Pentecôte en Camargue

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 16:06

Taureau rouge, Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

The replacement lens I ordered for my broken Nikon 50mm arrived today, and I was also able to subscribe to my new photo host, opening up my sets for public view. While I had been happy with Flickr, their new pricing scheme and restrictions (not on storage, which is indeed better now, but on statistics and other features) finally gave me enough impetus to move to 500px, where you can find me under my usual handle, fraise. I especially like their Stories feature, where you can essentially blog within your photostream.

Our three-day trip to Camargue started out with a brief thunderstorm, soaking me to the bone as I was caught unawares walking around Nîmes without an umbrella. The rest of the long weekend was beautiful, however, and Le Grau du Roi, Aigues-Mortes, and Nîmes were wonderful to visit. You can read and view the full story on 500px; below are a few of my favorite photos from the trip.

Canal du centre, Grau du Roi by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

Eglise Notre Dame des Sablons by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

Fortifications au sud-est, Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

Marché d'Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

Chemin de la Maioun Grossa

Posted in La France, Nice at 13:36

This morning I decided to try out an enticing hillside stairway that had long piqued my curiosity. Our weather hasn’t gotten much better; there was another strong risk of rain, so I only took my little handheld camera rather than my nicer Nikon. Still, it was quite interesting, and these photos will help me remember what to look for when I go back in safer weather with a proper camera!

Maioun Grossa, start

Maioun Grossa, turn

Maioun Grossa, straight stretch

Maioun Grossa, curve and greenery

I was surprised at how far up the path climbed! Other stairways I’ve taken in Nice have been shorter, but this one was a veritable hillside hike. It took a good twenty minutes to reach the top. As you can see, it’s maintained by the city, with rails, gutters, and even lights. When I looked back at what I’d climbed, my head spun a bit:

Maioun Grossa, looking down

The view from Pessicart, the avenue at the top of the Maioun Grossa stairway, was quite beautiful. The first photo is looking east-northeast, and the second is to its right, looking straight east. The stark difference in lighting in the second photo is relatively true to life – those are black storm clouds over the hill on the right, while the morning sun was shining brightly through lighter clouds.

Maioun Grossa, view to east-northeast

Maioun Grossa, view to east

After a bit of exploration, I wended my way back down.

Maioun Grossa, walking down

Rain, rain, go away

Posted in Nice at 14:18

Cessole, Hills

Like many places in the northern hemisphere this year, we have been having a very strange winter. Snow, sleet and hail not once, but at least four times, which for snow was never heard of before. Once is rare, twice almost never happens – four times?! Then there has been the rain. Endless, record-breaking rain. Several mudslides. I have a subscription to the Monaco-Monte Carlo opera again this season, and it’s been quite surprising to see so many train cancellations and warnings for mudslides. The earth here just isn’t able to soak up the quantities of water that have been dumped on it from the sky.

Thankfully, today the sun came out and even warmed us up a bit. I took the photo above this morning, after going to market.

Nice city center is getting a makeover: our mayor has made it historical, thus requiring buildings with façades in disrepair to be renovated. Along with the rain came a flurry of scaffolding, much of which is slowly giving way to newly-repainted buildings. It’s quite beautiful, can’t wait to see what all of them will look like once finished.

I’ve also been happy thanks to feedback from readers of Behind the Façades! It’s been read on at least three continents now, very exciting. For me the greatest reward in writing has always been to know that readers find something they relate to. Merci pour votre soutien !

Kings Park

Posted in Journal, Travel at 17:15

Baobab - boab tree

The belated continuation of my December trip to Western Australia! Perth is home to the largest inner-city park in the world, Kings Park. I took two guided tours through it, both were wonderful: the first was the Indigenous Heritage Tour, with a Nyoongar guide, and the second was one of the free guided walks, with a volunteer (and non-aboriginal) guide. They both gave complementary information about the park’s and, by extension, Australia’s flora, although I was glad to have taken the indigenous tour first since it was more in-depth about things that the free walk only looked at momentarily.

The photo at top is of a boab tree, which is also known as the baobab. They mainly grow in northern Australia; this one and another were actually transplanted in the park. They don’t grow as well in the southern part of the country, we were told, because the wet and dry seasons aren’t clear-cut enough.

We were told that the most emblematic plant is the kangaroo paw:

Red kangaroo paw

…but the ones I most noticed were banksia, with their saw-tooth leaves, and zamia, a plant that dates back to prehistoric times:

Banksia buds

Zamia

My favorite part was when our Nyoongar guide, Greg Nannup, sat us down to tell a short version of the Dreamtime, when the land was created – in our case, Southwest Australia.

Kangaroo pelt cape

I wrote down what I remembered of the story afterwards. I’ve only studied Haudenosaunee, Northwest Native American, Scandinavian, and Greek creation myths (including for my Masters thesis, so not casually!), and have only occasionally read Australian Aboriginal, so this was the first time I had heard a Dreamtime story in real life. My recounting probably misses some things, in addition to how much shorter it was than a true telling of it would be. Much like Native American creation myths, our guide told us that Aboriginal creation myths are meant to be told over a period of several days, ceremonially. It’s also important to keep in mind that as oral traditions, they’re truly meant to be performed. Reading myths on paper/written down “takes them out of their context”, so to speak, something I can relate to personally having grown up with stories of my Oregon surroundings. As fascinating as our Internet age is, it’s good to keep in mind that there is also a grounded reality to which our own spoken stories, whether everyday or more, are fundamentally related. In the West we tend to see the written word as the final word, which is not the case in other cultures – the spoken word is an embodiment of spirit (which is still hinted at in our languages, as it is from the Latin spiritus, breath, and speaking is in fact using your body and breath to create).

Dreamtime – Creation: There was a time when all was not a dream, but it was not reality as we know it either. The Earth existed, but the sky lay heavily upon it, and so nothing could come into a reality existence.

But the time was coming when the sky would be lifted, and there would be a reality.

In the spirit world — for that was what it was — there were many types of spirits. Tree spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits, flower spirits… and also human spirits. A gathering was held — several, in fact [this is one area in which the story has been shortened] — in which it was debated and discussed and eventually decided who would watch over beings in reality; who would be the caretakers.

Tree spoke first: “We trees stay in one place. We cannot wander the land as a caretaker would need to do.” And the other spirits also spoke. It was decided that humans would be the caretakers, for they had abilities the others did not.

Tree spoke again: “You may use us as you wish, but never destroy us all.” In turn, animals and plants alike offered to protect and nourish their human caretakers in exchange for balance. All agreed: “never destroy us all.”

One day, the giant keeping down the sky became angry with his burden and lifted it. Reality now appeared beneath the sky.

The first two spirits to see it were First Woman and First Man, but they were not yet real. First Woman tentatively set her foot down: it became real, and her footprints are today the deeps in the Swan River, Derbarl Yerrigan. A long strand of her white hair also fell, and became the white sand beaches along the south of the river. First Woman understood she could not go completely into reality, for her true purpose was as a spirit.

Meanwhile, in this part-real, part-spirit world, First Man roamed the land. The last First Woman saw of him, he had been picking up small round things and eating them.

First Woman also roamed, creating hills and plains. In her travels she came across small white spirits: helpless children. She felt she needed to save them, so she picked them up and put them in her hair as she walked the land. Then she realized: the children’s true purpose was to be born as real humans. By picking them up, she was not allowing them to become real.

Then a terrible thought struck her: there was nothing she had crossed on the Earth to eat. There had only been these spirit children; millions and billions of them. First Man had been eating them…!

Now First Woman was really in a panic. The time of reality was also nearing. First Woman replaced as many spirit children as she could. But when reality became permanent, she had to leave, with some of the spirit children still in her white hair.

She flew to the skies with them, having no other choice. Now we see her hair as the Milky Way, and its stars are the spirit children who remained spirits.

Milky Way near the Southern Cross
   (The Milky Way near the Southern Cross, photo by Yuri Beletsky)

Bonne anneé 2013 !

Posted in Travel at 17:51

Boat and Museum of Islamic Art

Can you guess where I was for the New Year? I arrived there at 4 in the morning local time and left just after midnight on the 2nd, giving me enough time to snap some photos. I’ll share more about my Christmas and New Year walkabouts in the days to come! In the meanwhile, I hope all of you had happy holidays, and here’s to wishing for a peaceful 2013!

Le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Posted in Journal, La France at 20:44

 
Le Var devant le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Every weekday morning I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world. My daily commute takes me across a tall bridge from which we see peaks in the Alps go by, and then we descend the hills of Western Nice to the Var valley. We cross the Var river, and in the light of the rising sun, we see the rock formations behind Carros and Saint Jeannet. The large rock face is called the Baou de Saint Jeannet, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Nice Ouest – Carros. There are trails in the area that are quite popular with runners and cyclists.

I took these photos with my little handheld panoramic camera from the bus, a Mercedes that has enormous windows. Although many of us sleep through the early morning ride, a lot of people stay awake for this stretch, just to watch the natural spectacle of the sunrise over our beautiful mountains, our heads all turned the same direction.

Baou de Saint Jeannet

Villa Kerylos

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:34

Villa Kerylos, Triklinos - wall and ceiling

As my vacation continues, I’ve been able to visit some local sights that I had often heard about, but not seen until now. One was the Villa Kerylos, a “reconstruction of Greek noble houses built on the island of Delos in the 2nd century B.C.” The Greek word kerylos means halcyon, a bird of good omen, also able to calm the seas, thus our English expression “halcyon days“.

The villa was built by banker and archeologist Theodore Reinach, and architect and archeologist Emmanuel Pontremoli, who was born in Nice. Imagery surrounding the goddess Nike can be found in the villa, no coincidence as Nice’s original Greek name was Nikaïia after the goddess, who is often depicted as having wings, which also fits well with the legend of Alcyone, a nod to the villa’s name meaning.

Villa Kerylos, peristyle - Nike and Phygele

Villa Kerylos, Nikai

My Villa Kerylos photoset has several other photos of the beautiful home. One of my favorite areas was the downstairs sculpture corridor, with several well-known statues. Before visiting, I was only a little acquainted with the myth of Athena and Erikhthonios / Erichthonius, depicted in this sculpture. Erichthonius, “son of Earth”, was born as a serpent when Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, who took a scrap of wool and wiped his seed off onto the ground. Some legends speak of Gaia, goddess of the Earth, then handing Erichthonius to Athena, who hid him in a basket and raised him in secret.

Athéna à la ciste

Another side of Nice

Posted in La France, Nice at 19:50

Nice

A few days ago, three friends and I decided to try out a path we’ve heard about over the years, along the Canal de Gairaut in the north of Nice. While Niçois acquaintances and colleagues of mine had often talked about it as easy to find, it was not actually so simple… Nonetheless, we did eventually reach the beautiful Cascades de Gairaut, waterfalls once overseen by the Compagnie des Eaux, or water board. You can also reach them by car or by bus, as there’s a parking area a few hundred meters from the site.

There was a great view of Nice, and the falling water chilled the otherwise hot and stuffy summer air. Below are some other photos from along our walk. The decorative building was the guard house, Maison de Garde, used by the Compagnie des Eaux.

Old truck, Vieux Chemin de Gairaut

        Cascades de Gairaut      Maison de Garde

Maison de Garde

Bastille Day weekend

Posted in La France, Travel at 23:54

Last weekend I was invited to visit friends in La Seyne sur Mer, a small town near Toulon, which is a major port in France, especially for military vessels. It was a beautiful, although windy, weekend, and we were treated to a great fireworks show – that’s a video I shot with my handheld HD camera; be sure to try out the different video qualities (you can change them by clicking on the grey gear icon and selecting one).

As always, I also took photos! Lately I’ve been using my 30-year-old manual lenses on my Nikon D40 and having great results with them. Over the weekend, I only took along my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. While at times I wished I had wide angle or telephoto lenses, it also encouraged me to see things a bit differently. You can see an example of surprising results in this photo of Toulon – with a wide angle to get the full buildings, this chance pigeon would have been nearly invisible! As it is, it made a beautiful addition of movement to the classic Provençal colors.

Couleurs et pigeon

In the photo below, looking east from La Seyne, you can see how the Mistral permanently bends trees – we have simlarly-bent trees due to winds along the Oregon coast as well.

Bateaux, La Seyne

Looking west from the same spot in La Seyne, I was able to see Les deux frères, a pair of large rocks in the Mediterranean.

Les deux frères

All of my photos from the trip are in the Toulon et La Seyne photoset. There’s also this video I took in the TGV showing some of the beautiful landscapes between Nice and Toulon. To finish, one of my favorite photos for its colors, a boat in the port of Toulon.

Bateau, port de Toulon

Le petit cabanon de Le Corbusier

Posted in La France, Travel at 13:40

Le Corbusier's cabanon
A little while ago, two Dutch friends suggested a visit to Le Corbusier’s cabanon, a log-sided cabin with a view of the Mediterranean in Roquebrune Cap Martin. I hadn’t heard of it before, and apparently it’s only mentioned as an aside in some travel guides. Yesterday was our visit date! It was worth the guided tour – we were shown not only the cabin, but the adjacent restaurant owned by Le Corbusier’s friend, Robert Rebutato, and the unité de camping bungalows that Le Corbusier also designed.


The cabin is quite small, at 3.66m x 3.66m x 2.66m – 14 square meters, or about 145 square feet. I found this floor plan in an aRoots article on Le Corbusier’s cabin, but it’s not credited. In any case it does reflect the cabin well enough, though it’s missing the small window in the back upper right corner. Le Corbusier wanted three of the windows to open onto different aspects of the cabin’s surroundings: the small one near the foot of the bed is about a meter from the floor, rectangular, and opens onto the rocks behind the cabin – l’aspect minéral. To the right, by the work area, is a square window with a folding painting and mirror cover, that opens onto a view of the agave tree outside – l’aspect végétal. Finally, the square window near the entry opens onto the Mediterraneanl’aspect aquatique.

There is a replica of the cabanon that tours different countries, with a video at that link (The Guardian) and some nice photos of it at IconEye. One detail that doesn’t come through in them, however, is how the main room is not truly broken up, not even by the sink column:
Sink column

There’s also ingenious built-in overhead storage:
Built-in overhead storage

Le Corbusier used the basic principles of the cabin’s design when creating the smaller camping bungalows for the Rebutato family. Each bungalow measures 8 square meters, or about 80 square feet.
Bungalow interior

Each has a colorful ceiling that ties together their differently-painted doors and window frames:
Bungalow ceiling

For more photographs: Roquebrune – Le Corbusier. Below, Le Corbusier’s “Modulor”, whose measurements he used in his designs. This one is painted on the north end of the bungalows.

Le Modulor