Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 8 - Montmartre

I didn't write a pre-post for today because I knew that I would set it aside as a free day.  It has been exactly a week since I arrived (incredibly hard to believe!) and I wanted to reserve today to review what I have done - what I have left to do - and what I would really like to accomplish today.

Windmill at Moulin de la Galette
I decided that I would give myself a walking break today and stay close to home.  I didn't even wear the pedometer --- but I probably walked close to 10,000 steps anyway.  As I mentioned yesterday, I made a lunch reservation at the Moulin de la Galette for 12:30 and decided to truly pamper myself today.  I wore nice pants with "real" shoes - not my walking sandals, and I only took my purse rather than my large backpack.  I had originally thought I would visit the Musee Montmartre prior to lunch, but I got a bit turned around so instead, I meandered the streets of Montmartre taking a few pictures here and there.  Since it was before noon, the streets were relatively quiet with few tourists walking about (not so after lunch).  

I arrived at the restaurant right on time and after taking numerous pictures of the windmill (I have probably taken 50 pictures of this 'moulin' so far) I walked in and waited to be seated.  They allowed me to sit on the terrace - at a corner table that was quite delightful.  I just sat back and drank in the beauty.  While I didn't understand every word of the menu, I could discern enough to know that I wanted to order a salad with goat cheese and violet mustard sauce (!) and then a fillet of fish with green vegetables.  I had no idea what kind of fish it was - but as luck would have it, they were sold out and replaced it with Sole Mueniere - at the same price!  It wasn't until I had already decided on my selections that I realized the English translation was on the back page!

The first course was simply exquisite.  The tender leaves of butter lettuce was the perfect accompaniment to the creamy texture of ewe's cheese and the tangy touch of salad dressing.  The slices of cheese were placed on toasted slices of baguette.  I tried to take a note from David Lebovitz's book - which states that the French use a knife and fork with everything - and so I tried to cut the cheese crouton - which I managed to do but with quite a loud clang against the plate.  I'm not sure that our eating by hand isn't more refined.

I learned quickly that a Fillet in France is not exactly the same in as it is in America.  I am accustomed to the term meaning "boneless" but after one very small bite I quickly learned that was not the case.  Fortunately it was only a small bite and it did not take me much time at all to learn how to gently cut away the delicate fish from its skeleton.  I thoroughly enjoyed this light course, especially the freshly cooked vegetables - and it meant that I had a bit of room for dessert.

It is rare that I ever eat at such a fancy place - nor order a three course meal - but today I figured when in Paris, do as the Parisians - so I splurged and ordered the Millfeuille framboise with cassis sorbet. It was truly beautiful - and once again, presented a rather tricky situation regarding the proper way to eat it.  I managed to use the knife and fork and enjoy every single light, refreshing bite.

As wonderful as the food was - and as delightful as it was to sit in the corner and imagine what life would have been like in 1875 and dancing in this (now small) terrace - I must confess that the absolute best part of this meal was the woman who sat next to me.  She did not allow me to take her picture (her make up wasn't just she said) but I would say she was probably in her late 60s or early 70s - but dressed to the nines.  When she walked in she had her dog on a leash - a typical french poodle - and they sat her at the reserved table for three next to me:  one chair was for her - one for her purse - and the other (I kid you not...) was for her dog.  Nicki sat there ever so polite and she would occasionally feed him nibbles of her steak tartare.  I was brave enough at the end of my meal to ask if I could take a picture "Bien sure" she said - and immediately had Nicki pose.  From that moment on we started a conversation - en francais - that I was able to continue.  It was absolutely delightful - and as eccentric as she seemed when she entered the restaurant - I learned she was as beautiful when I left.  It is absolutely true - you cannot judge a book by its cover.  And now I have learned that I can indeed carry on a conversation with someone and not worry about their ulterior motives!

Emile Zola
The rest of the day was spent going to the Musee Montmartre - where Renoir once lived - and then the Cimetiere where I found the final resting places of Degas and Zola.

All in all - it was the absolutely perfect Sunday.

I will spend the rest of the evening deciding what to do tomorrow.  I think I might try to rectify the disastrous photography session of last Monday and return to all those lovely sights early in the day so as to avoid the tourists - and retake some shots using my dust free camera.  Tuesday is a winery tour and Wednesday I have just signed up for a tour of Giverny - so my time is quickly running out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 7 - Rue Montorgueil and Pompidou Center

Many of the tour books that I have read tout the Marche d'Aligre market as being truly authentic - that is, more locals than tourists can be found here.   I hope to get an early start to the day and tour the market in style.  At this point I should hope to be a pro - or at least not so self conscious.  

While I have no real plans for today - which is exactly the way I like to spend a Saturday - I thought it might be fun to keep a food theme going and visit Les Halles (I have linked you to a fabulous blogger who provides detailed descriptions as well as countless photos of the city of Paris).  For those of you who are familiar with Zola's work, this is the Belly of Paris location (I personally have not read any of Zola's works yet, but this may go to the top of the TBR pile after the visit).  In a former life ever so many decades ago - I dappled in the area of catering and I think deep down there is still a culinary interest.  It might be fun to traverse this area pretending to be a chef and looking for that perfect ingredient or that special cooking utensil.

Entrance to Rue Montorgueil
Today was the last day for my museum pass ticket and I knew I wanted to visit the Centre Pompidou, so I reviewed my maps and decided that I would visit Rue Montorgueil (as per David Lebovitz's suggestion) and save Marche d'Aligre for later this week.  On the one hand, this was a perfect morning.  The streets were not terribly crowded at 10:00AM (I have decided that Paris does not really wake up until about 11:00 - perhaps that is because it stays light until after 10:00PM) and there were so many specialty food shops lining the pedestrian only roadway.  If I lived in Paris - I would frequent this place at least once a month.  On my way there I just happened upon the specialty cookware store, E Dehillerin, and enjoyed browsing the aisles of every conceivable knife, mold, and cooking utensil.  There are no prices anywhere near these items however, so you really don't know what you are paying until they check you out.  I am sure I am not the typical clientele, and they knew it, but I did buy a couple of pastry scrapers and a butter curler as souvenirs for a price of 13 euros.

The infamous sign!
I did learn today that the French shop owners are not like those in America.  We think nothing of whipping out our cell phones and taking photos every where we go - and usually no one thinks twice about it.  Not so in France.  Now I can understand that they might wish to be protective of their shop interior - and the baked goods that are, in essence, their intellectual (and gastronomical) property.  But one particular vendor became very upset when I took a picture of the sign outside his establishment.  This made me rather wary of taking any pictures for the duration of my visit, which is quite unfortunate, because the entire walk is quite reminiscent of what Paris might have been like around the turn of the century.  (of note ---- the same shop also has a cart in the Jardin Tuilerie - with the same signage - and no one cared if pictures were taken or not!)

Along the route I did buy a Poulet Sandwich and a Tarte Orange to eat in a local park.  There were so many tasty sensations all along the way from arromatic fromageries to decadent patisseries, and I could easily have bought so much more, but I knew I had the rest of the day ahead of me and little room in my backpack to carry things.

The next stop was the Centre Pompidou - where I did indeed find a nice spot to sit and eat lunch and enjoy people watching.  The lines were quite low at this museum - I don't know if it was still too early for the crowds (around 12:30PM) - or if the extremely nice weather (sunny and around 75) dictated outdoor activities rather than indoor museum visits.  In any case, I was able to enter immediately and set on my way.  Interestingly .... I have purchased audio guides at each museum (I really don't know much about art and can use all the help that I can get) but the Pompidou was the first time that I had to leave my driver's license as collateral.  That was a bit eerie - but then again, the audio guide was essentially an iPod Touch and I am sure much more expensive than the others.

La Liseuse by Picasso
I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this museum.  While I have always suffered from the "I don't get it" syndrome of modern art, I allowed myself to just view the paintings and the photographs without judgment.  Those that did not attract my attention, I walked quickly past --- and those that did attract my attention, I stopped and pondered.  I didn't necessarily struggle with trying to find the meaning (although if the audio guide provided clues I was certainly willing to listen) - but I did try to discover what exactly drew my attention.  Typically it is color - or simple form that attracts my interest.

I spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop looking at all the paraphernalia - but ultimately decided on just a few postcards and a fun writing notebook.

Taken on Pompidou terrace
I left the museum about 2:30 and wandered toward the Seine.  I figure you can never go wrong going towards the River.  I ended up at the Hotel de Ville which provided a lovely spot to finish my sandwich, and enjoy the sand volleyball courts they have set up in celebration of Paris Plage.  It was then that I decided I will throw caution to the wind and take out the DSLR.  I repacked my back pack - assembled the camera with the zoom lens - and got on my way.  I am pleased to report that my walk along the Seine from the Hotel de Ville to Place de la Concorde by way of Tuilerie Gardens provided me with an opportunity to take nearly 150 pictures and not a single one showed any signs of dust.  BRAVO!

I logged nearly 19,500 steps today and I must admit that I am quite weary.  I have decided to stay close to home tomorrow - and in fact, I actually called and booked a lunch reservation at the Moulin de la Galette!  To call and make a reservation in French was w-a-y outside my comfort zone - but I am so very glad that I did!  I plan to also visit the Museum Montmartre and the Cimitere Montmartre - as well as perhaps the touristy Place du Tertre. it is very hard to believe that I have already been here a week - and I know that this next week will simply fly by.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Paris Day 6 - Chocolate Tour and Latin Quarter

It is my desire to try to experience many different adventures while in Paris so that perhaps I can better serve others who may wish to travel here some day.  With that thought in mind, I reserved in advance a spot on a local chocolate tour (significantly cheaper than the tour offered through context travel --- but we shall see if perhaps the old adage is true:  you get what you pay for).  The tour meets at 10:30 on Rue du Rivoli and lasts about two hours.  Since I was going to be in this area anyway, I decided to make this the day to visit the Latin Quarter.

A highlight on my personal list is to revisit Notre Dame cathedral and allow my camera to capture the mental images I have carried with me all these years.  Shakespeare and Co. is nearby and I may choose to revisit (or...if I chickened out on attending the reading Monday evening - then I will definitely stop by to see for the first time).  The museum pass is good for the Conciergerie, which I may not normally pay to enter, but it sounds interesting enough to enter "for free"  I am really quite excited to visit Luxembourg Gardens and really take in this idyllic setting and escaping from the city's cacophony for a while.  I have read such wonderful reviews of the Cafe Soufflot - as a real literary cafe - that I hope to experience for myself by eating either a late lunch or an early dinner.

Well, as I look over this particular pre-write it appears that I accomplished all that I set out to do - and then some.  I logged 22,300 steps today, so I apologize if this post is a little sketchy.  For those of you who traditionally train for marathons or run 5K events, that sounds like nothing - but for a relatively sedentary being like myself, that is exhausting work!

My leftovers from the day!
Everything from basic chocolate -
to Ganache - to chocolate tartes.
The chocolate tour was nothing short of SPECTACULAR!!  If you ever plan to come to Paris, I would not hesitate to recommend this tour to anyone.  It is easily the best value for the money so far.  We met Iris by the metro stop, Louvre - Rivoli, and I instantly knew that she was a winner.  She is passionate about chocolate and her enthusiasm is contagious.  We began our 2.5 hour tour by walking along the Rue St. Honore - which I learned is the oldest street in Paris and was used to carry the prisoners in the tumbrils from the Conciergerie to the Guillotene (this will be valuable information in my Brit Lit class when I teach A Tale of Two Cities).  We visited a pastry shop on this street and sampled an Opera that was exquisite - and a Mint Eclair, equally delicious.  We toured 4 different shops and sampled between 2 and 4 pieces of pastry and/or chocolate at each shop.  I simply could not eat all of it and tried to save at least half of what we were offered. This may perhaps be a full post for one of Beth F's Weekend Cooking segments. But like I said - truly a worthwhile experience.

I went back to the Louvre and finished touring the exhibits that I missed on Wednesday.  While I may not use my Museum Pass at many of the offered locations, I can tell you that it is easily worth the money if just to avoid the lines.  When I showed my pass I by-passed what was easily a 45 minute wait and was instantly welcomed into the museum.  Definitely worth the purchase- if you ask me.  I saw the Mona Lisa - along with other 1.5 million visitors waiting line (I exaggerate - but only slightly) and I spent quite a bit of time admiring the Winged Victory.  I am not much for sculpture - but I really love this particular statue.

After my stay at the Louvre I decided to rest a bit in the Tuileries Gardens and much to my surprise - and excitement - the bateaux were present.  I had read about these in several tour books and did not see them yesterday - but today, the man was present.  The first time I went by he had all the bateaux on his cart - but the second time they were all in the water - and apparently children purchase rental time for the 'stick' to push them around.  It was delightful to watch and quite reminiscent of how I imagine the children at the turn of the century passing the time in the park.

At this point it was about 3:30 and I decided to walk to the Ile de la Cite and use my museum pass to visit the Conciergerie - where the revolutionaries kept the prisoners and where they have recreated Marie Antoinette's chamber.  While I would normally not pay the entrance fee for this experience, since it was included with the museum pass, I was more than willing to make the time to go.  Again, I learned some valuable information that I can use in my Tale of Two Cities literary unit.

 I almost past by it....
I then walked along the Seine - on the left bank - in the hopes of finding the famous, Shakespeare and Co. shop.  And I did.  It was quite magical -- sort of hiding behind the wild flowers and nestled next to a quaint little cafe.  At first I just sat there and soaked up the atmosphere.  I then took a few pictures, and then returned later after dinner to take a look on the inside.  I have a feeling that this will end up as a separate post once I return home (I took lots of photos), but suffice it to say, I thought it was appropriate that I purchase the anniversary edition of Hemmingway's, A Moveable Feast.

I then decided to walk to a cafe that I had high hopes for:  Cafe Soufflot.  It ended being a longer distance than I anticipated and the "literary" portion of the cafe was definitely limited to the inside; I sat on the terrace.  I was absolutely starving since all I had to eat was the chocolate from the morning tour, and I decided to have une salade nicoise et un verre de l'eau.  There was a young gentlemen, I would guess early 40s or so, seated next to me, and he surmised that I was a foreigner.  He began a conversation in simple French and I was able to correspond rather well.  In fact, I felt quite proud of myself that I could converse on a variety of topics in his native language.  That is until he asked if I would like to come see his apartment which was just across the street.  WHAT?!  You've got to be kidding me.  The one time I am outgoing and friendly - rather than my usual standoffish, impersonal self, and I am picked up by a strange Parisian?!

Paris Plage - around Pont Neuf
Well, fortunately I saw enough of the Latin Quarter to decide that it is really not my style.  The clientele seems to be a bit too young (and pushy!) and the streets are a bit too crowded with trendy shops and eateries for my tastes.  So I can say that I have been there -but I do not feel the need to return this trip.  Although I may decided to visit Shakespeare and Co one more time --- and also the bouquinistes.

I ended the evening walking back to Notre Dame and taking a few pictures.  While I do not think I accomplished my goal of capturing the emotional imagery of the cathedral, I did manage to take a few photos.  I also managed to see the Paris Plage from afar - and know that I wish to return to this area for a closer look at this beach within the city.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 5 - Impressionism and Tuilerie Gardens

The Musee d'Orsay is open late tonight and since this is my favorite, I plan to spend several hours here - perhaps until they politely kick me out.  The morning hours, however, I think I will visit another one of Rick Steve's suggestions and that is the market street, Rue Cler.  He has made this sound almost perfect - with quaint specialty food shops, friendly outdoor cafes, and bustling local crowds.  I can envision spending several hours here as well - using those skills obtained from  Tuesday's market class to perhaps buy some simple lunch provisions and have a picnic in a park or by the Seine.  Can I tell you how picturesque this sounds as I write it from my 95 degree Kansas home?

While traveling from Rue Cler to the Musee d'Orsay, I plan to stop at the Rodin museum (which is also included in the museum pass).  I do not have much of a refined taste for sculpture, but I understand that the gardens are simply beautiful (which I witnessed second hand in the movie, Midnight in Paris). I also hope to have some time to visit the local Bouquinistes.  How I LOVE used books - and used books in Paris must be the creme de la creme. I am also hoping to find some vintage Parisian postcards to bring home and use in possible mixed media art projects, or perhaps as writing prompts for future essays.

OK -- this is the pre-write that I did for yesterday - apparently in my excitement to write down my anticipations, I was off a day.  And of course, I did not accomplish all that I set out to do today - but I gave it a valiant effort.  I decided to postpone the visit to the Rue Cler - as that is closer to the Eiffel Tower than the museums.  While I still want to visit the Rodin (which is a part of the museum pass that I purchased yesterday),  I am really most interested in the gardens - which cost only 1 euro for entry.  So...if I don't make it to the Rodin by Saturday, I will still have the opportunity to see the gardens from the movie, Midnight in Paris. a side note....I think the bouquinistes are closer to the Latin Quarter than the museums -- so that is definitely on my agenda for tomorrow.

I began the day by taking the subway to the Place de la Concorde (where I walked to yesterday) and I spent quite a bit of time walking around the entire monument and just soaking up the center of Paris.  One of the unique aspects of this spot is that you look down one way and see the Arch de Triomphe - and then look up the other way and see the Louvre.  Quite fascinating.

artist:  Marie Laurencin
After reminiscing the fate of Sidney Carton from Tale of Two Cities --- I then entered the Tuilerie Gardens.  It is amazing how the familiarity of this place comes rushing back, no matter how long it has been since the last visit.  I loved the wide sandy pathways - and didn't even mind the bits granular pebbles that made their way into my walking sandals.  I just took it all in - vowing never to forget.  My first stop was the Musee de l'Orangerie and what an extremely pleasant surprise!  I knew that I would enjoy the Monet water lily exhibit - Les Nympheas - but I had no idea that the other works of art would be so vast and spectacular.  I found several new artists whose works I truly admire --- namely, Henri Matisse, Marie Laurencin, Henri-Julien Felix Rousseau, and Chaim Soutine.  I may even go back there again before I leave Paris.  The only downfall of this visit - and it was a minor one - was that the computer system went down for no apparent reason.  This was probably most upsetting to those who were entering the museum, but I only suffered by having to pay for my souvenirs en espece rather than by carte de credit. (and that is the extent of the french lesson for today).

My view from the cafe
I had a lovely lunch at one of the cafes in the Tuilerie Gardens.  The food was nothing to brag about:  I ordered un sandwich jambon mixte (basically bread - butter - ham and cheese) avec un verre de gamay (same grape as beaujolais) and un verre de l'eau.  A sandwich is about half the price of a salad, but at this point I think spending the money for some veggies is worth it to my diet.  While the meal was mediocre - the view was spectacular!  There was a slight breeze - but the sun was shining and the gardens were in summer bloom.  It was delightful!

As a side note --- I decided to leave my dslr camera at the apartment today as it was much to heavy to lug around yesterday.  I am glad that I did because I had to check my backpack at the Musee d'Orsay and no photography was allowed (most museums request no flash photography).  However, after experiencing the beautiful gardens and lovely statues of the Tuileries --- I plan to return one day with my "good" camera and take loads of photos --- dust speck or not!

The next stop was the Musee d'Orsay.  On the one hand I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. They are still in the middle of major renovations - so most of the Impressionism masterpieces (not all of them, for there is simply not enough room) are on display in narrow hallways and alcoves -- not the typical airy galleries.  Tourists were bumping into one another and the air supply was rather sparse.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, don't get me wrong - but I do believe that this requires a return trip once the renovations are complete **insert huge grin**

What I believe to be 81 Roo Loo
I finished touring the smaller exhibit about 5:00 and I was not ready to go home so what did I decide to do?  Why try to find the original home of Julia Child of course!  I had done my homework the night before I knew that the Rue de l'Universite was close to the museum.  I found it with no problem and I think I located her residence - 81 Roo Loo.  Or if not -- I did find an 81 on what I thought was the Rue de l'Universite (on one side of the street the numbers read 102 and 104 --- on the other side of the street the numbers read 77 and 81.  Who knows?)  But in any case --- here is a photo of what I imagine to be her first Parisian apartment.  Tres chic -- non?

All in all it was another good day with another 15,000 steps logged.  At this rate I should be in pretty good shape by the time I return home!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paris Day 4 - Markets and Museums

Well, it seems that I changed my mind since I wrote this post.  I suppose that's allowed on a vacation.  I decided to wait and post that pre-write on the day that it actually happens.  Anyway.....

Today was another fabulous day - with several worries being for naught.  My concept last night was to leave the apartment around 9:30AM in order to arrive at the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier) by 10:15 when the box office opens and tickets for the English guided visit go on sale.  I was a bit nervous because not only did I have to ride the metro (and ensure that my ticket worked) but I actually had to change trains.  Now for those of you who live in major metropolitan areas - like I used to - this is no big deal.  But since it has been since 1988 that I lived in New York City, and since I had to change trains in a foreign language, I was a bit anxious.  But all fell into place perfectly.  I was sitting on the steps of the Opera at 9:50.

At 10:15 I was able to secure my ticket for the tour that would begin at 11:30.  I wasn't quite sure what to do, so I decided to walk and check the area.  I walked in several directions and actually happened upon Place de la Concorde - the original location for the storming of the Bastille (if memory serves me correctly).  Now there is a tall statue to commemorate the event - and the entire square is surrounded by very upscale shops.  I thought I was on 5th Avenue in New York for a moment.

The tour of the opera house was delightful and while we were not allowed to visit backstage or the "lake" underneath the stage (this has been prohibited since 9-11), we were able to go in the theater, sit in the front row seats, and observe the opulence that ruled the day.  We discovered that the Emperor's Box is actually the worst seat in the house - but he did not want the seat to see the production; he wanted the seat to be seen.  We viewed the grand staircase - where even the spectators of the opera could be "on stage" and we were also able to see the Grand Foyer - where the abonnees - male season ticket holders - could go to meet the ballerinas between acts.  It was a fantastic tour.

Afterwards I decided to walk to the Louvre, which is at the end of the Rue de l'Opera that you see here.  Between the morning walk, the walk to the Louvre, and then walking the entire second floor of the Louvre --- I managed to log 15,300 steps.  I don't mind telling you that I am exhausted!  Even though the Louvre is open late on Wednesdays, I left around 5:30 for fear that I would not be able to get out of bed tomorrow.  Obviously I cannot travel at the age of 51 the same way I could travel at the age of 35.  I did manage to buy a museum pass (en francais) which means that I can visit as many museums as I want - as many times as I want - over the next 4 days.  I will be sure to return the Louvre some day --- but tomorrow I have reserved for the Musee d'Orsay.

The last success story of the day was that I was able to find the Cafe Nemours (just around the corner from the Louvre) and order my lunch in French.  This was a huge deal for me because I just can't stand eating alone in a public place.  But you know what?  Not a single person cared --- and I was thrilled!  Now it probably helped that the menu was in French as well as English - but I pretty much understood without using the subtitles.  I ordered une Salade Comedienne (greens - tuna - beans - egg - tomato in a light vinaigrette), un verre de bourgogne - et un verre de l'eau.  It was refreshing and delicious and very Parisian.  I loved it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paris Day 3 - Market Day

Ever since I visited Paris for the first time in high school in 1977, I have wanted to experience the old world charm of the open air market.  To me, this is quintessential Europe and I hope to visit several while I am here.  While I know the markets cater to locals as well as tourists, I also know that the signage is all in French and that French food is significantly different from my supermarket in the Midwest.  I knew I wanted to take a tour of a market first to learn the customs as well as the language, so that I could feel more like a true Parisian for the remainder of my stay.

Through Rick Steve's guidebook I found a tour company that offered such a market experience.  For 70 euros plus a 7 euro tasting fee we would shop the Marche d'Aligre in the Marais - talking with local vendors and sampling their wares. Unfortunately, the tour required a minimum of three people and as of July 20th, there were none.  On a whim I visited the website Cook'n With Class that was recommended by my "landlord" which advertised a tour of a local market (in Montmartre) but also included a hands-on cooking class to prepare a four course lunch using the purchased ingredients.  It sounded perfect - but expensive:  185 euros.  HOWEVER....I noticed a tab that indicated Last Minute Specials.  I clicked.  The special?  That class on this date for a 20% deduction in price.  I immediately contacted them to see if this reduced rate was still available.  It was.  I grabbed it.

This is an opportunity that I never dreamed that I would experience - and I am still quite nervous that my cooking skills will not measure.  But the theme of this trip is, je ne regrette rien, and so I am going to throw caution to the wind and just do it!

Not sure how I will spend the rest of the day.  I'm giving thought to making this a "food day" and perhaps venture to Les Halles - or I might wish to stay closer to the neighborhood and perhaps visit Place de Dublin, the sight of Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day.

OH MY - what a difference a day makes!

I thought that my long nap yesterday would interfere with my sleep cycle - but apparently I was just really tired (I suppose this is another one of those signs of aging....)  Anyway, I went to bed around 10:30 last night, woke up at 7:00 this morning and fixed myself a cup of instant espresso (FAR better than the brewed stuff I tried yesterday).  I was a bit nervous about trying to navigate the subway system, but I managed to comprehend the machines, purchase the carnet of 10 tickets, and did not panic when my ticket didn't work.  I was able to ask the information guide why my ticket didn't work in French and while he never explained the reason, he let me through.  Success!

I simply cannot say enough positive, superlative accolades about the cooking class today.  It was a last minute decision and I was a bit leary about spending so much money on a "little" market tour --- but I would pay double again.  (Note to my daughter Mandy - who plans to attend culinary school - we MUST do this together.  In the next room they were making croissants and other such pastries and it smelled heavenly).  Our guide was 28 year old Constance who may have appeared young but has a wealth of experience.  She began profession cooking school at the age of 15 and has worked at such prestigious restaurants as the Bristol and the Four Seasons in Palm Beach.  She was absolutely delightful!  It is not always true that someone who is experienced in their trade can adequately teach that skill - but Constance was not only a patient teacher, but she was always handing out positive affirmations, "You did good" --- and her sense of humor was greatly appreciated.

We spent about an hour touring the various market shops.  This was not an open air market, as I had thought, but individual shops located in the same block.  In the Fromagerie she spent about 20 minutes telling us the five different families of cheese and how they differ from one another.  At the Poissonerie she explained that round fish have two fillets whereas flat fish have four.  At the grocer she selected some wonderful berries for dessert as well as radishes, peas, broccoli, and chanterelles.  She had hoped to obtain Guinea Hen breasts for our main course, but the Boucherie was out, so she made do with Poulet (chicken).

We walked to the cooking school and starting cooking about 10:30.  I was amazed how Constance kept track of all the various phases of each course with no recipe - no schedule - nothing.  We started making dessert first - so that it could bake and cook in time to eat.  It was a very simple cake filled with strawberries and served with a fresh fruit compote.  She has promised to send us the recipes - as well as different adaptations for each one.  Perhaps this is something that I can share with you when I return doing Beth F's Weekend Cooking meme.

We then began the preparation for the salad - which consisted of julienned cucumber - tomatoes - freshly blanched peas - all combined with an oil and balsamic vinaigrette.  The salad was just the first layer of our appetizer.  On top of this pea salad we placed a slice of baguette that has been toasted with a drizzle of olive oil.  On top of that was placed a pesto sauce and then one sauteed filet was placed on top of that.  The plate was then decorated with mini conchs, radish slivers, and calamari.  While I helped to chop a few vegetables, Constance did have each us plate our dish - and this is my "creation"  We had our choice of rose or gewurztraminer to accompany this course.

The main entree consisted of a chicken filet that had been quickly seared in the pan, then topped with a black olive tapenade, and then baked in the oven.  We also had a chanterelle and broccoli saute to accompany the meal, as well as small new potatoes boiled with garlic and then sauted in olive oil.  Again, we helped to chop - but Constance did most of the cooking.  All of plated our own main course.  We were offered a red wine to accompany this portion of the meal.

The next course was the cheese course.  Constance plated the cheese and then explained the order in which to eat them (mild to strong --- so goat cheese to roquefort) as well as how to cut them (never cut off the tip first - for then the last person served would be left with nothing but the rind.  Rather, cut a slice longways and each person gets only a small piece of rind).  She had three different kinds of baguettes to pair with the cheese: a plain baguette, one mixed with figs, and another made with sunflower seeds --- or "sunny" seeds as she called them).  She had also purchased a small sample of fresh butter with a bit of salt that was like no butter I have ever tasted.  I plan to purchase some tomorrow and have it with my abricot confiture each morning I am here.

Well, I obviously wrote more than just two paragraphs today - but as you can tell, it was nearly perfect in every way.  I took photos with my compact camera for two reasons.  First of all, I wanted to be rather discreet in the shops and I thought this would be best, and secondly, I didn't want to be plagued by the return of the dust.  This afternoon - after I allowed my food to digest a bit - I went for another walk along Sacre Coeur and I took my DSLR with me.  I took about 50 pictures and not a single one had a spec of dust.  Perhaps the problem has rectified itself.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Paris Day 2 - Photo Workshop

I intentionally booked this photo class for my first full day in Paris.  In this 3.5 hour class we will walk around my Montmartre neighborhood, giving me a good feel for where I will spend each evening, and the instructor will give me some terrific pointers on photo composition as well as manual settings that I can use for the remainder of the trip.  I was thrilled to learn that another traveler from Brazil will be joining us as this will provide a synergistic learning environment (as well as a 50 euro discount!)

When I planned a family vacation to Walt Disney World about ten years ago, I used a travel guide to help me get the biggest bang for my buck.  Consequently, we visited MGM studios and Epcot on the first two days because we were allowed early entry.  It wasn't until the third day that we went to the Magic Kingdom, and consequently it wasn't until the third day that everyone felt that we were in Disney World. learning a lesson from that experience, I know that I need to get out of Montmartre today and visit the lower city - whether it be a view of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Square or a glance at Notre Dame while walking along the Seine.  I was THRILLED to learn that there is going to be a reading of Strangers in Paris at the famous Shakespeare and Co bookstore!  I have wanted to visit this store ever since I read Jeremy Mercer's Time was Soft There (my review here) and to attend an author reading is truly the icing on the cake.  I just hope that I don't allow my self-conscious anxiety prevent me from attending.

Well, the day didn't turn out completely as planned, but I rarely expect that to happen.

this is the half way point...
 I managed to walk to the meeting place in about ten minutes - so I arrived quite early.  The others came at about the same time and everyone was delightful.  The other participant, Michelle, currently lives in Brazil but is originally from France.  She is a doctor, about my age, and knew just about as much about photography as I do. We were evenly matched.  Sophie was delightful - and spoke impeccable English.  She brought along a new employee, Helena, who was quite young and oh so nice.  I think Sophie was also training her on English skills because I noticed even when they talked among themselves it was in English.

I won't bore you with a lot of the details but suffice it to say....I learned a lot about taking pictures (as opposed to snapshots) and I learned that I have been changing my lenses incorrectly which is probably why a piece of dust on the censor ruined nearly every picture I took today.  It was quite disappointing and given my jetlagged state, my emotions ran high.  I felt like such a failure in many ways.  Helena was quite nice and tried numerous times to help me relieve the dust - nothing works.  She said that this happens to her all the time and would be happy to give me the name and address of a local shop who would help.  That was nice as well.

This is what's left to climb!
So I guess I can view this as a two part lesson:  one that I learned the elements necessary to take a good picture (which for me seems to be to get even closer to the subject and focus on one thing rather than several) and learn how to use photoshop to mask the dust spot.

In all I had walked 12,000 steps by 3:00PM and I was exhausted.  I allowed myself to take a nap, which I rarely do.  By the time I woke up the reading at Shakespeare & Co. was already over.  It was just as well,  I did a bit of research on the book and rather being about strangers as in, not familiar with Paris, I think it was strangers as in the characters were strange.  Probably not my kind of book.

I think I will lay low the rest of the evening and hopefully I will feel better and the world will look brighter in the morning when I go on a market tour and then take a cooking class!

I have read all your kind comments from yesterday and I wanted to address a couple of issues.  Someone mentioned that I should not try to keep track of time in the states.  Well, it isn't that I am doing that intentionally :)  My computer does not adjust to European time for some reason, so I am always reminded of what time it is back home (for example it is 2:00PM in Kansas but it is 9:00PM here in France). I am not mentally exhausting myself here --- believe me.

Secondly, someone suggested that I post pictures of the apartment.  Well, after I got home from the photo class I took my camera lens off and just blew and blew (I felt like the big bad wolf).  I figured it couldn't hurt.  I decided that taking pictures of my humble abode would be the perfect test shots.  I'm terrible with guestimating space, but I would assume it is less than 500 square feet (?).  Surprisingly enough all the apartment pictures are dust particle free.  I don't know if i actually blew it out - or if I just blew it out of sight in the photos.  In either case, enjoy these photos and pray that the dust stays out of sight for the remainder of the trip.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paris Day 1 - Je suis arrivee!

A midnight sunrise over Scotland
It is my goal to post a daily entry to the blog while on vacation.  This is really to serve two purposes:  to keep family and friends updated on my travels and also to help jog my memory for vivid details after I return home (I have great hopes of writing a photo/journal book of this momentous trip) .

To help me achieve this goal I have created a vacation post template.  The first paragraph(s) has been written prior to the trip (and thus will be in a different font color), and per the suggestion of Dave Fox in his travel journal book, Globejotting, I quickly detail what I had planned to do that day.  Each night I hope to update that post with what actually transpired.

Since my goal is to document this trip in words as well as in pictures, I have set a daily goal of 500 photographs.  Even as I type this that sounds insurmountable, but if I truly want to capture the essence of everyday life in Paris, then I need to S-L-O-W down and I think setting such a goal will force me to do just that.  I will only post one or two pictures to the blog, but I do plan to give a daily photo count in the hopes of keeping me accountable.

Another daily activity that I hope to maintain is to write reviews for Trip Advisor.  I used this sight extensively in preparing for this trip and found others' reviews and suggestions to be immensely helpful.  I would like to repay the favor and write some reviews of my own.  If you have not used this site before, I strongly suggest you take a look around and develop your own account.  It is fabulous!

My first cafe creme of the trip!  It was
the perfect drink for the 55 degree temps
My goal today is to navigate Charles de Gaulle airport and make my way thtrough the apartment unscathed.  After that, I want to try to stay awake until 6:00PM Paris time so that my internal clock will quickly adjust to the seven hour time change.  I am quite excited to finally meet Isabelle in person (she has been such a fantastic correspondent via email) and to see "my" apartment.  The only other expectation that I have for today is to visit the local grocer (the one made famous in the movie, Amelie) and obtain necessities for the apartment, like toilet paper and coffee.  I have intentionally not made plans for today to allow myself to take it easy and recover from jet lag.

And this was my view while sipping
my cafe.  Breathtaking!
Well, I made it!  And all that worry was for nothing.  The flight was 30 minutes early - there were no lines at customs - my luggage was one of the first off the plane - the taxi was immediately available - there was no traffic on the highway - and I actually made it to the apartment by 9:30 AM Paris time.  The old tenants had not yet left - but they allowed me to drop off my suitcase and I went sight seeing for about two hours while I waited for the place to be cleaned.

Fortunately I had packed my Knopf map book and my memory served me well.  I actually stopped and had a cafe creme at a cafe all by myself -- and I walked around exploring the winding, twisting streets.  I must tell you that everything - and I mean everything - is hilly in these parts and my legs are already tired.  BUT...I managed to find Place due Tertre - Sacre Coeur - the Moulin de la Galette (and I may even splurge and have dinner there some night) - and the metro station.  I took about 175 pictures today - which is a lot for me.

I did manage to visit the grocer - as well as the boulangerie - and purchased some essential supplies as well as a light dinner of bread and cheese.  Isabelle is simply delightful. She stayed about thirty minutes to answer any questions that I night have and ensure that the internet access was operating; and she even offered to call me a taxi  for my return trip to the airport in two weeks.  The apartment is very centrally located and spotlessly clean.  While it is  rather small by American standards, it is perfect for a couple and therefore suffiicient for me.  I feel quite safe in this neighborhood.  All in all - c'est magnifique!

It is now 7:15PM Paris, which is just after noon in Kansas.  I am exhausted and plan to go to bed soon so that I am ready for my photography tour bright and early tomorrow morning.

So far - the trip has exceeded my expectations.  It is glorious!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: My Life in France

My Life in France
by: Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
published by:  Anchor House a division of Random House
copyright:  2006
rating:  3.5 out of 5

I am definitely an informal kind of gal:  blue jeans over dresses; pottery over china; cafe fare over michelin star restaurants.  So while I enjoyed this book from a memoir point of view, I must confess that the lavishly complicated meals that were gushed about - or the painstaking recipe research that was written in great detail did not hold my interest for long.

I absolutely LOVED the first half of this book - when Julia and her husband Paul have just been transferred to Paris with the US government.  After she has set up house, she decides to educate herself in the art of French cooking.  I was surprised to learn that Julia did not grow up in a gourmand family and it was actually her husband who had the refined palate for good wine and excellent cuisine.  Julia is a perfectionist, however, and if she was going to learn to cook then she was going to learn from the best: Le Cordon Bleu.

I really enjoyed reading about these initial culinary lessons and I admired her adventuresome spirit by enrolling in a professional class where she was the sole female among eleven other GIs.  While I often allow my perfectionism to get in the way of learning something new (I become quite discouraged if I don't get it right the first time), it was refreshing to learn that she made several mistakes along the way - but always took it in stride because she believed that the best education comes from failure.

The middle portion of the book, which focuses on the development of her chef d'oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volume I) provided real insight to her attention to detail.  She would often prepare a recipe ten or even fifteen times just to ensure that the directions were accurate and any possible misunderstandings could be explained in full.  She was on a mission - to teach American housewives that cooking authentic French cuisine is not an insurmountable task; and while it requires exact methods, it can still be fun and extremely satisfying.  The book took years to develop, but was well received once published.

At this point in the memoir, however, I became a bit disenchanted.  I don't know if it is because I like to hear the story of the struggle, and the fame afterwards is not as interesting to me, or if I felt that the tone of the story became more egotistical.  In either case, I found myself skimming the last few chapters.  Perhaps I wanted to believe my own fictional characterization of Julia Child - just a middle class housewife who would enter our homes via television once a week and teach us how to cook delectable meals - rather than the business-minded television personality who seemed to be a borderline workaholic.

In the end, I was glad that I read the book - and I am hoping that I have the opportunity to at least walk by 81 Rue de l'Universite (81 Roo Loo) -- her initial residence, and the Cordon Bleu in order to dream about what it might have been like to be Julia Child .....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

As if I needed another reason....

I know that I sound like a broken record with all my excitement about this upcoming trip to Paris - and I apologize.  But I just had to show you yet one more reason why I am anxious to leave Kansas City and head across the pond:

10 Day Weather Forecast for Kansas City:

10 Day Weather Forecast for Paris, France:

On average -- 20 degree cooler temperatures for the next 10 days.  I think YES!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Adventure Redefined

When I begin my poetry unit in English 1, I talk about the denotative meaning of a word (dictionary meaning) and the connotative meaning of the word (figurative meaning).  I believe this is essential to help students understand the power that each word carries in a sparsely written poem.

I also believe that word choice is an important trait of prose writing as well.  Using one exact word, "le mot juste" as I call it in class, is far more effective than using a string of mediocre adjectives.  It is important for an author to use precise words in order to convey the appropriate meaning to the reader.

So it has occurred to me over these past few days that I have perhaps held too closely to my "connotative" meaning of the word adventure - rather than be willing to embrace the other possible meanings.  See, I have always considered myself a loather of adventure - but I recently decided to investigate  The denotative meaning of the word gives a rather broad definition (as found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary):

  1. an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
  2. an encountering of risks (the spirit of adventure)
  3. an exciting or remarkable or remarkable experience
  4. an enterprise involving financial risk
For as long as I can remember I have only viewed adventure as "danger" and life or death situations.  Neither of those parameters hold any interest to me.

As a child I remember watching Peter Pan and thinking "why would anyone want to remain a boy in Neverland when there were Pirates who threatened one's life?"  This did not sound like fun to me at all.

Then in adolescence the Indiana Jones films taught me that adventure meant snake pits and tied to the stake and constantly being shot at from all directions.  I would rather have a desk job, thank you very much.

My husband has always been intrigued by adventurous experiences like sky-diving and wilderness survival.  Neither of these events sound appealing to me.

So through years of conditioning - I have determined that I am not adventurous.  I do not like adventure and I therefore I am "boring"

But recently it has occurred to me that this is only one definition of the word.  The other definition of adventure is exactly what I am doing this summer when I travel to Paris for two weeks on my own:  an exciting or remarkable experience.  This will be remarkable and it is not an every day event.  I am surprised how many friends have said that they "could never do that" --- travel to a foreign country on their own.  While I admit that I do have a bit of anxiety (especially with regards to navigating the Charles de Gaulle airport) I do not think what I am doing is "death defying"  In fact, I think what I am doing is fun.

So it occurs to me that perhaps I need to rethink my connotative meaning of the word.  I need to stop limiting myself to the box of  'safe and boring' and recognize that I do have an adventurous spirit.  I may not like to take risks - but I do like to travel and pursue those remarkable experiences that reveal themselves through the immersion in a foreign culture.  While eating alone in a restaurant is not a "life or death situation" - it is definitely an experience outside my comfort zone.  But I am willing to risk this uncomfortable feeling to truly experience the French culture.

So today I have decided to call myself an "adventurer" -- maybe not in the league with Indiana Jones, but remarkable none the less.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TSS 7.17.11 - Countdown....

It is very hard to believe that this time next week I will be in Paris, at my apartment, probably shopping at the Amelie grocer.  I am sure that three weeks from today I will be saying I can't believe it's over.  The passage of time is fascinating to me.

Aside from practicing Rosetta Stone and walking the treadmill to prepare for the trip, I have also been reading a few books to get me in the mood (as if I need more motivation).  I selected three books that detail the lives of other Americans who lived in Paris for a length of time.  I reviewed David Lebovitz's book, The Sweet Life in Paris, yesterday and learned some useful manners that will hopefully help me not be viewed as one of those "obnoxious" Americans.  I also started reading Julia Child's, My Life in France.  While I still mentally picture Meryl Streep as this iconic chef from the movie Julie and Julia, I distinctly remember the days before cable television when there was no Food Network channel and the only cooking shows were available through Public Television. I had just graduated college and would anticipate the airing of Julia's next installment of The French Chef.  I even purchased her two cookbook set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although I was never brave enough to attempt any of the authentic recipes.  I am enjoying reading about her humble beginnings in the foray of French cooking, and I love her sense of adventure in the City of Lights.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik is another book that I have started to read in order to experience the life of an ex-pat's life in Paris.  While I enjoy his detailed essays of Paris in the late 90s, I find that I skim them more than savor every detail.  Perhaps it is because he chronicles the adventure as the father of a young son, and I am no longer in that phase of life, or perhaps his interests are not as focused on fine cuisine like the other two books, which apparently is a dormant passion of mine.  Anyway, it is a good book and is adding another dimension to my appreciation of this fascinating, cosmopolitan city.

The other genre of books that I am reading during this final week of preparation is art books - more specifically, Impressionism art and even more specific than that --- those that are geared towards teaching children how to appreciate these artistic masterpieces.  I  believe I was skipped over when it came to the artistic gene (my brother received my share though - so all is good).  But couple that with the fact that my private elementary school did not even offer an art class puts me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to appreciating masterpiece paintings.  In fact, when we used to live in New York in the mid 1980s I would joke and say that I could visit the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art in one hour. A slight exaggeration --- but only slight.

But I am a firm believer that learning is a lifelong pursuit - and about four years ago I decided that even if I did not have the talent to paint - I wanted to learn how to appreciate the talents of others.  I tried reading very detailed (insert dry and boring) books on art history, but they were long on historical significance and short on practical explanations.  The only exception to this, I found, was the book, The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland, PhD.  This book provides a general overview of each of the major time periods, and it is filled with lots of pictures - the perfect combination for a visual learner such as myself.

However, I was still struggling to learn how to appreciate the true works of art.  So I decided to look in the children's department and what a treasure trove I found.  The first book I came across was, appropriately titled, Looking at Pictures, created by the National Gallery in London.  While the tag line indicates that this serves as "an introduction to art for young people" I would add that this is probably geared towards upper elementary to middle school students.  It is a nice, general overview.of the artistic elements, time periods, and styles.  Again, lots of pictures are used to illustrate the points made.

My favorite books, however, are published by DK Eyewitness books.  There are two that I have found to be indispensable to me in learning how to really view a painting - what to look for - what makes it unique and worthy of museum status.  The first is Great Artists Explained -- which details 50 artists and their works; and the second is Art Explained which details and explains the worlds greatest paintings.  Both of the fabulous guidebooks are written by Robert Cumming.

I love these books because they are written for the "average joe" - using every day language that we all understand and not a lot of specific vocational vocabulary.  Each painting is illustrated on a two page spread - so it is easy to see the details and provides a wonderful visual aid for the written explanations.  The author then highlights certain aspects of the painting by zooming in and providing anecdotal as well as academic information.  I find these books suitable for young children, who will just enjoy looking at the pictures and seeing what is they want to see --- as well as the neophyte adults like myself who wish to really learn WHY I like a painting.

I am especially looking forward to studying the works of art that I plan to see in person at the Musee d'Orsay.  I think there is an added magical element of studying a painting in a book, and then facing the original work of art in real life.

It is oppressively hot in the Midwest today - in fact, we are in an excessive heat warning until Friday afternoon!  It seems to be the perfect week to sit back with a glass of iced tea, a book of art, and enjoy the beauty.  I hope that you are able to enjoy the summer weather this week as well.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Sweet Life in Paris

The Sweet Life in Paris
by David Lebovitz
Published by Broadway Books
copyright 2009
rating:  5 out of 5 stars

I went the to the bookstore the other night with absolutely no intention of buying.  The last thing I need is to bring another book into this house when I have literally shelves of books unread.  But in browsing the front tables I was initially drawn to the title of this book mind is rather preoccupied with this topic lately.  I briefly skimmed the book and decided that it would be a good "research" book for my upcoming trip (I can rationalize just about anything under the guise of "research")

Anyway, I came home, started reading, and have not been able to put it down and while it has provided me with useful information prior to my adventure, I also know that I will re-read this book when I return with the hopes of recreating the taste of Paris by trying a few of the authentic French recipes.

Each chapter is divided into two separate parts:  one discusses some aspect of the Parisian culture that an American living there might find useful, such as....Parisians use a knife and fork to eat just about EVERYTHING and they rarely use their fingers (even when eating a banana).  Parisian shop owners would like to be treated with a bit of respect - a simple Bonjour Madame upon entering the store and an Au Revoir Monsieur upon leaving is just common courtesy as far as they are concerned.  And when ordering in a cafe, never order cafe au lait (apparently that is only served in the home - never in public) but rather order a cafe creme.

Not only did I find each chapter filled with practical advice, but I adored the author's sense of humor and his unique way of observing life (you can also visit his blog, David Lebovitz for further Parisian reviews).  It makes for a very pleasant read and even if you have no plans to live in Paris yourself, you may enjoy this literary escape to the culinary capital of the world.  For those participating in the Paris in July challenge, I think this would be an excellent choice.

There are numerous recipes that I wish to try when I return - many are dessert-type recipes such as Chocolate Macaroons, Dulce de Leche Brownies, and Salted Butter Caramel Sauce --- but there are also several savory dishes that have piqued my interest such as Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad, Braised Turkey in Beaujolais Nouveau with Prunes, and Bacon and Bleu Cheese Cake.  Perhaps in the fall I can review a few of these for future segments of Weekend Cooking.

Until that time.....Bon Appetit!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise:  My Father and the Books We Shared
by:  Alice Ozma
Grand Central Publishing
Copyright:  May, 2011
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I must confess I have not thoroughly read this book.  My mind has been pre-occupied with Paris plans and I simply have not made the time to sit down and read it as thoroughly as I would like.  Since it is a new release, I do not have the option to renew my hold because there are others in line waiting their turn.  So I decided to skim the book quickly to see if it was one that I would be interested in checking out again when I have more time.  It most definitely is!

The premise of the book, for those who don't know, is the real-life story of Alice Ozma and her father, Jim Brozina, an elementary school librarian, and the promise they made to one another the he would read aloud to her  every night for a period of 1,000 days.  Initially her father thought this was too lofty a goal, but they both made the commitment and in the end --- they read a little over nine years:  every single night!  No matter how late they got home - or how early they had to wake up the next morning - "the reading streak" was a priority in both their lives.

This book is not only a touching father/daughter relationship that continues to grow and prosper long after most teenagers distance themselves from their parents - but it is also a story that brings to mind personal regrets in my own life.

I began reading to each of my three children from the time they were able to hold their head up in the infant seat - about three months old.  I had all shapes and sizes of cardboard books that they could "read" without tearing - as well as picture books that "mommy would hold"  We had our favorites that we would read nearly every night, like Barn Dance and Goodight Moon, and The Tooth Gnasher Super Flash, and we always read at least one  Berenstain Bears book that would give me the opportunity to teach a life lesson.  We all fondly remember this nightly ritual.

But when my children entered first grade and were learning to read on their own, I decided that I needed to take a backseat.  I mean after all, how could they learn to read on their own if they relied on me to do it for them?  That was my belief anyway.  And so I am the one who halted the bedtime reading routine.  I am the one who said you are too old for this.  I am the one who thought they were too lazy to read themselves - and I never gave it a though that perhaps they just wanted to spend that time together - bonding like we had done when they were younger.

Alice's book has shown me what a big mistake I have made.  I did not have all the right answers, and this is one area where my answer was devastating.  To this day, two out of my three children dislike reading and I take full responsibility.

So while I cannot rectify past mistakes - I will try not to repeat them.  As Brynn grows up and we share our weekly visits to the library (yes, I have already planned these special outings) I will vow not to stop reading aloud to her until she makes that decision.  And if she is like Alice --- then I will be reading aloud to her on the day of her high school graduation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Photography Books

As I indicated last week, I have been reading, although my reading these days tends to focus on the non-fiction, academic books of writing and photography.  I spent the better part of this past weekend reading, skimming, and taking notes on a variety of photography books that I have obtained from the library and I thought I might share my findings with you.

Most of these books are not "how to" use a camera.  While I am by no means an expert on the operation of my DSLR (I still tend to keep the setting on automatic for fear of missing of the shot), my interests in reading about photography is in learning how to truly accept the camera as a way of viewing the world around me - and trying to capture my perspective of that world.  While this is not a difficult concept for some, this is an entire paradigm shift for me.

See, I have always enjoyed taking pictures - but in my black-and-white world, the camera was a memory keeping device.  Plain and simple.  I would take out the camera when we would celebrate birthdays, holidays, and vacations.  Otherwise, it remained in the closet.

But I am learning that the camera is far more versatile than that - and the camera can allow anyone the opportunity to make a statement (with or without using words to clarify that statement) and can give even the most handicapped artists (which is what I consider myself) the means to express themselves in a creative manner.

I have had a vision of combining my love of photography, my passion for writing, and my need for travel. This trip to Paris is my first step into making that vision a reality.  And these books are helping me to hone that craft.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently enrolled in an online class that encourages the exploration of self through photography and writing.  I am thoroughly loving the format and the online friends that I have met these past six weeks.  I have learned that Flickr is not only a great site to store photos, but it is also a fantastic way to journal.  Anyway, to help keep the momentum of this class going, I have also discovered a couple of books that focus on this same theme:

Exploring the Self through Photography by Claire Craig.  This book seems to be geared toward a group class setting, something that I am not quite ready to pursue.  And I must confess that I have only skimmed it.  BUT.. the first paragraph of the preface made me stop in my tracks and open my eyes to new possibilities:

My grandfather was a photographer.  Most weekends he would be busy at weddings or christenings, preserving memorable moments in the family history.  However, his image-making was not restricted to special occasions.  Along with weddings and christenings he would photograph the familiar: objects, places, people; the first television he owned, the contents of the fridge; cards, trains, buses; the time it snowed so we hard we needed to dig ourselves out of the house.  These scenes created a record of everyday life and were made extraordinary by virtue of their ordinariness.
He took pictures of the contents of his refrigerator?!  This blew my mind - and made sense to me all at the same time.  I hope to learn to slow down my life enough to realize that there is vitality in the ordinary.

A Creative Guide to Exploring Your Life by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Holly Barlow Sweet.  I absolutely loved this book and have decided that I need to add it to my personal library.  It is very reminiscent of Inner Excavation which I have discussed on this blog before, but it has a little more depth to it, I believe.  Graham is a professional photographer and Holly is a licensed psychologist.  Together they have created a series of prompts and exercises to help one discover the true north in life:  what makes us tick; what gives us meaning; what do we hold near and dear to our hearts.

While I don't feel that I have the time now to devote to these exercises, I know that this is something that I want to  find the time to pursue in the future.

Serial Photography by Harald Mante.  This is one of those books that truly opened my mind to the idea that there is indeed beauty all around me - I just need to become more observant.

I have always been pragmatic and organized.  In the days of film cameras, it was not pragmatic for me to take pictures of ordinary life because, quite frankly, it was not a priority financial expense.  But with the advent of digital photography, the expense of developing is a non-issue.  I can take hundreds of photos and only choose to print a few select ones.  I think my brain understands the digital phenomenon, but my subconscious is still focused on the per picture cost.

So once I accept the fact that taking pictures is really a very affordable hobby, the question then becomes, what is worthy of a picture?  As I have already outlined, I am learning that anything that I come in contact with during the course of the day is fodder for photo exploration.  What I really like about this book, however, is that it has shown me a way to take the seemingly random pictures and put them into some cohesive whole.  Couple the organization aspect with the very clever mosaic app and now I see how even I can begin to be creative with photography.

Some of the chapters initially are a bit perplexing to me.  For example Chapter 3 is titled, Tables and Chairs.  This does not really attract my attention as a photographic subject.  However....when I stop to think of the fact that I hope to spend lots of time in a variety of Parisian cafes - sitting at an outside table --- all of sudden this now gives me purpose.  I will be in contact with tables and chairs all week - and what a unique way to document this aspect of my trip.  The subtitle of the chapter is Familiar Workday Objects - which should certainly open an entire world of potential still lifes in the weeks and years to come.

I have found that I am drawn to color above any other aspect of art (such as texture, line, shape, etc) but it has never occurred to me to take a picture of something because I like the color.  However, Serial Photography has almost given me permission to photographic whatever I find pleasing to the eye - whether it makes sense or serves a purpose - for the simple reason that I like it and it brings me joy.  So I think I will also be in search of the color Purple in Paris - as that is the color of the year for me.

For the second time this year I have skimmed the book Expressive Photography edited by Tracy Clark.  For about six months now I have followed the blog Shutter Sisters.  Each day they have an interesting photo and then a thought provoking post that coordinates with it.  They ask others to comment, sharing their pictures on the thought of the day.  I enjoy looking at all the different interpretations of the prompt, and the different photography styles.  This book was born from that blog.  The book includes quite a bit more technical information than the others and for that reason I feel that it is not exactly for me at this moment.  Never fear, however, I anticipate obtaining it again for the third time this winter when I have a bit more experience under my belt, and perhaps a bit more free time indoors to devote to its study.

God is at Eye Level by Jan Phillips is another thought provoking book for me.  There are numerous quotes scattered throughout the book that I have found worthy of writing down myself, and the author's compassion for the human spirit and the world at large is compelling.  What I learned from the first quick skim of this book (it definitely requires a re-read later on) is that we can seek to find metaphor in nature which speaks to us and our own personal lives.

I believe I did that for the first time this spring when I went walking during Mom's illness and discovered the withering leaf hanging on to the tree (Mom)  with with new Spring growth budding around it (the arrival of my granddaughter, Brynn).  And while this metaphor may not be easily discerned by others who might come across the photo, it has a deep connection with me.

In fact the common theme that I have noticed from reading all of these books is that the photographer must be willing to slow down, live in the present and be mindful of the moment.  The photographer must be willing to have his camera at all times and be willing to take pictures of any subject matter.  The photographer must be willing to change perspective and see the object from various points of view, or he may just miss the meaningful shot.  And above all, the photographer must actually take pictures.  As with anything in life, if it is worth doing, it is worth practicing.  And the more you know - the more you realize you don't know.  And that is ok.  Because the goal is not to take the perfect photograph - the goal is to enjoy the journey.
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