Then and Now

It’s been almost exactly three weeks since Morgan and I got on a plane in Paris one beautiful rainy Sunday morning and began our journey back home to Chicago. And even though three weeks is not a very long stretch of time, I do feel like I have some perspective on the things we both came to realize while we were there.

Life is very different for both of us now, even though only our close friends would probably notice any outward difference. We still go to the same jobs, live in the same homes we did before we left, but something is different. Morgan and I are really in different places in our respective lives right now, but somehow there is a symmetry to where we find ourselves these last three weeks. Our time in Paris really caused both of us to reevaluate our priorities and where we want to be in the future, both literally and figuratively.

For both of us, it’s a time of new beginnings. Maybe changing directions, maybe not, but definitely specific goals and how we’re both going to live until we achieve them have made themselves very evident. Dreams that were dormant or undiscovered suddenly revealed themselves during long walks through the cobblestone streets, conversations at various cafés or inspiring dinners, and certainly the kind of discussions you only have at the end of the day back at the Hotel de Suede Saint Germain at 3am over a bottle of French wine with a baguette and some cheese.

Une bouteille de vin français, d’un baguette et de fromage.

We will both return to France, for short periods of time over the next few years, and then eventually to live there. It’s as clear for both of us as anything we’re feeling right now. People who know us well know we’re both the kind of people that do what we set out to do and this will certainly be no different.

I was just on the phone with my good friend Monkaey, who ironically is back in the states for a few weeks doing a little figuring out of her own. We were talking about my plan to have photography show in Paris in the next two years and she said, “I know you’ll do it. You have the sort of strong will that makes things like that happen and make the rest of us look bad.” I had to laugh because she has spent the last few years of her life living in China and England, traveling through Asia and Russia and seeing more of the world in five years with her own eyes than most people will ever see on the Travel Channel from their overstuffed suburban sofas. So her will is nothing to sneeze at either.

But yes, I have big plans and I’ve already begun making changes in my life to make sure I achieve them. I’m just about ready to sit down to a Saturday night dinner that until a few months ago probably would have consisted of a pizza for three and is now steamed fresh corn, brocolli and string beans. I have a lot to do and I want to make sure that I’m around for many years to come. When I moved to my new space back in May, I weighed thirty pounds more than I do now. Sure, it’s like a shovel full of dirt out of the moon, but it’s a start.

And after spending a week slowing down to walk through the beautiful Paris gardens, sitting next to the fountains under blue skies and generally just taking our time to enjoy life, that stress-free feeling may be the best souvenir we brought back with us. And again, three weeks isn’t a very long time , but I can tell you this is the longest afterglow I’ve ever felt after a trip to Europe. I think it’s officially gone from afterglow to a permanent state of mind. I got a wake up call a few years ago when I lost a good friend of mine, Erik Powell, and all of us who knew him promised ourselves we would never let anything get in the way of spending time with our friends, even when demands of work and other stress would tempt us to constantly reschedule and put off what too often seemed like expendable face time.

It’s not that I’ve hit the snooze button on that wake up call, but I think I’ve made an addition to the don’t forget to spend time with your friends pledge. I’ve added myself to the list of friends I’m not going to blow off any more. I’ve actually been making time to come home and spend some time putting things away that never quite got organized when I moved in a few months ago. I like coming home to order. I can clutter up a place like the best of them, but I think it adds to the stress in my life when I have piles of projects lying around, or shelves not arranged properly. I’ve been tackling a little area pretty much every day and I’ve found that sometimes before I leave for work is a good time to restore some order around here.

Less clutter means my photography is more productive. I’m not talking about shooting because I have been doing more shooting in the last few months than I have in a long time. But all that shooting requires scanning, retouching, cataloging and printing. My website needs some serious attention. With the exception of the blog which gets quite a bit of attention, the galleries section hasn’t been updated in a long time I’m sorry to say. That’s going to change as well.

Then and Now.

For me there are many levels of then. There is the then from about ten years ago, the first time I set foot in Paris, oh so briefly, exploring the deserted streets on an early Sunday morning on my way back from Greece. Things were very different in my life. I had a lot to learn about the world and who I was. I was still making a mess of relationships because I was looking for validation from someone else rather than myself. I took this image while casually walking from my hotel near L’Opéra national de Paris toward the Eiffel Tower. I began to see it peeking over treetops and I stopped along the way to try to compose photos that were different from the ones I had seen all my life.

Fast forward to the present. Morgan and I just had the most amazing dinner at Man Ray. We were the last ones out of there besides the wait staff who kept assuring us that we didn’t need to leave. It was such an incredible experience with a 15 piece orchestra and arias being sung all throughout a delicious Asian meal. We were still buzzing from the wine and conversation when Morgan decided we needed to see the Eiffel Tower – now – even though it was approaching 2am. It was only our first full day in Paris, so we sort of knew what direction we needed to head. We started to see the top of it from between buildings as we wandered down side streets. Morgan had given up on her heels and was now barefoot as we rounded a corner – and I stopped cold in my tracks. We had somehow managed to find one of the corners I had taken a picture of the Eiffel Tower from a decade earlier. I couldn’t remember exactly where I was standing, but ironically in my hand was the exact same Nikon F3 camera and 24mm lens that I had with me on that brief Sunday morning stroll.

Morgan already had her camera out and I was looking for a place to brace myself for the one second exposure I figured I would need to make to have anything come out on the film. A nearby wall seemed as good a place as any and so I framed and clicked. It wasn’t until we got back and I developed the film that I could be sure it was the same street, but it seems to be. I never want to read too much into my images. I just try and let them happen, but I had to laugh when I realized that the main difference between the 1996 image and the one from this year is distance. I have stepped back a little and I can see more in the later image. More perspective. It’s how I feel these days.

As far as the revelations that Morgan is experiencing in her life? Well I’m happy to say you’ll have to read about them on her new myspace page. She has big plans for the future as well. I know I’m going to make sure to get a good seat for her next few years.

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