Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eugéne Atget

Mysti sent me an article from the New York Times about the photographic legacy left by Eugéne Atget.

He is another member of that vast group of people of real importance of whom I – of course – had never heard.

So much for the quality of my education.

Anyway, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Eugéne dragged a gigantic box camera and heavy glass plates around Paris in the early morning.

(Those mornings must have been in the summer. Being in a time zone that doesn’t fit the place – Greenwich Mean comes to mind, but being a part of the British time zone just won’t do - makes Paris dark a lot of the time and for for most of the year. That would hardly serve a pre-computer photographer)

And Eugéne took photographs.

He was a master.

In his honor – now that I have been allowed to know of his existence - I am posting some pictures that I took today of his City in grayscale.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ghost Tower

A feeling of desperation had settled upon me. The wind had seemed to have changed direction from up my back to across my left eye. That change was significant. Where the snow had, with the wind at my back, been merely an issue (my unprotected back of head head receiving a thin but increasing veneer of ice, which melted over - not much - time and ran down the back of my overcoat underneath the wool flap of insert that was supposed to hold off almost any onslaught of cold) now, with the wind pushing the snow into my left side, the ice veneer had purchase on my whole left face.

And that difference was appreciable.

But appreciable or not, I knew I had no alternative but to continue to press forward.

I knew that there was something, something not within my scope of ability to describe, but something, that would make the whole exercise of apparent abject futility worth the pain.

The sky – at least I supposed it to be the sky, and there was no horizon and there was no “left” nor was there any “right”; there was just “front”, which had only the definition of “light” and “slightly less light”, and there must have been, I supposed, a “back”; I didn’t want to conjure on what that might look like – was a darkening, muddy grey presence, engulfing everything that I was able to see, and that which I was able to see, as the muddy greyness deepened, and the onslaught of the wind on my eye intensified, was not much.

To my left –in the direction of the ice-veneer-depositing-wind – I thought I saw something.

I stopped to try to pierce the miasmatic deluge of snow crystals, made even more difficult to visually penetrate by that fierce, horizontal, heat enervating presence, the wind. That wind, although from my side, whipped across the exposed portions of my eyes and did its level best to freeze them. Failing that – because fail it must; the blinking that occurs when one is still alive, without thought and without positive sentient control, was continually bringing slightly unfrozen fluid from somewhere in my slightly unfrozen body, again and again to their surface, keeping them unfrozen – it did its level best to turn the left side of my face to a deadened, non functioning point of initial entry, a point of initial entry, that, once established, could be expanded little by little to the ultimate victory of death by freezing.

But then I saw it. And the reason for the misery, for being out, dangerously exposed to a wind and weather that had only one goal in mind – to kill all that challenged them – became totally apparent.

I had been given the vision of the Ghost Tower.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twenty One December 2010

In Screen Saver I chronicle the cycle of things – at least the cycle of things that I have seen and, the cycle of things that means anything to me.

Among those cycles are the mountain ash trees and their leaves and flowers and berries as they progress from sprays of fairy laced light green leaves that never get very big, through the time in which their flowers first appear and emanate a smell very much like rotten meat, through the time - which is most of the late spring and all of the summer – when they just disappear into the general greenness of things, and finally to that day when the season turns as also do the mountain ash: their berries suddenly flash through the hum drum green of what is still  left of summer, and they make a violently deep red orange flash-of-color statement; they say that they were their all along; and they say – with their red orange flash - that they had more important things to do than participate on the front of the stage of summertime. 

Also among those cycles are the chestnut trees, starting from gray trunked winter barrenness, through their first sign of life in the spring, that sign being the appearance of myriad clusters of leaves, all looking like miniature palm trees, which are quickly followed by a burst of purple throated, cream colored flowers, that become nubbins, that become, by summer’s end, golf ball sized piñatas of Autumn munificence, which, when struck by just the right blast of chill wind, dump shining hoards of deep brown treasures to the earth on the streets where they live, to be picked up by children and treasured, briefly, before they shrivel, become dull and are discarded, or don’t get picked up, and just shrivel and become dull in place where they have fallen, to be ground to meal by passing cars, and, subsequently, washed down the gutter to waiting grates of waiting storm drains, and gone forever.

I took a great deal of satisfaction in that chronicle.

Why might that be?

No reason, really, I have to guess; except that I savor using the words that it takes to exhume the description of those things, the chestnuts and all, from their annual grave, and force them back out into the light of day.

But that is not what it is.  That is not what it is it all.

What it is is is that, by chronicling those things, my most deeply hidden sense of self, or of being, or of existence, can re-manifest itself or re-enforce itself, and by so re-enforcing, perhaps, it can occlude the obvious: that each cycle leaves one less left for me, no matter how many there might be left for the rest of things.

That spate of words brings me to what it is that is on my mind at this moment.

Twenty One December is the shortest day of the year.  On the calendar it is six months away –  quite a number of seconds, minutes, hours or days (or heartbeats) away from twenty one June, which is the longest day of the year.  But in the Screen Saver chronicles it is so close to its sister day as to be functionally adjacent. 

Because for me, any more, the shortest and the longest days are not differentiated. Nor are the chestnuts, mountain ashes and the rest.  They are just a blur flying by on some crazed from here to there apparatus of eternal propulsion. In the case of the longest day and the shortest day, like some sort of mad GIF animation they flash past, first one, then the other,with frightening speed, and with an apparently diminishing interval between with each flash.


Twenty one December is also the day when I became a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1964.

I guess that that is forty six years since gone.

But I don’t have to guess about other things in relation to that date.

I know it is before I went to Saigon and sunk into a pit of depression that nearly took me.

I know it is before I went to work for IBM and wondered how I was, possibly, going to survive in what was, apparently the adult world.

I know it is long after my mother, in a car, on 32nd Avenue, just down the street from my grandparent’s house (where what my mother was just about to tell me had happened) said “Annie died”.

I know that it is before Mysti and I became a unit in the middle of a bridge over a river in the desert of Central Oregon, or before I had had the dream that had released me forever from Ruth on that bridge in Paris with a view of Les Invalides.

What I don’t know, and for some reason, for the first time ever, the question has occurred to me, and the question, to my surprise for a first time question, has some degree of urgency: “how many more? how many more?”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dropped Off The Face Of The Earth Phenomenon And Its Benefits

One of the many things that makes an extended tour in Paris so interesting and rewarding, for me, is a byproduct of my lack of ability to speak French.

Not being able to speak the language, by the way, is in my estimation, an appalling shortcoming among my many shortcomings; so don’t interpret that first sentence as being some lame attempt to make a virtue out of a weakness.

But that sentence stands.

It stands because it is truth.  The truth is not that not speaking French can be a good thing.  The truth is that having no clue of what is going on in the world can have immense advantages.  And, when I turn on some of the French news channels, no clue is what I get.  Oh, there is the occasional “même chose” or “exactement” and all the other little easy to hear children of those few phrases that I have in my vocabulary.  But knowing what anybody is saying about anything - presumably the state of the world at the point at which I see them uttering whatever it is that they are uttering - is absolutely denied to me.

And that is the beauty of it.

I have absolutely no idea of what is going on in the world, and, I believe, both the world, and I, are better off due to that gaping chasm of lack of knowing.

Let’s be honest though.

I obviously have a computer, so I could just plug into – something, god knows what – and keep up to date with – everything.

But trust me; I don’t do that. 

As evidence of my lack of netcitizenery please consider the following fact.

I haven’t signed on to Twitter for such a long time that I keep expecting to be cast into the outer darkness by a rapidly fleeting winged creature diving at me from above and twittering as it recedes into the inky darkness shrieking “be gone from the fold, thou foul and voiceless creature”.

But I do have three English channels, Sky News from Britain and CNN and CNBC.  CNBC is the only one that is worth watching – although I do enjoy the blow by blow accounts of the various losses throughout  the former British Empire that seem to keep being experienced by some British cricket team or other, so I do tune in Sky every now and then, mostly on weekends, when CNBC is dormant – so I can’t claim the total lack of knowledge of the world and its events and issues that my preceding statements would cause one to surmise to be the case.  I do occasionally get some English input.

But I do manage to come  pretty close to not knowing anything about anything. (I hear a chorus of voices saying “so what’s new about that?”)

But. anyway.

I don’t turn on CNBC very often.  And CNBC, almost never, features commentators or guests who are talking about “news” in the generic sense of the word.  They are almost always talking “business”. (Jim Cramer’s ravings may cause one to question even that assertion, but in general it seems to be true.)

One of the benefits of this state of affairs is that once in a great while I am absolutely flabbergastedly surprised.

It happened – maybe – Friday; time is a blur any more and I seldom take much note of the day in which anything, even anything of significance, occurs.

What I know was that I was watching Squawk Box while I made the bed.  I make the bed every morning and fold my pajamas in this particular manner and put them, after the pillows have been arranged in just the way they need to be arranged, to make anyone who had to break into this place in the event that I were to be spirited off during the day by Hamas terrorists, believe that I had been a genuinely squared-away sort of chap – a more complicated version of your mother’s demand that you always have on clean underwear to make her look to be a good mother in the event that you might be run over by a car while you were out. 

Not Faulknerian, but close.

Anyway, back to the point – there was one, wasn’t there?

I think it was Erin who – in one of those rare CNBC “news” rather than “business” moments - said something about the Senate (or was it the House?) passing a bill and sending it to the president for signature.  It was a bill, to become –soon – law, to do away with “don’t ask don’t tell”. When signed into law it would let gays be real citizens and be in the military, and  be open in their sexual proclivities, just like their heterosexual compatriots.

“What the …? ” I said

Maybe this gridlock deal is a good thing after all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things Related To My Recent Birthday

Mysti sent me an experience for my birthday. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that such a thing could be done –Mysti being the creatively inventive person that she is – but I was surprised that such a thing could be done.

What the present was, was a book, I ultimately learned. But the gift was down stack from other things that needed to be done. The first of these things was to read the instructions – I forget now how the package, when it showed up in my mailbox here in Paris, allowed me to read it’s external warning before I had opened the package, and, basically, spoiled the experience – but somehow the instructions were purveyed in such a manner that I got to them first, and didn’t spoil the experience.

Here are those instructions.

perec directions

Actually I was then looking at 68.

It took a surprising number of days to intervene between my receipt of the package and the instructions to get a day that was properly in tune with the description of the day that needed to be underway for me to appropriately experience the gift. That was surprising, because the weather requirements described pretty much describe Paris weather, non respective to the season. I have seen the month of August pretty much meet the description proffered.

But I finally did find a day that met them, and I honored the time to within a minute or so, and I had gone to Café de la Mairie – I had gone there for the first time a few weeks previous, but I had been passing it so many times in the years since I first traversed that route in 2002, that I felt as if I was in my home.

And I ordered a DOUBLE express and a croissant.


And just outside was Saint-Sulpice.


Just as it has always been.

Inside the package was a very brief little book. It documented everything that the author – Georges Perec , a French novelist, essayist and filmmaker of consequence, saw over several days in the Autumn of 1974, while sitting in several of the little eating and drinking establishments ringing place Saint-Sulpice.

He logged everything that his writing hand could get on paper before he forgot what it might have been. And I have no idea why,but when I started to read those loggings, that they were so magical for me; but they were – magical.

I suspect the magic had something to do with my personal involvement with the place where he wrote his sightings, an involvement that had extended over some of the most formative years of my life.

But non respective to any self-perceived personal relationship to the its topics, the book amazed me for the leverage of its – for me major impact compared to – for it - its trivial number of pages.

Anyway, here is my truncated video in support of the Perec concept of triviality as greatness. Or perhaps he was thinking of greatness as triviality.


A Tribute To Georges Perec

Friday, December 17, 2010

La Citrouille

Back in 2007 I was living in an apartment on Rue Guénégaud in the 6iem Arrondissement of Paris. When I didn’t cook in the apartment, but, instead, went to a restaurant for dinner, I went quite some distance from the immediate vicinity of the Rue Guénégaud. That was because over the years leading up to 2007, my restaurant experiences had been associated with somewhat different locations to that of 2007. And my style has always been, having found something that I like, to do it again.

One evening, just prior to leaving for a significantly long walk to dinner, I had a minor revelation. “There are lots of restaurants within two blocks of here; some of them must be good” an internal voice said to me.

A possible background driving force to that revelation was the fact that one of my favored entry and egress routes from the apartment to many of the places that I went to, and back to the apartment from many of the places that I had gone to was Rue Gregoire de Tours. Rue Gregoire de Tours was alive with restaurants: traditional français, Chinois, Indien, and a couple of crepe restaurants. I had noticed these restaurants with every trip up or down the Rue Greg, and wondered if they might be any good. But since I had never been to one of them, and therefore my ingrained habit going back to places that I have enjoyed, had never had a chance to kick in on behalf of the restaurants of Rue Gregoire de Tours, I continued to wonder, but the thought of actually trying one of them never occurred to me.

That had been true until the evening I just described.

The proposition the voice within me was posing was certainly a reasonable one. So I set off for Rue Gregoire de Tours to pick one of the restaurants that I had been seeing and had been wondering about.

I remember which one it was, and I remember quite a bit about the dinner. What I don’t remember is what, if anything, caused me to select it over all the other equally interesting looking and enticing options. By that I mean that I remember being in the one I chose, but I can’t remember in the context of that evening what had made it stand out. I’m making a distinction here between remembering and knowing.

That is because I don’t remember; but I do know.

We’ll get back to that a little later, because “knowing” is at the heart of the matter of one of my now favorite places here in Paris. And the “knowing” has come from the “observing” of certain activities that are a part of that restaurant’s mode of operation.

But, briefly, what I remember is that, after once entering the place for whatever reason I had done so, being quickly and graciously conducted to a wall table, being presented with a menu and being left to ponder my choices. I remember my server being totally not there hovering around me while I was in choose mode, but I also remember that the minute I had made up my mind, probably due to some form of telepathy, he was right there asking me for my choices. I remember that they had Corbières wine, which I had never seen in a restaurant, even in Languedoc, where it comes from. I remember having a pretty good onion soup, and, what I thought to be, really good – and interesting (the chunks of beef were about three times as big as any I had ever seen in the dish anywhere else) – boeuf bourguignon. I remember that even the pommes vapeur were good.

It had been a very pleasant experience. And before I had left Paris in 2007, I had experienced it a couple of more times with similarly pleasant results.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that, with my habit for repetition of things pleasant, that I have gone there a number of times since.

Oddly enough that hadn’t been the case. Until recently.

After leaving Paris in 2007 – that had been a six week stay – I had only been back briefly, for two weeks in 2008, and not at all in 2009. And the 2008 stay was for only two weeks and I was in an apartment toward the Eiffel Tower end of Rue de Grenell, making Rue Gregoire de Tours an awfully long walk for dinner. (That particular part of town – by Tour Eiffel - has the oddity that there really are no good metro routes to a lot of places one might want to go.) So if I ate at my newly found member of my list of favorites on the 2008 trip, I don’t remember it.

I don’t think I ate there, because as I always do, I ate in the apartment until a few days before departure so I had an accumulated budget surplus to spend like a drunken sailor. And I remember staying fairly close to Rue de Grenell.

(I will mention that on that trip I again violated my habit and tried a restaurant that was not on my previously-savored list – it was just toward Invalides down Rue de Grenell , one door from the door to my building. It turned out to be a North African restaurant, and it was really fun – and really good.)

So now we can move into the here and now of mid December 2010.

I am back where Rue Gregoire de Tours is close to where I live. I have eaten at the place I found in 2007 a number of times, both for dinner and for lunch, and I now feel as if I need to share it with the world – or at least the amazing shrunken subset of the planet who might ever read this blog.

I should mention that the name of the restaurant is La Citrouille – The Pumpkin.

From the vantage point of quite a few meals there I would say the food is on the quite good side of average.

The service is excellent.

The pots of wine are good and reasonably priced.

But it is the people, and the entertainment value that they add to the overall experience that would cause me to put La Citrouille on the top of any list of restaurants that I would ever assemble, if I were ever to assemble one, which I seriously doubt I will ever do. Even I draw the line at some forms of pretention.

So, let’s talk about the people.

The reason I know – now – even though I can’t remember what caused me to go to La Citrouille that first time instead of any of going to the other choices, is that I have been able to observe how the two waiters work the crowd. By the crowd I mean the endless queue of aimless lookyloos that pass by the glass front of the restaurant and its glass doors. That queue constantly devolves into little increments of one, two or, sometimes three, who stop and appear to be examining the menu. I can with some degree of certainty say that, while they may well be reading the words on the menu, what they are really doing – most likely without a clue that they are doing it – is they are trying to get a “feel” for the place in front of them. They are trying to see if it is “right” for them. They are trying to get a feeling if it is going to be a “welcoming” place.

From the first time Mysti and I took a side street off of the Champs Elysées and entered into the interior of some restaurant that we had decided to try, since we were starving, and since we had not eaten at McDonalds with Mary Ann and the crowd, I remember that feeling of wanting to be welcomed and accepted.

I can’t shake it. To this moment, every time I enter a restaurant that is new to me in France I crave that feeling of ok-ness. And to this day, my looking-at-the-menu-outside ritual – because I do do that - is really nothing more than hoping to be able to plug into the vibrations of the place and see what my comfort quotient might be.

And I know that that is what all those other people doing the menu examination ritual are really looking for. They are really not looking at what the offerings are – unless they are just plug stupid or really uninformed. The offerings from place place are just not that different – (they might be checking prices, but that is nothing more than the first layer of the palimpsest of “comfort”). What they are really trying to ascertain is “will I fit in here?”

And that is where the guys at La Citrouille are geniuses.

On my first visit of this 2010 trip I hadn’t seen the grand scheme of things as clearly as I do now.

But I had been able to acquire inklings.

As I had approached the entry – I didn’t need to lookyloo the menu posted outside - I was going to La Citrouille, and that was all there was to it – just before I could push the inward opening door, the waiter standing behind it opened it with a hearty and pleasant “bon soir monsieur, bon soir” and showed me to my table. How welcoming is that? (I am comparing this to a possibly more typical case, where one might have been, as I wasn’t in this case, a first time enterer of some randomly chosen restaurant door, with myriad deep seated concerns about being welcomed and accepted, and having to remember – again I am assuming a non-French tourist – what poussez might mean, and then trying to tirez unsuccessfully first, then poussez successfully, but with the embarrassment of having stood there rattling the door rather than opening it, and then entering the unknown inner sanctum, and hoping that someone would – quickly - help them to a table.)

The second trip to La Citrouille in this Paris interlude was the one that opened my eyes completely.

It turned out that the place wasn’t too full yet – I usually try to beat the hoard of Parisian diners that begin to appear about 2000, by showing up at places at 1930 or so – and they put me at a table right in the front, facing out to the windows and the poussez- activated front door.

Since the crowd so far was sparse, both the waiters had time on their hands. So they manned the door in sporadic shifts. And I don’t mean they stood there waiting for lookyloos to become customers.

First, it needs to be pointed out that these guys are psychologists. The bottom line of what they do is that they sense the comfort level, or lack of comfort level, on the part of the passersby and lookyloos – they are keen observers – and they then do – something – to raise what they perceive to be that comfort level as high, and as rapidly, as possible.

They – each in turn - stood there by the glass entry door, at parade rest, looking out - left, right, middle, left, right, middle – continually scanning Rue Gregoire de Tours.

Their major follow on activities to their observations out the windows took several forms on the night that I saw the act. I’m sure that there are many more such forms, but I am only a neophyte in the watching of these geniuses, and I know that I can’t possibly have seen anywhere near the entire show.

Observed Form One: Two mid twenties lookyloos at the in-front-of-La Citrouille menu, apparently trying to delve the depths of the cuisine de la maisson. Waiter waits until they start – the menu lookyloos seldom make a self directed move to enter La Citrouille - out and off up the street, and, opening the door he says with a pleasant beyond belief tone “bon soir, et bienvienue”. That is, anybody who ever had anything to do with IBM sales training, would know a classic example of the assumptive close. In this case it works. The young couple, as if mesmerized sheep, enter the place, take a table and become almost immediately, members of the deeply loved client base.

Observed Form Two: Same as previous form, except the lookyloos, with deep expressions of respect, and perhaps, regret, decline the offer of the open door. By this time I had become an identified co-conspirator in these activities. On a couple of occasions, when the post guy had had to attend to duties that took him off point, into the kitchen, and when, what appeared to me to be perfect configurations of lookyloos developing, I had gotten up and shouted back to the kitchen “monsieur, monsieur, les gens”. I had no idea; that was the best I could do. But the guy immediately knew that I was signing up for the game. And that made it even more fun. It was more fun because he and I exchanged observations and intelligence – everybody in the place speaks good English – but they are very respectful of my , one could only surmise, apparent desire to try to communicate with them in their native tongue – and we made non-binding bets about what was going to occur next with this or that group of recently departed menu scrutinizers.

In the case of the ones just gone, he had said “back in 5 minutes”.

That group re- appeared just about at that point and my friend opened the door as they approached it. “Bon soir, bon soir; deux personnes?”

Observed Form Three: A larger group – maybe five or six of the endless queue – stop briefly in the middle of the street (“ we don’t want to get to close to that menu; that might show commitment”) and stare myopically – they are all my age – at the general area of the menu.

My friend wastes not a moment.

He opens the door, rushes into the street shouting “bonsoir et bienvienue, monsieurs et madames; nous allons”. And he gestures to the door of La Citrouille.

And they follow him like sheep


There is a lot more. But this post is getting long. And, if there is any value to this one, then won’t it be fun to have another one?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Digital Big Bang?

Over breakfast this morning – slices of la baguette tradi that I had bought only an hour before, still warm, at Gerard Mulot, what was still left of the several cheeses that I had bought a few days before, and which, at least to my American sensitivities, were still good, a bowl of fromage blanc naturel, and a banana and a clementine,  all chased with what was left of the coffee that I had been drinking since I awakened, and a glass of jus de pamplemousse rose (there isn’t any é in the word “Rose” on the juice’s package, but then again the brand is Tropicana, so what can you expect?)  was reading, as I always read over breakfast, The Economist.

The article that I had chosen to read was about what things were like before the Big Bang.

The net of the article, based on work by a physicist from Oxford, was that just before the Big Bang everything had shrunk – from a previous big bang – into nothingness.  And something about that nothingness – I never was much at physics so I can’t really say what that something might have been, except that it was god damned small – caused it to become REALLY BIG in a very small ( minus power of 23 comes to mind) lapse of what we three dimensional, blooded, beings refer to as time.

I was surprised to find out that this was unacceptably unplowed intellectual ground.

In fact, it was heresy.

The physics world had, some time ago, apparently, aided and abetted by the warm and comforting wrapping of the apparently totally accepted Big Bang, gone to end game.  That end game, as I understood it from the article that I was reading, was that before the Big Bang there wasn’t anything; the Big Bang had changed that and we are now, post Big Bang, on – I had to surmise because I really didn’t understand some of what I was reading  – a never ending trajectory that had been initiated  by the Big Bang.

“But no” has said Doctor Penrose from Oxford. “ We are in an infinitely undulating construct (my translation of what I understood him to say) that goes up and it goes down.”

I wouldn’t even be boring the couple of you people who might read this post with this book report – “what I read in The Economist over breakfast this morning” if it weren’t for the fact that I had previously  thought – I have no idea from what source I may have obtained this conviction – that the whatever-it-is that-we-are-in (a universe perhaps) is in a constant state of contracting and expanding.  My conviction was conditioned by the further belief that the time frame of the contractions and expansions is of such magnitude that creatures like us will never notice, but, that, nonetheless the ups and downs do exist.

So it was a real surprise to me that, not only wasn’t that concept in any kind of favor with the great body of scientists who really care about such things, but that the concept wasn’t even in existence and wasn’t under any scrutiny as to its possible validity.  It was a concept, that until Doctor Penrose decided to propose it, and that fairly recently, just didn’t exist.

So where did I get it?  Who knows?

The additional oddity is that as the day advanced it became in its own way entwined, at least in my mind, with questions about another kind of potential big bang.

When I was a trainee in the early days of my career at IBM I was assigned to some accounts.  I was to work with  and be under the management of the qualified IBM salesmen and systems engineers who were responsible for those accounts to IBM.  The objective of those assignments was for me to learn the marketing and the technical ropes of IBM life from being actually involved in the doing of things marketing and things technical.

One of those accounts was the Army Corps of Engineers.  They were one of IBM’s biggest accounts at the time.  One of the things that they had installed was a full nine spindle array – eight usable, one for hot backup - of the IBM 2314, which was the high capacity IBM disk drive of that era.

The 2314 was an impressive machine from a number of standpoints: price/performance, storage capacity and relative reliability being among its leading features.

But from my viewpoint the single most impressive thing about the 2314 was its size.  The thing was huge.  At the Corps the device filled an entire wall of a rather large data center.  And it weighed 1950 KG – more than two tons.

Its storage capacity was, for the eight drives that could be in use at any one time, 240 MB.  That’s mega bytes; that’s not terabytes, that’s not even measly gigabytes; that’s mega bytes.

The IBM archives have provided me with a picture which I am including with this post.

The 2314 and its control unit are the hulking things behind the young woman apparently taking her lunch out of an office drawer.  That drawer is actually one of the disk drives and the young lady is either putting in or taking out one of the removable, eleven platter disk packs.  Each of those packs stored 30 megabytes.  Since they were removable, and could be put on shelves in numbers limited only by an IBM customer’s ability to pay for them, the claim to “infinite storage capacity” could often be heard floating around in sales presentations involving the 2314.

The reason that I have brought up all that history, and my personal intersection with a small component of it, is that it gives some very real perspective to the follow-on big-bang-like episode that occurred later in the day, after my having been started down that path over breakfast by The Economist.

I have been wanting to go to the Marmottan museum for a special Monet exhibition.  Since the weather today was marginal to the point of making me consider not going out at all, I had been trying to come up with an alternative to trying to walk and take pictures – my usual daily occupations – in rain and snow of a degree to make it hazardous for the camera and miserable for the photographer. 

What I settled on was to see if I was smart enough to take the RER to the RER stop that connects to La Muette, which is the Metro stop for Le Marmottan.  There are a bunch of arcane, and boring to anyone but me, reasons why the RER would have been a test of my mettle, and in fact why I was even taking the RER instead of just going on the Metro, but I am not going to mention them

Suffice it to say that that had just been my plan for the afternoon.  The idea was that maybe there wouldn’t be a crowd and I wouldn’t need the advantage of a previously bought ticket (the advantage of that previously bought ticket being that said ticket puts the ticket holder at the head of any line) and so I could go in and buy my ticket at the museum.  Alternatively, so went the plan, if there was a line I could decide whether to stand in it or catch the RER back to my part of town.  In either event, so went the plan, I would have enhanced my barely rudimentary RER skills.

But is was snowing lightly and the snow was wet snow and it was accumulating in soggy amounts of sufficient degree to make walking in anything but some kind of tread-bottomed boots somewhat hazardous, so after not much distance I decided to abandon the RER to the Marmottan project.

So I was heading back to the apartment.  And that was something I really didn’t want to be doing.  I have noticed early in this sojourn that my mental health appears to be directly proportional to the amount of time I spend on the streets of Paris, and inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend, during daylight hours, in the apartment.  And up to the point – today - of abandoning the RER project I have spent all possible time during daylight walking on various routes that interest me, taking pictures and, just generally, reveling in Paris.  That has required some adaptations to cope with some rain, and a little snow, but in general, if I  have assessed the weather correctly, and have configured myself correctly in response, full time access to the outdoors and the streets has been absolutely possible.

So I was not pleased with my apparently imminent first failure.

I was brooding about the situation to such a degree that I realized that I was well past the door to the apartment when the question of where was I occurred to me. 

So I just kept going.

I don’t know what it was about that moment – the weather certainly hadn’t improved – that made things seem different, but they did seem different.

So, since I was going in a certain direction, it seemed to me that I ought to figure out a destination, so I could know when I was half through my journey – destinations, at least for me usually being the half point of any journey – and I suddenly had a grand idea.

I could go down Rue des Rennes, which is a major enough street that foot traffic should have been taking care of the slush to a great extent, and go to FNAC where I could buy a ticket for the Monet exhibit.  Not only that, but FNAC is huge and I could walk around inside, out of the snow, and get some exercise.  And there was the additional advantage that with FNAC’s massive selection  of electronics and gadgets and notions and photgraphics I might find something that I hadn’t known that I really needed. 

That was a potentially beguiling bonus.

As it turned out, I just wandered around the camera department absolutely bedazzled by the depth of choice, savoring, but not buying, and then went down to the billeterie, bought my ticket, and then went up two floors for a final exposure to the possibility of the commercial equivalent of near occasion of sin in the computer department.  ( I have been harboring the thought that if I find an HP Photosmart  multi-function printer cheap enough, I might buy it, knowing that I would have to leave it behind when I depart France in February.)

As luck would have it, there was a Photosmart multi-function unit for 69 euros, which was arguably in the price range that I would consider to make the device expendable.  But it was USB attach only and there is no room for a printer in the area where my computer is lodged.  And, although it is talking via Wi-Fi G to the portable router that I bought just before leaving the US, the place where the CPU is is the only place where the CPU can be.

So I was able to rationalize my way out of buying that printer.

There was, however, for 99 euros, a Wi-Fi compatible HP Photosmart multi-function printer.

The way I got around that was to say “too much; wait and see if they bring the price down as we get closer to Christmas”.

So I was sort of at loose ends, and was wandering around with no real purpose other than not wanting to go back out into the snow, when my eyes focused on the shelf of merchandise that I had wandered aimlessly to and had stopped in front of for no apparent purpose.

I had focused on just one member of the community of the merchandise on the shelf.  It was a familiar green package from Western Digital.  “My Passport Essential” said the writing on the carton.  I recognized it immediately because I have a number of them – two with me in Paris, one 750 GB and one 1TB – and I was curious which of the tribe were on offer there on the FNAC shelf in Paris, and at what price.

It was a 500 GB.  It cost 89 euros.  “Not a bad price” I thought, “but a little high for only 500 GB.”

Then I widened my field of view.  What I was standing in front of was a multi shelf, very long display of My Passport Essentials.  I had never seen that many assembled in one place.  I looked to see if there were any of the 750 GB or 1 TB, but they all seemed to be 500 GB.  “That’s a nice round number” I thought to myself.

Then I did the next obvious – to me at least – thing.  I took a census.  They were all stacked along the shelf in neat rows of 12 packages each, so I counted down the shelf and when I had gotten to twenty times twelve I decided that I had better stop; I can’t multiply in my head beyond that.

But 240 and counting was a sound I heard in my reverie.  And there were several more rows of twelve of the Western Digitals yet to be included in the body count.  And beyond them stretched a similar extent of some other brand.  I was afraid to examine that array for its capacity.

I was afraid because, if I multiply 500 GB by 240, I get a number that exceeds all the storage capability in the world of just a few short years ago.  If I then consider the fact that that is only a small fraction of the display that I am looking at, and that what I am looking at is only the portable drives – the WD My Books and competitors are just next – and if I further consider that I am looking only at the displays in the FNAC store on Rue des Rennes in Paris (there are probably several others – I know of ten) and if I acknowledge that FNAC, in spite of my personal preference for it and my desire to make it “unique”, is, in fact one of some unknown, but very large, number of similarly configured retailers, to say nothing of the Costcos and the Wal-marts which, although different, still sell massive numbers of electronic products, I just don’t know what to think but that we are at the edge of a digital big bang.

And I don’t know what that means.

And that may not even matter, because, like the other big bang, it may happen in, and at a dimension that neither we, nor our computers, portable intelligences nor digital cameras will be capable of discerning.

But we may be imminently on the way to some form of impossible to unsort digital porridge which is but a way station to nothing again.

It seemed somehow significant to me that the length of the shelf with the My Passport Essential drives on it was about the same size as a 2314.  I had to wonder how many Essentials it would take to weigh 1950 KG.