Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I have been having some computer problems [my computer seems to have come to the end of its lifespan] so haven't been able to update the blog.

I'm hoping to get back online properly soon-fingers crossed.

Here is a little card I painted the other evening to wish everyone a very happy festive season and a wonderful, healthy New Year in 2008.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Photo Friday - Travel

We are just back from a family reunion in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. We flew there from France and the rest of my immediate family flew in from Scotland.

Not so long ago this sort of thing would have been unheard of and near impossible - due to the distance, travel time, costs and dangers . Now, with local airports and budget airlines , travel is much more accessible and safe -at least for people in the West.

Its hard to imagine that people are still undertaking dangerous journeys across the sea in flimsy boats with a real risk of death-and spending all their life savings to do so.

This is a cayuco, a Senagalese fishing boat. They are normally used for fishing rivers and estuaries and not intended for sea crossings.
Basically they are a form of large canoe and this one was in a terrible state -and probably not exactly sea worthy at the start of the journey, never mind the end.

I've quickly removed the stone jetty from behind the cayuco to show the shape and size of the boat.

Tenerife is fairly close to North Africa and in recent years there has been an upsurge in the number of illegal immigrants trying enter European territory in the hope of making a new life.

Unfortunately, many people die in the attempt or end up exploited in a kind of indentured service to pay the huge amounts of money for the passage.

The cayucos are jampacked with people when they set out on the 8 to 10 day crossing and its not known how many cayucos sink on the journey. I have heard estimates that over a thousand people have died in the attempt to reach the Canary Islands since the 2006

90 men were rescued from this boat when it was intercepted. 6 people were in critical condition and sadly one man died later in hospital, probably from the effects of exposure and dehydration.

The coastguard emergency boat that intercepted the cayuco is in the foreground and the cayuco is visible behind.
When we arrived at the port to take photos we saw the bright orange emergency boats and initially thought there had been a training exercise rather than a real emergency.

It was only when we saw the rickety cayuco and the ambulances and men being lead off for medical treatment that we realized what had happened.
The Spanish red cross and medical teams were giving medical aid, food, water and clothes to the people from the cayuco inside these inflatable tents.

After medical treatment, the men are repatriated if their nationality can be established.
The cayucos are destroyed since unsafe fuel storage generally leads to the hull being impregnated with fuel. Plus so many people crammed onto a tiny boat leads to unsanitary conditions and the boats are considered hazardous to health.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Toussaint/ Fête des Morts

Here in France, the first of November is All Saints Day [la Toussaint] and second of November is the Festival of the Dead [Fête des Morts].

These two festivals have become somewhat interchangeable over the years, and its more common for people to visit their family tombs on la Toussaint. I've heard it said that this is mainly due to Toussaint being a public holiday here.

However, since there is a famous painting of families visiting a cemetery on Toussaint from 1888 [ Émile Friand] it would seem that this is definitely not a recent development.

Bunches or pots of Chrysanthemums are used to decorate the grave sites. This association of chrysanthemums and the dear departed now means that its bad luck to receive chrysanthemum flowers as a gift.

The cemetery in the centre of Nice is on top of the Colline de Chateau with a view over the sea and Nice old town. Most of the tombs are from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and the sculpture is quite opulent-with plenty of angels and cherubs in stone.

This tombstone depicts someone rising from the grave at the last judgment when called on by an angel. I think a lot of modern visitors find it creepy to see a shrouded hand lifting up the stone.

I think this grave sculpture is really attractive-it was quite a different style and i liked the lady's peaceful expression.

Old cemeteries are often filled with children's graves-and its a reminder of how much the world has changed in the West and that most people can now expect their children to live and thrive and reach old age. And yet, such a short time ago, losing children to disease epidemics was commonplace.

This little girl is depicted here in her first communion dress, circa 1930, I think.
These little portraits were on a large family tomb which depicted many members of the same family and a considerable number of children.

The little ten year old and 4 year old somehow remind me of Mary Cassatt's painting the Sisters Some angels on pedestals, towering over the cemetery - very reminiscent of a scary Doctor Who episode called Blink where Angels statues come to life.

These angels were street performers at the Haut de Cagnes mediaeval fair. They moved quite slowly as if they were statues coming to life.

There was something quite freaky about them, even for people who more than likely hadn't watched the "Blink' episode of Doctor Who.

Some of the performers were on stilts and looked very imposing, especially when they moved suddenly. This woman was obviously taken by surprise when the tallest 'statue' started striding through the crowd..

[I've blurred the faces of non-performers in the photos slightly]

This little princess found the living statues very intriguing.

A little Knights Templar boy acting as a scale marker
Their clothing and skin was covered in a kind of clay -which must have made moving difficult- although it definitely added to the impression of statues coming to life.

The programme for the fair called them Living Gargoyles,which seems quite appropriate.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The Nice tramway project has been a massive disruption to the centre of Nice for a couple of years. However, the trams are at last running -though its only for practice at the moment.

The tramway is supposed to be officially starting in about 6 weeks time so I hope the finishing touches can be done on schedule.

Seeing the new gleaming trams gliding on the rails is quite exciting -at the moment people stand and watch as the trams go by. I suppose there was probably a similar reaction when the the previous tramway was built at the end of the 19th century.

Unfortunately , this old tramway stopped around 1950 due to the expanding bus network - I suppose Nice has now gone full circle in terms of public transport.

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Photo Friday - comfort

Last week was very stormy and the wheel of the seasons has definitely turned to autumn. The leaves are turning yellow and brown and soon they will be whisked away by the winds.

There is a chilly dampness in the early morning or evening air, even though the middle of the day can still be warm and sunny.

I think that thick, dark, hot chocolate is the perfect comfort drink when the wind is howling and the rain crashing down.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007


Dragonflies have very ancient origins and fossils have been found of dragonflies which are up to 300million years old-long before the dinosaurs appeared on the earth.
The ancient dragonflies were huge, with wingspans of up to 30 inches [75cm]

The dragonflies in these photos are very small by comparison - the wingspan is only about 2inches [around 6cm]

They are darter dragonflies [meadowhawks in the US] -Sympetrum species but I'm not sure exactly what kind they are.

Close up , dragonflies look very mechanical with the intricate arrangements of wings and giant eyes.

The wings can look like leaded glass if the sun catches them at the right angle. The dragonfly motif was common in Art Nouveau especially in jewelery and stained glass work.

This is a close view of the legs, showing the bristles and hooked, grasping feet. When dragonflies are hunting, they use the hooks and bristled legs as a trap to snare flying insects.
They can catch insects as large as butterflies and they are beneficial to humans because they eat a lot of harmful insects.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

PhotoFriday - Fantasy

A few weeks ago we went to the Cagnes sur mer Mediaeval fair.
In this case, the street performers were definitely more Mordor than Mediaeval.

I'm not sure if they were definitely meant to be Orcs as I couldn't find the company name on the programme-but they looked authentic enough for the audience.

This orc was demonstrating his prowess with his strange curvy blades.

The costuming and choreography was really good-although it must have been very tiring to wear all the layers of prosthetic makeup, costumes and amour on such a hot day.

One of the Orcs put his hand on my shoulder when i was busy talking to my kids and looking in the wrong direction - I nearly leapt of of my skin when I turned to see his creepy Orc face close to my ear.

It happened too fast for my husband to photograph , though I think the look on my face would have been priceless.
They were good fun and stayed in character; wandering through the streets staging axe fights, fire eating and acrobatics.

The photo below was taken during the axe fighting. I liked the firey shields and the axes landed with impressive thumps.

One thing that always amazes me at event like this, is how often parents in the audience seem to have no appreciation of danger.
It seems to escape them that the fighters are using real axes and fire etc so allowing toddlers to wander towards the actors or lifting them up to see the action better and into the path of an axe could result in a trip to hospital or worse.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Photo Friday - Old

Blogger has been playing up, so a post I'd been working on for a couple of days has disappeared into the aether and I've been having trouble posting images which is annoying.

The Photo Friday topic this week is 'Old.' I have a lot of photographs that could fit the topic as I've been traveling around visiting a lot of mediaeval and Roman era places recently, but I decided that the mascot from an old Rolls Royce car would fit nicely.

The Rolls Royce mascot is called the 'Spirit of Ecstasy' It has a variety of nicknames including the Angel, Silver Lady, Flying Lady and even 'Nellie in her Nightie' after Eleanor Velasco Thornton who posed for the sculpture.

I'd originally been under the impression that the mascot was based on the dancer Isadora Duncan. Isadora Duncan died in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais outside the Negresco Hotel when her voluminous scarf became tangled in the wheels of a sports car, so I suppose I thought this was a weird irony.
The Spirit of Ecstasy sculptures have been supplied with Rolls Royce cars since 1911. They aren't made of silver [they were silver plated in the early versions] and apparently each piece is unique due to the casting method used.

The Rolls Royce was parked outside a church, its bonnet decorated with flowers for a wedding. The orange and peach colored lilies are just visible behind the mascot

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Photo Friday- oddity

We went to the Mediaeval fair in the mediaeval village of Haut de Cagnes last week.
Some of the street performer groups were wild and wonderful and definitely qualified as oddities.

This particular group of stilt walkers and musicians is called Bugel Noz.

A Bugel Noz is a Breton imp or sprite who steals a family's galettes [buckwheat pancakes] and their lait ribot [a fermented milk drink similar to keffir]

According to their publicity, the group is mean to represent spirits of earth, air, fire and water.
The costumes were amazing and quite believable -some children were freaked by the strange;y dressed people and others convinced they were real.
They certainly had an impish sense of fun and they used sort of buzzy kazoo things to make their voices squeak-not unlike Mr Punch's swazzle from a punch and judy show.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007


The Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius is also known as the Sail Swallowtail because of its large sail-like wings.
Its not a particularly scare butterfly here in the south of France.
A close-up of the tails showing the orange spots and blue details -this particular butterfly has lost the tip of its tail - either in a collision with a branch or in a near-miss with a predator.
This is Dolycoris baccarum the Hairy Shield Bug [aka Sloe Bug] Punaise des Baies [translation - berry bug]
The colours are a close match for the buddleia stem it is sitting on, so it is well camouflaged.

These bugs eat sap from plant stems or berries. Berries , such as raspberries, can be tainted by a fluid produced by these bugs although they are not a major problem for gardeners.

This is the Striped shield bug Graphosoma lineatum [italicum]
The French name is Pentatome rayé which also means striped bug
It looks like a Grammar school boy wearing a striped blazer -all it needs is a straw boater hat

The same bug is spotted rather than striped underneath.

There are quite a few burnet moths found in this area of France - the commonest being the 6-spot burnet moth Zygaena filipendulae.
Its difficult to be sure which type of burnet moth this is because the wing spots are so indistinct .

I've spent a lot of time looking at books and websites trying to identify the moth but haven't been able to decide definitely one way or another.

Burnet moths fly during the day and are dramatically coloured [Aposematic colouration] to deter predators.

The colour display warns that the moths are toxic due to a cyanide based poison created by the moths themselves rather than gathered from their food.

Burnet moths remind me of family holidays in Lytham St Annes and walking through the sand dunes towards the beach and sea. There were always loads of brunet moths feeding on the plants. In my mind's eye , I can see the vividly contrasting colours of glossy black and fiery red burnet moths flying past the yellow ragwort and sun bleached marram grass.

The dunes at Lytham St Annes are a site of special scientific interest and home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. However, they are under threat from commercial sand extraction, housing developments, and erosion from recreational vehicles.
The Defend the Dunes campaign is trying to preserve Lytham St Annes dunes.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Photo Friday- wet

The weather has been incredibly hot here in the South of France so any chance to cool off is very welcome.
These are my husband's feet and one of my son's feet- the photo was taken while sitting having a picnic on the banks of La Levenza river by the village of La Brigue.

The natural marking on the rock made this look like a fraction sum to me -one smaller foot over two feet -but maybe that was just too much sun.

The Levenza is a tributary of the Roya river which flows down to the sea close to the border of France and Italy at Ventimiglia.

The Levenza river is much more impressive in the spring when it is swollen with melt water - but its clear and sparkling and most of all cool water to paddle in.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Photo Friday- Loud

It's the school summer holidays and we have been busy with day trips to nearby towns and villages.
We've visited the village La Brigue twice recently -the first time just to have a look around and the second time to go to the mediaeval fair that we'd seen advertised on the first visit.

These folk are the very loud drummers and trumpeters of Asti Medioevale , an Italian Flag throwing group performing at La Brigue mediaeval Fair.

All the groups taking part in the mediaeval fair went to a local retirement/nursing home to perform for the residents, which I though was really thoughtful,although I hope no one was trying to sleep.

Some of the thrown flags are just visible here above the first row of shuttered windows.

La Brigue is surrounded by beautiful mountainous scenery, visible beyond the mustard coloured building. La Brigue village, itself, is at an altitude of 812metres [2664 feet] and is on the edge of the Mercantour National Park.
Asti Medioevale in procession, walking back towards La Brigue village
Flag throwing dates back to the mediaeval guilds and wartime flag brearers. Its very impressive to watch the flags being thrown ,waved and caught

I don't know how they managed to keep walking , playing and flag throwing while wearing the velvet costumes on such a hot summer day.

A view of the unfurled square flags as the flag throwers walk in procession. The drummers and trumpeters kept playing all day.

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