Saturday, October 30, 2010

Heart pounding

Darkness fell over Paris as Notre Dame beamed brightly with floodlights. The library upstairs was crowded. By half eight the place was packed. The usually tranquil room with tall stacks of old books suddenly sparked with life, with onlookers and live performances of poetry, prose, and music.

I was scared merde-less. My trembling voice jittery with “what am I doing up here” fear, pushing past the black mic towards the 30 plus sets of eyes focused on my collection of words about the loose connection between Washington state's apple harvest and an illicit drug trade. It was the piece I selected to read for Shakespeare and Co's "open mic night".

It was a night of anonymous inspiration. Watching a small group of artists, some known, some known only by their mothers, huddled in the stairwell, pounding hearts before they preform their prized works in front of a live audience. A shared desire to express that song or that poem or that story which moved them so strongly they couldn't help but put feeling to paper. And then take that paper and present it to perfect strangers.

After the last performance, everyone gathered for wine, sharing laughs in the library about who wrote that really funny poem or how unique was his voice, or how could she RING the bell, I wasn't finished my apple story.

The world that surrounds Shakespeare and Co is something like a living novel. An infinite network of moving parts, enduring protagonists, heartless villains, and all the passion of a great paperback. Every day that burning sun shines over the south towers of Notre Dame I awake, feeling like I just flipped a page. The real beauty of this story is in not knowing what chapter you're on in a novel that surrounds you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lester- my new friend, my new freedom

Leaving Lyudmila in Torino after we formed such a strong bond over the Alps was tough to say the least. But yesterday along came Lester. I am happy to report I am back to my cruisin' ways. It happened the other day that a gem with flaming red lipstick who floated away from the Australian coast and washed ashore on the banks of the Seine six years ago had a cycle to spare.

So it was, on a sunny autumn afternoon the other day my new friend Lester and I got acquainted. Not unlike Lyudmila, Lester is packing some weight, although this time it has nothing to do with my excess luggage and everything to do with the stiff steel, which dont get me wrong, has been bent to befriend me during my time in Paris, and I am eternally grateful for the wheels.
Lester and I stop off for an expresso high on a hill that over looks the Parisian skyline
Of course the best reason for a having a bicycle in Paris is the quick and easy access you have to the entire city. Walking is something I take great joy in but a bike combines the ability to see the streets and if need be do it in a timely fashion. I feel like riding the metro in Paris is like closing your eyes at the movies. Too much to see above ground.

I snapped this shot in a tiny park near the Marais. Paris is full of these beautiful parks in the middle of this, at times mad, and massive city.
Having been in Paris just shy of a month I find myself understanding the layout of the city more and more with each passing day. Getting a feel for the arrondissements, all 20 of them, which divide up the city into different sections. Each one with its own personality, its own sense of sytle, be it gruff or hipped out, or historic, or chic, or artistic, or commercial. My hope is that Lester and I still manage to get lost long into November.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

on travel.

I move among crowded thoughts.

Personalities, streets, towns, trains, moving past my eyes.
Packed London streets, fresh French air high up in the Alps, lavender fields stretching across Provence, wood-fired pizza in Torino, smoked fish lined up on a coathanger along the shores of lake Issyk kul.

Constantly greeting evils and inspirations, some internal some external.
Tides of loneliness come and go, lapping against my soul like the cold Atlantic waters that surround Mt. St. Michel.

Just as the man sniffs ether in front of Shakespeare and Co
This addiction to a life in motion feeds my imagination, transporting my senses into the unknown.

Rushed goodbyes and unexpected hellos, I crave the rewards of randomness, Deep inside I am alive with the solitude and the surreal that is travel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"photos, meet my friends, words and thoughts"

wind pushes the boat closer to the boy-
they walk together as pigeons fly-
hearts beating, arms crossed over shoulders-
everything in motion, everything alive.

A deep breath. A small bottle to his nose. He speaks to unseeable people. Sliver lips, greasy hair. We sit on the same bench. My hand holds out a cookie. His metallic mouth smiles. Reaching with a dirty hand he takes it.


Pedaling with slight panic around Paris Posters about a prize in my backpack Putting them in pockets of the city Dodging protests in the pouring rain I feel the pleasure of empowerment in my pinky fingers as they grasp the handle bars.

Happiness I can't order you on a menu
Happiness I can't drink you down like red wine
Happiness are you in me, are you with me?
Happiness you surprise me here and there no matter what the day may wear.

So Happiness, dont run and hide, you sneaky little shit, I know how to find you, I know how to feel you.
Pages curl. Wet with the dusty secrets of someday long past. Their stories shine among starry shelves. Night's low light lingers outside.The sailor smiles before he sleeps. Happy to think how his dreams will sink under the sea of beautiful books.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Visiting Vincent

Ever since arriving in France I have found myself assuming that everyone knows (and has visited) Auvers sur Oise, a small town 30km north of Paris. As it turns out, very few know of this place, but then again, only a handful of people have had the privilege of taking photography classes from Pat Bognar at the University of Portland. It was during those classes, that she instilled in her students passion for photography and Vincent van Gogh. And in doing so she created a special place in my mind's eye for the artist and the town of Auvers sur Oise.
-I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.-
Vincent van Gogh
Back in 1890 it was a world away from Paris and full of natural beauty, rich with picturesque scenes of rural life in France. And because of this (and to be closer to his doctor) Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life living in the small attic room of L' Auberge Ravoux, in Auvers sur Oise away from the stresses of living in Paris. He was not alone in admiring the landscape, other painters including, Paul Cezanne, Charles Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, and Corot had visited Auvers sur Oise during the 19th century.

-I see drawings and pictures in the poorest of huts and the dirtiest of corners.-
Vincent van Gogh
Arriving in May (1890) van Gogh woke before dawn, set out across the village and was often gone until dusk, painting over 70 canvasses during the few months he lived there, more than one a day. The small hotel where he rented a room now serves as a tribute to his life.

-As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.-
Vincent van Gogh
So it was a week or so ago I found myself walking up the narrow staircase to his room. Standing in his empty room filled me with thoughts about his time here, where he was filled with tremendous joy and insurmountable sadness, surrounded by a collection of canvasses and chronic despair that defined the last few months of van Gogh's life.
-The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.-
Vincent van Gogh
On the hill over looking the town of Auvers sur Oise Vincent van Gogh rests next to his beloved brother Theo. A drizzle of rain accompanies me as I leave the cemetery, but not even the dull gray clouds can prevent my mind's eye from seeing the rich, vibrant colors, the thick brush strokes spread over his canvasses, alive for the world to admire, alive with the genius that is van Gogh.
-I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.-
Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Learning to see the little things.

The trick is seeing more than first meets the eye. That has been my focus as my camera and I walk the streets of Paris. I snapped this shot in a window the other day, granted, reflections are nothing new but i like this one because of the contrasting pattern that matches oddly with the tree next to the church.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The employment of my five senses.

The sky is that painful depressing gray. The air bitter about being cold, and the breeze seems to find pleasure in seeing people bundle up. The only thing warm is the bag of roasted chestnuts I cup with my hands as I enter the Jardin du Luxembourg. Sitting on a cold stone bench, a boy chases pigeons next to me as I write this post.

Maybe the only thing consistent about traveling, the only aspect remotely predictable is the continuous employment of the five senses. Traveling centers around displacing your senses.

The smell of fresh hot crepes cooking on the burner along Blvd. St. Michel as I walk back to the bookstore after walking all day. The streets, tiny, hidden streets, so many, never really knowing where you are until you pop out at some major landmark. Seeing and sometimes speaking to those who I have helped in the bookstore as you pass them on the street in another corner of Paris. Passing the plaque where Hemingway pounded away at his masterpieces. The feeling of books in your hands, for my two hours shelving new arrivals I feel books in my hands, flip through the pages, some smell used, others new, my eyes searching over endless authors. Squeezing them on the shelves, so many books so little time. Never have I felt so un-well-read. Speaking to different people, some crazy, some cocky, others humble or standoffish. Hearing Notre Dame play its timely chime in such an odd Christmas carol way every quarter hour. Seeing old buildings soaked in history all around, beautiful, vintage history all around. Making that every-other-day walk down the street to the (free) public showers. Alone in the stall, not knowing that much french I hear a women who works there shouting at a man to get out of the stall next to me, he continues to press the water button, which sends bursts of hot water in 10 second increments, he just keeps pushing the button, says nothing, just continues as she raises her voice. I finish, step out of my stall and see her with keys, ready to remove whoever is unwilling, uncertain of the outcome only that he, or maybe he's a she, will be naked. Then to the sinks, as a women, having just showered herself, collects her bag of belongings and looks at me with a face painted with age and sadness and kindness. I see this in her eyes as we stand at the sinks, neither of us say a word, only sharing the knowledge that we are taking our showers at the public bath house.

There is no space to call your own at the bookstore. You collect your things and shove them in an old water closet for the day, no space to relax other than a small studio room which is often socialized by the others who are staying at the book store. A friendly and warm environment but no place to dwell with any sort of uninterrupted peace. Because of this the days seem so long, mostly for the good, but at times I grow tired literally and figuratively. The autumn air is a touch too chilly to take a nap in beauiful gardens next to the Louvre, but I did find myself falling asleep on a bench near Notre Dame the other day, laying out across the bench, the sun, the last of the warm sun was shining through the gaps between the elms so I took full advantage. But my trusted place of solace is the house of the Lord. I enter a small church near the bookstore, there in the back corner I take a seat, lean my head on fold arms which rest upon the row in front of me, I can fall asleep in this position rather easily as it is similar to the one I used in college at the library. And those that pass, I trust, see someone in prayer or completely dejected with life, but I hope its the former over the latter, and who's to say that my eyes shut with sleep are not dreaming up peaceful prayers.

Then laundry. Where to go? Once found, figure out the machines, how much, how long, she looks nice, she seems to have done this before, I should ask her. “excuse me, do you need to pay before you load your washer?...”

You see and hear the names of authors, all day, working or not, surrounded by the names and stories of authors, some new, some old some dead, all inspiring. Tasting the same baguette salami sandwich every afternoon because the lady down the street makes the cheapest in town. 2 Euro 20. The cafe in the morning with the croissant, reading a few pages of my Consider the Lobster book written by David Foster Wallace, one of thousands of books I wish to read on any given day. Closing the bookstore for the night, locking the front door in such a way that all of us living there and the other staff have to exit out a side door but first we have to make that quiet, dark retreat past the books, up the narrow staircase, worn in the middle of each step by thousands of people who have come to see what I now believe to be the most famous and mysterious bookstore in the universe, then we pass through the library, then to the locker to retrieve our belongings for the night, pull out the sleeping bag and take rest among the books. Resting my senses after a long day's work.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

PHOTO ESSAY: Perfect light in Paris

Today was a day to remember. If you aspire to take good photos then you aspire to find good lighting. Today was like winning the lighting lottery. Having finished my two hours at the bookstore I grabbed my bag, jerked out my camera and was constantly moving for the next several hours trying to capture all that I could of Paris in perfect light. I will never forget this day.

Parisian skyline on a blustery fall day, with the Eiffel Tower lost in the storm.

Along the Seine

Fountain near the Jardin du Luxembourg

Institut de France

Jardin du Luxembourg

L' Observatoire

Last blooms of fall


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cheapest rent in Paris

In 1951 a man by the name of George Whitman opened a bookstore in Paris, and with the blessing of an aging Sylvia Beach, he inherited her shop's namesake Shakespeare and Company. Today, now 97 and living upstairs above the books, his creation has been passed down to his intelligent, fashionable, vibrant daughter Sylvia. It is here, among these ancient bookshelves, where I sleep, where I live, where I read.

Long ago George made it a place where readers and writers could come and linger, hang out, chill, and chat about books and life. And by putting a few small beds in between the book shelves he invited aspiring writers to stay and linger a little longer.
I wandered over to the bookstore on a breezy but bright morning. Sylvia looked me up and down, told me it is not a hostel it is a writers in residence program and the accommodations are limited and rustic but if I can handle that I was welcomed to stay. I happily agreed.

My new gig in Paris comes with a few responsibilities. Those who stay in the bookstore (there are currently 5 of us which is about the max) are asked to help open the shop (10am) help close the (11pm) and donate two hours a day to shelving books and assisting customers when they're searching the vast and somewhat confusing layout of this ancient landmark house of literature.

The days are long and enlightening, filled with writing, wandering and wondering. I have no idea how long I will call this shop home, but for now, waking up with a view of Notre Dame, sorting great works of literature, living the life of an expat in Paris and taking rest on a bed where Joyce or Hemingway, or David Foster Wallace or Austin, or, or, or is never more than an arms reach away certainly suits my creative side for the time being.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tour de France... without the bike.

The other day loud, long honks of annoyance could be heard across the french countryside as my mother and I made our way towards the coast in our tiny rent-a-car. The “Happy EUROCAR driver” sticker on the rear window of the car seemed to enrage the already edgy/erratic french drivers. I was behind the wheel and learned to adapt rather quickly to the road conditions; drive like a bat out of hell or get off the road.

Having embraced my new driving philosophy, much to the displeasure of my mom, we arrived to Mont Saint-Michel in what has to be a record for foreign drivers. Over the tall corn fields, the first sight of Mont Saint-Michel could be seen standing alone atop a rocky spot two miles off the coast. A spectacular feat of engineering and enduring piece of history, the ancient abbey sits as a crown in the middle of the sea.

It was then on to the beaches of Normandy. The morning began with typical October weather. Omaha beach was clouded in a dreary mist as my shoes made prints in the sand. Looking out across the vast open space that served as the landing for D-day is a surreal experience. Perched above on the bluff are rusted out remnants of German bunkers. The sun had found its way through the clouds as we entered the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There is no picture that can capture the feeling of walking among the field of marble crosses. Long rows of white laid out across green grass over looking Omaha beach evokes a feeling of reverence I never thought possible.

Friday, October 1, 2010

PHOTO ESSAY: Biking over the Alps

My friend Tyler biking up the longest mountain stage of the Tour de France. Tyler and I joined up in Aix les Bains for the second half of the ride over the Alps. 

A view from a small village near the border of France and Italy

Tyler snapped this shot as we rode up the Col de la Madeleine, a famous mountain stage in the Tour de France. Names of former champions are painted all the way up the switchback pass.

A very nice lady began riding beside us along the road. Before we knew it Tyler and I were having cake and tea and getting recommendations on where to stay that night.

A view as we climbed the last pass that would take us over into Italy.

On top of Mont Cenis. To the left is Italy, to the right is France.

One of the countless fountains, which are found in almost any mountain village, were put to good use on the bike trip.
Food and if I may say, beer never tasted so good as it did after seven hours on a bike.

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