Saturday, November 28, 2009

If it's Thanksgiving, this Must be Belgium

So these last two years, I've had a 2-day offsite leadership meeting on Thanksgiving and the day after. That means spending both days in a conference room with 20 or so colleagues from around Europe. And actually, it kind of works for me. Over the years Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday in the U.S. -- just low key hanging out with friends and family. And it lacks the pressure and hype of of Christmas. And so if I can't be home with y'all, then it's good to be busy and ... well ... nobody enjoys strategic planning more than me. It also helps that this year's session was in such a beautiful setting: a château in Jodoigne outside Brussels (to the right).

And then I had the bright idea of staying another night in the Brussels city center after the meeting broke up. This wasn't a great plan. La Grande Place is lovely and all but it was cold, rainy, and a little lonely - especially after the full days beforehand. Still, it's cool to see how different cities celebrate. In Brussels, they wire up L'Hôtel de Ville with high-tech lights, play Christmas music through a large P.A. system, and do a synchronized sort of a thingy. Sort of like laser-Floyd except with Enya-esque Christmas music. It was pretty cool and hundreds of people turned out - even in the bad weather.

And of course, on the Rumsfeldian map this is Old Europe. So that means politically incorrect Christmas displays are still in-bounds. Hence, the traditional nativity scene. Is it just me (and the aforementioned loneliness) or does Mary look a Victoria's Secret mannequin?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Recommendation

OK yeah ... so I finished this book last week on a flight from Somewhere to Somewhere. Actually, I bought it twice because I lost the first copy on a flight from Somewhere Else to Somewhere Else. I recommend it.

True, Richard Dawkins has a real problem with creationists or "history deniers" as he calls them. And that animosity gets the best of him sometimes. But still, it's an excellent modern recap of the evolution model. I've been looking for a book like this for years: a consolidated, up-to-date, readable summary of the evidence for evolution. This pretty much fits the bill. I especially appreciated the chapter on intelligent design and why, in his opinion, it's an illusion.

So my view is that God exists and evolution, while not fully understood, is undeniable. And I don't have any problem simultaneously holding both ideas to be true. Good night.

Friday, October 16, 2009

That Guy

OK, I try to keep the self-immolation to a minimum over on Facebook. And that means that you 1 or 2 people who RSS'ed the CBIP blog have to bear all of my whining. The thing is ... I like this European gig. I like the challenge. I like building something new. I like moving the needle on our business here in Europe - and that's showing results now after a year. I like being the odd American who makes the move to a non-Anglo country with some level of business and cultural success.

But there are days.

And today was one of them: an early morning Eurostar to London, a day full of meetings, and then a late evening Eurostar home to Paris while colleagues back in the US are calling me all along the way. It was a great day in London but the whole thing is exhausting sometimes.

Exhale ... Bordeaux ... Chèvre Chaud ... chocolate ... OK I feel better now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Redeye

The redeye from JFK to Orly. I won't try to sell it as a terrible hardship. Afterall, it was on this weird airline called Openskies on which the entire aircraft is set up as business class. It's a strange experience ... makes one wonder: is the appeal of business class the enhanced service or the set-apart-ness? Or said another way, if everyone is special then is no one special? Or am I just a jerk because somehow I find a reason to whine about traveling in business class?

The good news is that my post-transatlantic travel transition period seems to be shrinking. The old rule of thumb (a day of transition per time zone crossed) used to apply but I seem to have down to a couple of days now. I

It's mid-September and the rentrée is complete: the tourists have thinned out and the Parisiens have returned. The weather is turning to Fall and you know what that means ... scarves everywhere!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

WWII Geeks?

Any other World War II geeks out there? This cartoon was reprinted in Le Monde yesterday. It was originally published in France in 1939 after Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the nonaggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union.

The caption says, "Combien de temps va durer leur lune de miel?" meaning: how long will their honeymoon last?

There's something deeply disturbing about Stalin in a wedding dress.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August in Paris

August in Paris is a whole 'nother thing. It's true that the French take their vacations seriously and August is prime time. And since France supports the whole Mom & Pop business thing, many small businesses just shut on down ... la fermeture exceptionelle. Restaurants, pharmacies, shops, broquantes ... doesn't matter.

August is also the primo tourist month here which means: Anglos everywhere! Even here in Montparnasse which is not on most tourists' agendas. An Irish dude stopped me on the street today - not even an attempt at French - just started asking directions in English. I guess I look like I speak English.

But it's pretty sleepy around here this month. So I'm headed stateside for the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In the U.S.

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... the blog has gone mostly silent for over a month. At this point nobody's paying much attention so it's a good time to post something rambling.

I left Paris a week ago today and flew first to New York, then on to Seattle, drove Portland for a few days, and then finally drove back to the Bay Area yesterday. That's a whole lot of America in a short period. A few things came into focus more this time than my previous trips back to the U.S.

Things I miss about the U.S.
  • NPR!! C'est vrai. I dunno, maybe it's all those years spent living in the Bay Area. Maybe it's the ridiculousness of private radio stations (KMTT and KFOG excepted). But damn I miss it -- all of it. And BTW Oregon, what's the deal with your radio stations? Nothing but "Christian" radio and country.
  • American grocery stores. Ahhhhh ... fresh bread, produce, and neosporin all in one store? That's three stops in Paris.
  • Space. Granted, our flat in Paris is in a pretty dense neighborhood. But yikes - driving from Portland to San Francisco is one long openspacegasm. And I didn't even get near the fly-over states!
On the flip side, as soon as I landed stateside this time I was struck by the girth. Americans are huuuge! I suggest that we all take a cue from our president and adopt a rigorous program of high stress, exercise, arugula, and smoking. That'll do the trick.

Monday, June 15, 2009

1-Year Report

It's coming up on the 1-year anniversary of our move to France. We left SFO on July 1, 2008 and arrived in Paris on July 2. Like a lot of these things, it simultaneously seems like a long time and a short time.

When I think about California and the family I miss like Jordan, Savannah, Kevin, and Sydney ... it seems like a long time. But here on the ground it has gone by quickly.

A few things have gone mostly as I expected like the professional path ... the challenge of building something that didn't exist before, the heavy workload, the cross-border politics, the relationship building, etc. But other things have taken unexpected paths. For example, even though I've made progress - I didn't expect it to take as long to develop language comprehension skills ... mostly the listening portion. And of course, the biggest unexpected challenge has been the general assymetry of experience for Lolly and me. This has been the hardest part.

The Franco-American relationship has been a pleasant surprise - especially post-US-election. I now have a better understanding of our differences but I have also come to believe that there is a lot in common between the two countries. All the joking about 35-hour work weeks and labour strikes aside, the truth is that the French work really hard. It's true that they take their vacations seriously. But having now observed it up close and personal, I think the US could take a cue from the French in the area of work/life balance. Add healthcare management to the list of things the US could learn from the French. On the flipside, the French could learn a thing or two from the US on the topics of workforce fungibility and ventilation ... ooooooh yes, I love the American commitment to ventilation!

The experience has been challenging, energizing, growth-inducing, and life-changing. After routinely struggling with boredom and stagnation in those last few years stateside, I can honestly say that I haven't had a single day in that zone here in Europe. I guess it helps to have a previously undefined job and a large EMEA-wide sandbox to play in.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Death and Beauty

Well, the Scandrettes are in town for a visit. Today was rainy in Paris so we went underground to Les Catacombes de Paris and inside La Musée d'Orsay.

Death and Beauty.

The catacombs are really interesting. Back in the second half of the 1700's they exhumed several cemeteries - something like 6 million people. All the bones were brought here to the old quarry.

It's unclear to me why ... but they arranged the skulls and femurs in stacks upon and stacks. It's creepy at first and then just strange.

And of course, La Musée d'Orsay is a wonderful place. Toulouse-Lautrec was especially cool today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Island and the Desert

The Paris area is known as the "Ile-de-France" ... the island of France. Originally, it probably just referred to the literal island in the Seine currently known as Ile-de-Cité. But now the phrase serves to distinguish the Paris area from the rest of France - colloquially known as "the desert."

But anyone who has been to the French countryside knows that it's no desert. Parts of it are stunningly beautiful. We rented a car today and drove out to Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. Here are a few shots of it.

You definitely need more French language skills out there than you do in Paris. But it's worth it. Paris is dense, urban, and fast-paced. It can seem rude and cold. But a place like Chambord is refreshingly slow and friendly. Balance.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Moment of Pride

This is a photo of me and my granddaughter, Sydney. It was taken in our hotel room in Venice last week. She is exceptionally beautiful.

Not pictured here are her mom, Savannah, and her Dad, Kevin. But you can chase those down on Facebook.

Savannah and Kevin have done a great job shifting into the parent role over the last 6-plus months. And Sydney hit that perfect storm last week: teething, diaper rash, and too hot. They powered through it - sleep deprivation and all.

Anyway, all this to say that I am really proud of Vanna and Kevin. And I love that little girl!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sacré Coeur

Today's adventure: Sacré Coeur. It was an adventure because it was 27˚ C (about 86˚ F) and there was a very large Hummer-like pram involved. But there was also a picnic lunch with some Vouvray involved. So it ended well. Here are 4 of the 5 weary travellers:

There's also a tradition at Sacré Coeur for musicians to set up on the steps, open the case, and perform for change. I've seen many of them - this guy had an exceptional voice. Because of the setting, these dudes always do covers. But I keep hoping I'll be surprised someday by some quality singer / songwriter stuff.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Southern Europe

I've spent about half of the last week in Southern Europe. We would generally include Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Greece, etc in that category. In my case, it was Italy (for leisure) and Spain (for business).

From a business perspective, it's easy to have one's attention continually drawn toward the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Nordics, France, Belgium, and Germany. And, in fact, even though all of Europe is in my portfolio, I've spent most of my time with that handful of countries. But there is something highly compelling about Southern Europe.

Sometimes I wonder if it's like a time machine for Americans. Those countries: Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece were all exceptional political, economic, and military powers at one time. They are lovely places today but, at this point in history, it would be a stretch to call them "powers" along any of those dimensions. They are past their days of world leadership. Still, they're fine. They have rich cultures and histories. The people are wonderful. Their economies aren't world beaters but, generally speaking, they do OK.

Are these countries instructive for what a post-exceptional USA looks like? And if so, is that a problem?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring in Dublin

... so many varieties of grey to appreciate. The buildings, the sky ... all of it just screams out "Springtime!"

That photo is the view from my hotel room in downtown Dublin. And the truth is, Ireland is my favorite Anglo country in Europe. I generally really like visiting -- although I was a little low on motivation when it came time to board the flight this morning. But that's probably due to the flat-full of family I left behind: Lolly, Vanna, Kevin, and Sydney.

But then as soon as I get in an Irish taxi I remember how much I like it here. Irish cab drivers are a special breed. No matter how young or old, they possess depths of irony, sarcasm, and cynicism beyond even the hippest hipsters in the Mission. And they can carry on about, well, anything! That might sound tedious but I always enjoy those rides in from the airport.

Scott recently reminded me that, due to some heretofore undisclosed hanky-panky, we are actually Irish and not the British, Scottish mutts we'd always been told. Maybe that's where the connection comes from. Or maybe it's the Guinness - and it's true: it does taste better in Dublin.

In any event, visual variety notwhithstanding, I like Irleand!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Trocadéro, cloves, etc

Good morning boys and girls. Here are a few shots from last night - Lolly and I took a brief métro ride to the Trocadéro neighboorhood for a glass of wine before heading back to Montparnasse to "our" café for another one (and a clove).

There's a statue of Marechal Foch in the center of la Place duTrocadéro and the light was kind of interesting soooo ... He wanted a much more strict arrangement with Germany after WWI and expressed his dissatisfaction with the actual result by saying, "this is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years." He was right - give or take a few years.

And this sculpture is across the street with the inscription: "A La Gloire de l'armeee francaise 1914-1918." (to the glory of the French army). It's a Paul Landowski work - we were both struck by its similarity to the big sculpture on Mao's Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square ... whatever that means.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's True

It's a cliché but, then, most clichés are clichés for a reason. Spring in Paris is a pretty cool thing. We get warm, sunny days - and then some showers - and a cool day here and there. But we also get that Parisian light. This photo is just one more shot from la balcone here at Chez Burnett. But the light was hitting the building across the street so I snapped a few digi's.

Most people who read this blog know that our expat experience has been a little asymmetrical. Generally speaking, it's been very positive for me while Lolly's experience has been a bit more mixed. Needless to say we are watching this closely and seeking out opportunities for expanding our circle of friends here. The other night we went to an author night at the American Library in Paris. The author was NY Times reported Sarah Lyall who recently wrote a book called "The Anglo Files" - kind of a humorous anthropological study of Brits from an American expat's POV. She was funny and interesting. The audience was, um, interesting - including at least a few people who just really wanted to be heard saying erudite things. Great fun.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Spiritual Weekend

Way back in the day, during my worship-leading days, I used to consider Holy Week the spiritual high point of the year. I used to pour boucoup time and energy into it - and I enjoyed it. When Easter rolls around now, I still think about those of you out there who do that and I have a tinge of nostaligia.

But things have changed. My spiritual perspective is very different than it was during those years. It exists but it's very different. Even though it's Easter, I didn't plan on having an exceptionally spiritual weekend. But it turned out that way.

Yesterday, Ryan invited me along to a yoga class in the Marais. I've never done yoga before but I decided to tag along. I am really glad I did - the spiritual/physical experience was incredibly satisfying. I couldn't help thinking back years ago to all those warnings I received about "opening up" to dark spiritual practices: ouija boards, yoga, meditation, etc. Meh. I will definitely go back to La Centre de Yoga du Marais.

And then today (Easter), we all decided to skip the various Messes de la Résurrection and opted instead to hit Notre Dame in the afternoon for an organ concert. That's a picture of the organ nest above along with some of the pipes. The set list:

- “Prélude et fugue en sol majeur” BWV 541 de Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
- Choral “Vater unser im Himmelreich” BWV 682 de Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
- “Joie et clarté des corps glorieux” d’Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
- “Récit” de Thierry ESCAICH (1965)
- “Toccata” de Jean GUILLOU (1930)

This was also an incredible spiritual experience. The organist was excellent, the sonic energy was amazing, and ... what's that other thing? There's something spiritually powerful about Notre Dame. Over recent years I've thought quite a bit about the sacred vs the secular. Like with many spiritual questions, I am happy to leave this in tension rather than force it into certainty. My two current in-tension views are: either everything is sacred or nothing is sacred except the divine. But in either case, I haven't really wanted to allow for spaces or people or oganizations to be "sacred." I've seen too much abuse in those areas.

But there's something about Notre Dame. And other old spiritual spaces with beauty and art and reminders. A friend of mine recently told me that there are, in fact, sacred spaces: some churches, stonehenges, mountaintops come to mind. I'll be reconsidering my views on this.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Pics

The Sharps are in town for a nice, long visit. Here are some shots from yesterday around the Champs de Mars:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Identity Shift

Right then, well ... this might offend some of you. Say, if you're at all defensive about the U.S. reputation abroad - or if you think the French still haven't thanked you enough for our grandparents' sacrifices ... but so be it. This is my little soapbox.

I've spent the last several years operating in global teams. Of course, I was based in the U.S. for most of those years. But now I'm based over here and my job is European Leader of blah blah blah. So I often find myself representing Europe in a team that includes, and is often led by, Americans. And I'll tell you what (read that in a Hank Hill voice) ... it's been eye-opening and educational.

There is definitely a "vibe" that comes from U.S. colleagues -- kind of a 1-sided sort of a thing. And this might very well have been true of me when I was the U.S. based team leader, but it's kind of an assumption that because a person is an American, he/she has the best knowledge and insight. And all non-Americans on the call have the burden of proof to show otherwise. And it often takes on a certain belligerence from the U.S. side. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a challenge or tough questions. But shutting down free 2-way communication is problematic.

I asked around a little among European colleagues and I think it's a generally understood phenomenon. Anywho, to quote my favorite moralists from Southpark: "I think I learned something today ..."

Friday, February 6, 2009

So Basic

So basic ... make up 40 straightforward questions and send a bunch film crews around the world to tape ordinary people answering them. Brilliant.

That's basically the premise of the exposition I saw at Le Grande Palais this evening: 6 millliards d'Autres (6 billion others) by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. They set up dozens of flatscreens in the pavilion, segmented into themes like Fears, Childhood Memories, Love Stories, War, etc. and play back peoples' answers to the 40 questions. "What is your first memory?" "Do you believe in God?" "Do you have enemies? Why?"

It's stretching on so many levels. These are non-celebrities from all over: Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, New Guinea, Rwanda, UK, US, etc. They aren't crisp, polished, or brief. But they're honest and compelling.

I don't know if it's a travelling expo. But if it comes to your town ... go, watch, and listen. And be patient.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Next Day

I got to La Défense this morning just in time to watch the sun rise over the Arc de Triomphe (the French know a thing or two about urban lines of sight). It was an important pause in an otherwise busy day.

A pause was an important start to today because yesterday was hard. Most CBIP readers will know that our friend, David Kaplowitz, died yesterday. We knew it was coming. But it was hard news and it totally kicked my ass yesterday. To the point where I had to excuse myself from a conversation because I couldn't talk.

David and I hadn't spoken in over a year. And before that, we hadn't spoken in several years. But those two silences had completely different causes. He and I were close friends back in the late 80's and early 90's - coleading a worship band. We had a falling out over a church decision. I sided with the church over him. In fact, I took on the role of church spokesman to give him the bad news.

Over time I realized that I was wrong. I prioritized an institution over a friendship. Fortunately, David forgave me when we saw each other last year. But then there was distance and an international move and a grandbaby and ... we didn't speak again.

And so, I feel profound loss.

Goodbye David.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Yeah, that was quite a little quiet period, eh?

Well let's see ... there was a crazy "little" work thing that consumed all of my waking and many of my sleeping hours. But I delivered it last week in London and now all is well in the land. Travers and Jean were here for a few days and then another few days -- and that was cool.

So today was penciled in on the calendar as the day for returning to life as usual in Paris. Then, I stepped out the street door this morning and into 3 inches of snow. Totally unexpected. I snapped this shot when I came back upstairs for my umbrella:

Some of you have sat in that very chair and so you will recognize it as the best seat in the house here at Chez Burnett. When you sit there, you face West and look down Boulevard du Montparnasse directly at La Tour Eiffel. It doesn't suck. Anyway, here is a picture of it ... um, you know ... covered in snow.

Moving on ... I took this one yesterday before the snow started falling. It's one of the fountains at La Place de la Concorde. This spot sits in between Les Jardins des Tuileries and Avenue des Champs-Elysées ... very central. Just a few short days ago there were either 1M or 2.5M protestors here (depending on whose statistics you believe). But I just thought the light was cool there yesterday:

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Upside of Aging

CBIP is on Fire! Three posts in two days -- gee.

So this past weekend, Carol paid one of her semi-annual visits to Paris ... this time on her way to Marseilles. I last saw her 24 years ago when her Dad married Lora and me. And even then, we weren't exactly close. At Glenerie Chapel, she was the college girl heading off to school and I was the snot-nosed, strung-out-on-Ritalin, youth group punk. Plus I was hanging out with Jay a lot at the time, so ....

Anyway, not exactly the same social circles. But the upside of aging is that the meaning of our age differential (which is actually pretty small) shrunk over time. So given our mutual affection for Paris and a shared, long-ago evangelical experience it was cool to hang out at Musée d'Orsay (the Lévy-Dhurmer pastels were other-worldly) and Le Galway reminiscing about Kingston, Saugerties, Glenerie Chapel, Ray Newton, Alan Rowe, and whatever the hell we called that Tennis Club church thingy that had the strongest, loudest flourescent lights known to man (Jill described our wedding there as resembling a Hoedown -- not that there's anything wrong with that). Come to think of it, that was the very location where my Dad first heard Lolly effortlessly drop an expletive into conversation. Good times.

So keep an eye on Carol's blog and maybe even convince her to turn on the comment feature so you can ask her how the writing is going (oops!) And thanks Carol for hanging out - it was really fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Winter Light

It's been freezing here since I got back. The dusting of snow that fell a week ago is still hanging around. But I ventured out to try and capture some of that winter light. Most of these are in and around Les Invalides.

The man, the legend ... plus he even has a complex named after him. If I had a complex named after me it would apply to people burdened with the ability to see too many shades of gray.

Parisian snow

Le temps de Noël is over ...

... or is it?

Outside Le Bon Marché ...

A French roach-coach:

Culture Peace

... as opposed to culture wars. Heh.

It's been over 6 months since we moved to France and I paid my first visit back to the U.S. over the Christmas holiday. I'm back in Paris as of a few days ago and, happy to report, my luggage appeared just 30 hours after I did. That stands as an unqualified success for United.

In the U.S. I spent time in Oakland, Napa Valley, and the Seattle burbs. (I won't count the few hours I was in San Francisco and Pleasanton). It was a chance to play the cultural comparison game between France and the U.S. and between the individual towns. The truth is: I like all of these places for their respective good qualities. Of course, they each have their weaknesses too.

The scene that unfolded in Oakland starting with the Fruitvale BART shooting and the subsequent violent protest is nearly identical to previous situations in the Paris suburbs. American and French cities are opposites in terms of socioeconomics in the urban and suburban zones, but we share the racial tensions.

French cities and towns seem to have two consistent qualities: 1) they're built on a human scale (generally 7-storey buildings); and 2) they go to lengths to preserve beauty in architecture, public art, open spaces, etc. It seems to me that American cities give top priority to commerce. In fact, I would say that this prioritization defines the primary difference between France and the U.S. - not just in city planning but in the two cultures generally. In the U.S. we accept costs in other components of our culture if there is a commercial benefit. That doesn't seem to be true in France. I wouldn't say that one of these approaches is better than the other. But it makes for pretty interesting lifestyle differences that are worth experiencing - even if it's just a brief visit.

The French and American wine regions seem pretty similar to me: idyllic façades on top of rural foundations and lots of pride in their products. You run into snobs in both places and you also meet perfectly lovely people. I, for one, will continue to "support" both of them.

I've spent most of my life in American suburbs - even our house within the city limits of Oakland is in a pretty calm spot (the biggest challenge is wildlife related - deer falling in the pool). I like the peace and the space you get in an American suburb but, good Lord, if I never see another strip mall it will be too soon. Oh and Walmart too.

And one final, random cultural note: French people don't dislike Americans. It's a narcissistic American myth. Now, it is true that some of my French associates dislike self-centered, arrogant people whose minds are closed to dissenting opinions. But anti-American? Mais non!