Charles Dickens described Paris and France about as well as anyone before or after him. As he said in his novel a Tale of 2 Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of credulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That really described the city and our time in it very well.
But today was radically different from yesterday. Chris decided, and I supported her entirely in this decision, that today she should stay behind and rest her ankles. They looked awful. We hoped she could recoup. This turned out to be a very good decision. It worked!
So I ventured out on my own with absolutely no knowledge of French. I considered this a bold move, but the choice was to stay back at the hotel, which I really did not want to do on our last day in Paris, or boldly go forth.
After breakfast I pulled out my maps of Paris and set out. I love Impressionism, but on maps not so much. In maps I prefer realism. Unfortunately, the Paris maps were created by Impressionists or perhaps, even worse, by abstract impressionists who see no need for art to even resemble reality, let alone represent it.
I know that Hop on/Hop Off buses are a bit expensive but they sure are convenient for someone like me who does not speak the local language and who has no real conception of how far apart places are and is not even sure what he wants to see. So finally I hopped on and started my adventure.
I saw a large part of Paris and had a wonderful time all on my own. My first stop was near the Hôtel des Invalides where I was approached by a family from Nazareth who needed help finding their way around Paris. This seemed ridiculous since I had already demonstrated a startling capacity to get my directions wrong in this fair city, but they seemed intent on asking my advice despite my warnings. Had I been better prepared I would have got them to sign a written release of liability. So this was how I led a family from Nazareth out of the wilderness. Can you imagine? Now you know why we are all bound for hell.
Today I got seriously distracted. What else is new? I got distracted, of course, by flowers. There were a series of gardens here one right after the other. It was too much for me to resist. The distraction was more unavoidable, because the skies were gray. Photos of things like the Eiffel Tower looked drab. Flowers in such light on the other hand shone. I took a number of photographs of flowers outside Petit Palais and in the Jardin des Tuileries
Some of the walkways are lined with lime and chestnut trees and I took some snap shots of those as well doing my best to create an Impressionistic image. Skies were grey, so they were perfect for flowers. When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.
My mind was filled of course with thoughts of Impressionism. I was infused with Impressionism. How could that have been avoided after yesterday’s afternoon at the D’Orsay? So I kept thinking of how I could show the lovely flower gardens in an Impressionistic style. To do that, I thought I would create what photographers call the “Orton effect”. This style, just like Impressionism, is not for everyone. I love it, just like I love the Impressionist paintings. So I kept planning some of my images for applying this technique later. I include some of the photographs with this effect and some more naturalistic for those who might get sick seeing too many Ortons. The technique involved combining 2 copies of exactly the same image. One image is over-exposed so it looks very light. The other image is sometimes also over-exposed but just slightly. The second image is then blurred drastically. Then the two images are combined.
I find the resulting image sometimes is magical. Other times it just does not work. Some think the technique never works. Why would you ever deliberately blur it some ask? I would say, for the same reason Impressionists often did not want a sharp image. A Sketchy image to them sometimes seemed preferable. The image can be more “real” than a clear representation. This is sort of like that.
Eventually I got back on the bus until near Notre Dame. Of course, the grounds were awash with tourists, so I did not stay long. I wanted to take a little more time for photos. I ducked down low to have a hedge hide as many of them as possible.
After I was done, I walked across the Petit Pont Notre Dame across the Seine to the Left Bank. I took some more photos of the famous cathedral from that angle. This was near where I found quite by accident the famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. James Joyce and his pals made this bookstore famous. Sylvia Beach originally owned it. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, and particularly James Joyce. Beach published Joyce’s controversial masterpiece Ulysses in 1922 when no one else dared touch it.
Beach moved the store from its original location to a large location at 12 rue de L’Odéon where it remained until 1941 when it was closed on account of the Nazi occupation. Some said it was closed because Beach refused to sell the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to a German officer. During this period of time it was the center of Anglo-American literary culture. Joyce nicknamed the store “Stratford-on-Odéon.” Joyce actually used the store as an office for a while. Hemingway mentioned the various attendees of the store in his memoir A Moveable Feast. Patrons could borrow books if they could not afford to buy. She also carried controversial books such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was banned in both the US and UK.
Beach was welcoming to a vast array of writers and artists who had no other place to stay. It was an island of civilization, particularly for struggling writers and artists. The shop’s motto, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,” is written above the entrance to the reading library. I think this is the civilization I have been seeking.
By the time I was finished there I thought it was time to go back to the hotel to see how Chris was doing. After some running around (literally) I managed to find the bus again and hopped on for the final leg of my solo city tour back to our hotel. Chris was feeling quite a bit better. The day off from touring and walking did her a world of good. The rash was considerably reduced.
Tonight we were going to celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary. We had made reservations back in Canada for a “romantic cruise” on the Seine River at night. We were very excited about that. It turned out to the be romantic cruise from hell.
We started off right. This time we did the sensible thing; we took a cab to the pier where the ship was docked. When we finally got on the ship for our “romantic” dinner we were sorely disappointed. In fact we concluded that we were being punished for bad behaviour though we had no idea what we had done. That is not uncommon for me.
To begin with, we got absolutely the worst seat in the restaurant. We were near the front of the ship but could not see anything of the city from there. We were near the middle of the ship so could not see out the sides either. The view of the city we had been promised was almost non-existent from where we sat. We did have a clear view of a toilet and the kitchen. The sound of the promised musicians was nearly drowned out by the sound of banging of pots and pans. We were clearly in steerage.
The meal was also a disappointment. We were served Rose wine instead of champagne. The appetizer was as tasty and nutritious as last week’s laundry. Most importantly the steaks were not hot. Had they been hot we believed the sauce Bordelaise would have been excellent, but really we were guessing. We sat right next to a young Asian woman and her mother who spent most of the time looking at their phones. We wished we would have their seats with the great views that they did not need. The service was attentive, but not for us in steerage. It was a disaster of a romantic cruise.
Through sheer force of will, we managed to enjoy the evening. The music was subdued but not bad. Strong drink helped ease the pain. The company was great! I dashed to the back of the boat frequently to get photos of the city and Eiffel Tower at night. The views from outside the restaurant were sensational. In fact, they were worth the trip. Most importantly, we still love each other.