Half of the Apostles – and a Holy Grail Mystery!

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!

 

Local French oddity becomes INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY!

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!

Bubble architecture – 5

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.

Cathedral Symmetry

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:

Bubble architecture – 4

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.

Blodelsheim Sprinkler

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.

The great swallow plague of Rumersheim le Haut

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.

Urban Mysteries – 1

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.)

Transmission Tower

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?

Hydroelectric Roundabout – 1

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.

Innovation in Ashes

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!

Terrifying, intimidating, threatening stork

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.)

Bubble architecture in Sélestat – 3

I’ve recently written about what I call “bubble architecture,” particularly in France, in which historical buildings are somehow encased in glass bubbles.  When done right, it can be magnificent. When done wrong, it can be atrocious, as this example shown here.

Recently I stumbled across this example in the Alsacian village of Sélestat,

Many European buildings are under historical protection, and this means that modern changes to correct building problems (such as doors not sealing properly and hence leading to wasted energy costs) are often forbidden.  Hence there is often a motive for encasing a building or a portal in glass.

When viewed as in this photograph, it doesn’t look that bad.  But when viewed from the human perspective in the middle of the town square, it looks absolutely hideous.

Garbage in Alsace

I’ve blogged about garbage in Texas, garbage in Germany, garbage in Switzerland – including the famous underground Swiss recycling cysterns! – and a recent trip to Alsace has given me to chance now to show how they handle garbage in Alsace, at least in the commune of Seléstat.

Voilà, because the French always say voilà before they point to something:

If you have a closer look at the machines / kiosks, they look like this, voilà:

In the Swiss system, anyone can dump their trash into the chute for free – but the trash needs to be packed into a plastic bag sold by the city (a roll of 15 bags of 35 L each costs around CHF 20), which means the residents are encumbered to buy special bags and pack their trash accordingly.

Here, the residents can use any bags of their choice – or no bags – but the chute can only be opened by someone with an RFID card. While I’ve never personally used the Alsacian Seléstat system, it does seem to be both more user friendly (it is a lot of hassle to buy the bags) and environmentally friendly (why use an extra plastic bag when you may not need one).

Amazing Horse-Scavaging Birds of Provence

Well, even if nobody else thinks they are amazing, I do.

While driving around the south of France, include Provence and The Camargue, I spotted quite a number of horses grazing, and underneath them and surrounding them were whole flocks of strange white birds.

This pic has a somewhat bad quality: I took it while driving and (no kidding!) being followed by a police car!

But I think you get the idea:

I have no idea what kinds of birds these are – but I assume they eat any small insects that appear when the horse grazes.