One sweet whiff of horse manure and my brother Pat was back...

Most people do not notice the nice and sweet smell of horse manure...

My Bonne-Maman loved to pick up horse manure in the streets of Arfons whenever a horse would go through the village on its way back to its stable. Horse manure was her favorite fertilizer for her rosebushes.

But for me, the smell of horse manure brings my brother Pat back to life... somehow.

On both sides of the family, there have been a lot of horsemen. Some made it their trade. Others, being wealthier, entered horse shows.

My brother Pat loved horses. So as soon as he could, he convinced our mother to let him take riding lessons.

He was willing to quit playing his violin in order to pay for them. I have to admit that life without Pat’s violin became all of a sudden more heavenly.

We did not realize at the time (he was 9 or 10) that horse riding would become such a passion in his life.

He went from very small horse shows to national competition. He loved riding. He loved training horses. He loved show jumping and dressage events.

Once he discovered eventing, he went wild.

A few months before his death in 1991, he had been offered to be part of the French Eventing Team.

Lots of children dream of having their own horse.

Pat did buy several horses throughout the years as soon as he started working. He worked hard but only to fulfill his one and only passion: horse-riding.

His first horse, a chestnut Anglo-Arab by the name of Galapiat («Scamp» in English) still is my favorite. He was strong and willful. An excellent horse for high level competition.

I remember taking long rides with my brother on the beach down south and in the forest in Arfons. They were fun. Wonderful memories too.

I had the hardest time understanding why Pat loved so much taking part in horse shows. And later on, he scared me a lot when he decided to go into eventing.

I realize now that he needed to prove to himself and the whole world that he was competitive in one field and his field was horse-riding.

After his death, I decided I’d never get close to a horse again. I’d watch people ride horses down on the beach below my house... and that's all I did - watching.

Sometimes, I was aching. Horses and my brother were so mixed up in my mind and in my heart. Memories coming back. The grievous feeling of loss.

In Brittany, we live very close to a city called Lamballe. Besides its medieval houses and churches, Lamballe has a «Haras National» (a stud farm) where they breed horses - all kind of horses - plow horses, racehorses, hunters, etc.

For years, I’ve been attracted to the Haras and somehow I never managed to go there.

Then it happened this summer. We finally found enough time to go and visit the Haras which offered on the very rainy day we chose, not only a visit to the stud farm itself but a dressage session and a horse show.

I was a little bit apprehensive. A trip back into the past can sometimes backfire. I had loved horses when my brother was still alive but I had made up my mind I’d never ever get close to one of them...

The old life swept me through ... as soon as I entered the Haras. There were horses everywhere. Horse trailers everywhere. Riders in their very formal garb were walking their horses around the buildings while waiting for their turn to compete. 

The sounds were all there too, so omnipresent. Hooves echoing on the tarred path. Horses neighing while waiting in their trailers. Voices announcing the results of the latest competitor including the rider’s and his/her horse’s name through loudspeakers...

The strong smell of horses in a lather.

Then one sweet whiff of horse manure...

And my brother Pat was there...


And I loved it. I felt very sad of course but my anger because he let go while he was still so young and promising was gone. For the first time ever since 1991.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Green Algae in Brittany. Again and Again. Again and Again.

Beautiful, isn’t it? Who can believe that this is the place where 36 wild boars¹, sows and piglets alike, were found dead in July?

While I was writing a few posts about pollution problems in Brittany, a French region I love very much, our «home» ever since 1987, I never thought we’d live through such a shocking experience.

When people started finding dead wild boars, sows and piglets², (up to 36) on a beach close to our home, there were headlines all over French (and foreign) newspapers. «Green algae in Brittany. They killed again.»

I decided to be patient and careful for once.

Boars were found dead every day. They were collected and sent to a veterinary lab. Autopsies were carried on.

In Brittany, people were arguing to the point that it was hard to even utter the word «sanglier» (wild boar) whether you were talking to a farmer, a hunter or an ecologist.

The farmer would get really angry because green algae have been known to be the product of intensive farming.

The hunter would get mad because wild boar hunting is highly restricted. 
He’d tell you that boars wouldn’t be dying on the beach if they had been hunted. It made sense of course even though a little bit drastic but it did not do much good in finding the cause of their death anyway.

The ecologist was very upset but torn apart by two theories.

One was that boars died from asphyxia due to the H₂S (hydrogen sulfide) from the rotting of the green algae.

The second theory which could make sense was a poisoning from the nearby small river filled with very toxic microscopic algae (cyanobacteria/blue-green algae).

I almost forgot another theory. Deliberate poisoning of the boars by farmers or villagers who could have gotten tired of the damages in fields and gardens.

So I waited very patiently. I was quite sure that inhaling the fumes from rotting green algae had killed the boars because I had been there... so many times while working hard on a photographic project.

The stench from the rotting algae is unbearable. Imagine a gigantic pan filled with rotten eggs and you’ll get the idea.

I remember feeling nauseated. I remember getting headaches. I remember throwing up. How lucky I have been never to faint in the muck. And how stupid I have been to stay there for such a long time while taking pictures...

After all, the algae has killed at least four times within the past two years: one man, two dogs and one horse. Official deaths at least.

I waited for the results. They came up a few days ago.

And the newspapers were all screaming: «Green algae found guilty of the death of the wild boars.»

Our world is going upside down.

In the Middle Ages, whenever something bad happened, we burnt black cats.

In August 2011, green algae are held responsible for the death of 36 wild boars and one coypu³ (two days ago... and no doubt about it). At least this is the way our French newspapers published the news... Responsible...


Should we burn green algae... as a punishment for their mischief?

Or should we try to find out who really is guilty of their proliferation? (Shouldn't we try to eradicate the problem even if it takes years to do so and before too many animals and/or humans die on a beach?)

Who should be held responsible for the increasing invasion of Brittany (and elsewhere) by green algae?

Farmers and intensive farming? Our consumerist attitude? The fact that Northern Brittany gets more and more tourists every year? Too many people meaning increased pollution.

The problem first appeared in the 1970s but it is getting worse ever since.

Of course, intensive farming plays an important part in polluting the water (ground water and rivers) and then the sea.

Farmers are caught in a devilish drive to be ultraproductive. They want to survive. The ground is getting poorer hence a growth in the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Nobody came up with realistic ideas or solutions to help them through the various crises they have been going through.

And nobody ever came up with money to help them get rid of the polluting side effects of intensive farming. A few things have been tried out but nothing really satisfying though.

In Brittany, we are now facing a major crisis because no one ever wanted to face the truth and talk about it openly and with composure.

The official results of the autopsies were published a few days ago. The boars did die because they inhaled H2S from rotting green algae.

The green algae problem does not affect Brittany in its entirety. But since it has been hushed up, now that it comes violently to light, people are afraid.

Northern Brittany is one of the main agricultural regions in France. 40% of its population are farmers.

But we must not forget that Northern Brittany also survives because of tourism⁴.

The weather has not been very clement lately. With the «green algae» crisis, many people have decided to avoid Northern Brittany and are cancelling their reservations.

So Northern Brittany is bound to live through dire times once again.

In September, pig manure spreading will start again, hereby causing water pollution. More green algae next year...

This year, green algae are hard to get rid of. Too many of them and not enough storage left.

Only one solution left since the cleaning up is now impossible - Access to the polluted beaches will be restricted.

A week ago, 350 farmers or so had a big football game on the very spot the boars were found dead, thereby defying the State authority... Nobody died and nobody felt sick either (or nobody ever complained)... for one good reason probably - the green algae had been disposed of and anyway, the football game was scheduled away from the very place that is known to be still highly contaminated with H₂S. (The sands are checked every week.)

Pitiful. Who can believe that one football game will prove the disappearance of such a terrible danger?

By the way, the government has kept very quiet concerning the farmers’ act of defiance.

But beaches are being closed every day now, the way the St Maurice beach is closed ever since July.

Good news though. Summer holidays are almost over. The tourists are leaving. It is getting colder. Green algae are disappearing... All is well, all is well in Brittany.

Let’s forget about pollution... until next spring, of course...

¹ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
² http://www.ouest-france.fr
³ http://coastalcare.org
⁴ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - My Birthday Surprise - Carcassonne (Chapter One)

Quite a long time ago, Popeye asked me what I’d like to do for my birthday.

He knew I was feeling quite depressed so he came up with a few very interesting ideas: Venice? Firenze? Egypt? (He was kidding, wasn’t he?)

Since I’m lucky enough to share my birthday with Belgium’ s national day, it meant a very long week-end starting on a Thursday.

So I answered: «What about Southern France and Arfons?».

Last time we were there was 23 years ago.

I kind of missed my village especially since I started writing about my ancestors. Well, it was not really a longing though. I’ve become too much of a Breton now. And the people I used to love so much have been dead for quite a long time.

But I did ask to go back to Arfons. And then I forgot about it.

Popeye didn’t talk much about his plans for my birthday and I did not talk about them either. My birthday is not my favorite day of the year even though I sure enjoy becoming older now.

I knew that we’d go out to a good restaurant, probably in Brittany! Popeye loves to eat well and I’m a rotten cook! And we both love Brittany.

On Sunday, I was told that reservations had be made in... Carcassonne. We would be flying to Toulouse on Thursday morning. We’d drive to the hotel in Carcassonne and go back to Arfons and any place I cared to go to!

It was such a surprise that my first reaction was totally negative. I definitely could not go back there after all. Too many extremely wonderful memories. It’s not easy to go back to places where you’ve been so happy... with ghosts around.

«Nevermore» said Poe’s raven.

Obviously, the raven never met Popeye. Because Popeye never says: «Nevermore.»

On Wednesday, the weather was really bad in Paris. Hard to believe that I had to pack summer clothes to go down south.

On Thursday morning, we took a cab to Orly to catch our plane to Toulouse. It was cold and rainy and I still didn’t know what to expect from this trip.

We landed in Toulouse 50 mns after take off. Incredible. It used to last a full 10 hours by train. Worth waiting 23 years after all.

Popeye loves to get things just right. In Marrakesh, we lived in a ryad, avoiding the big international hotels. In Carcassonne, he thought it’d be interesting to stay in a very beautiful family estate instead of checking in a traditional hotel.

Le Domaine d'Auriac

I loved the place at first sight. Very quiet and beautiful. I had the feeling we were miles away from Carcassonne. I mean far away from the city hustle.

And off we went... to Carcassonne which actually was less than one mile away.

I have been to Carcassonne so many times but the view from the vineyards was amazing. It really was being back home.

Hundreds of people around of course but we decided to take a walk around the «Cité de Carcassonne».

A lot of restoration had been done since my last time there. They are mainly changing the rooftops which had been covered with slates where there should have been red curved tiles. Viollet-le-Duc, you were so wrong!

Entering the Cité

The City walls (part of them anyway):

Once you've been around on the ramparts, you get to enter the Viscount's Castle. Quite impressive.

Carcassonne is real. People still live inside the Middle Ages walls.

From the Middle Ages!

No gutters. The rain falls directly from the tiles into the street below.

The Parisian (British?), etc. idea of a garden in the Middle Ages...

Right close to the Castle walls

Carcassonne is a very enchanting place to be.

We walked and walked around on top of the city walls. And from time to time, I’d look away and there there it was... my beloved «Montagne Noire» (its southern slopes anyway).

 My heart was beating very fast. I started feeling at home so much that before the end of the day, to Popeye’s merriment, I had gone back to my Southern accent and expressions.

The first time I uttered «Hé Bé», therefore expressing my delight and totally forgetting to use the French «Eh bien», he burst out laughing. But it was nice. I didn’t know I still remembered the expression which came back to me naturally like so many others.

I guess Southern French or Southern «langue d’oc» is part of my genetic heritage.

I was totally "fluent" by the time we flew back to Paris. And I got really mad at Popeye everytime he tried to mimic my accent.

«This is NOT your native tongue. This is NOT your native accent,» I’d say.

Do I need to tell you that as soon as I hit Paris, I lost my accent?

When in Rome...

Do I also need to tell you that besides being a very charming place, «our family estate» boasted an extremely good restaurant?

Such a perfect birthday.


(To be continued)

*Good Luck, and Good Night*