Sunday, February 22, 2009

More of Nancy's Pictures from Last Summer

Nancy took some wonderful pictures last summer so I will take the opportunity to show you a few more she took, this time, of some of the people who inhabit our corner of France. Above is a carpenter in Chalabre who stood in the doorway smiling as we wandered through town with our visitors, Rachel and Gary.
This bemused lady is a neighbor of ours to whom we speak every time we walk to the bar. She sits in her doorway taking the evening air, sometimes alone, at other times with two or three other Leran ladies. Every Friday night during the Marche Nocturne Leran she greets us as we head toward the festivities. Thankfully, she is not usually there as we stumble home. I imagine she says to herself as we walk by, "Mon Dieu. Those Americans are going to the bar again tonight?" On the other hand, maybe she is thinking, "Sacre bleu! I am certainly thankful for the great infusion of American dollars to our humble community."

This is the paella vendor with his impressively large cauldron of rice, chicken, shrimp and sausage. You can smell the paella as you round the corner onto Cour St. Jacque. And it's always a hit. He always sold out his entire product, and so did the vendor before him, in the summer of 2007. I always think of paella as exclusively Spanish, and it is, but it is certainly popular in Southern France. Its also very similar to the Creole Jambalaya from old Louisiana where it is served with chunks of ham and whole crayfish. It's not unlike the Mexican dish Arroz con Pollo, either. Whatever its called, it's good.

I imagine Nancy took this picture during the Leran'Cestral when all kinds of people were wandering around Leran in strange costumes from times bygone. And this is by far the largest tricycle I've ever seen.

This young lady was at Ian and Jo's wedding reception and I think she was part of the professional serving staff keeping us supplied with food and drinks. She's got the Mona Lisa smile perfected, along with a pink dress and a tiara. What a good looking kid.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some Pictures from Last Summer

I thought I'd show you a few pictures from last summer's travels into the Pyrenees. Above, is Fergus and myself standing at the top of the Col d’Aubisque. These are by far the largest bicycles I've ever seen. I think they commemorate the Tour de France that passes along this road every few years.
This is a little bit of the village of Eaux Bonnes as seem from above. We spent one night here across from the casino building which is the prominent structure in the center of the photo. It seemed like a wonderful little village whose time has past. It was full of large buildings, hotels and boarding houses that were unused and perhaps abandoned. Looking at the village told the story of a time not too long ago that had wealthy tourists in great numbers filling the casino, walking the streets and sitting at the cafes, swimming in the thermal pools and soaking in the "Good Waters". When we were there, the good times had moved on and although it was a very beautiful place, it was not very lively. We also determined that it would be a very gloomy place to live in the winter as it would not get a lot of winter sun. The village sits in a valley that is steep and deep.

Coming down on the French side of the pass that brought us over from Spain, was this graffiti on an avalanche tunnel. My translation is: "Your valleys smell of gasoline, sneering tourists, and political demagoguery. I am returning to Slovenia." As you may know, some Slovenian bears were brought to France to try to repopulate the Pyrenees with the European equivalent of the Grizzly Bear. The effort has had mixed success. Some French citizens who graze sheep in the mountains were not too excited about having a few more bears to deal with. And the author of this graffiti seems to be saying the habitat, unfortunately, is too damaged to support the bear's need for wilderness and the politicians are too weak willed to support the wilderness ideal. I may have miss-translated the French and/or mangled the sentiment. I am certainly open to comments. What do you think?

Nancy took all the photos above, but this one is my favorite. I think she took this on a morning walk with Fergus just outside of Leran. It was taken in very low light and when you enlarge it, it looks like a Impressionist painting. I hope you like Nancy's photographs, and as always, click on em' to enlarge em'.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Travel Observations

Alexis de Tocqueville, a well-born Frenchman, travelled in the United States in 1831. Many of his famous quotes about America are from his book "Democracy in America". His journey through the western wilderness and down the Mississippi are pretty well known. Apparently not many people know that he also went to Canada. I didn't until I came upon a website of his travels.

Monsieur de Tocqueville was both impressed with Quebec and rather bleak about it's future. It seems he was rather surprised to find a region of French speakers in Montreal and Quebec. In a letter to a friend back in France he said;"They are as French as you and I. Indeed, they are more like us than the Americans of the United States are like the English. I cannot tell you how pleasant it was to find ourselves among these people. We felt at home, and everywhere people received us as compatriots. " (Letter to Abbé Lesueur,September 7, 1831) De Tocqueville was impressed with the faithful reproduction of French customs, language, landscape and even the architecture. He found in Montreal and the villages he traveled though a striking similarity with the French countryside, and with the French countryside of the 18th century. That didn't necessarily remain the case. If you travel through Quebec, as we did at the beginning and end of our travels to France in 2007, I think it resembles North America more than it does France. You can see echos of France in old Montreal and in some of the architecture of rural Quebec, but however beautiful, you never feel as if you've been transported to France.

De Tocqueville was not so overjoyed at the perceived future of the French language in North America. "In Canada I have just seen a million fine, intelligent Frenchmen, who should have formed the nucleus of a great French nation in America but have somehow ended up living as strangers in their own land.... The die is now cast: all of North America will speak English. " (Letter to his brother Edouard, November 26, 1831) Well, he was partially right. Virtually all of North America does speak English (if you wrongly exclude Mexico as part of Central America). However, as we know, the province of Quebec speaks French and they are very adamant about that remaining the case. And in my limited experience travelling through Quebec, virtually all of them speak English as a second language.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leave Only Tracks, Take Only Pictures

A month or two ago, I was sitting in a doctor’s office in Provo waiting to see a dermatologist. The office was spruced up with all kinds of Native American decor. Rugs, blankets, paintings and the like. If you live in the Western U.S., I’m sure you can imagine the waiting room. Also on the wall was a bison skull. There was a family sitting opposite me and the gentleman commented to his father (or father-in-law) that he’d spent a lot of time wandering Yellowstone looking for a bison skull. He wanted one for his wall, too. But he’d had no luck and was still looking. I could have told him why he hadn’t found one but I kept my mouth shut.

When I worked for Resource Management in Yellowstone part of our responsibilities were to protect the natural resources. Besides the trees, geysers and animals, one overlooked portion of the natural resource were artifacts like arrowheads, rock specimens, animal bones, antlers and yes, bison skulls. These items tend to disappear with remarkable regularity. I’ve heard that Petrified National Park near Holbrook, Arizona no longer has any small to medium size petrified wood. Even some large specimens have managed to get in a truck and leave. Saguaro National Park has had some of their saguaros disappear. Indian artifacts walk off from Mesa Verde and other protected lands in the west.

It is illegal to remove any natural object from the National Parks but it is very difficult to enforce. When we lived in Montana we would regularly hear of "horn hunters" getting caught in Yellowstone with elk antlers in their possession. Their goal was to take the antlers to the antler sale in Jackson, Wyoming and offer them up for auction. Buyers wold come from all over the planet to purchase the antlers. Some would use them as decoration for their brand new rustic western castles, and some would buy them for the Asian market. Some Asian gentlemen believe that ground up elk antler (and bear gall bladders, but that’s another story) added to their tea would add to their potency. Viagra, to some extent has put an end to this market.

So, how would we try to protect the bison skull and elk antlers in Yellowstone? When we would see someone throwing an elk antler in the car, we would take note of their licence plate and call law enforcement. If we would find elk antlers in the backcountry we would try to make it less conspicuous by depositing it far from the trail, or throwing into some inaccessible place. High technology has entered the fray. Antlers and skulls have been fitted with GPS locators and rangers know when they begin moving around.

Why is it illegal to remove objects? It’s apparent why you shouldn’t remove rocks, trees and petrified wood. That’s why people come to the parks: to see those things. Why are antlers, skulls and bones illegal to remove?. They are part of the natural ecosystem and add to the visitor’s experience. But more importantly, they are a food source to those on the bottom of the food chain. Rodents gnaw on antlers for a source of calcium and other nutrients. Their remains enrich the soil. So in an effort to keep skulls, especially bison skulls in the park, we had to destroy them.

We’d find a bison skull near a trail and we’d smash it on a rock or bust it up with a pulaski. If we left it intact, it would disappear and be out of the park by the next day. People are absolutely shocked to learn we smashed bison skulls and many times I’ve explained our rationale. Skulls don’t add much to the visitor’s experience if they are on someone’s wall, and they don’t do much when busted up into many pieces. But at least they don’t walk off. They return to the soil, to the "resource".

By the way, on my way into the doctor’s examining room, I examined the bison skull. It was a resin or plastic reproduction.