What does it mean to be rare? It seems to me that rarity, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder and is often hard to quantify objectively. When I went for a walk yesterday in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, I was hoping that I might see some birds. I already did a posting on a European Robin, arguably the most beautiful bird that I spotted during the day.

Did I see any rare birds? All of the birds that I saw were undoubtedly “common” for the locals, but they seemed rare and exotic to me, because they were new to my experience. One of the joys of traveling is having the chance to see new creatures that may share a common heritage with more familiar ones or may be totally different. For me, it is simpler to treat them all as special rather than focusing exclusively on the uncommon ones. I attempt to highlight the beauty and behavior of them all no matter how many times I may have seen them previously. Unlike some birders I know, I do not have a life list that says that I should move on to new species once I have seen a particular one—each new encounter is unique.

So what did I see? I think that I have correctly identified these species, but would welcome corrections if I am wrong. The first one was the hardest for me to identify and I learned that it is a Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)—I love the combination of colors on its body.

The second one, a Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) seemed somewhat familiar because, even though we do not have magpies where I live, I had spotted a similar-looking American Magpie (Pica hudsonia) during a trip to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. In this encounter, I was thrilled that I was able to capture some of the iridescent shine and color on the tail feathers.

The final photo shows an energetic little Great Tit (Parus major) pecking away in all of the crevices of a tree, seeking whatever tiny morsels of food that it can find.

I will probably return to more urban subjects after a day of respite in the woods of Paris. My feet definitely enjoyed the break from the cobblestone streets and I feel refreshed from my return to nature.


Eurasian Jay

Eurasian Magpie

Great Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Age is a relative thing. I chuckled a little yesterday when I read a sign next to this spectacular Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) that characterized it as a “young man,” despite the fact that it was planted in 1895. Putting aside the fact that there are male gingko trees and female gingko trees, a concept that blows my mind, gingko trees, which originated in China, can live to be 1200 years old and are “potentially immortal.”

I spotted this tree while visiting the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil. This botanical garden, located near the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of Paris, dates back to 1761 and has an immense complex of different greenhouses, some with groupings based on botanical species and some geographically based. I was particularly struck by the ones ones focused on the Sahara desert and one focused on tropical South America. In the latter case, I had to keep wiping off the lens of my camera, because it was fogging up in the steaming heat of the greenhouse. Unfortunately, some of the greenhouses with the most spectacular plants were only open when gardeners were physically present, so I was not able, for example, to see their collection of orchids.

The leaves of the gingko tree were mostly faded and fallen this late in the year, but I still  marveled at the size of the tree and the golden carpet that surrounded it. A sign noted that in 2011 this tree was 82 feet (25 meters) in height and its trunk had a circumference of 13 feet (395 cm).

I think that this gingko tree was the only one of its species at the garden. Somehow I felt like a personal ad, “Young male gingko tree in Paris seeks companion.” I wonder if there is a special category for its type on dating apps.Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

European Robin in Paris

Today I decided to give my feet a break from the cobblestone streets and instead went for a walk on some of the wooded trails of the Bois de Boulogne in the outskirts of Paris. The highlight of the day for me was getting this shot of a European Robin, (Erithacus rubecula) known in French as a Rouge-gorge (Redbreast). There are different birds around the world that share the name “robin” and it was nice to finally have a chance to see the European one.

European Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Today at one minute after midnight was the official release of the 2019 Beaujolais Nouveau wine. It is a made up holiday to push sales of this wine, but I like it because it is almost like the wine was designed to offend wine snobs. Beaujolais Nouvea is freshly pressed, it is cheap, and has a relatively uncomplicated fruity taste.

Here is the bottle that I purchased and I am accompanying it with some raw milk goat cheese and a whole grain baguette. The white of the plate threw my exposure out of whack, so when I made adjustments, the baguette looks like it was overcooked. Let me reassure you that it was wonderful.

Life is good.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

From my window in Paris

What do you see when you look out your window? As I sit in front of the laptop and glance slightly to the left, I have a wonderful view through the full-length balcony door of the rooftop of the buildings on a side street perpendicular to the one on which I am living. I love being on the top floor and I spend countless hours gazing out the window, marveling at the architectural details, daydreaming from time to time—Paris has that effect on me.

I am particularly intrigued by all of the little reddish pipes of various heights sticking out of the larger chimneys. Are they vent pipes or are they chimneys too? Why do a small number of them have little metallic chapeaux?

Yesterday I captured these images when the sunlight was shining from a particular angle and cast some beautiful shadows from one chimney onto another. As I worked on my photos, I thought I was most interested in a shot in which I was able to isolate the details of one of the larger chimneys, which is the second shot below. After deciding that I should provide a wider view to give context, I started working on another image and decided that I liked this view even more. What do you think?

My pace of life here in Paris is slow. I am not pressed by time constraints (other than my departure date) and I have few responsibilities. I am free to daydream, free to wander, free to contemplate, and free to ponder. Life is simple and life is good. Maybe I can apply some of this thinking to my daily life upon my return to Northern Virginia.

Paris chimneys

chimneys of Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.





It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Paris. Earlier this week I awoke to the sounds of a large truck with its engine running loudly right outside of my window. Trucks come through early in the morning to collect trash, but this was different, because it was mid-morning—playing with art had kept me up past 2:00 in the morning and I had allowed myself to sleep a bit later than usual.

What were they doing? “My” apartment is located on a mostly pedestrian street called Rue Montorgueil in the center of Paris. Our neighborhood, like several others that I seen this week, was putting up street decorations for the holidays and it was those efforts that had roused me from my sleep. The first photo shows my view of one of entrances to my neighborhood yesterday evening as I walked back from another meandering journey through Paris.

Earlier in the evening I finally investigated the large Ferris wheel that was installed in a corner of the Tuileries Garden shortly after my arrival. I had initially assumed that it was part of some kind of fair, but as I approached—and took the second photo below—I discovered that it is part of a large Christmas market. The market has a number of different rides, stands for a wide array of products, and an incredible selection of food and drinks. I was tempted by sausages, and then by raclette, and almost gave in to a hot mixture of potatoes, cheese, and bacon called Tartiflette.

In the end, I settled on one of my old favorites, a Croque Monsieur. Essentially this is a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but it is so much more than that. The heavy layer of cheese on top was simultaneously crunchy and gooey when it came out of the oven elevated this sandwich high above its American counterpart and that is saying a lot, considering now much I love grilled cheese sandwiches.

Paris looks pretty with the Christmas lights, but a part of me resents the change in the vibe of the city. The meandering cobblestoned streets that I find so charming seem slightly besmirched by a sense of commercialization that threatens to draw us away from the true meaning of the holiday.


Rue Montorgueil

ferris wheel in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

How fast is a minute? As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went on a sketching tour in Montmartre yesterday and I thought we would be sketching static objects like buildings, which we did. Then we moved into figure sketching. Yikes. That seemed to move things to a whole new and unanticipated level. The instructor, Romain, gave us a quick lesson on human proportions and then he assumed several static poses. We had a minute to sketch each one, pausing momentarily in between poses for him to provide feedback on our work.

As a final exercise, Romain adopted five slowly moving poses and we had one minute to sketch him in pen from head to toe in some part of each motion. Wow! Without a pause he would move to another dynamic pose. Each of those minutes went by really quickly and I felt like I was out of breath after five minutes of constant focus.

We all had a little laugh when the most skilled of the three of us taking the class ran out of time with one of her figures, which consequently  had no head. It was a little ironic, because just minutes before we had seen a statue of Saint Denis holding his head in his hands. Saint Denis, a Bishop of Paris, was martyred for his faith in 250 AD by decapitation. A popular story claims that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance.

For fun, here are a couple of pages from that final sketching exercise. I can understand better now why artists need so much practice and training.

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.