Saturday 16 October 2021

st. gall

Traditionally counted among the twelve companions of Saint Columbanus on his mission from Ireland to win converts in the lands of the Franks—having been ejected from Gaul where they first landed by local chieftains who wanted nothing to do with Christianity—Gallus (*550 - †646) is venerated on this day. Patron of geese, poultry and birds in general (for no particular reason) and St. Gallen, the saint’s rather complicated iconography relates the legendary encounter he had with a fierce bear, who was said to be terrorising the local settlement as well, in the woods. The holy man rebuked the bear for its behaviour and compelled it thereafter to gather firewood and became Gall’s trusted sidekick.

Thursday 7 October 2021

pair bonding

Endearingly, Kottke brings us the story of the requited courtship and romance of zookeeper Chris Crowe and his non-corvid bird wife, Walnut—a spry twenty-three year-old white-named crane, the former earning the latter’s affections despite being a rather lacking (by avian standards) mate and life partner.

Sunday 25 July 2021


The Gentle Author of Spitalfield’s Life directs our attention to a new, epic mosaic along the Thames path that illustrates two millennia and more of human history with the estuary’s natural course at the inlet named ‘the Queen’s Harbour’ after Matilda granted around 1104 the establishment of a dock there and the excise of duties on goods delivered. Learn more at the link above, including a treasury of panels from the procession, pictorial chronicle of the ages.

Sunday 6 June 2021

overnighter: frรคnkische weinorte

H and I took a drive in familiar territory through the vineyards of Franconia in the Main River valley between Kitzigen and Schweinfurt, taking a couple of ferries that crossed the winding Main as it coursed through the hills and came to the storied vineyard there where we had previously been treated to a wine-tasting tour, after a visit of the town of Volkach with an ensemble of medieval buildings in its walked centre. 

Next we marvelled at the Mainschleife—a closed bend technically but a way to describe a river form with sinuous curves, otherwise a Mรคander, Meander, from the vantage point of the Vogelsberg, a small retreat and gastronomy at the top of a promontory. 



Fording the river with another ferry, we stopped next in the village of Escherndorf—another spot full of character and vintners plus a wedding chapel with a grotto on a hill overlooking the settlement below dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, built after a Franciscan nun from Volkach made a pilgrimage there and returned with a keepsake, with the support of the original community on the Franco-Spanish border in the Pyrenees. Instead of the usual Stations of the Cross, the path up to the chapel was lined with decorated wine barrels and there was a giant cast that could be loaned out as a tiny party room, complete with coolers for the wine. 

Next we left for our last stop on the Weininseln, the Wine Islands with the village Sommerach, not only known for the viticulture and area monopoly for the Cloister Schwarzach (previously, which we didn’t visit this time around due to a dramatic shift in the weather) but also for the unique character of the estuaries and their protected status as nature reserves. 

Staying at a pitch just outside of one of the more famous wine-producers, regionally known for its Silvaner, I needed to self-administer my first COVID Schnelltests, letting it rest on the floorboard until we were sure it was negative—something unexpected but that I was happy to do to keep us all happy campers. We explored Sommerach some more, which was in the process of reopening itself and everyone was wonderfully day-drunk—last time we visited, it was ill-timed in the middle of their wine fest, a very serious and well-attended undertaking. 

The central part of the Old Town, flanked with cafes and wine-sellers was the church of Saint Eucharius and the monumental fountain featuring the archangel Michael—not Saint George—slaying a dragon. Returning to the campgrounds, we explored the shoreline and encountered a gaggle of strange ducks.
While I had noticed the odd tall—or long duck before, seeing them act as a group, not waddling but marching double-quick time headlong, H and I were amused and a little confused—learning later that this particular breed of mostly flightless, mostly quackless ducks are called Laufente, Indian Runner Ducks (possibly from Jakarta—see also—but no one really knows their origin, bred to be walked to market), which while prolific egg-layers don’t possess the instinct to nest or rear their young and so have to be watched over by their caretakers.

Saturday 15 May 2021

ducks unlimited

Via the happily back from sabbatical Web Curios, we are treated a treasury—an embarrassment really of more than one could ever use—of little pixel-banked of little graphic design images from Iconduck, providing a consistently styled archive of over one hundred thousand free and open source illustrations categorised by subject and theme to use as one sees fit.

Thursday 4 March 2021

cardinal rule

Though disagreeing in principle with the way the thesis is presented and that no birds—weaponised killer drones disguised as our avian friends excepted—are garbage, this essay, via the venerable Card House, does make a compelling argument and presents solutions for the preponderance of poorly selected state symbols in America (previously) and with humour demonstrates how bestowing these honours has consequence. The vetting and the P-R process has been pretty lacking with many states choosing invasive imports, domesticated breeds, copy-cat cases of multiply mocking birds and landlocked Utah choosing the sea gull as a sign of gratitude when the birds miraculously intervened to devour a plague of locust that threatened to drive the settlers to starvation.

Friday 22 January 2021

the food of the ducks

Loosely based on the 1904 H. G. Wells story The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth with small parts and cameo-appearances by young Ron Howard (a precocious inventor who takes on the part of Professor Redwood in the book who experimented with raising colossal chickens), choreographer and performer Toni Basil plus scenes of the courthouse square popularised by the Back to the Future and Gremlins franchises as well as the neighbourhood used for the establishing shots of the Leave It to Beaver and the Bewitched homes, the 1965 teen movie vehicle Village of the Giants was first lampooned by Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on this day in 1994. The afore-mentioned Genius accidentally discovers a growth serum—the ‘goo’ (Wells’ Herakleophorbia IV)—which is stolen by a group of out-of-town delinquents who ingest the substance to take over the city. The episode segments outside of movie-sign are in memoriam to the recently deceased Vincent Frank Zappa—though ostensibly about the recently made-redundant side-kick to mad scientist Doctor Clayton Forrester, TV’s Frank, temporarily replaced with recurring character Torgo.

Thursday 8 October 2020

ducks unlimited

Via Super Punch, we learn that in order to meet a federal mandate issued by the Trump administration in May that the US Fish and Wildlife Service make permanent the theme of “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage” and thus require the inclusion of hunting paraphernalia in the art works submitted for its popular annual “duck stamp” contest.

Purchased primarily by bird-watchers and conservationist, the yearly licensing image has generated revenues in excess of a billion dollars since the 1930s to purchase and protect habitat for wildlife by the service and many are afraid that the politicising, shift will alienate contributors. Submitting artists have found subtly cartoonish ways to insert spent gun shell casings, discarded duck-calls, etc. in their work.

Sunday 6 September 2020

frรคnkische schweiz

Located in the uppermost pocket of the Franconian Jura and originally bearing the name the Muggendorfer Hills, we had the privilege of touring the region previously “rediscovered” and romantically marketed at the end of the eighteenth century by a couple of law students from the University of Erlangen who wrote about enthusiastically, followed by a 1820 volume by a local historian who coined the new endonym die kleine Schweiz and now had the chance to see it again for a few fresh impressions over the weekend.
First we entered in County Kulmbach the market town of Wonsees with its medieval Felsenburg (rock castle) Fortress Zwernitz, hewn into the dolomite stone, originally the family seat of elevated peasants called the Walpoten—a so-called ministerialis line, that is serfs raised up as servitors and agents into positions of responsibility within the class system of the Middle Ages.
While not technically free and independent, these families held social power and could cultivate their estates and pass along their wealth to the next generation, with equal status accorded to men and women.
Beneath the tower and keep is a seventeenth century cliff garden called Sanspareil landscaped around some strange rock formations and with oriental follies—reminding H and I of the gardens at Veitshรถchsheim or Schwetzingen.

Next, following the Burgen- und the Frรคnkischen BierstraรŸe (the region having the one of the highest concentrations of traditional breweries in Europe) we came to a village called AufseรŸ, named for the stream that flows through it, dominated by a castle and chapel with a clutch of some pretty fancy chickens in the property opposite the courtyard who were eager to have their pictures taken by us paparazzi.

With a few detours through Plankenfels and Waischenfeld, we stopped at Burg Rabenstein—a well-preserved Spornburg, a spur castle which is constructed where natural topography aides in its defences that also featured a quite good restaurant, a dripstone cavern and a bird-of-prey demonstration. The intact castle is one of the best conserved—most are ruins but romantic ones—along the route and was originally also in the capable hands of the Rabenstein ministerialis family, who were eventually able to buy the property and ennoble themselves. The castle appears as the main stage for the 1995 wildly popular PC game Gabriel Ritter sequel “The Beast Within”—I was not familiar but I think it was like the equivalent of the King’s Quest saga.
After securing a campsite (we had miscalculated a little and instead of the season’s end like we thought it was busier than expected) in the Veldensteiner Forest outside of Pottenstein, we returned to GรถรŸweinstein with its Burg and basilica minor designed by Balthasar Neumann as a pilgrimage destination.
Our last stop on the way back to the campsite, we drove back through Pottenstein and visited the town, crisscrossed by canals, more fowl not shy of the camera and a row of sleeping ducks (I did not know they did this) and dominated by towering karst towers.
The town is absolutely awash with roses of all sorts; learn more of the story behind that and Saint Elizabeth of Thรผringen at the link up top.
We looked at the rock formations from another perspective in the Tรผchersfeld neighbourhood of Pottenstein on the way out of Little Switzerland and on our way home.
While not on the itinerary, our last impression for this visit was of the ruin of Burg Neideck, towering above the Wiesen river valley and considered the icon of the region, just outside of the town of Muggendorf

Monday 2 July 2018

post-dated post script: shore birds

We’ve returned to a very fine campsite on the southern end of Lake Garda (previously) but this time were graced with a pitch directly on the water, just behind a copse of reeds that despite the foot-traffic of campers and dogs, a variety of sea birds use as a living and breeding habitat.
There were the familiar friends in mallards and those more mysterious and wary black plumed birds with the white beaks that I called Nล theatre ducks until learning that they’re properly called bandicoots (Fulica—Latin for coot, a mud hen, apparently oder eine Blรคsshuhn) but judging by the multi-voiced chorus each morning, a crescendo of calls that formed this wall of sound, there were more sorts of birds hiding in the tall grass.
Later some sea gulls, crows, pigeons (the latter being strange candidates for cohabitating I thought) revealed themselves but we still weren’t able to identify all the cries, which was quite the persistent wake-up call with no snooze option. For warmth, growing ducklings sleep all tangled up, like a rat king.
I recall reading how in huge colonies, bats and other swarming creatures distinguish their vocal signatures by choosing unique places in terms of frequency or pitch but in situations where range is shared, I wondered how confusion was avoided—except that these diverse species seem to respect one another and wait their turns, going in a sort of coordinated, pre-arranged sequence. Here are a couple of audio samples, which became a pretty endearing accompaniment over the next few days. I wish I had taken a recording during the first few days before the weather turned stormy as the sounds seemed more distinct and there was less lapping of waves but happily all the residents and the reeds weathered the winds and driven rains just fine, if not a bit off key.

Saturday 6 January 2018


Here is a sample of the kinetic, magical artwork of Seattle-based illustrator Jonathan Stroh. One should browse his entire, extensive portfolio here for more exotic destinations and more multifaceted animations. There are ducks, I believe, somewhere in every composition.

Thursday 1 June 2017

stockenten oder libellen

In Brandenburg not far removed from Berlin, there is a unique and protected natural reserve known as the Spreewald (the forested lands of the river that runs through the capital or Bล‚ota, the swamp, in the regional Sorbian language) shaped during the retreating phases of the last Ice Age and irrigated, kept from flooding at bay by a labyrinthine network of over one hundred and fifty “navigable” canals (FlieรŸe) spanning over fifteen hundred kilometres in all.
Many visitors to the area avail themselves on a punting tour through picturesque villages like Lehde only accessible by water (with no motorised traffic allowed) but a lot of tourist stake out their own adventures in kayaks readily available for hire and paddle through the landscape on eye-level with ducks (deserving of their own ethnographic treatment) and various tribes of dragon-flies and privileged pushing along as silent as a cloud to some remarkably peaceful scenery.
We ended up taking little footage of our drifting through the reeds due to a bit of gun-shyness with our not water-proofed cameras that was probably for the best after all in terms of travel time not to mention sites we are hardly worthy of seeing, plagued by mosquitoes and my inferior piloting as we were, but it was an experience that we’d recommend without stint to anyone and we’re sorry for the limited opportunity to explore—we’ll have to return for a longer stay one day soon.

Sunday 20 September 2015

lake garda or watership down

After returning to Lake Como turned out to be rather a wash (more on this later), H and I decamped to the shores of Lake Garda (Gardasee, Lago di Garda and known in antiquity as Benaco where Roman forces defeated the Alamanni confederation—whose name is lent to the French and Spanish exonyms for Germany although Deutschland is Germania in Italian).
We chose a nice site on a south-western peninsula of the lake called Manerba del Garda—pleasantly peopled but not over-crowded since high-season was over but yet not too cold for a dip in the water. This region in general has been a sheltered one—eons before the tourist crunch, due to its climate and is the most northerly clime for citrus orchards, particularly lemon trees but not neglecting wine and olives, and the fact that many structures have foundations that reach into pre-history and neolithic times is probably a reliable indicator of the weather. The silhouette of La Rocca greeted us every morning, framed dramatically by welling clouds and though perhaps not the highest cliff on the lake, it was certainly the closest.
The old town centre rising up on a hill more inland was something to behold as well, but what we found to be the most delightful accent to the peninsula demarcating just one protected cove was the Isola San Biagio.
Separated from the main beach by barely a shin’s depth of water, one could walk to the little island along a path of pebbles to discover (though privately-owned, entrance just seemed to be not brining in outside beverages or dogs and maybe a visit to the snack-bar) free range bunnies (conigli). They were everywhere—tame and underfoot like the growing flock of ducks that visited every morning just in time for breakfast.
The rabbits appeared among the tents later on as well. Perhaps this reserve had origins as stock for a private hunt—which happily does not seem to be customary any longer, but makes me think rather on the origins of Manerba, which is believed to have been founded round a grove sacred to the goddess Minerva—the patroness of the hunt and harvest and other virtues besides. This Etruscan avatar of Athena overlaps what is properly the bailiwick of Artemis but there was a lot of cross-over for champions and I wonder if the keeping of bunnies did not reach back that far and into mythology as well.