Call my agent

In Mumbai you have a choice. You can stay in, and between bouts of worrying about family and friends in Delhi, Ahmedabad, and other towns which are equally overwhelmed but less in the news, between talking to others about loved ones they have lost suddenly, you can try to drown yourself in a gushing stream of multi-season TV shows. “Binge watching is hazardous to your health,” as that famous mental-health consultant, Washington Post, told us. So we watch only one episode at a time. But we watch several shows during the day, and take the recommended time off between shows to make tea, and exercise the muscles of our core. We also do alertness exercises now and then. For example, right now, I have set myself the goal of choosing a favourite among Peaky Blinders, Shadow and Bone, Friends!, Ugly Delicious, and Call My Agent.

The first season of the French serial Dix pour cent (10%), searchable as Call My Agent on Netflix, turned out to be unexpectedly good. Each episode features a real-life film star, whose agent belongs to a fictional company called ASK. Each gets into an unbelievable situation, which the agents try to retrieve by putting together a complex and unworkable solution. In spite of all these hilarious rushings about to no end, things always work out in the end in an unforeseen way. After a few days of roflmao it struck me that the absurd stories reminded me of Wodehouse. There is no Jeeves working behind the scenes to set everything right, and there is no one Wooster, but the agency serves very well as a Drones Club. All the agents and their assistants are as barmy as a Fotheringay-Phipps. But set aside the background. The most Wodehousean (if there is such a word) part of the serial is the plot, with the slowly mounting absurdities which collapse like a failed souffle, out of the ashes of which (to wildly mix metaphors which no man has mixed before) rises a perfectly acceptable solution.

I understand that as the serial became more and more popular in France, bigger names began to express their willingness to be on it. Eventually there were episodes featuring Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Huppert, and others. I will continue to watch the remaining seasons in the hope that the screenplay remains as fresh as it starts off.

Was it for this?

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

The Camargue, summer

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Mumbai, early spring

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

Mumbai, early spring

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter’s robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Zurich, high summer

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics dies,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

Paris, late summer

Light? What is gentle and beautiful about light? Light is a harsh thing, the kind of thing that sent Dylan Thomas off on long rants. When you have to deal with harsh tropical light all the time, you envy photographers in parts of the world where the sun slants down and filters through a thick layer of air to drip its soft light on things. They can keep their fatuous sunbeams. We know what sunlight is: a killer.

Kloster Eberbach, high summer

Midwinter’s light in Thailand (the featured photo) is so harsh that it has to be filtered through leaves to yield a photo with shadows. Compare that to the similar photo from the Camargue in the south of France. The contrast is less harsh as you go away from the equator. The mangoes and jasmine buds photographed yesterday in my balcony have to compensate for harsher light than the gentle summer light of Europe.

My world in mid-July

2006: Kashmiri chili

A response to a challenge by a Lens Artist needed some thought. A response needed me to show you my world. I decided to select a picture from each year, as close to mid-July as I can get. Usually the monsoon is at its heaviest in mid-July, which lets me show a season I love. I stayed home some years. In others I traveled. I see that this is a fair picture of what I spend my time on. The series spans the period from 2006, which is represented by the featured photo, to the hard lockdown of 2020.

As always, click on any photo to get to the gallery.

Hobby horses

For a few days now I’ve not been able to stop thinking of horses. Their origins mysterious, like the origin of everything we see around us. Their role in human history and culture, large and long. When humans arrived in most continents, the number of equine species had probably already dwindled to more or less what it is now: two or three. Historically, only two were domesticated, horses and donkeys. Although zebras have been trained (Lord Rothschild once drove to Buckingham Palace on a zebra-drawn carriage) they have not been successfully raised in domesticity.

Two sculptures of horses really stick in my mind. One is the pair of life-sized blue horses, polyester resin images made by the French artist Assan Smati, the other is the group of four harnessed to a chariot, made of fired clay in China probably 2200 years ago for the tomb of the Qin emperor Shi Huang.

Migrans memories

I saw an unusually large bird perching on the edge of terrace of the furthest visible building. I zoomed in, and there it was: a black kite (Milvus migrans govinda), the T Rex of our times. It is a hunter which is not above scavenging. It is a bird out of my childhood nightmares, one which snatched the lunch out of my hands on my very first day at school. Its lifestyle brings it into occasional conflict with crows; I see bands of crows harrying it when they are all after the same piece of food. Despite its large size, the kite seldom wins.

Looking at the history of the naming of the bird, I was overcome by memories of Paris, walks from a friend’s apartment on Rue Lacepede near the botanical gardens up Rue Monge, past the metro station of Censier-Daubenton to Place d’Italie. The bird was first named in Buffon’s book of 1770 CE, The Natural History of Birds, with illustrations produced under the supervision of the French naturalist Daubenton. It was assigned to its current genus, Milvus, in 1799 by one of Buffon’s collaborators on the book, Lacepede. A morning of nostalgia!

Shopkeepers of Paris

Part of the charm of Paris is was that it is was a city full of les petit commercants. To buy your food you have to visit the local boulangerie, boucherie or poissonerie, alimentation, and fromagerie. Then, when you are tired with all the shopping, you need to stop by the local cafe, go back to the vigneron, and stop by the tabac to pick up a newspaper. And all of them will be ready for a little chat.

The charming central city which de Gaulle reconstructed out of the war: no buildings higher than 32 meters, facades to remain as original as possible, and low rentals, is a wonderful place for tourists. Everything at street level must have been bombed out, because if you looked only at eye level, every door and window looks modern. Although some of the shopkeepers take the metro to work, coming in from the suburbs which have more flexible building rules, there is a sense of local community. Over years, when I returned, I would pick up my acquaintance with the local caviste and fromagier.

After a year’s absence it would be nice to come back to the same cafe, where the unsmiling bartender would put a saucer on the bar in front of you and ask, “The same?”. I guess I was not easily forgotten with my newspaper and Petit Robert at one corner of the bar. In a strange and interrupted way, I became a local in one part of the border between the 5th and 14th arrondisements for a few years.

These photos were taken in the streets which I would pass through. I see now that these photos all feature non-European French. In those days all it required to be accepted as French was that you spoke the language and liked bread, wine, and cheese. These are not the shops I frequented. As so often in the days before phone cameras, one didn’t take photos of the most familiar places. I have no photos of the Parisian shopkeepers whom I knew well. They slowly went out of business, replaced by the chains of supermarkets which have now taken over the city. I don’t really miss this new city any more.

The language of roads

Looking through my photo archives for June, a decade back, I realized that I passed through Nice. I’d taken a lot of photos that clutter up tourist’s hard disk. But among them I came across this photo of the road seen as a black board. When we walk or drive we read the road in more senses than one: not just watching and reacting to traffic and pedestrians, but also to signs, many of which are written on to the surface of the roads. But looking at them from top makes everything look different. Are these markings a language? Like language they are arbitrary signs to which we give meaning. A dashed line means something different from a continuous line. Some combinations of dashed and continuous lines are allowed, some not; these are rules of grammar, and they can be different in different countries. Interesting, where your mind can wander if there are no warning signs to prevent it from meandering.

Morning in Paris

There are those days when just before I wake up in the morning I think I’m in Paris. I imagine walking out of the massive grey door of my apartment on to the gently sloping road in the fifth.

I imagine walking down to the corner cafe for a petit noir to begin the day, then on to the Alimentation run by an Algerian family to get a bagful of cherries and some peaches for breakfast.

I imagine crossing the street into the Luxembourg garden, to find a chair under a shady tree, open a copy of Notre Dame or Monte Cristo or Dangerous Liaisons, as I eat the fruits.

A forgotten walk

A really long time back I had to make a quick trip to Bordeaux for a meeting. I’d forgotten that my colleague and I traveled to Bordeaux the day before and took a walk through the old part of the city near the river Garonne. I just discovered the very few two-decades old photos that remained in a forgotten folder.

Mysteriously, many of the photos were of an unknown building in the city. I had a vague memory of ducking into a side road between two major sights on a whim and coming across this facade. It now looks like a renaissance facade to me. Could it be from the 15th century? Perhaps even from the time of Charles VII? Not very likely, I think, most of this quarter would have been built in the century after his time, when trade began to boom. The time of Montaigne then?

Forgetting the romantic speculation, my colleague pointed me to the differences between the walls of the two buildings which stood cheek-to-jowl around this little open courtyard. The older was the one we’d been looking at, as the peeling mortar showed. The bicycle presented a nice way to take this photo. Strangely, it wasn’t locked up. Are bikes safe in Bordeaux then? That would make it an unusual European city.

Paris, petit four

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While looking for photos of Notre-Dame de Paris two days ago I came across several other photos of the little lanes around it, in the 4th and 5th districts. I used to like to find an apartment in the 5th, and roam the streets of the 4th with my camera. The featured photo shows the embankment of the Seine river, at the Ile de la Cite, viewed from somewhere near Shakespeare and Company.

A door knocker which caught my eye as I walked around the 4th arrondissement. I have no record of the street and house number, and it will be very hard to find this again.

This is a clue to the location of that door. At least this drain pipe comes with a house number. I have a memory that it was in the same street as the door, but which street?

Again, somewhere in the 4th district, I think it is somewhere between Place de Vosges and Pont Marie, but again I didn’t take a photo of the street and house number. This shouldn’t be hard to find.

Berthillon in Ile St. Louis is an old establishment. Once upon a time The Family and I stood in this queue often. One of the servers suggested a combo of a scoop of sour lemon sorbet with another of dark chocolate ice cream which became my favourite one summer.

This door is certainly in the 4th arrondisement, probably between Place de Vosges and St. Paul. I really liked this, because I took many shots, but not a single one of the street name.

These water fountains are common through the 5th arrondisement. Now I can’t remember whether you see them elsewhere. Certainly not in the 1st and 2nd, but may be in the 6th?

I very clearly remember coming across this blue door and red sign after coming out from one of my favourite restaurants, where I first tasted Izarra, on Rue de Jarente. Doors in this particular shade of blue are very common in Paris, at least in my memory. Although the restaurant has now closed, I think I should go back to see whether this door remains the same colour.

Somewhere in the 4th, somewhere between Bastille and St. Paul. I spent much more time walking around the 5th and 6th, but so many of my photos are of the 4th. I call these petit fours, like the small confections you have with coffee. They leave a sweet memory, but they are not a meal.