Paris – Council chambers to rival Versailles?

Which local council office rivals the opulence of the Palace of Versailles? If you are the mayor of Paris you’ll know, because you will work in the Hotel de Ville – the City Hall – of Paris. Most people won’t see inside the building – unless you are a bureaucrat or are lodging some paperwork. But once a year, Paris has a Heritage Weekend (Patrimonie) where anyone can go through the building. And we just happened to be in Paris on the right weekend. And what a building!

The Hotel de Ville stands out even in central Paris on the Rue de Rivoli for its renaissance style, perfect proportions and amazing decorative elements.

Hotel de Ville, Paris

Hotel de Ville, Paris

It occupies a plaza between the Rue de Rivoli and the Seine river. And herein lies a tale. In the early part of the 12th Century the merchants of Paris formed a corporation – possibly to fight off competition from Rouen. By 1121 King Louis VI agreed to transfer the income from wine taxes from wine imports into Paris. And they imported a LOT of wine! His successor – Louis VII – gave the merchants a monopoly on all river-based trade between Paris and Nantes, giving them the name ‘water merchants’. Perhaps they drank like fish?

As their power and wealth grew, they took on more of the administrative tasks of the city, establishing a city council, a court for disputes and, in 1357 the merchant’s provost bought a house next to the river – already a landmark, known as the house of pillars – which was to become the seat of municipal institutions. By 1529 the house – already much extended and falling into disrepair, was cleared along with some neighbouring buildings to make way for a new building. King François I saw an opportunity for ‘re-branding’ and re-affirming his authority, and offered his personal architect, the Italian Domenico da Cortona – known as El Boccador – who had built many chateaus in the Loire Valley. It was ambitious and took a while to build, finally completed in 1628. By now it was heavily influenced by high Italian Renaissance design.

Spiral staircase in the northern courtyard

Spiral staircase in the northern courtyard

In the 19th century it was extended further and given a makeover with interiors decorated by some of the leading artists of the day – Ingres, Delacroix, Cabanel and Lehman. But the Paris Commune of 1871 saw it destroyed by fire.

In 1872 an open competition was held for its restoration – with stringent design conditions, such as the original El Boccador Renaissance facade had to be replicated as closely as possible. Rebuilding took a decade between 1873 and 1883 with the result being an amazing renaissance-style building – yet fitted with the most advanced additions, such as electric lighting, a hydraulic lift, a steam-based central heating system, and the bureaucrat’s delight – the telephone!

If you ever wondered about the efficiency of French bureaucracy, consider the distractions….

Wall decoration - Hotel de Ville, Paris

Wall decoration – Hotel de Ville, Paris

And if you look up you’ll never go back to your engrossing spreadsheet again. Indeed you won’t even be checking Facebook!

Ceiling decoration - Hotel de Ville, Paris

Ceiling decoration – Hotel de Ville, Paris

Ever wondered why council meetings take so long to reach a decision? Consider the council chambers where the counsellors gather for their meetings – I think I would be spending most of my time just gazing around!

Council chambers - Hotel de Ville, Paris

Council chambers – Hotel de Ville, Paris

This is definitely one of Paris’ hidden gems – which sadly few get to see. Luckily every year in September, there is a Heritage weekend (la Partimonie) – and the Mairie de Paris throws open its doors for anyone to go through. If you get the chance, don’t miss it!

Some light reading – levitation photography

Have you ever seen those photos of people, apparently weightless, floating in mid-air as though someone had turned off the gravity button?

A little light reading

A little light reading

It’s easier than it looks.

Camera, tripod, smart phone with sound trigger software (ioShutterPro – from Enlight) and a remote trigger connected to the smart phone. Oh, and a subject willing to fly… For some reason Sharon didn’t want to do this, so I set it up to take my own photo.

How it’s done:
You want a fast shutter speed so use flash if indoors, or a fast setting if outdoors. In this case I was indoors and so I set the camera up on the tripod.

Switch to manual focus and focus on the spot where the jump will take place. I set up a second tripod and focussed on that, before moving it out of the way.

Set up the camera’s flash and set up the phone’s ioShutterPro software to use the sound trigger

Take up position – perhaps on a small step just out of camera sight, and jump, while nonchalantly reading a book. At the same instant make a sound to trigger the photo. It takes a bit of practice but soon you can coordinate it all together – for quite a decent effect :-)

100 miles for fish and chips…

So Sharon woke up this morning and says:
“I want to feel the wind in my hair, and walk along the shore.”
I looked at her. “It’s minus 2 Centigrade.” I protested. “And the lake is a bit manky”

“But I want to feel the sand beneath my feet…”
I reminded her that we do in fact live 160km [that's about 100 miles in the old money] inland.

“…and have fish and chips for lunch. F r e s h fish and chips.”
Ah, now THAT was the right thing to say. The best fish and chips on this side of Australia is in Bateman’s Bay, on the New South Wales coast. And it would be warmer on the coast.

What followed was a small flurry of activity – Sharon packing drawing gear and me, my camera and a few kilos of lenses. The car didn’t bend too much when we finally got it loaded.

Should be about a two hour drive with a quick shimmy down the mountain, a sharp right over the bridge and left onto the beach.

Two hours later, after traversing two patches of dirt road, and three sets of 40kph road works – devoid of any actual road workers – we were at a complete standstill halfway down Clyde Mountain. For an hour.

It seems that the truck driver who was trying to get home quick before he had an accident, ran out of road before he ran out of corner. He was fine, but his semi-trailer needed to have the round wheel bits vertical, and on the bottom, not horizontal and on the side.

Truck accident

Truck accident

And so to Bateman’s Bay. The last time we ate at the Boathouse, there was a friendly manta ray swimming beneath the jetty. This time we had a pair of pelicans. It took some time to be served, so Sharon went ahead to find a table – and perhaps a little time to sketch.






Pelican – compact travel version

At length, I found that Sharon held a prime spot on the waters edge – first sitting in one place, then when someone moved, so did Sharon, until like a well crafted chess game she had reached the prime spot she now occupied.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

I asked how the sketch went and Sharon looked a bit sheepish. “They moved.” she said simply, and shrugged. Clearly that explained everything.

The view across the bay was stunning

Bateman's Bay

Bateman’s Bay

When we emerged from the cafe the road was closed – it seems that a car rally was on its way and the inflatable finish line was being erected across the road.

We didn’t hang around, but headed off further down the coast to Broulee where the beach sand is fine and the familiar dire warnings against swimming filled the entire billboard – beware of rips, swift currents, sudden drops in the ground, sudden shallow bits, rough surf (I’ve never seen gentle surf), and if you survive the water, there’s always the manta rays, sharks, jellyfish – to add a little excitement to any paddle. We like to remind visitors that ‘Pandora’ – the planet of David Cameron’s epic movie Avatar – is where Australians go for rest and relaxation…

Beach safety sign

Beach safety sign

As for the beach itself there’s no vehicles, no camping, no horses and no fires. Ah a truly welcoming place. it was quite busy – so you could almost see from one family group to the next, and so on to the horizon. The sky was clear, and the sun surprisingly warm. I remembered a lighting trick from photographer Karl Taylor – and arranged the sun to highlight Sharon’s hair and used the flash to provide fill light for her face – I was quite pleased with the result – despite the lack of wind :-)



The light through the seaweed was quite magic



It being Winter, and close to the shortest day we decided to pack up and head home before we’d have to do the Clyde Mountain drive in the dark. We remembered the rally cars that would be coming the opposite direction, and as the last of the light disappeared we headed into Braidwood. The bakery supplied much needed bread and delicious country-baked cakes called lamingtons – a sponge coated in chocolate and coconut – very yummy :-)

And thence to home. Yep – just a quick run down to get some fish and chips and a good time was had by all… unless you’re a truck driver. :-)

EDM Drawing Challenge # 3

EDM drawing challenge 3  a bagI am really enjoying this new sketchbook and yet I am puzzling over it as for years I have selected sketchbooks where the paper has some tooth as this will take drawing media better. This sketchbook falls more into what I would call the “designer stationery” line as the paper is very smooth. It is made to take a fountain well – which it does. I expected to battle it all the way but I am really enjoying using it. It takes pitt pens well and to be honest is too smooth for watercolour and it definitely will not take a lot of water but if I am careful some nice effects can be achieved.

For those who live in the UK it is a A5 sketchbook I picked up at Rymans. It has no brand or marking on it and may have been a special buy long gone out of production. It has stitched signatures not glued pages. Rymans were in Canberra for a short while and then went out of business. As I said before it was in my notebook stash and must have sat at the back of the cupboard for at least 5 years if not more. The thing is I am looking at smooth paper with a different eye!

EDM drawing challenge 3  view of bagAnyway, EDM Drawing Challenge # 3 reads Draw a Purse Wallet or Bag. This is my current hand bag which I am using because it can act as a hand bag yet hold some drawing materials with ease. I picked it up over easter at the National folk festival this year. So it is still quite new but no doubt will get bashed around.

I drew it using Faber Castell Pitt pens and watercolour paint and Derwent watercolour pencils.

If you are interested here is the EDM challenge list  and if you scroll you can see my past efforts. The Every Day Matters drawing challenge has  a yahoo group, a flickr group and Facebook page.