French Place Names

 

Notre Dame on a Rainy Evening, 2014

Notre Dame on a Rainy Evening, 2014

Happy Bastille Day (for the 14th)!

I took the photo above in Paris, one rainy evening in October, 2014. As most of you will probably be aware, it shows the cathedral of Notre Dame, on the Île de la Cité. Mary and I were staying nearby on the Île Saint-Louis at the time, and I was out for an evening stroll after the rain.

I just learned that the father of the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, is an expert on cat sneezing! During our visit, we spotted this Parisian resident, not sneezing, but gazing out over the River Seine from a balcony on the Rue Chanoinesse.

Cat on a Ledge, Paris 2014

Cat on a Ledge, Paris 2014

On that occasion, we visited not only Paris (unlike President Trump’s seemingly imaginary friend Jim), but also southwestern France, and stayed for a while in the Dordogne, which is a beautiful and fascinating region that I’d never previously seen.

We stayed in the village of Bézenac, and visited several nearby locations. One of the best known of those is perhaps Beynac, which has been nominated as one of the world’s most beautiful villages. Perched on a cliff high above the village is the Château de Beynac, as shown in my photo below.

Beynac from below, 2014

Beynac from below, 2014

The opposite view, shown below, shows the scene from the walls of the Château de Beynac, looking down towards the Dordogne River. Incidentally, at one time in the Middle Ages, the near side of the river was in France while the far side was English territory!

Beynac from above, 2014

Beynac from above, 2014

Langue d’Oc & Langue d’Oïl

The South of France is often referred to as the “Languedoc”, and the origin of that name is linguistic. In medieval times, there were two major dialects of French, which were named according to their respective words for “Yes”.

  • In the North, the Latin expression for “yes”—hoc ille—had evolved into “oïl”.
  • In the South, the same Latin expression had become “oc”, hence the language was the “Langue d’Oc”.

All Those “Acs”

I was naturally curious as to why so many of the place names in the Languedoc end in “ac”. I assumed that it must refer to some characteristic of the settlements so-named, as for similar recurring endings in British place names, such as “ham”, “thorpe”, etc.

After we returned home, I bought a copy of a book that explains the origins of place names in that region: Origine des noms de villes et villages de la Dordogne (Cassagne, Korsak).

NomsDordogne

The book explains that the “ac” ending refers to the existence of a villa at the location during Gallo-Roman times. The Gallic names for such places ended in “acos”, which the Romans Latinized as “acum”. For example, the village we stayed in, Bézenac, was originally Bisenacum (the “villa of Bisenus”).

However, the Latin “acum” place name ending morphed into a modern ending differently, according to the region. For example, in parts of the North, “ac” became “ai”, such as in Cambrai, while in areas near Paris it became “y”, such as in Orly.

In a previous post, I described how the Roman name Eboracum evolved via several contortions into the modern place name York, in Northern England.

Perhaps I should have spotted that all those “ac” place names in Languedoc were really just that same “acum” ending that I’d already encountered in Yorkshire as a child!

Moggies Cartoon: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

This was the first “Moggies” cartoon that I created for display at the Sonoma County Fair. It seems like an appropriate time of year to post this episode!

I already posted the other two Moggies cartoons (Pure Water and Royal Blood). As you’ll have noticed, this first example was not in color. When I began producing comic illustrations about 30 years ago (long before this cartoon, of course), monochrome artwork was still very common, due to limitations of the printing processes. Now, however, there’s rarely a need to print only in monochrome, even in newspapers.

 

Fishbourne Palace: Roman Mosaics & Matrices

Fishbourne Palace Floors, Sussex, UK

Fishbourne Palace Mosaic Floors, Sussex, UK

Since ceasing to live in the UK in 1987, I have returned many times for visits. On one occasion in 1997, I visited the amazing Roman remains at Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester. This is the largest known Roman residence north of the Alps.

There’s nothing left of this vast palace above ground, and in fact, until work began on a planned housing estate in 1960, nobody knew that it was there at all. Under the surface, however, excavations revealed large numbers of mosaic floors in various states of preservation. The photo above shows some of the mosaics and remaining foundations, which are now housed within a museum that was built over them. Outside the museum, part of the palace’s Roman garden has been recreated.

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

The photo above shows the famous “Cupid on a Dolphin” mosaic at Fishbourne Palace. By an incredible stroke of luck, the mosaic is perfectly preserved, except for some subsidence of the ground underneath, as is visible above.

Much later, in 2012, I visited another Roman site, Verulamium, near the modern city of St. Albans. This site also features impressive mosaics, and even some surviving decorated plaster walls.

For various reasons, Britain has relatively few surviving Roman structures above ground, but the Verulamium Museum, shown below, is an impressive modern building based on Roman designs.

Verulamium Museum

Verulamium Museum

Inside the Verulamium Museum are a wide variety of artefacts discovered during the excavation of the city, including several building tiles that contain paw prints from cats and other animals that walked across them around 2000 years ago.

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

A cat paw print was also found on a Roman roof tile in Gloucestershire a couple of years ago, as described here.

During my visit to Verulamium, I bought a small but interesting book called Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics.

I’ve referred to this little book from time to time since then, whenever I’ve needed some explanation of the construction of Roman mosaics. It only struck me recently, however, that (as described in the book) most Roman mosaics are laid out in a rectangular matrix.

Over on my professional blog, I’ve written several articles about Bitmap Graphics, which are themselves based on rectangular matrices.

It really is an astonishing connection between ancient art and modern technology!

Moggies Cartoon: Pure Water

Moggies: Pure Water

Moggies: Pure Water

Here is the second Moggies cartoon, which I originally produced for display at Sonoma County Fair.

The theme of this strip seemed to ring a bell with many cat owners!

I already posted one of the three Moggies cartoons that I’ve produced to date. The third has an Independence Day theme, so I’ll post that closer to the actual day!

My First Cat

Dusky with My Mother, 1969

Dusky with My Mother, 1969

Here’s a photo that my father took in 1969, showing my mother sitting near the pond in our back garden, with my first cat.

Strictly speaking, the cat wasn’t mine, and wasn’t really anybody’s, because she was what would now be called a “feral” who simply showed up in our garden one day, along with several other ferals who were even wilder than she was. This particular cat liked being fed and petted to some extent, and didn’t mind coming into our house occasionally. She always went out at night, but I’m not sure whether that was because she wanted to do so, or because my parents simply had the attitude that “at night you put the cat out”.

I wanted our cat to have a name, of course, but nobody seemed willing to agree on anything. I had an old book that I’d inherited from a neighbor called Calling All Kittens, which featured large paintings of various cute kittens. The kitten in the book who most resembled our feral was named “Dusky”, so that was the name I gave her. However, nobody else in the family seemed willing to use that name, always referring to her by the unimaginative title of “Puss”!

How Not to Transport a Feral

We moved in 1970 to a house on the other side of Scarborough, and my mother attempted to move Dusky along with us. It didn’t go well.

Firstly, Dusky had never before ridden in a car, and didn’t like it at all. She jumped around in a panic for the entire journey.

When we arrived at the new house, my mother decided to keep her indoors for the day. However, when night came, she just did the same as always and “put the cat out”.

We never saw Dusky again.

Of course, now I know that that’s absolutely not the way to move your cat from one house to another! At that time, I was only ten years old, so, even if I’d known what to do, I doubt that my parents would have listened to my advice.

I’ve also learned since then that “putting the cat out at night” is neither necessary nor desirable. In California, it’s almost a death sentence, since cats can encounter common animals such as raccoons that can inflict major injury or death.

The Balloons Come Down

Balloons in the Park

Balloons in the Park

We’re accustomed to seeing hot-air balloons passing over our house, but they usually don’t land next to it! This morning, just as I was getting dressed, two balloons came down, presumably due to an emergency. These photos were taken from our bedroom window.

The first balloon to land was the one on the right, which touched down on the empty lot on the other side of Sebastopol Road. The second one then followed it and landed in the church parking lot.

The operators then deflated both balloons and brought up their trucks to cart away the hardware. Unfortunately, the deflated balloon is obscured by the tree below.

Deflated balloon in the Park

Deflated balloon in the Park

Needless to say, our cats were intrigued by the unusual sounds. As shown below, Ginger was “on patrol” by the bedroom window, in case his help was needed.

Ginger on Balloon Patrol

Ginger on Balloon Patrol