Le heron et le ragondin

As I said on here before, I quite like autumn. But this year it is really kicking my ass. More than usual it feels like my body is preparing for hibernation. Last week I took an afternoon nap that I couldn’t wake up from. I ended up sleeping for almost 4 hours, waking up groggy and disoriented and grumpy.

So instead of giving in to the afternoon low, now I try to do something else instead. When I had a headache, I decided to go for a walk instead. I only noticed that it had started to rain after I had made my decision (and had texted Gergö about it), so I really wanted to go through with it. I have a good raincoat after all, am not made from sugar etc..

I walked our summer’s usual evening route along the Yvette. On my way back I saw the heron again. It was just standing in the Yvette in the rain. I stopped and watched. I didn’t want to spook it, so I didn’t even take out my camera. I just enjoyed the view. After a few minutes I saw a woman approaching from the other side. She stopped under a tree and also stayed watching the heron.

To mangle a twitter meme, “I am ‘stopping to watch a stationary bird’ years old now”. I’m still enormously impressed by herons, I don’t know why.

The bird got a little agitated after a while and I expected it to fly away. But it just turned to look at the little nutria, that had just crawled out of the bank’s undergrowth and was swimming past the heron. That was finally too much for me to bear and I got out my camera and took a photo. I keep forgetting that I don’t have a camera with zoom anymore, so it’s basically a wobbly photo of a heron in the drizzle. Somewhere in the foreground, hidden behind greenery you have to imagine the nutria swimming past. Not pictured is me squeeing on the inside.

the heron in the yvette


La crue

Today, we woke up to voices outside at 6 am, so I peeked out and saw this:


Over night the entire parking space next to the house was submerged. The flowers the gardien had planted the morning before are no longer visible. The three cars remaining in the parking space were well under way of being submerged as well.

Morning view from our balcony in the direction of the Yvette.

I checked the entrance, and the boards that were put up the day before had all floated away. The light switch was still glowing, though.


There was no chance of leaving the house with dry feet at this point

water levels rising

There were people with yellow and orange vests and we heard our neighbours asking about evacuation. Basically the answer was: as long as we are safe, we should stay put. But they couldn’t say how the levels would develop, of course. Our neighbour pointed out that the switch box was on the top of these stairs, so that’s when the elictricity would cut off. We are half a flight of stairs up from that landing, so still not in immediate danger. Well not to our apartment but our Wi-Fi.

So we spent the day anxiously watching the water levels. It had stopped raining but the water was still going up, very slowly, but we noticed, by watching the stairs and the number plate of the half submerged cars.

The water level two hours later than the earlier picture.

The water level two hours later than the earlier picture.

At some point during the morning a woman from the neighbourhood showed up behind the house. It’s still dry there. She had brought food to one of the upstairs neighbours and handed it in via the window. Our left-side neighbour took the food and asked the woman if she could check at the local franprix for their phone number to see if they do deliveries. I got her number as well, just in case we’d run out of food. So far we are fine, Gergö’s just worried about running out of coffee, I think.

We could always climb out of the back window, but the problem would be getting in back in again. Gergö tried by lowering a chair on some string out of the window but the distance was too high so he abandoned the idea again. In the afternoon a friend came by with a small stepladder. With the stepladder Gergö tried to climb out and managed to get back in again as well.

The mairie put up an information page detailing which roads and bridges are closed and which buildings were evacuated. We weren’t going to be, but apparently some people called anyway and asked to be evacuated. So the firefighters showed up and helped people escape through the right side neighbour’s balcony. We decided to stay put, because at this point the water levels had stabilised. I don’t even know if there are gyms in France, where they put up evacuees at short notice. And if these gyms have Wi-fi.

It didn’t rain the entire day. One thing that kept coming though were the flood watchers. People showing up with cameras and phones, checking out the flooded street and splashing around a little, depending on adequate footwear. There must be hundreds of pictures of our submerged entrance floating around (see what I did there?).

I had a major headache half of the day. I blame the smell of petrol and the sound of pumps. Apparently somebody had stored some of it in the cellar and it’s now showing up as rainbow coloured streaks on the water in front of the house.

L’inondation de l’Yvette

When Gergö left for the office this morning he was gone for all of 2 minutes. Our neighbour told him there’s water in the lobby downstairs and even put up some tape, so people wouldn’t step in by accident. The floor is dark marble and you couldn’t really see the water. Gergö estimated about 5 cm of water at this point.

the lobby with 5 cm of water

At this point the janitor was informed and was still calmly planting flowers in the front yard. Gergö decided to stay home and work from home.

Some time during the morning a large truck showed up. I thought it would be sapeur-pompiers but it was a city of Palaiseau truck.


They started to pump the water, but gave up pretty soon.


A different truck showed up and put up road diversion signs on concrete bricks as a little runway, so we could leave the house with dry feet.

After lunch we took a little walk. The Yvette was already flooding, but you could still cross the little bridge.

Sometime during the afternoon the parking space next to our building started to flood and somebody went door to door to warn the neighbours, including us.

So after dinner, we took another little walk, even shorter than the last one. On the photo from 2 pm, the Yvette still had a right bank. By the evening the right bank was our parking space. We saw a couple of workers at the bridge with three little dogs in tow. The water wasn’t deep, the dachshund sized dog managed without doggypaddling. But it’s everywhere now.

Okay, I exaggerated, but only a little.  The corner of concrete is the parking space of our building.

Okay, I exaggerated, but only a little. The corner of concrete is the parking space of our building.

This is the Yvette in the early evening photographed from our parking space. The bench visible on the earlier photos is gone.

This is the Yvette in the early evening (about 7:30) photographed from our parking space. The bench visible on the earlier photos is gone.

Bye bye bridge to Villebon.

The bridge to Villebon was still open, but you couldn’t cross on dry feet. The geese are happy though.

As we returned to the apartment, I asked Gergö to take pictures of the entrance: The water is now muddy and smells of river.

The palette is now standing fully in water.

The pallet is now standing fully in water.

As I looked outside shortly before it got dark, the pallet had started to drift away

I took the photo from the bedroom window.

I took the photo from the bedroom window, hence the weird angle.

The street leading away from our house in a parallel to the Yvette is flooded now as well and has been closed. So is the bridge. The only way is up!

Right now about 5 people are standing in front of the house, discussing, but I’m not sure if they want in or if they are just chatting about the great flooding of 2016 and sightseeing. The gap to the pallet is too wide to jump. At least one of them is on the phone.

I’m happy here. As long as there is electricity, there is WiFi. And I just have to hope the electricity mains are not in the cellar, at least not close to the floor. Ask me again how I feel on Friday :-)

Le printemps est arrivé

The weather wasn’t great the last couple of days. It was mild during the day, but humid and it rained often. So on Friday, when I left for the supermarket, I hoped I’d make it home before the thunderstorm would break. Dark clouds were already gathering in the East. (I’ve always wanted to write a sentence as uselessly ominous as this.)

As I was walking along the Yvette, the insects were flying really low and I noticed the wind picking up. It was still warm and I’m not made of sugar, so I put up my hood and walked on. I figured I could wait it out in the supermarket, should the rain get really bad. Halfway to the supermarket, I noticed that I could already see the rain ahead, but it hadn’t reached me yet. When it finally arrived, big fat drops were falling, but so few, hardly any even landed on me. The wind was blowing petals around. At least that’s what I thought. On closer inspection, some of the petals turned out to be hail.

It was still mild and humid, just with big fat drops of water and the occasional hail pellet.

I got my shopping done and walked home with a heavy shopping bag on my shoulder. Just after the short descent down to the path along the Yvette I had to stop, though. Really close on the other bank there was the heron. I had spotted him before, but never this close. I stopped moving, turned off my music and just stared in awe. After a little while I wanted to take a step closer, but just this one step made him fly up. He circled a little, dipped his feet into the creek once and landed a bit further down on my side of the creek.

I was happy to stand still and just watch this time, but my shopping bag was so heavy it made my shoulder fall asleep, so I shifted it. That was enough to scare the heron away. He flew up, but they are big birds. It took him three circles to reach enough height to be able to fly away over the tree tops.

Only after my near religious experience with the heron I took out my phone to take a couple of pictures. The geese were for once not hiding. There’s a red headed duck around now. And I saw the first ducklings of the season and three (!!) baby nutria out and about where the geese feed, accompanied by one adult nutria. I didn’t photograph them, because all my nutria photos turn out terrible – the light, the water reflectin, the blurriness. You’ll just have to believe me.


duck parade


view towards the west along the Yvette


The red head.




New awesome smurf graffito under railway bridge


Gargamel has been caught spraying


Since the arrival of my running shoes in France, I slowly but surely ran out of excuses not to take up running again (See what I did there?). On Wednesday I finally did it. I downloaded a tracking app and went for a short run along the Yvette.

For a while I was running behind a walker, but it felt so ridiculous, I wanted to overtake him. I managed to do it, too, though it took much longer than it should have. It must have looked like when a bus overtakes a truck on the right lane on the autobahn by going 85 km/h.

Once I was past him, I couldn’t lose him, either. For one half of my run, he was there, walking behind me a couple of paces. He wasn’t even hurrying. I finally lost him, when I went across the bridge to run back home on the other side of the little stream.

Based on the advice of a running teacher, I carry the phone and keys in a little bag in the small of my back. Like a fanny bag but turned to my back. So there I was, across the little bridge, running along all alone in a quiet little forrest. When suddenly a stern female voice started talking German behind me. Well, at least I was alone, so nobody heard me shriek.

It took me a couple of seconds to remember: apparently I had hit a milestone defined by the tracking app and the phone told me my speed, distance etc.

It was a 20 minute run over a short distance. Despite walking half hour each way to the supermarket at least twice a week I have really really sore thigh muscles from this one quick run. I’m afraid this means I have to do it again. My training target is: running until I can take over a leisurely walker without problems.

J’aime les poires mais j’adore les mûres

Today I went blackberrying. I just finished a book about a British woman in rural France that used blackberry as a verb, so I can, too!

The walk along the Yvette is full with blackberry bushes and I have been picking them as I walk by. Today I brought a little tupperware container and …. realised that I wore the most impractical clothing imaginable for picking blackberries. I forgot they have thorns. The long flowy skirt really wasn’t a great idea.

Also, most blackberries are either dried up because of the August heat or not yet ripe.

These aren't ripe yet.

These aren’t ripe yet.

The ripe ones are really high up. They look so delicious. But with all the thorns it’s impossible to climb up there without serious damage. Some of them are hanging above the water and can’t be reached either.

sadly out of reach, about 2 metres up.

sadly out of reach, about 2 metres up.

If I found ripe blackberries in reach, there was usually a bug sitting on it.

You can just about make out the body, half hidden behind the blurry leaf

You can just about make out the body, half hidden behind the blurry leaf

All in all, it wasn’t a major success. I also noticed pear trees and at least one apple tree, so I picked one each. I only looked up wild pears and apples at home – they aren’t really edible until after they had frost. And even then they are not very good.

Not very impressive. Almost as pityful as my harvests ;-)

Not very impressive. Almost as pityful as my some of my balcony harvests ;-)

As I walked by an elderly couple talking with another man, he pointed at my tiny harvest and said something about “mûres” (blackberries!) and “quelques seulment”, which even I understood to mean little / few. I managed to get out a sentence in French, that the best ones are too high up for me. But since I neither knew the word for ladder, nor ripe my small talk with locals was quickly over.

After encounters like these, I always wonder what people make of me – what does a sweaty, impractically dressed middle aged woman speaking hardly any French do in the woods of Palaiseau of all places, foraging for food, which she clearly is not very good at? I kind of hope the regular walkers give me a crazy backstory.

In the end I gave up blackberrying because a thorn caught in my skin and broke off (is there seriously no expression for Schiefer einziehen in English?). It was in my right hand, too, and all I had to get it out was the pair of tweezers I pluck my eyebrows with. I was really proud of that home-made surgery. Now I only need to up my foraging game to become self sufficient ;-)

No tears were shed and no stitches necessary.

No tears were shed in the making of this photo.

Edited to fix typos.

Encore un week-end, encore une promenade

Two weeks since we moved here!

Our weekend was very quiet. We are both not used to not having to prepare the move, we were at a loss what to do with ourselves ;-). We didn’t want to go to Paris, because we are waiting for main tourist season to be over. And instead of studying French or watching a French movie, we binge-watched Orange is the New Black. This won’t help with my language skills, but in case my cheese smuggling operation ever gets busted, I’m all set.

On Saturday we went for a walk, and since this time there was no shopping to be done, we went along the other direction of the Yvette.

(Heads up: I’m trying a new, better gallery for my photos)

Westwards along the Yvette

Edited to add: not happy yet with the gallery – doesn’t show my comments on the pictures and doesn’t let you navigate with cursors through the album. bummer..

la nature

I mentioned the path along the Yvette before and the ducks and geese that live there. Gergö’s Austrian friend also told us about what he called “Wasserratten”. He didn’t know an English or French expression for them, neither did his French wife. Apparently the rats used to live right by the bridge, just down the road from us. Recently, the town has put up traps. When we went to the little bridge, they seemed to be gone.

But on one of our next trips to Auchan, the supermarket, we saw them a bit further down the path. They come out to feed as soon as someone shows up with bread for the ducks. And they swim among the ducks as well.

I remember a story by my mum about the time we grew up in Baden. The smelly river of Baden, the Schwechat, apparently had some muskrats that we liked to visit and watch. I don’t actually remember any of that, just that at some point the muskrat family “had moved away”. In reality, they were poisoned, because they were considered vermin, but my mum thought us too young to tell us that.

So I assumed the swimming rats were muskrats as well, and did some Wikipedia-ing. Turns out what he have here are river rats, also known as coypu or nutria. In German they are also called Nutria (which to me sounds like an artificial sweetener, to be honest) or Biberratte. They look very similar to muskrats, but don’t have a flattened tail, like muskrats do. The French word for them is Ragondin.

They are not native to Europe but were brought to Europe to be bred for their fur. Some escaped or were set free and voilà, ragondin population along small brooks in Île de France.