Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Tale of Three Cities

With deference to Charles Dickens

We have a rental car today after making reservations yesterday. We took the Metro to
Gare d’Lyons and picked it up at Hertz where a very nice lady served us. From the station we began the tale. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

To leave the City one should take the Periphique. This is the highway that circles Paris and let’s you get out. Uh huh. Anyone who has driven LA or NYC freeways knows that it’s an absolute necessity to have a pretty good idea of where you are going first. Diana, as usual, is driving. She has two navigators today; myself and Peggy in the backseat. We are looking for signs that point us to the A1 and the A16.

Getting out of town is a mixture of uncertainty, fear and hope. Peggy has nicknamed the Periphique the “Circle of Doom.” After a few lessons in compass points, we did get out of Paris and headed off to our first Village northwest of the City, LaRoche Guyon . From there we have the entire day to drive to the other two; Lyons-La-Foret and Gerberoy which are in fairly close proximity to each other.

As we drove we kept waiting on the expected sun and 70 degrees predicted by the weather channel on our computers. It never arrived.

We finally made it to LaRoche Guyon after several leg stretching stops and I must say the Village is well worth the visit. As you drive into the center of the village you are presented with what, in my mind, is typically French. Now understand I have no experience in what a typical French Village is but this is it.

La Roche Guyon is so quaint (and there is no other word for it) that, except for the modern cars including a pink Fiat, you would think you were in a Victor Hugo novel. It is quiet, picturesque and simple.

We found a Café (La Cancalaise) that serves Crepes and we all decided to try La Fleur de France.

Oh. My. God.

A banana sliced length wise inside a perfect crepe. This doused in shaved cocoa and chocolate. Topped off with rosettes of whipped cream. These are to die for.
The coffee was the best we have had so far in France.

I told the chef and waitress in my best broken French which is very broken that the crepes and coffee was the best in France and they seemed to understand that. The three of us headed to the huge centerpiece of LaRoche Guyon which is the castle. We passed a fruit and vegetable stand that had the most beautiful collection of local produce imaginable.

We were simply amazed not only by the structure but where and how it was built. It almost grows out of the pure white limestone. The homes also have built storage and garages directly out of the pure rock. (That makes them the first rock Jacques), Ha.

As we strolled through the main square, we made a detour to the back of one building where two men were renovating a home that is (we later found out) about 400 years old.

After quick introductions, the gentleman asked if we wanted to see his home. Up three flights of windy stairs, we arrived in an obviously gutted out room with a view of the square. Diana remarked about the tiles and he gave her one as a souvenir. She prizes this little piece of 17th Century France.

We hopped back in the car and headed off to Lyons de Foret. “Do we want the D-13 or the N-1?”

“Is the D123 alright?”

“Someone look for a sign.”

“Let’s pull over.”

“Let’s look at the map…again.”

And as the adventure continued, we happened upon a Chateau that Peggy has dibbed for her wedding. Another couple of “Oh my God’s.” In Paris, the trees are still mostly green with a few shades of yellows here and there. In the countryside the trees are exploding with fall color. Even with the dull overcast sky it is tres magnifique.

This area is obviously farm country and so many of the towns appear deserted. Deserted but tranquil and beautiful. We remarked that it’s as if their only worries here is if a cat strays into someone’s backyard.

It took most of the daylight to find de Foret. But, Diana being slightly obsessive determined we would get to Gerberoy and after a “few” “anyone see a sign?” we entered another quiet little town.

I should mention that the reason Diana chose these Villages is it seems a writer from the early 20th Century (Les plus beaux villages de France…the most beautiful villages in France) wrote about what he considered the “must see” villages of France and the 3 Diana chose were on his list with La Roche Guyon was his top pick.

The French government designated these little towns as particular areas to visit. The book, written by Charles Ceyrac, mayor of Collonges la-Rouge, was written to protect what was close to his heart, the beautiful towns of France.

As the light died around 6 p.m. we had to head back to Paris.

“Do we want the A1 or A6?”

“I think we should get off here.”

We finally found the Parking Garage for Hertz…so we thought, but ended up in the Avis garage. Now there is no way to describe lost in these underground parking centers that are not marked well at all.

Diana asked an attendant for directions. He tried to explain (in French) how to do it and finally he said for us to wait. The man actually got in his car and led us out of the Avis garage into the Hertz garage. No one I know is the States would have done this but here we are being led to our parking return by a Parisian. What an incredible gesture!

We went back to Le Petit Pont for dinner (lamb chops pour la Femme and lamb tangine pour mois). We were absolutely worn out. Peggy remarked that we should have buns of steel by now. Mais oui!

We are soooo ready to crash for tomorrow.




The Three Musketeers

Our good friend and “partner in craziness” Peggy Sprague arrived this morning for a few days of mischief in Paris. We have known Peggy as long as we have been in San Diego which is more than ten years. We have done some humanitarian work together but Peggy is the real deal when it comes to her work with the under privileged.

We were to meet her at CDG airport at 8 a.m., but we got off at the wrong terminal and were delayed a bit. Just as we were leaving for the Metro, we met a young lady from NYC who followed us to the Metro as she was unfamiliar with Paris. Turns out she is a new screen writer for the show Boardwalk Empire.

We arrived at the apartment without much to report although Peggy managed to count the stairs to our apartment…97 to be exact. Now to put this into perspective for you, the tower to the top of Notre Dame is 387 steps. That puts our apartment about 1/3rd the height of the Notre Dame! And we have no gargoyles.

Diana had planned a visit to the manicurist, something she rarely does, and (are you ready for this) she wanted to experience a fish salon. I mean they put your hands and feet in with some Turkish fish that eat the dead skin. Ewwwwwwww.

So while Diana is fishing (or being fished) Peggy and I grabbed a bite. The flight was finally taking its toll as Peggy was barely keeping awake. We got Diana and brought Peggy back for some much needed rest.

Once Peggy was recharged, we all went for dinner with Bob, went back to the apartment and crashed for the evening.

Now it gets really good, The next day, we decided to rent a car and get out of “Dodge.” Since Diana had reconnoitered the area, she took us on a walk to find a car rental. More like a trek. I opted to go inside a local hotel (Hotel Saint Louis en L’Isle) and ask directions.

The person at the quaint desk immediately saw my Fuji camera and got up to examine it promptly and politely telling me it needed cleaning and we began a long discussion about his Leica M9, past Hasselblad 1000f, Alpas, etc. Photography is an international language. After all, the French invented it and still are passionate about it.

I told him how much I appreciated the discussion and he politely bowed and directed us to an car rental at the Gard d’Lyon “a 20 minute walk.” Then corrected himself “Perhaps 22 minutes.” What a nice pleasant gentleman.

After much meandering, we decided on the Metro. We were all rapidly deteriorating. We couldn’t rent a car without a reservation so we made a reservation for tomorrow. At this point Diana thought she would like to try a fast train for fun....Uh huh.

We found out that that thought might have to wait since a round trip ticket to the closest city was 140 Euro per person!

We opted for a short ride back to the apartment to rest up for the journey to three Cities in the Northwest outskirts of Paris.
More of that in the next blog.

Paris, the Easy Way, Beauty and the Beast(s)

We were out of the apartment by 9 a.m. and the weather is incredibly clear. Diana discovered a great way to travel Paris namely L’Open Tour. This from her previous visits to Paris.

L’Open Tour is a bus system that costs 34 Euro per person for two days. You can get on and off at any stopping point and you are supplied with a set of ear phones that give you a brief history of each area in which you travel. Our first destination? The Arch d’ Triomphe on the Champs d’Elysee.

We passed through the single highest cost neighborhood in Paris not only according to our “guide” in our headsets, but it is obvious from the stores and hotels.

When you arrive at the Arch you are greeted with a huge round about that is full of traffic with no apparent way across the round about. Ah. Clearly marked are underground tunnels that take you beneath the traffic directly to the Arch. Paris again solves her overcrowding by going underground.

It is, like most of the architecture in Paris, impossible to describe even if you have seen a thousand pictures. It is simply breathtaking. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. (Didn’t I just tell you, pictures do not do it justice?).

As we made our way across the Champs d’ Elysee, our first “beast” of the day reared his head. As we stood photographing, a young man stepped in front of us and “found” a “gold” ring” which, after many attempts realized it wouldn’t fit his hand. He handed it to us and then asked for a few Euro. (Does this smell already?). It was all we could do to get rid of him.

Off to Montmartre on L’Open Tour. It is a short ride but takes us through the Place Pigalle past the Moulin Rouge, through a series of sex shops and clubs, and lands us finally in Montmartre. As we begin our way up the narrow street to the Sacre Coeur, we encounter more “beasts” in the form of the shell game…again. Diana had fun watching and guessing and winning but refusing to be sucked into the game.

At the top of the street the entirety of the Sacre Coeur comes into full view. Beautiful, beckoning and, like the beautiful spiritual lady she is, very tall, slim and elegant. We climbed the hundreds of steps (passing up the cable car) to the sanctuary and entered in. You are not allowed to photograph inside the cathedral so the photographs you see at the bottom are illusions of someone else’s camera.

Of course, there are beggars and hucksters here, as well. The hucksters sell miniature replicas of La Dame de Fer and beggars beckon right up to the door of the sanctuary.

The view of Paris from this point is astounding especially in this very clear weather.

As we left Diana’s “favorite all time church” she led the way behind the cathedral to the center of Montmartre.

Behind the Sacre Coeur, you emerge immediately in the center of hundreds of artists, painting behind their displays, portraitists trying to draw your face and some of the most beautiful paintings you will ever see.

We sat next to one and when I told him we didn’t have room, he answered “Put it in the bank. It will be worth a lot after I die.”

After a few hours strolling about, we headed back to L’Open Tour deciding to end the day with a quick visit to the Louvre.
Obviously, one cannot just give the Louvre a quick once over, but it was nearing 6 and the Panini only dampened our appetites.
(The Fujis had also consumed all of our batteries…all 6) so it appeared that all three of us needed feeding, as well.

We had spotted a bridge a few days ago and we came upon it again. Almost every inch is covered with locks inscribed with the names of lovers. Apparently, it is tradition to place the lock on the bridge and throw the key in the Seine. (We have to buy a lock tomorrow.)

Finally, by 6 p.m. we ended up at La Gentilehommiere, again. We greeted Bob who immediately not only recognized us, but brought us a plate of olives and cheese French bread. We both ordered burgundy beef and whiped out the plate tout suite.

We told Bob again how great the food was and that we would be back and he introduced us to his “Boss, John.” What a pleasant way to end an already successful day. The Beasts of the Citie and the beauty of a new friend, fine food and amazing architecture.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rain in Paris.....All Day!...., Paris 3.1.5

It rained. All day!

We stayed inside. Went to the Petite Pont Café below for lunch. I had a wonderful beef stew. Diana had an omelette. It continued to rain, but the café was loaded with people. Since this was definitely not a day for shooting, we decided to simply take it easy. After all, we have been running pretty much full tilt for 3 weeks.

We both miss family and friends. My daughter Justice and son in law Brian have been holding the fort and tackling the monstrous job of taking care of business…TCB! We miss you guys. Maybe we will be in Ireland together soon rather than Alaska! Alaska? Brian, we love you, but have you been there? Yikes. Temperatures get cold enough to break axe heads.

Tomorrow we are taking the tour bus. Now if that sounds way too touristy, let me explain that the L’ Open Tour buses make a huge circuit around Paris. One buys a two day pass for 29.00 Euro per person and can get on and off as they please. Actually, pretty cool. It’s actually cheaper and more convenient than the Metro. A 5 day pass on the Metro is 59.00 Euro per person but you have to know where you going and that can be a hazard as one trip we took Friday landed us (as I mentioned) in a rather seedy area of Paris.

Cameras are ready for tomorrow, batteries charged, SDHC cards are formatted and all is ready to go.

As a sidebar, I was doing some very cursory counting over the last few days and was amazed at the number of DSLR’s hanging around necks. More Canons than Nikons…probably twice as many. (Most were pretty high end). There were plenty of mirrorless cameras such as Olympus and a few Sonys. Oddly, I did not see any Fujis. I did see a very few Leica M9 cameras, as well. (One guy with an M9 was staring at our Fujis trying to grasp what exactly we had. The Fujis do have a very retro film look).

There was a time when I would have loved to own an M2 or M3 but back in those days, it was still hugely priced around, if memory serves, $1500! Today, an M9 (which only shoots black and white) sells for somewhere in the high end neighborhood of $7900 for a body alone! A lens can set you back as much as another 7 grand. My opinion (and that is all it is since I am the guy who back 1972 predicted no one would ever produce an auto focus camera and in 1999 predicted digital would never replace film!).

All of that being said, our Fujifilm X-100’s do not have interchangeable lenses (sporting the equivalent of a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera) but has served us well. So well, in fact, I believe that the landscape work we will produce from these excellent little cameras, should astound even the uninitiated. One thing Fuji did right was change the digital pattern and removed the anti aliasing filter (AAF) from the sensor thus producing remarkable images of superb quality even at ISO ratings of 6400! For street shooting, it is also nice to have a choice of 3 frames per second or 5 fps. You don’t miss much if you have to shoot fast. (I used the 3fps shooting our Czech friends at the Eifel Tower the other day). My biggest complaint with the Fuji is it eats batteries like a madman coming off a 2 week fast.

I didn’t mean to turn this into a discussion of cameras but it’s raining and I didn’t have any new travel tips for you. Hence. Camera talk.

I will include some “off subject” photographs for you in this blog so all is not lost. When we return, we will be publishing a book of Ireland and France. We will also be printing several pieces (from 11x14 to 16x24) and framing these for exhibit and sale.

Many of our pieces are already available at Fine Art America 
as canvas, metal and postcards plus framed prints and these are very reasonably priced. We will be printing our brains out after we get home. If anyone is interested in our books, please let us know.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Paris 3.0

Is this starting to sound like a Windows update or what? In some ways it is…an update. We kind of have a handle on the Metro using it a lot. The 5 day pass for two is about 100 Euro and well worth it if you plan on seeing a lot of Paris.

We opted to take the Metro out towards Montmartre. I say towards because we ended up in a very forbidding and seedy neighborhood. As an example, I shot a beef truck and the owner came up, hit me on the shoulder and said something in French I am sure was not complimentary. I am guessing he didn’t like my photographing his beef. Hm. A boeuf?

Anyway, we were trying to get to the Sacre Coeur but missed that and opted to return to the Citie and go inside a musee for a drier venue. We went to the Musee d’Orlay. Entrance fee was 12 Euro each. This is an incredible display of artists from every form from pointillism to impressionism. The sculpture alone was worth the cost.

From our view the students sitting and drawing was worth it. Where did Paul Gaugin get his inspiration? I also did not know that Gaugin sculpted. One of the things that struck me was the pointilists. They were copying film which of course, did not exist then. Hm. Some of the works were at least 4 feet wide. The paintings are almost as if someone enlarged color film to the point that film appears when under exposed and over enlarged. (For the non photographic types, believe me this looks exactly the same).

Outside, we took the Metro home and enjoyed a quiet evening.

By the way, for the photographers amongst us, all of the images were captured with the Fuji X100 and, as we do not have any photo software along with us, all are uncorrected jpegs straight out of the camera. ISO ranges run from 200 to 6400. The camera has performed very well under about every circumstance you can imagine.

One thing that many photographers complain about is its slow focus and auto exposure. While this is not an issue with landscapes, it can be unnerving shooting on the street. A cool little trick is to put the camera in manual focus, use the AF setting and prefocus on a spot say 10 feet, and let your subjects come into range. Shades of film days! Speeds up the little Fuji’s ability to shoot on the street. Fast and rarely miss a shot.

Another thing I appreciate is the built in ND filter. (The waterfalls in Ireland were shot in this way). It slows your shutter speed from say 1/60th of a second to a nice water blurring 1/5th of a second.

Tomorrow portends sunshine. Diana wants to get out in the country. It has been said that Paris is not France. God, I hope so.