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Frecko in America 2 & France

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Week ending 4.4.4

Most houses in Orange County tend to built on cement slabs with no foundations.

When you get the pest exterminator in, he has nowhere to get under the house. So what does he do? He encloses the whole house in a tent and seals it with an insecticide bomb inside. Do not enter for 24 hours!

House tent

The tar pits in Los Angeles are quite amazing. And, as the name implies, they are areas where tar naturally comes to the surface. Tar, being very sticky, some of the animals that made contact with it got stuck. And died. Over time the dead animals were covered by the tar - and preserved by it. Take this process back over several million years and what you have in the pits are the skeletons of animals long since extinct.

Take this bison with the hump. Those vertical processes on the vertebrae are enormous! This one is now extinct.

Bison skeleton

Despite how often I see this, it is still a very neat optical trick. Or is it?

It is more cerebral than optical. You tell your eyes to concentrate on the pottery and thereby see it. Or you focus your eyes on the spaces and you then see the figures in a sort of conversation. Sounds cerebral to me.

Talking about pottery

The woods in America have a very primal feel to them. Very different to being in the Australian bush. Perhaps because the bush feels less dangerous. And perhaps it is the size of the trees, the eucalypts mere stragglers in comparison to the mammoth redwoods and sequoias. Putting our size into perspective.

The woods


Week ending 11.4.4

The Huntington Library at San Marino is a monument to the wealth of another philanthopist. A huge library that contains where around 4 million books! And many of them old and rare, including this original Gutenburg Bible. That is, one of the first books ever printed by a machine.

Many old and original manuscripts and first editions of famous authors, including Shakespeare. Then you step outside to a series of magnificent gardens and three art galleries on the grounds.

Gutenburg bible

And of the landscapes presented in the gardens, one of the most diverse and interesting is the desert landscape, with some very spectacular cacti.

This is the barrel cacti. Very interesting looking in large numbers. Very spikey.

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Barrel cacti

The gardens include an Australian section, admittedly not spectacular. I think any acre on the mountain at home would be more interesting, but be that as it may....

They did have a nice specimen of river redgum. A touch of home in Los Angeles!

River redgum in LA

The Japanese garden was extensive and beautiful, ruined of course by the number of other tourists. But that is 2004 for you.

There were also some magnificent specimens of bamboo too. The climate in California is certainely conducive to the survival of a great number of plant species.

Japanese garden

And what Japanese garden would be complete without an image of the buddha?.

One has to admit though, that gazing even on the statue, without the accompanying philosophy, has its own calming effect. And if you don't believe me, then try it yourself sometime. And I do not mean on one of those laughing fat man statues, but the real one, the inscrutable.

This attitude, the slight nod of the head, the contemplation reminds us to look inward. More, challenges us to do so. Some do. Many don't. Too often we look outwards and are dissatisfied with what we perceive.

Is it then the world that is awry or our perception of it?


Part of one of the paintings in the Scott gallery.

Does anyone recognise this?

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Week ending 18.4.4

No, I have not finished on the topic of cars. And particularly big cars. It is not that I object to big vehicles. They have their place. But put them in the wrong place and they become very wrong.

Thus we have this penchant in surburban Orange County for trucks as the 'car' of choice for the family, the trip to the supermarket and for the Sunday drive - around the suburbs!

Take picture one. Next to this grey monster is a Toyota vehicle of the Tarago / Previa range, big enough in itself. What happens to the space between vehicles so you can get your door open? What happens to your vision as a driver parked next to this monstrosity, trying to back out?

Take picture two. What does the driver of a vehicle this size think about the extra 6 feet that sticks out the back of an ordinary parking space. Nothing I hear you say, and you would be right!

Picture three. Surburban supermarket parking lot. Will the car spaces now have to be upsized, just as these dripheads have to do their own garages? While I do not agree with the amount of fuel one of these pigs drinks, I will never begrudge the increased price of it. Let the "stuff you" attitude be returned a little in kind.

Picture four. That black car is not a mini. It is a big 4WD. That makes the white one an outsized blot on the carpark. Moments before an ordinary looking mom got out of it to go and do her shopping.

Big car one

Big car 2

Big car 3

Big car four

Just remembered the Three Brothers in Yosemite National Park. Just as the Blue Mountains west of Sydney has the Three Sisters.

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3 Brothers

Suel s'dai chnam t'mai. Happy New Year.

Cambodian new year is in April every year. It is traditional to attend the local church, or wat, and pay homage to the monks and to the Buddha. This is MF and her brother, second cousin and sister-in-law.

Below that is the inside of the Cambodian Wat at Santa Ana, California. The Buddha statue dominates and seated around the perimeter are the monks in orange robes.

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Khmer new year

Khmer Wat

This is the Santa Ana River. For the last 25 miles before it runs into the sea, the whole bed and banks of the river are concreted! Leaving just a little trickle down a central drain. Which is about all you see most of the time in an area that has an average annual rainfall of 12 inches.

Yes, those are horses on the far bank, where the walking track along the side sweeps down under the traffic bridge. Click the picture to enlarge a bit.

Santa Ana causeway


Week ending 25.4.4

The newspapers in America daily report on the losses in Iraq. It is not uncommon for a local to have been a casualty and he will receive a considerable write-up. But besides that, all deaths are reported with a photograph and a paragraph describing them and which state they were from. This keeps the tally at the forefront of people's minds - at least those that read newspapers.

This newspaper graphic summarised the toll to this week, illustrating that no one state has escaped involvement. And while the figure of 75 for Calironia is high, this is a reflection of the population of that state. As for 67 in Texas, I am not so sure that that is a reflection of the population of the state so much as irony on the origins of the current commander in chief.

Even tiny Rhode Island, one of the State's most beautiful states, has lost 5.


Another week, another country. From Los Angeles with Lufthansa to Lyon in France via Munich. On an Airbus, which is the European manufactured plane, and is the most comfortable and quiet a plane I have ever been on. Munich airport is one of the largest and most efficient I have seen too.

The trip to Lyon from Munich afforded one of the greatest sights I have seen - the alps from 5,000 metres. There was cloud cover, but we left it behind at 1,000 metres, so that these majestic mountains rose through the clouds, white, treeless, imperial and timeless. At some indefinable point they changed from the Swiss Alps to the French before giving away to the ordered green fields of French agriculture interspersed with red-roofed farm houses and the occasional chateau.


And you know you are in another country when the building materials change. This is a typical wall around farm buildings, a rural church or even houses or commercial premises. The wall is not held together by cement, but mud or clay. The tiles on the top of the wall keep it together by preventing the rain from washing it away. It works, mostly.

Genas stonewall

One very noticeable difference immediately is the cars. Whereas the Americans keep upping the size of theirs in complete ignorance of the concept of 'limited resources' and in complete disregard to the environment, the French have adopted the opposing views. And their cars reflect this.

So, we have this little beauty. But this one is not the smallest car on the road - there is another, though it is really not much more than a sewing machine on wheels, in size, speed, power and sound.

Mobile sewing machine

Despite the presence of the supermarche (supermarket) and larger megastores within easy reach, the French love nothing more than the village market. This is Sunday morning in Genas, a rural village on the outskirts of Lyon, where it seems tomatoes are in season, but where all sorts of vegetables, fruits, cheeses, salamis, breads and a selection of clothes can be had for the Euro.

Genas market

Yes, the French understand cheese and if you can't find one you like, you're not trying.

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Cheese stall


Week ending 2.5.4

Vieux-Lyon. Old Lyon. And with its UNESCO world heritage listing, it is quite remarkable.

Old buildings, narrow streets that are never straight, covered archways - the remarkable thing is that even 24 hectares of this 16th century style of living remains.

Of course, there are no donkeys plying up and down the cobblestones, but Renaults and Peugeots, mostly service vehicles and those of the municipal constabulary. But generally it is left to pedestrians.

Lyon olde town

Linking some of these rarely-parallel streets are passageways known as traboules. The traboules wind in, around and under the houses, are mostly covered but do break out into these lighted squares between the buildings, not quite big enough to be courtyards.

I just like this picture. You are free to criticise it.

Looking up

The people who built these accommodations all those centuries ago had some idea of the communiality and even the conviviality of man. The windows face a sort of courtyard in such a manner that you would conversing with your neighbours and passers-by with some degree of ease. Try that in a modern apartment block.

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Traboule arch

The other parts of the city of Lyon, while not four centuries old, are one to two, producing this wonderful architecture that persists in street after street. Buildings generally five to six stories high and identical windows along the facade. Then the next building will look the same, but windows will be different to the first and the colour too. There are no glaring colours, no doubt by edict, and the overall effect walking along the street is one of fascination. Whether or not the buildings are very livable inside I don't know, but the outsides produce their own symmetry and beauty.

Windows on Lyon

The French just love their tomato racing, often in the street. Here, two ladies keep a careful eye on proceedings.

Tomato race

The Fourviere Basilica on Fourviere Hill overlooks Lyon from a great height. In particular the old town is clearly visible way below as a fascinating series of geometric exercises in red tile roofing. Then there is the Saone River, the cluster of the city proper in antique style (Renaissance), then the Rhone river in parallel.

Then, towering beside the Basilica is this tower, with the gilded figure of some religious significant, mute and blind, but with the best view of all.

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The fountain of the raging horses. Or so it seems. This fountain was designed by the guy (Bartholdi) who did the statue of liberty and probably knew it would become an ironic icon America.

See that fantastic architecture in the background?

Fountain of equidae

These doorways just appear everywhere. They are, in and of themselves, museum pieces. They are large, solid and intricately carved portals that leave you wondering about what lies behind them.

They are, mostly, the entryway for the whole building, usually a series of apartments, so that there is series of door inside, off a central set of stairs - or for the more modern, an elevator where it has been installed.

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One of the fantastic things about country villages in France is that there are always reminders that you are in the county. The farm houses and outbuildings are often in the village and, as here, the farms come down to the main road. I am standing on the main street of the village and between streets, a field of wheat (unfenced) comes right down to the busstop.

Village cropping

This picture is a bit of a trick, which I will explain presently.

I was talking to a Lyonnaise who had lived all of their 24 years in the city, who was surprised at my interest in the buildings. She saw nothing particularly special about them. But having lived their all her life, they are but normal for her. They are what she sees on a daily basis and comes to presume that it is ordinary. So it is for many of us that do not move much, our senses are dulled to the beauty around us. It sometimes takes the perspective of the outsider to reveal it to us.

What is magnificent in this, and so many other buildings in Lyon, is the whole facade of these five and six storey structures. The matching windows in perfect symmetry, the plain painting of the wall, the touches of ornamentation, right down to the street. What is hard to capture, because part of the effect is three dimensional, is the perspective of depth, the soaring nature of their height exaggerated by the narrowness of the streets, which gives a sense of them closing overhead.

The narrow streets, too, make it difficult to capture photographically. Even standing up against the far wall, only the door and first window fit into a photo. A very wide angle lens might capture the street to roof perspective, but would necessarily distort it with curvature. Facing the camera upwards also accentuates the perspective so the result is almost triangular towards the roof.

So what did I do for Number 17? The modern tools of digital photography and digital manipulation provide the answers. Firstly, it was necessary to take three separate photos of the facade, starting with the door and first window, then upward, until the third, much distorted by perspective, takes in the roof and sky. What to do with this distortion?

Firstly import the pictures separately into a decent photo manipulation program like photoshop. Using a perspective filter, draw the top edge of the photos sideways to widen the top perspective until the sides are vertical. This attenuation needs to be greater with the pictures of the top of the building. Once all three are 'square' combine them into a single file so that appropriate features overlap (the overlap needs to have been planned when photographing). Then scale the individual layers so the width is the same. From there it is a simple matter of adjusting the colour, contrast, hue and resolution of all three to be approximately the same (the camera will often set different exposures for each picture), then merge them together.

The result looks like the building has been photographed from a long distance with a powerful lens. However, the perspective, if you look carefully, is not quite right. That is because, while the lower floors are nearly correct, the upper floors to the roof look square, and are, but because they were photographed from below, not at the horizontal from them, it has that 'under' look. In this particular case, it is not particularly obvious, although notice how you can see under the eaves, though the perspective is that they should be straight on to your eye?

Thus it is with many of the photos on these pages that are either very tall, or very wide. Just thought I would let you know.

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This is the statue of Louis XIV, and my history being what it is, I have no idea about what he did or could do, except he can apparently ride a horse. And obviously, the French think him worht honouring. He sits (or rides) in one of the largest squares in a European city, itself part of the UNESCO world heritage site that is old Lyon.

Way off in the distance is the Fourviere Basilica.

Yes it is reasonably cold at the end of April.

Louis XIV Lyon

Village architecture now. While in their own style and clearly designed for a cold climate to allow as little opportunity as possible for the cold to get in (actually for the heat to get out, since there is no such thing as cold), I do not understand the lack of a porch or cover over the front door for when it is raining, which it does here often enough.

Village house

Like this more modern house. This house just has a touch of symmetry that I like. You may not.

Another village house

The fields in France were so often surrounded by hedges. These plants could grow to three metres high if maintained correctly. Like most of their English equivalents, the hedges have been mostly let go (to the detriment of the flora and fauna that inhabits this microcosm, but this nice example remains on the northern entrance to Genas.

Welcome to Genas

Book markets like this one on the bank of the Saone I don't really understand. It seems that each vendor has such a paltry collection of tomes and even though I do not read French, clearly a lot of them are cheap and worthless. And having them exposed to the elements, often, for weeks on end does nothing to improve their condition. Maybe someone could explain it to me?

Book stall

Buildings of glass are often just fantastic in the way they reflect the real world. What goes on behind them?

Clouded window

The Park of the Golden Head is the translation of the name of this park in Lyon. It is chocka with people on a fine weekend and does have some lovely lawns and paths. As well there is a big collection of identified plants from France, Europe and some international species all laid out in an attractive manner. But it is all offset by an interspersing of animals in enclosures, that appear just large enough, but not sufficient to prevent the elephants, the giraffes, the lions, the tigers and the monkeys from exhibiting more than their outer selves but also the symptoms of their neuroses due to the confinement. The overhead trees were nice though.


I am not sure that this is what latin scholars mean by the split infinitive, but the red paint in the grooves is not something I remember. I wonder if it is a more recent innovation, or whether it was just the Gaul area. Lyon was called Lugdunum (Light) in roman times and was their Gaul capital. However, I have not seen any monuments to Vitalstatistix.

Split infinitive

This is actually taken at roof level, from the upper floors of the museum of fine arts. The tops of the buildings are just as interesting as the bottoms.

Lyon roofs

One of the endearing characteristics of this region at least, is the propensity to not leave a blank wall blank. Wall murals are very common, very realistic and very well done. Here, a couple of bricked up windows have been painted in, as has an otherwise bland electricity box.

Painted box

I still do know what this sign was trying to convey. That we should constantly question? That no-one knows all the answers? That ignorance is bliss? That the future is uncertain? That we have to figure it out for ourselves?

Sign of the times

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