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Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first two installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘ and ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2.’ This third installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 16 July was “machine.” I recalled an old mill with a waterwheel that I photographed in July 2012 that hinted at all kinds of machinery inside the mill building and did today’s little painting using one of my photos as inspiration. Here is a link to the original posting called ‘Stepping outside of the box.’ What I had forgotten, though, is that I had converted the images to black and white for the posting and I have no idea of the original colors of the structure, so I just made them up. My sketching skill are pretty weak still, so I printed a copy of the blog photo, rubbed a pencil on the back of it, and transferred a simplified version of it to the watercolor paper.

The prompt for 15 July was “forgotten.” Nothing came to mind, so instead I attempted to paint some Black-eyed Susans like the ones that I had seen while hunting for dragonflies earlier that day.

The prompt for 14 July was “green,” which made me think of flowers. So I painted a little patch of wildflowers, mostly by spattering paint—it turns out that it is a lot of fun to throw paint at paper in a somewhat controlled way.

The prompt for 13 July was “twisted.” Herons have such long necks that they often seem to be twisted, so I painted this little sumi-e style scene with three herons, some cattails, and a disproportionately large dragonfly.

The prompt for 12 July was “favorite place.” It is hard to represent Paris in a single image, so I chose to depict it with this view of the Eiffel Tower looking upwards from one of its “feet,” using one of my photos from last November as the the inspiration for this little painting —about 5″ x 7″ (127mm x 177mm). If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Eiffel Tower perspectives.’ I used the same transfer method for the sketch that I described above for 16 July.

The prompt for 11 July was “round,” so I did a little painting of a bicycle, loosely based on an artsy photo I took in Paris last November. If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Bicycle in Paris.”

I am experimenting with a number of different styles and subjects as I play with watercolor painting, but a few things are already clear. First, my greatest creative inspiration continues to come from my memories of Paris—three of the sixteen paintings I have completed so far were based on my experiences in the ‘La Ville Lumière’ (‘the city of light’).

Style-wise I continue to be drawn to the minimalist East Asian brush painting style known more commonly as sumi-e and have used this approach in three paintings already. Technically this is the freestyle version of sumi-e (xieyi) that tries to capture the essence of a subject in a minimum number of strokes rather than striving for a realistic representation of it. There is another more detailed sumi-e style called gongbi that I would not even attempt to imitate.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

watermill

black-eyed susan

spattered flowers

sumi-e heron

eiffel tower

bicycle in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Would you feel insecure and self-conscious if you sat down in a crowded public place and started to sketch? Most adults would feel that way. It would take a really good instructor to get them so excited about drawing that their inhibitions disappeared and they could lose themselves in a few blissful moments of creation—probably like a child feels when creating art. Romain, my instructor for two sketching tours in Paris, was that kind of instructor.

Romain Olivier Thieulot is an energetic and engaging 29 year old artist in Paris. He teaches art at the University of Paris and has his own art studio. As with most artists, though, money is tight, so he conducts sketching tours as a kind of “side hustle” to earn some additional money. Although he is quite young, he is devoted to a traditional style of art rather than digital art. That, he believes, is one of the reasons why he was chosen to teach at the University of Paris. He did not go into a lot of details about the curriculum at the university, but he described the style that is taught there as “academic,” and it sound like it is a regimented system with very specific rules.

Fortunately, that is not the approach that he used with us. He coached and encouraged us as we moved from place to place with our sketchbooks and collapsible stool, all the while providing us with instructions on the major principles of drawing like composition, perspective, and showing emphasis through detail and value (degree of lightness and darkness). Importantly, I think, he left a lot of room for individual expression. Before we started to draw our first building, I remember, he told us that we could choose to draw it any way that we wanted, sketching, for example, the entire building or only a part of it. What was important, he said was to have a clear idea of what we saw as the major area of interest, because the first lines we put on the paper would dictate important considerations like scale and composition.

Romain had carefully chosen the locations and routes of these tours, one in Montmartre and one in the Left Bank area beginning at Notre Dame, in order to provide us with fascinating bits of information along the way on the history of the city of Paris and in particular on its rich artistic and architectural history. (Architecture is one of Romain’s areas of expertise and he was able to explain many aspects of the architecture that makes Paris so distinctive.)

One of the places that Romain highlighted was Le Consulat, a historic coffee house that was frequented by many of the artists, writers and painters that flocked to the Montmartre area in the 19th century, including Picasso, Sisley, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. In the second photo below, Romain was showing us a postcard-sized copy of a drawing that he had done of the café. If you click on the photo you can get a real appreciation of the amount of detail in his drawing. I don’t recall long he spent on that particular drawing, but I remember him showing us similar ones on which he had spent forty or fifty hours of work.

One of the fun little bonuses of Romain’s sketching tours was the quick sketch he would do of the individuals in our little group as we were at work. The third photo shows the three members of our group in Montmartre—I think it is pretty obvious which one is me.

During one conversation that I had with Romain, he shared some insights into the world of a professional artist in Paris. As we we passing a series of galleries in the Left Bank area, he noted how difficult it was to get your work into a gallery. Even if you were fortunate enough to get your worked displayed, there were so many fees involved that the artist was often left with very little money when a piece of art was actually sold.

Romain seemed to be much more content to display his work at his own studio/workshop, Atelier Thieulot in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. You can check out his studio on his website and get a better idea of his workplace and of his work. The website is in French, but even if you can’t read the details, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of exhibitions in which he has participated and the awards he has received. If you click on the tab, “Mes Créations,” you can look at his work divided into categories such as architecture, oil painting, drawing, and design. One of my favorite ways to view his work, though, is to click on the “E-boutique” tab and if you do, you too will look with amazement at his detailed drawings.

I saw some wonderful art and architecture in Paris, but some of my favorite moments in the city were spent in creating my own art during the sketching tours with Romain as our guide, coach, and instructor. I was intrigued that the tour is titled “Être artiste à Montmartre,” which means “To be an artist in Montmartre.” We were not pretending to be artists as we toiled over our sketchbooks—Romain made us feel like we really were artists.

We have become friends on Facebook, have exchanged texts since concluding the course, and he is also now following this blog. Paris is wonderful, of course, but it really is the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Thanks, Romain.

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Blogging helps to create communities. We are exposed to people from all around the world, some of whom may be like us, but many of whom are quite different. What is critical is that we interact with each other—we “like” and comment on the postings of others. All of this takes place in a virtual world and we develop relationships in that world. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could meet each other in person, in “real” life?

It may sound like the story line for a corny Hollywood movie, but an American photographer recently met an Irish poet in Paris, thanks to the efforts of a New Zealand blogger who had much earlier highlighted their respective blogs. As you might suspect, I am that photographer; Damien Donnelly of deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is that poet; and Liz Cowburn of exploringcolour.wordpress.com is that blogger.

Several days ago I said a few words about Damien when I re-blogged one of his postings with photos from our time inside the Grand Palais in Paris, so his name may sound familiar. When I first made plans to visit Paris, I thought there might be a chance that I could meet Damien, but what I did not realize at that time was that he was preparing to leave Paris. As it turned out, I made it to Paris before he left.

We agreed to meet for lunch. Have you ever met someone in person that you met initially on-line? Did you worry that the on-line “persona” would not mesh with reality? I really encourage you to read Damien’s poetry, which I previously characterized as “personal and universal,” and I can reassure you that he is just as thoughtful, introspective, and engaging in person. During our lunch together, we shared deeply details about our personal lives and our connection with Paris.

One of the things I remember best was Damien’s description of how long it took to reach the point when he felt comfortable telling people that he was a “poet.” You see, like many creative people, Damien has a full-time job and crafts his verbal art in the remaining time. Gradually, though, writing appears to have taken on a greater role in his life. As of a few day ago, he no longer has that full-time job and in a few more days he is leaving Paris.

Is he calling it quits? As the French would say, “au contraire”—Damien is in fact returning to Ireland to pursue a dream. You can read more about it in the “About Me” section of his website, but the essence is that he plans to find and renovate a property in Ireland that will serve as a writers’ retreat and bed-and-breakfast. Damien is also working on a novel and I believe more of his poetry is about to be published.

Why am I writing all of this? First of all, I want to let you all know how wonderful it is when the virtual world and the real world overlap—meeting and spending time with Damien was one of the highlights of my three weeks in Paris. I hope to have the chance to meet more of my readers whom I consider friends. Maybe New Zealand?

Secondly, I am personally inspired by someone who decides at age 44 to go all in on his passion, who has the courage to radically change the course of his life in pursuit of his creative vision.

Let me end with the words of a short poem that Damien posted a few days ago, part of a series of poems as he prepares to leave Paris. This one was entitled “Bookends; Timing is Everything.” (In order to get the full impact of the poem, you should click on the name of the poem which is a link to the original posting with Damien’s accompanying photograph and brief words of explanation.)

“Coming in

is easy.

Learning when to leave

is an art

not easily understood.”

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien and Me

Damien and me after lunch.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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So many creative people are multi-talented and Irish poet Damien Donnelly is no exception. His poetry, which can be found on his blog at deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is both personal and universal and often prompts me to look deeply inside myself. You definitely should check out his website.

He is also a talented photographer. I was thrilled last Sunday to have the chance to spend some time with him as we photographed the inside of the Grand Palais in Paris. Here are some of his wonderful photos from that day.

Deuxiemepeau Poetry by Damien B. Donnelly

Last Sunday, this masterpiece of beaux-arts architecture, le Grand Palais was open to the public for a few hours and I rushed in along with fantastic photographer, and now street sketch artist, Mike Powell, on one of his last days in Paris, in order to snap a little of the light under the glass.

All photographs by Damien B Donnelly

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I am back from Paris now, but very much still under its influence. My final night in Paris, I walked down to the Seine River just before midnight. A light drizzle was falling, but I did not care. If anything, the rain made everything more beautiful, creating additional reflections on the cobblestone streets. As I crossed a bridge over the river,  I could see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, its searchlight piercing in and out of the clouds. It was magical!

I was having a great time trying to capture the scene when suddenly the lights on the tower went out. It was as if the Eiffel Tower had suddenly disappeared. I knew that the tower’s lights were not on all night, but I did not expected them to be extinguished right at midnight. Reality sometime has a way of crashing in on moments of fantasy.

One of my readers, Michael Scandling, challenged me to be out walking the streets at midnight to see if I might end up in the 1920’s having a drink with Hemingway. Obviously he too had seen the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The lead character played by Owen WIlson spends a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and suddenly at midnight he repeatedly ends up in the 1920s, rubbing elbows with famous authors, actors, and artists of that era. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to talk to icons like Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali? The movie additionally has wonderful footage of many places in Paris that are very familiar to me. It is one of the few DVDs that I have purchased in the past ten years.

Alas, real life does not generally play out as it does in the movies. Instead I quietly continued my walk, watching as waiters stacked up chairs in restaurants and lights began to dim as Paris prepared to sleep. For many in Paris, it was the end to just another day, but for me it was special, it was midnight on my final day in this special city, at least for this trip.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards the airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I knew that doing a painting of Notre Dame de Paris is well beyond my current skill level with watercolors, but I decided this evening that I had to give it a try before I leave this beautiful city tomorrow. I just got done with my little painting using DaVinci watercolors on Fabriano Artistico paper and it is 5×7 inches in size (13×18 cm).

I won’t bore you will all of the reasons why this is a tough subject, but I chose the front view, which made things a little easier and I ended up simplifying a lot of details. The paper is not really flat at the moment, which means the photo I took looks a little warped, but I think you can see well enough what I accomplished.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. I may give it another go from home, but it is recognizable, I think as Notre Dame—I especially thrilled that I completed this while I was still in Paris.

In case you are curious, I based it roughly on a photo that I took today that is included after the painting.

 

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The police seemed very busy today in Paris. One of their boats came zooming down the Seine River so fast this morning that I thought it might come out of the water. Meanwhile a police officer on roller blades—a first for me—sped by me shortly there after, having checked some documents and/or written a ticket. (I have also seen police officers on bicycles and on horses during this trip but have not managed to get photos of them). I am waiting to see an officer on the electric scooters that are all over the city now.

I guess it is all in a busy day’s work for the police force in a city like Paris.

Police boat on the Seine

Police on roller blades

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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People do some crazy things when they travel to ensure good luck. Art in a museum is untouchable and there are guards and surveillance systems to make sure that you do not get too close to it. When art, particularly statues, is in a public place, however, people choose to rub various parts of the artwork, which is particularly noticeable with bronze statues.

Last week I came across two examples of this “touchable” art while wandering the back streets of Montmartre. The first one is a tribute to the work of French author Marcel Aymé, a short story called Le Passe-Muraille (The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls). I read a synopsis of the short story and essentially a man gained the ability to pass through wall, but eventually this ability began to fade and he got stuck forever in the wall. The statue is pretty high up from the ground, so it appears that people have chosen to rub his now shiny left hand.

The second piece of “touchable” art is a bust dedicated to French music icon Dalida. Dalida, whose real name was Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, was a French singer and actress, born in Egypt to Italian parents, according to Wikipedia. She won the Miss Egypt beauty contest in 1954 and began a 31-year singing career in 1956, selling 170 million albums and singles worldwide, and died by suicide in 1987.

It is obvious from the shiny areas of the Dalida statue which parts of her anatomy people choose to touch.

touchable art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This simple image of a curvy road in Montmartre captures well my experiences during this extended stay in Paris. I’ve spent endless hours walking the narrow cobblestone streets, marveling at the architecture, and paying attentions to shapes and colors. I’ve played tourist from time, but the famous landmarks have been of almost secondary significance to me, like the Sacre Coeur Basilica that is tucked away in one corner of this shot.

Sacre Coeur is there, I am aware of it, but I would rather spend my time wandering around the surrounding area than merely taking a shot of it and then moving on to the next destination on a checklist list. Who needs a list?

Road in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Any wild animals in Paris? While wandering through the gardens at the Rodin Museum on Friday, I came across this adorable rabbit sunning itself in a semi-shaded open area. I watched it for a while until some noisy visitors scared it away.

I knew there had to be some wildlife in Paris other than the two-legged partygoers that were awfully loud late into the night yesterday in the streets outside of my apartment.

Rabbit in Rodin garden

Rabbit in Rodin garden

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is finally beginning to hit me that my stay here in Paris will soon be coming to a close. Will this shot from yesterday evening be my final image of Notre Dame de Paris in the fading light of the day? Perhaps I will have a chance again tomorrow.

We’ll always have Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the view of Paris from the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and have tried repeatedly, with varying degrees of success, to capture panoramic images with both my Canon DSLR and my iPhone 11.  One lesson that I have learned from this experience is that it is hard to judge how they will turn out when I am actually shooting them.

I was pleasantly surprised when reviewing yesterday’s images to see that I had captured some flying pigeons as I panned across the sky with my iPhone The placement of the birds was lucky too, given that the left part of the sky did not have the orange tinge present on the right side of the image.

panorama from Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday, 23 November, I stumbled upon a very large and vocal march through the streets of Paris that was directed against domestic violence towards women. What really struck me were the handmade signs carried by many men and women of all ages expressing anger and sorrow at the lack of action in this area by the French government, which many see as deliberately turning a blind eye to the problem.

These are images straight out of my camera, with no attempts made to make them pretty. I have done a loose translation in the captions of the main signs that you see in each photo. If you want more details about the march, check out this BBC report.

Male executioner (Note: In French this word combination sounds a lot like Marlboro). To be born a woman kills. (Note: the wording of this warning matches that on cigarette packaging.)

Sexism kills. Feminism saves.

 

We teach our boys about consent and what happens if the state does it? No is no!

 

Red smoke. (I am not sure of the symbolism here.)

My body belongs to me. In France 2019 there is a rape every 7 minutes. We are all concerned.

Not a single one more. The state is not protecting us.

 

Four out of five handicapped women are victims of violence. The state is complicit.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is Saturday night in the Paris, the City of Light. I took this photo a short while ago as I was crossing one of the many bridges over the Seine River.

I hope that your Saturday night is as colorful and filled with light.

city of light

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Before this trip, most readers could identity my “style” of photography. It is not that all my images looked the same, but many of them contained the same or similar subjects and were photographed in similar ways with the same gear. My photography here in Paris may have confused some people, because I have photographed lots of different things. There have been buildings and people, close-ups and extreme wide angle shots, and touristy and artsy images.

Today I would like to confuse things a little more with an abstract architectural shot that I took earlier this week. The image is a shot of a ramp that is part of the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor, a footbridge over the Seine River that I photographed from close to the ground looking upwards using a mini tripod. If I were to ask you what the French word for “bridge” is, many of you could correctly answer “pont.” Maybe you grew up singing “Sur le pont d’Avignon” or know the word from some incidental contact with France.  So what exactly is a “passerelle?” It is the word that the French use for a footbridge, a gangplank, or a catwalk.

This bridge is pretty cool for several reasons. It crosses the Seine in a single span with no piers in the middle. Its deck is made of ipe, a kind of exotic wood from Brazil. Finally, this bridge is really new, especially by Parisian standards—it was built between 1997 and 1999.

So what is my style? “Eclectic” might be the right word now.

Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was a college student majoring in French literature, which brought me to Paris for an academic year from 1974-1975, we spent quite some time studying the works of René Descartes, the French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Most of us are familiar with the quote “I think, therefore I am,” (“je pense, donc je suis” in French), but I was surprised to learn that a better English translation might well be “I am thinking, therefore I am.” Why? Those who deeply study Descartes’ work believe that Descartes was trying to express the idea that it is in the very act of thinking that he proved his own existence. I admit this is pretty esoteric and geeky, but it is part of my memories of Paris.

Yesterday I visited the Musée Rodin that is housed in a beautiful building, the Hôtel Biron, where noted French sculptor Auguste Rodin worked and lived. The French government bought the building in 1911 and was going to evict Rodin, but he made a deal with the government, pledging to donate his works to the state if it turned the building into a museum and let him remain their for the remaining years of this life. The museum and its surrounding gardens house and amazing collection of Rodin’s works, along with paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, and other artists.

I consider myself to be a thinking man and Rodin’s famous statue, Le Penseur (The Thinker) has always been my favorites. Yes, the statue has been overly commercialized and there are multiple castings of the statue throughout the world. It is difficult to say which one is “the” original, since a smaller version of the stature was designed to be part of Rodin’s large work Gates of Hell. Emplaced outdoors in Rodin’s world, surrounded by countless other works by Rodin, the version of statue at the Musée Rodin feels authentic—it is the one that was donated to the people of Paris in 1906.

One of the coolest thing for me about sculpture, especially when it is outdoors, is that you can examine it from multiple angles and the feel of the statue changes as the light and weather changes. I spent a lot of time with The Thinker yesterday and even spent some time seated on a bench with two others as the three of us silently worked on our sketches of the well-known sculpture. As the final photo shows, my skills have not yet improved, but my confidence has definitely increased. I did not feel ill at ease or self-conscious when sketching.

Two things really struck me about Rodin’s work as I was sketching. The first impression was a sense of wonder and amazement at Rodin’s ability to capture the human physiques. My rudimentary drawing skills kept rendering the body with straight lines— ended up with skinny arms and legs—while Rodin expressed so well the muscular curves of the men he sculpted. Secondly, I concluded that it is near impossible to sketch hands and feet, especially when they are twisted or contorted. There are just two many moving parts in hands and feet, which makes knees and elbows seem easy by comparison.

The Thinker in Paris

The Thinker in Paris

The Thinker in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When you are staying in the center of Paris and walking almost everywhere, you don’t really need to plan to see cool things—they surround you all of the time. Late yesterday afternoon, as the sun was getting low on the horizon, I had to cross the Place de la Concorde to head towards home and captured this shot of the Luxor Obelisk in the center of the square.

As I was doing a little research on the obelisk, mostly relying on Wikipedia, I learned that it is a granite column, 75 feet (23 meters) high, including the base, and weighs over 276 tons (250 metric tons). Even today, transporting and erecting something this big would be an engineering challenge. Imagine what it was like trying to do so in 1833.

For some reason I thought the obelisk had been stolen, but the Archaeology Travel website provides the following details of the transaction.

“Initially both the obelisks from the Luxor Temple were promised to England. Following diplomatic negotiations they were both gifted to France by Pasha Muhammed Ali. In return,  King Louis Philippe gave the Pasha a large clock. The clock is still in place in the clock tower of the mosque at the summit of the Citadel of Cairo.”

The Wikipedia article referenced above wryly notes that after the obelisk had left Egypt, the large mechanical clock provided in exchange turned out to be faulty, probably because of damage during transport.  “The worthless clock still exists to this day in a clocktower in Egypt, and is still not working.”

Place de la Concorde

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Those of you who know me well are probably surprised that I have not yet posted an insect photo from Paris. I have chased after a few hornets and flies, but came up pretty much empty-handed. Yesterday, however, I came upon this cool little ladybug on top of a pole blocking off a pedestrian zone and finally captured an urban insect photo worth posting.

All things considered, the ladybug was quite cooperative. She—the ladybug might be a male, but the name causes me to assume it is a female—crawled around the spherical surface on the top of the pole, giving me a number of different views. I do not have a true macro lens with me, but I do have a 24mm lens that is sharp and lets me get pretty close.

I initially tried shooting downward at the ladybug, but the results were not very exciting. When I bent down so I was at eye-level or maybe slightly lower, I got a cool, out of focus street background that I really like.

I do not know enough about ladybugs in France to know if this is a domestic one or is a foreign visitor—there are certainly plenty of those in Paris, present company included.

 

ladybug in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There were dogs everywhere yesterday at the Bois de Boulogne, most of them off leash, exploring all parts of the extensive wooded area on the outskirts of Paris. This seems to be a favorite dog walking spot for Parisians and maybe for doggie daycare/training, because, as you can see in the final photo, there were some big groups of dogs.

Most of the dogs and the people ignored me, though a pair of Chihuahuas with matching bright red sweaters barked ferociously as I passed. My path crossed with one large dog and I was struck by its gentle eyes and friendly disposition. I got down to eye level with the dog and petted him a bit, with the owner’s permission. He seemed so sweet.

After engaging with the owner and dog for a few short minutes, I watched them walk away. Only then did I realize that the dog was missing one of its front legs.

Dog in Bois de Boulogne

Dog at Bois de Boulogne

Dogs at the Bois de Boulogne

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of you know that I struggle to find ways to use the camera on my new iPhone 11. Yesterday when I was visiting the large greenhouse complex at Le Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil in Paris, however, I captured these shots with that camera. (FYI, “serre” is the French word for a greenhouse.) I think the issue is that I am used to shooting mostly dynamic moving subjects and I don’t find myself able to track action the way that I would like with a camera phone or make quick adjustment to my settings on the fly. The greenhouse complex was not going anywhere, so it was easy to remember I could use my phone.

The wide angle capabilities of the iPhone, bordering on fisheye, allowed me to take some cool shots as I wandered through multiple greenhouses. The tropical greenhouse, though, fogged the lens on my DSLR because of the extreme warmth and humidity, so I didn’t even bother to try with my iPhone.

The garden is located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the city’s 16th arrondissement, in the extreme southwest corner. It is in an interesting area, because while I was wandering about I walked past Roland Garros Stadium, where the French Open tennis championships are held and Longchamp Racecourse, where a series of well-known horse races are run.

I could not help but smile at all of the signs that I passed for the horse track, because the French word of it is “hippodrome.” Now I realize that this French word is based on some perfectly good ancient Greek words, but I can’t help but imagine a group of racing hippopotamuses, or should I say “hippopotami” if I want to be classical. After all, maybe “river horses” like to compete against each other too.

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Entrance gate to Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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It seems like people are using cellphones more and more often when they are behind the wheel. Earlier during this trip to Paris I noticed this operator of an excavator along the banks of the Seine checking out his cell phone.

Was he watching a YouTube video on how to operate the machine? Was he stuck in the mud and searching in Google for a solution? Perhaps he was just taking a break. Whatever the case, I kept my distance just in case he started moving in my direction while distracted by his cellphone.

As I struggle to be “artistic” in my photography, I try not to lose sight of the fact that photography is about capturing the moment. Sometimes it is about art, but sometimes it is about simply capturing something that makes me smile.

Have a wonderful day.

excavator in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I went on a three hour sketching tour, which turned out to be awesome once I got over some initial inhibitions over doing art in the public eye. Our instructor/guide, who is a young professor of art in the University of Paris, led us on a mini tour of Montmartre, sharing liberally fascinating tidbits of information on the history of this area of Paris and its role for the artistic movements in Paris. Along the way, he also shared his personal history as an artist and his own views on art.

Before we began, he issued us a collapsible stool, a sketchbook, and a little pouch of materials. At preselected points along the way, we stopped, opened the stools (sometimes literally in the middle of a sidewalk) and had a specific, timed assignment. There were only three of us in our little class, so we got plenty of attention as we sketched, though Romain’s comments were mostly in the nature of gentle questions.

Our first assignment began when we stopped in front of a beautiful pink house, known as La Maison Rose. This building, which was probably built in the 1850’s has a fascinating history and was immortalized by several painters. If you are interested in the history of the house, here is a link to a really engaging article on the blog at parisnicevacations.net that initially appeared in French in Montmartre-Addict. Of note, there is a very interesting connection with Picasso and one of his former models.

As the clocked ticked down inexorably, the blank page challenged me, defying me to create something with my hands, my mind, and my three graphite pencils of different hardnesses. Romain, our instructor, emphasize the importance of the first line, the line that would set the parameters for the entire sketch. I wish I could describe for you what was going on in my head as I worked on this first sketch, but it passed in a blur. I know that people passed and watched us, but I was so focused on my work that I paid them no attention.

We had 20 minutes for the sketch, if I recall correctly, which sounds like a lot of time, but it was so easy to get distracted in the details of the building. The second photo below shows the results of our initial sketches. Can you guess which one is mine?  While we were sketching La Maison Rose, Romain watched us and even did his own little sketch of us sketching. It’s not hard to pick me out in that sketch, shown in the third photo below, considering that I was the only guy in the group of budding artists.

We did some other exercises, including sketching in pen, and I might do another posting about that. I was pretty energized by the experience and as the evening wore down, decided to try a more deliberate sketch of La Maison Rose, using my photo as reference material, and the result is shown in the final photo. The lines are a little wonky and I didn’t really leave enough white space on the page for the building to breathe, but I like it a bit better than my initial sketch en plein ail, though I must confess that I spent more time on it, used an eraser more, and was a little tired when I completed it at 2:00 in the morning.

In case you wondered, my initial sketch was in the sketchbook on the left. My German colleague, whose sketch book was in the middle, seemed to be the most experienced of the three of us and has a somewhat more refined style. My Australian colleague, who was originally from South Africa, tended to sketch more lightly and delicately, and it’s a little hard to see her work in the photo. We really were not in competition, so it was easy to share our results with each other. What amazed me the most, perhaps, is that throughout the entire class, our basic “styles” and approaches did not change much.

My sketches tended to be darker, bolder, and a bit chunky than the others—I think I am ok with that, though I obviously do need to a lot of work on actual drawing techniques. I have signed up for a shorter sketching tour with Romain on this coming Sunday that begins outside of Notre Dame and I hope to get in a little practice before then.

La Maison Rose in Monmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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