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-)


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.


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,


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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!


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.


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.


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.


But why?

Russian Dolls

Precision questioning: the joy of parenthood.

As you may know, I am the lucky dad of a 3-year old boy. At that age, after the so-called Terrible 2's, it is supposed to be a delight to raise a child: as he is old enough to interact and understand, but still sufficiently young to avoid demonstrating rebellious attitudes. On paper, the ideal. but what this paper's small prints hide from you is that there is still some maintenance to that presumably well-oiled machine. And the keyword is "why?".

Kids want to make sense of their surroundings, of the words, of the people, of philosophical topics and astronomical phenomenons, of the weather, of the behaviour and social conventions... Each of these items is like an endless Russian doll: you start by answering a first seemingly easy question, and it triggers another one, that will raise another one, and another one... After the twentieth interrogations your rational adult brain is no longer able to get the thread of thoughts that led you to answer "why clouds are white?" whilst the conversation started on "what was a can opener?"!

Along the process, you try your best to provide answers that make sense, and keep you on the glorious altar your child puts you on. You are the source of truth. You are a well of wisdom. You are the equal to Aesop, Plato, Homer, Nietzsche, Kant... At least in their eyes, and you certainly don't want to contradict them (it feels so good). But frankly, sometimes their questioning skills are such that you reach the end of your knowledge, and most likely the end of your patience. And suddenly the answer gets less elaborate: "why is the..." he says, "because it's like that!" you interrupt.

Educational non-sense.

If children ask a ton of questions, my personal burden tallies to two tons... That is the curse of raising a bi-cultural kid. Two cultures, two languages, twice the fun. You not only need to handle the Why's but also the Pourquoi's. He clearly dissociates both cultures, so he naturally wants to make sense of twice more things but, to paraphrase Dr. Zeus' Oh, The Places You'll Go!, "sometimes they won't, because they don't".

Let's take the example of this famous nursery rhyme:
Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the moon,
The little Dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon
You have to reckon that such a infantine text, beyond the rhetorical rhymes is a gold mine for questioning children. How can a cow jump over the moon? Why is the dish running? Why our do plates do not run? Why a fiddle? Why? Why? WHYYYYY?

As a French, I have been educated with La Fontaine's fables and have learned that there is often a moral to what seems to be a light hearted text. So I looked hard at the text trying to find some sense myself from these lines. And since I could not, I started to check between the lines.

A long time ago, Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales opened my eyes to the hidden Freudian messages interwoven in Grimm's stories. So as my son was half asleep in his bed, I sat behind his bed, put a pipe in my mouth, and started to say "hmm, hmm...". Diddle? An alteration to Dildo, a phallic symbol? Maybe. The cat? Ok, that is the female symbol, that is straight forward. The cow over the moon? A sexist reference to the providing mother, and the happiness of breast-feeding? Well... I was clearly on the wrong path, and was glad that this thought process had only occurred in my brain and not verbalised to the now fast-asleep child. That would have pushed me down the altar for good.

To regain my pride, I looked at other cultural references and even cryptology. To no avail. Were these lines an acrostic, like The Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamond song? No luck. In the end, I resolved myself to conclude that it may just be one of the famous British non-sense. That was not totally fulfilling an outcome, but quite handy. I could indeed blame my host culture for teaching non-sense to generations of future Eton graduates. Because of course on the other side of the Channel, obviously, we are way better. Aren't we?

Absurdity united

My mind is filled with French songs gathered during my own childhood, but frankly my Why-years are so far behind that I have not questioned or even listed to their lyrics for a very long time. But doing so, it revealed that absurdity was a shared value in nursery times:
Maman, les petits bateaux 

French lyricsEnglish translation
Maman, les petits bateauxMum, do small boats
Ont-ils des jambes?Have legs?
Mais oui mon gros betaOf course, you silly,
S'ils n'en avaient pas,If they hadn't,
Ils ne marcheraient pas!They couldn't walk!
Not only is the child almost bullied by his mother, but seriously what does that song mean? Why would a mother assert that boats are legged? Why? Why? I was suddenly regressing to my 3rd year on Earth. And my convictions collapsed.

If our childhood is nothing but nonsense, how are we supposed to build our psyche? Maybe our children are right in questioning us... After all, the French idiom says that the "truth comes out of children's mouth". So from now on, I give my little one an even greater attention when he turns back to me with his interrogations. I am more patient with the real Plato of the household.


Finding the line, your line.

These days I feel somehow melancholic, missing the mountains and their exhilarating outdoor life that goes with (and probably a tiny tad of the childhood years during which I experienced it last). I am seeing myself slowly drifting in a complacent urban life.

"Metro. Boulot. Dodo." as the French triptych summarises it: Tube, Work, Sleep... Nothing to get too excited about you have to admit. But I am convinced that there is, deep beneath the greyed out city routine, some lines that take you right back to who you truly are, to where your roots are...

I loved the poem and how fellow Mountain Dweller, Sebastien Montaz-Rosset, visualised it. Enjoy the weight of the words and the lightness of the images.

Revelation, a Visual Poem. from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.


The Saturday Shot #29: winter lock-down

There was no real choice this weekend but to choose a snowy reference as my Saturday Shot. The UK is under a snowstorm that started on Friday and has lasted so far the whole weekend, disrupting the whole public transportation system, stranding flights... No record yet of a 12-hour trip in Eurostar due to snow flakes on the rails so far, but I would not be surprised that such an announcement will soon hit the news. After all, although this country is clearly used to the tempered climate which by definition includes warm summers and cold winters, it seems that every snow fall is a revelation and a surprise to the transport authorities. As if it was totally uncommon to see snow in winter. I mean, we do not leave in Bamako for cryst(al) sake!

As you can tell, I am disappointed by that weather, which may be surprising for the regular reader of these lines, as a few weeks back I declared my love for the winter wonders... In fact what really upsets me is not the snowfall itself, it is the irony of the situation. I am stuck in the UK, with a plane grounded due to "adverse weather" as British Airways puts it... whilst it should have flown me to Switzerland for a weekend of ski indulgence! Comical, ironic... Frustrating!

Anyway, there is a silver lining to any cloud, no matter how dark and snowy. Mine was the fabulous time I was able to spend with my little one making snowmen, snowball fights, etc. in white London parks. A decent compensation. I will thus leave you with a nice quote on love and snow from Canadian poet Margaret Atwood, and some pictures about the greatness of that weather from my portfolio...
"The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love." Margaret Atwood (1939-)
And some frozen shots:


Olympic enlightenment for 2013

It is that time of the year when one looks forward with good resolutions, and backward with wisdom, a sense of fulfilment, or possibly a tad of shame because that same person realises that this year's resolutions looks a little bit too similar to last year's... When I personally look back at 2012, two events stand out: my son's first badge of honour as a 2-year old skier (he just grabbed a couple more by the way), and the Olympics in London.

I will not dwell on the earlier as paternal pride is self-explanatory, let alone for a mountain dweller... But I wanted to come backs on the Olympics, from a different angle than the one I originally adopted at their completion. This time around I want to look at two of their most iconic symbols: the rings and the flame.

Circles of excellence.

If the Olympic flag with its interlocked rings is a universal iconography, I was amazed that many ignore its symbol. Five rings, five colours, represent the five continents interwoven in unison and parity. Oceania is obviously blue, the old industrial Europe was granted the coal-like black, the Americas were attributed the red, sun-drenched Africa is yellow and Asia green.

Stretching that basic concept, graphic designer Gustavo Sousa worked from statistical data to produce a series of infographics that followed the same legend. It was soon to be realised that Baron de Coubertin's idea of five egalitarian continents is not viable outside the sport fields.

For instance:
Source: Fubiz, more of these infographics here

Unity in a melting pot.

The Olympic flame travels from Greece and comes to light up a cauldron in a spectacular manner and to burn through the fortnight as a testament of the passion that unites the participants. People usually recall the torch or potentially how it was lit. In Barcelona for instance, an archer shot an arrow to ignite the furnace. In Grenoble, back in 1968, a microphone was stuck on the chest of the Olympian who ran up an endless flight of stairs with the torch in hand, letting everyone hear his heartbeat pounding at a tremendous pace... But who actually remembers the cauldron. No one. Once the games are over cities are left with a metal disc that is prone to catch the rain and rust... But not London's.

Thomas Heatherwick was given a simple mandate: make it static... He ignored the brief and went back to the symbol to create a memorable cauldron that actually meant something. 204 copper petals, one for each competing nation, were gathered along the opening ceremony on long pipes before being lit up, and at the climax of the night, each individual flame converged to create a single, united fire.
image source: LOCOG

I like that design because it is memorable, beautiful and more importantly meaningful. The medium becomes the message...

With that last thought on people differences and the ability to bring them together in unison, I very much look forward to 2013 for further enlightenment. Happy new year to you, reader of these lines.