Monday, November 24, 2008

Photo Friday- food

One of the Niçois speciality foods is socca- a kind of chickpea pancake .

This is a mobile socca oven. Socca ovens are traditionally wood or charcoal fired. The pancake mixture is cooked on a large copper pie plate called a 'plaque de socca' . The huge pie plate is visible in the photo leaning against the oven.

This is the socca man watching the socca . The socca plate stays at the front of the oven and the wood burns at the back. The copper plate is essential to allow the heat to be distributed evenly. It takes about 6 minutes for the socca to cook. This is the socca is nearly ready to eat. It always smells wonderful - but I am allergic to chickpeas so I've never tasted it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Photo Friday- Autumn

Autumn would be hard to miss here in Nice as the trees outside our house gradually fill with European Starlings Sturnus vulgaris and the noise is unbelievable. Its like a scene from 'The Birds' by Alfred Hitchcock.

They start to appear by mid October -one or two at the beginning, then a dozen , then fifty , until it seems as if every branch of every tree in the street is covered with dark bird shapes.
The birds look almost black from a distance but close up they are speckled with white in winter plumage and have a greenish purple gloss and fewer speckles in summer

Here are a couple of the starlings sitting as if they were posing for a William Morris tapestry or wallpaper.

Starlings are very gregarious and roost in flocks of hundreds and even thousands of individuals [which is partly why they make so much noise].
Every year people park cars under the starling roost trees and come back to find the car is completely covered in guano which has a negative effect on the paintwork.
I suppose the unlucky car owners don't anticipate that hundreds of birds equals lots and lots of droppings.

Flocks of starlings make some amazing acrobatic and

I took this video today -it gives an idea of the noise and the number of starlings . The windows are all closed so imagine how loud it would be if the video hadn't been taken through glass.

Starlings are good mimics and can be taught to 'talk' like myna birds. William Shakespeare refers to the mimicry in Henry IV :

“I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.”

Sadly , the birds were introduced to the US in the 19th century by the American Acclimatization Society who had the bizarre goal of releasing all 600 species of bird mentioned by Shakespeare.
Under 100 starlings were initially released in Central Park but now there are estimates of over 200 million starlings in the US.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Photo Friday - sharp

The sharp back end of a European hornet Vespa crabro- the stinger is not extended which would be even sharper.

Hornet stings are more potent and painful than those of wasps and bees but they actually very gentle and timid .

They definitely don't sting on sight despite the comments in the SAS survival handbook -though my kids say that's because i have been nominated the hornet press officer and i am an exception.

Hornets mainly eat flies so they are useful to humans - and in some places they are protected species.

In Gerrmany, a fine of up to 50,000 euros is levied on people killing hornets or destroying their nests.

These are the best photos i managed to get of a hornet this year - it was half way down a wall at the mediaeval village of Eze - so I did quite well getting the shots before the vertigo kicked in .