Monday, September 26, 2016

Ibera, Argentina

I missed my goal to publish a monthly blog, but travels have taken me away.  I will skip some locations visited in the meantime and leave incomplete my France blog and go on to my most recent adventure.  Ibera is the second largest wetland of the world in the Province of Corrientes, Argentina. I have known about this place for several years but I was not able to find a contact to get there since it is not easily accessible; it took me long hours of driving for about two days to get there Buenos Aires.  After two days of great weather the rains came, so I moved on north to the Iguazu Falls. 

 Ibera in some ways resembles the Everglades because of the vegetation and canals where wildlife is abundant. It is the home of the capibaras or carpinchos (above) as they are known in Argentina.  These are widespread in South American and I have seen them before in Venezuela and Brazil.  They are the largest rodents in the world but those in Ibera seemed larger in size and darker in color. They are aquatic but also forage on land for grasses.  In my opinion, they occupy a niche similar to those of the hippopotamus in Africa because of their behavior. The other mammal I saw was the marsh deer (below) but there also otters.

 There more than 300 species of birds in the area but I did not see all of them.  All those I saw, except for the common gallinule, were new to me, so I will bore you with birds. The Southern Lapwings (Teros) are a common species and common throughout Argentina.  It is a beautiful and noisy bird and has vestigial claws (notice the pink spines sticking out in the dark chest of the male bird below) in the wing shoulder that is a remnant from ancient birds that were used to climb.  But these claws are also present in the Southern Screamer (Chala) clearly visible in the extended wing as well as in the Wattled Jacana (Jacana) where they are seen as yellow spines in the wing elbows. Vestigial claws are present in a few other birds but I never noticed them in so many birds as are here in South America.  There is also an image of ascreamer with chicks; this is the beginning of spring south of the Equator so it is the beginning of the nesting season.

 Another bird that was surprising was the Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Federal), it is a marsh bird and we have a close cousin here in the USA but with a yellow head (photographed in Camas, Utah).

Other closely related birds that when I first saw them, promptly confused them with those in the USA, such as the White-necked heron (Garza mora) with our Great Blue Heron, the Chalked-browed  mockingbird (Calandria grande) with our Northern Mockingbird, both share the same Genus.

There is no way that I can include all the birds I photographed in this blog so as to avoid boring you, I will make a few entries. The blue period:  First a pair of Magpie Tanagers (Frutero uvero) exhibiting pairing behavior where the male is courting by feeding the female (I did not witness the final outcome.) Then, the Plush –crested Jay (Urraca comun), a very aggressive bird and similar in behavior to our Blue Jays followed by a  Screaming Cowbird (Tordo pico corto) followed by a Sacaya Tanager (Celestino comun).  And then my favorite, the Swallow-Tailed Hummingbird 
( Picador tijera); not only colorful but big.

A rainbow of colors period.: The Blue and Yellow Tanager (Naranjero), Green-headed Tanager (Saira arcoiris), female Blue Dacnis (Sai Azul) and a lucky shot; 3 species in one frame.

But wait, I almost left out the rainbow of colors, a pair of Yellow-fronted woodpeckers (Carpintero Arcoiris); the male is the one with the full red head and the yellow spot in the forehead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

France II--The Confluence

Confluence means where bodies of water come together. In this case it is in Lyon, France, where the Rhone and Saone rivers merge forming a point of land.  This is an area undergoing urban development with old structures going down and new ones going up.  It a huge complex, with multiple buildings, most of them being constructed on the shore side of the Saone river.  Below is a photo of a huge shopping center that serves as the anchor for the project. There is a canal called the Place Nautique where the shopping center faces and across from it; there are various apartment building that look like each unit is a box stacked at random above each other.

Walking south from the above area by the Desserte du Port Rambaud Street, one runs into a zone called La Sucriere, where there is a conglomerate of wild colored architectural marvels in. I wonder as to the practically of their designs with such large holes, or rather cones that penetrate into the building.  Do not know their practical purpose if any, but it sure takes lots of floor space from the inside the buildings. They are all in the final stages of construction.  Do not know about the orange one but the green one is the headquarters of Euronews.  The image of the crane is to give an idea of the perspective of the area and the side of the buildings; the last image is that of the structure under the crane.

Another example of what is called deconstructive architectural design, the Musee des Confluences, is located at the end of the point where the rivers actually merge; it resembles the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (my favorite) and the War Museum in Manchester among others. To me they are examples of plagiarist design since they look very similar. It is an anthropology and science museum that opened in 2014 and it has 3 major exhibits dealing with who and what; trying to answer questions regarding scientific issues such as the origin of the Universe, evolution, etc.  Impressive and difficult to photograph, even my 12 mm lens was not wide enough.

To balance the deconstructive buildings, below are examples of the old that probably will be gone in the near future.  The old Chamber of Commerce that appeared was recycled into apartments…UGLY… it must go, and graffiti under bridge walkway leading to the museum.  Can’t pass graffiti, great street art with a short life spam… and better than those so called works of arts hanging in museums.

 I stayed in the Confluence area because at the time, the European Soccer Championships were going on and could not find a hotel closer to the center of Lyon.  The Confluence is not far from the old city and to get there one must take a tram. The Confluence complex is quiet, with great restaurants and abundant shopping stores.  On one occasion while riding the tram, ran into a group of Belgian Red Devils fans there to support their soccer team; they were drunk, loud and colorful.  While in the Confluences Shopping Center, one day I witnessed a security guard accosting a client that was playing one of the pianos on the second floor.  The guard was pointing to the sign to the American tourist that does not speak French; why have pianos if they cannot be played?

Monday, July 4, 2016

France 2016, Part 1.

 Traveling in southern France was an eye opener because of the variety of cultures that rose and fell since the times of the Roman Empire.  Most interestingly the old Roman public works are in better shape than those built during the Middle Ages. France hosted the European Soccer Championships this year and as a result it was busy with a high state of security and expensive hotel rooms. I will post various blogs covering this trip in the order of the places visited.

Cluny Abbey

At one time this Abbey was the largest Catholic Church building in the world until the Vatican Basilica was built.  It was founded by the Benedictine Order in the IXth Century and owned large landholdings that were run by the lay population.  The monks at Cluny were dedicated to continuous prayer so they hired workers to do the field and other physical work such as cooking, etc.  The monks at Cluny despite their vows of poverty ate well and drank wines produced from their lands.  There were also gold and silver church ornaments and religious vestments made of linen and silk.  It had one of the largest collections of manuscripts during the Middle Ages.  Decline started in the XVIth century with the beginning of the religious wars and all came to an end during the French Revolution when it was abandoned and used as a quarry and the stones used for construction material so very little is left; and most of what is there today was reconstructed.  Rebuilding and archaeological work is an ongoing process.  Below are a few images, the building with the double set of stairs in the front was a barn; it has an intricate ceiling that looks like the reversed hull of a wooden ship.  This is one of several stone faces inside the cathedral. The last image shows the leftovers from a night of partying of the ghosts that now frolic around the ruins.

 Macon is an ancient river port in the Saone River going back to the Iron Age.  In the Middle Ages it was part of the French Religious Wars and Huguenots influences.  One of the rewards of travel is running into not just contemporary interesting characters but also into historical figures of which I had no knowledge.  Alphonse de Lamartine born in Macon was a poet and politician, a member of the Legion of Honor and of the French Academy.  He wrote poetry, but also history and literature.  Look him up in Google - an interesting historical figure.  The wooden house below was built around 1610 and is considered the oldest house in Macon.  One can see above the second floor (first floor if you are in France) window a carved strip with grotesque figure of animals and humans.  The latter are not depicted in their best behavior; details in the second image below.

Still in Macon,  a photo of the former Ursuline Convent, now a museum and below St. Vincent Church,  also a museum; it was the church serving the Ursuline Convent during its better days.  Next one of the many doors that I photographed during the trip and finally, a block of buildings facing the riverfront.

The Hospice of Beaune was a hospital for the poor built in the 1450’s with a unique pattern made of ceramic tiles.  One of the halls holds the hospital proper which is lined with rows of beds for the patients. There is a space between the rows of beds and the walls that allowed access to the patients by the nuns from both sides of the bed.  At that time the beds were shared by more than one patient. 

 The famous Beaune Altarpiece is found here and is composed of six hinged panels that when closed show figures of Saint Sebastian and Anthony plus those of the donors. The photo shows the open polyptych with paintings representing the last judgement.  A polyptych is composed of painted panels usually attached to a central panel and depending on the number of panels (tych), it can be a dip, trip, quadri …depending in the number of panels attached.  So I count 9 panels in the Beaune Altarpiece, so it is a nonatych.  The last image is that of the Collegiale Notre-Dame de Beaune.  For the mundane, the Chevrolet brothers who were in the automobile business, lived in Beaune before emigrating to Canada and eventually to the USA. The business became part of General Motors and that is why you may have driven a Chevy during your lifetime

In Chalon I was surprised to see the statue of Niecephore Niepce, considered the inventor of photography; I had no idea that the inventor of my hobby was born here.  There is the Niepce museum where a copy of the original first photo and the wooden camera he used are on display.  He also delved into other projects such as the bicycle below.

Below is the Chalon cathedral with a magnificent organ and a stone burial cover carved with 3 figures; wonder if this was a case of mass burial.

Perouges is a preserved medieval walled town that in its heydays was a textile center. It is frequently the site for French films but there is really not much here other than lots of narrow streets.  Notice the gorgeous roses and the hanging corn in the main plaza. 

There is like a tunnel connecting 2 streets; the image of the door below is inside the tunnel to the right side.  I ran into the most grotesque carving what looks like a midget with his fingers stuck in their mouth.