10 April 2008

Ha-ha, and a mouse

Okay, here's what a ha-ha is:
The ha-ha or sunken fence is a type of boundary to a garden, pleasure-ground, or park, designed not to interrupt the view and to be invisible until closely approached. The ha-ha consists of a trench, the inner side of which is vertical and faced with stone, with the outer slope face sloped and turfed - making it in effect a sunken fence or wall.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the subject, which includes some photographs. I didn't actually see the ha-ha at Palluau-sur-Indre. I assume there is one, maybe at the bottom of the eponymous street. Or maybe there just was one at some point in history.

Here's a picture of a ha-ha, thanks to Wikipedia and
in case you don't want to read the whole Wiki article.

The American Heritage Dictionary says:
ha-ha (hä'hä') also haw-haw (hô'hô') --n. A moat, walled ditch, or hedge sunk in the ground to serve as a fence without impairing the view or scenic appeal. [French (perhaps as an exclamation of surprise).]
While we were in Palluau on Sunday afternoon, dodging ice pellets as sleet and cold rain showers blew through every few minutes, we looked down at the edge of the street below the château and noticed something that skittered behind a sign post to avoid being seen. I thought to myself: "That can't be a lizard in this icy cold weather."

Well, it was a mouse. What kind of mouse I don't know. In France, there are souris, which are mice, and rats, which are, well, rats. But then there are also musaraignes, which are shrews, and loirs, which are dormice. Not to mention field mice, which in North America are a kind of vole ("a small rodent resembling a mouse," I've read) and in Europe can be one of as many as 20 species of the genus Apodemus ("Old World field mice"). And by the way, what is a mulot? I think it might be called a wood mouse (Mus sylvaticus) in England.

According to the French Wikipedia article on Souris, or Mouse (Mice?), that term is a vernacular name used by French-speaking people for several species of micro-mammals that are not necessarily even rodents. It especially applies to animals in the genus Mus, which includes 40 species.

The rodent we saw at Palluau-sur-Indre. I'm sure somebody
will say "Oh that's just a mouse, une vulgaire souris.

Every time I've mentioned to anyone here in Saint-Aignan that I once heard mice in my attic, the French person has unfailingly told me it was probably some other kind of animal, from dormice to lizards and who knows what else. In California, in the same situation, it was what they called roof rats making noise up in the attic. Calling it a "roof" rat somehow made you feel better about having them living and feeding in your attic — they probably weren't really rats...

Well, I just did a Google search and found a site that says roof rats are Rattus rattus, aka Black Rats, the real thing. Chez moi, if I have a choice, I'd rather have loirs or souris or mulots.

By the way, would somebody (vous savez qui vous êtes...) please post a link to the real estate listing for that little house on the Ruelle de Ha-Ha in Preuilly-sur-Claise? Thanks.


  1. I will try again!!
    here you go

    I have looked at this place with longing more than once, but it's very small. I love the garden, and the street name. The location isn't half bad, either.

  2. Le mulot is Apodermus sylvaticus, the Wood mouse or Long-tailed Field Mouse, and with that white tum I think the chances are that this is what you have here. Mammals are not really my field of expertise, but I have seen this species in the UK, and I know it had a very good winter here - they have remained quite common and visible over the winter. http://ecologie.nature.free.fr/pages/mammiferes/mulot.htm. Les souris domestiques don't have such obvious white belly fur.

  3. Simon, the armchair homebuyers of Pennsylvania thank you for the link.

    Mice, voles, and other burrowers had a good year here too. I'm afraid my vegetable garden belongs to them now (and to sorrel). But the soil was so nice to turn over this morning. We'll plant peas and see if they survive the tunnelers.

  4. LOL or (appropriate today) Ha-Ha! I've encountered a rat in my garage once and my Florida neighbors poo-pooed it saying "it's only a palm rat". Well, guess what? Palm rats are only indigenous to India!


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