Friday, July 31, 2009

A Complicated Place

Calvin and Hobbes, named for a theologian and a philosopher, was one of my favorite cartoons, as I'm sure it was for many people, given that over 30 million of his books have been sold, according to Wikipedia, if that source can be trusted. (If you are not one of the 30 million people who has already purchased at least one of his books, well, what are you waiting for... go to, type Calvin & Hobbes, and get out your credit card...) Bill Watterson had a real genius for re-living childhood through adult eyes, and his cartoons are pure pleasure.
And being as slow as I am, I also only just discovered today that Bill Watterson came from a tiny town named Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Now for you astute lovers of trivial pursuits out there, you may remember that Chagrin Falls also figures in one of Stephen King's books, I won't say which one, and that a character named Owen also appears in another of his books. Although I never met Bill Watterson, nor Stephen King (got a letter once from him though) this was of interest to me because my Aunt Judy and Uncle Ed lived in Chagrin Falls for many years, and I visited them there on one or two occasions. To what lengths we will go to associate ourselves with anything famous...
For many years I worked almost exclusively with black and white film, before finally breaking down and allowing that color also has an important role in photography, and in life in general. Which explains why of all the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons I ever saw, this one is in a league all by itself. The debate between black and white versus color photography was an important one to some folks, Ansel Adams, for example was a purist for black and white film, while Eliot Porter on the other hand was a strong advocate for color, and a pioneer in working with color in the printing process. Both display sheer artistic genius in their results.
One other trivia note, which shows again how wide a following Calvin and Hobbes had; some of their images appeared on t-shirts associated with the Grateful Dead and their music which were sold outside concerts in the parking lot marketplace that sprang up at every Grateful Dead show... One Calvin and Hobbes shirt had the quote from a Dead song, "One man gathers what another man spills" on it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Junk Man Cometh . . .

At the risk of being declared by the Blogger administrators as an unauthorized blog junkyard, I submit the below photos of a dilapidated old panel truck for your enjoyment (?). (Please don't report me to Blogger as an eyesore site !)
I'm not even going to begin to pretend that I can tell you the make, model, and year of construction of this old rust heap, for me it was just a beautiful old wreck that was well in tune with the landscape around it, in an area of France known as the Causses, which was mentionned in a couple of posts just a few days back. I think on the night of the full moon, there is a ghost who emerges from a nearby cave and starts this baby up, to take it for a midnight moonlight joy ride. As there are no tires on the rims, it goes careening around corners with a mighty spray of sparks, terrorizing rabbits and hedgehogs who run for cover when they hear it coming. . .
This sign mentioning "Risk" was at a site on the Verdun Battlefield which I photographed on a 1995 visit there. . . In French it says "Danger de Mort", or "Danger of Death", in German "Achtung Lebensgefahr" translates roughly as "Caution, Mortal Danger", but in English, it just says, "Risk Jeopardy". . . but does not mention "death". . .




Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Canterbury Tale (cont.) . . .

As described in the below piece "A Canterbury Tale" just a few posts down on July 14th, out of curiosity about a story presented at "More Canterbury Tales" by the Sagittarian, I went looking for the tomb of Sergeant Henry Nicholas of New Zealand who died shortly before the end of World War One. She just did a follow up piece today about this story, so to complement that information, here is just a little bit more from this end of the story in France. Sergeant Nicholas was awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth's highest military honor, for bravery in action in Belgium in 1917 while still a Private. He was killed on October 23rd, 1918, in the village of Beaudignies, France, which is between Vertigneul, where he is buried, and Le Quesnoy, where there is a large monument to New Zealand's forces. This is the church in Beaudignies . . .

The town hall, or "Mairie" of Beaudignies is built of red brick, which is typical in the region. The sign needs a little bit of a face lift . . .


Sergeant Nicholas was killed near a bridge in Beaudignies which would have been over the Ecaillon somewhere not far from this current bridge . . .

The Ecaillon, as you can see here, is little more than a small creek, but the Germans made a stand near here in the final days of the "Great" war, as they were being pushed back on all fronts, leading up to the Armistice. This place seems so peaceful today, hard to imagine the hell it must have been a little over 90 years ago.



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Time For A Drink !

Just got a batch of photos back from the lab . . . old negatives freshly converted to digital for a new lease on life. To celebrate that, it's time for a drink, it's the aperitif hour here in France, and you're all invited ! The young lady here in this 1997 photo from Jacmel, Haiti, is bringing the bottles . . . what's your pleasure ?

And while you're sipping your drink, you can contemplate this barn in southeastern Pennsylvania which was being re-claimed by nature when I saw it in 1997. Which reminds me, I'd like to highly recommend that you take a look, if you enjoy this photo, at the work of Tom Bejgrowicz at his Tom B. Photography blog, where a plethora of scenes from abandoned and dilapidated buildings await you, presented in a style unto himself. Enjoy. . .


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Texture. . . (in French : Texture)

There was a time, not so long ago, when advertising signs were painted on walls. Today advertising finds other ways to worm its way into our collective consciousness. In France older signs like these can still be seen, slowly fading away over the years, under the effects of weather and sun and time. . . leaving behind traces of colors and time-worn textures. I have commented (like a Parrot) to Loulou who is the splendid hostess of Indiaphragme how much I love the texture in many of her photos from India and Egypt. I submit the below photos in the context of texture in humble homage to her excellent work. These scenes are along the route I take to go to work most every day, I finally got fed up with just driving by, and stopped to do these images just a few days ago.






Thursday, July 23, 2009

See No Evil . . .

When I set out the other day to go track down the tomb of a soldier from WWI (see post below "A Canterbury Tale" which was sparked by a piece over at More Canterbury Tales), the end of the day found me strolling in the small northern France town of Le Quesnoy. These are just a few glimpses from that stroll, if you can stand to humor me. . .

This reflection of the belfry in the brasserie glass is for Nathalie at Avignon in Photos and Loulou at Indiaphragme, as I know they both like reflections in windows . . .

The baker here goes out to Lynne at Décolleté, as it goes hand in hand with the Village People piece she posted this week . . . and it's not a bad deal for lunch, a sandwich, drink, and dessert for five euros. . .

This last is a self portrait of myself in the middle, as I can see no evil, and the monkey and I become one ; flanked by Steve at Bloggertropolis and Jeff at Life Is Beautiful, because they're two of the wild and craziest guys I know in the blogging business. . . I'm not sure which is which however . . . and if you look at this image in a mirror they trade places. . .


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Message of Hope ?

The human form in decorative arts has always offered the possibility of transmitting a message to future generations. Some of the earliest sculptures known depict a pregnant mother - fertility goddess, sending a message of hope by evoking the ancient rites of procreation. I'd be curious to hear your take on messages being sent by any or all of the below figures. . .
This first photo was taken in eastern France near the lovely town of Ornans. If you recall from your Art History classes, a famous painting by Gustave Courbet is named "L'Enterrement à Ornans" or "Burial at Ornans". In the background of that painting are white cliffs like the ones visible here. . . seeing that painting first on a slide projected in a college art class, then finding it in the flesh on a wall in the Gare d'Orsay Museum, Paris, was what inspired me to travel to Ornans to see those white cliffs. . . And there are ancient footpaths that allow one to climb up to the cliffs, and through crevices up to the plateaus beyond . . .

I'm drawing a total blank as to where I took this next picture, but it was on the same 1993 trip to eastern France. A scene from "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" ?

A few earlier posts have shown other work by Jerome Mesnager, a well known graffiti artist, whose "Homme Blanc / White Man" figures have a worldwide reputation. This one was in Paris. . . .


Monday, July 20, 2009

Les Grandes Causses !

In south central France lies a region of high plains, known as "Causses", cut by deep canyons or gorges, which are perhaps some of the most sparsely populated areas in the entire country. The area is a large park, "Le Parc Naturel des Grandes Causses". In my (very humble) opinion, this area is one of the most beautiful in all of France, which is saying alot, as there are numerous lovely areas in France. A relatively recent highway now makes access easier, there is even an airport for small planes to fly into, which is also a glider launching site. The airport sign was a little rusty, but that gives a little idea of the mood of the region. . . If you'd like to get another vision of the fabulous landscapes there, please take a look at the photos from the Causses that Arnaud at Random Shots posted yesterday, when he noticed that the abandoned Peugeot panel truck a couple of posts down here is also from the Causses. His shots in color are some of the loveliest I've seen, and while you're there, do take a look around at his photography from India. . . it is well worth a visit !

The high plains of the Causses are dotted with stone ruins like this one, where man may have been present long ago, trying to eke out a living off the sparse and rocky land there, but no longer is . . .

I'm dreaming of going back down there and hiking across these vast spaces, I suspect my dream house may be hiding in a hollow there somewhere. . . Anyone want to come along ?


Sunday, July 19, 2009

On The Road Again !

As mentioned in the below post, there have been quite a few stories about travelling on various blogs of late, which I suppose is normal this time of year. One of the most amazing of which is here at Halfway to France. . . a roadtrip of epic proportions. If I had no choice but to live on the road for any long period, I think the vehicle pictured below might be a good choice for such an adventure. . . this creation was spotted at an event billed as the Brandywine Folk Festival, a few years back. If you were going to set out for a life on the road, how would you like to go ???



Friday, July 17, 2009

Summertime, and the Living's Easy . . .

On three blogs that I enjoy reading very much at every chance I get, there were posts done this week about going travelling. I suppose that's normal this time of year for a lot of people in the Northern Hemisphere whose wanderlust hormones rise proportionally with the temperature and the length of daylight. Over at A Majority of Two, Jo wrote about wishing to travel in a motor home, and illustrated her thoughts with a couple of photos of one. On Jumble Sale Rabbits, Liz was quite happy about the prospect of acquiring a relatively speaking small caravan to take some road trips with. (Accompanied of course by her adorable Tiger Tiddles !) At Of Heliotropes and Silver Strings, Amy described a fantastic road trip she just took from Los Angeles up into Yosemite National Park, accompanied by some of her mouth watering photographs.
I admit, my ambitions for this Summer are far more modest still. Given the current economic situation, we won't be going on any cruises or flying anywhere or taking any long road trips, as much as I might like to. We may just settle for camping in this abandoned Peugeot vehicle that I found in a lovely setting a few years ago not far from Florac, France, which is in the Lozère region, one of my all time very favorite destinations. I'm fairly certain it is still there, perhaps a little rustier than the last time ? It probably just needs a bit of sweeping out and sprucing up. Although we may have to share it with a few bats and field mice. . . Now I just have to figure out how to get there ! Well, I still have my thumb . . .




Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Black Sheep . . .

To appreciate this otherwise fairly insignificant photo (I can hear you out there thinking loudly, "Oh gawwdd, what sort of lunacy is that Mr Toad up to now...") you will need to take a trip all the way to eastern Canada where Louciao Madlynne, the animated animator of Décolleté, posted this past Monday a photo from New York City showing a seeming endless row of plastic bags on poles in a park of the most enigmatic nature imaginable. God only knows what it was meant to represent. A work by Christo perhaps ??? In any case, I mentioned to Lynne that I had taken a similar photo recently, and this is it, the black sheep of that series of plastic bags, who ran away to live the bohemian life in France !
And the other sign is a rarity also, a warning to trumpet players not to come and play their trumpets on this particular street corner. Someone had tried to transform with black marker the French word "Rappel" into "Rabbel" or maybe "Babbel". . . Odd things going on here for sure, and maybe Christo had passed through recently as well ? If you can find them, I did a couple of earlier posts on a "wrapped" sign, even some "wrapped" urinals (!), but it may not be the easiest of tasks to locate them in the dim, dark, foggy past posts of this blog . . .


Dreaming of a Better World

A Better World
It was one of those lovely autumn afternoons
Where the rains of the day before
Had given way to washed pale blue skies and sun
The trees still had enough leaves remaining
To provide some more serious raking work
But she was out in the yard
Running from patches of shade
To bright green sunlit grass
Blond hair unbrushed
Brilliant in the golden radiant light
I stood still as one transfigured
She had one of those pink bottles in her hand
Full of soap solution
In her other hand the plastic ring attached to the cap
She was blowing bubbles as best she could
Five years old and dancing her private dance
Screwing up her face and blowing
For all she was worth
No bubbles coming stamping her foot
Shaking her butt in five year old frustration
Dipping the ring in the soap again
This time blowing softly
Her lips pursed as if for a kiss
And a long stream of beautifully round bubbles erupts
She shakes her hair with joy
Running after the floating swirling worlds of light
Pure magnificent five year old delight
Then looking up
Seeing me at the window
Leaning with forehead rested on raised hand
She stands up tall
Throws her shoulders back
Raises her right hand to right eyebrow
And gleefully shouts, “Garde à vous !”
And my heart expired my heart went out
I only had one wish one terrible dreadful futile wish
I wished I could have offered her another world
Ten times more beautiful
And a thousand times kinder than this one
Something akin to the radiant orbs she launched
Unleashed from her bottle of soap
Upon the autumn breeze

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Canterbury Tale . . .

If you have a moment to venture over to the Sagittarian's place in New Zealand, More Canterbury Tales, this past Friday, July 10th, she did a post about things you can find on a cold, wet Sunday around Christchurch, which included photos of a large statue of a soldier named Sergeant Henry James Nicholas, of the Canterbury Regiment that fought in France in World War One. Sergeant Nicholas had the sad misfortune to be killed less than a month before the Armistice at the age of 26. The Sagittarian, in her post about Sergeant Nicholas asked : "Has anyone ever seen his Other resting Place?"
I'm not sure who she might have been addressing the question to, if not to the entire population of planet Earth. Surely some number of people have noticed his grave at the back of the Vertigneul churchyard in the past, but how many people who are actively reading her blog may have seen it ? It occurred to me that the second number might be much smaller. So being more than somewhat intrigued, I set out today on a mission : go find the grave of Sergeant Nicholas and report back to any curious people in New Zealand who may have been wondering what his final resting place resembles. The answer is in the following photos . . .


It strikes me as more than a little bit curious that just a handful of soldiers were buried in the Vertigneul churchyard, which is in a tiny hamlet of the town of Romeries, when there are much larger military cemeteries nearby. And Sergeant Nicholas, according to the monument in Christchurch, New Zealand, was killed on a bridge in Beaudignies, a town several miles up the road from where he's buried, while there are two military cemeteries at Beaudignies, one which had more soldiers from New Zealand in it. I'm wondering if he was wounded in Beaudignies, and then carried away from the fighting, to expire later close to Vertigneul . . .
The sign on the fence around the churchyard says, "Commonwealth War Graves". . .

A detail on the facade of the church, depicting St. Michael, I suppose, or some other dragon slayer . . .

And an angel with a broken elbow was also keeping an eye on anyone coming or going . . .

This rather ornate cross was not far from the grave of Sergeant Nicholas . . .

Just outside the church this patch of wildflowers (perhaps not so wild) was crying out colorfully for someone to take a picture of them, and as there was no one else around to comply, I accepted the task, in order to finish this post on a bright note. In some places, when a person is deceased, he or she may be said to be "pushing up daisies". Here it may have been more a case of "pushing up poppies". Sergeant Nicholas, may you rest peacefully, as you push up poppies forevermore . . .


Traces of New Zealand in France . . .

In reference to the above story, northern France is literally littered with military cemeteries from the 1914-1918 conflict. Conflict ? How about : Horror. Hundreds of thousands of stones like these dot the landscape. Without making any extraordinary effort to seek them out I visited seven such places as illustrated in this first photo in quick succession this afternoon. With a lump in my throat the size of the sun that was shining down on it all . . . The stones are often grouped by country of origin, rows of English, Australians, Canadians, and more from New Zealand. . . Young men for whom life had hardly started, before it came to violent ends . . .

There were more officers and soldiers from the New Zealand Canterbury Regiment in a few other cemeteries I saw, like this 21 year old Lieutenant . . .

From the town of Beaudignies, where Sergeant Henry Nicholas was killed, it is only a short stretch further to Le Quesnoy, a small city fortified by Vauban in the 1600's. I had hardly parked the car when the first street sign I spotted was in honor of New Zealanders . . .

And just a short distance down that avenue, I stumbled on another sign speaking of New Zealand . . . pointing to a memorial which I'd never heard of before today . . .

I followed a path along the ramparts of Le Quesnoy until it came to this archway . . .

Above the arch, a plaque said, "Jardin de Souvenir". . . Memory Garden, New Zealand . . .

A bit further on, set right into one of the vast rampart walls, there was a large memorial sculpture. This may be a little hard to make out on the photo, but on the left in English it says : "In honor of the men of New Zealand, through whose valor, the town of Le Quesnoy was restored to France 4th November 1918" . . . The bas relief depicts men climbing the fortified walls of the city and going over the top. Carved into the wall on the area where this could be viewed from were the solemn words : "FROM THE UTTERMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH" . . .

And as I was heading back out of town, this wall caught my eye, where again the name "New Zealand" figured prominently. I had the strong impression that Kiwis are welcome anytime in Le Quesnoy . . .


Monday, July 13, 2009

Between Two Islands

This has nothing to do with anything, it just appeared out of the blue one day... but will anyone have the patience to read it ?
In fact, this was one of the first posts I did last September when I first started to blog, but am re-cycling it to the present time in response to a question asked by GG over at Not Waving But Drowning this evening, which was "Where's your spiritual home, and why?" Well, this is it . . .
Between Two Islands
This has been brewing for a long time…
For centuries now ?
Or maybe just a minute or two ?
The span of my life ?
When was that ?
Since birth I have traveled in time
But I always return when it’s time to be still
To the place between two islands
I know where it is
Those of you who know me
May guess where it is
You strangers out there
Who will never read this
And never know me
(Why would you want to ?)
Will never know where it is
Maybe it doesn’t exist at all
Maybe I dreamed it
Dreamed it up, dreamed it down
But whatever the case, upper case
Lower case, staircase
Mental case for a caseworker
It is a place we all need
A place we should be able
To dream of, dream about
A place we should all be able to go to
However impossible that may be
And I hope I never see you there
You hungry hordes hunched over your hotlines
Your coffee cups your super VGA monitors
Your newspapers your highways your movies
Your money your madness
I banish you all to endless night
If you know not how to dream
If you yearn for nothing more
Than membership in the hungry horde
Good god, go take your gold card
And buy the membership
Membership has privileges you know
With every purchase you grow farther
From the place between two islands

And that is how it should be
I don’t want to see you there
And there must never be a parking lot
No hot dog vendor on the site
Of my grandfather’s grave
He lies nearby and listens
When the mist falls on the marsh
In the breaking dark before dawn
He walks with the fog
He knows the cattail dance
And could show you the blackbird’s nest
Or where the turtle sleeps
He could reveal many such secrets
But chooses not to now
The long sleep was too enticing
My grandmother could tell you
She knows many tales
But spends her days dreaming
Of the long sleep
And is already more than half way there
The last time I saw her she hardly knew me
I had to tell her I am your child’s child
The child of your child
A faint light flickered of understanding
In her hazy eyes
And then she asked me if
I had graduated from high school yet
Me nearly thirty-three
One day soon she will slip
Into the long sleep
And walk with the fog before dawn
That hangs thick on the marsh
Stirred by the whispering breeze
In the place between two islands
What has always amazed me most
For a short while each time I return
And follow the sandy trail through the woods
To the point where it forks and one side
The one hardly ever traveled by
Leads out into the marsh
To the first island
Which is where you first start to notice
How quiet it is out there
Your feet make little noise
On the sand and pine needles
Even the occasional call of a jay or cardinal is muted
The sense of stillness, the serenity, is stunning
But what amazes me given the proximity
To certain large cities
Is that once you emerge
From the cedars and pines
On the first island
Into the space between two islands
There is no sign of man
No road. No houses. No telephone poles.
No billboards, hotels, motels, restaurants
Not a single fence.
Rarely a vapor trail follows a barely audible jet
High away above the islands
But the people up there
Are too ensconced in their martinis and novels
And fear of falling out of the sky
To even suspect what dreamland
Lies below them
No sign of man
The eye drinks in the thick green bands
Of the pine woods on the far island
And the pine, cedar, and holly of the woods
Way down on the far side of the marsh
But mainly the golden sea of marshgrass and cattails
Broken only by the lone juniper halfway
Between two islands
The space seems vast
The sky above equally so
Vast and still and no sign of man
This may be the only place
I have ever known real peace
In houses there is always something
That needs doing
We become slaves at home
To all the trappings of modern life
That we have learned we can’t live without
Our computers and VCRs and ovens
The rented movies the phone that rings and rings
The mirrors and clothes and books
The nagging sense that time is escaping
Time that brings each personal reckoning day
A little closer
The working world is an incessant nightmare
Driven by cancerous greed
Governed by constant stress
Full of days spent peering into haunted eyes
Faces where the pain is painful to see
People who gave up so much for so little
Apart from home and work
What else is there ?
I don’t go to church
I don't understand
How people can speak with such certainty
With such finality
About subjects which seem so uncertain to me
In my younger days I used to say
I couldn’t stomach such monstrous lies from
Pious pretenders steeped in pure invention
But I have tempered my language a little since
People believe what they need to
The world of entertainment is hollow too
Brief sustenance the stuff of illusions
We have become a race that lives
For the next movie
The next distraction to help us forget
The worthlessness of our age
And there is nothing you can buy
In any mall or mail order department store
That is going to help you
That will ease the burden
No drink no drug will make a difference
It is all still there when you come out of the coma
Great art will sometimes inspire
Calm and hope
That somehow things will get better
But unless you are very wealthy
You generally cannot surround yourself
With fine art and must observe it
Somewhere where you are not alone
The only place I have known
True and rejuvenating solitude
Has been walking in the marsh
Between two islands
In recent years
I am the only one to venture there
The trail across the stretch of marsh
Before the first island is usually wet
And overgrown, not to mention
The mosquitos that could eat a man alive
In the hot coastal summers
But I go in the fall and winter
And spring, the cooler times
The frozen time in the winter
When you can walk
Out across the marsh away from the trail
Without worrying about sinking in
Up to your knees
Once while looking around
Out on the far island
I found an old spring trap
Sign that some other human had passed this way
But did he know it as I do
Did he love it for what it is
This place between two islands ?
Did he ever sit by the juniper
In the middle of the marsh
And watch the sunset turn the sky
Over the distant woods
Into a blaze of molten gold
Riches beyond a banker’s wildest dream
No gold card privilege
Will ever open the door for you
On such unequaled bliss
Get in your gas guzzling car and drive all day
You will never find a place like this
Between two islands
Give up go home
I don’t want to see
Any of the hungry horde
Set foot here
This is sacred ground
There is no hamburger joint
And no pizza place delivers here
No cold beer to go
Nowhere to go from here
This is the end of the line
And the peace is overwhelming
In the place between two islands
Then again, if you have read this far
Maybe you are ready
Perhaps we could go together
To the place between two islands

Messages From the Back of Beyond . . .

This very afternoon instead of sitting in front of the computer I was out roaming around the countryside here in northern France, doing which is high on my list of most pleasurable activities imaginable. Stepping into the cemetery by a tiny village I'd never visited before, I stumbled on this touching message from a yellow haired young girl with a big heart . . .

A message bearing dog had weathered beautifully . . .