May mixed bag

In the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood of Paris, a woman walks past “Fight 4 Your Rights,” by Paris street artist Kelu Abstract. It’s one of many installations opposing the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The merry month of May
For this post, I have a real mix of things to share with you: some travels within France, the French election, the wonders of nature… and a national championship. First up are a few things I saw on a spring visit to Paris.

The day that I arrived, Paris welcomed me with an exquisite sunset, seen here from the Pont Neuf.
Iconic green chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens, near my hotel.
Street artist L’Empreinte Jo. V is known for his fine portraits. This one depicts the tears of a Ukrainian child, seen in the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood.
One of my favorite street artists is Seth (Julien Malland), whose inspiration for this mural was the children he met when he was staying in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

A windy day at the beach in Nice, where gorgeous shades of blue met crashing surf.
A dry tree on a hike high above Vence.
A bee on a palm tree, Hanbury Botanical Garden, Ventimiglia, Italy.
Three columns in the Hanbury Botanical Garden, Ventimiglia, Italy
“Palm Array,” Hanbury Botanical Garden, Ventimiglia, Italy.

With freedom comes responsibility
Presidential elections in France are run quite differently than those in the United States, my original country. Among many differences, there is a runoff with all the candidates who qualify—this year it was 12 people—and then the top two vote-getters move on to participate in the final vote just two weeks later.

My friend Olivier feels quite strongly that it is both a right and a responsibility to vote. At the time of the first round of presidential voting, he was hosting business clients in Bordeaux.

But Olivier votes in Paris, which requires a drive of at least five hours or a three-hour train ride. Voting always takes place on a Sunday in France; thus it was that late on Saturday evening, Olivier took the last train from Bordeaux to Paris, and went home to sleep. He arose early the next morning, and was the first person in line to vote when the polls opened at 8:00 am. He voted, then dashed across Paris to catch the earliest-possible train back to Bordeaux and his clients.

And his clients, a group of Americans, told him how impressed they were that he had made such an effort. How many among us would?

I happened to be visiting friends in Nice at the time of the first round of voting, and I asked if I could accompany them when they voted that Sunday morning. I wanted to see what it was like, to compare and contrast the experience with the voting experience in the United States. It was interesting, and worth it.

The different steps of voting: 1. Go to the desk, hand over your ID and voter card, and receive an envelope. 2. Go to a table to find pieces of paper with the names of the candidates, one name per piece of paper [see photo below]. Take at least two names. 3. Go into the voting booth for secrecy. 4. Place one piece of paper (one name) into the envelope, exit the voting booth, and place the envelope in the box. Someone proclaims aloud that you have voted. 5. Sign the voting register and your ID and voter card are returned to you.
The first round of presidential voting in 2022 included 12 candidates. The top two vote-getters went on to the second round, two weeks later, won by Emmanuel Macron.
For the second and final round of presidential voting, the results are announced at 8:00 pm the same day. I joined my friends Maryse and her son Olivier to watch the pre-announcement news shows, nervously watching the clock’s hands march toward the top of the hour. This picture was made right at 8:00, as the winner was announced. We simultaneously cheered and breathed a sigh of relief that Macron had been re-elected, and then turned our attention to those empty wine glasses. We celebrated the results with Dolium, a favorite from our friend Pierre Fil.

Mother Nature
One day I was out for a walk, and the sky was putting on a wonderful display. High winds were helping to create some delightful cloud formations such as the one in the photograph above.

That evening, I was visiting friends Claude and Maryse, and from their terrace we saw more dramatic clouds:

Last year I spoke of how I’d noticed the similar songs of three local birds: the collared dove, the hoopoe and the cuckoo. A few weeks ago I actually got to hear the harmonies in real time. First I spotted a dove and a hoopoe sitting together on a roof, both singing. A few moments later, I heard a cuckoo far up the hill above me. The three-part harmony was astounding.

I’ve found three recordings on YouTube, and I’ll include the links here. You can open three browser windows, queue up one bird in each window, then hit “play” for all of them at the same time. You’ll be able to hear what I heard in that one magical moment in time.

Hoopoe, Cuckoo, Collared dove

Parting shot (literally)
The University of Kansas Jayhawks—my alma mater—won the men’s college basketball national championship, and I’m pretty darn pleased about that. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

One of our players is named Remy Martin, which also happens to be the name of a French cognac. During the second half of the game, the player named Remy made a few key baskets, and announcer Bill Raftery said, “There’s nothing like a little Remy in the evening.” Another yay for clever broadcasting!

Spring wrap-up

Going to the birds

I never paid much attention to birds until we moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There, living in a smaller town surrounded by nature, I fell in love with the amazing breadth of avian life, and a pair of binoculars had a permanent home in the kitchen window. When I sold the house, I wrote up several pages of notes about it for the new owners; at least half was about the birds.

Moving to another country on another continent has plenty of challenges, and it took me a while to realize the effect of not knowing the local birds. I’ve struggled to put this feeling into words. Suffice it to say that I’ve been walking around here for nearly four years with a vague sense of unease, of not fully belonging, in part because I don’t know who the birds are.

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Pedometer for a year

Much has been written about seeing 2020 fully in the rearview mirror, and I don’t have much new to add, which has left me pondering just what to do with this January blog post.

As the year was lurching to a close, I spent close to six weeks not being able to walk much, and since walking is my primary exercise, I was eager to get my feet back onto the trail. That happened a few weeks ago, and I’ve been racking up the kilometers as much as time and weather permit. On one such walk, it occurred to me that I could tell a story of 2020 through some of my walks of the past year.

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Song of summer

Garden Toad
A toad the size of my hand surprised me one morning when I was watering my garden.


Heard from my terrace
You know that old story about how city people can’t fall asleep in the countryside because it’s too quiet? Well, that doesn’t hold water here in the South of France. It is not quiet; all manner of things are making noise. I’m here today to talk about two of the noisemakers: cicadas and frogs.

The cicadas awaken when the sun pops over the hills and begins to warm the earth. All day long, every day through the summer, the cicadas sing their amazing song. That music can get quite loud, up to 120 decibels, enough to damage human ears at close range. The cicada—cigale in French—is among the longest-lived insects, and it is recognized as a symbol of longevity and metamorphosis.

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Huzzah for Gaia!

Lichen Garden
A miniature lichen garden at the foot of a tree in the garrigue near my house.


Mother Earth, who has been beleaguered by all manner of human assault for far too long, is staging a tiny comeback. While much of the world shelters in place, the cities have cleaner air, animals feel safer to explore this home we all share, and the skies are not full of noise and contrails. Huzzah for Gaia on this Earth Day 2020!

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Fall foraging in the forest

Day's Harvest
One hour’s harvest of red pine mushrooms, also called saffron milk cap.


One hour’s harvest of red pine mushrooms, also called saffron milk cap.

Mushrooms and Chestnuts, or Champignons et Châtaignes
Last week we donned our “wet forest” walking clothes and drove up into the hills behind town, in search of the edibles our forests could offer that day. It had rained two days before, and rain brings thoughts of the mushrooms that will appear shortly afterward.

Our first parking spot was in an area of scrub oak and some tall pine trees. It was the pines that captured our attention, because they mark the place to search for the vivid orange Lactaire Délicieux, also known as red pine mushroom or saffron milk cap.

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