Paris, France 2004
Back in November 2004, I was in Paris. I was bit down on my luck and couldn't really afford to do much more than sight-see and sip the occassional glass of cheap red wine. I'd just finished snapping a few images of Notre Dame Cathedral's exterior and relaxed for a bit in the little garden behind the church whilst I smoked a cigarette.
While I sat there, I noticed some alleyways and passages here and there. No one else was around so I just set out wandering without any particular direction. I made several turns and snapped a few detail shots along the way until I came out of an alley into a small plaza area with turnabout. I thought it was strange that I still didn't see many people around since it was Paris and that I hadn't wandered that far and couldn't be all that far from the most touristy areas.
I shrugged it off and set out accross the small plaza to see what mystery might lay beyond the next corner when I spotted a very nice leaf with rich autumn color laying upon the dark-sooted and wet Parisian cobblestone. I thought, "that might make a pretty sweet photo just in it's simplicity... I think I'll grab a few photos of it."
The leaf was between two cars and I had to kind of wedge myself between the bumpers and lean way down to get a good closeup shot. I snapped a few until I got a couple I was satisfied with, and then stood back up.
At this moment, I was greeted by about 7 or 8 very angry and serious looking gentlemn in military uniforms, police uniforms, and 3 were in suits as if they might be body guards or secret service of some sort. All had their weapons drawn as one of the "suits" gripped my arm. Stunned, I asked "what's the problem monsieur?" The soldiers shouted back at me in French and after I said I didn't speak French, the main "suit" guy asked me in English what I was doing, while the other uniformed guys started inspecting the two vehicle's under carriages.
It was then I noticed that the cars I'd wedged myself between were VERY shiny black Mercedes like the kind they use in motorcades. Intially, figured this was just the ritzy part of Paris and everyone drives diplomatic-looking cars like these.
I started to sweat and in a panic I explained to the gentleman that I meant no harm and was merely snapping a photo. He looked down between the cars and then back up at me. He didn't appear to believe me at all. I nervously exclaimed as I pointed down to the small wet leaf, "Look! there... I was taking a photo of this leaf." He still didn't appear to believe me as they continued to search me and the bottom of both Mercedes.
I said, "Hang on.. I can show you proof of what I was shooting on my camera's LCD screen!" He agreed to have a look first and I powered the camera on. I'd accidently gone to the beginning and quickly went through all the images I'd shot that morning until stopping on the leaf image in question. At first he looked dumbfounded and then his face relaxed and lit up a little. He smiled as he complemented me on the images he'd seen and said in a thick French accent that they were quite beautiful and wanted to look closer. Took a few minutes as he went through all the images again.
When he finished he said that he wouldn't have thought of taking such a photo himself, but that the contrast of the fallen leaf with the dark sooted cobblestone made a fine image indeed! I said, "Exactly! Ooh la-la!" and thanked him for the nice compliments.
I asked what the big problem was, and he said they were expecting the President of South Africa to arrive with President Chirac and that the area was supposed to be secure. They saw me crouching between two of the motorcade Mercedes and well... you can imagine.
I apoligised for giving them such a scare and was let go on my blissful way... shaking and looking for the nearest brasserie to splurge and gulp down a couple glasses of red wine. ;-)