Thursday, July 1, 2010

In The Garden

Since it appears I won't have phone service for the remainder of my life in France, because each telecom swears it's the other's fault and I'm running out of money to pay bills to both of them for service I don't get from either, and since I'm tired of sitting around the apartment day after day, I decided to take a bit of a walk today. Now, it's hot out there at the moment. I mean hot. So I wasn't up for any epic walks to the zoo (there are new giraffes, I hear) or in search of medieval churches. No, I decided to turn the heat into a benefit.

When it's this hot out, I reasoned, the lizards must be out. And boy, did I ever know a place with lizards. Maybe I could get photos of several different kinds, come back and identify them, and educate my readers about reptiles in the Languedoc.

And where was this place? The Jardin des Plantes, just on the other side of the hill. It's a historic place, founded in 1593 by order of King Henri IV (a Protestant...clearly I have more history to read here...), and Europe's first botanical garden. The whole rationale of Montpellier University was to support Europe's first medical school, and the dons finally figured out that in order to study how plants worked, the best thing to do was to have some working plants. So in went the herbs, and as the science of botany grew, so did the Jardin des Plantes. I don't go there much, but every time I do I see critters I want to photograph.

I took my time, choosing the shadiest streets I could find, and discovered to my pleasure that I now know the twisty streets of the old city well enough to dump me out with precision at just where I wanted to go, via rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, which has a nice hotel, and several restaurants I'd like to try when the magic combo of money and ability to taste coincide. I then ambled down the Boulevard Henri IV, and into the Jardin.

It was still hot. The presence of all that green did not one thing to abate the heat. There were people in the shady bits, sprawled out on the granite benches or eating their lunches. There was nobody in the sunny parts, though. Not even lizards. I walked some. Lizards like walls, where they can squeeze between stones. Sun was hitting some old stone walls with a solid blast. There were no lizards.

Okay, I said, and headed to the lily pond, where the water lilies and lotus plants had run riot since I was last there in April, unsurprisingly enough. This is a fairly big water feature, so I was certain something was living there. Dragonflies that looked like they'd been manufactured by Sikorski hovered, but that was it. I walked around the pond, camera at ready. Finally, I stopped and waited. Something was messing around the stalks of the water lillies. It might appear.

But it didn't need to: it was already there. I'd forgotten an important rule of observation. Just stand there and the picture will come to you. And there, on a large leaf, was a really, really small turtle:

This guy was about the size they used to sell for a quarter in the pet stores, and in fact has that s ame red stripe on each side of his throat. I looked around and there were more. Bigger, but not much.

Then, the catch of the day. He wasn't all that big, but he was pretty -- and fast. I clicked twice, but only one photo has him:

Okay, I told myself, I remember from the last time I was here where there are lots of frogs. We heard them barking and saw them hanging out. The best view of their pond was from the cactus garden, too, a natural hangout for lizards. So I walked to the cactus garden. I stared at the pool. It was covered with algae. Nothing moved. I looked over at the cactus. Nothing moved over there, either. I kept looking. Nothing was moving anywhere.

This was frustrating, but I felt like I was learning some kind of lesson. No frogs, no lizards. Some turtles, not one of which was the size of a silver dollar. I'm really not much on flowers, but there were no flowers, either, to speak of. Oh, there were some spectacular artichokes...

...although you don't see the intense purple because the lighting is wrong and I was shooting through a fence (about half the Jardin is closed to the public while being renovated, including the famous desert building, which looks like they're going to rebuild it from the ground up, and which probably won't have any lizards either).

I lucked out, though; as I made my way to the exit, two busloads of what appeared to be college students were getting a lecture, preparatory to a guided tour. They were all gathered around their guide, who I guess was explaining that all the lizards in the Jardin either had Thursdays off or were on strike. They'd be French lizards, so that wouldn't surprise me at all.

And when I got back home, unsurprisingly, nothing had changed, either.


  1. It is misleading to call King Henri IV a Huguenot since Henri IV was his name as King of France (he was also King of Navarre) and he had to convert before he could be crowned, hence his alleged bon mot: "Paris vaut bien une messe".

  2. Okay. *That* makes sense. Both in local and national history.


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