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.

20.5.13

Kicking your way around London

Some people say about the UK that is home of football. There is such an enthusiasm and passion about that little piece of rubber that it is difficult to argue (even if other nations have open their own door to that sport). World Freestyle Football Champion, Andrew Henderson, takes us through the streets of London like never before. After all, there may be other ways to coming home, to coming home... Football's coming home!


Love Your Journey from Wallop Creative on Vimeo.

7.5.13

Tour de Force

Wheels of good fortune.

Every July a bunch of (sport) addicts jump on their bicycle and tour one of the largest countries in mainland Europe, France. Crazy. They do that in the hottest month of the year., under a harsh sunshine. Crazier. And, to boot, they dress up in multicolour lycras and get cheered up by Satanists, Bull-heads, Lunatics, Chickens... Craziest.

The Tour de France is clearly a frenzy, embraced by the masses. It is truly a popular phenomenon in my home country and beyond. In fact there is a French idiom that describes a crazy person as someone who has "a little bike in her head" (avoir un petit velo dans la tete). But no matter how mad you think it is to embark in such a physical performance, you may want to reassess your referential schemes with the following video.

A bike in the head.

Martyn Ashton takes the £10k carbon road bike used by Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins & Mark Cavendish for a ride with a difference. With a plan to push the limits of road biking as far as his lycra legs would dare, Martyn looked to get his ultimate ride out of the awesome Pinarello Dogma 2. This bike won the 2012 Tour de France - surely it deserves a Road Bike Party!

Shot in various locations around the UK and featuring music from 'Sound of Guns'. Road Bike Party captures some of the toughest stunts ever pulled on a carbon road bike:



To read further:

28.4.13

Big mountains through a viewfinder

I have already mentioned Sebastien Montaz and his picturesque work on this blog. This mountain guy has just invested time in a massive photo shoot to create a giant 3.15 Gigapixel picture by stitching 297 high resolution photos together. This picture includes every peak from the Argentière glacier near Chamonix... You can start navigating that picture below, but clicking through this link will allow you to be pin-pointed to a few "details" a la Where is Wally? A pair of skiers here, a climber there... Explore!

21.4.13

In memoriam

Sorry we are closed

We walk down the street, our street. It's finally spring time in London. Cherry blossoms are paving the way, the sky is blue, and we have smiles on our faces. We walk down our street and suddenly feel something is off. There is a grey cloud over our block. The always-opened convenience store has its shutter down. Our smiles are fading away as we see people congregating in front. The regulars who usually dash in and out of the premise are for once staying tight, pausing, discussing. The eyes are reddened. Something has happened. This afternoon, Rana, the shop tenant, passed away.

Assimilation.

When we moved to the UK we wondered if one day we would feel at home in this country. 7 years later, we have definitely started to blend in. We pour a dash of milk in our tea; we find Victorian terrace houses spacious; we got to terms with unscrewing the cap of a decent bottle of wine; we even roast meat on Sundays... And yet, I know that we will never be (or want to be) fully British. But despite that everlasting cultural gap, something happened Sunday: we felt part of the community, sharing the communal sorrow of the family and the regulars who used the shop. We are said to leave in one of the London's villages, and it certainly feels so in this dark day.

For years, we affectionately referred to Rana as "the little gentleman", "the husband of the little lady"... For most of our family members and friends who came home and visited the shop, he will only be remembered as such. Rana was a figure of the neighbourhood with his grey beard, his turban, and his strong voice. We were seeing him almost everyday but it took us years to learn his name. And it was only last week that we dared asking his wife the right spelling and his surname, in order to send him some properly spelled wishing well.

Whether Rana was a good husband, a good father, a good business man, a good man... we cannot tell. Not that we had doubts, to be clear, but it is just a sheer lack of knowledge as we only had just a few glimpses here and there of his life outside the shop. It is also that a community, tight proximity with strangers.

Farewell.

Nevertheless we are sad, full of sorrow to lose of good neighbour, a pillar of the community. I will remember his clear eyes through his glasses looking at me and my son, distilling some parental wisdom. I will remember him slipping some treats in my little one's pocket behind my back with a wink and a shhhhh... I will remember his "goodbye little man" in his unmatched accent. I will remember a welcoming man who made us feel at home on this block, on this street, on this street, on our street. Rest in peace.