Noilly Prattle: September 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Omens, Burnout (and, as always), Images

Omens and Burnout

in a blue mood-
looked up and saw green
     The trouble with omens is that by the time you realize them as omens it's too late to use them. In our case, the cell phone snafu (reported in an earlier post) was an omen indicating that travel burnout was imminent. I define the phenomenon of travel burnout as the point in a journey when things seem to go wrong and when everything begins to look the same—a kind of déja vu.

one of many plaques marking
the line of the Paris Meridian
two musicians playing in the street
in front of our apartment one morning
       The nadir of total burnout hit yesterday on a calamitous trip to Versailles. Everything seemed to go wrong. The bus wasn't able to go all the way to the palace gate because of the 37th Paris-Versailles Race event that blocked traffic on the broad approach road three kilometers from the palace. We had to walk all those three kilometers! On finally arriving within sight of the palace I found that I had forgotten to put the SDHC media card into my camera and couldn't take any pictures. (For me there's no point in traveling if I can't take photos.)

pig and chickens roasting in the
window of a restaurant in the Latin Quarter
seen in a tailor shop
window down the street
       Versailles itself is beyond impressive, it is overwhelming—far too extensive for exploring on foot—excessive is not too exaggerated an expression for the impression Versailles gives. Given such excess, the French Revolution is understandable. It makes the 1% of our own time seem like paupers and Buckingham Palace in London a hovel in comparison. But, no camera, no photos.

scrap metal barge on the Seine
dining al fresco
       After roaming around the palace grounds, around 5pm we decided to call it a day and return to Paris. It seemed that the Paris-Versailles race was over, so we waited for the bus for about an hour and then discovered that there still was no bus and we would have had to walk the three kilometers back or take a nearby train for extra cost. Unwilling to walk anymore, we went to the railroad station and waited in line to buy a ticket from a machine only to discover that it takes only coins of which we had none. We had to move to another long line to buy tickets from a human being . . . finally got tickets and got back, hungry, to Paris. A restaurant across the street advertised hamburgers for 7 Euro, but, once seated, the menu said 17 Euro so we left and eventually bought Falafel take out across the street (after an extra large daiquiri in the apartment) and ate it in our apartment.


Eiffel Tower at night
street musician in a Montmartre park
       Today is our last day in Paris; using up unused Metro tickets (from yesterday's Versailles fiasco) and strolling the Champs-Élysées. Had my first encounter with a pickpocket at the Arch of Triumph—a real amateur, amusingly transparent. I shooed her off and noticed her accosting another mark with the same gambit. She got close enough to get a hand in his bag, but he caught her in the act and a struggle followed—I fortunately had my SDHC card this time.

dusk on the Seine with Notre Dame
smoke break in the Latin Quarter
       I've been noticing that I've been adding more and more people in many of my photographic images. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps they only serve as foreground to increase the depth of the image. Yet that explanation, although part of the process, seems specious at best. Perhaps they add an emotional impact that brings the image to life that an otherwise ordinary image might lack. Or, maybe, I'm seeing the image through the eyes of the people in my images. It's like you and I are here at this time, experiencing the same place, and I'm wondering if you see it like I do or in a very different way.

F1 racer in a Renault showroom on
the Champs Elysee
roses on Edit Piaf's tomb
in Pere Lachaise Cemetery
       Most likely, it makes no difference. Ultimately, we see the world through our own eyes and try to make sense of something that makes no sense. An old cliché states that the world is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. I live my mystery and try to interpret it through photographic imagery. Here, then, are my favorite images from our short stay in Paris. They don't define Paris, since Paris (or anywhere for that matter) is ultimately undefinable. But, definition is not the issue...only what it is for me.


street conversation

on the banks of the Seine

caught redhanded pickpocket
and the mark who caught her
probably a PR photo for Nespresso

living La Boheme

La Pyramid du Louvre

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Paris—what can you say?

romantic -- the Seine River at dusk
gritty - wall of a neighborhood alley
     I think the image one has of Paris is so overburdened with romantic clichés and scenes from movies that you may come here with unrealistic expectations, maybe a little “irrational exuberance” and even a dash of road burnout. There is another cliché that I picked up somewhere that says you either love Paris or hate it, but you can't be indifferent to it. I can agree that you can't be indifferent to Paris, but I think you can both love and hate it at the same time, or, at least, alternately. It can be An American in Paris or Gigi or it can be gritty and threadbare like La Boheme.

photo op
     In fact, Paris is a very big city with an overabundance of famous buildings, monuments and “atmosphere”. To try to see and do everything in Paris in a limited amount of time would be foolhardy (although many try). It's best to pick and chose and then approach the whole issue of touring with a relaxed and casual attitude and a lot of room for diversions and detours as opportunities present themselves.

vintage shoe sale?
no, these are not burned out tourists

     I always like to look for the quirky and unusual side of places I visit while, at the same time, paying due diligence to the “famous” must see and do stuff. I have, of course, got tons of photos of the biggies, but, today, I want to present a few of my quirky, a little off beat, shots. Hell, everybody's got a shot of Notre Dame!

rent-a-Porshe and fight Paris traffic
needles are to prevent birdshit...but

size matters

sculpture is titled The Crowd

Arago plaque - a line of these from north to south
mark the Paris Meridian (zero longitude
before the Greenwich Meridian used today)

baptismal fount - St. Sulpice Church -
 apparently a real shell


When was the last time you saw one of these?


ICBM Missile silo?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Bloody la Bohème

     We thought we had stumbled into a Puccini opera!

        The day started somewhat somberly as we tore ourselves from three weeks in a really beautiful canal side apartment (away from the madding crowd) in the Castello Sostier of Venice, Italy. Perhaps the somber mood was a foreshadowing of things to come or, conversely, maybe the mood led to the things to come.

        Things were going well enough transportation-wise; vaporetto to the Marco Polo Airport, LCC flight on (everything is for sale, including reclining seats on low-cost carriers), we even figured out how to get a train ticket into Paris from a machine at the airport. Then the fun began.

       We had arranged to call the apartment manager after arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport and when we knew which train we were taking to coordinate the meeting at the apartment. However, we couldn't figure out how to place the call on our Japanese cell phone. After trying every which a way with no luck, we decided to look for an internet hot spot to send an email announcing our immanent arrival in the Marais section of Paris. We spotted an airport helper and asked if there were an Internet hot spot in the vicinity. She said the whole airport was wired and we could send an email from anywhere there. Road Buddy suddenly got a brainstorm and asked the helper if she would be so kind as to try to call the agent's number for us. She kindly agreed. We had three different numbers and she was finally able to connect on the third try. I talked to the manager and he said that “Javier” would meet us at the apartment. Well and good I thought.

       I had been given a door code for the street door on the online agreement contract. When we found the street and door number the door wouldn't open when I punched in the code. As aggravation and frustration mounted—door code didn't work, cell phone didn't work—we pondered what do we do now when the door suddenly opened and a young man named Javier stepped out. Relieved, I asked him how he knew we were there. He said, simply, he was in the window of the apartment just above the door and he saw and heard us. “Everything's OK now,” I thought. Ri-ight!

Early evening:

first impression
first impression 2
       Walking in the door and looking ahead was a shocker. Shabby hardly describes the condition of the entrance "hall", with exposed pipes and wiring, with bare lightbulbs dangling from the peeling ceiling leading to the dark hole of the staircase. The rental agreement said there would be an elevator, which turned out to be non-existent but, fortunately, the apartment was only one floor up. Even with me bum hip I could handle that! When we arrived, in the early evening, the apartment was in dim shadow, although not as bad as the entrance hall. Javier explained and checked to see that everything worked although almost nothing was as we had been led to expect from the Internet description and pictures and the contract arrangement. Even the WiFi provider and password, like the door code, were different from the contract. Nevertheless, everything was now, finally, under control and working. A few photos are probably worth more than all this venting verbiage.

second impression
apartment door
       We went out to eat not in the best of moods and not really hungry and overtired and a little depressed and sniping at each other. Not a lovely picture. We woke up after a decent night's sleep and discovered that we had both been thinking the same thought, that we had wandered onto a stage set for la Bohème (down and out in Paris). What else to do but take it in stride and learn to sing an aria or two?

note the old fashioned
pull chain from above

The morning after:

Rue des Rosiers in the Marais
view of some rooftops out the window


       The sun is streaming in the windows and the street is alive with the sounds of people on a Saturday afternoon. The mood is a little more upbeat, though still unsettled—time to go out exploring.  

same room as above

people lined up for take away Falafel -
a kind of Middle Easter sandwich in a pita cone -

this shop appears to be very popular

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Le gondole - (gondolas)

on the Grand Canal
gondolier's hat 
     When you think “Venice” you think “gondolas”, it's automatic, like a Pavlovian response. You can't imagine Venice without it's gondolas and gondoliers or the gondolas without Venice—they go together like salt and pepper or peas and carrots. As in French, Italian nouns are not gender neutral, everything is either masculine or feminine. You might not be surprised to learn that gondola, is a feminine noun (ending in “a”, masculine nouns end in “o” as in gigolo) the plural being gondole. No trip to Venice would be complete with photos of le gondole, so, here a few that caught my eye.

the neighborhood -
our front door at end of alley 
our canal -
Rio di San Antonin
     We are approaching the end of our short stay in Venice. Even after only three weeks you begin to feel as if you'd lived here forever, gotten to know the neighborhood and developed something of a routine not unlike that of your own home. It's ironic! You travel to break away from routines and immediately start establishing new ones as soon as you settle in even for a two or three week stay. We are creatures of habit. But, some of us are like rolling stones, the kind that don't gather moss. Accordingly, with a little sadness, we roll again on Friday for a short stay in Paris before returning to Japan to re-establish the home routines once again. Until next time . . .

[Shake of the head]

     But, meanwhile, we are still here, so, a few gondola pictures.

at Accademia Bridge
prow ornaments

I like the carpet touch

high water on the Grand Canal

Grand Central Gondola Station

Rialto Bridge


traffic jam

another kind of boat
a lady gondolier?


Santa Maria de la Salute 

super gondola

where's the rest of the boat?

rare gondola off the beaten path (or canal)

towards evening