High and Extra-Wide in Trocadéro

Cafe terraces - Trocadero
Two of the many café terraces on the place du Trocadéro.

Paris' 'Fake' Spring Held Over One More Day

Paris:- Wednesday, 18. February 1998:- The weather must be pretty bad in some places. It didn't look good here on Monday, when last week's issue was full of 'fake' spring at the same time as the sky was grey and the temperature was normal - cold.

Besides seeing the snow on TV from the Winter Olympics in Arctic-like Japan; California readers have been mentioning the ups and downs of their 'El Nino' days - and asking for more 'fake' spring stories from Paris. With Monday's busted forecast, I wondered how to 'fix' this up.

While doing this, today has arrived, and the weather has 'fixed' itself; again contrary to last night's forecast. It looks like a no-sweater day. Not putting one on saves me combing my hair again and I am out of the door in a flash, like a fireman heading for a large blaze.

At the train station - there is no strike today - although some technicians are putting the ticket puncher outside. This is a blow because we will not be able to use the excuse that the station was closed with the ticket-puncher inside when the SNCF meanies control the tickets. Instead, my ticket man pounds today's ticket with an official SNCF rubber stamp, which may be the same one used when the line opened late in the last century.

My personal weather station, from the train window overlooking Suresnes, says today in Paris is 85 to 90 percent clear. This is a bit better than last week's 'fake' spring, but might be bad news for taking a photo of the replica of 'La Gare Saint-Lazare,' which is a painting done by Monet in parvis & Tour Eiffel 1877. The 111 square-metre replica is on the front of the Gare Saint-Lazare, facing the sun.

Untypical winter scene in Paris on this day in February.

In the Cour de Rome it is as feared. Straight on, the sun puts an impossible glare on the painting; and besides, there is a white van blocking the view. It really is a huge station when you look at all of it - and I eventually settle for an offside shot, from a couple of angles.

I also give the place a good swivel-look. The bus depot in front of the station has been moved because of some construction going on. I wonder where the open-platform bus number 29 may now be found - it will not be far away. The scan also reveals the usual view - the promise of which I always feel while coming out of the station, but is not in fact present.

Coming out of Gare du Nord, there are the big reassuring restaurants right in front, and you don't even have to leave the station for the 'Train Bleu' at the Gare de Lyon - but Lazare's best - and nearly only - sight is the number 29 bus. I go back into the station and buy a ten-pack of métro tickets and head for Trocadéro.

The only reason I went to Saint-Lazare at all was to get a shot of the huge painting before it disappeared. The promotion of Paris events within Paris itself is a constant affair. Events are so many and they come and go all the time, at what seems like lightening speed. Interesting things can be gone before you even know they exist.

No 'events' happen in the métro and a lot of passengers pile out at Trocadéro. For a change, I find the right exit and come to the surface on the avenue Georges Mandel, right beside the place du Trocadéro.

Doing this provides a wide view of all the cafés, ranged in a semi-circle to the left, the vast place itself with its circulating traffic, and the twinned museums of the Palais Chaillot. Between them the Tour Eiffel sticks up like a drilling rig for the hole to China, and the count-down date numbers look like a very close, non-stop electronic flash.

There is light everywhere. The trees are bare of leaves and the solid blue sky is over everything. Many people are lunching on the café terraces, looking at the sky or watching their double-parked cars. The ticket ladies have finished their several-week-long protest and are busily pasting windshields with pastel-colored tickets again.

I like the trees, especially the plane trees with their particular colors of bark. But this is really different from late spring or summer, when their leaves act like a parasol - sort of putting a lid on things and cutting down the view considerably. I am still tossing a mental coin to try and decide which I prefer.

Psychologically, a wide view can make you feel like you've got enough space for your brain to expand. This is especially acute after being cooped up in a small apartment, or running around in some of Paris' narrower streets - and the métro tunnels!

So when you hit the surface at Trocadéro, if you don't feel a big mental lift, then maybe you should consult some Bortolami Bros sort of medicine-person. It's just an idea; in case you are feeling cooped and you can't get to Trocadéro today to see if you don't get a lift here.

The Bortolami brothers flew in from Toyko to catch this one day by chance. From left to right: Sam and Carl will be back in Chicago on Friday.

I give all of the terraces a good lookover, and the place itself, and the statue of Maréchal Foch - probably needs sunglasses, staring straight at the count-down numbers day and night - and I check all of the paper kiosks for their posters; and I look at the people too.

Have you ever wondered, when looking at old photos - say, of a great crowd sitting on the terrace of Le Dôme - have you wondered what all these people were doing there, in say, 1923? Haven't you wished you could be 'in' the photo so you would be there and know?

I am here today and if I sit down I could be 'in' one of these photos - one shot today - and to tell you the truth, I think all the rest of these people are here because it is a good sunny day in February which is not like winter, and that is about all there is to it; except for their 10,000 personal reasons for being in this particular spot today, right now.

You see the photos here, made today; do they make you want to be 'in' them? Maybe, a bit more, if they were in black and white? I don't know. I think I'd rather be 'in' a 1923 photo of Le Dôme.

Crossing the street, by the museum of French Monuments, the sun's angle throws both the museums into blue-haze shadows and all the people coming towards me are silhouettes. It is startling to see and I don't think the camera will 'get it' even if I trick it right.

On the parvis between the two museums, it looks like the Tour Eiffel is going to fall on it. The tower is a good 500 metres away and it looks right on top, up front.

The light is good on the left, on the museum of French Monuments, and the parvis itself is reflecting the sky. Skateboarders whiz past and mountain bikes are carried up the stairs. There are not many Africans, with their carpets covered with trinkets, made in villages in Africa or deep in the rear of courtyards at Barbés. I don't see any of them, in fact. There are only the usual four kiosks for snacks.

The stone paving of the parvis is very clean and extra-smooth and it feels good on the soles; it is even a bit slippery, it is so clean. In the middle here, you can put out your elbows and probably hold them like this all day. It looks like a place Aztecs could appreciate.

This is too good to spoil with historical musings. I will not write about Maréchal Bassompierre, who bought a place here once owned by Catherine de Médici - partly because this is a 'clean' journal - but mostly because I have boules players & Tour Eiffel already written a little about him, and it can be found by using the 'search' feature.

A good day for boules and a good place; and the after-game 'clubhouse' is only a block away.

Once the place has been given a good once-over, it is time to move to the balcony, overlooking the pools and fountains. I almost take a tumble by inadvertently stepping on a skateboard slide instead of stairs.

Below, workmen are building a temporary 'farm' for a demonstration to be put on by farmers from the mountains, who fear being rationalized out of existence by Euro-regulations. Later in the week they will be in five locations around the city, including inside the métro-RER station at Auber.

I am taking a long gaze at a very wide skyline when I notice two types with an unusual camera on a tripod, pointing at the same skyline.

You can guess at nationalities from dress, but since pretty much everybody dresses the same these days, you can forget getting answers from guesses.

The answer I get from Sam and Carl Bortolami is that they are from near Chicago. They are on a three-week round-the-world tour and today is Paris' turn. This is lucky weather for them, because the Bortolami brothers are taking 'stock' photos; which will end up being sold world-wide.

Their odd-looking camera is a Fiji 617F Panoramic - because this is their specialty: very wide-angle photos. How wide? Each negative measures exactly 58 by 168 millimetres. An ordinary 35mm film has an effective area of 24 by 36mm, and the panoramic makes a negative 11.27 times larger in area. They do not get many shots on a roll of film.

Sam and Carl want to know where to eat and I suggest that any of the cafés around Trocadéro are probably okay. Carl wants to get closer to the tower and I am going that way too.

Along the way, past the fountains and over the bridge, the brothers tell me about the wonders they have seen in addition to the blur of almost identical hotel rooms. Their trip is nearly over and metro station Dupleix they are really up on it, although a bit baggy-eyed.

As a métro train leaves the Dupleix station; the right time with the right light.

At the tower, Carl asks if a trip up it is worth it. I scan the sky and figure they have hit on one of the eight days a year out of 365, when it is a bit more than just sunny - and they go for it. Sam wants to take the line with the least people, but these are from the 'down' elevators - so they have a choice of two medium-length lines. I figure they will be on an 'up' elevator within ten minutes.

With one day in Paris, with this weather on this one day, and with that wide otto of a camera - not going up to the top would be insane. When I leave, with their card in my pocket, they were really close to the north tower ticket window.

By the tower, by the Champ de Mars, it is a long way to a métro station and I have gone the wrong way many times before. On the way today, I do it right - passing some boules players on the way - having a welcome café in a friendly bar - getting really interested in the elevated métro station at Dupleix on the boulevard Grenelle in the 15th; before hopping on a line six train for the ride up to Etoile.

To date, this makes the third day of 'fake' spring within two weeks. Maybe it will go off and on for a long time, before the winter returns for Easter.

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