Three Goats For A Scot

Thanks to my colleague Daniel, my project to read a book from each country in the UN plus from various dependencies and territories now has a name: WorldBookProject.

This is the current situation for mid-April, countries and territories #24 to #30:

  • Afghanistan: Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner
  • France: Émile Zola – The Fat and the Thin
  • Ghana: Taiye Selasi – Ghana Must Go
  • Isle of Man: Elizabeth Cookson – Mylecharane: The popular and most ancient Manx National Song
  • Navassa: The National Grand Tabernacle, Order of Gallilean Fisherman – The Navassa Riot
  • South Africa: Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls
  • Zimbabwe: Tendai Huchu – The Hairdresser of Harare

Ever since its publication, I had avoided the Kite Runner, just because of the hype. But then, I needed a book for Afghanistan, and this one was available in the library of the language school where I work. It didn’t disappoint. However, I thought a few fewer coincidences and a bit more subtlety would have been better.

Zola’s book Le Ventre de Paris came in a rather odd translation. The translator left footnotes in which he admitted to having changed or omitted parts of the text! Nevertheless, this being my first book by Zola I’d certainly like to read more. Maybe once I’ve learned to do so in French.

Adjoa Andoh’s performance of the audiobook of Ghana Must Go was, as was the book, spellbinding. In parts the writing reminded me of Ulysses, especially the first part of the story.

Reading Mylecharane opened up completely new worlds. I learned that the life of a Scot was worth three white goats, that the killing of wrens was a pastime on the island, and that German poets Heine and Uhland are part of the national legend. For all interested in Manx language and literature, there is a lot more available online.

Navassa is a tiny island in the Caribbean claimed by the USA. Nowadays uninhabited, it was used for guano mining more than 100 years ago. Conditions must have been awful, and some of the workers rioted. The booklet I read is available online, an informative piece on the history of this riot and the court of law which followed.

So far, I’ve read three novels by Beukes, and I liked the Shining Girls best. Even if I think that it could have done  with a little less gore. In addition, it was good to read some sci-fi again, although it wasn’t easy to keep track of who was when and where.

Last, but certainly not least, the Hairdresser of Harare. When I read this book for the first time, I was more than halfway into the story before I realised where it was heading. Now that I knew, it was still a great read. As one of the characters said: ‘homosexuality between consenting adults behind closed doors harms no one’.


The Hare, the Stork and the White-tailed Eagle

Last weekend, on a splendid day in spring we went to the WWF reservation in Marchegg. We saw many gorgeous birds, amongst them our first Imperial eagle. Photos can be found here. Hares were munching away on the fresh grass, and the turtles basked in the sunshine.

hareturtles Bees, bumblebees and butterflies were also out and about, like this comma.

commaA very first sight for us was the Pied flycatcher. On top of that, I managed to take my very first picture of a jay, too.

flycatcher jaySo many firsts in spring – the number one Kingfisher of the year.

kingfisherNow, the bigger ones. The herons were already much quieter and mostly sitting on their tiny nests high up in the trees. The stork colony has begun to fill up, with a lot of nest building and mating going on.

white storkIn addition to the already mentioned Imperial eagle, we saw Sparrowhawk,  Marsh harrier, Red kite and Kestrel.

red kite kestrelBiggest of all was a hunting White-tailed eagle, and I’m actually a wee bit proud of these photos: finally some focused shots of a bird in flight with a 300mm lens.white tailed eagle 1 white tailed eagle 2

The Palace of Eggenberg – The Interior

If you want to see the truly spectacular state rooms of the palace, you need to go on a guided tour. Since I’m interested in history and art, I found the tour of one hour actually quite short. On the other hand, we got so much information from our guide, it was impossible to take it all in. Anyway, here are some photos of the paintings in the planetary room, just one out of two dozen state rooms which are part of the tour.

painting 1 painting 2 painting 3 painting 5 painting 6 painting































Another remarkable object is the Osaka folding screen in one of the state rooms. It has a fascinating history which is described in detail on the museum’s website. Osaka folding screen

The Palace of Eggenberg – Gardens

The palace of Eggenberg within the city limits of Graz is a UNESCO world heritage site. One can opt either to only see the gardens, palace Eggenbergor to buy a ticket which allows one to visit the palace on a guided tour, the archaeological museum, a gallery and a numismatic exhibition. Since they had their first open day for visitors this year when we were there, we chose to see pretty much everything. This post is only about the gardens, though. The reason? The birds, what else? First and foremost, the pride of peacocks.

peacock peacock head peacock behind peahen peacock legs peahensIf you would like to see more, there are photos included in two earlier blogs (March II and March III about my reading project).

Well, compared with the ostentatious peacocks every other bird will look a bit drab. Nevertheless, they’re wonderful too!

hooded crow house sparrowLast but not least, here’s a mystery bird. Any idea what species he is?mystery bird

Over the Roofs of Graz

Right in the centre of town, Graz is mightily enhanced by the hill called Schlossberg. One can choose to take the lift up, or the funicular, but we walked. Great views!

view of Graz

The blue building that looks a bit like a toad is the Kunsthaus, the house of arts. The most famous feature of the Schlossberg is probably the clock tower.

clocktowerAnd when I’m talking about over the roofs … naturally, there have to be birds. People tend to dislike pigeons, but I find them remarkable. Sparrows should be paid much more attention anyway, since they are so much in decline in certain areas.

rock pigeon female house sparrow

Seeing a nuthatch or a hooded crow is always bloody brilliant! With the (willow) warblers I’m still struggling, but I hope I can learn a few more species this year.nuthatch warbler   hooded crow

The Signs of Graz

sign 1

morning is relative breakfast until 4pm

Graz is a university town, caters for an international audience and is on the whole quite laid back and philosophical. The signs throughout the place often speak for themselves.


roof avalanches




sign 2


sign 3



sign 4


Turkish soldier.

Turkish soldier.

Graz is also aware of its role in history. The international project Stolpersteine serves to remember people who lived in the houses in front of which the stones are laid and suffered under the Nazis. In this particular case, the members of the Gertler family fled and were not murdered.stolpersteine

Along the River Mur

During the Easter holidays, we spent some time in Graz. It’s the capital of the Austrian region of Styria and has the advantage of being very close to Slovakia, Hungary, Italy and Slovenia. Additional pluses include the surrounding hills, the breathtaking views of the Alps and the river Mur in the centre of Graz. The riverbanks are easily accessible and make for leisurely walks or more strenuous runs, if one feels like running. I don’t. In the middle of the Mur is an artifical island with a little restaurant.

MurinselThis island was part of some art project, and art in many forms features heavily in Graz. Graffiti seems to be quite popular; we even found what surely must be the world’s biggest robin.

graffiti robin graffitiLuckily, there were also real birds flying and swimming around. Here are two which I’d never seen before – goosander and dipper.goosander dipper


Just before Easter, we woke up to thissnow in late March:

Luckily, the snow went almost as fast as it had come, and spring could continue as usual. We went on one of our little excursions to Marchegg to have a look around the WWF reservation.

The first storks were back, but the stars were the herons in their tree nests. How do they manage to rear young in something so flimsy?Grey Heron

The reservation is also home to a small herd of horses, the breed is called Konik.konik horses Of course, there were the smaller birds around. I’m not sure if the pipit is a meadow or a tree pipit. pipitKestrel, yellowhammer, chaffinch and black redstart showed up too.

kestrel Yellowhammer chaffinchBlack RedstartWe then walked to the lake Kleiner Breitensee which is an essential and protected area for migrating birds and a place to rest over the winter. There were pochards, mallards, geese (probably greylag geese), egrets great and little, lapwings and coots. Lake Kleiner Breitensee