In preparing for our time in Paris, we compiled a list of things we might like to see or do. This list is more like an à la carte menu rather than a schedule. When we wake to an unplanned day, we ask ourselves “what’s on the list?” Today was one of those unplanned days. In fact, most weekend days are unplanned days. We tend to do our planned events on weekdays when lines are shorter and crowds lighter. Today was looking to be cool and possibly wet. What better day to go to a garden!
The item on our list that earned our votes today was the Jardin de Plantes. This garden dates back to 1635 and Louis XIII. Originally it started as a place to study medicinal plants. The gardens are huge and quite varied. It was fascinating to see Swiss chard and fennel planted among the poppies. The color of the Swiss chard was coordinated with the poppies, the red-stemmed Swiss chard in with the red poppies and the yellow-stemmed in with the yellow poppies.
Some of the trees in this garden were planted in the 17th century. They have grown to a magnificent size, as shown in the photo below. Just for a frame of reference, my wingspan is 6 feet 6 inches. I know, your wingspan is supposed to be how tall you are. My height genes never got that memo. The alpine garden section, accessed by a tunnel under a road, was a particular favorite of ours. While the Tuileries tends to get all the press, our vote goes to the Jardin de Plantes. Its gardens are much more beautiful and the crowds are significantly smaller. That’s a winner in my book.
One of the pleasant surprises about life in Paris has been the gardens and parks. This city has done an incredible job creating green spaces in the midst of the city that everyday folk can enjoy. It’s a common occurrence to come upon a small public garden tucked into a corner or courtyard while we’re out walking in Paris. Invariably, these gardens are well kept.
On our way to the Jardin de Plantes we got our first sighting of the Yellow Vests. When we came up from the Metro station we saw folks milling about wearing yellow vests and police officers and emergency vehicles in the area. We wondered if we shouldn’t ought to turn around and head home, but we decided to press ahead. We’re glad we did. The march turned out to have been a peaceful one, with a police escort. The marchers carried a banner that read “no hate, no arms, no violence.” With all the bad press coming out of France with the Yellow Vest protests, this was a breath of fresh and peaceful air.
Another activity we had teed up for our time in Paris was the Marais Food Tour put on by Paris by Mouth. Thursday was our day for this tour. Our guide, Andres, really knew his stuff, although neither of us is quite sure what he said that prompted the reaction from Priscilla in the photo below. We started at an award-winning boulangerie, and then moved on to a chocolatier, a charcuterie, a fromagerie (cheese shop) and a pastry shop, before winding up at a wine shop for a tasting of the foods that we’d collected along the way with three different French wines. It was all delicious and was a memorable time. Andres did a great job in explaining the importance of quality ingredients and careful preparation in French foods. The French take their baguettes seriously!
There were three other couples besides us on the tour, all Americans. Now we have more food shops to return to. In fact, we’ve already been back to the boulangerie to pick up Priscilla’s pain chocolat and a baguette. It’s nice that they are a short walk from our flat. By the time we got back to our flat, it was around 7:30 p.m. We both agreed that dinner was not necessary.
Here I am again, writing a “getting caught up” post. We’ve done quite a bit these past several days, so fasten your seat belts folks! We’ll start with last Thursday, April 25th. That was the day we decided to take in the art exhibit of Constance Hirsch, the woman we met Palm Sunday at the Metro station. Her exhibit was showing at the Paul Brousse Hospital in the southern suburbs of Paris. We hopped on the #7 Metro at the Sully-Murland Metro station, which is close to our flat, and took it almost to its southern terminus. Getting into the hospital was an interesting experience, in a “you can’t get there from here” kind of way. The hospital grounds are right next to the Metro station, but due to security concerns, there is only one way in or out of the hospital grounds, and as luck would have it, that entrance is on the complete opposite side of the grounds from where we were. After a walk through the town we came to that single entrance. After consulting the map of the hospital grounds and asking around, we learned that the building we needed to get to was, you guessed it, on the complete farthest side of the hospital grounds from where we were, practically at the Metro station we arrive at.
The hospital campus was the fascinating combination of pre-WWI buildings combined with 1960s and 70s vintage stark modern architecture. Constance told us that it was not the kind of place people were happy to have to go, so her art was installed to help bring some happiness and joy to the patients and their families. While none of us are likely to be happy having to go to the hospital, I could imagine being especially unhappy having to go to this Hospital. We eventually found our way to her small exhibit in the main lobby of the primary building. We enjoyed her artwork of wireframe figurines, made with fabric scraps and other bits. I did not take pictures inside the building for privacy reasons. While we had hoped to find a shorter way back to our Metro station for the return trip, we were unlucky and had to retrace the steps we’d taken on the walk in.
Friday night we joined our new friends, Jean-Pierre and Ellen, for drinks and appetizers at their Paris flat, followed by dinner afterward at their favorite restaurant across the street. We met Jean-Pierre and Ellen at the American Church in Paris at an Easter Sunday breakfast the church was hosting after the sunrise service. Ellen is a Wisconsin native from Green Bay and Jean-Pierre is a French native from Brittany, where they live now in retirement. We brought a nice bottle of rosé from Provence to share and they provided the snacks. The conversation flowed naturally, and eventually touched on the place music plays in our lives. Ellen is a pianist who loves nothing more than playing and singing the old tunes. Once she found out Priscilla is a singer, she quickly jumped up and moved over to their upright piano and asked us if we would sing along on some songs. We knew this was going to be a magical evening. After our singalong, we went across the street to their favorite restaurant, Le Murmure. We had a wonderful dinner, and again, the conversation just kept on naturally flowing, even after leaving the restaurant and standing at the top of the stairs down to our Metro station. We have vowed to keep in touch and I’m certain we will.
On Sunday, our good friends Peter and Karla Myers joined us on the last leg of their European travels. Our first outing together was the D-Day Tour in Normandy. We caught the 7:05 a.m. train to Bayeux at the Saint-Lazare train station. Our tour guide, Lloyd, who worked for the Bayeux Shuttle tour company, would pick us up at the Bayeux train station. Lloyd is a native of Wales and is extremely knowledgeable about World War II and D-Day. He is licensed to search for WWII relics, something he does in his free time. We all agreed that Lloyd was a top-notch tour guide. The sheer scale and human cost of the entire operation was mind boggling. When you see how great that expanse of sand is at Omaha Beach and how commanding the German positions were, it’s a wonder that the Americans were able to ever accomplish their objective at Omaha beach.
After visiting Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Omaha Beach, the D-Day Tour finished at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Seeing all those grave markers lined up in seemingly endless numbers, it’s clear how great is the price that was paid for freedom. When I think of the neo-Nazis in the news nowadays, I want to bring them to a place like this cemetery or a concentration camp like Dachau or Auschwitz and force them to come face-to-face with the horrible logical extension of the hateful and repugnant words they spew.
Our time at the cemetery finished with the lowering of the U.S. flag to the sound of a lone bugle playing Taps. My eyes welled up with tears. I thought of my Dad hearing that same Taps each night at the lowering of the flag when he was a young Staff Sargent in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy during WWII.
The next day was another early morning, meeting our Giverny driver in front of our flat for our ride to Giverny and Monet’s estate there. The gardens and home on Monet’s Giverny estate are every bit as amazing as we had heard. The gardens are of an almost overwhelming scale. I can’t imagine how many gardeners are employed keeping them up. Our timing to visit Giverny couldn’t have been better. The weather was beautiful and the flowers were abundantly in bloom.
Priscilla was wondering how the gardeners tended the flower beds in the famous Water Lillies gardens, since the flowers go all the way out to the edge of the pond. There didn’t seem to be any way for the gardeners to get to the flowers. A photo in the slideshow provides the answer to that question...they do it by boat. The photos likely don’t give you a sense of the number of people visiting Giverny. Our driver got us to the grounds early in the day. We were practically first in line to get into the house when the door was opened. The opening was delayed a bit due to some filming that was going on inside with great-great grandson of Claude Monet, Philippe Piguet. Priscilla actually got to meet him, having commented to him that he “must be famous” to be getting filmed at Giverny. He replied that he wasn’t famous, but then fessed up as to who he really is. If you plan to go to Giverny, we highly recommend that you arrive at the opening as we did, since by midday when we were wrapping up our visit the place was crawling with people and the line to get in was lengthening down the small street of the village. We are happy that we booked with a private tour company so that we got in early and did not have to stand in that long line.
We had a marvelous time with Peter and Karla. It was so much fun showing them around Paris, or at least the wee bit of it we were able to show them in the time we had. We were sad to see them leave this morning for their return flight to the States. We wish them a safe journey.
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.
One thing we’ve figured out during our first month in Paris is that if you’re going to eat out, do it at lunchtime. Most restaurants have what they call the formule, which is a set price menu with a choice of starter (the French call this course the entrée) and main meal (the French call this course the plat), or a choice of either entrée or plat and dessert. So basically you get two courses for one set price, which is usually around 16 Euros. Typically there are two entrées and plats to choose from and one dessert for the formule.
Priscilla and I prefer cozy restaurants that offer imaginative and quirky fare. We have found two favorites, Miss Lunch and Mokonuts. I’ve written before about Miss Lunch, but today was our first lunch at Mokonuts. This restaurant is run by Moko and Omar. Moko is Japanese born and U.S. raised and Omar is a Parisian of Lebanese descent. They met in NYC. A long trail that started in the corporate and legal world led them both to starting up their own restaurant in Paris. If you’re in Paris and decide to go, make a reservation. They only have 24 seats, and since they’ve been written up in The NY Times and other places, those seats fill quickly. It’s not a long wait though. We made our reservation yesterday. After making our reservation we decided to sample the baked goods Mokonuts is known for. We had coffee drinks and shared a piece of the apricot fennel tart. It was without a doubt the best dessert we’ve had so far in Paris.
I’m not going to give a complete rundown on our lunch today, but I will show a photo of the delicious white asparagus starter that Priscilla and I shared. I’d make a lousy food writer. I love enjoying good food, but I don’t care to write about it. I’d rather write about the experience. Lunch out is taken at a leisurely pace here. Our reservation today was for 12:30 p.m. We didn’t leave the restaurant until around 2. That is pretty typical. You’d best plan for a couple hours. And the good news is that no one is pressuring you to be done and gone. You’ve got your table for the lunch seating, that’s all there is to it. In fact, it’s best not to be in a hurry to pay either. They won’t hurry you, and they’d rather you not hurry them to get you your check. It’s just the way things are done around here. I quite like it.
At dinnertime, Paris restaurants move away from the formule or anything resembling prix fixe. Instead you’re ordering off the open menu, and the prices go up significantly. At lunch you might pay 16 Euros for two courses, while at dinner you’ll pay that much and more per course. So now you see why I say that eating lunch out in Paris is the best deal going. While we don’t eat lunch out every day, when we do eat out, it’s usually for lunch. We will most likely go out for lunch weekly to Miss Lunch and Mokonuts, since most restaurants change up their formule weekly.
The other major thing we did today was visit the Bibliothèque Nationale. The primary exhibit we went to see is called Manuscripts of the Extreme. The four categories in this exhibit are prison, passion, peril, and possession. The basic concept is to show writings from people who were at some extreme point in their life. Some of the scripts were written in the writer’s own blood, since they were in prison and were not afforded anything to write with. This is an incredibly powerful exhibit. None of the descriptions were written in English and there was no English guide, so Google Translate saved the day for us. We were able to translate each sign so that we had a good idea of what was being shown. For as much as I get on Google’s case, I have to hand it to them this time. Google Translate is an amazing piece of software.
By far the most moving works displayed were the movie storyboard books drawn by Jewish youth who were about to be deported to Auschwitz, where they all perished. Those booklets are so beautiful, poetic, lively, and yes, sad. They were written accordion style, so stretched out they covered the length of one entire long wall.
I will leave you today with a happier image of youth, this photo of a Parisian school group on an outing of some sort. It is surprising how many schools we come upon during our wanderings in the city. We often see groups of students out on some sort of adventure. I can’t say exactly why, but seeing groups of young students excitedly going about their days always makes me feel happy and hopeful. I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
This morning we attended the riverfront Easter sunrise service of the American Church in Paris (ACP). The spire in the photo above to the left of the Eiffel Tower is that church. After the service we had breakfast at the church. During breakfast we got to know a couple who now live in Brittany since retiring, but lived in Paris for decades and attended the ACP. Ellen is originally from Green Bay and Jean-Pierre is from Brittany. They first met as pen pals back in junior high. Their lives took them different directions, but eventually they got together and were married thirty-some years ago. We really enjoyed getting to know them and hope we can get together while they are in Paris for several days. They still keep a small flat here.
After the breakfast we attended the 9 o’clock service in the sanctuary. It was a beautiful service and was definitely in the Protestant tradition. While we’ve enjoyed the services we’ve attended at the French Catholic churches here, it was nice on Easter Sunday to be able to understand everything that was being said and done. We were thrilled to have a congregation singalong of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus close out the service and Widor’s thrilling organ Tocatta as the postlude, just like back home at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
On our way back to the Metro station after the church service, we stopped to check out the beautiful park, Jardin de la Nouvelle France. This park dates back to 1859. The plantings and landscaping are so beautiful. It is a magical space. We basically had the place to ourselves at ten-thirty in the morning.
Later in the day we attended the one-year anniversary celebration of Babbaluscio, the Aligre Market stall run by our new friend, Claudia (aka Miss Lunch). We had a delicious lunch of spring rolls, egg bake, sweet potato pancakes, and baklava, along with delicious Mimosas made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Italian Prosecco. Everything Claudia serves at Babbaluscio is vegetarian. While at the party we got to chat with Claudia’s brother-in-law, Charles, who was volunteering behind the counter, and their mutual friend from NYC, Gary, who can be seen behind Priscilla in the photo below.
All in all, it’s been a beautiful Easter Sunday and weekend. The weather here has turned warm and sunny, reaching into the mid- to upper-seventies during the day, and cooling into the fifties overnight. Perfect weather in my book. One of the delights of living in Europe is that we can leave our windows wide open on beautiful days, as you’ll see in the photo below. We’ve been fortunate to have no days of solid rain since arriving here a month ago. That’s right, today is our one-month anniversary of arriving in Paris. It’s hard to believe that our time is half done here. We are looking forward to the coming month. I hope you stay with us for the remainder of the ride.
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.
With all the emotions surrounding the Notre Dame fire, it’s been hard to sit down to write another blog post. But, life does go on. I’m going to attempt in this blog post to bring you up to speed on the last several days, to in effect, clean the slate and start fresh.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Priscilla and I have been getting to know different neighborhoods in Paris. One that we visited late last week was the Canal Saint-Martin area. At one point, this part of Paris was a bit down and out, but slowly it has been getting gentrified, or as the French call it, embourgeoisement. We started with lunch at Mems, a wonderful bistro at 1, rue de Marseille. Then we stepped across the street and picked up a baguette and pain chocolat at the famous boulangerie, du Pain et des Idées. Next up was the fabulous art, design, and photography store, Artazart shown in the photograph above. This store has a fabulous selection of books and prints. I picked up a photography book of Saul Leider’s early color work.
After leaving Artazart, we got to watch the swing bridge and locks in operation at Pont Louis Philippe. The first time I saw them put the gates down to start the swing bridge opening up the canal, some jaunty fellow decided that he didn’t need to heed the barrier, so he just strode his way across that bridge, with the operators cursing him up one side and down the other in French over the loudspeaker. He didn’t give a rip, he was going across that bridge. While an unwitting tourist got caught on the wrong side of the barrier the next time around, the drama was less charged. She managed to get herself on the right side of the barrier with a little coaching and encouragement from the crowd, and no cursing from the operators.
Sunday we attended the Palm Sunday service at the beautiful Saint-Sulpice church. The one-hour and forty-five minute service, with over one hour of that standing, tested the calves of these died-in-the-wool Presbyterians. The service began outside, with congregants holding and waving boxwood tree boughs rather than palm branches. The service at Saint-Sulpice was a bit more high church than we prefer. I was surprised at the light crowd that Sunday. Contrasting with that, tonight we attended a wonderful Maundy Thursday service at the church of Saint-Gervais & Saint-Protais, which is right in our neighborhood. This church has the oldest organ in Paris, which was played by members of the famous Couperin family for generations. The church was packed. It was basically standing room only. I don’t know if that was because this service followed the Notre Dame fire, or if that’s just the way things are at this church. The service was more in the monastic tradition, more like a Taizé service. In fact, we actually got to sing the Ubi Caritas that we’ve learned in our Westminster Taizé services. That was comforting. This congregation knows how to sing. It was all hauntingly beautiful. Being Protestants, there is much of the ritual at Catholic masses that we do not understand, especially when conducted in a language foreign to us, but the washing of hands is universally understood and appreciated. We were surprised to run into a new friend there, Eileen, the American we met at Miss Lunch whom I wrote of a couple posts ago.
Sunday night was the infamous weekly dinner at the atelier of the American expat, Jim Haynes. Priscilla had read of Jim’s dinners in a book on Paris, and once we learned of them, we knew we just had to go. Jim’s dinners have been going on for over forty years and they attract all manner of people. We met folks from Portland, San Francisco, Berlin, and London. While the quarters were cramped, we managed to find a corner in which to sit and eat our dinners and converse. Some of the guests are in Paris for a short time, and others are long-term expats. Sorry, but I don’t have any photos from this dinner.
Monday afternoon had us getting in another neighborhood walk from the “Paris in Stride” book. This time is was Montmartre. I’m going to make this really short. The last time we tried to visit Montmartre and Sacre Coeur in 2011, Priscilla got pickpocketed, so we never made it, since we spent most of that day in a police station. This time no one got pickpocketed, so that’s the good news. The bad news is that Montmartre is a mess of tourists. We’ve done it. We don’t need to do it again. We did have a terrific lunch at Soul Kitchen though. If it were located anywhere but Montmartre, we’d go back in a heartbeat.
I’m going to close off this blog post now, even though I’m not completely caught up. I’ll pick up next time with our visits to the Picasso Museum today and the Henri Cartier-Bresson photography museum tomorrow. So far our visits to photography galleries have come up a cropper, so I’m counting on Henri Cartier-Bresson to pull through for us.
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.
One of the things Priscilla and I have enjoyed the most so far on our Parisian adventure is meeting the locals (who sometimes aren’t as local as you might think). Early on Priscilla met Rasmus and Elisa, the owners of the Zone Nordique store that is directly below our flat. Rasmus is a Dane from the Copenhagen area and Elisa is an Italian from Milan. They have a one-year old boy, so their lives are quite busy. The lingua Franca in their relationship is English. She doesn’t speak Danish and he doesn’t speak Italian, so English it is, although they certainly speak French as well. They’ve been helpful steering us to the right store to find a step stool for granddaughter Cora during their visit last week.
Then there is Claudia, who goes by the moniker Miss Lunch. She is a Canadian from Ottawa who came to Paris for Art School twenty-some years ago and never left. She runs a lunch only restaurant near the Aligre market as well as a vegetarian stall in the market itself. Claudia gave us a private tasting of capers that she prepares as well as artisanal olive oils. We picked up the capers tapenade and a bag of the salted-cured capers. The tapenade is to die for by the way. We had it on hearty bread with wine yesterday for our late-afternoon repast. While at Claudia’s stall we also got to know her brother-in-law, Charles, who is an American from Indiana who spends most of his time now between Paris and Italy. We decided to have lunch yesterday at Miss Lunch. We had a marvelous time. The conversation flowed between all of the few tables in her dining area, so it was a bit like a big family lunch. We met a woman named Eileen who retired from NYC to Philly, and now lives half the year there and half in Paris where she owns a flat in the Marais. She was able to get an Irish passport because her Grandmother emigrated from there to the U.S. That is how she is able to stay for such a long time.
Another activity Priscilla and I have been undertaking to get to know Paris better is to get out to visit neighborhoods we are unfamiliar with. Yesterday it was the Belleville and Buttes-Chaumont area. The Belleville/Buttes-Chaumont walk started with visiting the Butte Bergeyre hilltop neighborhood. This small neighborhood is deemed a micro-quartier, and is accessed via a stairway that seems to go to the heavens. Priscilla asked me to assure her that we weren’t going up that set of stairs. I could offer no such assurances. She counted 81 steps. This little enclave on top of a hill overlooking Paris was a wonderful find. If you lived here you’d certainly have no trouble getting your stair steps in each day, as you have to go down the steps to get to any shops.
After walking the Butte Bergeyre neighborhood we walked to the Buttes-Chaumont park, which is built up among all the hills in the area. This area used to be a pretty shady spot where executions were held and those killed were left to hang. Nowadays, it is a beautiful park with aggressive hills and sweeping vistas. Leaving Buttes-Chaumont we walked the lovely shopping street of rue de la Villette. The quaint Villa l’Adour alleyway runs off rue de la Villette and is a picture postcard like street that apparently has a cat for a watchdog. At the end of all our walking, we caught the 11 Metro at Jourdain and switched to the 1 Metro at Hotel de Ville, which takes us to our primary Metro stop, Saint-Paul.