David’s Discoveries: The Beetle-Loving Calligrapher Of Paris

David Downie, AOL

For the last 26 years, calligrapher extraordinaire Eric de Tugny has lured the curious into his magical bolt-hole of a stationer’s shop in Paris, on the Rue du Pont Louis Philippe.
Long down at the heel, part of the crumbling old Jewish district, this short, straight road is on the western edge of the Marais. Most of the traditional businesses have gone elsewhere, though the nearby Shoah Memorial remains the neighborhood’s soulful anchor. Now a chic shopping enclave, indigenous bobos and visitors crowd the sidewalks to gaze at the handmade papers in the accessory-filled boutiques, do the photo gallery and tea salon, and open their wallets wide in the chocolate or specialty food shops that stand cheek-by-jowl between the Seine and Rue Francois Miron.

The shop’s name – “Mélodies Graphiques,” meaning “Graphic Melodies” – gives nothing away. What might it really mean?

The melody of beautiful writing, or the graphic quality of music? Inside, Bach or baroque chamber music plays softly on the sound system. The only other sound is that of Tugny quietly penning sinuous lines of his inimitable script letters – creating invitations and announcements, or love notes, wedding menus and anything else clients can imagine where the beauty of the penmanship and the composition are essential to the message. Perched behind his working surface – it doubles as the cash desk – Tugny merges village scribe and New Age seer.

He has far too much work for one calligrapher to do. Fan mail from friends and clients in Helsinki, San Francisco, Casablanca and London is pinned to the wall behind.


But there’s more to the shop than first meets the eye. All may seem proper and normal: pens, pencils, wrapping paper, agendas, book plates, cards and suchlike are carefully displayed, with an artistic yet orderly sensibility. Look closer and you might recoil. Real, preserved bugs adorn the shop windows, or perch near the cash register. The book of bugs, a richly illustrated volume with Tugny’s illustrations, is displayed nearby.

What makes the middle-aged Tugny so extraordinary is not merely his talent with quill pen, ink and rag paper. Insiders know the impish Frenchman as the City of Light’s most bug-wild, beetle-mad collector, an intrepid hunter, preserver and illustrator of creepy crawlies, coleopteran many-legged, horned, fanged, stinging, biting, dangerous, deadly, gorgeously weird-looking insects from around the globe.

If you’re lucky you might step in as he’s drawing a scorpion he caught, most likely in the Cote d’Ivoire, and brought home triumphantly, pickled and floating in a mason jar.

Ask the affable Tugny what he has in the old-fashioned folders propped up on wooden crutches at the front of the shop and you will be treated to beetle mania. Green bugs with antennae that would put Big Ears to shame, locust-like monsters with translucent wings, giant yellow beetles with chocolate-brown bottoms seemingly dipped in chocolate – dozens and dozens of exquisite drawings done by Tugny. Each is a labor of love requiring, on average, 60 hours of work with loupe, caliper and the ink-filled tools of his trade.

Born in Morocco to French parents, brought up and educated in Lyon, Tugny’s first profession was biologist, with a specialty in entomology. His expertise: the coleopteran of North Africa. In the last 30 years he has captured – or been sent – every known species, and has immortalized each with the precision of an Audubon. Astonishingly, the modest, soft-spoken Tugny is self-taught, his hand and mind driven solely by passion.

“It all started 15 years ago,” he told me recently, one rainy Paris day as spring turned to summer, his mirth contagious, “with an invitation to a bar mitzvah.”

A local Marais resident came to buy paper supplies, admired his handwriting – the store hours are in calligraphy – and asked him to write out names and addresses for a celebration. Soon the Jewish community was beating a path to him for personalized invitations: bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, special events, art exhibitions and more. Word spread. Now photographers, authors, movie directors, fashion designers and wealthy new neighborhood denizens beeline to Tugny’s shop. He is in such demand that, with evident regret, he refuses clients who don’t give him a long enough lead time. I watched as several came in, one begging for the scribe to write a letter, another to create a menu for a soiree.

The calligraphy led him to indulge his twin passions: drawing and insects. Now he’s preparing to sell limited editions of his prints. “Oh, I never sell the originals,” he answered when I inquired politely. “Those I will always keep.” Alongside the mounted pickled bugs – and his inimitable, wry sense of humor.



Author and private tour guide David Downie’s latest critically acclaimed books are “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James” and “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His Paris Time Line app was published in April: www.davidddownie.com and www.parisparistours.com.

Museum Month: Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum, Plano, Texas


We’ve covered some pretty weird museums this month here on Gadling. One that may take the prize for the weirdest is the Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum in Plano, Texas.

Museum curator and professional exterminator Michael Bohdan opened the museum so he could educate people about a bug that’s got a serious knack for survival. As Bohdan points out, cockroaches have been around more than 350 million years and survived a lot of Earth’s upheavals that have killed off lesser species, so we might be able to learn something from them.

Wearing his roach-lined fedora, Bohdan takes visitors around the displays, showing off little dressed up bugs such as Marilyn Monroach and Ross Peroach. There’s even a Liberoachie that plays the piano. More serious displays tell about roach biology and the amazing ways they’ve adapted to a wide range of habitats.

For more strange educational experiences, check out more of our articles on weird museums!

Worlds largest insect discovered in New Zealand?

World's Largest Insect?New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island holds the unique distinction of being the home of the world’s largest insect species – the giant weta. This endangered bug, which resembles a very large cricket, can weigh as much as a small bird and has a wingspan that can exceed seven inches across. The creepy-critters were once common throughout New Zealand, but the introduction of rats, and other pests, by Europeans have all but eradicated the insects there.

The giant weta made headlines across the globe recently, when a former American park ranger by the name of Mark Moffett claimed to have found the largest weta ever documented. The story was accompanied by a picture of the creature happily nibbling away on a carrot while sitting in the palm of Moffett’s hand. But New Zealander’s who have seen the photo say the bug is actually average in size and probably not anywhere close to the biggest ever.

Moffett says that he, and two companions, searched the Little Barrier Island for two days before discovering the female weta that is in the photograph. When they did find her, they offered the carrot up as food, and she eagerly accepted the meal, despite the fact she was being held by a human. They let her eat long enough to get her fill and for them to snap the photos, before releasing her back into the wild. The images later turned up in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper, which proclaimed it the “world’s biggest insect.”

But the kiwi’s aren’t sure what all the fuss is about. They say that the bug shown in Moffett’s photo is not exceptional in any way and that even feeding them carrots is not out of the norm. And while the creatures are indeed listed as endangered, they are said to number in the thousands both on Little Barrier and Motuora Islands. In fact, New Zealander Ruud Kleinpaste, who is a trustee of Little Barrier Island, says that it is not unusual to find them while hiking there. He does acknowledge that the publicity is good for the species however, making more people aware of their existence and the efforts made to prevent their extinction.

I’m not sure what part of this story is more unnerving. The fact that a giant carrot eating bug was found in New Zealand or that it is so common there that the locals aren’t even impressed. Still, the story is another reminder of all the amazing lifeforms that we share this planet with. That is, unless you can’t stand bugs, in which case you’re probably in favor of letting the giant weta disappear.

[Photo courtesy of The Telegraph]

Name a cockroach after your lover: Valentine’s Day at the Bronx Zoo

cockroach, cockroachesThe Bronx Zoo has come up with a good way to show that special someone you care–name a giant cockroach after them.

The BBC reports that for ten bucks you can buy the rights to one of the zoo’s 58,000 giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and name it after that special someone who bugs you more than anybody else. The zoo says they sold 1,000 dedications in the first day of the promotion. Perhaps their tagline helped: “Flowers wilt. Chocolates melt. Roaches are forever.”

Indeed they are. They’ve been around since before the dinosaurs and they’ll probably be around after we’re long gone. The Bronx Zoo has some interesting facts about the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, like that they can grow to three inches long and the hiss they make can be as loud as a lawnmower.

They’re nutritious too. Check out our 8 bug-eating videos including two on eating cockroachs. Also check out the far less disgusting but much more educational the video below.

[Photo courtesy user Husond via Wikimedia Commons]

8 great bug-eating videos from around the world

There’s nothing better than having new and exciting experiences while traveling the globe. But, are you gutsy enough to try eating delectable delicacies such as grasshoppers, cockroaches, and gigantic worms?

Me neither … but these eight people are.

Giant Chinese Cockroach – Thailand

This cockroach is so big, I’m surprised they didn’t sell it by the pound.



Fresh Weevil Grubs – Amazon Jungle

Bear Grylls stars in this “Man vs Fresh Weevil Grub” clip. Oops, sorry for the squishy bits. Hope you didn’t get squirted.



Large Crunchy Cockroaches – Thailand

These guys went looking for the “Bug Carts” in Bangkok. I’m not sure that’d be my first stop.



Scorpions – China

“Kinda like eating an eyebrow,” he says. This guy eats four of them!



Giant Mangrove Worms – Philippines

Giant worms pulled from trees… and I mean GIANT. Could you eat the whole thing?



Deep Fried Tarantula – Cambodia

“Eat your heart out.” Looks kinda chewy if you ask me.



Giant Waterbug – Thailand

This poor guy had no idea what he was in for. Is he crying? There’s no crying in bug-eating!



Grasshoppers – Thailand

Thai Lady: “It’s crunchy.”
Director: “Like potato chips.”
Thai Lady: “Yeah. Kind of.”
Director: “$15 bucks and you got a whole meal here.”

Enough said.