Well yes and no. Possibly. Are we going for decisiveness today? Yes. No. Oh, I can’t make my mind up. Sorry. Ouch. Actually Paris does. Stink that is. Like an overflowing urinal. Despite gangs of green overalled workers hosing benches and various little corners down from the early hours to midday. On the corner of every street it catches you. Out of the apartment, down the road, and eeuuw! Take a trip through the Metro, turn a corner and biff! Right in the nostrils. Often multiple times in one station. And the stench is definitely human, not dog or any other animal. That ammoniac reek is quite male and very particular. London is positively aseptic by comparison.
Regardless of the smell, what did I think of Paris overall? Superb, merveilleux, astounding, and amazing innit, like; a tribute to the minds of great men, and packed with more historical content per cubic centimetre than a New York Reuben Sandwich is with Pastrami and Sauerkraut. More full of good and great little eateries than anywhere I’ve ever been, and we have traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, and North America. All of these bars and eateries vying to be at least as good as the best in the street.
Tiny little bars, cafe’s, brasseries, and bistro’s in a semi chaotic mess around every street corner and through every working marketplace. Great little Boulangeries, “Don’t forget the Nutella Crepes”, says Mrs S over my shoulder. Heavy sigh. Yes dear.
I know we can’t give you the sounds and smells, but here is a tiny sample of our resized holiday snaps, cut down to a meg and a half each to allow reasonably quick page loading. I can’t put them all up as we took something in the region of a thousand or so. And that’s just the ones we didn’t delete on the spot because a blurred someone got in the way of the shot, or the lens strap blew over the lens or the hundred other reasons a picture isn’t worth keeping.
I mean, take this one. Snapped from the top of one of those ‘hop on hop off’ tour buses. One of the old pre Haussman city gates. From the early 19th century when the city was simply a maze of alleys and noisome little streets, the remnants of which can be found off St Germain and the Marais, and a whole heap of other bits like Montmartre and Pigalle we didn’t spend much time around.
When you’re not on one of those touristy tick box whistle stop ‘tours’ of Paris, you can take your time and discover some of the details and surprises that make it such a great place for an extended stay. This one I call “Oi! Henri! Come down, yer Teas ready.” It’s a life size bronze on the top of Notre Dame, Paris, and you can only really see it properly from a fifteen foot gap between buildings to the rear of the cathedral. Anywhere else and it’s practically invisible.
For another example of the main tourist sites; this view of the Louvre at dusk. We never went in because, well, who wants to be caught in herds of untamed Japanese and Korean tour parties with their interminable cameras flashing all the time. Staring at priceless artworks from the back of the crowd with all that flickering isn’t much fun. You miss out on the detail from twenty feet away, and detail is what makes these things great works of art. Honestly, it’s enough to set off an Epileptic. Myself I rarely use flash unless I have to. You tend to capture more of the ambient mood of a shot in natural light. Besides, flash is no good over more than ten or twelve feet anyway and tends to flatten the image if you don’t get it right. It’s like those people who try to take pictures of an eclipse with the flash still on. No. It doesn’t work very well does it? My advice; try turning the flash off and see what your camera can really do.
On the topic of natural light; here’s the tomb of Marshal Foch in Les Invalides. That fabulous blue glow in the picture is natural. Using flash kills this lustrous Spielberg blue effect stone dead. Which gets annoying when someone sees what you’re up to and then uses their flash repeatedly over your shoulder, or in the case of tiny giggling Chinese and Japanese girls, sneaking in front of you, even when you’re right up to the barrier, and sticking the back of their head in front of your lens. I had to wait fifteen minutes for two garrulous tour parties to disappear before snapping that particular image.
Which makes me wonder about the nature of photographers. We were wandering out of St Germain across the Pont Neuf the following day after a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens. There’s a little triangular park on the western end of Ile Del la Cite which is a pleasant place to spend a lazy hour or two. Down below, a couple being driven upriver in one of those stylish Italian Riva speedboats were waving at someone or something. I couldn’t see anyone waving back. Down on the banks of the park were five or six guys with cameras who suddenly began running after the boat, tripping and gamboling over each other like circus monkeys on cocaine. They managed to stay upright for long enough to point their cameras at the waving couple before going into a little celebratory dance, high fiving each other, capering up and down like medieval lunatics. Mrs S and I watched this odd mini spectacle for a moment before shrugging to ourselves in a Gallic manner. No idea who the couple on the boat were, but the camera toting clowns seemed to be very excited about it. As far as taking pictures is concerned I try to emulate the careful people who take a few moments picking a good vantage place and let the zoom take the strain. The Sniper rather than the Snapper. Some might say you lose the spontaneity of a shot that way, but it depends what you’re looking for I suppose. Any old road up, that’s neither here nor there. I don’t make my living that way.
Back on topic; here’s another one of the more interesting bits of Notre Dame at night. I particularly like this shot because there’s more than a little of the 3-2-1 we have liftoff to it. Those elegant flying buttresses, the high narrow windows. Who’d have thought the denizens of late medieval Paris were trying to build starships out of stone?
What else? Well, there was Sainte Chapelle, one time royal chapel at the back of the Palais De Justice. Incredible detail, towering painted ceilings, which one architectural critic thinks is not correct and a ‘crime’ against architecture in the case of Chartres Cathedral, but that’s one of those ‘judging late medieval art and architecture by 21st century standards’ things, and not something I want to get into in the comparative brevity of a blog post. Suffice it to say, the archaeology tells us the stonework was originally painted, so any critique of restoration work should take that into account.
Like I say, I took over a thousand decent pictures while I was enjoying la vie Parisienne, improved my French, patched up my relationship, discovered how to navigate the French emergency healthcare system and Parisian Metro. Had a lot of good, clean, old fashioned fun, ate and drank well, ending up back home in BC thoroughly culturally enriched. Despite the odd stroppy waiter, broken limb and greedy taxi driver, it was a great trip. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But maybe, just maybe, I’d take a side trip to Amsterdam and Berlin first.