Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Street Opera in Le Marais, Paris

On a balmy afternoon on the 28th of May, I found myself ambling rather ambiguously into the Marais district, known for its architecture, culture, ethnicity and trade.  I soon noticed hearing a deep alto voice soaring over the city's noises, singing opera of all things, so I let the music guide my steps to see what was happening.  Paris, indeed France, at times gets its priorities right. They may not spend much on the military (Germans say that French tanks have five gears, four of which are for reverse) but they do know how to make city life fascinating and cultural.

I had accidentally come across an unusual and fascinating cultural project—portable opera. The lead singer had a Baroque-style white wig and a dress that was so outlandish I first thought it was a guy in drag. The baby-C grand piano was mounted on car tires, along with the accompanist’s stool, so the piano/pianist could be pushed down the street while playing and suffer few bumps from the cobblestones. The pianist and pageturner seemed dressed for the caberet.  A large set of four speakers was mounted on a pole attached to the piano, broadcasting the miced piano and singer.

After a crowd gathered, the singer called out most invitingly, and perhaps 80 grade school children came marching out to the music in pairs, left-right left-right, big grins, their doting parents lined up with cameras.  The next thing I knew, police blocked off the very narrow streets in Le Marais and the opera procession was underway, singing triumphantly as the Pied Pipers wended their way down this street and that.

The procession stopped at an appropriate plaza, where we were treated to excerpts from Carmen, “Toreador” and a love aria or two, with children and people joining in at the right places because, after all, Carmen is one of France’s favourite operas.  This launched a week celebrating the arts in the 4th district.  This is Paris.

How could I resist shooting this one?

People in cafés only meters removed were either amused or just ignored it all.  There was so much happening that I felt free to take pictures almost at will. 

This being Paris and nearing the conclusion of the football season, what could be better than listening to operatic excerpts while watching an impromptu football match?

Monday, February 21, 2011

February Flowers in Vancouver

The winter of 2011 has not been nearly as warm as that for the Olympics in 2010, but by mid February, flowers are starting to appear on Canada's beautiful the west coast.  First, closeup shots of an Amaryllis grown from an enormous bulb indoors.  It produced a quadrant of four flowers, north-south-east-west, but I like peering inside.

Crocuses and snowdrops survived a light snow.  The first light of day melts some of the ice crystals on the buds.

We finally had a sunny February weekend, though temperatures barely reached 5 degrees C.  Nobody wants to mow until the precious flower bulbs have been replenished by the sun and warmer weather so that they can propagate and reappear next winter (I like the way friends put an old tub to use).

Moss flourishes in Vancouver in the winter.
Snow drops (Galanthus)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tofino Waterscapes

My two favourite beaches are Chestermans Beach (particularly the southeastern beach, which is unspoiled by the present Wickaninnish Inn) and Long Beach.  The weather systems come and go off the Pacific Ocean, particularly in late October when we like to visit (right after Canadian Thanksgiving), and the amount and type of sunlight changes continually.  Both beaches are so gentle that one can walk great distances toward the receding Pacific Ocean during low tide.  However, this calm is beguiling, for storms arise which can be so strong that even the hardy local surfers leave their boards on top of their ancient vans.  During our four-day visit, we experienced beautiful calm during low tide, high winds during high tide (with logs washed up and blocking our entrance to Chestermans Beach), severe storm warnings to surfers, gentle west-coast rain, horizontal rain, thick fog, black bears on the golf course but well-fed on migrating salmon and fall berries, and a wonderful sense of isolation (tourists were gone).

Enlarge to see about 109 migrating Canadian geese heading to an inland bay at Ucluelet for the evening

A touch of light on the distant trees, wind-blown waves still safe for surfing.

Fog rolling in from the west (left), waves, high wind.  The spray reminds me of brother Mark's photos of blowing snow near the Atlantic Ocean.

Water churning from the storm, fog in distance, viewed from a high trail west of Ucluelet.

Idyllic calm, nobody in sight.

Looking southeast on Chestermans Beech during low tide.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Louvre's Cour Napoléon

As you walk through the Cour Napoléon (or central courtyard) at the Louvre, you soon appreciate that it is surprisingly large, for it covers 7 acres of land 'nestled' between the wings of the former palace.  The perfect proportions of the palace repeatedly trick the approaching eye into thinking "we are almost there".  One can only marvel that Louis XIV fervently wished to live elsewhere.  On this day's stroll, I particularly enjoyed the various grand carriage entrances.  Formerly formidably guarded by iron gates and soldiers, it was interesting to see at least one entrance being gated as evening began to fall on that overcast day.

First, a reminder of how large this former palace still is, as seen in the distance from the Arc de Triomphe, while looking down the famed Champs-Élysée.

As we look around while standing in the royal courtyard, now paved with roughly-cut stones, we see the careful use of geometric forms in this wing of the palace and the classical clarity of form, to which enthusiastic Baroque details have been added.

I will probably never come to peace with the 71-foot glass pyramid designed by I. M. Pei, the highly controversial Egyptian-like structure that has been plunked down in the very centre of the courtyard.  I cannot tell you how utterly this 20th-century monstrosity has ruined the very sense of space and balance in this grand courtyard, and how badly it clashes with the architectural spirit of the surrounding palace.  I try to avert my eyes from this glass intrusion whenever I visit the Louvre, and I will even walk additional minutes in order to enter the museum by other points of access.  But there it is, seen from the courtyard itself, from outside the palace and even from within.  Some photographers have learned to enjoy the pyramid's reflections, and perhaps I should try that approach (or sign up for therapy sessions).  I should add that I was fortunately able to spend many hours in the courtyard in the 1970's before construction on the pyramid commenced.

The next two photos show the type of delightful opportunity that only occasionally unfolds for a street photographer.  Here we see a Damsel-in-distress, for her shoes have proven to be more fashionable than usable, particularly on these uneven paving stones.

 Fortunately, this damsel has her own private Knight-in-shining-armor. 

As I leave the Louvre, in my imagination by either horse or carriage, I enter the exterior world of the right bank, the former centre for the city's commerce.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Parisian People and Streets

Visitors can be forgiven for concluding that Paris is about its streets, cafés, people, and parks.

People pausing during their lunch breaks to watch street performers.