Pic’n’Post n° 34: Where was the picture taken?


Where was the picture taken?

Last week’s picture was soon identified as something tech, with a couple of guesses mentioning solar. Thanks go to Matt, Rosa, Dookes, Charlie and Thumbup  for their guesses, and Charlie was the first to say solar panels.  Which indeed is what it is – a plain solar panel, taken outside an arboretum near Tulear, Madagascar. I was quite surprised myself when those weird but pretty reflections showed up in the photo – you don’t really notice them when you’re standing right in front of it.

Curtis Bausse Photography

Tulear, Madagascar. Solar panels at the arboretum.


Congratulations, Charlie!


This week it’s back to Where? at the top of this page. No Pic’n’Post next week – I’ll be playing with my toys. Which gives you two weeks to mull over this one!Happy guessing!

Pic’n’Post n° 32: Where was the picture taken?


Where was the picture taken?

Many thanks to those who sent in guesses came for last week’s picture: MattDookes, Rosa and Thumbup . And Dookes was very quick off the mark with the correct answer, a coelacanth. As Rosa pointed out, these were thought to be extinct till one was found off South Africa in 1938. Since then several have been found, the one in the picture by a fisherman in Madagascar, where it’s now displayed in the University of Tulear’s Maritime Museum along with a few other delights.

I like to have fun making the winners’ badges nice and pretty – no easy matter with a coelacanth. Though it could be said they’re so ugly that in fact they’re beautiful.

Congratulations, Dookes!


This week it’s back to Where? at the top of this page. And since the last couple have been easy, this one might be trickier. But don’t let that put you off – happy guessing!

A Glorious Rock

Anywhere a French minister goes, other than the toilet perhaps, they can expect hostility. They don’t mind much – it comes with the territory. In this case, the minister is George-Pau Langevin and the territory is Mayotte. No longer a territoire, in fact – since 2011 a département. Mme Langevin, Minister of Overseas, does just that – oversees (sorry…) the DOM-TOM, the départements and territoires d’outre-mer. So obviously, her visit to Mayotte sparked grumbles all round – health, security, education, environment, infrastructure, housing… When it comes to bringing Mayotte up to the standards of the Metropole, it’s difficult to know where to start

This post, though, is not to do with Mayotte, about which I’ve written elsewhere,* but about the Glorioso Islands, or Îles Glorieuses. Because the first grumble around the minister’s visit was her timetable – yesterday morning, rather than discuss the problems of Mayotte, she whizzed off in a military jet to Grande Glorieuse, the largest of the islands that make up the Glorioso Archipelago. ‘Large’ here is relative: there are two actual islands, a few rocks and sandbanks, and the whole lot together cover 7 square kilometres.

So what did she do in the couple of hours she was there? Officially, she observed and encouraged the efforts undertaken by France to protect the biodiversity of the area. The coral reefs are indeed among the earth’s most treasured assets, definitely not to be messed with. She would also have had a little chat and a cup of coffee (no croissants, though) with the islands inhabitants, 14 soldiers and one gendarme, who doubles up as the postman. Nothing too taxing and no great issues to debate. So why did she even go there?

Well, it just so happens that over the past few months, the matter of who the islands really belong to has flared up in Madagascar. Not just the Glorieuses, in fact, but the whole of the Îles Eparses, or Scattered Islands, of which the Glorieuses are a part. A glance at the map shows just how completely Madagascar is surrounded by French territory. Only La Réunion is indisputably French: the five tiny spots of the Îles Eparses are contested by Madagascar, while Mayotte is contested by the Comores.

Now far from me the idea that France is not devoted to the biodiversity around these scattered rocks, but when you bear in mind that the territorial waters are also rich in fossil fuels, you begin to see why such devotion is so convenient. Madame Langevin’s little chat with the soldiers was also saying to Madagascar, ‘C’est à nous!’

The conflict goes back to the 1960s, when Madagascar became independent. In 1979, the UN ‘invited’ France to return the Scattered Islands to Madagascar, but for some reason the invitation was declined. A proposal last year by Madagascar to manage the islands jointly was similarly turned down. France is quite partial, it seems, to uninhabited rocks.

* A brief, tongue-in-cheek history of Mayotte is here, whilst a more general overview, including the immigration issue, is here.

Just in the nick of time, I believe (the minister omitted to consult me regarding dates), this post is part of Phoebe’s All About France link up, not forgetting TJ Paris’s French Friday feature.

Lou Messugo

One country, two words


Well, back again, folks, and nice to be here – I’ve been missin’ ya! OK, I had plenty to keep me busy in the meantime, just looking at everything that’s Madagascar, which is a lot. The picture above is Madagascar, but then again it’s not. It’s just a place to rest after a hot and dusty week on the RN7 – that’s the road from the capital, Tana (Antananarivo), down to Tuléar in the south. It’s a road many people travel, but even so it was hardly overrun by tourists. More’s the pity, you might say, as the country needs all the foreign currency it can get. I could (and no doubt will) write plenty more, but two words will suffice here to convey the overall impression: poverty and friendliness. I’d been three times before, but only to Diego Suarez in the north, and for work, so I hadn’t seen how well those words sum up the whole country. In the first lies a tragic story of corruption, greed and political incompetence; in the second a moving and magnificent reaction of a whole people in the face of hardship. There’s plenty to see in Madagascar, not least a lesson in life.

1000 euros


I’m displeased. No, make that seething. For several years now I’ve been collaborating with the University of Antsiranana in Madagascar, helping students with their English dissertations. It was voluntary and unofficial, so before I retired, I was keen to consolidate it through an official agreement between our two universities. So I put in a bid for 1000 euros from funds made available by the International Relations Department. This was to pay for a colleague to fly out, meet the partners in Antsiranana and settle the terms of the agreement. It was refused. Our university recently merged with two others to become a single mega-establishment, now the biggest university in France. And they can’t spare 1000 euros. Hey, come on! You’re kidding, right? Now, of course money’s tight and every little bit counts, but let’s just put this in perspective here.


A bit of history

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My good friend Alex in Madagascar looks after the British War Cemetery in Diego Suarez, which unsurprisingly, therefore, is immaculate. Buried there are the soldiers who died liberating Madagascar from the French forces loyal to the Vichy regime in May 1942, an episode I wasn’t even aware of till I visited. You might think this is surprising, since the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was anchored nearby to provide support, and on it was my dad. But like many of his generation, he didn’t speak much about the war, and Diego Suarez, though important, was one among several engagements in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Nor did he actually land in Diego, as he was a Telegraphist Air Gunner and despite the loss of a couple of aircraft, aerial combat itself was not extensive. Just as well perhaps – instead of hearing me tell his story, Alex might have been looking after his grave. Walking round Diego today, it’s difficult to imagine how strategically important it was back then – but a visit to the cemetery brings a sombre reminder.

Previous operations in Africa involving the Free French forces having not gone well, de Gaulle wasn’t informed of the attack on Diego – a slight which had lasting repercussions on his later dealings with Britain and America.The whole of Madagascar didn’t come under Allied control until November. Administration was then returned to the Free French, but the events of the war loosened their grip over the country, and in 1947 the Malagasy were emboldened to rebel. Their bid for independence was brutally crushed, with an estimated 30,000 dead. While the wars of independence in Algeria and Indo-China have received a lot of attention, the Malagasy uprising has been practically airbrushed out of French History. Strange, n’est-ce pas?

Where The Wild Things Are


Now, most creatures out in the wild scarper smartish before I get a chance to snap them, but this little fellow was extremely patient, allowing me put my camera right up close and take a dozen rubbishy shots before getting one that was decent. He’s a Mascarene grass frog, quite common, but as he doesn’t appear too often on blogs, he was happy enough to wait, though he did get a bit impatient towards the end.


He lives in Mauritius, but there was more in the Lokobe Reserve in Madagascar, which we visited with our guide, Ismael.


  • What I thought it was: A big nasty snake.
  • What Ismael said it was: A boa constrictor, not nasty unless you’re a chicken.


  • What I thought it was: Nothing because I didn’t see it.
  • What Ismael said it was: The Camouflage King, actually a Henkel’s Leaf-Tailed Gecko.



  • What I thought it was: Another big nasty snake.
  • What Ismael said it was: Just an ordinary grass snake.


  • What I thought it was: A big nasty spider.
  • What Ismael said it was: A not very nasty but definitely big spider.


  • What I thought it was: A nasty creepy-crawly thing.
  • What Ismael said it was: A nonvenomous millipede.


  • What we both said it was: Time for lunch.

Vazaha Homo Decrepitus


We saw several species of wildlife in Madagascar, but one of the most common was vazaha homo decrepitus. Whereas mzungu, the term for a white person in Mayotte, has no particular connotation, vazaha in Malagasy comes with baggage. Though it can refer to any white person, often it means ‘old (or very old) white man with money, paying for the company (and more) of young Malagasy women.’ Now I’m not young myself, but some of the specimens we saw were as doddery as they come. Muriel, our hotel proprietor, put it rather amusingly:  ‘When they leave France,’ she said, ‘they’re Paul Préboist, and when they get here they’re Paul Newman.’ I didn’t know Paul Préboist, a French actor who died in 1997, but all became clear when I googled him.

Unless the girls are under age (which happens) the issue here is less moral or legal than economic. Due to poor governance and political instability, Madagascar has stagnated for decades, making any specimen of vazaha homo decrepitus a very attractive proposition for a young woman who has nothing to sell but her body. Muriel was in two minds about it. On the one hand her hotel does well, as they congregate there for Sunday lunch, arriving on quads, their hair (when they have any) blowing in the wind. On the other, she said, they often behave towards their companions with detestable arrogance and contempt. Which makes it a human issue too.

The economy of Madagascar being unlikely to change any time soon, one can also look for the positives. For the girls (and their families) a level of financial comfort well above the average. And for the vazaha, when you look at the alternative mode of transport, what could be better than rejuvenation as Paul Newman on a quad?

quad_loncin_200_quad_utilitaire_homologue_rino_200                              zimmer

As a footnote, and tying in with  my interview of Adam’s Rib, here’s a quote from yesterday’s Guardian about men and women in ancient times, before economic differences upset the apple cart. Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” Link to the full article here.

How many eggs for Mrs. Godzilla?

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We saw a fair selection of wildlife on our recent trip to Madagascar, but one of the most beautiful, and certainly the easiest to photograph, was the Furcifer pardalis, or Panther Chameleon, which loped ponderously across the road like a miniature Godzilla. So ponderously, in fact, that I supposed quite a few get run over, which apparently is indeed the case. They also get picked off by snakes and birds, which led me to wonder, if they want to keep up the numbers, how many eggs do they lay?

We had a couple of guides who disagreed about this. Gauthier said just a couple, Ismael said up to forty – which seemed more logical and turns out to be right. According to the Durrell Organisation website, “At the end of the two to three week gestation period, the female lays a clutch of on average 16 to 20, and up to 40, eggs enclosed in a fibrous envelope that can quickly dry out when exposed to the dry air. The Panther chameleon digs its nest in bare ground to a depth of about 10cm. Once the eggs are laid the soil is replaced; the female then tramples the spot and presses the soil around the eggs. Finally, she covers the spot with dry leaves, sticks or grass. The entire process can take a whole day. The eggs take between six and twelve months to hatch and the newborns then clamber to the surface.”

So there you go. It’s quite an exhausting ordeal for Mrs. Godzilla (the orange one in the photos), who has a shorter lifespan than the male. He just strolls around making sure he’s the centre of attention. A reptilian version of Mick Jagger, if you like.

Lesser and Greater Lemurs


I sometimes wonder how good it is to be knowledgeable about wildlife. Does it put a dampener on things to know that what you’ve just spotted is not the extremely rare Lesser Crested Two-Toed Fine Speckled Plunger but the common-as-dirt Lesser Crested Two-Toed Medium Speckled Plunger? Is it not better to simply go, ‘Wow! Did you see that amazing bird?’

It’s a bit the same with lemurs. The maki, indigenous to Mayotte, are so common they’re getting to be a nuisance. But they pose prettily for the camera, and I still get a kick out of watching them swing through the trees.

In Madagascar, you don’t come across them quite so easily. And when you do, they’re often up in the tops of the trees, and reluctant to have their photo taken. They come in different colours and facial features, but to me, they all fall in the same category: creatures I point to excitedly that look a lot like monkeys.