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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Monday, June 09, 2008

What do pictures show?

Biking in France this year I got to thinking about the pictures people take. I began to take notice because I was particularly conscious, after last year's accident, of how few such travels there may yet be for me. My initial notion was that the typical images are intended to show you were there. These are the ones you see being taken at every historical or scenic site, with the attraction being used as background for a shot of you, or your companion, or your children, or all of the above. One morning I came across an Italian fellow with his camera on a tripod, posing his wife and kids against a view of Gordes across the valley. I imagined it was destined to be on a christmas card. That would certainly be true if they were Americans. This is surely OK, though we all know how few such pictures are tolerable when you're asked to watch someone's slides of their trip. We become bored with images of people smiling or cavorting in this place or that because there's nothing to learn; mere pictures of people have little aesthetic content. One important element of aesthetic content is the possiblity of picturing ourselves in this landscape, or in relation to this scene. If the natural or architectural context is reduced to nothing more than background, we are, as viewers, deprived of this experience. For the same reason, mere landscape shots quickly become tedious, as we are provided no sense of human scale. Therefore, images which incorporate people in relation to their setting are of intrinsic interest. Now I can see the context in human terms, and I'm also invited to imagine my own possible participation in the scene. So at the very least we ought all to limit depicting ourselves to, say, a half dozen or so images and for the rest offer our audiences plenty of opportunities to see themselves in the places I've been. This changes the import from a kind of gloating--"Look! I'm here and you're not!"--to something more like an invitation--"I'm glad we can share this experience"--which may then contribute to our joint enjoyment. I hope I have more adventures to share...



Friday, June 06, 2008

"Please vote for Obama..."

We'd taken shelter from a brief shower at a table under the awning of a coffee shop on the plaza of the Palais du Papes in Avignon and found ourselves next to a German couple, as I realized when the man heard me ordering in French and asked, "Sind sie Nederlaender?" I was pleased not to have been identified immediately as American, but informed him we were from the USA. He then muttered something in English. We caught the phrase "Bush country" and laughed, assuring him we also despised the current administration. I think he was testing waters, for he then added, again in English, "Please vote for Obama." More laughter, and more assurances.



We'd moved to Avignon that Monday 02 June to drop the rental car, pack the bikes, and leave by TGV for Paris to fly home the next day. The other famous site in Avignon is the stump of the Pont de Benezet, mostly destroyed by the flooding Rhone in 1668. The original 22 arches had in fact, however, been repeatedly damaged and repaired since its construction in the early 12th century. Medieval builders thus demonstrated their inferiority to the Romans. During our last week we'd ridden from St-Remy up to the Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built in 50CE across the gorge of the river Gard to carry water from nearby Uzes to Nimes. Its almost 50 surviving arches are perfectly aligned and intact after more than two millenia.




We enjoyed the biking from St-Remy as much as any on this trip. While waiting for Jane to make her selection one day I felt a touch on my shoulder. I turned to find Edye Pankowski, bike club friend from Point, beaming at having found us by accident. She and Dallas had been traveling in Italy and decided on an excursion to Provence. Of course, if you want to run into anyone in France, your best chance is the nearest boulangerie (bakery) or patisserie (pastry shop). Its humanly impossible--or at least I find it so--to pass one without stepping in for a purchase. The Pankowskis had their bikes along, so the next day we rode up to the Abbaye St-Michel de Frigolet. Jane was delighted, as we strolled the grounds of the Augustinian abbey, to hear the bells on some goats that appeared to be herding the sheep that had moved into the meadow just over the wall. A magnificent ram strode up and planted his forefeet on the parapet to look us over. Reaching Boulbon some kilometers on it was time for--what else?--something from the boulangerie on the town plaza. We sat on the steps of the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to savor both our bread and the pleasure of watching life in a village along the flanks of the small range called the Montagnette. Completing the picture, the promontory above was crowned by the ruins of an ancient citadel.