For a Fleeting Moment... From Spain to Venice...

Well, I am back. I was not very far away... depending where you are though. I was spending most of my time in the hospital waiting rooms and once I got “home” in the evening, I never felt up to writing.

In the hospital I go to, the waiting rooms are open spaces. So you get to see many people walking back and forth to their doctor’s appointment.

Total strangers. People I just look at while they are walking by, never to be seen again.

And then it hit me last night.

Strangers enter my life for a fleeting moment all the time while I walk aimlessly around cities but some of them will never leave me.

I do not know those people. I do not talk to them and yet I suddenly realize that I have spent unforgettable instants with them. So unforgettable that I’m still thinking about them months and sometimes years later.

This happens to me quite often.

I am a photographer. Images are part of my life either fixed on a film or protected into the recesses of my mind. Most of them will become memories.

There are a few pictures though I can turn to whenever I feel like it. Vivid images of a very strong feeling I experienced at one time... for a fleeting moment indeed. Longing somehow to freeze my emotions and to go back to experiencing the same sensation I felt at the time.

Very often those pictures send me back deep into my past, helping me to assess it and to realize my life turned out much easier and happier than I thought it would at the time.

A few photographs mirror aching yearnings of what could be and will never happen because that’s life. No bitterness there though. Somehow I witnessed something that will bring me joy and hope whenever life gets rougher than it should. Those pictures turn into a very sweet memory indeed because they are merely fragments of reverie.

Barcelona -- One late afternoon in the city that reaches down to the sea.

There had been a huge storm but the sun came out and even though it was early November, there were many people on the sandy beach.

This beautiful girl watching intently the waves drew my attention for the one and only reason that she did not look lonely even though she was alone. She looked thoroughly happy to be on her own just the way I feel while I spend days on my own by the sea in my beloved Brittany. We were kin.

I felt such an affinity with her that several months later I wrote a post about her and my love of being on my own.

Same afternoon in Barcelona. This child sent me back to times I thought long forgotten... so deeply buried below strata of thousands of memories.

I was instantly sent back to some thirty years ago. On beaches in Southern France and Brittany. Watching my own Swee’Pea while he was  grabbing handfuls of sand and sea water as if they were a treasure to keep forever only to have them flow away from his hands. Never discouraged. So happy as if fighting off natural laws was the most exciting thing in the world.

Madrid -- I met the “girl in a blue dress” in the Royal Botanical Garden. I had spent long hours there, enjoying lush vegetation and peace and quiet when this girl came up. She was very young and all dressed up like a doll even though it was early afternoon. A couple of older girls and a photographer were fussing around her. She looked quite lonely though and kind of sad and yet excited to be wearing what probably was all her finery.

I overheard that she was from Cuba, so far away from her family and country.
She was celebrating her sixteenth birthday by having pictures taken to send to her close relations. Turning sixteen is obviously an important step in a young woman’s life in Cuba.

Sixteen. What was I doing when I was sixteen? And then I realized that even if I was offered the chance to go back in time, I’d refuse to do it. I’d refuse to be sixteen again. What? Going through the pains of growing up again? In order to feel young and pretty again? You’ve got to be kidding. I certainly didn’t feel up to being this young again. This thought really surprised me though. Was I really this happy to be sixtyish after all? Yes, I certainly was. Funny how the “girl in the blue dress” had such a sobering effect on me!  No wonder I never forgot her.

The next day, I went back to the Botẚnico. I needed to rest. I had brought a book with me and I was on my way to the secluded place I had discovered the day before. On my way, I noticed this old man on a bench.

What really attracted my attention was the fact that he was surrounded by extraordinary bushes and flowers, blazing colors and intense beauty. And yet, there he was, very lonely indeed and looking intently at the emptiest spot of the area. Sad looking shrubbery. Arid and parched soil.

I felt like going to talk to him but sometimes loneliness is so severe that it is hard to intrude. I took several pictures of him, one of them I used in one post where I tried to explain how lucky we all were to be alive.

He did not seem to be very happy to be old but alive. I’ll never know his story. It probably wasn’t very cheerful after all.

All I felt though was that I was not to end up like him, turning my back to beauty only to stare into emptiness. Life is never easy and believe me, mine has never been smooth. This is the reason why I try to grab every second of calm and beauty around me. This is the reason why I still climb every mountain without tumbling down the abyss. Lucky happy me!

And now Venice -- January 2012

After our son’s departure, Popeye decided to move from our hotel. Hotels were quite empty by then and it was very easy to find a beautiful room in one of those outstanding ancient palaces turned into hotels...

We were given a tour of the hotel since most rooms were empty. It was lovely traveling through time because this “palace” had been turned into a real Venetian museum. And we finally chose a room above a small canal because it was very close to the room Vivaldi lived in for many years. Not that we believe in ghosts. But it was nice.

I fell in love with the view from our bedroom. Our previous room was right by the Rialto Bridge. This one was facing real Venetian life. Everyday life I mean. There were no tourists there. No gondolas either. Very small bridges. Household linen trying to dry all along the front of the buildings under a steady drizzle. The Venice where I would love to live. The real Venice.

And then it happened.

While we were unpacking, I was drawn back to one of the windows. And there it was... my dream place. An open window. One lighted room - a study where a man was writing at his desk. A very quiet and private moment I was shamelessly intruding on.

I was in a hotel room -- a mere passer-by in Venice. A tourist when I was longing to belong to this magical city. I suddenly was craving to be there, at this man’s desk, in this apartment over the canal. I wanted to be there so bad that whenever I’m thinking about Venice and I close my eyes, this is the first image my brain conjures...

Like I said before - an aching yearning of what could have been and will never happen.

I am so fortunate though to journey on from my reveries back to my real life while enjoying both so much.

Dreamland and reality. Worth writing about even far away from Venice. Don’t you think so?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My son never was an astrologer. He is an astronomer, thank you.

I imagine you do remember December 21, 2012.

Who doesn’t? Well, of course, it was the day Winter officially started in the Northern Hemisphere. It also was the day Summer started in the Southern Hemisphere!

For many, many people, it was a dreaded day all over the world. Yes. Now you remember! The so-called Mayan predicted end of the world... I won’t start again on one of the biggest hoaxes we lived through last year.

It could have been very funny but so many people were so afraid and so sure that the end of the world had come that it was pitiful.

I know it was getting on my nerves a lot because this is all you heard or read about for quite a long time... and not only in France nor Belgium.

My sister lives in Southern France and she called me early December... It must be said in her defense that people were trying to hide in a village not very far from where she lives, a place that was supposed to be protected from all evil. Well, stranger things have happened in France, you know!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that she really believed that the end of the world was getting close. But I have to admit that I cringed when she asked me this question.

“Your son is an astronomer. He’s working for NASA. Was he told something specific about December 21?”

One long sigh.

“I guess he wouldn’t be able to say anything to anyone, would he?”

Well, my dear sister, how wrong you were!

Because actually, my son, Jean-Christophe aka Swee’Pea had said quite a few things about the ‘2012’ scare. And where? On TV! Wow.

Now you are hooked, aren’t you? 

I was when I heard the quite hilarious story as told by my beloved and only son, the astrologer. Oops, I did mean the astronomer! Just kidding! (So many people do make this mistake though!)

Swee’Pea’s job with NASA involved going to Chile where he’d spend a few nights at La Silla Observatory from time to time, analyzing directly data from far-away galaxies. Hard to work all night long... I know! But if you think that he was observing them from space telescopes below starry skies, you are wrong. His observing and analyzing were done on computers down below in windowless rooms!

Every time he’d go to Chile, he’d spend a couple of days traveling around though. Tit for tat!

Swee’Pea loves T-shirts. He buys them all over the world... (Being an astronomer can be fun too.)

Which brings me back to 2012 and to the end of the world. Did you think I had forgotten all about December 21?

You see, it was a beautiful sunny day in California. Early October I think it was... but so sunny outside that he went to work wearing a T-shirt. Not just any kind of T-shirt though. A T-shirt he had bought a few months before in Chile. A kind of worn-out T-shirt still sporting a Chilean flag.

There he was, going to work when a beautiful young woman came up to him...

“You are Chilean, aren’t you?” His Spanish was good enough to understand this kind of question... but he then switched rapidly to English and told the girl about being French and working at La Silla from time to time, et cætera, et cætera...

Well, the beautiful girl was a TV reporter from Chile, hoping to find a genuine Chilean astronomer on campus, ready to expound the scientific issues concerning the so-called Mayan calendar and the end of the world!

Swee’Pea knew quite a few genuine Chilean astrophysicists, all of them living and working in Chile though. He gave their names and whereabouts to the girl who was overjoyed, of course! Imagine, being able to get in touch with Chilean astronomers, just like that - by meeting a nice French guy at Caltech!

You’d think that she could have done some research beforehand. But anyway she had a meeting planned with a very important NASA astronomer at Caltech, a few minutes later... (Someone who would be wearing a suit and a tie by the way!)

I imagine she did not want to be rude and dismissive after getting so much help so she asked our son a few questions about the ‘end of the world’ which he answered very gracefully. Have I mentioned that the reporter was very pretty? I think I did.

Swee’Pea enjoyed being asked questions and being filmed of course... but he forgot all about it very quickly. He did not even mentioned it when we skyped a couple of days later!

In December, his friend Alessandro (whom he’s known for a very long time - ever since they both were working on their PhD in Paris) went to Chile to get some data on another project. Alessandro is an Italian astronomer working for NASA too. (I think. Well, I know he’s Italian, that’s for sure.)

One morning, Alessandro comes up quite early from the depths of the Observatory. It’s breakfast time. He’s very, very tired and longs to go to bed but the TV is on and the show is about Chilean astrophysicists he knows very well. And guess what they are talking about?

And all of a sudden, there he is! Swee’Pea! Swee’Pea's on TV...

And Swee’Pea's talking about a possible danger astronomers are well aware of: asteroids in the remote future.

And Swee’Pea's explaining that what’s going on about the Mayan calendar is nothing else but an urban legend and that people get a kick out of being scared... It probably keeps them from thinking about more serious and very authentic problems.

Well, Alessandro is truly flabbergasted. Swee’Pea never mentioned to him nor to his other friends in Pasadena meeting the Chilean TV crew on campus, not once. You see, he never thought he’d make it in the documentary when some very distinguished Chilean astronomers were supposed to be interviewed.

And what about the French touch (wearing a Chilean T-shirt), Swee’Pea?

By then our son had flown back to France, getting ready and waiting for his work permit to come through for his next assignment.

We were together when he heard the news from Alessandro who also sent the link to the program! We did have a lot of fun watching it on my computer... Very interesting by the way. I downloaded it... This, my friends, will be a classic!

And this is how I was able to tell my sister all about my son who never was an astrologer and therefore could not predict the end of the world... My son, the astronomer, was able to express a few scientific ideas about a very real urban legend.

In January 2013, humans are still alive for better or for worse depending on which part of the world they live in but the end of the world never happened after all.

One of these days, another story will spread and another one and another one because this is what people love to feed on - urban legends.

I do not care. My son is an astronomer, thank you.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*