Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Hi again!

November 16, 2010

Nephew Hugh is in Geneva, I may have said, doing a six-month internship which has just ended, but they’ve hired him on contract, so he’s there for another five months for sure and maybe one more. Hooray! He’s getting a salary commensurate with his qualifications – his new Master’s degree.

With my principal aim to go see him, I flew to Paris and then took the high speed train down Geneva.  Now, I couldn’t land in Paris without going to see some exhibitions, so I arranged with my cousin Claire from Montreal to meet me there and spend a week. Fabulous! It’s been twenty years since last I was there.

We walked a lot seeing sights, got our exercise climbing stairs in and out of the Metro. No wonder the perky girls of Paris are so pert and slender. They get their exercise going places. So much walking, so many stairs!

I saw a Permanent collection exhibition at the Petit Palais; Monet and the Abstractionist that were influenced by him at the Marmottan;  spent three hours seeing William Kentridge at the Jeu de Paume; an hour’s look at end of day at the Louvre; a retrospective of Modern art in the Centre Beaubourg plus a contemporary exhibit of women’s art was there too.

It was late August. All the commercial galleries were closed for summer holidays. Tourists, it seems, do not buy art.

We ate meals of wine, cheese, dairy products, crunchy crusted baguettes, and fresh fruit and vegetables in our room, with products from Monoprix, a department store with a large grocery department. With a good steak knife I bought from a flea market and our saved plastic cutlery from the plane, we had all the utensils we needed.  We ate lunches at “selfs” which are self-serve canteens for inexpensive eating-out and we ate lunches sitting on city benches with pre-cooked finger food from bakeries and corner groceries; and a had few dinners at restaurants packed with Parisiens and tourists, the kind Paris is famous for. We drank tiny cups of delicious French coffee thereby renting the right to sit and watch the world go by.

We took a day to go to Auvers sur Oise where van Gogh spent his last days and wandered through the small town, up to the church, over to the cemetery, through the fields and back via the Chateau d’Auvers where there was a good but small exhibition of theatre deisgn drawings.

After six full days of a mad tourist schedule, Claire returned home and I continued on.

She left Friday morning and by noon, I had traveled by train to see my art professor from thirty-five years back. He and his wife live in a lovely small town in the Marne Valley in a starkly modern but nonetheless warm home they designed themselves. They, being part of a Champagne families,  toasted my arrival with a bottle of the best and we had a whole afternoon of catch-up and then wonderful French home-cooked dinner. I took the train back to Paris and arrived near midnight.

Next day I visited one of my classmates, Veronique, now a retired fabric designer, still teaching art through art centres. She lives in the outskirts of Paris. She took me to a lovely park that the community is allowing to go back to wilderness so that the birds and wildlife will come back into the city area. Late day, I headed back to my hotel to pack up for my trip to Geneva next morning.

The train goes 300 kph. It’s almost impossible to take photos from the moving train now, but I got a few. What North Americans don’t realize, often, is that there are vast tracts of farm lands in Europe, and of forests. We tend to think of Europe as being swallowed up by urban sprawl.

Not so! The urban landscape has gone vertical. Yes, there is sprawl, but the French know how precious their green spaces are and they are carefully managed, retained.So it was a pleasure to fill my eyes with views of acres and acres of farmed lands, of deciduous forests, of vineyards populated by small towns with clusters of red-tiled roofs.

Approaching Geneva in less than three hours from Paris, the landscape climbed into the mountains, the train passed by rocky escarpments and hilly farms with terraced agriculture. Much of it looked like green corduroy where vineyard grew.

Nephew Hugh met me in Geneva at the train station. We arranged a cell phone for me for the duration of my stay – two weeks – and then found a bus to take us up to his residence where he had been able to find accommodation for me. There was still a kilometer to walk from the last stop near the World Health Organization building. I was glad of his muscle and youthful energy, for I had brought far more luggage than I could manage by myself and now he was carrying most of it.

We went immediately to dinner at the least expensive restaurant he had found in the six-month duration of his stay. It was horrendously expensive in comparison to  Canadian similar restaurants, and for the remainder of the stay, the cost of living was a hot topic of discussion.

As Hugh was working during the day, I saw museums of which Geneva has lots, and walked, exploring districts surrounding the places I chose to go. Their Museum of Modern Art is wonderful.

I also went to see the Baur Collection of porcelain which I found interesting but not more than that and for the price was given a free ticket of entry to the Patek Phillipe museum.

I tried to give the ticket away to Hugh’s friends a couple of times without success. What did I want to see a museum of watches for, I asked myself.  I ended up going to it just because I found myself outside the door of it on one of my exploratory walks and I am still raving about it being one of the very best museums I have ever been to. I was astounded at the workmanship that had been produced  in the 17th century and thereafter in the domain of horology. The miniatures painted on porcelain, the miniature sculptures into which time pieces were set, the work in gold, silver and enamel, the detail, the precision, the imagination, the humor were all there. Though we have precision in the computer and industrial world, we have lost so much manual skill and art in modern times. I would go back to that museum many times, given the opportunity. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

There was a long weekend for Hugh while I was there. We met Cousin Barbara at the Geneva airport and took an Alpy Bus to Chamonix in France for the duration of his days off. It was a lovely four days of eating, drinking sleeping and long walks. Barbara was off on a walking tour around Mont Blanc on Sunday. We all had our own agendas – Hugh, to catch up on his sleep after a grueling three weeks of preparation for a conference, Barbara to get over jet-lag before her walking tour began, and I, to get some time to paint.

We met for breakfast, lunch and dinner and there was no question of finding groceries and making makeshift meals in our rooms! We wandered the charming streets before and after, me taking photos, they, peering into store fronts, examining hiking gear and sports stuff. The highlight for me and Hugh was a trip up the Aiguille du Midi by gondola. Bon Dieu! C’est magnifique! We were on the dizzying top of Europe looking down. That was a trip to remember!

Back in Geneva, Hugh was back to work. I still had a week to spend before going up to Strasbourg to meet more friends – and Barbara who, by that time,  would be finished her walking tour and in Strasbourg to see a university friend.

So I had time on my hands which I used with day trips and one-overnighters. I went to Annecy in France by bus and stayed overnight. I went to Berne and Zurich. I saw the Paul Klee Zentrum with a fantastic exhibition comparing quiet Paul Klee’s work with bombastic Picasso’s art. Picasso is a legend, Paul Klee much less so but their work parallels step for step and many times it was Paul Klee the innovator, not Picasso. Picasso became rich in his lifetime, but not so, Paul Klee.

I had never seen so many Paul Klee paintings together at once; ditto for Picasso. I stayed as long as I could and then had to head back to Geneva to meet Hugh.

I went to a small town called Chateau d’Oex (pronounced Chateau Day) in the mountains east of Lac Leman. It is the legendary Switzerland – a chalet town set in a bowl valley surrounded by high peaks, grassy slopes for summer grazing and coniferous forest reaching to the top. It’s Heidi’s world, linked only by a train and torturous roads. It’s beautiful in summer with high stone slopes clothed in bright grass green and the dark forest green of European firs, cedar and pine.

On one of the weekends, Hugh and I went to Yvoire, a medieval town on the French side of Lac Leman. I was happy to see it but it had been made into a saccharine tourist trap, overloaded with flower-baskets on steroids and commercial spaces divided about equally with restaurants and tourist trinket shops. It was a bright sunny day and we appreciated the train ride and the boat trip across the lake. The mid-day meal was restorative and good French cuisine. But we were happy to be back on the train from Nyon to Geneva and  to our temporary home.

Strasbourg was, for me, a jumping off point. I was headed for Gengenbach, a small town in the Black Forest area of Germany, just east of Strasbourg by 30 kilometers. Now, you would think there would be some decent and quick transportation from Strasbourg to there, but it wasn’t to be.
The train bridge at Kehl had been demolished and new bridge was being put in place. The SNCF and the German equivalent had, in their wisdom, provided a bus to Kehl. At Kehl, I had to change to a train to Offenburg and then wait for a train to Gengenback. The thirty kilometer trip by car became a two hour one. Me! With all my luggage – more than I could manage! Three changes of transportation, each time lifting my heavy two suitcases onto train or bus and going up and down stairs and elevators in the train stations . I was very happy to arrive all in one piece.

I stayed in a hotel close by my friends, she in her late eighties and he in his nighties, so it was out of the question to stay at their place. Their son, Stefan, came to drive us around for those three days; and their daughter Ulla, came to help with lunches and dinners.  Despite their age, they were eager to get out and see things with me. We went to two great exhibitions, the first, one day,  in a Villa redone into a contemporary art gallery – a private collection; and the second day, to Baden Baden to see a retrospective of Joan Miro. I had no idea when I started out that I would see such excellent art exhibitions.

They also took me up to a ruin of a Gothic 12th century church in the Black forest. All of us were photo-hounds so we spent two hours anyway clicking away while Herr Bidinger sat in a folding chair we had brought, watching us and soaking in the fresh air and ancient stone views.

On return to  Strasbourg, Barbara and her university friend and I explored the centre city and the Cathedral on the first evening and then went out to dinner. Next day Barbara who had damaged her knee and heel in the last 15 minutes of her walking tour, agreed to take a tourist boat tour with me as a means of keeping herself off the foot and still seeing something. We had been avoiding touristy things. Despite the mass-tourist fever on the boat, we thoroughly enjoyed the day – sunny and warm, a mild breeze from the river, the sights that we saw that we otherwise could not have had access to. I must confess that I was worse than the others, in exhibiting the tourist-Kodak syndrome. Click, click, click.

Afterward, we were right by the Maison de l’Oeuvre, the location just beside the cathedral where, during the building of the cathedral, the architect and the masons would have met to communicate the work for the day and where building supplies would have kept.  It’s like a guild hall, I think. It’s a fantastic museum worthy of a long visit. The masonry is astounding. The whole underside of the staircase is sculpted into swirling columns. It’s sheer genius.

In the afternoon, I had another high dose of Contemporary Art and came “home” to the hotel worn out with walking, walking, walking.

Luckily I travelled on the 22nd to Paris and found my hotel at Roissy because there was the general strike the next day. I stayed in Roissy rather than fight my way in and out of Paris on a train service that was offering only one train in five because of the labor disruption. I missed the big Monet exhibition in Paris because of it, but I spent a pleasant day in Roissy wandering the streets of the old quarter and finding a place in the little square to do a watercolour or two.

When I got back to the hotel room, I could see a giant construction site across the road from the hotel and I took lots of photos from my hotel window for some future paintings, so the day was not lost.

I’ve been home longer than the 5 weeks I was away, but my screen saver keeps offering me up random photos of the trip and I feel disconnectedly that my spirit is more there than here.

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Winter sunshine

December 29, 2009

You need to read yesterday’s post to see why these photos are amazing. Yesterday was fog. Today is sunshine. Each with their own beauty.

This brilliant winter sun shouts “Hallelulia!”

There is incredible warmth in the landscape despite the winterization of all the vegetation. We are exceptionally lucky to have the blueberry bushes that go  flaming red on the landscape and then the river grasses that go gold.

The long shadows help define everything in crisp delineation. No more commentary required: the pictures speak for themselves. If you flip back and forth, you will see that several of these are of the same spots in the landscape.

You can see the Coast Mountains and specifically here, the Golden Ears

And on a good day, you can see Mount Baker beyond the Canadian border in Washington State,

and all this blueberry planting gone red for winter:

After the heavy rains last week the fields filled with water, but the ponds are abating now. There were a hundred ducks and and a few seagulls in this field last week, swimming inland.

The tree below is one of the trees I showed in the previous post, in fog.

Mallards and a Bufflehead making ripples on an otherwise glassy river:

And then the sun started to fade…

sunk, in brilliant glory,

and was gone.

Resuming walks on the Alouette Dike

December 28, 2009

Weather and business. Great excuses. I haven’t been out walking for a long time. Christmas, though, came with some beautiful weather. There was actually some sunshine.

Non-sequitur: I jumped on the bathroom scale. Oops! Christmas baking gain! I kicked the bathroom scale. It has the nerve not to be lying. Five pounds last year. Five pounds this year. Time to go do something about it.

Midday on Boxing day, it was two degrees above, Celsius.   I put on my Winnipeg parka with fur-trimmed hood and plenty of fluffy down. I zipped on my warm winter boots. I found my gloves with lambskin lining that I purchased when I went to Ottawa to see Hugh for Christmas two years ago.

Non-sequitur #2 : Hugh has his Masters. Whoopee! 93% average. Good going Hugh!

I picked up my house and car keys; set the house alarm; exited North; got in the car; drove down the hill and into a bank of fog, to the Alouette Dikes.

There is an eerie beauty in fog. I took lots of pictures. It only slightly detracts from the walking exercise. Well, maybe a bit more than slightly, but if  I didn’t have the camera along, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to go.

I am going to have to go walking more than once if I am to have any effect on my winter waistline. I will also have to go to the gym. Regularly. Rats!

Sunday, the day after Boxing Day (that’s today), I went back to the dike. There was a full winter sun flooding the marshlands. The winter grasses were crisp and precise.  In places, the river and ponds have frozen over. In others, the water is still beautifully liquid, absolutely unruffled, still,  clear and reflective. Two days. Two widely varied landscape conditions.

The fog obscures things. It takes away the non-essentials. When I photograph a tree, that’s all there is – the winter skeleton, bare and lacy. The details elsewhere are not necessary. The object blurs. The background unifies; or you might say that it has dropped off the edge of the continent. It’s gone.

In the sunshine, every leaf, every twig, every tree trunk shines with a golden self-importance. The shadows are long.

On Boxing day, there were a lot of people out walking with their mates,  their children, their friends.  Dogs are pulling on leashes or running after fluorescent coloured tennis balls. Hardy souls are running for their lives. Some are pumping away on their bicycles, weaving in and out amongst the throng of walkers. New cameras and field glasses abound.

A group of twenty-somethings came towards me just as I was listening to a most beautiful sound: Ice that coated the twigs was beginning to crack and melt. It was like a whispering of bells. No! That doesn’t quite describe it. It was like the tinkling of wind in a distant crystal chandelier, faint and delicate.

“Listen, ” I entreat them. It is a fragile innocent sound.

“Oh, it’s just the ice melting off the tree,” says one annoyed young man, satisfied to have explained it satisfactorily. He moved on, calling “Come on, guys, let’s go!” He was missing an essential element of wonder.

The group went forward taking only seconds to reinstate their happy chatter, drowning out the miracle of crackling ice on tiny twigs. Two girls lagged a bit, still stretching their ears towards the delicate sound.

Today, the only sound of note was by the big lagoon, frozen over, skittering like a bird with a high pitched call as three children threw stones across the new drum of ice.  Today, there were scoters and bufflehead ducks in amongst the mallards, swimming together in a multicultural harmony. They are happy that the river mud has unfrozen and they can dive into this murky brown liquid to find edible treats. Their ducking and diving create patterns on the still-water surface.

I’ll post the sunny ones on the next post.

Jason’s bridge

December 8, 2009

With a slightly hurt expression on his face, Jason asked,”What took you so long?”

Heather  took her coat and hung it in the closet by the door. She may have answered but it wasn’t clear.

“I didn’t go on the hike this morning so that I could take Kay up to the bridge we are building at Holden Lake. It’s two thirty already. There won’t be enough time to get back for your choir concert; and I’m supposed to take my Photography class homework pictures up there.”

“How much time does it take to get there?” asked Kay, mollifyingly. It was unlike Jason to ever criticize. He was a man of well-practiced patience.

“Half an hour there and half an hour back. But we need at least twenty minutes for the photographs,” He replied. Kay calculated rapidly. It would be nip and tuck. He  was such a generous brother-in-law that she hated to see him miss something he had his heart set upon.

“Give me five minutes,” said Kay. “I’m not going out into the forest with you in the only good outfit I brought with me. I have to look decent at the concert tonight. I can’t risk cedar juices in the bottom of my pant legs and mud on my shoes from having tramped on wet hiking trails.”

It was agreed then that the two of them would go though the timing was tight. Heather would have a nap.

Jason looked sufficiently appeased.  True to her estimate, Kay was ready in a hurry.

It was a lovely day. After three weeks of rain, the sky was beautifully clear. Though it was early, the sun was already headed toward the horizon. The shadows were long. With the clear skies came low temperatures. Early morning frost had not evaporated in all locations and a fog was coming up between the trees as they passed a small lake. Kay questioned Jason about his photography assignment.

“It needs to be done in full light. We have to find and use the manual settings to try three different f-stops on the same subject and see what difference it makes to our results. Next, we have to use the three different metering options with someone at a distance and then mid-distance and then closer up.”

As they came to the forest company’s logging road, a large truck bearing a full load of stripped logs came towards them. Jason waited while the behemoth lumbered out of the way and then proceeded up the dirt road.

After passing several ATV enthusiasts along the forest company road, (all retired men) they stopped at a nondescript location. Jason turned his truck to a right angle across the road, dipping dangerously, Kay thought, to the shoulder of the road which dropped off into the forest at a steep angle.  She prayed that no more logging trucks were on their way. Jason then backed up, challenging the shoulder on the other side of the road. When he finished his manoeuvering, he was facing in the opposite, in the right direction, to go home,  and he parked at the side of the road on the narrow gravel border.

They got out. Kay followed Jason down the steep path into the forest, holding onto his collar to prevent herself from slipping on the steep muddy trail thus losing balance. Only when the path levelled out did she let go. Under foot, there was a thick pad of partially rotted and very wet cedar debris. It was springy like peat and about the same rich reddish brown.

A narrow path led to a narrow wooden bridge that spanned a raging torrent. It had metal grating nailed to its surface to prevent people from slipping. A narrow log railing was covered with ice on either side of the bridge. Here in the forest far from the warming sun, the temperature had not risen during the day.

“Our men’s group is starting to replace the bridge on Thursday,” he explained as he pointed out two straight trees that had been felled and stripped of their bark.  We’re taking off the one railing on the left side and those two logs are going on that support piece that you see down there at the side. When they are in place, then we will take away the next log and put in a new one. ”
Kay marveled that, even with the river raging below, the men, all retired and most of them over seventy, could replace this bridge without ever losing use of it.

Jason continued, “Last week with all the rains, the lake rose eighteen inches. All that you see on the side there was dry. Now it’s filled up with water and overflowing. There was no torrent there before – a little bit of rushing water where the big boulders  are, but not  anything like this. It’s come down six inches this week, but it’s still raging.”

They crossed the bridge, Kay tightly holding her camera and barely touching the icy rail for balance.  There were beautiful quiet pools at the edges of the bridge with smooth green and gold rocks below the shiny surface. M magnificent waters running in the middle.

White water was dashing against the stolid boulders. Looking back toward the lake, mists were rising, separating out the various layers of trees. The sun was dipping between the cedar branches. It was getting gloomy at three-fifteen even though the sun had an hour before it would set for the night. The winter shrubs were sepia-coloured and overlaced with russets. Above them, the cedar branches were a deep green and between them, the lake was black with rising mists a bluish smoky grey.

Jason set up his tripod at the other end of the bridge. His homework papers sat illogically white and brittle in this beautiful gloom, on the last step down off the bridge, as he fiddled with his tripod, his metering and his manual settings of f-stops. Kay  meanwhile explored things on her own – the pile of cedar logs for Thursdays fire to keep the workers warm and to cook the midday meal; the translucent greens in the quiet pools; the twigs that etched their signatures on the soft shapes of the mists; and the fallen leaves suspended in time in the clear still waters near the stream’s edge.

When soon the photography was done, Jason drove them back home, fingers frozen but their eyes full of the forest wonders.

Kay reflected on the curious shape of days.  A single event could make or break a day but here was a day that would give her three thrills. The octagenarian joy ride and the church luncheon had been one; this walk in the silent forest had been such an unexpected visual surprise; and there was still Heather’s choir concert to come, in the evening.

To be continued.