...and I have my whistle and when I say NON I mean it. The 20 year old gendarme didn't look old enough to shave but he had the aggressive bearing that meant I was not going to be able to take a photograph of the breech of a 16th century cannon bearing a casting of a Medusa head, despite signs indicating that photography was allowed.
Les Invalides - Copyright (c) 2003 David Monniaux
Perhaps because it was Labor Day in France and the laborers filled the Paris streets in full protest and police were on high alert because both Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy were both in town. Military and police were making a show of force and the wail of sirens filled the city as I walked the streets with my wife, Karen and fellow artist and collaborator Ria Vanden Eynde of Belgium, in search of inspiration (and Medusa heads to compliment our current artist call on the Seeking Kali blog).
Classic French cannon ornamentation from circa 1666 - 1764
As we toured the courtyard of Les Invalides, the home and hospital for aged and injured soldiers initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and now also home to a museum dedicated to French military history, I became fascinated by the rich ornamentation of the cannons and further learned that each caliber had its distinguishing mythological or antique motif cast into the breech. The 24 caliber bearing the Nemean lion, the head of a cock on the 12 and that the 16 caliber was the head of Medusa.
Cannon breech with the Medusa head.
The signs indicated that surviving examples of all caliber of cannon were on display and I began my search for Medusa; no small quest given the 100's of cannons on display in the enormous complex and surrounding grounds. After a fruitless search lasting over an hour we left the complex but over to one side was one last row of cannons. Unfortunately these were draped with a rope, although seen from the side was the Medusa casting on the breech of one of the group.
Medusa in profile - second from bottom
Unfortunately to get a shot of it from the rear would involve stepping over the knee high rope protecting this particular group. Even more unfortunate was deciding to ask permission from the nearby lad with the pistol and whistle who first indicated that it was ok to photograph until I put a foot over the rope and leaned in to get the shot who then changed his mind. No explanation or S'il vous plait was going to change his mind, plus now even trying to get another angled shot from behind the rope was off limits. He claimed that something could fall off the building and hit us although I suspect that boredom or the fact that instead of wearing body armor and chasing protesters he was stuck with tourists that day was the real reason.
What was it about this particular group that caused it be be roped off? ... French military secrets still classified from the 17th century?
As it turned out we passed by on another day and this time a much more reasonable female gendarme gave us the ok for a quick photo op.
Breech casting of Medusa head
It probably helped that the second time around that our other Seeking Kali collaborator, Susan Shulman was helping with the charm.