Thursday, March 20, 2014

Around Town ~ Rambouillet

The Sunday dawned bright and, um, what's all this stuff hanging in the air?

Paris was pollution filled to the point we thought we'd awoken in coal-fueled air-clogged hard-choked industrial China.  We'd been under an inversion layer that unseasonably warmed three quarters of France and held industrial and automobile pollutants close to the ground.  We needed to get out of the city to see if the air was better somewhere "out there."

Where to go?

Consulting our An Hour From Paris by Annabel Simms we settled on Ramouillet.  Having never visited the western edge of l'isle de France, we thought we'd pack a lunch, take a nice train ride out of town, and wander the reportedly beautiful jardins of the chateau.

Rambouillet is the summer residence of the President and, with a little luck, perhaps we could spy the two-wheeled conveyance of l'amour?  Would there be any markings on it to announce it's importance as recorded in the annals of popular pulp tongue-waggering check-out stand news?  Would it be shined, polished, and otherwise Presidentially presentable?

Much has been made in the Anglo-Saxon news about the President's liason with a certain actress that was introduced to F. Holland by his first long term partner and former candidate for President of the Republic, Mme S. Royal.  The fact he was taken by motorbike to amorous rendezvous has many who care about such things chuckling.  Thinking for a moment, perhaps we too could have some fun.   Our adventure destination was set.

When China-sized pollution hits France, the authorities do something.  They encourage people to leave les voitures at home by allowing only even or odd numbered license plated cars into the capital on alternating days.  And... the metro, the bus system, and it turns out the RER/Translien trains within l'isle de France are completely free.

Our trip to Ramouillet was entirely gratuit.  We didn't realize this until we went to buy tickets of the Translien and saw people casually walk through the turnstiles without paying un sou.

Mme Simms warns that it's important to check the trains to the President's summer residence as there are fast trains and there are slow trains.  In our excitement that our transportation would be free, we failed to realize we just boarded an omnibus.

A debarkation somewhere beyond Versaille, an announcement to please reboard, and an Hour And A Half!!! later, we arrived in a rather frazzled state at the gare de Rambouillet.  Mme Simms tried to warn us.  Really.  She did.

The beautiful walk through town took us to our intended destination.  Finding a chateau park bench to sit on we hauled out our lunch and noted that the skies were comparatively clean and clear.  The sun shown brightly.  As she stripped to a T-top and pointed here face into the sun Jude said that it felt good to be out in nature again.

M. Holland's summer residence overlooks a large wooded island canal system.  Water birds of all kinds abounded.  We spotted several species we'd never seen before and some we knew well from our nature adventures back in the States.  Are Canadian Geese still referred to as Canadian here?

After lunch we took a long slow stroll around the canal system.  We visited Princess Lambaille's "laterie" and watched as a tall powerful looking war-horse was expertly ridden by an equally powerful looking Frenchmen.  We wandered the wide lanes of the canal and watched as crows expertly floated above the water long enough to delicately snatch bread floating on the surface.

When we spied a nesting pair of grebes I knew instantly that I needed to bring my Big Bird lens back with me from the States.  Perhaps I could make a few more bird images?  Rambouillet seems like a nice place to practice the craft of wildlife photography as birds expertly play out their unique roles of their lives.

Perhaps the President's own Summer Nesting Season has yet to begin?  The only wildlife we didn't spot was his Two-Wheeled Conveyance d'Amour.  Maybe we'll spy it on the next visit.

[more photos from Ramouillet here]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Around Town ~ Sceaux

I have to laugh.  The first time I heard the name of this town I instantly thought of the Mexican soccer announcer going nuts when a goal is made.  OK.  This is a little obtuse.  I guess you have to be inside my mind to fully understand.

My first visit to the area was by RER to meet with Arthur Morgan over lunch.  We had sushi and plotted how best to attack a project he was leading.  It was a conversation filled with steampunk and ideas of art and publication.

Morgan mentioned that there was a chateau at Sceaux and that it was well worth visiting.

It turns out that Jude had a book that described a visit to Sceaux.  It's An Hour From Paris by Annabel Simms.  For those who have time to spend around l'isle de France, this is has turned out to be a wonderful resource.

We were up and out by 11am to take the tramway to catch the RER B to Sceaux.  A short ride down the line led us to a quiet village just outside the periphique.

Following the directions in Annabel's book took us across a quiet, nearly deserted town.  A short stroll through a small wood took us to the middle of les jardins in front of the chateau.

Apparently the original building was destroyed during the revolution of 1789.  That's one of the interesting things about France is that it's hard to tell exactly when these kinds of things were built.  I don't yet have an eye for these kinds of details.

It was a cold late winter day and a walk through les jardins was relatively short.  We passed through the chateau to check out a few old things.  One of the big rooms was under construction and the smell of paint was heavy.

Back into the fresh air we dove.  We decided that a nice cup of deca was needed so we could spend a little time sunning ourselves out on the terrace.  After finding a place to sit it was nice to take in the surroundings and listen in on nearby conversations.

Morgan had, of course, been correct.  Sceaux.  So close to Paris.  So easy to get to.  So beautiful to visit.

[More Sceaux images can be found here]

Monday, March 17, 2014

Around Town ~ Provins

We've often wondered what we'd do in the unlikely event we ran out of things here in Paris.

Brittany and Provence seemed like major undertakings to visit.  They are more like Serious Vacation destinations than easy jaunts into the countryside.  Beyond that, we knew nothing about the areas outside of Paris.

Les banlieues just beyond la periphique are rumored by Parisians to be filled with seething restless masses living in modern ugly concrete structures.  L'isle de France did not seem very inviting and I considered it terra incognita.  Dragons there lay and all that.  Warning signs surely must be posted at the ends of each metro line, right?

Recently, Jude stumbled on a book that looked rather enticing.  It's An Hour From Paris by Annabel Simms.

Jude agitated for leaving the city to see what's out in Terra Incognita.  I'm glad she did.  Vasty tracts of land await.

One of the first trips we took was to Provins.

It's an ancient city, perhaps reaching it's height of influence some time in the 12th century.  Portions of the old fortifications still exist, as does much of the 12th century character of the buildings and streets.  An amazing place this is.

From April thru October there are weekend events that attract crowds of tourists and interested French.  The theme is consistently medieval.  For a photographer such as myself, I'll bet there's lots of great things to see and photograph at these events.

For our day out, Jude and I took advantage of early spring weather.  It's unseasonably warm this year.  Last year at this time (March) we were snowed on during a friend's wedding in London and again snowed on in April when we visited Jude's friend in Girona, Spain.

Our Provins visit included a walk up the hill from the lower city to the upper.  We ate lunch in the square while watching Harley riders come and go.  A walk around the old ramparts came next, wherein I spied my first serious flock of Jackdaws.  Followed by a very lovely tea in a beautiful jardin as we made our way back to the RER station to make our way back into the capital.

We were happy for the change in the weather.  Warmth! This is much more like it.

After our first visit to Provins, I can say we'll be returning from time to time to check things out.  Besides, it's just a few stops beyond Longueville where my favorite steam locomotive shed hides.

[A somewhat small album of images is here.]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are we really retired...?

I know.  It's been a little quiet on this blog.  Here's why.

1) I'm being published in LensWork Magazine for the second time.  I had an interview with Brooks Jensen three weeks ago and prepared a bunch of materials for them two weeks ago.  It's done from my side and it's now theirs to finish and publish for their April/May issue of Lenswork Extended.  They choose a series of images I created in Paris cemeteries.  Right nice of them, me-thinks.

2) I'm working with a pair of authors and a publisher to illustrate a mook on Steampunk.  All in a fun Paris-style.  I've been busy every single day for three and a half weeks!  Great/Fabulous photoshoots as far as the eye can see.  Well, the shooting part is coming to an end.  The image processing will continue for a few more days.

3) We need to head down to the Prefecture de Police to get a recipicee for our Visa which will allow us back into the country even as our visas will have expired.  We have an appointment with the PdeP already, so this should be easy.  Right?  Wrong.  We went to the commissariat and were redirected to the marie, and have been forwarded to the PdeP on l'isle de la cite.  Ugh.

4) We needed some documents translated for French healthcare and for our visit with the PdeP for our visa renewals.  The first set of documents are translated and will have a second set worked on before our PdeP appointment.

5) As soon as the first set of documents were translated, we headed to the French CPAM office to face the nasty fonctionaires.  Again.  For the fourth time.  This is the one place where the French can be as rude and arrogant as their reputations lead the world to believe they can be.  Bad stuff... but... if we can get healthcare, it'll be at a fraction of the US costs we're currently paying.  The paperwork has been submitted.  Yea.  Now we wait.

6) We're hosting a dinner for the Anglophone society we belong to.  Tomorrow night.  For just a few hours.  Fortunately.  But is should be fun.  We'll be hosting the meal at our favorite bistro.

7) And... we needed to submit our US taxes.  So a few forms needed to be filled out and sent to the States.  All it takes is time, right?

8) Our French library bill for checking out CDs and DVDs arrived.  We needed to sort out where to pay and when.  Arriving at the local tax office, we waited while the very kind functionnaire figured out how to take our money.

9) Well, our US-issued healthcare bill has come due and... it'll cost us a small stack of money.  The older we get the higher the costs.  It's pretty amazing to watch the costs skyrocket.  A bottle of champagne est dans le frigo against the day our French healthcare is granted.

10)  This is all working toward the time when we board a plane and head back to the States to clear out our storage unit.  I hope it takes less than the three weeks we'll be there.  But... if it doesn't, we'll have to find a place to store what's left.  Likely it'll be at my wife's son's house.

It's been crazy around here... and it's time to get things set up with our friends in the US so we don't leave them dangling any longer regarding our schedule...  Whee...

As my father continues to remind me, retirement means being busier than you've ever been in your entire life.