Paris: The photography class makes me shutter



On the morning of my second full day in Paris in the purple velvet head-boarded bed on the second floor of the three-floor flat at the top of the 60 wooden spiral steps behind the red door on the Rue Le Regrattier, I opened my eyes.



“Am I really in Paris?” I asked myself. “Oui, oui,” I answered, which reminded me I needed to go to the bathroom.


Unlike the previous morning in which we ate our way through breakfast to lunch in one sitting, we needed to be in Montmartre by 9 a.m. By planning ahead the previous night, we were able to wait until the very last minute and barely make it.


Our teacher, Elena, met us at the Anvers station and took us to the carousel near the Basilica de Sacre-Couer. We forgot to bring a camera for the grandchild, so we took turns attending to the child, marveling at PIGEONS!, and paying attention to Elena in between shouts of “Feather!” “Bird!” “Roly-poly!” “Ant!” “Guess what?!”



For my sake, Elena went over the basics of shutter speed, aperture, focal length, and perspective. My brother and daughter know all about that: he has some of his photos hanging on the walls of a multinational corporation in Houston; she took photography classes in high school. Like any good Texan, I was bred to shoot and ask questions later, so I needed to practice asking questions before shooting.


Probably the most important camera technique I learned was how to hold a ladybug in one hand and take pictures with the other. (Someone had to hold the bug while the child had a chocolate gelato.)


We spent the morning trekking through Montmartre admiring the works of outdoor artists at the Place du Tertre, the cobblestone streets with their colorful shops, and the Moulin de la Galette (a windmill converted into a restaurant) on Rue Lepic, the street on which Van Gogh once lived. If you are in Paris and have a van, go. You won’t rue it.


(If you are a new reader, I’m sorry; I get my word thrills anyway I can. If you are not a new reader, try not to rue so.)



After the photo shoot, we took the metro back to Ile Saint Louis, stopping at the local boulangerie for bread, croissants, and macarons. In that imaginative way we all had, we made sandwiches on good bread, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil, and then a little oil and balsamic dipping sauce for the batard. (Note: no letters were harmed or eliminated in any word of that last sentence.) Just as some people can’t get enough of a certain song and end up playing it over and over until their brains explode, we could not get enough of the various breads and ate them over and over until our thighs and derrieres exploded.


After lunch. the beds kindly offered naps, so we each took one.



We spent the evening leisurely exploring the island, walking over to Notre Dame to watch the street performers, and sitting along the Seine for several minutes at a time until the ducks or swans moved, in which case we needed to relocate to get as close as possible. When you are five years old, this is de rigueur (French for “hard to do when you are sixty years old”).


Two years ago I visited Paris with my brother and we spent every moment visiting sites and seeing as much of the city as we could. I loved it. This time, we visited less and lived more. I think I loved that even more. More than all the glitter and shine of Versailles, I will remember waving to the passengers on a boat gliding down the Seine on a soft summer night and seeing the delight in my grandchild’s smile as they waved back; and watching the wink of lights on the water as the sky darkened, and the lights along the river brightened.



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Next installment: As the French say (or should): A whale of a good time always has a fin

51 thoughts on “Paris: The photography class makes me shutter

  1. As always, I love your word play 😉 I can sympathize with the whole “Pigeons” experience. My youngest daughter and I went to Atlantic City and spent a restful week-end there. She used up almost a whole roll of film taking pictures of the pigeons eating crumbs on our balcony and in residence near our balcony. You might have thought that she would take Some pictures of the Sea gulls in residence on and near the boardwalk, but no. Just the pigeons.
    I wonder what your Granddaughters best memory of Paris will be.. What will she remember of it when she is grown…..

    • It’s hard to know what the grandchild will remember. As we relate events and look at pictures we will leave certain impressions – these, I think, will be the child’s memories: our memories.

  2. You had me at the first sentence. I counted 10 prepositions. It’s a veritble ballet of words. The second sentence was even better. You are on top of your game. Paris did well by you.

    • I’m glad you like the photographs. I still have no idea what I’m doing. It has taken me quite a while to start learning to look through the viewfinder instead of at the screen. It’s like looking through a keyhole, spying on the world.

  3. I don’t know which I love more in this post—the pictures or the prose. You have a fine eye and a great ear. (Well, two of each. No Van Gogh you!)

  4. I am loving your tales from Paris. As someone, who despite attending a set of classes, has yet to master the mysteries of aperture size, shutter speed etc I am much take by the Texan approach!

  5. Margie

    I’m really enjoying your vacation! The stories and photos are wonderful and I almost feel like I am there with you. (And I love that I didn’t have to endure a trans-Atlantic flight!)

    • Actually, Elena, the photography teacher, asked me to explain why I took certain photos. “What’s the story you are trying to tell?” she asked. I didn’t have a clue; I was just trying to figure out how to use the camera.

  6. You bring back fond memories of my only trip to Paris! Thanks for sharing as it gives me a taste of being there again. When my mother, sister, and I arrived Paris and were suffering from jetlag, we took the train from the airport to the Metro station. The metro line we wanted was down, so a scam artist took us out the back door of the station and walked us to bus stop, where he sold us tickets at an unprecedented rate. The bus dropped us off near the next station, which was across the street from the Moulin Rouge – in the middle of Paris’ red light district! We finally made it to our hotel where our beds offered wonderful naps, and after awakening, we were mentally acute enough to do the calculation on the bus tickets (which we didn’t need since it was replacing a train line).

  7. As a fellow Texan, I died laughing at the fact that you were raised to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’.

    Hilarious and Beautiful, I’m awe-struck by your ease with language. Please keep writing forever!

    • It’s hard for those of us with trigger-happy fingers to wait a bit and really think about what we are about to shoot. I had no idea that much thought and preparation went into it.

  8. Mad Queen Linda

    Visiting less and living more – – that’s life, and I say that completely without irony. You certainly roped and tied that camera in record time. Your photos are lovely.

  9. Another commenter mentioned something that I think is absolutely true— you *are* at the top of your game as a writer, YS! And your photographs, whoo-ee, am I impressed!

    Then there was this moment:

    After lunch. the beds kindly offered naps, so we each took one.

    I love the way you write, and you do describe my favorite kind of travel— the slow and deep discovering of place, which must have been all the sweeter because you were surrounded by loved ones. Or full of chaos. Or both. : )

    • I’m glad you like the photos. With all the great photographers out there in bloggonia (like you), I’m like a kid who just got her training wheels off and has entered in the Tour de France.

      You expressed the trip well; it was either lovely chaos or chaotic loveliness.

      • Finally, a word for the blogoteria that appeals to me: Bloggonia. You are my favorite mistress of fine wordplay, YS!

        Well, if you just joined a leg of the Tour de France, you are holding your own! Seriously impressed by how quickly you’ve picked up new composition techniques!

        • Messing around with a camera (and reading your great series on photography) has given me a much greater appreciation of the work/art that photographers do.

        • It’s a lot like writing isn’t it?

          Even though the equipment is readily available and the end result (in certain cases) seems so flawless, the truth is that the difference between good/great in photography and writing is vast and indefinable.

          I love that about writing and photography. In the best cases, it appears to be deceptively simple that you don’t see the striving and the sweat behind it.

  10. Someday I really *must* take a photography course. Or would it only drive me mad to know all that I do wrong each and every time? Clearly you made good use of your expedition as well as of the knowledge imparted therein. Great shots!

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