From 2009 until now, I have posted many series of wide-ranging photo essays. Â A total of 72 of these essays - surreal and otherwise, and consisting of just over 1,000 photographs - were devoted to Western Australia.Â Another 58 photo photo essays - surreal and non-surreal, and comprised of some 1,800 images - focused on America.Â
I reckon that for a while people have seen enough of my take on slivers of experiencing life in Western Australia and North America.Â As a complete change, let's bravely have a bit of a gander at what it's like to engage in what I've loosely termed as the Surreal English & French experience.
It is a surreal look in that every one of the 634 photographs in this series has been altered. This has been mainly accomplished by using Picasa but sometimes by also using Microsoft Paint as well to manipulate the images.Â Not a single image is as the eye would ordinarily see it.
We are taking each country in turn, beginning with England.Â And we kicked it all off by using shanks ponies and train to travel to London.Â It was a kind of reconnoiter, if you like ... very much a case of tentatively dipping our big toe into the murky waters of the English experience.
Emboldened by surviving unscathed our first excursion from our home base at Sunningdale, we then journeyed by car along back roads and country lanes to see what the heck is within a couple of hours reach of home.Â We got to see lots of snug pubs with pints and pints of frothing cold beer ... oops, I mean hot cocoa in hamlets and towns that soon floated by in a hot chocolate haze but I kind of remember Henley-on-something-or-other, Oxford University's bicycle racks and Guildford in vain search of Charles Dickens.Â In the following expedition we ranged much farther, driving to Dover and catching a train to St Ives in Cornwall.Â Just because, really.Â We had no plan in mind other than to go look.
Once we'd returned to Sunningdale and recovered from that coastal ordeal, we headed off to Windsor Castle.Â It is not only Europe's largest but is actually also the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.Â We put our feet up for a day or two and then caught the train to Waterloo Station to go exploring the Westminster area, including the knock-your-socks-off Abbey.Â A few days later we caught the train into London again to go see the bustling river Thames area.Â Some days after that, we once more caught the train to London, this time to trudge on blistered feet all about Trafalgar Square and then route march to Buckingham Palace.Â Liz and Phil didn't invite us in for a cuppa.
Magnanimously, we chose to not live in bitter memories of royal slights in the past days.Â Instead, we headed by car for France.Â Â As with all all of our expeditions, it necessitated beginning as soon as it was light enough to head off and then not putting our feet up until well after dark ... the daylight hours in England andÂ France during late-autumn and winter are quite short.Â And the light for good photography is fast fleeting and very brief.Â It can be said that at this time of year, England and Europe are a very dark experience.
Having crossed under the English Channel via the Chunnel, we drove to historic Boulogne, the largest fishing port in France, if not the whole of Europe. Â The emperor Claudius used the town as his base for the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.Â Some 1,800 years later, in 1805, Napoleon massed his Grande Armee in Boulogne to invade England.Â Â But the supremacy of Britain's Royal Navy prevented any such actual invasion from occurring.Â And that was true again in WWII, when a mooted invasion by Hitler's forces was manifestly impossible because the Royal Navy ruled the waves and the Royal Air Force ruled the skies.
Enough of this gibberish by me!Â It's absolute rot, of course!Â Suffice to say that we explored the restaurants and the ancient part of Boulogne and had an interesting time.Â Then it was a long drive to Paris and an early night at our hotel.Â Yet bright and early the following morning we were up and at 'em ... using the underground railway to deposit us near enough to the Eiffel Tower, eventually followed by cruising on a ferry down the Seine and then exploring the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame.Â It was a tiring but exciting day.Â
But enough of my dreadful drivel.Â Today we're going to explore a region we saw last evening when out and about to have a bite to eat.Â A magnificent building caught our eye; and we're going to check it out.Â It's the Academie Nationale De Musique - known as The Opera.Â So as not to delay us, I'll keep my pathetic commentary very short.Â However, I will scrupulously cite any references, meticulously following the petrified encyclicals in the Dead Sea Scrolls Style Manual that detail the turning to salt procedures for use on defrocked scholars.Â Should such encyclicals deviate markedly from the Roman Army's standing orders for the supervision by the Ninth Legion of the style of gladiatorial poetry contests written to death in Gaul, such deviation will be noted.Â C'est la vie!
Now let's go find the
Academie Nationale De Musique
Nope, this is not it!Â No music here except for the piped background stuff in this, the lobby of our hotel.Â I guess the huge size of this lobby gives staff a fighting chance of bringing to ground any guest trying to escape without paying the bill.
Outside the sergeant-major paces impatiently as she waits for me to stop stuffing about with the camera.Â Â Actually, I'm sipping a second cup of coffee.
Bob leads the way into the very early morning light - a cold day requiring hands tucked deeply into pockets.Â Â Most locals are putting off going out so soon after dawn.Â But an American Leprechaun in blue, the English Oracle and an anonymous photography nut are brainless enough to ignore what the natives do.
Once more we descend the flights and flights of stairs into the shadow world of the subway, known as the Metro, to catch a train speeding underground beneath the soon gridlocked traffic crawling above.
The Opera Station on this spur line is our destination.Â But something very, very strange catches my eye and has me scratching my head.Â Half way along the line is - wait for it - is Stalingrad!
It is beyond me why this station is named after the blood drenched city in Russia where savagery and butchery without mercy was waged in urban warfare during WWII.Â Stalingrad is considered to be the most bloodthirsty and brutal battle in the history of warfare.Â Of the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 men in the German 6th Army, only some 5,000 to 6,000 ever returned home.Â The victorious Red Army suffered a total of just under 1,300,000 casualties.
(Source:Â Appendix Z, entitled The Prophecies, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, foretells that a bipolar city by the name of Tsaritsyn would be renamed Stalingrad; and that this would rise, fall, be rebuilt and disappear in the east, only to re-emerge underground in the west as a station for iron horses.Â However, this is disputed by the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army. In an adjudication of love poetry by schizophrenic gladiators in the frozen eastern wastes, Tribune Matchless Witless declared that none of the poetry written underground in the bunkers and covered trenches could disappear.Â All was above board and timeless.Â Anticipating this decision, the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Prophecies asserted that this witless decision was galling and should be set aside, given that it demonstrated matchless dementia.)
A busker unhappy in the underground saxophone service - only crumpled euros will bring a smile to that face.Â But, C'est la vie, buster, c'est la vie! Suck it up!
Here we have the station beloved by the Phantom of the Opera.Â And these pretty purple seats will await my return, exhausting hours from now.Â Everyone should at least once in his or her life have a purple seat just awaiting their return.
Busking and Verdi underground can be such an intense experience on the way to the Opera.
(Source: promotion tablet featuring adult education classes for off duty legionnaires from the Ninth Legion, cited in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and published as Learn how to get in touch with your sensitive inner self in between gladiatorial bouts at the Colosseum.)
Corralled motorbikes on the footpaths make it black and white that there is not enough parking in Paris.
But the Souvenirs of Paris cup runneth over with colour.
Amid the black and white flood of two-wheeled parking claustrophobia, a beacon of warm thoughts shines through and attracts jaded tourist like moths to the flame.
Triangular buildings nosing into streets is so very, very French.Â
It doesn't matter what the name of the store means in French.Â It is obviously the yummy, yummy, yummy shop.
And I can but just walk on by with my eye jammed against the camera viewfinder and pressing the shutter .... or lose sight of Bob and be forever lost in the wilderness of the French.
Here Bob photographs where we dined last night.Â Ah, memories, memories ...
And there directly in front of us is the building we saw lit in golden light last night.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Academie Nationale De Musique.Â Â Actually, I won't give it to you but will sell it to you cheap.
What have we here but a gaggle of excited buskers in front of The Opera.Â And it looks like they're almost ready to jam.
I've never seen so many buskers together at the one time ... and these are tuning their instruments, making one hell of a din.
Count them, folks!Â I make it twenty players in a big brass band to sock it to us.
Ah, this scene could be from any time in Paris - the city of the bohemian, of the unexpected.Â But here it's the tuba player who stands out for some brassy reason.
The girl on the extreme right seems entranced as the male trombone player on the left just howls the song.
And all is in lovely pink because .... because this is Paris.Â That's why!
And here in Paris - Where else? - the dancing couple spurn the waiting bus.Â
Just as the clarinets, saxophones and trumpets blast forth in a crescendo, the party pooper of a photographer notices something in the distant background behind the band.
Yes, yes, there's some guy in a world of his own bopping to the music, totally ignored by two girls excitedly swapping gossip about their hot dates last night - with the sergeant-major oblivious to all three of them.Â She is signalling the imbecile with the camera to look and photograph what's to the right, behind the big band.
Yes, yes, it's another brass band - fewer buskers but undoubtedly able to blow hard and give a good account of themselves to the bigger opposition.
Well, they've begun announcing the war of the bands but the three colorful trombone players seem to be missing in the action.
That's more like it!Â In the groove and all together, with the trumpet case invitingly open for donations from an adoring public.
Hello, hello, the trumpet case cup definitely does not runneth over.Â How colorless!
Nothing for it but to make eye contact and blow harder.Â And all the while wishing that the homeless man behind them - who is checking out where to find a bed for the night - will soon bugger off.
Of course, if all of this collective scene makes one ill, the pharmacy in sea-sick green is open and ready to serve.Â But probably not the homeless guy.
But let's forget all about that and get into the swing of things with the band.
There's something about tuba players when it comes to bang for your buck when blowing hard.
Let's bop again like we did last summer .... and let it all just hang out.
Wow, wow!Â That's taking it a bit far in the letting it all hang out.
Surreal English & French
003 Dover & St Ives
004 Windsor Castle
007 Trafalgar Square