Parking nightmare in Paris in August 2009

Parking Meter in ParisIf you drive a car in Paris, then you know what a daily battle it is to find a parking place…. especially one that is not under a pigeon-infested tree which will cause the chrome paint to dissolve the following morning because of all the pigeon dooodoo.

On national holidays, parking on the streets (in legal “paying” spots) is free.  And, in Paris, during the month of August, parking is also free… in some places, not ALL places.  I had thought that all Paris, all the month of August, was free.  Clearly, there is a lot of shared misunderstanding out there, even for the true Parisians.  I was walking back from work last night and observed a few “signs” of misunderstanding in the form of a screaming match between two Parisians and a parking tickets emitter.  And, for the owner of this “abandoned” mini (photo below on the right), the surprise will likely be all the bigger upon his/her return from holidays as the car was clearly left in the street, believing that the month of August was “libre.”
Parking Tickets on Car in Paris
If parking in Paris has become ever more difficult over the years, when will they abolish even free parking in the month of August for all?  With more Velibs and the same concept for cars (Autolib) coming in 2010, the idea of owning a car in Paris may become, finally, either a ridiculous luxury, or a real nuisance.

Keep Paris Clean says the Mayor’s Office…

The Paris mayor’s office has seen fit to launch an outdoor ad campaign to keep Paris clean.  The image of trash in one or other natural environment is headlined with “unacceptable” or “scandalous” in Paris, too!  To the extent that photos of trash in Paris would have not had much impact, this is quite a good execution.  Of course, when you know how little recycling goes on in Paris, you wonder on the consistency of the effort.  Dog litter is also rather unacceptable in my mind.  Meanwhile, how about those pigeons?  Are they not right up there as the foulest, polluting element…aside from us human beings, of course?

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.

Boris Johnson voted in Mayor of London 2008-2013

Boris Johnson Mayor of London 2008-2013Boris Johnson has won a most interesting and widely publicized London mayoral race. Congratulations Boris! And, perhaps, fittingly, it was a May Day [2008] victory. This “Observers” article pitting a pigeon-on-his-head Ken Livingstone (Labour) and a baked-beans-on-toast-munching-Boris (Tory) gives quite the tone for the battle waged and the less-than-conventional nature of the candidates.

And, if his own “Back Boris” site is anything to go by, Boris Johnson’s tenure as Mayor promises to provide a very different type of administration than we are used to seeing in ANY political function, anywhere in the world. Here is what the home page said (on its last day of publishing):

“If Ken Livingstone wins on Thursday, it is another four long years of waste, deceit, scandal, cronyism, crime and congestion. He will revert to form – nothing will change and Livingstone and Labour will think they can continue to ignore Londoners real concerns.”

Talk about not mincing one’s words–of course, I would have preferred there not to have been a grammatical error in the last sentence. But, then again, maybe that’s political blogging in the modern era?? We have seen what free-wheeling can do in French politics.

Boris’ acceptance speech (on YouTube) is an absolutely brilliant, inspiring (and gracious) speech:

Hopefully, there will be enough action behind the words to allow for a strong 5 years. I certainly agreed with Boris’ Daily Telegraph article regarding the over-population issue (written Oct 2007).

Updated with blogs/articles discussing the outcome:
* A good blog post on the office of Mayor of London and background on Boris comes from US Post (not -al service).
* A fellow Franco-Anglo Hillblogger (bonjour) with “Let’s Get Cracking.”
* And a useful piece from Cow’s Blog — someone else who met Boris.
* An opinion piece from Charles Moore at the Daily Telegraph where Moore positions the Johnson victory as an indictment of Brown as much as anything else.

A man, born in 1964 (in New York), moved to London when he was five (as I did), who has lived in Brussels (my birth town) and went to English boarding schools… hum, sounds like a jumble I resemble. A man after my own heart.

Anyway, good luck Boris.

Egypt – Holiday on the Nile

Egyptian Holidays on the NileMy wife and I just spent a most memorable week in Egypt, on the famed Nile. Thanks to my mother who hoofed it over from the States to watch over our children, we were afforded a romantic getaway. The visit, organized through Club Med (CM), was part hotel, part cruise. It started and ended in Luxor (we did not want to go to Cairo), but included a day-trip down to Abu Simbel in the south.

The first day of our “discovery” holidays, we were quick to understand that this would not be a typical Club Med experience. The Club Med hotel hosted no more than perhaps 150 people. The CM village was closer to a hamlet and, aside from a reasonably nice pool, offered very few of the typical amenities we had become accustomed to experiencing at a Club Med. In our very average rooms, the mattresses on the beds were okay, but the pillows were more like sponges on steroids. Two other notable facts: the Chef de Village, for the first time in our 6 CM excursions, was a woman; and there were very few children.

Part of the “Ramses II” tour group, we were met by our stalwart guide, Ashraf, bright and early on Sunday. Our first destination was the Luxor Museum. This museum had the benefit of being inside as, despite having chosen an autumnal month, the weather was between 35C and 42C every day.

The guide gave our group the catchy name of “Les Sportifs” which didn’t sit particularly welFelucca on the Nilel with most of us – evidently few of us in the group were of the sporty variety and this was not supposed to be a sporting event. That said, battling the heat and the wordiness of our guide became another form of sport. In the meantime, we identified a few interesting faces in our group. It was a rather unlikely group, filled with a number of solitary voyagers, a gang of three male friends, a family of four and two other couples. Picking our way through the group, we ended up forging a wonderfully quixotic sub-group of nine people with whom we shared every meal from the Tuesday evening onward. Among the initial observations about the people at our table, the couples had also come for a “romantic” break, sans enfants. Most of the single people we came across on the tour were women with one notable exception who happened to be part of our group of 9. And he was the type of character that Agatha Christie might have conjured up in the sequel to her first book on the Nile, helped no doubt by the fact that this character as a Belgian.

On the Sunday afternoon (our first full day), we visited the magnificent Karnak site. Thus began our discovery of the ancient Egyptian ruins, the hieroglyphics and the massive scale that were to become familiar throughout the remainder of our excursions. That afternoon, we visited the Luxor Temple ruins. It was only at this time that I came to understand that I would not be visiting any pyramids, as they all are located in and around Cairo, which was not part of this trip.

Our first dinner we managed to meet a couple of other interesting characters, notably one sparkly redhead, who was a self-proclaimed woman of the night (owner of three night clubs in the Paris outskirts). Clearly enamored with Egyptology, this lady (R.) was on her twelfth visit to this very same Luxor Club Med. A lady friend, M., at the same table appeared to have accompanied her. However, their association was somewhat clandestine and utilitarian. M., a Corsican, was also heavily immersed in Egyptology and, via some of R’s “inside connections,” was plotting a secret trip into the heart of Nubia (a female version of Marlow in the Heart of Darkness?). All rather appropriate scenery for a cruise on the mysterious Nile.

After dinner, Yendi and I retired to our room where we watched the BBC news and discovered that Tut Ankh Amon’s (aka Toot) mummified body had just been unveiled and was now on public display for the first time in its history. The BBC news report was not very clear as to where the mummy was laid, all the more confusing considering King Tut’s treasures (at least those not in London) lie in the Cairo Museum.

The following morning, with what began to feel like a customary early wake-up (we’re talking 6Tutankhamun Mummy a.m….nominally to avoid the crowds), we headed out for the Valley of the Kings, the famed burial site of King Tut Ankh Amon. En route, we were graced with the visit of the Colossus of Memnon, two 15-metre tall statues. Arriving at the Valley of the Kings, Ashraf gave us a horrendously elaborate introduction. Much to our chagrin, busloads of Japanese and other tourists (who had not gotten up as early as we had) started pouring into the tombs ahead of us. Yendi and I saw fit to break from the sportifs crowd and, in our first demonstration of rebellion against the oh-so-controlling guide, we chose to visit the tombs without further instruction. With our specially purchased King Tut Tomb tickets, we bee-lined it for Tomb #62, the last discovered tomb which had contained the grand majority of the original treasures upon its discovery.

Going down the shaft, we were unaccompanied. As it turned out, we found ourselves entirely alone (with a guard on hand) for what felt like a completely private visit with King Tut, a 19-year-old boy at his death, with
little to say for his reign, but made famous for allowing the world to discover the true treasures that accompany a Pharaoh into the afterlife. As I was departing, the guide subtly indicated that for 10 Egyptian Pounds (1.5 euros), I could take an illicit photo of the mummy. By respect, I decided not to take this photo; but I wonder if I will come to regret that “grace.” Right, a photo, courtesy of a Chinese supplier Xinhua. One can see that the Ancient Egyptian mummifying techniques were remarkable in their effectiveness.We visited the allotted three other tombs (Ramses IV, III and Taousert & Sethnakht). Then we visited the Valley of the Nobles and the exquisite Ramoses tomb (because the rock was harder, the details in the sculptures were more minute and precious). We also saw a couple of tombs of Artisans (a notch below the nobles and still given more significant burial rites) in Deir el-Medina and rounded out the action-packed and exhausting morning with a visit of the enormous, 3-tiered Al Deir Al-Bahari temple.

HieroglyphicsOur one-day trip to Abu Simbel was entirely incredible. Abu SimbelThe UNESCO supported feat, in 1959-1960, to transplant the two magnificent temples (right) up 60 metres and back another 200 metres into a manmade hill, is a credit to modern engineering, just as much as the site itself is a credit to ancient ingenuity. A visit well-worth making.

The remainder of the week was filled with far fewer excursions, some leisurely cruising and numerous fun meals with our gang of nine. Other sites visited included the magnificent Philae Temple (transplanted from a submerged islet… scroll down to check out the ‘artist’ rendering here of how it might have been in its heyday), a side-trip to the new Nubia museum in Aswan, Edfu Temple, Kom-Ombo Temple and, last but not least, the exquisite Dendara Temple.

Among the odd observations I came to make during this week in Egypt, I note the following:- All the tourist buses keep their motors running while waiting for their passengers to visit the site. Aside from the waste of petrol, the odor was very off-putting. Not very ecolo.

– On the other hand, virtually every car we passed contained multiple passengers (to the point of overloading…including animals). Car-pooling on speed (literally, as all codes of the road were disregarded). Traffic conditions are hazardous. Speed limits are optional. High beams are rare. As is respecting red lights.

– Leaving Abu Simbel on the flight back to Aswan, the pilot took off before the instructions (how to fasten seat belt, etc.) were finished.

– The bloody pigeons that defecate all over my car in Paris had migrated southeast over the last month, and were now omnipresent at the ruins, doing undue damage to the ancient structures.

– The women in the street were virtually all veiled. There were more women with the full chador than unveiled women.

– Entering museums, or crossing the multiple cruise ships (to gain access to our own), there were metal detectors that went off systematically. I was never body searched, except once at the airport, with the most cursory of body checks (a one-two-tap-okay).

– We were given the riot act as far as watching out for thieves. That said, we also know it is improper to call an Arab a robber… a cute dilemma. Since we had the pleasure to take a round- trip domestic flight, as well as the return to Paris (from Luxor), we were able to understand the Egyptian definition of the “worldwide” security measures at airports. Essentially, the signage is basically the same, except that all liquids pass; putting cosmetics into the small ziplock is at best discretionary.

To close out this post, I leave you with a few statements that our Egyptian guide made, that were borderline outrageous, if not humourous:

– there was no slavery in Egypt before the Greeks arrived (4th century BC)

– the word ‘castle’ in English comes from a similar sounding word in ancient Egyptian

– the word “Amun” is rooted in every religion (i.e. amen)

– he claimed to be Christian, yet he did not have the Christian cross tattooed on his wrist (like all Copts). I would like to say that it was a cop-out, rather than a copt-out. More likely, just a way to diffuse any questions.

Anyway, a magnificent week filled with discoveries of a magnificent old civilisation, a random and wonderful set of new acquaintances and, upon our return, two well spoiled children (thanks Morsan and Cyril). Amun.

Turkish Delights – Cappadocia Holidays in Turkey

The Dial ’07 Summer Holidays, C’est L’Aventure — Part 2 of 3.

After our 7-day “yin” stint at Palmiye Club Med, we struck out for the “yang” part of our holidays, and headed for the airport of Antalya to rent a Ford Fusion (I had never heard of this model before…Seems I have no idea anymore about all the different car names, models...). At least all the bags fit neatly in the boot. This was the beginning of “une vraie bonne aventure.” The 7-day trip, which saw us rack up nearly 1,800 km, brought many surprises and stories.

Leaving Antalya airport at past 9pm, we headed north in search of dinner and a hotel. When the roadway became so sparse that high beams were the mainstay, we realized that hotels would not be so frequent. Indeed, at this point, we didn’t even know what the word for ‘hotel‘ was in Turkish. (Thanks to a reasonably strong French influence, many words are very recognizable; a hotel is ‘Otel’ in Turkish, so no big deal). For a while, we discussed the possibility of having to sleep in the car. The kids thought that would be fun…in a kind of Kafkaesque way. We reached Isparta at past 11pm and were fairly desperate to find a hotel, so we asked the first policeman we saw who plainly pointed across the street, where there were two vacant (Turkish 3*) options. A bed.

Having ‘checked in’, we had a late night family dinner (Kebap & salad + water for all 4 of us for the whopping price of 15 Turkish lira (or 8 euros). Hand signals, a few Turkish words, but above all, pictures in the menu helped with the process. Henceforth, we made a habit of eating local Turkish fare at Turkish (aka non-Tourist) prices. We became veritable masters by the end of the week. Among the quirky features I came to appreciate at these local restaurants was the rose-scented alcoholic cleanser they would squirt into your departing hands.

I will recount, henceforth, rather than a blow by blow journal, the most intriguing discoveries and commentaries throughout the week.

Wherever we went, from hamlet to city, the political campaigning was evident. On July 22, Turkey will hold a general election to vote in a new government. Charged with religious overtones, these elections could be critical, if not volatile, for the country’s future. I heard, and was disturbed by one comment, scary for its nonchalance: the Justice & Development Party (AKP) party is only looking fundamentalist because of the over-zealous media. In the ten years that have elapsed since my first visit to Turkey, I clearly saw a difference in the (higher) number of women wearing veils. The construction of new mosques — likely compounded by the wide scale government-subsidized housing developments — marked many landscapes along the drive. Meanwhile, on the beaches, it was astounding to see women bathing in an adapted Hijab. I attach an example (left) of an Egyptian woman I found in a BBC article. Apparently, there is a whole fashion statement around this “bathing attire.” Each woman I saw in such a garb looked rather frumpy. Not exactly complimentary.

Another aspect that was a regular feature in small towns as much as in large cities were the internet cafes. Every time I passed one, the computer stalls were always jammed packed. And the access costs are among the lowest worldwide at USD$0.50/hour on average versus $0.60 in Ghana or $0.66 in Jakarta or, worse yet, $3.00 in Russia… and versus the highest in Sweden at $6.45.(#see below)

Driving over such distances, it would be natural to expand on the nature of Turkish driving. But, aside from the vigorous overtaking on mountainous roads and being held up for 30 minutes by a huge forest fire through which we drove with embers on both side of the road, I would rather point out a few of the oddities. First, it seemed like the number of bugs per kilometer we smushed on the windshield was higher than on any European roadtrip. Secondly, there was a marked lack of speed limit signs. When we asked a guide about what was the right speed, he replied that it depended on the policeman. Thirdly, [unleaded] petrol prices were decidedly high, typically around 2.95 lira/liter (or 1.68 euro), in a range of 2.62 to 3.04. Fourth, on several occasions when we filled up for petrol, we were offered gifts, including a free car wash. If we sometimes had difficulty finding an ‘otel’, there were certainly no lack of petrol stations. Competition is so stiff that the petrol stations are obliged to provide ‘extra goodies and services’ for free (spare kleenex, candy, window cleaning, etc.).

We visited many a mosque, a handful of museums and a few archaeological sites along the way. The most interesting mosque was Ulu Cami in Adana (right). Restored after a 1998 earthquake, this “Syrian style” mosque was very attractive, featuring a duo-colored minaret. Our speech-impeded guide, who only spoke Turkish, gave us a princely tour, including a laborious march up the minaret. We also particularly enjoyed the visit of the Konya Mevlana museum, the epicenter of the Whirling Dervish order.

One of the more memorable visits, meanwhile, was in Nigde at the market where we encountered the live chicken market. A car was literally loaded to gills with chickens (what a ride). Chicks abounded, running around in car
dboard boxes.
Money for nothing, and your chicks for sale…

Speaking of birds, can’t resist coming back to the topic of the pigeon. In Cappadocia, we came across Pigeon Valley (right), reputed for attracting pigeons to use their defecation as fertilizer. A much mightier use than those droppings I referred to in a prior blog. The locals paint around the holes in the rock to attract pigeons to nest. Of course, on a more serious note, if you have kids–under 12 for example–visiting Cappadocia is a magnificent, if not magical, spot. Exploring the tunnels in the underground cities (6-8 stories underground) such as in Kaymakli or Derinkuyu that used to “house” up to 60,000 people is like a walk through Wonderland for the kids (if a little tortuous for anyone over 5’6…). This was the central theme to our holidays and the main reason we chose to come to Turkey. It turns out that Cappadocia was just one small part of a generally eye-opening and adventurous 1-week journey with so many other fun things to do and people to meet. I reserve a couple of juicy hotel critiques in Part 3.

A few more comments:
– Found that my German helped more than any other language when we went into the hinterland.
– Note to men, don’t forget to get a shave at the local barber’s at least once a week. It’s a real treat (and cost just 3 lira) with generally at least 5 different applications (mousse, oils, powder and more) and a massage.

##Report from BBC on 16 July: “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says 60% of its member countries net users are now on broadband. The report said countries that had switched to fibre networks had the best speeds at the lowest prices. In Japan net users have 100Mbps lines, 10 times higher than the OECD average. Japan’s price for broadband per megabit per second is the lowest in the OECD at $0.22 (0.11p), said the report. The most expensive is Turkey at $81.13 (£40.56). In the US, the cheapest megabit per second broadband connection is $3.18 (£1.59) while in the UK it is $3.62 (£1.81).”