OK, so you probably didn’t know that the Center of the World is in Perpignan, Neither did anyone else until some bright young bureaucrat uncovered a quote from Salvador Dali declaring exactly that. Now Dali was known to be a bit self-absorbed and so what was actually a station to change trains on his way from his home in Figueres, Spain to Paris, became for him the center of the world, maybe only when he was there, but, nevertheless, his words have been adopted by the city of Perpignan and a simple station has achieved this monumental status.

But really the best thing about the center of the world is that it has parking and is only a block away from a restaurant I think is one of the best in the world, Garriane.

Gary and Arianne of Restaurant Garianne in Perpignan
Gary and Arianne of Restaurant Garianne in Perpignan

Lunch today was a sauté of mushrooms flavored with cinnamon, a beautifully pink magret de canard with roasted vegetables, a small salad, a bottle of wine and a coffee, all of which amounted to about €35. Maybe Dali was on to something.

Coming back from Perpignan, you can see the Pic de Bugarach in the distance and realize that Maury is about halfway between the center and the end of the world. I reported earlier that the mayor of Bugarach had called off the end trying to get rid of the t-shirt vendors. It didn’t work; the crazies kept coming, believing that the spaceship garaged within the mountain would carry them to safety (exact destination unknown.)

The BBC reports a French parliamentary committee has expressed genuine concern about suicide cults and Jean-Pierre Delord, the mayor of Bugarach says groups of strangers dressed in white are scaring the residents. No one has yet been able to explain why anyone would travel to the only place on earth that will survive a holocaust in order to commit suicide.

The French, of course, will not pass up an opportunity to profit: locals are offering spare rooms at Ritz-Carlton prices and selling souvenir rocks and clumps of dirt. Jean Pla, the ever-optimistic wine entrepreneur is selling his “End of the World” cuvee, while bottling the next vintage: “Survival Cuvee.” The village of Maury has rechristened its annual Marché de Noel, to be known this year as the Marché des Survivants.

As for me, I’m booking a table at Garriane for lunch on the 21st. Celebration or farewell, either way I know I’ll eat well.


Visa Pour L’Image 2012

Nice to take a break from the wine business and focus for a while on the rest of the world’s problems.

Visa Pour L’Image runs for two weeks in September and in that time the entire city of Perpignan becomes a gallery. There are exhibits everywhere: in bars, clothing stores, post offices, theaters and restaurants. Makes you want to be a photographer.

Eglise des Dominicains ©2012 Ron Scherl

The major venues are spectacular. I spent several days there trying to absorb the images in small doses. After a little while it becomes overwhelming and you just stop seeing, in the same way people can watch war and suffering on the nightly news and it stops having an impact because you just can’t take anything more to heart. That is, if anyone still watches the nightly news.

Now, of course, we get most of our coverage online, in video and immediately, but this is a chance to probe deeper and reflect on what we’re seeing. We absorb the message in our own time through the power of the still image. We’re seeing one moment in the stream of time, a fraction of an incident that reflects the magnitude of what’s happening and generates a greater intensity and intimacy than video. I know I’m swimming upstream here, but I still revere the still image and its place in the transmission of information and advocacy of a cause.

Couvent des Minimes ©2012 Ron Scherl

There’s an expression in French: Avoir le feu sacré, which is translated as “to have an activity or a passion that allows you to live life fully and to continue to pursue it despite obstacles.” This is Stephanie Sinclair on Child Brides.  We know the marriage of children exists but we usually choose to look away and focus on more immediate problems; Sinclair recognized that there is nothing more immediate to these children than being forced into perpetual sexual slavery.  She uncovers the horror of a nine-year-old girl being sold to her uncle to settle a gambling debt and details how widespread the practice of selling pre-teen girls into marriage has become. And she was not content to record it and go on to the next assignment, but has devoted herself to the story, pushing for multiple publications and enlisting the aid of international organizations to help end the practice. She is determined that her photos will make a difference and she is an example for every journalist working today.

Every time someone brings up paparazzi vultures and royal breasts, I’m going to counter with Stephanie Sinclair.

The other exhibit that really moved me was the Guantanamo portrait project of Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer. This is an unusual group of images, not traditional news photography but carefully posed and impeccably lit formal portraits of prisoners in Guantanamo. These are men who were locked away on suspicion, never charged and eventually released and in these intense and compelling portraits they appear to be clinging to what remains of their dignity and humanity. The studio lighting, limited palette, high resolution images and precise prints establish a neutral tone and allow these sensitive portraits to reveal both the suffering and the strength of the subjects.

There’s much more of course, all the major stories of the year and in-depth looks at places we hardly knew existed, but I need to give a nod to Doug Menuez and his coverage of the birth of the digital revolution in Silicon Valley from 1985-2000. Doug made this story his own and it was a treat to see this work again after so many years.

And finally, in what I hope has become an annual tradition, I had the pleasure of the company of three beautiful and talented photographers. Lucky guy.

Sarah, Helen and Jess ©2012 Ron Scherl


Saturday lunch at the ham man again, this time alone as Marcel and Carrie had gone to Spain, presumably to get closer to the source of the jamon. Still no sign of the elusive florist and I’m beginning to wonder about the hallucinatory powers of Serrano. After lunch, a café in the Republique and then a walk. I’m seeing more Catalan flags than usual and wonder if today is a holiday. The streets are crowded with people in Catalan colors, some draped in flags and my first thought is a major rugby match is about to happen, but many of the t-shirts bear the names of towns and villages not teams and, unless this is a large regional tournament, it’s not about Rugby.

Some Things Make Sense ©2012 Ron Scherl

When I catch sight of several film cameras, one on a Steadicam, one on a crane I decide I’ve just become an extra in a movie. This is plausible, but there’s no making sense of some of some the costumes: I mean OK a bear in downtown Perpignan, that’s fine, but what’s he doing hanging out with guys all in white, some with cleavers, others dusted in flour. The butcher, the baker and the bear: there’s a lot I don’t know about Catalan culture.

Some Things Don't ©2012 Ron Scherl

Moving with the crowd, I head for the Castillet where, there’s music, confetti, smoke and bikers. Someone stamps my hand but I can’t read it and gives me a pair of cardboard 3D glasses and a leaflet in Catalan. Now you need the glasses to view a 3D movie, but not to be in one so I’m still confused.

Bikers ©2012 Ron Scherl

There are some very tall colorful figures off to one side that I first took to be religious figures but a closer look shows them to be historic and primarily secular figures appearing to represent different sectors of society from peasant to royalty.

©2012 Ron Scherl

Now the volume picks up, people are looking up at the camera and cheering, smoke is rising, flags are waving; two men are scaling the wall of the Castillet. I thought this might be the time for the bikers to rev up but they remained quiet. Then, as quickly as it began, the camera crane descended and the crowd started drifting away.

Starting to Look Like a Catalan Les Miserables ©2012 Ron Scherl

I asked a gendarme if this was a demonstration for Catalan independence and he told me no, it is in support of the Catalan language. With the French presidential elections taking place in a few weeks, this was a defense of cultural diversity and a plea for human rights not to be forgotten in the face of economic crisis.

As I walked away, I passed a street musician playing Hava Nagila on the accordion.

Great city.


I really like Perpignan. There’s life in the streets, in the plazas and the bars, which are half in the streets anyway. It’s truly a Catalan city, much smaller than Barcelona and I think, more easily accessible. There’s a vibrant cultural scene with a new theatre and a special interest in photography due to the presence of Visa Pour l’Image. When people find out I’m a photographer, they always ask if I know about Visa, an indication of the extent to which this festival of photojournalism has become part of the city that hosts it. I also need a regular hit of city life.

Saturday, Marcel, Carrie and I went into Perpignan and started the day with lunch at a place we’ve come to call “the ham man.” Marcel and Carrie are the only people I know who eat more pork than me. L’homme de Jambon is a storefront in the central part of the city with three or four tables outside and some great pork. A nice mixed platter with jamon, lomo, some sausage, manchego and pan con tomate goes very well with a cheap rose. It’s nice being so close to Spain. It’s also nice sitting in the sun across from a florist and the lovely woman who works there, who I wanted to invite to the exhibition opening. Alas, she wasn’t working this week.

Salsa Dancing in Perpignan ©2012 Ron Scherl

Around the corner to the café-encircled Place de la Republique for a coffee and the unexpected diversion of a salsa dancing class. Spanish ham, Latin dancing, French cafes, this is a very cool city.

By now the shops had reopened after lunch and we set about bringing exhibition posters and post cards to the wine stores, finding most everyone receptive although Michele was non-committal about coming to the opening.

Michele ©2012 Ron Scherl

Getting on to time for an apero, which means the wine and tapas bars are opening and more places to bring posters and stop for a glass. There are a number of great little bars in the central city and it’s a pleasure to be hanging there. We also discovered there’s a Cava festival in town next weekend, a perfect time to bring more posters and cards.

Perpignan ©2012 Ron Scherl

Having spent the day eating and drinking, it was now time for dinner and we found ourselves eating Asian food and drinking Spanish wine in the Havana Club. This was multicultural overload. The Cuban/Chinese connection shows up in a number of restaurants but Thai noodles at the Havana Club in Perpignan? Seemed a stretch to me. It was. Not bad, but definitely not Thai. The Havana Club is known more for it’s lively bar scene but tonight was quiet. Marcel suggested a nightcap, but I was done.

Visa Pour L’Image

Here’s the Place Republique in Perpignan most days:

Market in Perpignan
Market in the Place Republique, Perpignan ©2009 Ron Scherl

Like many great cities, Perpignan provides a lovely public space that serves as meeting place, living room, market and cafe for many people. The market is there most mornings and the square is surrounded by good food shops and cafes. Think of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza San Marco in Venice, now scale it down in size, number of tourists and architectural ambition and you have the Republique in Perpignan, a place appropriate to its setting.

Now take a look at the place in the evening during Visa Pour L’Image:

Photo of Visa crowd
Overflow crowd at Visa Pour L'Image ©2011 Ron Scherl

This is one night in a week of presentations and this is the overflow audience, those who couldn’t get in to the program at the Campo Santo. They’ve filled the plaza to watch the video broadcast of the presentation of the year’s best photojournalism. It’s astonishing to see a crowd like this paying attention to the images and paying homage to those journalists who risk everything to tell a story. I’m in awe of them and very fond of this city that welcomes and honors them.

Incredible Images, great storytelling, courage, a commitment to telling the truth, as we democratize the news and encourage citizen reporting, it’s important to remember the value of professionalism.