Voices from Egypt and The Prague Spring (Pražské jaro, Pražská jar)

I’ll never forget 1968.

I turned 20 in July 1968. In France, we had lived through something we ended up calling the ‘May revolution’. It was almost fun. France would never be the same. So many changes. We were exhilarated. Mainly because we were young and idealistic.

But 1968 is also the year when the Prague Spring happened.

Many of you (and that’s really wonderful) have never lived in a such a ‘binary’ world - The Western/capitalist block which for us, French people, meant freedom and the Soviet/communist block which meant... well nothing good for us in the Western world except for people belonging to the Communist Party. (We really were living in a free world!)

At this time, we did not really care about Africa or Middle East as entities but we were worried about which block would exercise its dominion over emerging countries from ancient colonies.

In January 1968, something incredible happened in Czechoslovakia. A reformist leader called Alexander Dubček came into power. A miracle.

The whole Western world held its breath, hoping that the Soviet Union leaders would somehow mellow their policy towards countries they had ‘acquired’ not through the Yalta Conference somehow but which ‘belonged’ to their block.

While I am witnessing the very distressing events in Egypt (from my computer), I keep remembering a very heartbreaking experience.

To make things short, especially since now we are really worried about freedom in Egypt and other countries under dire dictatorships, to make things short then, let me say that I will never forget the night of August 21st, 1968.

The Soviet Union became very unhappy about Dubček’s reforms.

On the 21st of August, 1968, the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia with the help of its Warsaw Pact allies.

I know this may sound very unfamiliar to many people, even strange. Lucky you.

At the time, especially after May 1968, many young people in France were very concerned about freedom in other countries.

There was no Internet. I think that in France, we only had one tv channel monitored by our government. A few newspapers. But at the time, the easiest way to learn about what was going on at home and in the world was the radio.

During May 1968, we listened a lot to the radio which broadcasted only on short, medium and long waves. No, I’m not talking about prehistoric times.

I was enthusiastic about short waves because there you could listen to the whole world.

I used to listen a lot to ‘Voice of America’. This was the easy way of getting important world news before they would be told/censored on our national channels.

I’ll never forget that night. I was staying at my Bonne-Maman’s place, up on top of her house. I had heard that the Soviet Union had started to invade Czechoslovakia.

I turned my radio (transistor) on and throughout the night, relayed through ‘Voice of America’, the voices of unknown and desperate people came to me. Calls for help in French, in English. All night long. Then the radio stations quit transmitting, one after another.

I did not have a map of Czechoslovakia at the time. But I imagine it would have been very easy to follow the advance of the Warsaw Pact armies by listening to the radio.

Voices falling silent. This was a terrifying experience in the middle of the night. Silence. At the time - forever.

One woman though screamed to the top of her lungs: ‘Do not forget us, please. Do no forget us.’ She was sobbing. Then silence.

Time went by. Other disasters. Other times. New technologies.

Those past few days, it’s been hard for me to get away from my computer... and from Egypt. Now that AlJazeera has quit transmitting on the web and I have turned to ‘AJAudioboo’... the unknown voice from my past is ringing again in my brain, my heart and I can’t help it.

I am crying.

*Hope and Freedom for you all*


Is He Still Alive? If he survived, what will his life be like now?

ⓒMarco Longari AFP

In France, voting is not mandatory.

As far as I am concerned, I have always voted out of respect for the people in the world who never vote because they are living under dictatorship and for those who vote but whose ballots are tampered with and never get to see their lawful and much wanted candidate elected.

Are we really aware and grateful that we are living in a democracy? Or do we take this system as granted?

Do we realize that our democracies very often lead to the removal of democracy, freedom and normal life in a lot of countries?

Then why do we tend to deny the right to democracy to so many people in the world?

Right now we are witnessing the beginning of awakening among peoples who have been living under dire dictatorships for decades and more.

And we get frightened because most people are not ready for change especially when this happens in Middle-East countries i.e. ‘Muslim’ countries.

I was born French. I grew up as a European. My son was raised as a European. And now that I am getting older, I tend to think I am a citizen of the world. No borders allowed.

Such an easy thing to think or to say since I’m living in a rather safe area despite terrorist threats from time to time.

I no longer know what it’s like to go hungry or to be dreadfully poor. This  was my life when I was much, much younger but it was only due to dire family circumstances.

I knew that we would somehow get out of it... I was not growing up in a Dalit family nor in a starving African country. I was growing up in a very disfunctional family but in a democratic country. Schooling was available and mandatory. This made a huge difference.

Unlike the young man in the picture, the democracy I was living into made possible for me, for my siblings  and our children to go to school, to get a job and to have a decent life after all.

Now I am not pretending that in France, etc., everything is fine and we have no poverty nor unemployment nor social inequality. Because we do and it’s getting worse. Our chance though is that we are living in a democracy and in a republic where we as a people, we can peacefully exercize our sovereignty.

Back to those dictatorships that we have created and encouraged and sustained being the strong western democracies we are. Back to those dictorships that we have been using for so long for our own well-being.

Have we forgotten that most of our democracies were born from revolutions? How weird that we have forgotten all about our bloody birthing past. And even stranger that we deny this right to other people all over the world only because our democratic countries think it will be dangerous to the world balance, i.e. our selfish interest.

Yesterday night it was very interesting to be on Facebook because a lot was happening on Facebook - it almost restored my faith into this strange means of communication.

At one time, when we all were watching Al Jazeera Live Stream and sharing our thoughts, someone happened to talk about Fox News.

Apparently Fox News was once more using disinformation.

Because it is not really a news channel?

Or because it is used by and for people whose interest is to keep the world the way it is unless changes suit their interests better? Who knows?

Egyptians were rioting because they wanted to be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood (The Society of the Muslims Brothers i.e. an islamic political and religious movement), said Fox News.

Fox was simply denying Egyptians the right to freedom and to a better life than under Mubarak’s dictatorship.

A very harsh 30 years old dictatorship but so comforting for the Western world who’s so afraid of Islam that it is always ready to compromise with the freedom and the well-being of billions of human beings in order to protect itself... just in case.

I do not like Fox News which left me quite bewildered ever since it drove millions of Americans to believe so many lies at a time, well at a time...

But to be fair, our French government did not act any better when riots started in Tunisia since our Foreign Minister even offered anti-riot help to Ben Ali. France was so afraid the revolution was more religious than political... so they said.

Of course when French people go to Tunisia, they usually go to tourist resorts and they aren’t really aware of the dire poverty and unemployment rates there. So a lot of people did buy the Muslim scare.

The French government only had a change of heart because you see, former governments have granted asylum to political refugees from Tunisia... Protecting Ben Ali would have meant unrest in France.

What will happen to this young man from Egypt? Will his future will be as bleak as it would have been a few days ago?

Or will this eastern uprising mean better future for him and for billions of other people still crushed in dictatorships either secular or theocratic.

Will we be ready to accept the will of those people while putting aside our selfish interests, this time?

One last thought - Who really understands that aside from politics, we are  playing a very important part in starving those people (and let’s not start talking about Africa)?

We own a few fields in Brittany which we lend to our friend Bernard. This year, there was wheat growing in those fields. I spent the summer watching the wind playing with the ears. It was very beautiful.

Then it was harvest time. Bernard came over looking happy. Harvest had been plenteous. Wheat was being sold at its highest price ever. A fortune for the farmers in Brittany.

I remember telling him that since the price of wheat was so high, it wouldn’t be good for the emerging countries. Many people would go hungry.

He looked at me, quite surprised. ‘You mean that you don’t know that our wheat is not grown for food. It will be used as biofuel.’

Wheat for me meant food.

Biofuel. For our cars? So that we no longer feel guilty about polluting the planet?

So, my dear friends, despair and hunger are not always totally about dirty politics. There are other and very politically correct ways to starve people, miles and miles away from our very comfortable way of life.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* (Many of you won't spend a good night. I have problems sleeping nowadays... too late and quite pointless, I know.)


What's the difference between Tunisia, Egypt, etc. and... BELGIUM?

ⒸLe Monde

I am flabbergasted. Speechless which is quite hard for me. I was speechless but there are things to be said.

While people all over the world fight for freedom and new governments (and it’s probably only a beginning), Belgium is sliding into a bottomless pit... silently, oh so silently.

Johan Vande Lanotte who has spent more than 100 days trying to get Flemish and Walloon politicians to reach a peaceful agreement resigned yesterday afternoon. No agreement, no conciliator. No conciliator, no agreement.

What will happen now?

Will 100.000 Belgians, Flemish and French-speaking citizens alike, take to the street? 500.000 of them? Come on, people. There were 300.000 Belgians through the streets of Brussels for the 'White March'. Remember?

Can’t you fight, Flemish and Walloons and people living in Brussels? Why don’t you find enough strength and will to tell your leaders: ‘Enough is enough’?

Because you still have a ‘shadow’ government except that it will get tougher and tougher for your country, financially and economically speaking?

Because you feel safer than most peoples in the world since you are used to live in a federal system which kind of conceals the aching political void?

I have heard people say: ‘But they have a King, don’t they?’ In Belgium, the King reigns over Belgium but he does not govern the country.

So what can possibly happen?

Probably early legislative elections.

And then what? A toughening of the Flemish far right? The partition of Belgium with the problem of the French-speaking minority in Flanders, close to Brussels? ‘New Flanders’, should I say. Let’s not forget that this partition is included in the political program of the Flemish far right.

The problem of this French-speaking minority was probably one of the reasons why the French-speaking political parties were refusing to negociate.

What will happen to Brussels then? Let’s not forget that only 10% of its population has Flemish roots. Nobody knows what will happen to Brussels. It most certainly will loose its status of regional entity. What about its status as the capital of Europe?

Everybody knows that I’m not terribly in love with Belgium. So I’ll be very blunt.

Belgians right now are reaping what they have sown. They have been so dreadfully indifferent to what’s going on in their own country. They tend to be so happy-go-lucky. As I said before, one flag hanging from the balcony was a big step for them.

Voting is mandatory in Belgium? When you vote, you should  realize that you are voting for your future and the future of your children and grand-children. You are taking your future in your own hands. You have the right to express yourself.

Allow me a digression there. French people don’t vote much but they take to the street very easily as soon they feel threatened... by the government most of them didn’t elect since they did not use their citizen rights and freedom to vote. End of digression... totally improper I know. But I'm really mad tonight.

The Belgian system is a proportional representation. This does not make things easy. But it doesn’t mean that you have to keep silent when the politicians who have been lawfully elected keep bickering instead of working for the good of the nation.

Actually, people started getting nervous after 225 days without a true government when they learnt that they would soon run into deep financial problems because of their huge national debt... personally, I mean!  The interest rates will become quite high.

I guess this is the reason why Belgians suddenly woke up to reality. The problems between Flanders and Wallonia including Brussels no longer were totally created by language barriers. They no longer were completely institutional either.

They started implying that there would be a price to pay. A heavy one for every Belgian.

Who would like to pay more taxes and/or loose one’s job because of too much weakness and apathy?

Hence the ‘Shame’ demonstration.

I have to admit that I feel very ashamed of the lack of coverage and help from the other European countries, especially France.

I hope that diplomacy is really busy right now but it doesn’t seem very helpful either.

Many European countries stand to loose a lot though if Belgium splits. What will we tell our ‘minorities’ who have been asking for partition for quite a long time now. I’m thinking about Corsica in France and the Basque Country in France and Spain?

I have a pretty good idea though, at least as far France is concerned. We’ll take to the streets at once. We’ve done it so many times. There I go again... I was 20 in 1968!

Vote is not mandatory in France but we do react like crazy.

Wake up, Belgium. I hope that on Sunday, there will hundreds of thousands of Belgians in the streets of Brussels, all united. Flemish and Walloons together for a better future.

Wake up, Belgium. And look around. People are fighting everywhere for a better life. Don’t you want to join them?

Don’t you dare forget that you stand as a symbol. You belong to a very small circle: the founding nations of Europe.

Europe was a very beautiful idea, wasn’t it?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


BELGIUM - 'SHAME' they said. Will it bring PEACE again?


And shameful it is... 225 days without a government in Belgium.

No new budget passed which means that very shortly, state employees at every level plus pensioners won't get payed. The country will be totally and economically paralyzed and smothered.

Foreign companies are already moving away or planning to leave whatever is left of Belgium, with a lot of laid-off workers in a very unstable economy.

Yesterday, 50.000 people (more or less) took part in a march through Brussels.

Belgium is a small country but it beats all European records. The last legislative elections took place in June 13th, 2010 and still no government.

‘What do we want?' the protesters said. 'We want a government.’

Great wish when you think about the ugly fights and bickering that have been going on between Flemish and Walloons politicians.

I’ve felt so many times like an outsider in Belgium but I remember being very scared sometimes about what would happen to Belgium, the very heart of Europe.

I remember writing about a train accident that really was one of the many warning signs of the ugly times that were to come. This was in Frebruary 2010.

In June, I remember being very shaken when a Flemish politician talked about Belgium’s clinical death.

Now I start feeling better. I always thought that Belgians did accept too easily what was going on in their daily lives. They did hang flags from their windows. But what good was a flag hanging outside when they should have fought against despair and partition?

The only verbose ones were extremists - Flemish and Walloons alike. With a length ahead for the Flemish far right.

Belgians are awakening. This is very good, wonderful, so great. Let's hope it won’t be too late. The Flemish far right is already bent on proving that French speaking Belgians were the majority in the ‘Shame’ march.

Thank goodness, there is a Flemish young tv reporter called Kris Janssens. His You Tube performance called 'Politieke chaos' should win him the Oscar for best fit of anger.

Go watch it. You can even choose your own subtitles! Kris, the world is listening to you!

But you know, while I was listening to his heartfelt diatribe and appeal, I couldn't help it. I smiled. And you know why? He is Flemish, all right but here and there, he uses French words. I’m pretty sure he’s not even aware of this.

This is Belgium - two main communities who think they are so different that they can’t even speak the same language but they do somehow.

I only wish that Belgian French speaking people were using as many Flemish words. Just a thought, really. Let's not be negative today.

Will ‘SHAME’ become HOPE and then PEACE and VICTORY?

With people like the five students who launched the idea of the march on Facebook and people like Kris, Belgian politicians, Flemish and Walloons alike, should start relating to real life.

They should get back to building a new and stronger Belgium where Flemish and Walloons will keep on living together, getting married and  having lots of young and healthy Belgian kids, the way it’s been for so many decades.

You know what? I'm so hopeful that I may even be quite ready to take up Flemish again now that it’s going to be quite ‘in’ to drop a few French words here and there.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and a Very Happy New Year to Belgium and Belgians


Are You Really Happy, Madame la Vache (Ms Cow)?

I love milk. Milk doesn’t love me at all.

A few years ago, I tried to drink powdered skimmed milk. I liked it and it liked me.

Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s more like a pale reflection of milk than real milk. It’s white but it barely smells like milk and I’d even say it doesn’t taste like milk if I had any idea of what real milk tastes like.

I buy it in metal containers. Very nice looking and decorated. Like a meadow in the spring... and a friendly jug of milk.

Then there is this odd label that says: ‘Skimmed milk from committed dairy farms - Dairy quality control.’

What is a committed dairy farm? I’ve heard stories about politically committed writers. Other stories about organic dairy farms. But a committed dairy farm?

Every morning, depending on whether or not I was in a hurry, I would notice the label: ‘committed dairy farm’. I would wonder about its meaning and then I’d forget all about it.

Then a few months ago, they started selling powdered organic skimmed milk which by the way, is totally unfit to drink. It simply doesn’t dissolve in water. Big problem there.

So a ‘committed dairy farm’ was not an organic dairy farm. Good point.

Yesterday and only yesterday (I’m kind of slow), I turned the container around only to discover in very small print what ‘Skimmed milk from committed dairy farms - Dairy quality control' means.

Are you ready, people? After a lot of blah, blah, blah about ‘Bureau Veritas Group’ which keeps an eye on the dairy farms (that’s what they say), they go on telling you all about the dairy farmers this brand works with.

I know you’ll be happy to learn that they are good people. They breed their dairy cows even better than ‘Bureau Veritas Group’ asks for. They always care for the well-being of their cows. They feed them well, using mainly silage. (No risk of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy there.) The food is well-balanced. Question mark there, I know...

(My grandfather’s cows spent their life in green and lush pastures. In wintertime, they ate hay from the farm fields. Was their food well-balanced? They lived a long time too, up to 20 years.)

A few lines later, there it comes:

‘The cows are happy and healthy whether they are in a pasture or in a cowshed where they enjoy clean and comfy accommodations.’

Madame la Vache, are you really happy?

I have no cow to talk to so where did I find an answer?  Wikipedia, of course.

Being a dairy cow is obviously not much fun even if the dairy farmer is a good man.

It’s probably much better than being bred for food as soon as you are born though. But one never knows what can happen in our consumer society.

Ask any cow now.

She’ll tell you.

‘‘My name is Alice. And I'm a dairy cow. As soon as I turned 1 year old, I was inseminated (artificially of course). Nine months later, my calf was born. We were separated very quickly because the farmer knew that within three days, I  would be bonding with him... (It was a ‘he’. He gets a minimal chance to grow up and to become a breeding bull after all.)

I know that I have to keep producing calves in order to maintain high milk production.

Will I live long enough to be pensioned off? In a nice green pasture with other old cows, ruminating our days away?

My friend Cora who had turned 4 this spring was removed from our dairy herd last week. They say she has been marketed for beef. Beef? But she was a happy dairy cow, wasn’t she?’

My name is Mammodouy. Will I drink milk again? From ‘committed dairy farms’? Good question.

Life before Wikipedia was so nice. Those were times when children knew from the day they were born that milk somehow was grown in bottles. Happy times.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and a Happy New Year to all of you


Tante Marguerite's Blue Eyes and 50 Roses

Marguerite, my grandmother’s younger sister, was extremely beautiful.

Even though she came from a very bourgeois family, she decided at 18 to become a theater actress.

She went to the Paris Conservatoire where she met my grandfather, Rolla Norman. She introduced him to her eldest sister whom he married a few years later.

She also met her husband there. Oncle Jean actually ended up being a famous playwright whose plays are still performed all over the world.

She did not like children. She never had any children by choice.

But she was not rude to children as long as they knew how to behave i.e. when they were very quiet, very well-mannered and listened to her.

Tante Marguerite was a true performer. She probably never knew how to live a real down-to-earth life.

When I was a teenager, I remember standing completely in awe for her. Probably because everybody else in the family worshipped the ground she walked on. She had quit acting a long time ago but she was the ultimate actress.

She may have been acting almost every day of her life but there was no doubt about one thing. She had been a beautiful girl. She had turned into a very beautiful woman and she was aging beautifully.

I still remember her blue eyes. Heavily made-up. But so beautiful. She had a very mysterious way of looking at you, very strange. She probably was very near-sighted. But she sure knew how to look at people.

I’m sure that no one has ever forgotten Tante Marguerite’s blue eyes especially when she added something like: ‘Darling...’ uttered with this magnificent smile of hers and a soft and husky voice. So sexy.

‘Darling’ was the word all actresses and actors would start their sentences with. A very hypocritical word if I may say so. Tante Marguerite was extremely talented in using this ‘Darling’ thing.

‘Chéri(e)’, she’d say. And we’d all swoon.

The story I am about to tell happened when she was a very old woman. She was a widow and she’d have lunch quite often at my aunt Monette’s home. (Monette being her sister’s daughter.)

Tante Marguerite was always late. She loved making a very theatrical entrance.

We were too well-mannered to give her a standing ovation. We’d smile at her. Then each one of us would get a peck on our cheek. Only one. Then she’d step back and murmure a ‘Darling’ that made us all melt, even my very sarcastic uncles.

One Sunday, she was very late. My aunt Monette, the perfect cook, was worrying about whatever what was cooking in her kitchen.

Then Tante Marguerite’s cab came up to the door. She got out.

She was wearing a vast and black velvet cloak, the type of garment that never went unnoticed.

And she was holding a bouquet of 50 long-stemmed red roses. Since she was a very diminutive women, all you could see was the roses once the cab driver put them in her arms. The roses and her eyes.

She was jubilant.

My aunt Monette went to her to take the bouquet off her hands. Tante Marguerite waved her aside.

‘No, darling. Those roses are not for you. They are mine.’

And she told us the story.

She was at her favorite flower shop because she wanted to bring Monette a (small) bouquet.

A man came in.

‘Darling, he was quite young. Sixty, I’d say.’ (She was getting closer to 90 than 80 if I remember well.)

He took one look at her in her vast billowing black cloak. I’m sure she then glanced at him with her beautiful myopic blue eyes.

Poor man.

‘I would hate to be forward, Madame. May I tell you that your eyes are the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen?’

(Why didn’t I get her genes?)

She smiled at him. Her smile was enchanting, matching perfectly the wonderful blue eyes.

He then turned to the florist and asked for 50 red roses. ‘The most beautiful roses for a very beautiful woman.’

Tante Marguerite was so enthralled by the bouquet that she forgot completely to buy flowers for her niece.

We had a very interesting Sunday lunch.

The older generation wasn’t at all surprised by Tante Marguerite’s story. They had known her as a much younger and very beautiful woman, admired by the Paris smart-set.

The younger ones (the girls) were very surprised and maybe a tiny bit jealous.

Our world was not a world where unknown men would buy 50 roses to us, especially not for the beauty of our eyes.

You see, none of us girls had inherited Tante Marguerite’s looks and blue eyes.

Oh well. Life had to go on. With or without Tante Marguerite’s blue eyes.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and a Happy New Year to all o


He's black. He's handsome and sleek. He's our cat.

In the Middle Ages, our cat would have been burnt at the stake or walled up alive. It was very dangerous to be born with a jet-black coat.

Not too long ago though, in many French villages, a black cat was believed to bring bad luck. In Brittany, hunters are still allowed to shoot cats. They love it when it’s a black cat.

Our cat is a very strange cat and I’d like to tell you a few stories about him before he fades away from our life.

Once upon a time, my friend F. who was a vet found a 4 week old kitten dumped into her waiting room. She took him home and saved him. And since she already had 7 cats at home (and 2 dogs), she decided a kitten would be a very nice birthday gift for Swee’ Pea who was turning 17 a couple of weeks later.

Well, it was a perfect birthday gift.

At the time, we were living with a wonderful sheepdog, Branwen, who fell in love with the kitten. At first sight. She made up her mind on the spot. She would be his mother.

Strange cat, I said. Strange dog too.

Swee’ Pea was already an excellent wakeboarder. The world champ at the time was an American guy named Scott Byerly.

The kitten was very lively, a born acrobat who loved to ride our dog’s waving tail in order to land on the sofa in a perfect ‘Raley’. So Byerly he became. And Byerly he’s been ever since.

He’s been sharing our life for 14 years now. He loves us a lot but he’s totally devoted to Swee’ Pea. He goes crazy whenever his favorite wakeboarder comes home.

He’s been ailing for a few months now. He’s still quite young for a cat but he’s lost a lot of energy and his heart is none too good.

So today, I’d like to tell you a few stories about a very strange cat called Byerly.

We were kind of worried because this cat never meowed, not once in his first four years. Since he wasn’t answering to his name nor  to any enticing sound from us, we kind of thought that he was either sort of deaf and dumb or mentally retarded.

Then Branwen died and Byerly started meowing. A weird kittenish meowing. A totally unpracticed meowing.

We realized that Branwen had been his ‘voice’ all along. She had been anticipating or understanding his needs and had barked to let us know that he was to be fed or that the door had to be opened. To call him, we had to keep on whistling for our (dead) dog. It took Byerly quite a few years before he did grasp he has a name.

Does a cat try to commit suicide when another kitten is brought into his home?

My friend F. had another kitten to give away. A darling one month old blue eyed Birman Orange Point with a broken hip. She brought her over to our place to convince Popeye it would be really great to adopt her.

Byerly took one look at her and run upstairs to the mezzanine floor, 12 ft above us and never jumped down to a certain death because Popeye was faster and caught him just in time. Just in time but barely.

We adopted Sara after all.

But we were very, very careful. Byerly did end up liking her a lot after we all promised him that no way we’d end up loving her more than him. Lies of course. She was such a lovely cat! Scatterbrained but so lovely.

Crazy story, isn’t it. But nevertheless true.

Does a cat become terribly frustrated when he notices that his ‘sister’ cat doesn’t care at all about catching mice?

Byerly tried to entice Sara to go hunting with him. To no avail. Blue eyed Orangepoints are no good at hunting. Actually, I think that they are turning their (tiny) nose up at mice. They love to play with grass blades though. But mice, you’ve got to be kidding.

So one day, he brought her one mouse which he very carefully set down by her paws. Sara looked at it and then at him, utterly disgusted. He then tried to show her that she could play with it and in doing so, he woke the mouse up (she was half-dead with fright). The mouse run away. Byerly never caught it again. We could see he was really, really upset. So he went to Branwen to get a *hug* which she gave him of course, dog-like.

Can a cat jump up to 6 ft high without taking a run up?

Byerly did. All the time. We are sure about the ‘6 ft’ because we did measure his leaps.

Byerly is a very huge cat. He’s taller and bigger than a Westie. And very strong too. Probably because he’s been playing rough with dogs and Swee’ Pea all his life.

When he was younger, he weighed up to 20 pounds. No fat. Muscles. Now he is much thinner of course, down to 15 pounds. But he still is very impressive. We are lucky he never was agressive.

He’s like a very nice giant, you know. So big and so sweet.

There was even a time when he’d come up to the table while we were eating. He’d get up on his hind legs and put his front paws and his head on the table. He’d take a look at what we were having for dinner and leave. He’s a dry catfood guy. Lucky us.

Have you ever met a sheepcat? We have. Our friend Bernard used to breed Suffolk sheep. Every summer, he’d drive about 60 of them to our big field by our house. Those sheep don’t bleat. They spend their day peacefully grazing.

Byerly loved them to distraction. As soon as they were there, he’d spend the day with them, first watching them and then catching mice among them.

(Byerly is in the left angle of the picture!)
One day, he was gone for quite a long time. We started worrying. The moor. Lots of foxes and buzzards around. Popeye decided to try to find him. Hard, very hard. Remember, we thought Byerly was deaf and dumb. Popeye came back a few minutes later.

‘You won’t believe it! No camera. Lock Branwen inside.’

I followed him silently to the edge of the field.

Byerly was bringing back 70 Suffolk sheep from the other side of the field to our place. He was walking slowly in front of them, his tail proudly lifted like a standard. They were following him leisurely. All 70 of them. No noise. Only their breathing sound.

We froze to the spot. I had seen sheep stampede. They are very silly animals. One starts running and the others follow.

Our cat. Our poor cat.

No need to worry about Byerly. He kept on walking proudly and slowly. As soon as he got close to our garden, he deftly crept below the electrical fence and came running to us.

Our own catsheep.

So many stories to remember. Some really funny. Others kind of sad. 14 years with Byerly.

I once said that I never feel lonely. 

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s going to be like without our irreplaceable last cat. I'd better be enjoying the moments left even if he spends most of his life sleeping now.

By the way, did you know that black cats get white hairs when they get old?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My 2010 and a few pictures

BYE-BYE, 2010...


The New Year started with abundant snow falls, so strange and so beautiful at Les Tertres.

The Montparnasse Tower was lost in a very heavy fog when I left Paris to go back to Brittany for a very sad day. Yvonne was to be buried in Pléneuf. I had to be there.


This is the way our house in Brussels was looking... and would be looking for quite a few long months. More than 9 months actually. Oh well! Life went on quite smoothly anyway from Paris to Brittany! At least as far as I was concerned.

Speaking about Brittany, we went there in February for a much happier and special occasion. Our friend V.'s 50th birthday party. It was a lot a fun and quite a surprise for her.


A few dispirited trips to Brussels trying to find stuff we needed... Books and clothes! It was a very interesting experience.

I was asked to take pictures at a Kenzo fashion show. It was fun but I felt awfully old considering the fact that the models were mere teenagers. But I was the photographer. So what!


We kept on travelling back and forth to Brussels. By then, our house looked like it had been bombed out. Some walls and ceilings had collapsed due to dampness. Funny to think that we had been living in a slum all those years! A luxurious slum of course. But a slum anyway. It was hard to fight cancer and to convince your landlady the house was in dire need of refurbishment at the same time. Hard to move too.


Our first time at sea since 2009. It was gorgeous and freezing. Little did we know that the weather wouldn't get much better during the summer... 'Fort Lalatte' facing 'Altariel' (our boat) is very famous because Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh came there in 1957 to shoot 'The Vikings'. Hollywood in Brittany, just imagine!

Our friend Niruj came all the way to Les Tertres from Leiden, Netherlands to say good-bye before he flew away back to India. I still miss him a lot. We all do.


I spent most of June in Brittany. Popeye loved it. He came over every week-end and felt like a commuter!

I came back to spend a few days in Paris though because Swee' Pea was there. One night, we had a wonderful chinese meal with his friends at his apartment! Well, it is kind of hard to cook a decent meal in a student apartment, you know.


This picture was taken on Popeye's first day in Brittany as a vacationer! As usual, it was cold and windy. But everything looked so beautiful.

Our old Byerly surprised us by drinking from the kitchen tap. He hadn't done it for quite a while (ten years) and we did think for a while that he was getting younger. Do cats get younger?


Our astronomer came to Brittany to spend a few days with us. Of course we all went boating with him... quite a crowd. Some friends even tried their luck at wakeboarding. Some were good at it, some weren't. That's life.

One of the best moments though was the day when Swee' Pea and his friend Vincent started clowning around. The way they've been, summer after summer for the past 25 years. Except that now, they clown around on wakeboards. They are so much fun to watch. Both are excellent wakeboarders. Hard to believe but Vincent is taking a picture of Swee' Pea while the boat is going full speed.


This was my September, all by myself at Les Tertres. Watching Le Verdelet from morning till sunset.


Back to Brussels with men still working to fix the house... We needed warm clothes and... books.

Back to Paris and back to Brussels and back to Paris. Back to Brussels, etc. Rain and Thalys. Thalys and rain.


Back to Brussels for a few weeks to a house more or less fit to live in. We did try. So did Byerly but it soon became obvious that he was starting to feel really sick. Cats are not getting younger after all.

And back to Paris, on time for my yearly exhibit at Le Grand Palais, with the 'Artistes Français'. This year, I chose pictures from a trip to Morocco, a few years ago. They looked great at home, I assure you.


Snow in Paris from mid-November, at its peak in December. We should get used to the idea that we're back to having real winters. Even if Paris is not a very friendly place when it gets this snowy and this cold.

Back to Les Tertres for Christmas... It was hard to get there. Lots of snow and icy freeways. But it was so good to be home!

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and a Happy New Year to all of you


My Travel Book - Brittany - They kept waiting and waiting for their husbands and their sons...

Our village in Brittany is quite interesting... No buildings on the historical register there.

But this village is very representative of the many faces of Brittany. An agricultural market town. A renowned seaside resort. And a small harbor.

The harbor is called Dahouët. Now it’s mainly a sailing resort. The last trawlers have moved to a neighboring harbor.

There was a time when fishermen would leave Dahouët as soon as winter was over. They went away to fish cod along the coasts of Newfoundland and Iceland. Three-masted sailing ships would leave for 6 months at least until their hold was filled with cod which was salted to preserve them.

In Dahouët, the women would be waiting for the men to come back.

Nowadays, as soon as the tourists are gone, Dahouët is very peaceful. And a walk through the small cluster of the old fishermen houses is like taking a trip through the past.

I went there last Sunday. The whole place was empty. Most of the houses were shut down.

I felt like closing my eyes and I started daydreaming...

The air got warmer. Early spring, I’d say.

Church bells were ringing. It was Sunday.

Women and children were leaving their homes. Time to go to mass. The men had been gone for one whole month already. The women went to pray. They went to church to pray for the safety of their husbands and their sons, the ship’s boys already at sea.

They were so scared and worried, those women who could barely imagine what their men were going through.

The sea they knew could be treacherous but what about the wide ocean the great ships were fighting off in search of the elusive cod, their livelihood.

Would the ships encounter deadly rocks and founder into the abyss? Would the dories get lost into the deep fog and never find the ship?

There would be no letters, not one word from their loved ones for so many months. No way to know whether or not the ship would come back.

The women kept waiting and waiting for their men and sons.

And then one day, the ships would appear on the horizon, one by one. The children were on the look-out and they would go running to the women and tell them the name of the ship they had seen. And there would be great joy in the hearts and the small homes.

Some men would never make it back. Sometimes a whole crew would be missing, lost forever.

So lost that there are no graves for men lost at sea in the village graveyard. A very sobering cross made of two simple boards: «sailors dead at sea».

For a few months though, life in Dahouët would go back to normal. Then men and women would start preparing the next fishing season.

Soon, very soon, the men would be going back to sea.

And the women would keep waiting and waiting.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Lonely in Brittany

Well, that's it.

I'm alone in Brittany. This winter, I had decided to skip my staying-after-everybody-has-gone-back-to-work. But at the last minute, it was too hard for me not to stay by myself for a few more days. Even though it started snowing again this morning.

The snow did not last. It's raining right now. There was no sunset tonight. There has been no sunset ever since we got to Les Tertres a couple of days before Christmas.

We did watch one sunset. A beautiful one, but 30 miles from home. Don't smile. We were getting very tired of seeing our islet lost in wintry fogs, the kind of fog where there is no dividing line between the dark grey skies and a very unfriendly sea. We left Les Tertres and went on discovery trips... not very far but far enough to find some sunny skies at last.

Those trips deserve stories of their own. They took us to very interesting places we hadn't even thought existed so close to our home. And the sky was blue, the sun was shining even though it was very, very cold.

We had never seen the beach below our house so empty in our whole life in Penthièvre (our area in Brittany). So surprising. A little bit distressing. We did feel like we were living at the end of the earth, in a godforsaken place, a void.

We mostly stayed home, reading and listening to music, watching movies. Wishing that the sun would come out and warm up the air and our hearts.

A few friends dropped round but we never felt like taking a walk on the beach. The house was so warm and cosy.

Yesterday, we did go down to the beach and we took a long walk there. It was very amazing to be totally on our own on a 6 miles long beach.

We did not feel alone in the world though because tens of sandpipers were there while the tide was coming up. They were really friendly and funny. Friendly because they were not afraid of the two huge human beings who were invading their kingdom and space. Funny because they kept running around searching for sea slugs. They were really running around on very tiny and twiggy feet. They were so engrossed in their search for food that they kept running around and around, so close to us.

Tonight, I drove Popeye to the train station. He's going back to work.

Will I feel lonely? I don't think so. I'm so used of being on my own.

I'll keep busy telling stories and sorting pictures if it still is too cold to take walks on the beach.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and a Happy New Year to all of you.