My Travel Book - Paris - Sometimes, I do get really upset - The 'Jardin des Plantes'

Today was a perfect day in Paris. Sunny even if a bit nippy. Yes, a lovely day.

I need to take a walk every day now. A long one. When I am in Paris, I always end up in the same places - The Tuileries or the Luxembourg. Today had to be different.

I thought about several places I like a lot in Paris. I contemplated taking a walk along the Seine or going to Bagatelle... Then I remembered that I had been planning for the longest time to go to the ‘Jardin des Plantes’. It is a very famous outdoor botanical garden complete with beautiful glasshouses. It also boasts quite a few museums too (paleontology, evolution, geology...)

It had to be the Jardin des Plantes then. I had been there a few times but a very, very long time ago.

The visit of the botanical garden is free... and it is huge. A lot of space for a nice walk.

I got there and started walking and then I noticed a sign - “Zoo”. I did not know they had a zoo there. I am quite biased against zoos actually. But the sign said that it was the oldest zoo in Europe, that it used to be the “royal” zoo and that it only housed endangered species.

I bought a ticket out of sheer curiosity - Now I’d call it unhealthy curiosity!

And I started to walk around the - well, I don’t even know what to call them - the... the... pens... enclosures... paddocks...? 

The stench of the prisoners was terrible. I was walking through a prison. I really was.

The “cells” were awfully small. Sandy ground. A few tree trunks here and there inside the enclosures. The real trees were growing outside, along very unfriendly iron gates that were supposed to keep people away from the animals or maybe it was the opposite... I’ll never know.

I kept on walking, feeling more and more upset. There was the big-cat house where a couple of panthers were looking down at visitors from concrete rocks. Safe behind gates and strong glass walls. Safe from the visitors who kept getting excited and being very loud... And so lonely and trapped while trees were growing out of their cells.

They were renovating part of the big-cat enclosures. I was happy to see men behind the gates except that they could get out very easily... you see, they were workers and not wild animals.

I was feeling nauseated. I really was. And not because of the stench.

This place is so antiquated, so incredibly appalling as far as wildlife is concerned that one question was always in my mind. At a time when we care a lot more about wild animals and the protection of animal species, at a time when we create wildlife sanctuaries all over the place, at a time when we get upset and worried about the extinction of many endangered species, why do we preserve places like this one?

I really don’t know. Children did not even look excited nor happy to be there. Probably because the animals are keeping away as much as they can from the noise, the hustle and bustle.

And then the last straw.

There it was - a huge orangutan whose face is printed on the zoo tickets. It was right behind the glass wall, asleep on a of heap of straw. People were flocking round, taking pictures, getting so excited probably because it was the only really visible animal in the zoo.

I saw a man who was trying to take a picture of his own face close to the orangutan’s face with his phone. He even tried to make a monkey face. But obviously the picture did not turn out well. He went away, swearing a lot. How nice.

And then this beautiful great ape opened his eyes for a fleeting moment right when I was facing it. Will you forgive me if I get maudlin about the look in his eyes? Will it be sheer anthropomorphism if I say that there was a lot of boredom and even pain in its eyes?

Well, anyway. He closed them again and I left.

I was very, very upset. I left the zoo in a hurry.

I still had to take a walk, remember. So I walked around the garden. Very beautiful indeed and I have to go back there because I didn’t have enough time to visit what they call the Alpine garden nor the huge conservatory nor the Paleontology department. 

I noticed one thing though. In the gardens, there is grass for people to sit down and real trees for children to climb. And there are iron gates everywhere... I don’t know why... Maybe the zoo was much bigger a long time ago. They got rid of the animals and kept the gates.

I did have enough time to visit the Gallery of Evolution. 

I truly was flabbergasted. In the same area, such a wonderful wildlife exhibit and such a horrendous zoo.

Why do people take their children to the zoo? The Gallery was empty. A few children with their parents and that’s all.

This place is amazing. The animals (life-size spitting images) are very close to the visitors. The exhibits are beautiful with screens showing the animals in the wild.

So I spent a lot of time there. The few children around sounded and looked delighted. They were asking tons of questions. Which meant that they were happy.

I was happy. I’ll probably come back pretty soon. The Gallery is an unbelievable place. It really is.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


I kept looking for them but...

My two encounters with those birds on the deserted beach really moved me deeply. I can hear what you are thinking. Herring gulls! Herring gulls, for goodness sake!

I know, I know.

Tonight I was busy sorting pictures and I found this short video... which I’d like to share with you. Because it really was a sweet moment in my life. A puzzling moment too.

I’ll never know what has happened to them because I have not seen them again. Ever. I keep looking and looking for them. They were quite easy to spot.

They disappeared purely and simply.

The tide is becoming stronger and stronger. Not one of the strongest spring tide though. But each high tide sweeps out the beach and whatever is on it. If the youngest one died, its body has been washed away.

And I won't be able to find the oldest one. Herring gulls do look alike. Right now on the beach, there are hundreds of gulls... From “first winter” youngsters to full-blown adults.

And anyway... does it really matter?

They helped change my mind about a species that I did not like very much.

That made all the difference.

Opening my eyes, mind and heart...

Don’t we need moments like those in our lives from time to time?

I do.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Happiness and dolphins in Brittany

Last Sunday morning, we got up kind of grouchy. We, being Popeye and I, all by ourselves at Les Tertres finally facing the end of our summer holidays. As if we were leaving Brittany once and for all.

Plus we knew we had to tidy up the house. And we had to clean it from top to bottom... more or less! And we had to pack our stuff because we were going back to Paris - heart check-up time at the AHP. 

I was grumpy because I usually do all this when Popeye goes back to work and he comes back every week-end to Les Tertres until the end of September and sometimes until mid-October. We spend our last week-end there leisurely enjoying whatever is to be enjoyed... either boating or spending our last day in our beautiful garden. Like I said - as if we were leaving Brittany once and for all whilst we come back so many times all year long.

Well, the summer vacation is different.

This year, Popeye had to do everything in a hurry on his own since I still feel a little bit tired.

Our day had barely started and it was breakfast time. Popeye was in the kitchen getting our fresh orange juice ready while I was setting the table right in front of our picture windows.

It was very beautiful outside as usual, well better than usual because it was very sunny and calm. A very beautiful morning... The tide was ebbing.

I was putting our bowls on the table when something attracted my eyes.

Right below our house, the sea was sort of boiling and the black-headed gulls were flying like mad over the frothing water.

Because all summer long we have been lucky enough to come across some of them several times, I know that the sea starts bubbling for one good reason and only one: dolphins. At least in Brittany.

There they were. About ten of them. Fishing determinedly very close to the shoreline. Followed by a hundred gulls or so, quite disturbed. Unwilling to land on the sea where they could be knocked about by 3-meter long dolphins intent on chasing and eating mackerels. And yet so attracted by the fishing itself, the way they follow any fishing boat, small motorboats or big trawlers.

I called Popeye who rushed by my side to the window.

Wow. This was getting totally incredible. Watching dolphins from our house.

We even forgot all about taking pictures. You take pictures when you are boating around dolphins.

When you are getting ready to eat breakfast at home and you spot dolphins in the sea down below, you feel like you’re still in dreamland and you forget all about your camera. You gape at the amazing and splendid show that is happening at the bottom of the cliff. 

"Pinch me," Popeye said. "I am dreaming."

We were not dreaming. We watched them until they went on their way to the open sea and then we lost sight of them.

Our coffee with milk was cold. We drank it quietly while glancing down towards our beloved scenery. But the dolphins did not come back no matter how much we wished to see them again.

So we started packing and cleaning. Then we closed the shutters. We set the alarm system on. We locked the door. And we left.

I’ll be back next week though and I imagine that I will spend a lot of time watching the sea from my picture windows. And then on a beautiful morning...

A short note about bottlenose dolphins.

Their number is increasing in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc where we live. This summer, they were so easy to spot that instructions to locals and tourists alike were issued in the regional papers.

We were told to refrain from swimming with them, from feeding them and from trying to pet them. Which sounds quite obvious because in the Channel, dolphins truly belong to the wild. 

We were told not to bother them when they are fishing and how to get in contact with them when they are in a playful mood which obviously happened very often this summer. Because lots of people reported encounters with dolphins. Most of them were happy. But the anglers at sea started grumbling because having dolphins around you while you are fishing means no fish left for the fishermen.

Dolphins are very friendly marine mammals. Running into one pod at sea is a magical experience. Probably because it is still unusual. More certainly because dolphins belong to a world that touches the right chord in our inner child psyche.

Dolphins busy fishing. Do not disturb!

Dolphins in a playful mood. Enjoy!

All pictures taken during the summer, in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc or closer to Normandy, by Chausey. All of them in the open sea.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


I hate Herring Gulls... usually, I mean but not today!

  I am sure it has happened to you many times. At least once in your life. You are walking in a perfectly quiet and calm place and all of a sudden you feel like someone is watching you. You try not to get panicky.

You hear no footsteps. But “Eyes” are following you. Will you turn around and face whatever is lurking behind you? Or will you quicken your step and try to find a safer spot?

This is what happened to me this afternoon while I was trying to take a walk on the beach...

Trying to because I still feel very tired but I couldn’t resist. The beach was empty, so empty... Cloudy skies. Rain showers. Choppy sea. Where were the people who love to spend September in Brittany?

I was walking not far from the shoreline, watching some gulls that were fighting over some seaweed and taking pictures as usual. Suddenly I felt like someone was following me. No footsteps because the sea was receding and the sand was very wet.

I tried to quicken my pace but I still felt stared at. There was someone or something behind my back.

What could I do? No one around. I had to face it. I grabbed my house keys from my pocket, ready to lash out... Pitiful, I know!

Well, believe it or not, I faced IT.

I am a seasoned photographer and I know how to react in front of something very surprising... I make no noise and I take pictures. Which is the reason why I didn’t burst out laughing!

There it was... very intent on following me on the beach. Walking right behind me and determined to go for a saunter close to me. A very surprising attitude from... 

a herring gull...

I usually hate herring gulls.

You should see them fight over a piece of bread around the boat. They are not necessarily hungry but they are scavengers at heart. Because I have seen them tearing each other’s guts out for a piece of paper.

When you live so close to the sea and you go boating fairly often, you get to loathe them... And it gets even worse in cities where they are a real nuisance. (Our mistake, by the way...)

Herring gulls are such a long way from Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull!

Well, they are extraordinary flying ‘machines’ and I do enjoy watching them floating along airstreams. They really are magnificent. Too bad they do not remain this way once they touch down.

Very lone birds even if they tend to spend most of their time in flocks. Very aggressive too. Always bickering. So noisy. So mean and nasty. There I said it. I do hate them. Which is stupid I know. They are not friendly nor unfriendly towards humans so they don’t disturb me at all while I am walking on the beach.

I guess it’s just that I love so much being in a calm and quiet environment. They are so obstreperous and belligerent all the time that they do annoy me a lot. There are lots of birds on the beach. Most share my idea of peace and beauty. Gulls don’t.

Am I being unreasonable there? Probably.

So back to my follower! The incredibly friendly herring gull... which looked like it enjoyed a lot having its picture taken!

Oh, my God! Suddenly I knew I had already seen it not too long ago. A so-called “third winter” herring gull with its white head still flecked with brown. Not quite adult yet, not for another year.

I know a lot of things about birds but this is going too far... How can I recognize one herring gull from hundreds of herring gulls on the beach? Very simple.

The reason is...

A very weird young herring gull - probably born this April.

We had noticed them on the beach during one of my first walks there. I had stopped to get my breath back. And there they were, acting strange.

Two birds, three years apart, being friendly. One of them acting like a chick begging for food from its mother. So bizarre. No fighting there.

Maybe some weariness barely perceptible from the older bird. No brutality. No animosity.

So eccentric from a herring gull that we stopped quite a long time to watch them. And then we walked back to the car and I forgot about them. Remember: I hate herring gulls.

Today, I was on my own. Nothing to do besides watching them closely. I was getting tired and it provided me a much needed respite before walking back to the car.

And watch I did! They were a real puzzle to me. 

Let’s put it this way. The youngest one was too old to beg for food. And the oldest one was much too young to feed a bird which no longer was a chick. Too young to be its mother or father.

I hate herring gulls but I know an awful lot of things about them.

There could be another explanation. It could be a mating dance! The young one being a female trying to convince the other one to fall for her. That’s how it’s done in the herring gull world. The female acts as if she is a chick (no pun intended there) and she begs the adult male for food. Well, sort of. You get the picture, I imagine.

There is no feminist female herring gull, so far as I know. They all beg for food but it’s only a game, really. But they have to because there is no other way to differentiate male from female. They all look alike.

By the way, herring gulls are monogamous. This mating dance only happens between young unattached (single) gulls. And only after they turn four.

Well, I guess this explanation does not work for my friendly gulls. Too young to mate. Both of them. And this is definitely not the mating season.

I am a very imaginative person as you know if you’ve been reading my posts faithfully. I can make up a story about a few letters scrawled on a wall in India.

But as for today, I am totally lost. I can’t even write that the youngest one has a problem of growth retardation... well, it sure walks oddly. Because the oldest one is also acting very strangely even though it is three years older. Why does it accept such a behavior from a nearly chick when herring gulls are usually quick to push away intruders quite roughly. They always refuse any contact with an other fellow creature. Unless they are ready to tussle over whatever may come to their attention.

I can’t lapse into anthropomorphism and start writing a screenplay for a cartoon, can I? Well, I guess I could. Why not? But not tonight.

We parted amiably and I walked back to my car, feeling deeply puzzled and a little bit sad because I know from experience that at least one of them will not survive very long unless things get right in its head.

Charles Darwin, you do annoy me today.

Besides the fact that I no longer will be able to keep on hating herring gulls just because they are herring gulls. Noisy. Belligerent. Mean. Nasty.

One life of certainty blown away today!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*