September 2011 Archives

Madagascar - Nosy Be

Since the last illustrated post (Madagascar Day 2) we've spent one more day in Antananarivo - the capital, known as Tana - and three days in the eastern side of the island in a couple of neighboring national parks. Rather than try to catch up now with photos from those days, I'll post some contemporary photos.

For today and the next two days we're based in the resort town of Nosy Be (Big Island) in the northwest corner of Madagascar. We're housed and fed in a nice resort, but visit nearby smaller islands for the local fauna and culture. Nosy Kumba has a tame colony of black lemurs, which act as a tourist attraction to help the people sell their fabrics and other crafts. There are lots of kids running around, many of them also trying to sell something.

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Children play while mother embroiders.

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Kids run around in front of tablecloths flapping in the breeze for sale on the beach.

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The lemurs come running when bananas are on offer. Male black lemurs are black,

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while females are brown with white ruffs.

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Also on display for the tourists are a tree boa

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and a panther chameleon.

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We then took a boat ride to the nearby island of Nosy Tankeli for swimming, snorkeling, a wonderful picnic lunch, and an afternoon of badly needed relaxation (since we had gotten up at 1:30 AM for our flight from Tana to Nosy Be). On the way we sighted this inter-island ferry for the natives, picturesque from this side and crammed with people on the other.

Hello from Madagascar

Sorry I haven't posted for the last several days. We've been in the east of Madagascar, near Perinet, and Internet access was insufficient to post any photos. We just got back to Antananarivo, and tomorrow morning, very early, we're flying to Nosy Be, an island in the northwest. Since it's a popular resort, it may have adequate access - or it may not. In any event, we're enjoying this unique island. More as soon as possible.

Antananarivo, Madagascar - Day 2

September 20, 2011

Our second day in Antananarivo began with a very long (in time, though not in distance) bus ride to the Queen's Palace in the Blue Hills outside the city. Traffic here is extraordinarily congested. We would often stop for several minutes before moving ahead by one car length. However, it gave Vic the opportunity to photograph the lively and colorful street life: the market stalls and everyday life in this surprisingly underdeveloped country.

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Waiting for the bus




Lined up for water


Embroidering while waiting for customers for the vegetables


Grocery store


Just sitting

We drove through the countryside after leaving Tana, through both forested and despoiled land. Madagascar has a long history of ravaging its environment. Rice, the principal food, is widely grown; all farming uses zebus (local oxen) for plowing.

The Ambohimanga Queen's Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the site of the summer palaces and tombs of the 18th century king who unified the 18 tribes of Madagascar, and of the three queens who ruled ruled during the 19th C until colonization by the French in 1896. The site includes the rather simple living quarters of the king and the Victorian-influenced Silver Palace of the last queen, who was exiled to Algeria by the French colonial government.


Silver Palace

Ambohimanga is still revered by the 30% of Malagasy people who combine animism with Christianity. They still sacrifice here (mainly chickens, an occasional zebu) and come here to pray. When we finished being led through the buildings and grounds


View from the Ambohimanga grounds

by our attractive and articulate guide, Noro,


Guide Noro

we listened to a rehearsal by Malagasy singers and instrumentalists in the courtyard, including this renowned, but one-handed, harpist - great music.


Malagasy harpist rehearsing for concert

Returning to Tana, we had a very nice lunch (including fish and creme caramel) on the patio of a hotel restaurant.

Then we drove to the Natural History and Ethnographical Museum, where we saw the fossil skeletons of the elephant bird and the pygmy hippopotamus, and stuffed specimens of contemporary animals including the ay-ay and fosa.


Ay-Ay mounted in display case

Then we saw the entomology collection done by the French: moths, cockroaches, beetles, etc. A nice collection for a third world museum.


Natural History Museum staff with case of giraffe beetles

Next we went to the Zoo next door, where we saw a live (though sleeping) foes, many varieties of reptiles, birds, and lemurs endemic to Madagascar.


Hog snake


Sea eagle


Ring-tailed lemurs

For a third world country, the museum and zoo were quite good, although there is clear need for an infusion of support from more prosperous countries. We learned that the Biodiversity Research Center, focusing on plant and ant systematics, is a joint venture of the Madagascar Museum/Zoo and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It was perhaps the most hopeful place we have visited so far. Many students were participating in work on botanical classification/morphology of new species and sending samples to the CAS for DNA analysis.


Preserving plant specimens

Similarly, ants were being described and mounted and samples prepared for analysis.


Working on ant systematics

It was great to be able to access these labs to find out about their work, since they are usually not open to the public.

We got back to the hotel about 6 PM, and were immediately picked up by Tuki, a driver sent by Robert and Nina Strauss. It was an immersive experience in traffic and street life in Tana, which has a very inadequate road system. There are no traffic lights, and only a rare traffic cop who seems to make little difference. To get to the Strauss's house near the airport took an hour and 15 minutes; to return, when the traffic had disappeared, 20 minutes. Tuki's car also needed new spark plugs, so the stop-start traffic made it necessary to restart the car each time.

When we finally arrived, it was a huge contrast. Robert and Nina, and their 14 year old daughter Allegra, live in a lovely mid-century modern haven in a two acre compound with fruit trees, other flora, and a collection of golden orb spiders. We had a delicious dinner and stimulating, informative conversation - a great conclusion to a busy day.

Antananarivo, Madagascar - Day 1

On Sunday, Sept 18, after breakfast we took another stroll through the flea market on Rue Cler on a beautiful Parisian morning. We then rode the Metro and train to Charles de Gaulle Airport. We thought we were going to be early, but the line to check in for Air Madagascar was already half the terminal long. As we took our place in line, a very loud-shouting and belligerent anti-Israel demonstration started at the El Al counter next to ours. Yelling, flag-waving pro-Palestine demonstrators faced off against a cordon of shield-wielding police. Nothing serious appeared to happen - some demonstrators left and replacements camped out on the terminal floor - but it was a bit disconcerting.

We finally boarded the huge Boeing 777-200, and then had to wait nearly two hours on the tarmac due to air traffic. The flight was OK except for its length (10 1/2 hours) and that the interior electrical system was not working, so we had no reading lights or movies. We ate and slept a little and arrived at 4:30 AM Monday (today, Sept. 19).

It was sunny and bright (a lot brighter than we felt) when we left the airport at 6 AM and drove in a 24-seat bus with the other participants and our tour guide to our hotel. The Royal Palissandre is supposedly one of the best in Antananarivo, situated up a steep hill in this hilly city. Our room faces over the city, and I was inspired to stitch three photos together into a panorama. The haze in the distance comes from burning charcoal, which is used for most heating and cooking.

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Our room looks down into a large central market, composed of numerous long sheds, as well as a large and chaotic parking lot.


After breakfast, a nap, and a shower, we went for lunch with the group to a lovely restaurant with a great view and excellent local food.

I would have liked to wander around in the market, but it didn't seem safe, so we settled for a group bus tour of its periphery instead. Here are a few of the photos that seemed to work - not an easy thing in a moving bus. I like the bright colors, deep shadows, and feeling of motion. They convey the strongly African character of Madagascar's capital city streets: busy, not relaxed, poor, crowded, a bit resentful and menacing. Not a place where a lone white tourist would feel comfortable; we are constantly warned about pickpockets.




The multi-story buildings piled virtually on top of each other on the steep hills produce a strong Cubist effect.


We paid a short visit to the rather meager Archeological Museum. This sculpture in front, of pots hanging in a tree, was perhaps the most interesting thing about the place.


However, we had a discussion of the populating of Madagascar, interesting in light of a book that Elsa is reading on the history of the country. She's learning more than she wanted or needed to know about the 18 ethnic groups and the development of Malagasy customs.

We stopped to see some handicraft shops, buying some small weavings, and then returned to the hotel. We had a great dinner there with the group (Madagascar wasn't a French colony for nothing), but are totally exhausted. Hopefully a good night's sleep will get us back on track.

Shopping and Eating in Paris

Today we shopped in Paris but bought little. Shopping is a different experience here. We started by inspecting a Brocante on the Rue de Cler. It is sort of a cross between a second hand store, a flea market, and an estate sale. Booths are set up outside with all manner of stuff; different from a flea market in the states. From postcards, to books, to Baccarat glass and Christofle silver it was an amazing pot pourri of old and not so old French objects. Didn't buy a thing but enjoyed looking.

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We had a repeat breakfast on the Rue de Cler followed by a delicious fig from the greengrocer. On the street, we noticed this cute tableau of father and son.


Metro to the Grands Boulevards and then explored the passageways or arcades that were 19th century Paris' answer to shopping malls. Only these beautiful glass ceiling and ironwork galleries have nothing modern to buy.


Mostly things no one ever thought they needed. Each passage has a different set of shops; some with toys and miniatures (full of Tin Tin figures etc),


some with antiques and collectors items, such as old books,


others with galleries of unusual items such as jewelry set with semiprecious stones to represent animals and birds or a figure that looks like it was the product of a taxidermist's (or a mortician's) nightmare,


still others with spooky and mysterious figures.



The passages connect and one can spend hours looking and perhaps not findings anything you want to buy or have! They exude memories of what art nouveau Paris must have been like with cafes and restaurants and the Hotel Chopin (where he once lived) and a cane maker that has been there since the beginning. Also a Men's Club in a less-fancy passage.


We then walked down Haussmann Blvd to the Galleries Lafayette and were overwhelmed with shoppers (Saturday and sale time). We made our way to the food section and stopped to have a Cafe Latte served in a glass with the foamiest milk.


We looked at the wonderful 19th century stained glass dome and then marveled at how expensive Paris is.


We walked to Fauchon, amused at the window displays in department stores along the way,


to buy chocolate


and stayed for lunch in the most Parisian of dining rooms with wonderful risotto with artichokes and chanterelles and lamb and good French wine. We have not yet encountered anyone who wouldn't or couldn't speak English; the French are very formal - always Bonjour Madame or Monsieur or Au Revoir Madame or Monsieur surround every transaction. Waitstaff are polite; but never any 'my name is Joe and I'll be your server today' type of interaction. It certainly is less tiresome.

Back to the hotel for a nap: still playing catchup. Then to another restaurant for a late dinner. The place was full, but they had just opened another restaurant around the corner, so the hostess walked us part way there and we were escorted the rest of the way by the proprietor - charming service. Though we weren't hungry, our exploratory urges kicked in, so we shared an excellent octopus salad as appetizer, had lamb shank and sea bass main courses, and shared a plum tart dessert. Along with glasses of decent house wine, we were well satisfied.

A light rain was falling as we walked back to the Metro, but not enough to cause problems. We should mention the excellent experience we've had with the Metro: we hardly ever had to wait more than three minutes for a train, connections are good, and the stations are clean.


Tomorrow (Sunday) we take the train back to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and join our group for the long flight to Madagascar, We leave at 3 PM, arrive in Antananarivo at 3 AM, with only a one hour time zone difference. So we're likely to be pretty beat after an eleven hour flight, and may not post again for a day or two.

Getting Reacquainted with Paris

After an uneventful flight (except for an inedible breakfast), we arrived in Paris at 6:45 Friday morning, totally sleep-deprived. But the beauty and liveliness of Paris exhilarated us and made us forget our fatigue. Maybe it was the perfect croissants and cafe au lait breakfast on Rue Cler

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or the beautiful foods displayed there - like perfect fruits

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and hundreds of cheeses

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and the freshest fish and food to go

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and huge luscious cepes

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- that made us forget our lack of sleep.

Walking by the Eiffel Tower (made more imposing by a new paint job),

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some women getting their exercise by boxing,

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and the Ecole Militaire we took shelter from a sudden rainstorm in a tent of a lively festival somehow related to sports and arts activities of handicapped people.

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Passing the gold dome of L'Invalides where Napoleon is entombed

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and some interestingly clad celebrants,

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we went back to our modest but entirely adequate hotel (Hotel l'Empereur), with a comfortable bed and well-appointed room before venturing out for a Metro ride to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. Somehow neither of us had been there before.

The Abbess subway stop had about six winding staircases, each with a colorful mural "enhanced" with graffiti.

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Outside, the wonderful Art Nouveau entryway.

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Montmartre was the typical Parisian mix of tourist schlock and the charm of old buildings and the lingering memories of Picasso, Monet, Renoir et al. The sheer number of portrait artists at work and copyists of Utrillo-inspired scenes was amazing. Dozens of would-be artists and hundreds of tourists milled about the colorful old buildings and narrow, winding, hilly streets.

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We took the funicular up to Sacre Coeur for a view over the city and then walked down to the Metro.

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Paris on Friday was cold and rainy in the morning and sunny and very warm in the afternoon and stifling in the packed Metro to Saint Germain. We found a couple of perfect round frames for ancestor pictures in a charmingly overcrowded frame shop.

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Then we walked to the Seine and gawked in the windows

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and at the book stalls

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and boats along the river and the Louvre across the Pont des Arts.

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Exhausted, we found a bistro with French-North African flavors open at the ungodly early hour of 7 PM! After finishing a pleasant dinner of tagine of chicken with preserved lemons, and duck with foie gras sauce, and good French wine we stumbled to the Metro back to our hotel and collapsed for a good night's sleep.

Engineering in Agriculture

On the University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus:

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We'll be traveling for the next three weeks. Hope to regularly post pictures and words about the trip, but will be at the mercy of Internet connections as we travel.

Work Clothes

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(Click to enlarge) Lab coats in the Meat Science Building, University of Minnesota

Mall Scenes

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Abstract Walls

Abstract expressionism has been out of fashion for quite a while, but I still like it.

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(Click to enlarge) Portland

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(Click to enlarge) Crete

Life in Sculpture

I've gotten interested in taking photos that capture some of the personality of sculpted people. Here are three from the Portland Art Museum's excellent collection of Native American Art.


(Click to enlarge) A small sculpture by Allan Houser


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Two pre-Columbian figures

Reflections in a Pool

Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden is a lovely refuge and cultural resource in the heart of the city.


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Visual Snippets

A couple of intriguing images seen while wandering around Portland, OR. Dynamic symmetry plus incongruity.


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The Allure of Automobiles

The Portland Art Museum had an unexpectedly interesting exhibit of high-end classic cars (Duesenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Ferrari, Bugati, etc.). Here is an assemblage of some details.

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University of Minnesota Buildings - Animal Science/Veterinary Medicine

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University of Minnesota - Forestry

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University of Minnesota - Saint Paul Campus Classrooms

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University of Minnesota - Saint Paul Campus

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(Click to enlarge) Decommissioned building

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(Click to enlarge) What's in _your_ stomach?

University of Minnesota - Hanson Hall

Herbert M. Hanson, Jr. Hall is a component of the Carlson School of Management. It houses undergraduate classrooms and meeting rooms, the Department of Economics, and the Economics Research Library.

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University of Minnesota Buildings - Peters Hall

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(Click to enlarge) Office door

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(Click to enlarge) IT room


In the St. Anthony Main area on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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