Tuesday, May 31, 2011

True confessions of an electromagnetic forcefield

One of the minor drawbacks of being a pivotal center of electromagnetic energy is that unsophisticated technology (or any technology, come to think of it) has trouble functioning in my presence. 

The weak ones just give up the ghost and short circuit (i.e. every microphone in every show i've ever participated in). The more proactive ones throw themselves into harm's way (phone ran over by car), take their own life (phone down the toilet on an already awkward first date), or simply run away (phone that left itself somewhere in Oregon, or, most tragically recent, netbook and ipod that sneakily stowed away in the taxi my first day in Paris).

This minor drawback evolves into something of a rather major drawback when I happen to be in Paris, already computer and music-less, and my previously stalwart digital point and shoot camera or its memory card (but probably both) decides it's had enough of my harmful rays and it's high time to conduct a bloody revolution of its own, effectively sending ALL of my pictures to the guillotine.

  This Reign of Terror has left me hollow and sobered and a rather poor blogger from now on, I'm afraid (I was planning on amazing and delighting with everything I've been seeing an learning in my photog class). I don't mean to complain or anything, but WHY ME!? Ce n'est pas juste! 

If you sais que je mean.

Love, loss, and no photographic evidence that I'm having the time of my life,
P.S. All this is made significantly better by the memory of seeing Fleet Foxes live last night (In fact, today when I went to this cute hipster photography store, Lomography [here], to soothe the blow with some food for my Holga, the guy who worked there asked me if I was at the concert and I said why yes I was. And he said it was incredible and I agreed and he said it was really really hot though and I said yeah it was really hot. And then I smiled at how amazing the conert was and he smiled at how bad my french is). Wow. I'm going nuts with parentheticals.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stone and Glass and Why We Should Look at Them (and climb so many stairs)

Daddy and me (and Nip the cat, the first of way too many Beanie Babies) atop L'Arc de Triomphe
On my last trip to Paris it was 1998 and I distinctly recall my parents trying to drag me into La Conciergerie to see Marie Antoinette's cell, and me protesting firmly that I had to finish Captain Underpants instead. This trip I arrived a ravenous Humanities major, albeit with some "personal issues" to sort through. As Brookie (an endlessly perceptive and profound best friend) wrote me as I left, "Nan, things are tough and rough and I think you feel like a tumble weed, it'll be nice to see old fashioned things that have lasted through time, maybe they'll teach you their secrets and things."

So I set out to look at some old things because I love art and history and because, perhaps, in some way they might teach me a thing or two about perserverance.
At once I met with some hard blows to my idealism. I guess I never wanted to pay attention to the fact that most of what we want to see of medieval Paris has been restored, lost, changed,  and/or destroyed and/or plundered during the revolution (aka "These are not François I's bed curtains. I want to see François I's bed curtains").
The original stuff is crumbily, dirty, and graffitied, and of course I'm broadly generalizing and simplifying to make a point.
My point is this:
The beauty of Paris' rich architectural and cultural past isn't determined by how "original" the upholstery or whether the handrail was replaced in the nineties.
It lies in the fact that century after century people have worked, reigned, prayed, fought, and lived in this city, adding their own contributions with a nod, always, to those of the past. The result is a marvelous jumble of layer upon layer of stone (and now also FNACS) that coexist with the new and give little whispers of the past while reminding you that what you (I, really) need to do is think about your (my) future.

And for the record, I did't think the Conciergerie was that great this time either, but maybe mostly because I didn't find Charles Darnay on the list of the imprisoned. But then again, I've always had a hard time separating reality and Charles Dickens (or Captain Underpants).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ode à France {dernier projet}.

Here lies my last project for my French photography class. Enjoy (and, as always, comment if you please)!

Buildings. Space. Land.
Rootedness and up-rootedness.
"I don't regret the numerous pictures of Brigitte Bardot, but I'd rather have a good photograph of my father."

Did all this conjure up a portrait of twentieth century french photographer Raymond Depardon? Well that's alright. To me, he's something of a hodge-podge of ideologies and sentimentality, all summed up by his grand commission from the state of France to capture, well, France.
Depardon scoured the country seeking for areas of "tension"; he photographed objects, particularly buildings, that cohabitated in  space and told (people-lessly) the story and history of a people that is inseparable from that people's fierce attachment to the land. 
So for my final photographic reflection on Paris and my little "Ode to Depardon," I thought I ought to pay hommage to some of the tensions, or apparent incongruencies, that give France and French culture their identities to me.

Take, for instance, the fact that one of the reasons Paris is Paris is because everyone wants to be there, so they bring their country along with them.

And snuggle the converging architectural style right in, nice and cozy.

Or take the tension between the universal, unrestrained joy of early childhood, and the necessity of growing into the determinedly indifferent french girls young french girls must inevitably become.

And then there are other, deeper stirrings. Culture and counter-culture.France's proud past of the classical Academy and the reality of post-revolution iconoclasm.
All brought together in the ever-present cultural melting pot of the Metro.
Depardon used "tension" to represent images that were "so French." 
Perhaps he wouldn't even have taken the following picture or seen anything culturally significant in its subject matter, but to a foreign eye the charm of an elderly jogger literally stopping to hop the fence and smell the roses is endless. And so very French.
It's probably inevitable that my Ode to French Identity is thus fueled and restricted by own identity. That is, because these things are "so French" to me, it probably just shows how not French I am.
But this tension creates a startingly new identity of its own. Before I came to France (as silly as it sounds), I never really thought of myself as "American". I defined myself by my gender, my hobbies, my interests, my religion. I was a Mormon, a theater nerd, a francophile. In the very American tradition, I prided myself in my freedom to be an individual and defined myself accordingly.

But how else can you explain the strange pang of comfort and irony in turning the corner to witness a sight so "very french," but also with a name so very American that it makes me smile? I feel like we know each other. I get it. 

Bearing in mind it's named after a state (and region) I've never even been to, and if I sat down at one of the smokey tables to order, I would undoubtedly make many cultural and linguistic fumbles before finally sinking back in an uneasy sigh of relief and starting to think of home.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Where's Your Dog?" and other pleasures of the Paris Metropolitan

Matching buns near the entrance to the Opéra metro stop.
Some things you might see while aimlessly following Line 6 of the Metro:
  • A person in a giant bunny costume chatting nonchalantly with friends
  • A world-class accordianist playing "Carmen"
  • An American tourist couple panicking as the husband's backpack is caught in the ruthless automatic doors
  • A small boy, old African woman, and middle-aged businessman all sneaking glances at you through the reflection of the door.
My personal favorites are the "metro crazies" who inspire Alyssa to ask me "Where's your dog?" when I act particularly strange. These lovely persons mumble (or yell, accordingly) throughout your underground sojourn -- to themselves-- and are almost always accompanied by an adorable pooch.
There's so much to see inside any metro train to make you die laughing or to clutch your purse in terror.
So much, that once you finally take a breath of fresh air at the top of the stairs, you forget the outside world has anything to do with the circus of sights, sounds, and smells below. 

So when I followed line 6, dutifully getting off at every stop, I made a discovery. Had an epiphany.
There are metro crazies everywhere.
Above and below.

In fact, the city is teeming with tourists, musicians, and limitless people to watch and admire and run from. And though I was supposed to learn about metro history through this project, I think I made an equally important connection:
The metro is a beautiful, smelly place where we're all squished together and allowed to admire one another's insanity.

Chouette. Groovy.

The Sleeper {deuxième projet}

This is my second project for my photography class. Enjoy!

Sophie Calle invited strangers off the street to sleep in her bed. She was fascinated by the intimacy 8 hours of watching and documenting an unconscious fellow Parisian lent her.
  Now, say what you'd like about Sophie (she was crazy, creepy, etc.), but I've decided I like her. I like her sense of adventure and complete disregard for the words "shocking," "embarrassing," or "normal." I like her definition of "art." 
      So for my little ode to Sophie, I decided to conduct an experiment of my own.

 Now, just for the record, I hate being photographed. I usually refuse to pose for pictures because it makes me feel fake and uncomfortable, and I'd much rather point a camera at someone else than have one pointed at me.
    So this project is a stretch for me. But Sophie was often the subject of her own experiments, and in hommage to her I made myself become 
"The Sleeper." 
In my Parisian bed, I recorded the events immediately preceeding, during, and following my sleeps and had Alyssa take pictures of me whenever she came to wake me up. 

The intimate view of myself that follows is difficult for me to share and uncomfortable for me to view. The pictures are not my own and the compositional elements and lighting are weak. 
But there's a hint, a glimpse, a peek into the very nature of photography itself. If I feel fake when I pose, isn't being asleep the most sincere I can possibly be? What, then, am I forfeiting here, 
and what do I usually keep hidden?
5/11 6:50 pm 
I get home, say "hey" to Emmanuel as I pass his room, put on deodorant, and sink into bed like a dead girl.
 Last thing I remember thinking: I wonder if people thought Sabrina's name was funny when she came to Paris.
 I dream about: A bunch of people making serious critiques on my flikr account like I'm a real photographer and exhibit my photos there. But I try vainly to explain that I just load everything online because I don't have a flash drive.
 8:31 pm I wake up for dîner with "La Vie en Rose" in my head.

5/11 10:45 pm
After eating seven (very small) pancakes and drinking a smoothie under the sparkly lights at La Tour Eiffel, I take my medicine and crawl into bed with a blinding headache.
I fall asleep in my clothes.
Last thing I remember thinking: That will suck if I die of a brain aneurysm. But at least I'd be in Paris. Poor Alyssa... when she comes to take a picture, she'll have a picture of me dead. Not sleeping. Spooky.

I dream about: A Nintendo 64 Café where I try to beat Yoshi's story with my little brother, and a letter from the First Presidency warning that Study Abroad students aren't going to church.
7:51 am I wake up with "Girls and Boys" by Good Charlotte in my head.

5/12 5:15 pm
I accidentally fall asleep reading after the class picnic.

No dreams I can remember.

5/13 12:50 am
After a spectacular movie and a really unsatisfying meal, I go to sleep.
Last thing I remember thinking: I really should say my prayers.
I dream about: My best friend coming home from her mission and screaming at me because of the person I've become, and my roommates not being excited when I get back from Europe.
9:02 am I start to wake up while the picture is being taken, with "On the Open Road" from the Goofy Movie in my head.

5/14 12:36 am
I write for a long time and try to decide what to do with my life before bed.
Last thing I remember thinking: 21 really isn't that old... Ugh. Ryan. 

I dream about: My aunt and uncle coming to Paris and trying to watch Water for Elephants, but instead we have to navigate our car over a giant tidal wave, and it's hard (and really scary) to steer. Alyssa and I get lost, then I roller blade through a high school and lose the tests I was supposed to be grading for my Humanities 202 class.
9:45 am I wake up with "In the Dark of the Night" from Anastasia in my head.

Is any of this connected?  Does it matterMaybe all it proves is that I'm an erradic and heavy sleeper.
Or maybe all I am is just as crazy as Sophie Calle. 
And, in that case, am I an artist?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bathing in the Multitude

“The street leads the flaneur into a vanished age... In the asphalt over which he passes, his footsteps awaken an astonishing echo.The gaslight, that streams down onto the pavements, throws an ambiguously suggestive
light onto this false bottom…A rapture comes over him who spends a long time marching aimlessly through the streets. With every step, the walking urge grows more powerful;  ever quicker come the seductions of shops, of bistros, of smiling women, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next street corner, a distant mass of foliage, a street name…”

Maybe I wanted Baudelaire to write my post on the art of flanerie for me. I can't pontificate about the beautiful art of wandering with that kind of poetry ("his footsteps awaken an astonishing echo"!? puh-lease), and though I've been successfully getting lost my whole life, I don't know if I've ever done it on purpose.

Plus, I think I started out the wrong anyway. A flaneur sets out to "walk his turtle" and "bathe in the multitude" with no other goal in mind but to let the endless charms of Paris enthrall and astound him.
And I set out to get lost, yes, but also hopefully to wander straight into the most amazing pâtisserie and to be enthralled by the poetic jubilance of my very first macaron.

That was naughty.
But it was the beginning of a truly enriching flâneuse experience.
You see, I'm experiencing Paris in stages. On the very top level there's the sheer tourist awe of delicious treats and beautiful (thin. I'll never understand) people and iconic history and glamour and excitement of a place and culture I've romanticized my whole life.
I had literally been waiting for that macaron my whole life.
But once I started wandering (aimlessly, thoughtlessly), I finally stopped filtering out everything that didn't fit with my carefully crafted image of me in Paris (this image really is quite lovely, though, if you'd like to know. It mainly involves reading, writing poems, and being worshipped by beautiful, articulate men).

But I'm learning (slowly, like my baby french) as I walk slowly, and peeling back layers, like the torn posters in the metro.
There's so much more depth to this city and this experience. And when I let myself look at it-- really look, bathe, wander-- and let the beauty wash over me right along with the filth, I feel like I'm doing something truly significant, somehow.

But as to what that is, exactly, you'll have to ask Baudelaire.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vide. {premier projet}

Oh yeah! I'm in Paris! Ha. Bonjour. This is my first project for my photography class, in hommage to Atget. Enjoy!
p.s. I'll update later. I need a crèpe.
[all photos by me on my Kodak ZD710, the little darling]

Eugène Atget masterfully employed his lense to leave us images of a haunting and luminous early twentieth century Paris. 

In his photography, diffused light hangs 
breathlessly suspended
over quiet scenes of vacant streets and empty chairs.

His simple, honest black and white photography leaves a  
bittersweet hint of nostalgia; it is undeniably powerful and inexplicably unforgettable.

 But the most compelling motif in Atget's work for me is this curious notion of emptiness.

What is it, after all, that is so poignant about a
vacant café?
I composed my little ode to Atget primarily in black and white and with a bit of vignetting for a raw, nostalgic effect 
meant to echo his time, yet capture the reality of my Paris today.

But to explore possible explanations for the unfailing power of emptiness, we should look into the nature of the thing itself.

Without realizing it, humans, I think, form a simple equation in their minds when no one is present where someone ought to be. 
This equation is, perhaps:

emptiness = loneliness.

And especially in a city, where we come together to be constantly close to strangers, doesn't loneliness, or a lack of strangers around us, speak of a certain lack that lies inside us all? 
Something we prefer not to think about, so we squeeze in to occupy the same small bit of land and be alone, together.

Atget's work is often described as "ghostly." Maybe that's because absence is so frightening for us.

Think, for instance, of the chilling suggestion of an empty, shadow-filled playground. 
A world without children.

Yes, as Atget masterfully demonstrates, emptiness is lonely and ghostly. It grabs the eye, and stirs emotions the viewer can't quite put names to.


And yet, if something is empty, that isn't to say it can't be filled.
Just imagine the colorful promise of the first glimpse of an empty bedroom in the seizième arrondissement.

Wardrobe waiting to be filled,
suitcase waiting to be unpacked,
  Paris waiting outside of bright french doors; 
waiting to be discovered and adored.

Whatever the true significance of emptiness to the human eye, there's no denying that it speaks 
of something more.
Something that only needs someone in order to bring it to life. 


I want to carry you
and for you to carry me
the way voices are said to carry over water.

Just this morning on the shore,
I could hear two people talking quietly
in a rowboat on the far side of the lake.

They were talking about fishing,
then one changed the subject,
and, I swear, they began talking about you.

Billy Collins

that's all, folks


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