Jun 9, 2016

Don't Pet the Crocodile: Bleu du Nil


It comes from a very reputable-sounding source, a website called scienceinfo: Because of the flooding of the Seine, the crocodiles at the Vincennes Zoo were able to access pipes and sewers normally too high for them, and they escaped. They could come up the drains of Paris. You are told to beware and, smartly, not to try to pet them. Of course it turns out to be a hoax. But it's believable mainly for one reason: a crocodile really did escape into the Paris sewers, in 1984.

And not just any crocodile -- this exact crocodile pictured. Her name is Eléonore, and she lives at the Vannes Aquarium.

In 1984, she was spotted along the Seine, under Pont Neuf, and the fire brigade was called in. They said, "We stopped him with a shovel and brooms and we muzzled him with string!" The veterinarian from the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes came to pick him up. He estimated the croc was about two years old and had lived in the sewers for about a month or two. But he couldn't stay at the Jardin des Plantes long, so he sent him to Vannes, where one of the vet's friends was fulfilling a lifelong dream by opening an aquarium.

After many years, the crocodile has grown. And, it turns out, he is a she. It must be difficult to figure out the sex of a crocodile. The crocodile seemed to outgrow the space and got so big and dangerous that nobody could even go in to clean the habitat. So, in 2007, somebody had the brilliant idea to enlarge the habitat and, at the same time, make it easier to close the croc off from it when needed: they built a mock-up of the Paris sewer system, complete with pipes she can crawl through and Parisian-style green-trimmed, blue street address signs.

Several reports about the current state of the croc inform us that "Aujourd'hui, il lézarde à Vannes." "Lézarder" means "to laze around" (i.e. "Today, he is lazing around in Vannes" -- even though it turns out to be a "she") and I find the similarity to the world "lizard" particularly a propos, in this case.

It's a particularly good aquarium, and the kids and I ooh and aah over all sorts of interesting creatures even if Eléonore is, undoubtedly, the star. More than anything, we're amazed that we've lived in Paris almost five years and have never heard about this! I feel like a crocodile in the sewers of Paris should get more air time, even 30 years after the fact.

A propos of nothing, right next to the Vannes Aquarium is a butterfly sanctuary, which is also quite charming and well done.


Gigi is our family's resident animal-whisperer, the Dr. Doolittle of the clan, so we are not surprised when the butterflies start landing on her, including one that lands on her shoulder just seconds after hatching.


A propos of the crocodile story and of the phrase "a propos", the ScienceInfo website which prominently features the story about the escaped crocodiles from the Vincennes Zoo and looks extremely authentic has, as its tag line: "Toute l'info scientifique qu'il vous faut" -- meaning "All the scientific information you need."

But then, if you dig around (for a long time) on the site and click on a tiny, light gray button labeled "A propos" you'll be directed to another page that says this: "Voilà , il suffit juste d'être un peu curieux et de cliquer sur ce lien pour découvrir que ce site d'information scientifique publie des information totalement fausses, voire archifausses et en plus, même pas vraies." "Here you go, all it took was to be a little curious and to click on this link in order to discover that this scientific information site publishes information that is totally false, indeed ultra-false, and not even true."

It's both completely reassuring and, simultaneously, a little bit disappointing to know that I will almost certainly not be encountering a crocodile climbing up through the Parisian sewers. However, if 1984 repeats itself, at least I know not to try to pet it.

photo (and ridiculous story) from http://www.scienceinfo.fr/inondations-les-crocodiles-du-zoo-de-vincennes-sechappent-dans-les-egouts-de-paris/

THE CHEESE: Bleu du Nil

The Bleu du Nil is a gorgeous, really sumptuous blue cheese with oodles of character, made by the Darley family in Bretagne. It's made from raw cows' milk, at the same farm that makes the pungenDarley Frotté à la Bière Brune, which I used as a cheese to talk about some amazing and unusual things we saw that you don't normally see in Paris. I don't think it's coincidence that I keep picking this farm's cheeses for stories of extraordinary happenings: they are extraordinary cheeses.

Just look at the creamy cheese, lightly ivory with silvery green-blue streaks throughout. And then, feast your eyes on the little "candy" nuggets -- those highly-prized crystallized pieces that appear in certain aged cheeses and that just explode with flavor and texture in your mouth. If you like blue, and you get the chance to buy a wedge, buy the biggest wedge you can afford and work your way through. Delicious!


I find this gorgeous cheese in a Laurent Dubois shop when I am there filming a little clip for TV for a large report on M. Dubois (nothing to show you because, alas, my tiny portion ended up on the cutting room floor. But it was fun anyway). I am kicking myself, however, because I have already posted about the Egypt trip and any Egypt-France connections I wanted to highlight, a few months ago. For heaven's sake, I even wrote about the Nile. And here I am with the perfect cheese for it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our trip to Vannes and the Gulf of Morbihan in Bretagne. I didn't include the trip to the aquarium and the information about crocodile Eléonore because I wanted to tie it in to the pet shop along the Seine from which it supposedly escaped, although searching through records, it's now clear to me that nobody knows where it actually came from.

Then a few days ago, the levels of the Seine rose in historic floods, and I wrote about that, too, figuring it would be a one-time post, and there'd be nothing left to say about it. But then I saw the sensationalist warnings going around about "beware the crocodiles from the Seine flood" and I realized that I have the perfect use for the Bleu du Nil, after all, tied in with the Eléonore the Nile Crocodile (the children's book version of this would either have to be named Allison the Alligator or Kyle, Kyle, the Nile Crocodile) story that I hadn't yet gotten around to.

The fact that the cheese is actually made in Bretagne, and that the crust looks about as much like crocodile skin as you would imagine a cheese crust could, make it such a perfect match for this story, that now I'm happy I didn't know about it when I was telling tales from our trip to Egypt.

The Seine is anything but blue at the moment, still somewhat swollen from the floods; rather, it's as muddy brown as it gets. But the Bleu du Nil is a wonderful blue, indeed and, unlike the floods, comes around more than once every hundred years.


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