Prada creates “temporary” store in Paris 8e (92 rue Faubourg St Honore)

Ariane Dandois rue St Honore 75008 ParisWhile Prada renovates its flagship store on rue Faubourg St Honoré, they have created a temporary storefront at 92 rue Faubourg St Honoré, Paris 75008, (previously it was the chic Ariane Dandois art gallery, pictured right courtesy of Google Maps).  Even if this is merely a temporary move, PRADA has decorated it in a way which I must classify as startlingly attractive.  Mixed in with the existing architecture, the store has a lovely trompe l’oeil overlay all around the outside of the building, replete with a faux bridge structure, street lamps, railing and statues.

Prada temporary store on rue Faubourg St Honoré
View from the front of the store (just 100 metres from the Elysées Palace)
Prada Store Front Faubourg St Honore, Paris 
View of the store from the side, rue Saussaies, 75008

Makes for quite a strong impact, and considering the large number of tourists that come to oogle at the entrance of Elysées, I dare say the store should gain some good foot traffic.  Meanwhile, this is how they have left the scene further down the road at their flagship store, where they explain that if you mozy on down some 500 metres, you can find the Prada goodies.  Not bad planning, I say, even if I am not a fan of their brand.

Podcasts and Videocasts – New reasons to walk to work

Despite the sleek look & feel, I know that the Apple iPhone is still not perfect for my needs, so I have resisted the temptation thus far. Instead, I am content to max out my iPod. Although the agenda and contacts are weak applications in the Apple mobile platforms, I now have all my family videos and photos uploaded. And, thanks to the ongoing developments on iTunes, I have found ample pleasure by mining the available uploadable [mostly free] content, including the album covers, television rebroadcasts and podcasts.

If you have never done it, do go visit the podcast section of iTunes. The number of new podcasts being created is soaring (see graphic below). To those of you creating podcasts, keep at it! The choice ranges from newscasts to business to entertain to education to inspiration. And there are many special interests too. The development of the iTunes U section is absolutely fantastic: mobile learning with support systems to help educational institutions to learn how to do it (see this film for more understanding). I am currently subscribed to some 30 podcasts to which, of course, I cannot listen every day; but the repertoire provides great flexibility.

When do I listen to these podcasts? Walking to and from work, which takes me about 35 minutes to do the 2.8 kilometres. This is the novelty for me: like books on tape, podcasts are great for walking. At any one time, I can choose the podcast according to my mood, need or available time — and, of course, sometimes, I just listen to music. Unlike the commute in the metro which means many disjointed moments walking to the station, getting in the train for an all-too-short ride and then walking on to the office, I have an uninterrupted 35 minutes to myself when I commute by foot.

Walking to/from work with the iPod playing podcasts is a singularly great way to begin and end the day. Here are SIX substantial reasons why I strongly recommend it:

1. It is exercise in the open air (granted there is the pollution of cars, so I should theoretically get a mask to make it a healthier walk).
2. A chance to look up at the Parisian architecture rather than being cooped up all day.
3. It’s more ecological than driving or even taking the train — thereby reducing my CO2 footprint (which isn’t very good considering the flights all year).
4. It’s cheaper (than either the metro or car). We could all save a dime these days.
5. Considering the time spent circling to find a parking space, it is also oftentimes just as fast as driving. Moreover, by leaving my car at the underground parking lot at work, I avoid the unnecessary risk of leaving my car exposed for pigeon doodoo, or potential parking tickets.
6. And, the coup de grace is that I get to listen to the podcast with great attention. This latter point is critical for me (and I would argue for leading business managers) because, with the selection of podcasts now available, you can truly get new content to help drive your business or team.

For business leaders, there is a great selection of podcasts available. I have a few favourites that I would like to share with you (with links directly to iTunes):

o HARVARD Business Ideacast — This is a videocast.
o INSEAD Knowledgecast — Thoughtful videocast interviews with INSEAD professors and business people on a wide variety of subject — although this isn’t updated as regularly. You can get more content here in these INSEAD audiocasts.
o Go Green — Tips to go green and there’s also GreenTV, in partnership with UNEP and GreenPeace
o NPR’s This I believe — 500 words from someone that believes strongly in something
o Mitch Joel‘s Six Pixels of Separation for those wanting good web 2.0-oriented marketing and communications analysis and ideas.
o And finally, Robin Sharma’s inspirational podcasts

Do let me know if you have any other favourites you would like to share. Otherwise, get out your walking shoes and slide in to your next podcast.

Alain Robert – Modern Spiderman Climbs 4 Climate Change

Alain Robert SpidermanAlain Robert – Super Spiderman Scales Skyscrapers for Climate Change

On an ABC World News wecbast from 4/15/08, I heard about Alain Robert, the proverbial fou furieux. Robert, a Frenchman, is as close as you will get to a real Spiderman…without the web (but, you CAN get him on the net).

Sears Tower ChicagoRobert’s passion for climbing began early in his life and came despite a huge fear of heights. Overcoming vertigo as well as a couple of very serious accidents (two comas), he has climbed 75 buildings around the world bare hand. According to him, the best climb was the Sears tower in Chicago – still one of the tallest buildings in the world. In a climb of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in 2003, he was watched by a crowd of about 100,000 people. See his biography here on is own site.

Each time, Robert gets into some kind of trouble… and depending on the country is fined (no more than 2000$) or spends a bit of time in jail as consequence.

Aside from overcoming his own fears, Robert does these stunts to raise awareness for Climate Change, or is it Climb-ate Change? Having scaled buildings in as distinct places as Hong Kong, Taipei, Finland, Lithuania and Moscow, it is a great [and unique] way to see the world. I suppose his carbon footprint is compensated by not taking the elevator up.

Not sure from where his funding comes — have to imagine it is more than available on his [hair raising] sponsors page. Guess his speaker fees are up there.

Here is an gripping 7 minute video from YouTube on Alain Robert free-climbing.

Others blogging on Alain Robert:
Notes 2 Clip or is it Clips to Note

Life in the Fast Lane

Comments and Thoughts after Visit to Dubai 2008

OUR VISIT TO DUBAI FOR FAMILY HOLIDAYS

Dubai - 20% of world's active cranesRarely does one get a chance to see a city in the making, especially if you have lived all your life in “old” Europe and/or the East Coast of America. For those in the Shanghai’s of the world, it is perhaps current currency. Dubai was my first such experience, where there are an enormous number of cranes constructing the city in front of your eyes. According to a number of sites (for one, see here), 20% of the world’s active cranes are in Dubai City. You wonder if or how all the empty spaces will be rented out at the promised exorbitant rates. But, you do get the feeling that Dubai is the new promised land…

Dubai - Camel, the desert and modern technologyFashioned with verve, ambition and purpose, Dubai is a fascinating place to visit. For such a lightly populated city, it has many surprises, especially in terms of its diverse architecture. Dubai is a hybrid of many cities. At times, you see can the Las Vegas inspiration (all along the road to Bab Al Shams you can see large detoured billboards representing the type of resort to be constructed by the Al Bawadi Group over the next 8 years). The project involves the building of 12 enormous themed tourist attractions (as in “Andalusia” photo to the right below, or Asia Asia, Europa, Musica, Americas, etc…) that speak to Dubai’s international appeal. Then there is the NYC feeling of the monster skyscrapers–albeit with Dubai - Andalusia Theme Attraction en route to Bab Al Shamsa greater density of interesting architecture–along Sheikh Zayed Road. Down at the Dubai Marina, you might as well be in Dubai - Modern Skyscraper with Arabic TouchMiami. That said, Dubai also has its own markings, including the Arabic finishing touches on many of the skyscrapers, and wonderfully decadent hotels lining the beach (numerous 7* locations, if not necessarily 7* in service, certainly in price). To make sure you aren’t in the West, you also have the painted camels (ex cows) dotted around the city and beach (see down below for one fine example).

The Dubai airport is an experience unto itself. The diversity of people lining up at immigration takes a page out of the United Nations yearbook. It would even have been proportionate representation except for the relative under-representation of the Chinese. The airport, which is open 24/7, is just bustling with activity. Its duty free stores are the most active in the world–the liquor stopover is elemental for all Dubai residents as it is impossible to buy liquor in town.

Our first port of call, after profiting from the “inside the airport” 88-room NH Hotel, was the delightful Bab Al Shams desert resort (part of the Jumeirah Group). Along the way, you go through the Desert Gates (pictured below).

Dubai - Desert Gate en route to Bab Al Shams
The authentic outside-in-the-desert dinner at the Al Hadheerah, replete with horse show, camel riding (photo on right) and a variety of dancers, was a lovely first ‘night out.’ You can also have your personalised henna painting or partake in a traditional Shisha. Altogether, we spent two fairly slothful days at Bab Al Shams, including a one-hour camel ride — a warning to those who don’t know: a camel’s girth is huge and for your legs, therefore, riding a camel can Dubai - Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant Camel Showbe a tortuous experience. As I mentioned above, on the way to and from Bab Al Shams, you see at once the desert of the past and the Dubai of the future. With all the themed resorts along the road (due to be built between now and 2014 — see here for virtual vision of the future projects), Bab Al Shams desert resort will likely become some day Bab Al Shams downtown resort.

Moving to the city, we next stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where we had a lovely experience, benefitting from the splendid family activities available (especially the Wild Wadi 12-acre water park). The beach facilities and amenities, the multiple pools and ever-available buggy services were just perfect. We also enjoyed a very lively dinner at our friends Peter and Isabelle who live in Jumeirah 1 [thanks!].

The mega hotels in Dubai, dotted along the beach, are impressive. The standout architectural novelty, Burj Al Arab Hotel (below in the distance), comes complete with helicopter pad (cum tennis court) on the 25th (top) floor and a panoramic restaurant/bar on the other side that will cost you $500/pp on average for dinner. In typical extravagance, the hotel offers helicopter or Rolls Royce airport transfer for a ride that only takes 20 minutes (without traffic) or costs 40 Dirhams (c. 7€ or US$10)
by regular taxi.

Dubai - Medinat Jumeirah Hotel + Burj Al Arab
At Madinat Jumeirah, down the coast, is an Arabian-style sprawling complex with 3 different hotel environments (Mina A’Salam, Al Qasr and Dar Al Maysaf). There are nearly 600 rooms & suites, 29 summer houses and 7 royal villas (each with a private pool). And with each of the estimated 30 pools in the complex, there is a lifeguard (by law) through to 10pm. With guards sitting even at the private swimming pools, there is not much room for skinny dipping and it certainly is an intrusion on romance. We enjoyed a lovely abra ride around the Madinat creek, a visit to the “souk” (aka another big name mall) and dinner at an Arabic/Lebanese restaurant (one of 45 restaurants located in the Madinat complex).

Dubai - Painted Camels instead of CowsAside from the muezzin and ever present veiled women, you get a sense of the formalism in Dubai after reading the newspapers. When reporting on the country’s ruler, you can read on any one page of the Gulf News up to ten times the full moniker of “Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum” (which, once you have written it once, you can apparently reduce to Sheikh Mohammed for short). Of course, you will also see multiple references to Abu Dhabi President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, not to be confused with General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Sure makes one appreciate terms like Sarko and GW.

Burj Dubai Tower - Projection LookAmong the curious sights, you will see buses after 5pm in rush hour, packed with exhausted Indian construction workers, their heads bowed in sleep, leaning on the headrest of the seat in front. Earning a paltry 700Dhs per month for non-stop 12-hour gruelling days, they are at the low end of the totem pole (and are frequently treated as such by the locals). There are apparently 20,000 workers at the Dubai Burj Tower alone, working day and night. We were driven onto the construction site of the world’s highest building by our driver — unheard of access in western countries. But it is an impressive sight to see cranes functioning some 629 metres (today’s current height) up above you. The building’s completion date varied according to the person with whom you were speaking. And its final height has been kept under veil as well (some figures point to surpassing 800 metres– wikipedia says 818 m).

I have two astonishing mental images to share with you (not photographable). First, was one of a fully veiled woman driving an SUV with dark windows. The second was when a young (25-years-old) Emirati drove up beside me (seated in the taxi passenger seat) at around 60kmh and, burnishing a big smile, faked turning his SUV into the right flank of the taxi. Very pointed.

Deira Dubai by NightSpeaking of DTA taxis, which were nationalized in 1997, there are 12,000 of them in Dubai — apparently not enough for the peak hours and, because of the heavy traffic, invisible in downtown Deira (the other side of the Creek – night time photo to the left)… But, virtually all the taxi drivers were polite and service oriented.

As for taxi economics — a topic which continues to interest me (a hangover from «Freakonomics»?) –I found one willing driver, Mohammed, who revealed all. If a car (whether the driver is solo or partnered) earns Dhs12,000 in a 30-day month (i.e. the car must rack up Dhs400 every single day 7/7), the driver earns a 35% commission. With the metre feeding directly into HQ, every move of the taxi is recorded. All the petrol and insurance, etc., is taken care of. Therefore, a solo taxi driver can, if he makes the quota, earn Dhs4,200/month or about $650USD.

As usual, each “foreign worker” sends home any excess cash. And, of course, a majority of the Dubai residents are “foreign workers.”

There is a very clear cultural division (of labour) when it comes to the jobs. Here is what we discovered:
* The non-officer Police are from Yemen.
* The Taxi drivers are Pakistani (also heavy trucks) or Indian [all of the ones we had were from Kerala]; any female taxi drivers are Filipina.
* Personnel in the hotels are mostly Filipino and Sri Lankan.
* The technical jobs are also won by the Filipinos.
* You will find Bangladeshi as waiters.
* And, as for the Emirati–those that have to work–you will find them at the airport and as officers in the police force and army.

Dubai - A city with verve but still under construction
Dubai is a modern marvel (perhaps a lovemark unto itself!). In the image of the monumental Burj Dubai Tower, its future is inspiring, but not ensured. It sometimes feels like a house of cards — but, it has every chance of success based on the sense of service and its prime location in the world. I would be an even bigger fan if there was not always a latent feeling of oppression. Then again, you can get the same feeling, in different parts of town, in pretty much any city. It is a worthy visit — just don’t forget to budget for it.

NATO in loo row at Ceausescu Palace

Read this story from the BBC this morning: Romania Caught Short in Loo Row.

With the NATO summit next month in Bucharest, to be held at the Romanian Parliamentary palace, built by the former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, in Bucharest, preparations are well under way. However, while the enormous building–aka, with much irony, the People’s House (casa poporului)–is the second largest in the world behind the Pentagon, and has 1,100 rooms. However, according to the BBC report, NATO has apparently asked to install 1,000 extra toilets (loos), or one for every five delegates, each costing $9,500 (£4,700) a week. A fairly lousy use of taxpayers’ money and, to my understanding, going well beyond the demands of normal building codes. Imagine having as many loos at theatres for intermission (no lines, Ladies!).

The architect of the building, Anca Petrescu, who is still alive, rightly called this “humiliating.”

Measuring 270 metres by 240 metres, and stretching 86 m above ground and as much below ground, the excessive building features nearly 500 chandeliers (many huge) and some 200,000 square metres of carpeting (all according to wikipedia).

Here’s the rub: “Constructing the Palace and Centrul Civic required demolishing much of Bucharest’s historic districts, including two neighborhoods with 19 Orthodox Christian churches, 6 synagogues and Jewish temples, 3 Protestant churches (plus eight relocated churches), and 30,000 homes.”

All that for the People’s Home which didn’t consider basic people’s necessities I see. Has any other building in the world destroyed so much history in one go? Perhaps a spot like the Colosseum in Rome did or, more likely, some of Stalin’s monster buildings? Civilizations have had a history of building on top of each other, but the Ceausescu building managed to wipe out quite a large swath of its history in one go.

Barcelona – Some sites, restaurants & factoids

Culinary delights in Barcelona.

Barcelona is wondrous city offering an architectural feast at every corner, with a mixture of buildings dating back to the Roman times (down in the Gothic part of town) all the way through to contemporary masterpieces (Modernisme Route featuring the famous architects Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudi, etc…). The Palau Montaner, (photo on left) on Calle Mallorca, is a perfect example. Inside (no photos allowed because it is now a Catalan government building), there is a dominating stone staircase, complete with fantastic animal sculptures and wood carvings. A worthwhile visit (5E) if you can speak Castellano or Catalan!

Aside from the beautiful architecture, Barcelona also offers a host of wonderful restaurants. On the one hand, there are many modern-styled restaurants (Tragaluz, Acontraluz, Bestial, allBarcelona restaurant Botafumeiro outside by the same owner…) that provide fusion or Catalan dishes in trendy settings. Meanwhile, there are also many traditional restaurants with grand style decorations.

Barcelona restaurant Botafumeiro insideThe standout address is Botafumeiro (photos), a seafood lover’s paradise, located at El Gran de Gracia, 81 (+34 932 184 230). Lining the walls on the right, in front of the bar, is the wall of fame, with oodles of celebrity shots (Alan Alda, Calista Flockhart to name just a couple). The highlight (and discovery) of the menu: the percebes (“goose barnacle” in English or pollicipia cornucopia for the real aficionados). The espardenyes a la plancha (grilled sea cucumbers) were a little too chewy. A divine little wine, the Rioja Marques de Campo Noble Crianza 2004. Also to note the wonderful service of José.

Another fine establishment with a Franco-Catalan menu and off the beaten path, is La Venta, situated in Placa Doctor Andreu (+34 93 212 64 55), on the mountain Tibidabo. Great panoramic city views available if you step into the smokey Mirablau bar on the other side of the street. (Spain has yet to go smokeless in restaurants and bars). And, while I didn’t get a chance to taste, another great address is the 7 Portes, Plaza Isabel II, 14, a classic address, down near the port area in the Gothic part of town.

Just as there are many hip restaurants, there has been a mushrooming of hip hotels too (stayed at Hotel 987 on Calle Mallorca where the rooms are VERY modern and the door barely opens without touching the bed). It is worth mentioning, on the other hand, the beautiful and classic Casa Fuster, 132, Paseo de la Gracia +34 902-202 345. The story of this hotel/building is rather singular as the owner built the magnificent building in 1908 out of sheer love for his wife, but then ran out of money. So be it. The building remained and was relatively recently turned into the beautiful 5* hotel.

My visit to Barcelona also coincided with the Barcelona Marathon 2008, March 2nd, which was the marathon in Spain with the most ever runners (about 100,000). The runners were graced with perfect weather: sunny but not too hot.

Some other factoids that a visitor to Barcelona might be interested in knowing:

The city boasts a population of 1.4 million intra muros and 4 million people including the outskirts.

In the 19th century, the city was reorganized into stylized squares with parallel streets, originally designed to have family houses on the sawed off corners allowing for gardens and pleasant open spaces. All the streets going across town are named after (past or present) countries, while all streets going down to the sea are named after people.

The famed La Rambla (meaning “dead river” in arabic) avenue, is now awash in pickpockets (virtually everyone mentioned the risks). The highlight visit was the open air (if covered) Boqueria market, where your eyes will delight in the food displays. Watch out for the scary looking butchers (they have a tendency to show absolutely every part of the lamb and bull…). And you can have wonderful tapas at any number of the little stalls. My choice was El Quim.

Barcelona Plaza EspanaMeanwhile, Barcelona continues to struggle with its water. Mid March and the Barcelona water reserves are down to just 20% which is a real drama ahead of summer. The water problem did not dissuade the authorities from continuing the fountain entertainment at Plaza Espana’s (aka Plaça d’Espanya) Fountain de Montjuic. See here on YouTube. Beware: it only starts at 7pm on weekends (Friday-Sunday). Best to be down below to watch.