Thursday, March 31, 2011

More From the Back Files

Williamsburg Window, 1986

After coming across those pictures of downtown Norfolk the other day, an even nicer trove of older photographs fell into my lap when my wife brought me a shopping bag full of old photo prints and unmarked negatives she’d come across while cleaning out some cabinets in the family room. Most of the pictures were of family events and just needed to be sorted. But a few were my feeble attempts to find something interesting to photograph beyond family members.

The three photos in this post are good examples of what I was doing from the mid -1980s to the mid-1990s. The two Williamsburg pictures document my transition from black-and-white to color. The Daggett House photo represented my transition from strictly representative photographs to photographs that could be something more or different.

I’d started taking “portal perspective” pictures in Colonial Williamsburg during the late 1960s. That was probably the first time I’d realized I could use a “borrowed view” as a composition device in a photograph.

The older Williamsburg View, below, has flaws and the poor exposure isn’t improved in the scanning. But you can see where when I was making a tentative attempt to get back into photography fifteen years later I returned to the familiar portal perspective motif. (But as you can see, I hadn’t figured out how to balance the exposure for images with strong lights and darks.)

Williamsburg Window, above, represented a shift from pictures with a wide scope to pictures with a narrower scope. When I look back at photographs I took in the 1960s, many of them are large scenes, images where a lot is going on or where there are a lot of people. I’ve always had a preference for wide views and wide-angle lenses that can capture the parts of those wide views that are so appealing to me.

But without really thinking about it, I’d started taking pictures of small “moments,” scenes that in some cases were no bigger than a few inches across. Williamsburg Window doesn’t have that tight of a perspective. But before that I wouldn’t have thought of photographing just the wreath and the window. I’d have likely photographed the whole house,

The Daggett House View, from fourteen years ago, is also something of a transitional photo. We’d flown up to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend in the early spring to attend a family wedding and were staying at the old Daggett House inn. It’s quiet on the Vineyard that time of year. The light is glorious, though, and that’s what I wanted to capture in this picture. The content was less important than the color, so I purposely processed it to be less about the content and more about the color.

Daggett House View, 1997

Williamsburg View, 1985

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Treasure Trove

Tree of Life, Norfolk, 2010

I don’t care whether you paint, take photographs or write music and lyrics. Whatever the medium, it’s fun when you find a stash of old work that you didn’t think you had anymore.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t always so great, maybe even a little scary. You find stuff that shows how little you knew way back when. You see technical flaws and compositional flaws. If there’s any reassurance in seeing it, it’s in hopefully being able to see how far you’ve come.

There was a period of years when my eyes didn’t “see” pictures. Where they’d once naturally composed scenes without even thinking about it, now they didn’t. My first explanation would probably be that I was distracted by other things in life. The real reason, though, was that while I was paying more attention to other things I was letting my eyes get lazy. It was only years later when I had a little more time on my hands and made a more deliberate return to photography that my “eye” improved.

The flip side of this condition is that when you get back into the regular habit of taking pictures, it’s easy to end up with lots of folders of pictures you’ve forgotten. You do your initial cull, pull out the ones you like and never go back to clean up or clean out the rest.

The other day I came across a group of photographs I’d taken almost exactly a year ago during a morning walk in downtown Norfolk. It’s not like they were hidden. I just hadn’t looked at them in a while. And it turns out some of them weren’t so bad.

Skewed View, Norfolk, 2010

Peek-a-Boo, Norfolk, 2010

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From the Wayback Machine

ESVA 83, 2007

I recently subscribed to a “cloud” service for off-site back-up storage of my photographs and work files. It’s not like I foresee a house fire or other tragic calamity in my future. But those who’ve experienced such events would tell us they didn’t foresee them, either.

So I’ve got this cloud at CrashPlan. When you have as embarrassingly many images to back up as I do —would you believe something north of 27,000?— and many of them are quite large files, it can take a while to back everything up. In my case, it’s taking about 27 days.

When I mentioned this the other night, an artist acquaintance quickly scolded me for not doing a better job of editing my work. He said no one has any sane reason to need 97 gigabytes of storage space. I didn’t argue the issue. He’s a painter primarily. Maybe their output just isn’t as prolific. But as I do every now and then, his comment provoked me to drop into some of the old folders to see just what it is I’m so concerned about protecting.

ESVA 83, above, is a good example of what I found. It was taken on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on a cold and windy Saturday morning four years ago. I’d gotten up around 4:30 a.m. to get to the Eastern Shore before sunrise. I took my first shots of the morning in a wildlife management area on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The pictures weren’t stellar, but I enjoyed watching a herd of deer feed in an open field for a while.

Then I drove a quarter mile over to the Chesapeake Bay side and took pictures there for a while. As I was leaving where I’d parked, I happened to look over and see the house above. I’ve seen this house dozens of times over the years. Each time I pass the house is a little more abandoned looking. But on this morning I felt compelled to stop and consider it for a picture. The sun was just coming over the horizon and the light was stretching across the abandoned field and bouncing off the house.

It took a moment to pull the car off the road and find a good vantage spot for the photograph that wouldn’t be marred by power lines or other distractions. As those of you who like to photograph things at sunrise will know, lighting conditions change quickly that time of day. At other times of the day it seems as if the sun is barely moving. But at sunrise and sunset, it can seem like the sun’s racing across the sky. You have but minutes to get the shot you want before the light changes considerably.

This turned out to be one of the iffier shots from that day’s expedition. It was far from the best of the day, but not quite bad enough to discard immediately. When I came across it the other night I decided to pull it out and see if I couldn’t clean it up some and capture some of what it was that drew my eye that cold morning. It’s still far from a great picture. But I suppose that if it triggers such a memory as this, that alone makes it worth protecting.

Monday, March 28, 2011


St. Patrick’s (Selective Color), 2010

I try to avoid doing too many tricks with pictures. It’s tempting when you first start working with a program like Photoshop to start tarting everything up. You want to try out every trick and every trick looks new and cool and original to you.

Until it isn’t any more. That’s when you realize you’ve gone overboard and everything you’re doing with your pictures looks like a trick, not a picture.

There’s nothing illegal or unethical about this. Hopefully, though, it’s like a lot of things. It takes you a while to get past the ham-fisted stage and start using the tool a little more delicately.

High dynamic range (HDR) photographs are a fad right now. Knowing how to use HDR can be useful. But done poorly, HDR images have an unnatural look. If you happen to like that look, this is fine. But for most people the trick starts to be more visible that the content of the picture. I, for one, won’t be unhappy when people back off of using HDR quite so much.

I was looking through some pictures the other night that I’d taken in New York in February of 2010. To be honest, I was giving them the “final look” to decide whether there was some reason to keep them or whether I should just discard them.

When there’s no obvious merit to the photo, part of this final judgment process involves trying to remember what it was I thought I could do with this picture when I took it.

This is what I remember about the moment St. Patrick’s (Selective Color) was taken: it was damned cold; my feet were wet; the snow had turned to sleet mixed with rain. I should have been indoors enjoying someone else’s company, taking a catnap or enjoying a drink in a convivial setting. But instead I’d been driving for more than seven hours and was anxious just to get outdoors and move around a little and take some pictures.

Weather like that can be ripe for taking pictures. Rain puddles have cool reflections. Snow can be useful for framing and contrasting. It was just early enough in the evening that a lot of people were still at work. So windows in some of the office buildings still had the warm glow of incandescent light.

This picture was taken in New York from courtyard of the Villard Houses looking westward out the gate onto Madison Avenue and the back side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ve taken some interesting pictures from this position before and wasn’t anxious to repeat them. Yet there’s something comforting about the scale of that courtyard that always draws me in and gives me a brief respite from whatever chaos is going on just outside the gate.

I took a bunch of pictures. Some had obvious merit and some didn’t. This was one of the pictures that fell between, lacking an obvious reason to share, but not so worthless than I knew to discard it immediately.

Looking back at this picture over a year later, I can only imagine that what caught my eye was the color of the umbrella. But in its original form the other colors were distracting. So I desaturated them so that only the purpose umbrella standards out. I wish I’d taken the picture a second or so earlier so that the person with the umbrella would have stood out more. But there’s only so far I can go back in history.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Deconstructed

Spring Deconstructed (version 2), 2011

I had lunch the other day with a friend at one of those Mongolian beef places where you pick out your food on a cold buffet line and then they cook it on a big open griddle while you wait. This is not one of my favorite cuisines. But as Mongolian beef places go, this place was clean and the food was fresh and tasty.

I didn’t realize as I was picking out my food that my selections were not very colorful. My wife is very big on how food is presented. A dinner plate prepare by her is not only tasty but visually appealing. But left to my own devices everything on the plate would be the same color.

To be honest, I didn’t even think about what the finished dish would look like until my friend’s plate was delivered back from the griddle looking like something from the Cordon Bleu. My plate, on the other hand, looked like a bunch of mushy green vegetables with a few strips of mystery meat (chicken). I had to make an unplanned swing by the salad bar and grab a few cocktail tomatoes to make it look edible.

A few days ago, I was taking pictures in the garden. I look forward to the colors of spring, the soft blue skies, the soft rose color of spring camellias and the pale green foliage of the first new leaves of the season. The calendar may say that we’re into spring. And early spring flowers may be showing. But the weather this week is more like fall than spring. Still, if I wanted to get photographs that said “spring” I was going to have to work with what nature gave me, no matter how chilly.

I took all the usual pictures of flowers: daffodils, camellias, blue bells and so on. Nature is gorgeous this time of year. If you’re the least bit metaphorical as a gardener you see this as the season of birth and hope. But once you’ve seen a few pictures of spring flowers you’ve probably seen all you need to see.

The idea with Spring Deconstructed was to get away from the literal and highlight some of the spring colors, to pull out the essence of the season. I didn’t want it to be as Frankenthaler-ish as this. But I also didn’t want it to be purely representation.

The first version, seen below, was the truest. As you can probably guess, this is a purposely unfocused image of forsythia, as lovely of an everyday plant as you could want. What says “spring” like forsythia, after all?

Spring Deconstructed (version 1), 2011

I shot from a low angle in order to purposely use the glare of the sun to lighten the image and bend the color a little. I liked the result, too. Who can object to yellow and green? But upon reflection, I realized that like my plate at the Mongolian beef place, the yellow and green of this photograph didn’t fully represent the range of colors visible in the yard at the moment. It didn’t, for example, include any of the reds from the camellias. So just as I had thrown a few cocktail tomatoes on my plate at the restaurant, I blended a photograph of red camellias into the forsythia picture. The result is Spring Deconstructed (version 2), seen at the top of this post.

Having looked at both of them for a little while now, I’ve concluded that I like the original (version 1) better. It’s sunnier and lighter in the weight of its colors, and while it might not include any reds, it seems to do a better job of saying “spring.” Version 2, by comparison, looks to me to be more about, say, Christmas.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and Me

Party Crashers, 1977

When my wife and I got married our best friends were a couple named Ralph and Kathy. Ralph and my wife and I worked at a newspaper. Kathy was the scheduler for the state’s attorney general (AG).

Kathy’s job occasionally gave us access to social and political events far beyond our normal wanderings. Besides, my wife and I were Democrats and the AG was a staunch Republican. But never ones to pass up a free meal and a party, we sometimes lined the back walls of Republican media events when a crowd was needed for the cameras and the true believers couldn’t be roused.

In those days, Virginia’s Senator John Warner was in the habit of holding “picnics” at his farm near Middleburg, Virginia. Calling Atoka a farm is sort of like calling Versailles a “hunting lodge.” It’s a sprawling estate with a massive residence at its center. People didn’t come to picnics at Atoka, though, to see the farm and its fine stone buildings. They came to see the senator’s second wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Warner’s marriage to Taylor surprised a lot of people. Warner was more than comfortably affluent, cut a wide swath in Washington and was known as a ladies’ man. But his lifestyle wasn’t the Hollywood circus parade that Elizabeth Taylor lived. She put on a good face, though, even though she had a hard time fitting into the role of a senator’s wife. She was intrigued by Washington, but found Richmond provincial. She gained a lot of weight and had other health problems.

But at the time of the Atoka picnic everyone wanted to meet her.

The whole event wouldn’t have even been on our radar had Kathy not called a couple of days before hand and invited us to attend.

The deal was this: the AG would already be at Atoka, so we were to bring his wife, a beautiful young artist and the mother of two little kids, with us from Richmond; Kathy and Ralph were to attend in her working capacity; my wife and I were to come using the tickets of the two children.

We drove up in Ralph’s old Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe, a vehicle known for its power, love of gasoline and, at its advanced age, lack of dependability and total discomfort. The AG’s wife, though, was delightful company. I know for sure she had more fun traveling with us than she would have had she been with her husband and his state trooper escorts. You’d have thought we’d taken her to some never before seen stash of Picasso drawings when we stopped in Fredericksburg for a Coke and introduced her to the delights of Wendy’s fast food.

When we arrived at Atoka, my wife and I had planned to slip into the shadows. We didn’t exactly look like the AG’s children. We’d expected the picnic to be some kind of back room political cabal where the liberal likes of us would probably be tossed into the moat. But instead it turned out that this “exclusive” event was hosting some 2,000 people.

I don’t remember much about the food and drink. As I said, people came to see Elizabeth Taylor. She didn’t disappoint, either. She was dressed in jeans and a red-checked shirt, a cross between Raggedy Ann and Marie Antoinette playing at le petit hameau. It wasn’t a flattering look for her. But her eyes were magical as ever and she appeared to be enjoying the party.

As the afternoon turned to evening, there was music from a blue grass band. A dance floor had been built on a lawn behind the main residence. I’m not much of a dancer. But at some point I was indeed on the dance floor and found myself dancing with Elizabeth Taylor. My wife swears there was a picture of me dancing with Elizabeth Taylor in the next week’s People magazine. However, I’ve never seen it, and think the whole thing was more a case of me and Taylor just being on the dance floor at the same time rather than being there together.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Woodstock, 2002

I’m of an age to be on the edge of “the Woodstock generation.” I knew about the Woodstock Music Festival, of course. I followed it in the news when it was happening. I subscribed to papers like The Village Voice, the Boston Phoenix and the Avatar. I had a few older college friends from New York who went. But the closest I ever got to it was watching the documentary movie Woodstock when it came out in 1970, the year after the festival.

Anyway, that’s not the Woodstock I’m talking about today. The one I’m thinking of is the Woodstock in Oxfordshire, England, which is about as far as you can get from the revolutionary tumult of “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s army” as you can get. It’s a little village just north of Oxford that is best known for its immediate neighbor, Blenheim Palace, the grand country estate designed by Sir John Van Brugh’s for the first Duke of Marlborough. (The first duke’s given name was John Churchill. His descendant Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim in 1874.) If you haven’t been there, you might still recognize it as the backdrop of a number of period films, most recently The Young Victoria.

My wife and I first visited Blenheim Palace in 1989. The interior is impressive, but I believe we enjoyed ourselves more wandering the vast lawns and gardens designed by the famous 18th century landscape designer Capability Brown.

We took our daughter to Blenheim Palace during the summer of 2002. That night we stayed at The Bear Inn, an old coach inn in the center of Woodstock that dates from the Thirteenth Century. It’s an imposing place with thick stone walls and overstuffed four-poster beds. It’s said that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used to like to sneak away to The Bear. I can’t say the service matched the ambiance. But it was neat and clean. And when we opened the windows of our room we were greeted by the sight above. I can’t say whether it’s the picture itself or just the memory of that moment. The picture has the benefit of the elevated perspective, the colorful triangular arrangement of red mail trucks and the casual demeanor of the people at The Star Inn enjoying a beer at the end of a warm summer afternoon. Whatever the case, this has always been one of my favorite travel pictures.

Just out of sight to the right of the picture above is the Woodstock Town Hall, shown below. Although the quality is poor, this is also one of my favorite travel pictures. This picture was taken just after a brief thunderstorm had passed. The sun was setting just below the clouds, casting that wonderful golden light on the front of the building.

We had dinner that night at a pub just down the street and strolled the neighborhood nearby afterwards while listening to the choir of the church next to The Bear perform the Mozart Requiem.

It happened that one of the local ladies’ societies was having a rummage sale in the Town Hall the next morning. My wife and I went over to look through the piles of silver, china, books, prints and other flea market flotsam. We bought a few things. Some of those trinkets still litter our house.

Woodstock Town Hall, 2002

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sky is a Blue Sea

The Sky is a Blue Sea, 2011

Sometimes you have to give those Tarheels their due
when they talk about the sky being "Carolina blue."

Monday, March 21, 2011

This Old Church

Spirit of Truth Church, 2011

Five or six years ago I provided some strategic planning assistance to the board of directors of a local pastoral counseling service. They were an interesting group, most of them being ministers or holders of higher office in their respective mainstream denominations. Once a month we’d spend an afternoon together in a Sunday school classroom at a local Presbyterian church studying the past and plotting the future for their organization.

One afternoon before our meeting began I was chatting with one of the ministers about the sad state of churches in a downtrodden neighborhood where I’d been taking pictures recently. Of the five churches in the neighborhood, the Episcopal and Methodist churches had closed, the Catholic church was busing in congregants from other neighborhoods, the Presbyterian church had not been able to find a minister for more than two years and the Baptist church was losing members every week.

The minister I was talking to, it turned out, had been the church official charged with de-sanctifying and closing the Episcopal church. He said this was one of the most unpleasant responsibilities of his job, describing how you not only lock the doors when you close a church, but also remove all of the artifacts that serve as spiritual touchstones for the denomination.

I was thinking of that story when I photographed the Spirit of Truth Church, above, this past weekend. I’ve been photographing this church on and off for years.

I don’t photograph every church I drive by. But this little church, sitting hard by a twisty country road, has always called out to me because of its simple honesty. It’s not a fancy church. There are no architectural flourishes. There are no gilt fittings, no fancy organ. It’s barely big enough to hold a small sanctuary, a fellowship hall, a kitchen and a small office.

When It Was Beach Grove UMC, 2008

The area around this church has been booming for the last decade. Where there used to be just swamps and lowland farms are now vast subdivisions of half million-dollar homes. There’s a fancy equestrian center and even a polo club. But this influx of new people has not been enough to stabilize this little country church. In just the last five or six years it has been a United Methodist church, a non-denominational Christian congregation and, now, something called the Spirit of Truth Church.

I may not darken the steps of many churches these days unless I’m attending a wedding or a funeral. But I don’t make a point of kicking little country churches when they’re down, either. That’s why I’m not going to show you the reason I stopped to photograph this church once again this past Saturday.

As I came around the bend in the road I saw that the entire foyer of the church, an addition to the original structure that also supports the church’s steeple, had literally come loose from the original structure and was leaning perilously to the right. Yellow tape like the police use to mark off crime scenes stretched around the whole front end of the church.

I don’t know whether the structure came off its foundation, was attacked by termites or whether some drunk driver, unable to navigate the curve in the road, merely plowed into the front of the church and knocked it over. Whatever the case, I suspect that the little congregation of the Spirit of Truth Church will be coming and going through the kitchen door for a while.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tickling the Ivories

Tickling the Ivories, 2011

"A handful of keys

And a song to sing,

How could you ask for more?

Fats Waller, “Handful of Keys”

One of my great regrets is not having learned to play the piano well. I come from a family of musically inclined people. Music’s in my blood. My parents met singing. Either of them could sit at a piano and play or sing most anything by ear or from sheet music. The local newspaper once called them “songbirds.”

My condition isn’t for lack of love of music. I’m pretty sure music touches me more and more deeply than any other medium of communication. Live music performed competently by people who love what they’re doing is downright rhapsodic.

And my condition isn’t for lack of trying at times. But then maybe the “at times” part is the issue. I took piano lessons briefly as a child. But that was it for years. When my wife and I were first married I discovered that a local university music department had a community music school. If you had an interest in a musical instrument and they had a senior student willing to teach you, you were on for a modest charge. Every Tuesday for a year or two I reported to one of the department’s basement practice rooms after work for an hour of instruction.

Picking the piano up as an adult has its challenges. For one, I didn’t have a piano when I started taking lessons again. I solved that by getting permission from the church next to my office to let me use one of their old pianos to practice on during my lunch hour.

By far the biggest struggle was reading music. It’s not that I can’t read it. It just never became second nature with me. Maybe there’s a missing link in my eye-hand coordination.

It doesn’t help that I did pick up my parent’s ear for hearing music. I can sit down at the keyboard and pick out most any song by ear. But put a piece of music in front of me and it’s like reading hieroglyphics. When my teacher realized I was playing Bach by ear from memory, she quickly moved me into unfamiliar material from Bartok and Scriabin so that I’d have to learn to read the notes.

It also doesn’t help that I have stubby fingers that curve this way and that rather than pointing straight out like they’re supposed to. Good pianists tend to have long fingers. Mine don’t span a single octave without causing a lot of strain.

I’ve always blamed my lack of piano mastery on my fingers, knowing full well that this was a lame excuse. And if I didn’t already know it was lame, it was handed up to me again yesterday when I watched the film They Came to Play again.

If you’re a lover of piano music, you might enjoy the film’s trailer, here. They Came to Play chronicles the experience of a dozen or so people who competed in the 2007 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Talented Amateurs. (“Talented amateurs” means they were over the age of thirty-five and have never been professionally represented.) Every one of the people in this film is extremely talented from both a technical and expression standpoint. The music is gorgeous.

And I’m ashamed to say that at least one or two of the people who made it to the semi-finals have short stubby fingers like mine. One even played the same Chopin prelude that was my showpiece back when I was taking lessons, so well that it was like just another rap across my knotty little knuckles.

So I guess I have no excuse but to get back to practicing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sad End of the York Spit

The York Spit, 2003

In December of 2009 I wrote about the plight of one of my favorite local working boats, the York Spit.

I’d learned that she’d been built in the 1930s to guard the owner’s family’s shellfish beds at the mouth of the York River against poachers. I should explain that some shellfish beds in the lower Chesapeake Bay are still owned and harvested by descendants of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century English settlers who received royal grants to these shellfish beds from the King of England. They don’t take kindly to poachers. In its early days the York Spit had a machine gun mounted on her bow to discourage (or sink) poachers.

I won’t bore you with the whole back story. You can read it here.

When we last left her, the York Spit was up on blocks and covered by a tarp in the backyard of a photographer friend named Betty. One of her friends was trying to find grant money to restore York Spit.

Fast forward to 2011.

Two days ago another photographer friend, Cathy, called me. She’d come across my original blog post about York Spit and wanted to know about the boat’s current condition. It seems Cathy had once been married into the family that owned York Spit. She’d sailed on York Spit many times around local waters and across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where she made this photograph of her at Cobb Island.

I referred her to Betty, whose sad note of response was as follows:

“The people at the dog park bordering my property complained about it and the city declared it solid waste and had to be removed. So it was taken to the Virginia Beach landfill last August.”

Thus ends the story of a great old working boat. Just another bunch of rotting timbers in a landfill.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Heights

An Eiffel Tower View, 2006 (click to enlarge)

I’m not big on heights. I don’t do well on tall ladders. I don’t climb tall mountains or rappel down their sides. I’ve been to the top of North America’s tallest buildings. But I’m not terribly comfortable in buildings of, say, thirty stories or higher unless they look like they have substantial bases.

The Empire State Building is okay. I find the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, on the other hand, to be creepy because of the way the elevator shafts extend outside the walls of the building as they reach the top.

I once stayed in a swank high-rise hotel in Toronto that had not only a small footprint at street level, but also what I thought were extremely thin reinforced concrete floors and brick veneer walls. I’m not an engineer, and this building might have been quite sturdy. But I wasn’t convinced and didn’t sleep well that night.

It never occurred to me when I first went to Paris that I’d have any qualms about going up in the Eiffel Tower. I mean, how could you go to Paris and not go up in the Eiffel Tower?

The Eiffel Tower rises just over 900 feet above the ground. That translates into roughly a ninety-story building. If the height doesn’t get you, the fact that the first series of elevators travel diagonally instead of straight up and down might give you pause.

An Eiffel Tower Leg, 2006

The first time we were there I found myself very uneasy on even the first observation deck, which is roughly nineteen stories above the ground. The deck itself is steady and wide. But I still found it very difficult to get close to the outer edge.

Never the daredevil, I nonetheless agreed to ascend to the second observation deck, which is at the roughly thirty-eighth floor level. The deck is smaller, but at least the first thing you see when you look over the edge is the lower observation deck, which extends out like a skirt underneath.

[Yes, I’m aware that someone who has a problem with heights should never look down. But doesn’t having this phobia pretty much ensure that you’re going to do just that?]

All the Cars. All the People, 2006

Anyway, my presence here today affirms that I survived that trip to the Eiffel Tower and two more several years later. (I never did go to the third and uppermost observation deck.)

As views go, the Eiffel Tower’s a pretty impressive one. It helps that central Paris is a low-rise city. You don’t have to get very high to enjoy a terrific view. I’m told some Parisians prefer the view from the top of the Montparnasse office building observation deck because it includes the Eiffel Tower. I’ll just have to take their word for it. For now, I’ll be keeping my feet on the ground as much as possible.

Casting a Shadow, 2006