France Photos 2018

Here are a number of pictures from our trip, taken from our social media postings and emails, plus a couple of additional pictures and a video of the fireworks celebrating la Fête nationale.

ADDED: Here’s a map with photos embedded.

 

We spent the first two days here recovering from lack of sleep, reacquainting ourselves with the area, and walking up and down the Seine.

Yesterday, we visited Versailles for the first time. The palace is beautiful, definitely worth the long line to get in.
The gardens are like little mini-forests with surprises in the middle of each. This was my favorite.

Today we went to L’Orangerie. I found Monet’s willow paintings fascinating and calming. If you haven’t been there, I encourage you to visit virtually.

After watching France win the world cup quarter finals in Versailles, we were excited to watch the ​semi finals in Paris. And we weren’t disappointed. ​People walked around draped in the French flag. Every bar and restaurant had people spilling out onto the street, stretching to see the tv screens inside. They sang the national anthem when it played at the beginning of the game and then again, spontaneously, as it became clear that France would win. Here is the restaurant we were sitting at. You can see Kev in the middle (under “CAFE”) with a man in white standing over him so he could see the screen.

Earlier ​in​ the day we ​went to ​the ​A​rc d​e​​ Triomphe, Then a walk down the Champs-Elysees, through the gardens, to the U.S. Embassy (which we couldn’t get any good photos of because of the high security).

The​ next day we took a​ 4-hour train ride went past fields of sunflowers and small herds of white cows​, to ​Arles​. It​ is a small town with ​lots of ​Roman ruins where Vincent Van Gogh lived. It ​is full of​ tourists and art during the summer festivals.

We spent the first couple of days here getting to know the city with our handy Rick Steves guide.
There is so much to see here, including locations used in famous Van Gogh paintings, well preserved Roman relics and architecture…
…and not-so-well-preserved Roman architecture. When I commented on the almost unrestricted access to these sites, Kev’s response was “That’s why they’re called ‘ruins’, because you can’t ruin them anymore.”

This is NOT our video, but it was obviously taken by someone very close to our vantage point on the riverbank!

 

Sunset over the Rhône. cf Van Gogh, Vincent.

 

 

 

Photos from Iceland/Eclipse Trip

Here are our favorite pictures from our Iceland and eclipse trip. I’ve added captions and comments for the first few; I’ll be finishing the rest as I have time over the next week or so.

Also, here is a map with many of our photos on it, attached to the locations.

Monday, August 21

Here’s what Julie (@jkercher6) wrote about her experience on eclipse day:

We woke with a flexible plan. We would go to St. Clair unless the weather indicated clearer skies in Chesterfield. We would go early, 3-4 hours, in case we needed to move somewhere else, likely south. We had already filled the hotel room refrigerator with lunch food, drinks, and sparkling wine. We had a Styrofoam cooler to keep it in, necessary with the temperatures in the 90s. Kevin was anxious, worried that we would miss it again, but I thought we were doing everything we could and, beyond that, it was fate.

The sky was clear when we woke. We ate the free breakfast at the hotel. I had granola with yogurt, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries. I also had some skyr (my new favorite breakfast food from our Iceland trip) that he bought at the store the day before. The breakfast room was packed with people, lots of families, significantly different from the next day which was 6 or 7 business people. After double checking the weather report, we packed up and headed down the highway. Traffic was light, surprisingly.

We drove to the old airport because it was recommended in the St. Clair website, but when we got there, a sign said no public parking and a man confirmed that it was no longer an option due to a decision by the FAA. So we turned around and headed toward town, looking for another possibility but trying to avoid going all the way into town because we had not reserved a parking space. We stopped at Burger King, just before the highway to use the bathroom, but soon realized that this was a good option. People were already parking with their eclipse glasses, there was no charge, easy access to bathrooms, and it would be easy to get back on the highway. Except for a sign reserving employee parking, there seemed to be no restrictions and the employees were so busy with all the customers they didn’t care if we didn’t buy anything (although we would have if necessary). After the lot filled up, people started parking on the dirt next door.

After first contact (when the shadow becomes visible), we found a spot in the grass. It was right next to the entrance but it didn’t matter. We had a good view of the area as the traffic died down and more and more cars parked in every spot that was legal and some that were not. We ate some of our lunch and kept checking the shadow as it got bigger and bigger. As the light diminished, the automatic lights came on at Burger King and the neighboring gas station. As it got cooler, the temperature display on one of the signs went down from several degrees. The sun was high enough that it hurt my neck to look for too long. Kevin told us to watch for Bailey’s beads and the diamond. We didn’t see the beads but the diamond flash was huge and bright. Then Kev said “glasses off!” and I took mine of a little hesitantly. There were gasps from the crowd. It was a beautiful circle of light (even better after I removed my sunglasses, which I forgot I had on). My eyes teared up as I looked at it, not from the light but from the emotions I was feeling. It was so amazing. The only light was the corona, white wisps flaring off from the dark moon circle. The cicadas started chirping. We saw one star and then another. The sky was so much bluer than I expected and there was no color from the sun or moon. But the color was all around us, like a 360-degree sunset. It went on for 2 minutes and 39 seconds. Then it was time for the glasses again and we saw another bright diamond.

As the moon moved on, we went to the car and opened the sparking wine. The cork flew across the parking lot. The crowd dispersed quickly and the road for backed up with all the traffic. By the time we left, the highway was backed up too but we didn’t have anywhere else to go. We got what we came for, and more.

Totality

It started with a letter in the mail in the summer of 2008, and ended Monday in a Burger King parking lot in St. Clair, Missouri.

We got what seemed like just another solicitation from our alma mater. The Harvey Mudd College Alumni Association was sponsoring a trip to China and Tibet to see the total eclipse of July 2009. I remember looking at the letter and telling Julie something like, “Ha ha! We should do this.” and then, upon further consideration, “No, really, we should do this!” We signed up and paid our deposit. Then Julie got laid off.

We considered backing out of the trip, sacrificing our deposit. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that the trip might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So we decided to go anyway, regardless of the finances. We are fortunate and privileged to be able to make that choice.

The trip to China was fantastic. We met up with some friends we had known in college, and met other alumni we had not known before. We flew to Beijing and stayed for a few days. From there it was on to Xian, then Chengdu, then up to Emei Shan, where we were to see the eclipse. This location had been chosen by Sirius Travel, who specializes in eclipse tours and was conducting our trip. It was supposed to have a very good chance of good weather.

It didn’t. The eclipse was supposed to happen about 8:00 in the morning. About 4:00, I woke up in our hotel room to a pounding rainstorm. This was before the widespread availability of smartphones; all I had was a Nokia flip-phone. I called my mother in Missouri and asked her to get on her computer and look at the weather in China. She responded that it did not look good. I really didn’t need her to tell me that.

The tour group assembled on the lawn where we were to view the eclipse, but all we saw were grey clouds. We started making our own fun, creating rock sculptures and offerings to the eclipse gods. Apparently they were not satisfactory, as the eclipse came and went without us seeing any of it. It got dark under the clouds, then got (slightly) lighter again. We had missed it.

Eclipse veterans told us that it still “counted”, as time in totality. I didn’t listen; it didn’t count as far as I cared, because I hadn’t seen it. (The rest of the China / Tibet trip was amazing, by the way. The lack of eclipse didn’t diminish what we experienced on the rest of the trip, especially given that China closed off travel to Tibet shortly after our visit.) (Not that it was our fault, I think.) (I mean, I can’t be sure, but it’s not like we did anything egregious.) (Okay, Eric’s dad did take a picture of Chinese soldiers from the tour bus after we were told not to, but I really don’t think…)

I don’t remember when I started looking for the next eclipse opportunity, but I think it was still on that trip. I found that an eclipse was to go across the United States in August 2017, going just south of St. Louis. My parents still lived in St. Louis at that time, so I told them to put it on their calendars, because I was going to be there.

Fast-forward to early 2017. My parents had since retired to Texas, and I had literally no family remaining in St. Louis. Still, it seemed like a good location to view the eclipse. We made hotel reservations in Chesterfield, a suburb to the west of St. Louis. Our hotel was in the path of totality, but if we went south a bit, we could get a longer time in totality. We decided to try to get to St. Clair, very near the centerline of the umbral path (meaning maximum time in totality).

From Xavier Jubier’s interactive map: http://www.eclipse2017.org/xavier_redirect.htm

 

My parents joined us in Chesterfield. I worried about crowds and clouds. News reports predicted horrific traffic jams as people tried to get to the path of totality. My big concern, after our experience in China, was getting stuck underneath clouds. To address this, I had studied the map extensively, ready to drive in any direction that seemed to have clear skies.

In fact, on Monday the 21st it wasn’t clouds or crowds that frustrated us, but bureaucrats. The St. Clair website had recommended an abandoned airport north of town as a good parking and observing location for day-trippers from St. Louis. When we got there, however, two official cars blocked the road. The St. Clair official told us that the FAA wouldn’t allow them to use the airport. We had to go someplace else.

I drove back down the road about a half-mile, to a Burger King, so we could use their restrooms. As we sat in the parking lot, we noticed that the cars around us were waiting for the eclipse. We decided to wait there until someone made us move. In the event, no one ever did. Kudos to the Burger King management for not kicking us out. They were busy making money from all the people coming from out of town. The lines for food were literally out the door.

We had been smart enough to arrive about an hour before first contact. As we waited, more and more cars filled up the lot, and the dirt/weeds/gravel patch next to it. By the time of first contact, there were probably 75-100 people in this immediate vicinity, with more watching from lots across the street, or the gas station next door.

As the eclipse deepened, I watched with awe and anticipation. I reflected on how much of the Sun could be blocked before we would even notice. With only a small sliver of the Sun still visible, the light around us seemed like a slightly cloudy day.

Then came totality.

I have no words.

No one can describe for you what totality is like, if you haven’t seen it for yourself. Pictures do not convey the experience. Videos do not capture the feeling.

I yelled, “Glasses off!” when I was sure that it was safe to view totality. We saw the solar corona; we saw some bright stars; we saw a “sunset” glow on the horizon all around us. I thought it might be darker, but I think there was enough light pollution from the businesses around us that the sky only got a deep blue, not ever black. We saw a nice “diamond ring” effect on both second contact and third contact, but we did not see Bailey’s beads.

I took some pictures with my cell phone because why not, but they did not come out at all. Some of our friends, however, in different locations, took much better pictures. Here are some of Kyle Roesler’s. 

We watched for the full 2 minutes and 39 seconds, and then the real world returned, slowly. I might have giggled a little bit. (OK, a lot.) Cheers arose. We popped some champagne to celebrate the Sun’s return.

On Tuesday the 22nd, we woke up to overcast skies and rain.

Me and Mark

My best guess is that the first time I heard Dire Straits, it was “Money For Nothing”, probably on KSHE-95 radio in St. Louis. I was 16 in 1985; we had recently gotten cable TV, including MTV, but I don’t think I saw the iconic video until later. If I had ever heard “Sultans of Swing” prior to 1985, it didn’t make an impression on me.

Of course, back in the day, when you heard a good song, you had to buy the entire album. 1011009

Or in my case, the cassette.

download

The first track on this tape is “So Far Away”.  Listening to that song was when I first fell in love with Dire Straits. Yes, “Money For Nothing” was the hit, but “So Far Away” was great music.

I grew to love the rest of “Brothers in Arms” as well. I remember I had their debut album and “Making Movies” on tape. As I went through college and CDs came out, I found “Love Over Gold” and “Communique” in a used-record store (probably Tower Records). And I waited for a follow-up to “Brothers in Arms”.

(An aside: At our wedding in 1991, our first dance song was “Why Worry”. My wife and I danced to the first part of the song, with the lyrics, then our parents and wedding party joined us for the lengthy instrumental. It was perfect.)

When “On Every Street” finally came out in 1991, I was in grad school. I listened to it repeatedly, and found multiple echos of the work I was doing in the album. The title track has a line that mentions “the sacred and profane”, a major theme in the sociology and history classes I was taking. One of our professors’ favorite sayings was “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.” And “Iron Hand”, while written about the 1984 miner’s strike, has great similarities to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

So when the “On Every Street” tour came to the Sports Arena in San Diego, I was there. I think I had a sense that this was probably the end for the group. I didn’t follow any music magazines or anything, but I figured since it took 6 years to make this album, any more were unlikely. So I wanted to make sure I got to see them. They did not disappoint.

When Mark Knopfler came out with “Golden Heart”, his first solo album, I bought it, but was underwhelmed. Same with “Sailing to Philadelphia” in 2000. His work dropped off my radar for a while. I heard occasional songs on Pandora or Sirius XM that I liked: “Coyote”, “Boom, Like That”, “Junkie Doll”. But I think it was when I heard some of his collaboration with EmmyLou Harris on “All The Roadrunning” that I sat up and took notice of Mark again.

I went back and bought the solo albums that I didn’t have and re-discovered some great music (“Speedway at Nazareth”, “Done with Bonaparte”, “Cannibals”, “Donegan’s Gone”, “You Don’t Know You’re Born”, among others). Probably in the late 90’s I was disappointed that his music didn’t sound exactly like Dire Straits. At a greater remove in time, I can appreciate the similarities between Knopfler’s earlier work and his later, while appreciating the new music for what it is.

I love how Knopfler writes songs with lyrics for the first few minutes, then nothing but instrumentals for the last 8 minutes. It’s not the same as a jam band that just keeps playing and riffing in a live show; for Knopfler, it’s as if the real song is the instrumental part and the lyrics are just a prelude. The prototype for this is “Speedway at Nazareth”, but you can find it in many others songs, both from the Dire Straits years and solo work.

As a student of history, I love how he writes songs about historical episodes. “Done with Bonaparte” is from the point of view of a French soldier after the Battle of Austerlitz. “Privateering” is set in the days of Lord Nelson; “Baloney Again” during the segregation of the 1950s in America; “Why Aye Man” during the economic strife of the Thatcher era in Britain. While the songs are certainly emotional and sympathetic, they are more than simply love songs.

In the midst of my renewed interest in and appreciation for Knopfler’s music, “Tracker” was released and the tour announced. My wife and I considered seeing him in concert here in San Diego, but we really don’t like the venue at which he was playing. So we looked farther afield, up and down the West Coast, but found that there were no tickets to be had, even six or seven months ahead of time. So we looked even farther afield: we had been considering traveling in Spain anyway, so we bought tickets to the show in Sevilla and planned our trip around that! (The tickets in Spain were much cheaper than tickets in the US, by the way.)

IMG_20150718_223648018

What’s nice about going to a concert today, compared to in 1992, is that they record them all and sell them. So when we got home, I was able to purchase and download the live recording of the concert we were at. Also, much of it is on YouTube as well:

This makes Mark Knopfler the only artist I’ve ever seen in concert more than once, for whatever that’s worth. We went to see Paul Simon in Temecula a few years ago, and I said at the time that I would rate Simon as the greatest singer-songwriter of his generation. So how would I rate Mark Knopfler? I would argue that he is the most under-rated singer-songwriter of his generation. For all the attention he got during the Dire Straits years, I think his work since then is under-appreciated.

 

Gracias por todo!

To the young couple with the daughter on the train out of Barcelona:

Thank you for everything you did for us. When we realized that the scenery looked different than we remembered, we were afraid we had gotten on the wrong train, one that was not stopping at the airport as we had hoped. The look on your faces when Julie asked you in her best (but halting) Spanish confirmed our fears.

As we sat and tried to figure out our next steps, you could have just ignored us and gone on about your day, especially as you speak English only about as well as we speak Spanish. Instead, you tried your best to help us, giving us advice about the next stop, and suggesting that we take a taxi rather than waiting for the next train going toward Barcelona. It was a good idea; it would cost us more money than the train, but at least it would give us a chance of making our flight.

At the next stop, which was apparently your stop as well, you could have just left us and gone home. Instead, you pointed us to the taxi stand, offered to call a cab for us, and finally flagged down a taxi and told the driver where we needed to go. With that help, and some hustle through the airport, we made our flight to Granada (barely), and did not have to reschedule a flight or sleep in the airport or pay for extra hotel nights, all of which I was afraid we might have to do.

I wish I knew your names and address to send you a thank you in person. Since I don’t, we’ll have to make sure that we pay it forward by helping out travelers who are confused or lost, even if we don’t know their language or have any reason to to help them other than sheer kindness.

Gracias por todo!