Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 24 2014

Paris, etc. conclusion

The weather on the day of our departure was, of course, wonderful. After so many days of rain and gloom, Paris thumbed its nose at us with lovely blue skies. We packed up everything, checked the apartment for stuff left behind, and made our way to the train station. On the way to the airport, I was taking pictures when one of the train attendants told me something in French. “Sorry, I don’t understand,” I said.

“You cannot take photos of other people without their permission,” she said. “It is illegal here.” From what I understand, that’s not entirely accurate, but I just nodded and started taking shots of Xiao Guo and Carlos, asking them pointedly, “Will you permit me to take your photo?” each time.

It’s odd, this (perhaps French, perhaps Parisian?) fear of being photographed. A homeless man wanted five Euros because his dog was in my shot. A man in a shop warned me about taking photos just because he saw a camera around my neck (the camera was off and the lens cap on). What exactly have Parisians been doing with photography that has instilled so much fear in them? Have photographers been photoshopping people into compromising situations and then extorting money from them, on such a wide scale that everyone lives in fear now? I saw many people with cameras, and there were international photography shows, including many street photography exhibits in town at that point. But the feeling I got was definitely uneasy, not just about photography, but just public safety in general. Perhaps it’s because I come from a country where things are generally safe and free.

Anyway, we got to the airport, where the authorities apparently thought that the service desks should resemble the U.S. embassy in Saigon as the Viet Cong approached the city, and I utilized my American accent and visage to get us over to a counter where the woman had no idea how to check us in. There were no window seats forthcoming.

The leg from Paris to Shanghai was long, and filled with movies. In Shanghai we sat at a place called the Acting Cafe (the actual cafe was off that day, I guess), and watched a couple of French woman be appalled at the lack of mayonnaise. On the flight back to Taipei, after another delay (of course), we were carted out to the far ends of the airfield to board presidential style, whereupon we found ourselves seated behind one of China’s “Little Emperors”. The boy chattered and screamed throughout the flight, and his parents and grandmother couldn’t have been more delighted at each utterance.

So anyway, I’m back, and busy trying to get back into the swing of things. It’s been a rather trying trip, though it had its highlights. But I could really use a vacation now.

posted by Poagao at 11:06 am  
Nov 22 2014

Paris, etc. part 9

Today we went to the Monmarte area. Breakfast was surprisingly bad at a place just across the road from the entrance. We took the funicular or whatever up, just in time to witness a young woman in a scarf scoop up some water from the gutter into a bottle, which she proceeded to splash people with. A harpist was playing on the veranda overlooking the city. We slipped into the church, which has changed since I was there last in ’09. Back then, we could just walk in and sit down, but now worshippers are segregated from observers, and men cannot wear hats. Why only men can’t wear hats I have no idea. They also say no photography, but everyone inside was snapping away with their tablets and phones. I suppose that makes sense, when I think about it. The singing was very nice, though.

We walked around the area a bit and then, after a merry game of I’m The Only One Who Knows Where We’re Going, we found the Two Windmills, i.e. the cafe featured in the movie Amelie. It was very cool to sit inside and eat. The food was very good, and the service impeccable. I asked the waiter where the fruit stand in the movie was, and he told me, but we didn’t find it. Instead we took the subway to the Cite stop and boarded a boat for a cruise up and down the Seine. It was nice, but a bit cold. I couldn’t help but wonder who lived in all of those brightly lit windows, and what their life was like.

After the tour we took the subway to the Eiffel Tower, but the line going up was so long we abandoned any hope of doing so, and instead took the underground back to the apartment. Dinner was takeout, and delicious. We also stocked up on groceries, which is going to make tomorrow’s flight difficult.

Yes, we are flying back to Taipei tomorrow. Paris has been interesting, if frustrating at times, but those are all my fault. Maybe I’ll come back someday in a more appropriate state.

posted by Poagao at 5:58 am  
Nov 21 2014

Paris, etc., part 8

We went to Versailles today. The train trip was long. Versailles was magnificent. French people, I’ve noticed, get really upset if you try to pay for things with large bills. I’m not talking about little stands and the like where someone might have trouble, but large businesses.

After we got back we had dinner at the Dome, the restaurant where many famous people hung out back in the day. The other patrons glared at us, but the food was good.


posted by Poagao at 7:30 am  
Nov 20 2014

Paris, etc, part 7

It’s been quite a few days since I wrote in here. Things have just been too busy. We had the show opening at the gallery, which was a big success; wall-to-wall people. I met a lot of people I’ve known online for years in person for the first time. Hanging out with the other Burn My Eye members and just chatting has been a blast.

Paris is…well, it’s Paris. Either everyone has the same style beard or a man who can change his height and age but not his beard style is following me everywhere. We climbed to the top of Notre Dam just as the weather cleared in a rare moment of sunlight. French people really do carry loaves of bread around with them. Wifi is not as hard to find as it is in Japan.

It’s been raining a lot of the time. We went to a dessert place that sports 300 years of history, and there I had real creme brule for the first time. Well, I didn’t have it there; there were no seats, so we snuck our snacks into a nearby Starbucks where the bathroom required a code.

I joined Fred, Jack and Justin for a workshop on Sunday. It rained all day. We got soaked, but it was fun to watch the others shoot and give advice to students. Justin got bar mitzvahed on the street, and mixed it up with a stylish gentleman before we headed back to review the shots.

The collective show and videos were last night, and I talked with Richard Bram a bit. I’ve been getting some good advice from a lot of people on various projects. I missed Paris Photo because I’d thought it would last for more than a few days. Oh, well. I also missed meeting quite a few people I’d hoped to meet. Again: Oh, well. The price of travelling with a group, as always.

Today we went to the Louvre. It was brilliant, of course. I found some paintings I’ve always loved, and it was nice to be able to examine them up close. Chenbl and Carlos got lost, of course, but we eventually found each other again. Afterwards, outside, I looked back as we walked up the street by the park to see Chenbl and Carlos in conversation with a stranger who was apparently asking directions. I was on my way over to tell them to cut it out when two “policemen” appeared flashing badges. They wanted to see passports, and Chenbl handed them over before I could say anything. Then they wanted wallets. “Don’t give them anything,” I said in Chinese.

“Hey!” shouted one of them supposed cops. “Speak English!”

“You want English?” I said. “How’s this? I’ll speak whatever damn language I want with them. How’s that?”

The “cops” got friendly and sent us on our way  after that. But I was in a bad mood the whole night as a result. Tomorrow we’re going to Versailles, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 7:37 am  
Nov 15 2014

Paris, etc., part 6

The morning was bright and clear on our last day in Quimper. We walked over to the old city and walked around. The cathedral was closed, which was a shame as the sunlight would have been beautiful inside. As I looked at the complicated system of canals, I wondered if you could extract any data about a culture’s attitude towards democratic ideals and social management from the differences in design of such things.

The rain came and went, and we took refuge at tables in squares. The wet pavement made for nice light when the sun came out again. Crepes for lunch at a little blue restaurant where the waiter, who was otherwise very friendly, expressed horror at the idea that anyone would want another minute to decide on their meal.

Back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and then onto the long-haul TVR to Paris. Luckily we scored a compartment with big comfy seats so the journey was very pleasant. We even had sandwiches in the food car, ourselves sandwiched in between a group of laughing young French people and a morose, dreadlocked black man in a cool hat.

Once in Paris we got on the metro and made our way to our stop, got conflicting directions from a couple of local girls, and finally made it to our apartment, where we were met by Fred, who is also staying here. The area’s a bit run down, but full of trendy bars surrounded by mobs of young people. Later we went out to meet some of the other BME folks and others, and I met Don Hudson, Jason Penner, Justin Vogel, Kramer O’Neil and many others for the first time, and it’s always interesting to meet people you’ve only interacted with online for many years. There was a lot of talk and handshakes and wine, and then we were outside to catch the last train.

posted by Poagao at 5:21 pm  
Nov 14 2014

Paris, etc., part 5

Our hotel room is straight out of a rejected line of Ikea showrooms, minus the style. The shower drains out onto the floor, which of course has no drain, and is about a quarter the size of a regular shower.

The sound of howling gusty wind and heavy rain through the night did little to raise our expectations of the weather, but the rain wasn’t too heavy when we finally emerged and walked to the bus station, where they told us that the first bus to Pont Aven was at 12:15. So we walked towards what we thought was downtown, until we realized that we were holding the map upside-down, upon which we turned around and found a bakery with amazing cherry crumbles. Then we explored a market, and I had to wonder why anyone would buy most of the sweets and other foods in the markets here when freshly made versions are readily available in bakeries and shops all over the place; I wonder if the supermarket versions are actually decent. It was refreshing to be surrounded by unadulterated food.

Then we actually went downtown, along the central canal, which is crossed by an amazing amount of bridges for some reason. The weather was nice and nasty in quick turns, and when we took refuse in the massive cathedral, we found the interior under construction. Alas. The combination of wind and rain made us realize why most people here don’t bother umbrellas.

We caught the bus out to Pont Aven, which took around an hour. Pont Aven is an amazingly beautiful little village criss crossed by streams and rivers, all cleverly shunted this way and that, surrounded by lovely woods and hills. We kept running into a group of older people, who greeted us enthusiastically each time. One of the trails led up a hill to the Church of the Yellow Christ, a lonely stone church that told the sad story of Gauguin and how nobody liked his paintings when he was around. I have to admit that the thought of living in one of those houses by the meandering river was attractive. At one point we came across a couple of very large geese, whom Chenbl prompted to attack me. Chenbl can be very persuasive. Around another corner a bunch of cats were playing with a dead mouse.

We tooled around the village until sunset, visiting the port where we fed seagulls and wondered what the big old stone houses were like at Christmas. Then we bought some sweets and then took the bus back to Quimper for a rather poor substitute for dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant. Why were we there? I suppose Chenbl and Xiao Guo were somewhat homesick for Asian food, but I’m sure that desire has been crushed because it wasn’t very good. Chenbl kept trying to speak Chinese to the owner, who turned out to be Vietnamese.

Tomorrow we plan to walk around a bit more, and then take the train back to Paris.

posted by Poagao at 5:32 am  
Nov 13 2014

Paris, etc., part something

To our relief, the day was clear this morning when we headed out to catch a train to Vannes, rushing past lovely pastures and fields still cloaked in mist. Once there we stored our stuff at a hotel and headed into town, stopping for some directions from a nervous young man holding several packs of cigarettes. Something about the town put me on edge, perhaps the blocked up and steel-covered stain glass windows on the cathedral or the prevalence of mohawks and mullets.

The church featured several dead people, as well as some reasonable facsimiles of dead people. It was quiet when the construction workers weren’t banging around the place.

We found a street market and bought a bunch of soap as well as some fruit. Then we wandered some more, as rain came and went. Eventually we ended up at city hall, and then went down to the marina. There we witnessed some older fellows playing a kind of ball game where you throw balls a certain distance.

The light was nice even as the rain came and went, and we seemed to be stalked by a couple of girls for some reason as we crossed the river and the old city walls back towards the station. I was ravenous by this time, but dinner would have to wait as we had a train to catch to Quimper.

The hotel in Quimper is kind of strange; they require individual codes for each device using their wifi, and the billing is kind of wierd as well. It’s more like a motel in form, and we are all crammed into one room with somewhat less-than-stellar water pressure. Dinner was crepes at a place next door serviced by one very busy yet friendly woman. My crepe, at least, was delicious.

posted by Poagao at 5:48 am  
Nov 12 2014

Paris, etc, part 3

It was raining when we stepped outside the hotel this morning in Rennes. Raining and cold and windy. After another breakfast at the station, we boarded a train bound for Dinan, a small historic town some miles away. Then we found a couple of French guys in our seats. They insisted that the car was car 7, despite the fact that all the signage of the car said it was car 8. We gave up trying to convince them otherwise and went to sit in the VIP section. We then switched to an older local train, where Carlos engaged an 80-year-old woman in conversation. She wanted to know all our names, and see pictures of any children anyone had managed to have.

At Dinan, we found the streets empty. Wandering downtown, we discovered that today is a semi-official holiday honoring veterans and those killed in various wars. Chenbl joined a throng of veterans heading into an official-looking building, so we went in as well. We ended up in a grand room full of people with multiple medals pinned to their chests. Someone is going to break into speeches or song any moment, I thought to myself, and we won’t be able to follow along. So we made our escape undetected.

We walked into the old town, inside the old city walls, which were apparently saved and maintained by private citizenry who bought them from the government. As I was walking up to a cathedral, someone stepped out of a bakery and threw a piece of bread in my general direction. It landed in the churchyard. Is this some kind of local tradition? I have no idea.

The cathedral was so quiet and echo-ey that every little sound carried. Chenbl sang a Chinese song, every note echoing like a choir. It was impressive.

We continued through the old town and then down a street known throughout the ages as “The steep street paved with slippery-as-hell stones”. I only slipped once, but I could have pretty much skied all the way down if my knees were up for it. At the bottom was a pretty little scene involving bridges and a river. We had some snacks and started up again, ending up at the town’s more famous cathedral. Medieval choir music was playing inside, and the interior was much more elaborate. Next door was an old-folks home.

The afternoon was getting on, so we made our way back to the train station, wary of missing another connection. The station lobby featured some ancient looking maps and local vagrants. Since we were there early I decided to take another stroll around town on my own.

The train back to Rennes was packed, but at least the people in our seats were gracious enough to evacuate them this time.  We put some stuff away at the hotel, and then walked into town in search of something to eat. We rounded a corner to find a full-fledged concert/ceremony in celebration of the veterans in progress in a large square. After that we walked around some more, and had shwarma for dinner. When we asked where the restaurant’s owners were from, they just shrugged. Then a young man told them in Russian that he could translate. “I didn’t know you could speak Russian!” I said, stupidly, in Russian. It turns out the man was from Turkey, and his wife Russian, if indeed she is his wife.

It had been raining all day, and I’d managed to break not only my umbrella but Chenbl’s as well, so it was time to turn in.

posted by Poagao at 4:35 am  
Nov 11 2014

Paris, etc, part 2

The day was beautiful and cold when I got up this morning. We eschewed the hotel breakfast and instead feasted on lovely sandwiches, tarts and tea while we waited for the bus to Mont Saint Michel. When I tried to get on holding my tea the driver said, “No coffee!”

“It’s actually tea, but ok,” I said as I tossed the tea in the garbage. The ride was smooth and the scenery beautiful as we passed little towns and fields sprinkled with sheep, horses, cows and, on one occasion, donkeys. The first signs of the approaching coast were old boats in people’s yards and the odd seagull. As I listened to the French passengers chatting, I felt that, really, any language spoken by natives in their own country is a beautiful thing. I say that because I’d never felt any compulsion to study French before, but I can see the attraction.

Mont St. Michel is…well, impressive, despite all of the construction work going on to ensure that it stays more or less an island. We walked out on the pedestrian path. The grass was still frosted with dew even though it was nearly noon. The island is home to a village as well as the castle, which is a huge complex in itself. It makes me wonder if JK Rowling got any inspiration for Hogwarts Castle from it. I regretted not getting the audio explanation because I really had no idea what the grand room after grand room was for. All I could do was imagine what life was like there back in those days.

We found a restaurant by the name of one Chenbl had noted in one of his guides as being good, but when we went in and asked for a table, the woman told us, rather shortly, to go upstairs. When we did, the woman there told it the place was full. “Can you tell us how long the wait is?” I asked.

“No,” she said, and that was the end of that conversation. We found another place and gorged ourselves on mussels, crisps, and other tasty things, before finding that the actual restaurant in the guidebook was down the village street near the entrance. Oh, well.

We caught the free shuttle back to the bus station, but we’d misjudged the time of the last bus, and there was no way to get back to Rennes. We asked the woman at the shuttle center, but she pointedly ignored us even after we asked other people who went to ask her. Eventually one man, who was riding his bicycle around the area, was nice enough to call us a cab, which swept us back to Rennes, which was fortunate as I was feeling a little off, probably due to the combination of cold wind and creamed mussels.

A hot back back at the hotel felt good, but I will need a good night’s rest tonight.

posted by Poagao at 5:15 am  
Nov 10 2014

Paris, etc. part 1

It has been a very long day. Even though it’s now Sunday night and I am typing this in a hotel room in Rennes, France, my day started on Saturday morning with frantic packing and rushing out the door of the Water Curtain Cave wondering if I’d forgotten anything (I had). It was a balmy 27 degrees, cloudy, and for some reason I really wasn’t mentally prepared to travel.

I met Chenbl and Xiao Guo at the disappointing Japanese place in the bus station. Chenbl was showing Xiao Guo guidebooks and plans, of which I have no clue. We got on a bus to the airport, all of us wondering how much longer we’d have to wait before Taiwan finally has a proper airport metro line, and got there in plenty of time.

As we were waiting in the lounge, none other than Wu Bai, minus China Blue, showed up and sat at the next table. It was obviously him, not just from his bearing and face, but his voice as well. I know it must suck to have fans always pestering you all the time, but I figured that I talk some photography as he has published several photobooks. Though he is far superior to me as a musician, I pretty much kick his ass at photography, so I reckon it’s not an outlandish idea.

However, when I sidled up and prepared to introduce myself, I only got as far as “Excuse me, but…” before he just shook his head and covered his face. In addition to virtually screaming YES I AM WU BAI BUT THERE IS NO WAY I AM GOING TO TALK TO YOU, it was rather disappointing.

So I returned to our table and conversation, and eventually Wu Bai got up, put on his sunglasses (therefore officially becoming Wu Bai, I suppose), and led his entourage on a stare-laden walk to his flight.

In addition to Wu Bai, the airport was filled with mainland Chinese, most of whom were on our flight to Shanghai. We chatted with the stewardess about how sucky her job was, and were the only people to go through the transfer lounge except for a young woman from Keelung. She was sitting next to Xiao Guo for the Paris leg of our journey, a full 12.5-hour flight. Chenbl encouraged me to drink some red wine to help me sleep, but all I got was fits and starts. Even watching Disney’s Brave didn’t help (much).

At one point the cabin crew made an annoucement: “According to Rules, we are now going to spray the cabin with insecticide that is in no way harmful to your health.” And they did. It was like being in a cattle car, which, considering the loud, coughing, sometimes vomiting mainlanders, wasn’t too far off.

Shortly before landing, Xiao Guo and I saw a plane alarmingly close to us as we made a turn, and feet before we hit the runway the pilot gunned the engines and went around for another attempt, which was a little unsettling. No explanations were forthcoming; in fact, the pilot hadn’t said a single thing during the flight. Perhaps they did away with him and left it up to the cabin crew.

The ride to the terminal where we were meeting Carlos, who was flying in from Newark, was very long in the early morning hours. After meeting up, we took an even longer ride on a dirty subway into Paris as the sun rose. Beggars would come through occasionally, leaving slips of paper on the seats next to us with instructions on how to give them money, and then once we had ignored them for a few minutes, they would come by again and retreive them.

We walked around the city, basically all day, dodging street washers, watching the trios of automatic-weapon holding security squads, having lunch and walking through an art market with one (1) photographer who was very mediocre, and browsing a cemetary for famous dead people. We were going to go down into the catacombs but Carlos was very jetlagged and the line was atrocious.

After a delicious dinner near the station, we boarded the TGV out to Rennes, which screwed up my ears as badly as an airplane trip for some reason.

posted by Poagao at 6:07 am  
Next Page »