It’s hard to believe that this is our last full day in Paris, day 57 of 58. I suppose I shouldn’t really count tomorrow, since we’ll only be in Paris until our ten-something takeoff time, but I chose to count it way back when, so 58 days it will stay! Speaking of “way back when,” last night I got a bit nostalgic thinking about when it was that we first hatched this idea. I checked in the VRBO app and found that we had reserved this flat on March 24, 2018, exactly one year to the day prior to when we arrived in Paris to begin our adventure. On March 24, 2018, Priscilla was in the middle of her first cycle of chemotherapy, the AC cycle, which was tough going. By March 24th she had gone through two of the AC chemo infusions, which were basically like going through a bad bout of the flu each time. I remember sitting in the living room with a fire burning in the fireplace, talking about needing something to look forward to on the other side of cancer treatment. That was when we came up with the idea to spend two months in Paris in 2019. I suppose that explains the melancholy I felt last night, knowing that this dream that was conceived of during a deeply difficult time in our lives was coming to a close.
The biggest surprise for both of us has been the number of connections we’ve made here in Paris. We never expected that in just two short months. In fact, I remember thinking before we left on our trip how it would be different spending two months in a place where you don’t know a soul. I needn’t have worried. Our last week in Paris has been a series of goodbyes mixed in with some hellos to new friends. Friday we had lunch at Mokonuts and said our goodbyes to Moko. Saturday we said a long goodbye to our friends Claudia, Charles, Eileen, and Anaïs at Miss Lunch. We got there at one and didn’t head out until around four o’clock. It feels so strange to be saying goodbye to these friends. We have had many wonderful times with them. This afternoon we will be saying our goodbyes to Rasmus and Elissa, the owners of the store right below us. We’ve had to say our goodbyes to Ellen and Jean-Pierre via email, as they are back home in Brittany.
Thursday and Friday night we walked down to the Seine to say goodbye to this beautiful river, which we will surely miss. Friday night we joined a party of three at their table for drinks and live jazz. Fabrice and Annie and their friend Inno welcomed us to their table for what became a lively night filled with much conversation and laughter. It was one of those magical nights. We stayed until 11 pm. Saturday night the packing began in earnest. You know we’re at the end of a trip when I pack my camera gear. The flat hardly looks lived in now that all our stuff is put away.
Besides the people, there are other things we will miss about Paris, like the fabulous public Metro system and the ability to walk a block and find fabulous cheeses, meats, vegetables, fruits, baguettes, pain chocolat, and wines. The Marais has been the perfect home base for us in Paris. We are within a half-mile walk to three different Metro stations that give us access to a broad swath of the city in thirty minutes or less. Plus, we are walking distance from world-class museums such as the Picasso Museum and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Institute. I will definitely miss the fabulous street photography opportunities and the little tucked away spaces that are photographically rich. I’m sure Priscilla will miss the shopping opportunities, although with the amount of things she’s having to pack right now, perhaps not.
Regardless of how much we will miss Paris and the friends we have made here, we are more than ready to come home. As I’ve said many times, we are died-in-the-wool Minnesotans. That is home and always will be. This much looked forward to trip has been everything we could have hoped for and more. We have absolutely no regrets coming home from Paris. There is nothing we would have done differently. That our family and friends could join us during this adventure made it even better. For those of you who traveled with us virtually through this blog, we hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.
Soon we will be stateside and I’ll be able to put my “grocery-store French” to pasture until the next time. Hmmm, did I just write “next time.”
Let’s see, we’d best review our list of things to do in Paris. Visit the Jardin de Rosiers—Check! Go on a Champagne Tour—Check! Get the flu—wait just a minute, how did that get on our list. Yes, I’m sorry to report in that Priscilla has picked up the flu this week. And the week started out so promising. Sunday was Mother’s Day, with fresh pain chocolat from our favorite spot, Blé Sucré, fresh brewed coffee, and roses from the Bastille Market. Monday we met our new friend Eileen for coffee and then a walk around her favorite gardens in the Marais. Eileen lives six months of the year in Paris and six in Philly. We visited three gardens with Eileen, but I’m only going to remember the name of the first, the Jardin de Rosiers. This garden has a community garden feel to it, with vegetable plots mixed in with beautiful flowers. Priscilla was our resident flora expert on our walk. Eileen soon learned to just ask Priscilla if she wanted to know the name of a plant. The weather has turned sunnier and a bit warmer this week, so it was a great day for a walk in the gardens.
Tuesday was to have been our Champagne Tour, but the photo below gives you a hint of what happened with that. While the vehicle we were to take on our tour was in for regular maintenance a day or so prior, the mechanic at the shop broke something to do with the oil filter, which is never a good thing. The shop didn’t have the part in stock, so they glued it and told our guide it should be just fine. It was not. They showed up to pick us up at Place d’Italie but their vehicle died and would not be resucitated. They were planning to line up two replacement vehicles for our group of ten, including the guide and his colleague. This meant our tour would be delayed by at least two hours. Apparently you need weeks to be able rent such a van, so two smaller cars it was going to be. Our guide gave us the option to bow out with a full refund. Since our flat was only 20 minutes away by Metro, we decided to head back there and think through what we were going to do. It didn’t take us too long to make up our mind. Priscilla was already starting to feel achy, and the thought of being crammed three to a row in a smaller vehicle with four-plus hours of driving didn’t sound appealing to us, so we texted our guide that we wouldn’t be going. Shortly after that, Priscilla’s seemingly cold-related aching turned into full-blown shivers. She crawled into bed and slept much of the rest of the day. It became quite clear to us that what Priscilla had was the flu, not a cold. Today has been much of the same, lots of resting and not much eating. Our friend Claudia gave me a piece of fresh ginger when I was up at the Aligre Market this morning, and she instructed me to make hot ginger tea for Priscilla. I have dutifully followed Claudia’s orders, as has Priscilla. She seems to be getting a bit more spunk tonight, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that she will start to be on the mend tomorrow, and that I will not pick up the same darned flu, just before getting on our flight home. Wouldn’t that be just lovely!
Last night, Priscilla went to bed quite early, so I took advantage of the longer days and took my Nikon F3 film camera down to the Seine to see if there were any images to be had down there. I was not disappointed. It seems every single millennial in the 3rd and 4th arondisements was down at the river last night. People were so into their thing that they really didn’t pay attention to one largish old fart with an antiquated camera. If you’re wondering how I was able to get the film scans below turned around so quickly, the photo shop that I’ve been frequenting on rue Saint-Antoine provides same-day turnaround on film development and scanning if you drop the film off in the morning, which I did today.
I just have to throw one more photograph in this post, although it doesn’t really fit the theme. I captured the photo below when Priscilla and I were with Eileen touring gardens of the Marais. It’s not often you come upon someone sticking half out of a manhole, so I moved into the street and made this image. I have to say that I think this guy is the most handsome man to emerge from a manhole in pretty much all of recorded history. I can’t tell if he’s pissed with me for making his photo or just curious. I surely don’t believe this photograph is disrespectful. He looks great, and the incongruity of this GQ looking man emerging from a manhole makes it work in my mind. But if enough folks told me it was disrespectful or made fun of the man, then I’d bury the photo in a heartbeat. I always intend to treat my subjects with respect and dignity.
Just to finish up, it’s hard to believe we are down to just five more days in Paris. I’ve been journaling over here in a little Moleskin notebook. Each entry starts with the day and date, followed by the phrase “Day XX of 58 in Paris.” When we were in our first couple weeks, I tried to imagine how I’d feel when we got down to the “Day 53 of 58 in Paris” days. Back then those days seemed way far off. Now they are right in front of us. While we are getting ready in our minds to come home, I do want to savor these last several days. It’s just such a shame that Priscilla is having to spend some of them down for the count with the crud. That just ain’t fair in my book!
Priscilla insisted that I warn you that this was going to be a “geeking out on photography” post, hence the title for this post. I’m going to do my best to make this non-techie, so I ask your indulgence in allowing me at least one photography related post. Every once in awhile you’ve got to throw a dog a bone!
I’ve been doing quite a bit of photography on this trip, much of it on 30+ year-old manual focus film cameras. In the process, I’ve come to a fascinating and counter intuitive observation regarding street photography. The old manual focus film cameras have an advantage over modern, auto-focus digital cameras when it comes to street photography. I’m going to do my best to explain this in layperson terms, so please hang in there.
The first three photos in this blog post were all made using a technique called zone focusing. Here’s where the geeking out part starts. On the older manual focus film cameras, there is a scale on the lenses that shows you how much is going to be in focus, from front to back, depending on how wide you set the aperture on the camera. The aperture is the opening in the lens that allows light in. The smaller that opening is, the more will be in focus from front to back. All cameras have an aperture, even the camera in your smartphone.
With the two photos above, I was coming up out of a Metro station and had preset my camera for zone focusing. I set my aperture based on the lighting conditions and preset my focus point so that I knew that anything from 5 feet to 12 - 15 feet would be in focus. When I came up the stairs and saw these subjects, I simply raised the camera to my eye, framed up my composition, and pressed the shutter release. There was no need to focus. If I had needed to focus, the moment would have been lost. Modern digital cameras, like my Nikon D850, are not geared toward using this technique. True, the autofocus systems on most modern cameras are lighting fast, but they’re not faster than instantaneous. That’s how fast zone focusing is.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving up my digital gear. By most any objective measure, my Nikon D850 is the better image-making machine. It certainly is more convenient than using a manual focus film camera. And when it comes to dealing with low light, the D850 is far superior to film. So no, I’m not giving up my digital gear, but I am happy to have rekindled a love of film and the beautifully built cameras from decades ago on this trip. I’m also pleased to know that the old man still has the photographic chops to handle manual focus film cameras.
In the past two days we’ve taken in two fine museums within walking distance from our flat, the Picasso Museum yesterday and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Museum today. The Picasso Museum is housed in what used to be a hotel. It had been closed for five years for a major renovation project, reopening in 2014. The first time we tried to visit the museum in 2009, the line was all the way down the street and it was raining, so we opted out. In 2011 we couldn’t visit due to the renovation. The third time was a charm. The crowds were light and the weather beautiful. The exhibits at the Picasso Museum are incredibly extensive. In total there are 38 rooms with work displayed. The first two floors house a joint Calder/Picasso exhibit, Calder was an American artist (primarily sculptor) who also worked in an abstract style. The upper floors of the museum are dedicated to Picasso’s works. The curation and display of the work were top notch. Priscilla and I agree that this is one of the most impressive museums we have ever visited.
While I doubt Picasso needs any introduction, Cartier-Bresson might. Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the great photographers in the reportage style. He was a founding member of the famous Magnum photography agency. Before his death, Cartier-Bresson and his wife and photographer, Martine Franck, set up a foundation with the mission to preserve and share his work. Today we saw the photographs of Guy Tillim, in a body of work entitled “Museum of the Revolution,” and the work of Cartier-Bresson from France during 1926 - 1938. All of the work was fabulous. I could look at Cartier-Bresson’s beautiful black and white prints all day. Tillim’s huge panoramic street scenes from several post-independence African countries were amazing. I picked up a copy of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, “The Decisive Moment.” I’ve not been able to find this book in the States.
On our way back to our flat we stopped at a French burger joint—yes they do exist—in the Marché Enfant Rouge. That burger and beer tasted mighty darned good. As we continued on our way home, I split off to get some groceries while Priscilla lugged my Cartier-Bresson book back to the flat. I’ve gotten pretty good with my grocery-store French. I’ve also gotten to a pretty good place with the guy that runs the boutique coffee shop near us where we get our ground coffee. He professes to not having much English, but between my awful French and his slightly less awful English, we get it worked out. The ground coffee you get in the grocery stores is ground super fine for making espresso. It doesn’t work well if you’re making pour-over coffee as we are. By acting it out, I was able to communicate to our coffee guy that I wanted a coarser grind of coffee. He breaks out in a big smile now every time he sees me.
At this point I probably owe you all an explanation for why I’m shooting film on this trip. Those of you of a certain age may remember the introduction to the animated series “The Jetsons” in which George Jetson is stuck on an out-of-control treadmill, screaming “Help Jane! How do you stop this thing?” Well, that’s a bit how I was feeling with the social media treadmill. I was feeling pressure to get images shared out quickly and I was finding myself craving those likes and follows. Shooting film on this trip is my way of opting out. This ties in a bit to our decision to not post about our trip on Facebook. We didn’t want Facebook owning these memories.
The night of the Notre Dame fire, I had two cameras with me, one digital (iPhone X) and one film (Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film). As I was photographing and filming the fire on my iPhone X, the thought occurred to me that I should share something about this, as it was terribly important news. So I shared one photo to Facebook just after seven o’clock local time. Then I went back to photographing and filming. I decided that it was more important that I be in the moment. The thought occurred to me that it would have been better if I’d have had my big Nikon digital camera with me that night, but it was too late for that. I was there and the fire was raging, so I shot with what I had.
Seeing the man in the photo below taking a selfie with Notre Dame burning in the background is a sign to me that things have gotten out of whack. Certainly lots of us were making photographs, but why that one man felt the need to place himself in the scene is beyond me. Just to be clear, his reaction was way outside the norm for how the French reacted that night to the tragic Notre Dame Fire. The overwhelming reaction was shock, disbelief, and deep sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against all things digital. I’m as digitally connected as the next person, and probably more so. What we are trying to do, though, is to find a happy medium, where the digital world enhances our lives rather than consuming them. Pulling away from that instant feedback loop is one key way of jumping the treadmill.
Believe it or not, we’re finally caught up with the goings on here at 24 rue Saint-Paul. I’ll try not to get so far backed up in the future. The next post will be covering Easter Sunday. We have ambitious plans to attend the sunrise service at the American Church in Paris. Priscilla doesn’t quite know how we’re going to pull that off, since we can’t seem to manage to get out of the flat before 11:30 a.m. most days.
Tonight I went out for a walk and saw Notre Dame burn. You don’t experience something like that and not be changed by it. When I first saw the smoke coming from a church, I had to get my bearings. Was it really Notre Dame? I checked my Maps app and determined that it was. Initially the fire seemed contained to the area of the single spire with the scaffolding surrounding it. Before long, though, the fire engulfed the entire church. You could see it crawling along the roofline. You just knew at some point that single spire was going to succumb. When it collapsed, there were gasps from the crowd. I saw it fall. I am still processing that.
I made my first photograph of the fire at 6:57 p.m. The fire alarm had gone off at 6:30 p.m. In the early moments, there were not many people at the Seine, but eventually the riverside was filled with Parisians, many with tears in their eyes and crying. I realized that this was an historic moment. I turned my attention from the fire to the people and their reactions. This is a tragedy, certainly for the French, but also for the world. I can’t imagine the scene of destruction inside the cathedral. You could see the flames erupting from inside the building. Clearly it was a caldron in there. I couldn’t imagine how the firefighters were tackling this inferno. From my vantage point you couldn’t see any streams of water from fire hoses. The thought that occurred to me was that water from fire hoses would be like spitting in the wind. It’s hard to explain the ferocity and size of that fire.
As a photographer, I felt some responsibility to capture images of this historic event, not for likes or follows, but for posterity’s sake. I had my iPhone X with me and a film camera, the Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film. I did my best.
One thing is for sure, Parisians do love their art! That holds true for the random street art that is all over the place to the more formal presentations of art at the many museums and galleries. The street art is practically at every turn. If there is a blank wall somewhere, chances are it has art on it. Rather than feeling like vandalism, this street art enlivens the city and brings a sense of humor and joy to an otherwise blank wall on an otherwise nondescript building. In our walks about the city I've taken to capturing photos of the street art. Some of it is quite inventive, and often it is humorous.
This past Wednesday was our day for art of a more structured variety. Since it was a rainy day, we figured this would be the perfect day to hit the museums. Wrong! Everyone else in Paris had the same idea. We started the day at the Jeu de Paume, checking out the more modern photography exhibits. Generally, I'd say they left us a bit underwhelmed. Then we walked on to l'Orangerie to take in Monet's Water Lillies and other impressionist works. This is where all of Paris decided to go on this rainy day. The first time we visited l'Orangerie in 2011, we went the day following the once-a-month free day, so we practically had the place to ourselves. This year our timing was not so good, we came two days following the free day and one day after a closed day. We didn't spend a lot of time there, since the crowds made enjoying the art a bit difficult.
The last museum we planned to visit that day was the Rodin Museum. We'd heard from several sources that it was a wonderful museum, and we were not disappointed. The sculpture garden and interior spaces of this museum are absolutely gorgeous. The garden area is simply stunning. The main building had been a hotel that Rodin lived and worked in, eventually coming to pretty much take over the place. There were many groups of art students inside the museum sketching Rodin's sculptures. They made good, unwitting subjects for my photos.
There are a good number of other photography galleries and museums that we plan to take in while we're here. The larger Maison Européenne de la Photographie is practically right in our backyard (that is if we had one here). France being pretty much the birthplace of photography, the French seem to have a real love for it. There are many more photography and camera stores here than I would have expected, including stores that still offer one-hour film development. The Artazart store along the Canal Saint-Martin has a display case of Polaroid cameras when you enter and a large selection of photography books prominently displayed in the center of the store. Sometimes as a photographer, you can feel a bit like a second-class citizen in arts circles, but not in Paris. Yet another reason to love this city.
By the way, if you'd like to see photos as I post them to Instagram, you can follow me there at @tomnorth.
No sooner had we bade farewell to Anna than we were saying hello to Kirstin, Derek, and Cora. We've loved having our kids visit us these first two weeks in Paris. I was saying tonight to Kirstin that it will be strange having both our kids on the other side of the pond from us. Already, it's feeling strange to have Anna seven time zones away from us.
The Indy crew has been busy visiting neighborhoods in Paris they recall from previous visits. This is Cora's first time in Paris. I suspect she'll be back many more times. With her funky fashion sense, she fits right in over here.
Today we all made our way to the Marche d'Aligre, which is a food market that is housed in a covered pavilion. We picked up scallops, and fresh pasta to go along with the white asparagus we picked up earlier. Derek made a Hollandaise sauce, Priscilla cooked up the asparagus and pasta, and I sautéed the scallops. It all made for a marvelous meal. You will notice on the photo below that there is an orange appendage on the scallops. Believe it or not, that's the stomach. Over here it comes with the scallops and they eat it. We did as well. It was all delicious.
If you've read posts made prior to our departure, you'll recall that I'm shooting film on this trip in addition to my digital cameras (i.e. Nikon D850 and iPhone X). I was fortunate to find a photo shop on our street that offers one-day development of film, including making scans to a CD. I've been enjoying the slower experience of making photographs on film this trip. It has been good to wean myself off the instant feedback on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. I find with film that I see a scene and make one photo, that's it, not the multiples I'd make with digital trying to get that just right exposure. Today I got back the first two rolls of film I had developed, one color and one black and white. I was quite pleased with the images. Here are several from those two rolls presented in a slideshow.
The other big news today is Priscilla's first Parisian haircut. On the spur of the moment she made an appointment at the hair stylist right on our block, Charlene Ramon. I can't possibly do the experience justice, so I'm going to have Priscilla write about it.
Bon Jour, Madame! I debated making a haircut appointment before leaving on our trip as my hair was just starting to look really good and I thought I'd just let it grow a bit. Well, we all know what happens when we use that logic....the hair needs cutting the very next week! Every time we walked down our street and saw the salon, Charlene Ramon open, Anna would try to convince me to make an appointment. So, today, I finally walked in there to make an appointment. The owner, Charlene, had time open immediately and after returning home to retrieve my wallet, I was in her chair. What a popular and international environment inside this lovely salon. A wedding party from Columbia was just leaving when I arrived. The bride, her fiancé, her mother and aunt all getting gussied up for a wedding tomorrow. Customers from Argentina, New York and Minneapolis. The gal from New York (Susan) married, as she said, a Frenchy and has lived here for 20 years. Between Susan, my stylist and her assistant, we were able to communicate what I wanted and why. The hardest thing to convey to Charlene was my desire to "live" with my silver hair. She so desperately wanted me to add color. In between the espresso served with a small cup of whipped cream and the glass of champagne, and a complimentary application of makeup, I told her I would "think" about it these next 2 months! Stay tuned.
In a couple weeks, Priscilla, Anna and I will be taking off for Paris. Anna is joining us for her Spring Break. Kirstin, Derek, and Cora will join us the week after Anna for their Spring Break. Priscilla and I, on the other hand, will be staying in Paris for a couple months total. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, so now that we are officially empty nesters, we figured this was the year to go for it. A big part of living in Paris for me will be the photography. I’ve recently been getting back into some film work, so that has played into my decision of what camera gear to bring to Paris.
I’ve decided to bring three cameras, two of them film, and one my digital Nikon D850. The two film bodies are the Olympus OM-2s and the Nikon F3. I’ve had the Nikon F3 film camera for a few years now, while I just picked up the Olympus a couple weeks ago off eBay. I will bring 35mm prime lenses for all three cameras along with Nikon’s 24-120mm, f/4.0 zoom lens for the D850. A 35mm prime lens is my perfect walk-around travel lens. In fact, that’s the only lens I brought when I walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in 2015.
What I plan to do with the film bodies is load one with Kodak Tri-X 400 Black & white film and the other with Kodak Portra 400 color film. I have yet to decide which of the film bodies will get which film. For no particular reason, what I’m leaning toward is shooting color in the Olympus and black and white in the Nikon, but we will see.
I expect I’ll be shooting film on my random walk-abouts in Paris and shooting digital when we’re going someplace planned. I know that Paris has shops that will develop film. What I don’t know is what scanning capabilities they offer. I’d love to be able to show some film work on my blog while we’re still in Paris.
It’s a fair question to ask why I’m bringing two film cameras. Perhaps it’s the way shooting film forces you to slow down. I do love the feel of these beautiful old mostly mechanical SLRs. Without an LCD in the back of the camera, you’re forced to give up chimping cold turkey. Not that I was an habitual chimper, but I think getting back to basics is a good thing for me. I don’t view film as superior to digital by any stretch. But there is something more tactile and basic about shooting a thirty-some year old SLR that just feels good. Perhaps it’s the same feeling someone might have getting behind the wheel of a beautiful old Porsche Roadster.
We will see how my shooting evolves in Paris. Stay tuned.
One of my ideas is to blog while we are traveling. Right now I am lunching at the University Avenue Noodles in St. Paul. I’m also making some photos with my Nikon F3 film camera. We’ll see how easy it is to blog when mobile using Weebly.
In a bit I’ll be heading to my ukulele lesson with the Cara Wilson. I guess it’s not too late to teach this old dog some new tricks. After my lesson I’ll be heading down to the Hen House to check on the pipes after the recent Polar Vortex. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that all is well down there. We’ve got our black and white workshop coming up next weekend. I’m definitely looking forward to that.
I am in my fiftieth year of photographing. My Dad got me started way back when with an old 1930s Kodak Six-20 Duo medium format camera. This camera was manual everything. It had no light meter nor any way to focus. You guesstimated how far away your subject was and then set that for your focus point. Then you selected an aperture that gave you the depth of field you desired, using the handy depth of field dial on the top of the camera. I was that nerdy kid at Boy Scouts camp running around with a light meter and camera when other kids were down at the lake fishing. While it's hard to imagine going so barebones in this day and age, it sure was a great way to learn the fundamentals of photography. I still have that old Kodak camera. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I lost all the photos I made with that camera.
The photo that accompanies this blog post was made by my Grandpa Northenscold back in 1908, over a hundred years ago. It is a selfie of my Grandpa with his younger brother Herb, made on a large format camera that used glass negatives. My Grandpa is reaching with his right arm to squeeze the air bulb that triggered the shutter on this camera. Given how little money they had on the farm in North Dakota, making this one frame was no small decision.
The amazing thing about photographs like this is how they bring you back in time, preserving a moment in time for future generations. I seriously doubt that the world at large will remember my photographs when I'm gone, but I hope my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will treasure them. Photography gives us an ability to show future generations what our world looked like through our eyes. That brings us small bit of immortality as the photographer. If I can succeed in capturing not just the look of a scene but also the feeling, then I've really got something worth preserving.