From scarlet hips to white damson blossom: Christmas 2020 to Easter 2021 in Entre-deux-Eaux

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2021no1A.pdf (six A4 pages)

There are some links to photographs in the text;
clicking on the photographs will sometimes lead to
a larger selection of photographs

E2E in January snow

E2E in January snow

Over the last week of frosty nights and sunny days we have been enjoying the sight of white damson blossom and pink ornamental plum blossom. Looking out of the window this morning, it was impossible to distinguish the damson blossom from the white snow resting on the branches of all the trees.

In previous years we would have seen more blossom. But one of the casualties of the heavier snow back in January was our large walk-in fruit cage, which John and Alistair had constructed in 2011.

Snow on the fruit cage

The snow on top of it froze and its weight caused the horizontal wooden laths across the top to break and the netting to sag and split, bringing down the netting, wood, and snow onto the blackcurrant bushes. So when the weather was finer we knew we had to dismantle the whole cage for a complete rebuild. For the past few years the fruit crops have been steadily diminishing as the branches of the row of trees (some probably over 50 years old) outside the south of the cage got denser and blocked out more and more sunlight. Now was the ideal opportunity to either prune or fell those trees; we had hesitated to even prune previously lest cut branches fell on the cage and damaged it.

Cutting down the plum tree

Cutting down the plum tree

But now a neighbour, Jacky Georgeon, who we consulted, said straight away that he’d be happy to do the work, having done all the home-decorating he could, and he arrived with his tools a couple of days later. John was to be seen at a safe distance in the field with a rope round his waist from the biggest tree, guiding its fall as Jacky applied the final cuts to the 50 cm trunk. The tree subsided in slow motion, but still too fast for Helen to capture with her phone camera. Georgeon’s pal, Mickael, the assistant commune employee, brought his tractor-driven log splitter to do the final cutting up into lengths to stack for three or more years before they can be cut to smaller logs for the stove. With Mickael paid, and Jacky warmly thanked with whisky and a share of the wood, John busied himself, stacking the lengths and producing three cubic metres of wood chips for the garden from the many smaller branches. But alas, no line of pink and white blossom there this year.

However, the logs will come in useful once they are seasoned. The day after we told Jacky that we did not need to light our wood-burning stove very often, we realised that the underfloor heating was not working. Having learned how necessary it was to have an introduction to workmen, we quoted our friends Roger and Dorinda when ringing Fafin the Plumber, and such was the magic of their names that he came round a couple of hours later to assess the problem and later installed a new expansion tank. He was a bit concerned that he could hear too much air in the pipes and suggested we should leave a valve open upstairs for five days and top up the system to see if that improved the situation. All the controls are behind a bookcase, so we removed all the books from the shelves to move it. Only then did John notice that he had on the last occasion fitted some wheels to the bottom of the shelves, so we could move the bookcase out without having to remove all the books first! The books remain on the floor as, although the heating is working, there seems to be no sign of a leak and there is probably another, as yet, unidentified problem.

SantaAnd now a quick glimpse back at Christmas, which seems a long time ago. We picked all the scarlet hips in the orchard as we had no holly for decorations, along with aromatic sage, pine branches, cones, dried hydrangea flowers, and branches of spindleberry fruits and decorated windowsills and added a wreath to the front door. John treated himself to a curtain of lights for the big French windows, where they lit up the strings of Christmas cards. Christmas cards and letters were extra special to both write and receive at the end of a very quiet year for everyone, and we enjoyed leaving them up till the end of January, and the curtain of lights until the official start of spring (but then the plastic Santas climbing up house walls and letter boxes around the village hung around for just as long, slowly deflating). Christmas Day itself was quiet, the carols from Kings College were a pleasure, and the village seemed deserted when we went for a short walk, though there were plenty of cars on drives, so perhaps everyone was sleeping off their festive fare. Our own Christmas fare was a bit different this year, featuring guinea fowl, ice cream log and panettone. Our gifts to each other have kept us entertained since then. John ordered a big pile of books for Helen, and he is still experimenting on the occasional clear nights with his new motorised tripod mount used to help photographing the night sky.

Early morning sun

Early morning sun and snow

January seemed a long and dreary month, with dull weather, but as the hips and pine branches wilted and dropped, we brightened up the living room with purchases of pots of amaryllis, orchids and hyacinths. We also missed all the seasonal convivial French reunions and feasts. The Entre-deux-Eaux village council postponed their meal for the over-sixty-fives until 27 March and then had to change it from a lively gathering with music and dancing between courses, to a home delivery sometime after 2pm.

The village New Year meal delivery

Our doorbell rang around 5pm (it must have been hard to estimate how long it would take to pack up and distribute nearly 100 meals). The first items which our neighbour Claudine handed over were four half bottles of very nice wines! It was a shame not to catch up on local gossip, but John appreciated the lack of noise, especially the enthusiastic musical contribution of castanet man. We missed the mayor filling glasses at the end with his potent home-distilled pear or plum liqueur.

Sadly the subject of Covid cannot be avoided in an update. In early January Toby, Rachel and Stella all had Covid and Toby sounded very unwell. Fortunately Rachel’s eldest daughter was at home and able to help with cooking and looking after Jacob and Farrah. One Sunday afternoon in early January, Leila was contacted, like others from the Coroner’s Office, and offered a vaccination appointment if she could get to a health centre north of Nottingham in two hours time. Presumably they had spare Pfizer vaccine to use up due to missed appointments? She had unpleasant side-effects for several days, including breathlessness, but we were glad she had some protection, as not all her work could be done from home. Sadly it was not enough to protect her from a new strain of the virus, as yet unidentified, which she got in March and from which she is still very tired over four weeks later. As a rare case she will contribute to a study, beginning with a blood sample to establish antibodies produced.

But as friends in the UK were having their first vaccine doses, you probably heard about the problems over here. The EU were slow to place orders for member countries, despite rather shrill accusations from Ursula von der Leyen about Britain preventing exports. The French had been hoping to develop their own vaccine, so were a bit dismissive of other efforts. People here are also more hesitant about vaccines in general after previous cautions (from compulsory Hepatitis B for children in the 1990s which was stopped as there was apparent, never proved, correlation with multiple sclerosis and one of the 2009 H1N1 bird flu vaccines which was linked to narcolepsy) and President Macron made negative pronouncements about the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZeneca one, which did not help confidence.

When the programme was extended from care homes to over 75s in February, Helen tackled the clunky booking system. The website always said there were no available appointments, but advised ringing up instead. The phone answer system always said there were no appointments available, but try the website. Then one morning the phone had no such message, but kept playing the same bit of music for 20 mins until someone replied, and efficiently booked Helen’s appointments for both the first and second doses.

In March, the vaccination programme was extended to the 65-74 age group who had co-morbidities. Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, which were originally reserved for the under 65s, then allowed for all, and then reserved only for the over 55s, were distributed to doctors’ surgeries. Given the problems with the main online vaccination system, and despite not being eligible, John put in a request to our doctor to be added to his list for the time when the eligibility list was widened. Surprisingly, John was offered an end-of-day appointment a week or so later. Unfortunately, like other EU countries, France then suspended the AZ vaccine use over a period that included John’s appointment.

Meanwhile, Helen had her second dose in a hall behind the Town Hall in St Dié. The nurse there was talking about the forthcoming move to a much larger sports hall on the outskirts of St Dié where they would also have more doctors and nurses and be able to double the vaccination rate. At this point as Covid cases were mounting in France, hospitals were having to transfer patients to other parts of the country, vaccine distribution volumes increased with the addition of the Moderna vaccine. One Friday the booking phone line was again answered, and John was offered his first appointment three days later on the Monday in the new location together with a date a month later for the second.

The new vaccination centre

The new vaccination centre (spot John)

That Monday turned out to be the first day in the new hall, so was a bit chaotic with patients not sitting in any order and doctors having difficulty locating their victims for preliminary interviews (though the nurses of course got their clients organised and sitting in treatment order for the actual vaccinations). Complicating matters were the inevitable mayor, entourage, reporters and photographers necessary on such occasions. We appear in some publicity photos, or at least our legs do. John was expecting it to be the Moderna vaccine but it turned out to be Pfizer.

A day after that, Macron announced a third French lockdown. So as Radio 4 broadcasts interviews with people excited over the easing of English restrictions, we embark on increased French restrictions (somewhat farcically, the form went through several revisions in a few days as various anomalies and simplifications were made). However, despite being more than 30 km away, we will still be able to go to Epinal later in April to complete our post-Brexit residence permits applications, giving photographs and fingerprints, if we tick the box on the reasons-for-leaving-home form marked administrative summons which cannot be carried out remotely.

We were very sad to learn during this period of the death of our good neighbour, Danielle Laine in her care home from what sounds like a heart attack. Our neighbour Danielle Barbe, who had visited her very recently, rang us that lunch time, and we realized why the church bells had been tolling. They tolled again a few days later for her funeral in the village church. We stood outside in masks as her coffin was borne in. There were quite a few people outside, mainly younger, and they all followed the coffin inside, although we went and sat on the bench under the tree by the road. A lot of the older people who would have known her well were not there though. On the way home Helen stopped to talk to one who was standing on her doorstep as the final bells tolled, and she sounded really glad to talk to someone. She lives on her own and has used canes to walk ever since we’ve known her, and was a good friend of Danielle’s. She said how few people in the village she knew these days. We shall remember Danielle for her lively conversation and readiness to help us during the last thirty years, although we know she had found life increasingly burdensome without her husband Pierre who died in September 2019. Their daughter Annick has been renovating her parents’ house, though we don’t think that she and her husband have moved in yet. The village bells also tolled for another village character, the ninety-year-old former military man, Gaston. Again it was not a Covid death and his mistress and her husband had been looking after him over recent months (which sounds very French).

However, it turns out that Covid is not the only current health threat. A few days ago we received an e-mail from the mairie which was headed Chenilles urticantes: prévention. It was a warning from the Regional Health Council of the Grand Est (oddly without any identifying images) about these nasty-sounding processionary caterpillars, which nest in pine and oak trees and descend and process in lines of up to a hundred in search of sunnier spots. Their hairs can be picked up and spread by the wind, and can cause intense itching, rashes, and sharp skin flare-ups. They can also irritate eyes.

A few days ago when John came in from the field and orchard where he had been leaning on the ground photographing fritillaries, daffodils and cowslips he complained of very itchy arms, but hadn’t seen any hairy processions. And talking of itching, Helen is hoping that whatever insect bit her last year has met a dreadful fate after she was covered in infected spots which caused her problems throughout the summer, autumn visits to the dermatologist and a dull rash that still itches.

But during the dormant period none of this deterred us from agreeable short walks in January and February and garden jobs in March. The compacted snow was quite treacherous on well trodden paths and the roads, but when the sun was bright, despite the cold wind in the sub zero temperatures, it was enjoyable walking across untrampled fields and along little-used paths. One morning three graceful deer skimmed across the snow as we glanced out of our bedroom window, and when we walked across that field their tracks were clear among the bird tracks.

Sahara sand in the sky

Sahara sand in the sky

Rainbow

the rainbow’s end

Another day the sky was an extraordinary yellow colour, caused by sand from the Sahara, and one afternoon, after rain, we could see from the window a rainbow which ended in the field opposite. But we did not take our spades and dig up the crock of gold.

One morning we drove a bit further afield to the hills on the other side of Saulcy, and started our walk at the Col d’Anozel. It felt good to be walking in the wooded hills beyond the village, but we discovered that a lot of trees had fallen during recent high winds, including the previous night.

Path blocked by trees

Someone had been earlier with a chain saw and the lower path had been cleared, but a higher path still had a lot of trees across it, which made scrambling over under and round them awkward, and we missed a track down to the starting point, so the walk was longer and steeper than intended! On a second walk at the Col d’Anozel we discovered that someone had left their picnic rubbish behind them – oyster shells and squeezed lemon halves. So very French!

Easter amuse bouche

Easter amuse bouche

And talking of French food, a great pleasure has been the discovery that our favourite restaurant, l’Imprimerie, is prepared to deliver their weekend menu as far as Entre-deux-Eaux from the book village some 47 km away. Each weekend chef Morgan and his staff prepare a three-course meal for a mere 20 euros, transport included, to be re-heated on delivery. So we have put in a weekly order, and after months of wearing old clothes have been dressing up for Saturday night dinner (Sunday over Easter). The menus have been very varied, highlights being his courgette and fish starter, Tom kha kai Thai chicken soup, buttery skate, beef cheek tagine, pear and almond tartlette, and his Easter special including the starter of St Jacques and sweet potato with an orange and almond sauce and his “Easter egg” dessert of a white chocolate “shell” with creamy “white” and kumquat “yolk”, not to mention the tasty nibbles before and after.

Potager and rebuilt fruit cage

Potager and rebuilt fruit cage

We were ready for our Easter special as we had been rushing to complete current tasks before the forecast change in weather from sun to snow and rain. John had been reconstructing and strengthening the collapsed fruit cage and had just finished attaching metal rails rather than wooden laths across the top of the sturdy upright wooden posts. Helen had finished weeding the larger flower bed, scattering flower seeds, watering and covering with some of the woodchips. The vegetable patch was, by now, rotavated, with beds marked out and paths between beds covered in more of the woodchips. So far onion, leek, parsnip and carrot seeds have been sown in the beds, with lettuce and rocket in the new lightweight cold frame (in fact it was so lightweight that it blew apart and scattered in high winds one night, but John has re-glued and weighted it down). In the potting area at the rear of a barn are loo rolls of broad bean seedlings, and recycled plastic punnets of onion and various flower seeds; not yet visible are the more recently sown beans and peas. But they will all wait till the ice saints of May have passed before being planted out. And when the fruit cage has its netting back on, we have pots of honeyberries (lonicera caerulea), blueberries and a tayberry to plant as replacements for the old blackcurrants and prickly worcesterberries.

Hot cross buns

It is perhaps as well that snow and rain have temporarily stopped outdoor work, as one of John’s Achilles tendons has reacted (perhaps to a lot of standing on step ladders) by giving up supporting him. So it is back to the computers in the attic and John’s family tree, Helen’s dwindling pile of Christmas books, evenings of crime and football on TV and the last of the Easter chocolate. Our other festive treats of John’s home-made hot cross buns have, alas already been consumed.

Till we meet again, we waft our best wishes in print across the Channel!

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, 21 December 2020

Click here to see larger versions of the photographs in a separate tab

 

I had planned to take a series of photographs of Saturn and Jupiter in the days before and after 21 December as the planets appeared to move closer together and then as they moved apart.

However, despite the sky being reasonably clear for several evenings before 21 December, there was always a layer of low clouds over the Vosges themselves. By dusk the elevation of the planets was only 10 degrees about the horizon and getting lower. The planets often appeared and the disappeared in that cloud but were often still covered in a light haze. On the day of the conjunction, 21 December, and for the following days, there was thick obscuring cloud. The next time I saw them (and last, because of clouds for the following week) was briefly on 26 December.

I took several hundred photos in total. Below is one from each of the nights Thursday-Sunday before the actual conjunction on the Monday and one on the following Friday. The second was taken at 1725, so in the dusk light. The third was taken just before 1800 and shows clouds. The fourth shows the closest I captured the planets with some moons of both Saturn and Jupiter and I’ve added a screenshot from the free Stellarium planetarium software http://stellarium.org/ which helps identify the moons. Saturn and the rings weren’t separately identifiable and just appeared as an oval (the 26 December photo is the best).

I was using my 75-300mm lens at 250-300mm. I tried different exposures as the planets seemed over-exposed, but that made no significant difference so I must be at the limit of resolution of the sensor/lens image for that length telephoto. I had to focus manually as autofocus does not work on many cameras for small objects at a distant near infinity (for autofocus the camera needed to be able to focus either side of the correct focus point). When turned on my camera was set to go to an “infinity” point (the setting is 999.9m) which gives a good depth of field but the primary focus is not at infinity (the latest top-of-the-range Olympus DSLR do have a new special Starry Sky autofocus, which reportedly works). The other problem was either the low haze or fine high cloud making the images fuzzy. I’ve since seen photos on an Olympus web site where someone used a 400mm lens and the rings and planet were separately identified.

Geminid meteor shower – 14 December 2020

A Geminid meteor

The one Geminid meteor

The sky was cloudy when I tried to photograph some of the Geminid meteor shower on 14 Dec. After midnight I set up my  camera with a 7.5mm fisheye lens in one of the nearby fields. I adjusted it to take 120 30s exposures automatically with a one second gap between each exposure to allow the file to be saved.

I’d expected to see perhaps a dozen shooting star images in the resulting photographs over that hour, especially as I’d seen one while I was setting up the tripod. I was wrong. And attached is the only other one in that hour-long set I captured where the clouds cleared enough to see the sky (and I wonder how many I missed in those one second gaps!) It just got gloomier and gloomier. But at least I could just wait indoors in the warm as it was near zero Centigrade outside.

I also made a time-lapse video of the photos. The meteor shows at about 3 seconds.

Autumn colours, hazards and small pleasures around Entre-deux-Eaux September – November 2020

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2020no3.pdf (five A4 pages)

There are some links to photographs in the text;
clicking on the photographs will sometimes lead to
a larger selection of photographs

Today is the twenty-second day of the second confinement in France (which is starting to sound like sounding like a new date system similar to the post-Revolutionary one). As before, it is stricter here than in the UK, with certificates to complete before leaving the house. It felt borderline illicit earlier this week when walking well beyond the daily permitted one kilometre and one hour from our house.

"Ladybird" Attestation - autumn 2020

simplified Attestation

But it was after ticking the box for collecting essential medical supplies rather than the box for exercising and dog-walking, and the nearest pharmacy is in the next village of Saulcy-sur-Meurthe. Since the end of August the road to Saulcy has been closed for internet fibre installation to Mandray and resurfacing works (for some reason the fibre branching to E2E which takes the same route as far as the crossroads is scheduled for 2022/3), and so the walk across the fields and through the woods has been a much shorter route for us than the road deviation.

The original French proposal was for lock-down until 2 December; a review last week confirmed that it would not end before that, and there has been talk of extending it further. The restrictions here are significant. General travel is not allowed and leaving the house is only permitted for a short list of specific activities. As well as the printed version, the French TousAntiCovid phone app allows generation of a certificate with a QR code. Either can be shown when requested. We have seen mobile police checkpoints on the main roads stopping cars. 

Lidl notice of items they cannot sell

Only food, tobacco and computer equipment retailers, garages, pharmacies and laundries are allowed to open. DIY and hardware stores can open but only for items not on the restricted list. Electrical/white goods shops are shut, as are hairdressers. Florists and garden centres are shut although they were allowed to stay open until Toussaint, 1 November, for the sale of chrysanthemums (la fleur des morts) to honour the dead. Supermarkets are restricted in what they can sell and have had to fence off or rearrange areas where they usually have flowers, books, white goods, cosmetics etc. Home delivery/click and collect is available for restricted items to support local businesses. Street markets remain open. Hotels can open for “professional” travellers but food is only available in room service.

But a headache for the government here, as in the UK, is what to do about family gatherings at Christmas and New Year, and commerce associations are pushing for re-opening before Black Friday. Amazon France has now said it will postpone Black Friday offers until 4 December after French shops have probably reopened on 1 December (although it will still be possible to use Amazon Germany, Italy, Spain and UK – so two Black Fridays!) President Macron will give a further update next week.

At present the government is limiting cross-border flow. There are two-week self-isolation periods for going into the UK from France and again coming back into France (along with other certificates/Covid-19 testing). So with all the restrictions and uncertainties, we are regretfully preparing to spend our first Christmas in Entre-deux-Eaux for eighteen years.

Of course, in the good old days, we used to rush over here in the Christmas holidays. The first Christmas we spent here in 1990 (after we bought the house at the end of October) was memorable. The electrician had just finished his work, and the plaster was still wet on the walls, but the roofer had given up when the snow started, so had not put flashing round the chimneys. So when we lit the range in the kitchen and turned on the new electric radiators, the heat melted the snow round the chimney and the roof leaked. But we were intrepid in those days. It is hard to remember the days of no mobile phones, and we had not yet got a house phone, so it was a question of marching down to the village phone box and making agitated calls. The fact that we did not yet have a fridge was less of a problem, as we just buried food outside in the snow, although, with hindsight, it is surprising it was not devoured by animals! We all four slept in a dry room downstairs (which later became the dining room), taking care not to fall into the hole in the floorboards we discovered under a sofa which had been left. And we kept warm by and cooked meals including Christmas dinner on the sturdy range in the kitchen.

Thirty years later it should be a more comfortable and warm Christmas here, but it will so sad not to see the family (though perhaps no worse than having to spend our time in isolation in the UK and still being unable to see them). We hope they will be able to get together, with Leila collecting Jacob and taking him down to Toby’s on 18 December.

With Brexit bumbling on, we have had to apply for replacement permanent residence cards with us classified under the withdrawal agreement terms, which allows us more flexibility in travelling in Europe, with no need for additional visas, etc. For us the exchange should be a formality as we have ten-year cards which they will just renew – although we will probably need to go to the Departmental capital in Epinal as the new cards need digital fingerprints in the chip. Like many things, the application has been made and is being processed. Our health cover will continue to be paid by the UK and we will be able to get European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC).

For UK residents it is seems probable that travel in the EU will become more restrictive after 31 December 2020 including 90-in-180 day period limitations, stamped passports, border checks, International Driving Permits, green cards for international car insurance, travel insurance (EHIC for UK citizens has yet to be agreed), stricter pet passport regulations and, from 2022/3 onwards, possibly paying for a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) pass.

While Covid restrictions were lifted we enjoyed a few low-key activities in September and October. There may have been great excitement in Nottingham at the discovery of the Banksy graffiti of a girl with a hula-hoop (and a long queue to take selfies in front of it), but we caught up on all the sponsored street art in Saint Dié. After the war Saint Dié turned down proposals for a Le Corbusier designed town centre, to be replace the buildings dynamited by the retreating Germans. Consequently the main street is not very memorable and the blocks of flats, schools and community centres that were built around the centre are solid but not particularly attractive. So the colourful paintings that have been commissioned in recent years have definitely brightened up the featureless buildings.

N°3 UN AMOUR IMPOSSIBLE

N°3 Un amour impossible

There are a few that we regularly pass, like the hen and the cat, Un amour impossible, on the walls of the former library (which before that was the bishop’s palace), but many are in the social housing areas we seldom visit. So, armed with a map, descriptions and John’s camera we set out on a couple of sunny days to find all twenty-two.

N°14 l’observateur

N° 11 Le Renard et le corbeau (+ link to all street art)

John had initially been attracted by the boy with a magnifying glass L’observateur perched above some garage roofs close to the market square. Helen’s new favourite was the large fantasy/story-book Le Renard and le corbeau (spot the other animals!) on the end of a block of flats on the heights of Saint-Roch. It took us a long time to find the last, which turned out to be much smaller; Expulsion NDDL hidden in a doorway recess and N° 22(?) on the corner of the main shopping street.

Filled lemon chocolate

As most restaurants had put scrupulous distancing and masking precautions into effect, we continued to enjoy occasional meals at our favourite restaurants. Having tried out a few new ones and been disappointed in the food, or alarmed by lack of precautions at one, and the throngs of unmasked tourists around another in Colmar, we reverted to our favourites and celebrated John’s birthday with lunch at lImprimerie just three days before President Macron announced the second lock-down. We had asked in advance whether it would be possible for chef Morgan to make the delicious chocolate cream-filled lemon we’d once had, – so that day everyone was served a lemon dessert, though not everyone had Joyeux Anniversaire written a little unevenly in chocolate on their plate. The service is fairly informal at l’Imprimerie, with chef enjoying bringing food to his guests now that there is the open cooking fire and preparation area in the middle of the room. However, the Frankenbourg prides itself on correct service and always has some closely supervised trainees. Since we cut down on carbohydrates at home, the occasional bread roll and butter is a real treat when out, but Helen distressed a young male trainee who was meant to be clearing the table of every trace of crumbs after the quail main course as she grabbed the remains of her roll – how could he now be seen to be doing his job correctly?

Entre-deux-Eaux decided not to restart the monthly oldies champagne, cards and chat (presumably because of the large numbers), but the Ste Marguerite pensioners committee decided that they would resume activities at the end of September, with rigorous precautions. So Helen enjoyed three mind-stimulating remue meninges sessions before lockdown. There are usually around twelve people there, but the elegant ninety-year old decided not to risk it, and those shielding sick partners stayed away leaving a core of six, which was very manageable. The room now has a locked gate and door, so other people do not wander in and contaminate it between authorised sessions, our temperature is taken before we enter, and we wear our masks, have our own hand gel, and even wipe down table tops.

The annual International Geography Festival (FIG) was held in Saint Dié at the beginning of October, presumably with stringent precautions. This year the subject was Climate. The weather duly obliged, with a Saturday night of very high winds which, we read in the newspaper, damaged (shock-horror) the catering tent. On Sunday a professor from the Sorbonne was due to pronounce on the weighty topic of whether breakfast was necessary, so perhaps they were forced to conclude it was not, at least that day. The weather had also not propitious for the delayed French Open tennis in Paris, with complaints from the international players about how cold it was. They have long forgotten compulsory games lessons in all weathers at school! One happier person might have been Entre-deux-Eaux’s mayor who at the same time was saying that there wasn’t a problem with Covid in our commune, just with the low water levels in the reservoirs. (Helen had had to go down to the mairie to get a pension form signed and stamped attesting to her continued existence).

You will have read the shocking October news of the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in Paris and the killings in Nice which have shaken everyone out of their Covid preoccupation. But on a lighter note of French national news, have you read about the autoroute arrest on the A20 leading to Paris of a man driving at a speed of 249 km/h. A new record. His excuse was that he wanted to make sure he was home before the curfew!

Back in the small world of Entre-deux-Eaux, our neighbour Danielle Laine, made her long awaited move to a brand-new purpose-built care home in Plainfaing. When Helen visited her with our next door neighbour (also Danielle), she showed us round enthusiastically, then we had drinks and cake with the warden and the six current residents outside on the terrace. The warden had been an au pair in England, so had plenty to say and the others chipped in apart from the one who had not put in his hearing aids and the wife who had suffered a stroke. Mme Laine was clearly enjoying the constant company (and flirting outrageously with the deaf man) after being so lonely following the death of her husband. Two of the ladies hadn’t settled and wanted to go back to their own homes, so she was trying to talk them out of it as their families have made it clear that they don’t want them to return as they keep falling.

black funghi

autumn colours across the valley

But at the end of October it was back to lock-down (although, more humanely here, visiting relatives in care homes is not forbidden). So it has been back to the small pleasures. John continues to photograph the autumn colours, and the flora and fauna in the nearby fields and woods, though yesterday’s fungi were miserably wilted and black. We had an invasion of hundreds of different coloured and spotted ladybirds. Helen’s pleasure is books, including books about books like the new Burning the Books and the fascinating novel Book woman of Troublesome Creek about a nineteen-year old pack horse (or mule in her case) librarian in an impoverished mountain area of Kentucky who is also one of the few blue-skinned people, who faced a lot of prejudice at that time. In the evenings we seem to have watched a lot of football and crime (including one series, Beyond appearances or Au-dela des apparences, set around the Col de la Schlucht near here).

cattle and farmhouse

And of course there are those one kilometre radius walks, mainly to the north of the house, where we have seen a lot of evidence of boars digging up strips of field by night. A few days ago, on Armistice Day, we did our best to walk to the south for a change, crossing fields and streams (one bridge has collapsed), avoiding the hefty tan coloured cattle (definitely not cows) who emit fearsome bellows from time to time and line up by the flimsy looking wire barriers to watch our passage with lugubrious interest. Unfortunately there were more cattle in another field we had hoped to cross, so we took a road detour towards a different track. At this point one of the village hunts shifted their focus and cars to the woods just in front of us. Armistice Day is a public holiday here, and the Vosges department had just obtained a derogation from the Covid restrictions to allow hunting boar and deer in cases of damage to forests and agriculture. We soon heard shots, so, as one can never be too sure of their aim in the afternoon after a boozy lunch, we prudently retreated from our detour, only to hear the shouts and barking dogs of a rival hunt in the other direction (around the World War 1 military cemetery). So we gave up and walked back past the watching cattle to the safer activity of gardening. You might have thought that shooting would be considered inappropriate on Armistice Day. The nocturnal boar diggings continue.

Spindleberry fruits

Alistair has just sent some photos of the Christmas lights he is putting up outside to cheer up their neighbours. That’s something else we will miss this Christmas as all our lights and decorations have drifted to Letchworth over the years (and their sale is currently on the prohibited list here). And the flamboyant crimson spindle fruits are now fading on their branches. However we do have a good collection of candles here, which usually only get lit during power cuts. So it will have to be traditional greenery, berries and candles here! And maybe the amaryllis and hyacinths we planted earlier will bloom for Christmas.

The first since 1944; the next will be in 2039

There was a full moon falling on Halloween, 31 October 2020 (it was also a so-called blue moon since there was a full moon on 1 October, so it was the second full moon of the month). The last full moon falling on Halloween was 76 years ago, in 1944. Not so long to wait for the next, which will be in 19 years, Halloween 31 October 2039.

For the first time in several weeks, the sky here was relatively clear with only a few high clouds passing by occasionally, so I was able to photograph the first Halloween full moon in my lifetime.

Halloween full moon 2020
ISO 200 1/500s f8.0 300mm (=600mm)

 

Lying low in Entre-deux-Eaux, February – August 2020

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2020no2.pdf (seven A4 pages)

Clicking on the photographs in the text will usually lead to
a larger selection of photographs or a panorama;
there are links to more at the end

We have been reminded that there has been no newsletter since the end of January, but, as you can imagine, that is only because there has been no news apart from the universal Covid-19 and little of everyday interest to share. But for anyone with time on their hands, here are a few scenes from over the Channel.

The February fill-dyke, behaved to form with heavy rain, high winds and power cuts. Shortly before we left for February half-term in the UK, the rain water was dangerously close to overflowing the ditch on the opposite side of the road which had led, a couple of years ago, to our barn flooding with muddy water while we were away. Fortunately this time the mayor took our phone call seriously and after a wild, windy, wet night the two commune employees arrived with a huge digger and a truck for carting away the mud and dead leaves. Perhaps the forthcoming local elections had something to do with the speed of response! However since then Mayor Duhaut has obviously been alerted to the fact that as the Brits are no longer European citizens, we have lost our vote in local and regional elections. (In fact, having left the UK over fifteen years ago, we have no vote anywhere for anything now, which feels irresponsible). Storms were then forecast over northern France for the Channel crossing we had booked, so we loaded the car set out, stayed the night an hour from Calais, and caught an earlier boat. We were glad we’d made the early crossing when the staff started putting out piles of sick bags ready for the anticipated rough crossings later in the day!

Letchworth archives

Letchworth archives

We enjoyed our couple of weeks in Letchworth and catching up with the family. At the time it felt as if we did not do a lot, given the poor weather, but with hindsight after the cessation of activity, it was pretty busy! We went on a tour of the Letchworth Archives, which have interesting objects, furniture, documents and plans from the early twentieth century and the founding of the Garden City.

Rembrandt

Rembrandt – Old Man shading his Eyes with his Hand c 1639

And another day there was an interesting exhibition of, mostly new to us, Rembrandt prints in the neighbouring small market town (lent by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford), which brought back happy memories of our holiday in Amsterdam in 2019. We also stocked up on books from the excellent Oxfam in Saffron Walden (appreciated in the quiet months ahead) and bought a Lutyens style garden bench in the market (which sadly we haven’t been back to enjoy). We were delighted to have Jessica and Mark staying for a few days, and grateful to spend precious time with Mark before his death in March, and it was good to stay with Ann and Derek on our way back to Dover.

We had very few border checks, although the outside of the car was checked for something, perhaps drugs, at Dover. Back in E2E a few roof tiles had blown off and we woke to snow next morning. Despite a lack of a personal introduction from another villager, we eventually managed to contact a roofer and assistant from Saulcy, with ladders longer than ours, to replace the tiles.

At the end of February John had an appointment in the ORL department of St Dié Hospital. Usually one can just rearrange the letters to the more familiar English ones, but ORL (Oto-Rhino-Laryngologie) does not reform handily to ENT. Many of the hospital consultants in this part of France now seem to be from Romania and other east European countries, and this was no exception. John explained to her that he had initially fared well with the hearing aids he had tried out in the UK before Christmas until one side seemed to keep cutting out. Her examination revealed that he had a perforated drum, which needed to heal before any further action was taken, but meanwhile he had a thorough hearing test.

John was meant to return after a couple of months, but of course that was delayed by Covid. How the hospital had changed by mid July when he finally returned. The registration hall which is normally thronging with patients checking in was almost deserted, apart from staff manning tables by the door to enforce hand gel, the corridors were quiet, and the waiting room had only one other person waiting. A few weeks earlier Madame Laine had reported long, spaced queues outside the main door. The verdict? The ear is healing well. Hearing test slightly better. Come back in six months when the scarring is complete.

February ended stormily on 29th, with rain lashing against the window and the power cutting out at 15h, mid-ironing. At 17h when, according to their web site, EDF had expected have to fixed it, it was still off in a large area around us, and 18.30 restoration was predicted for most places but by 21h for our end of E2E. We boiled up water on the gas for tea, and brought up wood for the stove together with the old church candles we used back in 1999 when the roof blew off and we had several days without electricity and heating. John prepared a stir fry to cook quickly, we pulled down the blinds (as the shutters are electrically operated), opened a good bottle of wine and played patience by candlelight. After just over six hours power returned (and we eventually received 12€ compensation on our next electricity bill).

March was launched with Roger and Dorinda’s surprise arrival to stay in one of the gîtes two doors from their old house on the hill above Anould. So we enjoyed tea and patisseries with them and planned a restaurant trip together. When we heard nothing from them later in the week, after more wind and power cuts, we joked that they must have gone home. And indeed they had got fed up with all the rain and were concerned about the virus in crowded places and had set out for home.

So we decided to brave the outside world and lunch in the book village at L’Imprimerie, just the two of us. We ate at the counter, so watched the second chef fastidiously decorating the amuse bouches while keeping an eye on the cabbage rolls and chicken being cooked over the open fire.

Amuse bouche: charcoal-coated spheres of liquid eel sauce
click to see more

We really enjoyed the unusual food combinations (who would believe that charcoal-coated spheres of liquid eel juice could be so delicious, or the cabbage rolls that included chestnut with sliced truffle and apple puree, not to mention the first dessert of liquorice, beetroot and cream, and the second of saffron mousse).

“Orange was the color of her dress”
click to see more

And the regional wines were quirky, including an interesting cloudy golden Arbois wine made with an ancient white Savignin grape, named Orange was the colour of her dress, after a Charles Mingus song. As a bonus, the sun shone, which always lifts the spirits. The following week, as the threat of Covid increased, we had what we suspected might be our last meal out on Thursday 12 March at another favourite restaurant, Chez Guth, in the Alsace hills.

That very evening, President Macron broadcast to the nation, announcing the closure of schools, crèches and nurseries after the weekend, though the first round of elections could continue on Sunday; people over seventy should stay at home as much as possible, and others should work from home where possible; any closure of international borders would be decided at European level. Two days later restaurants, cinemas, cafes, nightclubs were ordered to close and by day 4 of our self-isolation Macron announced that self-certification travel certificates had to be downloaded and filled in. They allowed only a few specific reasons for a local-only journey and time of leaving home had to be stated, or fines would be issued. Schengen borders would close. Plenty of decisive clarity here as opposed to the UK.

Potager6 July 2020

click to see Potager panorama
6 July 2020

As if to compensate for home confinement, a lovely period of sunshine followed Macron’s announcement, so it was a pleasure to risk an early start to the year’s gardening. John constructed a cold frame from old bricks and windows in which we sowed lettuce, rocket and radishes. We ate the last of the curly kale, rotavated the potager and raked and marked out beds, and remembered to pick the young ramson or wild garlic leaves from a neglected corner when we wanted a garlic flavouring. Rhubarb was planted, herb beds trimmed and weeded, and fruit bushes pruned and fed with fertiliser. The vegetable plot borders our quiet dead-end road. On sunny days it felt as if half the village had decided to stroll or bike along the quiet road (probably without a downloaded certificate) to the cowsheds at the end and to stop for an animated chat as they passed each other at a safe distance. It was a good thing we had stocked up on cheap seeds during our February break in Letchworth, and could sow cheerful marigolds, candytuft and cornflowers in the tubs at the front of the house, cress indoors on windowsills, and broad beans and onions in the small, sunny potting area at the back of one of the barns. But the cold nights and the sight of fluffy snow flakes drifting past the windows like the white damson blossom behind delayed any outside vegetable sowing.

By 1 April Covid deaths in France had risen to 4,000. Paris was, of course, the worst affected, but our region of Grand Est was the next worst, largely due to infections at a very large evangelical conference in Mulhouse in Alsace (close to the airport and the German and Swiss borders) held before the dangers were realised. The Mulhouse hospital was soon full and patients were moved up to Colmar hospital and later to other hospitals across France, and the army constructed the first field hospital.

There had been TV scenes of police patrols issuing fines to walkers in mountain areas and of night time curfews in different areas. Not surprisingly we did not see any police cars out this way! We were impressed that the Mayor’s deputy rang to check that we were all right, could get out to shop and had the necessary documents to do so. The advantage of a small community! The dustbin men were uncomplaining about the twelve bags of recycling after we started weeding our filing cabinets. Expecting a possible lockdown we’d laid by enough food for a month without the need to visit a shop. Although we had been well stocked with food throughout March we really wanted some fresh fruit and vegetables. John experimented with Cora’s click-and-collect site which served us well throughout the confinement not only with food but with items like an ironing board cover, salad spinner and more broad bean seeds. Initially there seemed to be no collection times shown; in fact they’d all been taken very quickly. And it was only by constant monitoring John discovered when the rolling schedule for the three days was released.

Fritillaries 4 April 2020

Various Fritillaries
April 2020
click to see more

We are fortunate in being surrounded by fields to walk in as well as the garden and orchard. By April the daffodils and cowslips were coming to an end and there were fritillaries in one field. On Easter Sunday when Helen looked out of the window the mother of the two children in the chalet beyond us was scuttling round their garden presumably hiding their Easter eggs.

When the confinement was extended into May, the Mayor came round delivering more yellow recycling bags. We were horrified to hear that Claudine from the big house at the far end of our road had been very ill with the Coronavirus (especially as she had, shortly before lockdown, given Helen the traditional French greeting of a kiss on each cheek). The Mayor obviously anticipated us being out and about a bit more after May 11th, as towards the end of April we found four face-masks in our letterbox from the Mairie and a note thanking the volunteers who had made them. Two had pink rosebuds on the fabric and two were a sober blue and the packing said 2H, 2F, so rather sexist!

Marsh orchids and insects 5 May 2020

Marsh orchids and insects
May 2020
click to see more

In May the lilies of the valley and honeysuckle were heady with scent, the blowsy crimson peonies, clematis and marguerites added colour to the garden, while the orchids were pretty in the fields and marsh marigolds gleamed in the marshier areas. Then after the glorious weather, when we gardened most days, occasionally sitting down to actually enjoy the garden, we had strong winds and torrential rain which flattened the grass crop in the field on the other side of the road. The temperature obediently dropped on 11, 12 and 13 May, traditionally the days and nights of the French ice saints. So it was too cold to have our coffee and cake on the balcony or outside on Helen’s birthday, but the coffee cake was delicious, and fortunately John did not decorate it with the silly brown bears from a past Christmas cake that he was so pleased to have found in a drawer. As we could not go out to dinner, the chef, by special request, cooked a new (to us) Ottolenghi chicken recipe. There had indeed been the forecast easing of restrictions on 11th May in much of France, but as we were in a red area (still pressure on hospitals) as were Paris, Ile de France and … wait for it … the department of Mayotte (north of Madagascar; any newspaper Coronavirus figures for France includes cases for the S American, Caribbean, and Indian Ocean overseas departments as well as for the hexagon or France in Europe).

However we could now drive up to 100 km as the crow flies within the Département without filling in a form, the wearing of masks was obligatory on public transport and in shops that specified it. Bookshops, libraries, small museums and hairdressers could also re-open, though not restaurants. Our MoT equivalent testing centre promptly re-opened and reminded us that our re-test was overdue. After the test, we celebrated the new freedom with a drive through the very empty streets of St Dié, admiring the large wall paintings. In the last week of May schools also reopened and the gardens round us sounded strangely quiet.

Orchard - 10 July 2020

click to see Orchard panorama
10 July 2020

The weather seemed to suit the strawberries, both cultivated and wild which were plentiful this year, though sadly May’s ice saints, including St Pancras, must have attacked the plum blossom, but the other fruit blossoms escaped as we have plentiful apples and pears weighing down the orchard trees at present. The cherries seem to have been plentiful too in more sheltered areas than our ice-pocket valley, as in June the ex-mayor’s companion brought round large trays of cherries from La Soyotte, the traditional farm in Sainte Marguerite which has been preserved as a museum of everyday life. John made four jars of cherry compôte from the ones we bought, and Madame Laine made cherry clafoutis from the ones she bought (which Helen sampled it on one of her visits and was surprised by the potent rum flavour, as Danielle always used to say she did not drink, though seemed to knock back her share at village feasts).

surprised deer

Surprised deer

The wildlife has flourished with Helen watching a baby deer careering across our field as she took the washing in, then hearing a loud thump as it bounded across the road and was hit by a car that wouldn’t have seen it emerge from behind the trees. But it seemed unaffected as it bounded up the bank on the other side of the road. Maybe it was the same one John startled two or three months later as he was taking photos very near it (he was equally surprised as it leapt out).

Giant Green grasshopper

Giant Green and
other grasshoppers
click to see more

John’s photos of flowers and insects this year have been a pleasure to see. We were amused to see a grasshopper on our front door bell in June, looking as if it wanted to ring it. Less amusing were the huge snails heading purposefully across the tarmac to the new seedlings in the potager.

Finally on June 1st our Grand Est region was declared a green area. This allowed restaurants to re-open, with suitable precautions, like customers wearing masks when walking round the restaurant and staff wearing gloves and charlottes. The charlottes rather puzzled us as we could not imagine the need to wear their desserts or the potatoes, but reference to the dictionary revealed that charlottes are also bonnets, sun hats or plastic or hygiene caps.

Siaskas (fromage de Munster frais), bitter cherries marinaded in cherry kirsch, kirsch cream, meringues
click to see more

When we celebrated at L’Imprimerie one chef was bare-headed and the other had his usual cap, but everyone including the reluctant waiter were in their masks. The owner likes practising his English; we always find his English a bit difficult to follow, but it seems rude to ask for repeats, and a mask didn’t help! But he is always so friendly and likes to know what we think of dishes, especially new ones like the dessert of bitter cherries. The countryside round the book village looked so lush since we were last there three months earlier.

Concombre au vinaigre, féta, croûtons, consomme de sapin, glace pistache
click to see more

And our second lunch out a week after, back at Chez Guth in mid-June was superb. His starter of cucumber and feta was so tasty and pretty and the trout with shrimp sauce main was different from anything we’ve had there before. The cherry dessert was also delicious. We were glad to hear they they had done well during lockdown, serving up to 100 reasonably priced take-away meals (plus instructions) per day at weekends and were continuing while custom built up. The closure period seemed to have given chefs time for all kinds of creative ideas; we had the most interestingly different meal there that we have had since our first visit.

With large gatherings not permitted, the pensioners activities did not start up again after lockdown was eased, apart from the walking group. The, newly-instituted-last-year Bastille Day village fireworks were cancelled.

But Helen had a slightly longer chat than usual with a couple of younger neighbours who walk past the vegetable patch with their small dog each afternoon at the same time. After all these months of daily greetings, the wife finally ventured, “Excuse me, if it’s not indiscreet, might I ask a personal question?” Permission graciously granted, she continued, “I can’t help noticing that you have an accent. Where are you from?” If only she’d asked her next-door neighbour, Madame Laine. who loves a good gossip, she would have learnt of 30 years of our life histories in no time! But Danielle had her own big news: at the beginning of July she looked round and signed up for a room in a brand new care home in Plainfaing from September. By the end of July, her cases were packed and ready for her new life. We hope she likes it once there, as she is clearly expecting to find lively company and conversation with other residents as well as constant care.

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)
19 July 2020

In mid-July John was to be found wandering round in the middle of the night with his camera, trying to find the best spot from which to get a good view of the Neowise comet. One unsuccessful early morning at 4am he drove up the hill towards Fouchifol, where he found another man packing up his equipment, who hesitantly asked if he was the Englishman. John vaguely recognised though could but place him. The man said he should have come a bit earlier before it became too light, and showed him his pictures. As we chatted next morning, we worked out that he was a well-known local photographer of wildlife. Although we occasionally see them at village functions, our main conversations in the past have been outside a museum in Colmar and with his wife at a genealogy exhibition in St Dié – and now on the deserted dark road to Fouchifol.

International Space Station

Tracking ISS overhead
and the ISS itself
click to see more

Later in July and August as well as the fauna and flora, with clear night skies he got interested in trying to photograph the International Space Station (ISS), Jupiter and its moons, Perseids meteor showers and the Milky Way (although long exposure shots were marred by satellites and the inevitable planes).

We decided that we should try out a few unfamiliar restaurants in July. These included La Grange, which the older chef at the Ducs de Lorraine elegant restaurant in Epinal had set up with his new partner in a small village, after retiring from the Ducs and divorcing his annoying, bossy, wife. Apparently they are aiming at a warm and welcoming atmosphere and good reasonable food. That seems to involve not wearing masks or other protection and not bothering too much about hand sanitiser or social distancing. His food was nothing like as good as it used to be. The walls were adorned with pink and lime green plastic fly swats which a man at an adjacent table was using with relish (and success) on the flies on his table. A cat was sitting on another table. We were not convinced by “warm” and “welcoming”.

The big excitement when we tried out Quai 21 in Colmar was that John forgot his mask, so we had to stop on the way to buy one from a pharmacy. But of course you can’t go into a pharmacy if you are not wearing a mask, and he refused to wear Helen’s rosebud one. The white ones Helen bought were lighter and less stifling to wear, so it was not a disaster. With school holidays having started everywhere and travel permitted, the cars on the main road over the pass to Colmar were mainly German and Belgian, and Colmar was packed with tourists, so not as pleasant to walk by the picturesque canals as out of season. Lunch in the quayside restaurant was carefully cooked and presented, but no exciting flavours and combinations to tempt us back.

August has been quieter. Helen had got a lot of bites (despite being smothered in repellent) in July while gardening and fruit picking and they had become infected, so she was itchy, scabby and oozing. After consultations with the GP (and linguistic discussion of the words for scab) and a dermatologist (also Romanian), she emerged for the pharmacy with a large bag of antibiotic pills, sprays, gel and cream, and after two weeks is beginning to look slightly less blotchy. Meanwhile John pulled his back, and had to cancel his physiotherapy for Achilles tendinitis. So we have been a couple of old crocks and the neglected garden has become overgrown,

Hummingbird hawk moth

Hummingbird hawk moth+videos
click to see more

Butterflies and moths

Butterflies and moths
click to see more

Nevertheless, we are working our way through beans, courgettes and raspberries and John has taken some beautiful pictures of butterflies and moths (including the fascinating humming bird hawk moths).

But there was also some human interest to be spotted in the fields around us. Last Saturday afternoon a tractor and trailer turned off the main road across the valley into the village and came to a halt in the field, which had been cut and baled by the young farmer from Taintrux.

Wedding photographs

Wedding photograph

As figures in white and black descended and posed, we realised, with the help of binoculars, that the small wedding party having photos taken in front of the tractor and trailer were the young farmer, his bride, bridesmaid and several page boys. They must have been en route from the ceremony to the reception, as various cars passed, hooting. Were they about to celebrate in the E2E village hall now that gatherings of up to thirty people are permitted (though numbers in the Mairie are restricted and social distancing, masks and hand gel compulsory there and in church). At least the wedding party did not head up our road to the large cattle shed for more photos and festivities.

So every day life continues in Entre-deux-Eaux and, as travel restrictions threaten, we are likely to remain quietly here for much of the remainder of the year. Meanwhile we send you all our greetings and hope for a time when we can meet again.

Some other panoramas around the farmhouse taken in early July
(I should have cut the grass first!)

panorama overview locations

panorama locations

West end field 
Garden swing and west garden 
Farmhouse from septic tank filter cover 
E2E potager (veg patch)
Over the potager fence and two people walking along the road
The bottom field which has gone wild
Orchard 
Arboretum 

 

 

The International Space Station (ISS) July 2020

I posted an item on 7 June 2013 on photographing the ISS. As I now have a different camera and lenses and as we have clear skies I decided to do an update.

I now use the ISS Detector app on my phone to notify me of upcoming events. At 22:38 on Monday 27 July 2020 there was a possible nearly overhead ISS sighting (max. height 86°, appearing 27° above WNW disappearing 22° above ESE). The first quarter moon was not too bright and not likely to cause problems. So I set my tripod in the field below the farmhouse, in the best position to avoid the farmhouse and surrounding trees blocking the overflight path. I had a 7.5mm Samyang fisheye lens on my camera and set it at an angle to give me the likely full path across the diagonal of the image . With the lens set at f8, I opened the shutter just before the predicted appearance time. The ISS passed over and disappeared from sight just before the end of the path and I then shut the shutter. This is the resulting unedited image:

ISS 22:44 27 July 2020 ISO 400 f8 371s
Entre-deux-Eaux 48° 13′ 53″ 6° 58′ 48″

As I was satisfied with that photograph, the following day I was just out taking some photographs of the moon with a 75-300mm zoom lens (and also attempting some photographs of Jupiter). I’d forgotten about the ISS but suddenly saw it appear above the orchard trees. Rather than trying to take partial path picture, I wondered whether it was possible to just take a snapshot of the ISS itself. I had no idea of exposure settings and had little time so just took a guess at what to use. I loosened the ball and socket mount so I could swivel the camera to track the ISS and set the lens to 75mm in the hope of seeing the ISS through the viewfinder with the wider view. That wasn’t too difficult and I was then able to zoom to 300mm (= 35mm full-frame 600mm) and to track the ISS, pressing the release several times to take photographs. The results were rather mixed, poorly exposed, and showed camera shake but gave me an indication of what might be possible.

So I decided I might be able to do better the next night with some proper preparation. I set the camera exposure to a faster shutter speed and higher ISO and also set the camera to take an automatic succession of photographs to try to reduce the initial movement from pressing the shutter release (at that focal length the camera is very sensitive to the slightest movement). I had to use the release button on the camera as I needed both hands to help track the ISS smoothly so couldn’t easily use my phone as a remote control.

I took over 100 photographs. About 10% have an image that on close inspection is discernible as an object rather than just a white, slightly blurred, blob. I doubt I would be able to get a better photograph with that lens. I would need the camera attached to a telescope which had automated tracking.

This shows one of the full images with the ISS arrowed. I’ve pasted an enlarged version of that faint white dot in the RH corner. The ISS in the image is only 20×16 pixels overall. It was pleasing as I’d not really expected such a positive result.

ISS 22:48:04 29 July 2020 ISO 3200 f6.7 1/640s 300mm

According to http://www.isstracker.com/historical the ISS was at 45.874N 3.008W (over Volvic in Central France) at an altitude of 262.45 miles and travelling at 17,144.65 mph.

April 2020’s Super “Pink” Moon

Click on the images to see them in full screen view

I took some photographs of the Total Lunar Eclipse 28 September 2015 using a Pentax K-x + DA L 50-200mm at 200mm (300mm 35mm equiv).

We’d had several very sunny days this week so it was possible the nights would be clear and it seemed a good opportunity to try taking some moon photographs again. But I now had a different camera and lens combination (Olympus OM-D E-M1II + M.Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 = 150-600mm 35m equiv), and needed to work out the best settings. 

On 7 April I set up the tripod on the balcony and took a series of photographs at various speed settings. The images weren’t as clear as I’d expected, despite using a 2 second delayed exposure function on the camera (some residual vibration after pushing the release?) 

So on 8 April I set the camera on the tripod again, but this time I connected the camera to my phone using WiFi so I could vary the exposure timing and trigger the shots remotely without camera shake. I was very happy with the results this time

Collage of moon 8 April 2020 images

Of the various exposure timings, this was about the best in giving good detail, including the craters visible on the right-hand side and the overall surface. This is a crop of about 0.38 linear from the original image. 

"Pink" moon
8 April 2020 22:41 (CET)
ISO 200 1/500sec f10.0 300mm (=600mm)

As a 600mm (35mm equivalent) lens has a magnification of 12x (a 50mm lens is usually regarded as having the same magnification, but not field of view, as the human eye, so is considered as 1x) this image is equivalent to a magnification of 31.6x (12/0.38).

Teddies, reindeer and Dougal: every day life in Entre-deux-Eaux, November – December 2019

To download a printable PDF version
click on this link 
E2E2019no5.pdf (four A4 pages)
there are various links in the text

A festive first for Entre-deux-Eaux: the commune will be awarding a prize this Christmas for the best decorated property. As we drove through the village today (7th December) there were few signs of anyone having accepted the challenge, apart from the Salle Polyvalente and the village shop. It is possible that people are waiting until after the traditional visit of St Nicholas this evening in Saint Dié or tomorrow afternoon in E2E before turning to the more recent and tackier idea of Father Christmas, reindeer, tinsel and lights.

We were setting out for Barr Christmas market, one of Helen’s favourites, over the hills in Alsace. The week has been sunny, cold and frosty until today when it changed to damp and low cloud. So, as we crossed the Col d’Urbeis, which we had once explored looking for traces of the old German First World War supply railways, there was no snow remaining. The forests below were still an attractive mix of dark conifers with the bare reddish branches of the deciduous trees and the ground cover of copper leaves. Further on we braked on a sharp, blind, bend to avoid the parked cars of people buying their Christmas trees from a popular plantation. And as we descended further to the Rhine plain the slopes were covered with the black pruned stumps of the vineyards. In Barr, the Saturday morning street market with its vegetable, cheese and charcuterie stalls was doing a brisker trade than the indoor Christmas markets.

mangy fox

mangy fox

And when we fancied a coffee and pushed our way through the red velvet curtains warding off draughts from the door of a crowded bar, the two older ladies serving wine, beer and coffee sounded harassed. The ambiance was traditional Alsatian with red-and-white tablecloths and dark beams. Close to our big table which we shared with some card players, stood a mangy stuffed fox holding a tray; but it had been pushed against the wall. and was not serving food to the noisy room beyond. Alas, the food and mulled wine stalls outside the Christmas market were not doing a similarly brisk trade; inside were craft stalls – ceramics, glass, fabric, wood tree decorations – and one had a not-very-festive placard announcing Liberté, Fraternité et choucroute (the local pickled cabbage served with with smoked pork).

Christmas bear

Christmas bear

As we drove back, the roadside outside Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines was adorned with teddy bears constructed from huge rolls of hay bales and all its shop windows were decorated with furry teddies of all sizes. Perhaps E2E should announce a bear theme for its decorations?

We had hoped to have lunch at the Frankenbourg restaurant after the market, but like several other restaurants this week, it was fully booked. Is this because of the festive pre-Christmas menus or because a lot of public service employees like civil servants, teachers and train drivers have had time for leisurely restaurant meals while on strike against Macron’s proposed pension reforms (I mean, who would actually choose to retire later than they used to because of well-meaning rationalisation attempts?)

During the gloom of November, we have been treating ourselves to lunch out once a week, thanks to a significant refund of our Contribution Sociale Généralisée (CSG) and Remboursement de la Dette Sociale (CRDS) payments. In 2015 the European Court had decided that those pensioners whose health service charges were paid for by another country did not have to pay the CSG and CRDS. France changed the law in 2016 to try to re-impose the charges by moving them to a different fund where the benefits were non-contributory. But a French court overturned that in 2018, so John put in a pre-emptive retrospective claim for the three years. The government appealed again but that was finally overturned in July 2019. But the system grinds slowly so it was November by the time we received the refunds, with their not inconsiderable interest.

tuna and beetroot strips with hibiscus

The weekly treats started a few days after our return from Letchworth on October 31st (no longer Brexit-at-all-costs day), with a dash to our favourite Restaurant l’Imprimerie in the book village before they closed for their major remodelling and installation of an open wood-fired grill. Chef’s inventiveness that day included the unforgettable combinations of tuna, beetroot and hibiscus in the shape of a crimson rose and of creamy scallops, sliced pig trotter and Jerusalem artichoke. The week after, we went back to In Extremis at the foot of the cathedral in Epinal.

The following week, after most of that week’s snow had melted, we drove over the hills to Kaysersberg, where the Restaurant l’Alchemille had really gone to town on their Christmas decorations, with a herd of life-sized reindeer, a boar, a grizzly bear, some unconvincing foxes and assorted owls and squirrels crowded round the Christmas trees in the small herb garden in front of the entrance. Entre-deux-Eaux take note!

Dougal

a.k.a. Dougal

One of the desserts we immediately christened “Dougal” as the chocolate strands on the creamy roll looked remarkably like the Magic Roundabout character (although perhaps we should have called it “Pollux”, which was Dougal’s name in the original French Le Manège enchanté). And last week we finally returned to the Ducs de Lorraine in Epinal, for the first time since 2013, now that the rude, brusque Madame, who had separated from the older of the two chefs, and that chef had left. But alas, with aforesaid chef having set up elsewhere, the food was no longer as tasty or well-presented, the amazing dessert trolley much reduced, and the staff equally abrupt (it is hardly the customer’s fault if the waiter brings tea instead of coffee and if he fails to press the right buttons on their credit card machine). We look forward to the re-opening of the friendly l‘Imprimerie!

Cultural events have not loomed as large as gastronomic ones. In fact our last dose of culture was probably during our return journey from the UK. As we now often do, when driving back in winter, we stopped overnight in northern France before it got dark. We went into Cambrai for the first time and walked round the streets near the main square and its dominating Hotel de Ville, including the Tourist Office where we picked up some excellent leaflets. It was so cold, we didn’t linger too long, but drove a few miles further south to the accommodation John had booked. Our usual overnight stops are at a convenient Première Classe or Ibis hotel in an out-of-town commercial area, but John had found a farmhouse chambre d’hôte which had a spacious studio room with cooking facilities. It turned out to be a remote, imposing farmhouse with substantial outbuildings round a courtyard. It looked old, and our hostess told us it had once been a coaching stop as well as farm, but suffered significantly during the First World War and was rebuilt after. She showed us photos of her grandfather there as a child, and her grandmother working as a young woman in the fields, and she also pressed a bulging folder into our hands to read. It turned out that her English guests were usually there to see the war graves of their ancestors in one of the many Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries. She and her husband have helped them and also collected their stories in the folder. So that provided interesting reading that evening in our studio in the outbuildings, along with the Tourist Office leaflets. The thought of a cold, 10km drive in a damp and pitch dark night back to Cambrai for a meal didn’t appeal once we were in our well-heated room so John reheated the vegetables-in-cheese sauce he’d made the night before as a possible standby.

After perusing the leaflets, we decided not to go back into Cambrai the next morning either. Fortified by Madame’s filling breakfast (which was much better than that provided by our usual cheap hotels), we drove cross-country to the departmental Matisse museum, which is based on a collection that Matisse had donated to his home town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis. We suspected that we might not see all his paintings as a special exhibition was opening in a couple of days and the paintings were indeed still being moved or on the wall but shrouded; however it was still worthwhile.

Wilfred Owen’s grave

It is now housed in the former bishop’s palace, along with relevant donations by his publisher (Teriade) and the paintings of another local artist, Auguste Herbin (who we’d never heard of). After a coffee over the road (inevitably the Restaurant du musée Matisse), we drove on to the small village of Ors nearby, where Wilfred Owen is buried in a small military section of the communal cemetery. The revamped forester’s house from which he wrote his last letter home was not open till later in the afternoon, so we went directly to his grave. Apparently the French had not known until quite recently that he was famous as a poet back in the UK.

Helen resumed her various club activities, though they hardly count as cultural. The E2E oldies had their November games, cake and champagne session. Now that the original older members have become housebound or died there is less uninterrupted gossip, and the club is also popular with younger retired people from surrounding villages who enjoy playing cards and have started a craft table as well. It was then Helen’s turn to lead and provide refreshments for the brain exercise group, which she rather dreaded. But the unfamiliar Battleship grids and some Eysenk (remember him?) IQ questions (diagrammatic ones – missing numbers, next-in-sequence etc.) kept everyone fully occupied and John had kindly baked some parkin to revive everyone at the end. The following session, that week’s leader started with a dictation, using a poem with each line containing a second person singular imperative – not something John and I practice all these years since our school French lessons, but it was interesting that most of the group also struggled with the correct written French endings! Scrabble was positively relaxing by comparison.

It is just as well that we had not planned to drive to Letchworth this weekend, with long delays at Calais on this side due to customs staff being on strike as part of the pension protests and with the M25 on that side blocked by the crane accident. John is keeping the car topped up with petrol as there are shortages due to blockades by protesters of some western fuel depots and those might spread across the country. But we hope to travel over next weekend (14/15 December) without encountering too many obstacles and delays for Christmas and New Year. Who will be in charge of the UK by then?