Tuesday, September 27, 2005

France pt2: Creatures

Here is a list of wildlife seen during the trip because all modern British travel writing is influenced by Gerald Durrell:

1. sheep
2. cows
3. goats
4. dogs
5. snails (intact, moving)
6. snails (steaming in garlic sauce)
7. grasshoppers (many)
8. praying mantis (several)
9. spiders (sitting in web - many)
10. spiders (wrapping fly - one)
11. spiders (scurrying away - many)
12. spiders (being huge and lounging above the fireplace - one)
13. worms, flies, beetles, woodlice, aphids, bees, wasps, caterpillars, pond-skaters (many, many)
14. ticks (one)

Animals hoping to see, but didn’t:

1. deer
2. wild boar
3. snakes
4. crosses

The praying mantis were the real find. I had never seen one live outside a zoo before. As a child, my first encounter with one was not as a living specimen, but as a model kit. A model kit which made a giant paying mantis attacking a city. They had always had a sinister connotation for me, and live they live up to that. Their heads that look like hose of the ‘hobbs’ from Quatermass’s pit, their twitching, miserly stance, the fact that the female will often bite the head off the male during sex. The latter I did not see, but I did see one fly, and that was scary enough.

One huge paying mantis we saw was beautifully camouflaged as a bright green leaf. Unfortunately it was sitting amongst a collection of dark leaves making it stand out like a sore thumb at a healthy toe convention.

"You looking at me?"
(picture of typical praying mantis of type seen)

The one creature not mentioned on the list was le loir (or glis glis as the Latins would call it). The local word sounded like ‘Lurie’ but this was an English repetition of a local-dialect French word as told to them by another native-English speaker. But then French being ALL about pronunciation, is always murdered when anyone non-French speaks it. If you don’t say “Coeur de Lion” in a French accent it sounds like “Curdle Ian.” The English word for le loir is the Fat Dormouse, Edible Dormouse or the Squirrel-Tailed Dormouse. I guess it could also be called the Big-Black-Bug-Eyed Squirrel-Tailed Laid-Back Dormouse, but I suspect it isn’t ever called that.

Loirs, with their black beady eyes and busy tails are one of the cutest creatures going. There used to be two that lived somewhere up in my parents’ house and ventured frequently to the storage room to forage. Now there is just one, presumably due to death or estrangement. Cute as they look, they are however considered pests by the locals due to the fact they will chew through everything from plastic bags to electrical wire. My parents’ don’t seem to be chewing much yet, and so have been tolerated. We surprised one in his daily storage rounds, and it sat there trying to make us out in the bright light (they are nocturnal) for a few minutes before it scaled the wall and went beneath the upstairs floor.

"Are yoo ooking at ickle me?"
(picture of typical edible dormouse of type seen but not eaten)

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