Billy the Dog et Bonnie and Clyde

What a long strange trip it’s been. And I’m not talking about Paris. I’m taking about the severe jet lag I’ve been experiencing the last few days. Odd really. I’ve been to Europe enough times that this particular bout of jet lag has me a bit confused. It’s usually never like this. My head aches a bit pretty much constantly and I just can’t stop from waking up at 4am every morning.

But no matter, I have tales to tell.

First of all, I may never fly another airline other than Air France. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve flown that carrier and I’d forgotten how… well… civilized it is. Besides the idea that when you arrive at the ticket counter, you’re already a little bit in France, speaking French and being spoken to in French, flying such an airline weeds out a bit of the riff raff, so to speak.

At the risk of sounding anti-American, my countrymen can be quite embarrassing at times. Some of them don’t really understand that sometimes the point of travel is experiencing something different than what they experience in their particular cul de sac on a day to day basis. Leave the sweat pants at home. You’re going to one of the most fashionable cities in the world. The Mickey Mouse t-shirt can stay behind as well. Ditto the baseball cap. At the very least, learn to say in French hello and goodbye and good evening and thank you before you get on the plane.

Yes, you can have American and United.

The Air France planes have the best entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced in air travel. Personal television monitors in every seat, with choices of movies starting every few minutes, games, music, and other videos.

The food is actually good. Real silverware. Wine or champagne with your meal of course, at no extra cost. Baguettes, coffee and tea.

The flight attendants are polite and efficient, and they all speak multiple languages… well.

Yes, if I can fly Air France even domestically, I’m going to try. Silly perhaps, but it was just that good.

And perhaps I’ll start the story at the very end of our trip. For those of you able to read Morgan’s blog, you already know that we arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport last Saturday to return back to Chicago, loaded down with our ridiculous amount of luggage (fashion shoots require lots of clothing and photography gear) only to find our flight had been overbooked. In fact Air France had overbooked quite a few flights that day. To make a long story short, we were stuck in Paris for another day.

Not entirely a bad thing, but as anyone knows, a trip to the airport is an ordeal and now we had to get our bags back out to the curb, and onto the waiting shuttle bus that would take us to a hotel very close to the airport. I was tired of dragging the luggage around, Morgan hadn’t eaten in a while and was beginning to fade, so admittedly we were starting to get a little surly. But we managed to keep our heads together long enough to be polite and patient with the Air France airport staff who really did try to accommodate us. They were very kind and of course made sure we were well compensated for our inconvenience. Without getting into specifics, they will be flying us back to Paris for free next time. Wonderful. We would be returning to Paris on the house.

But even that bit of good fortune was hard to concentrate on as the shuttle bus pulled onto the deserted service road that our new home for the next 24 hours was located on. It felt a little like a bad dream. The Holiday Inn Express. Somehow in the course of a little over an hour, we had gone from Paris to somewhere in Florida. We checked in and I really hit bottom. The restaurant was closed, nothing to eat except for vending machines, and nothing that had anything to do with Paris or France in site.

I called Morgan’s cousin Garnet and his girlfriend Nicoleta to find out if they were still in Paris to see if we could maybe meet them for dinner. Morgan later told me as she was also slowly losing the will to live, lying on the bed, she heard me say, “I’ll pay a taxi 100 Euro to get us out of here and back to Paris,” and silently cheered because she knew I had found my second wind and would get us back on track. And I did.

20 minutes later we were in a cab and heading back to our vacation. It was there I told Morgan, “You know, this is just going to be one of those days where we’re just going to throw money at this until it gets better.” And we did. And it got great! We had the taxi drop us off at the Louvre, found a bite to eat and decided to go parasol shopping at Antione, a store founded in 1745. We picked out a lovely white sun parasol for Morgan and headed to the jardin de Palais Royal and sunned ourselves for a while.

We stopped at an internet cafe and found the address of a restaurant that one of the locals had recommended to us, and set off in that direction, definitely now enjoying our bonus day in Paris. Eatme was closed when we found it sadly, but we continued on and found a great little place near Les Halles and sat down for yet another great meal. After dinner, Garnet and Nicoleta were free and we decided to meet them on the Seine behind Notre Dame. We got some delicious glacee (ice cream) on the way, and sat down to wait for them as an accordion player created the perfect soundtrack for our last Saturday night in Paris.

Garnett arrived with a bottle of wine and the four of us headed off to one of his favorite views of Notre Dame on the banks of the Seine. Perfect.

Vin rouge, la seine, bons amis et billets gratuits d’avion de nouveau à Paris. Bonne nuit en effet !

But let’s head back more towards the beginning of our story. Our apartment was beautiful. Definitely the way to go instead of a hotel. A kitchen to cook in, a washer/dryer so we didn’t have to bring 14 days of clothes since we were already bringing so much couture to shoot with! Cooking dinner in Paris was great fun. It’s a city full of specialized shops. You buy your bread and desert from one shop, your fruits and vegetables from another, your wine from another, your cheese from yet another. So shopping for the day’s meals is a 20 minute walk from shop to shop. Actually quite nice. Since the shops are small, you get to know everyone and they help you select the best of what they are selling. It just seems healthier than being an anonymous buyer in a supermarket.

We picked up a coffee press to make coffee for ourselves in the morning and enjoyed that every day. We picked up a few jars of the most delicious de la confiture (jelly) and enjoyed that on baguettes with our morning fruit. A great way to begin each day.

Our first night in Paris we spent roaming around the city as we have come to love to do. It really feels like home now. We rarely get lost, sometimes turned around, but we always seem to know roughly where we are and how to get to where we’re going. The first few days we didn’t even bother to take our street map with us. As we roamed that first Saturday we happened upon a carnival in the Jardin des Tuileries. We couldn’t resist taking a ride on the giant ferris wheel. It was great fun and provided a view of Paris neither of us had seen before.

We eventually made it back to our apartment and began a tradition of ending each night with wine on our balcony. I have been to Paris several times now and from the very first, I looked up at the old apartment buildings with their small balconies and imagined one day looking out of one of them onto the beautiful city. I never imagined I would someday live in one of them. Yet here we were. Sitting on our balcony overlooking boulevard Saint-Michel, les jardins de Luxembourg, et la Tour Eiffel. It was, without exaggeration, living a dream.

We would sit and drink and talk and watch la Tour Eiffel go through it’s light show, until a little after 2am when it would end. And eventually, we too would call it a night and head to bed… in our apartment… in Paris.

At this point, I’m not going to review our trip day by day because I think that would be too boring for you faithful readers as well as for me, so I’m going to jump around a bit. Of course having said that, there are a few good stories from Sunday, the very next day.

Morgan and I knew that we both wanted to create some beautiful images on this trip and our plans were ambitious. We planned to be up, showered, made up and dressed for a shoot in les jardins de Luxembourg by 7 or 7:30 in the morning so we could shoot without a lot of people around. We were close to being out there when we had planned, but for some reason both Morgan and I couldn’t really find our vision there. Perhaps it was jet lag. Perhaps we were forcing it. I took a couple of test images to check the light and we mutually decided that perhaps we would stop for the day and simply enjoy the gardens and come back another day to shoot.

Neither of us were disappointed. We knew that our best work comes when we both are feeling it. I’ve learned from travels past that sometimes you have to put the cameras down and experience the rhythm of a city before you can properly work there. And so we had a lovely morning in the gardens, sitting near a fountain, watching the people and enjoying our first Sunday morning in Paris.

The rest of the day was more of the same. Exploring, relaxing, cafés, walking. Because it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed, and so by the time we returned back to our apartment that evening, I realized I had practically nothing to cook dinner with. A bunch of carrots, a baguette, some jam, fromage, and whatever was in the kitchen from the previous guests.

So I MacGyver-ed it. Morgan wrote her blog while I took what I had and made a fairly decent dinner under the circumstances. I steamed the carrots with our portable vegetable steamer that we brought with us and added various spices from the cupboard. And I found a bag of rice and prepared a small pot of that. An odd dinner, certainly, but my first attempt at cooking in Paris with almost nothing I guess I would consider a success. I told Morgan to close her eyes and I served the carrots over rice, with bread and cheese on the side. Oh and we had wine. That certainly helped.

The next day we did some proper food shopping so we had enough to make a proper dinner the following evening.

I spent the next few days keeping my eyes open for places that might be interesting to shoot. I think neither of us wanted to make images that were too obvious. It would have been easy to put Morgan in a beautiful dress and have her walk in front of the Eiffel Tower. But I think we both wanted to be more subtle than that. So I just quietly filed away the light patterns at various times of the day wherever we were. I think learning the light is an important thing to do in a new location.

Billy the Dog…

I began to teach Morgan a little more French than we knew the last time we were in Paris. I still feel like I speak French like a three year old would, but I’m better and getting better every day. Once in a while Morgan would spot like something like a cute little dog and I would say, “le petit chien.” (luh peh-TEE she-ON) It was then we realized that “dog” was pronounced in a similar manner as my last name. And so for the rest of the trip, I became Billy the Dog.

It was fun to teach French to Morgan. We didn’t go too crazy, but every once in a while while we were sitting a a café, I would point at a bus and she would tell me the number in French. 87 – “Quatre vingt sept,” which literally translates to four twenties and seven. She got good very fast. And even though she preferred that I did most of the talking when we ordered food or spoke with shop owners, she was understanding what I was saying and what was being said back to me. Quite impressive. When she does actually take French, which she is planning to do after she finishes school this winter, I’m going to have a hard time keeping up with her.

Morgan had her birthday while we were there and we had a very nice day to celebrate her being on the planet. We had made reservations at our favorite restaurant ManRay the previous week, one of my more major triumphs as the last time we were here, we had to have our concierge make the reservations for us. This time however, we walked into ManRay one evening and I made them entirely in French without having to resort to English once! I was so happy I completely embarrassed Morgan by walking down the street afterward singing and spelling my name in French. It was pretty funny.

The morning of her birthday I was out doing the usual food and wine shopping for the day when I decided I wanted to find something amazing for a present for her. I remembered a few days earlier we had walked by a store around the corner from our apartment and something had caught her eye. It was a bit decadent, but it was a fun idea. We joked about getting one for her birthday and she laughed and said only if I got one for myself as well. So I walked into The Phone House and spent the next hour with a charming and beautiful woman called Florie, who managed to decipher my infant level French enough to understand what I was looking for before we decided her English was way better than my French and we continued in English when the vocabulary of phone technology became beyond my skill level. And so, I walked out of her store with not one but deux Dolce & Gabbana Gold Motorola Razr V3i phones. They are beautiful. And now Morgan and I have French phone numbers as well. So whenever we’re in Paris we can use our nouveaux portables avec des numéros de téléphone français, and when we’re in the States, we can use our US numbers.

Morgan and I even managed to set up our voice mail with prompts in French. So yes, if you call our numbers in Paris, you can leave a message on our French voice mail.

Très international !

Bonnie and Clyde…

Morgan and I are not unattractive people. Far from it. But you wouldn’t know it from our passport photos. We didn’t really notice it last time, perhaps because since our last trip to Paris in 2005, we have both made conscious efforts to look our best. We certainly both look much better than when we both had our passport photos taken.

Since we were carrying them around with us every day, we noticed that our photos not only looked bad, but they were both positively desperate. In a criminal kind of way. In fact I’m wondering how were even got past customs. They look like mug shots. I’m wearing a black hoodie and I look like I should be on America’s Most Wanted. Morgan’s isn’t much better with a bad hair day and an “I’ve just spent the night in a holding cell” look on her face. Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s much much more, but I think I’m about as done writing for now as you must be reading. So…

à demain!

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