Window Gazing Wednesday: Tea Time

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Last Wednesday, we strolled by the sea in a small French Riviera village. Today we’re in mega city Los Angeles at the Farmers Market, a historic LA landmark that opened in 1934.

Popular with locals and tourists alike, this lively spot at 3rd and Fairfax is a hub for shopping, dining and socializing. With more than 100 food stalls and restaurants, gourmet grocers, specialty shops and other attractions — including the fresh produce that launched its start — it’s a fun place to take out-of-town guests, stop for a bite and browse.

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An Invitation to Exploration

One afternoon my partner and I stopped in for lunch at Loteria, a popular Mexican food stand we like. On our way out through the market labyrinth, I spotted today’s WGW photo in a tea shop window:

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These sturdy metal teapots with their decorative designs and brilliant colors had an aesthetic appeal about them. They caught my eye and made me curious.

I’d seen similar teapots before, but in black or brown tones, not these vivid colors, and wanted to learn more about them. There was no time to inquire in the shop that day, but the find spurred some later investigation.

Teapot, Tea Kettle or Both?

I didn’t set out to or become an expert, but the teapots in that window display opened a fascinating world of tea brewing culture and history. Here is a summary of what I learned:

Cast iron kettles called “tetsubins” have been made in Japan since the 16th century and were developed for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. The traditional tetsubin is handcrafted and the interior is bare, uncoated iron. It is used only as a kettle for boiling water, not as a teapot for brewing the tea.  

Adding an element of confusion, a cast iron teapot with enamel coating inside, made only for brewing tea, is also referred to as a tetsubin. Its correct name is “tetsu kyusu.” In the 20th century many of these teapots began to appear for the overseas/online market, made by factories in Japan or China. They look much like the traditional tetsubin, but cost much less.

Why would you need both tea kettle and teapot? Boiling water in a tetsu kyusu will cause the enamel to crack, but most important, it’s about the transformative quality of the water: Using water boiled in a traditional unglazed tetsubin gives the tea an enhanced flavor and intensity. (You also get an infusion of iron from the kettle, which some find a health benefit.)

What about the varied colors? The traditional tetsubin is black with a pebbly surface. As these tea kettles evolved to teapots used at the table for serving, Japanese artisans began to embellish them and incorporate color.

What do you use for making tea? Do these functional works of art appeal to you?

For more details about tetsubins, see: https://hojotea.com/categ_e/tetsubin.htm and

https://www.lifeisbetterwithtea.com/japanese-tetsubin-cast-iron-teapot/

For a useful summary of the several Japanese teapots, see: https://www.californiateahouse.com/tea-blog/japanese-teapots-explained#

Explore the Farmers Market and its history here: https://www.farmersmarketla.com/

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Farmers Market courtyard photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission. Other photos copyright M. Vincent 2018.

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Window Gazing Wednesday: Still Life from the Sea

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One summer we spent a week in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a small village on the French Riviera close to bustling metropolis Nice, where my partner and I had stayed before. Attracted to the area from that first visit, we returned to explore it further in a different way.

Villefranche would be our base for exploring, but we also wanted it to be a destination in itself –– to treat it as home, join in the rhythm of daily life and get a sense of what it was like to live there.

While we took several day trips, to Nice, Vence, Villa Ephrussi, Cap Ferrat, we spent much of our time in town –– shopping at little neighborhood stores for wine, cheese, fruit and vegetables; cooking at home, as well as sampling the local restaurants and cafes; and becoming regulars at the wonderful little bakery down the street.

Villefranche is a great place for walking, and we walked everywhere. Turning down intriguing Old Town alleys, there was always something interesting to see.

A Walk to the Fortress

One day we decided to walk to the Citadel Saint-Elme, a 16th century fortress above the port, now home to the town hall and several museums and art galleries. It was a perfect, leisurely stroll by the sea, and window gazing was far from my mind as we climbed the ramparts, enjoying the flower-filled residential streets, historic architecture and beautiful views of the bay, like this one:

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For most of our walk there were no windows to be seen. Water gazing, not window gazing was the order of the day.

A Surprising and Inspiring Discovery

When we entered the museum and galleries area, I caught sight of an accessible window –– something I wasn’t expecting among all those unbroken fortress walls. I promptly went to investigate while my partner continued walking ahead. The building turned out to be a museum, which one I can’t recall, as I was riveted by the window display and failed to make a note.

What I found is today’s WGW photo:

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I’m fond of the still life genre across a variety of periods and styles, with paintings by Cezanne, Morandi, Luis Melendez and Remedios Varo among my favorites. I’ve also done my own, and when I saw this fascinating assemblage I knew I had to paint it.

A sign in the window said the objects were all retrieved from the Bay of Villefranche. I wonder what the museum researchers have discovered about this inspiring still life from the sea.  

Still Life in Progress

The life I returned to after the trip left little energy for art, and it took a while to bring my inspiration to fruition. A few years later I made it to the starting line. Here is the work in progress:

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Have you found creative inspiration in a window? What was your experience?   

 

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Villefranche town and waterfront photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.  All other photos and still life painting copyright M. Vincent 2018.

Window Gazing Wednesday: Bride and Groom at the Bakery

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Bakeries are one of my favorite places to window gaze, and I’m always on the lookout for enticing displays of cakes, pastries and other delights — to inspect, photograph and perhaps to sample.

Scanning the windows of a local bakery one Sunday, I found nothing fresh from the oven, but I did spot this sweet wedding cake topper, today’s WGW photo:

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The bride and groom had a charming retro look about them in their dress, pose and expression. To me, they suggested the 1950s, when elegant bridal gowns with voluminous skirts and a nipped-in waist were popular.

The nearby bridal bouquet was a bonus, providing complementary color, shape and texture to work into my composition. I zeroed in on the figures and the flowers, maneuvering to bring these two wedding symbols together. I thought the image might be used to create a wedding card or invitation with a vintage-modern style.

The Rise of the Bride and Groom Cake Topper

Looking at this photo again, I wondered when bride and groom statuettes came into vogue as wedding cake toppers. Here is what my research revealed:

In the United States, wedding cake decorations became a trend in middle class and affluent families before the Civil War and were common by the 1890s. Ornaments were generally simple, such as flowers, bells and small objects associated with the wedding couple.

The traditional bride and groom cake topper also appeared in the late 19th century. The little figures were initially handmade by family members or others from materials such as plaster of Paris.

Bride and groom figurines gained ascendancy in the 1920s when U.S. high society adopted them as the customary wedding cake topper. The tradition rapidly grew after American etiquette authority, Emily Post, mentioned them in her classic best seller, Etiquette, in 1922.

It was also in the ’20s that commercially made bride and groom cake toppers first became widely available. Major U.S. retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company began producing and marketing them then, and by 1927 had a full page in its catalog devoted to wedding cake ornaments. As the statuettes’ popularity grew, they were mass produced in Europe and Asia as well.

These commercial toppers were made from a variety of materials, such as porcelain, wood, wax, and later Bakelite and plastic. Bride and groom were generally dressed in formal attire, as in my photo. Specialty toppers were also made with grooms wearing military, police or fireman’s uniforms. 

The Traditional Topper Today

Many modern couples are forgoing the traditional topper, along with the standard white tiered wedding cake, although one commentator notes that vintage bride and groom figures are in demand, especially some made in the 1920s and ’30s.

The move from the traditional to the personalized and unique has been a continuing wedding trend. While flowers, fresh or sculpted, are a favorite alternative topper, many look for something more unusual to reflect their individual personalities, wedding style and theme.

For those who do choose the customary topper, today’s choices allow for self-expression: In addition to same-sex and multi-ethnic figures, there are options that reflect a couple’s personal or shared sports, hobbies, interests or informal style.

Are bride and groom figurines traditional wedding decorations in your country or culture? What did you — or will you — use to top your wedding cake?

 

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018

Window Gazing Wednesday: Here’s Looking at You, Kids

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Watch out when you go window gazing –– you may be surprised by something looking back at you. That’s what happened to me on a Sunday morning walk this weekend. It was, however, a happy surprise and means that WGW readers get more than one featured photo today.

My partner and I like getting outdoors early on Sundays for a walk or run. This time, we set out right after breakfast for a ramble through downtown San Pedro, a community close to our Southern California neighborhood. It’s a historic, Port of Los Angeles town with interesting old buildings and much to explore.   

Wandering through the arts district, we came upon a familiar block of art studios and started browsing the windows to see what was new. It was then that I experienced that odd phenomenon of context shaping what we see. 

We were approaching a studio window containing a table and chairs and a tall metal feline sculpture. On the chair at the back there appeared to be another sculpture, a life-size sleeping cat in smooth gray stone.

I was startled when I got up to the glass, took in the soft fur, the delicate movement and realized this was no work of art. “Oh, it’s alive!” I said to my partner. As if on cue, the “gray stone cat” suddenly opened its eyes, stared straight into mine and rose to give me a closer look.

Moving in that lithe, elegant feline manner, this charming creature posed fetchingly for the WGW beauty shots above and here:

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I was so focused on capturing that face, those striking eyes, I didn’t immediately realize that the gray cat had two companions –– a pair of dark-striped tabbies –– napping on the other chairs around the table. Here’s one in the midst of sweet dreams:

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As we stood watching the feline trio, another couple of walkers stopped by. They told us they often took this route and regularly saw the cats hanging out in the window.

These clever cats found an ideal place for napping or watching the world go by, complete with a scratching board under the table. No matter if they might have to shield their eyes from the bright California sun while dozing:

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They’re window gazers in their own right, looking out versus looking in.

Have you had a similar window gazing experience? If so, please leave a comment.

If you missed the start of the WGW series, you’ll find it and a very different animal sighting at this link.

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018

Window Gazing Wednesday: Ghost Town Sighting

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Today we’re in Old West ghost town, Bodie, California, an ideal place for photographers, history buffs and, of course, window gazers. There’s one in the photo above, peering into the side window of the James Stuart Cain residence, with its extensive antique bottle collection.

Bodie was a gold rush boom town that had its brief and wild heyday from 1877–1881. At that time, the town had 30 different mines, nine stamp mills for crushing the ore, and a bustling population of 7,000–8,000 miners, merchants, miscreants and families. As unsuccessful mines began to close, its population dwindled, though mining and habitation continued until 1942.

Now a California State Park, Bodie is located in the Bodie Hills, a beautiful, remote high-desert setting east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, elevation over 8,000 feet. Here is a view of the landscape:

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Bodie’s several layers of history make it a fascinating place to visit. Its abandoned houses and buildings — like the leaning structures above — are preserved in a state of “arrested decay” (repaired and stabilized, but not restored). They contain many things left behind when people packed up and moved away. Those dust-covered objects of everyday life tell Bodie’s changing human story.

Some buildings with these abandoned furnishings are open, but for most, window gazing is your gateway to the past — and there’s a lot to see.

In the Lions’ Den

I took several photos through Bodie’s windows. Today’s featured window-gazing find is from the late 1920s Wheaton and Hollis hotel and boardinghouse on Main Street:

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This massive antique billiard table, solidly grounded on fanciful lion feet, instantly captured my attention. It sits in a capacious room between a long dining table on the left and a large bar on the right, the setting leaving ample space for hotel patrons to move about freely.   

I loved those weighty, yet mobile lions and the table’s decorative, yet simple design. Who made it? And how did it get to Bodie? I was curious to know more about this – I have to say it – bodacious piece. 

It conjured images of lively social evenings with hotel diners, drinkers and billiard players happily circulating, warmed in the icy winters by the heating stove and their chosen libations from the bar.

The Monarch Billiard Table

Whether the Wheaten and Hollis Hotel brought the table to Bodie, or it dates from the earlier boom town days when Bodie had both a rough and an elegant side, I can’t say. Information from Bodie historians is welcomed.

My research did disclose what appears to be the table’s origin: It looks just like a restored lion-foot billiard table I found on eBay, identified as the J.M. Brunswick Manufacturing Company’s “Monarch” design.

Checking the Brunswick Billiards website, I learned that Brunswick introduced the Monarch, nicknamed “the King of Tables,” in 1875. The site describes its several design innovations and the various inlaid woods that form its Victorian marquetry.

The story is that Brunswick produced its first billiard table in 1845, after company founder, John Moses Brunswick, was taken with the game and a beautifully made table at a lavish dinner party that year. Before that, carriage making was the main business of this enterprising Swiss immigrant to the U.S.

After 170 years, Brunswick remains a global leader in billiards and other recreational products. For more about Brunswick and the Monarch: http://www.history.brunswickbilliards.com/

Have you been to Bodie or another historic ghost town? What interesting things did you discover looking into the windows?

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018

Window Gazing Wednesday: La Dolce Vita

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Last week, this photo series launched with a nighttime wildlife encounter in Bishop, California This week we’re off to Italy for a stroll through the streets of Treviso, a charming city not far from Venice with its own landscape of bridges and canals.

During a summer stay in Verona several years ago, my partner and I took day trips to Venice and Treviso – the former, a return to a favorite place; the latter, a first exploration.

With the city more packed with tourists than ever, Venice was a mixed experience, severely trying our patience as we fought through the crowds around St. Mark’s Square to reach more serene ground. By contrast, our day in less touristy Treviso was a pleasure from the time we arrived on the train. One of those “all smooth sailing” travel days.

We didn’t have an extensive agenda: the historic city center (centro storico) enclosed in its medieval walls, the canals and residential streets, Chiesa di San Nicolò with Tomaso da Modena’s 14th Century portraits of clerics in its monastery. We mostly wanted to wander, explore and, of course, sample the local cuisine and sparkling prosecco wine.

As we walked from the train station to the centro storico, we passed a modern shopping area with ample window gazing opportunities. The artful display of beautifully crafted sweets in the confectioner’s window drew me in like a magnet. Lovely little marzipan fruits, heaping bowls of orange and lemon sugar-coated almonds, bonbons infused with chocolate liqueur, grappa or prosecco – a stunning variety.

While the entire array was fascinating, my favorite creations were the cleverly shaped and decorated fruit jellies (polpa di frutta or gelatine) with their appealing colors, the focus of today’s Window Gazing Wednesday photo:

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I’d encountered Italian fruit jellies before and was smitten. Melt-in-your-mouth soft, with real fruit flavor, they were definitely not the American orange slices candy of childhood. The ones in the window looked so good I wanted to walk right in and taste them. I wouldn’t say “no” to a grappa-infused bonbon either. Alas, it was not to be – it was Sunday and the shop was closed.

Nevertheless, the day was still a lovely slice of la dolce vita. Next time, we’ll make it la dolci vita too.

What sweets have you discovered and enjoyed on your travels?

For more about Treviso, see my partner’s earlier post at this link. 

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018 

National Chili Month: Guest Chef at the Cafe

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Welcome to My Eclectic Café’s U.S. National Chili Month celebration. When fall arrives, I always look forward to creating variations of this popular, versatile American dish. This year, I’m excited to have guest chef, Under Western Skies (UWS), joining me in the kitchen to present a festive celebration menu.

If you follow his blog, you know that UWS is a dedicated chili aficionado who posts a new National Chili Month recipe every year. He’s an excellent chili cook too, so I invited him to team up on a Halloween-inspired chili feast.

The chili he created for the café is a healthy, vegetarian/vegan main dish, with colorful seasonal ingredients and an appealing blend of flavors. You’ll find a link to his recipe at the end of this post.

The café tables are set for the occasion with some of my favorite retro dinnerware:

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While UWS makes final adjustments to the chili, I’m at work completing the sides. It’s been a bustling, stimulating collaboration, and we hope you enjoy the results. Have some nibbles and your favorite drink while you peruse the menu:

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Part of the fun of developing the menu was finding the right balance of flavors and textures in the sides to complement the chili, for a pleasing overall meal. Following are my notes about the sides.

Salad

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I chose refreshing iceberg lettuce and fruit for the salad to provide a cooling and sweet contrast to the chili’s spiciness and heat. Bitter (radicchio), salty, and citrus flavors round out the dish. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette made with pomegranate-quince white balsamic vinegar, which pairs well with fall salads containing fruit.

Whole Grain Corn Muffins

A traditional accompaniment to chili, and a café favorite. A dash of vanilla and a splash of maple syrup add another element of sweetness to balance against the chili. Spelt flour and medium-grind cornmeal combine to produce a light and crusty texture.

 Special Beverage

We wanted to add some fall apple flavor and sweetness to the chili, but found the apple juice used in some recipes too sweet. We decided to try a dry hard cider, which could be a good accompaniment to the meal, as well as flavoring the chili.  Ace “Joker” ultra-dry hard cider from Sebastopol, California (in Sonoma County’s wine and apple region) did not disappoint. If it isn’t sold in your area, hard cider has a long tradition across America (and abroad), and you’re likely to find a local brand with similar characteristics.

Ready for Dessert?

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Chili is a substantial meal, best concluded with a light, sweet bite we think. Hence our mini dessert choices: a refreshing frozen option with a tart and tangy side, or a bittersweet chocolate bite, perfect with coffee. I wish more restaurants would offer mini desserts, and you’ll always find them at my café.

Under Western Skies Halloween Chili Recipe

My thanks to guest chef, Under Western Skies, for a great National Chili Month collaboration – and for the delicious chili. I encourage my readers to give it a try. You can find the recipe here

Thank you for visiting my virtual café. I welcome your comments. Happy Halloween!

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

All photos in this post copyright M. Vincent 2018.

Window Gazing Wednesday: Monumental Night Encounter

Welcome to Window Gazing Wednesday. Wherever I travel, and even in my home territory, I’m a dedicated scanner of shop windows, often stopping for a closer look and finding something interesting to enjoy, learn about or photograph.

Certain windows are always a draw: bakeries, antique stores, food shops, book stores. Beautiful ceramics, stationery and fashion displays also get my attention –– and of course, artful presentation, whatever the objects might be.

Surprising, amusing, thought-provoking, irresistible –– what’s behind the glass can be all of these and more. Pay attention to the windows as you walk through a place, and you’re likely to discover something remarkable, even delicious (like that enticing Italian pastry you’re staring at).

Looking over my photos recently, I found quite a few window scenes and decided to make them a series of vignettes for some weekly My Eclectic Café fun.

The Series Begins

I’ll start with an arresting sight that stopped me in my tracks as my partner and I strolled through downtown Bishop, California one night, exploring the small Eastern Sierra town after dinner.

This towering, 600-pound bear suddenly appeared in the window of a small antique shop, standing at full height, head nearly touching the ceiling:

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Mouth open, arms gesturing, intelligent face, he looked like an orator in the midst of a speaking engagement. So full of life, I imagined him turning to start a conversation or leaping out the window, grabbing our hands and leading us into a surreal night of adventure.

Anthropomorphic imaginings and hunting records aside, it was fascinating to see this magnificent, skillfully preserved animal close-up. Upon later research, I was happy to learn that no black bears are currently threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

About California Black Bears

Don’t confuse this bear with the one on California’s state flag. Our official state animal, the California grizzly –– a subspecies of the massive North American brown bear –– was hunted to extinction by 1924. The state’s black bears have fared much better.

Like the grizzlies, black bears were once considered pests. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) notes that there were no restrictions on how, when or how many black bears could be killed until 1948. Since then, perception and treatment have evolved.

Today, these bears are valued, studied and protected. Close monitoring and management, including strict hunting restrictions, have enabled them to increase and thrive. The CDFW estimates that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 black bears statewide.

Black bears are omnivores, but mostly plant eaters, with a preference for nuts and berries. Typically, they’re smaller than grizzly bears and significantly less aggressive. Adult males generally weigh 150–350 pounds, so it’s clear why the 620-pound black bear in the window set a record.

What window displays draw your attention? Do you have a startling encounter to share? 

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Black bear photo copyright M. Vincent 2018.

Black bear information derived from California Department of Fish and Wildlife website: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Black-Bear

Sunday in the Park with Goats

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Should my title bring to mind a famous French pointillist painting, this outing was nothing like Sunday in the park with Georges – Seurat, that is. No sedate stroll through an orderly green grove where other formally dressed weekenders placidly relax by the river, as in Monsieur Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

In our local park by the sea, the day was a riot of movement, activity and excitement as visitors met and mingled with a large herd of friendly goats:

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Parents, grandparents and kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, enthusiastically turned out for the chance to feed, photograph and frolic with the energetic goats, who frequently led the crowd on a merry chase around their fenced field.

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With the herd’s sudden, quirky movements, and the mob of humans chasing after them, capturing the action on camera was a challenge. These curious, intelligent and playful creatures seemed to enjoy the encounter as much as we did, and it was fun to watch the interaction. 

However, the day’s frivolity aside, these were no frivolous goats, but a team of experienced vegetation management professionals.

Meet the Goats

The City of Rancho Palos Verdes, where we live, employs goats for natural brush clearance around the city. My partner and I have seen them at work munching brush in various locations – in residential areas, on hillsides, at our local nature preserves.

This year we took the opportunity to learn more about them at the annual Meet the Goats event held at Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a park and whale-watching station overlooking the ocean.

The City presents this fun, educational family event along with Fire Grazers Inc., the company that provides the goats. This year, there were about 100–150 goats. Here is the herd beginning one of its surges:

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So many interesting faces and personalities, from grown goats to charming kids. I loved capturing this blissful character (top middle below), with head up, eyes closed, sniffing the air as if transported. I call him “the nirvana goat.”

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The event organizers provided hay for visitors to hand feed the goats. Also on the day’s agenda was a goat herding demonstration.

Eco-friendly Wildfire Prevention

In California and other drought-prone areas of the western United States, goat grazing is not only an efficient, eco-friendly land clearing method, but a wildfire prevention strategy.

We learned that the Fire Grazers goats come to town every year before the hot, dry fire-risk season begins. This year they’ll be on brush control duty until mid-July.

As the company name implies, Fire Grazers specializes in vegetation management for fire hazard zones such as ours. To learn more about their approach and the benefits that goats provide, see their detailed website.  

An Impressive Goat Herding Demonstration 

The demo featured another hardworking animal, Duke the herd dog. Here he is with a member of the Fire Grazers team and a young friend, waiting for his cue to perform: 

MV1768-Dog Duke, handler & girl pre-demo (640x486)

The Fire Grazers’ goatherd entered the field, and the action began:

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At the goatherd’s commands, delivered by speaking or signaling with his stick, Duke raced around the field, rounding up stray goats and uniting the herd. (Click on the photos below to enlarge.)

He also showed his skill by twice splitting the large herd in two, managing both groups, then bringing them all back together. After his vigorous labor in the hot afternoon sun, he took a well-deserved break in the water tub:

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His handler told us that Duke is 9 years old and probably in his last year before retirement: the rapid acceleration-deceleration required for his job becomes too much for an aging body. At the end of his service Duke will enjoy a quieter life at the farm.

The Old Goats Home

What happens to the goats when it’s time for them to retire? In my research on brush clearing goats, I came across a U.S. company with an admirable program. They’ve created what they call “The Old Goats Home,” where retired service animals from their herd can happily live out their days. The company seeks donations and goat sponsors to help support the animals’ care.  

I hope this program will thrive and to learn more about it. It would be great if all these industrious goats could enjoy the same reward for their service.   

Do you have vegetation management goats in your area? Please leave a comment.                               

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Image of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886) is in the public domain. The painting is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

All Meet the Goats event photos copyright M. Vincent 2018.

The Cat Who Played Bocce

 

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Introduction

I’ve been meaning to write this story for some time, and revisiting American humorist James Thurber and his quirky canines in some earlier posts (here and here) inspired me to finally do it. It’s a tale based on a real incident, and the cat (though a creature rarely found in Thurber) could well be one of his animal protagonists.

Many years ago we stayed at a small farm in the Italian countryside on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. Tucked among the trees in a green, hilly landscape, with 15th century stone buildings rising against the sky, our agriturismo (Italy’s term for a farm offering agricultural tourism) was a charming spot for a quiet holiday away from the rigors of urban life.

20031003 Covento Novole buildings Brad Nixon (640x419)

Had we arrived a month later, we could have joined in the olive harvest. As it was, we had a delightful time living in the converted chapel and using it as a base for exploring the historic towns, cities and natural beauty of the area. The property was once a convent whose original buildings, dating from 1450, became the farm’s guest accommodations.

When we travel, my partner and I like to stay in a place long enough to get a sense of the local culture and what it would be like to live there. We shopped for food and wine in the nearby village, bought fresh local ingredients from the farmers market, and cooked in our well-equipped kitchen, which included a large, thriving pot of basil thoughtfully placed outside the door.

We encountered several animals at the farm:

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a pair of affable horses that we met walking by their stable, two very friendly and proprietary dogs, who served as official greeters, and two roaming cats who regularly arrived at our kitchen door when dinner preparations were underway.

Two pillars flanked the door and each cat would leap on top of one, where both sat staring into the windows with an imploring look – especially the night fresh fish was on the menu. “Please cooks, can we have a taste?”

The dogs were a charming, amusing duo: Chiquita, a perky little black and white terrier with long floppy fur, and Pongo, her constant sidekick, a tall, sleek brown hound with a serious mien. They rushed to welcome us when we arrived and always ran to the car to meet us when we returned from a day of exploring.

Some feisty insects figured in our visit too, but The Hornets Who Took Over the Kitchen is a story for another time.

We enjoyed relaxing at the farm and could have done more of it, but with so much we wanted to see so near, we chose a more ambitious agenda – for who knows when we’d be able to return? In a week, we visited Perugia, Assisi, Siena, Deruta, Montepulciano, Todi, Bevagna, Cortona, and Gubbio, where I found this cat appropriating a motorcycle for an afternoon cat nap:

Gubbio motorcycle cat (640x446)

It was the right decision, but as we left the farm each day we always looked back at the bocce court. My Italian grandfather taught me to play, and my partner and I love a friendly but competitive match. We had to play at least one game on this inviting Italian court in its beautiful country setting:

Novole bocce Brad Nixon (430x640)

Close to the end of our stay, we took a rest from our travels and spent a lazy day just hanging around the farm, savoring the last of our time there. The autumn weather was glorious, and in the lovely late-afternoon light we headed to the bocce court.

We had the place to ourselves – even the dogs, Pongo and Chiquita, were nowhere to be seen. We gathered our balls, tossed the pallino down the long, smooth court, and dove into our match with focus and intent.

About halfway through our close and challenging game, I saw one of the two “pillar cats” trotting along the right sideboard. She gave us a quick glance as she passed, moving as if she were on a mission. I turned back to the game, and gave her no further thought.

We played on, with all the balls so close to the pallino that each throw increased the tension. On the last throw, it was my turn, the game mine to win or lose. I braced for an underhand throw, tried to gauge the right velocity and trajectory, took a breath and let go.

My ball rolled down the court, knocked one of my opponent’s balls away and was about to stop, almost kissing the pallino. As it did, the cat suddenly leaped out of the bushes next to the sideboard and pounced on the ball.

She’d been there watching us, waiting for her moment to jump into the game. We broke out laughing at this whimsical twist and went to inspect the final results. The cat, still grasping the ball with her front paws, gave us a triumphant look.

Despite my opponent’s initial protests, the cat had made no illegal movement of the ball. She’d simply jumped onto it where it landed, as if formally declaring the game was over and she was claiming the winning ball.

More than a decade has passed, and the animals who graced our visit have likely been succeeded by others, but I like to imagine the bocce cat still there in spirit, tracking the action on the court, preparing to pounce.

Note: For information about the guest farm in this story, Novole, go to http://www.novole.com/.  It appears from the website that some refurbishment has occurred since we visited 15 years ago, so it may not be quite as rustic.

Copyright M.Vincent 2018

Bocce cat multimedia and animal photos copyright M.Vincent.

Novole buildings and bocce court photos copyright Brad Nixon, used with permission.