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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My View of Paris Broadens

   We have discovered that it is far more worthwhile to walk the streets of Paris away from the popular tourist locations.  Such landmarks are certainly beautiful, but it is so much more stressful to be in the middle of harried tourists who have an agenda and are not about to be interfered with.  Take the road less traveled and you will see Parisians more relaxed and chattering away.  Here, after we wandered the Latin Quarter one evening, I saw this couple trying to decide if they wanted to eat at the Aux 2 Oliviers.  Shortly after this, near the French Senate, I realized we were about the only ones on the street, and the hour was getting late.  I decided not to tempt fate, and I steered us past Eglise St. Sulpice, back onto a major avenue, and then back home.

   This photograph I took is controversial.  The statue, Le Desespoir (Despair), by Jean-Joseph Perraud, is on display at the Musee D'Orsay.  We were not aware that the museum is in the middle of a battle with museum patrons over its new 'no photograph' policy.  In a recent move that no one on the museum staff can adequately explain, photographs have been prohibited in the museum.  Not just flash photos, which are prohibited in most museums due to the damage that thousands of flashes can do to many unprotected canvases.  The Musee D'Orsay has declared that any photographs are prohibited, and they have stood by their policy regardless of the public outcry.  They say it has to do with the rise of 'arms length' photos taken with camera-phones, though I have no idea how that can be a real problem.  Yes, it is annoying to see everyone with their cellphones in front of them, as if they were flipping off someone with an electronic bird, but that hardly constitutes reason to stop all photography.  To clarify how odd this rule is, the Louvre, across the Seine, allows pictures to be taken, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and nearly every other major museum.  Most of these art pieces are in the public domain, and have been photographed many, many times, so there is no question of copyright violations.  When a rather feisty looking staff-member began shaking her finger at me saying "no photo, no photo", I put away my camera, which, by the way, was around my neck when we entered the museum, and no one said a word to me then.  We viewed the few Van Gogh's on display, but were not impressed with the overwhelmingly large number of paintings that would have made Hugh Hefner proud.  I must say I was impressed at how every artist seemed to be able to fit at least one bare-breasted woman into the most mundane setting.
   We did not stay long at the D'Orsay.  It was poorly designed, confusing, and we felt as if we would be better off getting out of there.  It was cold and rainy outside, and we were right; walking the streets in the rain was better than staying in the D'Orsay.  Here, in the Rue de L'Hirondelle, I caught this scene that is too perfect to be real.  I am amazed at how often I can take shots like this with no one on the street.  And when I first lined up the shot, the street was indeed empty.  This is just across the street from St. Michel Fountain, a very busy and popular place, even late in the evening.  After getting one or two shots of the empty street, I could hear someone behind me.  I have learned how providential it is when someone does show up, since they almost always improve the scene.  Here, a shopper is carrying his recent purchase, and that pink bag is a great contrast to his broad-shouldered silhouette.  Just before this shot was taken, we ate at a little Pizza place on the Quai de Grands Augustins, which is just opposite the Palais de Justice.  It felt like any little pizza shop you might find in a small town in the Midwest states of the U.S.  The proprietor, a white-haired man who made many animated faces but said almost nothing, took our orders by encouraging us to point at the menu items.  We did, he nodded, and limped away.  At one point, I called to him, when he was just a few feet away, but his back was to me, and my loud "monsieur, monsieur!" was never heard.  We decided he must be deaf, and I went back to my pizza.  Then we watched him step outside, smoke a cigarette, and chat quite easily with two young French women for a long time.  We understood.  He had learned to shut himself off to the tourists, not wanting to struggle with either the language barrier or the bad manners of the tourist class.  Jennifer became bold, and when he came back in, she began to tell him that we were from Louisiana, and that his cafe-au-lait was as good as it is in New Orleans.  "Lousiana?"  He perked up.  "C'est tres Francais!"  (It is very French!)  Jennifer won him over.  He then spoke easily with us, hearing us just fine.  We loved his pizza shop, and hope to get back to it before we leave.
As I said, an unexpected visitor can improve a picture.  Down in the Paris Catacombs, I was having trouble taking pictures, since flash photography was prohibited, my camera would take the pictures, but with slow shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light, and I have never had a steady hand for that kind of work.  Finally, I found a better-than-average lit area where I could get a decent shot.  Just then, a little boy came over and began playing with the single spotlight behind us.  I was tempted to become annoyed, but then I saw his shadow-puppets and I wanted to capture at least one of them.  I did, but I had to act quickly.  He moved pretty fast--nearly as fast as the French words that trilled from his lips.  The bones in the catacombs are from the many cemeteries around the Paris area, where the dead were literally spilling out of the ground and the solution was to remove the older bones and stack them in the great empty stone mines that were left behind when the stone was removed to build such landmarks as Cathedral de Notre Dame and the many palaces and great monuments we will be visiting in the coming week.  There is nothing macabre about this tour.  It is actually quite lovely, and moving.  The signs tells us in which cemetery the bones were originally interred with their general dates.  We had to wait an hour and a half to take the tour, in very cold wind with a slight drizzle during some of it, but it was all worth it.

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