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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it definitely will not happen here in Northern Virginia where I live. High temperatures today are forecast to reach 67 degrees (19 degrees C), which is quite a bit warmer than normal for this time of the year, and we are much more likely to see rain than snow this day.

In order to put folks into more of a traditional Christmas spirit (at least those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere), I thought I would post a few snowy images from my visit in late November to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating today and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I experienced so much natural beauty in the mountains, the water, and the forest during my recent visit to the state of Washington, that it is hard to imagine that anything manmade could compete with it. However, the Deception Pass Bridge in Oak Harbor is so striking that its scenic beauty is undeniable—my first glimpse of it literally caused me to stop in my tracks and marvel at it with eyes wide open.

The first photo shows the Deception Pass span, but there is actually a smaller span over Canoe Pass that you cross first when coming from the north, as you can see in the second image. In between the two spans is a small island known as Pass Island.

The bridge was completed in 1935, according to Wikipedia. The Canoe Pass arch spans 511 ft (156 m) and the Deception Pass arch spans 976 ft (297 m). Overall the roadway is approximately 180 feet (55 m) above the water, depending on the tide.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not had very many opportunities to take wildlife photos during my time here in the state of Washington, so I was particularly delighted when I spotted some birds during a trip to Anacortes on Wednesday.

There were quite a few cormorants hanging around a dock area, including the one in the first photo below. I think it is a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), although I am aware that are some additional cormorant species on the West Coast of the US, so I am a little uncertain about my identification.

As I was exploring a lake a little later in the day, I spotted a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in the vegetation. I had a 55-250mm lens on my camera, the longest lens that I brought with me on this trip, so I did not think I would be to get a decent shot of the elusive bird—normally when I am photographing birds I use a 150-600mm lens. I was pretty happy with my kinglet shot, the second image below.

The bird in the final photo is a male Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola) that I spotted at the same lake. He was a good distance away, but I managed to capture a hint of his colorful iridescent plumage—you may need to click on the image to get a better look at his coloration.

 

cormorant

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As part of a day trip earlier this week, I drove through part of the Quinault Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of the state of Washington. It was amazing to see so many large fir trees surrounded by green ferns, moss, and other vegetation—everything was so green.

I was thrilled when I spotted a large waterfall amidst all of this lush greenery. I could not see the actual source of the water, but it was flowing quite strongly.

It was a real contrast to the mountain waterfalls that I had seen the previous day on Mt. Rainier. The mountain waterfall scene seemed full of sharp edges and contrast, while the rain forest waterfall scene was soft and a bit dream-like.

rain forest waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I probably should have looked at the weather forecast yesterday before I set off on a drive to the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to see some of the beaches on the Pacific Ocean Coast and drive through the Olympic National Forest.

It was raining when I started driving and it rained the entire day. I probably should have checked road distances too, because my little day trip turned out to be a surprising 448 miles (721 km) in length.

That being said, it was a beautiful drive on roads through spectacular forests of fir trees, through quaint small towns, and occasionally alongside the ocean or one of several large lakes.

I did manage to walk along for a short time along one of the beaches that was accessible from a parking area. I bundled up in my rain parka and braved the elements, sometimes trying to hold onto an umbrella, and took these shots with my iPhone.

The ocean was wild and wonderful in its rugged beauty and I did my best to capture a sense of the location. The first and second shots show my view as I looked down the beach in one direction and then in the other.

The rocks in the water really captured my attention and I spent most of my time trying to capture their interactions with the crashing waves.

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington and was delighted and amazed by the incredible scenery that I observed. Many of the mountains were covered in snow and the clouds were moving among the peaks, sometimes letting them come into view, but frequently concealing them.

I was able to drive as far as an area called Paradise that is 5400 feet (1646 meters) above sea level. Although the roads and parking areas were clear, the surrounding area was covered in snow. I was able to hike a little, but my running shoes did not provide much traction, so I gave up after a short while. Additionally, mist was settling on that area in the late afternoon, as you can see in the final photo.

On the drive up the mountain, there were lots of places to pull off the road to get a closer look at the scenery. I was particularly impressed by several beautiful waterfalls, including the one in the second photo.

I alternated between shooting with my iPhone 11 and my Canon SL2 and took a pretty good number of shots. I am still going through my images, but thought it would be good to provide a preview of the types of images that I was attempting to capture. I am pretty sure that I will feature more photos of this beautiful location in some future posts.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of  the best known buildings in Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. You can see the multicolored tiled roof, one of its distinctive features, in the photos below that I took a few nights ago. The cathedral is located in a busy area in the center of the city with surrounding buildings quite close. As a result, you have to get pretty close and shoot upwards to get an unobstructed view and the angles get all skewed.

In a few hours a taxi will bring me to the airport to catch my flight back to the USA. It has been a brief trip to Vienna with most of my daylight hours occupied with work, but I have been fortunate to have the chance to catch some of the beautiful Christmas decorations in the city at nights. I might do another posting or two of Vienna when I return home, but this will almost certainly be my last one that I write in Vienna itself.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever the holidays happen to find you.

Stephansdom Vienna

Stephansdom Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last night I had the chance to go strolling through the central pedestrian shopping area in Vienna. A light snow was gently falling, making things feel even more festive as the city prepares for Christmas. One of the really cool things about this area is that each of the streets has a different style lighting. The photos below show three of my favorites.

Vienna Christmas

Vienna Christmas lights

Vienna Christmas lights

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Once again I find myself in Vienna, Austria just before Christmas for a work trip. Many of you know that I retired earlier this year, but I was requested to come back to assist with a workshop this week that I have helped to run for the past seven years. It is hard to say no to an overseas trip and Vienna is particularly beautiful at this time of the year. There are lots of Christmas markets throughout the city, wirh the largest one in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).

In the market there are rows and rows of vendors selling all kinds of products, including a wide variety of food and beverages. My personal favorite is the käsekrainer, a large sausage filled with chunks of cheese that melt when the sausage is grilled. I usually have mine in a hard crusted roll (like a mini baguette) with lots of spicy mustard. The most popular item for consumption, though, appears to be glühwein, hot spicy wine, served in festive mugs. You put down a deposit on the mugs and either return them or take them away with you.

Most of my daylight hours, which seem really limited at this time of the year, are filled with work, but I managed to make it to the Rathaus Christmas Market and grabbed a few photos one evening earlier this week. Hopefully they give you a sense of the festive atmosphere at the market, though you don’t get the smells of the food cooking in the open air and the sounds of the Christmas music, with a variety of individuals and groups performing live.

Merry Christmas in advance and Happy Holidays to those of you who do not celebrate Christmas.

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for over 25 years. Like most people who live in the region, I rarely travel into the city except when I have guests. We tend to look a bit negatively at tourists, who impede our paths and generally get in the way as we rush about trying to get important things—primarily work—accomplished. It is a bit of a stereotype, but it does seem to be that most people in this area are very focused and driven.

As I continued to struggle to readapt to “normal” life after my glorious three weeks in Paris, I started to wonder how things would look differently if I approached Washington D.C. with the same sense of awe and enthusiasm that I felt for Paris. What if I stopped taking for granted all of the treasures our nation’s capital has to offer and looked at them with fresh eyes?

Saturday, I grabbed the camera gear and the raincoat that I used in Paris and rode into the city on the Metro system. I had a relaxing time visiting several of the Smithsonian museums, which all have no admission fee, so you don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to get your money’s worth. I may cover my museum experience in another posting.

What struck me the most during the day, however, was the view that greeted me when I walked out of the National Gallery of Art at closing time. It was starting to get dark and lights had come on, gently illuminating some of the buildings. As I looked to the left, I could see the U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress, and to the right in the distance was the Washington Monument, with a part of the Lincoln Memorial visible behind it. Wow!

Now I realize that most people don’t have Washington D.C. in their backyard, but I encourage you to look afresh at the area in which you live. Imagine that you have traveled thousands of miles to see its unique beauties. For me, that change in attitude helped me to look beyond the familiar and better appreciate the beauty that was always there. I had always used that approach in my wildlife photography and only now realize how it can be broadened into so many other areas of my life.

U.S. Capitol

Washington Monument

U.S. Capitol

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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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 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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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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