Category Archives: photography

Le Tour (In Images)

Each July the Tour de France ends it’s three-week journey in the heart of Paris, welcomed by enormous crowds, great fanfare and the intense, afternoon summer sun. This year I joined the throngs, arriving early and waiting patiently for the riders to arrive, earning me both an excellent vantage point at the Place de la Concorde, as well as a sunburn that is still peeling, two weeks later. Like any international event, the mix of spectators was worth the trek in its own right and, with a Brit in the lead, us Anglophones found yet another reason to bond together beyond the preference for speaking English – the roar that arose from our particularly American/British/Australian corner anytime the Sky team van (or riders) passed was deafening.

Here are some of my favorite images from that day.

The View: Hard to beat, close to the road with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Bring. It. On.

The P’tit Tour: young kids raced a partial lap around the Place de Concorde and the Champs-Élysées, fighting for their mini-yellow jersey. Great to see a girl take it all.

The Parade:  In reality, just a series of ‘floats’ by big Tour de France sponsors, they mostly featured young, beautiful people gyrating to throbbing pop music. They went by at relatively high speed, but still did the job of waking the crowd up, making us laugh and getting us ready for the riders to arrive.

(The yellow jersey leads off, naturally)

(Why yes, those are marshmallows roasting over a fire on top of that car)

(This cracked me up – especially the ones with the giant cigarette lighter or Bic razor perched on their roof)

(There is a man, wearing very little, thrusting inside of a translucent plastic cage in an effort to sell laundry detergent, in case you thought you were imagining things)

The Riders: For those not familiar with the route, after leaving their starting point of Rambouillet, the cyclists wind their way approximately 80km to the center of Paris, at which point they do several loops around Rue de Rivoli/ Champs-Élysées to finish the stage, ending with a mad sprint down the boulevard towards the finish line.

(First pass of the riders through Place de Concorde – the leader here…)

(…followed by those riders giving chase, already…)

(… and then by the beginning of the peloton, or ‘little ball’ of riders that make up the main pack – in fact, not ‘little’ at all)

(the main body of the peleton moving through – the clatter of these bikes across the cobblestones was louder than I would have ever expected)

(Using the 200x zoom lens to watch the peloton streak by the crowds on the opposite side of the Place de Concorde)

(Our view down Rue de Rivoli, as the riders make another pass; the British fans ready and waiting, as their men push forward).

 The Spectators – for the most part everyone was friendly and happy to be there. We met quite a few people who had been following the tour, stopping place by place along the entire route, which seemed like both an extensive commitment and a great excuse for a trans-European road trip all at the same time. This guy was the best of all – having a great time and more than willing to stop for a photo. With Bradley Wiggins clinching his victory (and the first for Britain), this walking Union Jack and his robust salutation of “Cheers!” to everyone that stopped to sneak a peak (or take an obvious photo) seemed the perfect way to end an exhausting and exhilarating afternoon.

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Last Call

I received an extremely crucial (and insightful) piece of advice from Meg not so long ago. No nonsense, eye-to-eye, I-know-what-I’m-talking-about words of wisdom: “Figure out what your priorities are for the rest of your time in Paris and DO them… the lab is not going to love you back…” Her blunt honesty stunned me into several long seconds of silence, followed acceptance of the truth and, finally, by a slow, affirmative (and still silent) nod: Yes.

Don’t get me entirely wrong, I have been working hard on (and still love) the science (especially now that the countdown is always ticking in the background) and I’m not about to toss my lab coat in a corner and never look back. However, there is a lot of Paris, and France (possibly even further afield in Europe) that I have not yet seen. Knowing that I am easily caught up by my overdeveloped sense of obligation, I need to be sure that I set aside time for me, in addition to the lengthy (always growing) list of experiments.

To that end, I am currently writing from a hotel room in Caen (one of the larger towns in Normandy) where I am taking in the sites with visiting family. For the first time in almost four years, I have taken a week off of work and stayed here. I am giving myself the time to get a bit more organized, see the sites and enjoy the time I have with my family on this side of the world. It is glorious.

As both a way to hold myself accountable and get the word out to my Paris friends, I thought I’d post my ‘to-do for FUN’ list here and keep track of things as I see them (and write about them, of course).

So, here is my dream list of places to see and photos to take before I depart in November. I would also really enjoy hearing your suggestions – food, landmarks, museums and/or views that are wholeheartedly recommended as ‘can’t miss’ when visiting the City of Light. Please, give me more ‘work’ to do!

Paris (and vicinity)

Museums:

Musée Rodin (27 July 2012)

Musée des Arts et Metiers (26 July 2012)

Musée de l’Orangerie

Espace Dali (this is embarrassing as it is around the corner from my house)

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Musée Dupuytren (yes weird, possibly disturbing, but still fascinating)

Musée Carnavalet (did this past weekend-post forthcoming!)

Churches/Landmarks:

Madeline (did this past weekend – post forthcoming!)

Pantheon

Opera (the building definitely, but also – if I’m lucky – a performance?)

Galeries Lafayette  (for the building this time, not the shopping – I am on a post-doc salary, a French one, no less…)

Fontainebleau

Versailles (I have seen the gardens, but never the chateau)

Basilique Saint Denis

Night cruise along the Seine

Views

Arc de Triomphe (29 July 2012)

Tour Eiffel (yeah, have not done this yet, shaking my head in shame)

Tour Montparnasse (top of)

Dome of Basilica Sacre Coeur

Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Cemeteries

Montparnasse

Montmartre (28 July 2012)

Beyond Paris

Normandy (23-25 July 2012)

–       Mont Saint Michel (24 July 2012)

–       Omaha beach (25 July 2012)

Tours

Rouen

Bruges (mainly because of this and because it is GORGEOUS)

Yeah, so remember I did say dream list. However, please do suggest other things I may have missed. And, Paris peeps – let me know if you want to join the adventure(s)!

And Now for Something Completely Different…

I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Once again, it has become clear that I tend to disappear from the blogosphere when I get caught up in a vortex of endless to-dos in the lab, or am lost in single-minded navel gazing. As someone who processes best by talking things out (another well worn habit), this propensity to spontaneously hibernate surprises me, but I have not quite gotten the hang of contemplating out loud on a public blog (although I do have moments of inspiration). Plus, in most cases, whining about bureaucracy does not make for a narrative that will keep you all on the edges of your collective seats…

My most recent month (!!)-long hiatus has not appeared to be all that different from that cycle on its surface – lots of late nights in the lab and long conversations with friends. Yet, this time there more was at stake than merely driving myself (and those around me) to distraction. For a variety of reasons it had come time for me to define and develop my next steps – beyond my current position and beyond Paris.

I have no idea how to even begin to explain what these four years in Paris have meant to me – how much I have grown, both personally and professionally. In fact, I strongly suspect that I utterly underestimate the extent of its impact on the person I am today. Since arriving here I have come to understand my strengths and weaknesses, formed a clear image of the person (and scientist) I would like to become and have learned to love myself no matter the differences between those two. These reasons alone are priceless, but they are nowhere near comprehensive – the places I have traveled, the food I have eaten and the friends I have come to love as family will forever shape the way I see the world in the years ahead of me; simply put, it has been life-changing.

However, even the most formative experiences come to an end. I have learned the science that I came here to learn (and have almost finished the projects that I came here to do). I have explored the city, country, continent and beyond. As the summer rushes forward, I realize that it has been a long time since I have been in a place that I could call home, at least ‘home’ in the true sense of what that word means to me: comfort, love, belonging and family.  I first glimpsed what it meant to be on my own in Boston during graduate school, and I have found happiness, solace and comfort in that space in Paris but, to this day, California is still home. So, after 11 years, it is to San Diego that I am returning.

I worry a bit about returning to a place that held meaning for me in the past. I spent 4 years in San Diego, going to UCSD as an undergraduate – and it is to UCSD I return, as a post-doctoral researcher. However, in those years my family has expanded – we are welcoming two new additions (a niece and a nephew) this fall. Several close friends remain in the area, and they have been able to successfully redefine what the city means to them beyond the college years, and I am looking forward to undertaking that challenge myself. And, through a series of events that feel as if they were torn from the pages of a summer beach read, I have met someone incredibly special. He knows a completely different San Diego than I ever did, and I am so excited to explore the city together.

I have given my notice (October 31) and bought my one-way ticket (November 5). I have a few more months to soak up Paris, finish my work in the lab, spend time with my friends and get ready for the next big thing. I am very sorry for recent silence, but I am sure everything that is about to happen will be worth the wait.

(For those of you wondering – yes, I have already registered a San Diego blog address… now that I’ve caught the blogging bug, I do planning on continuing)

An hour from Paris – Giverny

Paris is, (mostly) figuratively, an island (the region is named Ile-de-France after all), isolated as the capitol, a tourist destination and somewhat ironically, for (let’s say) the cold demeanor of its people. Yet, it doesn’t take much to get out of the city – just a few euros and a quick train ride and you can find yourself beyond the hustle, hurtling through green fields, watching the Seine expand and become the dominant force flowing through the countryside.

At some point early in my time here, I purchased an excellent tour guide entitled “An Hour from Paris”, full of off-the-beaten-path trips, easily taken from the Paris hub and ideal for exploring on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I pledged, upon spending €30 on this slim volume, that I would use it at least once a month to see what lies outside of the city. I have to admit, somewhat guiltily, that this weekend was the first time it at least three years that it has been opened for purposes beyond the wistful planning stage.

In the end, all it took was some sunshine and an enthusiastic and patient guest, until I found myself spending my Saturday on a train platform, leaving the city (and work) behind, and heading to Giverny in order to explore Monet’s famous gardens, lily ponds and country home.

Refreshing. Inspirational. Beautiful. Claustrophobic. The gardens and home were all of these things; although the latter only because of the incredible number of visitors, all carefully scooting around each other in a garden with only a few open access paths. The variety of blooming, intertwined flowers was beyond anything I had ever seen. Lilies and poppies, roses and honeysuckle, irises and violets, not to mention varieties I have never imagined, let alone learned about in my high school ornamental horticulture class. Maybe learning about a place teaming with so much life, beauty and creativity would have inspired me to pay a bit more attention? Probably not.

The estate was extensive, including Monet’s home (covered, wall-to-wall with Japanese prints and off-limits for hobby photographers, unfortunately), the flower gardens directly below and, across the local main thoroughfare, a water lily garden. This was my absolute favorite place on site.

Although jam-packed with people, I was able to find a seat on a bench beyond the throngs and daydreamed of coming here, years ago, for solace, contemplation and motivation. More than the overgrowth of flowers around us, it was the deep, earthy greens of the willows, ferns and lilypads that dominated this part of the gardens. At one point during our tour, it began to rain and, from seemingly nowhere, rose a chorus of croaks and ribbits. We had no idea until that moment that the lily pond was, in fact, filled with large frogs – that apparently loved the rain. Everyone stopped, smiling ridiculously at the cacophony of sound and tried to catch a glimpse of the impromptu performers. I had my fancy lens out, so I was lucky enough to be able to zoom in and catch one, startlingly green, mid-croak, amongst the reeds.

After a few hours, the color and perfume of the flowers all seemed to blend together and the pulsing sun and pushy visitors took their toll. We boarded the bus to take us back to the main train station in Vernon, the small village ajoining Giverny. We spent the remainder of our afternoon peacefully enjoying a panaché at the local bar before our train to Paris arrived. There was so much to take in, absorb and process: the riot of color, crush of people, and echo of past genius kept us both quiet for a while – contemplating the wild garden, which seemed to reflect a restless, maybe cluttered, yet masterful mind that has inspired artists (and the rest of us) for generations.

Following are some of my favorite images from the day. There are so many more photos – what an amazingly picturesque place…

In Images – Visitor, day 2

The tour of Paris continued today. We ate, we gawked and we ate some more. Currently, we are sprawled at home in a falafel coma. Good times.

(We started off the day with coffee and a croissant, as one should)

(Next was the winding metro ride across the city to the Catacombs. The line was long and the weather blustry, but we stuck it out and it was well worth it.)

(After emerging from the land of the dead, it seemed a good bet to counter with Notre Dame. Note the gathering darkness in the sky…)

(We crossed the Seine and ventured into Le Marais with a clear goal in mind, although we were slightly sidetracked by a torrential hailstorm – those clouds meant business.)

(Following a warming cup of coffee, a quick introduction between friends and a respite from the storm, we pushed on to our final destination. The best falafel in Paris. Recommended by Lenny Kravitz, even. How can you go wrong? Don’t answer that – you can’t, I promise.)

Psst – don’t fret, the Catacombs are next…

In Images – Visitor, day 1

(Amazing care package. Take note – tortillas and chipotles!! There are enchiladas on the horizon.)

We all have those friends. The ones where years pass, but somehow when you are together, it seems like no time has gone by at all. Over lunch today we realized that it has been 25 years since we first met. And what a joy it has been to share my home with her this time around…

(Moules gratinées for lunch. Somehow seafood + cheese does not sound so good at first glace – but that is a newbie’s mistake. This was amazing). 

(Then the requisite trip to Le Grand Epicerie for any food lover – admittedly a low-res photo, those security guards keep me on my toes. We exited overwhelmed, dazed, confused and delighted – and happy we’d eaten ahead.)

(A walk along the Seine and across the Pont des Arts, complete with the locks of love.)

(Through the Louvre, where it was somehow sad to see these children stealing wishes in the form of coins, from the fountain.)

(Into Tuileries, where the sun was shining down, despite looming clouds and a brisk wind.)

(Where everything was in bloom.)

(And we were able to see the beauty of Paris before the rain poured down again.)

(But we kept warm with a spinach and feta quiche, topped off with some of the care package Zinfandel.)

Tomorrow – the Catacombs. But, will I be able to take photos inside? That is the ultimate question…

…Hello, Spring

A little over a year ago I took the leap and splurged on a Nikon D3100 – it has proven to be, without a doubt, the best investment I have ever made. Taking pictures (of everywhere, everything and/or everyone) quickly joined cooking and knitting to round out the top three things that I would almost always rather be doing with my time. My budding obsession with love of photography has also reinforced bonds with my father who was a professional photographer for many years. After discussing my options extensively pre-purchase (Canon vs. Nikon? 15 megapixels vs. 18 megapixels – worth the extra $200?), he decided to get the matching model and we have been comparing techniques, questions and photos ever sense.

This Christmas I was gifted with my first non-kit lens, a 55-200mm zoom. After looking through a collection of photos I had taken in the past year, from an aerial view above Mount Everest to a tight shot of the veins of a cabbage leaf, my dad encouraged me to use the new lens to really play with my technique, specifically in terms of depth of field, texture and color. He particularly noticed my lack of any portraiture experience and, after hearing numerous antecdotes about how emphatic and expressive the French can be, suggested trying to catch French faces, unaware and in mid-gesture while sipping an aperitif on the terrace across the street (and some of you are concerned about my following potential FFFPs?). Like father, like daughter.

So lately, while touristing in the Tuileries garden trying to soak up the few rays of sunlight successfully piercing the persistent cloud cover or exploring Parc de Saint-Cloud with a dear friend, I have pulled out the new toy to experiment. What I have seen is a glimpse of the spring that is coming, one laughing child, speeding sailboat herb garden(!!) or budding flower at a time.

(My own little piece of spring, right outside my living room window; those long evenings and warm breezes cannot come soon enough.)