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!

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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.

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Honfleur, Daytime

I’ve been trying to “find myself” lately as far as photography goes. Different editing techniques instead of always doing black and white. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics for at least one article. You’ve seen Honfleur in colour and at night in my last article. However, I did take my camera out during the day! Yes, that can happen sometimes.

You’ve already had the witticisms about Normandy and the like, so this article is somewhat shorter. It’s about exhibiting some black and white photography of a very pretty little town in Normandy without the distraction of colour. They were taken whilst walking from where I had parked the car, to the house that we had rented for the week. They were taken whilst meandering through the streets, getting lost, trying to see what the place looked like in daylight. They were taken whilst I just let my mind wander off and just take in the beauty of the place. Quite typical for me really, and probably the best way to photograph a town.

The photographs were taken over a period of three days using both the Canon 6D Mark II, with the 16-35mm lens, and the Fujifilm X100F.

Honfleur at night

Honfleur is one of those pretty places that you see on postcards from Normandy. It is the birthplace of Erik Satie, the musician, composer, and a slighty, ever so slightly, eccentric, which is how my mother describes me. I think it’s a nice way of calling me a wierdo!

So Honfleur… Full of Parisians and people from just outside Paris that don’t have enough money to be able to afford Deauville. But also full of art lovers thanks to the many painters that have their galleries, and those channelling Eugène Boudin (joke available in French, contact me for details) and those wanting some Monet, Monet, Monet! (the Dad joke strikes again!) And let’s not forget those messing up their cholesterol levels with Camembert and Crême Fraîche d’Isingy, and those ruining their livers on Calva, and Pommeau. Cider is available for the lightweights like me.

On our first night, Killian, my ever dutiful son, needed to get out of the house and stretch his legs, so I tagged along with him. We went out with the two cameras (X100F for me, and Canon 6D for him) to do some night time photography, and headed off to the old harbour. We vowed to keep away from all the bars and ice cream places and actually managed it! Such restraint!

Here are my photos from that trip out:

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