Gritting My Teeth in Paris


Paris can be horrible sometimes.  Since I arrived, the weather has fluctuated between hot and humid and cold and clammy.  It rains a lot. The skies are usually gray.  I am beginning to understand why the French leave Paris in droves in August.

I missed the Walker Evans photography exhibit at the Centre Pompidou by one day and did not want to miss David Hockney, so I headed to the Marais yesterday.  I should have bought the ticket online.  The line JUST TO GET INSIDE was two hours long.  The Pompidou looked ratty.  The exterior pipes are starting to rust and it reminded me of a big gerbil cage.

It was hot and sticky.  A lot of French smoke and many don´t wear deodorant, so the crowd was pungent.  As the hours passed, people grew increasingly antzy, especially as the line serpentined into four loops under the walkway.  There must have been 50 visitors in each loop, packed like sardines. The air was dead still.  More people started smoking.  Even their cell phones didn´t sooth them. At one point, the guy beside me punched a column (Dumbass).  The woman ahead of me was mumbling.  A Japanese woman was rocking back and forth and tapping herself.

Inside, there was another line to buy the ticket to the Hackney exhibit. The marquee above the line warned visitors that it would be an hour wait to get into the show.

I decided to visit a couple of the photography galleries instead.  I don´t know if it was me or the photos, but I was not impressed.  The photos were mostly dark, B&W, blurry and self-consciously artzy.  The one I remember most featured an egg carton on the floor in front of a refrigerator.  It reminded me of a video I saw two weeks earlier at the Jeu de Paume Photography Museum of a roll of tape unspooling in slow motion.  For. Five. Minutes.

Sunday, I visited the European Photography Museum and saw the exhibit of Yasumasa Morimura.  I waited in line 45 minutes to get into this museum.  Morimura`s photography basically replicates famous paintings with a surrealistic Japanese twist.  They are huge and very busy.  The one below, called Daughter of Art History, took up an entire wall.   Morimuras photos were exhibited in a small room, which made th e space claustrophobic and the works seem oppressive.  Maybe that was the idea.

Daughter of Art History

Today, I tried to go to the Henri Bresson Photography Museum in Montparnasse.  It was difficult to find. There is a lot of construction going on in that part of the city and the scaffolding hid the street names on corner after corner.  It took me an hour to find the museum once I got there, which is not very big or well-known among residents in the quarter.

I finally found it, with 15 minutes to spare before my rendezvous with my glass-blower friend.  He had emailed me that that morning he would be 45 minutes later than orignially planned so I had changed my schedule around to be there on time.

He didn´t show up.  I waited a half hour then left.  To top it off, there was a sign on the door that said the museum would be closed until September 15th.  There was nothing to see.

When I got home, there were two emails from the Glass Blower.  The first said that he would be arriving even later than he said in his earlier email and gave me a new time to meet him.  The second email said he had arrived so late he had missed me.  So sorry to have kept me waiting so long, it said.  Too bad he missed me, it said.  We wouldn´t see each other again but, oh well, have a nice trip it said.

I hate having my time wasted.  I have had enough of museums for a while.  And glib excuses.

Update: Received another email from Glass Blower saying he hoped all my dreams came true.  Grrrrr.  Stand me up, waste my time, make glib excuses and then patronize me with a Halmark Greeting card afirmation?  Grrrrr.

Tomorrow I pack and clean the house for the owners who are returning Thursday.  On Friday, I´ll be in London.

Time to do a bit of street photography with my nifty new 55 mm f/1.8 lens.








The Meaning of “Home” in a Global Age

I was born in Indiana, educated in the US and France, have lived and worked in four continents, currently live in Mexico, and pay taxes and vote in the US.  How do people like me define “home?”  This thought-provoking TED talk discusses how the meaning of home is rapidly changing in our global age.

Getting Ready for London

The focus of the next part of the trip will be photography, dance and culture.  I checked out intermediate Adobe Photoshop classes in London, but they were too expensive – almost $500 for two days. I copied a class syllabus I found online at one of the photography schools and have been systematically searching for online tutorials to match each topic.  If you are a photographer or graphic designer, I would very much appreciate any links you might have to Photoshop tutorials which you have found useful.

My goal is to study Photoshop three hours a day for one month.  No Spanish, no French, no French cuisine.  Maybe I´ll draw, maybe I won´t.

I registered for an intermediate photography class and a class in portrait photography at the City Academy, and for a class in manual exposure techniques at the London Institute of Photography.  This afternoon, I am going to pick up a 50 mm f/1.8 lens for my Nikon 750.

Sure wish I had brought my tripod.  Won´t do that again.

I had to make some hard budget choices. No new dance shoes.  When I wear out what I have, I´ll dance barefoot. I will be taking African, Bollywood and Hip Hop classes at the City Academy, Danceworks and Pineapple, where Madona dances when she is in London.

No gym, no yoga. Just dance.

There are so many cultural events in London that it was hard to choose, but I whittled the list down to something just barely manageable.  I will definitely attend the Best in Wildlife Photography exhibit at the National Science Museum, pay my respects to the Victoria & Albert and the Tate Museums, and maybe do a little drawing at the National Gallery, which gives artists folding chairs. I have tickets for Yerma and The Ferryman, which have been well received by theater critics, and avoided the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and other pablum served to tourists with more money than taste.   Hamlet is sold out, but I know somebody who might be able to get me a ticket that fell off a truck.  Faut savoir faire.

I am grateful to be able to spend time in such a culturally rich environment, and am doing my best to not take it for granted.  I suspect returning to San Miguel will be a bit of a culture shock, but I am looking forward to sunny weather instead of rain and gray skies!

Salon Cut and Color or Cleaver and Boning Knives?

No cliffhanger here; we know which one I chose.  My hair is going to be a DIY affair.  I trimmed my bangs with the scissors of my Swiss Army knife.  and my hair color is from a box I bought at the Arab market.  No idea what is in it.  Probably something carcinogenic.

But I have my knives.

Knives are the most primitive of all tools, right up there with the semi-automatic and a tube of red lipstick.  Cooks will argue for hours about knives.  Here is my two cents.

I am not a knife snob.  I don´t have a huge knife collection and the brands don´t have to match.  I own two paring knives, two 6″ and 10″ German-style chef´s knives, two cleavers and a breat knife. My favorite small knife was made by a knife maker in Bali.  I could use it to chop down a bamboo forest and still slice tomatoes.

Instead of splurging at the salon, I bought a Wüsthof boning knife for $90, a fair price.  The blade is long and slender – perfect for working with meat.  A lot of brands have blades that are too wide, which makes boning difficult.  With boning knives, it is especially important that the blade is strong and flexible so it doesn´t snap.

Here´s where I become a knife heretic. most cooks put cleavers way down on the list.  Most own only one if they own one at all and they spend too much money on it.

The cleaver used most often is for chopping through bone.  In reality, it is a small axe.  It should be heavy and not expensive because it is going to get banged up.  Periodically, it will have to be ground on a wheel.  Sharpening it on a stone won´t work. The blade is too thick.

The other kind of cleaver is from Asia.  I have one and use it a lot.  It is not for chopping through bone as much as it is the Asian version of a chef´s knive.  However, the cutting skills for an Asian cleaver are different and must be learned.  Its blade is thin and the knife doesn´t weigh much.  The flat side of the blade is used for smashing garlic, ginger, peppercorns and other spices and for scooping up choped vegetables to cook in the wok.  This type of cleaver can be sharpened on a stone.

The third kind of cleaver – the one I just bought –  is halfway between the baby axe and the thin Chinese cleaver.  It has heft but a thinner blade.  It can also be sharpened on a stone.  This kind of cleaver is used for very specialized tasks, like chopping meat when you don´t want to grind it, for example when preparing steak tartar.  The knife I just bought is from the French manufacturers Déglon.  I paid $95, also a fair price.

So much for my rant on knives.  Time to sign off and head to my last class at Le Cordon Bleu.

PS: Next question: new dress or a 5o mm lens?

The Number 75







I have been thinking about the number 75. 

A friend of mine – a glass blower – is in Spain taking surfing lessons.  His first day, he failed 75 times to get up on his board, only briefly managing to stand upright five times.

Seventy-five times and he kept trying.  Equally striking, the focus of his story was on the five times he stood up.

Many people would have walked away, convinced they couldn´t learn to surf.  Some would have blamed the teacher. Or the board. Or the weather.  I hear these stories all the time.  I call them quitting stories.   The storyteller just couldn´t do it.  They tried, but it just wasn´t in the cards.   The reality is that it is easier to start something new than to keep trying.  Closets and garages become filled with guitars, treadmills and other quitting paraphernalia.

Quitting can become a habit.  Sometimes, someone´s entire story is about one failure after another.  There are a lot of professional victims out there.  I´m not interested in their dramatic woe-is-me tales of helplessness.

Give me something I can use.

Henri Bressons said that a photographer´s first 10,000 photos were his worse.  He wasn´t talking about photos, he was talking about persistence, the act of going on in spite of obstacles and discouragements.

Here´s the thing—we cannot be anything we want to be.  We can only be what we persevere at.

My friend is a working artist.  He gets up every day and blows glass.  My friend knows that nothing else matters except showing up and doing the work.  He is simply using this habit to learn to surf.  My friend is not trying to be good; he is trying to be better.

Children know something adults should learn: not to be ashamed of falling, but to get up and try again.  Suzuki calls this beginner`s mind.  Many of us are so cautious, so afraid of failing, that we don´t want to try anything new.  If we are not careful, this attitude grows stronger as we grow older, until we are dead long before we stop breathing.

When I was married, my husband and I had a group of acquaintances.  We alternated coming up with things to do as a group.  Once, when it was my turn, I picked roller skating.  Everybody groaned but I insisted.  Off we went.

We were the oldest people at the rink.  Everybody else was kids or adolescents.  More groaning.

It had been years since I skated.  As soon as I stopped wobbling, I tried doing the grapevine, the heel-toe and the moonwalk.


When I got a few basic dance moves under my belt, I flipped around and started skating backward.

BOOM! BOOM! (Sorry kid, didn´t mean to knock you down.)

When I got comfortable going backward, I decided to try a pirouette.


I finally managed a turn, but it wasn´t very elegant and involved a lot of arm flapping.  I looked down at my torn jeans and laughed, pushed off and tried again.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!  One of my braids came undone.

When it was time to go, the strangest conversation took place among my acquaintances as we were unstrapping our skates.  It went like this: “I only fell once”, “I didn´t fall at all”, “I saw you fall three times.” My friends were focused on not falling. The fewer times they fell, the more successful they felt. They skated to avoid falling rather than try something new.

Meanwhile, in Spain, my friend falls 75 times and gets back on his board.  In the afternoon, he is taking French lessons, no doubt making hundreds of mistakes.  I can hear him laughing from here.

I have been thinking about number 75.  We need more stories like that.  The stories we tell each other matter.

Tell us something we can use.