30 June 2009


the jokes here are just too easy...

2006: Long-winded Dark

30 June

I'm feeling a bit antsy, and I won't bore you with the details, but the last few days have been spent around Pedernec due to weather (a bit) and pain (a lot). Suffice to say, French medicine doesn't take a backseat to anyone. Fast and inexpensive, too.

So, it's time to take myself to the coast to refresh. Another hike around Presqu'île Renote Reserve is taken, and it's a gorgeous and warm day. The early-morning fog has mostly evaporated, and the humidity has ratcheted up a bit. Boulder-scrambling is fun when there are plenty of HUGE boulders and no lack of traction. While it's unfortunate my sea birds (gannets, terns, etc) have not returned since my first visit, it's still peaceful and worth every minute of the visit.

Later, I am driving towards Trébeurden via the coastal highway and, while crossing a tiny stream named "Le Samson", I espied a Little Egret. It was quite the adventure to find a place to get down to the beach, with most of the land in the area privately-owned and farmed (corn and wheat, mostly). However, one trail was found.

With the exception of the gannets, everything else I was looking for was here, if "Way Out There" as the tide headed out. Approaching on the estuary mud was not as difficult as the mudflats at Jetty Island, but they had their own challenges, and the birds once again were skittish in the extreme. Given this, I will be wandering out onto the flat early on Monday (weather-permitting). By then, the tide will be chasing them in towards land, as opposed to going out. There were some shorebirds in quantity that have not been ID'd yet, and I'd like to get closer photos of those...

So, it's been a tiring day, and I'm on the way home. As I get closer to Lannion, there is a major traffic jam on the approach from Lannion into Trébeurden: land yachts (they call them caravans here) parked along the side of the road for well over one kilometre, and only two gendarmes (policefolk) sorting things out. It looked as if this ritual occurred every year, and holiday-makers were taking everything in stride.

Oh, and as I watched (and photographed), more caravans appeared by the minute. I could easily imagine within the hour a line reaching back several miles...


Driving at night on the local country roads can be a nightmare. During daylight, you can more easily judge how much clearance you have between the edge of the road (which may be dirt, ditch, building, people, or tall hedgerow) and oncoming traffic when passing a vehicle, how large the oncoming traffic is, and of what the edge of the road is composed. As such, I tend not to drive after the sun has gone down unless I know for a fact I'm traveling on a divided highway for the vast majority of my trip.

Hmm. I just wrote a long diatribe about the time difference between where I am at the moment (Pedernec, 300 miles west of the Prime Meridian) and London (smack-dab on the PM). Rant aside, the official time in downtown Pedernec right now is one hour later (11.15 as I write this) than London (10.15), even though sunrise here occurs 15 minutes after (give or take). The only rationale I can come up with is that France either does not have daylight savings (in which case, it is in the GMT timezone) or it does (in which case, it is in the CET (Central European Timezone)).

Where am I going with this? Well, beyond the interesting thought that "earlier" is further west at the moment, daylight is still visible locally at about 10pm, if only barely, and it doesn't get dark until after 11pm or so.

And DARK IT GETS. Pedernec has street lights, but they don't shine downtown (what little of Pedernec downtown there is) except on Saturday evenings. Very few homes are lit at night by ANY light, and most doors and windows are shuttered. Light pollution in this area just isn't a problem, so you get truly dark skies if your interest is looking at the stars. Therefore, at the moment, driving at night is an exercise only for those who need to drive around midnight or later.

Goodness, I can be long-winded about nothing at all. Go figure...

29 June 2009

2009 Seattle Pride

Every summer, the Holy Gay Agenda requires Gays and their Allies to hold a big party. In Seattle, the gala and parade are now being held in downtown Seattle, from 4th and Union (ish) to the pinnacle of the 1962 World's Fair, the Seattle Center.

And, as often as possible, I take my camera to the affair in an inglorious and utterly futile attempt to document said soirée...

Behold, a Very Few of the finer moments to which I was privy this past year:

Sister Cynna Mankind, of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

A Filipino dancer, so proud and beautiful...

And, yes, it's possible to have photos at Pride that have nothing to do with the Gay Agenda... Witness, the fabulous and lengthy "Vicious," a Red-tailed Boa who was quite the crowd pleaser near the food court... :)

26 June 2009

Street Portraits, Dead Simple

I have to say, this is one of the finest quick-n-dirty explanations of what a GREAT street / portrait photographer does, and if you aren't shy, it's dead simple:

23 June 2009

2006: Bourbriac and Points South

23 June

The day dawns bright, with few clouds, yet within two hours has turned decidedly unwelcome, damp, and breezy in Bourbriac, home to the Eglise de Bourbriac.

The church was dedicated to a 7th-century Irish saint named Briac.

From the information provided, there has been a Romanesque church on this site since the 9th century; the four huge pillars in the choir are apparently all that remain of that original building. The crypt underneath the apse dates to the 11th or 12th-century, and at one time contained the tomb of Briac, but it does not say whether Briac still lies within.

Outside, the flowers, even though not lit by sunshine, were magnificent in colourful bloom: roses, dahlias, daisies, lilies, and more.

The next stop, the 14th-century Eglise St Pierre, was unfortunately closed, and while the Menhir de Cailouan was interesting enough (if non-photogenic with the clouds), it wasn't until 13.30 that more fascinating and eerie was discovered.

The second Eglise St Pierre in an hour is located in the town of Kerpert, and is not listed on the tour plan. Once again, the church was not open. However, always open in a place of pride (as described by the information plaque for the church) alongside the front door of the church is the 17th-century ossuary, impossible to miss. The church dates from the early 1500s, and over the centuries headstones and tomb markers erode, move, become vandalized or stolen, etc. The ossuary was born to provide a space for bones that were uncovered in the course of new burials within the church close (court yard).

Onwards to the next destination, Saint-Gilles-Pligeaux. Of course, map, directional road signs, and tour plan lie dramatically, and I find myself serendipitously at the Abbaye de Coat Malouën, well north of where I wanted to be.

I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the Abbaye, except that it lies in ruins along a road I have no confidence in naming. The ruins, however, are a joy to walk through as the clouds that had been driving me further south finally dissipated to mere humidity.

The THIRD Eglise Saint-Pierre of the day is in the market town of Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem. It began life as a 15th-century chapel named for St Nicolas, and after being donated to the town in 1860 became a parish church rededicated to St Peter.

The renovations included the repair of stained glass, the building of a gallery, and a sacristy and font were added.

Early afternoon, time for a quick meal. I'm of the opinion you can eat well in Europe without spending a fortune if you are flexible in WHERE and WHAT you will eat, and HOW it is acquired. For example, a few minutes before meeting the third St Peter, I happened upon the small town equivalent of a chain supermarket. Within was located a pate of smoked salmon, one litre of orange juice, a basket of white peaches, and a crusty baguette. Now, personally, the baguette could have been (and probably should have been) purchased at a local baker (boulangerie) for fresher taste, but I was a bit impatient to be on the road, so... Total price, four Euros and change, or a bit over $5... The baguette and the smoked salmon (amazingly good) lasted two days, the last of the peaches will be gone by day four, and the juice lasted into the evening... Yes, you can pay tons and get great food, but you can also pay minimal funds, enjoy a picnic in the scenic outdoors, and eat great food. Your choice...

Once again, the weather is going south (as it were), and occasional rain is beginning to dampen the countryside. Again. However, there is another treasure to be found, in Lanrivain: Eglise Saint-Gregoire. Surprise! It's not named after Saint-Peter!

It more than makes up for its lack of size with a bounty of things to see:

# a 16th-century Calvary statue mutilated during the French Revolution, restored in the mid 1800s,
# the statue of an unnamed church leader, holding his head in his hands,
# a beautifully-simple, hand-carved altar,
# a statue of Joan d'Arc, and
# a 15th-century ossuary, purportedly one of the few in Bretagne to still contain relics

The church itself is at once simple, tasteful, and beautiful. The wood-working, the masonry, the openness and colours, all make this an incredible visit.

An hour later, the Gorges of Toulgoulic are a fascinating hike, if only to "see" a river flowing underneath a forest of humungous boulders the size of Hummer Dealerships. You can hear the river from over one hundred metres, but even when walking on the boulders themselves it isn't always easy to find. The hike from the car park is about 1/2 mile all downhill. The hike back will burn more than a few of those lunch calories, and give your sweat glands a workout.

Nearby, foals gambol in their first summer season. Fun to watch.

Bulat-Pestivien. The town's name doesn't exactly flow off your tongue. For what it's worth, the Eglise Notre-Dame is much easier to remember.

Several chapels were built on this site between the 13th and 16th-centuries, and it became a parish church in 1804. There are gothic themes here and there, but the overall feel is renaissance. As with many churches here, the gargoyles can be quite fanciful, and a few are downright odd.

For some reason, many of the churches visited today have statues dedicated to Joan d'Arc, including this one. I thought she was affiliated with the region surrounding Orleans, yet she obviously made an impression around here...

To cap this report, I recorded about 2 minutes worth of ambient sounds while I was out and about the church. I've learned the recorder is good enough for voice that is within a foot of the mike, but not so much outside that range unless the sound is VERY loud. If you'd like to hear a bit of conversation between two women (close to the end of the recording), you will need to wear headphones in a quiet spot. They were walking to a headstone about 50 feet away as the bells stopped (for the first time; another story)... Sorry...

Click here to listen to Evening Sounds, Eglise Notre-Dame, Bulat-Pestivien [ 2009: Nominally, I'd simply load this somewhere for everyone to enjoy, but neither Blogspot nor Flickr handle audio files. As such, if you would like a copy of the file, let me know and I'll email it to you. It's small, yet it brings back memories. ]

Please let me know if you'd like more information about this little tour, which isn't quite finished yet (there are still about 8 sites left; it can't rain forever :)...

22 June 2009

Quotes, # 014: Pets

We had gotten to our apartment in Hania very late at night, and awoke to a warm and sunny day. Setting up for breakfast on the porch, we had noticed a number of cats in the neighborhood, and wondered if they were domesticated or feral.

We never did find about Matey (our name for the orange tabby). He was always available for our breakfast and dinner, and never once missed a treat. And yet, he was quite friendly, looking for and expecting affection from us.

I'd almost be willing to bet he was feral, but attached to the apartments; he probably understood folks would be an easier mark for a meal and a cuddle.

This image, as well as all of the preceding Quotes, are for sale as physical art you can put on your office or home walls. Our example here is available in 12x18" and 20x30" posters. Feel free to email me if you'd like to own this piece of American Pie(ty). Be the first on your block to be the first on your block.

All rights reserved, © caren park, http://RealistAtLarge.blogspot.com.

2006: Tour l'Argoat

22 June

Along the way, I occasionally stop into Tourist Information offices, and they are even occasionally open. Well, somewhere along the way, I acquired the "Côtes d'Armor (Bretagne) Carte Touristique 2005" tourist map. While the map itself isn't terribly useful (indeed, I have yet to encounter one that does justice to rural Bretagne, period), there are several "tours" located within that are designed to give you the flavour of a particular bit.

And so it was that "Tour l'Argoat" was the plan I would follow for the next few days. While the tour says "Start in Guingamp", I changed things a bit, leaving out the first five or six local towns already visited frequently. So, without further adieu, welcome to Louargat.

The Menhir de Pergat and its current "purpose" have been dated to 5000 BC, and is one huge block of granite, approximately 7.6 metres in height. You can find this stone just north of town and, considering other locations that would be chased over the next few days, remarkably-well marked by directional signs. The menhir can be reached by a footpath that will take you approximately 200 metres from the closest road, and it will continue for another 1.5 kilometres to the eastern edge of town.

Eglise Saint-Eloi is not located in Louargat, but several miles north in the tiny village of St Eloi. (Don't worry. You get used to directional road signs, maps, and tour descriptions that lie. It's easier that way.) It has been a parish church only since 1874, a relatively-short period of time in Europe. Even so, it is beautiful, and situated on the village square opposite the memorials dedicated to those from the town who died in each of the World Wars.

The main church in Louargat is Eglise Notre-Dame des Neiges, "Our Lady of the Snows Church." The original building was constructed in the 15th century, but only the tower today is still intact after a fire in 1832.

Just down the road to the west is what small churches should be. Chapelle de Locmaria can be easily found on the north-eastern boundary of Belle-Isle-en-Terre. It was built in the 15th century, and was originally known as Notre-Dame de Pendréo, or Our Lady of the Whooping Cough. People would make a pilgrimage here to pray to the Virgin Mary for the health of those afflicted. The exterior has a wonderful grace and elegance to it, and the interior, muted and uncluttered, feels lived-in.

While wandering the grounds, I met several young women from the Isle of Jersey, and between us we explored much of this fascinating place. There is a turret on the west of the tower you can climb if you aren't terribly claustrophobic OR thick-footed. In my experiences in Europe, the church/castle turret stairway seems standard for the period, where the width of each step varies from nothing at the centre column to perhaps six inches on the outside edge, and each upward step rises from the lower by much more. Compounding this problem is that the stone has been worn in spots due to traffic. This makes going up feel less harrowing than going down.

I've often wondered whether the size of each step was "not a problem" as people of 400 years ago were much smaller, or if this was done for budget reasons, and safety just wasn't part of the equation. Oh, and the view from the top of the turret is not too bad...

Not far away in the town of Belle-Isle-en-Terre is the Eglise Saint-Jacques. Not sure how, but I managed to smooth-talk myself inside as it was closing for the evening; unfortunately my interior photos do not do it justice.

My next stop was within the town of Plounévez-Moëdec... Well, it was supposed to be. After trusting the map twice, I then asked for directions from four different people at both ends of a four-mile stretch of roadway, and each said I wanted to be where the previous person was. Literally. So, while the Menhirs de Keranscot were apparently famous enough for all to recognize, they could not be found, even with personal directions. The maps and tour descriptions were useless beyond stating they were here somewhere. Quite frustrating, and the first time that even face-to-face interactions with the locals could not trusted.

So, the Fiat Punto turned south to what was described as "...the picturesque village of Loc-Envel...", and the tour description gets it right. There are subtle similarities between Loc-Envel and Tuscany hill towns, and beyond the occasional anachronism of satellite dishes and cars, the village probably looks and sounds much as it had in previous centuries... As I arrive, it is early evening and two locals on horseback were following the road with two hunting dogs in tow... As they reached the peak of the road on the hillside, they meet with a friend to converse and rest the horses... Another villager was performing maintenance on her vegetable garden.

And overlooking this pastoral scene was the small chapel,no name given by road signage or plaque on chapel wall. It appears to be in the throes of repair, and its interior, described as charming, with rood screens, carved beams, and an old vaulted ceiling, could not be explored.

The numerous unusual, frayed, and eroded gargoyles on the outside guarded the secrets within its walls well...

My last stop of the day was Ménez Bré, an old friend. This tallest hilltop in the area has been regarded as sacred for a very long time, and with beautiful weather you really can see for miles in each direction.

The chapel on the mount is named for Saint-Hervé, and it can be visited inside during summer months on Sunday afternoons...

18 June 2009

Chasing the Rarities

After hearing about so many interesting birds at Three Forks, I gave up sleeping in to venture afield with Marc Hoffman to search of a few.

We dipped on the Gray Catbird and Least Flycatcher, but found several Lazuli Buntings. As for the Indigo, we believe we heard it several times, but it always seemed about 50 feet further hidden in the bramble junque. A birder with a group from Seattle/Bellingham said she might have seen it, but upon further reflection began to doubt the sighting...

Lots of Common Yellowthroats and Willow Flycatchers around, and at least one Savannah Sparrow popped up. One Bald Eagle juvenile soared above the car park for a few minutes, and a Turkey Vulture was also seen flying northeast along a hilly ridge.

Even early in the morning, it's a good idea to bathe in toxic chemicals to ward off the black flies and mosquitoes. It was quite surprising how few swallows were flying early, but they were in force by the time we started to leave.

17 June 2009

2006: St Malo

17 June

A roadtrip is in order, as the weather has broken for the better today. It has been requested I pick up a certain item from a town located about 100 miles east of the apartment.

St Malo is easily reached, and my first impression of the city is a poor one. Though there is a pair of digital signs at the southern entrance to town that say "Welcome to St Malo" in three languages, I'm almost immediately of the opinion this is a tourist trap of the highest magnitude. My early opinion is shot dead when I discover there are two parts, and what I want is about 10 minutes further.

The old town is located within magnificent ramparts, and entered through three narrow gates north, east, and south. To the east lies the marina, the north the English Channel, and to the west is the remains of the River Rance as it enters the Channel. Within the walls are everything you could imagine inside a walled medieval city, from sex to retail, religion, trade, schools, neighbourhood squares, restaurants, parks and beaches, and apartments by the hundreds.

One of the first items for business: walk the city wall, to get a feel for the size of the city, and what it considers important.

I start with a cool breeze from the Channel, and by the end, I'm sweating up a storm. Someone has turned up the thermostat, and turned down the fan, then decided a bit of humidity would be welcome.

However, what was discovered: Notre-Dame de la Grand Porte Cathédrale is an excellent way to beat the heat. Vaulted ceilings, heavily-remodeled, renovated, and added to over the centuries. One of the first things you notice is the church is not built "straight". I've seen this before (if memory serves, either Canterbury or the York Minster in the UK has a silly reason for altar non-linearity), but it gets your attention.

The church was almost mortally-wounded in World War II during the town's liberation by the Allies in August 1944. Though much has been completely-rebuilt, I'm not sure why those doing the work decided on doing so so obviously off the straight and narrow...

Rambling through ANY old town is always quite a treat for me; It is the manner in which I embrace history, find the unexpected and unusual. In St Malo, it is how you discover sex shoppes near the city market, locate little neighbourhood parks, listen to very good gypsy music while eating a very good chicken sandwich in one of the central squares. And, if you allow your psyche to become one with the town, kismet joins you in wandering through the southern gate in time to enjoy several games of petanque being played by the locals.

The Old Town of St Malo is one I will return to as often as I can. It is simply marvelous.

Oh, and on the drive home, I found my first French windmill. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about it, as there was not a whit of information near the Windmill itself. However, it is in fine condition, stands proudly over the town of Lancieux here:

[ 2009: Two things come to mind, these years later: the traffic, as seen two photos above, could be horrendous. Somehow, it all worked out, though I have to wonder how.

Secondly, I didn't notice until I pulled out the next-to-last photo here: how would you like to own one of these homes on the edge of the Old City,

* where the first floor windows look out onto a walled, tiny and narrow street, full of parked cars and gazing tourists,

* where the second floor Mostly looks at the wall (and more gazing tourists, this time on the ramparts),

* where you need to climb to or above the third floor before you see what is beyond... Life in a tourist's fishbowl. ]

14 June 2009

Quotes, # 013: The Look

You have to love Ann Richards, the feisty ex-Governor of the large state of Texas... She was really big on speaking her mind and, some say, wearing Big Hair.

We could use far more politicians like her...

The photo is of a Mandarin Duck, one of the most beautiful and colourful of birds. This one, in particular, was found in the Seattle area in the winter of 2007, several thousands of miles away from its normal haunts in Korea, China, Japan, etc. For most of a few weeks, he cavorted with Mallards and Canada Geese on Pine Lake.

This image, as well as all of the preceding Quotes, are for sale as physical art you can put on your office or home walls. Our example here is available in 12x18" and 20x30" posters. Feel free to email me if you'd like to own this piece of American Pie(ty). Be the first on your block to be the first on your block.

All rights reserved, © caren park, http://RealistAtLarge.blogspot.com.

13 June 2009

2006: Just Around the Corner

13 June

Didn't expect to be doing much today, as I awoke to quite a downpour... I knew my luck with weather the past few weeks was pushing outrageous, so a few days of heavy clouds and the occasional rain isn't getting me down. However, when the temp started rising and the clouds began to filter sunshine instead of blocking it, I thought I'd do a walkabout. By the time I was 3-4 kilometres from the front door, the clouds were well on their way to being gone, the temp had quickly risen from 18 to around 25, and the humidity was headed towards a Winston-Salem summer norm.

Along the way, I thought I was going on a 5-6 kilometre loop. So, when the weather started to revert to this morning's idea of damp, I figured I'd easily be home in time to watch the roads soak. While I was right about the weather, I was dead wrong about the distance. What kept me going?

The blind confidence that the road I needed was "just around the next corner", my music (I really love my portable music player), and the fun of the unknown.

The first good was meeting an 80-year-old woman as I crossed the River Jaudy for the first time. She was working in her garden, and had just plonked into a comfy chair in her garden, which was bounded by the river itself. She recognized my French could use a lot of work, yet between the two of us, we managed to get names, ages, where we were born (she was born in the house not 15 metres from her chair), her children (one daughter), etc... It was marvelous to be in the middle of nowhere and find someone who was friendly, and had no problem with entertaining a completely-sweaty and disheveled stranger.

Another 1.5 miles, and I've found a hiking trail for 'another day' where the River Jaudy was crossed one more time. Not 100 metres further up the road (D32 north) were two locals working their dairy herd. The young man had just taken down a piece of fence, and for a moment I thought they were more interested in causing a bit of relatively-innocent havoc by loosing the herd on the highway. It became obvious this was a part of their job, though, and I found myself walking on the road with about 60 dairy cows to the next meadow. It sounds rather mundane, but it was quite a treat.

I finally find the loop road I was looking for, I'm tired, and my feet are beginning to mutiny. The music has been quiet for about a minute, and just as I think the battery needs replacing, Ravel's "Bolero" starts to make itself loud enough over the ambient environment. How many times have you heard this beautiful bit of classical music and wanted it to be playing as you were closing on home?

I beat the finishing crescendos home, but only barely! (grin)

All told, about 10-12 kilometres, a little over 2.5 hours, another dragonfly find, and several mini-adventures. Some folks spend their lives searching for heaven in their own way, and I feel lucky to have found it in mine...

12 June 2009

Breaking Up is so Hard to Do

The first minute and 20 are the funniest, and OH so true... Philip just doesn't listen!

09 June 2009

Worst Job Ever, Brazil

Sometimes, a job just isn't all it's cracked up to be... :)

08 June 2009

2006: Circuit de la Côte des Ajoncs

08 June

Today, I'd almost decided not to take camera with me. See, the temperatures have been marvelous in the low- to mid-20s centrigrade since the first of June, and I was thinking it would not be a good idea to (1) leave the camera in the car (2) while I went swimming. Too much chance of being nicked (not good) or cooked (not much better). However, the weather, while warm, was not warm enough to ward off the stiff east wind, and water temps kept me from thinking that a dip would be a "happy" thing.

So, when I stopped la voiture (car, a feminine noun) along the Circuit de la Côte des Ajoncs (and I STILL have no idea what "Ajoncs" means), I was expecting to do nothing more than soak up a bit of sunshine out of the wind, eat a bit of excellent gouda cheese, and slurp down orange juice. While I was doing so, I noticed (1) low tide means there is an incredible amount of land between the high tide mark and the water, and if memory served (and it did), (2) high tide would arrive about 1800 (6pm). About the same time, (3) I noticed several passerines (perching birds) playing on the granite rocks along the shore.

Of course, as soon as the camera was ready, they disappeared. So I waited. Patiently. For 3.5 hours.

I had a book. A good book. The car was used as a "blind", something that the birds can get used to that does NOT look like a human.

And I was out of the pretty hairy wind.

Among the first interesting sights to be seen, two Turtle Doves playing on the rocks. I couldn't figure out what they were doing, but contented myself with the quick photo op.

A few minutes later, =Egretta Garzetta=, a beautiful white bird that reminds me of (and could possibly be) a Snowy Egret. For 30 minutes, it plied the shoreline on the far side of the little cove, in full sight, but too far for photos. When the egret disappeared from sight, I figured today had been fun, and was considering heading home when TWO egrets appeared less than 50 feet away. Shutter blazed, and some fine shots were acquired.

[ 2009: The egret turned out to be the Snowy's European cousin, the Little Egret ]

Lastly, I had just decided the day was a complete success, as egret, cheese, and juice were now gone, and exposed limbs tanned, when the passerine that started the stakeout appeared less than 12 feet away. Twenty seconds later, it was gone, but time enough for a few decent shots of still one more bird I couldn't identify. He seemed quite surprised I was there, yet was not spooked by the noise of the shutter. [ 2009: He's STILL unidentified :) ]


Lastly, one last photo opportunity begged me leave the highway upon viewing the church in Langoat. The lighting was incredible, and a local woman chatted while I was attempting to find the proper angles to fit the lighting... At first, she thought a woman alone taking pictures was unusual, but apparently I convinced her I was only crazy, and she left for home smiling as I did the same...


Roads are pretty much the same almost everywhere: Though major highways are usually divided affairs, even if only by a strip of paint, you are not guaranteed two lanes of through traffic. This becomes problematic most frequently between towns, as the countryside is now your buffer, and that buffer is typically a ditch bounded by a 10-foot ridge of scruffy plants. Driving is a matter of prophecy and luck, and your ability to keep from speaking with insurance- and gendarmerie-types is dependent upon the skills of those on the road at the moment you pass a particular point.

To be sure, this is frequently the case everywhere you are, but considering the lack of visibility AND the lack of roadway in far too many places with which to respond, I'm surprised the rural French survive at times. But they do.


You haven't lived until you've watched a full-sized tractor trailer rig whipsaw past a hay wagon on a D road, doing so from what was, in essence, a standing stop of only 5-10 mph, the wagon's back bumper, and less than 100 feet of visibility. EEEHHAA!


Lizbeth, I found a mongrel dog that matched Earl for volume and persistence. Port Blanc, just north of Les Plage des Dunes. For the record, I could not see the ghosts he was deterring. He didn't appear to be local to the beach, as there was only one house nearby, and the owner of the home would occasionally look at disgust at le chien as it went about its war with the invisible. Another canine, visible underneath the front bumper of a van parked on that stretch, had me wondering if the two were together. Unlike his cousin, bumper dog was silent the entire visit.

Oh. EarlDog could be heard from Les Plages des Dunes, probably a decent kilometre away (though he did have the wind advantage), and from the rocks north of his position about 400 metres (as I was trying to reach a particular outcropping that eventually turned out to have water between it and myself, even at low tide).

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07 June 2009

2006: Morlaix, Callac, Kismet

07 June

Among the many things I wanted to do today: visit Morlaix and points south, to include the forested interior as far as Brasparts. Well, the best-laid plans and all, one would think someone who had only recently pointed to the positives of using a map would actually CARRY one when exploring points unknown.

One would be wrong.

Hmmm. And yet, such stupidity sometimes brings with it benefits not planned. Such as: even though I drove over 100 miles today, it was through countryside that continues to astound. Similar to the UK, when you reach town limit boundaries, your view changes. Within the town, life is crowded, hewn by (in the case of Bretagne) huge stone blocks, and roadways are usually bounded by homes built with those stones. Each town has seen history, feels lived-in. Leave the city limits, and you are immediately rural: sheep, cows, horses, hay, summer grains, artichokes, etc. Rolling hills of incredible greens, farm houses created from stones removed from the land.

Anyway, back to kismet. I'd been driving for several hours, photographing very little. As I'd given up on the day, turning the car back towards Pedernec, I espy ahead a tiny chapel, Chapelle Notre Dame du Pénity, found a few miles south of Callac. The chapel itself was just enough of a draw to part me from vehicle with camera in hand. However, it was the small stream behind the chapel which retained my attention for over an hour.

You see, the stream and the sunshine above were magickly coloured by invisibly-clear waters, the greens of underwater plants, the creams of mayflies in abundance, and the mating dances of hundreds (if not thousands) of cobalt-blue and brimstone-red dragonflies.

[ 2009: What I remember most of that afternoon was the serenity of the valley, the warmth of the sunshine, and the vast numbers of dragonflies and mayflies along this very tiny portion of the creek. And that I would have missed this had I not seen Some Thing in the chapel as I was driving by.

Kismet. ]

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06 June 2009

2006: the Northeast Peninsula

As you enter the town of Plougrescant from the south, you will encounter an odd-looking spire above an 11th century chapel, St Gonéry Chapel. The "odd" part is two-fold: the tower turret is lead-lined, and it is canted at an unusual angle. As well, the entire spire is covered in large and small gargoyles. Within the chapel itself is a 15th-century throne.

The chapel is open to the public on selected holidays and summer weekends. The only web link I could find on short notice just happens to be entirely in French. I'll see what I can do about translating it for you, should you ask :)

Continue northward to Pors-Hir and Le Gouffre for some of the most interesting rock scrambling and coastal hiking you can imagine. Stay on the Côtes de la Circuit du Ajoncs and find yourself wondering why someone would build a home between two 40-foot-tall sections of Rose Granite shoreline.

AND, if you like Artichokes, you can find gazillions of them here, planted along the road, ripening in the spring sunshine.

This drive is picturesque, and if you are lucky, will take you hours to make the 3-mile journey...

05 June 2009

Quotes, # 012: Flight

Spend a day watching labradors and golden retrievers jumping into space, searching for well-worn tennis balls and (mostly) positive human interaction, and you get a feel for what Douglas Adams must have been intimating in this quote.

It almost seems as if some of these canines do take flight, if only for a second or two. I know Cassie thinks she does.

This image, as well as all of the preceding Quotes, are for sale as physical art you can put on your office or home walls. Our example here is available in 12x18" and 20x30" posters. Feel free to email me if you'd like to own this piece of American Pie(ty). Be the first on your block to be the first on your block.

All rights reserved, © caren park, http://RealistAtLarge.blogspot.com.

2006: Pontrieux, Tréguier

Here it is, the fifth of June, and it's hard to believe I've actually been on the go for 28 days already... The time really has flown by.

My car decided to visit two towns of "character" as determined by the local regional council. The first, Pontrieux, is the smaller of the two. As I arrive, both village "squares" (which are actually triangular in shape in Pontrieux, and no, I don't know why) are hosting the weekly village market. Among the items for sale are local cheeses and meats, vegetables, and clothing. The tourists (of which there are a few, and most "stand out") move slowly from tent to tent, while the locals march smartly to the food vendors as necessary. The town roads near the centre of town (which is where I am/was) are narrow, and mostly plugged with humanity. At noon on the nose, the church bells toll the hour, and most shoppes AND the market vendors start to close down for the siesta. It's obviously time to move on...

My next town was Tréguier, a port town I will describe at a future date. The village square (which is rectangular, thank you) is dominated by the Cathedral dedicated to St Tugdual, and it is closed. Along with 99% of the other businesses in the square. And no, it's not for siesta. One of the only open places is Le Martray Crêperie, which also supposedly sells sandwiches. When my second choice of sandwich was declined as "Je suis désolé, mais...", I was informed it was a holiday. I was not informed WHAT holiday, just that a holiday was the reason almost everyone except this vendor was closed.

So, no sandwich. However, he informed me his ice creams (glaces) were very good, so...

Let me tell you, I have NEVER had a better ice cream. Tillamook, Ben & Jerry, Haagen Dazs, Dreyer's, Breyers, Fliers, Criers, whatever, none of them come remotely close. I will leave the taste to your imagination. As it turns out, I didn't need a sandwich after all.

When I finally returned home, Madame informed me the holiday would last all week, and this started to make me panic; I had only enough food in the apartment for one more day. I had this notion that when The Boyz returned to the apartment, they would have found me mummified, staring at the laptop screen wishing it was a vanilla glace from Le Martray Crêperie.

Lucky for me, Intermarché either doesn't believe in this holiday, or was closed for only one day. I was allowed to stock up on spaghetti, toilet paper, matches, and chocolate enough to last... And no, I still have no idea what this holiday is/was... It may have something to do with the D-Day anniversary celebrations, but as I'm about 120 miles southwest from the closest of Normandy beaches, and they are probably packed to the gills at the moment, I'm only guessing...

[ 2009: I'm reading a French blog at the moment, and the woman is talking about her children reminding her about an upcoming school holiday. I'm wondering if this is the same holiday, Pentacost, that I ran into... ]

03 June 2009

2006: Trégastel, Perros-Guirec

Weather report - The past three days have been heaven. Temperatures in the 20s, and few clouds (mostly high wisps).

After stopping at Brelevenez Church for a few photos, I'm out and about the peninsula that is the northwest bump above Lannion. The route takes me from Trébeurden (notable for its beaches and a Radar Dome) on the west, northward to Trégastel, east to Perros-Guirec, and southward home.

Trégastel is a wonderful little town, with white-sand plages (beaches), but I'm more interested in the natural area just north of the aquarium, named Presqu'île Renote Reserve. I can see where parking will be problematic during the summer, as this region of France becomes inundated with Parisien holiday seekers, but at the moment parking is not a problem. There is a small island that can be reached on foot at low tide, and signs along the mainland which state you are on your own should you overstay when the tide rushes back in. Hiking in and around the peninsula is an adventure, as are the rock scrambling opportunities. The most interesting bird photographed here was the Northern Gannet; it was incredible to watch as it would soar to 50+ feet, then hover momentarily. If the decision is "meal below", the gannet becomes a streamlined arrow, and it dives directly into the ocean.

While swimmers and sunbathers love the local beaches (and I count myself among them), kayakers can and do tour both outlying islands and the surrounding rock outcrops for a unique perspective. Today, there is a large group of 20 kayaks who have split between the main offshore island and the mainland for lunch. Later, they will follow the shoreline east towards Ploumanac'h.

Ploumanac'h is another in a long line of gorgeous coastal towns. The marina will be your first hint at the village and, as I stopped to do some scenic photography, a pair of retired Brits rode their collapsible velos (bicycles) within a few metres and started capturing their own memories of the moment. It didn't take long before we were discussing everything from weather for the last month to current affairs in the Middle East to petrol prices to the changes along this coastline during the last twenty-five years... They had berthed their sailboat in Trébeurden a few hours before, and were out scouting for a new overnight spot. Ploumanac'h seemed to be their consensus, and I had to say it would be tough to argue against: aquamarine waters, amenities, exploration opportunities within exercise distance, and the promise of a wine party later with friends aboard ship.

As I had neither sailboat nor wine, I continued eastbound along the coastal highway and discovered a village that seemed to think it was Perros-Guirec. It included a casino, a small marina, perhaps six or seven crêperies, and a waterfront that was being transformed as I walked along (roads being maintained, buildings renovated, etc), none of which I remembered from my past few visits. I could see that it would be someone's expensive wet dream of heaven one day, and it was well on its way even as I basked on a bench, eating a crêpe confiture while watching the waves wash the white sands (unconscious alliteration aside!)...

I found out later it was a northern neighbourhood of Perros-Guirec, Trestraou, and that a second discovery not 5 minutes further along the highway was a similar development, Trestrignel. What I thought of as Perros-Guirec was simply the port area, with its own separate marina (of interesting construction) and quite a tidal change during each day.

02 June 2009

2006: Lannion, Brelevenez

Local Summary

Lannion is an important centre of trade, and most of the retail district is layered on the terraced right bank of the river Leguer. If you should want to do a little ecclesiastic exploring, the trail from Lannion up to Brelevenez Church is quite incredible,

the 140 final steps lined with small traditional town houses and manor homes. The church dates from the end of the 12th century, and has been "remodeled" or added-to ever since. In my opinion, humble as it may be, this is the first church ("l'eglise") I've encountered in Brittany that feels "old", feels its history,
feels "lived-in". For its small parish size, it is remarkable, well-worth the visit andthe pilgrimage of those 140 steps.

If you are inclined, you can watch local kayakers ply their skills against the river on a set course near the central car park, where the Thursday Market brings crafts and fresh local produce to marketgoers. Buy cheese and your favourite "boisson" (beverage) so you can watch along the shoreline...

AND, if for some silly reason you feel the need for high-fat, high-calorie, low nutritional value, one of only two known McDonalds restaurants within 50 miles is located near the Lannion airport. And, no, I haven't partaken yet, though my fast-food cells occasionally clamour when I'm in the area...

The town has been on its current site since Neolithic times. During the Middle Ages, the river was defended by a chateau and the town by a circle of ramparts. Today, it is a town of almost 20,000 people, and is in many ways the capital of the region of Tregor. It is located about 65 miles ENE from Brest, and about 15 miles NW of Pedernec on the D767 highway.

2006: Life and Death

June 02: Very early this morning, the swifts and martins were going nuts, loudly. The bugs must be everywhere because the birds are in non-stop take-away breakfast at high velocity. Quite harrowing to watch them and wonder how they keep from smacking into each other.

Thirty minutes later, two magpies make horrendous racket in back, for good reason. Seems one of the neighbourhood felines, our very own Le Chat Argent, "found" a magpie chick in its mouth and was carrying it somewhere local for its own "petit dejeuner" (breakfast). Following the recently-deceased and its captor was an adult male cat (new to me, all black, except for white chest and feet) and the two magpie adults. The ex-parents were incredibly loud, and everyone were oblivious to me as I photographed at least part of this cacophany. The birds dive-bombed the felines for the next 20 minutes or so as they moved from one shrub to another, until finally either the cats moved on further out of sight (ostensibly with their trophy in one fashion or another, or driven away in a pyrrhic victory for the birds).

Major Context Change Here -- My left knee hates me, but I can't say I blame it... You see, when The Boyz were still here, I managed to almost crush it when I tripped and came down obscenity-screaming hard (without the exclaimed obscenities, so some of you can either be proud or surprised. Your call :)). It was fun predicting the technicolour map my knee and calf would become, though I have to admit not knowing why it took 5 days to arrive. Then, about two weeks later, it got bumped, and I was limping for another day.

Well, yesterday, I was climbing a short little ridge at a panoramic overview in Laneros and managed to bang it hard AGAIN. So, what do I do today when Bretagne starts out blue-sky warm and gorgeous? I take the knee and the rest of the Body Park for a 4-mile walkabout around the south end of town, a loop through Maudez and Squibernevez (I LOVE the names of some of these towns). With the help of The Boyz' knee brace and the warmth of the walk, the world was truly enjoyable. Madame bade me "OOO, La La!" and "Bon Chance!" as I cleared her gate with backpack and camera, and she was laughing as my sweat-covered carcass poured itself inside the same gate about 90 minutes later. I have to admit the need to get out while the weather was good was overwhelming.

As if karma was out there listening, the skies have clouded over pretty heavily since I returned, and it will be no surprise if thunderstorms appear this evening... But to be here and enjoying the last 36 hours is one treat I intend to remember...

[later] The skies have returned to blue, the clouds are near the horizon, the martins are feeding fledgling young, tightly-packed and balanced on local television aerials, and as I was exploring the back garden came upon La Chat Gris and her Chatons nibbling on what was left of this morning's magpie tartare...

Life goes on...

01 June 2009

2009.06 Desktop Calendar

I don't often get to Juanita Beach Park, though if I'm birding anywhere near Kirkland / Juanita, I'm almost always within one mile of the beach. Not sure what it is, even though JBeach sometimes acquires interesting migrants, such as the American Black Duck of recent years.

When I have done the Beach, there is almost always a photo exclusively gull-related. Several of my favourite gull photos were taken on this beach or the cement walkway that rings a freshwater swimming area. In this particular shot, s/he is handling its afternoon toilet. The eyes tell all, as if this is a necessary evil.

Please feel free to download this photo for personal use on your computer's desktop. To download, just click once on the image, which will bring up the enlarged image on a new webpage. Then, right-click on the image and follow your operating system's instructions for pictures / images.