Sunday, March 29, 2009

Off I go again

It's not quite so scary as Okay Airways, but I will be flying Royal Air Maroc twice this week. We have very annoying stopovers in Casablanca going to and from Marrakech. Three hours each way. Plenty of time to get really bored; not enough time to go see that famous city! Arrrrr!

It's unclear if I'll be able to blog during this trip, so I'll catch up with you all next weekend.
In the meantime, some pictures of the apricot and the wild plum in flower, and one of the cherries that is just getting going.
And the rhubarb is coming back from the dead.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If it's Okay, it's ok, right?

Just thought I would share.
A recent post over at http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/ mentions there's a private airline in China named "Okay". The gist is that the airline might go under without government support, but I'm thinking, hmm, would I fly an airline that would name itself "Okay"?
Honesty points are not always a good thing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The carefully sorted remains

I love train yards.
I love poking around and taking pictures of the junk. From the wrong angle it looks like just scattered piles, but no, the junk is rusting quietly in neatly sorted piles. Piles that are laid out in rows, with little alleys you can walk along to take stock. The disused rails are even labelled. I guess all this means I shouldn't call it "junk", but a lot of it has certainly been there on the ground for years.

Hike around Tarare

In the morning, breakfast is buffet. The croissants are so greasy as to be inedible, but the bread is ok and there are little packets of Nutella. The coffee is (just) drinkable and unlimited, and the milk hot.
I would rather have found a tea-room (a bakery with chairs and tables), but it’s rather a hike back to town. I want my coffee before being called on to walk even a mile. And who knows if there is a nice tea room in Tarare. Bakeries there are - I saw them on my speed-tour of town last night - but I could end up having nasty coffee in a bar. Better not to chance it.
Strolling into Tarare at just after nine, I hit the tourism office to see what’s on for hiking. There are notices of organized hikes most every Sunday, but I’ll be home by then. Ah, here’s a little brochure describing three loop trails, 10 to 16 km, with a map. That’s just the ticket.
The weekly market is just starting to set up in the pedestrian district. The usual things, mostly plastic-based clothing and stuff. Past nine is kind of late to be just setting up, I think, but the stands don’t intice me to linger and shop.
Farther down, the old covered marketplace, where the food vendors are, is in full swing. Looks good. Almost makes me wish I needed some food. I have two oranges already, and that will do.
Up the hillside to the south, I take a look around the town’s second big church (the first I already passed - not worth a stop). This one is odd. Part of it is made of white stone in a complex gothic style, part is plastered over in a much simpler style and colored a warm orange-ochre, like you would see in the South. The detail that brings these disparate architectural schools together is the choice of periwinkle blue for all the doors and windowsills. Yep. Pale blue-purple doors. All the way around.
And that’s pretty much it for the town, aside from the residential streets.
My little map has a loop trail starting from right here at the church parking lot. 13 or 14.5 km, depending on which return you pick. (yes, it’s a one-way loop because the directions are written that way; I wouldn’t do one of these backwards unless I’d seen it before.) Hmm. I might get peckish for more than oranges. There’s a convenient bakery, so I take a pair of cookies along. It was that or a huge loaf of bread.
Now that I’m writing this up, I regret cleaning out my pockets and discarding the folded and crumpled map. I can’t remember a single one of the obscure names on it!
Up the road, past the cemetery, and you’re out in the countryside. At an impressive farmhouse with photogenic cows, I lose the faded trail marks and take a wrong turn, ending up in someone’s yard. You never know what’s a through way and what’s somebody’s dead end. I am pleased that the right trail is the dirt track skirting the cows’ field, and I’m off the pavement at last.
It’s wonderful to be out and about. The sun is out like summer, but in the least shade I’m glad I’m wearing both the sweater I packed and yesterday’s t-shirt under my jacket. Puddles and mud in the road are still frozen, even in the sun.
The countryside is still between seasons. The snow is gone and the fields are green with grass or brown from plowing; the trees have neither leaves nor flowers. It makes for a dull vista, even beneath the bright sky.
The hamlet where the trail makes a hairpin turn to lead back to Tarare has - what? - an open hotel. With restaurant.
Less than a tenth the size of Tarare, and they’ve got lodging right in plain sight. Yes, and there’s also a regionally famous catholic site here, Our Lady of the Rock, ex-monastery and current pilgrimage destination and retreat. Of course there’s a hotel.
The trail naturally takes a tour through the site, with its monument and outdoor stations of the cross, chapels, and various other buildings.
The monument makes it clear what you get for your prayers. Seven years and seven times forty days for the faithful who follow the annual procession to the statue. Three hundred days for reciting in front of the statue the following prayers: Holy Virgin Mary pray for us, adding three Ave Marias. By order of Pope Pius the 9th, February 15, 1870. Among the notices on the chapel door is one that states that having a mass said has gone up from 15 to 16 euros. Praying is business. Yet another notice, this on the side of the chapel:
A petanque (lawn bowling) field has been set up next to the conference room.
It is thus forbidden to play petanque on the esplanade and in the alley.
Thank you for respecting this rule.

Nearing town again, I realize I’ve worn bad shoes. These look like walking shoes, but they have very little arch support, and I know I shouldn’t wear them to walk around all day. I just wasn’t thinking of that when I dressed for work Friday morning.
So my feet are telling me that an after-lunch hike round one of the other loops is out.
For a late lunch I go back to the taco place, just because it sounded so intriguing. Burritos, actually. You can have meat and/or vegetables. That’s ground beef, chicken or merguez sausage, while the veg is a mix sautéed peppers, tomatos and onions. They have cheese sauce, which I taste. It’s real cheese with a cream base, melted and lumpy and not really food. And then a vast variety of sauces to personalize your ‘taco’. Mustard, ketchup, mayo, barbeque, curry, thai chili, harissa, tunisian, moroccan, fish (??), and half a dozen others. Nothing terribly mexican in the whole list. And of course, that standard of North African sandwiches, the french fries are inside the burrito.
Ummm. I’ll take beef with Thai chili sauce, and a diet coke. No cheese sauce please!
It isn’t so bad, though I never will get used to sauce-soaked fries inside my burrito. What’s really great about the place is the free internet access, and I’m able to check my email and write the first blog post.
The owner is very chatty in this afternoon lull between lunch and snack time. He had a guy from San Francisco in a couple of weeks ago, who would really like to export this idea to California.
Perhaps they could make a go of it. There’s always room for more fast food, though I think the idea of web access is rather less original than he believes.
One more turn around town before settling down for a beer and writing session, and it’s time to hang out at the station waiting for the train. There’s one at 3:48, instead of the 5pm I’d originally targeted. What they don’t make obvious is that the early train only goes to Roanne; then there’s an hour and 12 minutes to wait for the connection to Clermont. Which is the very train that passes through here at 5 - you just shift some of the wait to another station.
That's it for this time. Next trip: The Return to Marrakech!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Saturday food market in Tarare

Lodging in Tarare

There is a taco shop. I’ll go in and ask.
Ahead of me to the fast-food guy’s attention are three North African women and their kids, ordering dinner. Only one of the adults speaks French and the menu is strange to them, so this takes some time. The menu is strange to me too, but I’m not opposed to trying it. Substitute burrito for taco; those are tortillas I see.
My turn, and the very nice guy listens attentively, reflects, and says there’s only one hotel he knows of.
He starts giving me directions.
But it becomes clear he assumes I have a car.
A woman waiting pipes up she thinks there’s another hotel not far. If it’s still there. The others, who arrived in a bunch just after I started in on my problem, are pretty sure that place closed down.
Not exactly a boom town, Tarare.
Now the number two behind the counter gets involved: To the car, then!
He’s going to take me to the hotel everybody agrees exists.
Just like that. Foreign woman too far from lodging - he’s got his keys in hand and off we go.
How very sweet!
I come very close to saying, Fabulous, but let me eat first. But that might put me at the mysterious hotel on the far edge of town quite late, and it’ll be full, or closed, and there will be no more trains going on to more reasonable towns, and I’ll really be in a fix.
Off we go. My host is very kind, and has a rather sporty car for a burrito guy. I wonder what his day job is, but we talk mostly of my astonishment at the lack of lodging on our 10-minute drive out to the hotel. We pass the station. We get to the edge of town, where I would definitely have said 'no hope that way' and here we are at a large, nondescript hotel building with neon signs, plenty of rooms and its own restaurant.
They’ve definitely got space for me, unless there’s a Lions convention in town.
My savior speeds off back to work after another round of thank you’s and it’s nothings.
The hotel is reasonably priced (40 or 47 euros, depending if I want a room facing the considerable street noise or the garden) and it’s a good thing the restaurant is open because there is Nothing within walking distance. Not when it’s cold out (4°C I saw on a bank en route).
I get a room with a bathtub, but forget to ask if non-smoking is available. The odor is noticeable on opening the door, but not overpowering. I press my face into the pillow, cautiously at first, to check if it’s in the bedding, or just the air.
Just the air.
Dinner is bland (but what did I expect; I ordered Quenelle Lyonnaise), but fine. It’s not as if I’m after Haute Cuisine: in town I would have had worse, greasy “tacos” and fries. The hot bath afterward is excellent.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


If it weren't for the darned train strike, I would have never have known.
(Were it not for the train strike, I wouldn't have been here to blog about the Severed Head of Spring.)
But there is a strike, as there so often is, and my plans to arrive late at a little conference turned into being so very late it wasn't worth going. And, having cleared my weekend for a bit of an outing, here I am at the station in search of whatever looks good.
Tarare looks good, and the woman at the counter says, hey, for 30 euros you can get a card for 25 % off weekdays and 50 % off weekends, for a whole year, for all trains from Auvergne to the Rhone-Alpes region.
One way to Lyon is 28.
A: the card can pay for itself in just two trips. B: paying for the thing might actually incite me to get off my butt of a weekend and out exploring. Sequencing another hundred samples to find yet again no mutations in Rad50 can wait.
The only drawback is, I have to get my tickets in person here at the station. It's a regional deal, after all, so you can't get the discount on the national train company website. A false problem, really. I should just do like today: take a change of clothes to work with me, and just hop on whatever's leaving. I'll probably get around to making every stop on the Clermont-Lyon line this way, and there are some cool places to see. I can go as far as Chambery, in the Alps, and places I've never considered. Gotta get more maps.
The train for Lyon is quite full. It's a shiny new train, happily, not one of the awful wrecks I've so often suffered on.
My fellow passengers appear to be mostly university students heading home for the weekend. They're snacking, chatting on their slick tiny phones, looking at their computer screens. A few are doing homework. The overhead racks are laden with duffel bags, backpacks, cast-off coats.
My seatmate makes his way through several candy bars and a bag of chips while watching music videos on his laptop. At Roanne he packs away the computer to make room for a sandwich, which he cuts from a baguette and a block of cheese. This too he wolfs down, and it's all cleared away by the time I disturb him to exit at Tarare. I hope he makes it home to dinner before starving.
In turning around I see how important it was for everyone to crowd around on the quai waiting for access to the train in Clermont - every square foot of floor space and the steps between the sections of our spiffy car are taken up with young people and their encumbering baggage. More than one girl is eyeing the seat I just vacated, and it's not just for the handsome young man now in the window seat.
A handful of people descend at Tarare, the last stop before Lyon. They instantly disappear into the early night. It's just 7:45 and nobody is around. The station and surrounding streets are empty. The traditional hotel and bar adjacent to the station are long closed.
There is a map of the town. It's not so small, and the center is long and narrow. One street downhill, turn left, and you'll get there.
It isn't far, but it's farther than I thought.
A few bars are open, with one or two customers hanging over the bar talking to the owners. Nothing much is serving food. More worrying, there's not a hotel in sight. There'll be something when I get to the center, certainly.
Well, here's the center, and aside from a higher concentration of shops and the narrowing of the streets, it's much like the outskirts. Not much to eat, nowhere to stay. Finally, I see a Logis de France sign, 5 minutes thataway. I go thataway. Reach the edge of town, see another sign Logis de France, 5 minutes. Five minutes in a car. Not on foot.
Wandering around a bit more, it appears to be true: unlike every single other French town I've been to, even towns far smaller than this one, there is no hotel - not even a one-star dive - in the center of town.
à suivre...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Robins

Spring is here.
I know this because the cats are going out a lot more, and Natalie is starting to spend the night outside.
I also know it because of the robins and other birds starting to make themselves heard in the garden.
So last night Natalie was out, and she got a little hungry out there, and this morning there was a nice little robin head on my kitchen doorstep.
Gee, thanks, Nat. Just what I needed to start my day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Utility of Information

There's an interesting article in the New York Times today, concerning whether screening for prostate cancer actually does men any good.
Two very large studies have finally come out, one American looking at 77,000 men and one European grouping 182,000 men from several countries, both following their cohorts for at least 10 years. That's just how long it takes to do really solid epidemiological work. You have to identify people and then follow them for years and years to see what happens.
It's a long-haul thing, and answers are slow in coming. The temptation is to jump to the "logical" conclusion. Given that cancer is bad (we know that), that the PSA test can indicate prostate cancer (yes, it does), and that early detection means more effective treatment (true for other models of cancer), logically, using a fairly cheap and effective PSA test routinely can save men's lives.
Ah, no.
There was no survival benefit for men who were screened vs those who were not.
That's because it's turning out prostate cancer is most always very slow growing. It doesn't usually metastasize much. It's a cancer to die with, at a ripe old age, not of.
There are of course exceptions. It can take a wrong turn and become a really nasty, invasive tumor. Some men do die of prostate cancer. But these are exceptions, and the consequences of treating millions of men for something they don't really need to be treated for (until, certainly, they start showing symptoms that indicate a more pro-active approach is required) need to be considered.
Both studies are continuing to follow men, to see if there might be any benefit to PSA screening after 15 or 20 years, and surely other studies are in progress. But for now, it does look like the information gleaned by widespread PSA testing is not useful. Quite the contrary, it may cause unnecessary anguish, painful interventions with occasional lasting disability, and contribute to overloading our health care system.
So we may be in for another shift in 'what people ought to do'. It's hard for people to keep their faith sometimes in doctors and scientists when this kind of shift happens. First there was no test, and some men died of prostate cancer. Then there was a test, and the medical community was shocked to find just how common prostate cancer really was, though about the same number of men died of it. Now we're stepping back and saying, ok, we can identify a lot more cases, but those extra cases are going to be alright anyway. What we still need is a way to find those few men for whom this illness is truly threatening.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Get Milk!

Guest author today: my niece Ellie, age seven.

Topic: Milk (Ellie had to pretend to be "Milk" and persuade the child to drink her)

Psst! Hey, kid, over here. I'm Milk. You should drink me! Here are some reasons why. First, if you do not drink me, you will be weak. You will not have energy for anything. If you are weak, you can break your bones easier. Secondly, your teeth will fall out! If your teeth fall out, you might have to put fake teeth in. You would not like to put in fake teeth. But most importantly, I taste good! To make me taste good, you could put chocolate in me. You can put whip cream in me too! That is why you should drink me. If you don't drink me, your teeth will fall out or you will be weak. Also, you will not know how good I taste. So start drinking me now!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Rush

Hello all,
I'd love to blog more and recount current and past adventures, but there just isn't time! For the next month I'm teaching a lot, travelling a lot, and various very important papers are due. I hope to find some time for you, but if not, I'll surely catch up in May.
In the meantime, I'd really love to find out how to stop Blogger, in its infinite wisdom, from turning my photographs sideways. For this one it may not matter, but sometimes it really does!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

routine vs research

To continue the last post - whose start in the middle for readers not in the field I do apologize for - I just want to say a few words on the relationship between funding and research.

Researchers often find themselves in a persistent catch-22: to get a grant you have to have some kind of results that prove you know what you’re doing. But to have results you need to already have equipment, reagents and manpower, none of which wait to be paid for. If you’re in a big enough lab, there’s usually a lot of different things going on, and emerging projects get paid for by using existing resources funded under other titles. Manpower for startup projects often means students, who generally come cheap. If you’re in a smaller group, though, if you go through a dry period with few or no publishable results, stepping out of the virtuous work-grant cycle can be fatal.

My own lab follows a slightly different model: we have more or less steady funding for the diagnostic work we do, and as we become more efficient at that it costs less and takes less effort. The resulting excess in both money and manpower is available for research projects.

There’s currently quite a bit of tension between certain of my technicians, as much to do with their personalities as the different types of work they do. The ‘diagnostic’ techs like routine work, they’re focused on their output of finished analyses, and anything that interrupts that routine is unwelcome. Unfortunately, some of the things that interrupt the routine are the arrival of new machines or techniques designed to make their lives easier. As with any new thing, it takes time and effort to get the new machine working properly and integrated into the laboratory. Some of our robots have necessitated months of this preparatory work, and the initial failures appeared to demonstrate their uselessness. So the diagnostic techs tend to wash their hands of all new techniques, adopting an attitude of ‘let me know when it really works’.
This of course increases the workload of the ‘research’ techs, who are interested in doing new things, focused on making discoveries, and for whom doing the same experiment every day is anathema. The conflict comes in when the diag techs’ attitude towards research is that it is a luxury, has nothing to offer the patients who are waiting for their results, and the techs doing research are just there to play. Plus the return from the research techs whose efforts to make a new technique or machine work before turning it over to routine practice often go unappreciated. I’m exaggerating a bit, but the potential for some exciting cat-fights is definitely there.
And this detour into the conflicting goals and attitudes of the different technicians goes directly back to the funding issue. Some would say that research is a leech on the back of diagnostics. But not so long ago what is today a routine test was research. Every last one of the routine reactions and standard machines spent its time in research, being figured out. We’ve been analyzing the sequence of the BRCA1 gene in breast cancer families since the day it was cloned, and we’re still redesigning how we do it. And the research of today, well, you can’t always say what parts are going to be tomorrow’s routine, but some will. Some had better, or the advances in medicine will come to a halt!
So I explain this, again and again. You have to spend time now to save time later.

Anyway, to tie things together:
First, it’s interesting to follow the changes that are driving certain genetic analyses away from academic research and into the private sector.
Second, research, or at least development, in this area is still inseparable from routine work.
Third, the expertise that I and my academic colleagues have in interpreting the results of the analysis simply cannot be transferred to a gene sequencing factory. This area remains too complex and with too many unknowns.
Fourth, if you were to separate the routine benchwork from the research team, the research team would no longer be viable financially. At least around here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What is the real issue?

So I'm in a meeting of Laboratory Quality and Organisation Committee of the Cancer Genetics club the other day, and we're going over what some other committee has estimated as the price to put on the different steps involved in doing a genetic test. It's very hard to tag each item independently with a number of centimes (including reagents, plasticware, amortisation of the equipment, and the salaries of the staff), and even then you have to remember it's an average price for labs all across the country.
Add up all the steps from when a sample lands in your in-box to sending the result, and, on average, BRCA testing comes out to about twice what Myriad charges to do it in the States*. Looking at my own lab, we calculated that our price was about on par with Myriad or slightly less. The thing is, how expensive the test is depends entirely on the throughput of samples you have and the level of automation you use.
This tedious exercise is in preparation for such testing to enter into the domain of medical analyses that are reimbursed by social security here. Up to now, the work is classed as 'research' and the national cancer institute pays the labs according to their annual output. Codification will transfer financing to a different arm of government.
The upshot is that you'll get paid so much for the test, and if you can do it for less good for you; if it takes you more, you'll go bankrupt. That's not much different than what happens now, but right now as researchers we have access to funding that industry does not. The change will put us into competition with them. The danger is that if the test is very well paid relative to its cost, private industry will take over. And that, in the thinking of the group, is Evil.
All agreed that the proposed payment was too much, and looking around the room, you could see who was from one of the small labs with few patients and little automation - they saw themselves being wiped out of the game right away, being swallowed not so much by industry as by the bigger lab in the next town. A consolidation into major centers that everyone has been trying to avoid.
To keep this diagnostic work in the academic/hospital labs, it was agreed to rely on our collective and collaborative expertise. We're not just doing some labwork, we've got the biological and medical background to know what to do with the different variants we find. Our value is in the analysis.
Fine. I agree completely. But if our value is in the analysis, why should the benchwork not be consolidated into a smaller number of labs, or even be contracted for? I think the answer is that once a test goes into routine production, it is in fact more economical for private enterprise to deal with it, as long as there is no loss in the quality of the work.
What we're really talking about is the fact that our local, semi-academic labs depend on that reliable income to make up the deficit in funding of real research. With grants harder and harder to get, it's the diagnostic arm that allows the research arm to live. And if research were to wither on the vine, we're all in trouble for the future of health care.
Screening for mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 is not, after all, the end of the story of hereditary breast cancer risk. It's 17 % of the story, and the rest is research.
* before crying foul, let me state that Myriad's patent on mutation detection for the BRCA genes has been limited in France to concern only the detection of specific mutations known to be present in a given family. De novo analyses are not covered.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Doesn't even require a microscope

I was just sitting around, doing some writing I'd rather not be doing, and it came over me to go get a cup of coffee.
Whoa, too fast there. I had one of those before-lunch moments of stars in the eyes. Or more like little squiggles that dart like fireflies and disappear.
I love that phenomenon. What you're seeing is actually the red cells moving through the capillaires of the retina. Really. Pay attention, and you can tell they repeat the same tracks. And that their appearance is in sync with your pulse. That's what that is: watching your own blood go around.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cat of the Month. Number Three: Errnestine

Errnestine (yes, with two r’s, let’s lean into that Errrrrrrr) was one of the best. On the football team of cats she gets her number retired.
The replacements to Mitten & Brand X were Errnestine and Rhubarb. American shorthair tabbies. Ernie was about 1/3 black spots on a white body. Stubby and solid, she stood up to all that three kids and a dog could dish out. She’d wrestle. She’d chase strings. She’d let you dress her up in dolls’ clothes.
Ernie was also my first writing project: the fifth grade Errnestine Files, which recounted all the notable doings of the favorite cat. Like when she was a kitten and my dad had this huge handlebar moustache, and she would get up onto his chest while he was sleeping and play with it like it was a mouse or something. How’s that for a wakeup.
Or the time she was hiding out between the fences that separated our yard from the neighbor’s and I was walking the dog in the Little League baseball fields behind our house. I had the dog off the leash (as usual if I was taking my time), and he flushed a jackrabbit out of its hiding place. Bassets are made to hunt rabbits! Such fun! The rabbit headed right for the gap between the fences, a dog-safe space about five inches wide. Right into the cat. So it was that Errnestine caught a rabbit nearly as large as herself. She ate it, too. Well, about half. I had to bury the rest.
And the time that the neighbor’s malamute caught her. Blackie and I were out back on a walk, and the other dog had escaped from its yard. The two dogs didn’t really get along so I quickly got the leash back on mine to head home. Blackie didn’t usually go after Knute, but Knute somehow surprised Errnestine, and Blackie was off like a shot. The cat escaped in the ensuing fight, and the huge ruff of loose skin around my basset’s neck served its purpose keeping him from injury. We didn’t find the cat for three days. She holed up somewhere secret to nurse her wounds, and by the time we got her to the vet there wasn’t much more to do. Knute had bitten her through the thigh, which afterwards always bothered her in bad weather.
Ernie takes the record for the cat I had the longest. With our house on the edge of coyote territory, and several years where it was rumored that pet cats were being rounded up for medical research, most cats didn’t last long. She was only caught that once, and survived, succumbing to an infection at the age of 10.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rugby scores

The spring semester is really heating up, so I'm getting behind in the things I want to say!
From the weekend's 6-Nations games: new prizes. It's not just about winning or losing (though, frankly, it is mostly); it's how you play the game. So play it in style.
Looks most like Vlad Putin: Italy's Sergio Parisse
Most buff Scot: Chris Paterson
Most dashing Italian: McLean
Most handsome: Ireland's Ronan O'Gara
Best butt: Scotland's Mike Blair
Best move: passing the ball to nobody (so many players did this that it's useless to list them all)
Most astonishingly short: Ireland's Peter Stringer (Stringer will of course win this every single time he plays, but it's worth noting that many of his teammates and opponents would actually have to lean down to rest their chin on his head.)
As pale as his uniform: England's Mike Tindall (The 15 for the Rose playing in white)
Best nose: England's number 13, whatever his name.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fabrie, suite et fin

Just a few more pictures from last weekend in the snow. In just the last few days most of the remaining white stuff has disappeared, and yesterday it got up to 18°C, quite spring-like. So I'm lucky we didn't put off the weekend once again, because it may well have been the last chance this year.

These are from a stroll around the fields surrounding La Fabrie, up to the hamlet of Anglard. I was going to take some pictures of the big fat chickens wandering around the farmyards, but the farmers going about their business all around made me a little too self-concious for that.

Then in the afternoon Jerome and I stopped by a local waterfall that we had never been to, in spite of passing by the parking spot many times. William always said it was nothing much, but if we didn't see for ourselves we'd never know. You get used to things you're always around, and inured to the beauty of surroundings that become ordinary. For people who live here, making a special trip to see, and spending hours tramping around, taking pictures of stupid trees and empty fields, seems rather a strange thing to do.