Home Genres Travel Photography Paris Notes: Making connections

Paris Notes: Making connections

24

During the Summer of 2000, a year and some months after our wedding, my wife and I backpacked around Europe. Paris was on top of the list. What follows are ten anecdotes from that city. I carried five rolls of colour film.

Nabila ran her eyes down the line of companies listed on the slab of black granite. She carried a bag in a two-toned soft leather slung over one shoulder. In her hand she clutched a soft cloth purse. Her usual clear brow was furrowed. She had an appointment and she was running late. She had missed the connecting metro from Place de la Nation to La Défense because of an errand her mother had asked her to do. If only she could find which floor the firm was located on quickly, she would still be able to catch Thierry for lunch.


Mathilde took a left at Rue de Grenelle and headed down Rue Fabert in the direction of the École Militaire. Little Hercules trotted behind on a long leash. Preoccupied with the arrangements for the dinner guests later that day, Mathilde hadn’t yet felt the hot afternoon sun on her sleeveless arms. In fact, once under the shade of the trees that lined one side of the avenue, her favourite spot was just a few metres ahead. Little Hercules knew it too. He wouldn’t have to be told to wait as his mistress stopped for a minute and took in the view.


M. Arman’s morning shift was over. He wasn’t ready to go home yet. Not today. Today, he was off to a game of boules on the Champ de Mars. In any case, the tiny flat in the 15th arrondissement would be empty save for Hervé. And Hervé could look after himself. M. Arman had been married to Mme. Simone for 44 years until her death last year. She was 16 and he 23 when they had first met. Tomorrow Annette, his daughter, was bringing his grandchildren from Le Havre to visit him. The first anniversary wouldn’t be so lonely after all.


Exiting the small, fenced park at Place Salvador Allende, the twins, Clarisse and Cléméntine, followed their nanny home to No. 92 on Boulevard de la Tour Mauboug. The park hedges, trimmed and shaped into cones, were a poor imitation of the slender form of the steel and iron structure in the background. At least the fountains were on that evening and the kids had a great time chasing each other through the spray. A few more minutes was all they were allowed. By the end they were happy and hungry and their maman was waiting.


Solène was in no mood for excuses. Arms folded, head tilted slightly, her demeanour amply conveyed that. From a distance the couple, perched as they were at the top of the stairs leading to the Place des Degrés, briefly mimicked the buildings that framed them in conversation. To be fair, Julien wasn’t entirely to blame for his tardiness. This was his first visit to La Défense. It was also the first time he’d been so far from the familiar environs of Clichy-sous-Bois on the eastern edge of Paris. Besides, La Défense was extremely confusing for a first timer with its wide avenues and gleaming glass buildings.


Pauline’s legs ached. It was a while since she had last shown the sights of Paris to visiting friends from the US. How enthusiastic they were too. Paris had to be done on foot! Or, as much as poor Pauline’s aching feet could take. Here they were at Place Igor Stravinsky after a morning tour around the Île de la Cité and the smaller Île Saint-Louis. The square, named after the Russian composer, was packed with people from all parts of the world. Finding herself alone at the water’s edge, she stretched out languorously, oblivious to the playfulness of Niki de Saint Phalle’s animated sculptures in the background.


Slowly as if emerging from a fog the shape and patterns grew more defined. As he bent over, his eyes tried to get a fix on the tiny cropped figure in the bottom corner as it surfaced from the solution. “Ahh! What’s this…,” he said to himself. Lifting the dripping print, a smile slowly creased his face. CNIT. Yes–and more. The lines of its sloping roof viewed from this angle looked like wings reaching up to the sky. And the rows of steps from the stairwell at its front. All encapsulated in a woman’s tee. Then the thought occurred that he was probably seeing too much into this, and he let his eyes wander over the rest of the picture.


The Esplanade stretched out for four kilometres in front of them. From their vantage point at the base of Le Grande Arche, Raoul and Mathieu could just about make out the other more famous arch at the far end. They had been sitting at the top of the steps for close to ten minutes waiting for a friend to join them. Finally, he arrived, somewhat breathless. Thierry had an apology and a request to make–someone, well a girl actually, if they must know, had unexpectedly dropped by…for lunch…and could they go on without him?


As an intern at the Louvre, Antoine had access to the exhibition floors every day of the week, sometimes including Tuesdays when the museum is closed. Today something drew him to the tall windows overlooking Cour Marly in the Richelieu wing. Maybe it was the light. The glass ceiling cast shadow lines that angled down the wall of the opposite wing, crisscrossed the upper deck where “Mercury Fastening His Heels”, by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, in black marble commanded one corner of the court before slipping down to the lower level and tracing an almost parallel path with the stairs.


“Why is this man laughing?” The thought could have crossed the mind of any casual observers. But Marius was unaware of anyone watching him. He had the second half of the day off. The metro from Pigalle would take him to Concorde, six stops away, where he’d catch the connection to La Tour-Maubourg. His thoughts went back to the telephone conversation he had with his wife, Céline, earlier in the day. The antics of his two daughters always brought a smile to his face. He looked forward to seeing them awake for a change.


All photographs were shot on Kodacolor 200 film. Black & white conversion was done in Photoshop.

The stories against each picture are a work of fiction. Names, characters, events and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or actual events is purely coincidental.

I am forever indebted to: “Pauper’s Paris”, “Toujours Provence”, “A Year In Provence” by Peter Mayle; “Paris Was Yesterday”, “Paris Journal 1956-1964” by Janet Flanner; “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway; “Long Ago In France” by M F K Fisher; “Paris, Paris — Journey Into The City Of Light” by David Downie; “The Seine — The River that Made Paris” by Elaine Sciolino and undoubtedly many others.

Note: If you buy any of the above books using the link, Macfilos will receive a very small commission payment to help with publishing costs. Macfilos is a not-for-profit private publication.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Farhiz, please accept my apologies for being a little late to this one – work is impeding my life a little too much at times.

    I really enjoyed what you did with this, the narrative with each image adds a really nice touch, and the images are brilliantly put together.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Very well done, Farhiz. I enjoyed the writing , and when I reached the end your “influencers” made perfect sense. I’m currently reading some Hemingway myself, though not of his Parisian days.

    Many thanks.

    • Thanks Jason. Some of those books have been with me since my first trip to the city, back in ’84.

  3. There’s a weird ‘granular’ quality to these – the actual texture of the pictures – as if they were shot on 16mm film, or with a Minox, and then enlarged. I’d love to see them slightly sharper, and without that ‘granularity’, and then enlarged to about 18″ wide.

    I can see what you’re doing with the shapes, but the ‘texture’ of the actual pics seems to work against it. I’d just love “As an intern at the Louvre..” to be sharper, to give clearer features to the statuary.

    For me – though clearly not for others! – I’d just want the Sharpness slider (..or whatever it’s called in Photoshop..) to’ve been increased a little. It’s like a taste which you can almost identify ..but not quite, as there’s not quite enough information to give you the exact taste.

    How did you scan them into Photoshop? ..What piece of equipment did you use to get the colour negatives into your computer? ..They almost look as if this was old, expired Kodacolor.. was it?

    • David, these were definitely not expired Kodacolor rolls. But the scans that I got were from one of those Kodak processing shops. So the quality is very low. For instance I feel comfortable to go upto 5×7½” and not much more. Now if I can find those negatives and get a proper scan I’d like to check out the things you say. A few days ago, there was a discussion in the comments about Topaz. I had had these pictures in mind.

      • Oooh. You should see the difference, then, if these were scanned with a decent scanner, such as a Nikon Super Coolscan!

        It’s such a shame to take great pictures, but then have them done a disservice by a cheap ‘can’t care less’ processing lab.

        I’m not sure that the Topaz software could put back what’s been lost here. I’m going away for a few days, but when I come back (..ah; I don’t know where you are, but Mike probably does..) you could send me the negs and I could do some decent scans for you. Say, after August 7th.. or you could send them to Mike, and he could pass them on to me when I get back..

  4. A perfect match between images and narrative. The images remmind me of my student days at the Sorbonne when I took long walks around town. Paris has changed a lot since you were there and the rhythm is much more hectic nowadays.
    Thanks Farhiz
    Jean

    • Thank you, Jean. Like I mentioned to Mike, that reference to Le Havre was with you in mind. I guess the pace of life in any metro city is so much more hectic even from a couple of decades ago. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been back.

  5. Thanks Farhiz, for reminding me why people love Paris. It’s a beguiling city for sure, with stories around every corner if you choose to look. I lived there for a while in the early ’90’s a stone’s throw from Mitterand’s place on the Quai de la Tournelle and worked on the Quai de la Megisserie, just a short walk away.

    Autumn in Paris is still my favorite, contrary to popular song, and a walk through Tuilleries or Luxembourg on a Sunday afternoon is still a wonderful memory.

    • Thanks Chef. I wish when we were in school we had a choice of taking up a foreign language just as kids here do these days. I would have chosen French.

  6. Farhiz just magnificent,wonderful storylines and photos. I figure if your sons are handsome and daughters look like models, they get their look from your wife. HA THANKS

    • Thanks John. Your comments are always a delight to read. And yes, thankfully my daughter has her mother’s good looks.

  7. Very imaginative Farhiz, both the images and the writing.
    Thinking differently. Well done. Enjoyed it a lot.

    • Thanks Wayne. I enjoyed writing this as well but to be honest I wasn’t so sure of the gang here on Macfilos. But you guys are gold.

  8. Paris is a wonderful city, if not always the friendliest place to visit. Back in the 1990s I was my country’s representative at an OECD committee which meant plenty of visits to Paris. I always much preferred it to Brussels which was another city which I visited on many occasions in a similar role. When La Defense was first built I could see it in the distance just like another city within a city. When I eventually went there and looked at the view from the Grand Arche down the Avenue De La Grande Armee to the Arch de Triomphe and from there down the Champs Elysee to the Place De La Concorde, I knew that I was looking at the one of the finest sights in the world.

    Parisians, as you know, are a law unto themselves and they often seem indifferent to everyone around them, particularly tourists. Yet in your little vignettes you have managed to bring them to life and give them a human side. You should try to do the same thing when you come to Dublin. The main difference is that people here will come up to you and volunteer their life stories without you having to ask.

    William

    • Thanks William. Another thing that has always seemed funny to me is that some modern day photographers like to photograph Paris in black & white. Is that true of any other city?

      • Thanks Farhiz. Paris lends itself to black and white as it makes the features of the city stand out. I have more of my father’s photos of Paris from 1939, in addition to those which appeared in my recent article, including some from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. The photos from the top of the Arc really show the structure of the city. I will bundle them up for Mike to pass them along to you.

        William

        • That would be very cool, William. Incidentally I have a copy of a big picture book called Above Paris, and the colour photos help bring out the particular colour of its buildings.

  9. “Ah, whats this?” I find that picture fascinating. When I look at it, the curved white area appears to be pulled down to reveal an image behind it.

    I also really enjoyed the second last image with the shaddows.

    • Thank you, Brian. “Ah, what’s this?” is also the only one where I didn’t have to come up with a name. 🙂

  10. An unusual and entertaining piece Farhiz, thanks. But it begs the question, did you think up a story first and then compose the picture or the other way around? Or perhaps they are mixtures of the two?

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