dimanche, février 05, 2006

06.02.05: Chambre d'hôte: ouvert

As the Ukrainians left Monday evening, Colleen and Andy were chugging north on the train from Barcelona. So, with the exit of the eastern Europeans, comes the arrival of the North Americans, and the first official guests to chambre d'hôte mesnil. As of 31-janvier, we are now officially open.

Colleen and Andy made themselves at home and pursued the obligatory primary tourist meccas in gay paree, and (as some of us still work for a living) we hooked up in the evenings for some nice meals and conversations. We did the circuit: Tues evening in the Quartier Latin for a simple and traditionelle Menu à 15, Wednesday in Le Marais for a feast of mid-eastern 'quinze éléments' with a wide-ranging spectrum of fish, meats, cheeses and vegetables.

Thursday we went for a traditional and very nice repas at Le Timbre in Montparnasse (6th, Metro 4 to Vavin). Quadruple feast day: groundhog's day (US), le chandeleur (France), l'anniversaire de Colleen (local), and also the 16th anniversary of the day when F.W. de Klerk promised to set Nelson Mandela free (international). A day worthy of celebration. We ate 80% of the menu (skipping only the andouillette and the boudin). The assiette de fromage was a selection entirely from l'Auvergne and the vin de l'Ardèche, selected by the chef, was a great accompaniment for the wide range of plats (confit de canard, poulet roti and brouillard). Elbow-to-elbow in the postage stamp sized dining room, one friendly server, assisted by the chef in full view of the dining room, we were the first to arrive and second last to leave.

On Wednesday as we were chowing on the éléments, a musical duo came in to entertain the crowd (and hope for a few coins, no doubt). The guitarist from Cuba and the bongo sidekick from Paris (and hey, aren't we all from Paris at some time?) posed for a photo op for Andy. Andy pulls out this cheap medium format camera that has duct tape on it to cover up the light leaks, points it in roughly the general direction of the musicians, and pulls the lever for a very long manual exposure. There is no way to hold a camera steady for more than about 1/30 sec, on a day without too much café, and I know he added a little wine to the café he drank earlier. So I'm thinking: what the hell kinda photography work is this? He tells me there is actually a market for this kinda stuff.
The trick is though, you never really know how the image is going to turn out, so you take a few hundred images, and from time to time the image is everlastingly priceless. So, you have these black&white candids, where the subject is randomly placed (or not) within the view window, and the film is bounced up and down a few hundred times within the timeframe of the shutter opening, and perhaps the lighting is about right, and perhaps some nice darkroom work all results in a memorable sense-du-moment. Or perhaps in the blurred image, we each have the opportunity to see what we want to see.

[Sidebar: I imagine this is like US foreign policy. You points your Rove-r in one direction, he perhaps holds steady long enough to sketch a shaky image of the future, so you pull the shutter and hope for the best. I guess the difference is, you can pull the shutter a few hundred times on a cheap plastic camera, and noone is likely to get hurt. Not sure there a few hundred mid-eastern countries left to experiment on in the hopes that one will turn out to be a thing of beauty for the ages.]

Sometimes, I think about the decision to come to France this way. Was the future-scope camera centered on the target, was the exposure about right; did I have a clear enough sense of the image that would come out of the darkroom? Not so obvious just yet. But the camera still has a lot of film left on the roll. So for today ... point, steady, click. The collage continues.

[Addendum: the guest book at chambre d'hôte mesnil has this inscription supplied by our most recent guests: "... the best shower and bed we've experienced in all of Europe."