Paris!

Yesterday I went to Paris with my ten going on thirty year old daughter. It was on a whim almost. Just the same about about that song about a sleeping lion, where the desire to burst into song was just a whim away, a whim away, a whim away,a whim away, a whim away, a whim away, a whim awaaaaaaaaaay…

By rights I should have been in the UK. I had lieu days to take and had organised myself a little get away to Hull! I know Dear reader, but it’s home, I had plane tickets booked, hotel booked, rides about photography that I could do. But when I booked all that, little did I know that ultimately, it was not to be. Thanks Covid 19!! I still managed to get all my money back though.

My boss came along to see me and asked that despite things being cancelled, was j still going to go on leave, I thought about it for one second, and said, why not! So I was going to have some time on my hands.

That first day was spent in Nantes taking photographs and avoiding the shops to buy a new lens for my XT2. Consolation retail therapy is great but it has a tendency to cost money. So I went and did what I usually do and walk around taking photographs. That was Day 1. I will probably write another article about that later, but there are things about yesterday that won’t wait. Or I will forget and it’s worth not forgetting.

Sooooooooo…. I love Paris. I love the different quarters, and how they all have a really different vibe. I wanted to just roam the streets imagining myself as a Henri Cartier Bresson. Hey I’m allowed to dream!

My daughter also loves Paris and has been on at me to go there for ages. My wife starts getting heart palpitations at the mere idea of me, daughter and Paris, when mention I. The same phrase. So a couple of day before I asked Kate if she was up for it? Surprisingly she was! And what shocked me more was when my wife thought it was a good idea too!!! And who said miracles don’t happen.

I asked what she wanted to see while we were there and she said the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel. I had a moment of lucidity and thought, get the tickets online first fool! So I did!

Friday morning, armed with two cameras, all the printouts for the tickets, and ID, my son drove us to the station in Nantes for the 2hr15min TGV for Paris. I was worried about the inevitable, Daddy, I’m bored, but it never came. Connect 4 on my phone helped. I have taught my daughter about everything I know about this game so she’s a formidable opponent.

We arrived in Montparnasse, and I knew which metro to get on and how to get to our destination. As a thank you to Killian we got home a little Moleskin notebook for drawing in. We found Mark’s And Spencer’s food shop and noted where we would get our evening meal from. I live my daughter but she is notoriously difficult when it come to food.

There’s a detail that I haven’t mentioned yet. Kate is on crutches and I have a walking stick. Thank you arthritis. In the metro there are numerous stairs. She was great getting over all the obstacles.

We arrive at the Louvre via the Carousel du Louvre which looks nothing like a carousel but more like an inverted pyramid. Obviously trying to confuse American tourists.

We started off looking at Greek sculpture. I’m not talking about the paper mache stuff in the local Kebab joint, but the real McCoy. Then I told her how old the statues were. Then it began to sink in. She had studied Greek mythology at school so it was like being amongst old friends for her. Very old friends.

We went on to see the Roman contribution to the world of art. I was amazed by the details in the statues and thinking how lifelike they were. I’m also amazed by the intricacy of the carving. The hair, the eyes. You could imagine them coming to life and going out for a beer and how denarii doesn’t go very far these days…

What I haven’t told you about is the huge number of stairs then you need to go up and down…. get ready for this. By the end of the day we had done nearly 16000 paces and 127 floors according to my watch. We must have been mad. We saw the paintings and Kate was amazed by how detailed they were and how you couldn’t even see the brush stroke. I was taken aback by the colours and pigments.

One of the things you have to do is to see the Mona Lisa. When I was a child the painting was on a wall and there were a huge amount of people infront of it so it was night on impossible to take a photo. Just that was then. This is now. Now there is a line that meanders around like at Disney, and people can get quite close and take their photo. As you go around the line you admire other pictures on the walls. As we were doing the whole cripple thing, on of the Museum staff came and asked Kate if she would like to go right to the front and get a better view. Damn right she did. For the hoipoloi, they get within about 5 meters of the statue, but with the cripple card we were less than tree metres away! I actually felt really guilty about it, but I’m not throwing away my shot, as Hamilton said and I got my photograph!

DSCF1881

Happy as a pig in shit!!!
We then had lunch in the museum cafe  overlooking the rest of the Louvr and the Jardin des Tuilleries, and tearful for my daughter’s ankles I though I would have to give it a miss. Shame really because she would have loved it.  But it was not to be this time. 

We continued with our visit looking for the iconic works that you only get to see in books, or on the old 100 franc banknote.  We finished by the ancient Egyptians and the mummies.  We all need our mummies after all. We had also discovered the lifts. What a Godsend they were too. We saw the Victoire  de Samothrace, Milo’s Venus, that really big painting of Louis XIV looking so butch.  Kate asked me why was he wearing tights, and I told her because it made him look good in heels. 

We saw the painting of Napolean being all regal and placing a crown on the head of his bride.    When saw Marianne au naturel as she mounted the barricades with the Tricolore, we saw the Radeau de la Meduse, and she was of course médusée Papa!  French joke…

Saying it was all amazing is like completing for the Understatement of the year 2020.  She was the right age, and who knows what it will all lead to in her mind.  I was a good father that day.  This is what she said,  “the Louvre made her feel so young compared to the works of art.” 

We eventually found the exit and by the time she got there she was almost in tears because of her sore ankles. I made it my duty to find a chemist’s and get some painkillers. So we did…

You can’t go to Paris and not have a drink in a Parisian Café. So we did. The waiter was actually very pleasant and completely broke thevsterotype of the pissed off and impatient French waiter that tells you off for not being quick enough ordering…

Sitting down for a while really helped too. We felt rested and the two doped up cripples were ready for the next treat. The Eiffel Tower. It looks like Blackpool’s tower except it has Parisian Class. And the weather is generally better too. We took a taxi. I didn’t want to put her through the steps in the metro again. Our man dropped us off on the Champs de Mars, and we scouted around trying to find the entrance. It’s amazing to think that this towering feat of engineering was destined to be temporary and has yet become an emblem of Paris. It’s also slightly massive! Thanks to Covid we couldn’t go right to the top, but still managed to get up to the second level. The panoramas are amazing and I showed her all the sights that we could see.

We took another taxi to the Rue de Rivoli to go and see WH Smith’s. Now for those of you who live in the UK you can’t imagine how it feels going into a bookshop where it feels like home except it still has Parisian chic.

The final Taxi took is back to the Station and we descended on Marks and Sparks like hunger on the world. Our goodie bags were getting heavier and heavier, but my appetite helped lighten the load.

My son came to pick us up and was lovely about it.

It was her dream fulfilled and I know the memories of that day will stay with her for the rest of her life.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Ranville

In my last article I talked about Normandy and the battle to take Pegasus Bridge, and in this article I want to talk about the soldiers that didn’t come back. Ranville is a town, not too far from Pegasus Bridge and the men that fell in that engagement are buried in the Parish Churchyard. Just next to the chuchyard is a Commonwealth War Cemetery.

The cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. A large proportion of those interred were members of the British 6th Airborne Division. These places are always very moving, even more so when one looks at the ages of some of those that died in June 1944. My son is 20 and the same age as so many of those soldiers.

Even when dead they are still on parade in ranks with perfect dressing. They died as soldiers and even in death they remain soldiers. When you look through the photos you will notice certain anomalies. One was a tank crew that was buried together, as a crew. One is a grave of a German Jew who escaped to join the British army, and was given a pseudonym so if he was captured his name wouldn’t betray him, One grave is of a parachutist and his dog who were buried together.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon

Pegasus Bridge

This is the first in a series of posts about Normandy, and now you know where I went on holiday this year! Having lived in France for so long Normandy conjures up images of apples, cider, Calva, and Normans amazed by the fact that you can actually eat apples and not just use them to make alcoholic drinks.

It conjures up images of rain for the French, and I jokingly remind them that the British go there for the “good weather!” It conjures up history by the bucket load, William the Bastard, who became William the Conqueror, and the Bayeux Tapestry which is 1000 year old propaganda, and sparked off a rivalry between the two countries, which lasted for centuries, and still does especially when we beat the French at rugby. It conjures up images of landings made by Allied troops on the 6th of June 1944, to free France and Europe from Nazi occupation and tyranny.

This article is about one of the places where one of those battles took place. Please take the time to click on the various links to Wikipedia to learn more about the operations and people involved. Thank you.

To some Pegasus Bridge might mean nothing but to others it means the end of Nazi occupation in Normandy, France. Madame Arlette Grondée is the same age as my mother and witnessed the Second World War first hand. On the night of the 5th of June, just before midnight, three gliders containing airborne troops landed just across the canal from where her parents ran a café. That café is still there and so is Madame Grondée. I know, because I asked her for a photo and she very kindly agreed. It’s not every day that one meets a legend, and part of history.

I visited this area as a boy and I lust have been the same age as my daughter is now when I was last there. But as an adult, the whole thing has an other dimension to it. The bust of Major Howard (Company Commander of “D” Company, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and part of the 6th Airborne Division) is on the exact site where the three gliders landed. It’s literally on top of the bridge!

Operation Deadstick was a success and a vital victory in the D-Day Operations. The dead were buried in the Parish Cemetery in Rainville, and amongst them is HD Brotheridge, the first British causality of the actions in Normandy. To the left of his grave is a plaque put up by the Grondée family in recognition of his sacrifice.

The tools of the trade that day were the Canon 6D Mark II, and the Canon 16-35mm lens.

Certain images from this gallery can be purchased for a limited time here