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.

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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

 

 

Speckled Wood

As its name suggests, the speckled wood butterfly is often found near woodland. There are nice patterns on the wings and an unusual glint in six apparent eyes on the wings. These butterflies are much more prevalent in the Dordogne area of France than in Cheshire UK, probably because of the much greater tree cover.

speckled wood

Photograph taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

Damselfly

damselfly

This damselfly was just basking in the sun. The ones with vibrantly coloured bodies tend to be more striking, but the rather more muted body colouring here helps to show off those beautiful lace wings.

Photograph taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

 

Conques

The village of Conques in Aveyron, France, has been a target of pilgrimage since medieval times, lying as it does on the route from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The isolated position of Conques in hilly terrain means that it has never been subject to much modern development, so the medieval streets are essentially as they were.

conques rainbow

This view is the first the pilgrim coming from Estaing sees of Conques, nestling in the treed valley. We were lucky on our recent visit when, after a day of rain, the sun came out as we reached Conques. The dramatic welcome became spectacular when this rainbow appeared over the village.Read More »

The French Village

During over 40 years of driving in France, we have seen, stayed and shopped in a large number of villages and small towns in France. Many of these places are nondescript, but quite a large proportion are quite charming or beautiful, due to their geographical situation – often by rivers, on hillsides or in valleys. The apparent changes in village life over those years have been marked.

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Salles la Source, Aveyron, 2017

In the 1970s I think we just caught the end of an era. As well as its war memorial, pretty well every village had its own boulangerie (baker) and a bar. French bread does not last more than a day, hence the boulangerie ensured fresh bread every day. And I got the impression that the bar featured in many everyday country lives. Indeed, we used to stop for a breakfast of delicious pain beurre (yes, bread and butter) with coffee at a bar in Normandy about an hour’s drive from our overnight ferry crossing to St Malo.

The one thing you did have to remember, was that everything closed over a lunch time of at least two hours between 12 or 1230 and early afternoon. Vital to remember when you needed to pick up fresh bread, but often forgotten!Read More »

Driving in France

Somehow it got to be over 40 years since we first drove to France, and being francophiles we’ve done that most years since then. The driving experience has changed somewhat!

It’s the early 1970s. We arrive at Dover for the cross channel ferry. The time waiting on the dockside is busy – cleaning the headlamps, putting on beam deflector stickies, then applying yellow paint to the glass. All headlamps had to be yellow in France, a law designed in wartime to distinguish French civilian vehicles, but retained until reversed by EU conformity standards in 1993.

There was a magic in sailing away from the White Cliffs and seeing the French coast gradually coming into view, followed by the unfamiliarity of driving on the right.

The most scary part was knowing that French drivers treated priorité a droite as a sacred right and, particularly within towns, would zoom out from any old side road without even looking. It was easy to forget, and the odd fright ensued.Read More »

Swallow

swallow dranseThis swallow was just asking to be photographed, perched on a cable at Thonon-les-Bains, France. The photo was taken about a month ago. By now this bird is probably well on its way down to South Africa for the winter, part of the great seasonal bird migrations.

We’ll miss that ceaseless flying to and fro over open ground or water catching insects, and look forward to next year’s return.

Cormorant

We often see cormorants in the UK, usually the odd specimen perched fishing from a log or rock, sometimes in small groups. It was quite refreshing, then, to come across a large group of hundreds of these birds, perched in trees around a lake at the Dranse estuary nature reserve near Thonon-les-Bains on the southern shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).

cormorants dranse.JPG

There was a constant to-ing and fro-ing, with a smaller number of them directly fishing from the lake surface or in characteristic wing-drying pose.

The size of this population is a testament to the health of the waters and fish populations in Lac Leman.

Of course, you will also see cormorants by the sea, as they can live with both salt water and fresh water.

Shy Grebes

Great crested grebes are reasonably common in the UK, but not usually as numerously evident as the ubiquitous mallards, coots and moorhens. So it was refreshing to come across a large group of around 30 of these birds at the nature reserve on the Dranse estuary near Thonon-les-Bains on the southern shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).

It was noticeable that, as soon as they became aware of our presence, the grebes moved further away, out of decent range of our 300mm-lens-equivalent travel zooms. The featured image was the best shot I could manage.

So the crested grebes seem to be fairly shy birds, which is the reputation of the little grebe, of which there were also some specimens present at the Dranse. The history of being hunted for their feathers probably explains why these birds are so wary of human beings.

Ghent

The Friday SquareIn the square of the Vrijdagmarkt in the delightful medieval centre of Ghent in Belgium, there is a statue of a local luminary – Jacob van Artevelde. He is so honoured because Ghent survived the 100-year war between England and France due to his efforts at ensuring neutrality and maintaining links with England. The statue points towards England.

Of course England has always had close ties with Europe, and periods of major influx of Europeans, such as the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans. And we’ve been involved in so many continental wars over the centuries, culminating in the World Wars of the 20th century, when we took in many more as refugees.

The wise men of the immediate post-war world decided to link the countries of Europe together to avoid the possibility of future pointless wars, encouraged by the British, and Winston Churchill in particular. Of course this led to today’s European Union.

Strange then, that unscrupulous UK politicians have fostered the very nationalism that potentially leads to wars to engineer the UK’s exit from that Union. Something about ‘taking back control’ and ‘making Britain great again’ – the freedom to go off on our own, ‘do deals’, form alliances, and repeat unlearned lessons of history.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Hopefully the duped UK populace will support a change of course in time.

Inline image by Sergey Ashmarin, via Wikimedia Commons

J’accuse

officer and spyReview of the historical novel An Officer and a Spy by Richard Harris.

There are many examples of group think and injustice in the history books. Few are quite as dramatic as the Dreyfuss Affair that gripped France in the late 19th/ early 20th century. The story is told as a historical novel in Richard Harris’s book, from the perspective of Colonel Georges Picquart, a key central character in the story of uncovering the antisemitic conspiracy and subsequent cover-up.Read More »