late summer 2018. The butterflies here don’t seem to stay still long enough for closer than zoom lens.

Banded agrion

This beautiful large blue damselfly is described as a banded demoiselle by Wikipedia, or banded agrion in our old butterfly book. By damselfly standards this is large, around 2 inches long. This one is a brilliant iridescent blue, they can be blue-green. The most distinctive feature is the large dark patch on the wing.

Seen commonly in Europe and Asia. This one paused conveniently by the River Vézère in the Dordogne region of France, late summer 2018.

Amboise

I have previously written of the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Amboise. Recently we again tarried in that crossing point of the River Loire, to be impressed this time by just how photogenic Amboise is. The featured image shows what is left of King Francois I’s chateau, and the bridge over half of the river from the island, beautifully enhanced by modern lighting. Here’s a larger version.

amboise

Go onto the bridge and look to the right and you see the beautiful sunset over a wild part of the River Loire, ‘Europe’s last untamed river’.

amboise sunset

There were plenty of cormorants and gulls on the river, too, but I didn’t get any shots worth sharing this time.

Geography and Stupidity

The breakout of WW1 is a haunting occurrence for those of us born in the dying days of WW2, which finally brought an end to the European conflict begun in 1914, leading to the peace of the European Union since then.

How did that prosperous and confident Europe of the late 19C descend to such a self-defeating process?

It seems the answer lies in geography and stupidity. Read More »

Carpenter Bee

We often see these large black carpenter bees in The Dordogne region – beautiful black insects seeking nectar from the flowers.

They have relatively short mouth parts, as you can see from the photos, so are only suited to certain types of flower.

Glancing at a quick web search, carpenter bees have a bit of a reputation of ‘nectar robbing’ by drilling holes in the side of petals and avoiding pollination, and of being a pest that can be a threat to houses and gardens by making holes for nests in the timbers. I guess there may be some truth in this, but they are solitary nesters, and could the problem be perceived in part because of their colour?

Photographs taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

We occasionally get the odd hummingbird hawk-moth in Cheshire. They’re much more plentiful in the Dordogne. Just like a hummingbird, they hover over a flower and reach the nectar with that long proboscis you can see on the photos.

The insects, and particularly their wings, move so fast as they dart to and fro, they are difficult to photograph. The wings are usually in some state of blurr-dom. They beat at a frequency of about 85 per second, so practically the only way to get a clear picture of them in motion is to use electronic flash. Must try that sometime, although at the time the moths are flying it seems irrelevant, as it’s usually very sunny. Actually, I quite like the blurred effect – it seems more natural.

Photographs taken in Dordogne region, France, September 2017