Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Snapshots from Paris and elsewhere …

My wandering years

Clark, Pampanga

   Tourist boat on the River Seine

MANY YEARS back, during my wandering years in Paris away from family and friends, I somehow became profoundly fascinated by the intriguing blend of insouciance and the less conventional lifestyle of some young people with whom I used to hang around with and later became friends.

They usually remained in a fairly-restricted group, mostly living in frugality, which perfectly suited my narrow resources at that time, but with shared intense joie de vivre in their individual pursuits mostly in beaux-arts and belles-lettres.

As a young student of the French language and culture in La Sorbonne, it was easy meeting some of these eccentric and exciting people coming from four corners of the world with whom I found myself spending endless hours in smoky bistros and cafés and bars drinking the best wines our little pockets could afford - singing, laughing, and most of the time, earnestly provoking each one’s idea on what and how to change the world and make it a better place where one can live, love and express freely.

We would be doing that until the wee hours or even until way past the break of day. Coming from a country ruled by the dictator, Marcos and his equally notorious wife Imelda, around that time frame, I was therefore very often right at the heart of fiery socio-political rhetoric.

In rare moments that I could free myself all alone, I would take great pleasure in my passion for photography. I would stuff my backpack with my old SLR camera and few rolls of Kodachrome films, a couple of lenses, then would go by car, trains, bikes, or even hitchhike to explore the rustic villages of the ancient continent as well as the vibrant cosmopolitan cities that have resisted unbridled metamorphosis, thereby preserving each one’s bucolic charm. I tried to capture and freeze some of those splendid moments as much as I could, having in mind to share them later to my family and friends.

Here are some of those snapshots with fragments of my half-forgotten fond memories. Some of the details may have been lost with the passing days, but the sensation has remained intact just like in a young man’s discovery of the secret wonders of the world.


AMSTERDAM, 1996: The city of crisscrossing canals. I don’t remember how I was able to take this picture on that very early Sunday morning when the entire city was still in deep slumber with the hangover of the previous night’s excesses of Heineken (and around 350 locally brewed beer including those from the neighboring Germany and Belgium), most likely appreciated with friends puffing the tolerated marijuana. 

Yes, genuine cannabis, with its thick rich herbaceous scent wafting out of the “cafes” along the narrow streets and exciting the nostrils of “innocent passersby”.

Even the boat houses anchored along the banks of the mirror-like canals were still fast asleep.

BRUSSELS, 1998: The cloudless blue sky was a perfect backdrop of the brightly colored symmetrical houses fencing the main square of the Belgian capital.

The restaurants and bars serve the city’s pride: its wide variety of cold beers and mussel dishes. I love the ones cooked in white wine and seasoned with Dijon mustard garnished with provençal herbs and eaten with lots of potato fries.

Ever since, I’ve never stopped going to the specialty restaurants of Léon de Bruxelles that serve the same dishes in Paris. By the way, Brussel, just like Geneva, Montreal, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Morocco, etc, is a place outside France wherein French is the official language or one of the major ones. 
   The River Seine in Paris

PARIS, 1988: Merchant barges and tourist boats glide up and down the navigable River Seine on a bright summer day. In French, the Seine is not a river -- it’s a “fleuve” because it jets directly out to an open sea or ocean, unlike a river that joins another river.

It comes from the Latin word fluvi for river. That’s actually where the English word “fluvial” e.g., fluvial parade, interfluvial procession, etc., all come from.

The name of the oldest stone bridge of Paris in the photo is “Le Pont Neuf”, which is “The New Bridge” in English, just the way it was called when it was constructed in the 16th century! The island embraced by the two branching arms of the fleuve is called “Île de la Cité”, referring mostly to the Gallo-Roman city of Lutécia, the name of Paris given by the Romans.


ALSACE, 1992: This is one of the very few shots with me in the picture, which was taken one early summer day in the main street of either Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé, two neighboring small wine producing villages, specializing in white wines, along the Route des vins d’Alsace.

The region is renowned for its excellent bottles of Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Gewürztraminer, which is my favorite for its spicy, fruity and strong aromas on the nose. The German word gewürzt means “spiced, flavored, or seasoned”.

My officemate who teaches German language at the Goethe-Institut Manila still always laughs on how I twist my tongue every time I ask a sommelier for a bottle of Gewürztraminer (ideally pronounced as “guh-VOORTS-truh-MEE-nur”).

I can’t forget the affable waiter in a Strasbourg restaurant who first recommended it to me with my curry flavored mussel dish – “Oui, monsieur, the wine is dauntingly hard to pronounce, but it so easy and sweet in the palate.” I couldn’t agree less.

The region of Alsace is likewise the home to some of the most delicious sparkling wines that perfectly compliment their sausages, the Munster cheese and the heavenly and nourishing sauerkraut.

Lying between France and Germany, Alsace once belonged to Germany, later annexed to France , then, back to Germany and finally annexed to France (or, the other way around at the beginning), during the long turbulent period in the French-German neighborhood. Ever since, the relationship has perfectly aged just like the best wines of the region and resulted to one of the most solid partnership of two civilized nations.

In the coming MWB issues, I intend to share more photos of my personal off the beaten path favorites, - again some snapshots but focusing on a central theme - the place where I used to live in the Parisian suburb in the idyllic lake town of Enghien-les-Bains.

(ABOUT THE WRITER: Anton Prima finished elementary, high school and undergraduate studies in Daet, although he was born in Iriga City. Nevertheless, he is a Mambulaoan by heart who used to live in Calogcog, Jose Panganiban, during his younger days and was a neighbor of Shirley Catimbang and classmate of Arnulfo Arenal, Perla Adea, Edna Espana and Nellie Tuliao, among others. He is helping two foster sons in Calogcog get an education. A widower, he lives in Angeles, Pampanga, with a 30-year-old daughter and communicates with a married 32-year-old son who is in the US with family. Right now, he works for Clark-based Standard & Poor’s (S&P Capital IQ in Manila) at the investment research – European market. He is fluent in French and teaches the language at Alliance Française de Manille in Bel-Air, Makati. A photography hobbyist who dabbles in travel writing, Anton saw MWBuzz’s website and took interest in what has been going on in his boyhood town of Mambulao. He will be MWBuzz’s regular columnist. - Editor)

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