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.")
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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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)
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:
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. 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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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?
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.
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...
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:
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