Salon de l’agriculture, Paris

We went back to the agricultural fair in Paris, which has been taking place every year for 150 years, under different names, and showcases the best of French agriculture.

We particularly enjoy seeing the animals in their variety and at their most beautiful. The cows alone show a large number of breeds, varying in sizes (350-1680 kgs) as well as in appearance. Some breeds only have about 100 left while there are 200,000+ of another.

The horses presented also vary greatly in sizes; many of them had been shaven so as not to feel too warm.

Rabbits, ducks, chickens are also on display while another hall specialises in cats and dogs but there were not many this year.

There is also a food hall promoting the many specialties of France. Unfortunately there are many resellers, so one has to be careful in choosing small producers in order to get better quality products.

Nous sommes retournés au salon de l’agriculture de Paris qui a lieu tous les ans depuis 150 ans, sous des noms différents. Le meilleur des produits agricoles de France y est présenté.

Nous aimons particulièrement voir les animaux dans leur diversité et leur mise en valeur. Le bétail seul montre une grande variété de races, allant de 350 à 1680kgs et des nombres de 100 à 200’000 dans tout le pays.

Les chevaux, mules et ânes varient aussi énormément en taille, la plupart avaient été rasés afin de ne pas être indisposés par la chaleur des halles.

Il y a aussi beaucoup de races de lapins, de volaille et une halle pour chiens et chats, bien que peu exposés cette année.

A part les dégustations de fromage, près du bétail, un bâtiment entier est dédié aux spécialités et produits régionaux. Malheureusement, il y a beaucoup de revendeurs et il faut faire preuve de beaucoup de vigilance pour dénicher les producteurs et trouver les meilleurs produits.

Visiting friends in Germany

We have just spent almost two weeks visiting friends in the north and west of Hamburg before moving on to the south of Germany, staying near Augsburg.
Germany is lovely at any time of the year but Christmas is a fun period to be there.

In Augsburg, we saw the Engelesspiel: the angels appear at the windows of the city hall, one by one. Adult angels “play” music and move as automats so it is sometimes hard to know they are human.

Thank you for your warm welcomes, Ute and Christian, Claudie and Hartwig and Ina and Jo, we had great times with you all.
We are now in Geneva for three weeks.


Nous venons de passer presque deux semaines à rendre visite à des amis à Hambourg avant de nous rendre près d’Augsbourg dans le sud. L’Allemagne est une destination agréable toute l’année mais la période de l’Avent l’est particulièrement avec ses illuminations et marchés de Noël.

A Augsbourg, nous avons assisté à l’ “Engelelesspiel” où les anges apparaissent tour à tour aux fenêtres de l’hôtel de ville. Des anges adultes “jouent” divers instruments et se déplacent mécaniquement, ce qui amène une certaine confusion car ils semblent alors être des automates.

Merci Ute et Christian, Claudie et Hartwig, Ina et Jo de nous avoir accueillis si chaleureusement. Nous avons passé d’excellents moments en votre compagnie.

Nous sommes maintenant à Genève pour trois semaines.

Gouda cheese market

Gouda cheese market was first started in 1395.  The cheese wheels are delivered by horse and cart, then stacked on the ground by the farmers, before being sold in a traditional manner. This market is held every Thursday morning from April until the end of August in between Gouda’s city hall and the weighing house, which is also a cheese museum.


The farmers and traders, in white coats, clap hands to confirm each sale, a very theatrical spectacle.


Nowadays, some 60% of Dutch cheese is produced in the region surrounding the city of Gouda. It is known as “Cheese valley” (although there is not one hill on the horizon 😉).


Le marché aux fromages de Gouda existe depuis l’an 1395. Les meules de fromage sont amenées par des charrettes tirées par des chevaux et empilées sur le sol par les fermiers. Ceci se passe sur la place du marché entre le vieil hôtel-de-ville et la maison où étaient pesées les denrées et qui est aussi un musée du fromage.

Les fermiers et les commerçants, en blouse blanche, confirment leur accord sur chaque vente par un ballet de tapes de main, un spectacle très théâtral.

De nos jours, environ 60% de la production de fromages néerlandais se concentre dans la région de Gouda, dans ce qui est surnommé “la vallée du fromage” bien que pas la plus petite colline ne soit visible à l’horizon 😉).

GTA – Accordeon

25 August 2019

In my early years in Geneva I saw a film, “La Trace”, which I enjoyed.

It tells the adventures of a man who travels from France to Italy, before they were countries, selling ribbons and buttons and sewing materials.

Somewhere in the plain in Italy he meets a German selling accordeons, and buys one.

The accordeon becomes a character in the film.

Today I stopped at Rifugio Morelli for a coffee. There on the table stood a beautiful, small accordeon.

Paolo Giraudo told me he is a carver and started making accordeons. He has made about 40.

The one I admired is not for sale; he made it for his daughter from old chestnut wood he recovered from furniture.

Today I had my Italian accordeon moment.

Jeepneys & Co

Like the yellow cabs in New York, the jeepneys are a cultural symbol of Manila and the Philippines. For decades they have been a cheap mean of transport for millions of Filipinos.

Initially built with jeeps left behind by the Americans after WW2, jeepneys are a uniquely Filipino invention: an extended back, a roof and two vinyl benches.

The government is planning to replace vehicles older than 15 years with “eco-jeepneys”, electrical or lower emission diesel motors.

Tricycles are also a common means of transport in the Philippines. They are especially popular in small towns and in rural areas.

Tricycles are built in a variety of styles, which differ from city to city, and are usually made locally by building a sidecar and affixing it to a motorcycle.

In Mindoro, they were smaller, accommodating up to 4 passengers, than on Coron, up to 8, although when hilly, it would have trouble coping.

For inter-city trips, the most common vehicle is the mini-van. They pile up 18 passengers and will sometimes leave with 14 and pick up people along the way.



Les jeepneys sont un symbole culturel de Manille et des Philippines, au même titre que les taxis jaunes de New York. Depuis des décennies, ils sont aussi pour des millions d’habitants un mode de transport bon marché.

Construits au départ avec les jeeps laissées derrière eux par les Américains après la guerre, les “jeepneys” sont effectivement une invention philippine: un toit ajouté et à l’intérieur, deux bancs parallèles en vinyl.

Dans le cadre d’un plan gouvernemental, les véhicules de 15 ans et plus doivent être remplacés par des “éco-jeepneys”, véhicules électriques ou équipés de moteurs diesel moins polluants.

Les tricycles sont aussi un moyen de transport très courant aux Philippines. Ils sont particulièrement populaires dans les petites villes et les régions rurales.

Les tricycles sont construits dans des styles différents et varient de ville en ville. Ils sont fabriqués localement en construisant un side-car et le fixant à une moto.

A Mindoro, ils étaient un peu plus petits, pouvant accueillir 4 passagers alors qu’à Coron, ils pouvaient être 8; tant qu’il n’y a pas de montée.

Pour les voyages plus longs, d’une ville à l’autre, les mini-vans sont le moyen plus utilisé. Nous avons été jusqu’à 18-20 passagers mais le véhicule part avec 14-15 personnes et en prend d’autres en route.

Thaipusam, first evening

The first day is about hauling the chariots from the temples in Georgetown to the Muragan temple on the hill, allowing for many stops for offerings on the way. This is the largest built (so excluding caves) Hindu temple outside India.

Georgetown has a very active Couch Surfing group who organise weekly meetings and activities linked to local events. Respect. The organisers put in a lot of effort to keep the group alive.

I joined the couchsurfing group at the approach to the temple. Together, as a loose-knit group, we walked along the road. At the foot of the stairs we removed our sandals, then climbed.

Devotees carry urns of milk and honey on their heads on the long path to the temple. In an inner sanctuary stands a statue of the god Muragan. Attendants take the urns of offered milk and pour it over the statue.

The milk is now blessed. Outside it is recovered and anyone may drink the milk. Some take a bottle home.

We sat on the floor of the temple to absorb its energy.

Back down on the road, the gold chariot was approaching. Piles of coconuts line the road. Companies and familes have them delivered.

As the chariot approaches they smash the coconuts on the road. This purifies the road for the chariot.

It also allows the person throwing the coconut to unburden themselves of their bad deeds, to pay penitence.

The chariot drew abreast, the music throbbed, offerings were made. And it was gone.

Thaipusam, first morning

At 5:15 I rose, showered and was gone.

Forty minutes later I arrived at Lorong Kulit, main centre for piercing of devotees.

Nobody, just a few food market stalls setting up.

“Where are the kavadi?”

“Haha, not before 8am.”

Back in Little India I was on time to see the departure of the Silver Chariot. It was crowded, yet fluid. Moving within the crowd was easy.

Anticipation was in the air; 7 am and already hot.

An unseen signal and devotees raised their hands above their heads, palms together, in prayer. The troop ahead of the chariot, wearing elaborate headgear featuring bundles of peacock feathers, moved.

People who had been close to the chariot started streaming in the direction of travel.

The chariot advanced, I think pulled by devotees. It moved rapidly, turned a corner and stopped.

Thus began the offerings. Bowls with banannas and burning coconuts and flower garlands were passed up to the men on the chariot.

And it advanced again, perhaps 100 metres.

The crowd dispersed behind the chariot. The flottila of cleaning trucks flowed behind the chariot.

Breakfast was offered to all.

One woman was holding a devotional bowl, another was feeding her. She caught my eye so I complimented them on their skill eating wth their fingers. “It’s a mother daughter thing.” she laughed. We chatted, they offered me a second breakfast, then the family of four left with waves.

So many casual, friendly meetings, yet I will not see them again. No exchange of FB nor emails. Gone.

Back at my guest house the other, golden chariot had just arrived.

Bowls of offerings were passed up to the chariot.

“Vel!, Vel!” chanted those pulling the chariot. It advanced, stopped, accepted more offerings.

When it had passed, I returned to bed.

Thaipusam Eve

“Surrender to India”

Recently I was talking with an Indian friend who told me, if you want to visit India, you have to surrender to India.

Georgetown, Malaysia, has its “Little India” which organises the Thaipusam celebrations.

Thaipusam is a Hindi festival mostly celebrated by the Tamil community.

It is celebrated in the Tamil month of “Thai” whilst “pusam” refers to a star which is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birth of the Hindu god Muragan, son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. You hear the devotees chanting “Vel, Vel”. Source: Penang Tourist Office brochure.

On the eve of the celebrations I walked into Little India to have dinner.

The atmosphere was already warming up. Long queues of Hindus waiting to enter the main temple to pray. Women in beautiful saris everywhere.

Gold shops were full of people. They have elaborate, chrome-plated grills to prevent theft. They buy and sell more elaborate jewelry. Shops selling smaller gold jewelry were packed.

As I wandered through the streets I was drawn to an open-fronted store with men in long white sarongs at the entrance.

“Come in, share our food!” I approached to see better. “Should I take my shoes off?” I asked. “No, it doesn’t matter.” A magnet of hospitality drew me in.

Surrender to India.

As I sat on a stool people smiled at me, made small conversation, asked me where I am from, gave me more special food, complimented me on my skill eating with my fingers. I felt welcome.

Surrender to India.

After my meal, I walked back to Chettiar Temple where the silver chariot was outside waiting to be drawn through town tomorrow.

A dance of two big puppets (one person inside each) and a fire-eater was enacted. The musicans played drums and cymbals to rythms I do not know, but I lost myself in them.

Surrender to India.

Back near my guest-house was a display of Chinese Dragon dancers. I asked somone, “Why are the Chinese celebrating Thaipusam?”.

” They worship some of the same gods, and in Malaysia we are united.” Great answer.

They performed different dances with different dragons. The last was a long, thin, yellow and green dragon manipulated by seven men. The dragon whirled in circles and then undulated so the middle five men had to jump over the body.

They played drums. Then they were gone.


This number is important in Hungary: it is in 896 that the Magyars settled in this area and Arpad was crowned as the first king of the Hungarian people.

Budapest’s metro, the oldest in continental Europe, was built on the country’s millennial anniversary in 1896.

By law, buildings in Budapest must not exceed 96 metres and both the Parliament and St Stephen’s basilica reach this exact height.

The Hungarian national anthem should also be sung in 96 seconds – if done at the proper tempo.


Ce chiffre est important en Hongrie : c’est en l’an 896 que les Magyars se sont établis dans la région et qu’Arpad a été couronné premier roi des Hongrois.

Le métro de Budapest, le plus ancien d’Europe coninentale a été inauguré en 1896 pour le premier millénaire du pays.

La loi indique qu’à Budapest aucun bâtiment ne peut excéder 96m, seuls la basilique St-Etienne et le parlement atteignent cette hauteur.

L’hymne national devrait être joué en 96 secondes, si le tempo est exact.