Friday, 20 June 2014

It's that Bavarian time of year, again…

Sure as night follows day, I find myself back in Northern Bavaria, collaborating on an industrial-sized chunk of Wagner's finest pages to be presented to the paying public as part of the oldest music festival in the world, the Bayreuther Festspiele. For those who've never heard of it, Wagner started this annual summer festival in 1876 as a showcase for his recently-completed Ring Cycle. The festival is still going strong today, somewhat surprisingly as the composer advocated burning the theatre down after one performance. Admittedly, he suggested that as before the building had actually gone up, but the 'concept' was there, that a performance of this monumental work should be something unique. It still is in certain ways: even though many theatres all over the world now have the resources to mount a decent Ring (if you'll excuse the turn of phrase) a Ring in Bayreuth is always an event, even if they sometimes disappoint for whatever reason.

Outside of work, the environs of the town are a delight to discover and rediscover. I've posted regularly from my hidey-hole at the top of the famed Green Hill over the years so I won't bore you with any other bourgeois, bucolic crap, suffice to say that this year I've bought a bike and ride it as often as I can (oh, stop sniggering at the back). It's good for my mental health and my gut. Compared to Toulouse, cycling in Bayreuth is like jogging up and down Everest so you have to be up for the challenge, particularly around 7.30am when I head out to the nearby forest for a four mile, pre-breakfast warm-up. Not always easy, as it turns out. The joy of careering down steep slopes is tempered by the knowledge you're going to have to travail back up the other side.Roberto Carlos would be proud of my thighs already, though…


Monday, 2 June 2014

Rent asunder

There are things you know exist but seldom address outside of polling stations. One of these is acknowledging how other people live. OK, here's the boring little backstory: Mrs. F and I have finally sold our bigger flat and have bought a house in another good part of town. While waiting for the electricity to be updated and a new kitchen installed we've called on the services of the much-maligned Airbnb (God bless 'em) and are currently living in a little house with a garden until the work in the new place is finished. So far, so tedious, yes, I know etc etc. Anyhow, our little garden has meant that we've finally been able to play host to our friends (who, to their credit, accept no money to be described as such), so we've been having little Frenchy-style apéro-dinatoires, meaning late-afternoon get-togethers over fine wines, olives, jabugo ham and salchichon, cheeses and crème caramel etc. And still the country has zero growth, I know, I know…Nonetheless, you live in France so your walk the walk, right?

Yesterday, we invited some people over. While I was at work in the afternoon, a friend of the neighbour came to my wife brandishing a Yorkshire Terrier, gesticulating that we needed to take immediate care of him and not let him escape (the friend, like the dog, spoke no French. Or English. Or Spanish. Just Portuguese). A couple of days before, the dog had gone off in search of its mistress and ended up about four miles away. The vet located it thanks to the microchip he'd inserted in some part of its anatomy. So the dog had previous and no-one wanted to take any more chances. Mrs. F looked rather bemused until she saw our neighbour wearing an oxygen mask being carried out of their little house by the paramedics. The friend shook a bottle of bleach in my wife's face before running off to join her friend, who was, by now, being shovelled into the back of an ambulance.

When I got back from work at about 4pm I found a Yorkshire Terrier in the kitchen who immediately tried to mount my leg. Upstairs, apparently, was a cat. I'll add, at this point, that the only animals we own are three goldfish, but another neighbour's cat has, thanks to the continued attention of the Fingernails since we arrived here a month ago, now spends 95% of its waking (and non-waking) hours in our house. It's maybe the time to mention that the recent canine addition was also on heat and was dripping around the kitchen and - oh, joy - our adjoining bedroom. Mrs. F was, in the meantime, trying to cook for fifteen people without letting the dog out of the house while fending off its misguided amorous advances.

The guests started arriving and we hooked the dog up to the back wheel of one the bikes with a key necklace. A good time was had by all, the various invited children making one hell of a fuss of Yorkie until the two friends of the bleach-drinking neighbour finally returned a couple of hours later. They neither smiled nor said 'Thank you for looking after our friend's dog, even though it was incredibly inconvenient for you to do so', just picked him up and went into their house. The boyfriend of the hospitalised girl returned later, also saying nothing. Strange.

Mrs. F saw one of the friends this afternoon. Yes, the girl was still in hospital. Yes, she was taking pills. Yes, she washed them down with bleach on purpose. Basically, she tried to commit suicide. Apparently, she failed. This time.

I'm looking forward to moving into our new house.




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Grigory Sokolov

Last night I heard some piano pieces I'd never heard before: Chopin's Piano Sonata N°3 and a dozen mazurkas. OK, I'd heard them played before, but not by Grigory Sokolov, which amounts to not really having heard them at all. For those unaware of this extraordinary artist who never makes studio recordings and limits his travel radius, he's possibly the greatest pianist alive. A bold claim, I know, but not easy to refute…

Piano fans all over the world beg him to to appear in their countries. Here in Toulouse we get him every year. He lives in Madrid, you see, and the trip here is easy and visa-free. He stopped playing in London when Bliar & Co. insisted he get a visa. He'd been appearing there for twenty years and decided the new hassle was not worth it.

Despite the incredible Chopin - lucid, limpid, transparent and imaginative - maybe the most remarkable part of the evening was the encore section. Sokolov treated us to not one, not two, but six encores (Schubert Impromptus, more Chopin Mazurkas and a ten-minute Mendelssohnian-type creation I'd really never heard before), adding a good thirty minutes of music to the advertised  programme. No show, no fireworks, just brilliantly-performed music from one of the world's greatest artists. One of the world's most generous artists…


Friday, 21 February 2014

Eating alone - I'm not the only one who likes it…

I'd really started to think I was unique when I said if I couldn't eat with my family I'd rather eat alone. Lo and behold, here's an article from today's Le Figaro which offers me a little company. But not at lunch, thanks all the same:

INTERVIEW - Pourquoi devrions-nous toujours déjeuner avec quelqu'un ? Philippe Silberzahn, professeur à Polytechnique, à l'EM Lyon et spécialiste de l'innovation en entreprise, explique les bienfaits de déjeuner seul, et pourquoi cela doit être un choix personnel assumé.
«Dans le monde du travail actuel, une journée est composée de multiples tâches diverses, de ‘moments' qu'il est nécessaire de rendre utiles et productives», analyse Philippe Silberzahn, professeur à Polytechnique, à l'EM Lyon et spécialiste des questions d'innovation dans les entreprises. Dans un billet publié sur son blog et intitulé «Ne déjeunez jamais seul! Et autres slogans stupides qui tuent l'innovation» il écrit pourquoi, en entreprise, tout ce qui n'est pas action est inutile. Il explique au Figaro.fr pourquoi un salarié doit à tout prix conserver son droit de faire des choses inutiles... comme déjeuner seul! Car déjeuner en paix, ce n'est pas une tare. Loin s'en faut.
LE FIGARO.FR - Les connotations du «déjeuner seul» sont-elles si négatives? Un site intitulé colunching.com propose de mettre en relation les personnes pour déjeuner, comme si déjeuner seul était quelque chose qu'il fallait à tout prix éviter!
PHILIPPE SILBERZAHN - Assurément, déjeuner seul n'est pas une tare! Mais c'est quelque chose qui est pour beaucoup difficile à assumer: il n'y a qu'à constater les petites remarques d'étonnement si un collègue nous surprend à déjeuner seul comme «tiens tu déjeunes seul? Tu n'as personne avec qui déjeuner?», et les regards quasi réprobateurs que l'on peut subir! Déjeuner seul doit être un acte assumé, mais le système actuel nous a fait intégrer l'idée que cette action était directement liée à du laisser aller, où un élément d'improductivité.
Pourquoi déjeuner seul? Quels en sont - s'ils existent! - les bienfaits?
Dans la vie - privée comme professionnelle - les moments de solitude permettent de se retrouver, de faire le point avec soi-même: se laver les dents, prendre sa douche, se balader seul... Il est simple de perdre du temps! Mais c'est aussi pendant ces moments avec soi-même que l'on peut avoir ses idées les plus brillantes. Déjeuner seul fait partie de ces moments: on peut, bien-sûr, réfléchir, mais on peut aussi faire des rencontres fortuites, qui peuvent par la suite s'avérer décisives.
Organiser des déjeuners est-il indispensable pour bien réseauter, et réussir sa carrière?
Naturellement! C'est indispensable. Le déjeuner de réseautage fait et fera toujours partie des éléments pour progresser professionnellement. Mais il ne doit en aucun cas être systématiquement associé à une occasion de «profiter» de tel ou tel personne: nouveaux contrats, potentiels clients... Le déjeuner est aussi l'occasion de voir des personnes avec qui vous avez des affinités et des points communs: ne pas déjeuner uniquement pour le côté business, mais aussi par plaisir! Il n'y a rien de plus agréable de déjeuner avec quelqu'un dont on sait que la conversation sera passionnante, mais qui est encore inconnue. C'est aussi l'occasion de faire une sorte de «blind date» et de rencontrer des personnes complètement inconnues.
À l'heure où le temps de la pause déjeuner se réduit comme peau de chagrin (et où la crise implique toujours plus de productivité, de stress) peut-on multiplier les déjeuners en toute impunité et ne pas céder au sandwich jambon beurre à son bureau?
Cette notion de culpabilité liée à la prise d'une pause, quel qu'elle soit, doit absolument disparaître! Il faut simplement se forcer à être responsable, et ne pas partir déjeuner quand toute l'équipe est sous l'eau, par exemple. Mais c'est vrai que si vos collègues restent au bureau et avalent un sandwich, partir déjeuner peut vous attirer les foudres de vos collaborateurs... Si cette pratique devient une habitude, on peut facilement se laisser aller à des réflexions primaires. Il ne faut en aucun cas se laisser influencer par une culture bêtement productiviste.
Quel rythme préconiseriez-vous?
Chacun doit trouver le sien! Si l'on se sent exclusivement bien dans l'un des deux extrêmes, il est cependant inutile de se priver.
Vous arrive-t-il de déjeuner seul? Pourquoi?
Je dois admettre que cela m'arrive rarement. Et le plus souvent, cela arrive de manière hasardeuse, les jours où je n'ai rien prévu. En revanche, je ne «choisis» jamais les jours où je déjeune seul. De même, je ne me suis jamais dit «tiens, je n'ai rien de prévu ce midi, il faut absolument que je trouve quelqu'un pour déjeuner!»