Saturday, December 20, 2014

"All I Need is a Baguette"

I don't normally carry large lenses with me when I travel. Between what the airlines will allow and what my back will tolerate, I'm usually limited to something which is smaller and lighter. Now, that's not altogether bad as it forces me to learn the strengths and limitations of what are - in effect - my primary lenses. And it probably lends to some creative decisions as well. But after a while, one gets tired of living between 16-105mm and so, for my October 2012 trip to Paris, I had decided to break out the big gun - the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. Now, if you're into photography, you have some idea of how big and heavy this thing is. For those of you who aren't, here's how big and heavy this thing is - about a foot long and it weighs about 3.5 pounds (which is a lot when you're hanging that on an already heavy camera). Oh, and like all big Canon lenses, it's off-white and not black - so it stands out.

Which is what I was doing when I walked onto the Metro platform at Cluny-La Sorbonne.

The plan was simple - head to the right bank of the Seine vers Place de la Concorde and gets some shots of the Eiffel Tower at sunset/the blue hour. Then get down to the Veme Arrondissement to meet some friends for dinner. Easy.

Now, one side effect - sometimes negative but usually positive - with carrying heavy camera gear out and in the open is that you tend to attract attention. And so it was in this case as an elderly Parisian gentleman noticed my rig hanging off my shoulder and exclaimed, "Buh! C'est grande" with his hands spread apart to indicate just how grande he thought my lens was.  I laughed (this happens a lot) and said something to him in French - probably nothing more than "oui" - and kept waiting for the Metro, which soon came because this was Paris and not Washington D.C. (seriously, terrible subway in DC). By the time the train arrived however, we had started conversing a little; nothing substantive - he'd correctly identified me as tourist (though I always insist on "guest" rather than "tourist" - je ne suis pas tourist, je suis invité) and was providing me some suggestions on where to shoot. Now, it wasn't much more than what one could get out of Lonely Planet, but I can't fault Parisian politeness (and, as an aside, it's worth noting that in several trips to Paris, I've yet to meet a rude Parisian) and so we continued to talk until the train arrived at the platform. When we got into the car, we discovered it was quite full and so we pulled down the fold up seats next to the doors and continued to talk.

Now, at this point, I should back up and describe this gentleman so you'll understand why, the entire time I was talking to him, I was thinking "I have to get a picture".  He was an older man (seventies? eighties?) wearing a black wool overcoat, over an oatmeal colored, wool sweater. Drooping eyes and a neatly cropped salt-and-pepper mustache. And to top it all off, he was wearing (of course), a beret. In other words:  a Frenchman right out of central casting.

As we shot through the tunnels under the 6th and 7th Arrondissements all I could of was how to ask this guy for a photo. Surely doing so would violate some unknown rule of French etiquette? On ne doit pas etre mal eleve. But finally, mine was the next stop and I broke down:

"Excusez-moi monsieur, mais est-ce que je prends un photo?"

"Bien sur" he said with a slight smile.

I leaned back as far as I could (remember, I still had a long lens on the camera and we were sitting about three feet away from one another) and snapped off a shot. I looked at it on the back of my camera and then showed it to the man as we pulled into my station.

His reaction? In French: "All I need is a baguette."

I laughed all the way to Place de la Concorde.