Training in France

Sorry, the story will be late. This week we are in training; writing, painting and cycling in France.

Watercolour of the barbwire gate of Natzweiler-Struthof, german concentration camp

Natzweiler-Struthof was a German-run concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller.

Watercolour of a french field with a sunlit tree line and looming thunderclouds

Back, just in time, before the thunderstorm. A nice atmosphere for a watercolour.

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How to improve your mermaid spotting skills.

One of the seven metal gates closing the former salt cellars at Wick Harbour depicting a mermaid based on childrens pictures

One of the seven metal gates closing the former salt cellars at Wick Harbour

Paddling around this enchanting landscape of the Scottish coastline, illusions of magical creatures under the waves start floating around in my head. It is almost tangible that there must be mermaids around.
Mermaids, sirens and selkies are all part of the seafaring folklore. They have been depicted at maps of the world from the middle ages. Shakespeare wrote about them in a midsummer night’s dream. Columbus reports having seen mermaids in the Caribbean. Although he thought the mermaids he saw, were ugly, mermaids are usually considered as gorgeous and seductive creatures. Nowadays the coffee brand Starbucks has a mermaid logo. So I’m not the only one with this fascination for these lovely half humans. I definitely want to find one and ask if she wants to go on a selfie with me.

But where to look for those shapely, long-haired, fishtailed women with enchanting singing voices of the deep in real life?

To find an answer to that question I start a scientific investigation to find mermaids in Scottish waters. What comes close to a woman’s figure? A dolphin or an otter?
The only creature that I can think of is a seal. Especially the harbour seal with its lovely round face and big dark eyes, though I’m not sure about the cubby body and bald head.
They love to sunbathe on the rocks and stones near the sea and curl their body, tail up, in a banana-shaped form just to have a good look at the approaching boats.
They swim close to the shore and are very interested in humans, they pop up right behind our kayaks just to have a curious look at us. But they are quite shy and when I look around, they quickly dive underwater. Very mermaidish behaviour if you ask me…

Sunbathing seals on a rock acting mermaidish

If you  use your imagination and squinted realy hard….

Perhaps I am looking at the wrong time of day, maybe I should look for mermaids at twilight or in semi-sleep moments.
The only sound I hear are the cries of the seals, which is similar to a howling dog, not very attractive to listen to. But no beautiful singing women’s voices.

Perhaps I’m in the wrong state of mind.
So I sat on the beach and try to find the 14th-century person in me and be more superstitious and open up my vivid imagination. Every unexplainable thing that is happening I will contribute to ghosts, monsters or gods. Expectantly I pear over the water and beaches, will I see a mermaid? One night does not yield any result, the mermaids are elusive, I sit there for 14 nights…
Alas, too much education I’m afraid. Science in that sense killed off all the monsters of the past.

Perhaps I’m not tired or hungry enough.
‘No’ I said to Alexander. ‘No food today, I want to see mermaids! This is a scientific investigation, very serious’.
He looks at me amused. ‘Have it your way’ he replied.
During the day I felt my energy dwindling. Yes, it is working. I should be seeing mermaids this evening’ I thought delighted.
I was getting behind and paddling slowly and in no fit state to pull the kayak above the tideline.
‘How is the experiment going?’ Alexander asked interestedly.
‘Brilliantly, I’m getting in the right state of tiredness and hunger.’ I answered enthusiastically but feeling absolutely lousy.
It all went downhill when Alexander started cooking. The smell of the food was too much for me. I could not resist and wolfed down the entire pot of pasta, only leaving scraps for Alex.
No backbone to endure the hunger experiment. And no mermaids.

Perhaps I need to be ill.
The perfect opportunity came when I had a blister gone bad and needed antibiotics badly. In a stupor of fever and medicine, we went out for a paddle. The only thing that happened is I tumbled over out of my kayak and no bloody mermaid came to rescue me.

Perhaps I’m not drunk enough.
Sitting on the beach with a bottle of whiskey I try to get drunk. I’m not a practised drinker so a few sips will make me completely lala. A perfect state of mind to see mermaids. The world went woozy, I saw a lot of falling stars and then passed out on the beach. Damn, I just need to practise more….

Perhaps I’m not desperate enough.
An abstinence of sex must be sufficient for me to see mermaids, shouldn’t it? I mean, all those 14th-century guys didn’t see a woman for months. They must have been pretty desperate and crave sex. They would jump everything that looked remotely female, desire makes everything look good even bald, chubby seals with moustaches on their faces.
Five weeks, I think, is not sufficient time to try this one in order to see mermaids. And I’ve got a man lying next to me in a tent. Too much temptation, I think I pass this one in my investigation.

Watersplash, just missed the mermaid

Was it really there!?

To wrap up my personal research I must conclude that having a vivid imagination, or being hungry, tired, ill, or drunk in itself is not a sufficient condition for seeing a mermaid. We have not ruled out however, that they might be a necessary condition for seeing a mermaid.
Therefore my recommendation for further research is to test whether a combination of these factors might bring flocks of mermaids to life. For the single traveller, the abstinence of sex could be a very promising field of further investigation. So many sailormen and fisherman can not have been wrong in the past for seeing mermaids, can they?

Charlotte Gannet