Last Day in Paris: Irving Penn Exhibit

irving penn

The Irving Penn exhibit at the Grand Palais is exquisite.  Three floors of his work in room after room on each floor.  All of his themes are here: his fashion photography from over 60 years with Vogue, his celebrity portraits, his still life masterpieces, his ethnographic work from Asia, Africa and South America, even his cigarette butt series.  If you are a photographer and are anywhere within striking distance of Paris, this would be worth a weekend trip.  The show is up until January.  Would combine very nicely with a shopping trip when the Christmas market is open along the Champs Elyseés and the store windows are decorated for the holidays.  (Don´t forget to ride the ferris wheel and catch snow flakes on your tongue.)

God help me, I bought a 35mm 1.8 lens.  One of my instructors recommended that I buy this lens, so it is not my fault.

I am so broke.



Housesitting Part One: Pros and Cons


A number of people have asked me about housesitting.  This series of three articles is my take.  The first, Pros and Cons, will look at the pluses and minuses of this form of traveling.  The second, Ups and Downs, will discuss how to go about finding housesitting positions.  The third, Back and Forth, will deal with the mechanics of actually doing the job.

What constitutes positive and negative attributes depends on the person, their age, their interests, whether they are part of a couple or a solo traveler, and their personality.  This is not a one-size-fits-all activity.  Spending a month in the country may appeal to some; however, the isolation may drive others around the bend.

The Pros

  1. Traveling on the Cheap.   This summer, I spent two months living in Paris and one month living in London.  If – and that is a big if – I could have found lodging for $100 a night, this trip would have cost me $9,000.  Instead, it cost me nothing.
  2. Staying Longer.  For long-haul travelers such as myself, this is an attractive benefit of housesitting.  Sure, you can find plenty of week-long gigs, but there are also opportunities to live a significant period of time in some fascinating places, like the ad I saw yesterday for a six-month housesitting position in the Figi Islands.  I strongly prefer to spend time in a place rather than running all over getting my passport punched.  (Been there, done that.)

    Staying longer also allows you to take classes.  This summer, I studied at the Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris and at the London Institute of Photography.  The experience is completely different than dashing like a tourist from one monument to another.


    Staying in a home versus a cramped hotel room.  I hate hotels, at least the kind of hotels I can afford.  I don´t like living out of a suitcase, and I don´t like eating out every day.  It´s expensive, I´m a cook, and I want to shop in the markets and come home and make dinner.  I like being able to wash my clothes.  Essentially, housesitting works for me because I am a homebody who travels.

  4. Seeing how other people live around the world.  This is not a curated experience.  It is the real deal, right down to the plumbing.  Seeing how people live  their lives day-to-day is an amazing experience.
  5. Furry Critters.  Traveling can be lonely, expecially for the solo long-haul traveler.  Curling up at night with a purring cat and a dog is a great way to finish any day.

The Cons

  1. There´s no free lunch.  Housesitting is a job. There are plants to water, a house to guard and animals to feed.  Sometimes there are a LOT of animals to feed.  For example, I saw an ad last week that was  looking for a pet sitter for two cats, six sheep, a flock of chickens, newly hatched chicks, two geese, ten ducks, pond fish and a partridge in a pear tree. (Just kidding about the partridge)  Another ad I saw wanted a couple to manage an bnb property in Costa Rica, including greeting guests, cleaning the rooms, making breakfast and preparing dinner if guests desired.   This was an unpaid position billed as a vacation in paradise.  More like slave labor.
  2. You will be traveling against the weather.  Housesitting positions in cold climates are plentiful in the winter, when owners like to leave.  In hot climates, housesitting gigs are plentiful in July and August.  My first housesitting job was in Tuscon, Arizona, in July and August.  In the Caribbean, housesitting positions open up about three weeks before the start of the hurrican season in June.  Three weeks ago, I saw an ad for a housesitter in Puerto Rico.  I can assure you that there were housesitters in the Virgin Islands when Harvey hit.
  3. Many positions are in isolated locations. Owners do not provide cars.  Shopping for groceries can be a test of stamina.  Renting a car is one solution, but it is expensive, $1000 per month or more in some countries.  Long periods of isolation can destroy relationships.  (Remember The Shining?)   Very few solo travelers are interested in these types of positions.
  4. Houses may be in disrepair.  Boy, is this an understatement.  When this happens, the housesitter may find themselves arranging for repairs in a foreign language and carrying the cost until the owner returns.  I have had this happen on more than one occasion.  Once, I had several major appliances go on the blink within a short time, including a water pump, dishwasher, dryer, washer, toilet, sink  and dryer.
  5. Critters.  Pets are both assets and liabilities for the housesitter.  They run away. (Ever lose a snake and find it slithering out from under the sofa cushion you are sitting on?)  They shit on your pillow (Yes, this happened to me.)  They get sick and almost die when you are in the middle of nowhere without a car.  (Last year in Equador, one of the dogs was too sick to move, so I took a video and caught a bus to the vet two hours away.  He prescribed meds.  I picked them up and took the bus back to discover that thieves had broken into the compound while I was gone.)


Housesitting can be a positive experience AND quite challenging.  It is worth it to understand the pros and the cons before taking a gig.  In the next article, we will talk about how to find housesitting jobs and what makes a good housesitter.


The People Who Attract Me

Like a moth to light, I am attracted to people with positive attitudes.  I seek them out.  I want them in my life.  I need them.   A can-do attitude is sexy.  It works every time.

Having the opposite effect are gloomy pessimists who make lists of why something won´t work, or those whose litanies of health problems and emotional breakdowns suck the oxygen out of a room. I want to be with people whose lives inspire me.  You be my cheerleader and I´ll be yours.

If you can walk

Susan Sontag on Photography

“Being educated by photography is not like being educated by older forms of art.  For one thing, there are many more images around claiming our attention. The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems.  This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes our world.  In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.  They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.  Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads—as an anthology of images.

To collect photographs is to collect the world.”


Columbia Flower Market

I would rather have flowers in my hair than gold around my neck. I walked this market twice, the first time with my nose, the second with my eyes.  The first thing I am going to do when I get back to Mexico is go to the market and buy flowers for the house.  When the kitchen smells like baking bread and there are flowers on the table, I know I am home.

A rose in sunlight is nature.
A rose in the dark is poetry.
~Terri Guillemets

A Photo and a Poem

Two Ways to Open an Egg

Watch me open this egg!
the first woman said

cracking the pearly skin
against a cold metal tin

a swift separation
a dead yellow gem

there, it’s open
she said

watch me open this egg!
the second woman said

placing the orb
in the encircling arms of a nest

holding it to her chest
for ten thousand breaths

she said

and said
and said
and said

… and the egg opened itself.

 Alexandra Franzen


Portrait Photography

Here is an image from the Portrait Photography class at the City Academy.  It was taught by Leigh Keily, who shoots the royal family and celebrities and does amazingly complex commercial work.  The class lasted seven hours.  Students are required to shoot exclusively in manual mode.   We learned how to do automatic refocusing for runway walking and spent hours and hours on lighting techniques and studio setup.




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