I'm not sure where to begin, really. It really might have started seriously coming into fruitation a few years ago when I had this very realistic feeling dream where I was walking the streets of Paris with an old Leica, taking photos of the street life and the old architecture just like Eugene Atget did during the modernization of the city. I became very inspired by him while learning about the first photographers in a photography history class in college and knew I wanted to do the same thing one day. That want must have been really fermenting in my subconscious because I had that dream several more times - the exact same dream, but happening in different areas of the city. I had never been to this city before and someone once described Paris as "one of those cities that feels nostalgic even if you're visiting for the first time". I totally understand what that meant. I felt that in those reoccurring dreams and I actually really felt it as soon as I stepped foot out of our Uber from the airport and onto the cobblestone road when we arrived in front of our hotel. It felt good to be back even though I had never been before. If you've never been to this city but have seen a handful of amazing images, I'll say with 100% honesty that the images are not exaggerated in any way. That's exactly what it looks and feels like to be there in person, probably even better. A strange void I've had for over a decade had finally been filled.
I kept telling Adrian, my boyfriend of almost five years, that we are going to Paris together soon. It's a trip I've been wanting to take solo for a long time but I knew I'd love to have him with me to share it with. He is my best friend, after all. Oh and it also happened to be Valentine's Day too - not intentional, but I'll take it! We're not big "Valentine's Day people" because we do sweet things for each other everyday, but we're due for a nice romantic day together in the most romantic city in the world. As long as there's food involved, we were totally into it. This trip was also to see and support our friends, the Eagles of Death Metal as they returned to Paris to finally finish their set for the Bataclan survivors and victims' families.
I cannot believe how perfectly everything on this trip worked out. I won't say it was smooth, at least not all of it, but I can't imagine it turning out any better than it did. Planning something like this isn't exactly an afternoon stroll through the park. We managed to book through Turkish Airlines (they're AMAZING by the way) and fly into Istanbul then into Paris. Our friend who was coming with us to hang in Paris for a few days and attend the show with us met up with us in the airport on our way to Charles de Gaulle. As soon as I saw her walk over to our gate, I was like "Ahhhhhh! It's really happening!" 12 hours in the air, then another 3.5 back over to Paris...one would think that would be the most exhausting flight ever, but by the time we landed at Charles de Gaulle at almost midnight, local time, we were stupid-happy with excitement. We grabbed an Uber to take us into the city to our hotel and on the way, everything slowly became less industrial and modern-looking, and that old Parisian architecture I had been lusting after for the past ten years was slowly making its debut. As we got closer to the city, I kept seeing a swirl of light, atop something, the kind of light that lighthouses have. It kept disappearing behind the buildings, but with every turn of a corner, I kept seeing another glimpse of it...then a lot more of it, enough of it to realize that, HOLY SHIT, that's the Eiffel Tower. I was mystified, even by that little tease. My eyes silently welled up with tears. I didn't want our driver to know that because I'm certain that's my equivalent to someone sobbing over seeing the Hollywood sign for the first time. I would just roll my eyes at them. I couldn't believe we were finally here! In Paris!
The next morning, we did the "touristy" thing and walked around the city in the rain. The point of this trip for me was to WALK everywhere to actually experience it, no matter how cold and rainy, and this city of all places, I couldn't be more content to do so. I love walking around in new cities. As we were on our way to a place to eat, we spotted a ridiculously cute little boy about 3 or 4 wearing glasses, all bundled up in outerwear, walking behind his father carrying a bag of baguettes almost the same size as himself. I wanted to steal him. I have such an appreciation for European children by the way, as they all are taught actual MANNERS. American children, especially these days are, um, not. After our first meal in Paris, which was accidentally an American-themed bar (ugh, whoops), we walked toward the Arc de Triomphe, then over to Tour de Eiffel to see it in person finally. It's kind of fun to see the top of it peaking from behind the buildings and slowly emerge as you get closer to it. I couldn't stop looking at it. I kept asking Adrian, "Is this real?" in total disbelief we finally made it to Paris. Kind of cool that it also happened to be on the day of Saint Valentin.
After a short visit at the tower, we headed toward the first good wine and cheese bar we could find within walking distance. We do this all the time at home, but now it's time to do it in the city where they do it best. I could drink a nice clean Bordeaux everyday for the rest of my life, especially when paired with fresh cheeses.
After we left Caffe des Officiers, we walked toward the ferris wheel, Roue de Paris for an epic view of the city. By this time, the sun was setting and since it was raining all day, the sunset was awesome. The city was literally glowing. I was a little bummed I did get photos of the tower in that lighting, but it was cool to see the rest of it like that. This city really is the City of Light, in so many ways. Sheesh.
Once we got to the Roue de Paris, we got in and made our way to the top, slowly. Of course, I'm sort of afraid of open heights, so I start to get a little nervous, but then the view of the city was SO insanely beautiful, I felt like I died and went to photo heaven. See photos. That's all I can say.
Seeing the gorgeous city that high all lit up and sparkling with the sky looking like a water color painting reminded me of the Disney movie, Ratatouille and even Mary Poppins. It was a special “welcome to Paris” I felt.
SERIOUSLY?! My breath is only taken away when I have the wind knocked out of me, literally, but this view did the trick too.
After that, Adrian and I got ready at our other hotel room for our fancy pants Valentine's dinner. And yes, other hotel room, as we got ourselves a sexy place for the night! We went to L'Escargot Montorgueil where I decided would be the most opportune time to try snails. What better place, right? This restaurant was definitely old Paris; old red-painted interior, tiny spiral staircases that lead to the toilets downstairs or another level upstairs, and then of course, the prices on the menu – or lack of! Uh-oh, you know its expensive when you don't see prices, but at least you know its going to be worth it! Our dinner was probably the best dinner I've ever had, next to some really fancy stuff we had in Chicago last December. I love food, I'm definitely a wine-and-diner, but because of my insane schedule, I order delivery a lot or eat a bowl of cereal while I crank out editing late at night. Horrible, I know! So whenever I get to sit down and taste some amazing food, tastefully paired with a good wine, I feel like the million bucks I'm spending on it and it's totally worth it. After trying these snails for the first time, I'm definitely a snob about it.
Not only were they, like, THE BEST THING I'VE EVER EATEN, but I can now only eat them in Paris. We had them cooked in their shell, soaked in a butter sauce, and also risotto style. I'm a fiend for risotto, so there's that, plus deliciously paired with snails....holy shit. I can't even remember what my main course was, pretty sure it was fish - also amazing, but the snails definitely stole the show. I still dream of them at night. After our FANTASTIC dinner, we met up with our friends of the band, Sinner Sinners at a bar in Monmartre, around the corner from the Moulin Rouge. They're originally from Paris and were in town as well for the Eagles of Death Metal show, and their own shows too. Good peoples, it was definitely fun to see them across the pond for this fun trip.
After the bar, we got really tipsy and walked around by the Moulin Rouge, watching all the girls with wet hair get off work (hahaha!) and couldn't help but notice how similar the vibe felt to Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood at night. A little sleaze thrown into the mix never killed anyone, right?! We wandered into a sex shop down the block, because how can you not when you're in a Parisian red light district?! Then to a liquor store to buy another nice bottle of wine to take back to our hotel and guzzle down while we soaked in the gigantic tub in our bathroom. Oh Paris, I'm so in love with you!
Day 3, A Beautiful Day in the City
The next day, the rain subsided a little and the sun came out, so we got to see the city in different weather, which was nice. We grabbed some eclairs and just walked around the city again, ending up back at the Eiffel Tower to photograph it with epic clouds and a blue sky. Lighting is important! I'm glad I got a variety on our trip! We occasionally dropped into some bars and drank some delicious beer between stops. After one of the beer stops, we ended up at Pont des Arts aka the Love Lock Bridge. SO. MANY. LOCKS.
Adrian and I tossed around the idea of adding our own engraved padlock to the bridge, but decided against it. It's a sweet gesture, but it's not original, the tradition has been around since only 2008, and ultimately we didn't want to contribute to the degradation of the structure of the bridge. The some-million or so locks on the bridge weigh around 50 tons right now, with the city having to cut them off. We found it pointless, so instead we just took a kissing photo in front of it and then made our way across the street to the Louvre. We had no desire to stand in line for two hours to see Mona Lisa, but we did meander around it for awhile. It's such a beautiful building!
After that, we decided to meet up with Ashley for a night time boat tour on the Seine after dinner. We ended up meeting too late and missed the last tour so we decided to do it the next morning.
Day 4, Eagles of Death Metal return to Paris
The next morning, we did just that. Woke up early and caught the first tour on the Seine. It wasn't the one that took us all the way east, just took off by Pont des Arts and toward downtown, then made a u-turn. That was the part of the city we've already seen, we were wanting to go more east, but since toward the end of the tour we were literally falling asleep on the boat, we decided to just go find croissants and coffee and wake the hell up.
Oh Ashley, I just adore you....
We wandered into a fancy place near the Notre Dame Cathedral for lunch and while we were seated, we couldn't help but notice our friend Jesse Hughes on the TV, being interviewed about the Eagles of Death Metals' return to Paris to perform for the victims and their families of the November 13th attacks later that evening. We were tickled to see him on the tele in that restaurant while eating lunch. What a great time to be in Paris. I was SO happy to be there, even more so knowing that I would be later shooting that show that evening.
After eating, we walked over to the Notre Dame. It's so much prettier than I thought. I won't lie, I'm not a huge tourist trap person. I don't care much for a lot of crowded hot spots, but Europe is a different story. This place is HISTORY. Real history, not built in the 1950's...more like, established in the 3rd century BC. The city withstood the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the bad ass Joan of Arc, the repugnant King Louis XVI, and famously, the Bubonic-freaking-Plague. It's safe to say this city has seen some shit. Respect. OH and did you know that the person photograph taken of a person was taken on the streets of Paris, by Louis Daguerre? There's that too.
I just stared at the architecture, entranced by all the DETAIL. No wonder it took two centuries to build – it's one of the greatest pieces of art that still stands. After the Notre Dame, we hopped into an Uber and drove to Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise for some good old 18th century graveyard photography. Ashley tried to find Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde's tombs, but we ended up just quietly strolling throgh the cemetery, photographing it, and just enjoying it for it's own unique beauty. I admired it a lot, as I've never been to a cemetery like it before. I've always wanted to go to the ones in New Orleans, which looks similar to this, but this one was amazing in it's own right. It's insane how many graves are stacked so close to together and how many people are buried in such a tight, finite space. I loved this peaceful place amongst the bustling city, which you could still hear moving along outside the cemetery walls; the European sirens echoing a few blocks away, motorbikes buzzing down the cobblestone roads, a few honks here and there...
After the cemetery, we went back to our hotel and got ready for the Eagles of Death Metal show at L'Olympia Bruno Coquatrix. When we showed up, we had expected security to be SUPER tight and crazy, but were really shocked that they were so lax, despite the number of security they had inside and out of this venue. This would be my first show I'd be shooting internationally, so I was really hoping there wouldn't be a situation where they told me my name isn't on the list, calling my editor internationally, and me having to convince them it is – in French, no less. Je pratique mon Francais. Luckily, all I had to do was find out where I had to go pick up the tickets and photo pass for myself, which ended up being around the block and down the street to a different address. It was a bit of a walk, and I started to wonder if they were just messing with me because I couldn't find the place and began to think someone made a mistake or something, so after asking a few French Green Beret gentlemen, who were totally nice about it by the way, I ended up finding the building where I pick up my media passes, which happened to be the artist registration office. Not uncommon, but uncommon for it to be that far from the venue. So I walk back and enter the smoke-filled venue (Ugh, Europe, this is where we don't hit it off), make my way to the floor and try to find a good spot to shoot. To my dismay, there was no photo pit for photographers, and I'm short, so this is the part of the job that isn't very glamourous. I decided to grab a balcony seat up front and that ended up being the best decision.
To be at this show was VERY special. It's partially the reason we planned a trip to Paris. We were finally here! At the show! The one where the survivors and the victims' families of the attacks in November were. It was very surreal to be there when you realize how very REAL that was, if that makes sense. To my left, someone with heavy bandages around their shoulder, proudly wearing an EODM shirt. To my right, someone in a wheelchair, also wearing their favorite EODM shirt, completely ecstatic to be there. In front of me, someone in crutches, waving one of them in the air, hollering and cheering. I had SO many mixed emotions. I had a heavy heart, yet a full one. So happy to see my friends play their show on their stage, to finish it for this crowd and their families. It was definitely my favorite Eagles of death Metal show I've ever attended and I hold it VERY close to my heart and always will.
Josh flew out for this show, even though he and Brody had their third child just three days prior to the show. The band played their classics, and then lead the entire house to an 89-second of silence for the fallen victims, including one of their own, Merch Manager, Nick Alexander. In the middle of the set, Jesse got angry with one of his guitars continuously falling out of tune so he did what any artist does with faulty tools: SMASH TO THE FLOOR! For their encore, Jesse came out with a French flag-painted guitar and held it up high right before they played their amazing cover of Brown Sugar. Then of course, to end the evening, they played the most epic version of Speaking in Tongues I've ever seen. During the dueling solos between Jesse and Dave, Jesse ran off stage and appeared behind everyone on the balcony. AWESOME! What a great show, I'm not only grateful to have been granted permission to shoot it, but to just be in the same room with the attending survivors who didn't lose their love and spirit was special.
After the show, we went backstage to say hi to our buddies and surprise them that we actually came all the way to Paris to see them. Eric, Dave, Eden, and Jesse were STOKED to see us. Jesse invited us to his hotel room for an after-after party, but we never made it for whatever reason I can't recall. It was a fun little reunion. I don't remember much after that. I think we were at a bar around the corner with the Sinners til 4am or so. We had a plane to Barcelona to catch in the next few hours.
Day 5, Paris to Barcelona
The next morning, we somehow, some way, made it to ORLY on time for our flight to SPAIN! I felt weird leaving Paris, because I wasn't “done” with it yet, but knowing we were flying back in a few days made it easier to leave town for a bit. I was also excited to experience Barcelona, but a little bummed to realize that it's not too different from southern CA, where I was born and raised. My main agenda in Barcelona was more so just to EAT. The food in Barcelona was SPECTACULAR. I mean, tomato bread and Temparnillo. The cooked mussels in tomato sauce, the tapas...holy shit. I especially loved the small cans of Estrella Damm at liquor stores for 1€ that I drank while walking the streets and photographing the store-fronts and window displays. I kind of want to do a photo book of all European window front displays. We didn't have any paella though. Thats where we messed up. However, we were planning on visiting Valencia, and were told that's the place to have paella, but incidentally, we never made it to Valencia. We stayed at the Market Hotel which is a chic and modern hotel with a restaurant inside. Great staff, the rooms were nice, and the tiramisu was even better.
Day 7, Barcelona to Majorica to Paris
After spending two days in Barcelona, we decided since it didn't feel too different from Southern CA, it was time to leave and go back to Paris for a few more days, this time, just Adrian and I. We still had things to do there, sites and photos I knew I wasn't going to leave without. When we arrived back in Paris, we got to our hotel and it was TOTALLY one of those weird situations where you're standing outside of the place thinking, “This is not what the pictures looked like...” The elevator was the size of a small coat closet, meaning it only fits like, TWO people standing face to face. Then we saw the room and agreed it was SO not what the photos looked like. The room was the size of a small attic in height, and a walk-in-closet in width. You couldn't even stand up entirely in it, and I'm only 5'2”! In the voice of Zoolander, “What is this?! A hotel room for ANTS?!” SUPER european, which we'd be down with if we were 20-somethings backpacking on an itty-bitty budget, but we're not. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Adrian was also trying to propose on this trip and you know it won't go well with a hotel room of that caliber. At least the view was cute and made me feel like we were in the movie Ratatouille. (see photo of rooftop) The bed was right up against the window (of course it was) and I opened it and crawled out onto the ledge to snap this photo, as well as try to receive better cell service. It was such a great shot, even the post-rain lighting was beautiful. It ended up being one of my favorite images from the trip and it was taken with an iPhone!
I was almost ready to consider roughing it for one night there because you have to at least have one nightmare story about a hotel while traveling internationally, however, I decided we already had one in Barcelona. We could hear someone in the room next to ours snoring so loud, it sounded like it was coming from our bathroom. It was so abnormally loud, you could even hear it over the TV and our headphones. We were like, “This isn't sexy, time to move.” I decided that wasn't going to do at all and had us change rooms. I'm sure I looked like an American asshole, but the concierge at the front desk were totally cool about it. Not very “nightmarish” but it still sucked. Ultimately, what really did it for me in this shoebox was the lack of wifi – the lack of internet and reception that would help us immediately book another hotel room so we didn't have to sleep in a shoebox on the creaky fifth floor! We ended up booking a room for the duration of our stay bak at the hotel we stayed in for Valentine's Day. Score! That's more like it. Whatever, it was pretty cheap except for the last day. We were surprised at how inexpensive Paris was. We did still spend a ton, but we just did better, classier things than we we thought we were going to, including sleep in absolute comfort.
Day 8, A Romantic Gloomy Afternoon in Montmartre
The next morning we hopped on the Metro to Montmartre, the hip and “classic” Paris. I think the best time to see this part of Paris in probably in the spring, as based on the photos I saw, it was COVERED in blossoms. It was still pretty, and I felt something there that I didn't get in other parts of the city. It felt more “olde towne”. There, I discovered the staircases I had seen in photos, you know, the ones going several metres up and downhill. I totally climbed them instead of taking the lift up the hill. As we walked through the neighborhoods, we saw artists and painters in the street with their easels setup and their paintings on display for sale. Here's the Paris I hadn't seen yet! Bakeries with bread loafs on display in the window, little brasseries and bars with vines covering the front, every building front painted differently and uniquely. We even saw a Starbucks amidst all the historic architecture, so naturally I had to load up on caffeine. That was seriously my favorite Starbucks ever. It felt more like a cafe than a chain store. Europeans just do it better. Espresso is their thing, after all.
After having a dinner in the neighborhood, I began to admire the twilight sky, all deep blue and purple and how it greatly contrasted with the warm, tungsten glow coming from the shops and cafes and I became overwhelmed and immediately inspired to start a collection of Paris at twilight. I'm obsessed with color, especially those that pop against each other to make bold, eye-catching images. I sat in the window, right next to the all the seats outside on the sidewalk, realizing this is what I came back to Paris for, even if I only get one more day to do it.
Day 9, A Perfect Idea and the Empire of the Dead
That morning we were preparing for our last day in Paris, starting with a tour of the Catacombs. I have been wanting to do this for years. I couldn't wait and could hardly even sleep. I was Googling as much as I could to try and see what the lighting was actually like, how many steps it took to climb down and up again, and how narrow it was since I do get claustrophobic occasionally. -Not at all that narrow, as it turns out. Not narrow like the hallways in our hotel as previously mentioned!
On my first trip to Paris, France, I knew I wasn’t going to leave without visiting the curiously fascinating underground cemetery beneath the heart of Paris. It sounds eerie, it sounds creepy, and probably even morbid to most. Upon learning about the Catacombs earlier in life,
I became extremely intrigued about how such a labyrinth of bones belonging to 6 or 7 million souls found its place beneath such a romantic city like Paris. 20 metres below the Parisian streets lies this fascinating underground cemetery. We bought our tickets online a few days before and when we arrived, the usher at the front escorted us inside, totally bailing on the line completely and brought us to the spiral staircase where we made our descent below. It was just my fiance and I, slowly making our way down the stairs, stopping for a few seconds here and there because we got dizzy. It was 103 steps down, which is equivalent to five stories. When we finally made it to the bottom, cell phones completely out of service, we walked the long path into infamous cemetery. Walls, after walls. More walls, some puddles, some random caged doorway with nothing but darkness on the other side, or at least that’s what I HOPED was on the other side. It was rather dark down there, and it smelled exactly how I thought; rather musty and mildewy. I loved it. I also notice these random walk ways and corridors closed off to the public. I was walking really fast towards the entrance of the cemetery, kind of like a child would approach the entrance to Disneyland on their first day.
. My skin immediately began to crawl and my heart began to pound. I’ve been waiting a long time to finally see this in person. The evening before, I was sitting in our hotel in bed, researching everything I could about the Catacombs and what to expect, including watching the movie, “As Above, So Below”. Before then, I never knew what “Cataphiles” were, but upon learning about this, they’re people who illegally explore the Mines of Paris, including the Catacombs, and trespass through the secret entrances throughout the city and occasionally hold weird parties (awesome). Some of them even allegedly have keys. In 2004, the police found a full on movie theatre somewhere down there, complete with seating, a full bar, and a restaurant but still have no idea who runs it or where its power comes from.
I was under the impression that the tour guide was strict about sticking with the group, but there was no real “group” as we walked through this maze. It was pretty clear where to stay on the beaten path, and where not to wonder off — as where to wonder off was PITCH BLACK and you’d have to be crazy and ballsy to think you’d know where you were going. I also read stories about people who’ve gotten so totally lost down there without anyway to find their way out or call for help as flashlight batteries die, and there is absolutely zero cell phone service down there. I kept trying to imagine being one of those few unfortunate souls who had to die down there, completely alone and completely in the dark surrounded by millions of human bones. It’s already a pretty crappy way to die, slowly, but to be scared shitless in absolute darkness and feel so helpless? How long until they went crazy? Or did they dehydrate and starve first? At what point did they come to conclusion that this was it for them? As interesting as this place is, I definitely had no desire to be a punk that day.
The Catacombs are what used to be the galleries of the former quarries whose stone was used to build the city, like the Notre Dame Cathedral and such. The Catacombs were built to house the remains of the overflowing cemeteries during the city’s expansion, as well as keeping the remains of what were most likely all victims of the Black Plague out of the ground and instead, underneath it for heath reasons. I walked through this graveyard macabre, I began to see the romantic side of it: the way the bones were strategically placed and stacked, forming walls if you will. They weren’t just tossed into a pile. Thought and design obviously went into this. You don’t just accidentally keep millions of bones organized neatly underground. I wondered, how many of these people were male? Female? Mothers? Fathers? They had interests, personality, flaws, strengths, feelings, etc. They used to speak, laugh, cry, walk, run, build, love. Some of them probably good people, some of them probably not so good, but they were all loved by at least someone and loved others. 6-7 million people lay to rest here. RIGHT HERE. I also wondered about the holes in some of the skulls. Was that how they died, or did that happen to the bones over time? Also makes you realize, even the midst of our crazy lives today that
we are all mortal. It took about two years to transfer all the bones from the Cimetière des Innocents graveyard, then another 27 from other Parisian cemeteries. Today, it is officially apart of the Carnavalet — History of Paris Museum.
Like any graveyard or cemetery you visit, it’s rude and disrespectful to tag or vandalize a tombstone, so when I saw tagging on some of the skulls, it made me angry. I felt like I had to pay my respects to these souls, especially the ones who had to suffer the Bubonic Plague, which wiped out half of France’s population. Paris is a gem. This city is rich and abundant in beauty and history, as well as mystery. It offers everything, from the best food to good wine, the most beautiful architecture that ever existed (in my opinion), even great weather. I’m in love with all of it. I could live in the Paris. 83 steps up back to present day. The daylight wasn’t different at the time we started the tour, but everything else felt different afterward. I felt in the presence of these souls, like I had just visited their home. It’s a very strange feeling, walking through this dark ossuary, then emerging back up to street level to the bustling city, as if you stepped back into time when you never even left it.