The Citroen 2CV meet up

 

P1070064Our son has a 1978 Citroen 2CV named Fiona. She’s bright green. That’s her above.

Staying with the family in Houston, he mentioned that there was a meet up for the local group of 2CV owners one Saturday morning, did I want to go? I decided I could probably manage to hold my own amongst a group of potentially geeky enthusiasts (son is not geeky!) and off we set, roof rolled back, at one point flooring it, doing 80 kilometres an hour along the freeway to meet for breakfast at a diner. Other drivers tended to hoot or wave in appreciation along the way. It was fun.

They were  a friendly group, not especially geeky until the conversation turned to techy stuff beyond my comprehension, but I found myself amongst a cosmopolitan group of Francophiles. Over an American-style breakfast we we talked about Citroen cars, food, wine, cheese, Provencale lavender and French regions we’d visited.

I gather there are probably 17 2CVs in Texas, some rusting in outhouses, some in parts, some in roadworthy condition. Of the 3 that turned up, the one my son had described as “red and rust” needs the most attetnion, but the owner has been concentrating on the parts under the bodywork; attention to the rust and paintwork is yet to take place.

I was happy to be the unofficial photographer for their meet up and took a lot of candid shots and close ups for them. Here are a few of them.

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Purple Emperor

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Emperor feasting on horse manure

I’m currently reading Patrick Barkham’s excellent book The Butterfly Isles in which he describes the summer when, as an amateur enthusiast, he travelled throughout the British Isles seeking out all 59 species of native British butterflies in one year.ButterflyBarkham

Now this may sound a bit geeky and quirky (it is!) but if you like butterflies and have done so since you were a child (like me), reading it becomes a bit compulsive. It kept me quiet over the Christmas holidays.

It’s a well-written travelogue which reads like an adventure/detective story as each butterfly is sought and seen in various UK locations. Some of the butterflies I’ve seen, some I’ve yet to see, and I know I need to get my ID of the various kinds of fritillaries worked out a bit better than they are now. But I can ID quite a few species without help from a book. One of those is the magical Purple Emperor.

I’d seen plenty of illustrations and photos of this magnificent butterfly but, until a few years ago, had never seen one for real. My first sighting of this large, stunning butterfly was in France, in the Dordogne region. It was special. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the purple flash and sheen on its wings. It landed on the ground outside the facilities block on the lushly vegetated campsite I was staying on. With a nearby fig tree already dropping ripened fruit, it may have been attracted by this. I had no camera with me; I was on the way to the loo, but it made my day seeing my first Purple Emperor.

A year or so later, on a rough country path by the same campsite, I saw another Emperor. This time I had my camera and the butterfly ignored me as it gorged itself on horse manure. A royal feast for Emperors – they go in for “disgusting” in a big way.

Having read Barkham’s description and experience of this butterfly, I now see, looking at my photo, what he means about its muscular, hefty body and its yellow proboscis probing deep into the manure as it feasts. A treat for the Emperor, and a treat for me too, to see it at such close quarters.

Wildlife on the Wing

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Reviewing 2018, I’ve just looked back at some of the photos I took in September in the Dordogne, and have offset some of the current darkness of midwinter with a spot of captured sunshine.

Insects and wild life dominated, and I was transported back to warm sunny days when I watched wildlife on the wing and completely lost track of time as I did so.

There were plenty of butterflies, and on one particular walk by the River Vezere, I noted down the all species I saw (with a bit of help from a butterfly ID book when needed). The list was impressive.

Adonis blue, Banded Grayling, Comma, Meadow Brown, Wood White, Cleopatra, Brimstone (those two are so alike), Clouded Yellow, Large and Small Whites, Scarce Swallowtail (that was a happy, lucky sighting). My camera was out, but it was impossible to concentrate on taking photos of everything I saw; I was happy to stroll, gaze and snap. Some of those insects seemed to know when the lens was on them too – some stayed still, while others decided to move just at the crucial moment.

In addition to butterflies there was the Carpenter Bee I spotted, along with Hummingbird Hawk Moths and Dragonflies patrolling and quartering their patch.

A pair of  iridescent Kingfishers flashed past, close to the surface of the river, and by night I saw a solitary glow worm low down in a hedge, its rear end a bright luminous green, a fat delightful toad on a path near the river bank, while overhead bats were out finding their supper.

Ever faithful

Dogs with bone

When I visited the Basilica of St. Denis, in the Paris suburb of St. Denis (also the banlieu where, a couple of years ago, an armed seige by police took place after a terrorist terrorist attack in central Paris), I came away with plenty of photos of the stunning tombs of the kings and queens of France who are buried there.

It’s an amazing place to visit, especially if you like cathedrals, but this one is full of effigies, each depicting the deceased in repose with symbols relating to their life included in the marble sculptures. It’s like a cross between a cemetery and an art gallery.

The details on the effigies are impressive, giving them a life-like appearance, even in death. Hands, feet, faces and draped fabric all have an aesthetic beauty.

I was particularly drawn to those effigies which had loyal dogs at their feet. This signifies loyalty to the crown and the sovereign, and dogs are usually found beneath the feet of women or children. If the dogs have a bone between their paws, as in the photo above, it means that the body is buried in the tomb.

Some effigies have lions at their feet and these will always be on the tombs of men. Other animals found beneath feet are dragons, a porcupine and there’s a ferret beneath the feet of a count who was reputed to be a great hunter.

The day I visited Saint Denis it was bitterly cold outside and not much warmer inside the cathedral either, but I forgot about the cold, so stunning were the statues.

The last time I saw Paris

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Photo by Barry Hopewell

I’ve not been to Paris for a while, and some of my visits there have been in winter when it can be excruciatingly cold, but if it’s dry, bright and sunny, it’s nigh on perfect. It’s preferable to being there in the heat of summer, when it can be unpleasantly sticky and heaving with tourists.

I came across this shot of Notre Dame taken several years ago. Tinged with wintry sunshine, it is seen through a tangle of bare branches. The bookseller’s stalls – always worth a browse – were open for business, but it wasn’t a day to loiter too long before finding a warm cafe and some chocolat chaud.

Great Uncle Jim

Gt Uncle Jim in uniform

This is him, my Great Uncle Jim. He served and died in France in World War 1 in Boulogne on 2nd August 1917. With the centenary of the Armistice approaching, now seems a good time to honour and remember him.

Although I never met him, he was my Grandma’s brother, and he was family. His name was James Small and he served with the Royal Marine Labour Corps in WW1.

He wrote to Dolly and Fred – my Grandma and Grandpa – in December 1915 when he was stationed in Le Havre. Here is part of the letter he wrote, with a photograph of himself attached.

Jim's letter 1915

He says “Well, Doll, you never said what I could send the children” (that would be my dad and his sister, my aunt) “I was a good mind to get a pinafore for the girl” and he says later on “Let me know what little thing I can get the children from France”.

 Jim is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. As a member of the Royal Marine Labour CorJim's grave Boulogneps it’s unlikely that he was in active service on the front, and was most likely to have been involved in heavy manual support work.

Nonetheless, he was doing his bit and paid the ultimate price as it’s possible that he contracted an illness (the conditions weren’t healthy) and died in hospital. He was  47 or 48.

In the 1930s, my dad (one of “the children” mentioned in Jim’s letter) went to Belgium and France to see the WW1 battlefields and trenches. He found Jim’s grave in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery and took this photo.

About 10 years ago I also went to find Jim’s grave. It looks much the same, is clean and surrounded by well-kept gardens, thanks to the War Graves Commission, who helped by sending me the exact location of the grave so I could visit and pay my respects.

Now, when we travel to France on our way to visit and explore more of this, one of our favourite countries, I always nod towards Boulogne spread out below as we pass by on the autoroute, and think of Great Uncle Jim resting, I hope, in peace, and not forgotten.

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Boulogne Eastern Cemetery War Graves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clouded Yellow

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Today the weather has been wonderful. More like summer than mid-October, and rather unnatural at that because it’s never this warm (21c in north west UK) at this time of year – more like damp or grey or even a touch of frost.

Looks like this could be will be the last warm stuff for a while, so here’s a late summer Clouded Yellow I saw in the Dordogne last month.

A reminder of sunshine.