"Green Algae" and Pollution in Brittany

Today, I heard on the radio that there is a huge conference in Chicago about cancer. They mentionned that one child out of three born this year will develop cancer in his/her life, sooner or later.

Four main causes. The first one is environmental. The second one is linked to tobacco. The third one, to alcohol. The fourth one, to prolonged exposure to the sun.

The first cause and the fourth one are obviously linked. It seems quite easy to fight the second and third causes.

I have already written a few pages about pollution in Brittany and the heavy toll it takes on people’s lives.

Cancer and Alzheimer are considered to be epidemics here. To be specific, most of the cases there are known to be linked to environmental problems.

Agriculture is not really regulated. Since it is very intensive, farming requires a lot of fertilizers, weed-killers, fungicides, insecticides, growth substances and pesticides.

Impossible to leave out the intensive farming of pigs and poultry.

All this pollutes ground water in a rather frightening way.

During the past thirty years, a very visible type of pollution has appeared. We call it «marée verte» since it is caused by the «algues vertes». (green waters as opposed to oil slick - «marée noire» in French)

The «algues vertes» known as «Ulva» do not pollute unless their growth is altered by the nitrates discharged into the sea by the rivers heavily polluted because of the very intensive farming.

This has been getting worse during the past ten years.

I take most of my pictures outside, in the wild. And I have worked a lot on the foreshore and around mussel beds. It is a long story I’ll tell you one of these days.

There is a place I love not too far away from our home. It looks like a huge beach at low tide except that people farm mussels there. So it ends up looking like a crazy forest, filled with stakes where mussels grow.

My first encounter with «green algae» there was very surprising.

I usually work barefoot whenever it is warm outside. It’s easier for me to walk along the foreshore and inside the mussel beds.

Boots (which I do wear when it gets cold) tend to overload me. And since I’m already carrying a very heavy equipment...

So I go barefoot.

My first green algae were beautiful. The sea was slowly ebbing away. Fresh algae up to my ankles. Green over the golden sands. Pure magic.

I had no idea what I was getting into. By the time I was through taking pictures, the sun was much warmer. It was hot, very hot. A very strong smell was coming from the algae, no longer green but turning into a sickening brown mush while they were drying under the sun.

I started feeling really sick and nauseated and so sorry I was not wearing boots.

My beautiful magic green carpet had turned into a sickeningly slippery and stinking quagmire.

Visible pollution in action. Quite impressive.

Those green seaweeds are growing on inorganic nutrients (nitrates in Brittany mainly from pig farms). As soon as they start to decay, they produce sulfuretted hydrogen, all this within a couple of hours at low tide.

Since my first encounter, I have a very strong relationship with those «algues vertes». A love and hate relationship.

I love them because they can be beautiful. They sure add a new dimension to the landscape. They float ashore leisurely and come to rest on the sand. Their green color is amazing. And they are almost ethereal and translucent.

Then I hate them. They are a sure sign of nutrient pollution. They rot away very quickly. Then they turn very ugly. They are terribly dangerous.

This pollution kills. Not insidiously. Instantly. It can be a matter of minutes for some dogs or even a horse once down into the trap like last summer.

Two years ago, a worker died after spending a few days gathering them and taking them away to be buried in a field. Too much sulfuretted hydrogen in his lungs... and a bad heart.

The «algues vertes» invade our beaches (not all of them, though) as soon as the water gets warmer. They tend to disappear when fall arrives. But they come back, again and again.

They have been present in Brittany for the past thirty years now. And nobody knows how to fight this pollution.

So nowadays, as early as May, you’ll see tractors on some beaches and people gathering weeds, green weeds twice a day, day after day until the summer is over.

People in Brittany are not growing some kind of lettuce on the beach. They are trying to keep up with pollution our consumer society is breeding, we are breeding, you and me.

I’d like to end this story with a very positive touch but I’m pretty sure that our «green algae» in Brittany are only the tip of the iceberg.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Second Best Picture... so far

When Swee’ Pea was a very young child and my Bonne-Maman was still alive, we spent every summer in Arfons, her birthplace.
Those of you who have read my blog from the very beginning know that I come from a very strange family.
On my grandmother’s side, we skipped an entire generation.
It’s quite easy to get lost in my family.
I had one grandfather, Bon Papa Mathieu who actually was my great-grandfather.
His eldest daughter was Marie, my mother’s mother, my grandmother, Swee’ Pea’s great-grandmother. 
Bon Papa Mathieu’s only son, Martial, was my mother’s uncle, my great-uncle and Swee’ Pea’s great-great-uncle. But to us, he was our uncle.
My grandmother, was divorced when my mother was 3 years old. She never got married again. Hence the lack of a real grandfather, real uncles and aunts on my mother’s side.
But what’s “real” worth when you do have love and support from people who act as if they were truly generational relatives.
Swee’ Pea loved to go spend some time with his Tonton Martial and his wife, Tatie Mimi. He was by far the youngest member of the family. And they loved to have him around.
I still remember the day I took the picture.
They spent a lot of time in Arfons as soon as it’d get warm. Both were retired teacher.
That day, it was very warm and cosy in their garden. I remember that Tonton Martial was thumbing through a catalog. Why? Because I took pictures!
Swee’ Pea had been sitting on his lap, ‘reading’ the catalog too when Tatie Mimi called him. He went down to see her. She held out her hands to him with so much love that he squatted by her and put his head between her hands.

She was stroking his soft curly hair and he started to suck his thumb. This was pure bliss. Such a wonderful moment no one wanted to break up. 
Old caring and loving hands and a very young boy. She was 75 and he was 20 months old.
I could tell you hundreds of stories about Martial and Mimi. 

They were kind and sweet. They still were great teachers and they loved children a lot. 
I have to admit that Tonton Martial was my favorite. One of the things I especially liked about him was that he didn’t know left from right. 
This is still a problem for me. I have to use my hands to give directions to people even when I am on the phone. And then I get all mixed up anyway.
My uncle’s problem was so bad that one story went around for years and years at family meals. (Our family was too small to involve a family reunion.)
My uncle was driving his car while one of his sons was giving him directions.
“Papa, turn to the left.”
“Which one?” asked my Oncle Martial.
Martial passed away the way he used to live. With a joyful and contented heart.
He had been diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time, nothing much could be done about it. The whole family decided not to tell him he had cancer.
He also had quite a few problems with his heart which did not prevent him from spending a lot of time fly fishing trouts.
Despite his cancer, he moved back to Arfons with his wife as usual as soon as the weather got warmer. On a wonderful morning in May, he went to the baker’s to buy a “baguette”.
He loved to stroll around Arfons. He had a lot of childhood friends there and he’d spend hours talking with them.
That very morning, he came back home still smiling over a story he’d been told. He stepped into the kitchen and said to Tatie Mimi:

“This is such a wonderful day.”
He gave her the “baguette” and was still holding one end when he fell down and died right away.
Not much fun for Mimi but such a wonderful way to die after all.
By then Swee’ Pea was still quite young and he missed his ‘Tonton Martial’ a lot.
But we all had so many good memories that we were very happy he died smiling on “a wonderful day."
Mimi outlived him for many, many years. She had several grandchildren and many great-grandchildren but she remained very fond of Swee’ Pea even though he no longer was the youngest member of the family!

But I'm pretty sure Swee' Pea did miss his 'Tonton Martial' a lot because they were so close.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Knock, Knock!

Today was a true wintry day in Northern Brittany.

Strong Northern wind. Low skies. Heavy clouds and lots of rain. Rough leaden sea.

Popeye spent his whole day (most of the day anyway) fixing things on his boat (safe in the harbor) while I stayed home... reading.

I couldn’t think about doing anything else than reading a... thriller.

Early afternoon, someone knocked at the glass door. It sounded weird, real weird... like this someone was knocking on the glass using his/her nails.

Kind of spooky because there was no one outside and whenever I’d stand up from my very comfy armchair to have a better look outside, the  noise would stop instantly.

As I mentionned earlier, I was by myself in my very isolated home... right in the middle of an extraordinarily gripping thriller.

Ever since I have made up my mind to stay home all by myself, I try to keep cool whatever happens. Things do happen or happened at Les Tertres. Weird things. Bad things even.

I’m still well and alive! I keep cool. I have to.

This "Knock, knock" («Toc, toc, toc») was bothering me though especially since it always stopped as soon as I’d stand up. It would start again as soon as I’d sit down again.

I only had one issue. I had to get much closer to the door and remain as still as I could.

Well, it worked.

There she was. A beautiful female bullfinch. She’d fly to the door handle and once  perched there, she’d knock on the glass pane with her beak.

«Toc, toc, toc,» she'd go.

She’d look inside and then again: «Toc, toc, toc.»

It was very funny. She looked so determined to get inside I was wondering whether or not I should open the door to let her in.

I tried to take pictures. She was a little bit shy... But as soon as I’d sit back down on my armchair, she’d come back.

«Knock, knock.»

She kept at it all afternoon long. She’d fly away and she’d come back a few minutes later...

Have you ever tried to read a book while a bullfinch knocks repeatedly at your glass door?

Since she obviously was in no danger to hurt herself (besides the fact she would end up exhausted), I let her have fun. Even though she was getting on my nerves from time to time. The price to pay to live among birds who are friendly enough to knock at your door.

When you live where I live, nothing seems strange to you after all.

Popeye came home. Time to drive him to the station. While he was getting ready, I decided to close the shutters of that door. They are heavy and hard to close when Northern winds are blowing.

I went outside and grabbed the first shutter. I turned back towards the living room and there I was... well not me... my reflection...

The poor bird had been trying all afternoon long to get rid of another bird - herself actually.

She had not been knocking at the door after all. She had been pecking, pecking and pecking... the unknown bird on the other side of the door!

I had been the witness to a very mild replay of «The Birds

Spooky, spooky.

Tonight I’ll make sure all the shutters are closed. Just imagine!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*