Spontaneous​ Lunch

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On Friday the 13th, our weather was so gorgeous, so fabulous that a lunch excursion to La Tremblade was simply unavoidable. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to this seaside community forming the northern tip of the Gironde Estuary, where the waters of two mighty rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus La Tromblade is bordered by the Estuary to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and North, and the river La Seudre to the East. Along both banks of La Seudre, the coastal salt marshes are crisscrossed by a dense network of creeks and canals. This is one of the world’s foremost oyster farming area, where the La Seudre oyster parks merge with the Île d’Oléron-Marenne oyster farming basin, to form one of the best known ostreiculture regions of France!

For our lunch date, we drove along the La Tremblade canal to the restaurant Chez Gaby and settled on the terrace extending over the bank of the canal.

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While contemplating the menu, we noshed on warm razor clams, Enis arcuatus, in a buttery persillade. Followed by, respectively, an oyster and smoked salmon entrée.

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For our main course, we both chose the grilled fillet of Bar Sauvage, which in the Languedoc is called Loup de Mer, Seawolf, otherwise known as European Sea Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, with its velouté vin blanc, risotto, and vegetables.

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At this point in the meal, we were already seriously overstuffed but dessert was still to come. Fortunately, service was very slow which made it possible to not only consume but survive a lovely slice of fresh fig tart.

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It wasn’t easy to walk off this two-hour lunch!! While we indulged, the outgoing tide exposed large patches of mud, stranding many vessels along the canal.

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Shadow-selfie with oyster shells

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Almost as if to deliberately contrast the mud left by nature, humans added many colorful accents along the canal, which is quite typical for all the regional oyster shacks and tourism facilities as well.

Here we have the same boot shown from three different angles.

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Eventually, the canal meets the river La Seudre, which in turn flows into the Atlantic Ocean in a protected bay formed to the South of the Île d’Oléron.

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Oyster farming country in the salt marshes

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The Charente river has had a busy tourist day, too!

 

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Soup

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I haven’t cooked anything new and exciting for some time, except maybe that recent tomato tart that worked out so well for us the first time I baked it, but when I made it again for a party at our house, it turned out all soggy. Such is life! Nevertheless, I felt inspired to dice and slice last weekend, so I made some soup.

I invented a new fish soup, rather a vegetable soup with fish and, lucky us, it turned out quite tasty. Since my dear husband claims I can never repeat a dish, the proof of the pudding being my recent tart, I shall endeavor to record the making of this delectable little soup right here and now when the workings are still fresh in my mind – as far as that goes!

Firstly, you visit the market of a Saturday morn’ and purchase leeks and yellow onions, carrots, and fennel, also potatoes and rustic apples.  Then you meander over to the fishmongers in Les Halles where you buy dos de cabillaud which are very thick and juicy pieces of cod from the northern Atlantic. Oh, a Chinese cabbage landed in my pull cart as well before I headed back home.

Except for the cabbage, the potatoes, and the apples, I prepped the veggies ahead of time on Saturday. I cleaned, trimmed and chopped the vegetables into larger-than-bite-size pieces and stored them in ziplock bags in the fridge for the following day’s cooking. I like to separate my ingredients into their personal little baggies, that way I can line up everything according to the cooking sequence when the time comes:

Bacon bits – onion – leeks/fennel/carrots – potatoes – cabbage – apples – fish

An organized kitchen is half the battle! In the largest bag, I layered leeks, fennel, and carrots in that order, with the carrots on top. I’ll explain later why I like my carrots close to the zipper 😎

When it’s time to cook the soup, boil some water in your electric kettle and use 500 ml of boiling water to dissolve one cube of Court-Bouillon. Keep the rest of the water on standby if you need more fluids. Equally on standby should be a glass of dry white wine [in addition to the one you might be drinking while cooking the soup] and the juice of one-half of a large lemon.

In the spice department, I used salt, pepper – very little, freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander from a supermarket spice rack, ditto for ginger powder, freshly grated nutmeg, and a heaped teaspoon of crushed, dried marjoram. I’m incapable of cooking any savory dish without coriander and marjoram, it’s a personal choice as I love the bare hint of a Mediterranean citrus aroma they lend to a dish. Others might prefer to use tarragon with fish which I dislike. Sadly, I forgot to buy parsley. It should have been part of the soup.

As mentioned before, I like to have everything ready at hand, so I line up my bags, squeeze the lemon juice, pour the wine [both glasses], dissolve the court-bouillon, and marinate the fish before I fire up the largest gas ring on the cooktop. For the cod brine, I spread a little olive oil on a plate and sparingly grind some pepper over the oil, before placing the fish in the oil puddle. With a brush, I collect some of the oil and moisten the surface of the cod pieces with it, adding a little more oil as I go. Then I sprinkle ginger powder and grind some fresh nutmeg over the oily surfaces. In the picture, you can see that my piece of fish received a larger amount of spices than my husband’s who likes it better au natural. My piece is also a little thicker, but shorter, than his because he likes his fish a smidgen further “done” than I do. These pieces, by the way, weigh a little over 600 g total, so we had some leftover for another meal.

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In a large conic sauteuses, I heated some olive oil at medium and cooked the bacon bits. When they were starting to brown, I added the onions and slowly softened them in mid-low heat. At that point, I added the first installment from the leeks/fennel/carrots bag. Specifically all the carrots and a few stray leek and fennel pieces. I simply like to glaze the carrots with the onion and the bacon grease to give them a nice shine and bring out a more intense sweetness before adding the main portion of the veggies to the pot. Now you know why the carrots have to be closest to the zipper!

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Turning up the fire and stirring the vegetables and the bacon frequently, I let them soak up the heat till they glisten happily, about two minutes or so. That was the perfect time to douse the sizzle with the white wine, scrape up any brown bits and turn the heat back down to mid-low, before adding the remaining fennel and leeks, closely followed by the potatoes.

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I mixed the vegetables thoroughly before seasoning with salt, coriander, and marjoram. Then I poured the hot bouillon slowly over the veggies so that salt and spices distributed their flavors across all those cut surfaces. Turning the heat up a notch, I put a lid on the sauteuse and let the bouillon come to a brisk boil. Stirring once more I put the lid back on, before turning the heat down as low as it will go and allowed the soup to bubble contentedly for ten minutes.

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This interval is a good time to check your email, make a clandestine call to the boyfriend and open the wine you want to serve with your soup, in our case a lovely Terres Ocrées Bandol.

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Grape varieties: Cinsault noir – Garnacha negra – Mourvèdre

The last couple of steps are a repeat of the previous dance. First, I added the cabbage and

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let it shrivel a bit before mixing it in, then I added the apple chunks to my soup.

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When all the vegetables were in place, I put the lid back on and turned the heat to medium. Waiting a few moments to let the heat build up nicely under the dome of the lid, I removed it just long enough to gently, ever so gently, slide the two magnificent pieces of fish into the sauteuse. Quick, quick, on with that lid! Keeping the heat at medium to restore temperature, I then turned it down to the lowest setting.

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Did you hear the sigh of contentment as the fish soaked up all those lovely vegetable flavors?

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Our Happy Kitchen

Five minutes later, I took a peek to evaluate doneness. These were thick cuts of fish, so they needed a little longer under the dome. Before replacing the lid, I drizzled some lemon juice over the cod. After another minute, I turned the burner off and let the hot soup do its magic while I heated the plates and poured the wine. By then the fish had turned to opalesque whiteness and flaked easily. Perfect!

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The reddish trim on the fish was red onion confit, a welcome leftover from yesterday’s Sweet Potato & Red Onion Tart. But that’s another recipe ….

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Soup Ingredients:

  • 75 g of commercially packaged, pre-cut bacon bits [lardons fumés]
  • 2 large yellow onion, quartered, each quarter cut in 2 or 3 pieces
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, sliced thickly at an angle
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 3 – 4 cm pieces, excluding very dark green ends
  • 1 very large fennel, sliced [or a couple smaller ones]
  • 6 smallish, thin-skinned potatoes, halved or quartered, skin on
  • 3 apples [e.g. Reine de Reinette or Cox], cored, sliced thickly, skin on
  • Per person: 200g thick filets of cold-water fish [e.g. cod, haddock or hake]
  • 1 cube of Court-Bouillon dissolved in 500 ml of water
  • more water if needed
  • 150 ml of dry white wine
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt & spices at will

 

 

 

Xanten & Saintes

Ihr Lieben, mal etwas ganz anderes, ein blog post auf deutsch!

Der Anlass ist der Besuch unserer Zwillinge aus Xanten, Kreis Wesel, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland, hier in Saintes, Charente-Maritime, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France. Die “Zwillinge” in diesem Fall sind Städtepartner, un jumelage wie wir hier sagen. Die Parnerschaft zwischen Xanten und Saintes began in 2002 und der deutsche Partnerschaftsverein und das französische Comité de Jumelage sind seither durch diverse kulturelle Aktivitäten eng miteinander verbunden.

Nach einer nächtlichen Busreise kamen unsere müden Xantener Zwillinge dann am Donnerstagmorgen in Saintes an, wonach viele der deutschen Gäste erst einmal von ihren Gastfamilien eingesammelt wurden um sich etwas auszuruhen. Und am Abend hat sich eine gemütliche Runde zum Stammtisch im Hof des La Musadière Restaurants zusammengefunden.

Planmäßig ging es am Donnerstag Vormittag auf Stadtbesichtigung. Der Vorsitzende unseres Comité de Jumelage, Monsieur Francis Jungbluth hat uns mit großer Expertise und bei schönstem Sonnenschein durch einige Höhepunkte unserer Stadt geführt. Seine Führung began im gallo-römischen amphithéâtre, les Arènes.

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Mit bisweilen galanter Unterstützung, kletterte die Belegschaft nach und nach in das große Oval, welches in der Antike um 1.80 m tiefer lag.

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Bevor wir das Amphitheater durch das “Tor der Lebenden” verliesen, wagten wir noch schnell einen erleichten Blick zurück auf das “Tor der Toten”.

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Mit einem letzten Souvenirphoto ging es weiter zur St. Eutrope Basilika.

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Die Basilique Saint-Eutrope de Saintes hat eine lange und bewegte Geschichte hinter sich, letztendlich als ewige Ruhestätte des hl. Eutropius von Saintes, erster Bishof von Aquitanien. In 1886 wurde die Kirche von Papst Leo XIII zur Basilica minor, einer kleineren Basilika erhoben.

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Unsere nächste Station, die Cathédrale Saint-Pierre ist ein bedeutendes nationales Denkmal. Eng gesehen ist die Kirche eine ex-Kathedrale, da Napoléon, der mehrmals in Saintes war, den Bishofssitz in 1801 nach La Rochelle verlegte. Auf dem Weg von Basilika zur Kathedrale wurde Francis’ Vortrag mit einer ad hoc Vesperpause kombiniert.

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Leider mußte ich mich zu diesem Zeitpunkt von der Führung verabschieden. Es war ein schöner und lehrreicher Ausflug und ich möchte mich herzlich bei Francis bedanken!

Mit diesem kleinen Bildergruß verabschiede ich mich von unseren deutschen Zwillingen. Es war schön einige von Euch kennen zu lernen und ich hoffe, wir sehen uns eines Tages in Xanten wieder. Gute Heimfahrt! Claudia

A Brief Addendum​

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The sun shines brightly over the river Charente, the marketing is done and the groceries are put away. Time to sit back and tell you a little story about the generous spirit of the Ticos, the people of Costa Rica.

On one of our last evenings in Atenas, we went for dinner to the Restaurante Pescatore in Escazú, a western suburb of the capital city San José. The Pescatore offers a unique blend of Peruvian and Mediterranean cuisine with a heavy emphasis on seafood, especially cebiches, scallops, and pulpo, or octopus, often paired with risottos. Although we enjoyed dining at the Pescatore very much – their tuna cebiche in maracuyá marinade is unmatched! – we didn’t go there all that often because it is, understandably, rather expensive.

Nevertheless, when we returned after nearly two years, our waiter addressed us by name, remembered “our” table and even recalled some of our choices from our last visit. We, on the other hand, needed prompting to remember his name, Oscar. In Costa Rica, Barry was known as El Bigote Grande or El Gran Bigote, the big mustache, and his rather extraordinary facial adornment most certainly helped Oscar to recall this particular customer despite his long absence.

After our delicious and rather substantial meal, neither Barry nor I ordered dessert. However, to celebrate our last visit to the Pescatore before moving to France, the restaurant invited us to a dessert on the house, and not just any little dish of flan straight from the fridge, either. Au contraire, Oscar rolled over the fire-spewing dragon-cart and proceeded to prepare Crêpes Suzette for us with elegant expertise. He presented the crêpes on lovingly decorated plates with his best wishes for our future!

That’s ¡Pura Vida! That’s Costa Rica.

A Farewell

Roughly seven and a half years ago, we flew to Costa Rica and ten days later bought a house there. It wasn’t impulsive, but it flew ever so slightly against conventional wisdom. Every single manual/website/blog/advice-dispenser/busybody will tell you that before moving to Costa Rica, you must live there for so-and-so long, you must move from region to region to identify the area you like best and so forth. Advice acknowledged.

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Let’s look at this from our perspective. When I was 27 years old, I abandoned my career path and moved to Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Two days later I married someone I barely knew and I mean that quite literally because we had spent only 15 days in each other’s company before we got married. Fifteen days as in 360 hours. That happened 40 years ago this coming Christmas season and we’re still together and loving it and each other. We moved many times within the US, buying and selling seven homes along the way, not counting our places in Costa Rica and France, nor our residence and the guest house we built on our ranch in Central Texas. When looking for a place to live, we do all the preliminary work online, including political situations, health care, infrastructure, climate and so forth. The rest is simply gut reaction. Our combined judgments may not be statistically relevant, but they’re pretty sound nevertheless. Besides, at my age and life experience, I can pretty much determine without a test period if either high humidity and a lot of sand or a mountain perch with a far view work better for me.

During these 40 years, my husband traveled across the globe on business, continuously learning about other cultures. While I ferried our son from home to Montessori School and back, he traveled from Buenos Aires to Kathmandu and beyond, and was I ever jealous! While I isolated catfish retinas under dark-red conditions in my lab, he conducted workshops in the shadow of the holy site of the Borobudur in Indonesia. We rarely traveled together during those years because our respective work schedules diverged too much.

After retirement, we utilized Home Exchanges as a way of traveling far and wide as we hadn’t been able to do in our younger years. Shanghai, Munich, Sydney, Santa Fe, Granada in Spain, or Granada in Nicaragua, we loved to explore those towns! Through home exchanges, we had a chance to travel through the alphabet together, experiencing life in foreign cities from Amsterdam to Vancouver, sometimes for a month, rarely for less than a fortnight. Our home in Costa Rica soon became our most valuable exchange token. Who doesn’t want a tropical vacation in CR, right? Barry, who made all our exchange arrangements can tell you that he received 400+ exchange request per year for our place in Atenas.

But no more. As of now, we’ve reduced our real-estate holdings to one residence, our home in France. We sold our place in Lomas del Paraiso, Atenas, Alajuela, Costa Rica, lock stock and barrel, including the Honda Element that we imported from Texas and all the linens, pots and pans, tchotchkes, and the art work on the walls. All we took with us were personal items like our swimsuits and my Zwilling kitchen knives, that have accompanied me on my life’s journey for almost as long as my husband. We also packed up our Boruca masks that I bought from the artisans during an educational event in Atenas to which I was invited two years ago. This is the post I published in 2015 about that day:

Las Artes y Los Borucas

We’re sad to leave behind the most delicious tropical fruit paradise known to man, faithfully supplying me with a daily dose of my beloved maracuyá juice and juicy pineapples for Barry’s breakfast. We will also miss the ever-changing and entertaining views over canyons and volcanic mountain ranges rising above the Central Valley, itself stretching far below our terrace and lap pool.

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7 h in the morning – looking S over the Central Valley

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mid-morning around 10 h – looking S over the Central Valley

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18 h nightfall – looking W with mists rising from the canyon floor below us

But the saddest “things” to leave behind were not fruits or views, however delicious or spectacular. They were not even our resident Greater kiskadee’s loud territorial cries, awakening us every morning at 5:30 sharp nor the world’s best sherbets created by our friend Alex, but Alex himself. Him and all our other friends in Atenas, Americans, Ticos, Germans, Canadians, Belgians, Frenchies, Brits, every one of them shall be sorely missed!

Owing to our extensive travel schedule these past two years, we had not returned home to Costa Rica in 18 months, trusting our managers of long standing to supervise the running of our property with its lineup of exchange partners and paying guests. They were not just managers, though we remunerated them quite generously, they had been our friends as well. A few years ago, they even acted as our dog’s foster parents while we were abroad. Based on this relationship, we gave them an exclusive listing last September when we made the difficult decision to sell. After five months with only a few showings and both promised second showings never actually happening, we told our manager/agent that we needed to list our property with other agents. Shortly thereafter our renters submitted a purchase offer directly to us, which we accepted – precipitating a shitstorm of epic proportions. Our managers/agent declared themselves our enemies, calling us liars and cheats. They dropped us like the proverbial hot potato, terminating all services without notice. True, we sold to buyers who had approached us directly with their offer, thus cutting out the agent. Since there was no prior interaction between agent and buyer, this was legal and customary. Our agent didn’t bring this client, nor any other clients, thus she hadn’t earned a commission. Nevertheless, the vicious venom was hurtful and the unpleasantness dragged on over many weeks, revealing also that there had been some mismanagement, especially in the pool and yard care and in the supervision of the gardener. We had learned earlier that the mandatory yearly car inspection hadn’t been done and found out eventually about a serious equipment theft which was never resolved.

As if to make up for this heartbreak, our friends and neighbors up the hill dove in with practical help and encouragement despite going through some difficult times themselves. Their unwavering support was calming and reassuring, they simply enveloped us with their goodness and love. Your wings, Marcella and Mike, are without any doubt of archangelical proportions!

During our last few weeks in Costa Rica, we tried to hang out with as many people as we could between sorting belongings and canceling services, strengthening bonds and even forging new ones. A lot of hugs remained unhuged because I got pretty sick and had to step back from human contact for a lot longer than anticipated. Nevertheless, we generated many lovely memories with our friends in Atenas, especially with a certain couple in Roca Verde, who would restore our joie de vivre with their signature Negroni cocktails and lovely dinners every time we thought we had lost our spunk for good. Thank you, Judy and Neal!

Costa Rica is well known for its incredible bio diversity. When you live there, you’re never really alone. You share your space with untold members of the living world, sometimes a little too closely, but more often than not, a delight to observe.

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Black iguana youngster, still sporting a lot of green,

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while mama is almost done with her latest molt.

 

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My Kangal Dog Otto’s resting place

 

 

 

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“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”  Henry David Thoreau

 

Distinctly Different Vistas

We left France recently for our first trip back to Costa Rica in 20 Months, más o menos. The contrast between small town Saintes, Charente-Maritime, and small town Atenas, Alajuela, couldn’t be more pronounced if you tried! With a few of the pictures I took during this last week, I can illustrate the dichotomy between the tranquil life along the Charente river and the dramatic natural forces on the slopes of the Cordillera Central.

On our last day in Saintes, I discovered “our” swans on an outing with this year’s crop of cygnets. Framed against the backdrop of 2000-year-old l’Arc de Germanicus, they are the perfect symbol for life in rural southwest France.

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While I was watching, the parental units brought their swanlings a little closer to the left bank to teach them the swan-ly skill of underwater grazing.

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Mute swans, Cygnus olor, Anatidae

 

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Close supervision of the fuzzballs brought quick success. 

Finally, even sleepy number seven joined its siblings.

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That’s easy, dad!

In contrast to the gentle breezes and mild temperatures of southwest France, we arrived in Costa Rica to an atmosphere of nearly saturated humidity, so moist and oppressive that even the cashier at the supermarket had to wipe her face repeatedly with the collar of her polo shirt while she was checking us out. If the locals can’t stand it, how am I supposed to cope? Our customarily crisp and brilliant sunrises were also a bit on the murky side.

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05h28

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Fortunately, the weather has since reverted to normal, with pleasant mostly sunny mornings and thundering afternoons, befitting the early rainy season.

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The hillside across the canyon hasn’t fully greened yet,  but it’s early days – the rainy season has barely started. However, when it does rain one can’t easily ignore it!

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My circadian rhythm has reset itself, adjusting to the near equatorial day with daylight from 5h00 to 18h00 and brief dawn and dusk periods. In Costa Rica, pretty much the whole country rises and retires with the proverbial chickens, except the party crowd in posh Escazu, of course. In addition to the properties of lux influx, I postulate that an adaptation to the local alimentation greatly influences my Tica-style sleep-wake cycle. After all, one can not possibly start the day in Costa Rica without a serving of Gallo Pinto, can one now?

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Speaking of food, Costa Rican ants like their protein, too. It took a steady stream of tiny Formicidae roughly 36 hours to completely strip this beetle of all nourishing organic matter. A contiguous ant-highway extended along my bathroom tile grout for several meters between the supine victim and the outdoors, moving along with single-minded determination. Amazing!

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The statuesque lady below, sunning herself on our cement pool surround is a member of one of our resident Black iguana families, Ctenosaura similis, Iguanidae. They live on the hillside below and above us and their extensive escape tunnels incorporate our rainwater drainage system. Iguanas are pretty shy and tend to disappear rather quickly when they detect you.

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The spikes on the iguana’s tail give them their other name, Spiny-tailed iguana. 

 

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Another iguana family lives in the steep mountainside opposite our back door. One of the cave entrances is five or six meters above our carport. They do enjoy sunbathing, so in Costa Rica, I have a much greater opportunity to observe iguana than swans!

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Both locations, Saintes and Atenas, are gorgeous in their own way, don’t you think?

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05h29, May 31, 2017

 

#CreatingEquality

“Creating Equality” was the 2017 theme of the 39th LGBTIQ Rights Parade in Sidney. The event drew about 200K spectators to enjoy the enthusiasm of the 12K participants, while roughly 200 floats formed the backbone of the parade. The news media speculated that the wet and blustery weather adversely affected the numbers of spectators, however, I didn’t notice any dampened spirits among the participants from my vantage point across the street from the official staging point.

From our spectacular high-rise terrace, we had a bird’s eye view of the activities below, as parade participants and floats gathered in ever-increasing numbers from midday onward.

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Liverpool St. [directly below] and College St. [right-hand] had been closed to traffic and parking for 24 hours since early morning. Eventually, four rows of floats would line up there to commence into the parade route [exit stage right]. Hyde Park became the dressing room and practice stage for all our chorus boys and girls.

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One of the floats assembling curbside

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This float eventually morphed into a Pacific Island outrigger canoe with a Polynesian sail – something we just happened to have seen in a museum in Melbourne a few days ago. Around five in the afternoon, the entire intersection presented such a hectic activity level that I went downstairs for a closer look. Our building was effectively fenced & boarded off from sidewalk and street in front. Thus our elegant marble stoop with its protective awning turned into a rain-proof grandstand overlooking a small section of Liverpool street and Hyde Park with its energizing activities.

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The intricate Pacific Islander costumes

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Has anyone seen Justin Timberlake?

Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras began as a civil rights rally in the late 1970s. It was born out of solidarity for New York’s Stonewall movement and called for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians in Australia.

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The 78ers continue to raise their voices in the effort to persuade Australia’s leaders to legalize same-sex marriage. Strong opposition to gay rights persists, especially from  religious groups who have described mardi gras as a “public parade of immorality and blasphemy.”

Uniquely Australian – the parade participation of the Sistagirls from Tiwi Island off the northern coast was a first this year. Read about their story here in Johnny Lieu’s Mashable report.

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The 2017 theme “Creating Equality” was poignantly represented in oversized, individual block letters spelling EQUALITY which displayed photographs of, well, human beings. These are your brothers and sisters, your children, your friends. They are also parents and spouses,  why should they be lesser citizens, still?

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But this wasn’t just a political rally, most decidedly, this was a Gay Pride Parade! As was demonstrated by the more flamboyant costumes …

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… don’t you wish you had the gumption 🙃 ? Nevertheless, my legs were getting tired and I went back up to take a few more shots of the beginning of the actual parade from our lofty perch.

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After the Dykes on Bikes roared by, members of the First Nations opened the Parade,

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closely followed by our 78ers – and we were finally on our way to a remarkable and glittery event in Sydney, Australia.

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