Photography / Travel

Day 1-2: Paris, France

from Photographs of Europe, May-June 2002 by Tim Darling     (Click on the photos..)

Saturday, May 18 - Paris, France

I discovered that the cover of The Alan Parson's Project's excellent album, I Robot, was taken in Terminal 1 of Charles De Gaulle Airport as I got off the plane.

I went to the Bastille Metro where my hotel was, but it wasn't ready at 8 AM- they said to come back after 1. So I started walking south and east a few blocks and crossed the Seine to try and find the train station there to reserve a place on the train to Madrid for the next night. I saw some gardens along the other bank which were pretty next to the river so I followed them for a few minutes even though the train station was the other way. Walking a few steps ahead of me was a girl with a large green backpack like mine, who, when I first saw her, was trying to make sense of a map. We took a slightly different path and I caught up with her.

"Bonjour! Est-tu un backpacker, aussi?", I said cheerfully as I saw her again, surprising myself since I've never really been one to say hi to strangers.

"Oui, tu aussi? Est-tu habite dans les Etats Unis?" she replied, deflating my impression that I could pass as French. She said she was heading to the Musee d'Orsay which was in the middle of the city, along the Seine. She had a plan so I went with her.

She spoke English and French perfectly and was from Sweden. I think I impressed her by speaking a few words of Swedish which I learned by listening to a bon chanteuse, Lisa Ekdahl. The only words I really knew were 'vem vet' which means 'who knows?'. It's a surprisingly useful phrase- I mean, if you're in a restaurant and the waiter says something you don't understand, what other reply can accommodate all possible scenarios from the quite likely, "what'll you have?" to the admittedly rarer, "are all events in life the chaotic asynchronous collisions of particle groups in a non-axiomatic field or are we merely witnessing the nodal aberrations of a harmonious system of non-linear equations?". Of course.. I would have replied 'vem vet' to that last one if I was asked in English.

In any case I said I've always thought I looked Swedish. She said I looked more like I was from Denmark and added that the Swedes hate the Danes (something to do with the fact that the Swedes piss on their streets after going there to drink and so the Danes, well, disdain them, ha ha) but added that that was no reflection on me.

Lina (Lee-na) and I walked to the art museum. We were there for a while and I learned a lot from her translations of her French art book and it was fun but I was tired, my backpack was heavy, and I hadn't slept in almost 24 hours.

As it started to get darker, we went uptown so I could buy some film from a store I'd found on the internet. I bought my film there partly so I wouldn't have to take it through the airport x-ray machines more than once and partly because Fuji film is cheaper in Paris (or at least as cheap) as it is in the United States. I'm glad she was there or I probably wouldn't have gotten any film. I asked the girl at the desk for 30 rolls of Fuji Velvia and 30 rolls of Provia. She went into the backroom and then left the store and came back a few minutes later with 25 rolls of Provia. I asked about the Velvia. "Zero Velvia" she said quite clearly. I said that was impossible ("c'est imposs-eeb-la!"). She sat in her chair and looked up at me with a look that said, "here I am, reading my newspaper with my feet up and you have the _nerve_ to come in here and try to buy film from me. What kind of a photo store do you think this is?!"

But she hung her head for a second and gave in, "OK, OK! J'ai 15 Velvia" and went out of the store to go get them. I asked Lina - in shock - didn't she clearly say she had no Velvia?, but Lina was just laughing. "We have a saying in Sweden," she said, "'c'est la France!'" She explained France was a pseudo-socialist country and employees hardly ever get fired. So they have been known to act like their customers are asking for personal favors and sometimes, especially in banks, will ignore you until you leave. She suggested asking for more Velvia, but I didn't want to for fear the number they had might go down to 10.

Then we started walking towards the train station where Lina had to leave from. She was studying in France for the spring semester and had come to Paris for a couple of days. She said she'd be home in Sweden at the beginning of June for the summer if I wanted to stop by when I was in Copenhagen. I said I would. I told her my second day in Paris would be lonelier and less fun than my first, and I meant it.

She left and I waited in line at the station to try to get my ticket to Madrid (unsuccessfully- it was the wrong station) and then I went to my hotel and ate dinner next door. I took my camera around the Seine as the sun was dropping and at 10:30 started to go north to see the Eiffel Tower (for the first time in this trip) but I was too tired to figure out which Metro or RER I had to take or where and how to pay for it so I went back and slept.

Sunday, May 19 - Paris, France

The next day I found a youth hostel (auberge de jeunesse) on Jules Ferry Road (Metro Republique) to buy a new hostel membership card since I had left mine at home. It looked really nice and I may try to stay there in the future. You can't make reservations, you just have to get there at 9 AM. I used their internet connection and checked my email and found that the website I've been working on for the last year had broken the day I left (but apparently because of a power outage so hopefully they'll get it going again and I won't be fired). I bought a phone card there (these are all good reasons to stay in a hostel. This one, anyway, had everything you'd need and the guy at the desk spoke English).

I got an 11PM-7AM train ticket to the Spanish border and went to the east side of town to see Jim Morrison's grave at Le Pere LaChaise. I heard that his 30 year lease had to be renewed soon and he would probably be moved back to the US. When I was there, there was a guard standing by it. They seemed to have cleaned up the graffiti it was known for too. Schubert's grave is there too, but I didn't go see it. Why would I? I mean, can you imagine him singing for The Doors?

The Parisians are great. Almost everyone I met in Paris spoke English or at least could understand my bad French. The man at the Tabac asked me where I was from when I went in to buy batteries. "From Sweden?" he asked. I said, no, the US. "Est-tu originé dans Sweden?" he pressed, which made me laugh after my conversation with Lina. "C'est possible," I said while handing over $13 for 8 AA batteries.

The best part about Paris is that the French use the word 'voila' to celebrate everyday victories. In the US, it's a word that for some reason has been relegated to only magicians and TV chefs.

I went south to the Boulevard du Montparnasse and saw three of Hemingway's favorite cafés. La Select is the café Jake calls "that new dive" in The Sun Also Rises. La Rotunde next door also appears in TSAR and La Closerie des Lilas a few blocks away was where he wrote most of that book. La Closerie is a beautiful café. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway calls it "one of the best cafés in Paris". In that autobiography, he spends a good deal of time trying to chase other people out of it who tried to talk to him while he was writing.

I found out that I had seen the Eiffel Tower the day before when we were walking down the Seine- I just thought it was a TV tower. I took a photo of it with one of its ubiquitous tour buses, even though it's about the ugliest thing in Paris (with the possible exception of the Arc de Triomphe).

A few years later, I found out I was sort of right. The Eiffel Tower was built as a temporary structure for an exhibition in 1889. Parisians wanted it torn down, but it was saved in 1907 when the government realized how effective it was as a radio antenna.

Some of the Paris Metro trains have rubber tires instead of the normal steel ones. As far as I can find out, this was an experiment left over from the 1950s.

I went north to Montmartre as it got dark. The Moulin Rouge is on a busy street in a neon red light district. But the funny thing is that a few blocks north on Rue Lepic is the most quiet, charming, and old-worldish part of Paris (or any city) that I've ever seen. The neon signs stop with accordion street music on Rue Joseph De Maistre.

Rue Lepic then winds up a long steep cobblestone hill past a couple windmills and small candle lit restaurants with bottles of wine on the walls. There was a painter's store with a white bearded man painting by orange light. It was the Paris that I'd always hoped existed but was certain it couldn't anymore.

If you want my advice and want a romantic weekend, stay two nights on Rue Lepic near, or north of, Rue Duratin (I didn't get too much further up the hill), and don't go anywhere else in the city. Except, of course, to spray paint your respects on Jim Morrison's grave.

Day 3-4: Madrid, Toledo, and Consuegra, Spain

Your Comments

Hello, there. I was looking for inspiring photographs of Paris, through a search engine, and found a link to your web-site. I am glad I did. Your pictures are so amazing. I especially like the narrative effect in the Europe trip section. You're a great photographer and writer. I will be studying abroad all of next year and your pictures made me more eager, which I didn't think possible. So what are the chances that you have some sort of affiliation with my university? Well, probably very slim, but alas it is possible, considering I attend UMD. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the person whom has taken such wonderful photos dwells in my area. Rock it, my man, rock it.

-- Eli, Nov 24, 2003
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All text and pictures copyright © 2002 Tim Darling.