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So, I went to Paris for that Studio Ghibli exhibition I mentioned a while back. I’ll write a separate post about that soon-ish, but thought I would share some of impressions of the city meanwhile.

Beyond Studio Ghibli, there was no real plan other than 1) to wander the streets and take photographs and 2) sit in cafés and work on my thesis. (I was travelling by myself.) I have only really been to Paris once before (long ago, for half a day or so), so it’s not a city I know. I skipped all the ‘must-sees’ (Tour Eiffel, Musée de Louvre, etc.) because, for this trip, I just wasn’t interested in taking the gazillionth picture of the Notre Dame but seeking things a little more on the sidelines.

Street art

I had seen a photo of this work of street art before and specifically went to look for it. It is located on the Rue de Julienne, which wasn’t too far from where I was staying. The piece, “Paint the Rainbow”, is by Julien Malland or Seth (Seth Globepainter) as he is known on the streets of art.

I photographed street art wherever I came across it:

La promenade plantée

La promenade plantée (also known as coulée verte) appeared on some lists of the more hidden gems of Paris. It runs through the 12th arrondissement, along the former Vincennes railway line. It starts on one side as a tunnel and then continues at an elevated level (Paris, unlike London, is a city of levels) at a height of 10 metres on the Viaducs des Arts. The walkway extends for more than four kilometres up to almost the Bastille. You’ll find walkers and runners (bicycles are not allowed) and get to peak into windows…

…and onto balconies…

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and rooftops of Paris. Or everything all at once:

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Fondation Louis Vuitton

I stumbled across this one. A (locationless) image that was featured in one of the photo sites I frequent caught my eye. I bookmarked it in my “interesting shooting locations” folder and then, when I investigated a little further, discovered that the place was in the very city I was in.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton is an art and cultural centre which only opened very recently (October 2014). Designed by Frank Gehry (he of Guggenheim and other architectural fame), it’s a space to wander around and wonderful for pictures. Indeed, it’s the sort of place you would want to do a more formal photo shoot in, just that I imagine it would probably be difficult to get permissions. But one can dream.

Here are images from different sections (and levels) of the building, just to give you a sense of how one could play around with those spaces:

And another picture, from when I was queuing to buy a ticket for the Fondation:

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Ticket queue at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

This is the sort of photograph I’m especially fond of. It doesn’t impress through capturing something grand or using some flashy technique, it doesn’t really follow any of the “rules” (like the rule of thirds or centering) too well – though there are some lines of perspective that help the viewer out just a little bit. But the power of this image, for me, comes from the tiny private moment, the look on that face of an individual in her own world. (I don’t know how to explain it well.)

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The homeless of Paris seemed to be ever present and, often, rather organised like underneath this bridge along the Seine, where they had a little tent city and were airing out their laundry.

Paris, post Charlie Hebdo

Just a month on from the attack on Charlie Hebdo that left twelve people dead, it’s an event still fresh in everyone’s memories. Here and there you’ll see a “Je suis Charlie” sign posted in a window. Occasionally, you will come across a tribute in a corner somewhere. More striking (and saddening) were the machine-gun armed security guards that I spotted when passing by some Jewish places (I did not try photograph those).

On my last day, however, I noticed that a huge memorial on a side street of the Boulevard Richard Lenoir and quickly realised it was the actual location of Charlie Hebdo shooting. I wouldn’t have sought out the place specifically, but since I was there I wandered in. It’s now a quiet corner, where three side streets meet. A few tourists stroll around, speaking in hushed voices. An air of solemnity lingers. Tributes pile up in various spots in the form of messages, candles (most extinguished by the rain that day, a single flame flickering),

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and flowers (many now wilting).

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I’m not too fond of the “Je suis Charlie” slogan as I find it too simplistic, too much “us vs. them”. I don’t want to get into a debate about it, though if you wish, there’s food for thought here and here.

This message, “Je suis humain”, meanwhile, I’m more comfortable with:_MGP0725

Some more (note the ammunition belt of colour markers and pencils especially – both clever and very powerful):

On Paris

Paris, in some ways, reminded me of Vienna, just that it is a little bigger. Sometimes it frustrated me. The touristy spots were terribly overrun. Other times I would walk around much too residential areas, finding nothing: no charming place to sit for a while and watch people pass by on the street. No place for a decent coffee. No bistro that had food that didn’t feel overly generic. (The worst: the plethora of Japanese restaurants selling only uninspired sushi sets, nothing else.) Sometimes, Paris felt like it didn’t want to be photographed. Well, Europe feels generally feels like that to me these days and as a street photographer I struggle with this. But it did occur to me that Paris is the sort of place I’d rather want to live in for a while (a month or two, minimally) than just visit, because then you would find those spots that make it special, and those places where you can sneak photographs more easily.

After failing to just find cafés (that is, cafés where I could have good coffee and also write), I decided to google. I tried the Coutume Instituutti (at the Finnish Institute) and the Café du chats (the non-reservation one), neither of which felt quite right to me. Too crowded, too busy, few or no plugs (the cats were cute though). Then I found Craft, which is a proper-coffee-café and one Paris’s coworking spaces (a concept I hadn’t heard of beforehand). Good for working indeed and with a fair price (they ask that you spend €3 per hour on drinks or food, and provide you with plenty of plugs and WIFI). There weren’t too many choices in terms of food, but it is one of the few places in the city that actually serves a flat white and, another rarity in Parisian cafés, they have non-dairy milk (almond, rather than soy). They kept running out of it though. (My general recommendation for Paris would be to bring your own non-dairy milk along.)

Guess who I spotted in the metro.

Look who I spotted in the metro (on a poster only).

Sometimes the wandering did lead me to gems, like Le Café Chinois, a tea salon and boutique that, despite its name, is probably more Vietnamese (or French-Vietnamese) than Chinese. It’s not a space for working, but rather a lovely spot to meet with friends for a chat over tea or a ‘slow lunch’. Le Café Chinois serves lots of tea and some coffee. They have a small food menu too. I had a matcha latte (with soy) one day, a vegetarian curry, plus a cream coffee (which they do with soy also) and a Vietnamese dessert (one of those agar-agar coconut cake things). Note that there’s no WIFI though and the opening hours are pretty restricted (midday to early evening only).

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Valentine’s Day in Paris. All by myself!

Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and warmth of people. Nothing of that supposed French arrogance. No one annoyed by my rather limited French – something I had worried about beforehand. Instead, I found people would just talk to me (commenting on the traffic lights, lending me their chiffon à lunettes, etc.). And just about everyone spoke English and those that didn’t, knew Spanish. Who would have thought!

Back to London

Here is a final photo from Gare du Nord, where I was trying to catch the Eurostar back to London – only that a piece of luggage had been left behind, so that the whole train station was shut down for about half an hour. People crowded around outside the station, wondering what was going on. (It all turned out fine of course.)

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All photographs ©alualuna (2015).
Shot on a Nikon D610 (with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8g lens).