Of Museums, Shopping, and Resurrecting Cameras

Our trip to Lille can be summed up in two phases of activity: shopping and museums.  Shopping is what we do in the long round about way of getting to the museums or coming back.

The museums we visited were the Musee de l’Hospice Comtesse, the Palais des Beaus Arts, and the Lille Zoo (well, it’s kinda like a living museum).

The hospice museum was interesting.  For centuries it was used as a hospice for the sick and dying and later as an orphanage and shelter for homeless old men and was in use until 1939, then was used as a general store for 25 years before being turned into a museum.  The primary colors used in different buildings from the outside area reminded me of Amalie’s use of color, but on the inside is was pretty much as dark as you’d expect.  It is, I understand, one of the few Flemish buildings to have survived (Louis XIV took over Lille during his reign, and has remained French ever since).  At one point Lille was even Spanish.  Oddly enough what caught my eye the most were the tiles.  These small tiles were white, hand painted in cobalt blue. You could see the same picture in two tiles close together and see all kinds of differences.  The same picture of a boy with a fishing rod by a river with a windmill in the background could be repeated a dozen times on one wall, but you could see all kinds of differences as well. Teams of people must have done these all day long, same picture over and over and over again.

The Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille is supposed to be the second largest art museum in France (after the Louvre).  It certainly had a variety of impressive things.  What I love about museums here (both Comtesse Hospice and Beaux Arts) is that you are allowed to take pictures – just don’t use flash photography.  Why can’t all museums take this sensible attitude?

Beaux Arts has a little bit of everything.  Plenty of goodies worthy of Indiana Jones, too.  The most remarkable thing about it, however, is in the basement.  You’ve no doubt seen recreations of landscapes, showing how a city or valley was back in such-and-such a time.  And from all archaeological evidence I’m sure they’re reasonably accurate.  But this place has something better, it has scale models of various cities and their surrounding countryside, that are over three hundred years old.  Imagine seeing Ypres as it was seen in the late 17th century.  These scale models (1:600 scale) were made for military purposes, of course, to plan out movements and get a lay of the land. But the detail is astounding.  And the fact it was made so long ago,
as close to how it actually was, is breathtaking.  It’s as close to a time machine as you can get.  Crouch down low and slowly rise so that you see the city reveal itself from behind a hill and you’ll know what I mean.

The Lille museum is free (yay!) and while not on the scale of, say, the Toronto or London zoos, it has a nice variety.  As far as I can tell the animals are well treated and do not have cramped living areas.  Some pens are much larger than I expected.  We saw merecats, lemurs, reahs, tapirs, cappebaras,  and animals I’ve never heard of before such as coatis (imagine a raccoon with a very long narrow nose and brown instead of grey).

Oddest addition: domestic guinea pigs. There was a pen that just had ordinary run-of-the-mill guinea pigs.  I didn’t realize until I saw them, however, that I had never seen baby guinea pigs before.  They are exactly the same as adults, only smaller.  Very cute.

What interests me was how close you could get to the animals.  Like the museums in Lille the zoo here seems to have a “we trust you, so don’t fuck it up” attitude.  One of the old docks is notable for the total lack of any fence around it.  Anyone could fall fifteen feet into freezing water, and I know this would never fly in London.  At the zoo you could get very close to many of the animals, which had only low fences or barriers you could easily lean over.  Parents kept their children in check, preventing them from feeding animals if they weren’t supposed to.  I could get my camera within a foot of a reah’s (think mini-emu) head with no obstruction.  Not that I could take the picture… but we’ll get to that shortly.  Point is, I really wish other countries were more like this.

Now for the shopping…

For the most part we don’t buy much while shopping, stuff we need rather than stuff we want.  Gillian got gloves, aspirin and ibuprofen for my back and Gillian’s headache, stuff like that.  But after spending so much on food the first day I figured a good way to save money would be to get a thermos.  Something we could put coffee in so we could keep warm wherever we go and avoid impulse buying at convenient but expensive cafes.

Having bought one, but not having any coffee to put in, we put in some cola instead, figuring caffeine is caffeine, regardless of the source. So we filled it up.

Why don’t I ever think these things through?  Nearly full thermos, carbonation pressure, bouncing around in a backpack…

Long story short our day at Beaux Arts did not end well.  Gillian’s hat, scarf and gloves, which I had gallantly put in the backpack so she wouldn’t have to carry them, got, let us say, a bit damp.  Not to mention our city guide.

Of course, that incident pales in comparison to what happened at the zoo the next day.  At the zoo my camera died.  No big deal, I figured I could just reset it.  Nope.  It died.  Morte.  Passed on.  Deceased.  An ex-camera.  It seemed power was still going in, the green light flashed.  I took the batteries in and out several times, thinking it would reboot.  It wouldn’t.  The lens was stuck out, frozen.  When the batteries are dying it always politely shuts down and shuts itself off.  Not now.  It was gone.  I tried everything I can think of to bring it back from the brink, eventually resorting to the caveman’s IT support of bashing it against the pavement.

This happened about a third of the way through the Lille zoo, when I was in the middle of enjoying seeing so many new animals.  Now I have to see the rest of it knowing I can’t take any pictures of them and that I’m out a moderately expensive digital camera.  Not only that but we haven’t even got to Amsterdam yet, and we won’t have a camera for it.

That’s not going to happen.  Looks like I’m going over budget again today because I’m getting a camera come hell or high water.  After the zoo we make our way back to central Lille to find an electronics shop.

I should mention at this point that my back is killing me.  Every step I take sends a spasm of pain through me.  But what can I do?  Stay in the hotel?  Gillian wouldn’t want to go out alone.  Not that she’s any better, she’s been having a major headache for the last two days.  She says it’s a migraine but I’m not convinced.  Nevertheless it’s a really bad and persistent headache that has made her as miserable as my back.

On the way back from the zoo she stumbles and falls, scraping both of her knees.  I tried to stop her fall and ended up wrenching my back. I go down, and have to try and help Gill up from a kneeling position. A woman passes by and we help her up, then she has to help me to my feet as well.

Gillian has two bloody knees and a throbbing headache while I have a back which hurts with every step I take, a tour guide soaked through with cola, and our camera has just died.

I start to laugh, and so does Gillian.  It hurts like hell but we can’t help it.

“Next year, Turkish prison!” I cry out, pumping my fist in the air.

“At least there are no locusts or tornadoes,” says Gillian.

As we stagger into yet another chemist for more heat packs and ibuprofen, it occurs to Gillian that  we’ve visited more pharmacies than museums, and I realize that this is easily the most heavily medicated vacation I’ve ever been on – and that includes my trip to Nara, Japan when we visited Nita and I spent a full day in bed with a serious flu.

So after lunch at the SoGood Cafe, we look for a camera.  My intention is to get a cheap one similar to the one that died.  We find a huge underground electronics store almost by accident, and there I find a wide selection of cameras.

Let me take you back to my childhood for a moment.  I’ve always wanted to travel, to be an adventurer.  One of my many dreams was be to be a photographer for National Geographic.  You know the kind of cameras they have.  Black case, big lens, one look at it and you think “pro.”

I had a camera like that once.  A beat up 35mm camera, I don’t remember the brand.  It was a damn fine camera that I got used because, let’s face it, cameras like that I can’t buy new.  I took a dozen rolls of film with it, before I fell off the bottom of a cliff into Lake Superior and got it waterlogged.  I’ve never had another decent camera since then.  For one thing 35mm film is expensive, so I logically moved to digital.  And professional digital cameras are even more expensive.  The one that just died was pretty good, has taken
good pictures, but it just wasn’t an adventurer’s camera.

The one in the glass case before me was.  It was black, it had a big lens, I took one look at it and thought “pro.”  It’s a Kodak EasyShare ZD710, and while it would never be mistaken for a true professional camera – it’s too small for that – it does look like an adventurer’s camera.  It was only fifty euros more than the cheapest “pocket” camera they had, and fifty euros cheaper than than their next “pro” style camera.

Given all my talk about saving money, I suppose I really should have been more stingy about this, but it looked like a really good deal. It has x10 zoom.  x10!  That’s like 4 more than my last one.  And it’s 7.1 megapixels!  That’s almost twice as many as I had before.  Come on, fate, you bloody well owe me!

Gillian makes it clear that we’re getting her a new Nintendo DS Lite when we get back home (the touch screen on her old one no long works) and I agree.  I have no qualms with this.  Heck, I’ll get her one in Amsterdam if I can.

We get back to the hotel, where I get the camera’s accessories on and start playing with it, checking out all of its features.  For a small and reasonably priced camera it is just amazing!  Not only does it have the features I’m used to, I even have a more hands on option when it comes to the aperture, shutter and the ISO speed.

Then I look at my old camera, dead, its lens frozen in place.  There is an image in my head, a wounded bank robber has surrendered after Dirty Harry points his .44 magnum at him.  Maybe he’s shot five bullets, maybe six.  The robber gives up, but as Harry walks away he says, “I gots to know…”  Harry points the gun at him and pulls the trigger.  Click.

I look at the dead camera and think, “I gots to know…”  I take the batteries out of the new camera and put it in the dead camera.  There is no way this should work.  When the batteries die in this camera it shuts itself down.  Every time.  It doesn’t freeze.  Besides, I did everything I could (including heating the batteries up to try and give it a bit more charge) thinking along these very lines.  It didn’t work.  The camera is dead.  Morte.  Passed on.  Deceased.  An
ex-camera.

But I gots to know.

Click.  Whirrrr.  Beep!

Ah crap, it works.  You’d think that would make me happy.  Yay!  It works!  And it even survived the massive beating I gave it in the vain hope of bringing it back to life.  But it means I just dropped just over a hundred and fifty euros on a camera I didn’t need.

I should return the other camera.  I really should.  That would be the responsible thing to do.  But… but I can’t give up the Kodak.  It is… precious to me.  No, you can’t touch it!  It’s mine!  It’s my birthday present!

Gollum  Gollum.

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