My Travel Book - Our Fleeting Encounter with a "Mola mola" in Northern Brittany

Sometimes a very important moment begins quite simply... Let’s go back to the day we caught sight of a “Mola mola” for the first time in our life and probably the last one, especially in Northern Brittany.

It all started with a spectacular fall. Swee’Pea had been trying to wakesurf... except that he was still linked to the boat and this proved to be his demise. (It’s just a figure of speech.)

It is quite hard to surf the wake with a big and antediluvian board even if you are a very talented wakeboarder. And a good wave surfer!

So his fall was brutal, I’ll say!

The boys decided it was time to call for some much needed rest. It was definitely snack time!

I was still looking at the water with my camera on my lap. Just looking. Quite aimlessly... until the very second I spotted a fin... A fin! You mean like a shark fin? Well, yes, it definitely looked very “sharky” to me.

Because we have sharks in Brittany. Well, basking sharks. Very nice and totally harmless since they feed on zooplankton and very small fish. This summer, hundreds of them have been spotted in Brittany. Warmer waters, they said.

So I was pretty sure I was right. “Fin” meant “ basking shark” of course!

So when I yelled: “Shark to port”, T., our youngest boy aboard threw his surfboard overboard and...

...right to where I had sighted the fin!

Except that by then, the fin was more on the starboard side. Which was quite great since T.’s mother was on board and she was getting very upset even if basking sharks are known to be very, very nice... Huge sometimes but nice!

I remember the day we spotted one right below the house and it was swimming leisurely very close to Swee’Pea and his friends who were fooling by a rock... Impressive, very impressive! But totally harmless.

Then a very strange head appeared before our very astonished gaze... Very bizarre indeed.

Do you remember the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? At one point he is sentenced to be beheaded by the Queen of Hearts and then its head appears without his body. How can you behead a cat that does not have a body?

Well what we had there barely floating up to the surface was one fish head and only one head... looking quite jagged where the body should have been.

Obviously its fin was matched by another one right below. One head and no body. With two fins...

The head was huge with protruding eyes. It really was a very ugly head. But how can you start thinking about ugliness when there is no body fastened to the head.

And yet the head looked alive, sort of. It kept rolling about from one side to the other one. Slowly and unhurriedly...

Popeye who was the only one who kept a cool head on board... “Cool head”? Did I really write that? Well, Popeye who stayed calm said: “Lots of fishermen out there in their boats. One of them probably caught the fish and cut its head on the spot.”

By then we were feeling very sick. One beheaded huge fish... and one bulky homely head floating away... Looking still alive... Not very lively and quite weakly but still moving around... But the head was definitely dying under our very dismayed eyes... Sort of slowing down and sinking slowly but surely.

A dying head? Well, we all know about last reflexes in agony. But do they apply to a fish head?

And what kind of fish would that be? A big, huge fish with a “sharky” fin and a very ugly and impressive snout? One huge head?

Anyway, the head kept rolling around, floating away until it sank down in the depths below the boat... slowly, unhurriedly but for good.

Our boys did not feel like wakesurfing again. Nor were they hungry either. We were feeling rather glummy and we decided to put back to port.
When we got home, I rushed to transfer the pictures of the day onto my computer. I had managed to take a few pictures of the head... my conditioned reflex to whatever happens in my life... especially at sea!

I looked at them very carefully with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say. Dispassionately.

And then it struck me... (Oh, I would have been such a brilliant forensic scientist!)

There had been no blood oozing from the head even though the kill and the beheading had probably happened only a few minutes before we saw it bobbing along.

There had been no seagulls either trying to get their share the way they do whenever fishermen gut their catch at sea...

 When in doubt... let’s rush to Google: “Big fish with round head in Brittany.”

There it was: “Mola mola.” Thank you... Google!

Then Wikipedia... There it was!

I double-checked my pictures. Yes, this really was an Ocean Sunfish which in French turns out to be a “poisson lune" (Moonfish).

I called my men to let them know the good news... The "head" was alive! And the head was a whole fish after all! Ugly and very slow and very strange but alive and whole!

It would have been very nice if they had concurred with me right away. But of course, they had to double-check just in case! And Popeye came up with pictures that really looked like mine. Brilliant, just brilliant!

And then there was this article where some zoologist explained that sometimes it is hard to differentiate an Ocean Sunfish from a shark (at first sight, that is) because of the fin. The point of his story was that you have to double-check very carefully whenever you see a fin! No kidding!

“You are right,” said Popeye. “We really saw a ‘Mola mola’!” (Lovely name, isn’t it?) And he sounded quite hoity-toity, by the way!

“I knew there was something wrong,” he added. “There was no blood flowing from the alleged cut.”

Sometimes this man makes me so mad.
Anyway we did spot a very rare fish in our seas. In France, they are merely found in the Atlantic Ocean. 
But this year, we have experienced very warm and strong currents in Brittany. They have brought a lot of basking sharks and thousands of jellyfish to our shores this summer.

The Ocean Sunfish feeds on jellyfish. This one probably drifted along a warm current and ended up in the baie de la Fresnaye. A very rare sighting indeed since they are used to swim in very deep waters.

This Sunfish was probably surfacing after a deep dive and was actually basking in the sun on its side. Which explained the leisurely rolling around.

Once it felt warm enough, it sank to colder currents and out of sight.

I have to add that this year and to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever spotted dolphins in our area, not even seasoned sailors. No magical encounters for us even though we have been sailing a lot around Chausey which is one of the best spot to watch dolphins in our area...

So this year, lots of basking sharks and jellyfish and Sunfish (because if we saw one there must have been quite a few of them around).

Sunfish have also been spotted close to the southwestern coast of Great-Britain meaning that the waters are getting warmer.

This is not really good. Global warming at work probably. Actually quite scary.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Fishing Sand Eels in Northern Brittany

Summer has been quite fickle lately in Northern Brittany. One day, it is very autumnal and the next day, the weather turns out to be so gorgeous that people flock to the beaches.

My favorite beach was quite crowded yesterday, meaning that I had a hard time parking there.

I had another choice. I love to go to Fréhel close to the Cap except that I always feel it is too far away... But yesterday I made up my mind and I drove to Fréhel. There are quite a few very beautiful beaches there. Huge sandy expanses and lots of rocks around.

The whole area is well known for its magnificent golden sands almost unique in Northern Brittany.

The rocks bring creeks into being here and there. They do break the monotony such a huge space would induce.

I started to walk along the shore as usual. Barefoot of course. The water was quite warm. And the colors were sumptuous.

Past the first rocky outcrop, I noticed two men who were setting down some unusual long net on the sand. They were obviously getting ready to wade through the shallow water there. The place looked strange almost like a lagoon. Very transparent waters over a very sandy bottom.

I am curious about everything. I stopped to watch the fishermen. What were they so intent on fishing?

It couldn’t be shrimp fishing. The net was much too long and too fine meshed. It couldn’t be bass for the very same reason besides the fact that you usually use a fishing rod or a line to fish bass.

But one never knows. You meet crackpots everywhere after all. Even on a beach in Northern Brittany.

But those guys looked like they knew what they were doing. I stayed there totally mesmerized. 

I was not the only bystander even though the beach was quite deserted.
 The two men were acting as a very efficient team, pulling the net behind them while they were getting deeper and deeper in the water. While they were walking back and forth, they’d tap the surface with their free hand. From time to time. It looked very strange.

Then they’d come closer to the shore to check their net. From time to time.

And then they’d go back into the water and resume their long walk through waters that were ebbing and getting much less deep by the minute.

I sneaked away for a while and kept on walking along the shore but not for long. You see, I had to know what they were doing.

The sea was getting shallower and rocks were rising out of the water behind them. The place they had chosen to fish looked more and more like a lagoon. A very small one but a lagoon all the same.

Suddenly the net looked heavier. They were pulling quite hard.

And they came up to the shore while dragging the net very carefully out of the water.

The guy in the red shirt walked by me to grab a pail they had left on the beach. He was the quiet one. Much older than his friend and obviously not as used to this kind of fishing as his team-mate. I may be wrong though...

There they were... Quite a handful of small fish caught in the net. Well actually more than a handful... One catch and probably much more than ten kilos of fish.

We got talking of course. The fish are sand eels. They look like very small eels indeed. One of the fishermen dropped one of them on the sand. True to its name, the sand eel buried itself in the sand and disappeared so fast that I didn’t even have time to take a picture!

Usually people fish them using very special rakes. They rake up the sand on the beach at low tide. You have to be quite swift to grab those slippery sand eels before they bury themselves again in the sand.

The net which by the way is called a “seine” has to comply with extremely strict regulations. If I understood right, you also need some kind of a special license to fish sand eels with a net because of the potential size of your catch. In order to protect the species I imagine.

One of the men, the communicative one of course, explained to me that there are only two places in the area where you can fish sand eels with a net.

You see, I was right about fishing in some kind of a lagoon. And “lagoons” are very scarce in Northern Brittany. If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll notice that the men started fishing in a seemingly very open area but  with the ebb tide, rocks appeared in the background.

Those rocks surround a  huge natural pool, totally invisible at high tide. Sand eels get there because of its nice sandy bottom. When the tide goes out, they get caught in a very simple but real trap.

The seine is weighed down by sinkers and it scrapes the sand off. The sand eels start swimming. They get caught by the net that is tightened up in the middle and they can’t escape from the trap.

The reason why the two men repeatedly hit the water with their free hand was to get the fish to move around and hopefully end up caught in the net.

You can’t fish sand eels this way day after day, every month of the year. The lagoon must have a certain depth. Not too much but just enough. 
And the water must be very calm. All of this considerably cuts down sand eel net fishing, at least in Brittany.

A lady came over to look at their catch and she said: “But what will you do with those fish? Are they edible?”

“Yes, they sure are. Tonight, we’ll have fried fish for supper. It will be a real feast!”

Well, I only hoped that their families were very large because they had fished an awful lot of sand eels in less than one hour!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Summertime - The End

Two weeks ago we were invited to a wedding... Well, not the kind of wedding I’d like to blog about but the point is that the bride’s brother now lives in the French Antilles. His wife sent a family movie to be watched during the reception.

Outside the hotel in Brittany, the skies were grey and the sea breeze was quite chilly...

In the French Antilles, the ocean was blue and turquoise and limpid. The sun was definitely shining over large white sandy beaches. The bride’s brother and his wife and their children were obviously having a thoroughly enjoyable outdoorsy life. The so-called perfect life when every morning, you open your eyes and the sun dazzles you. Every morning. Day after day.

How boring!

Well, this summer was almost wearisome in Brittany... In Northern Brittany, I mean. Sunny days. Calm seas. Every day. Unbelievable.

People looked happy. Popeye was happy. We went boating and boating and boating again... Long distance boating that is... A boat filled with happy wakeboarders and happy lazy sea lizards if I may say so! Meaning -  watching the wakeboarders while lying on the deck.

Popeye found it hard to go back to work. Very unusual, I’d say.

The first week in September was just as sunny and warm than in July and August... What a tiresome thing to report every night that yes, the sun was still shining and the sea was still calm and yes, too bad he was away working hard and yes, I was so very lucky...

How boring! Besides the fact that farmers were grumbling and gardeners were worrying... Not enough rain... Actually no rain at all.

And it all started on Friday afternoon...

Another perfectly blissful day at least in the morning and early afternoon. Tee shirt and cutoffs and bare feet. Empty stores because everybody was sunbathing on the beach...

I went and took my usual long walk on the beach around 3. Perfect syncing with the ebbing tide.

Ever since Monday, there were quite a few German students working on the rocks and the beach... Picking seaweed samples and shellfish. Very studiously of course!

I walked and walked along the shore that was overrun with a thick carpet of brown and green algae. Quite slippery from time to time but very interesting because it reminded me of pictures of the Everglades I had seen, the Everglades as seen from a plane, my Everglades in Brittany...

On my way back, the tide was already rising... and the sky was clouding over quite swiftly. Dark ominous clouds.

The sea was swelling up and the air was suddenly getting much cooler.

When I went to pick Popeye at the station that night, he knew that there would be no boating during the week-end. Actually it rained during the night. Not too much but enough to quench the thirst of the garden plants. There would be no watering at night.

We spent our week-end lazing around. Leafing through books about landscaping. Planning our new garden. But mainly pottering round the house...

This afternoon, I went back to the beach. My daily walk, remember.

Walking shoes on. Which I kept forgetting I was wearing after walking barefoot for so many months! Great shoes by the way... not at all affected by my reckless crossing of puddles and even a few pools of seawater!

Oilskin on my back... 55°F (13°C) and very strong winds... and lashing rain!

The whole works!

Let’s admit it... Brittany is not boring at all when it gets back to its true self... As soon as I got back home, the sun came out from behind the clouds and all of a sudden the beach turned golden once again!

But by then I was feeling much too tired to set foot outside again!

It is getting very late now. The wind is roaring outside and the waves are so raging that I can hear them from my room even though the shutters are tightly closed.

Oh, I love Brittany!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*



Modern-day hitchhiking. Many thanks to my niece (on her way round the world)

Not too long ago on a human scale, let’s say about twenty years ago...  there was a simple way to exchange news and pictures.

You usually wrote a letter on a piece of paper which you dropped into an envelope along with pictures if you felt like it. The envelope was a stick-down one which you licked very cautiously because it was so easy to get your tongue slightly slit in the process.

This was the easy part though because...

Then you hoped to get an answer. You waited for an answer. Then one day, the mailman would drop an envelope into your mailbox. There it was... the long-awaited answer from your friend or your lover or your cousin, whatever...

If you were the one to open the mailbox, then there was no problem. But when your mother or one of your siblings was the one to beat you to it, then I’m pretty sure that you scrutinized the envelope before opening it... Because you see, sometimes people couldn’t help it. They had to tamper with your mail, steaming your precious envelope open, reading your mail and then resticking the envelope. So understandable!

You knew and you got upset because this was very private. So private even if the letter itself was just a bunch of foolish and not very important words...

It was a matter of privacy, wasn’t it? And privacy was a matter of life and death especially for teenagers! I know, I know... I may be exaggerating there... Well, not really after all.

And then in 2006, someone named Mark Z. created Facebook... Actually he created it a little bit earlier but it went public in 2006. And in 2013, it is used by billions of people, by you and you and you and... me.

I need to be brief there because before Facebook, there was a new contraption called the electronic mail which was quite safe IF you did not give away your password to your parents nor to your siblings nor to your loved one, that is.

But today I’m writing more about “I Like” Facebook than Gmail/Hotmail or whatever.

I am not in love with a mailman (and fearing for his future) so I don’t feel really bad that we no longer send letters (and envelopes) besides the fact that paper kills trees...

I am simply very worried about Facebook. And don’t try to make me feel like an old woman because actually I’ve always had a passion for computers and the web. But Facebook... well, I’ll draw a line there.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I met a young man while I was a student. This was a long, long time ago. We were buddies until one day when he made up his mind unilaterally that we would end up married. Only he had to convince me that he was right. For a few years, I threw away letters from him that my parents would forward me, most of the time without even opening them.

I got married. I got divorced and I married again. He was still sending me mail which my family would forward me...

Then more than twenty years later he probably lost heart (or found a good shrink) and he disappeared from my life...

Then Facebook forced its way into my life. I have told the story here and there. It was fun until this guy found me again through a very serious breach of privacy even though I thought I had totally protected my profile. He started pestering me again. I got very upset and quite vocal in my displeasure but... I only had one way open since he was not a “friend”. I had to deactivate my account once and for all.

I started fighting off Facebook. This was very amazing. The way “they” were so reluctant to let me go... One in so many billions...

One day I finally got my account deactivated but not before all my contacts, my “friends” appeared to me, one after the other. There was a caption: “You want to leave. Won’t you miss... so and so? She/He misses you already.” So creepy!

So I left! And I was feeling just fine for many reasons, the most important one being that I had managed to throw my tormentor away!

I mentioned that a breach of security had allowed him to come back into my life. One day I decided I had to test Facebook... on my terms!

I did not want to use my mail account since I knew very well that a mail account would be easy to trace back to my id.

I decided that this time I would be American. I created a mail account @aol.com using an alias and contact details totally eccentric. Once the mail account was created, I signed up on Facebook using this new mail account. Once I logged in with a totally unreliable identity, assumed name and all, I filled in all sorts of crazy infos.

And it worked. Except that Facebook became very hungry for “friends”. I gave several names of course. Swee’Pea and his best friend were ok with  this. And yet it was the lack of “friends” that broke the experience. I got fed up with Facebook trying to force people on me, all of them being Swee’Pea and his friend’s friends of course...

So this was the end of my pitiful “lawbreaking” experience. 

But I proved my point: Facebook has security and privacy problems. Probably more than I can even imagine. Because this bogus profile allowed me to spy on a lot of people... because so many people go public and they are not very careful. It really proved my point. And I was not malevolent there, just trying to prove my point to whoever was ready to listen to me!

A few months ago I created a new profile. A “lawful” one this time but I was careful to use hyphenation hence adding a second family name to my surname.

The reason why I created this profile was to keep in touch with people I like... not people I Facebook-Like. But I know that to keep safe it would be much better not to be very active on Facebook. I have to keep a low profile. Keep a very low profile. Never “Like”. Never comment...

Of course the whole silence thing is turning me into some kind of a female “Peeping Tom”! Which is not very wholesome after all except that I don’t spend much time on Facebook anyway! And so I am not this much of a female PT!

But I still worry whenever I see so many people around me clicking compulsively on “Like” all the time or going “Public” with all sorts of private stuff.

I am not too worried about the NSA thing though because we have been living in 1984 for quite a long time now with our IP addresses and our iPhones, etc.

But you’ll have to admit that we’ve come a long way... in a very short time! There was a time when we’d check envelopes fearing they had been opened thus disclosing our secret thoughts and private life. Opened by close relations whom we were distrustful of.

And now is the time when we offer to the whole world our very personal thoughts wholeheartedly. Even though the ones who are reading our thoughts and comments and who look at our pictures may not be real friends for the most part... and sometimes they only are very new and fleeting acquaintances.

Now is the time when we care very little about our privacy.

Thank goodness time flies by so fast and people are so busy that everything becomes quite insignificant after all. Our “Likes” and “Comments” get dissolved into a torrent of billions of news items that keep being discharged every second.

Yes but even so... Think about it, my friends!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Summer is over

Yesterday night I drove Popeye to Lamballe where he boarded a train, blew a kiss to me and left. Right now he is flying to a faraway place. Back to work!

Summer is already over. Oh I know it is not officially over but Brittany looks deserted already.

The stores are back to their low season schedule which means that most of them were closed this morning. School will start again tomorrow.

And the beach is empty, as empty as it can be.

And I am alone at Les Tertres. Until Friday night that is. Then I’ll drive to Lamballe to pick Popeye up and hopefully we’ll spend the week-end boating.

Our summer was a long one. A very busy but fun summer for a change.
Popeye managed to get away earlier than planned which was quite a godsend. Since this past year has been kind of endless and dreary and surprisingly trying.

Swee’Pea contrived to fly from South Africa and stayed with us much longer than we ever dreamt of even though he did work a lot while he was here. Which made his remark so hilarious: “Did you notice that Papa did not work at all this summer? Quite incredible, isn’t it?”

My pastel crayons were ready. And a bunch of silk paper for origamis. And tens of books on my Kindle. Just in case. Just in case our summer would turn out to be coldish and windy the way it’s been those past few years.

But the weather kept being surprisingly very summery and the sea very calm. We went boating a lot. Boating and wakeboarding and “wakesurfing” (a brand new activity I’ll have to blog about!).

We took long walks on the beach for a change while Swee’Pea was busy working. (He quit working whenever we went boating though mainly because... well, this is another story altogether.)

We had long talks just for a change and we mainly spent our evenings gazing at sunsets. We even did some stargazing, very late at night. Watching shooting stars... and such a beautiful Milky Way with almost no light pollution.

We had wonderful early morning breakfasts - the three of us together. Such an unbelievable feast! Freshly-squeezed orange juice, toasted farmhouse bread with slightly salted butter and marmalade. Talking and laughing. Laughing and talking while we were having the best breakfasts ever!

Well summer vacations have got to end somehow even though it is still quite warm and sunny outside.

Actually mine tend to end when my men go away, I guess. Well, this does not mean that I kind of withdraw into my shell... Life is too short not to be enjoyed fully, isn’t it?

As Popeye told me while he was driving on his way to the station: “Now is a good time for you to start working again!” 

Was I looking this dejected?

Well, I guess he's right. It is time to start working again.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*