Archive | December 2011

Through My Lens: Winter Sunset

It’s easy to track the changing seasons by the position of the sun against the land masses that surround English Bay. I took this photo one afternoon in mid-December when the sun sets directly southwest of Stanley Park. The time was almost 4:30 p.m. The peninsula across the bay is Point Grey.

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Merry Christmas!

Christmas Market, Old Town Square, Prague, December 2010

Christmas in Paris

Christmas is making me so homesick for Paris.

Don’t get me wrong. After spending last winter travelling on two continents through two hemispheres, I’m very happy to be spending this holiday season in my own home with close friends and my family nearby.

But Paris at Christmas time is truly magical. Not a reindeer or Santa in sight, no muzak renditions of carols over store PA systems, no one staggering home loaded down with shopping bags stuffed with expensive presents.

Instead, Parisians turn their attention to food. Pâtisserie windows filled with elaborately decorated Yule logs that are more works of art than cake. Butcher shops with an assortment of poultry, feathers still attached, neatly lined up on beds of tinsel. People lined up three deep to buy oysters from make-shift stands set up night after night on street corners to meet the demand.

And the lights. Oh, I miss the lights! I used to think Vancouver looked so pretty in December with its light displays, but now…. Well, now I think it looks kinda … lame, actually, in comparison to Paris. The City of Light lives up to its name by stringing lights across streets, draping strands of them over trees, and running ropes of them up and down building facades. Cafés are tastefully wrapped in ribbon and baubles and evergreen boughs. We walked the length of the Champs-Élysées last Christmas Eve and not a building, not a tree, not a lamp post was bare. You could read a book by those lights.

And then there are the Christmas markets, which have their origins in Medieval Germany. We didn’t make it to all of the Marchés de Noël in Paris, but we explored the largest one along the Champs-Élysées, and smaller ones at Trocadéro and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Vendors in wooden huts sell handcrafts and toys, but the emphasis is on the variety of food and drink available, including the biggest slabs of chocolate I’ve ever seen and piping hot cups of vin chaud.

There are also the outdoor ice skating rinks at Trocadéro and the Hôtel de Ville. And the carousels, one per arrondissement, which are free for kids the entire month of December….

Any time of year Paris glows. At Christmas time, it dazzles.

The Playwright-President

On a July afternoon in 1998, I was standing with a crowd of tourists beneath the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square of Prague. I was in Prague as a student, enrolled in a fiction-writing course of the Prague Summer Seminars — a program then sponsored by the University of New Orleans in conjunction with Charles University.

Crowds of tourists standing beneath the Astronomical Clock were nothing new to me — every hour, on the hour, they stood there, waiting for the clock to chime. But this crowd seemed larger than usual and I was curious.

I lucked out. A few minutes later, a motorcade of burgundy Mercedes sedans pulled up, dignitary flags flapping. Out of the first car hopped President Václav Havel, the playwright who was then running the country, on his way into the Old Town Hall. As quickly as he had arrived, he disappeared, and the crowd began to disperse.

The following weekend, my roommate and I bumped into my writing teacher, Arnošt Lustig, as we walked out of the Castle. A spry septuagenarian, he held out his arms in greeting as he climbed the steep steps. I grinned broadly at catching him off-duty. My friend asked Arnošt whether he was also sight-seeing, but he exclaimed, “I live here!” and he pointed at the Castle. He had told us so in class, but we didn’t quite believe him for he was quite a story-teller.

When I asked Arnošt for details the next day, as we drank our coffee and ate our palachinkas on our mid-class break, he told me how he had helped out Václav Havel years earlier when the Communists were after him. In return, Arnošt stayed at the Castle, as Havel’s guest, any time Arnošt was in Prague. What a beautiful friendship, I thought, and I never doubted Arnošt’s stories again.

The Astronomical Clock of Prague’s Old Town Hall

A Second Look

I took this photo of the House on Stilts one day last summer when I was biking along the Coal Harbour seawall. As I slipped my camera back into my pocket and got back on my bike, I noticed a fellow turning to see what I was shooting.

This happens a lot when I take photos. And, more often than not, people pick up their camera to take a photo of what they had just walked by but failed to see.

Whether I’m travelling the world or wandering around my home city of Vancouver, I’m always on the lookout for my next photo or story. This blog is me sharing with you what I see. If my words and images encourage any of you to take a second look at your surroundings ― however beautiful or mundane ― then that’s something already.