Thursday, January 10, 2019

ace yourself

If you love something, you accept it.
If you love something, you care for it.
If you love something, you express it.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

happy new year

As a blend of old and new, I wanted to begin the new year by sharing my favorite sketch of last year.

Port de l'Arsenal
Port de l'Arsenal

The icing on the cake is that this is one of my favorite places in Paris.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

on the streets of la butte aux cailles

It took an outing organized by Marie-Christine for me to get out and produce my first "serious" urban sketch following the summer break. The location? The Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood. I have always known it to be a lively and somewhat quaint area of Paris, with its cobblestone streets, colorful building facades, groovy bars and mellow cafés. But on that Saturday in early October, with fellow members of Urban Sketchers Paris, I was able to better observe and appreciate the neighborhood by sketching one of its streets. The experience was so enjoyable that I would return the following two Saturdays to create more "street art".

Rue Buot
Rue Buot

My visual exploration of La Buttes aux Cailles started with the above view from Rue Buot. It had most of the things that I like in a subject : perspective, architectural variety, and just a little greenery. The icing on the cake was sketching on the sidewalk. That is as urban is it gets!

Rue du Moulinet
Rue du Moulinet

The following Saturday, I was back in the neighborhood. Agnès, a fellow Parisian sketcher, had shown me her sketch of a mural inspired by the popular Super Mario Bros video game, and being a Super Mario Bros lover in my early days, it was only fitting that I sketch the mural too. I found it on Rue du Moulinet, and sat across the street from it to get it in whole in my sketchbook.

Rue de la Butte aux Cailles
Rue de la Butte aux Cailles

For the third consecutive Saturday, I found myself in the Butte aux Cailles to draw. This time, the lucky street was the one sharing the name of the district. I set my stool down on the square on the western end of the street, named Place de la Commune de Paris. The view towards the Rue de la Butte aux Cailles offered a pleasing combination of greenery, buildings, and inclines, all in perspective.

Monday, October 15, 2018

outdoors at lunchtime in courbevoie

At a USK Paris outing at Ground Control in early May, I met Stéphanie, a fellow sketcher. There was one particular thing that I learned during our encounter: we both worked in the Courbevoie part of the la Défense area. Our workplaces were barely 150 meters apart. Then came the obvious question: why not meet to sketch at lunchtime in the area?

Square Henri Regnault, Courbevoie
Square Henri Regnault

Our first meeting took us to the park named Square Henri Regnault. Inaugurated in 2013, this park was designed in close coordination with the residents of the three apartment buildings that surround it. Stephanie and I found a suitable spot for drawing on a bench that laid in the shade beside central pathway linking both entrances to the park. In spite of the numerous plum, maple, and ash trees around, what caught my eye was a lamppost along the pathway amidst a background of skyscrapers.

Parc du Millénaire, Courbevoie
Parc du Millénaire

One of my next meetings with Stéphanie took place in Parc du Millénaire. It was summertime, and we got to witness how popular the park was. Between groups of kids taking part in games with ‒ and without ‒ adult supervision and teams of employees having picnics on the wide-open, oval lawn, the park was abuzz with life. While Stephanie took to a sun-drenched bench directly facing the lawn, I took refuge in the shade of trees across the lawn, close to the playground. Branches and trees all over the place, I decided to outline them so that I could focus on the landscape below.

Parc Jacques Cartier, Courbevoie
Parc Jacques Cartier

My last sketching entry into parks in Courbevoie close to work was a solo trip to Parc Jacques Cartier. No stranger to picnickers like Parc du Millénaire, this park affords an equally leisurely vibe, with its installations of musical instruments immediately available to visitors. Among the ensemble you can find five tom-tom drums, an xylophone, and a carillon. Naturally, I resisted the temptation of creating music to sketch a view of the Faubourg de l'Arche neighborhood in the background from a secluded and shaded park bench.

I must credit Stéphanie for this foray into sketching in Courbevoie, as well as for her encouragements in using ink directly without making pencil outlines beforehand. Lunchtime at work has since become a nice opportunity to capture the environment around me through art.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

why i love paris (10)

The 48th Worldwide SketchCrawl was scheduled for Saturday July 25, 2015 and, as for preceding SketchCrawls, the Paris Sketchers crew planned to do something grand. Joining groups of sketchers who were participating in more than sixty cities all over the world, about thirty of us came together in Paris to spend a day drawing at a chosen location. This location was Parc Floral, a part of the botanical gardens of Paris network, on the southeastern end of Paris. Two weeks prior to the event, I had gone to the park with Agnès, Blandine, Valie, and Estelle to scout for places where we could meet, have lunch, and drink on event day. We knew that Agnès, who was spearheading the effort of planning the SketchCrawl for Paris Sketchers, would not be in town on the big day. As her fellow group co-moderator, I decided to take the reins in her absence. In reality, all I had to do was to announce the already perfect agenda on our website, as well as on the SketchCrawl online discussion forum. Yet I hesitated because the weather forecast website could not guarantee a rain-free day that many days in advance. Chances of rain were slim but still, I fretted. We did not have any backup location. And it did not help at all that the park was a largely outdoor (read: roofless) area. In the worst case scenario that I imagined, the forty or so of us would spend the day inside the park's two restaurants and the few small buildings housing bonsai plants. Moderately comfortable with this idea, I went online and hit Publish. In the words of Seth Godin, I had shipped.

Map of Parc Floral

I started the day of the SketchCrawl quite worried about how the event would turn out, due to the strong winds and rain showers that woke me up at about 6am and that would last until the cold came by. We may have been in the middle of the summer season, but it did not feel much like summer that morning. Undeterred, I got myself physically and mentally ready to go to Parc Floral. It was great to take a bus that was going there directly from my neighborhood ‒ the second time in three consecutive SketchCrawls that I had been able to do that. Even better, the trip was short; it lasted just ten minutes.

It was about 9:30am when I made it to the park entrance. I passed through the door and waited nearby until 10am before advancing further (10am because that was the time of the first rendezvous, in a restaurant inside the park called Le Bosquet). Some minutes later, Pierre and Annie, the latter of whom had just arrived from Rouen, stepped inside the park. I went over to greet them, officially meeting Annie, who I had seen at a SketchCrawl at Cité des sciences et de l'industrie the previous year. I had already met Pierre, also during a SketchCrawl. Besides, I had spotted him fifteen minutes earlier in the cafe where we would all be meeting at the end of the afternoon.

The three of us walked towards Le Bosquet on a beaten road flanked by lush greenery. When we arrived, we settled down at a table inside. Within the next fifteen minutes, we were about seven people at the table. Another fifteen minutes later, we were nine. And during all this time, the sun became more and more present, to the joy of everyone. Delighted, I posted a message online via my smartphone to try reassuring those who were on the fence. I do not know if it worked, but the sun would shine brightly the rest of the day. Like in the summer.

After having coffee, most people went off to different areas in the park in search of something to sketch. I stayed in the restaurant to welcome those who were going to arrive, passing the time on the sketch below. It is a view outside from the central entrance of the restaurant. Fortunately, I was able to finish it some minutes before lunchtime.

We convened at Le Bosquet at 1pm. We were about twenty in number, and the sun was all out. Most people sat at tables outside on the terrace, while a few others had a picnic on the grass a few steps away. Over lunch, everyone naturally took the time to chat a bit and some even showed the drawings that they had done of the day so far. It was a lovely scene.

We all left the restaurant around the same time, at about 2pm. While the rest of the group went off in different directions to sketch some more, I stayed behind. I had another idea: why not go take photos of the other sketchers at work? The park being rather huge (thirty hectares), I was neither able to see everything nor find each group member in the three hours that I spent. I suspected that some were part of the audience in the Espace Delta, where Imani Winds was performing as part of the Paris Jazz Festival, and that others were in the more remote areas of the park that had a forest kind of vibe. As for a couple of "non-sightings", it was just a matter of no luck; we were at the right place all right, but not there together at the right time.

In spite of this setback, I manage to make use of the photos that I did take.

The final gathering was scheduled at 5pm at Le Drapeau, the cafe situated opposite the main entrance of Château de Vincennes and at about five minutes north of the park. A few sketchers were already there and others joined them over time. I was among the late arrivals ‒ by 20 to 30 minutes ‒ and a couple of others arrived even much later than I did. Over two hours in a friendly atmosphere, people shared their sketchbooks and discussed all sorts of things from materials to techniques, including the SketchCrawl itself.

In all, there were about 35 people who participated in the SketchCrawl, or part of it. And given the state of mind that I was in before the event, I was very glad that it turned out well, from start to finish.

This past Monday, May 16, 2016, I organized another Paris Sketchers outing to Parc Floral. It was not for a SketchCrawl; it was Whit Monday (a public holiday in France, but not for everyone), I had the day off work and just thought about returning to the park ‒ before the jazz festival began and therefore entry required a fee ‒ to do something other than take photos. Something like drawing, and doing so the whole day (like at a SketchCrawl). Fortunately, other sketchers were game (about 20) and came along to join in the fun.
Below are my sketches from the day:

Espace Delta

Fontaine monumentale

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

my red nose

For the past few years, the first of April has been a special day in my life. It was on that day in 2013 that I published the inaugural post on this blog and announced it to a select group of people. In 2014, I stated why the blog exists. There were no commemorative posts in 2015, but I made the decision to become a linchpin. While I erred in my quest afterward, let us be clear: an important decision was made, and on that day. So now in 2016, I wanted to make something happen, having remembered the anniversary only in the middle of March. Given the state of mind that I was in at the time and what I had done in previous years, I felt the urge to do something that was just as meaningful, but new and certainly different.

Different, as in wearing a red nose during my morning commute to work. Conveniently, I already had one, gifted to me by Corinne after a clown exercise that she had us do in theater class several years ago. I had actually worn the nose since then, in 2012, but only around the block of my apartment building. At the time, I found the idea of doing that so daring that I labeled it an Operation Original. This "originality", I owe it to Hypnotica, an artist of sorts who once decided to wear a dildo taped to his forehead while walking through a shopping mall. It was his attempt to conquer his fears of uncertainty and public ridicule, which he saw as obstacles to the ability to think freely. I cannot sincerely say that I had the same motives as him, but I was captivated by outrageous nature of his experiment and motivated to emulate him. Not quite with a dildo, but with a red nose.

If truth be told, it took me four years to take the plunge. I had imagined wearing the red nose in an everyday situation, while going to work via subway or shopping at the supermarket, but the doing that seemed too daunting for me at the time. I just could not will myself to do it. The stuff that I did in my neighborhood was only a small test, a simulation that lasted less than five minutes and had no practical objective ‒ I was not going anywhere to do anything useful. I remember having felt great nevertheless (and relieved) when I made it back to my apartment after the test, even though nothing really had happened except some curious looks from several passers-by and from a client seated on the terrace of a cafe. But something had happened; something within me, that is. I had stepped out of my comfort zone. Now, four years later, I felt more ready to go beyond the test, to "do the real thing". The idea was at the back of my mind, and even though I did not think about it everyday during that entire time span, it was never forgotten. It ended up remaining the lone social experiment ‒ among those that I had conceived ‒ that I had not dared to perform yet, notably because it was truly "out there". Besides, when March came by, I found myself often down in the dumps, while at work, among others, or even alone. I knew more or less what I had to do to pick myself up, and it boiled down to becoming more engaged, among other things. So I decided to get engaged ... with myself. That is how life starts getting better, right? Given my despair, it only seemed right to do something big. Big like red-nose big. And then, sometime later, out of the blue, I remembered it would soon be April 1st. It would be on a Friday, a work day. I began to realize what that day had meant to me. Memories and thoughts converged naturally to give birth to the perfect idea albeit a scary one. I asked myself, "Remember that young, tall, blond lady that you saw that morning some time ago when you were heading towards the office building from the RER station? Remember she was wearing a red nose, looking so casual as she walked and talked with someone? What if ... that was you?"

The decision to strike, so to speak, was made two weeks before April 1. During those two weeks, which seemed longer than they really were, I experienced waves of excitement and anguish. Not only was I trying at times to discourage myself, uttering things like "Who wears a red nose in the metro, in the RER or even at work?" and "Do you look like a kid?", I found myself worrying about how people would react to me, or to something so unusual. Would I get arrested? Would I get beat up? Would my phone get snatched from me? Questions that remained without answer. However, I did find it a bit comforting that this non-stop inner monologue revealed something fundamental. The fears of public ridicule and uncertainty, the same ones that Hypnotica said that he was trying to overcome, I had them too. Despite the temptation to give in to the fears, I fought to embrace the opportunity that laid before me, an opportunity that I had myself created. What's more, in the moments that I was lucid, I knew that I did not want to be saddled with regret on the eve of April 2. So the best that I could do was to prepare for battle.

I kept my motivation up by consuming my favorite quotes, my favorite articles, and my favorite videos, over and over again. I even read a couple of my own blog posts, such as the love and responsibility piece, which was particularly instrumental. I also used basic visualization techniques on a daily basis, to reinforce the belief that I could perform on the big day. At work, with friends, in the metro, or while group sketching in Paris, I found myself sometimes preoccupied with the task that I had set out to do. Surely, it was not something to be shared with anyone. At least not until the task was accomplished.

At the time of the test four years ago, I imagined some aspects of the ideal game plan. I especially had the vision of myself in the metro wearing all black ‒ shirt, pants, socks, shoes ‒ except for this red thing that did not fit. One of the 2016 touches to this plan was something of a security measure: "changing" into my red nose at the bus stop in my neighborhood (rather than at my place) and leaving my valuables in my apartment. In addition, I would leave for work during rush hour, take public transportation during rush hour, and arrive during rush hour. I would take off the nose in only two instances: 1) once I was at my desk and 2) if I needed to get in air without obstruction for a few seconds, after which I would put the nose back on. Besides that, I would act like I normally did during the commute (which was keep to myself, like most people, with something to read if possible). In other words, nothing would change in my behavior. And I would certainly not try to bury my face in a newspaper.

During the 45-minute trip to work, everything went according to plan. It was rush hour. I left home. I walked to the bus stop. I changed. I walked to the metro station. I got in the metro. I got off and walked to RER station. I got on the RER. I got off and walked to the office building. I went inside. I took the elevator. I got off on my floor. I arrived at my desk.

I experienced a variety of things. It all began during the night. I had immense difficulty falling asleep. After succeeding eventually, I ended up awake on several occasions, each time earlier than the expected time. It was highly unusual, but I understood that the anxiety had taken over me. My mind was very occupied and focused on the same thing: what I had vowed to start at 8:55am. When I got up for good, around 7am, I had slept little. Having no time for discouragement, I had to follow through. Around 9am, at the bus stop, I hesitated for a moment. "Going in or not?", I asked myself, painfully. Before I could answer, I pulled out the red plastic from the inner pocket of my coat and rammed my nose inside it. At the same time, I made a U-turn and headed towards the metro station. I felt a bit strange, all the while staying focused on my path. I got some looks, many of which I looked out for as I passed by people or stood in a crowd. During a metro ride that included two stops, I noticed a boy glancing at me several times, always discreetly, while holding his father's hand. I saw few smiles here and there as well as some turned heads throughout my journey, though people seemed largely indifferent to my presence. Some simply did not notice me, and others who did ended up looking elsewhere after a couple of seconds. Could you blame them? After all, it was not like I was performing a clown act in attempt to retain their attention. I was either just walking by or just standing there. The lack of a notable reaction from anyone ‒ except from the guy distributing free newspapers to passers-by, who made a joke that I did not hear well but that I thought was friendly ‒ made me wonder if the experiment was a bust. Maybe I just no longer cared that much about what people thought of me? The interrogation gave me the thought of stopping to wear the nose. But I discarded that thought almost immediately.

Upon entering the office building, I managed to escape the sight of the people seated at the reception desk and especially that of the two security guards in front of the turnstiles leading to the elevators. I had briefly sought eye contact with the guards out of habit, unsuccessfully. While I was not trying to dodge them, I was not at the same time trying to show up in front of them and say "Hey look at me! I am wearing a red nose!" Oh well. In the elevator area, there was a guy who worked on my floor and with whom I had gone to speak about an issue several months before, when he was still new in the organization. Seeing me, he looked puzzled, though he seemed more pleasantly so after I said "Bonjour" to him (he returned the "Bonjour"). Out of the elevator with him, I made it to my desk without seeing anyone else on the way. The members on my team in the vicinity were busy talking and did not notice that I had arrived. I found two options for what to do next ‒ 1) take off the nose, congratulate myself, and go greet the colleagues or 2) keep the nose, go greet the colleagues, and then return to take the nose off. Obviously, the second option was more interesting, so I went with it. As I appeared, I left everyone somewhat bemused, drawing more or less favorable reactions from the majority of them (about seven people). A few others remained in a mild state of bewilderment, completely speechless even while I shook hands with them. In the midst of the commotion, someone guessed that it was an April Fools' joke, which I neither confirmed nor denied. In fact, I did not give much justification for my particular appearance, nor did anyone inquire that I do so. What happened just happened, and in less than a minute, having made the rounds, I was back at my desk, alone. I took off the nose. Finally.

Like many other colleagues, I settled into the events of the day as usual, as if nothing had happened. From time to time though, I wondered if I really did arrive at work wearing a red nose. And each time, I accepted that I must have, otherwise I would not have asked myself such a question. So how did it feel for me being exposed in the public eye, especially before entering the office building? A little funny, a little uncomfortable, but nothing truly frightening. I did my best to walk through the crowded areas, after having consciously made the choice to appear during rush hour, but it seemed as if people were fewer than usual. And, once again, no one really seemed to care at the end of the day. What I had been fearful about turned out to be a non-event. A few looks here and there, and that was it. Nevertheless, when I put things in perspective some time later, I experienced a particular satisfaction. A kind that seemed deep and durable.

Yet, I ought to be very disappointed. Why? Because I did only half of the job that I had imagined for two weeks. The undone half? Just the trip back home ‒ or to the bus stop near my place ‒ with the red nose on, starting from my desk. Essentially, the same thing that I did in the morning. Except that around 6:15pm, when I was getting ready to leave for the weekend, the momentum from the morning had dissipated and the old anxieties were free again. No way was I going to let myself look silly in front of all these familiar people that, for the most part, had no idea how I arrived at work in the morning. So I didn't. The nose safely hidden in the inner pocket of my coat, I got up from my seat, said my goodbyes, and left. Uncertainty and public ridicule would remain things to fear ...

But the red nose will return.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

souvenirs danois

In August 2015, I took off to Denmark for five days.  I had been invited by my friend Inga to join her, a group of her friends, and some friends of their friends in Vejby, a coastal town about 58 kilometers north of Copenhagen.  Given that it would be my first trip to Scandinavia, I was quite excited but mostly curious.  There was also the part of spending time with six people who I had never met that got me a little anxious, especially since they seemed to already know each other for the most part.  But they seemed like a friendly crowd from the e-mails exchanged within the group and Eglantine, who organized the trip with Inga, could not be more welcoming of my participation.  It was also great that we all lived in the Paris area.  I had the idea that since they were getting to Denmark before me to kick off the festivities, the least that I could do was to help in keeping the good vibes flowing once I arrived.

Here's a trip back to "Danmark", in photos and sketches.

Frederiksborg Slot, in Hillerød, was my first stop with the crew after meeting some of them at the Copenhagen airport and others at the Hillerød train station sometime later. We were eight in number ‒ Inga, Eglantine, Vincent, David, Christophe, Nilu, Olivier and myself ‒ to take on this castle, which is home to the Museum of National History.

The elegant grounds of the castle inspired me to bust out my sketchbook.  I produced this sketch at our picnic site, on a lawn that laid opposite to the baroque garden and that provided a nice view of the castle over the slotssø (castle lake).  If you could look inside the castle as I drew it, you could find the rest of the crew, in a room or several of them, busy admiring the museum's artifacts.

This was an interesting moment, during which I was discovered a small bit of Danish culture.  Two boys on bikes, probably teenagers, rolled up behind me on the lawn that I was sketching on, dumped their bikes against the trunk of a tree nearby, and walked away instantly, casually.  I watched them until they disappeared from sight.  Yet their bikes were neither locked nor fastened to anything.  I mean, nothing.  When I had finished sketching and was about to leave, some fifteen minutes later, the bikes were still there.  I observed similar situations several times during the rest of the trip, where bikes were parked in public places ‒ from the entrance of a famous site to the outside wall of a house on the street ‒ without a lock.

After a rich day of sightseeing, we made a stop near the beach in our neighborhood in Vejby to watch the sun set.  I quickly gathered that this activity had become a something of a tradition in our group.  Enchanted, Christophe, Olivier and Vincent were taking it all in.

The next day was notable for a visit to Louisiana, a.k.a, "the most beautiful modern art museum in the world", located in Humlebæk.  One of the highlights of our visit was an ambitious exhibition on Africa that presented remarkable multimedia, architectural, and sculptural works from artists of mostly African origin and with diverse points of view.

Playing volleyball ‒ or something resembling more or less volleyball ‒ on a sunny day in the water by the border of a beautiful museum is generally a tempting proposition.  Too bad I left my swimming trunks at home.

"Gleaming Lights of the Souls" by Yayoi Kusama is one of the main draws of the museum, hands down.  With me being enthralled largely by the seaside scenery of the museum's sculpture park, I would have missed this exhibit if I had not heard some members in our crew asking others "Did you see it?  Did you see it?" towards the end of our picnic.  Naturally, I was curious.  "See what?", I asked.  They could not describe it, or perhaps they did not want to describe it.  I understood that the only way out was to just go see the thing myself.

I felt the urge to sketch in a locale so beautiful.  Besides, I was amused with the idea of sketching at our picnic site, like I had done just the day before.  So I sat down at the top of the hill in the museum's sculpture park overlooking the Øresund and sketched away.  The coolest part was getting two countries in the same sketch.

On our way to Kronborg Slot, a.k.a. Kronborg Castle, in Helsingør, one of us had the great ability to notice our shadows all lined up on the grass.  I can no longer remember who it was but I thank him or her for letting us know.  I wanted to capture the moment, not expecting Eglantine's foot to feature in it.

Two days later.  Inga, Olivier, David and Vincent went off for their almost-traditional morning run.  Sometime afterwards, I was teaming with Eglantine and Nilu for a walk on the beach near the house.  To get there we had to descend this remarkably long series of stairs ‒ the same stairs from which we watched sunset on the day of my arrival in Denmark.

After days dedicated to visiting castles and museums, we spent most of our last full day in Denmark chilling at home in Vejby.  This break was just what I needed to embark on a panoramic sketch of the view at the back of the house.  The encouragements that I received from everyone who passed by while I drew only made the moment extra special.

Accompanied by Sylvine, who arrived at the house in the morning, but without Christophe and Nilu, who had already returned to France, we went off for a late afternoon stroll in Tisvilde Hegn, a forest near Vejby that was also the fifth largest in the country.  It was upon leaving this forest by the sea that I noticed this gem on the beach.

For the most of us, the next day was the last day in Denmark.  It was also, for some of us, an occasion to spend a few hours in Copenhagen before darting off to the airport for our flights back to Paris.  After we dropped Inga at Østerport Station and stored our baggage at the airport, I started my discovery of the city with a group stop at Torvehallerne KPH, a well-known covered market near Nørreport Station.  Needless to say, we had some of their pastries for a quick, impromptu brunch.

Something to lure me back to Copenhagen for a proper visit: a souvenir of Nyhavn, a canal that shares the name with the surrounding waterfront district.

Monday, August 31, 2015

exposure to annihilation


It was what I often felt before running an operation in public.  No matter how many times I had been through the very same operation in the past, under the very same conditions, those feelings of fear were always present and strong, instead of absent or at least weaker, as I had expected them to become over time.  Then, one day, I stumbled upon the following words:
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.
At that instant, I was in love.  In love with these words.  I believed that they spoke the truth, albeit in a rather poetic manner.  After all, they expressed what I had experienced over and over again ‒ the fear of being exposed when I was about to launch an operation and the fear of getting annihilated afterwards, metaphorically speaking.  Yet in the end, it was quite the opposite, because I usually felt empowered as a result of my actions. Sometimes, the feeling went beyond empowerment ‒ it bordered on invincibility.  But only for a moment, naturally.

I had long attributed the words to Pema Chödrön, who wrote them in her book, "When Things Fall Apart".  It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that she may have been quoting Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, who had included the words in his book "The Way of Transformation".  So I went looking for the source and discovered the passage below.  Nothing but love.
The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a 'raft that leads to the far shore.' Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

journée presque parfaite

I had hoped for a good day, but I was not expecting it to be that good.  I mean, this is a post that was not meant to happen.

It all started on Monday morning in Paris, on my way to work.  I took the metro, getting the opportunity to interact with a few commuters via Operation Metro.  Albeit startled (who wouldn't be?), they smiled and returned the "Bonjour!" when I greeted them.  The best part was that I had wasted no time before I got into the act.  I had not asked myself whether or not to do it, if people were already watching me or were going to watch me, or how weird it was going to be.  With an intense focus, I had simply jumped in and created the interactions that I had set out to create.  Afterwards, I picked up where I left off in my book of the moment: "Ces impossibles Français", Chapter 5, "Au rendez-vous des libertins".  I coasted for the rest of the ride.  My mind was at ease.

After the morning spent at work, I got back on the metro during lunch break.  I had decided to finish scouting Jardin des serres d'Auteuil, a botanical garden within a major greenhouse complex.   I had visited the garden for the first time only the evening before, to determine if it was a suitable location for a future sketcher outing.  Since I had to take three different metro lines to get there, I had three chances to run Operation Metro.  Yay!  Of course, I had my usual anxieties about deciding to stand out among passengers in the metro, but for the most part, I was looking forward to the opportunity.  By the time I got out at Porte d'Auteuil, the closest station to the garden, I had scored only two out of three points for the operation.  Why?  Because on the second leg of the trip, I had interactions that were more involved ‒ and more interesting.

Waiting for the metro at Charles de Gaulle - Etoile to begin this remarkable second leg, I noticed a very pretty girl standing nearby.  Then I noticed that the backpack that she was carrying was partially open.  Which provided an opening for me to go talk to her.  She was accompanied by another girl, but that was secondary.  If I hesitated for a second before approaching her, it was because I was busy appreciating this unexpected opportunity to accomplish Operation Insecurity.  Eventually, I went over.  I said "Bonjour", and followed with "Votre sac est ouvert" ("Your bag is open").  She verified it, smiled and said "Merci", and I left to return to the spot where I was waiting before.  Great.  Wait, I left?

The only thing that saved me from self-torture after this "hit-and-run", as my friend Sophie would say, was another interaction that took place in the metro after it had arrived and I had entered.  Mind you, I was still in Operation Insecurity mode, so I needed to approach another attractive girl to conclude.  As a result, Operation Metro was no longer applicable, and it got suspended momentarily.  In the metro, there was a pretty woman seated at a certain distance in front of me (I was standing).  She had a small backpack on her lap on which it was written "Keziah".  After the customary hesitation, I dodged a couple of passengers in order to reach her.  "C'est pour Keziah Jones ce sac ?" ("Is that Keziah Jones' bag?"), I asked, referring to the Nigerian singer and guitarist who actually became well-known in France for performing in the Paris metro.  "Non", she replied with a smile.  "Il est à mon fils" ("It's my son's").  I developed the Keziah joke some more and a conversation ensued, about the origin of the name, French and English languages, and the like.  In the process, she complimented my supposed French sans accent, whereas I did the same on her English (she was Congolese).  I found it even amusing that she asked me which French words tended to reveal my accent when I said them.  I admitted that some words with the "r" were problematic, and she inquired whether the "l" was also an issue.  I thought about it.  Indeed, my colleagues, all francophone, had once teased me during a meeting when I had said "les rules" (in a French manner), a word that had both "r" and "l" in it.  But I digress.  Eventually, the lady had to get off and thanked me for an enjoyable chat.  What she probably did not know was that I was just as thankful, if not more.

Scouting the garden (after I had eventually made it there) was blissful, just as the day before.  I took the opportunity to explore other areas and to ask the woman working at the entrance about picnic spots and restroom access.  But what really gave me the thrill, just like the day before, was standing on the border of Roland Garros complex, which is literally across the street from the garden.  I walked up this street on my way back to the metro station, gazing at parts of the rounded exterior of Court n° 1 that were not hidden from view by metallic bars and trees.  I was particularly drawn to the surface at the top of the court, on which there was a long series of names inscribed for successive years.  Names like G. Kuerten.  S. Graf.  M. Seles.  A. Agassi.  V. Williams.  S. Williams.  M. Navrátilová.  J. Henin.  R. Federer.  And R. Nadal, over and over again.  I imagined myself linked to these champions, appreciating the moment of being close to the history of the French Open beyond newspaper articles and television and computer screens.

I made the trip back to work via metro, bus and tram and the afternoon passed by.  The next delicious moment happened on my way out of the building.  When I got into the elevator to get to the ground floor, I was the only person.  I wondered if the elevator would stop at an intermediate floor.  And it did.  And then I wondered if the person about to enter would be male or female.  With a slight amount of nervousness, I hoped that the person would be not only female, but solitary as well.  And the person was.  She entered.  I said "Bonjour", she said "Bonsoir" in response.  As usual in these circumstances, I scolded myself for not using the appropriate greeting for the evening.  Yet I was too focused on this rare occasion to care much about appropriate greetings.  When the doors of the elevators closed, I turned to the lady and asked, "Vous venez ici souvent ?" ("Do you come here often?")  She replied, in a more or less serious manner, "Mais je travaille ici" ("Well I work here").  We both stared at each other for a brief moment, her facial expression more puzzled than mine.  An awkward silence set in.  We still faced each other, but we no longer had eye contact.  I noticed a faint smile on her face nonetheless.  A guy got in at a lower floor, but that did nothing to change the vibe.  On the ground floor, the woman got out of the elevator, then out of the building.  I lagged behind, reflecting on what had just transpired.  Needless to say, I was glad about it.  A bit troubled, but glad.

Since it was rush hour, I decided to try out Operation Rush Hour before entering the metro to go home.  I was already out on the street, and the lady from the elevator was nowhere to be found (even though I was not necessarily looking for her).  I spotted a group of three girls coming my way.  Hesitation.  Then I spoke to the closest one as I passed her.  "Bonjour, le mois d'août, vous passez vos vacances où en général ?" ("Hello, in August, where do you usually spend your vacation ?")  "Rwanda", she said.  Here was a reply, and even a reaction, that I had not expected.  In fact, I was expecting a mild form of repulsion (which only goes to show my comfort level with this type of activity).  But no, I was talking with a group of Rwandan girls.  We (they and I) got to know a little about each other, but it did not mean much since we dispersed within the minute.  Later on, I came across a woman who I found older and less attractive than the Rwandans but attractive nonetheless (call me a bit desperate), and stopped to quiz her on when the next public holiday was.  The ideas that I have sometimes.  But she was quite agreeable and played along.  Each time (out of two) that she suggested a holiday that fell on a weekend, I contested her response, saying that it did not count.  So we reached a conclusion that the next real holiday was on November 11, otherwise known as the anniversary of the signature of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918.  We then separated and I completed my journey to the metro, where I did not hesitate to run Operation Metro once more.  Pure joy.

Back at home, I announced an upcoming group outing to Jardin des serres d'Auteuil on the Paris Sketchers website.  I also wrote a first draft of this very blog post.

And to think that these events happened because I decided at each instant to take responsibility for loving myself.

May the most of the following days be similar, or simply presque parfaites.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

adventures in queueland

One of the most remarkable sights in Paris is that of people lining up for something.  And I'm not talking about lines to enter the Louvre Museum or to go up the Eiffel Tower.  I am talking rather about everyday situations in which an average Parisian would find himself in a line.  For example, a stop at the butcher's.  A visit to the bakery.  An outing at the movie theater.  An evening at a concert hall.  Keep in mind that the venues just cited can attract queues that are formed outside on the sidewalk and that for a number of them, such is often the case.  It seems that this occurrence is something that most Parisians have long accepted.  A reasoning that some of them may offer is that the sight of a line of people in front of the entrance to a shop is a clear sign that the products on sale in that shop are of good quality, and sometimes of very good quality.  So queues in Paris can be good.  Otherwise, they are most likely just a matter of too many people to be served and too few people to do the actual serving.  Sure, other cities that I have lived in (as well as those that I have not lived in for that matter) can boast their own queues and this for their own reasons, but I had not paid any significant attention to queues anywhere before moving to Paris.  They seem to be a part of life in this city.  Given the good chances of finding one in front of the butcher's shop on Saturday morning or another outside the bakery on Sunday morning, something had to be done.  I mean, seriously.

It was only a few years ago that I discovered that there was personal value in creating interactions with people, especially those unfamiliar to me, a.k.a. strangers, and started doing just that.  One Saturday morning, on my way home from the swimming pool, I noticed a line of people waiting outside the butcher's shop near my place.  I had often seen a line there at that time of the week without giving it much consideration.  I hardly shopped there anyway.  But, at that very instant, I was seeing beyond the line.  What I was seeing was a group of people with unfamiliar faces, each having a few minutes to spare (before the moment came to place his order) for something to happen (a little entertainment perhaps).  In other words, ladies and gentlemen, I saw opportunity.  And thus, Operation Queues was born.

Well, the birth did not happen so instantly.  While opportunity had been perceived, a natural process of experimentation had to take place before Operation Queues took form.  The very first question ("What to do?") after discovery of the opportunity was answered by simply going to somewhere in the middle of the queue and walking along it to the end, saying "Bonjour" to each person in line along the way.  As this approach was another way of saying "Bonjour", it started out as a new phase of Operation Bonjour.  Ultimately, it became clear that such a style of interaction deserved its own operation, even if it was only necessary to say "Bonjour".  So a spin-off was created.

With a set of rules, Operation Queues became more formal.  Among other things, these rules state that upon stumbling upon a queue that has at least 5 people in the process of everyday living, I am allowed to run the operation on the queue.  Doing so involves saying "Bonjour!" to between 5 and 10 people successively in a line within the queue.  If the line was disorderly ‒ in other words, not a line ‒ then it was not necessary to do anything special.  Since the judgment of line of people as disorderly can be subjective, I sometimes let my instincts decide the course of action to take.  Also, if I have to say "Bonjour" to people in the queue who know each other and who are huddled together, for example, a family or a couple, I generally consider all of them as only one person, unless the line was too short and I wanted to reach the target of 5 to 10 people.  In this case, I would greet as many members of the group one after the other as necessary.  Other boundaries, such as the number of times it is possible to run the operation on a regular basis (twice per week at most), were established to avoid acting too much like a robot.

I remember roughly the very first time I ran the operation.  It was at that same butcher's shop where I conceived the idea, and it was a Saturday morning.  Before I even got anywhere close to the shop, I was feeling very anxious about what I was about to do (I was not even 100% sure that there would be a queue).  A familiar voice within me kept trying to discourage me from doing something so weird, so ridiculous, and obviously so senseless.  It was a voice that kept reminding me that the majority of the people who frequented the shop at that time were elderly people and that I should not bother them with my antics.  But I was already hooked, haunted by an opportunity that refused to leave me.  In hindsight, I admit that what I wanted really was to seize the opportunity.  The opportunity to give life to yet another idea, to yet another operation, and, in the process, to myself.  There was no way out but to follow through.  Soon enough, I reached the butcher's shop and saw the queue.  With my nerves raging, I proceeded to do what I had set out to do.  When it was done, I walked away, without looking back.

The moments that followed were a blur.  Everything happened so quickly.  Getting to say "Bonjour" to the first person turned out to be the most difficult step, as I had to overcome the resistance of the inner voice that kept talking to get me to abandon.  After that "Bonjour", the voice calmed down and the resistance subsided, even though the operation was not yet completed.  I had the impression of being out of myself during the ordeal especially after it.  But more important than anything was the feeling of accomplishment.  It was undeniable, and I was still alive.  I was happy.

And what about the people that I "met" in the queue?  They did not seem to understand what was going on (maybe they did not like it).  For the most part, they did not return the "Bonjour" nor did they do anything particular in response.  Some, especially those who had probably seen me carry out the operation earlier in the queue, made little or no eye contact when I approached them.  Besides, I was too focused on running the operation in the simplest possible way, and, as a result, I did not wait long enough for anyone to give me a reply.   I simply moved on the next person.

Over the past few years of running the operation in places such as bakeries, cinemas, museums, libraries, cafeterias, restaurants, and nightclubs, more often outside than outside, I received a small range of reactions from queue filers.  On average, most of the people returned the "Bonjour", sometimes with enthusiasm, at other times with indifference.  Other people just ignored me or even looked away.  Very rarely did a conversation ensue.  When one occurred, it was usually because I had taken the initiative to engage it with the person.  Attempting to make conversation ‒ a conversation with an opening sentence chosen on the spur of the moment for that matter ‒ was in fact an enhancement added to the operation along the way to make things more interesting, and it was only with the last person approached that I did so, for practical reasons.  Even then, every attempt did not always lead to a conversation.  Some people were just not keen on talking, perhaps because they did not know me.  Or maybe because I was doing something unexpected.

Granted, my own attitude has a lot of influence in the reactions that I get from people in queue.  The more enthusiastic and engaged I am during my interactions with them, the higher the likelihood that they will respond in a similar manner.  At least, that is what I believe.  On the other hand, if I am simply running things by the book just to get the task over with, I cannot expect to feel or give much joy during the interaction.  And here lies a great challenge that I face in this operation.  Bringing enthusiasm and engagement.  The only challenge greater that I see would be having people that I know and that know me participate in these interactions.  On that note, I am beginning to entertain the idea that with great challenge comes great opportunity.

And why all this fuss about queues anyway?  It is probably because I see in them a way for the individual to maintain or regain his freedom while still being a part of society.  Other than that, I sometimes feel like being a little different when I find myself in a group of people that seem to be doing more or less the same thing, especially when this "same thing" is expected.  It turns out more often than not that honoring this feeling is good for my health.  And if there is a possibility of having a positive effect on someone else in the process, even for one second, then that is just great.