Friday, October 31, 2008

October Snow

We don't get much snow here in Saint-Aignan, so when we do, it's kind of fun. Of course, we're not out driving in it. The most snow we've had in the five years we've lived here was about five inches that lasted a few days on the ground. Mostly, the snow doesn't stick. If it does, it melts within a few hours.

This is a brief video of Thursday's snow event. It's taken from the bedroom window, looking pretty much westerly. There was actually some accumulation to the west of us, making for ugly traffic conditions. We heard all about it on the news.

Of course, Thursday morning, when it started to snow, Ken and I immediately declared it a snow day and did not go to school.

Today, Friday, it's much warmer outside - over 6ºC - even though it's not yet 7:30 am as I type this. But there is a bit of rain out there. It's my turn to walk Callie, so I'll be out there in it. She doesn't mind light rain, but if it pours, she wants to go inside. Good dog!

Today one or both of us will be heading out to Super U for some light shopping. This is a holiday weekend in France; November 1 is la Toussaint, or All Saints Day. Kids have been on vacation all week (I know, that information totally renders my snow day joke pointless) and the stores might be a mess today. Oh well.

Happy Halloween to all. Boo.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

La Rue Saint-Sauveur

La rue Saint-Sauveur is a small street in the second arrondissement where Ken lived when we met back in 1981. He lived in a tiny apartment on the courtyard of a building whose entrance was on the left side in this shot.

La rue Saint-Sauveur.

I took this slide many years later, looking into the street from the rue Montorgueil. Back in 1981, Les Halles was a huge construction site and the neighborhoods around it were dark and grungy, and a little creepy at night. Just a couple blocks over is the rue St.-Denis, lined with sex shops and prostitutes.

Since the time this picture was made, the rue Montorgueil and the surrounding streets have been gentrified, the streets re-paved with fancier paving stones, many of the buildings have been renovated, and the shops have gone decidedly upscale. Real estate is much pricier there now, to be sure.

Now I've scanned the slide and eliminated the color, except for that orange scooter and the rider's matching helmet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

La Rue De Rennes

This is yet another slide from the late 1980s that I've manipulated in Photoshop. It's the rue de Rennes, a major street on the left bank of Paris, looking north toward the river.

La rue de Rennes.

I don't know what these people were doing, or looking at. In the original photo, I thought their presence ruined the picture. But now I think they've become the point of the picture. What do you think?

Here's the original photo on the left. When I was a student in Paris in 1981, I lived in a boarding house just off this street. It was just up toward the top of this photo, and to the right, on the rue du Four. I was very lucky to be living smack in the center of things, in St. Germain des Prés, when it was still a very chic place to be. These days, I think the chic-ness has worn off or moved to other parts of town.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I think that's what bumper cars are called in French. In Britain, they're known as dodgems. These were on the Place Wilson in Saint-Aignan, ready and waiting for the rides to open.

Bumper cars peeking out from under their cover.

The occasion was la fête de la Saint-Simon this past Saturday. The upper-most place in town, normally a parking lot, was filled with carnival rides. The main street was closed and lined with market stalls where everything from sneakers to sausages was for sale.

Some medieval remnants in Saint-Aignan.

If the second photo looks familiar, it's because Ken posted his version of it on Sunday. We both stopped to take the same photo on our way from the car to the festival. As he said, though, we didn't stay very long.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Le Pont Neuf

The Pont Neuf, or New Bridge, is the oldest bridge in Paris. It's also one of the most beautiful, situated at the downstream tip of the Ile de la Cité. The equestrian statue of Henri IV watches over everyone who crosses here.

Le Pont Neuf and l'Ile de la Cité.

The park at the tip of the island is often filled with people basking in the sun, watching the boats move up and down the river. It's a magical place, except when it gets too crowded.

The bridge has been recently renovated; new stone replaced old acid-worn bits, the rest was cleaned of years of soot and grime, and new lighting was installed.

I took this photo before that renovation began. It's another of those old slides from the late 1980s that I had rejected. I have so many photos of this view, taken from the Pont des Arts, and this was just one more and it wasn't very interesting. But again, I used Photoshop to crop it and change the colors a bit, and now I like it just fine. That's the original slide there on the left.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

So, we're hanging out. Just playing. And then I decide to get the camera. She goes under the dining room table. I start snapping. Et, voilà.

A playful little look.

She can be really amazing. She can also be a real pain in the ass. But them's dogs. You can't complain. They rule.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Before They're Gone...

As I mentioned earlier in the week, the vineyards around our house are showing brilliant color right now. It's mostly yellow and gold, with swaths of crimson here and there.

Les feuilles d'automne.

As fall progresses, the leaves turn brown and drop. And later, when we're moving into winter and the new wine is all made and put away, the growers will begin the pruning process. They spend the entire winter out there clipping the vines down to a single cane by hand.

Some growers burn the clippings, others gather them in between the rows and then mulch them. The bare vines are beautiful in their own way, but I'm getting ahead of things. Let's continue to enjoy the color while we can!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Foggy Sunrise

Fall and early winter can be very foggy around here. I think it must be the clash of temperature between the air and the river, because much of the time it's the river valley that's fogged in, while those of us up on the heights are in the clear.

The sun rises over the foggy Cher river valley.

That was the case a few days ago. I was up in the vineyard, walking the dog, and when I looked east I could see the sun coming up over the fog bank.

But the fog will often blanket the entire region, closing us into a cold, wet, and gray cocoon. On those days the fog doesn't move. It just hangs around us, condensing and dripping from everything. All sound is muffled and when we're outdoors it feels downright eerie.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Grapes

The grape harvest is over and the vineyards are quiet again. We're watching as the leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow and red. It won't be long before a good storm comes and blows most of them onto the ground, leaving the vines brown and bare.

Morning dew forms on unharvested grapes.

There are some parts of the vineyard that have been abandoned. I don't know why. Maybe the owners have died and whoever inherited the land is not a grower and has yet to dispose of it. But there are grapes out there that will not be harvested.

I guess they'll become food for some of the wildlife this fall.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hedging My Bets

Work continues on the hedge. Weather permitting. It doesn't seem like it should be a big job, but it is considering that the hedge varies from six to eight feet tall and can be over five feet across in some places. Add to that that I have to use planks to bridge a ditch on the road side and you begin to get the picture.

The road side is done, despite the ditch!
The cylindrical edible bay laurel still waits its turn.

There are three distinct sections of hedge that wrap around three sides of our property. Each has it's own challenges for trimming, like the ditch I mentioned, or adjacent trees and fences. I just plug away, doing a little at a time, until suddenly it's done. Or not so suddenly, like this year.

Each time I want to trim, I have to haul out two fifty-meter spools of electric cord and string them along the ground where I'm going to work. The trimmer is an electric model. Good for the environment and all. I know, manual shears would be even better for the environment. Have another latte.

The yard side of the same section, with the edible bay laurel in back.

I should mention that the entire hedge is bay laurel, but it's not the kind you use in cooking. That cylindrical bush in the photos is actually the edible bay laurel, and we use its leaves all the time in the kitchen.

So, as I write this I still have much to do, but I've made significant progress by getting what I think are the most difficult parts done (along that ditch on the road side, for example). Now if the weather is good, I can get the rest completed, hopefully before Halloween.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Au Compost !

A few days ago I mentioned that I was working in the compost pile; composting yard waste and kitchen scraps is yet another aspect of our country life. And what good is mucking around in the muck without photographic evidence of same? Well, there are no photos of me in there, but I do have some of the actual composting bin.

The compost bin in 2004.

I built this "bin" back in 2004 with a bunch of cinder blocks that were lying around not earning their keep. It's out behind the garden shed and not visible from elsewhere in the yard. I was so happy with it that I built another right next to it so we could have two. Now, four years later, those cinder blocks have a nice patina of green moss on them.

The compost bin in 2008.

I didn't empty the compost pile last year because we had made the mistake of putting some stuff in that was too big to compost quickly. This year, I dug the compost out of the left-side bin by removing the top layer of stuff that wasn't ready, then digging down into the good stuff. It was a little over a foot deep, and full of roots that I had to break through. I put about eight wheelbarrows full into the vegetable garden. It'll sit over winter and next spring it'll get tilled in.

I then put in a good layer of fallen apples into the empty bin and covered them with some of the the top layer that I had removed earlier. I didn't work on the right-side bin yet. That stuff is very big and will likely be burned over the next few weeks. The good compost in the bottom will then go onto the garden as well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

The leaves are really falling now. But raking leaves is not my idea of fun. We'll likely rake some up to mulch the plants for winter. Otherwise, if the weather cooperates, I'll run the lawnmower over them with the catch-bag attached. Then the chopped leaves will go into the compost or right into the garden.

Callie sitting out in the yard.

The mornings have started getting colder again. Pretty soon we'll be turning the furnace on to take the chill off. Since we finished painting the kitchen radiator, I got the heating system re-filled with water and tested it out. I think we may have a small problem with the circulating pump. It won't come on unless I open it up and coax it. Not very practical what with hot water dripping out every time I open it.

We have a maintenance contract for the furnace, so I'll have to call them over to see about the pump. Parts are not included, but the service call and labor are. Still, I wonder what a new pump might cost.

Maybe I should call Joe the Plumber. You know, that Republican unlicensed plumber's helper guy who owes the government back taxes and still thinks he's going to be able to buy a quarter million dollar plumbing business, were it not for Barack Obama's horrible plan to ask people with relatively high incomes to pay just a little bit more for superfluous luxuries like education, road and bridge repair, national defense, and, who knows, maybe the funding for a small business loan or two.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our Water Rates At Work

A week or so ago, a truck from the local water agency, the S.I.E.P.A. (Syndicat Intercommunal d'Eau Potable et Assainissement), stopped in front of our house. Two guys got out and opened up the fire hydrant, purged it, flushed it, and reclosed it.

Water Service truck.

It's nice to know that they service these things from time to time. I don't recall ever seeing that happen where I lived in the US. Of course, back there, I worked all day and probably wasn't home when things like that took place.

Hard at work.

A few days later, a smaller truck came by and another guy got out. He stood around having a smoke, then he got his paint can out and proceeded to put a new coat of paint on the hydrant. I grabbed the camera and went to the kitchen window to sneak a few shots of him working.

Our shiny, newly painted hydrant.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Surfing The Web

The spiders seem to get hyper-active in the fall. Maybe it's just an illusion. They're probably always out there and it's simply the foggy fall days that make the webs more visible as water condenses on them.

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

This web is one of six or seven that appeared on a recent morning between the uprights of our deck railing. The rising sun shines through them and makes them sparkle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Side By Side By Slide

Some of you asked to see the originals of these images that I've been retouching in Photoshop. I didn't really think it was a good idea at first, but I've warmed up to it. So, without further ado, here are some of the recent series with the "before" image on the left, and the "after" image on the right.

Le Musée d'Orsay.

La Grande Halle de la Villette.

Le Vieux Louvre.

Ecole Militaire.

La Tour Montparnasse.

As always, if want to see the images larger, just click on them. Then use your "back" button to come back here.

Remember, these are slides I took in the late 1980s and are among those that I rejected because I didn't think they were very good.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Le Musée D'Orsay

Actually, just the ceiling. This building originally served as a terminal station for the Orléans railway line. It was built on the site of the Orsay palace, which was destroyed by arson during the Commune in 1871. The first passenger service began in 1900.

The dramatic sky-lit ceiling of the Musée d'Orsay.

Soon after, electrification made longer trains possible, and the platforms in the station were too short to accommodate them. The station was relegated to suburban service only in 1939, and was shut down not long after that.

The 1970s saw a movement to save the historic structure and make it home to a museum of nineteenth century art, primarily that of the Impressionists. Work began in 1977 and the Musée d'Orsay was inaugurated in 1986.

I've only visited the museum twice, but was immediately struck by the building's interior and the beautiful glass and iron ceiling of the former train shed. The barrel vault style makes it unique among Paris' other major railway stations.

This slide was one of many I have of the entire space, but I decided to crop out the museum floor in favor of highlighting the pattern of the ceiling structure. As with other photos in this series, I was able to use Photoshop to correct some lighting problems.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ecole Militaire

I was a student in Paris in the early eighties. Back then, my camera was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic 110. Remember those? Tiny film in a plastic cartridge. No fuss, no muss. No great photos, either. When I returned to Paris in the late eighties, I was armed with a real thirty five millimeter SLR camera, some nice lenses, and a tripod.

The 18th century Ecole Militaire, viewed from the Champ de Mars.

I carried that heavy collection of equipment around on our walks through the city (Ken often got stuck with my camera bag full of film, lenses, and flash), taking the pictures that you're seeing now. Thank goodness for the lightness and relative simplicity of today's digital cameras, eh?

Because I had a tripod, I was eager to take photos at night, especially because so many of Paris' monuments are lit up. I had no idea what I was doing; it was all pretty much trial and error. Some shots came out great, others not so much.

This one, the Ecole Militaire, turned out just too dark (a common problem I had early on, even in full light situations). And since I was taking thirty five millimeter slides, the field of view was such that to fit in what I wanted horizontally, I ended up with too much space above and below the subject.

After digitizing this slide with a scanner, I once again employed Photoshop to crop the image to eliminate all the extra sky and grass. Then I used the light and color controls to make the image resemble more closely what I remember seeing. The result is not particularly good photography, but an image that I can actually see and enjoy.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

La Tour Montparnasse

I may be one of the few people (there must be more) who really like this building. Most people I encounter can't stand it. They say it doesn't fit, that it's out of scale, out of context, or that it's just plain ugly. Everyone is entitled their opinions. You can read what I wrote about it a couple years ago here.

Looking up the rue de Rennes toward the Montparnasse tower.

I think that we tend to give the context argument too much weight when considering or criticizing architecture. If objections over context and "fitting in" swayed historical builders, we might never have seen those magnificent domed churches and towering gothic cathedrals in the midst of medieval towns and their comparatively small buildings.

Paris certainly would not look like it does today; most of the city's grand stone buildings were erected in the nineteenth century and were, at the time, totally out of scale with the old stuff they eventually crowded out. But we couldn't think of Paris without them. In my opinion, counterpoint, renewal, and juxtaposition of architectural styles are fundamental elements of a successful, and beautiful, city. Ok, rant over.

When I lived in Paris in 1982, my third floor apartment in the 10th arrondissement had a view across town toward the Tour Montparnasse. I saw the tower in all kinds of light, and on certain days at sunrise the whole tower could look like a column of flame in the distance. It was very dramatic.

This picture was much to dark as a slide. Once again, Photoshop comes to the rescue, allowing me to lighten up the dark parts and tone down the bright parts, bringing a bit more balance to the shot.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Le Vieux Louvre

The existing Louvre museum, which was once the French royal palace, is a wonderful collection of renaissance architectural styles. But before the palace we see today was built, a medieval fortress stood on the site, constructed by King Philippe Auguste in the thirteenth century.

Ken wanders around the underground foundations of the old Louvre.

The Louvre of that day was not a royal residence -- the king then lived on the Ile de la Cité -- until Charles V transformed the fort into a habitable palace. It wasn't until the sixteenth century when King François I razed the old fort that the first of the existing wings of the Louvre were built.

During the 1980s, under President François Mitterand, an expansive rehabilitation project brought major changes to the Louvre. The Ministry of Finance moved out of the building to its new home at Bercy and the museum was expanded. The famous pyramid entrance was built on what was previously being used as a parking lot.

Part of that vast construction project included archeological work that exposed the surviving foundations of the medieval fortress. Visitors to the museum can now walk through this part of the palace, and Ken and I did just that in 1988.

I took this photo down there, but the light was so dim (and I didn't carry a tripod into the museum) that the slide came out much too dark to be interesting. So, thanks to a little work with Photoshop, I think I've transformed it enough to give you an idea of what it was like.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

La Grande Halle De La Villette

In the sprawling Parc de la Villette, I think the only surviving building from the old days is the Grande Halle. By the old days, I mean the days when this northeastern corner of Paris was home to the city's slaughterhouses and wholesale meat markets.

The main entrance to la Grande Halle. I believe the marquis is referring to actor/singer Jacques Higelin who must have been appearing there.

The hall is where cattle were slaughtered and sold between 1869 and 1974. Since then, after these functions were moved out of the city (presumably to Rungis, where the Paris central markets were also moved around this time), the Grande Halle has become a concert hall and exhibition space and incorporated into the larger park.

The park now includes the huge science and industry museum, a very futuristic I-max theater, a Zénith concert venue, and the Cité de la Musique, as well as public gardens, walkways, and other curiosities.

I took this photo when much of the site was still under construction, but the park and some of the attractions were already open and operating. The field of view in the original slide was vast, with too much sky above and too much paving below the hall and fountain. Now that I've scanned the image, I can select just what my eye saw back then and eliminate the extra stuff from the frame.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Passerelle Debilly

Of the thirty-seven bridges that cross the Seine in Paris, three of them are pedestrian bridges called passerelles. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Pont des Arts, which crosses the river between the Institut de France and the Louvre. Another is at Solférino, reconstructed in 1999 and since renamed Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor.

But this one, pictured below, is further downriver, between the Quai Branly and the Avenue de New York. It's the Passerelle Debilly, named for a general who died in the battle of Iéna in 1806.

Looking toward the right bank and the Avenue de New York.

The bridge was built for the Universal Exposition of 1900 and has since seen a few upgrades, the latest of which was in 1997.

The main reason I originally "rejected" this photo was because my aim was bad and the image leaned embarrassingly to the left. Now, with Photoshop, that problem is easily corrected!

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pont De La Concorde

This photo just screams "Paris" to me. I think it's because of the view up the Seine with Notre Dame in the background and the moving car. I didn't like it at first because that car entered the frame just as I snapped the picture. But now, I think the car adds a little interest to an otherwise static view.

If this car were a bit sportier, I could imagine Françoise Sagan at the wheel.

There were also some lighting issues that bothered me; I think I've worked the worst of them out with the imaging software.

On the left you can see the roof of the Pavillon de Flore at the Louvre. On the right are the pointed roofs of the Musée d'Orsay. The little dome to the right of Notre Dame's towers is the Institut de France, home of the Académie Française. The spire to the left of Notre Dame is the flèche of the Sainte Chapelle.

This is part of a series of color slides that I took in Paris in the late 1980s. They are images that I didn't like much back then for one reason or another. I'm using Photoshop to try to give them a new life.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Speaking Of Old Photos...

While looking for the photo of pigeon tracks (see previous post), I came across a bunch of my old slides of Paris from the late 1980s that I've never scanned. They are pictures that I don't keep in slide trays, having rejected them for technical or other reasons way back when.

But the passage of time changes one's perspective a bit, and now I kind of like some of them. So I thought I'd scan them and use photoshop to give them a bit of a push and see how you like them.

This Parisian monkey likes yogurt!

First up is this wonderful advertisement for yogurt (or maybe it's just an art piece?) featuring a chimpanzee and some three-dimensional yogurt cups. I didn't like the way the original photo came out because it was too contrasted, and the construction barrier at the bottom bothered me. There was also part of a car on the left that I didn't like, so I've cropped that side of the picture to eliminate it.

The location of the "billboard" was somewhere on the right bank, I think maybe in the second arrondissement near the rue Montmartre. Ken might remember better than I do.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

C'est Original

I'll never forget one day when I was taking pictures near the Palais Royal in Paris. It was the fall of 1988*. Ken and I were there on vacation; our first trip back to Paris since we left in 1982.

I noticed that a pigeon had stepped through a puddle on the sidewalk and was leaving little footprints on the stone. I bent down to snap this:

This photo is scanned from a slide.
It's a bit blurry, but you get the idea.

There was a guy close by, watching. His clothes were old and kind of tattered. He was in dire need of a shave, and probably a bath.

After I took the picture our eyes met. He smiled and said, "C'est original..."

In this sense, original means strange, curious, or bizarre. Thanks to him, I've never forgotten how to use that word in French.

* Holy time warp, Batman, that's twenty years ago!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Vitrine

This piece of furniture, called une vitrine, or display cabinet, sits in our dining area and holds our everyday dishes, serving dishes, carafes, and a bunch of tart pans. We found it in a little shop/atelier in Saint-Aignan right after we moved in.

The lighting is the way it is because I was trying to capture the setting sun shining through one of the bedroom windows right onto the cabinet. I took the photo on an October afternoon, last year.

The woman who does these pieces buys the furniture new, then "antiques" it by applying layers of paint from dark to light and rubbing some of it off. It's a technique that I remember being popular in the US back in the seventies.

So we get the look of old but with the sturdiness of new. I guess it's cheating a bit, but it works for our more or less modern-style house. And the window in the vitrine matches the windows and doors in the room, right down to the antique color.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Spicy

Just a quick peek into the spice cabinet. I thought the light was nice, so I snapped a photo. The spices in these jars are certainly not the originals. We bought the jars (and their original contents) back when we lived in San Francisco.

A few of our spice jars.

The jars are nice ones, so we kept them and refill them over and over. In fact, the bay leaves are the ones that grow out in the back yard. They're the best bay leaves I've ever tasted.