Sunday, January 24, 2010

At Heart, in Paris

Hope everyone enjoyed their weekend. I am just finishing up for the night here and am going to finish "We All Went To Paris", a history of Americans in Paris, before I go to sleep. So here's a photo I took in the Louvre, looking down from the second floor into the Coeur Napoleon, one of the sculpture galleries at either end of the building. It has a soaring glass ceiling (it was open to the elements at one time) that throws beautiful shadows across the creamy Loire river marble that makes up the courtyard. Since it's away from the Mona Lisa - La Jaconde, as the French call her - it is almost always empty, so it is a perfect place to sit and rest your feet, and contemplate the dreamy, diffuse light.

"Couer" means "Court" in French - as in courtyard - but I always mistranslate it as coeur, which means heart - appropriate for such a romantic city. More French stories to come....

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I know what I saw...

There is a phenomenon, hotly debated among boaters, fishermen, beach bums, etc. - called the Green Flash. If you spend any time watching sunsets over the ocean, you have heard of it. In it's simplest terms, it is a tiny flash of green light that you see when the sun sets. Or, I should say, HOPE to see - the Green Flash is rare, and people hotly debate if it's even real. You can go your whole life watching the sun go down and never see one. Other people claim that if you know what to look for, you can see them all the time.

The scientific explanation is that when you watch the sunset, the last rays of the sun, angling through the atmosphere (I would say "up", but that' s not really scientific) reflect off of moisture in the air, and refract, turning the light green for a moment. Why green? Because the wavelength of the light is in the blue-green range, but the atmosphere filters out the blue and leaves the green.

There is (as always with a sea-borne phenomena) a list of superstitions and portents attached to the Flash. People say it is the soul of sailors, or that it signals that the Flying Dutchman is near (they had fun with this at the end of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie), or that it fortells a change in the weather. There's even an old Robert Burns story where he claims "those who have seen the green flash will never again err in matters of the heart".

I prefer the more common superstition, that seeing the green flash brings good luck and prosperity. Probably I am projecting here, because I always need a little bit more of both. But in any case, I never saw the flash, so whatever it brought, I wasn't having any of it anyway.


The sunset photo above was taken on my trip to Greece last fall, on Paros Island in the Cyclades. I spent most of my trip island hopping (terrible, I know) and this was the last night of the island portion of the trip. I was down by the port, taking photos of this sunset - by far the best sunset of the trip, and I was out shooting them every night - watching people feed the inevitable sly cats, watching the ferries come in, taking some more photos.

Just as the last sliver of sun sank into the sea, I took the camera down from my eye, but was still looking out towards the horizon. And there - just in that instant, so quickly that I saw it both through the camera and with my own eyes - it was. Flash. I saw it, and in the instant my brain registered it, it was gone.

Now, I am not the most reliable of people when it comes to visuals. I am forever "seeing" things out of the corner of my eye, I wear coke-bottle glasses or contact lenses that should come with a seeing eye dog, and my hair is always out of control (never more so than at the beach) and getting in my eyes and obscuring my vision (which I will claim is why I am always walking into things). To call me a reputable eye-witness is laughable. But.

I have played that instant over again and again in my head, and it always plays back the same. I saw it. Plain, ordinary me, who is about as average as.... I don't know but I am pretty damn average. Me. Hardly the sort of person who sees extraordinary astronomical events, but there you go. I took that camera down from my eyes, looked at the horizon, and there it was. l remember looking around to see if anyone else had seen it, but no one seemed to notice but me. Had I imagined it? Was it just the reflection off the camera lens?

I don't think so. I saw it. I know I did. My last night in the islands, in a place I loved and knew in my heart I would never see again, the sun flashed a green petticoat, a tiny glance back over it's shoulder. Just for me.

I know what I saw.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The First Ever Constant Holiday Giveaway!

I recently ordered a book from the lovely people at Smoky Mountain Books, called "How To Travel Practically Anywhere - The Ultimate Planning Guide" by Susan Stellan, published in 2006. I am a big fan of the theory that planning the trip is half the fun - I am really not happy unless I am surrounded by lists and maps and post-its and pictures, puzzling out a new destination - and somehow, being me and able to mess up the simplest thing, including an internet order, I managed to order two copies. The nice people at SMB's, who cannot recognize senility when they see it, obligingly sent me two copies.

Now, as much as I looooooove planning, I cannot use two books. Even a person as lazy as I am cannot see leaving one copy in the den and one in the kitchen to save the effort of carrying it from room to room. (Though I considered it.) SO! I have decided to put it to good use: it will be the prize in the first ever Constant Holiday Giveaway!

All you have to do to enter is put a note in my comments or send me an email telling me your favorite vacation EVER. How easy is that? A caveman could do it. And I will pick a winner, totally at random, because everything else in my life is random, so why not this?

So comment away, or send an email to, and get to winning!


Just in case you haven't seen the posters, public service announcements, and radio commercials (I guess you hear those rather than see them) about the dangers of texting while driving, here's what they are saying: DON'T.

But also, if you are an uncoordinated clown like I am, refrain from walking while texting. Because while it may not lead to automotive chaos and destruction, it may lead to you walking through the airport, on your way home from somewhere, feverishly tapping your thumbs in a humorous story to someone you could tell that story to in fifteen minutes, and then walking onto the little airport tram without hearing "The DOORS are CLOSING and WILL NOT reopen".

At which point the doors WILL close, nearly snipping off your nose, and you will look up startled and see a tramful of people snickering at you, as you stand on the wrong side of the doors (fortunately still in possession of your nose), reduced to waiting for the next tram.

And feeling silly.

(Which you will then text about.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Mini-Story

Just to start the new year (two thousand and ten IN THA HOUSE! whooo) on a fun note, here's a quick mini-story from this summer - not enough for a big post, just an appetizer. A fun-size, if you will.

I went to Savannah this summer for a shoot and got there early enough that I could go down to Tybee Island and watch the sunset, something I have done approximately 15 zillion times, being a resident of Atlanta, but somehow never get tired of. It's not the greatest beach I've ever been to - I grew up in Florida, so the bar is pretty high - but what it lacks in pristine white-sandedness it gains in having the lovely Tybee community around it, where I keep swearing I will rent a beach house for a week one summer, and, also, in being the nearest ocean to land-locked Atlanta.

So after watching the classic Tybee sunset, all wispy clouds and tangerine skies, watching the pod of dolphins that frolic near the lighthouse cavort in the sleepy evening light and some little kid hit her brother with a sand shovel, I headed back to Savannah proper, and on the way off-island (all this beach talk is going to make me listen to Jimmy Buffet for the rest of the day, and it's nineteen degrees outside) I saw the sign in the (horrible) picture above.

You can't really see it, but it says, "Fresh Local Shrimp - FRYED". Not Fried. FRYED. Which for some reason amused me so thoroughly that I had to whip the car around and go back to see if I could get some of these locally prepared misspellings for myself.

(And for those of you who think I am mocking, allow me to say that it took me five tries to spell "thoroughly" above, and I am by no means confident that it's even correct now.)

Sadly, the Gerald's catering truck was closed, and deserted except for the enormous fiberglass pig that was standing beside it, forever snuffling the grass for some plasticine tidbit. But that just gives me a reason, a quest, if you will, to go back. Like I need one.

Assuming I can find it. True to form, on an island - an ISLAND - with only one road on or off, I got lost on the way back to Savannah (trip number fifteen zillion and one) and it took me two hours to get back to Savannah and my hotel. Next time, perhaps, a dictionary - and a map.