4.12.11

A mountain dweller on the Copacabana Beach

Corcovado out of the clouds

Let me see the (sun)light.

Despite what I can write every so often, my life is not a pure dichotomy between mountains and valleys. Every now and then I like to explore shores too... Having been drenched in Ireland during what was supposedly a summer break, I was really longing for a proper holiday somewhere exotic enough to finally have a second day of sun this summer. We are fortunate enough to have friends around the world, including a couple who currently live in Brazil and invited us a few times to visit. Sun-starved, this was not to be refused any longer, so there we went.

However before I start, Brazil is such a big country that I will never claim to have visited it. At most I can pretend to have seen Rio and some of its surroundings... That is probably more fair to such a massive geography. And yet that will not prevent me from jotting down some of the fun and puzzling facts that I have experienced during my stay in the auriverde country.

Ordem e progressport


Frankly speaking that should be more appropriate a motto for this nation whose carioca's culture gravitates around the cult of the body. The beaches count more volley ball and beach football courts than towels. The walks alongside them are paved with work-out machines between which joggers and skateboarders slalom half-naked (or half-dressed, depending on how you like to look at your glass).

The number of tattoos is astonishing, but yet again it is understandable when the body is the centre of attention. In a sense, the locals own their bodies. They carve them, develop them, insert a little bit of silicon here, a touch of ink there in order to fully really personalise it. No wonder that in 2011, Brazil was ranked second nation behind the US in terms of number of aesthetic surgery intervention.

Having said that, we are not all equals in this culture of culturism. And I must say that sometimes the flesh on display was not of the greatest appeal. It seems that most of the Rio inhabitants have come to terms with their body, irrespective of how it is And as a result they do not hesitate to put it on display, for the better or the worse:

All good, man.

Well, I say for the better or the worse, but in reality, according to the local idiom only the earlier half of that statement applies to Brazil. "Todo Bom" (e.g. Everything is good) is hammered by everyone all the time. You may even get a double thumb up to accompany that sentence, as if a physical punctuation was required to really land the message.

How are you? Todo Bom! How is the food? Todo bom! Fancy an helicopter flight over the city? Todo bom! Errr, do you have a pilot license? Todo bom! Do you have swimming suits that cover, hmm, a bit more? Todo bom! There is no more milk in the fridge? Todo bom! I crashed your car!? Todo bom! What time is it? Half past two-do bom!

It seems that the Cariocas have simply a very positive stance towards life. Nothing seem to really worry them - to the point that other Brazilians pretend they don't really care about anything. And to a certain extend I can understand that it can put some people off, especially in a business environment. This positive attitude translates into a laid-back stance which easily evolves towards a lack of involvement, an absence of dedication, very loose time commitments, etc.

But on the other hand the absence of stress cannot be blamed, when we all complain that we want to have a better work/life balance. The NGO, suicide.org, was for instance reporting Brazil as only the 73rd nation in terms of suicide rate, with under 4.3 per 100,000 population/per year. That is about a third of the worldwide average.
Why such a positive attitude? Some would argue that it is endemic to folks leaving by the sea, as you find similar traits amongst other insular nations... On the other hand Great Britain is definitely an island and the same positivity does not apply, I can testify. So what next? The influence of sun, sand, s...?  Any of these factors, found in abundance in Rio, may be to blame or hail, again depending on which half of your caipirinha glass you look at (and I must acknowledge that these glasses tend to be too often half empty... Waiter!).

Bottoms up.

Talking about the beverage of choice for any tourist, it is sad to see Brazil being the victim of its own success...
Besides cachaca, a white alcohol derived from sugar cane that is forming the base of the caipirinha cocktail, Brazil is renown for two other sources of beverage: coffee and cocoa. Brazil is in fact the world number one producer and exporter of coffee beans, with over a third of the international trade originated from what is the fifth largest country in the world. Accordingly with the University of Sao Paulo, this has resulted into record breaking revenues for the country in 2011,with 2.8 billions dollars (+43% year on year) being cashed within the first four months of harvest. Similarly it was the 6th cocoa exporter, with over 4.5% of the worldwide trade volumes in 2006.

Good news, you would think, for a country which is willing to accelerate its economic development and diversify its revenue sources... But the problem is that to shine on the international scene, the country exports its best production, leaving its domestic ground with the bitter taste of second tier beans. As such, the coffees served in Brazil are either of mediocre quality or sold at extortionary prices... since they are reimported! Such is the irony of the situation, and the globalisation of the economy.

National pride.

Ironic, but nevertheless accepted by the locals who have to swallow poor chocolate and coffee... But I could not refrain to think that maybe, yes maybe, it may not taste as bad for them as for us tourists? not that their taste buds may be different, or that they are less demanding. The sweetener for them is probably that even if it is a second rated product, it is still a home-grown product, ergo something to be proud of: national pride can make you blind sometimes, look at how East Berliner were proud of the Trabbant for instance! Brazilian are tremendously proud of their country. As a French, I was amazed by the national pride that this country demonstrates. It is a pride that does remind to a certain extend the US or Canada, with flags being displayed everywhere: on masts, on t-shirts, on the beach, on shoes, on the skin, etc.

It is a national pride that does not however translate into obscurantism and chauvinism however. This country knows where it is coming from and what it still needs to accomplish. Yes, corruption is rampant. Yes, protectionism is in place to place the domestic growth behind a wall-garden (random taxes are set up out of the blue on imports, adding 20% to the retail price of a car from one day to the other for instance). Yes, immigration is limited... But on the other hand you cannot help but feel welcome. This may explain why Brazil boasts the largest Japanese community outside Japan for instance. I certainly felt almost at home, maybe too much since I was seeking some exotic if not cultural clashes.

Feeling home in Rio's undergound


Once again judging Brazil through the prism of Rio is probably a pitfall that I do not want to encourage. This country is so vast that the limited exposure that a visit to Rio provides you with is necessarily partial - in all sense of the term. I could not stress more the need to broaden your Brazilian experience beyond the seaside lifestyle and carnival. These are already source of great enthusiasm, but my main take-away is that there is so much more to Brazil than these clichés... Clichés that are true nonetheless.

If you don't believe me, prepare your trip by doing nothing but watching Rio, Disney's latest animation feature, you will be amazed by the accuracy of the carioca details. I already wrote about how these computer animated movie can help boost local tourism, but this film once again proves me right. And if you are not into such movies, well maybe the following pictures I captured during my two weeks will do the trick.

Enjoy the slideshow, enjoy Brazil, enjoy life. After all... TODO BEM!

To read further:

12.11.11

The Saturday Shot #20: dead leaves

For this week contribution, it was hard to avoid the fact that London is nowadays covered in leaves... Orange, red, brown tones which are reminding me this brilliant trip we made in Japan a few years back. This same scenery is also a nostalgic glance back at my home country. France's contemporary culture has two important contributors in my eyes, the french surrealist poet Jacques Prévert and singer-actor Yves Montand.

Both contributed to one of my favourite old song of the French repertoire: "Les Feuilles Mortes" or "Autumn Leaves" in English. It is a 1945 French song with music by Joseph Kosma that Yves Montand introduced in 1946 in the film "Les Portes de la Nuit". And I just love it... Hope you'll enjoy it too!

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Les Feuilles Mortes Jacques Prévert - 1945
In French
...and in English (personal translation)
Oh ! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes
Des jours heureux où nous étions amis.
En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié...
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Et le vent du nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l'oubli.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais.

[Refrain:]
C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Mais mon amour silencieux et fidèle
Sourit toujours et remercie la vie.
Je t'aimais tant, tu étais si jolie.
Comment veux-tu que je t'oublie ?
En ce temps-là, la vie était plus belle
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.
Tu étais ma plus douce amie
Mais je n'ai que faire des regrets
Et la chanson que tu chantais,
Toujours, toujours je l'entendrai !

[Refrain]
Oh! I wish you could remember
The happy days when we were friends.
In these days life was more beautiful,
And the sun burning more than today.
Autumn leaves are collected by shovels.
You see, I have not forgotten...
Autumn leaves are collected by shovels,
Memories and regrets too.
And the Northern wind blows them away
In the cold night of oblivion.
You see, I have not forgotten
That song you sang me.

[Refrain:]
This is a song which sounds like us.
You loved me, and I loved you
And both of us lived together,
You who loved me, me who loved you.
But life separates those who love,
Softly, without a noise
And the sea erases on the sand
The steps of divided lovers.

Autumn leaves are collected by shovels,
Memories and regrets too
But my quiet and faithful love
Keeps on smiling and thanks life
I loved you so much, you were so pretty.
How could I ever forget you?
In these days, life was more beautiful
And the sun burning more than today.
You were my tenderest friend
And I could not care less about regrets
That song you sang,
Always, always I will hear it!

[ Refrain: ]

4.11.11

Family moment of truth

In French we say that the “truth pours out of children’s mouth”… Well, this morning, it was indeed pouring over London and when my 2-year old son saw the water dripping down the window, he proudly said, pointing outside:

“Rainin’…” with a perfect Londoner accent.
“It is raining indeed. In French we say: ‘Il pleut’.” I replied to encourage him to strengthen his bilingual skills.
“No daddy… It’s raining!”

Apparently my son is well more advanced than I thought… He is already capable of associating a word to a culture. It obviously does not rain in French, or in France.

28.10.11

Learn to hear English

You hear me, but do you listen?

School teachers focus on making us learn to speak English... But it is only with a bit more experience and immersion in the local culture that you actually manage to hear English.

Bear with me here, as I am not talking about what is verbally articulated, I in fact mean of what is actually said. There is a significant nuance for a nation that masters the art of understatement and self-deprecation.

The following table for instance has been recently circulated around in my company, probably to help our dearest colleagues in the US translate what really happens in meetings. After all, America and England are two nations divided by a common language...
Enjoy your next meetings with the Brits... Cup of tea anyone?


To read further:

5.10.11

Quote of the day

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars" Les Brown (1945-)

30.9.11

A, B, C, Ki , Wi

Busy B

I have rarely the time to post on my blog those days with a pretty busy work agenda, and a growing little one... The latter is growing fast and is now on the verge to hammer us with extensive questions about everything in life. He is about to speak.

Fortunately for us, his parents, we still have a few more years to go before he becomes fluently eloquent and proficient in Shakespeare's tongue. It is indeed already upsetting for us that our toddler can already correct your English accent whereas he only master a few words.

Evil plan.

I am in fact starting to think that we may want to impair his development, just to protect what is left of our ego. We already started in fact as we signed him up in a nursery with pan-European care-takers so his accent may be influenced by mainland inspirations. Not really succesful. The next step is probably to dial up the obstacle and get him a nanny from New Zealand. I personally love their accent, it makes me laugh as loud as an exploding Rainbow Warrior boat.

To give you a flair of how daunting a task it is to understand the Kiwis, here is a little guide in the form of a ABC... A song that is now becoming a true earworm.

13.8.11

The Saturday Shot #19: gnomes and gravels

Gnome attack


For this weekend contribution, it was hard to avoid making any reference to this week's events in the street of London. I felt thus this picture was perfect: a bunch of hooded gnomes on gravels...

A few times in the past I mentioned that the UK was more and more looking like France, with its too numerous French residents (London is the 7th French city in the world), its growing number of public transportation strikes, its sporting failures... And the riots of last few days can only confirm this trend.

In an earlier article, written on the back of Justice's video clip "Stress", I mentioned the situation in the Parisian suburbs and it is chilling to see the similarity with the current situation in Great Britain. A few differences though: when such events occur on the other side of Channel, the French thugs rampage their own neighborhood instead of moving to the commercial areas which is something that has always puzzled me, especially when they pretend to do that to demonstrate against the disastrous conditions in which they live (and don't get me wrong, they do). Motivations are similar but there are cultural/ethnic underlying drivers to their acts, whilst in the UK this driver is social class...

Different name, different context, different causes yet same symptoms. The youngsters aspire to be more than they can expect to be and see their social background as an inhibitor. Shortcuts to success is seen as a social lift, irrespective of their legal aspects.

This reminded me of a tune by French rap band, IAM. It is called Petit Frere (Little Brother). The original text can be read here, but I loosely attempted to translate an excerpt from this song:

(...)

Journalists set trends. Violence at school existed already
Back in my time: rackets, brawls, rampage,
A bat swinging in the windshield of the teacher car
A cutter kicks in and here is a scar

But covering them in the every evening news makes it banal
It is printed in the retina as normal
And if little brother wants to be talked about
He reiterates what he saw in the 9 o'clock news

Shit, in 1980's these were just acts,
But these journalists have turned them into matter of facts
And I don't think that Little Brother is worse than before
Just overexposed to advertising, to violent chore

For adults, kids are the best lemon
The target number 1, a field for consumer goods
And to be sure that he gets some
Little Brother hangs around with a gun by his side

We know who you are when we see what you own
Little Brother knows that and keeps it in mind
Money would open doors to a shiny blue sky
As easily as his screwdriver opens cars.

High standing is all he aspires to
It simply feels better when you wear Giorgio Armani
Concerned about the others' glances
In spite of his young age, Little Brother smokes to look older

(...)

17.7.11

A mountain dweller in the valley of Kerry


Just back from a week of holiday in the beautiful Ireland, and thought that I would jot down my thoughts from my encounter with the backcountry. I have indeed been a few times in Dublin, but that was the first time I was really going into the deeper countryside, namely the Ring of Kerry. But I am very conscious that this part of Ireland is not Ireland as a whole, and that the following comments refered to as "Irish" facts may not be as representative as I may want to imply. So I hope that the Irish readers of these lines will excuse my cliches... (They are said to be feisty, so I have no intention to get into trouble!)

The drenched Emerald

One of the first things that struck me when I looked back at my 200+ pictures was the green-dominated hue of the portfolio. Nicknamed the Emerald Isle, Ireland has certainly not usurped its reputation. Green fields, green mountains, green signs... Pretty much everything blends in that tint. In fact probably the only thing that denote is the sky... Blue, sometimes, but most of the time loaded with threatening clouds. And like the Irish fighting reputation, these clouds do not pretend, they hold to their promise. When it starts raining, well, it certainly rains like crazy.


These pictures were taken on the same location, within two days. And to put things into perspective what you are seeing here is the Gap of Dunloe's wishing bridge. We are over 200m over sea level, very close to the top of the surrounding mountains and in the middle of July. So the flooding cannot be attributed to the convergence of numerous rivers, boosted by melting snows, as you may encounter in the Alps at Spring. No, here you have tiny improvised streams, pouring down rocks bathed by continuous rain showers, that simply flood the equally tiny gap.

I must say that the Brisith Isles have a reputation for being often drenched, but that was the very first time that I could really see that cliche materialised in front of my eyes.

The fast and furious leprechauns

The Ring of Kerry is renown for its scenery roads. Yet what people often forget to mention is that it really takes skills to get your car in one piece on the other side of the circumference. And to the seasoned drivers who may think that they would be safe, I can assure you that they would not have only to worry about surprising encounters such as leprechauns or wild ponies (these dangers are duly highlighted).


The primary danger consists in navigating through a network of single-laned "roads" which are used in both directions by cars, buses, trucks tractors and other engine-powered vehicles of your choice. The narrow width of the tarmac and the immediate proximity of gaping cliffs are a challenge in themselves, but in addition you have to drive one-handed as your other limb is in constant use for waving thanks at other sweating drivers who kindly gave way and now have to figure out how to get their fourth wheel back on the ground rather than spinning loose over a 50m-high void...

And this is not enough thrill for the locals... First they are so used to the narrow roads that they could drive through whilst dancing the hooley and maintaining a steady 100km/h which is the authorised speed limit (and a pure joke for any sane driver). Second they are locals and as the traffic regulation code clearly states it THEY have the priority - no matter left, right, downhill, uphill or the size of the engine... "Out of MY way" should be printed on road signs in lieu of Yield. Finally, Vin Diesel must have his greatest fan clubs in that province. The roads bear the indelebile marks of Fast and Furious afficionados who tour the roads at dusk, leaving behind melted rubber trails that zig-zag between markings and then draw perfect circles at t-junctions. And I am not talking about isolated cases. Seriously we have seen so many spurs of these joyrides that Michelin is probably a profitable global corporation thanks only to the Irish market.

51st state?

Whilst we are talking about globalisation, I would like to dwell a bit on Americans. If after the great famine, over 2 millions Irish inhabitants had emigrated to the US (about a quarter of the total 1850's population), it seems that their great, great grand children have finally seen the light. I am refering to the lantern at the Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish president where it is left on all year long to guide the Irish back home...
We happened to be in Ireland on July 4th, and stars and stripes were floating in the sky everywhere. I must say that it puzzled me, a bit like when German tourists flame bratwurst in Ibiza considering they are home due to the excessive presence of their fellow-citizens. I appreciate the historical connection between the two nations, but what I was witnessing was more a take-over rather than pilgrimage. I am certainly not hostile to cross-fertilisations, when it is for the greater good. And I must say that a Floridian pink house with its alignment of pseudo Roman columns has nothing to do in such a part of the world (and don't try to pretend it is a legitimate local architectural execution, you could smell the cinamon chewing gums from the road). It is clearly a cultural faux-pas and there were a bit too many to my taste. If your intentions is to return to fatherland, then at least respect the local habits and traditions... You came up with the concept of the melting pot after all.

Space-efficiency, Sport-efficiency.

But let's not get too hung up on this colonial polemic... There is so much to say about the true Irish that it is not worth for me to digress. The Irish are said feisty, maybe, but they are more certainly friendly and welcoming that I can testify. At some point I thought they were also really pragmatic...

That was when I walked past a stadium and peeped over the edge to discover what was a brilliant utilisation of a limited space. In a country that has been badly hit by the recession sport remains most certainly the opium of the people, yet it is certainly costly to build stadiums that can host either football or rugby. There on each side of the pitch were proudly standing posts which, I was convinced, were the solution to the inflation. The woodwork was looking as if football goals had copulated with their rugby cousins to give birth to an hybrid: the offspring looked either like a rugby H with a netted skirt or a football goal with two long antenas (depending on which sport dominates your referential scheme).

Anyway what I thought to be a modular response to the football and rugby cohabitation was in fact a locally brewed sport, Gaelic football, which in essence is indeed the mongrel of rugby and football. A pragmatic mutt though, as manages to finally unite the fans of both sports, and shares his pitch with another inbred sport, hurling (a combination of lacrosse, hockey, handball, rugby and football.... Yep, just that). Ireland may just well be the Ikea of sport!


More seriously, I love Ireland and this little taste gave me tons of reasons to go back. I loved the people (in particular my Irish friends and colleagues who are about to read these lines and wait for me in a dark side of a parking lot), their accent, their welcoming kindness, their sense of humour. I enjoyed the scenery and no matter people think the weather. This stay has made me stronger (in the left arm, the one holding the stirring wheel) and more avid to discover new regions of what is certainly a European gem... Hey, that may well be why they call it the Emerald Isle after all. Here some more pictures about that lovely country. And please note that I did my best to limit the amount of greenery in this selection:





To read further:

30.6.11

Splitscreen: A Love Story

One ocean, two countries...

At a time when French politicians trust the front page of tabloids with their kinky habits, it is good to remind that French lovers are not (only) about S&M, role plays and threesomes... Call me a sentimental, but there is also that weird thing called "romance".

...One love story.

Shot entirely on the Nokia N8 mobile phone, the following video won the Nokia Shorts competition 2011:

Splitscreen: A Love Story by JW Griffiths tells the story of an American and a French who live parallel lives on each side of the pond until they one day collide... Interestingly enough in London.

Beyond the performance of shooting a split screen video (a technique brought back to fashion with the TV series 24) with a phone, there is the refreshing story telling. It may well be the hot summer, but it feels good to see that love is the air.

18.6.11

The Saturday Shot #18: invaders


This Saturday shot comes a good week late... Just the time for a French national newspaper to reach me after my beloved mother did some press clipping for me.

Last weekend, French street artist Space Invader was the guest editor of Liberation, France's left wing, BoHo national. The anonymous artist who usually invades public spaces with his tiles directly inspired by the eponymous video game ancestor was this time around populating the pages of an ink-smirking paper. It is still a public space, but some may argue it is just a sign that after 12 years of underground work, Invader is now sufficiently mainstream to hit the front page...

Banksy did in the UK, so why not my fellow citizen? Personally I don't care. Art, and street art in particular, needs to be exposed and shared. I did for years with Invader's work, looking like a freak in the streets of Paris, NY or London, twisting my neck at every street corner to see if I could spot a new invasion. I had reached such a point that if I had lived in the US I could have considered suing the artist for the neck pains he caused... But I don't live in that country and in lieu of a court audience, I much prefer the acclamations of a street crowd. Their eyes are much harsher a sentence. Excel and you will be hailed, your art will be exposed, plagiarized, extruded and resold on the Internet... Fail to impress and you will simply ignored, falling into air sprayed oblivion.

Space Invader is de facto recognised, even by my mother and my mother-in-law who every now and then send me a snap of a street corner where they discovered a mosaic. It may have reached the inflexion point when Invader's work has become mainstream, yet that does not compromise his artistic approach. I take that as a sign of maturity.

"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." Victor Hugo (1802-1885)


To explore further:


  • Never stopping evolution, a fantastic street art performance turning walls into a cinema screen.
  • An article about underground photographer JR, and his award winning speech at TED on how art can change the world.
  • An article about Space Invader, the mosaic which invades your street and TV adverts: Bunn-invasion.
  • An article about Banksy, the British artist who now sprays gold out of his cans: Spray the world.
  • An article about Banksy, the British artist who now sprays gold out of his cans: Found it, or my photographic deep dive in the streets of London.

21.5.11

The Saturday Shot #17: the wall

This weekend I felt a bit rock and roll...

After months avoiding Notting Hill, my Belle and I decided to pay a visit to Portobello road. And there it was like a Fly on a Wall. No, not the expected power plug delivering AC/DC, but a tape sealed in the Wall. I initially found that an interesting type of street art, quite a novelty to me. And yet, according to Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) "Where words fail, music speaks." so no wonder that a a tape could replace the good old graffiti.


To read further:

  • Bunn-invasion, article about French street artist Space Invader
  • Found it, or how to open your eyes to art in the street around you

7.5.11

The Saturday Shot #16: back to the future


After a well-deserved break during which I realised that a growing number of Brits are slowly but surely adopting French best practices like "bridging", I was back in London this week-end. And I loved the sight of this sign. I already wrote about UK's unique relationship to time in an article called "Lost time is never found again", but Jacob Von Hogflug brings it to a whole new level...

To accompany my Saturday shots, I tend to look for an intelligent quote... But I think I will opt for something more popular... straight from the pop iconic musical "Rocky Horror Show":

"It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely

Not for very much longer

I've got to keep control
I remember doing the Time Warp
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me

And the void would be calling

Let's do the Time Warp again
Let's do the Time Warp again

It's just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right
With your hands on your hips

You bring your knees in tight
But it's the pelvic thrust
That really drives you insane

Let's do the Time Warp again
Let's do the Time Warp again"

Richard "Ritz" O'Brien (1942-)

17.4.11

The Saturday Shot #15: circus

Circus crooner
After a week in the US during which I had the confirmation that I was no longer jinxed with air travel (got upgraded twice for my inbound flight and landed 10 minutes early), I was back in London with a strong determination to get the jet lag rapidly behind me. What a surprise to walk around the British capital and to bump into this reminiscent Americanism... This speaker, armed with this crooner microphone from the 50's, was encouraging a crowd of curious passers-by to step into his attraction and see how stuntmen on motorbikes climbed his "wall of death". Totally anachronical, out of time and out of place.

"Every country gets the circus it deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy gets the Catholic Church. America gets Hollywood." Erica Jong (1942-)

9.4.11

The Saturday Shot #14: ice cream

Traditional Summer

It's definitely spring time in London and as I was attempting to get my annual first flip-flop blisters, we bumped into this traditional steam fair with its lot of old-fashion rides and attractions... Their motto: "relive Grandma's yesterday", hence the picture treatment for this week contribution to the Saturday Shot series.

"Clogged with yesterday's excess, the body drags the mind down with it." Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)

7.4.11

This is your Captain speaking

On the road again.

I am about to go back to Seattle for work, and I am quite adamant that I won't let myself get stranded this time again. It seems that 2010 was jinxed, but that 2011 is having greater, more positive omens. So far I have traveled to Iceland, France, Sweden, Germany... and have not been delayed or stuck once. Nevertheless my colleagues are now taking bets on what would prevent me from coming back on time, and I must say that the odds are odd: volcanic eruption 10:1, snow storm 11:2, grasshopper invasion 5:2... We will see.

Beautiful sky.

In any case I must say that I will do my best to enjoy that flight. Over ten hours without email or phone calls, that is nowadays a luxurious parenthesis. However in the same time, some prefer to take that opportunity to be busy with their photography. Click, click, click... Photographer and entrepreneur Nate Bolt has played around with his camera during a San Francisco to Paris flight, shooting almost 2500 pictures to create a 2-minute stop motion video of the trip. Nicely edited:
SF to Paris in Two Minutes from Beep Show.

To read further:
  • Still moving, or how still images with a bit of creativity can be very impactful.

  • Bunn-invasion, an article featuring a stop-motion advert for Sony Bravia which hides a bit more than just a unique selling proposition...

28.3.11

Excuse my F...

Vivre

Fries, letters, beans, toasts, doors, doctors, kiss but also manucures, knickers, horn, dressing, Riviera, chalk, polish, mustard, connection or paradox... Get over it, the French seem to be good at quite a few things!

26.3.11

The Saturday Shot #13: treats?

When you are like me, a Frog in London who has been raised on a Beatles soundtrack and with a piece of chocolate as the desert treat to conclude a festive dinner filled with Foie Gras and Escargots, you can only appreciate that shelf of treats... Seen this Saturday in West London in a traditional sweet shop, a childhood dream come true.

"Happy is the chocolate who, after having travelled the world in a woman smile, loses its life in a palatable kiss as it melts in her mouth" Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

(loosely translated from the original quote: "Heureux chocolat, qui après avoir couru le monde, à travers le sourire des femmes, trouve la mort dans un baiser savoureux et fondant de leur bouche.")

25.3.11

Watch your moves (bis)

Christmas lights


What's up doc?

It had been a while since I faced such a humorous situation due to a linguistic misunderstanding. The previous iteration was when someone used "tongue in cheek" as an expression and I thought it had to do with
oral sex...

This time however no kinky analogy, but a medical misunderstanding when I poorly translated a French idiom in English. After having updated my Faceboook profile with this misleading sentence, in the course of the next thirty minutes, friends from all over the world were pinging me emails of sympathy, inquiring about my health... Thanks everyone for your concerns, but I am fine. Really.

So what did I say? Having had a poor day with a succession of bad news, I declared: "Gutted, I have inflated balls right up my throat". Writing this statement again now, with its aftermaths in mind, I realise that it calls an image of damaged limbs for the non-initiated... But that was certainly not the intention, so let me unfold the true meaning of this idiom.

Balls of steel.

In colloquial French two expressions describe a state of growing irritation. The first one is "Ca me gonfle", which could translate into "it inflates me", whilst the other one is "Avoir les boules", i.e. "to have the balls". Both expressions are closely correlated and express a similar feeling: being gutted or upset.

Visually they can interchangeably be accompanied by an appropriate gesture: two hands grabbing imaginary balls on each side of the throat (NB: with a more discreet alternative, where one hand claws the throat in a short back and forth movement).

It seems that this image would illustrate the fact that you are annoyed to the point that the "balls" - which are usually located a good meter lower - tend to make their way upwards like two inflated balloons, up to your throat.

So now you are warned. The next time you see a French guy massaging his throat suggestively, he may not be looking for a Strepsil... He probably just want you to leave him alone with your boring stuff.


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19.3.11

The Saturday Shot #12: dolce vita


La Dolce Vita in London. This Saturday Spring has really taken over Winter. The sky was blue, the air warm, the sun bright, and life all the sudden was more enjoyable than ever.

"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!" Mark Twain (1835-1910)

18.3.11

The Russian (business) dolls

Unveiling the truth.

For business, Russia is still today an interesting case of opportunity, threat, unknown and known... A Russian distributor, Tochka Opory, has nicely capitalised on this situation to promote its understanding of its domestic market and complex culture.


A very nice execution to enjoy, a glass of vodka and a spoonful of caviar:

A mountain dweller in the Þingvellir valley


Visit Iceland.

No, this article does not have a typo in its title: it is the actual spelling. Last week I was kindly invited to present at an internet marketing conference in Reykjavik, and had the subsequent pleasure to discover a tiny, little part of that obscure country over the week-end. I say "obscure" because if many people have heard about Iceland through its impact on global air traffic or the worldwide economy, too few have had the opportunity to actually visit this country. And it is a shame.

As a local idiom says, "there are many wonders in a cow's head" and since I am not that mad myself, I want to share some of the wonderful facts which seduced me in the three days I spent there. Just an early taste to completely convince you that this should absolutely be your next travel destination. Question/Answer style.

Was JRR Tolkien an undercover Icelandic?

I must admit I got inspired from the very first moment I headed to Iceland. The national air carrier, Icelandair, had the interesting idea to share some random facts and figures about about our destination. Well, not that random as they are intended to fight against the cliches associated to Iceland being just bunch of glaciers with seasonal northern lights...

One of these statements struck me: "50% of the population believes in elves..." My immediate conclusion was that the other half of the population must be the elves themselves! My only previous encounter with this country was indeed through Bjork, and you must acknowledge that she is nothing but an average human. Her musical and graphical universes are eerie, and her innocent baby face capable of moment of fury is very close to these agile archers from these fantasy novels.

Interesting enough I was able to prove that Icelandair statement right on our second night. We met then local artist, who envisioned a multi-acre theme park plugging its visitors into the legends of Atlantis, Vikings, Elves, Middle-Earth, etc. Here a roller coaster goes through a cryptonic cave; there a White Tower faces its dark alter ego... His vision, enriched every day for decades to most insignificant details, only awaits a patron and a location to be turned into a reality. And for those who may think this is a crazy idea, let me remember you that his visionary castles are not visited by over-sized mice and ducks wearing gloves and dressed up like pupils, so who is mad?
Party at the Farmhouse - Reykjavik, Iceland 3/11/2010

Can Icelandic make an impact?

The problem with having your very own niche language and alphabet is that you are a challenge for the rest of the world. I was afraid that beyond Reykjavik and Eyjafjallajökull my Icelandic was pretty rudimentary. My 17-month old son keeps on saying "bjork, bjork" but I am not totally convinced that he is fluent either... It might just be that he does not like what we cook him for dinner.

Anyway, all this was before we were explained that Geyser, which means "eruption" in the local language and was referring to a specific place where hot, sulfuric water was sprayed at over 17 m in the air, has now become a generic term for all these eruptive water sources. In the process Iceland managed to add its contribution to the global thesaurus... A performance that Moldavian people still work on.

Joke aside, I could not avoid but finding the following situation really ironic:

This active Geyser, located a few meters away from the eponymous original, is called Strokkur. It erupts roughly every ten minutes. Roughly... So tourists gather around, all cameras out, waiting impatiently for the early signs of the next round. A ripple here... click, click, click... Missed. Someone shouts: "I saw a bubble, here it comes". Click, click, click... Missed again, fortunately we are now in the digital world. And when you are about to give up, without a warning, a jet of steam and water droplets pop out of the ground, catching short the most inpatients. By the time the latter have their SLR out, it is too late: the water is back to its pseudo still appearance. I could not avoid thinking that the locals must have named that geological wonder after the grumble of frustrated French tourists. As a matter of fact, Strokkur really sounds like "c'trop court", the French for "It's too brief!"...

Who else could invite The Grim Reaper at his table?

Iceland is geologically hyperactive: geysers, volcanoes, rifts... It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to understand why some see an analogy to hell in this lanscape. But that morbid thought find an echo on the table of locals too. If you visit Iceland you are bound to have to face the Grim Reaper either in liquid or solid form.


Unmistakeably called "Black Death", the national spirit is made from fermented potato mash, flavoured with caraway seeds... And it seems to be the best remedy to the strange aftertaste that the other local culinary pride leaves in your mouth at first bite: rotten shark. Yummy, and cheers... So here is another amusing picture I could not avoid but taking:

Is that me of the local lifeline really looks like... a bottle? Drinking to forget that you have a piece of degenerating sea predator melting in your mouth? I can buy that.

Is everyone on steroid on that island?

When I said that I knew nothing about Iceland beyond Bjork before this trip is not totally true. As a regular reader of this blog you probably know that I have a heavy TV consumption, especially when it comes to sports. Well, sometimes at night you land on these awkward programmes called "Strongest Men in the World" whereby long-haired giants in lycra outfits try to pull tractors or lorries with the strength of their only right ear... It seems that Icelandic excelled at that exercise as they were trusting the podiums. And if half of the population were elves, the other half may be giants.

This assertion was supported by the birth of a baby amongst our friends. The mother happens to be Icelandic, and the little one, born three weeks after ours, was almost twice heavier at three months, without extra fat. It was just a big, solid, massive (promising Icelandic) baby.

Well, when we toured the southwestern side of the country, I realised that not only babies were super-sized. Cars were too:

In my previous trips I have seen many all-road vehicles, but that is the first time that I could see monster trucks used as everyday cars, and not stunt vehicles. This picture probably does not pay tribute to the scale of the wheels, which turns these 4x4 cars into glacier-ready touring vehicles. In fact, they are so big that I could stand by the car and check the chassis without having to bend my knees. Iceland may just be the paradise for arthritis-struck mechanics.

Habla espanol?

And finally I could not finish this humoristic review of my visit to Iceland without sharing this brilliant point of view from Oscar Carreras, a fellow presenter at the above-mentioned conference. As you can tell, Oscar is a Spaniard and when we, the Spanish and the French visitors, talked about our Icelandic hosts, it totally made sense: constantly late, tactile, apparently disorganised or even messy... but genuinely friendly and welcoming. They were hardly representative of the typical North European behavioural stereotypes, i.e. distant, to the point, straight, rigourous... The Icelandic are simply latin Vikings. They are the Spaniards of the North!

And I will leave you with this provocative thought, because that is my greatest take-away from these three days. Iceland is a beautiful country with many natural wonders to enjoy, but its greatest asset is its people. In France, we have this idiom about the inhabitants of the northern regions which I think is even more relevant for Icelandic (after all they live even more North): "these people have in their heart the warmth they don't have outdoor".

More photos about that short stay in that stunning country can be seen here.


To read further:

13.3.11

Shadow casting

Let me walk in your shadow

Larry Kagan, a NY-based artist, plays with steel and light to shade a different perspective on things... Well, in this case and to be more precise, he shades a different perspective on a wall. This video is a great induction to his work. It is surprising how a metallic mayhem can suddenly make sense when illuminated in a specific angle... Would that be a metaphor of life maybe?



Objects/Shadows from Larry Kagan on Vimeo.

8.3.11

UK, GB, EN and other acronyms for dummies

Geography class.

This animation is really well-done to explain the differences between the concepts of United Kingdom, Great Britain, England and all the other subtlities that make leaving in this part of the world a political nightmare if you want to be accurate...

It should help shade some light on doubts shared by many of my French fellow-citizens living on the British Island of Great Britain, most likely in London, the England and United Kingdom capital. Did I lose you?


Have a go at it, it will soon be crystal clear:




Have a read at Grey's Blog if you want to look at the infographic version of this animation.

4.3.11

Art can change the world. Or can't it?

Smile.

I have already mentioned the work done by JR, this French photographer, who is using his camera as a political device. Working anonymously, pasting his giant images on buildings, trains, bridges, the often-guerrilla artist JR forces us to see each other.

Traveling to distant, often dangerous places - the slums of Kenya, the favelas of Brazil - he infiltrates communities, befriending inhabitants and recruiting them as models and collaborators. He gets in his subjects’ faces with a 28mm wide-angle lens, resulting in portraits that are unguarded, funny, soulful, real, that capture the sprits of individuals who normally go unseen. The blown-up images pasted on urban surfaces – the sides of buildings, bridges, trains, buses, on rooftops -- confront and engage audiences where they least expect it. Images of Parisian thugs are pasted up in bourgeois neighborhoods; photos of Israelis and Palestinians are posted together on both sides of the walls that separate them.

JR's most recent project, "Women Are Heroes," depicts women "dealing with the effects of war, poverty, violence, and oppression” from Rio de Janeiro, Phnom Penh, Delhi and several African cities. And JR has been granted a TED Prize for his
insideoutproject.net...

Inspire.

Ah, TED, an acronym originally for Technology/Entertainment/Design is a lot more than just three letters. This is a constant source of inspiration plugging yourself in anything from nanotechnology to art, from politicians to philosophers... All shared never heard before thoughts.

Enjoy JR's point of view:





To read further:

4.2.11

Seduction in a spray can

Grooming hero.

Axe, or Lynx as the Anglo-Saxons know it, is a brand that truly interests me, and not because it was born in France. As an international marketer and a marketing lecturer, I am often coming back to this case study to illustrate how a brand can own a territory, an idea, and yet always find a way to reinvent itself and to surprise its audience again and again.

Launched in 1983 in France, it is now available in 60 markets where it dominates the male hygiene aisle in supermarkets. The reason of its international success is indeed based on the Unilever brand's ability to innovate whilst remaining loyal to its vision and values. That is true for its product strategy, and that is true for its communication. The advertising campaigns created by London's agency
BBH have been hailed around the world and captured quite a few awards along the way.

Consistency through diversity.

The foundation of this brand story is a universal consumer insight: a man who smells is repulsive. But instead of providing a functional answer, Axe has decided to have an emotional approach of the situation. And off they were to own the seduction idea.

At first, it was quite a literal approach of that idea, and let's face it nowhere near creative. The first ads were about the hunk who gets the weak, defenseless lady as she inadvertently smells the "Axed" torso of
the airline pilot after dropping her pen...

It was an immediate commercial success, but the product was adopted by the younger consumers who were finding in this deodorant an affordable substitute to too-expensive perfumes. However the image projected by the ad hero and the real consumer were disconnected, and the brand had to readjust its communication strategy whilst remaining true to its core values. So they kept on dealing with the seduction theme, but casted away the stereotypical hunk and Hollywood-like scenarios. Back to reality, to the random Joe, to the everyday life. Sounds boring?

Well, what followed was just pure brilliance. And an exercise of style on the theme seduction that has lasted for over two decades. Here is my personal selection of the best TV adverts:

  1. The victory of Random Joe over the hunk:

  2. Seduction is about poetry:

  3. Seduction is epic, spectacular and over the top:

  4. Seduction is a daily stunt that discards the side glances:

A divine creative exercise

Let's face it, it is not easy to be engaging and inspiring when talking about transpiration... But Axe has managed to. And here is its latest production:




For the people in the know, there is a nice little twist in this execution: the soundtrack. Not sure if it is intentional, but the music of this advert is a remix of
French electro band Air's "Sexy Boy". A way to refer to the brand's origin?


To read further:

29.1.11

The Saturday Shot #11: writing


Unlike this picture could let you think, no visit to any Far Eastern country on this week-end programme. No thank you, I have had my lot of long haul flights recently. This picture was shot at the Victoria and Albert Museum were the curators have prepared some exciting activities for children ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year: crafts, opera, music instruments... and caligraphy.

"Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing."
Melinda Haynes (1955-)

So let me shamelessly celebrate that attempt to follow Haynes' path: here is a sneak peek at that short story I wrote not so long ago (in French), in case these few pages entice you enough to put your hands on a copy.