Before we talk about the minerals, lets talk about the place.
Nestled deep in the most rural of rural regions in France sit two little villages, Saint-Marie-aux-Mines and Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines.
To visit, you need just two things.
First, you need a damn good GPS navigation system in your car – or you might not arrive. These villages are tiny, and they are remote, and the people who live here do their best to keep visitors away.
And second, you need a damn good measure of courage, because the rural French don’t take too kindly to foreigners – so you might not depart. I am not kidding when I say going here unaccompanied is something the French Gendarmerie do not recommend.
Even with Google maps it’s hard to find these places until you turn the magnification up to the highest levels:
And what of these places? These were the places where, even long, long before the Middle Ages, the tough, fearless Romans risked their health and their lives to mine silver and precious metals from mines deep underground. And today the tough, fearless inhabitants of these villages are the descendants of those Romans – brutal, not afraid of pain, not afraid of hard work, and not suffering either fools or visitors lightly.
Storks. I’ve written about transformer storks, house storks, monument storks, and Bodensee storks. And now to add to my collection of storks, train storks!
This fellow set up shop at the Basel Bahnhof, and as you can see from this snap he looks rather proud of himself:
Technically, he is geolocated in Switzerland – but legally, he is residing in the French area of the Bahnhof.
Continuing the series, still not what you probably think when you hear the term black church:
My passion is blind exploration – not guided tourism. So for me, the French city of Claremont-Ferrand is one of those truly magnificent, unplanned, unexpected discoveries that keeps me going back to France, time and again, even though there are other countries close by with impressive things to see: it’s an amazing, mind-blowing city that almost no one outside of France has ever heard of, or likely ever will.
I don’t know if they are or if they aren’t, but I took this snap in Paris at the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame, and they have circles around their heads, so it is not unreasonable to think this:
As you can see, the second one from the right (oddly) sports no beard. Could this perhaps really be Mary Magdelena? After all, this figure is carrying a chalice . . .
Another mystery for me to clear up one day!
They don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes in Alsace- never have, likely never will. So in a recent blog I observed was quite odd for the French to take time from their favorite hobby (namely, wrapping historical buildings in atrocious glass bubbles) to build a nuclear-war-proof bird house, complete with high strength structural steel and (I assume) titanium bolts attached to a deep rebar-reinforced concrete piling:
To me, this was an oddity but no more than that.
But . . . something amazing happened this week. The situation has now suddenly turned from French oddity to international mystery!
For this week I spotted exactly the same type of bird bunker, in a completely different country!
This high strength bird bunker is located near the Zurich airport in Switzerland – and unlike France, outside of the European Union!
So it is now truly an international mystery: who designed this bunker? Who decided where and when it would be used? Who paid for it? Who maintains it? And especially, when someone decided this was needed, how did they go about sourcing it? I haven’t checked, but I am pretty sure the local do-it-yourself stores don’t stock massive bird bunkers!
Continuing the series, maybe this is even the first bubble that kicked the movement off?
By movement I mean the French wrapping historical buildings in atrocious glass bubbles.
To be fair, the earliest example of bubble architecture I know is the encasement of the computer sciences building at the University of Illinois in a bubble; and also to be fair, there are some extraordinary examples of bubble architecture, such as the Gare Central in Strasbourg.
In a few other blog posts I’ve complained that the great European cathedrals are simply the wrong size to photograph well. But more than this: they present a conflict situation between the needs of the human brain and the needs of the camera.
The cathedrals are too large: no problem for the human brain but the photos always look skewed; and at the same time the cathedrals are too small: the photos would look fine at a distance but the human brain would miss the needed details.
Perhaps I’ve come up with a solution?
Here is the what was the tallest building in the world for a long, long time, and remains the centerpiece of Strasbourg:
But I’ve tried to capture it from a unique angle:
Continuing the series, I’ve blogged about a trend that I’ve seen mostly in France, in which historical buildings are encased in glass bubbles. Sadly, almost every example I have seen to date has been atrocious.
But one example stands apart, and it may be the biggest bubble of them all: the giant glass bubble encasing the Gare Central in Strasbourg:
I don’t want to exaggerate and provide fuel more more atrocious bubbles in France, but this example show above is, in my opinion, truly magnificent.
I’ve always wanted to try photographing these things, but until now I never have. This is my first photograph of one. I felt I could have got some spectacular shots, even in the dark and overcast weather, but I did not feel like crushing the hardworking Alsacian farmer’s corn.
Well, there was probably never a plague of swallows at the tiny hamlet in Alsace called Rumersheim le Haut. In fact, while there have been plagues of locusts and plagues of disease, there was probably never a plague of swallows, anywhere.
But nevertheless I could not believe my eyes when I came across this bird house, right smack dab in the middle of the village:
If you look closely, you’ll see not only that it was designed to withstand a F5 tornado (which has never happened in Alsace, either) and that it sports tiny gray swallow enclosures on the underside of the platform.
There must have been swallow babies in there, because I could hear them squeaking.
I’ve never seen one of these before. Quite possibly, I will never see one again!
Next to the Rhine River in Haut-Rhin, France, near Huningue.
Yes, they actually make elevators that lift boats up mountains! This one is called the Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis-Arzviller, located in the Lorraine region of France:
There are a number of urban mysteries for me.
One mystery is why they paint tall structures with red and white.
This is a snap I took of a transmission tower in Alsace in France:
And this is a snap I took of a nuclear cooling tower in New York:
The mystery is why different countries use exactly the same approach? Is this an international ISO standard?
(By the way, that big dome in the photo above is the enclosure to the nuclear reactor. I was only around 20 years old at the time, but I had a security clearance to work on the so-called operations deck from which they directly controlled the reactor. I was quite probably the youngest person in America to have this clearance. It was quite cool because there was a retina scanner to get in, and once you entered you walked into a metal cage. Once in the cage, one guard pointed a gun at you while the other checked your badge. This was the 1980’s, the Cold War was in full swing, and they didn’t take any chances.)
Continuing the series, this is a Rond-Point close to a hydroelectric generating station along the Rhine River in France,
It’s like an open air museum, where you can get up close to the mechanical devices used for turning water flow into electricity:
There is a plaque nearby:
And it explains how each of the components are used:
Nothing special about this one – it just struck me that this high tension transmission tower was standing over the streetlight like the Giant might stand over Jack:
I’m not an expert in this stuff, but it struck me that the cables are in pairs – rather than in bundles of threes. Does this mean that this is ordinary two-phase AC power, rather than the more common three phase that you’d expect to be transmitted on a overhead power line? Or, is each phase carried on a separate tier of the structure?
This is a hydropower generating station located on the Rhine River in France, just across the border from Switzerland:
It makes a pretty picture, but what impressed me even more was this Rond-Point (roundabout) that I spotted very near to the power station:
Spread out over the Rond-Point are all the mechanical components used to turn the flow of water into electricity.
I spotted this very innovative cigarette dispenser in the French department of Haut-Rhin:
Supposedly, you discard your cigarette butt according to which sports team you support. But if you stop and think a bit: do you drop your butt below the team you favor, to show your support – or do you drop your butt at the team you least favor, thereby giving them your butt (so to speak)?
When you stop to think about it, there is really a big assumption built in!
Ok, maybe it is not so terrifying, intimidating, and threatening, but nevertheless a stork walking around a highway rest area in Eastern France is really something to see.
You can try all you want to tempt this fellow with potato chips, but unless you have a bag of fresh frogs or live mice, you’ll hardly be able to get his attention.
I am not sure why, but I find storks quite interesting, and you can find a number of examples of them on my blog in different countries.
(Trivia: scientists have recently learned that these European storks learn their flying skills from their social group. If a baby stork is taught by an expert flyer, then each winter he/she will travel to and overwinter in North Africa. But if a baby stork learns from a stork with lessor flying skills, he/she will overwinter in Spain. Apparently – and this is the amazing bit – if a scientist attaches an accelerometer to a stork to measure their flight, then in the first 10 seconds of flight the scientists can recognize to which category of flyer the stork belongs: African super-flyer or more relaxing Spanish-flyer. I am not sure if the scientists understand which storks are happier.)
This shows a surprising amount of innovation. Taken in the walled historical city of Riquewihr in Eastern France:
This is an unretouched snap in color that reminds me a lot of the black and white photos of Ansel Adams,
If you get up close and personal with the beast, he looks a bit unkempt: