This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!
Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.
I might start at the very beginning after all. My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography. As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school. Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be. I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me. I prefer to take my time. One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value. When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose. I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot. I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.
Anyway…. I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone. Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in. I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.
I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too. Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.
We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start. The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat. Obviously a duck that didn’t…. I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that…. We gave it a fine go!
Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it. However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea. I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras. I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.
Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea. For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea. The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness. There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one. I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise. They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.
The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day. Tradition, tradition, tradition….
I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1. We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk. As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….
To start with, I’d planned on going to one of the Loire Valley castles yesterday, but due to brain fog I thought it better to just go to bed. So I did. This morning there was no sign of fog, outside or in my brain.
I thought I would go to the Chateau de Plessis Bourée as I do like a drink, and bourée means drunk in French. I do have a family reputation as a drinker to keep up. So off I went. It’s a beautiful place and that day it was a very beautiful place, but also a very shut beautiful place. It seems the Plan B will have to do, which is the Chateau de Plessis Macé, which is slightly more sober. Boring…
I’m actually writing this in the car as I wanted to get that drinking joke out of my mind and onto paper, or screen…
All I have to do now is to drive 19km and I’ll be at party pooper castle! It had bloody well be open or I’ll be very upset and have to go straight to the pub. And with all these new restrictions means I have to get a couple in before chucking out time at 10pm. It sounds like English pubs on a Sunday when I was growing up.
Right off I go. Talk to you later Dear Reader.
I have arrived in one piece and I assume that the Plessis Bourée was nursing a hangover after a particularly good night earning its name once again. Macé looks slightly more open, or at worse, less shut. We shall see! The excitement is killing you isn’t it. Seated there on the edge of your seat wondering if I’ll be successful on this trip. It is with trepidation that I shall open the car door. Maybe more with the handle…. poor trepidation.
I decided against taking the guided tour. I did the “visite libre” and handed over my name, phone number etc. in case of Covid contact. Therefore, as the cheap skate that I am, I only visited the outsides. I still managed to get a couple of nice photos and was able to visit the Chapel.
I’ll put up the boring stuff like links etc., addresses, prices when I finish the article later on. For the moment, you’ll have to do with this!
Now for the boring stuff, or maybe even interesting stuff, depending on whether or not you enjoy history. A Plessis is a fort built on a hill surrounded by bushes as a defence, and the word Macé comes the Latin word for Mathew, Mattheus. The original fort was built in the 11th century buy Raynaud the first and was a wooden tower, in the 12th century the wood was replaced by stone. It always pays to invest in construction. It defended Angers from the Dukes of Brittany. We nicked it during the Hundred Year’s War, as it was pretty much abandoned. It also allowed us a little pied-à-terre from which to nick local natural resources. This is wine country and who doesn’t like a drink eh? We were mercilessly pushed out of France, and the Plessis was taken over by Louis de Beaumont who built the castle that we see today. 1678, the Castle is bought by the Bautrau de Serrant family, and in 1749 by the Walsh family (which doesn’t sound very French to me, just saying). In 1868 the Countess Sophie Walsh de Serrant (OK so maybe they were French after all), took up residence in the Castle and launched a huge construction project in the actual Logis. 1907, the Archives de France director, Charles Victor Langlois (Charles Victor the Englishman, Langlois is the medieval French for Englishman, oh the irony) acquired the Castle. As in most of France during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Castle, as they did the rest of France. Yes, there’s something Vichy about the French, as Noel Coward once said. 1967 Philippe Langlois-Berthelot gifted the Castle to the Maine et Loire Department, possibly to avoid paying taxes (again, nothing sure, but follow the money…). 1980 the “Commons” builing was renovated as function rooms. You have to make money somehow, and who wouldn’t to have a reception in a beautiful castle? 1987, the artistic director of the Anjou Festival, Jean-Claude Brialy, a French and very butch luvvie, presented the infamous Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais. Skip forward to 2020, the photographer Ian J Myers visited the Castle because the other one he wanted to visit was shut, and he was buggered if he was going to leave the area without taking a couple of photos for posterity and his blog!
You, Dear Reader are now up to date. All that is left for me to do is to edit the photos and present them to you. I had originally planned to visit a few of the Loire Castles but then Lockdown happened, again! I’ll change plans and see what I come up with for future articles!
At work lately we’ve been having four day weeks and it’s wonderful! There are slightly fewer orders coming in but that’s OK. There’s enough to keep everything rolling by. And who doesn’t love having a day off? Those who said not me, are either liars or simply mistaken.
So that Friday I decided that I wanted to stay away from the house and get my booty off somewhere to take photos. But where? While I was edging closer to be a full time professional musician I did a spot of teaching in a place called Vihiers. It’s miles away, but still a nice drive out. I stopped edging towards music, and photography has taken over. One of my pupils talked about the Abbaye de Fontevraud. I looked it up on the Internet and started learning about it.
I’m half English and part of that is being real with the French. They need this. During and before the Hundred Years War, this area of France was English, and our King was their King. Those of you who aren’t English might have heard of Robin Hood, who looked just like Kevin Kostner and had a mate who looked strangely like Morgan Freeman. There was the Evil Prince John who became King when Richard the Lionheart (who looked really badass and you could mistake him for Sean Connery) went off on a Crusade to show just how badass he really was. Their mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, her Husband Henry Plantagenet, their son Richard (the famous badass), and Isabelle d’Angouleme who was married to John. Her bad… We all make mistakes.
So this is kind of crazy for me who enjoys history and discovers more of the Anjou region which is just down the road from the Vendée. On the way I recognised a place where I used to buy foie gras when we first moved here. I called in on the off chance of being able to make a purchase and take something good home for my family. It’s changed a bit since 15 years ago, and offers different products. I left some money there and felt happy about buying something directly from the producer that was made on site etc. And it tasted really good too.
Sooooo… I turn up in the Village of Fontevraud l’Abbaye and I even managed to find the said Abbaye. 11€ for the entrance ticket, which seemed reasonable.
A bit of history here for those who can’t be bothered to click and have a read. Basically, the abbey was founded 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. It developed and flourished during the Plantagenet era, went downhill after the Plantagenets were no more, however by the Hundred Years War things were going downhill, and during an inspection in 1460, the abbey was found to be barely inhabited. Fast forward to 1457 reforms were introduced by the then abbesse Marie of Bretagne. Louis the XI gave the place his blessing and the place started to really try to get back on its feet again, but without a huge amount of success. In 1491 there came Renée who was from the French Royal family (the Bourbons, french royals and not the rather tasty biscuits or whiskey). I’m not going to translate the whole of the French wikipedia article but you get the gist right? Things got better, and by the time the French decided that Royalty wasn’t for them during the French Revolution, things were OK!
However as the revolutionaries weren’t into Royalty and because of the so called “Enlightenment” philosophies, they weren’t into religion in a big way either. That continues to this very day. I promise not to get political! They basically get rid of the nuns, and by 1804, Napolean, yes him again, decided to make the place a prison, and it remained so until 1963.
When I went there I wanted to feel the Royal side with Richard the Lionheart and feel the medieval legends in the walls. But I’ll risk being contraversial, and say that I felt more the “prison vibe” and it might be because of the less than sunny autumnal weather, but I could feel the buildings being a place of great suffering. Quite ominous in fact.
Since 1975 it was converted from a prison into a Cultural Centre for the Region. You can see a few “colour” photos of the latest art installation which was very impressive.
I am truly blessed. I have some very good friends that are wonderful people. Jean Guillaume is one of those people. He personifies kindness, gentleness and positivity, and an example for us all. No wonder he got to marry Stephanie who is just as wonderful! You may remember in a previous article that I went to Paris with my daughter. It was a great day out, but I of course had to put my daughter first. So I did, but I did say that I would go back to do some photography on my own so I could concentrate on capturing images and not to have worry about somebody else.
Now some of you may know that I frequent a certain establishment in Nantes and some of my friends seem to hang out there too. Some are in front of the bar and others behind the it. I was sitting outside talking and Jean Guillaume comes along to meet up with his wife who is with us. We’re all talking and I let loose that I’m going to Paris on such and such a day and he says he’ll be in Paris with his Mum and that we should hang out. What a great idea. Sounds like a plan. I needed to go to the barber’s and he should probably come along with me. We are men, but sometimes we need pampering too.
It’s decided we’ll go and get ourselves done at the barber’s. I look up various addresses online and get us booked in to Grizzly Barbers. The name sounds fun and I get him the works. He deserves it. Self care is important and it’s good to be good to a friend when you can.
My wife and daughter had gone off to see a friend north of the Loire and it was half way to her mother’s house so they went up there too.
I was a “free man” but used this freedom to get myself sorted out. So Thursday came around and I headed up to Nantes to get the train to Paris. 1st class was only 5€ more so decided to treat myself. Slightly larger seats and a bit more leg room. And you get to feel extravagant.
I was on time for the train except my electronic ticket didn’t want to work. I tried pushing up the luminosity of my phone but to no avail. The departure was getting closer and the guard called Rennes, who told him that my ticket was valid and I was allowed on the train accompanied by the guard. The train journey itself was fairly uneventful which is a good thing and my friend asked which wagon I was in and that he would meet me off the train. I arrived and headed towards the top of the platform, and after showing him a photo of exactly where I was he said turn round and saw him! My first stop would have to be Marks and Spencers to get a picnic lunch. They have sandwiches which are like having a bite out of my childhood and spark so many memories. He knew the area and we went off to eat in a park. It was wonderful just chatting and sharing.
Sitting in the park chatting.
After we had eaten he showed me around the Montparnasse Quartier where he used to live and hang out. It was all very beautiful and very Parisian. I explained that the only imperative that we had was to be at the barber’s for 1pm, and prepare ourselves to look great afterwards. It felt good to back in Paris and it was great being there with a friend. I knew a little of the area but was far from knowing it an intimately as Jean Guillaume. There were some great photos to be had and he was so patient waiting for me each time and telling me that I was about to be run over etc.
With time flying by we headed to the car and drove to the barber’s and managed to find a space just outside. I was amazed! I would be scared poopless driving in Paris by my friend seemed to thrive on it. Maybe the fact of it being August and really empty helped. They had all gone on holiday! A word of advice to anyone visiting the capital. Go in August, half the people aren’t there and the half that are still there seem to just want to chill!
and managed to find a space just outside…
When you enter Grizzly you can tell that it is a very high end and high quality barbershop and the service was excellent. My barber and I talked about our mutual passion for photography as he shaved my head the old fashioned way, and then proceeded to do my beard. I made sure my barbershop virgin friend got the whole whack. Hair cut, beard cut, getting his nostrils waxed, and a neck massage to finish with. He deserved it. It’s important for guys to have a guy place for being pampered. Even if you don’t go every week, it’s worth it maybe every three months. It wasn’t cheap, but so worth it, and worth every cent! I’m looking forward to going back. Definitely an experience. Jean Guillaume was certainly more than happy with the whole shebang and felt fabulous, and looked great! What more could you ask for?
felt fabulous, and looked great!
I spotted a camera shop and we parked up and went in. It was like a child entering a sweet shop with many things of great beauty. I saw a 15mm lens for my Pentax ME Super, but at 1350€ I thought it might be difficult to justify spending as much. And my wife would kill me! I did however come away with a little Olympus Pen EE S half frame camera which is something I’ve been looking for for such a long time. An amazing find, and the day I go back to Grizzly, I may have to go back and visit that little shop. It was turning out to be a great day.
I was asked where I wanted to go, and I said the Marais, aiming to get to the rue des rosiers which was, and still is, the epicentre of the Jewish community in Paris. It’s an amazing place and on Sundays it can get very busy. I went into a Jewish bakery. Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel! I was about to correct that. We had been in book shops with art, we had sat in beautiful gardens eating chocolate covered raisins. We even got as far as Beaubourg. Time was still flying by, and we had to go and see a friend and give him his flat keys. Another good deed for the day.
Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!
The last stop of this epic day was going to be WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli. Bookshop, with such a great choice of books. I ended up buying The English, by Jeremy Paxman, and a couple of books to give me some light reading about what it means to be English, and Irish. They also have some food essentials for anglophiles like Yorkshire tea; I already had some but still came away with a few goodies for my wife and daughter.
We sat outside the café where we had parked. Wine for one, and a pint of 1664 for the other of the two friends. They discussed everything and more. They were chilling as friends do and looking back over the day they had shared together with new and old experiences for both of them. It felt good to be alive.
They discussed everything and more.
The last stop was Gare de Montparnasse where the trip had begun. We headed off to Marks and Spencers to get our evening meal. I had selected a few sandwiches to eat on the train, and a few more goodies for home too. We headed up to the platform to where my train was to leave from. Little did I know then that I would not be getting on that train. Jean Guillaume waited with me for my train. There had been a blue Adidas bag that had been left on the train and over the loud speaker came the announcement that the person who had left said bag should come and get it and that the train was being delayed.
After a certain time, soldiers had got onto the train, more police had come along. Things weren’t looking good. Crunch time came when I got a text message from the company to say that the train had been cancelled. My friend was still with me and explained what they had just said over the tannoy. I had my bags with me and my walking stick over my arm. Apparently they were gong to try and sort out hotels for us and allow us to take the train the next morning.
Now whilst listening to this i turned around and hit somebody with my cane. Not hard, but enough to get “the look” so I very quickly apologised and with Jean Guillaume we diffused the situation. But we got talking to the lady I had just agressed with my cane. Then all of a sudden he said, “I can take you back!” My first reaction was to say no, but the idea worked it way very quickly into my head, and we would drop off our new friend Annie on the way back. I phoned Virginie to prepare a bed for our guest and I knew we had what we needed in our bag to make a wonderful breakfast.
The decision had been made. We would drop off Annie in Angers, and then head home to Nantes. We found a corner shop that sold us some water, and a couple of chocolate bars for Jean Guillaume for energy, and then a café that would sell us a coffee. Those little Parisian coffees that just wake you back up. We said that we would pay gas money and road tolls. It was out of the question to leave our friend out of pocket! I also said I would do some of the driving if needed to help out.
The trip back was quiet, at least for some of it as I had drifted off to the land of nod. I was woken up and asked to just chat to our heroic driver. It was a pleasure and we looked back at our day, and how wonderful he now looked, as well as plans for the future, and we put the world to right. I took over the driving, and when we needed more petrol we stopped off and I filled up the tank. We got to Nantes station a 3.30 am, and I found my car. The machine to pay for the ticket didn’t seem to want to work and neither did the interphone when we tried to talk to a technician. There was a homeless guy sleep with his girlfriend sheltering out of the rain who lifted up the barrier for me to get out of the car park, but I still paid at the exit and thanked him for his efforts.
I thanked Jean Guillaume, my hero, for getting me back to my car, and he went home to his hunny to surprise her, and I drove the last kilometres to get home to my wife and daughter. Heroism is when you go above and beyond the call of duty, and Jean Guillaume was a true friend and a true hero. So thanks once again, Jean Guillaume, ce héro!
I’d heard of this place since I moved to Vendée in 2001, but had never got around to visiting it. The occasion was a friend’s birthday. My photography is my way of detaching myself from this world of commotion and taking a seat to just observe. The French talk about Zen, and “being zen” as an antidote to our modern lives, and finding that certain calm that we all long for.
Japanese gardens are traditional gardens whose designs are accompanied by Japanese aesthetic and philosophical ideas, avoid artificial ornamentation, and highlight the natural landscape.
Even thought we were in a group, we allowed ourselves to go at our own pace. For those of you who have a photographer as a partner, apparently you have tremendous patience as all of a sudden we will stop dead and start taking a photo. Today I could just get on with it and wander around. Blissful it was, blissful! The only person that doesn’t mind me doing this is my son who waits patiently. If we go out, I will do 8000 paces, and he will do at least 12000 because of turning around and coming back to me. I do love that boy!
All these photos were taken on the Canon 6D Mark II, with the Helios M44-2 58 mm lens, except for one shot, which was taken with the Canon 16-35 mm lens. I do like the bokeh it gives you and on some of these photos you can actually see the swirly bokeh! Try and spot it…