Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Horace the Spiny

What? it's been three weeks since the last post? And that's during the summer when I should have more time!
Sigh. Just the way it is, folks.
This fall it's just going to get worse for the blog, as our deadline for submitting our dossier for partial accreditation of the laboratory approaches. That, plus frequent Rotary events (my turn to give a talk next week!) and Bridge (my Australian is back in town soon!) and whathaveyou, and there's just not going to be a lot of blogging going on.

But anyway. Last week I was off for a bit of at-home vacation before the Great Return, as the French trickle back into town from their summer fun. On Wednesday I was out in the yard grilling some rabbit, when I noticed an animal in the yard. Not a cat. Way bigger than a mouse (which would not have lasted long, the cats all being out keeping me company).
Remember this guy? Back in June he was just the size of a tennis ball, and now I've got a spiny football waddling around! Gigantic! There he was, or she, who can really tell?, minding his own business and being utterly ignored by the cats. He didn't appreciate the photoshoot, and wandered off toward the back of the yard.
Later I tried to find him again, and it seems there's a nest in the compost heap. Actually, at the bottom of the heap there's some kind of wooden structure that was mostly buried in grass and vines before I started adding to the compost (probably a nice, neat box for the compost, which overflowed years ago, since I never bother to turn the pile over or anything), and sure enough, there's a trail through the grass that leads up to a cave under there. A real hobbit hole in the hill.
Next year I really do need to take a bunch of the bottom compost, and regenerate the soil in the vegetable patch. The tomatos and the strawberries are quite sad this year, and it's not for lack of water. I'll have to be careful not to inadvertently chase my bug-eating buddy(ies) away.

Monday, August 6, 2012


A cool shower, a nap, a change of clothes, and a stroll around town.
I discover that the covered market has an interesting bakery that will serve well for breakfast tomorrow. Wandering around the "Little Venice" area, which is quite an exaggeration since it's maybe three blocks in all, (Why does every city with a canal have pretensions to be Venice? Amsterdam, Strasbourg, Brugges: each and all the "Venice of the North" The next pretender had better invest in some gondolas) I both regret the absence of my camera for the splendid views of flowered balconies over the canal, and rejoice in having its weight off my shoulder. I'll be back. And anyway, one can in fact have too many pictures of flowered balconies.
Now to taste a bit of that delicious Alsatian wine. Here's a canal-side restaurant & bar that looks particularly perfect for a leisurely glass.
On hearing my wish to just have a drink, the waitress tells me ok, but make it quick - she's about to begin setting up for dinner. Dinner? It's just 5:30!
Is thie France or not?
Really, at 6 sharp she sets all the empty tables for diners. It's not the French who want dinner in the middle of the summer afternoon; it's the visitors from the UK and Germany. I do stay as long as I like: it's not as if giant hordes of tourists descend on the restaurant on the crack of 6. There are some, though. Apparently the couple farther down the deck has been waiting patiently for the dinner menu to open up. I eat later, venturing out just before 8, and as I pay the bill, fresh diners are just being seated around me.

In the morning, the sound of rain awakens me. Not a lot of rain, but it doesn't take much to make a day of walking much less fun.It's light out, but I doze some more, and then some more again. The rain tapers off, and I have no idea how long I've been drifting between dreams. Could be just 6 so close to the summer solstice; could be halfway to lunchtime.
What if it is halfway to lunchtime already! Day's a-wasting, time to get up. So I do. On the sidewalk quick quick there's a parking meter with the time: 7:30. The covered market, with its intriguing bakery loaded with local delicacies, isn't open for another half hour. Time enough for a look around before anyone much is about.
In fact, it's not much fun. The pedestrian district is clear of pedestrians, but full instead of trucks supplying all the shops and restaurants in this window between daylight and business.
After hanging around for my special Alsation pastry breakfast, not at all worth hanging around for, I take the bus to the mall on the west edge of town to see what's up there.
It's just a big grocery store and a handful of annexes - optician, florist, etc. They do have a map that shows some of the hiking trails around, which I take a good look at. The one to Turckheim leaves from this parking lot, paralleling the road. It's only about 6 km even if I lose the trail in the vineyards.

Arriving there less than a dull hour later, there's a farmers' market going on, which is nice. It's mostly local produce, but there's one guy selling leather sandals from Germany. (Not like Germany is far from here: if the smog would clear from the valley you could probably see it.) A pair of red sandals look like just the sort I've been looking for, something I can walk around all day in. They are really nice shoes, but the market-guy, selling out of a truck, wants shoe-store prices for them. I bargain. I haven't lived 15 years in Auvergne without learning anything.
We deal.
The shoes join my camera in my shoulder bag. I would wear them immediately, but the trainers on my feet would be much less welcome in there.

In Turckheim I make a short excursion of the Stork Park. Yep, a whole lotta storks in a pen, part of the reintroduction scheme that has been working fairly well if only the birds could learn not to get shot at in Africa. Then a short hike around the vines, but I don't find a map of where the trails might go or how long they might be, and besides I did vines yesterday. It will be lunchtime soon.
There's a great view of the main entrance to the old walled town, with the nest full of storks on top of the gate, and flowers at all the windows. A real postcard. In fact, you can buy the postcard at a dozen shops nearby. I want my own photo, however, and as soon as the truck parked in the plaza leaves, another takes its place. That would make a great shot. Renaissance town entrance with Beer Truck/Vegetable truck/ German shoe truck in front.
After lunch, cheap but good, not one of the hoity-toity tourist places selling foie gras salads and the owner's own label of wine, but a simple crèperie with wine in (small) pitchers and a waiter who must be on his first day (possibly his first day in the country), I walk back to Colmar.

In the late afternoon I go out again, for a turn around town and a stroll up the river Ill in my new sandals.
It's more a canal than a river, and I'd hoped there would be a strip of woods along the waterway, a bit of birdlife... But on one side are factories and on the other there's only a single row of trees and a cornfield to dampen the noise from the freeway. A boring walk, really.

Before giving up on this, I am treated to perhaps some of the best graffiti in Colmar, painted on the wall that delimits some industrial yard. For once a few people have gone beyond signing their names larger and larger, and have added other images. Where else do these artists have access to such extensive canvas?
I have seen Colmar now, at least from the outside. No museums this time. I've tasted a selection of the wines, and they are excellent - over dinner at Grandma's (a tiny little place serving only such fresh foods as they find in the market that day that they have no menu, just a chalkboard) I test two more. Mmmmm!