Gentle Observations

The weekend calm of our pastoral suburb of Crouin was disturbed by a succession of three thunderstorms sweeping across the town of Cognac this afternoon. The storms brought squalls of heavy rain which pounded the ancient skylights in the roof above our staircase. Having moved-in less than two months ago, we’re not yet used to the origins and meanings of the creaking and groaning this old house produces for varying reasons. Therefore, the rain’s concerto against glass, wood, and stone, accompanied by claps of thunder near and far was a little disconcerting.

This morning, on the other hand, I stepped through the front door into a sunny and peaceful garden.

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As I walked through the overgrown and riotous wilderness, I noticed all manners of secret wildlife.

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A freshly polished young snail

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A busy bee

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A shy putto hiding beneath a rose that hasn’t been trimmed in ages

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A parrot swinging on his perch, still with an adventurous gleam in its wooden eye, even though the poor thing lost all lacquered luster a long time ago

Returning to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I suddenly realized: I had fallen down the rabbit hole where stuffed birds keep company with gangly giraffes.

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Wishing Y’all a colorful weekend!

[Giraffe by Mordillo]

 

 

Poitiers with Dogs and Manifestations

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Recently we drove to Poitiers for a dog-themed weekend, specifically to attend a Friday/Saturday/Sunday dog show held at the arena of the Parc des Expositions de Poitiers. Since we are getting ready to move into our peaceful retirement home in Cognac by the end of the year, we need to make a decision with which type of companions we want to share our lives there. Our garden will be small and we have developed some issues typical for the elderly, including but not limited to concerns of mobility with a decided loss of youthful exuberance, especially early in the mornings. Therefore our beloved Kangal dogs and Beaucerons will no longer be a viable option for us. In the past, we’ve also lived with Bouvier des Flandres dogs which would be lovely to have around again if it were not for their very high grooming requirements. As it is, we need to educate ourselves as to what’s out there in the realm of low-maintenance, low energy, yet reasonably sized canines. We are considering adopting slightly older dogs as well, but only if the dog’s past is well documented.

On Friday morning we embarked on our factfinding mission to Poitiers, which is about an hour and a half’s drive to the North of Saintes. We stopped at our hotel in the historical town center first to get rid of our luggage. The Hôtel Mercure is located in a former church building and turned out to be utterly charming.

Our room extended over two stories with the bed upstairs on the mezzanine level. There were arches, cut stone, voluptuous curtains, and romantic views over slate roofs and chimney pots.

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The main body of the restaurant, as seen from one of the breakfast alcoves

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Another look at the mesmerizing hallway running alongside the restaurant “nave”

The Friday afternoon confirmation event, the Séance de Confirmation, was organized by the regional club, the Association Canine Territoriale du Poitou, while the weekend’s Exposition Canine Internationale under the auspices of the FCI [Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the International Dog Federation] and the SCC [Société Centrale Canine, the French Kennel Club], included dogs from all ten breed groups, plus a number of breed specialties and agility and obedience events. Confirmation, the judging of individual dogs against their breed standard is done very differently in Europe versus American dog shows. It is much more exact in Europe, involving actual measuring sticks and a written evaluation of every dog presented to the judge. The judge will also explain her or his reasoning ad hoc to the handlers.

Friday afternoon we just wandered hither and fro through the arena, learning, observing and enjoying the doggy atmosphere. I fell into conversation with one of the exhibitors, a lady who spends most of her weekends at dog shows. She breeds rough-haired wiener dogs and shows them across the country and beyond. She was accompanied by her very pregnant daughter, who showed her Kai-ken. I had no idea what a Kai-ken is when it’s home, so I received a quick introduction to the medium-sized, short-legged Kai-ken or Tora Inu, Tiger dog, one of the six native Japanese spitz-type dogs. They are believed to have been introduced to Japan during the period of the Jomon people’s culture, thousands of years in the past. The brindled Kai dogs were specialized to hunt Kamoshika, a native mountain goat-antelope. All I can say, he was cute! I greatly enjoyed talking with this French woman of strength and grace. Her musician husband is currently traveling across his native land of Senegal in the pursuit of artistic fame and fortune, while she lives with her daughter and nine dogs [children 1 through 9], plus the imminent arrival of her grandson [child number ten] and her son-in-law [child number eleven] all told with a big smile. More than I ever could accomplish!

On Saturday we hit the expo floor running and dedicated the entire day to our breed research, except when we were sidetracked and smitten all over again by Beauceron babies like this one. How can you possibly resist these mega-paws and mischievous smiles?

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Or the power and presence of the adult version?

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1st Excellent RCACS, Intermediate class, Malko de la Noe du Jardin

A contender for breed preference were the Dutch Shepherds with their brindle coats and sharp appearance. I’m a sucker for brindle and the ever so vague impression of African hyenas. To clarify, not a resemblance but a fleeting hint of a pictorial memory.

Czech Wolfdogs were a surprise for me, as I had never seen them before. Gorgeous. I wonder if they should be in “show” situations, though. The poor fellow in the grandstands above us was stress-drooling even though he was far from the action.

Malinois are certainly beautiful creatures, but owing to their extremely high exercise needs, like the Dutch Shepherds, they are much too intense for our limited physical abilities.

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We rested for a while in the grandstands, surveying the proceedings from lofty heights. Right below us, the SPA [Société Protectrice des Animaux] did a brisk business with their raffle tickets, while the Briards, les Chiens Berger de Brie, were judged in the ring closest to us.

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We weren’t the only ones needing a bit of a break!

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Bearded Collie or Beardie

Rhodesian Ridgebacks might be a possibility for us. They are certainly short-coated and, according to one breeder, downright lazy. At least as adults, they don’t seem to need as much exercise as the herders.

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Walking around the vast arena, stopping here and there for a closer look, we saw a number of breeds of which we had never heard before, including these large, floppy-eared hunting dogs apparently indigenous to our area, the Saintonge.

The dogs in this kennel enclosure took every single one of the six “Best of” titles in the “Hounds hunting in packs” [Meute] category that Saturday. Chapeau, Monsieur Rouhet !

And speaking of packs, there was an obvious intruder hiding amongst these beagles 😁

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After the show on Friday and Saturday, we walked around Vieille Ville, the old quarters of Poitiers, enjoying the sights and sounds of a town which for a time during the 100-year war was the home of the Royal French government while Paris was in the hands of the Plantagenet. It was here in Poitiers that Jeanne [Jehanne] d’Arc, La Pucelle d’Orléans, was questioned by a panel of theologians on behalf of the Dauphin Charles to determine her veracity. In April of 1429, this learned Commission of Inquiry “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty, and simplicity” [Wikipedia]. From Poitiers, she went straight to besieged Orléans, where her presence and strategic advice facilitated the retreat of the English within days. One of the charges she faced two years later during her trial in Rouen, by the way, was cross-dressing. Her English accusers apparently preferred their female warriors to attend battlefields in frilly dresses.

This may have been the site where La Pucelle [the virgin] was vetted. It is, at least, the property where we found a 1929 plaque honoring the 500th anniversary of her presence in Poitiers.

Even older than the shenanigans of past difficulties between English and French royal ambitions is this beautiful parish church in the pedestrian zone of Old Town.

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Cure de Saint Porchaire

The foundation of St-Porchaire was laid in the IXth century, eventually acquiring its gorgeous Romanesque-style tower. The church is one of only a few churches in all of France with a [gothic, in this case] double-nave. One of the naves was used by parishioners and pilgrims, the other by resident monks. Next door in the presbytery local youths are invited to safely congregate for listening and talking.

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On the way to église Notre-Dame-la-Grande, down rue de la Regratterie, we were passed by a manifestation we had encountered earlier in Place Alphonse Lepetit.

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The large contingent of heavily armed national police and local flics seemed quite relaxed about the youthful demonstrators, as they were carrying their riot helmets in their hands rather than wearing them, while the protestors chanted about their discontent with Trump and capitalism with a capital C. Very civilized, all in all.

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The splendid façade of Notre-Dame-la-Grande

Cobbled lanes, embellished fronts, and artisanal wonders.

Pretty much every little French town has a bookstore dedicated to the long tradition of European comic-book culture. My late brother, a fluent French speaker, was an aficionado of the Belgian comic “Tintin” since boyhood. Still, 18 months after his death, passing by such displays, I want to tell him about my Tintin encounters, freezing inside all over again when I instantly realize, I no longer can.

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For my Canadian friends:

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Another time we witnessed a more cheerful and melodious manifestation in the streets of Poitiers, one whose participants were certainly fond of colorful stockings. We never did find out what it was all about …

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The Palais des Comtes de Poitou et Ducs d’Aquitaine. Aliénor slept here. She is better known internationally as Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine [1122-1204], Queen of France [1137-1152, annulment], Queen of England [1154-1189].

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Now, however, it is high time we returned to the dog show pandemonium! Next up, the Akitas.

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Wait, those aren’t Akitas! Of course not, these are two lovely Scottish Deerhounds. Together with Irish Wolfhounds, I’ve always admired these swift giants.

In regard to the Akitas, there are American Akitas and Akita Inu. We wanted to take the opportunity to have a closer look at both Akita versions as potential companions for us. We met a breeder and successful exhibitor, Amandine Malordy, and her sisters who own the “Les Gardiens de la Cigogne” kennel quit near us in Charente-Maritime.

The larger American Akitas are beautiful and majestic animals with stunning coats and regal bearing. Nevertheless, I’m more strongly drawn to the Japanese Akitas.

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L’Makaho Go des Templiers Sacres, 1st Excellent, open males

We have a lot to discuss and evaluate, especially because we came across another breed we’re now seriously considering, the Berger de Picardie. Almost a small version of those rough-coated hounds, don’t you think?

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And while we mull it over, let’s indulge in Kangal images. What could be better?

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Father and son of the Elevage du Domaine du Bois Fidèle were showing together in the male puppy class.

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The puppy isn’t making it easy for the junior handler …

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ultimately doing a full somersault before …

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… melting into the red carpet like warm jello.

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But the brave handler of the boneless Kangal didn’t give up. He untangled the lead and shoving his arms like forklift bars beneath the dog’s torso, he lifted [!] the puppy up and placed him back on his paws. I have no picture of this courageous action because I was watching it with my mouth hanging open. Well done, unflappable young man!

Below you see the puppy class winner, bred by Guy Gauthier of Elevage Etoile d’Isis in the Dordogne.

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Star of Isis Neper Kangal, Meilleur Puppy

The majority of the Kangal dogs judged in Poitiers were bred by Amelle Autunes of The Legend of Kangal kennel.

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This is France, land of Style and Haute Couture, n’est-ce pas ? Even at a dog show 🙃

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L’Heimdall The Legend of Kangal, 1st Excellent RCACS

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#1095, Best of opposite sex, Excellent CACIB, J’Python The Legend of Kangal

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It is time to drive home, so let’s say goodbye to all those lovely dogs with one more sweet Kangal picture.

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Spontaneous​ Lunch

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On Friday the 13th, our weather was so gorgeous, so fabulous that a lunch excursion to La Tremblade was simply unavoidable. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to this seaside community forming the northern tip of the Gironde Estuary, where the waters of two mighty rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus La Tromblade is bordered by the Estuary to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and North, and the river La Seudre to the East. Along both banks of La Seudre, the coastal salt marshes are crisscrossed by a dense network of creeks and canals. This is one of the world’s foremost oyster farming area, where the La Seudre oyster parks merge with the Île d’Oléron-Marenne oyster farming basin, to form one of the best known ostreiculture regions of France!

For our lunch date, we drove along the La Tremblade canal to the restaurant Chez Gaby and settled on the terrace extending over the bank of the canal.

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While contemplating the menu, we noshed on warm razor clams, Enis arcuatus, in a buttery persillade. Followed by, respectively, an oyster and smoked salmon entrée.

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For our main course, we both chose the grilled fillet of Bar Sauvage, which in the Languedoc is called Loup de Mer, Seawolf, otherwise known as European Sea Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, with its velouté vin blanc, risotto, and vegetables.

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At this point in the meal, we were already seriously overstuffed but dessert was still to come. Fortunately, service was very slow which made it possible to not only consume but survive a lovely slice of fresh fig tart.

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It wasn’t easy to walk off this two-hour lunch!! While we indulged, the outgoing tide exposed large patches of mud, stranding many vessels along the canal.

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Shadow-selfie with oyster shells

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Almost as if to deliberately contrast the mud left by nature, humans added many colorful accents along the canal, which is quite typical for all the regional oyster shacks and tourism facilities as well.

Here we have the same boot shown from three different angles.

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Eventually, the canal meets the river La Seudre, which in turn flows into the Atlantic Ocean in a protected bay formed to the South of the Île d’Oléron.

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Oyster farming country in the salt marshes

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The Charente river has had a busy tourist day, too!

 

Xanten & Saintes

Ihr Lieben, mal etwas ganz anderes, ein blog post auf deutsch!

Der Anlass ist der Besuch unserer Zwillinge aus Xanten, Kreis Wesel, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland, hier in Saintes, Charente-Maritime, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France. Die “Zwillinge” in diesem Fall sind Städtepartner, un jumelage wie wir hier sagen. Die Parnerschaft zwischen Xanten und Saintes began in 2002 und der deutsche Partnerschaftsverein und das französische Comité de Jumelage sind seither durch diverse kulturelle Aktivitäten eng miteinander verbunden.

Nach einer nächtlichen Busreise kamen unsere müden Xantener Zwillinge dann am Donnerstagmorgen in Saintes an, wonach viele der deutschen Gäste erst einmal von ihren Gastfamilien eingesammelt wurden um sich etwas auszuruhen. Und am Abend hat sich eine gemütliche Runde zum Stammtisch im Hof des La Musadière Restaurants zusammengefunden.

Planmäßig ging es am Donnerstag Vormittag auf Stadtbesichtigung. Der Vorsitzende unseres Comité de Jumelage, Monsieur Francis Jungbluth hat uns mit großer Expertise und bei schönstem Sonnenschein durch einige Höhepunkte unserer Stadt geführt. Seine Führung began im gallo-römischen amphithéâtre, les Arènes.

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Mit bisweilen galanter Unterstützung, kletterte die Belegschaft nach und nach in das große Oval, welches in der Antike um 1.80 m tiefer lag.

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Bevor wir das Amphitheater durch das “Tor der Lebenden” verliesen, wagten wir noch schnell einen erleichten Blick zurück auf das “Tor der Toten”.

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Mit einem letzten Souvenirphoto ging es weiter zur St. Eutrope Basilika.

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Die Basilique Saint-Eutrope de Saintes hat eine lange und bewegte Geschichte hinter sich, letztendlich als ewige Ruhestätte des hl. Eutropius von Saintes, erster Bishof von Aquitanien. In 1886 wurde die Kirche von Papst Leo XIII zur Basilica minor, einer kleineren Basilika erhoben.

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Unsere nächste Station, die Cathédrale Saint-Pierre ist ein bedeutendes nationales Denkmal. Eng gesehen ist die Kirche eine ex-Kathedrale, da Napoléon, der mehrmals in Saintes war, den Bishofssitz in 1801 nach La Rochelle verlegte. Auf dem Weg von Basilika zur Kathedrale wurde Francis’ Vortrag mit einer ad hoc Vesperpause kombiniert.

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Leider mußte ich mich zu diesem Zeitpunkt von der Führung verabschieden. Es war ein schöner und lehrreicher Ausflug und ich möchte mich herzlich bei Francis bedanken!

Mit diesem kleinen Bildergruß verabschiede ich mich von unseren deutschen Zwillingen. Es war schön einige von Euch kennen zu lernen und ich hoffe, wir sehen uns eines Tages in Xanten wieder. Gute Heimfahrt! Claudia

Distinctly Different Vistas

We left France recently for our first trip back to Costa Rica in 20 Months, más o menos. The contrast between small town Saintes, Charente-Maritime, and small town Atenas, Alajuela, couldn’t be more pronounced if you tried! With a few of the pictures I took during this last week, I can illustrate the dichotomy between the tranquil life along the Charente river and the dramatic natural forces on the slopes of the Cordillera Central.

On our last day in Saintes, I discovered “our” swans on an outing with this year’s crop of cygnets. Framed against the backdrop of 2000-year-old l’Arc de Germanicus, they are the perfect symbol for life in rural southwest France.

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While I was watching, the parental units brought their swanlings a little closer to the left bank to teach them the swan-ly skill of underwater grazing.

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Mute swans, Cygnus olor, Anatidae

 

Version 2

Close supervision of the fuzzballs brought quick success. 

Finally, even sleepy number seven joined its siblings.

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That’s easy, dad!

In contrast to the gentle breezes and mild temperatures of southwest France, we arrived in Costa Rica to an atmosphere of nearly saturated humidity, so moist and oppressive that even the cashier at the supermarket had to wipe her face repeatedly with the collar of her polo shirt while she was checking us out. If the locals can’t stand it, how am I supposed to cope? Our customarily crisp and brilliant sunrises were also a bit on the murky side.

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05h28

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Fortunately, the weather has since reverted to normal, with pleasant mostly sunny mornings and thundering afternoons, befitting the early rainy season.

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The hillside across the canyon hasn’t fully greened yet,  but it’s early days – the rainy season has barely started. However, when it does rain one can’t easily ignore it!

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My circadian rhythm has reset itself, adjusting to the near equatorial day with daylight from 5h00 to 18h00 and brief dawn and dusk periods. In Costa Rica, pretty much the whole country rises and retires with the proverbial chickens, except the party crowd in posh Escazu, of course. In addition to the properties of lux influx, I postulate that an adaptation to the local alimentation greatly influences my Tica-style sleep-wake cycle. After all, one can not possibly start the day in Costa Rica without a serving of Gallo Pinto, can one now?

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Speaking of food, Costa Rican ants like their protein, too. It took a steady stream of tiny Formicidae roughly 36 hours to completely strip this beetle of all nourishing organic matter. A contiguous ant-highway extended along my bathroom tile grout for several meters between the supine victim and the outdoors, moving along with single-minded determination. Amazing!

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The statuesque lady below, sunning herself on our cement pool surround is a member of one of our resident Black iguana families, Ctenosaura similis, Iguanidae. They live on the hillside below and above us and their extensive escape tunnels incorporate our rainwater drainage system. Iguanas are pretty shy and tend to disappear rather quickly when they detect you.

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The spikes on the iguana’s tail give them their other name, Spiny-tailed iguana. 

 

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Another iguana family lives in the steep mountainside opposite our back door. One of the cave entrances is five or six meters above our carport. They do enjoy sunbathing, so in Costa Rica, I have a much greater opportunity to observe iguana than swans!

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Both locations, Saintes and Atenas, are gorgeous in their own way, don’t you think?

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05h29, May 31, 2017

 

#CreatingEquality

“Creating Equality” was the 2017 theme of the 39th LGBTIQ Rights Parade in Sidney. The event drew about 200K spectators to enjoy the enthusiasm of the 12K participants, while roughly 200 floats formed the backbone of the parade. The news media speculated that the wet and blustery weather adversely affected the numbers of spectators, however, I didn’t notice any dampened spirits among the participants from my vantage point across the street from the official staging point.

From our spectacular high-rise terrace, we had a bird’s eye view of the activities below, as parade participants and floats gathered in ever-increasing numbers from midday onward.

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Liverpool St. [directly below] and College St. [right-hand] had been closed to traffic and parking for 24 hours since early morning. Eventually, four rows of floats would line up there to commence into the parade route [exit stage right]. Hyde Park became the dressing room and practice stage for all our chorus boys and girls.

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One of the floats assembling curbside

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This float eventually morphed into a Pacific Island outrigger canoe with a Polynesian sail – something we just happened to have seen in a museum in Melbourne a few days ago. Around five in the afternoon, the entire intersection presented such a hectic activity level that I went downstairs for a closer look. Our building was effectively fenced & boarded off from sidewalk and street in front. Thus our elegant marble stoop with its protective awning turned into a rain-proof grandstand overlooking a small section of Liverpool street and Hyde Park with its energizing activities.

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The intricate Pacific Islander costumes

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Has anyone seen Justin Timberlake?

Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras began as a civil rights rally in the late 1970s. It was born out of solidarity for New York’s Stonewall movement and called for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians in Australia.

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The 78ers continue to raise their voices in the effort to persuade Australia’s leaders to legalize same-sex marriage. Strong opposition to gay rights persists, especially from  religious groups who have described mardi gras as a “public parade of immorality and blasphemy.”

Uniquely Australian – the parade participation of the Sistagirls from Tiwi Island off the northern coast was a first this year. Read about their story here in Johnny Lieu’s Mashable report.

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The 2017 theme “Creating Equality” was poignantly represented in oversized, individual block letters spelling EQUALITY which displayed photographs of, well, human beings. These are your brothers and sisters, your children, your friends. They are also parents and spouses,  why should they be lesser citizens, still?

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But this wasn’t just a political rally, most decidedly, this was a Gay Pride Parade! As was demonstrated by the more flamboyant costumes …

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… don’t you wish you had the gumption 🙃 ? Nevertheless, my legs were getting tired and I went back up to take a few more shots of the beginning of the actual parade from our lofty perch.

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After the Dykes on Bikes roared by, members of the First Nations opened the Parade,

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closely followed by our 78ers – and we were finally on our way to a remarkable and glittery event in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney.Parade.78-1160472

Rue des Jacobins

Rue des Jacobins in the town of Saintes is just a narrow, elderly street, leading north from the central pedestrian zone, terminating in a set of stone steps ascending to Capitole Hill, where once the Roman Forum formed the administrative center of Mediolanum Santonum the first capital of the imperial Roman province of Gallia Aquitania. At least, it is assumed that the forum stood on this easily defensible calcareous cliff overlooking the town and river. Recent excavation unearthed more artifacts in support of this hypothesis, but the many layers of detritus and rubble of human habitation over the last two thousand years, not to mention the current population of Capitole Hill make it a very costly proposition to dig any further. For now anyway.

I had an appointment at our bank located up on the hill. Stepping back outside in the brilliant sunshine of an autumnal afternoon in southwest France after my consultation, I couldn’t help but snap a few photos on my way home to show you how prettily our little town presents itself.

Urban Scenes Saintes

Turning from the Esplanade du Capitole toward the Rue des Jacobins stairs

Urban Scenes Saintes

You can either take the stairs into the Ruelle du Bastion or turn right for the staircase down to Rue des Jacobins. Saintes is full of these secret alleyways connecting actual streets for pedestrians.

Urban Scenes Saintes

And there are the ancient roofs of le quartier Saint-Pierre, our district, dominated by la cathédrale Saint-Pierre, the St. Peter Cathedral.

 Urban Scenes Saintes

Looking back uphill, you can see how impossible an archeological exploration in this part of Capitole Hill would be. The modern city is much too densely build. In our narrow view only are a chapel, a convent, a school, and a senior home!

Urban Scenes Saintes

Stone

Continuing along Rue des Jacobins, named after a 12th century Dominican monastery located where we find the Bibliothèque Martineau now, I made my usual detour into the courtyard of Monsieur Martineau’s former l’Hôtel Particulier.

Urban Scenes Saintes

The tranquil garden changed a little since I first discovered it in March of 2014. The majestic beech tree, formerly in the now newly seeded area, above, had died and the vines covering the library and chapel on the right were also removed. It looks a little naked and barren without their rustic charm.

Urban Scenes Saintes

Urban Scenes Saintes

At least the painted flowers still delight!

Rue des Jacobins is not very long, we can already see its end at the intersection with Rue Alsace-Lorraine, the pedestrian zone’s main drag.

Urban Scenes Saintes

But before we walk on, let’s have a peek through the blue gate of the kindergarten on the left, shall we?

Urban Scenes Saintes

Fall colors and sharp shadows highlight the old belfry of the ancient bishop’s residence, currently the Musée de L’Échevinage for Fine Art.

Urban Scenes Saintes

And here we are, the intersection where the Middle Ages meet modern commerce.

Urban Scenes Saintes

Now let’s hurry home for a fragrant cup of tea!