Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Innsbruck, Austria Street Art - Part 3 of 3

I'm gonna wrap up my blog-series of Innsbruck [Here's Part 1 and Part 2], Austria street art with a potpourri of images that, while lacking a common theme, reflect some of my own aesthetic sensibilities (which admittedly verge toward the absurd). Consider this stenciled kitty playing near the cracks of a sidewalk. Who put it here, and why? Is there a message, or does it simply project the pleasure of placing a soft, cuddly animal in a gritty urban setting? As far as I can tell, much of this stuff seeks to inspire opened-ended questions like these (though beer and boredom no doubt play a role).

I'm no tough guy, and I don't purposely plunge into places where I'm not wanted. At the same time, any seasoned street-art hunter knows that you've sometimes got to skulk along some decidedly unfriendly districts to find stuff that matters. There is, after all, a palpable sense of disenfranchisement that motivates a sprayer's choice to seize property in this manner. That's why I found myself walking alongside an elevated train track while visiting Innsbruck one quiet Sunday morning. All that dismal stone stretching underneath: prime territory for tags, stencils, and the occasionally goofy juxtaposition of a sexually charged advertisement amid a dank enclosure.

Stenciling is the art of repetition, of course. Thus I can rarely travel long during one of my street art searches without spying some version of Banksy's Flower Thrower. This guy is everywhere, an ever-present sign of peaceful revolt transformed into a sort of stuttering shorthand of hip fashion - kind of like those Che portraits you see on t-shirts and the walls of college dorms. That's why I had to smile when I spotted a miniature version sprayed underneath an imposing sign of Innsbruck culture [my rusty Google-Fu translates the plaque into a commemoration for a male choir]. Something about the contest of size and the comparative simplicity of the illegal icon speaks to me.

Let me conclude my Innsbruck series with another motif that captures my attention: spray can mockery of video cameras. These devices are, as you'd imagine, increasingly ubiquitous, constant reminders of our post 9/11 surveillance society. They also signify the inescapable feeling that all public property is somehow privatized. That's one message that many of today's stencil-slingers send, that our shared commons have been supplanted by a simulacrum of public life, a fake agora. These spaces, seemingly open, are closed off to folks who cannot consume them properly; they must be protected against those who would contest their faceless authors. The videocamera is the sleepless sentinel who earns rebuke from the masked tagger. As ever, though, the question remains: does defacing a place reveal anything useful? Or does it merely substitute one injustice for another?

Monday, August 29, 2011

We Were Devo

Jenny and I geeked out this past Saturday, driving over the hill to Saratoga's Mountain Winery to see Devo. Just last year, the guys in yellow plastic dropped their first album in a decade: "Something for Everybody," a time-capsule of tunes that manage to blur retro vibes and contemporary angst. The band endured the talkshow circuit and released a couple videos - eg., Don't Shoot (I'm a Man) and Fresh [warning: semi-crappy quality on that latter clip] - but Devo failed to attract the fleeting attention of today's texting-generation. No matter. Jenny and I were thrilled to see a band that's rocked our roadtrip playlist since we were kids.

The crowd skewed fortyish (and upward): lots of silver ponytails, SUVs crowding the parking lot, and one scraggly looking dude reading a paperback copy of Dune as the seats began to fill. Not everyone was waiting for their AARP invitations to arrive, though. Jenny and I giggled at the sight of a twentysomething quartet sporting plastic uniforms and matching garrison caps. They marched in fascistic consumer dystopian glee, and we just had to giggle. Oh, and the souvenir shack was doing brisk business in $35 "energy dome" hats. [I settled for a $25 t-shirt and a $10 beer]. We yawned through opening act DJ Real (think Adam Sandberg, but less funny), chilling as yellow lights began to twinkle over the surrounding countryside. And then, there they were.

Now let's get ourselves situated. Two of Devo's founding members - Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale - are 61 and 63 consecutively. 61 and 63 years old! So you gotta give props to these guys. The band tore through the new stuff with twitchy abandon, popping the tunes open like newly unearthed fallout shelters. The lyrics are fresh but the vibe is classic. Then they played through a catalog of hits, changing costumes every twenty minutes or so. In less than two hours the band dialed the crowd backward from the post-ironic oughts to the pre-Reagan seventies. Not every seat was sold, but no one was sitting for this show. We danced the entire time. And while Jenny and I didn't splurge on center-row tickets, we were perfectly positioned for the highlight of our night: Mark Mothersbaugh careening into our section, jerking pom poms like a spastic spudboy. There were no encores but, heck, the entire show was an encore. We loved it.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Chatbots Talk God, Past Each Other

Please tell me this wasn't staged...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Innsbruck, Austria Street Art - Part 2 of 3

Following up on yesterday's post, here's some more Innsbruck, Austria street art.

"Our Rise is Your Fall"

"Don't You Want Somebody to Love"

A line from Rumpelstiltskin ("No one knows my little game")

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Innsbruck, Austria Street Art - Part 1 of 3

During my recent trip to Austria, collecting footage for my forthcoming Salzburg Global Seminar video project, I took a side-visit to Innsbruck. I had no specific agenda for that stop; I just thought it'd be nice to spend a couple days on my own, seeing someplace new. One surprising highlight: the amount of street-art sprayed upon public (and private) spaces. While recent media attention has understandably focused on the upheavals in Greece, it's clear that a sizable contingent of Austrian youth feel disenfranchised and angry; you merely need to read the signs they plaster, stencil, and paint. Of course I found a similar concentration of street art in Vienna during my visit last year, so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. Austria is feeling the same pressure that's sweeping through the world. Here's a sample, with more to come:

Anti-fascist Action

"Double-cross the slumlords"

Mordechai Vanunu: a technician who revealed secrets
about Israel's nuclear weapons program

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kafka Museum Peeing Statues

This video from our 2011 European Grand Tour offers, at least, the virtue of literal truth. They're statues, they're at Prague's Franz Kafka Museum, and they're peeing. Supposedly the streams form phrases from famous local residents. Better yet, I'm told that you can text a message and watch them pee something for you. And to think we learned about the interactive nature of David Cerny's installation after we returned to the States.

Monday, August 22, 2011

One More Down...

One more dictator teeters on the edge of oblivion. Moammar Gadhafi has always been a strange, unsettling, and lifelong part of my worldview. He took power in Libya in 1969 and later invented a name for his country that would be the odd delight of Model United Nations-geeks for years thereafter: the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. He was known for keeping a bevy of female bodyguards, for sleeping in a tent, even when he traveled on diplomatic business, and for his uncanny ability to outlast his enemies. He was also widely considered to be insane.

For most of my life, Libya provided a general utility villain for action-adventure flicks. I can still hear Doc Brown warning against the threat of nuclear terrorists in Back to the Future ("Who do you think? The Libyans!"). When I was stationed in Rota, Spain back in the 80s, I imagined the ease at which that wily evil dude could target us from across the Mediterranean. And, of course, I remember watching the televised violence of a U.S. airstrike on Tripoli when I was in high school. I was one of those Model UN-geeks, and we were participating in a General Assembly meeting when someone rolled in the TV. We stared awestruck as the bombs fell. There was a moment of silent attention and then a burst of enthusiasm as each of us began banging out resolutions. Libya's dictator struck me as just a little goofy.

Yet Gadhafi shed no small amount of blood. His assassins spread fear around the world, blowing up a disco to kill U.S. soldiers and planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people over (and at) Lockerbie, Scotland. Yet when he admitted his culpability to that latter mass murder, Gadhafi launched a process that began to transform him into some sort of elder statesperson. His willingness to help stem the flow of immigrants from Africa to Europe and his alleged assistance in the fight against Al-Qaeda clearly contributed to that cause. Even so, the people of Libya have had enough.

News reports now depict Gadhafi as a tattered shell of his former self, hiding somewhere in Tripoli as close aids and trusted henchmen slink out of sight. Rebels driving battered pickup trucks (aided by some NATO bombing for good measure) have him surrounded. No one knows what will happen next, but it's clear that the Arab Spring is becoming a year of revolution whose latest victim is one fellow who stuck around far too long.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Miniature Wonderland, Hamburg, Germany

As part of our European Grand Tour, Jenny and I queued up to see the world's largest model railroad in Hamburg, Germany: Miniature Wonderland, complete with a launching space shuttle, an airport (with flying planes), and even a neon South Beach! We could have stayed for hours, because every square inch seems to be packed with tiny details (Jenny's favorite part was the tiny hot tub at the bottom of a ski slope). And believe it or not, they're not done building this thing!

Official Site: Minatur Wunderland Hamburg

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Animated Neon Signs: Reeperbahn, Hamburg, Germany

Time for another video from our 2011 European Grand Tour. This one is from the infamous Reeperbahn, a street in Hamburg's St. Pauli district. OK, I admit it; I'd never heard of this place. Jenny and I were simply discussing where we might visit during our 24-hour stay in town, when she spotted a neon sign on a postcard and saw the name "Reeperbahn." We figured this place might be good for some night shooting, so we found a stop on the metro and set our course.

Little by little we realized that the Reeperbahn is actually a red light district. Later on, researching the meaning of the name ("rope-maker's way" in English), I came across a quote from John Lennon who played some of the rowdy clubs along this street before the Beatles made it big: "I might have been born in Liverpool - but I grew up in Hamburg." It's not for nothing that the Reeperbahn intersects with another famed street called Große Freiheit. Translated into English, that means "Great Freedom." Of course, the nature of this freedom is subject to debate.

Jenny, a devout Mormon, wasn't too impressed with the category of entertainment for which Reeperbahn is world-renowned. We were both especially saddened by the sight of prostitutes displaying themselves in back-alley windows like products to be consumed and discarded. Their numbed expressions would be featured on no local postcards. Nonetheless, I had to cruise these Hamburg streets for a little while (the live sex shows were off-limits, though; Jenny was rather clear on this point). The Reeperbahn's collection of animated neon signs is weirdly stunning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Animated Neon Signs: Boulevard de Clichy, Paris

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting collections of images and video from our 2011 European Grand Tour (catch the original video here). While we savored our share of famous artwork and cultural sites, I also spent time exploring the seedier stuff along the way - keeping an especially keen eye for spray-art and cheesy neon signs. Here's an example from Boulevard de Clichy in the Pigalle district of Paris.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Andy and Jenny's 2011 European Grand Tour

Jenny and I are back from our three-week whirlwind tour of Europe, with stops in Scotland, England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Italy, and France. Along the way we took thousands of photos and wrote pages of notes. And now we're back home, sorting through bags of souvenirs from the best trip we ever took. We intend to share a day-by-day account of our adventures in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's a taste of our Grand Tour. Any difficulty viewing the embedded video? Feel free to link directly to an HD version - here: http://youtu.be/NiE-gdBidvg?hd=1

Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 13 - Paris (written by Andy)

Our last day. We'd been planning this trip for years. Saving for it that long too. Seriously, we've had fights that seemed vicious enough to inspire divorce peter out after one of us would mention the Europe trip. How could we split when we had this trip in our future! We'd spent the last year in serious prep-mode, arranging and rearranging details in the hopes of producing this thing. We envisioned that decades from now we'd recall our European Grand Tour and share memories… climbing the acropolis, sailing among Greek islands, strolling along the Seine. We'd done it, and it was all wonderful. And now it was almost over.

So we launched ourselves into the day, taking the metro to Notre Dame Cathedral and anticipating a nightmare to get in. Actually, though lines began forming early in the morning, we had no problem finding our way inside. As usual, folks ignored the no photography signs and lit the place up with flashes (I had to take a couple shots too; sue me). Strangely enough, a wedding rehearsal was underway, which meant that our tour was augmented by celebratory music and priestly intonations. I hope the bride and groom enjoyed the extra attention.

Walking back across the Seine I searched out pieces of spray art, glad to finally find some of the stuff in Paris. We had no formal plans until our evening's encounter with the Moulin Rouge, allowing us to follow instinct from place to place. Gradually I noticed that the concentrations of graffiti and other street art had begun to thicken. Before long I realized that we were near Centre Pompidou and its world-renowned collection of modern and contemporary art. Ever the kind soul, Jenny consented to adding a stop and we used our Paris Pass to score free tickets. Riding the escalators up the facade of that crazily postmodern edifice that resembled a factory turned inside out by a malfunctioning transporter, we noticed clanking, crunching sounds augmented by droning chants. Later we'd learn that the auditory assault was a piece by Mickey Hart called "Soundwalk."

The displays were predictably mind-bending, conveying a sense that anything can be art -- even the guards who sat forlornly in their street clothes. A tangled mess of metal strewn about a floor: Art? Definitely. A cluster of people staring at a canvas of Yves Klein's IKB: Art? Surely. An empty wall, devoid of installation or explanation: Art? Maybe. Jenny was less thrilled with stuff that seemed defined more by various "artist's statements" and critical responses than recognizable aesthetic pleasure. I was pretty impressed, though. Lots of Kandinsky and a respectable array of Picasso, along with the requisite Andy Warhol. Even one of Duchamp's urinals. We even spotted a photograph of the UK Pavilion from the 2010 World's Fair. Even after seeing this thing personally I only now recognized a human face in the interior design. Amazing.

Jenny was done with museums, though, so I promised that we'd focus the afternoon on anything she wanted to do. She opted for Montmartre, so we caught the nearest metro heading that direction. On the other side of our ride, drop big fat raindrops began to fall, just as I remembered our decision to leave the umbrellas behind. We ducked into a souvenir shop and bought a cheap one. Minutes later, the rain cleared and we knew, we knew that we'd get no more precipitation that day. We climbed the steep hill toward the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur and searched for an ideal view to take in our last panorama of Paris. We toured the church long enough to count the excursion as vaguely "cultural" before diving into the tacky theme park extravagance of Montmartre. Creperies, painters, and busloads of tourists. Oh, and a mime. At last we saw a mime in Paris. We watched; we couldn't not watch him. And when he started texting on his mobile phone during a break, we had to giggle.

We had a couple hours before our planned arrival at the Moulin Rouge that evening, so we oozed along with the crowds for a while and then sat off alone to the (relatively) nearby Sacre-Coeur Cemetery. Once more, we had no specific plans. But we recognized a couple names on the handy map available at the office and searched out their plots. Actually Émile Zola had recently been moved to the Panthéon, where France commemorates its cultural heroes, but François Truffaut was still there, with a flower pot of metro tickets. I loved Truffaut first in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, years before I ever saw The 400 Blows. [I still haven't see The Last Metro.]

We followed a random course among the monuments, playing hide and seek with a black cat that had crossed our path, and then we headed back to the hotel. Just one last item on the itinerary to go. This one was, I suppose, mostly for Jenny. Yet I was the one who insisted that we pay the crazy-expensive price for tickets. The Moulin Rouge is pretty much the most famous cabaret in the world, though it offers almost nothing to remind you of Toulouse-Lautrec or that movie that Jenny loves so much. Instead you get dudes in tuxes offering obsequious welcomes, get-to-know-your-neighbor tight seating, and vigilant checks against anyone who'd dare to use a camera inside.

You also get one hell of a show after dinner. I couldn't begin to tell you what actually happened in the performance. But I remember lots of glimpses. There was a nearly naked babe thrashing about in a water tank filled with snakes. There were topless cancan dancers. There was a talking dog (really). It was obnoxiously entertaining. Relentlessly tacky. Exhaustingly fun. And when a tiny wisp of feather floating down from one of the dancer's outfits, I caught it for Jenny. I knew she'd want it.

We stumbled out of the theater (well, I stumbled, actually, after drinking the full bottle of champagne that came with our meals - and finishing the bottle inexplicably left by one of our neighbors) and entered the metro for one last ride. Three weeks of airplanes, trains, boats, cars, and an ATV had led to this: a final trip to our hotel where we would pack our bags and head home. We had an insanely early airport shuttle scheduled the next morning, yet we insisted on watching the Eiffel Tower from our room at 1 a.m. On schedule, those glittering lights fluttered with kinetic exuberance. I sought some sort of descriptive language but could only think of fireflies in an invisible jar. Five minutes or so clicked by as we celebrated that last moment together, embracing each other and Paris too. The time passed and then, as we knew it would, the Tower blinked off for the night.

Day 21 | Return to Start

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12 - Paris (written by Jenny)

Our first full day in Paris and we had a lot of things to see, more than we could accomplish in two days. But, our first task was to make a brief stop at Hard Rock Café. Normally, we would never set foot in a Hard Rock but we had to this morning to pick up our Paris Pass. This is a pass that we purchased before we left, and turned out to be well worth its exorbitant cost. We got free metro rides and free entrance into several museums for two days. It also allows for some free tours and other benefits, but we were really only interested in those two things. The only hassle? A required trip to Hard Rock first thing in the morning.

Coincidentally, when we got there, we found something that Andy had been looking forward to seeing: the Passage des Panoramas. He’d read about it as being one of the original arcade passages in Paris. For folks without Andy’s nerdy passions, I’m literally talking about a passage, an alleyway between buildings that has an arched glass roof and shops along each side. These arcades were built long before malls as ways for people to shop in inclement weather. You still feel like you’re outside but protected. It was really quite lovely and old-fashioned. Since we had a few extra minutes before Hard Rock opened, Andy took the opportunity to snap some pictures of one an original nineteenth century arcade.

With our Paris Passes in hand, it was time for our next adventure, the Louvre. We had both been looking forward to this part of our visit but were not prepared for the greatness of it, both in the art it held and in its size. It’s so easy to get lost in the Louvre, and so luckily we grabbed a map on our way in. We had been warned to get there early in the morning and to go straight to the Mona Lisa before the huge crowds descended. It was a good warning. Our new Paris Passes not only got us in for free but placed us ahead of many of the crowds (like a fast pass at Disney). What a deal!

So when we got to the Mona Lisa, the crowds were manageable and we could take our time after that. I am sure that I have actually seen the Mona Lisa before, a long time ago. It must have been on loan to some museum that I visited in school. So I wasn’t surprised by the size like most people are. It’s actually fairly small, contrary to what you would think. Of course, Andy (ever the contrarian) thought it was a little larger than he expected. Oh well. It was beautiful, no matter the size.

From there we wandered a lot. Andy loves the paintings and I love the sculptures, so we got a well-rounded self-guided tour. I especially loved the Winged Victory statue, the one without a head. I’ve seen this one in history and art books my whole life. I also enjoyed seeing the Venus de Milo and Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. What they could do with marble is amazing. Andy was excited to see Oath of the Horatii by David and Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun is an artist I’d never heard of before, but I was struck by her portraits; they are so bright, with most of the subjects looking right at you with smiles. Her pieces just made me happy. It’s cool how we appreciate these things more as we get older. What I didn’t appreciate, though, was how difficult it is to go through a museum. We walked for hours on end around cities in Europe, but for the slow pace and constant stopping at this place was harder on me. By the time we were done, walking through the city proved to be a welcome change.

We got outside and saw the lovely Champs-Élysées, a long corridor of garden that leads toward the Arc de Triomphe. Yeah, it was a bit farther than we expected (probably at least a mile or so) but that was no problem. We enjoyed the lovely garden area that turned into city street and were excited to be able to see the famed monument. This is another one of those things I learned about as a kid. Andy and I both had Ms. Prince for French in middle school, and the other major French icon we learned about besides La Tour Eiffel was L'Arc de Triomphe. It’s been a major symbol of Paris and France for me ever since, so it was fabulous to see it! It’s actually in the middle island of a traffic circle, which really makes it stand out. And you can’t just cross the street to see it; you have to take underground tunnels. After about 10 minutes of looking for the tunnel, we finally got over to the arch and were standing right under it. Viewing all the reliefs and writing that covered it, I was inspired by the size.

Our Paris Pass came in handy again here. It got us in for free and past the long line of people waiting to climb to the top. In fact, we didn’t know what to expect, but after flashing our pass, we found ourselves headed up the spiral staircase – up and up! It was a strenuous climb, but well worth it. We got a stunning 360 degree view of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and lots of things I didn’t even know. But what was more awesome to me was just the fact that we were up on top of the L'Arc de Triomphe! How cool is that!

After the Arch, we had to decide what to do next. Andy suggested the Musee d’Orsay, another famous art museum. This one featured more impressionistic art. So we saw different styles and artists, like Manet and Renoir. The most popular artist there, though was Toulouse-Lautrec. His paintings actually caused a line outside his room. But that’s not surprising, given that his work is known for immortalizing the Moulin Rouge. Andy loved the D’Orsay because he had studied a lot of these works and artists in a class he took a year or so ago at the local community college. I tended to prefer the Louvre, though I did see some pieces I really liked here, too. Still, all that walking through another museum just wore me out, and I found myself longing for benches.

By now it was late in the afternoon. The day really flew by and we hadn’t even recreated Andy’s favorite Paris painting, Paris Street; Rainy Day! If you have known Andy any length of time, you might know that he loves to recreate things that he loves (including scenes from movies like Close Encounters. This time, he wanted to find the exact spot in Paris where this painting was set and recreate it. The web is a great thing, because he was able to find websites dedicated to this painting and its location before we left for our trip, so he had it all mapped out. Sure enough, when we got there, I could tell that this really was the spot, even though there are many in the city that look similar. It was really quite cool to see it. Andy had a printout of the painting and we worked for about an hour to set ourselves up in the right pose and ensure that we had enough ennui on our faces. I’ve got to say, it came out pretty good. We made sure to bring an umbrella!

Once our own work of art was complete, it was time to find a nice quiet but fun area to get some dinner and wander the Paris streets. Andy had heard that the Latin Quarter was just such a place, so we hopped back on the metro. I think we did this area wrong, though. I studied the map of where it was, but when we got there, the streets were dead. Nothing was open and there weren’t a lot of people. We remembered that this was a college area and that it is August; maybe that had something to do with it. Either way, we wandered a bit until we found some life: a few streets of restaurants and shops, and even another passage like the one from the morning to explore. It still wasn’t a stunning area but we found a reasonable place to eat. The restaurants love to offer outdoor dining, which is great, but unfortunately they end up cramming a bunch of tables together. We had fun anyway. After dinner we thought we’d go and see the Seine, which was just a few blocks away. It was lovely at night, and we crossed a couple of bridges and took some great pictures of the full moon. It was a beautiful, romantic night.

Day 20 | Day 22

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 11 - Nice to Paris (written by Andy)

Though today was primarily scheduled around travel, we had a few hours in Nice before we were supposed to board our train. Since we'd spent so much time yesterday on the beach, and were scheduled to sit on a train for about six hours this afternoon, we decided to focus the morning on walking. We began with a return to the Old Town district, searching for good light to shoot some photos. It's surprisingly difficult, given that the buildings stand so close to each other. The sun has to be in just the right position for its light to reveal the color and detail of those facades.

Along the way we stopped at Berlandises where Jenny picked through macaroons, cookies, and other candies to bring back to her pals at work. We also walked by a French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère) recruitment office, and I shared with Jenny the remarkable story of a group that allows men from all over the world to adopt new identities, and potentially French citizenship, by their willingness to go places and do things that no sane person would cheerfully contemplate.

We also stopped to watch the unfolding of a traffic jam caused by an abandoned car in the middle of a tight intersection. The woman driving one of two buses thought the ideal response was to lean on her horn. I opted to join some folks trying to move the stuck car. No luck. After a while, we abandoned our efforts and left the snarling mess behind. The heat was rising and we counted down the minutes before we must drag our luggage the final six blocks from our hotel to station.

We were both buzzing with excitement about Paris, a place we've both wanted to visit for years. That's why I packed that silly-but-sweet romcom starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline: French Kiss. This movie is a quintessential guilty pleasure. Despite its predictable plot and "Ohmygosh-Aren't-I-Cute?" emoting by Ryan, French Kiss contains so many delightful images of France and so many quotable lines of dialogue (in the Wood household, at least), we had to see it once more before arriving in Paris. Our perfect solution: watching it on my laptop while our train made its way north. Viewing the moment when Kline and Ryan's characters fall in love on the train - on a train - was one of the coolest things we did on the entire trip. Interpret that as you will.

We arrived after dark and - just like our first sight as we emerged from the Athens subway - our first true glimpse of Paris was perfect: the Eiffel Tower. I've studied and lectured about it as an artifact of the 1889 World's Fair, and I've long imagined that seeing it for real could hardly surprise me. But there's something magical about the immensity of this thing, knowing that even far away this tower glows majestically over the city. I've heard that even miles away, many Parisians can see its light at night. And our hotel was only three blocks away.

Even so I was sure we'd get a lousy view. I'd spent a fair amount of time researching "Tower-view" hotels and found, as you'd imagine, that windows facing the darned thing come with a premium price. One place, Les Jardins d'Eiffel, came with good reviews but never could quite seem to guarantee that we could get that fantasy view. We stuck with them though, settling for close proximity and accepting the reality that we’d get our typical vantage point of a parking lot. I didn't even bother asking the night manager when we checked in. We entered the elevator, got off, and turned enough corners for me to know that we were out of luck. I opened the window... and saw the tower glittering. Seriously, the thing wasn't just aglow; it actually sparkled.

I couldn't wait to get out of that room and get closer. Jenny and I dropped of our gear and practically ran back downstairs, thanking the manager as we departed. I'd heard that our travel agent had sent a message to the hotel a week or so back, asking that we’d get a break. Apparently it'd worked. We ignored our map and simply headed in the direction of the glow. Within about 15 minutes we joined the crowds on the Champ de Mars, marveling at the massive lines of folks queuing to ride to the tower's top. Just being there was enough for us. We'd get our ideal Paris view - with the tower, not from it - in the next couple days, maybe from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. We sat on the grass and ignored the vendors who wandered about trying to sell bottles of cheap champagne. Eventually we learned that the fluttering light show restarted every hour, which gave us plenty of time to set up a shot. As we waited, Jenny and I watched the swirl of searchlights that circled about the tower and grooved on the moment. Paris, at last!

Day 19 | Day 21