Thursday, February 27, 2014

Around Town ~ Steampunk

I enjoy reading alternative histories and the Age of Victorian Steam has captured my imagination.

Time Frozen
Metro stop Cite
In the bowels of a Great Jules Verne Machine
Shortly after we arrived in France, my wife and I met a young man who's name is Arthur Morgan.  He runs a number of French Steampunk web-properties including a Facebook page devoted to the topic.  It was exciting to so quickly meet people of like mind.

We have since become friends and are currently working on a large project together.

The first night we met Arthur was filled with visiting interesting places in the old section of Paris.  All of which were in one way or another related to the topic of steam and what I'll call for the lack of a better phrase "steampunk style".

Time Frozen
 le defenseur du temps
Time keeping.  Time guarding.

We visited le defenseur du temps in the Marais.  This massive clock is, unfortunately, presently inoperable.  Still, it's an impressive piece of art and fits my idea of what any decent automaton should look like.  It sits in a quiet courtyard between several large, modern apartment buildings.  The clock feels as old as the medieval streets that surround it.

We visited Aurouze - Pour une lutte raisonnĂ©e contre les nuisibles et parasites where the window display tells it's own amazing story.  Rats trapped and killed in les halles during the 1920's still hang in the shop window, even as the current day rat killing and bug ridding business conducts it's affairs.  At the time I wasn't sure these rats were steampunk, but I've since come to see their place in the oeuvre of French steam and cabinets of curiosities.

We talked about le metro stop Cite and how the iron sheets are held in place by massive rivets.  This led me on a photo-expedition to see if I could capture some of the flavor of the place.  It feels like the inside of a vast shaft deep inside some fantastic Jules Verne machine.

Paris Oddities
A shop for whichever pests you must see dead

We talked about le metro stop Arts et Metiers.  There is no doubt about the intention of the art found at the stop.  It truly is the interior of a Jules Verne machine.  Bright and gleaming surfaces surround the quai, and large toothed gears hang from the ceiling.

We talked about alchemy and the fact there is a wonderful street in the Marais named after Nicolas Flamel.  If you walk the rue and continue two streets to the west of that ghastly building that needs to be torn down, la centre Pompidou, you get a hint of medieval Paris and a possible whiff of M. Flamel's concoctions.  You can stop in at la cave a bulles to purchase a few bottles of beer.

The fun night ended with dinner at a Japanese sushi place just down the street from le defenseur du temps.  Fresh fish in Paris?  We couldn't believe it, but it's true.  Cheap and good, this place has been revisited many times since.

In two years of living here we've uncovered many other French steampunk-style places, buildings, and oddities.  Paris seems to be filled with incredible stuff related to ideas that can easily generate alternative history themes, and Jule Verne influenced art.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Around Town ~ Cabinets of Curiosities

I enjoy the odd and somewhat creepy things of the world.  So it was with delight that I found Paris filled with purveyors of the odd and creepy.


These places are definitely not on tourist lists of "must see" attractions.  Which means they are commonly left to the locals and serious scientists.

As a measure of how hard it was to find one of the places we visited, I stopped at a cafe to ask directions.  Yes, my French at the time was worse than it is now after two years of living here.  Still, how hard is it to ask directions to the shop with the baby elephant in it?

Pretty hard, actually.

The young people working the counter gathered and talked, rather animatedly, about where this place was, or if it even existed.  After several go-arounds they finally settled on the fact that, yes, such a place did exist and, perhaps, it was just down the street.  They pointed the general direction and wished my wife and I "bon chance".

We walked past the address when Jude said something caught her eye a few stores back.


Back we went and sure enough there was a stuffed animal in the window.  Stuffed, as in taxidermy stuffed.  Yet something wasn't completely right nor expected.  The rez de chaussee held a gardening shop.  In we went to ask for further directions.

Taking a quick look at us, the vendeuse pointed to the staircase.

Lions.  Tigers. Bears.  Oh my!  What fun this!!

Exotic animals, skulls and skeletons, feathers, pinned butterflies and giant beetles, as well as horns from hundreds of African creatures awaited.  Alas, my photographer's heart fell at the sight of clearly posted warnings that photographers and cameras would be netted, subdued with poisoned darts, and fed to ravenous wild creatures.

It mattered little.  The shop was old, well-kitted with great oddities, and completely, utterly, uniquely Parisian.


To those of a similar twist of mind, might I suggest a visit to one of the following fine locations?
[A Flickr set of more fun around taxidermy

Monday, February 10, 2014

Around Town ~ Retromobile

We no longer own une voiture.

Retromobile 2014 ~ Around the Show
 Jaguar C-Type
Just the thing for blasting from Paris to Le Mans
to take in the races...

Moving to Europe has allowed us to explore a car-free lifestyle.  Walking, taking the Metro, RER/Translien, and TGV have become our modes of transport.

So why is it that I find myself visiting all the car events I can possibly find?

Seems strange, doesn't it?  Well, it does to me when I look at it from the perspective of our current living situation.

On closer inspection, automobiles and motorcycles were a large part of our lives.  Jude had a neat little Fiat as well as the wonderful Datsun 240Z.  I owned a couple bank-account draining Jaguar E-Types.  Then there was our stable of Italian motorcycles.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
 Lamborghini Mura
I can still hear one as it lights up before
heading out into Sunset Blvd traffic...

Transportation and dreams of Great Conveyances drove my wheels choices for years.

I used to read Road and Track magazine cover to cover.  That was back in the day when Henry Manny had to be the best American writer of the generation.  Each issue featured some delectable European car or other.

I fell in love with the Jaguar E-Type FHC when R&T published a test of it.  I fell in love again when they printed a test of a Ferrari GTO.  I was nearly off the seat with excitement when I first laid eyes on a test of the Lamborghini Mura.  I could've died a Happy Man on reading a test of the Ferrari Dino 246GTS.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
 Ferrari 246GTB Dino
Make mine Fly Yellow, please.  It'd be
Just the Thing for touring northern Italy...

Make my Jag any color but silver!  Let me become rich enough to afford the Ferrari GTO with it's monster V12, 6 twin Weber downdraft carb motivator!!  Can I once again hear a Mura's "whooooop!!!" as it fires up at 5:05pm?  It used to sit behind the building in the parking lot where I worked as a B&W print technician on Hollywood Blvd.  Can you make my 246GTS Fly Yellow?  Please???

After I grew up and realized it took Serious Money to own any of these toys (and I only ever owned the Cheapest Most Unreliable Jags I could find), my moto-head swiveled in the direction of Italian motorcycles.  I bought, sight un-seen, a Ducati 500 Pantah, and had it delivered half-way across the country.  Black was it's color and Sophia was her name.

A colleague sold me his old Ducati 860GT.  It'd eaten a valve and made a mess of things in the motor.  While it took me a couple years to find a 900SS crank, a replacement cylinder sleeve, and a new pair of pistons, it was worth the wait.  It started first kick every time.  It ran strong and hard.  It barked a beautiful note out it's twin Conti pipes.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Silver
 Ferrari 512BB
Have you ever seen 6 twin Webers sitting
atop that glorious flat-12?  Such art, this...

A good friend who goes by the moniker Guru-ji sold me his Ducati 750GT.  Godders had done a beautiful job installing a Fly Yellow glassfibre tank, with clear gas level sight gauge down it's flanks, and side covers.  It came with a 2 into 1 custom pipe.  It started with ease, first kick every time.  His (the bike's) name was Thunder.

Alas, all that is just a distant memory.  I'll likely dig out my old large format film negatives and bring them back to France with me later this year.  They'll need to be scanned so I can work on them some more.  Perhaps I'll make a print or two.  Which leads me to wonder if I still have the negs and slides of my old Jags?

Yes, these were the vehicles of my youthful dreams.  To see them now... well... it nearly brings tears to my eyes... as I haunt the car festivals here in Europe... to re-live... to remember...

[My Flickr set from Retromobile 2104]