I can’t walk two blocks in this city without stumbling into someone’s photo- op.
Paris hasn’t changed very much. Armed soldiers on guard at major monuments but no one seems to be paying much attention to them. Parisians go about their daily business and populate the cafes after work as they always have. The crowds seem younger but that’s probably just my aging perspective.
I’ve been looking at the ads in the windows of realty offices and while it’s hard to tell much about what’s really available, it appears that rents are just a little more than half as much as San Francisco apartments. I saw what looked like a lovely large studio on the Rue Jacob in the 6th for €1250 per month. If such places truly exist, I’ll seriously look at moving here. Always loved it, always felt at home here. Carried that a little too far yesterday when I gave some tourists very iffy directions to the Pompidou Center in my best French accent. They may have found it by now.
A few noticeable changes: there seems to be an alarming proliferation of bagel shops, and it appears Prius taxis now outnumber Mercedes. I haven’t found a connection yet, my investigation hindered by a preference for baguettes and the Metro, but I will continue independent observation and check in with David Lebovitz on the matter.
I take this picture every time I come to Paris. From the same spot on the Pont des Arts, different hours of the day, different times of the year. It always pleases me but always seems to lack a special quality of light that define the best images of Paris. Henri Cartier-Bresson has a version that’s really special. I’ll keep trying.
A busy day at the Palais Royal, one of my favorite places in this lovely and still livable city.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it housed royalty until the revolution, and many notables since, including Colette and Cocteau (not in the same apartment).
There are two distinct sections enclosed by offices, the Comedie Francaise, and apartments. The beautiful gardens, bursting with spring, bring out office workers, students, and box lunches. An art installation called Les Confidents by Michel Goulet with Francois Massut consists of linked chairs with fragments of poetry carved into their backs, adding art to lunch.
In the Cour d’Honneur is a site-specific artwork by Daniel Buren called Les Deux Plateaux which is a favorite location for tourists, fashion photo students, and me.
A beautiful day for a walk turned out to be a beautiful day for wedding photos. That wasn’t part of the original plan but how could I know? We must take advantage of the gifts that come our way. I was walking to the Metro at Hotel de Ville when I encountered the first couple of the day in the little park behind Notre Dame.
They moved on, and soon disappeared into the crowd around the cathedral, but I had the theme for the day.
I took the Metro to Pyrénées, planning to explore the Belleville neighborhood, which is showing some obvious signs of gentrification: lots of stroller-pushing young couples and artisan chocolate shops. Are all cities evolving in the same way?
I walked on to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a beautiful place I’d never been before, with mountains, lakes, bridges, and autumn color, all in the midst of Paris. There are even places where it seems to be acceptable to sit on the grass, a rarity in Paris parks.
Came upon my second couple on a bridge over the lake. The groom is present but he knows his place.
The third group was the best: this was the real deal, a wedding, not just a photo call and suddenly, I was the photographer. I stopped to watch, I had a camera that doesn’t make phone calls, I smiled, they asked, I used their camera, and shot one more for me.
Encountered couple number two again in a different location as the light was fading.
Shooting weddings is hard work. I earned a glass and a petit repose at a café along the Canal St. Martin.
Not along after Endre Friedmann and Gerda Taro invented “Robert Capa” they established the Atelier Robert Capa on the second floor of this building at 37 rue Froidevaux, (François-Xavier-Eugène 1827-1882, a commander in the Sapeurs-Pompiers, the fire and rescue brigade of Paris), in the 14tharrondisement. It was the closest they ever came to having a home and turns up repeatedly as a touchstone in the invented life of Capa. Most interesting is its appearance in Patrick Modiano’s novella, Suspended Sentences, as the setting for a story about creativity and loss.
I don’t know what was on street level in 1936, now we find a florist and funeral service business because across the street is the cemetery of Montparnasse. That’s where I am, standing on the corner of the rue Émile Richard (1843-1890, a President of the municipal council of Paris), which bisects the cemetery and is now the site of a small tent encampment of the homeless. Several campsites along the street are furnished with modern red office chairs in such good condition they appear to have been recently delivered.
Walk through the cemetery and you come to the Boulevard Raspail, (François-Vincent, 1794–1878, French chemist, physician, and politician), one of the main thoroughfares of Montparnasse.
Turn left on the boulevard and you’ll pass several hotels, a school, and a student residence. Paris is a national education center and the presence of students and scholarship animates and rejuvenates this historical city of imposing architectural monuments. Just a few blocks down is the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse, the site of Le Dôme.
In the thirties this café was the gathering place for the growing coterie of photojournalists who were drawn to the city. Some, like Capa and Taro, were Jews who had fled the growing threat of National Socialism in Eastern Europe; some, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Willy Ronis, were French who came here to meet with their peers. They were joined by André Kertész, Giselle Freund, David Szymin (Chim), and others in what must have been the greatest gathering of photographic talent ever to grace a coffee shop. Photographers aren’t always verbally gifted but I’d guess the competitive banter of this group was lively and amusing. This was their living room, clubhouse, and office where they met to compare notes on editors and assignments and plan coverage of the great stories of the time.
Cafes had personalities then, created by the crowds they attracted, so while you might find Hemingway and Picasso in a raucous scene at Le Select, Sartre and de Beauvoir would be presiding over a quieter discussion at Café de Flore.
Le Dôme was the home for photographers and, of course, it was a very different place then. Now the interior is an upscale seafood restaurant that smells only of cashmere and money. The terrace is more casual, and more democratic. I’m seated next to a well-dressed man in his sixties (I need to upgrade my wardrobe), reading Racine and taking notes: a professor, I’d guess. Next to him is a younger man intensely focused on his MacBook, and obsessively checking his phone. I’d like to think he’s a lovelorn novelist. Why not, it’s Paris? There are several women of different ages, some alone, some in pairs, all having lunch. A middle-aged couple orders the skate wing lunch special and the novelist another coffee. A young woman with a suitcase orders a café crème, tends to her text messages, and leaves a few extra coins for the waiter. The professor finishes preparing his lecture and relaxes with a glass of white wine.
I order a beer, which comes with a small bowl of olives, then get a little hungry, so I order a sandwich mixte au pain Poilane, without butter (I love this city but don’t want to die here, at least not yet). I ask for a little mustard. It’s a good thing I’m not very hungry. I make a few pictures and a few notes for this essay and order a coffee. I leave an extra tip for the waiter because I think it’s what Capa would have done, even if he had to borrow the money from Cartier-Bresson.
Capa and Taro have gone off to war in Spain. They are photojournalism novices and their quest is not to document facts, but to witness and support Republican victories. Only Capa will return.
I decide to go to Père Lachaise and find Taro’s grave. I ask for directions in the cemetery office but the computer cannot find Taro, then I remember her birth name, Pohorylle, and we get a hit. I’m following my map down a path covered with autumn leaves when I pass an attendant who shouts and points: “Jim Morrison, that way.” I shake my head and walk on.
Taro is buried in a small Jewish section near the Mur des Fédérés, the group monuments to those unidentified souls who died in wars and Nazi extermination camps.
Her tomb is small, much smaller than her neighbors, and plain, adorned only with a simple block with her name and dates, and the Giacometti falcon that was commissioned by the Communist Party hoping to profit from her death, although she was never a party member. Visitors have left a few stones, several painted with the colors of the German flag, although she was not German, and a print of a Capa photo of Taro resting by the side of a Spanish road. Some flowers are long gone, but their plastic wrappers remain.
She’s mostly forgotten now. After she died in Spain, Capa tried to save her work and he probably did, but credits were haphazard. Many old prints bear stamps that say both “Photo Capa” and “Photo Taro,” and many negatives carry no attribution at all. It’s often impossible to know for sure who made the photos, so the credit usually goes to the famous Capa, who might never have achieved that fame if he hadn’t met and fallen in love with Gerda Taro. It’s a subject that is explored in greater depth in Rivesaltes, a novel in progress.
Paris has something for everyone. Last night I stumbled on the restaurant for people eating alone on a Sunday night. Check out the photo. The woman next to me is writing in a journal. Next to her is a woman reading. Behind the wine glass is a man writing in a journal. I’m the one taking pictures.
We’re in a nondescript Italian restaurant just off the Boulevard St. Germain, across the street from Les Deux Magots. Patricia Wells and David Lebovitz are not regulars here.
When I arrived around 7:30 – early for Parisian dinner but I was hungry – there was one other customer in the room, a man in his fifties, reading a magazine and eating a pizza. Since his magazine was in French and he seemed to know the waiter, I took him for a native. He was drinking only water. He was nearly finished when I sat down and left before my pizza arrived. Then came the reading woman. She ordered lasagna and a half bottle of wine and settled into her book. The woman next to me polished off a cheese pizza in about three minutes, pushed her plate aside, and began to write in her journal. The man behind the wine glass ordered a glass of red wine and wrote in his journal without taking a sip. His pizza arrived before I left but he continued writing as it cooled.
Some obvious questions arise:
Why are you eating pizza in Paris?
Well, as Abe Scherl once said: “You can’t eat gourmet every night.”
Why are you alone in Paris?
I don’t wish to discuss that. Other questions?
It’s just that it seems like a long way to go for a Sunday night pizza. You could have gone to Giorgio’s.
I didn’t come to Paris for the pizza. Anyone else?
Yes. Excuse me, sir, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that all the patrons you describe are, how shall I put it, of a certain age?
Yes. Next question.
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that you find yourself there.
What are you implying?
Only that however unintentional it may have been, you may have found yourself in the right place.
The pizza wasn’t bad. Next question:
How much wine did you drink at dinner?
I don’t see that’s any of your business, but just for the record: a picher of 50cl.
How much is that in American?
About 2/3 of a bottle.
What else did you drink?
Just a cognac at the hotel honor bar when I returned.
The idea of moving to France goes back to the first time I landed there on a rainy night, not much money and no clue where to go. A friend and I had been on the road for a while and decided we needed a hotel for the night. Wandering empty streets, looking for a hotel or someone to ask, we see a driver pulling into a rare parking space and stop him to ask for directions. Putting the lie to every cliche about rude Parisians and giving up his parking space, he takes us to a nearby and very cheap hotel and thereby creates a bond with the country and the people that has only grown over the years.
Many visits and French lessons later I was in a management training program, playing games and doing exercises designed to move me up the ladder. We needed to select a goal and chart out the steps to get there; my goal was to own a house in France within five years and all my necessary steps added up to the height of the Eiffel Tower.
But things happen and some things you make happen.
Prospective partners appeared, web searches pinpointed affordable areas and turned up a real estate agent, one town led to another, and the right house came on the market. Finally, George Bush was reinstalled in the White House and I wanted to be sure there was somewhere else to go. We bought the house.
Maury is in the southeast corner of France, in a valley between the Pyrenees and the Corbieres mountains. It’s close to the Mediterranean and the Spanish border about three hours north of Barcelona. It is French Catalunya. Wine grows here and not much else and wine is the major source of income in the region. This blog will look at regional societal changes caused by globalization in the wine industry and generational changes in wine producing families.