Caterpillars and Carbon Monoxide

Against a background of the terrible and sad news from Toulouse, the March sunshine has brought with it a choking smog that has covered Paris for more than a week.   Some rain or wind would be welcome to blow away the air pollution that has passed the European safety level 28 times since the beginning of the year.

To try and escape to some fresh air, last weekend we caught the train to Fontainebleau, for a walk in the forest.  No sooner had we started into the forest, we were confronted by a swarm of one of the most dangerous animals in France, advancing down the path towards us…

The Pine Processionary Caterpillar is a remarkable animal. Springtime is the period during which these gregarious caterpillars descend from the nests they build in pine trees, and march across the forest floor in single file, looking for a hole in the ground in which to pupate.  These “processions” are spectacular – the one we saw in Fontainebleau was 3 metres long, and we estimated it contained more than 100 individual caterpillars.

Apparently, caution must be taken when approaching these caterpillars, because their spines can detach, and if inhaled or in contact with skin, can cause violent allergic reactions in humans and domestic pets.  We got close enough to take some photos, but not close enough to be poisoned.

Luckily, no other dangerous beasts crossed our path.  The forest was still wearing its brown winter coat, but signs of spring were everywhere – finches were nibbling on buds on trees, and magnolias were just beginning to burst into flower. We’re still waiting for a storm to blow away the pollution over Paris, but this walk in woods was a welcome respite.


The New Camera

Shooting at Fontainebleau, earlier today…

A recent investment in a Canon 60D and a tripod will give me a chance to expose my rather rudimentary photography skills to public scrutiny. My trusty Canon Ixus 55 has provided sterling service for 5 years, and for a little 5 megapixel point-and-shoot, it did very well, travelling all around Europe, and beyond.

Entering back into the world of SLRs will be interesting – my last SLR (a Minolta 404si) was a film camera (remember film?). The Minolta accompanied me on my first adventures through northern Europe, and documented the early days of one million dollars. But picking up the 60D feels like I’m learning how to take photos, all over again.

Sigurdór gave me some good advice last year – “go manual from the start” – and so I’ve turned off most of the automatic functions on the 60D. This means having to think about aperture, speed and ISO all the time. It’s a tough discipline to learn, after several years just pointing a lens at a target and pressing the shutter button.  It’ll take a while to get used to it… but here are some of the first images:

The Grand Palais, Saturday night last week

Fire painting at the Palais de Tokyo

Forest flower, Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau