Monday, January 30, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Place de la Liberation, Dijon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Three Forays Into Other Realities

If you are in need of an absorbing read:

1. Things Fall Apart (1958) - Chinua Achebe
2. Nine Stories (1953) - J. D. Salinger
3. Franny & Zooey (1961) - J. D. Salinger (comprises two short stories that originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1955 and 1957)

Without realizing it, I've been gravitating toward mid-20th century writing for good reading. I like how these books were written then, because they were so ahead of their time. It's comforting to think of these authors sitting down and independently putting these not-mainstream or just offbeat ideas to record in their own eloquent ways, because usually when I think of the 50s, I picture something different. It just makes you realize how important it is to convey your vision if you have one; think of what is lost if not shared.

I know it's classic for the young-adult set to say they love Salinger, but maybe there's a good reason for it that's worth exploring! The Glass family stories across the two books are, to me, arresting, and as a stand-alone short story, "Teddy" in Nine Stories is amazing. And all have a very wry sense of humor that's hard not to like.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chez Madame Dumay

Another Dijonnais interior to feast your eyes on. The residence of Madame Dumay, host mom of a good friend of mine. In striking contrast to the din of my residence, Madame Dumay's apartment was a much more subdued locale. And to my delight, completely full of chairs.

The large-scale gilded mirrors add a great deal to the living room, and they pair nicely with the "dated but because of that, kind of cool" textured wallpaper, the cute little writing desk that looks like it actually gets used for that purpose, the small pieces of framed art, the Oriental rugs that help create "rooms within a room," and a blue table lamp that just won't quit.

This is the kind of room that I would never have come up with on my own, and pieces of which I would have perhaps disliked individually, but I end up loving it because it feels like someone's very special home that hasn't changed in a long time. I love and am fascinated by home time capsules.

A perfect place for a cup of tea and civilized conversation...about how much I love all these chairs!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Meeting the Rebouls

As we speak, my brother is getting to know his host family in England and it made me think about the four months I spent living in the home of the Reboul family in Dijon. I learned so much about French people by living with this family of 6. I find this part of the world so interesting because while France may look like a simple variation on life in the Western world as we know it, it's truly a different planet. (So coy!) But mostly I found that French people are a pretty decent lot and are no more or less kooky than the rest of us. 

My program must have thought "Perrrfect!" when they got the chance to pair someone who was the oldest of five kids with a family where I would, for all intents and purposes, find myself the older sibling to four French kids. They probably thought I'd be able to handle the chaos better than any other potential student. And then when they read on my application that I played piano and confirmed the Rebouls had a piano, well, SOLD!

Madame picked me up in a minivan. Plucked from the small, nervous, mostly-girl group of American students sitting on the steps of a hotel in central Dijon, I was whisked off to Avenue de Marbotte and hoping to GOD I could assemble enough working phrases from 6 years of French to convince Madame I wasn't going to be a rough several months of one-word conversations. 

The house. Simple on the outside, but to this day I marvel at how many bedrooms it contained. At least five! Madame gave me a key to the front gate, and upon entering that we entered the house on the right side, under what I considered a very cute little Art Deco glass overhang.

The view of the front door once inside. Typical super-high French ceilings. Jaunty nautical print on the wall. A use of floral fabric that just looks so right. And also, a gigantic wooden entry that creaked like the dickens. 

Madame (Berengere) and Monsieur (Bernard). Madame was from the Savoie region of eastern France. In other words, "from the Alps." Monsieur was actually Belgian and made sure I was aware of this. If Monsieur had his way, he explained, "We would live in the COUNTRY! I am not a city man!" to which Madame would typically shoot him a pained expression and reply with something along the lines of "Oh Bernard, that's dreadful." Needless to say, Monsieur also adored hunting. "La chasse!"

And les enfants. Augustin, Marius, Camille, and Jeanne. 

The only words that routinely come to mind when thinking of 14 year-old Augustin are "throes of adolescence." He was physically growing at what appeared to be an unprecedented rate, was always hungry, and was the member of the family designated with the daily task of picking up the baguette for dinner which would then arrive home boomerang-shaped and flattened in the middle after being perched upon the handlebars of his bike. The only other person in the house besides me who ate oatmeal.

Marius was...6? Very opinionated, but also very sweet. A dead ringer for both parents and a Cub Scout. And usually the last person to finish dinner. Which wouldn't normally be of consequence, but when everyone in France dutifully waits to move on to the next course or finish a meal only when everyone has finished what is in front of them (as in: consumed, not "I'm not eating it"), we were often at his mercy, or the witness of a soup standoff ending in a display of "child does not run the show." I was obviously living in a French etiquette lab.

Camille was the oldest, 15 or 16, and very interested in art and fashion design and hanging out with her friends at the mall. Like Augustin, also at an age where clashes with parents are more commonplace, but she was clearly just a sweet girl at that age where the fact that you still don't have money to buy your own clothes is becoming thoroughly annoying. She took a weekly drawing class and I accompanied her there once, after which our conversations naturally extended to questions about how best to shade upper lips. 

Jeanne was about 10 and from what I gathered, a star pupil. Of the 4 kids, she was the one I associated with the piano. She was adopted from Korea, the circumstances of which were unclear. Actually they probably gave me the story early on and I probably nodded in feigned understanding. Monsieur and Madame found it uncanny that she and I were the only ones in the family who ever said "Oops!" (For my own part, exclamation of this word frankly can never be undone once learned. I'm not sure where Jeanne picked it up.) She also adored chevre of any kind.

At any rate, to say the French language was flying in this household would be an understatement. One minute, Monsieur is spouting vocabulary around how to kill a pheasant or going to great pains to get me to pronounce crepe correctly (two syllables), and the next, a sullen teenager is pounding up the stairs, proclaiming school nul, his outfit nul, and the fact that he has to do chores nul. Nul means dumb. This is how you learn a language.

As in true personal fashion, I was as taken with the house as I was with the people in it. I loved the inclusive, casual style Madame achieved in what was clearly a dynamic living space. The bluish throw on the canape and the red-based Oriental rug anchored the room so well against the "could have gone wrong but didn't" mustard-colored walls. And the fireplace added some good drama. Everything seemed to have a place, including the Russian nesting dolls lined up perfectly on top of the very leftmost bookcase. 

My room on the third floor of the house. (Have I mentioned that the general concept of a three-floor house pleases me to no end?) It was a very basic room with bed, desk, and armoire, with light coming in through a decent-sized window in the slanted ceiling. If I had been any older than 21 at the time, I'm sure I would have considered the excessively thin mattress problematic and somewhat medieval in nature, but as it was, I loved everything about my tiny garrett of a room and considered it perfect.

In the early weeks before school was in full swing, I discovered I had some extra time on my hands and took to decorating my room with a floral explosion, courtesy of Madame's back copies of gardening magazines. As far as she was concerned, any decor affixed only with tape was fair game. Next to the bouquet which only grew as time went on, I think that's a T.S. Eliot poem I scrawled out for some reason. One of those phases. And below that a funny Peugeot car ad. 

The house from the back. Given Monsieur and Madame's very non-urban upbringings, they were very enterprising people when it came to agricultural matters and had a number of large garden plots whose contents seemed to produce a number of novelty items that were canned or preserved, like mirabelle jam and eau de vie. The green door was the door to the kitchen and Madame would often set out desserts to cool on the top of the back steps. A seemingly ongoing lesson in the number of things you can make with flour, eggs, milk, and sugar. She would frequently pronounce them "failed experiments," but they always tasted pretty good to me. 

Jeanne's room on the second floor of the house. I loved the contrast of the green stripes with the hallway's rich orange color, and the cute and chaotic way all of her books and games fit in the bookcase, with a little row of dollhouse tables and chairs on top.

One night we had a pique-nique in Marius's room, which I went along with without fully understanding why. Most nights, the seven of us ate dinner together in the kitchen at 7:30pm sharp. A more typical French dinner scene may have run longer than ours did, simply because kids had to do homework and get to bed soon after, and I found this to work out nicely. So pique-nique night was quite the anomaly and I'm not sure where the other half of the family was. Madame once again proved her ability to make a meal out of whatever was around.

There are many very French things about this picture: 
1. Mother issuing commands to children in even-handed but always firm way. French children know who's boss.
2. Yogurt as dessert. Very common. 
3. Sugar spilled all over table. Very common with yogurt as dessert, as child attempts to force as much sugar as possible into the container. Normally this kind of excessive sweet would not be allowed, but since it falls within the cadre du repas, or mealtime, it is.
4. a) Lazy Susan of odorific, room temperature cheese and b) children nonchalantly sitting next to and partaking in Lazy Susan of odorific, room temperature cheese. And I don't care what anyone says. If I could raise a child to like stinky cheese, I would be tremendously excited. It should be noted that one of the cheeses sitting there is Epoisses and it truly stinks to high heaven...but tastes amazing. I was actually given that piece of cheese at my internship interview at a food company in Dijon. I'm telling you, food is serious business!
5. Cousin Florian on the far right: a perfect example of a beautiful male French name that would never work in the U.S. Too bad. 
6. A cooling dessert made out of flour, eggs, milk, and sugar!

Another view of the family with some friends over for dinner, Marius center stage.

Marius and me. The kids were used to having students stay with them, so I was simply the current installment. Though I did gather that they appreciated that I didn't sleepwalk like their last student. All I knew was that while a nice guy, he had done some sleepwalking which had caused them some alarm. I think they were happy to find me comparatively subdued. And my piano-playing ability was a bonus.

This was just the beginning of meeting a lot of interesting people and having a lot of "I don't know how I got here, but I love it" moments. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unloading and The Context For

So. The other day I took an inventory of photos I've taken over the years. I was amazed, though not surprised, to find more than 11,000. Certainly not a lot by serious photographer standards, but a lot for me.

This is great because it means that I've gotten somewhere with photography. To no lofty place of technical expertise, but somewhere. I wanted to take Photography I in high school but couldn't because all my elective credits were routinely consumed by band and French. (Two things that did turn out to be worth the time, by the way. Though my mad clarinet skills can exclusively be filed under Activities That Promoted General Brain Enhancement. I was no Benny Goodman and was pretty much in it for the Bandie camaraderie and the trips. Whether I practiced ever during my senior year is debatable.)

So I didn't get the chance to take a photography course in school, and my pre-digital experience was pretty much limited to your basic film disposables and an old SLR my dad unearthed for me to play with. Emphasis on old, emphasis on unearthed. I had absolutely no idea what to do with it besides depress the shutter and make sure there was film inside when having done so. I didn't even know how to extract the film from the camera without destroying it. Which means that somewhere (somewhere) this old camera still contains an undeveloped roll of film I took in 10th grade of pictures of my friend Susie gleefully displaying whatever-in-heck it was I used to ask Peter Anderson to the Sweetheart girls-ask-guys dance...probably some sort of cake left on his doorstep.

By college, digital photography came into being, which was around the time I had any money to get myself into the hobby I already knew was mine. At this point, the method of "true" photography was becoming irrelevant as digital photography took its place. But the most important thing for me was form. After function. You can be a technical expert and still never see. There were so many beautiful small and seemingly unnoticed things in life that NEEDED to be documented. Most namely, moments experienced by and between people. But lots of other things, too, like Grandma Dorothy's humble but utterly expansive dresser top display of jewelry.

So, the 11,000 photos. What are they? A lot of things. Maybe it's the new year, maybe it's the prospect of turning 30, but I feel the need to share them more than I have, because the beauty of photography is the impact it can have for simply having taken the time to capture something. So many of the images are of things that have had a profound impact on me, but what good are they if they are not shared?

Beyond this desire to see and preserve moments in our lives, there is also an utter love for interiors that I can't shake. I know this isn't world-critical stuff, but I do feel that the surroundings we give ourselves influence us so much more than we're usually willing to admit. So I do feel a need to share my vision around this more, as well. How, to be determined.

Let it be known that I really do not like being an in-your-face camera person and have a very hard time photographing strangers for fear of being chased down the street afterwards. Bill Cunningham of the New York Times, I am not. But I do like being in a position of "you'll thank me later" by documenting things to show people that those moments in their lives were noticed and mattered.

So I think I can use this blog more to accomplish that. In other words, more to come in 2012.