Tuesday, 26 March 2013


I needed to get out and distract myself from what was going on with my shoulders.
Having endured a shoulder joint infiltration with no local anaesthesia I was feeling miserable. My medical experiences in France always seem to be more brutal and less efficient than experiences in NZ. I seem to be a magnet for differences.

Back in 2003 when I had a frozen shoulder the sports doctor sorted that out with the cortisol within a few weeks. He gave me a local and voilĂ , it was tolerable. He was precise and he didn't need a specialist or to do it under Xray to get it right. I popped off to physio and this debilitating and lengthy malady got nipped in the bud. I didn't get full use of my arm for a year but I could live comfortably in the meantime.

Here in France it has taken 2 GPs a specialist, an argument over diagnosis, 2 different technicians and a torturous 7 months. Things are still not good.

Friday's infiltration was highly unpleasant, especially when the needle and it's products were pushed, twice into the tough shoulder joint capsule. Luckily for me Jean-Claude was on hand to take me back to rest at his place. I was given no pain relief or a sling for my arm. The pain became absolutely awful for the entire weekend so I was unable to attend my long-panned visit to the Paris Book Fair. I'm left with business cards but no contacts for my new book. It just wasn't to be.

By Sunday I needed to do something to distract myself from the pain. JC and I drove to Chartres to see an antiques fair there. I'd been to one two years ago but hadn't had my camera with me that time. I thought I'd show you some examples of French furniture and collectables.

A beautiful desk full of inlays caught my eye. An ancient armoire caught JC's eye. We didn't buy anything (I can't afford things like that right now) but it was fun looking and wouldn't you know it.... in the annex was a chocolate expo.

No wonder people were still queuing to get in 2 hours before the expo closed. The French are artists with food. It was much too yummy looking and I had to help the chocolate addict accompanying me to keep his wallet in his jacket or he'd have scoffed a dozen huge 'nipples of venus'-like things. A man was struggling to cut an enormous gourmet cheese, ladies were touting the delights of olives.

It was good to get out and see some of the interesting things France has to offer such as antiques and food - the like of which you'll never find in NZ.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Digging up the past

There's not much to do when when the weather is frigid, raining, snowing. I'm tempted to just hunker down but that's not very interesting for long. JC and I visited the archeological society of Chartres to check out pottery fragments. Some time ago he dug up quite a few ancient fragments so he wanted to verify exactly what they were.

Gallo-Roman Chartres was on a pedestrian highway for merchants coming and going, small travelling groups buying pottery, breaking and dumping bits. So there's quite a bit available for archaeologists to 'potter' with. A young one ran a guided tour for us, in French. It was difficult for me to concentrate because of the pain in my shoulders but the display was well put together with a good educational value.

 The old methods of working potters wheels was presented and the very different shapes of containers identified whereabouts in Europe it was manufactured and for what type of product. Most containers were only used once, sealed with clay and wax.

These sorts of exposition are interesting to me because they don't exist in NZ, it having been inhabited barely 1000 years and not by an advanced civilisation.

The building housing the archaeological society is about to be torn down so they need to find another venue - perhaps more conducive to parking. The building is one of those 1960s/70s horrors reminiscent of the communist era in Europe - gey, boring, boxy. Very much like the Auckland City council building in Greys Ave, Auckland  NZ. At least the French have, right next door,  a wonderful architectural gem hidden by the 20th century monstrosities. They've decided it makes more sense to spend a wee bit more money to demolish and build anew (sustainably) than to try to renovate a 'dog'. Good for them.
Here's the front of the lovely old building that will remain:

They'll probably have an archeological dig before beginning reconstruction of council buildings.

We just had enough time before nightfall to drive to the Chartres Expo Centre to visit a display of minerals and fossils from around the world. Some were available for sale.

I was surprised and fascinated by the range of shapes and colours of the minerals from all around the world. They were so beautiful it was hard to believe the planet had made them all by itself.

 Here's a real mammoth's tooth. It's massive and you can see the roots hanging down at the bottom. As herbivores they had to do a lot of grinding of their food. France being in Europe, it's easier to see these sorts of things, for real. There were no plaster copies this day, everything was genuine.

There were a surprising number of fossils on display and for sale, entire or sliced into layers. Fierce sea beasts, delicate sea lilies, fish, molluscs and seashells. There were many sizes of ammonites, shark teeth, skulls.

Naturally there was the opportunity to buy jewellery made from many of the stones less valuable. One exhibitor was especially knowledgeable and said his dream would be to attend an exposition in NZ because there are micro-minerals extremely rare to be found in NZ. I wasn't aware of that.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Counting animals

Licensed hunters in France conduct an annual census of the hunt animals in their area. This is to assess how well the animals and birds are reproducing and whether certain species should not be hunted in the coming year. I went along to see how it was conducted.

An early start saw us all meeting outside the church of Ymeray. . After waiting for everyone to gather there was a short briefing session by the leader, outlining where we'd all start. A predominently male affair I watched them all renewing acquaintances. 

The French hunt is dying. It has become too expensive and there are too few critters left to hunt. Numbers are very low but not because of the hunt. It's due to destruction of habitats as a result of human activity. The key culprits to the destruction of biodiversity are the crop farmers. The fields are large and monocultural (only one type of crop for miles, instead of the older system of mixed cropping). The agriculturalists use herbicides and pesticides which naturally kill the food of larger critters and kill off wild plants which would shelter birds and animals.

We wondered how many animals we would see. We didn't expect a lot but even so, everyone was disappointed and concerned at the desert that is the French countryside these days. We covered Ymeray, Montlouet, Gallardon and a bit of Talvoisin villages.

The weather was superbly uncooperative - so hard to see very far in front of us and we really needed to see. The first part of the countryside yielded absolutely nothing, even allowing for the thick fog. It was very, very cold standing still out there for hours. The hunters do this service in their own time. It was hard to see how they kept their interest going with so little to show for their efforts.

There are two teams: the counters who stand around, scattered at regular intervals across a field or along a road; the walkers who walk in a line, evenly spaced which flushes out any critters for the counters to count. Each counter counts only the animals that run between themselves and the next counter further along on their right. Things running across the front don't count. This is to avoid double-counting.

Slips of paper are filled in. sadly the most frequent digit used was zero. This processed occurred several times. At the end of a count we would all pile into vans and head to the next location. Then it was time for a snack which was set out in the barn of one of the agriculteurs whose land we were counting on. There were the obligatory baguettes and foie gras-like spreads. Not for me. I nibbled a hunk of dry bread- there was nothing else.

We bundled into vans again and off to another set of fields. The fog was lifting but it was still cold. At this time of the year the fields contain young rapeseed and wheat plants which will start growing in a month's time. It's peaceful, uninteresting and a bit depressing with the lack of animals and birds. At the last location we finally saw some hares bounding about and also some chevreuils (small deer). You'll need to zoom on this photo to see them but they are there.

Everyone drove back to Ymeray. Some went on to a lunch together at a restaurant. Jean-Claude and I went back to his place. My shoulders had become too painful in the cold to continue.

 I enjoyed watching the camaraderie amongst the men, many of whom had known each other a long time and many of whom were from another hunt club. With hunter numbers so low, clubs need to amalgamate to survive.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Photographing France

 One of the pleasures for me of living in France has been the opportunity to photograph things completely new to my experience. I have very few expectations or pre-conceived ideas of most of what I photograph. Oddly enough, that's different to how I see and feel about things when I'm not behind a camera lens. In those moments I'm more likely to judge, compare, get the head working.

 When I'm behind my camera I get to feel and just BE. Things just ARE. Usually I'm seeing things positively when I photograph them.

I've really only caught a tiny portion of France on camera. I'd like to do more visiting but that requires a financial investment and I'm not quite able to do that yet. So far I've captured some of the beauty of Brittany, Normandy, Ile de France, Poitou-Charente, Provence and Centre, the Loire Valley. 

Aside from the countryside regional variety to be found in France there's the history to explore and interesting characters to discover. The later only happens spontaneously. I'll do better with that when I've mastered my new camera.

Last year my trusty Nikon D60 that I bought in December 2008 in the hopes of spending time in Paris with Nicolas(well I got the camera but not the man) decided to malfunction. More specifically, my favourite lens died. 

While saving up for a decent DSLR I purchased a Nikon S1000. It has been a disappointment despite all the hype. This compact and I don't suit each other. I need to look through a viewfinder not at a screen. I need to KNOW that what I see is exactly what will be taken with no time lag. I need my camera to function well in low light. Yes it's small and fits in my handbag but it's not a pleasure to use.

For six months I've saved up and finally last Saturday I collected my Nikon D3200 from a shop in Paris. I'm determined to master this camera beyond point and click and using various scene modes. I'm also keen to explore the dimension of movies. It's not a video camera but it does shoot movies. Wouldn't you like to read my blog occasionally AND watch a little movie?

Cameras and me are an inseparable pair here in France. It helps me document my 'journey' for myself and people close to me who can't join me on it. Digital photography means I can afford o have this as a hobby and it means I can publish books of photos. I already have  a good collection of photos of France that could one day find themselves inside a professional, saleable publication but there's more to be done and this new camera gives me the hardware to achieve better shots. I've just got to get my personal software around how to do it and that'll take practice as well as reading the manual and any specialised books I can find.

Later this month I'm off to visit the Paris Book Fair and next month I'll be heading back to Michigan USA for work so there will be an incentive to look for different shots and play with settings. It doesn't come naturally, the technical side, so a bit of effort is required.
It's a joy to share my photos with others. Hope I'll feel the same about any future little movies.