J’entends une chanson

For the past few weeks, days at home have been cheered by a very vocal thrush who starts his loquacious singing at round about ten to five in the morning, and continues with almost no time off for eating, drinking or rest until about two minutes to ten at night. Here he is, in the featured photo.

For the past few weeks, our small a cappella choir has included in its repertoire a 16th century French song, composed by the German Steurlein, celebrating this very thing. I suggested it, because it brought back memories of the choir I sang with in France. Some members have cut up a bit rough, complaining their French accent wasn’t up to the challenge. In the end, I gave in and wrote an English version. I promised them cheesy, schmaltzy doggerel and that’s what they’ve got. Still, it’s all quite jolly, so why don’t you sing along with the YouTube video?

Oh, can you hear the song bird who trills and sings for me?
His joyful notes are sounding from that far-distant tree.
He banishes the darkness, casts out my dreary dreams.
Oh, can you hear the song bird who trills and sings for me?

I wander in the garden, the birds are always near.
They're trilling, crooning, fluting, and singing loud and clear.
They sound the end of winter, and welcome in the spring.
I wander in the garden, the birds are always near.

Let's greet the start of springtime, the season of rebirth,
The birds and bees and flowers, all creatures on the earth.
We'll welcome all the sunshine, and bid goodbye to chill.
Let's greet the start of springtime, the season of rebirth.


Amy has invited us to thumb through our archives for this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge #250 and choose skyscapes and clouds. I’ve found it impossible to be dispassionate about this. There’s something about these images that’s so bound up with memories that I can’t distinguish good photos from the merely ordinary. I’m transported to that place, that time, that set of souvenirs.

Take my header photo, for instance, which I’ve posted before, more than once. It takes me immediately to that special day when I was part of an evening boat trip quietly floating through the lagoons of l’Albufera near Valencia, while birds made their final flights as the sun settled below the horizon. It’s a memory which will never leave me, whether the photo is a winner or not.

Longish sea trips to the continent bring memories of languidly looking at cloudscapes from early morning till nightfall as our ship smoothly purrs towards its destination. Here’s one …

… or this…

Or there are those memories of January days in Cádiz. An unmissable part of our routine was to head to the beach at dusk to watch the sun slowly disappear into the sea.

This shot, from our time in the Balkans shows that a slightly neutral skyscape can be a perfect backdrop for a questing bird of prey. And this was a holiday of birdsong, wild flowers – and memories of a still wild landscape.

A quick visit to France, to the Minervois for a moody sky. This was a trip just a few weeks ago, when on the same day as this shot was taken, we saw tiny daffodils sheltering from the brisk wind.

I can’t leave this post without a local shot, taken as we walked a habitual path alongside our River Ure.

Mountain Apollo Revisited

I had my photos of the much-loved butterflies of an English summer day all lined up to display for Denzils’ Nature Photo Challenge 13# Butterflies. Then I realised I wanted to share something else instead: a photo of a rare butterfly I first saw in the Pyrenees, ten years ago now: the Mountain Apollo.

Mountain Apollo

July 31st 2013

I just want to share a photo I took on our walk on Sunday, when we went to the Gorges de la Frau.  This butterfly seduced us all with its distinctive spots and white grisaille wings.  It turns out to be rare, a protected species, and known only in mountain regions, mainly in Southern Europe.  The French know it as Apollon, and its Latin name is Parnassius Apollo.  If your French is up to it, you can read about it here.  

And here’s a small taste of the Gorges de la Frau, only a few miles from our house.

Loitering in Laon

Our peregrination through France a few weeks ago took us to Laon, a city in Picardy and not too far from Reims. I wanted to see its cathedral, and we did. But we spent more time pottering about the streets of this walled city, its prosperity dating from the 12th century. We were particularly taken by its street art, perhaps more formal and commissioned than most …

… and by one of its characterful main shopping streets in the Old Town, where every shop had a metal sign above it, describing in the mediaeval manner what kind of an enterprise it was. You can have a guess for yourselves, but in a couple of cases, I’ve forgotten the answers.

And then there were always the little touches of whimsy: as in this letter-box in a front door down a back street, and a slightly battered wall with a portrait of some inhabitant from centuries ago …

We liked Laon a lot. We’d go again. Lots more to explore.

For Natalie’s Exploring Public Art Challenge

The Secret Street Cats of Troyes

Loyal readers may remember a post of mine from three weeks ago, when I shared my enthusiasm for half-timbered Troyes. It was impressive that so many houses were still, despite lurching at improbable angles in some cases, in excellent repair and condition.

Not all though. One of our walks, back from an early evening drink found us wandering down a narrow old street which wasn’t in good nick. It gave us the opportunity to study old building techniques: wattle and daub, and wooden nails.

But that wasn’t all. This street was filled with one obvious piece of street art – the header photo – then many others, mainly cats, which had to be hunted for by looking up, down, and all along.

Even that wasn’t all. An elderly dog walker, noticing our interest, urged us to nip back along to the square we’d just left and look at the wall to the side of the underground car park. So we did.

An early evening well-spent, I’d say.

For Natalie’s Photographing Public Art Challenge.

And Debbie’s Six Word Saturday.

Rugged Wrecks

Reims and its cathedral has already qualified for a post on my blog. So has one of the images. But much as the architecture, the stained glass, the stone carving of these mediaeval cathedrals inspires awe, I just as much enjoy inspecting what the stonemasons got up to often in more hidden areas. Instead of saints, characters from the bible, earthly donors who needed their memorial, those masons seem to have relished chipping away to celebrate the more characterful inhabitants of the planet. And such statues often get more weather-beaten than most. Stacked on pallets and away from public view, I found this little lot hidden in an outside corner, awaiting a spot of restoration. They made my day.

For Bren’s Mid-Week Monochrome #126

My header photo is by Pascal Bernardon via Unsplash

Fascinating Fungi

It’s not really the time of year for fungi here in Europe, but we’ve just come back from Spain, and more importantly France, where at the right time of year, fungus-foraging is by way of being a national obsession. Find a secret cache in the woodlands, and no right thinking Frenchman will share its location with anyone: not brother, cousin, or best friend. An elderly man who lived up the road from us, back when we lived in the Ariège, took the knowledge of where his secret foraging-place was to his grave.

I too forage, as I was brought up doing. One of my earliest memories is of being got up by my mother at perhaps 5’clock to go to the local American airfield, disused since the war, to harvest field mushrooms and puffballs. I still forage – but very carefully. I’m sure only of field mushrooms and the unmistakeable puffball, as well as shaggy inkcaps and chanterelles.

Today though, for Denzil’s Nature Photo Challenge #8: Fascinating Fungi, I’m sharing pictures of the definitely inedible. Here are bracket fungi, and others that thrive on tree trunks and fallen timbers. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know the names of a single one: can anyone help? But there are no mushrooms-on-toast opportunities here!