Have you ever come across the articles named “The 10 Prettiest Villages in France,” “The 10 Prettiest Villages in Yorkshire,” “The 10 Prettiest Villages in Northumberland,” or “Some Other Dream Spot in This Beautiful World?” No? The one closest to us, is about 15 kilometres away and not in the south of France, which I believe to be completely overrated. Like most contenders for this type of little town, there is a bustling market every Friday morning (which is actually pretty wonderful, if not a touch on the pricier side), a park that hugs the river and lets you unwind while taking in the gentle sound of the water. A castle stands watch over the entire town. Meandering streets wonder up and down hills as do the locals. It is in wine producing country surrounded by vineyards who would be more than happy to flog you some wine…
Yes, it is one of “those” places, Dear Reader, but it is still beautiful. Clisson is also aware of this. Of course, I’m simply jealous because I don’t live there but wish I did.
In this series of photographs, I also chose to maintain the film-like appearance of my digital photography. It appears that summer is rapidly approaching. The days are already warmer and sunnier, but are not yet unbearably hot. And such weather is simply God’s way of encouraging you to go have a refreshing pint!
Today was a good day. I like good days. A mixture of barbershops, photography, cake and tea, and most importantly, friends. On this sunny Friday afternoon, I had the afternoon off from work, it would be a perfect day to go to the barbershop and get this beard of mine seen too. I knew it was sunny just by looking out the window, and thought, let’s go manual today.
There is a rule in photography called sunny 16, that says when it is sunny, and not a cloud in the sky, you can put your camera at F16, the shutter speed identical to the ISO, or film sensibility, and all your shots should come out fine or at least well exposed. It means that all you have to do is to concentrate on the moment and press the shutter when the moment is right, and by that I mean, when you have the composition that you want from a scene.
Sean Tucker did a whole video about it and I thought, well, you’ve taken his advice in the past, so why not now. I was a bit of a sissy, and didn’t use a film camera, but instead used the Fujifilm X100F so I could see what I as getting, but to be honest, I didn’t really need to. I must have more self-confidence in photography, I must have more self-confidence in photography, etc. I didn’t go F16 but stayed a little more conservative at F11.
Right, the geeky, photographer part of this article is over. The rest of you can join in again.
So first the barber shop with a couple of photos along the way as my photographic warm-up. This visual warm-up is as important as the muscular warm-up is for a runner or any other sportsman. You get your settings right. F11 because there were a couple of clouds in the sky but not enough for F8. Remember the sunny 16 as a guide to this outing.
My goal was to go and get my flowing locks of hair shaved off, my beard to be transformed from a homeless guy into a dashing older Dude, and then get to Church, pop in to say hello to Jesus since I was too early for confession, and head off to the pub.
With less hair than before and having to battle away throngs of female admirers along the way, I eventually made it to the pub. It was a quiet day at the pub. Rob, or should I say the legend that is Rob, was standing outside ready to jump on any unsuspecting client that might come by and sit down on the terrasse. He’s a good man, and we share a love of being daft and talking utter bollocks. Our jokes are amazing, at least to us. Others might disagree, but under torture will admit they were slightly funny despite being awful!
After a couple of pints of water to quench my thirst and some awful jokes I needed to pee. On my way back up I fancied a little something to nibble on.
Rob, do you fancy some Pringles and some dip?
Do you know what I really fancy Ian?
I wasn’t going to make it from scratch but I knew a place where I could acquire some for a reasonable price. So off I went to the Comptoir Irlandais. An establishment where you can find some of the world’s more comforting produce, tea, and shortbread included. Back to the pub.
Rob who is half Scottish let me know what a great fan of Iron Bru he is. Guess what I found at the Comptoir Irlandais? Yes, you’re right Dear Reader! Scotland’s number one hangover cure, not that I’m suggesting in any way at all, that the Scots would ever need a hangover cure, but if they did, this might be it. It’s a Marmite thing. You love it or you hate it. Judging by Rob’s little eyes when I came back with the shortbread fingers, and that special drink, I think we can safely say he likes it! We of course made a tonne of finger jokes, asking our Irish friend if she would like a finger. Yes, we were at that level. Fart jokes would have been a great leap forward. And I think the phrase, that’s what she said, was uttered a few times too! So all in all, yes, it was a very good day!
Sometimes you just want to spend time alone, not because you hate other people, even if I sometimes find it difficult to love my fellow man. People, or too many people, or people that are too intense just leave me shattered, and ready for an emotional breakdown. My mother in law is one of those people. She is the polar opposite of me. She loves people, loves the gossip, can’t stand her first husband or any other of her ex’s, and her opinions on everything are the exact opposite of mine. Could this be her calling in life? Is she there just to make me question my own beliefs and reinforce them, or is she just a pain in the arse? Possibly both…
Last weekend the idea was that we go up and see her. At first, it was going to be my wife and son, but not my daughter, and then it became my wife and I without the children. I must be a glutton for punishment. Killian had been using my car as an extension of his room to store his crap in since he left the girlfriend. I was getting sick of the whole thing and said if he didn’t get my car sorted then I wouldn’t be going either. The little bugger got all the stuff in my car out, and so I had no choice. Shit!
I have talked about the way I either need 10 pints worth of Heineken (other beers do exist) or Prozac to be able to deal with my mother-in-law. And how this technique has evolved into being stone, cold, sober. Not as fun but allows me to get in the car if things get too intense, escape, leave, and do some photography.
As it was Sunday, I went off to mass at the local Benedictine monastery. This is because I genuinely wanted to go to mass and fulfil my domincal obligations to keep the Sabbath holy. It was also my Dad’s birthday, so I would be able to call and sing him Happy Birthday.
No, I would not be back for lunch as I would be out doing some photography, and having some Ian time, to partake in my number one solitary pastime; photography of course, what else? But don’t worry about me for lunch, I will look after myself…. On the Quiberon peninsular, they have what they refer to as the Côte Sauvage, or the Wild Coast. Despite the high temperatures, we have to pinch ourselves to remind us that it actually autumn, and the end of October. However, on this Wild Coast you were left in no doubt which season we were in despite the warmth. Very slightly breezy, so I really did need my cane, and I found the white horses on the waves as they came crashing down on the shore against the rocks so beautiful. You can really feel the power of the ocean as those waves come in. It reminds you on how small you are, compared to God’s creation.
Despite the wildness of the coast, the ocean, and the waves, I managed to find my peace…
Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.
The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.
So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.
My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.
So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.
Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!
Dear Reader, you know how in the past I have talked about how some of us love the big massive telephoto lenses? And how others like to go wider? And how we start of with the “nifty fifty” F1.8 and learn on that? That was in the days before digital photography and a world where zoom lenses came to the fore. We had them before in the days of film photography, but my memories are of using these prime lenses, and zooms seemed to be looked down on. I wanted to go wider.
I remember my first proper photography course where I learnt the basics of film photography, going from taking the photo, developing the film, and getting a print as an end result. I remember seeing a photo of a horse taken with a massive head taken with a wide-angled lens and finding it fascinating! When I said the head was massive, the lens deformed our view of this majestic beast and its body seemed smaller than its head, which is something indeed. It was then that I learnt a photograph doesn’t have to represent a visual that is faithful to the subject. We can mess around with reality and show the world completely differently.
So, as I said, I learnt photography with a 50mm lens. These 50mm seem to be closest to how the human eye sees the world. It represents reality. In 2018 I acquired the Fujifilm X100F which has a lens equivalent to a 35mm lens. Slightly wider, but still represents the reality of this world, and is considered “the” street photography lens par excellence. It has a larger angle of view and allows me to get a little more in the frame and I felt the difference with the 50mm straight away. It was still a great lens and very versatile until I tried taking a close-up portrait. All of a sudden, I discovered some distortion in my model. I’m not saying that my model is deformed, well, no more deformed than any of us.
Suddenly watching YouTube, as many of us do apparently, I discovered the 16-35mm F4 lens from Canon for my Canon 6D Mark II. It was a little more than I had ever paid for a lens, but worth every centime of euro and so satisfying. If you care to have a look in the archives of this blog on my Instagram feed, you will discover many photos taken with this lens. My desire to go wider was now a reality. Distortion of reality was now in my hands. I could create interesting images. I discovered the way a very wide-angled lens can transform the world around us. Leading lines exist all over the place, and the wide-angled lens exaggerates each line, leading or not!
But, and this is a big but. You fellas can’t deny… It is possible to go wider. I know. Exciting isn’t it! My mind is now blown! There is a lens, a very special lens, called a fish-eye lens. This type of lens can offer you even more distortion and make the world seem even weirder than it already is! Canon does one. It’s a 15-8mm zoom lens. There are two types of fish-eye lenses. One will give a rectangular view, however distorted, and one will give a round image with a black frame. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering and for over €1000 it can be yours. But for €1000 it can’t be mine simply because I can’t justify spending that much money on camera kit and might even be cause for divorce. Since it is cheaper to keep her, I would have to look elsewhere instead of buying a super duper automatic lens from Canon. So like any self-respecting poor photographer I went onto Amazon and found a manual lens for my Fujifilm XT2 (like the famous X100F except I can change lenses) for 169€ which is slightly cheaper and a slightly more reasonable purchase, and my dear wife didn’t bat an eyelid! Not batting and eyelid is a very desirable reaction!!!
I will go out this afternoon to test this new toy and get back to you with some pictures!
First of all, well done for not missing part two of this incredible recitation of fifty-something outings in a lovely part of the world, except where my wife is concerned. She didn’t come because of her great wariness of Paris and all things Parisian. I did want to come, which is how I can write this second instalment. Her loss. She just missed out on all the fun, fun, fun!
So, where was I? Definitely in a great mood, probably not in the fittest states if I were driving, and heading gently back to my hotel after having said goodnight to friends! I had missed out on pudding after my evening meal and knew that I had the Cyrille Lignac raspberry tart to look forward to. I found my room and actually get into it without having to call for help. It was a warm evening after a warm day, but the coolness of the evening was starting to arrive. O happiness, I could get my window open and still reserve my modesty with the blinds. I hit the deck. Well, I didn’t hit. It was like sliding into bed in a happy, sugary, raspberry mood and I drifted off to sleep. Hotel pillows seem to have this magical way of sending you off to dreamland….
I had set an alarm, just in case, but woke up at 6am. Far too silly, but it allowed me to emerge at a leisurely pace, which seems to be my general speed at the moment. Mass was at 11 am, so I had loads of time. Breakfast was between 8am and 10am. So definitely had loads of time. Now came the epic battle with the shower. Trying to work out how to operate it and not getting shot with cold water. Yay, it was possible and turned out to be a lot less challenging than I thought to begin with. I even got the rainfall showerhead to work. It was lovely just being able to chill, listen to Radio 2, and take my time without guilt. I floated down to breakfast, in an incredible mood.
Hotel breakfasts are something I quite enjoy. Self-service, and a chance for me to pretend to be healthy, with yoghurt, fruits, cheese, ham, pain au chocolat, cornflakes and, most importantly, a nice cup of tea. Once you figure out the various dispensing machines for the hot drinks, you’re fine. I finished before 10am to respect the fast before Holy Communion, and floated back up to the room and looked after my skincare and beard care routine. I may be a fat git, but I like to be a well-groomed fat git. Bag packed, and ready to check out knowing I could leave my bag at the hotel until my train, a very useful service.
The Church was on the Boulevard Montparnasse, just beyond the cinemas and cafés. It was a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady, and the frescos high up on the walls were perfect for visualising the episodes of the Rosary. An old lady came up to me and gave me a hymn sheet and the Parish bulletin. She was one of those sweet old ladies that you can’t just say no to. I saw others that tried but saw how futile it was. Obviously an old girl on a mission. Three priests as well. Music that brought a tear to my eye. It was lovely. After mass, I said my Rosary and headed off into town.
We had arranged to meet up at the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre which has one of those Art déco metro entrances that you see in all the photographs. I got the typical shot and regretted not having stayed around to get more detailed shots. Maybe next time. Because, as Arnie said, “I’ll be back!” We met up at the appointed time and meandered through the streets to the Funicular. I would not walk up those steps. Let me bring you back to the leisurely pace concept mentioned earlier. As we were going up, I showed them where I would probably have had a heart attack if I were taking the steps… We got to the top and spied an Irish pub. Well, it would be rude not to. We ordered a couple of pints from the typical Parisian waiter. The man was running around like a madman. We knew straight away that he wasn’t having a good day, showed appropriate empathy, and won him over. There was the pub itself, a speaker blaring out rock music, and the guy was covering three terraces. Another girl looked after serving the food. We waited, waited, and waited some more. We gave the order to the waiter, whose back was obviously giving him gip, and jokingly said he should try some cocaine for the pain. He jokingly replied that he was already on cocaine, and I think having seen him zooming all over the place, I believed him. It was just poor management, and a lack of staff, and they were doing what they could. Anyway, we were about to leave and the food came. Not the right order, but the right order was there fairly soon afterwards. We were debating if we shouldn’t just cut our losses and leave and just pay for the drinks. Anyway, we saw people coming up the stairs that we had given up on. Some were actually running up “and down” and “back up again” obviously being far too sporty for a Sunday Lunchtime. We saw a “pétasse Instagram” posing and being photographed by her mother. Obviously getting the Paris trip shot for her feed. Something I would never do… Maybe I should? Big dude being a “pétasse” and posing like a pretty, young, twenty-something. It could be style and a sociological view of beauty standards on the Internet. Or it could be bloody awful. Maybe not then.
We looked over the panorama of Paris, trying to identify the buildings we could see. I even saw a tower in Romainville near where I used to live when my wife and I lived in Paris, or rather just outside Paris, in those close suburbs you see on the news, but not for the good reasons. I do love living in the country. Sacré Coeur is an amazing church and crowns Montmartre like Our Lady, keeping an eye over Paris and the Parisians, making sure they do nothing too stupid. We wound our way through the narrow streets towards Place de Tertre, which had been overtaken by restaurant seating pushing the artists to the edges of the square. I kept my eye on Dom who was keeping his eye on Vanessa. It was mid-afternoon and after nearly 30K paces in the weekend; I was knackered, and those taxis were looking very appealing. We walked down to the bottom of the hill and saw a poor tourist being ripped off by the game of the three cards and you have to follow the Queen, etc. A good old-fashioned tourist scam. It was simple spotting each member of the team, and I felt sorry for the poor guy.
We arrived on the boulevard, but the heat, fatigue, and knee had got the better of me. I’m not good at goodbyes. In fact, I would even say that I hate them. We hugged goodbye, and I descended into the abyss of the Paris metro, arriving parched at the hotel to fetch my bag. I must have looked awful as the guy went and got me some water. Maybe looking like a fat old guy has certain advantages to it? I took my bag and crossed the road to the Montparnasse train station. I could buy some food and water. Knowing exactly where I would go to eat and drink, English voices that reminded me of young English public school boys filtered through. It’s always strange hearing your own language in a foreign country, even though you might expect it in Paris.
I was headed to the platform when my train came up on the boards. My electronic ticket worked and allowed me through the gates. I boarded the train and sat at a table for four. The other seats were taken, but being in first class, people attempted to be quiet. The lady opposite me offered to take my bag for me and put it in the rack at the end of the carriage. I felt guilty because it was heavy, but she was very gracious about it. My headphones and tablet gave me that sense of privacy and I watched YouTube on the way home. In the group chat, I informed everyone that my train was on time and I wished them a pleasant trip home. Normally it was planned that my son was going to pick me up at the station in Nantes, but Virginie told me to get a ticket from Nantes to Montaigu, which I did at Montparnasse and told me she would pick me up at the station in Montaigu.
Once home, I just got naked and went to bed, in a very non-sexy way. I just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible. Work would start at 5am the next morning. Not the easiest of things. It was a wonderful weekend, and I was so happy to have met up with friends from home and Sergio from Nantes. It was like having a bit of home coming to see me and was just what the doctor had ordered. With all the various Facebook posts and reels, and I suppose this article, we have dragged that weekend out to nearly three weeks. So Happy Birthday Vanessa. Welcome to the 50-year-old club. It would appear that it happens to the very best of us.
Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going? It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery. What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID. It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week. I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife. Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!
I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me. I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown. In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends. This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing. But the friendship from our childhood still held strong. I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen! I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.
So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun. Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris. The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside. She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country. It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam. She had become a human being. Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris. She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone. Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell.
So there you are. I would go on my own. I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either. It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.
I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels. I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris. In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going. I was in a great mood. It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend.
My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through. The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro. I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time. Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive. They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am. Then we played the game of finding the metro exit. With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready. Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel. I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her. Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron. Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?
We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by. So it would not be a dry weekend. Ah well! Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks. Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales. Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself. You’re only 50 once! We found the Grande Epicerie. Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either. It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic. They were both very impressed! Sounds good to me.
We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré. Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian. We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting.
Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic. We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew. We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street. Even Dom liked it. I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later. We ate, drank, and just talked the time away. Can’t think of a better way to spend time.
Well, actually I can. I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat. Not too far from the convent was a bakery. That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all. But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac. I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit. He knows of my weakness for cakes. The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class! They looked beautiful. I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me. I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.
We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me. The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.
Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter. I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner. However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks. You get a little something to nibble on too. We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us. The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse. We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”
Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans. The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly. Again, pure genius. By drink number three, Sergio arrived. Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.” Google it. The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well. Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine. Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language. It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am. Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl. Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette! We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!
Dear Reader, I may have mentioned before in previous articles that for my many sins, and to curb my pride, I am a musician, and some might even go further still, and remind me I am a horn player. As a musician, we can have a tendency to “do” concerts and play in them, rather than going along as a listener. I mean, of course, that we listen to our fellow musicians, especially when playing that music together. It is a team effort, after all. But not as a spectator.
Little did I know that when I went to taste some homemade beer at my friend Hervé’s house, he would invite me to take some photos of a concert he was playing in, on the 18th of June. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. An evening of taking photos and getting to listen to live music at the same time? What a way to spend the hottest day of the year so far!
We were rehearsing together the following Friday, and he said to be at his house at such-and-such a time, and that I should just park up in the driveway. There would also be my old and very much revered horn teacher, as in my previous horn teacher, and not my old new horn teacher, nor a teacher that is old despite his great wisdom. But that is a story for another day. Hervé was going to drive us to the concert. Jérôme, my very much revered horn teacher, plays in the same ensemble as Hervé. They are members of the Brass Quintet Arabesque, made up of instrument teachers from across my particular region of France.
So, I got into the car, turned on the ignition, saw the temperature, and promptly melted. 44°C! For those who only work in Fahrenheit, body temperature is 37°C, and 44°C is 111°F. My point exactly. By the time I reached Hervé’s house, it was a mere 40°C. A tad warm, even for me!
I drove up, parked, saw my horn teacher in very summery attire, but always with a hat, saunter up, and Smaug, the family Labrador, who you remember from my last article, who does not know what sauntering is about, just ran around the car three times and jumped up to say hello, being as friendly as ever. Bless him! We quickly went inside into the shade and cool. I do like a bit of cool from time to time.
We eventually got all the kit together in the car, thanks again Hervé for doing all the driving, and set off. The way to Guérande isn’t very complicated, and it’s pretty plain sailing. We talked about everything and nothing, about my presence at the Wind Band next year, and what alternatives I could think of, about the photoshoot from the previous week, about the various instruments and would we change instrument, how much it might cost to change, and what newer instruments could bring to the table, or should I say rehearsal room…
Parking in Guérande was a doddle, and we headed to the Collégiale, or church inside the medieval walls. We dropped everything off in the church, and things suddenly became very serious. Where would we eat? The first place we tried, a creperie, was no longer serving food, so we headed to Plan B. Plan B was fully booked, but was able to fit us in. Five brass musicians, one organist, and yours truly. Luckily I don’t seem to take up much space. Simon said he had to go and shave and came back with blood on his face. Michel, the organist that would be playing with the quintet, told us that the organ in that building needed a makeover and was basically shite. Out of tune, and half of it didn’t work. That’s something you don’t really want to hear when you don’t have a huge amount of time to have the pre-concert setup and run through. Another thing you don’t want to hear is that you’re all going to have to tune your instruments up to 444hz. This basically means you’re all fecked because your instruments have been in slightly warm cars. After all, it’s boiling outside and you’ll just never make it. The brass expands in the heat and therefore will sound flatter, and at 444hz you really need to be on the sharper side. It’s a bit like me trying to walk past a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea; it’s just not going to happen… Luckily the food arrived, as did the beers, and the puds. We were happy. I had all my camera gear, and most importantly plenty of batteries in case the batteries inside the cameras gave up the will to live. Some lovely shots were begging to be taken outside the church.
What I didn’t have, especially inside the church, was a whole lot of light. For photography, light is quite important. Understatement of the year contender again… This was going to be interesting. I had been fed by Arabesque, and now there was bugger all light inside, so photography was going to be a tad tricky.
Luckily, somebody turned on the lights and I was saved. Who said miracles never happen in the Catholic Church? They did this evening. The only photos I could take were before the concert actually began because afterwards the church would fall into darkness as there was going to be drone footage shown on a screen behind the Quintet as they played, showing the church in which they were playing. This was the main idea behind the concert. Through music and film, show people the church they were in from a slightly different viewpoint. It was great just to sit and take in the music. And take in the music I did. I was always told the importance of concert-going to musicians and how it helps us develop musically in so many ways. I only had to make an effort to sit there, make no noise, and just listen and be captivated. And captivated I was! I thought the tuning was fine and not at all the catastrophe announced by the organist. But I was just here to listen to some quality sounds and not to be a critic from the Times
The first half finished with the Toccata by Charles Marie Widor from his Organ symphony number 5. Any pedal notes that were missing from the organ were amply covered by the bass notes of the tuba that seem to just go right through you. It’s also a piece of music that has, amongst others, the ability to make my eye become all watery with emotion. I’ll leave it here for you to listen to.
The interval arrived. I say that but it didn’t really make an entrance. It just happened. The public was invited to walk around the church and rediscover images from the film in real life. They could also purchase CDs of the Quintet. 10€ each, or 20€ for three. They could also subscribe and have a CD of the programme, as well as make a contribution to the Association Résonnance, who gave their name to the entire project. It also meant that I could take more ambience photos and not be in anybody’s way.
Up until then, I had been using the Canon 6D Mark II which makes a tremendous noise when the mirror moves up to expose the sensor. I was worried that I would disturb everyone and switched to the comparatively silent Fuji XT2 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, which is a 24-70mm full-frame equivalent, so a good all-rounder for reportage. During the second half, I could be seen trying to move silently the way Corporal McCune taught me to so as not to disturb my fellow concertgoers.
The second half started with the horn and trombone playing a one thousand-year-old tune for the Easter celebration. Unfortunately, the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the second half had just started and some were still talking! As soon as the other musicians appear and Hervé started introducing the next piece, they seemed to get the message and promptly shut up! They lead us through time through the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic periods. They ended up with Aaron Copland, and music from Grover’s Corner, whoever Grover was. I suspect it wasn’t the same Grover that lives on Sesame Street…
After the concert, we did the official group photo, and eventually said good night and see back at Hervé’s house. It was midnight, much cooler, windy, and felt as if a storm was on the way. Jérôme fell asleep in the back, and Hervé and I just chilled, talking about this very blog and photography, especially the differences between being a good amateur photographer, and a professional photographer and how the two are completely different, in the same way, that I quickly realised when doing my music studies here in France. You have to produce consistently good results, and the pressure is on. They were already doing the concert debrief about everything that went wrong. I tried to reassure them that it wasn’t a competition and that as an audience member, I had a great time. Basically, the same things that I had been taught by Jérôme. If the audience is happy, then the audience is happy.
On the way home, we saw the sky fill up with lightning and thunder. It felt magical, and also the temperature had halved. It was a mere 22°C. It felt wonderful. We got home first and had a beer whilst waiting for the others to arrive. The others arrived and there was still some English beer for them, and some homemade beer too. It received the seal of approval from everyone present. We ended saying what went wrong with the concert and how it was a learning experience. I still thought it was brilliant. So there!!
Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment. The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error! Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war. Let’s keep praying for them! What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?
I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there. You can hate me later.
On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening. I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest. During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens. As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II. The infamous 16-35mm. If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup. I love the distortion that this lens gives me. It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them. “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that!
So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it! I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change. I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive.
Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone. I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it. I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day. I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that. Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration. You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…
There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time. That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.
I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time. If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it. Sometimes it’s just not your day. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day. Be stubborn. Keep going. Don’t give up. Show the buggers what you can do!
Here are the photos. Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think. How should I change my approach for the next time?
In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it. The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again! I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time. Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you. When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed. The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me. A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.
I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside. The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera. How was I supposed to resist? As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that! I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots.
Everyone says to shoot in RAW. I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!” Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling. It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed. The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do. I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance.
On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2. Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter! I’m talking photography!!
So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.
February, on the other hand, sees days getting longer and slightly brighter, but with January’s rain still lingering like a hard to treat MST that you just can’t get rid of. But the sun is starting to make an effort and poke its head through the clouds. Sometimes it even manages it! You can see daffodils growing and want to flower. The hedgerows are green, but only with evergreen plants. The blossoms have yet to come but won’t be long. First is the blackthorn, which ironically has white blossom. Nature seems to get its backside in gear during March. But even now we have milder weather…
The French government, in its infinite wisdom, with only the very slightest whiff of irony, has decreed that from the 2nd of February, face coverings no longer need to be worn outside. The French government, again, in its infinite wisdom, with only the very slightest whiff of irony, has also decreed that from the 16th of February we can stand at the bar to get drunk and no longer have to sit. We can also go to nightclubs. Although not my scene at all, I could go if I so wished. COVID isn’t over but it would appear that party time is starting once again. A little later than in number 10, but starting anyway. That there is an election in May and the fact that the governing party doesn’t want to look like party poopers has nothing to do with it. Boris didn’t let it impede his partying. Boris is also a self-righteous buffoon. Don’t be like Boris. I remember when Boris used to be a rather rotund Russian chap, fond of promoting vodka and heart surgery… Those days are long gone… But he certainly seems to have had more fun than Vladimir, which is not surprising when you’re not at all planning on invading Ukraine like you did in 2014… Keeping the peace? More like taking the peace!!
But let’s get back to France, Nantes, and photography, or rather me I, France, Nantes, and photography. Since the beginning of the year, we have been granted our Friday afternoons off by the company I work for. This allows me time to get off my rather large backside and go out and take some photographs. Sometimes, I have my daughter with me, and sometimes I’m just on my own. Like that, she doesn’t eat my cake! SO, I walk around in the sunshine and feel alive again. Don’t be jealous, this last week has been very rainy and depressing, but it should be fine tomorrow and next week looks OK.
I usually hang out in the centre of town but for the last couple of weekends, where it has been sunny, I walked along the river Loire in the infamous Hangar à Bananes which is lovely during the day, but not so much at 2am when the bars throw people out. I’m not saying that it’s a magnet for crime, but I would say that during the day and early evening, it’s lovely! Take from that what you will. Far be it from me to infer insecurity where the city council says there isn’t any and we’ll fight it with culture. You can lead a horse to culture, but you can’t make it drink unless it’s an Irish horse, which would make things easier. And you don’t have to get a seat for your horse now. It can drink at the bar without being judged. Wonderful isn’t it!
Right. Time for the photo bit of the article. You’ve been very patient and now you will be rewarded! The photos are a mixture of the two weekends, and a mixture of colour and black and white photography. It would be a shame to miss out on seeing the Jaune in the Grue Jaune. And although you can get some beautiful images in the rain and even difficult light, it is so much more agreeable to not have to deal with it! The photos are taken on the Fuji X100f with its 35mm equivalent F2.0 lens, and the Fuji XT2 with its 16mm F2.8 lens. I’ll let you have a look at the photos now. Thanks for reading this far! I’ll leave the colour photos for another post. Let’s not get mixed up now… won’t be long. I’ll soon get it sorted.