During COVID, getting out for long walks with a film camera in hand has been my way of refreshing my body and mind. Most times I walk the trails in our neighborhood. Sometimes I walk in the woods. Other times I walk in Minneapolis. And on the coldest of days, I walk the mall. Wherever I'm walking, I have my camera in hand. The images I make on my walks reflect a circumscribed life...the constrained lives we've all experienced during COVID.
Film photography is my photographic journal. As this body of work has grown and evolved, I get a sense that these are lonely images. There is only one person in all these photographs...a solitary photographer out walking. When I make a photograph, more than anything I'm hoping it evokes an emotion...any emotion. It's not that I'm seeking the emotion I was feeling at the time I made the photograph. Those are mine. I'm hoping they evoke an emotional response in the viewer.
I've told you what emotion I sense in these photographs. I'd love to read what emotions you sense when viewing these photographs in the comments below.
The past few days, Priscilla and I have been going through an extended series of goodbyes (a bientôt). On Saturday we met up with our friends Ellen and Jean-Pierre to walk the Coulée Verte one last time and then have lunch at a neighborhood bistro, Le Square Trousseau. On Sunday, we took in the service at the American Church in Paris, meeting up with Ellen and Jean-Pierre one last time. Priscilla went back to the ACP later on Sunday to attend a concert with Ellen…“A Night at the Opera”, At the same time I was doing one last photo walk. On Monday, Priscilla and I revisited some of the areas I had walked to the day before.
Late this afternoon Priscilla and I walked to the Seine to say goodbye to Paris with a glass of wine. It is a cool, cloudy day here, so there were no crowds. We had the place to ourselves. Well, all except for a rat that decided he wanted to get by where we were seated.
For lunch, we stopped in at Mokonuts and said our goodbyes to Moko and Omar. We had a “marvelous” time. Marvelous is Moko’s new favorite word.
Tonight we are doing final packing. Tomorrow we will head off in the wee dark hours on Uber to get to the airport with plenty of time. It will feel strange to close the door of this apartment one last time, but this time leaving the keys behind.
We have had a wonderful time in Paris. I hope you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us.
We are nearing the end of our Paris adventure. I find myself with a bit of melancholy, thinking back on all the wonderful experiences we have had and all the beautiful people we have met. I want to soak up as much of the Paris atmosphere as I can, knowing that we will soon be gone from this city we love so much.
None of this is to say that we aren't happy to be heading home to Minnesota. Priscilla and I are dyed in the wool Minnesotans, of that let there be no doubt. But Paris is a magical place for us. Not our home, mind you, but magical nonetheless.
Tonight I went on a photowalk to a neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement that is on the other side of one of the major streets in our neighborhood, Rue Fauborg Saint-Antoine. To date, I hadn't walked much in this area. It seems that in Paris, around every corner and down every quiet street there is a scene wanting to be captured. I walked slowly tonight, taking it all in, again, knowing that this was one of my last photowalks on this trip.
This feeling of sadness that I have in leaving Paris tells me that we have had a wonderful two months in the City of Light. We have lived as Parisians. We have come to love our neighborhood in the 12th. Tonight I stopped at Le Square Trousseau just to watch and listen to all the children out playing in the park on a Sunday evening. I was mesmerized. I leave you with a short video clip from the park. (Sorry for the bad audio. I'm having a problem with the microphone on my iPhone.)
I've saved up a few experiences that on their own don't warrant an entire post, but strung together just might make a cohesive post. You will have to be the judge of that. First up is my visit to the Buttes Chaumont Park of a week ago.
Buttes Chaumont Park
Buttes Chaumont Park is located in the 19th arrondissement, which is north of us here in the 12th. Since Priscilla was helping Claudia out in her food stall, I decided to take the Metro up to Buttes Chaumont and get some hiking and photography in. Buttes Chaumont is an extremely hilly park, so I definitely got my stair steps in that day. My iPhone says I climbed 34 flights that day while walking nearly 7 miles. The vertical nature of this park yields some fascinating views to photograph. It was a cool, crisp fall day, so I had no trouble walking most of the trails in the park.
Afterward I came upon the neighborhood pétanque courts in full use. This is the French version of bocce ball. They take their pétanque seriously here. The woman shown pitching the ball in this photo had a unique pitching form, and based on the intensity of the conversations when judging whose ball was the closest, she plays for keeps.
The French love a good protest. Lately, a certain faction have been protesting the vaccine mandate. The way it works in France, you need a Pass Sanitaire to get into restaurants, theaters, museums, and public transport (although they rarely check at the train stations). To get a Pass Sanitaire you need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. You can get a temporary one if you present a negative COVID test, but that only lasts for three days. The good news is that France has a high vaccination percentage, with 68% fully vaccinated, and 76% having at least one dose. France also still has a mask mandate in place. It is quite rare to see someone unmasked in an indoor setting, unless they are eating or drinking. Consequently, the case count has come way down in France.
There are folks, though, who don't like the perceived loss of their liberty. Sound familiar? So they protest. Fortunately, the protests we have witnessed have been peaceful. On the day I made this photograph, I was going out for a late afternoon walk before dinner when I came across this protest. There was a significant police presence escorting the protesters, with lots of sirens blaring and chants coming from bullhorns. Soon the protest passed and I went on with my walk.
One of the things I've taken to doing on this trip is to make scouting runs to locations we might be interested in going to but aren't sure whether they warrant the effort. When we get back to Minnesota, Priscilla is due for knee replacement surgery, so we are trying to ensure that when we go out on expeditions, it's worth it. This past week I made two such runs, one to the Bercy neighborhood in Paris and the other to the village of Crécy la Chapelle, which is about 1-1/2 hours away from Paris by regional train.
Crécy La Chapelle is known to have a nice market that runs on Thursday and Sunday mornings. While it is a quaint and picturesque village, the sidewalks weren't terribly pedestrian friendly, so unless the market was a sure thing, I came away thinking we could pass this one by. We tried hard to locate information online about whether the market was currently operating. With COVID, many of the markets have cut back their hours. One website said the Crécy market was running, another said no, and the town's official website didn't have anything about the market, so we opted not to go.
The other scouting mission this past week was to the Bercy neighborhood, which isn't too far from us but isn't terribly easy to get to because of train lines. I read one blog that listed Bercy as one of the highlights worth seeing in the 12th. After making my scouting run there, I have to disagree. To me it was a big meh. Yes, there's an upscale shopping district, but that doesn't excite us. Paris has plenty of upscale shopping districts. So we are not going to make a return visit to Bercy.
I think one of the things that spoils us in Paris is just how many fascinating sights there are all around you. It seems that around every corner there's something of interest. The quaint alleyway in the photo on the left below is practically right next door to the Monoprix store in our neighborhood. The beautiful doorway in the middle photo is the home of local artisans who run some wonderful shops in Paris, called Petit Pan. As it turns out, I traipsed down this same alleyway in 2019 and made one of my favorite photos from that trip (far right below).
And then on my walks on the Coulée Verte, I might pop up or down one of the stairways to see what's street side in that neighborhood. The other day I came across this cool Bel-Air sign on one of those up periscope moments.
So for someone who proudly calls himself a walking fool, Paris is a fabulous city to call home for two months. Of course, I almost always have a camera in hand when I go on these walks. The funny thing is, I don't walk to photograph. If anything, the reverse is true, I photograph to walk. Walking is my favorite way to experience a city or an area. I just start walking.
This is one of my photowalk blog posts, short on text and long on photos. Since it was a beautiful, overcast fall day here and we had nothing else planned, I decided to take a walk to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery while Priscilla relaxed back at the flat. It's just over a one mile walk from our flat, taking you through the 12th & 11th arrondissements and into the 20th, where the cemetery is located.
The fall colors at Père Lachaise were gorgeous. We'd experienced a morning rain shower, so the colors were super saturated. As I walked through the cemetery, it dawned on me that the feeling I had walking around Père Lachaise was much the same as when I walk through the Big Woods of Minnesota. When I'm in the woods I'm keenly aware of the cycle of life, just as I was when walking Père Lachaise. I don't mean this in any kind of a morbid sense. Really it's more of a peaceful feeling.
The parallels between Père Lachaise and the Big Woods carried forward into my photography. In the woods you have to pay close attention to how your image is playing out in the third dimension. The same holds true for photographing at Père Lachaise. The image unfolds as you move from foreground to background.
Père Lachaise is the eternal home to some notable people, including Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf. I managed to find both of their graves. The crowds were light today, so I didn't have to jockey for position to make these photos. There was a small group at Jim Morrison's grave and only a couple folks at Edith Piaf's.
I enjoyed everything about my photowalk today. Priscilla and I plan to go back another day, taking advantage of the Metro to reduce the walking to and from, leaving us plenty of time and energy to walk the huge cemetery.
P.S. As a side benefit of my walk today to Père Lachaise, I happened upon a wonderful looking Kurdish restaurant that is situated on one of the tiny alleyways that Paris is known for. We plan to go check it out some night.
After seeing our travelers off to their various destinations, yesterday was supposed to be an R&R day for Priscilla and me, but if you know me well you'll know that I don't sit well. So, on a whim, I decided to check out the massive Bois de Vincennes (woods of Vincennes) park that is close to the eastern terminus of the #1 Metro line, the Chateau de Vincennes stop.
As I told Priscilla when I set out, I didn't have high expectations for this park, since you don't tend to read of it in any of the guidebooks, and the reference I found in Wikipedia said the park was known for prostitution after dark. But since I had nothing else planned for the day and was eager to see some fall color in this huge wooded park not too far from us, I set out after lunch. After getting off the #1 Metro at the Chateau de Vincennes station, I walked about half a mile or so through a not so promising looking area that was bounded by the long-of-tooth and walled-off Chateau de Vincennes on one side and the forbidding looking Fort Neuf military base on the other. Eventually I came upon the large Parc Floral de Paris sign at the entrance. The Parc Floral de Paris is located within the Bois de Vincennes. At this point, my expectations were still measured.
Well, I'll get straight to the punch line. My expectations were utterly and completely blown out of the water by the Parc Floral de Paris. Once I got further into the park, I realized that this was not your garden variety floral park (pun intended). Initially I came upon a large wooded area filled with all manner of playground equipment with children playing on them. It seemed around every corner in the woods you'd come upon another set of playground equipment, for all different age groups. Then I found an extensive high-ropes course where a group of young adults were zip-lining across the forest canopy and stair-stepping through the forest in midair. As if that weren't enough, there is a beautiful, glass-walled art gallery on the grounds.
But nothing prepared me for the dahlia gardens. I followed a sign pointing me in that direction, knowing that Priscilla would want reports, I soon came to learn how this park got its name. I entered into one of the largest flower gardens I've ever seen, dedicated strictly to dahlias. Actually there were multiple gardens strung together. The dahlias were in full bloom, with a riot of color everywhere you looked. I knew in an instant that Priscilla and I had to come back while these dahlias are still in bloom.
Originally I went to the Bois de Vincennes in search of fall color. Yes, I saw some fall color, but I was treated to a whole lot more than that in the Parc Floral de Paris. This park is like a giant wooded playground for young and old alike. It just goes to show that you can make the most amazing discoveries when you get off the well-worn tourist path.
P.S. Later in the day, our friend Claudia told us that there is a special area in the Bois de Vincennes where people walk around in the nude. The signage directing you to that area refers to "Naturists". It's a good thing I didn't come upon that sign, because I surely would have followed it, thinking of myself as one who enjoys nature.
Six years ago I made one of my favorite photos in the Big Woods at Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area. The colors and draping of the branches caught my eye. My recollection is that it was a wettish day when I made this photo back in October of 2014.
I've been back to Wood-Rill more times than I can count since that day in early October 2014. I've often tried to find these trees to make a new image, but I'll be darned if I could find them. I traipsed all over the edge of that tamarack bog trying to find them, but I always struck out. That is until this year. Priscilla and I went out to Wood-Rill for a late afternoon hike recently and I had my Olympus OM-2n with me loaded with Ilford HP5+ black & white film, rated at an ISO of 400. As I was rooting around at the edge of the bog, all of a sudden these trees presented themselves right in front of me. I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't you know the one time when I wasn't looking for them at all, there they'd be, right in front of me.
Because I was shooting with a 50mm lens this time rather than the 28mm lens I was using back in 2014, the perspective in these two photos is different, but they are unmistakably the same trees, with pretty much the same composition. I actually think I prefer the perspective in the black & white shot over the color shot. Losing the sky at the top tightens things up a bit in my estimation. Neither of these photos has been cropped. They are as shot. One thing I love about the black & white version is how the tamarack trees in the background seem to light up.
I think now that I've made it back to the same spot a second time, I'll be able to find it again. There are a few scenes out at Wood-Rill that I like making photographs of at different times of the year. I'll be adding these trees to my revisit list.
I suspect some people think I'm a bit crazy, but one of my favorite times to head out into the woods with my camera is when the weather is at its worst. Today we've had rain showers and light thunderstorms rolling through our area all morning, so I decided to head out to Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) for a photowalk.
When you're out in the woods during a rainstorm, the colors take on this deeply saturated look, but naturally, not through some post-processing gimmick. This is just how the colors look, but most people don't get to experience this because they're not crazy enough to head out into the woods during a storm. The other thing that happens is that where you have openings in the forest canopy, you get this incredibly soft, luscious light pouring in to light up the forest floor.
True, you have to be willing to put your gear through a bit of a test, but the results are worth it. I'm happy to be out in the woods on any old day, but if it's a sunny day, I won't make photographs. The light has to be just right, and today it was.