Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

Paris in May

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Next week we will depart on a month-long visit to Canada. In preparation, Eileen and I have tried to introduce Juniper to some of the experiences of a long flight. We have spent a couple of afternoons wandering around the airport: “Oh, doesn’t security look fun?!” We also found a quirky Thai café across the runway from the airport, with views of planes coming and going. Juniper has always enjoyed spotting airplanes in the sky, so this phase of the preparations was easy.

Watching planes at Cointrin

Watching planes at Cointrin

“Looks as if the 17h11 is leaving on time!”

We are also crafting a toddler management strategy for the flight itself. Our trump card is “Gru” (the movie “Despicable Me”), which effectively zombie-fies Juniper when she watches it.  At home, Juniper’s screen time is heavily regulated. But on the flight we intend to use Gru and the iPad gratuitously, along with snacks and treats. Juniper will live the toddler equivalent of an all-night bender!

To complete the “Gru” flight setup, we bought Juniper some child headphones. Unsurprisingly, she initially refused to have them on her head, which confronted us with a common toddler conundrum: how to explain to our stubborn two-year-old that the audio to her film could only be heard through those clunky-looking ear-hats that she won’t try? We adults take these linked concepts for granted. In the end we resorted to trickery: Eileen and I took turns pretending to have the time of our lives when wearing the headphones, until Juni wanted a turn.

On a long weekend in May, we brought the headphones on another of our pre-Canada preparations: a trip to Paris by TGV. The journey is approximately 3.5 hours long in either direction and we were keen, if a little anxious, to see how Juniper would respond to our clever plans. Boarding and exploring the train would be no problem, as she enjoys new surroundings, but eventually she would be tired and bored…

As planned, we relaxed moderation and allowed Juniper a buffet of raisins, bread and Gru. The return journey in particular demonstrated to Eileen and me that Juniper can behave better than we expect. As anticipated, she grew stir crazy and her activities became shorter and more frantic. But she kept it together with minimal whining and no tantrums. Eventually we plugged her in for 1.5 hours of Gru. Meanwhile, the train was ringing with the protests of the handful of other fed-up toddlers on board, who were testing whether continuous shrieking can stop the TGV.

Toddler management, phase 1

Toddler management, phase 1

Toddler management, phase 2

Toddler management, phase 2

Once arrived in Paris, Juniper was SUPERCHARGED! I think it was a combination of the new surroundings and that she had kicked her incessant winter cold: she felt great and was keen to explore. Whatever the source of her energy, she ran and babbled for three days straight, the most sustained rush of activity I have seen in her life.

Running near our apartment in Rue Quincampoix

Running near our apartment in Rue Quincampoix

Running through the queue barriers at the Centre Pompidou

Running through the queue barriers at the Centre Pompidou

Running at Place de la Bastille

Running at Place de la Bastille

Running in Square Jean XXIII, behind Notre Dame cathedral

Running in Square Jean XXIII, behind Notre Dame cathedral

As she raced around Paris, Juniper stopped every few minutes to point and exclaim “WOW!” The exclamations were doubly amusing because of her current need to confirm everything with all family members present: Juniper is chairwoman of our Committee of the Obvious. For example, when a truck drove past all three of us, Juniper exclaimed “WOW!”, her pointed finger quivering with excitement. She then calmly requested Eileen’s attention – “Maman?” When Eileen replied “yes?” Juni pointed to the truck in the distance, repeated her “WOW!”, complete with quivering finger, and then waited for Eileen to acknowledge. Next she turned calmly to me: “Papa?”

“Oui?”

“WOW!” The truck had disappeared from view, but Juni’s back was arched, cheeks were taught and finger was quivering.

“Oui, wow, Juni.”

“WOW!”

As you might expect, Paris’s landmarks were no more interesting to Juniper than its trucks or pigeons. As the following photos illustrate, the metro was her favourite experience: climbing up and down the stairs, exploring the grotty platforms, announcing the arrival of the trains and standing and sitting among the adults in the cars. She could have happily spent all three days underground!

“Train!”

Hangin'

“Fun platform, isn’t it, monsieur?”

Party in the metro!

“Vive la Métropolitaine!”

On Sunday we took a break from riding the metro to visit the Cité des Enfants, an excellent interactive exhibition at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. We had to lie about her birthday to gain entry, as the minimum age is two. Then Juniper displayed one of her consistent personality traits: she stood back to observe the different activities before engaging. Once at ease, she plunged in to the water cannons, wind tunnel, mazes, ball ramps and widgets, running and exclaiming throughout.

fun noun 1. enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure. 2. transferring water from bucket to basin

fun
/fʌn/
noun
1. enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure.
2. transferring water from bucket to basin.

Operating a water cannon

Operating a water cannon

Squirming through the forest

Squirming through the forest

On our way home, Juni napped in her stroller, tired enough that she slept through a loud music festival we stumbled upon in Parc de la Villette. The following photo shows her about to sleep through a descent into her beloved metro.

About to miss out on the metro

About to miss out on the metro

On Monday morning we were a little overambitious and raced to Place du Trocadéro to shoot portraits in front of the Eiffel Tower for the grandparents. Our train was at 11h or so, so we were only there for 20 minutes or so before racing back to the apartment to collect our bags. Juniper was upset to leave Trocadéro so quickly, until she discovered that meant hurrying back down to the metro!

Eileen and Juniper at Place du Trocadéro

Eileen and Juniper at Place du Trocadéro

Playing tag and ignoring the Eiffel Tower

Playing tag and ignoring the Eiffel Tower

We all enjoyed our weekend, Juniper most demonstrably. It was a bonus for Eileen and me to see Juniper in such high spirits in Paris, one of our favourite destinations. Juniper may only manage three-word sentences at the moment, but she clearly communicated that she would like to return to Paris!

Our train trip to Paris also reassured Eileen and I somewhat that we will survive our first long flight to Canada with Juniper. Her pupils may need a few days to recover from watching Gru for hours on end, but we hope to arrive in Canada with our sanity intact.

Written by Kris Terauds

July 12, 2015 at 19:44

Posted in Uncategorized

Spring renewal

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I have now seen six springs in Geneva. Although this does not qualify me to write for the Swiss version of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, I have begun to form my own expectations for the different seasons. For example, winter 2013-4 was stubborn and refused to step aside until June. This year, winter was more polite, giving way in March to a middling spring that has balanced sunny days with rainy ones.

Spring floods Geneva with greenery and flowers. The city is quite green throughout the year, but is downright lush in spring. The green sprouts in its tree-lined streets and network of parks, trails and green belts. Flower gardens are not as ubiquitous as green spaces, but the parks service tends flower beds in selected public spaces.

To enjoy the spring bloom, we do not even need to leave our apartment. In fact, the bloom crowds in on the views from our windows and balcony. The following photo shows a flower box on our balcony – tended by Eileen, not the city – and the street obscured by the green canopy that runs along our street.

Spring view from our balcony

Spring view from our balcony

Although we see a lot of green in our neighbourhood, we do not see many well tended gardens. For that, I am fortunate to work at the Palais des Nations, which has an ambitious staff of landscapers and gardeners. The Palais sits on a larger piece of land called the Parc Ariana, which the staff tends into various landscapes: mowed grass, gardens, trails, woods and wild grasses. When I walk to work, I do not meander through all of these zones. I enter the grounds at the Place des Nations gate, pass the iconic flags and then through the southern gate, into a large courtyard with a variety of flower beds. The following photo shows the view out from the southern courtyard, toward the flags, the three-legged chair and the Place des Nations, with a few of the central flower beds in the foreground.

South gate, Palais des Nations

South gate, Palais des Nations

Springtime flowers are one of the rare subjects that motivate me to bring out my little-used macro lens. I wait especially for the morning after a rainy night, when big water drops still wobble on the petals. This weather also helps with macro photography, which is more demanding than shooting at greater distances from a subject. The macro focussing motor allows you to focus at less than a metre, using smaller adjustments. This also means that the focus is very fine and can be upset by wind or shake. Tricky focus is compounded by the effect of proximity on depth of field: the closer you are to a subject, the narrower aperture you need to achieve the same depth of field. This requires a slower shutter speed, making the shot even more susceptible to wind and shake. Using a tripod on a windless day is best.

Another consideration is light: since my camera and I are often hovering over the subject, direct sunlight can result in my shadow falling right where I am shooting, creating stark contrast with the sunlit areas around. Clouds provide a more diffuse light, another advantage of the morning after a nighttime rainfall.

Here are a couple of macro shots on a windless, cloudy morning, albeit without a tripod. They show tulips in the flower bed from the above photo.

Red tulip

Red tulip

Purple tulip

Purple tulip

A couple of the other beds in the southern courtyard are filled with flowers from the allium family. I looked online for the exact variety, but the closest matches have silly names, such as “purple sensation,” “globemaster” and “millenium,” so I prefer just “allium flower.” The following photos were all shot on the same morning and show allium flowers in progressive stages of opening.

Allium sequence 1

Allium sequence 2

Allium sequence 3

Allium sequence 4

Allium sequence 5

The welcomest effect of spring has been its curative one on Juniper’s mood. She turned 18 months and began daycare in December. Those two developments contributed to a disagreeable winter for Juniper. Eileen and I still enjoyed moments of joy with her, but they were fewer than before and spaced between more regular tantrums and whining. This lasted until Easter weekend – Good Friday morning, to be exact – when she woke in a renewed happy mood.

So spring is rich with life, plants, flowers, colours… yeah, yeah. Not having my daughter throw a tantrum, flat on her belly, legs and fists pounding the floor, because I said she had to wear a jacket to go out in the snow – THAT is my favourite springtime renewal!

Here are a few photos of our expressive, toddling Juniper since her Easter renewal:

“I will come, but I will not like it!”

Hunting for Easter chocolates

Hunting for Easter chocolates

Running against the wind in Ouchy

Running into the wind in Ouchy

Juniper slides by herself, although still cautiously

Juniper slides by herself, although still cautiously

Three rebellious friends under four years of age

Three rebellious friends under four years of age

Flying is Juni's favourite mode of travel

Flying is Juni’s favourite mode of travel

“That cow is so awesome, it is blowing my MIND!”

Just don't turn right

Just don’t turn right

A cute mess

A cute mess

May sunshine and happy children carry on into summer!

Written by Kris Terauds

May 22, 2015 at 14:09

Posted in Uncategorized

A week in Burgundy

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In the European summer of 2014, the weather in July collapsed under crippling performance anxiety. As early as March, the sun began shining consistently, raising expectations for a long, hot summer. But when it was July’s turn, the hot weather retreated with a whimper and was replaced by a persistent cloud and rain that resembled October more than July.

In the last week of this autumnal July, my Mom arrived for a visit. Here is a photo from one of the month’s rare sunny days, with Juniper inspecting our visitor:

Juniper with her Papa and Mamie

Juniper with her Papa and Mamie

Shortly after Mom’s arrival, we travelled to Burgundy for a week’s vacation. We rented a well restored vintner’s house in Pommard, a village along the Route des Grands Crus, a wine tour route that links all but one of Burgundy’s most famous wine areas.

It rained steadily for the first three days of our stay, during which we stayed close to the house. To combat cabin fever, we walked through the network of paths that stitch together the many small vineyards surrounding Pommard.

Pommard in the rain

We adults would return from our walks saturated with rain, but Juniper remained relatively dry under the canopy of her backpack. In fact, she has always enjoyed being outside in stormy conditions, so was quite happy during our rainy walks in Burgundy.

Juniper enjoying a walk in the rain

Juniper enjoying a rainy walk among the vineyards

During those first rainy days, we admired Pommard’s hundreds of tiny vineyards during our daytime walks, and then, in the evening, we sampled their wines. This sensory sequence – visual during the day, followed by taste in the evening – emphasised for us the significant differences between wines that are grown a few hundred metres from each other. Indeed, Burgundy wines are one of the most specific examples of terroir, a rich, rich French concept for agricultural land that incorporates its physical characteristics – soil, topography and climate – with the crops and techniques cultivated by humans, to explain the distinctions of a particular parcel’s produce.

The concept of terroir is elaborate in Burgundy, where, on the surface, there is little to distinguish among the vineyards and their wine. The parcels are often tiny, indistinguishable from their neighbours and they all produce wine from single grape varietals: mainly chardonnay for white and pinot noir for red. Yet, with an average production of only a few hundred cases each per year, Burgundy vintners produce wines with markedly different aromas, flavours, texture and longevity, neighbour from neighbour. This small-scale differentiation contrasts with the Bordeaux region, for example, where the average vintner produces 15,000 cases of wine per year and can differentiate their products by blending several different grapes.

Concept aside, terroir also has its bureaucratic side, manifested in land title and codified in the French appellation system, which restricts the naming of agricultural products to a specific geography. Perhaps the most famous example is sparkling white wine: if it is produced in five designated districts of the Champagne region, it is champagne. Produced anywhere else in the world, it is a bottle of bubbly at half the price.

The titling of Burgundy’s vineyards evolved from the French Revolution, before which the Catholic Church controlled many of the region’s vineyards. After the Revolution, the state divided and sold these holdings to private owners. A few years later, legal reforms during Napoleon’s rule required that, when parents died, their holdings be divided equally among their children. Over the next hundred years, Burgundy’s vineyards were split and split again among heirs. When the wine industry adopted the appellation system in the 1930s, the fragmentation of Burgundy’s vineyards was codified in the region’s many appellations. Today the Burgundy region has approximately 3,200 vineyards, with an average area of less than eight hectares each, who label their wines from among the 500+ appellations under the Burgundy umbrella.

Different from other regions, vintners in Burgundy attached their appellations to specific parcels, which they call climats, as opposed to attaching them to an owner, estate or château, as they do in Bordeaux. The following map illustrates the parcel-by-parcel specificity of Burgundy’s appellations. It depicts the many named vineyard parcels around the towns of Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Vougeot. Many of the parcels are one hectare or smaller.

Map of Vosne-Romanée wine estates

Map of Vosne-Romanée wine estates

On the map, the parcels that traditionally grow grapes for red wines are coloured in shades of pink. The darkest pink indicates those designated as a grand cru, the highest grade, which applies to approximately 1% of the total volume produced in Burgundy and can sell for many thousands of euros per bottle. The next grade is premier cru, depicted in medium pink and representing approximately 10% of Burgundy wines.

Each of the parcels growing these two premium grades – grand and premier cru – has its own appellation under the Burgundy umbrella. The following photo shows the label of a 1975 bottle of La Tâche: this appellation is restricted to a parcel, shown in the middle of the above map, which is no bigger than a half a hectare:

Label of a bottle of  La Tâche, 1975

Label of a bottle of La Tâche, 1975

The third grade is village, in light pink on the map and representing 37% of Burgundy wines. Bottles of village are sometimes labelled by individual parcel, but are also blended among parcels to make, for example, a “Vosne-Romanée Village,” as on the following label:

Label of a bottle of  Vosne-Romanée Village, 2004

Label of a bottle of Vosne-Romanée Village, 2004

The remaining 51% of Burgundy’s red wine production are blended into wines labelled with generic regional names. From the plots depicted on the above map, these names could include Côte de Nuits (the subregion) or simply Burgundy.

Here is a photo looking across some premier cru parcels near Beaune. Notice the transition from the dry, stony soil around the house to the rich, clumpy brown soil under the vines.

Vineyard near Beaune

Vineyard near Beaune

Next is a photo of an expressive vine of pinot noir, the red wine grape for which Burgundy is known. I shot this photo on a hillside above Pommard, in the premier cru La Vache parcel, by my reckoning.

The mighty pinot vine

A pinot noir vine in the La Vache vineyard, Pommard

Label of a bottle of La Vache

Label of a bottle of La Vache

Here is Eileen, blocking the view of a premier cru parcel near Volnay, perhaps Chanlin:

In the past, Burgundian vintners were short

In the past, Burgundian vintners were short

Label of a bottle of Chanlin

Label of a bottle of Chanlin

Here is a photo of the premier cru Clos de la Commaraine estate in Pommard – our rental house was situated to the right of this photo:

View over Clos de la Commaraine and Pommard

View over the Clos de la Commaraine estate and Pommard

Label of a bottle of Clos de la Commaraine

Label of a bottle of Clos de la Commaraine

As a last illustration of the specificity of the Burgundian appellation system, I photographed these grapes on the Les Jarollières parcel, south of Pommard. Look for them in a future vintage!

Grapes in the Les Jarollières vineyard, Pommard

Grapes in the Les Jarollières vineyard, Pommard

Label of a bottle of  Les Jarollières

Label of a bottle of Les Jarollières

Wine figures into the history of Burgundy, although not to the degree implied by its brand and the prices of some of its grand crus. The Duchy of Burgundy was once a near-sovereign state within the Kingdom of France. In the 15th century, the Dukes exercised considerable control over a series of weak French kings and grew fabulously wealthy. Grown ambitious, they attempted to sever their dependence on France, but failed, and the Duchy was swallowed by the French throne.

As I read about their wealth, I was tempted to imagine that the Dukes filled their treasury by exporting Burgundy wines. Indeed, in the 14th century, when the Catholic Popes took their 67-year sabbatical in Avignon, France, the pontiffs preferred Burgundy wines over Roman ones, which boosted the brand and sales of Burgundy reds. But overall, the Dukes of Burgundy amassed their fortune, not from Burgundy wine, but by marrying into the possession of wealthy merchant states in the Low Countries, in particular the city of Bruges.

One day when the sun shone during our vacation, we drove to see the fruits of Burgundy’s one-time wealth, in its capital city of Dijon. Many other regional capitals in France developed as administrative outposts of the political centre in Paris, with smaller, more subdued architecture and public spaces. Montpellier and Tours are attractive regional capitals, for example, but are not grand. By contrast, Dijon retains the ostentatious look and feel of the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, with a sprawling palace, grand squares and wide boulevards.

Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne

Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne

The Palais des Ducs currently houses Dijon’s city hall and the city’s famous Musée des Beaux-Arts. I had looked forward to strolling through the museum, as I enjoy these converted-palace museums more for the rooms than for their collections. But we were forbidden from bringing our baby backpack into the museum, so I spent my visit carrying and cajoling a tired, squirmy Juniper. Here is a rare photo I shot during our visit, when Eileen took Juniper so that I could rest my back:

Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon

Back outside the Palais des Ducs, with the sun heating the marble of the Place de la Libération, it was time for Juniper to strip and eat her goûter, and for Papa to rest his sweaty feet:

Time for goûter (and a rest)

Time for goûter (and a rest)

On another sunny day, we walked 3km from Pommard to Beaune, a small, wealthy city that is one of the world’s wine capitals. The wine tours all pass through Beaune, so the city felt quite touristy. This actually underlined the value of the Burgundy wine brand, as, despite the crowds of tourists, wine is Beaune’s primary industry.

Beaune had enough of a Disneyland feel that I was unmotivated to shoot photos. For example, the city’s central attraction is the Hospices de Beaune, a hospital and refuge for the poor, built in the 15th century. It has a number of attractive visual elements, including a distinctive Burgundian tiled roof and a ward of red velour beds for the patients. But I was unmotivated to shuffle through the crowds and compose an interesting photo, as illustrated by the cliché photo below, in which I even borrowed another family’s pose as foreground!

Hospices de Beaune

Hospices de Beaune

Nope, my camera was not drawn to Beaune itself, but rather to Juniper enjoying a full day out of the house after the rainy beginning to the week. Here is a photo of her babbling to me in the chapel of the Hospices de Beaune:

Choirgirl in the Hospices de Beaune chapel

Choir girl in the Hospices de Beaune chapel

It was a hot day in Beaune, so I enjoyed removing my shoes and relaxing on the grass. Not Juniper – she dragged herself off the grass and into the middle of a dusty path in the direct sun. There, she collected stones and made friends with passers-by.

Juniper collecting stones in Beaune

Juniper collecting stones in Beaune

Juniper was especially animated in the sombre, hush-hush environment of Beaune’s cathedral, the Collégial Notre-Dame. She insisted on walking barefoot on the cathedral’s smooth stone floor. As she passed whispering, eyes-down adults, she chattered, laughed and yelped at top volume, her glee echoing throughout the building. Here is Juniper inspecting one of the chair-pews.

Juniper livening up the Collégial Notre-Dame de Beaune

Juniper livening up the Collégial Notre-Dame de Beaune

As new parents, Eileen and I have adjusted relatively well to a Juniper-friendly vacation routine. Prior to Juniper’s arrival, we would try to fill each vacation day with several activities, building our memories activity by activity. With Juniper, we schedule just one activity per day and our memories form from the range of reactions that new experiences provoke in her.

For example, we visited the holiday home of one of Eileen’s colleagues, in the village of Chazelle. Juniper was intrigued by their little dog Max and constantly reached for him. But, when we brought her close, Max’s enthusiasm and erratic movements frightened her. This resulted in a game of advance-retreat between Juniper and Max that continued throughout our visit.

Juniper fascinated but uneasy around a friendly dog

Juniper fascinated but uneasy around a friendly dog

During the same visit, we strolled around the village of Chazelle. At one point, Juniper met a horse, an animal she has rarely seen, and never up close. Despite the horse being much larger and less friendly than Max the dog, Juniper was unperturbed at being close to the horse and, in this photo, even looks a little bored:

Juniper meets a horse

Juniper meets a horse

During our Burgundy vacation, Juniper was constantly on the lookout for watery playgrounds. This summer she has enjoyed splashing and socialising in Geneva’s paddling pools. Now she seems also to be able to recognise watery fun from a distance. She demonstrated this at the end of our sweaty stroll in Chazelle, when I was walking Juniper back to our car. As we approached a bridge, she saw several children playing near the village sluice gate, 30 metres away. She changed direction and marched me down a rough dirt track, right into the stream, and sat down. Well actually, to her frustration, I insisted on removing her dress before sitting her in the stream. Here is Juniper, beckoning to the adults, who are still on the road, 30 metres away, laughing at her single-mindedness:

Stop, drop and splash

Stop, drop and splash

After watching the water falling through the sluice gate, Juniper wanted to inspect it up close. As she does in her splashing episodes, she received a face-full of water, recoiled, caught her breath and then began again.

Similarly, when we stopped to relax on the Place de la Libération in Dijon, a tired, cranky Juniper went directly for the fountains, where she happily practiced her self-drowning technique.

Cooling off in the square

Cooling off in the square

On the last day of our stay, we visited a new outdoor swimming complex in Montagny-lès-Beaune, called Beaune Beachside. We went on a hunch: Eileen and I had seen several signs along the road for baignade naturelle (“natural swimming pools”), as well as some parked cars gleaming in the distance. It was a great complex, with several different pools, a slide, a climbing wall, etc. But we chuckled at the European concept of “natural”: the complex comprised a number of man-made structures erected at one end of a man-made lagoon. The natural part seemed to be limited to them filtering the lagoon water before pumping it into the pools.

Natural or not, it was all the same to Juniper. Cue splashing and socialising.

SPLASH!

SPLASH!

Coquine

Coquine

Although we enjoyed our introduction to Burgundy, we all reflected that a week is not long enough for a holiday. By the time we had settled into a routine and waited out the rainy days, we had only a couple of days of exploring. For me, this is most evident in my photos from the trip. With two weeks or longer, I can be patient in my photography: scouting for images, observing how the light falls on them at different times of the day and shooting several sunrises and sunsets for a better chance in the fire-in-the-sky lottery. With only a week in Pommard, I photographed only one sunset, which yielded a couple of decent but unspectacular images. I would have enjoyed having more outings to find better angles and light.

Véloroute leaving Pommard

Véloroute leaving Pommard

Vineyards above Pommard

Vineyards above Pommard

From a family perspective as well, longer holidays seem more appealing. We want to raise Juniper to be a comfortable traveller, adaptable to new situations, routines and living conditions. She enjoyed her vacation in Burgundy, but I had the sense that she needed the first few days to accustom herself to her new home, different sleeping arrangements and a modified daily routine. Once she had adjusted to the new context, she was more open and confident to explore and flirt with strangers.

Written by Kris Terauds

August 13, 2014 at 19:05

Juniper’s first birthday

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This year in Geneva, June 22nd fell on a Sunday. I appreciated the coincidence of day and date, as it was Juniper’s birthday, as well as being the 52nd week for her growth photo, which I shoot weekly on Sundays. The symmetry of the two rituals echoes the sense of alignment I feel after Juniper’s first year of life. Eileen, Juniper and I have endured a few blips of difficulty, but they smooth into long, parallel lines of joy, satisfaction and progress when I reflect on a year of watching Juniper thrive and delight.

To begin, here is a slideshow of one year of Juniper’s weekly Sunday growth photos, with her sitting in front of her blue cushion. In the majority of them, she is sitting on the couch in our living room. In the four exceptions, she is sitting in a deck chair at a house we rented in southern France in September 2013. The other two exceptions involve Mothers and Fathers Days, when Eileen and I intrude in the photos. I shot the last photo on Sunday, 22 June 2014 – Juniper’s first birthday.

When I rewatch the slideshow, I am struck at how the outcomes of this project diverged from my original intentions. Photographing Juniper in front of the blue cushion every week was meant to show her physical growth. But as soon as she began moving, the scale function of the cushion was mooted and the photos only give a vague illustration of her physical growth. Instead, the photos are more effective at showing the progression of Juniper’s expressiveness, awareness and motor control. I think the end result is far more vibrant and engaging than I had intended.

The night before Juniper’s birthday party, Eileen baked a blueberry cake, including a muffin-sized version for Juniper’s dessert. When Eileen approached with the cake and its single burning candle, Juniper burst into terrified tears at the flame! Once she recovered her composure, she gobbled the cake.

“Don’t you know that fire is dangerous for babies!?”

The flame is out, but the distress burns on

“Never mind, the cake is delicious.”

The following day, Eileen organised a birthday BBQ party in the Parc du Boulodrome, across the Arve River from our home. As much as for any other reason, I mention the location because of the word boulodrome. The park is attached to a covered complex with sandy pits inside for playing boules. Yes, boules, bocci, pétanque, whatever you call the game – I have only played it in backyards or campgrounds, with a beer in my hand – is played in a modern sporting complex called a boulodrome. Amazing and hilarious!

I digress – Eileen organised Juniper’s first birthday party at Parc du Boulodrome. We often pass the park on our walks with Juniper along the Arve River. The park has several BBQ pits, which are always busy on the weekend with music, smoke and the delicious odours of grilling meat. Judging by the music, the BBQ-ers are mostly Spanish speakers. On the day of Juniper’s party, Eileen’s parents and I showed up at 10h, two hours before our event, to claim a spot. But the best ones were already occupied by groups that looked as if they had been there for hours already! We carved out an area next to the communal BBQ pit, with a group of Bolivians as neighbours. Below are some photos from the party – happy birthday Juniper!

Setting up the party

Pre-party lunch with Grandpa Mike

Grandma Erlinda making faces at Juniper

Eileen with the birthday cake

Presents are confusing when you are one

Happy birthday Juni!

Among other topics, Juniper’s first birthday prompted Eileen and I to reflect on her development. As you might imagine, I have hundreds of photos that illustrate the progression, from minute one until one minute ago. But it is perhaps more considerate of my dear reader to limit myself here to a quick update.

From the beginning, Juniper has been an enthusiastic eater, enjoying variety and novelty in her diet. At the moment she insists on feeding herself, whether with finger foods or the spoon. She also has a new preference for whatever Mom and Papa are eating. Here is a close-up midway through a typical summer meal – it should serve as a warning not to wear your new D&G blazer to a meal with Juni.

Wear a poncho

Last summer Juniper was too young for us to introduce her to swimming. This summer, she has “swum” regularly in the paddling pools near our home, as well as in Lac Léman. Juniper loves the water, but “swimming” does not describe her attraction. In the water, she splits her time between: a) pointing and yelping with delight at the many children running and splashing around her and b) splashing maniacally, nearly drowning herself. Unless we physically remove her from the water, she will continue to splash without pause. Last week I had to drag her out of the pool after 20 minutes of splashing and cackling. Here she is, in a similar mood at Baby Plage on Lac Léman:

Crazy splasher

In the weeks since her birthday, Juniper’s sense of play has really progressed. Prior to her birthday, she enjoyed interactions with her parents and toys, but the dynamics were simpler and more direct: she observed, she discovered, she was entertained. Recently I have noticed her, off by herself, inventing trajectories and interactions for objects, giggling at the result. She has also begun trying to tempt Eileen and I into chasing her around the apartment and into her tent.

“It’s a bird… it’s a plane… no it’s a Birkenstock!”

Eileen and I predicted accurately that Juniper would never bother to crawl. She has always shown more interest in walking, although she still likes to use her parents’ fingers (and sore backs) to assist her. When she must displace herself by other means, she has grown quite fast and coordinated in a bizarre crab-drag technique, with one leg folded under her bum. Here is a still shot of Juniper racing towards Eileen using her crab-drag, right leg tucked and left leg out.

Juniper’s bizarre crab-drag technique

As a final illustration, here is a video of Juniper in her bedroom. It shows her imitating Eileen… sort of: Mom is putting the clothes away, dear. And then she decides to show off her standing abilities, looking proudly at Papa for validation. The video illustrates how Juniper’s desire to imitate her parents has changed: before it was words and expressions that she copied; now she wants to copy our activities in the house. As for freestanding, she attempts it once or twice per day.

As a birthday gift for Juniper, I wrote and read her a letter, which I will preserve until she is older. In the letter, one of my closing thoughts was a reflection on how my mother often repeated that she was glad that my brother and I were healthy.  It annoyed me sometimes, I wrote to Juniper, because it seemed to me at the time that I had more endearing qualities than good health, which seemed obvious and banal. Now that I am a parent, I realise the overwhelming importance of Juniper’s continued good health. My focus on her health is not necessarily fearful: she is robust and resilient. It is more that I am aware that a healthy mind and body are her vehicles for a long, happy and fulfilling life – my priority. One year into Juniper’s life, I love her charm, curiosity and ambition – but I am most grateful for her good health.

Written by Kris Terauds

July 23, 2014 at 20:16

Thursdays with Juniper

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Both Eileen and I returned to work in early December. Eileen’s return was scheduled well in advance, but mine was more sudden, leaving us to scramble over our last 10 days at home to find a child care solution for Juniper.

Along with housing, child care is one of the core services that are hopelessly scarce in Geneva. Our first choice was state-subsidised daycare, but we were not too hopeful: the agency that administers the system announces in its literature that they have an annual shortfall of 3,000 spots. We applied for a spot six months before Juniper was born. But our file remains buried deep down the wait list, and she will likely be admitted a few days before she starts dating.

Our second choice was a maman de jour: a woman who is authorised by the state to care for several children in her home. We only applied to the association a few weeks before our scheduled return to work, and were naïve in thinking that this private service would be more available. When we heard nothing in response, I phoned the association, where a polite lady told me “no need to call; we will contact you when we find a spot for your daughter.” We have yet to hear anything from them.

Absent any organised child care, Eileen and I quickly found ourselves searching online classifieds for nannies. I was anxious: less at the prospect of leaving Juniper with a stranger, and more at becoming an employer. On parenting forums we read warnings about hiring nannies unofficially. Although raids are apparently rare, there are cases of parents receiving large fines for failing to register their employee or contribute to the social safety net, and even immigration charges for employing permit-less foreigners.

Eileen and I decided to do everything legally, and were lucky to find our nanny Valérie from among the handful of ladies we interviewed. Once we hired Valérie and registered her contract with the state, the anxiety disappeared. Juniper was comfortable with her from the beginning and did not even seem to notice when Eileen and I left in the mornings. In fact, the transition to being working parents of an infant was anti-climactic. I immediately began to appreciate the new balance between work during the week, and focussed time with Juniper during mornings, evenings and weekends.

In addition, Eileen and I each arranged to spend one day at home per week: Eileen on Wednesday and me on Thursday. We originally arranged this to ease Eileen’s transition back to full-time work, and because Valérie was only available for three days per week. But Thursdays quickly became my favourite day of the work week.

I do not cherish my Thursdays with Juniper because they are always fun: there are indeed enjoyable stretches of time, but there are equally entire afternoons when Juniper is whiny and impossible to please, when I long for a second parent to relieve me. But Thursdays are meaningful because they are my most intense parenting experience: I observe and share, uninterrupted, the full, extreme range of Juniper’s experiences over the course of a single day.

Never mind a full day: within the space of a few minutes, she can veer from tortured screeching at me lying her down on the changing table, to giddy giggles at my efforts to cheer her, to an immobile, expressionless stare aimed at nothing in particular on the ceiling. When everything is new, life reads as a series of erratic scratches on the page. On Thursdays, I have a private reading of Juniper’s experience through her expressions, sounds and movements. Thursdays are also my most intense training sessions as a parent, which appeals to my psychology.

Below are a series of photos that illustrate the routine of my Thursdays with Juniper. I shot the photos over two or three Thursdays to give examples of the different activities we share – this is important to remember, as I would collapse in exhaustion if I attempted to fit all of the activities depicted below into a single day!

7h33: Responding to her cooing sounds, I pulled a smiling Juniper from her crib. She sleeps through the nights with few exceptions and usually wakes before 7h, so this morning was a sleep-in.

7h35: When Juniper wakes at her usual time, we have 20-30 minutes together before Eileen joins us. But because of Juniper’s late start this morning, Eileen interrupted us on the changing table to say “good morning,” even before I could change Juniper’s diaper!

7h37: Diaper changed and ready for action. The changing table used to be Juniper’s favourite place in the world: she would squeal and wave her arms in excitement. Recently she has begun to find it oppressively boring, especially the lying down part, so she whines and cries at times. But this morning she was giddy throughout her first change.

7h39: A late start meant we proceeded directly to the breakfast table (couch). In general Juniper drinks her breakfast bottle between 7h15 and 7h30.

7h55: After her breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to Mommy. I can not remember why Eileen was leaving so early that Thursday morning – usually she leaves later. Eileen complains that Juniper is a reluctant cuddler, and this morning the distraction of my ever-present camera lens further degraded the quality of Eileen’s goodbye cuddle.

8h09: With Mommy out of our hair, Juniper and I settled into our chosen activities: she testing the consistency of some plastic shapes, and me reading.

8h22: I am convinced that Juniper will skip crawling in her development. She shows no interest in grubbing along the floor to displace herself. Meanwhile, she relishes the opportunity to motor around the apartment in her walker, which she steers expertly and propels with proper little footsteps. Here she is trying to force the walker over the lip of the carpet so as to swipe at all the forbidden goodies on the coffee table.

10h04: As Juniper begins to tire, her first tell is a long stare. By 10h she had been awake for 2.5 hours, so naptime was imminent.

11h18: Juniper eats like a champ and sleeps through the night, so within her core eat-sleep routine, napping is often our only struggle with her. She prefers being active and social, even when her energy dips, so she resists some of her naps. And her potential nap resistance builds throughout the day: she usually accepts her morning nap happily, is a bit suspicious of her early afternoon nap, and screams obscenities at the suggestion of a late afternoon nap. Here she is, waking up sideways and uncovered, after a happy morning nap:

11h20: The overhead light in Juniper’s room is directly above her bed and is cloaked in a marine-themed shade. To have more light for these photos, I turned on the overhead light, which is unusual when I am pulling her out of bed. Juniper wanted to have a closer look at the glowing orb above her bed.

11h25: I visualised the following photo, wanting to convey the difficulty involved in squeezing Juniper’s chunky, squirming legs through the tight openings of her highchair harness. But the photo proved impossible to execute while holding a 2kg camera to my face. So here is a rather static photo of Juniper standing in her highchair, waiting for Papa to get on with it:

11h33: Lunchtime! As I have said, feeding Juniper is a breeze: she eats it all. In addition, Eileen is a dedicated and creative purée chef. She has prepared every spoonful of solid food that Juniper has ever eaten, other than one jar of store-bought peas that we used on a road trip. I believe today’s purée was a mixture of squash, peas and cauliflower, flavoured with olive oil and thyme. As Juniper’s gestures confirm, it is irresistibly delicious.

11h44: Eileen preserves Juniper’s purées in easily portioned ice cubes. For the volume of her meals, on this Thursday she ate three cubes of purée and then washed it down with approximately 160mL of milk.

11h56: We are not yet at the stage of sharing meals around the table, but after I fed her, she watched from her highchair as I ate my lunch. On this Thursday, I think we could have easily introduced tuna into Juniper’s diet.

12h12: As much as any other activity, Juniper enjoys sitting in the kitchen, amid the action as her parents cook or clean. She alternates between clanging her toys against the table and turning to check on our progress. Here Juniper amuses herself while Papa washes the dishes:

12h41: For propriety on my Thursdays with Juniper, I have the unambitious goal of showering before noon. But I missed that target today. Here Juniper waits patiently as Papa showers:

13h00:  Also for propriety, I changed Juniper out of her pyjamas and into her daytime clothes. In the following photos, Juniper seems to be confronting a paparazzo. But, in fact, she was once again trying to solve the mystery of why that big camera was blocking her view of Papa’s face.

13h04: We occasionally place Juniper in her daytime prison. But she rarely tolerates it for more than a few minutes. In this instance, she was happy – but for how long?

13h44: Here is an example of Juniper’s erratic nap preferences. She was smiling and quiet when I laid her down for her morning nap. Here, she wails about abuse, religious discrimination and Chinese water torture when I lay her down for her afternoon nap:

2014_01_16_Thursdays_with_Juniper_272

14h52: It is unusual for Juniper to wake up mad, but she decided to end this nap as she began it:

15h02: Juniper is fascinated by screens as light sources, but has yet to take much interest in the action appearing onscreen. To help her reset after a traumatic waking, we watched an animated video of Frère Jacques.

15h17: Goûter! If Juniper enjoys her vegetable purée at lunch, she is positively bonkers for her fruit purée at goûter time. Often, Papa’s spoon hand is too slow to satisfy her taste for fruit. Here she gulps down a purée of apple, apricot, pear and Malagasy vanilla. Compliments to the chef!

16h09: One Thursday, I loaded Juniper into the big, diesel-powered soother, otherwise known as our car, for a late afternoon excursion to a ski shop in Thonon-les-Bains.

16h12: Car engines have a magical effect on babies. As a new parent, I could be forgiven for imagining that the creator of the internal combustion engine invented it to calm his inconsolable child, rather than to replace his slow-moving horse.

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16h22: My favourite Thursday activity with Juniper is walking, with her happily perched in her carrier. The Deuter Kid Comfort III carrier is our latest, greatest purchase. After her newborn weeks, Juniper learned to hate the inward-facing position of a papoose-style carrier, so we had to use the stroller for longer walks, which is limiting and cumbersome. But Juniper loves her position in the new backpack carrier: she watches the world pass and chirps at the back of my head.

16h45: In addition to the viewpoint it provides, the backpack also transmits to Juniper the oh-so-soothing rhythm of my stride. At a certain point on our walk, she inevitably succumbs, face slouching into the drool cushion. This is the other, more strategic, benefit of a walk: it lulls her into a valuable late afternoon nap, instead of me having to overcome her screeching resistance to a nap in her crib.

18h35: If I succeed in inducing Juniper into a late afternoon nap, she is much cheerier during the difficult hour of 18h-19h. If I fail to convince her to nap, that hour will likely be the least pleasant time of our Thursdays together. On this particular day, Papa won the nap challenge and Juniper was a happy girl when she welcomed Eileen home from work.

19h40: When I return from work on Wednesdays, Eileen’s day at home with Juniper, Eileen is ready for a break and I am keen to assume the evening responsibilities: play, feed, bathe and then bed. On Thursdays, the roles are reversed, and I cook dinner while Eileen reconnects with Juniper and feeds her. I intervene only for Juniper’s nightly tradition: a naked dash through the apartment prior to bath time.

19h48: Along with her high chair, her backpack and the car, the bathtub is one of Juniper’s favourite places. She kicks; she splashes; she squeals and tries to devour her rubber duck.

2014_01_23_Thursdays_with_Juniper_130

After exerting herself in the bathtub, Juniper rubs her eyes and, if it were possible, would happily roll directly into bed. Unfortunately, given her parents’ magical limitations, she often has to endure us dressing her in a diaper and pyjamas, and then waits still longer as we give her a last few kisses and squeezes. At around 20h on Thursday, I left a contented Juniper in her crib to drift off to sleep. My day with her complete, I turned my attention to Eileen for a couple of hours, during which time we tried to remember what we liked to do as a couple before Juniper arrived. Unable to remember, we put ourselves to bed.

Written by Kris Terauds

February 9, 2014 at 22:02

November photos

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I have gone silent on my blog over the last months, not because I have had nothing to write, but because I hesitate to return, post after post, to write about Juniper. She is the most fascinating subject in my life, from which I struggle to carve away enough attention to write about or photograph another subject in detail. But I remember from pre-parenthood that my threshold for baby talk was lower, so I refrain from flooding my blog with Juniper’s latest.

In addition, November is an inspiration-poor month for me. I checked: over the years I have shot fewer photos in November than in any other month. Temperatures drop, days shorten, light fades and colours seem to fade to grey. Less visual stimulation for a blog entry, in other words.

To confront Juniper-centricity and the November doldrums, I have scoured my catalogue, to present below a selection of the photos I shot in Novembers past. My catalogue is heaviest in the years since I switched to the digital format, so these photos all date from 2007 onwards. And photos of Juniper may or may not have found their way into this selection.

Eileen and I had a close network for friends when we lived in Victoria. One of our annual rituals was a gourmet weekend in the coastal town of Tofino, for which we would plan one elaborate meal with umpteen courses, each matched with a fitting wine and consumed at a leisurely, convivial pace. We called it Vino in Tofino, and my world is a bleaker place without it. Here is a photo of our friend Dani, which captures the mood of the event: warm and a bit wobbly from all the wine.

In 2009, shortly after Eileen joined me in Geneva, we travelled to Belgium to visit my cousin Juris, his wife Anne, and their children Andrik, Kaylie and Jayden. They have since moved back to their home in Quebec, but that November weekend remains one of my highlights of our ongoing life in Europe. Below is a photo of brothers Jayden and Andrik, high in the Atomium, a monument built to resemble a cell of iron crystal, which was built for Expo 1958 in Brussels.

Fun dictator factoid: Joseph Mobutu from the Belgian Congo first appeared on video as a journalist at Expo ’58. He would go on to become one of the world’s most famous kleptomaniac dictators, renaming himself Mobutu Sese Seko and treating the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaïre for a time) as his personal piggy bank from 1965-97.  Okay, back to the photo of my smiling cousins:

Juris and his family lived in the Flemish town of Brasschaat, near the border with Holland. There was nothing to see there, so we spent a day in the nearest big city: Antwerp. Here are Juris and his beautiful family in Antwerp’s City Square:

Daughter Kaylie is an exceptional gymnast (see the many videos of her on YouTube), so I tried to capture her leaping in an Antwerp park.

Nor is father Juris an athletic slouch. Despite his advancing years, he had trained hard and earned a spot on Antwerp’s first-division hockey team. At the bottom of the page of this recap of the 2009-10 Belgian Cup, you can see that Juris was, ahem, the oldest player in the league. He told us that it was demanding to keep his body going through the semi-pro schedule, competing with guys in their 20s, alongside working full-time and raising a family. Later, Anne underlined Juris’s understatement, telling us stories involving caseloads of Advil and a chronic avoidance of stairs. Juris also told us that he had an unflashy, workmanlike leadership role on the team, but in the game we watched, he broke out and scored two goals!

Next is a sneaky photo I shot of a couple enjoying a perfect November afternoon on the Salève: the mountain that is a fixture on Geneva’s southern skyline, but actually sits in neighbouring France. In the distance, you can see Mont Blanc and the high range of the Alps.

In mid-November this year, the icy bise blew down Lac Léman for a few days, making for bitterly cold temperatures, but also crisp, haze-free skies. On several evenings, I bundled up and drove to a lookout point on the Salève to shoot photos of alpenglow on the Alps. I did not make as many crisp images as I had hoped, due in part to the wind shaking my gear, and me rushing to escape the cold. But when there is pink evening light on Mont Blanc, it is impossible not to come home with something pretty in your camera.

In late 2011, both Belinda and I were poor in employment and rich in time. On a beautiful November weekday, we travelled to hilly Fribourg to walk and talk. Belinda found a job not long after that excursion, depriving me of my midweek buddy. Here is a photo of Belinda standing above the lower part of Fribourg, just before sunset:

The following year, Eileen and I travelled to Paris to attend the Paris Photo exhibition. I enjoyed the event well enough, despite my disappointment that it was not organised around photography’s artists and themes, but instead around galleries trying to sell their collections. The weather was grey and rainy during our stay, which contributed to dramatic night photos. Here is a view over the Seine River from the Pont Alexandre III, towards the Eiffel Tower.

I do not find the Eiffel Tower all that pretty or interesting, but it sneaks regularly into my photos nonetheless. Here is a photo with the same Eiffel background, shot from the fountains in the Jardins du Trocadéro.

Eileen and I bought a car last winter, a key advantage of which is quick excursions to destinations that are poorly served by public transportation. In the November prior to the arrival of our car, Danny, Chris and I set out from Geneva with a general plan to hike from nearby Gex up to the high ridge of the Jura Mountains. We left Geneva at the reasonable hour or 10h or so, but with the Sunday schedule and transfers on the bus, we did not begin walking from Gex until after noon. The walk was relatively short, but it was dark not long after we returned to Gex, from where the next bus to Geneva was not to leave for another hour. We each withdrew a small sum of euros from the bank machine (Gex is in France) and drank beers in a Gessian café. We had only walked for three-four hours, but returned to Geneva at around 19h! A long-winded way to say that Eileen and I are happy to own a car, and to introduce the following photo of Danny and Chris on the Grand Mont Rond in the Jura Mountains.

I am cheating the November theme with the following photo, but only by one day. Eileen had several elaborate costumes in mind for Juniper on her first Hallowe’en: Napoleon or one of the creatures from the Alien movies, for example. In the end, none of these costumes transpired. Instead, on October 31, Eileen rummaged through the drawer to find a Canadian toque and a King of the Mountains onesy for Juniper and took her into the hall to ring our doorbell for her first trick-or-treat experience.

Juniper lived her first November much as she has lived the other months: actively and expressively. She suffers few cuddles and wonders why sleep must interrupt activity.

You see? I find it impossible not to stray into Juniperland.

We shoot a few photos periodically to document Juniper’s growth and development. Here is one of them, shot in November, showing our chubby, coordinated girl in her still-favourite position: chauffeured face-forward through the world by Dad.

We introduced Juniper to solid food in November. Carrots were the first food she tried. Her gagging during this first meal sent Eileen into peals of laughter. It was not worrisome gagging, nor was Juniper reacting to the taste: she simply did not know how to swallow. Since the second or third day, she has gobbled all of the different fruits and vegetables we have given her, except turnips, whose taste she disliked. In fact, Mom and Dad’s spoon hands are now too slow for Juniper’s appetite.

Juniper is advanced in some aspects of her physical development, but rolling is not among them. We dutifully place her on her stomach several times per day, and she is strong, active and happy in that position, but it has not yet occurred to her to roll out of it onto her back. One morning, she surprised me by rolling from her back to her side, and later onto her stomach. The back-to-front roll is meant to come after the front-to-back one, and so we had never had her practice it.

Busy with our new arrival, Eileen and I did not make a single overnight trip to the mountains this past summer. We did not really remark this absence until friends began to talk about the upcoming start of the ski season – “you mean we missed the summer season entirely?” Taking pity, our friend Tatiana invited the three of us, plus Emily and Axel, to her family’s condo in the mountain resort of Leukerbad. Ski season had not yet begun, but preparations were well underway: throughout the weekend we heard the snow blower on the western slopes. Our time in Leukerbad reinforced that having a baby simplifies the flow of activities in life, without slowing the flow of time. The weekend whizzed past, but reflecting on what we did, our list of activities was short. We prepared and ate meals; we played games; and we walked around town a couple of times. Voilà le weekend! I barely found time to squeeze off a few photos. The following one was my favourite, shot from the parking lot as I packed the car before leaving.

My November highlight this year was a visit from our friend Daphne. She is thriving in the most unlikely of places: New Jersey, where she is an assistant professor at Rutgers University. You may be thinking: “yes, well Kris, New Jersey neighbours New York City, so despite your condescension, I am sure there are all sorts of opportunities in the Garden State for a bright, energetic woman like Daphne.” But you would be mistaken, as Daphne is not based at the main Rutgers campus in NYC-neighbouring northern New Jersey, but instead runs a marine research laboratory on Delaware Bay, in the swampy extreme south of the state. As I said: thriving in an unlikely place.

During her visit, I accompanied scientist Daphne to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). This was my third visit to the centre, but I have yet to have the opportunity to visit the 27km of tunnels and four giant particle detectors that comprise its famous particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. It is only open on the rare days when it is neither in operation nor undergoing maintenance. But the museum in the visitor’s centre presents well the mind-bending theories and engineering that underpin the work of CERN’s researchers. Here is a photo of Daphne peeking through the central section of a previous model of particle detector:

During Daphne’s visit, we drove to Basel for the opening of the city’s excellent Christmas market. Here is a photo of some cocktails and snacks at Münsterplatz, above the Rhine River, where a family was celebrating the occasion:

Juniper enjoyed the lights and sights of the Christmas market, and we three adults enjoyed the atmosphere and mulled wine. But instead of being an outright destination, the market provided a pleasant setting to visit with Daphne. We ate, laughed and walked – again with the short list of activities – and I took particular pleasure in seeing how much Daphne and Juniper enjoyed each other’s company. Here is a photo of the three ladies in the courtyard of Basel’s Rathaus:

 

What lesson to draw from this post? Memorable moments can shine through the grey and dark of November, so I will keep my eyes open when the days shorten at year’s end.

Written by Kris Terauds

December 22, 2013 at 11:18

Posted in Photography

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Snails in Provence

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Eileen, Juniper and I recently returned to Geneva after a month-long vacation in the south of France. We returned to the Lubéron area in Provence, which we have visited each of the last three years. For our two previous visits, we stayed in a couple of the beautiful villages, perched on hillsides, for which the area is known. This time, with baby Juniper along, we chose to stay in the less attractive, but more centrally located and full-service town of Apt.

I selected a house to rent in Apt from a vacation rental website, but when I first tried to contact the owner through the listing, I received a response that felt odd: it came from a generic Gmail account (dreamholidayrental@gmail.com); was signed by someone other than the listed owner; and offered a discount for early payment. A quick Google search of the email address confirmed that a scammer had likely hacked the property owner’s listing page and was phishing for some easy money. I phoned the owner and alerted the listing website. The owner was at first suspicious of my story, but was happy once she had confirmed that her listing was hacked. Given the goodwill created by this exchange, we were fortunate that the house was available to rent for our preferred dates.

There is always some unknown involved in renting a vacation property from a private owner: photos and descriptions on a website never capture everything about the property, and they can easily be embellished. Nevertheless, our experiences have largely been excellent, and we followed a similar selection process for this house in Apt. It had three bedrooms, a pool, a barbecue and a big yard. On the map it looked to be within walking distance of downtown Apt. But when we approached the house, I had a moment of doubt, as we were ascending a street that was far too steep to walk while carrying groceries and a baby.

Despite my moment of doubt, the steep hill was probably an advantage, as it protected us from any traffic whatsoever. Apt is the busy commercial centre in the area and its teeming Saturday market spills traffic into most of the town’s outskirts – except up our steep hill. The compromise of having to drive downhill to the grocery store was worth the quiet days and starry nights at our house on the hill.

Here is Juniper lounging by the pool on a warm day:

Although this house was spacious, cool and quiet, it had cheap furniture and kitchen equipment, as do many private vacation rentals. Nothing that attracted the attention of my camera, in other words. Here is one of the only photos I shot of the house – a Gretzky shadow cast by the ironwork outside the kitchen window:

Given that we were on holiday in Provence for a month, with a private pool and a two-month-old baby to occupy us, I understand if you thought that the snails in the title of this entry referred to us, moving slowly and rarely leaving our home. The metaphor may be apt, but the title also refers to the infestation of actual snails that we encountered during our stay. Thousands of snails had climbed and clustered on every possible perch: branches of the quintessential Provençal lavender bushes and olive trees sagged under shell-to-shell crowds of snails, as did individual blades of grass. Fences and street signs did not sag, but their profiles were distorted by thick snail borders.

Here is a photo of a hydrant near our house – apparently the snails could not cling to its painted vertical surfaces, but nonetheless found a few perches on which to cluster:

Eileen searched the internet for an explanation of the snail infestation, but found only descriptions of the climbing behaviour, not of causes for the infestation. In the summer, the snails flee the overheated ground for breezier perches, there to lay dormant until cooler weather returns (source, in French). Well done, clever snails, but I was baffled by how these zillions of snails each found enough food to survive, especially given their clustering behaviour.

Here is a photo of a typical roadside patch of dry grass, with almost every shoot laden with snails:

The snails not only baffled us during our stay in the Lubéron, but also sent us home with an amusing surprise. After we had returned to Geneva and unpacked from the trip, we found this snail on the kitchen wall – he had stowed away in a flat of peaches that we smuggled home:

We rented a house with a pool mostly for us adults to stay cool in the August heat. But we also had visions of introducing Juniper to “swimming.” During her teen years, Eileen was a swimming instructor and taught a few lessons for toddlers, so I was keen to watch our exceptional child learn the doggy paddle after two weeks, and then progress to the butterfly by the end of our four-week holiday. In reality, Juniper’s swimming lessons involved testing her tolerance for water that was colder than bathwater.

At first, Juniper did not appreciate the cold water at all. But Eileen quickly discovered a promising technique: trick Juniper into thinking it was playtime and sneak her into the water when she was distracted. Soon enough, Eileen was swooping a wary Juniper’s waist and legs through the water:

Eileen was very deliberate and gradual in introducing Juniper into the pool, but even if our daughter remained tear-free during the lesson itself, the cumulative stress of the cool water often led to a post-swim meltdown:

Juniper’s Mamie (my Mom) was with us for the first two weeks of our trip and took pity on her granddaughter, buying her a little inflatable pool that we could leave to warm in the sun. Clever Mamie: swimming lessons became more like daytime baths, with Eileen joining Juniper in the tub. No longer wary of cold water, Juniper actually began ignoring the water altogether and seemed most fascinated by the design on the edge of her pool:

The Lubéron has a number of villages classified as among France’s most beautiful, and they draw tour buses and crowds throughout the year. On each of our trips to the Lubéron, we have joined the hordes for the obligatory outing to the more famous villages, such as Gordes and Rousillon. Those two in particular are beautiful but overrun, and navigating through their traffic and crowds saps my energy, so they are one-off destinations. For the remainder of our outings, we prefer the second-order perched villages, which feel quiet, airy and spacious by comparison. Last year, for example, we stayed in the classified village of Ansouis, which has just a trickle of daytime traffic and is dark and empty at night. This year, our house was linked by back road to the village of Saignon, distinct on the horizon throughout the area due to the cliff-ringed promontory that juts up from the village centre.

Although I did not plan to shoot a photo essay of a particular subject during our vacation, Saignon was the one subject I shot several times, from different angles and in different light conditions. Below is a selection of the photos I shot of Saignon:

Having my Mom with us for two weeks was a special feature of our month in the Lubéron. She had spent two weeks with us in Geneva before we all travelled down to the Lubéron, so Mamie was already in sync with Juniper’s routine by the time we arrived in Apt. My Mom drinks deeply at the well of her chosen pursuits, and embraced our little family rhythms, not only to enjoy the fun times with Juniper, me and Eileen, but also to help Eileen and I as we adjust to parenthood.  She jumped at the chance to hold a happy, chirpy Juniper, but also to soothe her in her sour moods, and to put her down for naps – the hardest job with Juniper. Mom even changed diapers, stepping well beyond grandparent duties. After Mom returned to Canada, Eileen and I both remarked at how much of the parenting work she had happily undertaken – work that we were now carrying with only two pairs of hands!

Along with Mom’s practical contribution to caring for Juniper, I enjoyed reflecting my early parenting experience on the same effort made by my mother for me, 36 years ago. I suppose every parent is doomed to say to their petulant, ungrateful teenager, as my Mom surely said to me: “when you are a parent, you will appreciate what I have done for you.” I do not think I was an oblivious or ungrateful son, but it was impossible to understand the physical and emotional effort involved in caring for a needy little baby, until now: for example in the moments when I push beyond my comfort level of fatigue, anxiety and frustration to soothe Juniper in her inconsolable moments. Add to that the physical effort expended by our mothers during pregnancy and delivery, and I have a redoubled gratitude for Mom’s parenting.

Here is a photo of Mamie and Juniper, in front of one of the stone bories that are typical in the Lubéron:

Mom is a horse fanatic and no doubt missed her horses Espiritu and Banjo during her four-week absence. During our excursions, Mom’s eyes and ears perked up at each sign of horses or riding. On one of our walks in the hills above our house, we encountered these two horses and their long-eared cousin, each of them poking through the long, dry grass in search of greener treats underneath:

We braved the mayhem of Gordes on a market day, meaning I spent half of the excursion in the car, looking for parking. I stepped out of the car long enough to shoot this photo of my three favourite ladies, with the pretty village almost an afterthought in the background.

Near Gordes is the Abbaye de Sénanque, an obligatory stop for its lavender fields, its architecture and its setting, nestled in a tight valley. The lavender fields are fenced off to prevent them being trampled by the hordes of tourists. As a result, there are only a few angles from which to shoot a photo that includes both the abbey and its lavender fields. For example, nearly every camera-equipped person who enters the abbey’s gift shop stops to snap a version of this photo:

We also followed the crowds to Rousillon, where Mom and I strolled along the excellent Sentier des Ocres next to the village. It was hot and busy, so I shot only a couple of photos, including this one, looking out from a shady spot:

At the other end of the spectrum from busy Gordes and Rousillon, Eileen and I drove to the end of the road and found the sleepy little commune of Sivergues. It sits high in the hills, at the end of the asphalt road, in the last little valley of arable land beneath the main ridge of the Grand Lubéron. I suspect hikers come here to have immediate access to the upper trails on the mountain and I saw signs for a couple of guesthouses for people who want to holiday at the end of the road.

Here is Sivergues’s commune hall:

The village square is dominated by an impressive fortified house, which is now run as a gîte d’étape (cottage-guesthouse). The fort was built in the 14th century by the archdeacon of Apt (source, in French), although I could not find a convincing explanation of why he devoted all that money, effort and stone to building a fort in such an isolated, thinly populated location. Neither could the locals, apparently, as by the 15th century the commune was deserted, for unknown reasons.

Here is Sivergues’s church, with the main ridge of the Grand Lubéron behind:

When I was off-duty from parenting, my favourite activities were jogging on the trails in the hills above our house, and shooting sunrise and sunset photos. I do not have any photos from the first of those off-duty activities, but I have many from the second. For example, here is a photo of a full moon above some sunset-lit cliffs near Saignon:

Next is a photo of Mont Ventoux in the distance. It is the “Giant of Provence” and, although it sits north of the Lubéron, it was a fixture on the horizon from any elevated position in the area.

The next two photos are of Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt, shot from castle ruins on the cliff above the village.

Eileen rarely joins me on photo excursions, as she finds it boring to watch me sniff around for a good angle, muttering to myself and ignoring her. But she joined me at sunset in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt and brought Juniper for company.

Light conditions were phenomenal on September 11, so I shot at both sunrise and sunset that day. Here is the village of Lacoste, with the sunrise just beginning to warm the walls of its hilltop castle:

Here is the road into Lacoste, shortly after sunrise:

That evening, I shot photos of Bonnieux, a village perched on the hillside opposite Lacoste. Whereas the sunrise earlier that day was tinted pink, the sunset was splashed with orange:

Next is a photo at dusk, looking from Bonnieux’s Église neuve, across to Lacoste and its illuminated castle on the far hillside:

After shooting photos of Lacoste the village one day, I shot photos of a living Lacoste two days later. After completing some work in London, my cousin Joan flew down to visit us before returning to Canada. Her married name is Mara, but her maiden name is Lacoste, inherited from the village. The last piece of the puzzle is to discover whether or not Joan has a claim to a portion of the Lacoste t-shirt empire… Here is a photo of Joan on the cliffs above Saignon, with Mont Ventoux in the background:

Excursions and activities aside, Juniper was obviously our main preoccupation during our Lubéron holiday, both through carrying out her daily routine, as well as observing her rapid physical and behavioural changes. She was approximately two months old when we arrived in Apt, so by the time we left four weeks later, she had spent a third of her young life there! Juniper’s face and body shape really changed for me at around four weeks. Since then, I feel as if she has been growing into that new body shape. And indeed she has grown chubbier and chubbier:

Almost overnight during our stay, she began to recognise baby faces, including her own face in the mirror – she had previously ignored small faces, focussing only on adult ones. The following photo is actually from after our trip, but shows Juniper smiling at her new friend in the mirror:

Hello cutie

Juniper has also been in a hurry to develop her social skills: she now smiles and squeals like a crazy person, and is intent on making eye contact with anyone who crosses her field of vision. Here is a photo of her squealing in excitement at my camera:

Juniper’s range of expressions has expanded beyond just smiles. Here is a classic one on dad’s lap, after her morning meal:

So “chubby” and “expressive” describe Juniper’s development during our vacation in the Lubéron. Here is a photo that captures those two adjectives at once: this is one of her weekly growth photo, in which she was too giddy to hold still, squirming arms and legs that are wrapped in some burgeoning rolls.

I shoot a lot of photos of Juniper, but I often forget to organise us for a family photo. On the last day of our stay, as we were packing the car, Eileen and I remembered that we did not have a family photo in front of our holiday home in Apt. This photo is therefore a fitting end to this entry about our first family holiday, not only because it shows us smiling on a sunny day in southern France, but because it was snapped five minutes before we drove away, satisfied with our vacation and eager to return home to Geneva.