Archive for July, 2012

Ella la pipistrelle

Posted in La France, Nice at 13:50

Ella sleeping

After finding la petite ratapignata, I contacted Nice’s Maison de l’Environnement, which is not far from where I live. In the recent past, I’d seen them advertise information meetings about bats where they distributed bat houses, so I hoped they would be able to tell me how/where to find one for the bat(s) on my patio. They replied today, and although the information meetings were finished this spring, the woman there gave me contact information for another lady who works for the city of Nice and should be able to provide a bat house.

She also sent me a notice about bats in Nice. Miss Ella now has a very fine name: Ella la Pipistrelle de Kuhl, Ratapignata de Nissa. All bats are protected in France, as they’re threatened species. Indeed, while I gave Ella a name, it’s merely affectionate – wild animals, perhaps especially birds and bats, should never be domesticated; it’s best for them and for we humans that they be allowed to live as peacefully and independently as possible. This photo is from two days ago: Ella is now roosting elsewhere, I suspect ensconced in a nice narrow spot, which are favored by pipistrelles. I don’t want to disturb her by looking too closely.

While bats are often maligned in popular culture, in reality, they’re excellent pest hunters, their guano makes wonderful fertilizer, they fly silently, and the chirps of pipistrelles are frankly adorable. After learning Ella’s voice, I now recognize more than one pipistrelle chirping in the evenings, so there may well be others safely snuggled in my patio and elsewhere. A real boon in mosquito season: the furry little lady you see above can eat as many as three thousand insects in a single night.

I’m delighted that there are pipistrelles sharing my abode, and hope to update soon with a bat house – nichoir de chauve-souris in French – installed on the patio. As it is, I now know to keep an even closer eye on the cats when they’re outside, and to avoid pesticides and any chemical treatment of the wood on my patio. Bats are very sensitive to certain wood treatments, so it’s best for wood to be left natural, when at all possible, or to use non-nocive products. Wherever you are in France, your local Maison de l’Environnement can also be contacted if you ever come across an injured bat.

La ratapignata

Posted in Nice at 12:17

Siás pinhata, siás pirata,
Ratapinhata, vòla lèu.
Jànluc Sauvaigo, ‘Gigi Pantai’

In French: Tu es pignate, tu es pirate, vole vite ratapignata. To the difference of the original Nissart word order, this rhymes when spoken with a southern French accent, where a final ‘e’ is usually pronounced much like the vowel ‘a’ in the same accent.

In English: You’re a pinnate, you’re a pirate, fly, fly, ratapignata. I preferred to repeat the ‘fly’ since in English it already carries the sense of going quickly; fleeing. You may also have noticed a similarity with the Spanish piñata, and indeed, pignata/pinhata is prounounced the same, however, the Latin roots are different. The Nissart (Niçois language) “pignata” has the same root as our English “pinnate“, which is the Latin pinna, “feather”. Piñata, however, comes from the Latin root pinea, “pinecone”.

If you’ve guessed “feathered rat”, you’re very close (it is the literal translation) – the ratapignata is the “flying rat”, the bat, chauve-souris in French.

The ratapignata of Nice is not well-known outside of the city, and even articles on it in French tend to diminish its importance, due largely to its status as a symbol of imperial resistance. Nice’s history is also unfamiliar to non-Niçois, though I’ve mentioned it before on my blog: Nice was once part of the Duché de Savoie, which was not French. It only became part of France just over 150 years ago, and under rather suspicious circumstances – the ballot was stuffed, with people long dead mysteriously voting to become part of France, and votes against the rattachement oddly being lost. Even before that, however, Nice’s place in Savoy was the result of conquest; the Comté de Nice had been a semi-autonomous member of the Comté de Provence starting in the 12th century, after the fall of Rome.

While most French articles about the ratapignata start with the Carnaval of 1875, the black bat has been a counterweight to the royal eagle for much longer than that. Indeed, as this excellent article in French by Niçois Eric Fontan notes, it symbolizes the power of the people, being the eagle turned upside down. With its wings open wide, to the difference of the more restrained eagle, it is also said to represent the desire of Niçois to take an active part in their city’s affairs.


Fontan’s further remarks on the symbolism are interesting: “On the one hand, there is the red eagle, representing light, day, the sky, the masculine principle, courage faced with the sun, elevated spirituality. On the other hand, there is the black bat, representing resistance, shadows, night, earth, the feminine principle, perspicacity in darkness, and the strengths of the occult. Taking a wider view by comparing these to life principles found in early religions, the eagle represents all that is grand and the bat all that is small; one could also say yang and yin. These two figures are indispensable for harmony in Nice’s society. They complement one another.”

For these reasons, as well as my childhood familiarity with bats in Oregon, I was happy to be able to help this little one out of danger from Susu on my patio this morning. Once the cats and I were inside, la petite ratapignata climbed up onto the wood rafters, where she’s now resting. There are plenty of insects to keep her fed, and she showed she was alert by flicking her ears when I took her photo asleep, so hopefully she’ll be fine.

Ratapignata in safety

An update as it passes 10pm here: Miss Ella the Ratapignata is waking up now and chirping contentedly, quite different from her panicked shouts this morning. Susu didn’t pick her up by the mouth, so hopefully there’s no risk of infection, and the small injury on her wing should heal since the membranes do grow back – the UK Bat Conservation Trust website has been very informative. I’ve also checked with our local environmental organization to ask about bat houses, so that I can put one up for Ella. Bats return to the same roost, so it’s important for her and any others in the future to be protected from my cats. In the meantime I won’t let the cats out while Ella roosts unless I’m able to be there to keep an eye on things. The kitties have plenty to do inside!

Bastille Day weekend

Posted in La France, Travel at 23:54

Last weekend I was invited to visit friends in La Seyne sur Mer, a small town near Toulon, which is a major port in France, especially for military vessels. It was a beautiful, although windy, weekend, and we were treated to a great fireworks show – that’s a video I shot with my handheld HD camera; be sure to try out the different video qualities (you can change them by clicking on the grey gear icon and selecting one).

As always, I also took photos! Lately I’ve been using my 30-year-old manual lenses on my Nikon D40 and having great results with them. Over the weekend, I only took along my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. While at times I wished I had wide angle or telephoto lenses, it also encouraged me to see things a bit differently. You can see an example of surprising results in this photo of Toulon – with a wide angle to get the full buildings, this chance pigeon would have been nearly invisible! As it is, it made a beautiful addition of movement to the classic Provençal colors.

Couleurs et pigeon

In the photo below, looking east from La Seyne, you can see how the Mistral permanently bends trees – we have simlarly-bent trees due to winds along the Oregon coast as well.

Bateaux, La Seyne

Looking west from the same spot in La Seyne, I was able to see Les deux frères, a pair of large rocks in the Mediterranean.

Les deux frères

All of my photos from the trip are in the Toulon et La Seyne photoset. There’s also this video I took in the TGV showing some of the beautiful landscapes between Nice and Toulon. To finish, one of my favorite photos for its colors, a boat in the port of Toulon.

Bateau, port de Toulon