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Thanks be to Bleu. Common Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, Îl de Ré, Charente-Maritime, France | by Rana Pipiens
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Thanks be to Bleu. Common Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, Îl de Ré, Charente-Maritime, France

In pretty and austerely grey-stoned La Rochelle on France's Atlantic Coast, I could hardly pass up on the opportunity to go to the Île de Ré, an island now linked by a mighty bridge to the mainland. Though it was rainy, I wanted to look at the immense fortifications - ordained by King Louis XIV - of Saint-Martin, the Île's handsome harbor capital. But even more, I was intrigued to catch an eyeful of the birthplace of that intrepid and adventurous mariner, Nicolas-Thomas de Baudin (1754-1803). A fierce fighter, an intransigent commander, a naturalist, explorer, mapmaker. Baudin was one of the finest collectors of naturalia for France at the very end of the eighteenth century. He literally traveled the World; perhaps he's most well-known for his exploits around Australia and his scientific finds there.

Here's a pretty blue Lavandula angustifolia, Common Lavender, that I saw in the fields between Saint-Martin and La Couarde-sur-Mer. There are lots of plants on the island, but this one connects nicely with Baudin's biography. He enlisted in the French navy as a commoner and became a so-called 'officier bleu'. He'd been made to believe that soon he'd be a commander of a naval ship; but to his dismay he was displaced by a nobleman, an 'officier rouge'. He resigned and went on to become a merchant mariner and a Commander of Exploration. The World of Natural Science is eternally grateful for that failed naval commission!

Incidentally, that name 'Ré' seems to have nothing to do with 'regal' or 'kingly'. It is probably/possibly derived from an ancient Gallic word, 'ratis', signifying some aromatic herb. And sure, even in the light drizzle the island was awash with fragrance; briny from the sea and sweet perfume from many flowering plants and shrubs.

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Taken on July 6, 2012