Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Travel

Walt Disney World: World of Laughter and Tears

Walt Disney World
Main Street

Every man should visit a Disney park five times during his lifetime.

The first time is when he is a child, so he can appreciate the magic of this amazing fantasy world through the eyes of a young person.

It's a Small World
It’s a Small World

The second trip is years later, with high school or college buddies, done as a lark during spring break. This is a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood because what once caught your imagination now becomes an object of sarcasm and scorn. Everything Disney must be ridiculed and mocked as childish and commercial. The only reason for being there is to score some over-priced beers at the Germany pavilion at Epcot and then vomiting behind the PeopleMover as a sign of a triumph over your childhood.

Peoplemover
PeopleMover

The third excursion is after graduation, now as a male adult, his youth behind him, holding hands with a date, a lover, or girlfriend. This is his attempt to transform the Disney experience, once a symbol of childhood and teenage angst, into one of maturity and romance.  More on this later.

Italy Epcot
Italy, Epcot

The fourth visit is mid-life, with your wife and kids, hoping to see the joy in the bright faces of your children, so as to remember your own  sense of awe at first stepping into the Magic Kingdom. Of course, now as an adult, you will also other thoughts, such as how this family trip, with travel, hotel, food, park admission, and food on the Disney property, is costing you more than a down payment on a new Prius, but once you overcome this urge to worry, this visit can be the most beautiful, depending on the behavior and brat-level of your offspring.

Epcot Morocco
Morocco, Epcot

The fifth and final trip should be in old age, during the twilight years, preferably on your own. While standing in the middle of Disney’s old-fashioned, Norman-Rockwell type Main Street, you thank God for allowing you to visit a Disney property five times in your lifetime. Many come to Disney as a last wish as sick children, and never get to see it again. You were one of the lucky ones who got to experience Disney through all five stages of life.

Electrical Parade
Electrical Parade

And then, after counting your blessings, and with the Main Street trolley clanging by, as it does so efficiently ever few minutes, you should curse Walt Disney for every myth that he planted in your weak brain.  It was Walt Disney who ruined your life.  Your Prince or Princess never did come, did he? You never met a sexy mermaid or a talking lion, true?   And the only time you saw a real mouse, he wasn’t cute with big ears, but a disease-ridden pest, and you smashed it dead with a golf club on the linoleum of your kitchen. No, Mr. Disney, during your entire life, all you peddled was fakery, like the Morocco’s cheap façade at Epcot, and you profited from it. And now, after counting your blessing and cursing the memory of Disney, there is nothing left for you to do on Earth but to die,  facing Cinderella’s Castle, right in front of Goofy’s Souvenir Shop, and as you fall to the ground and take your last breath, you realize that even in death, you were conned by Walt Disney, who has cleverly frozen himself in a secret room in Burbank, California, so one day, in a true Tomorrowland, he will return to life, the richest man on Earth, laughing at your for his ultimate con job, a prank that even a Cruella Deville couldn’t imagine.

Japan Epcot
Japan, Epcot

But, anyway, back to my recent trip to Walt Disney World with Jana. It was my “third category trip” to a Disney property, the “romantic trip.” While I had been to Disneyland while living in Los Angeles, it was my first time back at Walt Disney World since I went there in the late 1970s with my parents, before Epcot had not even been built!

Walt Disney World 70s
Walt Disney World, late 1970s

I know the question you are asking yourself. Can romance be found at a Disney theme park, a location crowded with crying children, stressed out parents, and senior citizens aggressively driving their rent-a-scooters like the extras in a Mad Max film?

Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World, today

It’s not easy, especially if you are running around to go on rides you haven’t been on in decades, catching the buses back and forth to your hotel, and running races at 5AM (Jana was involved in a charity race).

Disney World
Princess Race Finish Line Bleachers, Walt Disney World

Surely, by nightfall,  even under the fake romantic moon in the Disney sky, most couples are less “Lady and the Tramp” slurping pasta together at a Italian bistro than Sleepy and Grumpy, wanting to hit the sack.  That is mostly true.   But yes, romance CAN be found at a Disney property, in small doses, but only if you go with the right woman who can magically turn the most cynical of men into believing in fairydust.

Walt Disney World
Jana, Adventureland

So, thumbs up, Walt Disney World.   I prefer Disneyland in California, it being smaller and more a part of the the actual city of Anaheim, but I had a good time. And I didn’t expect to enjoy it.  Next time I need to come with kids.   Anyone’s kids.

And please, don’t ever tear down the corny Country Bear Jamboree, no matter how few people still visit it.

Disney World
Walt Disney World, Main Street

Kate’s Shed Photography Workshop

I’m sitting in McDonald’s with my free morning coffee (some promotion for the last two weeks of September). Across from me is a sixty year old woman wearing a fall jacket. She has red hair that is too bright, and full lips. She is an attractive woman. Years ago, back in high school,  she was probably the girl everyone wanted to ask to the prom. She leans against the window and the morning sun is shining in, coloring the left side of her face with golden light. It’s a scene out of Renoir, if Renoir lived in Queens rather than the French Riviera.

I have an urge to take a photo of this woman, to capture the moment, but she seems alone in her thoughts, and my instinct tells me that it is inappropriate to take out my iPhone. I cannot explain to you why one moment feels right to take a photo and the other an invasion of privacy. I just feel it.

There is a slippery slope of morality in taking photos of strangers. I can give you arguments rationalizing the importance of street photography — historical record, artistic license, celebration of the city — but I don’t like to bullshit you.  For me, there is an element of escape to street photography, an unburdening of loneliness. Taking a photo makes me feel as if I am part of something bigger, a city in motion.

But the truth is I envy your photography online, especially that which is connected to your domestic life.   I wish I could have your wonderful subjects — such beautiful children, spouses, dogs, and houses.  I can think of nothing more thrilling than taking photos of my kids at a birthday party or my wife posing naked for me.   Street photography is impersonal and lacking in heart.

++++

My week in Nova Scotia was a magical one — the scenery, the music, the people, old friends and new, and even the cookies that Kate’s mom baked for the occasion. You can read about it on Kate’s own blog. Kate’s Shed brought me back to the first time I actually met Kate — back at our first BlogHer conference, before she had published her first book. It was a time when blogging conferences had intimacy to them, something now lost.

I have a hard time coming up with a narrative thread for an experience that contains so many threads — friendship, tourism, and learning, so I’ve decided to just pick the one moment that had the most impact on me, the experience that I still think about today.

It was my short time taking photos of C.

C was a participant at Kate’s Shed photography workshop, and I didn’t talk with her much.  Yet, one of the assignments on Saturday was to split into pairs and take portraits of each other. I was paired with C. I was insecure, as if I was going to be unmasked as a fraud.  Kate lent me her Canon DSLR, and I hated leaving the comfort zone of auto and the ease of a zoom lens.  I didn’t know whether to tell her that I had never used a DSLR until that day.   Even worse, the only way to make her comfortable enough and trust me to take her portrait was to, uh, TALK to her.

It’s difficult to judge the results, but I was happy with them.  I believe I “captured” something about the spirit in her heart, even if I can’t put my finger on what it is.   It didn’t happen immediately, but I didn’t rush it.   I took my time.   I moved her to a new location.   I coaxed her out of her discomfort.   I waited for the light to hit her.   I didn’t think of myself as an external camera, but as two people doing some sort of visual dance, and for a brief moment, this woman was the most beautiful and interesting women in the world to me, and I felt it.

It was an experience both professional and intimate. Street photography is hiding in the bushes. Portrait photography is engagement. And the result is a moment captured.

I doubt I will ever see C again. After the shoot, we didn’t bond in any special way.   Our special moment disappeared the minute the camera was off.   We continued on with the workshop as two relative strangers.  But there was something about that moment that changed my view of photography. And it had nothing to do with using the DSLR instead of a smartphone. It had to do with connecting with your camera, and with another person.  I had experienced something about photography that I had never felt before.   And I suppose that was the point of the workshop.

Paris Journal – Day One

arche

A week before we flew into Paris, Danielle, the owner of the two-bedroom apartment in the Marais district that we were renting for ten days, called my mother in New York. It was six o’clock in the morning. Apparently, Danielle was confused about the international time zones.

“What did she say?” I later asked my mother.

“She said she was going to pick us up at the airport.”

“Wow, that’s nice of her. This trip is looking great!”

We arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport at noon on Saturday — me, my mother, and my mother’s friend, Laura, a kind-looking woman in her seventies.

As we passed through security, I searched for Danielle in the crowd, hoping she would be one of those greeters holding up a sign with my name on it, like you see done in movies. She was not there.

She was not in the baggage area, either.

I headed for the exit, pausing at the sliding door, realizing that my next step would be my first ever step on French soil, a spot in which Napoleon himself might have stood if he ever took a discount flight into town.

I entered France.   Danielle was not waiting, and my first whiff of Parisian fragrance was of a taxi blowing fumes into my face.

I called Danielle on the phone and she answered, speaking in a thick French accent.

“Bonjour! Bonjour, Neil!”

“We are here. Will we see you soon?”

“Absolutely. I’m only two minutes away.”

My mother, Laura, and I found a bench near the information booth inside and waited for twenty minutes.  Nothing.

“Call her again,” pushed my mother.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “This is how the French are. They take things slow. They like to eat and drink and enjoy life. Two minutes to a Parisian is like twenty minutes to us.”

I was winging it.  I felt that it was necessary because one look at Laura’s face and I could see that she was questioning my decision to rent an apartment.  Of the three of us, she was the one who most preferred staying at a traditional hotel.

“Trust me,” I told her two weeks earlier when I booked the rental. “You and my mother have played it too safe over the last few years with all those by-the-book tour groups and cruises.  Now is the time for adventure.”

“Hmm,” she said, not convinced.  Laura also wanted to go to England instead of France. At least there, they speak English.

“Call her again,” said my mother,  wondering about Danielle whereabouts.   My mother was now getting anxious because she saw the discomfort in Laura.   I was now getting anxious because I saw the worry in my mother.  You can take three neurotic New Yorkers out of New York, but….

I took out my iPhone and called Danielle for a second time.

“Bonjour, Neil!” she said.

“Uh, Bonjour, Danielle. Are you on your way yet?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I just live two minutes away. Call me when you are here.”

“We ARE here.”

“Where?”

“At the airport.”

“Oh, so just call me from the airport when you reach the apartment. I only live two minutes away from the apartment. I’ll give you the keys when you arrive.”

“So, you’re NOT picking us up at the airport?”

“No, no, no. Just take a cab! It shouldn’t be more than seventy Euros!”

“Uh, ok,” I said.

As we taxi-ed into central Paris, my mother insisted that Danielle told her, during the phone call a week ago, that she would meet us at the airport.

“Are you sure she didn’t say that she would meet us at the apartment, and NOT the airport?” I asked.   “It seemed too good to be true.”

“Maybe you are right,” said my mother.   ” But it was six o’clock in the morning when she called so I was sleepy.  And also, she had a strong accent that was hard to understand.”

“If we went to England,  we would have no problem with the language,” said Laura.

Well, actually she never said that.  But I KNOW she was thinking it.

We had arrived in Paris.

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