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.