2.7.15

Olympic memories.

Mens sana in corpore sano

At a time when sports resonates in the media with bribery, scandals, big football transfers, and other big amounts of cash... It is critical to anchor ourselves in what sports are and should remain: a source of ecumenism, an ode to personal achievements and limits that are pushed always further by the human body and brain.

My older son is now almost six and as part of his school curriculum, he is exploring the origin of sports. What a better age and place to do so? He was only three when the Olympics hit London. Our town. Our sports. But he still has crystal clear images in his brain of that event, conscious that he took part in something unique, and that we expect to relive sooner rather than later, maybe in September with the Rugby World Cup.

London 2012 took place almost 3 years ago, and next summer the flame will ignite Brazil, and yet I cannot avoid watching these Olympic highlights without being moved to the tears. So here are my memories of a summer not so long ago...

Flashback on a backlash.

Flashback. I have a vivid memory of the exact moment. July 6, 2005. I am in a car and I cannot think of a better birthday present than hearing the IOC confirm that Paris would host the Games that it had been campaigning so hard for. The French capital, as much as the rest of the Hexagon, had dreamt of these 2012 Olympics which would put sports at the heart of the City Of Lights. Imagine that, athletes competing on the Champs de Mars with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop… The radio is crackling. Singapore is far away. And then, the verdict. Paris did not manage to fully convince the committee and it's Chiswick running hero, Sebastian Coe, who bags yet another victory. Paris is bitter, London exhilarated. The city will host its third Olympic games. Unfortunately the joy would not last as the following day a terror attack tears apart London with a series of bombing. What if Paris had won?

London 2012 - Center of the world

A few months later, a career opportunity leads me to cross the Channel. As Paul Feval once wrote it, « if the Games are not coming to me, I will be coming to the Games ». Fast forward seven years, and here we are. System failure after system failure, the District Line has been renovated. East London has found a new dynamism with the influx of investments made to the Olympic Park. The Londoners have volunteered en mass. And finally the streets started to be populated with new styles. Forget the buttoned-up suits from the City, the Shoreditch hipsters or Camden's goths. For a full fortnight the trendiest outfit was track suits… designed by Stella McCartney, but still.

At the heart of the games

Some had fled the city for the Cotswolds - no appetite for them to share the city with a million of plebeian visitors. Personally, this was purely unconceivable. My parents had told me so many stories about the 1968 winter games in my home town of Grenoble, stories about Jean-Claude Killy or Marielle Goitschel, stories of how they were moved to the tears when they heard on loudspeakers the heart beat of the last flame bearer walking up the stairs to light up the cauldron. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. I wanted to live on that very same rhythm. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. I wanted to embrace fully the promise of the games, and today I am sharing some of these heart beats with my sons (and you at the same time) with the ambition that one day we may have the joy to resonate in unison. Bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam. Here is my recollection of the games, an open-hearted memory if you wish.

Olympics are memorable. We all have in a corner of our mind a moment or an image from one of these competitions. For instance, I clearly remember being stunned by French Judo hero and flag bearer David Douillet's pragmatism when he declared to journalists before the Sydney games that his games would be over on day #1 and that he was hoping to carry another gold medal on that opening day. Funny enough my first real life encounter with Olympians was on the very first morning of the games where I was to grasp the depth of this declaration. Bright and early, I had gone to the ExCel Arena, only a few hours after Her Majesty the Queen jumped in a parachute over London with James Bond by her side. My agenda was to watch a few judokas fight for glory on tatamis… Or, as my son best describes it, two people in pyjamas pushing each other.

Judo: hard sport, hard facts.

Imagine that a second: you step into the arena, bow to the referee and to your opponent who in a jiffy grabs your kimono and throws you to the ground. 4 seconds, and the Games are over. Literally swept under your feet. You have not even have taken part in the opening ceremony the night before because you wanted to be fully fit for your big day. I let you reflect on the distress that the competitors face in such a moment. "What matters is to take part" may be hard to swallow at that very moment. I was touched by the abyss that the athletes were facing, and even today I remember word for word what Team GB Euan Burton uncompromisingly declared after being beaten: "I cannot think of anything positive right now. I have the feeling to have failed myself. I failed my coaches and everyone with whom I trained. I failed my mom, my dad, my brother. I worked very hard for a quarter of a century to reach that point, so no, I don't think of anything positive to take away." All is said.

Ipanema-on-Thames

London 2012 - beachvolley arena

Just like the Parisians dreamt their games, the London Olympic committee had managed to present the competitions in that jewel box that London can be. As a sneak peek to what the Brazilian games may be in 2016, the Horseguard Parade square got enhanced with a gigantic sandbox for the Beach volleyball tournament. In spite of occasional showers, St James Park had never looked more like a seaside resort where a colourful crowd could cheer and dance on the instructions of a passionate commentator. This is also that the Modern Games.

It's coming home.

England is home to football. But if beach volleyball carries along the scents of Copacabana and its coconut trees, the Beautiful Game still smells nowadays like outdated sexism and machismo. I was therefore delighted to see Wembley, the temple of this local religion, filled with 80.000 enthusiasts cheering the sporting performances of the women football teams. That was a victory in itself.

London 2012 - The women football medallists

But it was topped by the privileged opportunity to stay in the stadium long after the last kick and to see the athletes walk around this mythic location with their medals around the neck. As the stewards were pulling down the nets and the spectators were exiting the arena, the US players walked the pitch one more time, to make the moment last just a little more. Tobin Heath, the pious, stood still, her arms outstretched, her eyes closed, as if she wanted to absorb every vibration.

La Marseillaise as a finale.

And since I speak about unforgettable moments, how could I skip the performance by the Experts? The French handball team, who had failed during the preceding European championships, were not ready to give up on their Olympic title. I had the honour to watch the final from the same stand as the players' family and other members of the French delegation. It was extremely moving to see their wives in tears as their husband were reaching the highest step of the podium… You could think that this is strange as if anyone should be used to victories and celebrations it would be them: this handball team has indeed been nick-named The Experts following their surgical double world champion titles, two European championships and two Olympic gold medals in just 6 years… This proves that one never really gets accustomed to glory. And to support my point even further, I witnessed this surreal scene when Renaud Lavillenie, himself Olympic champion of Pole Vaulting since the previous night, asking Jérôme Fernandez, the team skipper, for his autograph. Just like any other spectator... except that he received a little comment in return: « now it's your turn to get a second one! » (note: Renaud Lavillenie has since broken the world record a few times and is obviously tipped to fulfil that prophecy in Rio).
London 2012 - French handball supporter

As a French in London, my emotions reached their paramount on that last night of the Olympic fortnight. As I wrote it already on this blog, you may question sometimes your attachment to your home country, especially if like me you consider yourself as a citizen of the world, a privileged migrant. On that night the answer was unequivocal and can be checked with this little test: can you listen to this Marseillaise, sung by a whole stadium, without having a shiver in your back? I can't! This epidermal reaction is worth any pledge of allegiance:
In the end, I would say that during these Games, London has never been as welcoming and smiling. I was proud of MY town, of MY countries... I was proud to have been one of the many heart beats.

12.6.15

The unbearable lightness of having

Ouch! I just walked yet on a lingering Lego bricks kindly left behind by one of my two boys as a token to their gratitude. Re-ouch! What did I trip over this time? Oh, just one of my wife's precious items from her impressive plastic bag collection (including this very special vintage edition by Tesco from 2007)...

Organised mess?



Many new parents will certainly sympathise, so yes I confess, I live in a flat that is cluttered... Books, toys, plastic and handbags, stilettos, pens and a few devices here and there (because the geek that I am does contribute to that mayhem, of course). No matter how creative you get with storage, they always seem to overflow. So the problem may not be the storage, but the content. Of course it is.

In fact, after having sold us alternatively the dreams that as the ultimate luxury was space or that some Swedish wizardry could help make more out of our jam-packed spaces, a more recent trend has emerged from the media. It is no longer about expanding or optimising micro-inches of cramped living space: it is now a matter of decluttering. If in the past, there was a relatively basic dichotomy between the have's and the have-not's, there is now amongst the upper-middle class a third category: the don't-want-to-have's. For them, it becomes a decision not to possess.

Inspired by Japanese Zen and Feng-Shui philosophies, this phenomenon is trending far and large in the press, as more and more books are released about how to tidy and clear out. You must admit this is in itself a bit schizophrenic... After all, avid fans may end up cluttering their house with books on decluttering!

Spring cleaning

Fad or trend? We are now in the very last days of Spring, and many of us have felt the almost therapeutic feeling of emptying cupboards and other hidden boxes from the junk we had been accumulating over the previous twelve months. Off with that candle holder in terracotta. To the bin the piles of Time Out magazines you have been promising your self to catch up on in order to be up to speed with what is hot... or, well, what was hot in June 2013 by the look of the cover of the edition you hold in your hand.

It feels good to reclaim some ground over the mess. It feels even better when you clear your conscious when you hand over your definitely too tight jeans to a charity on the high street. But it would be interesting to see how this trend evolves once the dust has settled. Nevertheless this phenomenon struck a cord with me (and not only because I have a profound admiration for Japan and obsessed by the necessity to bring order to chaos). It led me to another very contemporary divergence: possession versus materialism.

Is digitalisation cheating?

For years the concept of possession was necessarily associated to physical object. Wealth was measured by the ground you owned, the serfs ploughing your fields, the pile of gold you could put on the table... And then came the banks, and money got dematerialised. You had no more trinkets but access to money, an abstract concept. It was still your sweat and tears (or your servants), but it was no longer your very own treasure. There was no more attachment to the object itself, rather to its value.

Similarly, information which was once captured in pages, books and bookshelves was first digitised but still remained visible. It was on that floppy disk or in that server that was buzzing in the corner of the office. It was not looking like a good old book anymore, but it was still there. This changed with the rise of Cloud computing. With it, the virtualisation accelerates and objects further dematerialise. Like the golden nuggets an jewels which were replaced by bank statements, books, disks, CD, cassettes, external hard drives, servers... are disappearing from the local premises to see their quintessence hosted somewhere in the cloud.

Slowly the reticence of not being able to touch-to-own is fading. People are perceiving the value of virtualisation: easy and ubiquitous access; lower costs as you pay only for the storage you actually need; security of having your assets backed up in several locations... Of course there are hackers, like there were bank robbers, and there are still people who don't trust the cloud like many did not trust bankers and preferred to sleep with money under their matrass. But there are also genuine enthusiasts who are seeing in technology the opportunity to live the above-described trend to its fullest. 

Technologically-enhanced lives

I indeed recently met that technophile whose job was to educate businesses about the latest evolutions and what they entail in terms of opportunity. As a technologist, he had decided to explore how far he could go in adopting technologies which could help him get rid of the unnecessary. He got a chip inserted under the skin, a bit of code here and there, and off he went to dematerialise his home. Sensors capture his presence and switches on and off the wifi, the lights, the heating system, etc. automatically based on agreed gestures, rules and orders passed through his phone. The keys to his flat were rapidly gone too, as his unique identifier emitted by his chip could open the door lock through NFC. Whilst many of us switch between different screens, he opted to retain only one, acknowledging that smartphones nowadays are sufficiently powerful to be a TV, a PC, a watch and even a phone. Why having a fridge if you could get his daily food intake delivered fresh to his door, prepared to meet his dietary requirements? One by one, he went through his inventory and tried to get rid of what was not really needed. He wanted to go back to the basics... Connected basics. 

This leads to some interesting points of reflection: the digitalisation of the world implies the rise of a new paradigm where you can own without possessing. You still own information, tunes, photos... but they do not materially exist any more. This means that the renunciation to physical ownership does not necessarily jeopardise the codes of our Western societies. Pushed to the extreme, wealth could materialise in absence of physical possession whilst the poorest would be the ones anchored in a material world, unable to digitised... Internet behind a social walled garden, so to speak.

In that hypothetical, yet plausible world, Maslow's pyramid of needs may see "wifi access" being added to its lower, more basic needs. This is one of the scenarios that the Singularity University explores during their curriculum: "how to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges" with a democratised access to the internet as a prerequisite to avoid a new social rupture between the connected and the disconnected. This is also why companies like Google are exploring ways to give access to the internet in creative ways like the Loon project (and not to expand the reach of their advertising audience of course).

Tidying my thoughts

Personally, I am enthused by what new technologies can offer, and as a humanist, I believe in our ability to keep the potential demons at bay. Without going to the extreme of my technologist, I am slowly decluttering my flat, saving one foot nail at a time my physical integrity, my sanity, and hopefully a tiny bit of the planet by not consuming beyond what I really need. I am from the Generation X, that generation who has come to the world amidst the recession after years of prosperity. Because of that, I am more than ever convinced that we are therefore a transitional breed, and probably better suited than anyone to help facilitate and educate the change without being blinded by optimism or pessimism. We are an agent of change. For the better.

1.1.15

Happy new world

Australia: tick. Austria: tick. China, Germany, Ireland: tick, tick, tick. Norway, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA and even this exotic country called France. Tick, tick and tick again...

2014 has definitely been a prolific year in terms of (re) discoveries. It indeed took me back on some fondly loved paths across the continents. And 2015 looks as much exciting, if not more. No wonder my little ones get thrilled to their next flight!

I wish you all a happy new year, full of encounters and explorations.

11.9.14

A mountain dweller in the Asian valleys

What a summer! A few months back I mentioned that I was taking some new responsibilities at work, and that despite that extended mission, I intended to write more often on that blog about my encounters, my surprises, etc. But fact is that in the last two months, I have been on the road, living these cultural differences without having the opportunity to jot down a few thoughts. 8 countries in two months… From public speaking at the National Library in Vienna to listening to a private concert of Lady Gaga in the Centennial Olympic Park of Atlanta during a business conference, from hugging koalas in Australia to surviving taxi rides in Taipei… I have experienced a few things worth capturing, especially in the Asia Pacific region most recently.


Asia Pacific is a conglomerate of diverse countries, cultures, people, nations, etc. And there are many ways to go around. Long ago I lived in Singapore where I was working in a regional capacity which allowed me to grasps some of the complexity and nuances required to deal with the inhabitants of the region. I also toured a few countries from the South East Asian peninsula and around (Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Honk Kong or Macao and later Japan), which was a favourable ground to get ready for the cultural disparities to be encountered this time around. For this trip, I had decided to move North, which also meant moving from West to East from a cultural perspective. At least that was the assumption when embarking.

East meets far West?

Many tourists try to find commonalities between what they discover and what they experienced in the past. Between the known and the unknown. At a time when Scotland is discussing its independence from the United Kingdom, it was interesting to look at Australia with the eyes of a London-based person. As such, I could not refrain from wondering if this big English-speaking country would nowadays be more similar to the UK, or to let's say to the US. The history would lead us to think towards the earlier, but the economic neo-colonialism would most likely tilt the scale the other way. Originally, I was convinced that the famous Aussie bum would be sat between two chairs, as the French say, but I was to be proven wrong. Australia is not where East meets Far West.

Looking at a GPS, you could feel like driving across British counties... Most of the Australian cities are trademark infringements, tributes from the colons to their origins. As such you drive around many glorious (well rarely so) cities of good old England. Fulham, Ipswich, Chiswick... And you also drive through these towns on the left side of the road, which is right side for Brits and other folks who did not fall under Napoleon's influence back then. On the other hand, the scale of things are more American-like. Bigger than life some would say. For instance, as far as I recall, I had never seen a road sign pointing me in a direction with a 4-digit distance. And that was a "close-by" destination by the local standards! Cars too are disproportionately big, making any European SUV feels like a Fiat 500 on the local highways and that is understandable when you consider the size of the road kills they have to face: Wallabies or Wombats are "slightly" more sizable obstacle than the average field mouse.

Everything is bigger or greater here, but not in the same self-proclaiming way that their American cousins do. They may have a Great Barrier Reef, but no sign of superlatives here and let's face it this reef is totally Great. So it deserves its attribute. But otherwise no Biggest, Largest, Greatest, Awesomest... This country has inherited from its former dominion a sense of restraint. Australia may have Dollars, cowboys, ranches, great outdoors, surfers, skyscrapers, etc. but it retained a tuned down attitude. To its advantage. It also has tea, cricket and rugby but it retained its laidback attitude. To its advantage again. In essence Australia is a mix of many influences, stirred and blended in a melting pot that pays tribute to its relatively new modern history of immigrations. And frankly, when I saw the following sign in a supermarket, I could not avoid but thinking that it could be a good idea:


Obedience and influences

But I had to move North, going deeper in the Asian culture. Singapore, Taipei and then Shanghai were on the agenda.

To conclude on foreign influences, let me kill another myth. My knowledge about China is patchy - at best. To my excuse, this may be the Empire of the Middle, but it truly is peripheral to our western educational curriculum... Just look at a European or American world map: it is hard to say that China is front and centre. So when I arrived in Taipei, I assumed that the relatively recent Taiwanese secession under Chang Kai-Shek would imply a strong, reminiscent influence of Mainland China from a linguistic, cultural and economical stand points. But as I walked the streets of the capital, it felt strangely familiar. I had never been to Taiwan, let alone China, and I could not put my finger on it until I exchanged with my local colleagues. Taiwan is not looking to the East for inspiration. Its influences lays further west: Japan. Probably inherited from the former Japanese occupation, but also by the desire to cut bridges with their immediate cousins, Taipei shows many signs of Japanese influence. Anime, Manga, Sushi bars, shiatsu massage and other Mos Burgers... are just a few hints at my shared interest for Japan with this nation. Japan happens to also be the #1 travel destination for locals.


Alien appeal

I guess we all find in the unknown an exotic appeal and get drawn to it. Actually even the local vermin may look pretty exciting to the new comers. For example, I could not refrain myself from taking pictures of the Cockatoo who landed on my balcony, before realising there were dozens of them rampaging the resort we were staying at. In Australian cities, kiwis can be seen as the local pigeons and consequently do not catch the eye of anyone else but the tourists. I guess they are like the London squirrels, the Venice pigeons, the Parisian mimes or the Dutch on the French Riviera... An attractions that the visitors are happy to benefit from briefly, but that they also keen to rapidly forget.

But let's face it, every country has its specialities, good or bad. As a foodie I explored there culinary portfolios and was lucky to be truly treated by my friends with great local food experiences. From the Taiwanese bubble tea to the bush-style dampers, from the Singaporean Ice Kacang to the Chinese dumplings, from the more sophisticated Kumqwat crème brulee to the somewhat puzzling sweet dried meats, jelly fishes or Black Pepper Crabs... I have been indulging every bit of the way the delicacies of this region. A time I felt more like a Gulp Trotter:


Marche a l'Ombre

There are then these little adjustments that you need to make.

As a sun-deprived person from London, this tour between the equator and the tropics was a blessing. The opportunity to recharge my Vitamin D batteries which have been running low for... let's face it 8 good years. But I suppose that when you are living there, the sun is more a foe than a friend. The sun is there merciless. It is scorching hot, and for people who enjoy pale skins, you may need serious protection if you do not want to look like an Italian vanilla/strawberry gelato. As a matter of fact, French singer, Renaud, had a hit in the 80s with a slang-loaded song entitled Marche A L'Ombre whose lyrics seem after reflection pretty topical:
In French
...and in English (personal translation)
Et j' lui ai dit
" Toi tu m' fous les glandes
Pis t'as rien à foutre dans mon monde
Arrache toi d' là t'es pas d' ma bande
Casse toi tu pues
Et marche à l'ombre
And I told him
You, you piss me off
You have nothing to do in my world
Bugger off you don't belong
Go away
And walk in the shade

Well, as a Kwai Lo (white devil), as the Honk-Konguese call the Westerners, you need to adjust your walking patterns. You shouldn't stop at the very last inch of the pavement, ready to cross when the signal turns green... You need to stop at the very last inch of the last shadow, ready to cross when the signal turns green! That nuance allows you to look less awkward when you are left by yourself, with your co-workers sympathetically smiling at you, sweating in the heat, waiting for that a man icon as red as you to dress up in a fresh, green outfit.

And more...

And finally there are other local "experiences"...  Some of which you may want to forget, or you may need to talk to someone to get over it. For instance taking a Taiwanese cab and grasping the full meaning of the "danger of multitasking". My taxi driver was indeed, in his obvious order of preference, but simultaneously: chewing a betle nut and rightfully spitting its brownish saliva in an over-used, stained paper cup; entertaining several conversations on WeChat, the local emoticon-based instant messaging phone application; watching a Chinese Opera on his embarked DVD player; and, oh yes, driving me to my hotel during the rush hour with hundreds of scooters zigging when we were zagging on the sound of the opera tunes... I have not been so frightened in a cab since a New Yorker of Italian lineage boasted his vague origins and considered the safety lane between Manhattan and Newark as the reproduction of private Monza circuit.

But what I will continue to value the most are these conversations, these insightful encounters with locals who give you the keys to a slightly better understanding their culture:
  • an Australia-based war veteran from Scotland returning home after 40 years to vote in the referendum;
  • two retired ladies sharing their Proust's Madeleine when pouring golden syrup on their grilled damper bread in the middle of a bush tour;
  • the Singaporean taxi driver who sung a country song before starting a yodelling demo;
  • these university friends we left in Singapore 15 years ago and find unchanged as if we left them the day before (except maybe the additional kids running around);
  • these colleagues and their upmost generosity who made me feel not only welcome but blessed... To all of you thank you.
I have taken many pictures of these trips, and you will be able to see some on my Flickr or Instagram streams. But these encounters are truly the highlight of my summer... Maybe because my capillary state did not allow me to fully appreciate this, sadly:

To read further:

19.6.14

Chiling Chilean World Cup

Emotions

I have reported in these pages how sport can (and should be) a source of deep emotions for both practitioners and fans. Passion, thrill, deception, excitement... You name it. During the Olympics in London back in 2012, I had the chance to live some such a vibration first hand. Even today, listening to the French national Anthem, La Marseillaise, sung by a jam-packed Copper Box after the Olympic victory of the handball team still triggers a shiver up my spine. It is patriotism, pride, happiness and bucket loads of other emotions that are intertwined and anchored in my psyche. Proust had madeleines... I have a sport achievement.

A cup full of excitement

I will spend some time to discuss the profound connection that the Brit have to football, and how they differ so much from other nations with that respect. But today, I wanted to share another concentrate of emotion with this Chilean video. You may remember those miners who got trapped underground a few years back. Under the scrutiny of the entire country, they united and survived death. Today they unite again to epitomise the nation's hope with regards to their national team in the World Cup. The Chilean team is facing the world champions and the vice-champions, Spain and Netherlands, and inherited of what is nicknamed the Group of the Death... Something way to familiar for the miners. Watch and enjoy what a well written speech can do... A deep emotion!

9.6.14

The Franco-British paradox

Edit: a few more additions on 9/06/14

The lists.

You have certainly come across some lists that define whether you are or not a Londoner, a Parisian, a Russian... I have even published one here a year ago. And yet, although these lists rely on facts and clichés I totally buy into, I have also realised that after two years in the UK, I had not completely blended in. Not yet. And in fact, I am still enjoying my differences and am even building upon it.

That led me to think about what we call in French "Les combles" of a non-English in the UK. This is hard to translate a concept, but it would be the "heights" if my faithful dictionary is accurate. A "comble" is something pushed to the absurd limit, something over the top... The following is a list, which will certainly expand thanks to your comments and suggestion, of the heights of being a non-assimilated alien in the UK. Some are a bit far-fetched, yet you will pardon your humble servant.

Statement or reality.

So as a matter of fact, you indeed know that you are not assimilated in the UK when:
  1. You wear flip-flops in Wellington
  2. You kick a football in Rugby
  3. You take a shower in Bath
  4. You spread mustard in Worchester
  5. You look for ancient ruins in NewCastle
  6. You get a speeding ticket in Slough
  7. You finish a book in Reading
  8. You shot a revolver in Winchester
  9. You go bankrupt in Sale
  10. You remain a virgin in Middlesex
  11. You keep on eating chips in Dumfries
  12. You play snooker in Poole
  13. You sell Biafine in Blackburn
  14. You breed pitbulls in Yorkshire
  15. You grow potates in Leek
  16. You get nailed in Hammersmith
  17. You lay back in Hastings (courtesy of Mel Cason)
  18. You get screwed in Cork (sorry, not in the UK, but could not skip that one)
  19. You are constipated in Waterloo
  20. You are seedless in Braintree
  21. You dismount in Ryde
  22. You refuse to march in Marlow
  23. You are a headstone cutter in Livingston
  24. You are immaculate in Staines
  25. You never excel in Chartwell (special tribute to Microsoft-fans)
  26. You are a veggan in Egham
  27. You don't do a great job in Pipewell (bit kinky this one, and need to speak French to get it)
  28. You are a clueless inspector in Leeds
  29. You are trading bleech in Blackpool
  30. You are running in Woking
  31. You get stuck in Stape
  32. You get a mute audience in Acklam
  33. You own a dermatological firm in Hitchin
  34. You fly the gay pride flag in Grays
  35. You are hacker in IPswich (sorry for the geekery)
  36. You forget your teddy in Sheringham
  37. You are feeding the ducks in Swanage
The British cities are so interweaved in History that their name have inflitrated the vocabulary. And vice versa. So let's see if you can come up with more statements... Up to you twisted minds!

29.5.14

In the marsh-mellow

Spot the difference

Ever since I moved from Paris to London, my friends back there kept on asking me the trivial question: "what is the real difference between the two capitals?". I say trivial, because two different cities are by definition... well, "different". But fair enough, both cities have a certain appeal, an history, a reputation... They are attractive destinations for tourists. If both nations may have entertained centuries ago some bellicose relationships, since then the Entente Cordiale has warmed up. Exchanges between the two countries have been as frequent as a French teenager exchanging saliva with a British girl during a linguistic trip.

More recently many French people have started crossing the Channel, and no longer to discover a new mother tongue. If British retirees keep on investing in houses in France, it is more active a population that transit in the other direction. Some say it is for tax evasion, to embrace liberalism, to be offered more exciting job opportunities, to live in a multicultural environment... Many reasons are brought forward, some positive, some more dubious. But in light of that context it is understandable that people want to understand that exotic proximity. In fact, my personal appeal for that French-British relationship got me on TV a few years back, when Sky News invited me to comment on the French news that was that week abundant in the press outlet. An interesting experience...

But back to my initial question, what are the differences between both cities? After 8 years in the UK, I have now lived longer as a Londoner than a Parisian, and the disparities are becoming less and less obvious to me. I guess that is what one calls assimilation. When the difference becomes the new norm... That said, I remain French at core, and there is still every now and then a little event in my daily life that will make me smile. This happened last weekend for instance.

Wetland...

When you are the father of a couple kids, you are always on the look for new activities that will help you keep your sanity. Outdoor activities are great for that, because as Sigourney Weather pointed out in one of her films, "no one can hear you scream in space". Sympathetic friends directed us to the London Wetland centre, a marshland within walking distance to Central London which has been adapted for educational purposes for kids and other bird watching fans. You can walk around discover migrating species in a protect habitat, when 10 minutes before you were still in the middle of the traffic jam.

I realised then that this greenery was one of the key differences between London and Paris. In the latter you can walk in parks and squares, but they are nowhere near the size of Hyde Park or Richmond Park. Paris does also have a marshland... but the colourful birds there are of very different species...

Le Marais (The Marsh in French) is one of the oldest part of the city. It is tucked on right bank of the city, just off Ile de la Cite and the Hotel de Ville. It is the medieval part of town and was built upon what was then a wetland. Nowadays it is the gay-tho after having been the real pletzl. There are still some reminiscences of the Jewish past around Rue des Rosiers, where kosher restaurants and museum are available. The only surrounding humidity in that part of the city comes from sweating clubbers who are enjoying the Parisian night life to its full. Throughout the day (although not so much in the late morning) it is a vibrant part of town, with bars, restaurants, galleries, small boutique shops, hotels... And even if you are not a proud member of the gay community, the walk through these ancients cobbled streets with not-so-straight (pun not intended) buildings is a delight.

You will agree that although sharing the same terminology, both are very, very different experiences... The extra focus on the nature in London could also be the source of some misunderstandings for keen party animals. When a Parisian plans a Stag-Do he is probably not thinking of something as literal as his Richmond counterpart...

18.5.14

A new chapter

Back to the <blank> page

I have been quiet on this blog lately. I confess. But I also have some valid excuses such as the arrival of my second son in February, the acceptance of the older one to his preferred school, some family holidays here and there... And more recently a change of job. I certainly feel like I am currently turning a page, and moving to a next chapter.

Strangely, in the past, I took that expression quite literally, and started to write. This blog when I arrived in London. A short story when I became a dad. So now that I am about to enter a new stage in my adult life, I was wondering where this idiom would take me. For now, I am not quite sure of the answer, but at least the reflection brought me back to this blog, and I hope that in spite of the professional activities and other side effects, I will find the time to regularly come back to this vessel and to fill it with some goodness: cultural differences, random and puzzling experiences, insights from London or other valleys, photos of this, of that...

On my bedside table

Whilst I may not have found the inspiration to write yet, I have certainly resurrected the taste to read. Here is a sample of the books that are currently laid on my bedside table, and I thought they were a great summary of where I was today:

Inspiration.

I have always been a fan of Jules Verne and have always been amazed by how this story teller was in fact a fortune teller. Some of the anticipation books he wrote were not only great narratives, but also a sneak peek at what would soon be a reality. "Around the World in Eighty Days" has had a special place in my childhood, and it is not totally alien to my thirst for discovering new cultures. I had never actually read the book, but been immersed in its universe through a Japanese anime dated 1972 which I am discovering today was pretty accurate an adaptation despite its anthropomorphisms of various animals. The reason I was seduced by this book when I saw it on its shelf was of course heavily connected to this childhood memory, but also by the judicious reference to my new job. I have been indeed promoted to Head of International Marketing and have therefore a new expanded geographical remit to LATAM and APAC. With a team now spanning from Sao Paulo to Taipei, from Sydney to Munich or London, I will certainly have to endorse both Phileas Fogg and Passepartout's roles. The phlegmatic and time-controlling freak on the one hand, the curious and adventurous on the other hand. My personal ambition being to work with my head, my hands and more importantly my heart, to constantly learn new ways to fulfil my and others’ full potential, I am truly excited by this new opportunity.

Expiration.

This leads me to my next book Chris Anderson's The Longer Tail. Today again, like very often, I am asked what my job is. At times, I feel I am like Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, or more likely Chandler Bing in Friends... The one whom nobody knows what he does for a living. So lets clarify that for good: my role consists in explaining to small and large businesses the benefits of promoting their offering in the search results provided by Microsoft search engine, Bing.

I personally find the whole world of search engines fascinating. They are at the forefront of the technology with Artificial Intelligence, connected devices, Virtual learning machines, big data... But more importantly, search engines are a data base of intents, as John Battelle once coined it, and this is the reason why the Curator of the TED conference's book is on next to my pillow. It indeed democratised the concept of the long tail and its application to commerce, whereby there is an uneven distribution of intents with a high volume of asks for a small number of topics, and then a high number of topics where the asks are small to marginal. So when some businesses fight for the most demanded and therefore disputed products from the head of the diplodocus, some like Amazon built their success by focusing on the dispersed yet unmet needs of the tail. The same dynamics apply to search... and it is fascinating to consider what the majority thinks (or search for), but also to explore the depth of thoughts that human beings are capable of. This is a passion that I try to share and expose in my public speaking or classes.

Expiation.

I have indeed been giving some lectures in different universities in the past few years, teaching aspiring marketers on the opportunities, challenges and best practices of online advertising. It is always an honour to be able to share some of your learnings and maybe to inspire a few. The next book, the Manifesto of the Communist Party, is a direct consequence of my return to the school benches. Inspired by all this academic brain juice I once opened one of these numerous boxes in which you store your manuals and other class notes in a vain hope that one day you will need them. Under the heavy layer of dust was a few books that the Teenager Cedric planned to read to be better informed, cooler, smarter, hairier...

Marx and Engels' foundational essay was amongst them, and I decided to save their beards from the moths. I have since dived into this classic only to realise how modern it was. Bar a few obsolete or outdated terms, the concepts and associated utopia remain so current that it is inspiring. I am personally disheartened with politics as the content of programmes have lost their elevations. There is no more philosophical stance in the choices you make, you now elect the less worst within a single school of thought which has imposed itself as the norm: liberalism and individualism. Nowadays, politicians do not debate, they denigrate. Parties are just variances of the same flavour. I find this pauperisation of the public thinking damageable. After all, politics and search engines have that in common, it is not good for anyone to have a single view as it is necessarily partial, in all the sense of the terms.

Recognition.

The last book is a gift from a dear friend of mine... And I am not sure what to find in this dairy book. But as a French who is about to be even more immersed in different cultures, figuring out where to put my hand on some cheese, literally or rhetorically, is certainly an asset. I look forward to devouring these pages...

And I want to seize this opportunity to thank my friends and my cherished ones for their past, current and future support. I love them. I love you. And I do not say it enough, so let me write it down. That may be the introduction of my above-mentioned new chapter...
"You are a man of heart!"
"Sometimes", replied Phileas Fogg quietly, "when I have the time."
Jules Verne (1828-1905)

8.1.14

Olympic tears before the sweat.

The emotional tap.

The London 2012 Olympics are still a vivid memory. I totally embraced the spirit of the Games at that time, enjoyed every second of this international event and the drama that came along with it. Sports are a marvellous catalyst of emotions: joy, despair, achievement, anger, rage, sadness...

This myriad of shared feelings, concentrated in a short period of time, sublimes the actual sport performance to make it something bigger, larger, more universal. It triggers a response of communion between nations.

A marketing plea?

I am personally a cerebral machine that works on emotional fuel. This is why I have been working in advertising. I like to tell stories, engage people emotions. Too often though, and especially in the context of economical pressure, story telling is discarded to focus on transactional messages. "Don't charm, sell" seems to be the motto as if you could not use your charm and connivance to actually drive business relationship.

Of course you do have the big brands that are the trees hiding the forest. For the Nike, Apple and other Microsoft, how many other advertisers are forgetting to instil some emotions in their engagement with their customers? Some claim that brand building is not required for all brands, and that some brands do not require to create an emotional connection with their market. Commodity products spring to mind...

Who cares about toothpicks? I hear you say.
Can buying a USB stick ever give me butterflies in my tommy? Someone adds.

Well, I do think so... It just requires a little more efforts. In fact marketing commodities, like good B2B marketing, is about applying the same level of intransigence as for marketing high-involving products despite more limited resources and an easy path towards complacency. 

Paris-based creative hot shop Buzzman did an amazing job with their Hunter Shoots a Bear interactive video to encourage people to make use of Tippex. And look at what Procter & Gamble has done with the following commercial. It does not sell diapers, wipes, detergent... It sells emotions! And smartly announces their corporate tie-in with the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics that surely will be heavily used in shops to drive product usage and adoption. Smart. And efficient.

Enjoy!


24.11.13

Puzzling Chinese

Last journey?

I have written a few times on this blog about one of my favourite French director, Cedric Klapisch. This affinity is not only related to our homonymy, but more importantly to the fact that his films capture a reality that speaks to me. Many of them struck a cord in the past, but I must say that L'Auberge Espanole (Pot Luck) an its sequel The Russian Dolls really hit the bull's eye for me. They are simply generational movies... They brought me back to my own referential scheme, at the right moments of my life. They come with an exquisite sense of short-lived nostalgia, and a reality check on our society values...

The first instalment shares the life of a French student who arrives in Barcelona as part of an Erasmus exchange programme, a few months before entering the exhilarating life of an administrative clerk in the finance ministry. In Spain, he will discover life, its difficulties, its tensions, its passions... In the flat share that accept to host him, he will live with Spanish, Danish, Belgian, English, German... folks who will all help him make sense of that intrinsic mess. He will discover himself and ultimately unleash his contrived passion for writing. A year that will change his life.

The second opus takes us a few years later, when our students have started their adult life and seen some their dreams shelved for a while. Xavier, our hero, is struggling through his Parisian life. He may be writing but not with passion. Until a TV channel ask him to write the sequel of a cheap love story, a dull assignment that ends up getting him back in touch with Wendy, his Barcelona roommate who may reveal being the love of his life.

A mess, a life.

Last week in France, I have heard that my wait for the next episode is now over. Early December, we will hear back from Xavier, in a third (and possibly final) instalment of our hero: Cassel-Tete Chinos (Chinese Puzzle). The plot is a delight....

10 years after his last adventures, we are finding Xavier in NYC. "Cool!" you may say, except that his life, like many of us, is nothing but linear. He lives in NY to be close to his two children who stay at his former wife's, Wendy. He has another child in Europe but is only the surrogate father as he helped another Barcelona friend, Isabelle, who is a lesbian finance analyst and wanted a family. To be able to stay in the US and get a green card, he married a US citizen from the Chinese community, and therefore made China Town his home in the Big Apple. Xavier will discover who he is as a father, a husband, a foreigner... in a word a Man.

Call me a masochist, but that mess is triggering much anticipation for me, to the point that I have reached out to the director himself to hear his plans for the distribution of the film in the UK. And here is his answer:

YES, the film will be released in the UK, but timing to be confirmed... Well, I cannot wait. So let  me leave you with a quote from this inspired director:
Optimism it is also to say that there is sadness and desolation in life. Pretending that everything is happiness, that everything will be fine, that is not optimism, that is stupidity.
Cédric Klapisch (1961-)

17.11.13

Melody... Nippon Style

Food stalls
Asian noodling.
 
Last year Korea was trusting the world music charts with a Psy-chedelic tune that was all the more representative of the emancipation and internationalisation of the country, let alone region. I have personally never been to the Country of the Calm Morning, but have done a few immersions in the broader eastern region. If I loved walking the unspoilt Burmese countryside, the constant smile of the Malaysian people, the spices of the thailandese food... It is really Japan that caught my imagination, like no other (as Sony once said in its advertising).

I belong to the generation X, which means that I have grown up with the rise of that nation on the international scene. Sega and Nintendo have kept me awake at night ; Shizuo Koizumi and his anime "Attacker Yu!" (Jeanne & Serge in French) made me discover volley ball and live magnificent moments with great fellows ; I have delightfully seen sushi bars take over France restaurant scene like Pizzerias did in the 70s, Vietnamese restaurants in the 80s, Kebab shop in the 90s... It was therefore natural for my wife and I to aim for the archipelago when evaluating our honey moon destinations.

Nippon Style.

It was already a few years back, and I have written a few articles on that experience, but what I recall most is this frenetic calm that tears appart that nation. On the one hand Tokyo and its always-on beats, strobe lights and capsule hôtels, and on the other hand the traditions and relaxing nature of the Takayama region.

And it is always a pleasure to dive back in these fantastic memories through the pictures I brought back, or thought more serendipity. The latest happy accident was this advertisement for the Touchwood SH-08C, a very special phone by Sharp and launched by NTT Domoco.

As introduced in Engadget:
Kenjiro Matsuo was responsible for the creation of the instrument, while Morihiro Harano is being handed credit for the idea itself; in fact, he confirmed to The New York Times that no artificial music was added whatsoever, with only the background levels being adjusted up for effect. You may have never listened to a piece of classical music in your life, but you're sorely missing out if you ignore Bach's Cantata 147, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Or, at least the version in that video below.

7.11.13

Metro stations in the viewfinder

Mind the cultural gap

The Parisian metro, the local tube, is a constant source of inspirations. For poets, singers and yes... photographers. During the 90s, French photographer Janol Apin walked the underground tunnels to find funny ways to put the station in image.


Visual puns, captured in black and white, literally translate the name of  Metro stations. Maison Blanche (White House) is guarded by a couple of security agents; Charles De Gaulle features the eponymous silhouette of the French General; Duroc is populated with AC/DC fans, etc. Some of the jokes might be lost to the non-French speakers, but it is worth a browse.

Discover the full portfolio here,

9.8.13

Joy of raising a bilingual child


Menage a deux

Now that my son masters his alphabet, or his alphabets I should specify, every occasion is a pretext to get him to spell things out. If he has not fully grasped the concept of syllables, he is pretty good decomposing any word he put his eyes on.

And here comes the fun part... In a language, most of the time one word is associated to one concept, a one-to-one link if you want. But for our little bilingual chap, it is a bit more complicated: for him, a concept or object is connected to... well, two words. One in French. The other in English. And this gives you some awkward conversations that could have featured in Rain Man.
 
Who is on first base? Woo.

For instance, last week, the two of us were in the kitchen for dinner when my son glances at the bread box lying on the table, and starts deciphering the word engraved on the wooden box:

"B... R... E...A...D", he spells and then underlines the word and declares with pride the word: "PAIN!" (the French word for bread).
- "No", I reply with a smile, "it is not written PAIN."
- "But mummy said it is written PAIN?!?"
- "Let's read it again together", and I take turn to spell it in a more phonetic way: "B, Rrrrr-Aid... BREAD"

My son looks at me. Puzzled. Almost upset. "Daddy, you JUST said it was not 'bread'!!!!".

It is a promising omen for our upcoming reading nights, but I could not refrain from smiling at the prospect.

3.8.13

The Saturday Shot #30: alpine wisdom

A piece of alpine wisdom captured during a recent trip to two-time Olympic city of Lake Placid... A nice way to put things into perspective ahead of the upcoming back-to-school rush.

31.5.13

The top of the world at your finger tips


Mt Rainier on May 4th, culminating point in mainland USA

Alpine inspiration.

I am not sure why this year, more than any previous years, my alpine origins have crawled back in the front of my aspirations with a constant call back to the mountains.

This has led me to ski for over 28 days this season, including an awesome new experience: shredding snow on May 4th before enjoying an ice cream the same day both feet in the ocean (more charms to the already reported Seattle backcountry). But as expected, this nostalgia has also materialised in a flurry of blog posts gravitating around the alpine theme, whether that was paragliding over an avalanche, photographing the Mt Blanc in high resolution, or poetry whilst walking on a rope tied between two peaks...

Toping my world

So to continue on that path, and mark like many others the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Everest conquest by the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali sherpa climber from India, I would like to share a brilliant digital experience that uses the Himalaya as a background for some impressive innovations.

To help emphasize the beauty of the region and put into perspective the ascent to the summit, the filmmaker and explorer David Breashears has teamed up with Microsoft to build an interactive examination of the mountain and the Greater Himalaya region.

Everest: Rivers of Ice is a new Web site open to the public on Tuesday night built in HTML5 and CSS3 for touch screens. Created by the Internet Explorer 10 team, Microsoft Research, and PixelLabs, a small HTML5 creative shop, it takes you on an immersive, gigapixel-rich adventure from landing at Lukla's Hillary Tenzing Airport to panoramic, sweeping views far above Everest Base Camp:


A click to the peak

Although it was built for touch, and optimised for IE10, you can still enjoy it with a mouse and other web browsers. And here are some examples of what can be done in that digital mountain chain... As you zoom in Namche Bazar reveals a video of the market. Zoom in on Everest Base Camp and a 4 billion pixel photo materialises in front of you, in full screen mode. You can also see how this giant is vulnerable: a slider enables you to compare the Khumbu Glacier between 1952, a year before Hillary's successful ascent, and 2007. In sixty years, the glacier has significantly shrunk back...

Breashears has contributed with numerous high-resolution photos and videos to both educate and advocate. It may not be explicitly stated, but there's a clear demonstration throughout the site of how climate change has impacted the glaciers in recent years. And you can thus donate to GlacierWorks, Breashears' non-profit that works to raise awareness of how the shrinking glaciers adversely affects the water supply for much of Asia.