Tuesday, December 23, 2014

courage, courage, courage

I have come to believe that many personal issues can be resolved once and for all if only we possessed one particular trait.  This trait is courage.

Do you realize how magnificent this piece of news is?  I mean, some of us are struggling to figure out what to do with our lives, and here is an answer.  This one thing.  Courage.  Sure, getting this news won't get the problems solved, but knowing what to do in a tricky situation is certainly an important part of the work that leads to the solution.

So many times in my life, the thing that made the biggest difference between an unsatisfying situation and a satisfying situation was courage.  I find it being as simple as saying "if I have courage, then I win."  It is like the following two equations:

have courage = claim victory

do not have courage = do not claim victory

Courage trumps other qualities

When it comes to getting things done, I think that courage is just as important as other highly desirable qualities out there, if not more.  Among these qualities are discipline, wisdom, optimism, curiosity.  Indeed, there are many others and they each have their just place, but I think that courage is one that is almost always necessary.  Take the virtue of discipline for starters.  It is good to have discipline, but it usually takes courage to retain this discipline when the going gets tough.  And in a life worth living, the going almost always gets tough at some point.  Wisdom, too, has great value.  Yet without the courage to apply it when faced with a difficult situation, wisdom ends up taking an unfortunate hit.  It's like an idea that does not happen, or a "non-idea".  Optimism too is yet another notable quality.  But for someone who is generally disposed to pessimism but who is nevertheless determined to change that for good, a regular dose of courage is needed to carry out the actions that lead to an optimistic outlook.  It is like replacing one daily habit with another.  Since habits are ingrained within us, they are easy to keep.  To change them is necessarily difficult, and to overcome such difficulty, we need courage.  And then there is curiosity, which can make life richer for anyone who possesses it.  But to learn new things and to live new experiences, one must go beyond their comfort zone or what they already know, which may require courage.  Also worthy of mention are traits such as strength, perseverance, and resilience.  You could argue whether or not each of these traits was related to the other, but it would seem largely impossible to discuss any of them without recognizing the pertinence of courage.

Even the popular topics of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth all have something to do with courage.

Get more familiar with courage

Given how unpredictable life is, it is inevitable that we will have to confront the question of courage at various times in our lives, whether at 15, at 30, or at 60 years old.  Some people even deal with it everyday.  I know that I am one of these people.  In fact, I go through moments that test my courage several times during the day.  If we all agreed that the question of courage pervades our lives, wouldn't it be useful to study it more and be more aware of it, only to see how much good could come out of having more of it?

What a few other (and better qualified) people think about courage

Well, all this has been nothing but my opinion.  What do other people think on the topic of courage?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University and former chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, notes in his seminal book Flow that courage and the ability to overcome hardship are the reasons why average people admire the individuals that they admire the most.  He even states that the simple act of admiring courage is a positive trait in itself.  Quoting the Stoic philosopher Seneca, he writes: "The good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good that belong to adversity are to be admired."

Martin Seligman, a Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former President of the American Psychological Association, writes in his Positive Psychology Chapter, prepared for the Handbook of Positive Psychology that "we have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness: courage, future-mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, the capacity for flow and insight, to name several."  As it is mentioned first in this list, courage can surely be considered an important quality to have in life, especially in tough times.

Defining courage

So what is this thing called courage that we have been discussing so far anyway?

Here is the definition of the term according to the TV5 website (and one that I truly love):

"Force de caractère qui fait supporter la souffrance ou braver le danger."  In English, this translates to "strength of character that enables one to bear suffering or to confront danger."  Less prominent in this definition is the idea that suffering or danger are prerequisites for courage.  In other words, strength of character is great in itself, but if it is accompanied neither by the risk of suffering nor by the risk of danger, there is no courage.

With all due respect to this dictionary definition, I like to simplify matters sometimes by saying that a person has courage when he (or she) does something different from the usual that poses an emotional risk to him.  In other words, he does something makes him emotionally vulnerable.  Unless we are all robots programmed to always act the same way in a given circumstance, we can comprehend that we are generally capable of choosing a plan of action different from the usual, even if this plan makes us experience pain, real or imagined.  For example, most passengers on the Paris metro do not say bonjour (hello) to the person seated or standing beside them, even though they are technically capable of saying bonjour, even though they have already talked to unfamiliar people many times before.  In fact, not much is said on the metro, unless it is the case of people who already know each other, people on the telephone with someone elsewhere, or people soliciting some money or other favors from passengers.  It would thus be courageous to speak to someone in such an environment, but only if it posed an emotional risk to the person did it.  On the other hand, for a person who was self-confident in social settings, saying hello to just about anyone and just about anywhere would be second nature, and not necessarily courageous.


If we had more courage, we would no longer have to care too much about how we look to others.  Instead, we would focus on appreciating what is uniquely valuable about us.  In the process, our self-esteem and our self-worth would increase.

If we had more courage, we would no longer have to accumulate products promising us the good life.  Instead, we would focus on creating something beneficial out of the circumstances that we find ourselves in.  In the process, our self-confidence and our sense of initiative would increase.

If we had more courage, we would no longer have to depend on the lives of other people, famous or not, for our own pleasure.  Instead, we would remember that we are natural sources of excitement, and we would focus more on sharing this wealth that we have always possessed with others.  In the process, our sense of purpose and our overall well-being would increase.

Courage exists when it is shown

Rather than talking about having courage, I think that it is more appropriate to talk about showing courage.  After all, telling someone to have courage is not very actionable.  Seriously, how would you go about having something as abstract as courage?  I don't really know, so I suggest the idea of showing courage.  Showing requires taking actions that are clearly perceived by the senses.  For example, leaving the circle of friends to go talk with someone unfamiliar at a concert.  Revealing troubling but important news to one's parents.  Going in for the kiss on a blind date.  These are all but a few demonstrations of courage, provided that one is exposing himself to emotional risk when taking the action.  And it turns out that when we show courage in action, it is indisputable that we have it.

Few things are greater than courage with a purpose

I don't know about you, but I just want do more things that specifically give me the opportunity to show courage.  Even if I fail repeatedly.  Even if I do nothing in the end.  In other words, the more I think that a particular action demonstrates courage in comparison to others in a given situation, the more interested I am in pursuing that action.  Like they say, "no pain, no gain."  That said, showing courage in itself, albeit admirable, does not go that far.  I think that it is more worthwhile while doing something meaningful.  For example, there was a time a few years ago when I was making efforts to swim longer and faster in the pool and making other efforts to interact more with people that I passed on the street.  I considered both endeavors were emotionally risky and thus they were opportunities to show courage.  In addition, both had value in my life.  After pursuing them together for some time, I realized that I experienced joy and felt satisfied more often with my exploits on the street than with those in the pool.  From this discovery, I concluded that breaking personal records while swimming was less meaningful to me ‒ at that time ‒ than striving to relate better with random people.  It made more sense to me than to demonstrate courage in social situations with unfamiliar people.  So, given the numerous opportunities for showing courage that exist in the pool, on the street, or just about anywhere, I think that it helps to have a sort of filter for choosing those ‒ when the choice is available ‒ that bring the most personal satisfaction.

We have a choice to make

With some feeling of guilt, I must say that any talk of courage within our society, including this very post, would not need to be if we never shied away from the possibility of suffering or danger while pursuing our goals and desires.  But it's too late now.  Many of us go through lengths to avoid pain, so the notion of courage has to exist.  At the same time, some of us settle for admiring those who routinely show courage as if it was an innate quality that only a few people possessed.  Regardless of where we are on the path of life, we can still make a choice on the matter for the sake of our personal satisfaction.  This choice is the one between being content with avoiding the risk of suffering and danger and striving to be as courageous as we need to be.

We have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness: courage, future-mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, the capacity for flow and insight, to name several. Much of the task of prevention in this new century will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to understand and learn how to foster these virtues in young people.

‒ Martin Seligman

Sunday, December 14, 2014

fun factor

Life is not a competition, it's a game. It's not about winning or losing, it's about all the fun you can have before it ends.

‒ Simon Sinek

Sometimes, and even often, I need to remind myself that this is meant to be fun, that this works best when it is fun.  Or at least enjoyable.  Well thank goodness for Alan Cohen, one of several people interviewed in the film "Finding Joe".  Alan's explanation of the metaphor of the Golden Buddha story is an excellent reminder of the fun factor to consider in this thing called life.

Below is a homemade transcript of the Alan's explanation of the metaphor.

Each of us is golden by nature.  We were born golden, we were born high, we were born knowing, we were born connected to our bliss, we were born knowing truth, we were born knowing everything that every great spiritual master ever said, we were one with the Christ, the Buddha, everyone.  But then, we went to school and they said you have to dress like this, and this is what boys do, and this is what girls do, this is what black people do, this is what white people do, on and on and on.  And so we developed a casing of stone over the buddha to a point where at a young age, maybe 4 or 5 or 6 or 7, we believed that we were the stone buddha and not the golden one.  And then, something comes along that cracks our casing.  Maybe it's an injury, a divorce, a financial setback, a governmental change, something that really scares us and bugs us and knocks off a piece of our armor and only in that moment of the armor being knocked off do you get to look inside and see the gold.  And let me tell you friend, that the moment you see that gold, the armor and the concrete will never satisfy you again.  At that point, you truly enter the true hero's adventure and all you want to do for the rest of your life is pick away the stone because the gold is so much more fun.

Friday, November 28, 2014


None of us need ever fear that we don't have an active imagination, because imagination is mostly a willingness to entertain a strange idea now and then.

‒ Bert Dodson

I never had a reliable definition of imagination, but the one offered by Bert Dodson, author of "Keys of Drawing", is one that I find truly wonderful.  If anything, it demystifies this thing called imagination, generally viewed as a desirable quality possessed by a minority of people.  If we are to believe the above quote, we are all imaginative, despite what we may tell ourselves.  I think that all of us have strange ideas, and that some of us do entertain a strange idea from time to time.  I know I do.  For me, such an activity arouses enthusiasm and curiosity, opens the door to new discoveries, and makes it possible to conceive even stranger ideas.  Moreover, in a society where conformism is frequent, I need a regular dose of strange ideas to keep my sanity in check.

What remains to be done is to make these ideas a reality.

The only difference between creative people and so-called non-creative people is that creative people welcome their strange ideas.

‒ Bert Dodson

Friday, November 14, 2014

operation the third café explained

Dear Lionel,

How are you doing?

It's been a year since I last wrote to you, yet I have heard nothing from you.  Not that I was expecting a reply, though one would have been nice.  Perhaps you were too bugged out by my explanation of Operation Handshake.  Then again, it was you who seemed the most curious about it among members of the team.  So this silence of yours is confusing, especially since we could talk about anything, or almost.  Just to avoid imagining what you may have thought about my letter, I am going to assume that all is good.  Don't they say that no news is good news?  Besides, I am an optimist, so I cannot afford to get too worried by the lack of an update.  I can only do my best to inspire you to write back and share your thoughts.  And to do that, I am presenting to you another operation named "The Third Café", which I designed and conducted several times while I was still in the team.  Sadly, you did not get to participate in this venture before I left.  You may not have even known about it.  But not to worry, because by the end of this letter, you will know much more.

As far its conception is concerned, Operation The Third Café actually preceded Operation Handshake.  Yet I got around to introducing it only after I had experienced consistent success with Handshake, having deemed the latter less risky.  I was already excited during the preparation of The Third Café, especially when I was writing the program that would read a file containing dozens of colleagues' names (actually about 80 names), select one of them at random, and print it to the screen.  After all those years of writing large bundles of software, who ever knew that crafting a standalone 225-line computer program could still produce so much joy?

The operation was inspired from the pause-cafés, or coffee breaks, that we would usually have in the room located between the two open spaces on the floor and that included a coffee dispenser.  These breaks seemed like the daily ritual that gave many of us the opportunity to catch up and joke around, among other things.  Even more than a daily ritual, they seemed like a vital part of the culture at work.  Sincerely speaking, I was unfamiliar with this kind of merrymaking when I joined the team.  I did not even warm up to it, preferring to remain among others at their desks who, in my opinion, were actually getting stuff done.  Today, I recognize that that attitude only reflected my insecurities at the time.  During my last few years at work, things were different, as my visits to the coffee room to mingle were rather frequent.  For sure, I was not the most often present person there, but I did have my fair share of appearances.

So the name of the operation refers directly to the third coffee break of the day at work.  Now that I think about it, this name is an odd mix of French and English, isn't it?  I have no idea why this name spoke to me.  It just did.  Anyway, people generally took coffee in front in the coffee room twice a day.  There was the morning coffee, anywhere between 9:30am and 10:30am, and then the afternoon coffee, sometime around 4:00pm.  As I had imagined it, the third coffee break would take place at 5:00pm.  Sure, it may have been too late for some people, especially those worried that their sleeping patterns would be disrupted if they had coffee that late in the day, but that was simply how my mind saw the opportunity for a new operation.

And therein was the general idea: inviting people to a coffee break at 5:00pm.  In practice, I would run the program that I had written to randomly select a name among those of everyone working in the two open spaces.  EVERYONE.  Once the program spit out the chosen name, I would have to go to the desk of the person bearing that name, either in our open space or in the other one, and suggest that he or she join me for a coffee break.  And I would do this twice a week.

As you can imagine, the "danger" in all this would be going up to someone who I barely knew, to whom I had never really spoken, or who I hardly ever saw, not to mention the uncertainty of their reaction to this rather peculiar request.  Yet that was what made the whole thing exciting.  Of course, it is a simple matter to ask someone ‒ anyone ‒ to have coffee with you.  However, we tend to ask people that we already know or with whom we feel more or less comfortable.  Even for me that is a natural instinct, so the embracing the idea of approaching colleagues that were not familiar or that I did not like much, as simple as it was from an objective point of view, took effort.  Having deemed such an effort valuable, I resisted the temptation to run the program until it gave me the name of a colleague that I judged easier to approach.

I thought that it was important that I did the deed at the desk of the chosen colleague, as there were almost always people in the vicinity to serve as an audience.  Like for Operation Handshake, doing unusual things in public appeared to be the quickest way to get over the fear of doing unusual things in public.  And, as you probably know by now, I have a certain fondness for doing unusual things in public.  Sometimes, I feel like it is my responsibility.  But I digress.

I was very afraid about bearing this responsibility, or rather, facing the opinion that others would have of me if I did something unusual.  And such, Operation The Third Café, however exciting it felt to conceive, did not see the light of day for several months.  As mentioned earlier, the regular success of Operation Handshake gave me confidence that I needed to get it off the ground.  To alleviate the fear of starting out, I decided to run the program until the colleague chosen at random was someone that I had no difficulty approaching.  So I did this until the program gave me Sylvie.  You remember her, right?

Well, the task of walking over to Sylvie's desk was a breeze.  We had always gotten along very well.  We had had coffee together at least once, and even lunch a few times.  So naturally, my third coffee break that day went smoothly.  Before having the discipline (and courage) to adhere to the two-times-a-week rule, I deemed myself ready to run the operation for the second time only several weeks after the moment with Sylvie.  I knew that, after the easy start, I could not cheat ‒ I could not rerun the program to get a more comfortable choice of colleague.  I would have to accept the choice that I was given before I could advance.  Those were just the rules of the game.  And with those rules in mind, I went to my computer, found the program, and ran it.  In the five seconds that it took to print a randomly chosen name (five seconds more than necessary but useful merely for introducing a little suspense), my heart beat madly, faster with each passing second.  Then I saw the output on the screen.  Kamel.

Operation Handshake aside, I had never talked to Kamel.  Ever.  I was not even completely sure of who he was.  I only had a good hunch.  Also, as opposed to Sylvie, he worked in the other open space, somewhere in the middle of the wide room occupied by at least 40 people, making matters even more interesting, if not scary.  So scary that I lived through a fierce mental struggle for two days at work.  How could something so simple be so terrifying at the same time?

Terrifying as it seemed, I managed to find the courage to pull through.  I simply had to, there was no other option.  It was a do or die situation, as I like to say.  So I went over to Kamel's desk, and did it.  Fortunately, because of Operation Handshake, I had gotten accustomed to showing up at the desks of unfamiliar people just to say hello.  I do not recall in detail what transpired that day, except that Kamel found the gesture a little strange yet somewhat amusing.  James, who was in the same team as Kamel and was sitting nearby, had noticed something unusual and made a remark.  Which he probably would not have done if we did not know each other.  His exuberant demeanor helped to put me at ease almost instantly, and what had seemed so terrifying a minute before had become something so simple.

Ultimately, Kamel accepted the invitation and we headed to the coffee room, along with James.  It was a nice rendez-vous, even though I really did not know what to talk about once the main event ‒ the moments of fear before and during the approach ‒ was over.  My worries had been useless; once in the coffee room, it became natural to get to know each other.  I got the impression though that for much of the break, Kamel was as still astonished as James that I had come over to suggest having coffee.  I must have given a safe excuse when he inquired why, like "Oh, I just thought of getting to know the people around me a little more."  At the end of the day, it was a landmark moment and I was nothing short of overjoyed.  It is often said that the first step is the hardest, and I had just taken it.

In the two and a half months that followed, after which I left the company, I ran the operation a total of 18 times.  That's 18 offers to have coffee, each one made to a colleague randomly selected from a pool of about 80.  I certainly got more disciplined with time, following without fail the two-colleagues-per-week rule during my final five weeks.  As my anxiety decreased, my confidence increased.  All in all, it was a wonderful experience, one that made the time spent at work more enjoyable than it already was and more meaningful from a personal point of view.  Plus I got to know some of my colleagues better.

Among the 18 offers, I received various responses.  Some people said yes, and we had coffee together, sometimes immediately, sometimes a little later in the day.  A couple of them said no, generally claiming that they were too busy.  I was not the least bothered by their refusals, as the mere act of going over to suggest coffee was satisfying enough for me.  A few other people declined because they had already had their afternoon coffee.  I suppose another serving at 5:00pm was pushing it.

The most memorable episode was when I had to invite Mathieu to coffee.  Keep in mind that I did not know him personally, even though he was used to seeing me show up at his desk whenever I was running Operation Handshake.  On top of that, he worked in the other open space.  Anyways, at 5:00pm that day, in spite of the intense nervousness that had fallen upon me, I got up from my seat to go wash my hands before the main event.  And guess who I ran into in the restroom.  Mathieu !  We must have said only bonjour to each other then.  I was not going to start talking about us having coffee, and besides doing so anywhere but at his desk was against the rules of the operation.  So I went back to attending to my own business and he left eventually.  When I was done, I got out and went in the direction of the other open space.  I found the door, opened it, and passed through.  I instantly spotted Mathieu seated in the middle of the room, farther than where Kamel's seat was, and went straight on until I arrived at his desk.  The tension that accompanied this walk quickly diminished once I had stated the reason for my visit, as it had always been the case during previous episodes.  Ultimately, Mathieu declined.  Another busy fellow.  At least he was flattered, or seemed like it.

There you have it.  Operation The Third Café in all its glory ‒ I mean, in all its details.  You are the first to know all about it ‒ and I mean ALL about it ‒, even though I had let out a few details on one occasion when I was in the coffee room with Jerome (the tall one), Alexis, and Elid, the chosen colleague of the day.  I don't know if you were there too, my memory of that moment is quite blurry.  In any case, not a single one person among those present was aware that I was playing some kind of game.  I don't even think that they really understood what I was saying.  Granted, giving oral explanations in a clear manner is not my strongest suit.  Thankfully I can write (pretty well).  Case in point.

So I hope that you have been inspired by reading this.  Heck, I hope that you've at least felt something.  Anything.  If so, I have achieved my goal, even if you (still) don't write back.  It would be great to hear from you though.  No pressure.

Monsieur (Pre?)?Conf.

Monday, October 27, 2014

why i love paris (7)

On Tuesday, September 23, 2014, I went to the Ladurée bar.

You know, the bar where I struggled time and time again to kick-off Operation Bar Games for the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

This time, I was not going back there to run any operations.  I was not even going for drinks or for their famed macarons.  No, I was going there simply to draw.

As part of my "Paris par arrondissement" drawing project (in English: "Paris by arrondissement"), in which I visit a bar (or a cafe or a restaurant) in each of Paris' 20 arrondissements to make an urban sketch, I decided that for the 8th, I would choose a place that I found meaningful.

And there was only one possible choice.


P.S. They have the best hot chocolate!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

the simple life made easy

I am currently reading the last chapter of "Keys of Drawing", an instructional book on drawing.  The chapter is titled "Drawing and Imagination", and it has been a delight to read.  In it, the author argues that one way to foster our imagination is by taking two or more distinct ideas and then combining them.  Consider Operation 50 First States for example.  On an elementary level, it is the combination of several things: speaking English, U.S. state capitals, an individual's origin, and pedestrians in Paris.  Each thing on its own is hardly extraordinary.  But when they are put together, one could certainly argue that what results is a product of imagination.

Which brings us to the title of this post: the simple life made easy.

A few years ago, I discovered that life was simple but not necessarily easy.  Indeed, such a discovery was not novel.  In my mind, I must have stumbled on a link between different ideas that I had learned from someone else.

Maybe the "life is simple" part came from the Holstee manifesto below, which resonated strongly with me the first time that I read it.

As for the part that suggests that life can be made easy, perhaps it came from Seneca's famous quote that says "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult", and that was a source of inspiration for a post that I wrote on the subject of difficulty.

Combined, the two parts form a recipe for making what is already simple easy.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

five strolls through the 12th

Guess who's back, back again
50 First States back, tell a friend
Guess who's back, Guess who's back ...

And like Eminem said in "Without Me", Operation 50 First States is back again.  And why not, with spring ending and summer starting?  It was time to stroll again though Paris in July, when I jump-started the operation (even though, as I write, the fall has arrived and winter is not too far away).

So starting in July, I took on the 12th arrondissement.  The game plan remained the same from the 11th arrondissement: stroll through the arrondissement, stopping by 10 landmarks and asking 50 people passed on the way if they came from one of the capitals of the 50 U.S. States.  The stroll was divided into 5 parts, each part comprising of 2 landmarks to visit, 10 people to meet, and, quite naturally, 10 inquiries to make.  I reused the same list of reasons (one for each of the 5 strolls) to give if the people that I approached asked why I was doing what I was doing:
  • I am just bored
  • I am just trying to be creative
  • I am trying to change the world
  • I am trying to overcome my shyness
  • I am trying to stop caring about what people think about me

The one "improvement" that I added to the operation was dedicated to the ladies.  When the next person that I had to approach had to be a girl, I would only choose a girl whom I found pretty.  And before the end of the interaction, I would ask her if she would like to have a drink with me.  No frills, just a direct invitation to have a drink together.

It is worth pointing out that I was not able to ask every girl that I met for a drink, since some did not bother to stay five seconds for a chat.  Besides, among those that I did ask, not one of them said yes.  Nonetheless, I was prepared for the potential rejection.

And without further ado, I present to you a recap of my visit of 10 landmarks in the 12th arrondissement, accompanied with some notes about interesting interactions that I had along the way.

1. Gare de Lyon
Gare de Lyon is one of the six mainline railway stations in Paris.  The third busiest station of France, it is named after the city of Lyon, a stop for many long-distance trains departing from the station, most en route to the south of France.  Built for the Exposition Universelle (World Fair) of 1900, it is considered a classic example of the architecture of its time, whose most notable feature is the 67-meter high clock tower atop one corner of the station, similar in style to the one in London that houses to Big Ben.

Right on the parvis of Gare de Lyon was a girl standing idle with her phone.  After a slight hesitation, I went over to meet her.  Well, she was not from Sacramento, California.  When I asked her if she was game for a drink, she replied casually that she was actually waiting for her boyfriend, who was late.  "Ah", I said.  If I had any serious game, I would probably have followed up by asking, "So, if you were not waiting for your boyfriend, would you have liked a drink anyway?"  But no, I simply left.

2. Promenade plantée
Promenade plantée is an elevated linear park built atop the old Vincennes railway line.  Beginning just east of Opéra Bastille, it follows a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) path eastward that ends at Boulevard Périphérique, a ring road that separates the city of Paris from its suburbs.  As if it was not green enough, the promenade provides access to other parks and gardens such as Jardin Hector Malot, Jardin de Reuilly, Jardin de la gare de Reuilly et Square Charles Péguy.

It was in a scene of the film "Before Sunset", directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, that I discovered the promenade for the first time.  Since then, I have always enjoyed visiting the promenade, and the film quickly became one of my favorites.

One interesting encounter in this improved version of the operation occurred while I was at Promenade plantée.  As I passed through a leafy arch, I came face to face with a girl coming from the opposite direction.  I promptly asked her if she was from Tallahassee, Florida.  She was attentive but did not seem to understand, so I kept repeating the question, each time more clearly.  That was when a young man, whom I had actually just passed before seeing the girl, appeared and inquired what was going on, as if he wanted to protect her.  I then figured that they were in the same company, which also included an elderly woman with whom I had seen the man earlier.  Suddenly embarrassed, I quickly found my exit without daring to ask the girl if she wanted to have drinks, leaving her to explain to the guy what had just happened.

Also on Promenade plantée, I approached a guy to find out if he was from Atlanta, Georgia.  He replied no, and but he was curious.  "What do you want?", he asked.  When I told him that I was just bored, he smiled.

3. Viaduc des Arts
Viaduc des Arts is a collection of art shops and galleries grouped in a unique construction along Avenue Daumesnil.  Its location was previously occupied by the former viaduct of Paris that was built in 1859 to support the old Vincennes railway line.  It was in 1990 that the mairie de Paris (Paris city hall) decided to rehabilitate the viaduct by renovating each of its vaults in order to transform them into a new conservatory of arts and crafts.

Culinary arts, anyone?

I ran into one guy accompanied by a girl near an intersection along Viaduc des Arts.  When I asked him if he was from Indianapolis, Indiana, he shot back : "Do I look like I'm from Indianapolis?"  I replied that I was just trying to be creative.  "Nice try", he said in return, smiling.

4. Rue d'Aligre
Rue d'Aligre is a street in a neighborhood called Quartier d'Aligre that begins at Rue de Charenton and ends at Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine.  Every day except Monday, it is home to Marché d'Aligre, an open-air market, and in the middle of the street, on Place d'Aligre, is the Marché Beauvau, a covered market.

Marché Beauvau on Place d'Aligre

Rene Miller encore!

At Marché d'Aligre, I ran into Rene Miller, the musician that I had seen performing in Marché Bastille when I was running Operation 50 First States in the 11th arrondissement last year.  It seemed like he was taking a break, and I went over to have a chat.  He told me that he was American, and I told him that I was from New Jersey.  Then the lady who was standing next to me and who must have listened to Rene's performance, mentioned that she would be in New Jersey soon.  Next thing you know, I was talking with her.  She said that she knew Rene from before and had just arrived in Paris from Memphis, Tennessee for a stay lasting several weeks.  I discovered that she was an illustrator and also an urban sketcher, which only increased my curiosity.  Naturally, I told her about the urban sketching community in Paris that I was a part of and invited her to come sketch with us during our session at Jardin du Luxembourg that was taking place the following day and that I was organizing.  She said that she planned to make it.  What an interesting encounter!

There was another nice moment at Marché d'Aligre once I had resumed the operation there following morning.  On one hand, it was remarkable because the girl that I had passed while wading through the crowds was wearing the most lovely, summery white dress.  On the other hand, it was unremakable because I had done nothing, except to watch her get farther away.

There was a couple of youngsters that I stumbled upon on Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine, after leaving the market.  They both looked drugged and my interaction with them was weird.  The girl acted as if she wanted to help me when I asked the guy if he was from Jackson, Mississippi, whereas the guy wanted to keep walking.  They could not make up their mind between themselves, while at the same time they continued their interaction with me (sort of).  The whole encounter was a mess.  Even my "I'm trying to change the world" remark fell on deaf ears.

5. Opéra Bastille
Opéra de la Bastille, or more commonly Opéra Bastille, is a modern opera house located on Place de la Bastille.  Inaugurated on 13 July 1989 on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, it became the main facility of the Paris National Opera, alongside the older Palais Garnier.  Many opera performances are shown here along with some ballet performances and symphony concerts.

I was waiting to cross the street to get from Opéra Bastille to the other end of Place de la Bastille when a girl joined me.  I jumped on the opportunity and asked her if she was from Lincoln, Nebraska.  She replied no, crossed the street smiling (the light was already green), and disappeared.  Either she was walking too fast for me to ask her out for a drink, or I was too slow to pop the question.  You figure.  While lamenting a missed opportunity that had nevertheless started out great, I ran into the girl again on the quay at Port de l'Arsenal sometime later.  Talk about luck!  I had been granted a second chance, and I did not waste it.  In response, she giggled and passed me by without saying a single word.  She probably thought that I was not serious.  Her loss.

6. Bassin de l'Arsenal
Bassin de l'Arsenal, also known as Port de l'Arsenal, is a boat basin that links Canal Saint-Martin, which begins at Place de la Bastille, to the Seine, at Quai de la Rapée.  Excavated after the destruction of the Bastille fortress in during the French Revolution, it was designed to replace the ditch that had been in place to draw water from the Seine to fill the moat at the fortress.  During the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, the basin was a commercial port where goods were loaded and unloaded.  It was converted into a leisure port in 1983 and serves as a dock to approximately 180 pleasure boats.

The port beyond the platform of the Bastille metro station

Towards the north : Place de la Bastille

Towards the south : Quai de la Rapée

Strolling along the quay at Port de l'Arsenal, I noticed a boat.  Actually, it was the blond girl standing alone on a raised floor on the boat that I noticed.  Compared to other opportunities, this one was sufficiently unusual to not pass up.  Besides, I had one more girl to approach before ending the operation for the day.  So I shouted "Hi" to her I had never realized I could shout and she said "Hi" back.  I asked her if she was from Concord, New Hampshire and she said no.  When I asked her if she would like to have a drink, she said "No, thank you" and immediately went inside the boat through a door behind her.  I could do nothing else but resume my stroll.  Moments later, I turned around and saw the girl getting off the boat with a guy.  I looked back again a few seconds later and they were both walking hand in hand on the quay towards Place de la Bastille, away from me.

My last encounter at Port de l'Arsenal was with an older guy seated comfortably on the grass of the garden bordering the quay .  In a perfect American accent, he told me that he was from somewhere in Ohio.  He added, "Why do you ask [if I am from Trenton, New Jersey]?"  I replied that I was trying to change the world, to which he responded, "Good luck".

7. Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy
Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, often abbreviated as POPB or Bercy, is an indoor sports arena and concert hall.  Easily recognized by its pyramidal shape and its walls covered with sloping lawn, it provides a limitless range of technical applications for unlimited sound, lighting and special effects.  POPB is the venue of the Paris Masters tennis tournament, as well as competitions in other sports like including handball, basketball, boxing, gymnastics, athletics, track cycling, and show jumping.  It has a seating capacity ranging from 3,500 to 17,000, depending on the event.

The POPB becoming Bercy Arena

As I turned right from Boulevard de Bercy into Rue de Bercy, around the corner where the Palais-Omnisports de Paris-Bercy was, I saw two girls standing with luggage and chatting.  Speaking English with an unmistakably British accent, they revealed that they were not from Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned down my invitation for a drink, saying that they had to go somewhere.  One of them then asked for the reasons for my actions, and I told her that I was trying to overcome my shyness.  Instantly, both girls stated that I was not shy, which I found flattering.  They kept asserting that I was not shy, and when I could not take it anymore, I said "well you don't see me all the time".  A brief and more conventional conversation ensued.  One of the girls saw the sheet of paper fixed to a plastic board that I was holding and asked to see it.  I started to present it, saying that it was a list of the capitals of the 50 United States, only to be interrupted by their departure after a third girl had appeared.  All alone again, I started to wonder.  Word on the street is that I may not be shy after all.  What an idea.

8. Parc de Bercy
Parc de Bercy is a public park located along the right bank of the Seine. Inaugurated in 1994 on the site of former Bercy wine warehouses, the park has an area of 13.9 hectares and is composed of three different gardens, each having a distinct theme: the "Meadows", an area of open lawns shaded by tall trees, the "Flowerbeds", dedicated to plant life, and the "Romantic Garden", which includes fishponds and reconstitutions of dunes.

The Meadows

The Flowerbeds

Crossing over to the Romantic Garden

The Romantic Garden

La Grande Terrasse

Shortly after arriving in Parc de Bercy, I approached a man who was perhaps in his 60s while he was taking a break from a power walk.  When I asked him if he was from Bismarck, North Dakota, he pointed to the ground with a finger and said, with a slight smile: "I am from here".

I had an interesting encounter with a smartly dressed young man with a girl by his side at the end of the park, near Cour Saint-Emilion.  When I asked him if he was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he said yes and kept saying yes even though I had started to stress "Pennsylvania".  Surprised after the nth yes, I had no choice but to go further in the conversation, so I went, "Well, I'm from Philad ..." before he interrupted me.  "Pennsylvania?  No I'm from Paris!"  The good young fellow that he was, he wished me good luck.

On Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, I had an somewhat strange encounter with a woman.  I wanted to find out if she was from Rhode Island, Providence, but it seemed difficult because she responded with words that were barely audible.  Even though I tried to make my question clearer, each time I heard practically nothing in response.  When I was about to take my leave, the woman let out a familiar expression in a voice significantly less inaudible than before: "Au revoir".

9. Cour Saint-Emilion
Cour Saint-Emilion is a pedestrian street that is the main attraction of Bercy Village, an area on the southwest end of Parc de Bercy.  It takes its name from the wines of Saint-Emilion, a French AOC-designated red wine produced in the region surrounding the town of Saint-Emilion, near Bordeaux.  With the 42 white-stoned wine storehouses that border it, the street is a vestige of the Bercy warehouses where there was a large wine-producing industry for more than a century.  Today, Cour Saint-Emilion is a shopping mall, offering boutiques, restaurants, a multiplex, and much more.

Hello Cour Saint-Emilion

Goodbye Cour Saint-Emilion

One of my most interesting encounters of all time ever took place on Cour Saint-Emilion.  I saw two girls, both pretty, and I stopped one to find out if she was from Montpelier, Vermont.  What ensued was something that I had not expected.  In response to the question that I asked about her origins, she inquired about what I was doing and why I was doing it.  I no longer remember if I gave her the already prepared reason ("I am trying to stop caring about what people think about me").  In any case, I presented the list of U.S. state capitals to her and explained how I was using it, only for her to claim that I was holding myself captive by roaming the streets to ask random strangers my questions.  I defended my actions, arguing that I was just creating potentially interesting interactions.  When she asked why it was her that I had stopped, I admitted that it was because she was pretty.  I felt that she was displeased by this revelation, especially when I repeated in passing that she was pretty, so I stopped using the word.  At some point during our conversation, she told me that God loved me (and would tell me that again several times).  It was surprising and rather amusing.  She told me about the church that she was going to and asked me I knew it.  "Hillsong?", I repeated after her.  "Yes, I know it, I have been there before actually."  Apparently happy with this discovery, she insisted that I attend the service the following day (a Sunday), no matter how many times that I told her that I had other plans and that I almost never went to church.  The pressure that she was putting was rather heavy; it seemed like that she was not listening to what I said.  Only so that she would stop, I told her that I would try to make it if I could.  At one point, she referred to her friend, who, at a certain distance, was nothing but a spectator throughout this event.  Having just learned her friend's name, I asked her what her own name was. She replied "Fille de Dieu", meaning "Daughter of God".  We had spoken for a few minutes, and after a while she started to take things less seriously.  Perhaps she had understood that what had just happened was an interaction that aimed to be friendly even if a bit peculiar.  She insisted once again that I come to Hillsong the following day, and left smiling with her friend.  I felt relieved, even though it was a fun experience.  Needless to say, I did not get a yes in response to my invitation for a drink.

Before leaving Cour Saint-Emilion, I approached a girl to ask her if she was from Olympia, Washington.  At the same moment that she asked the reason for the question, after indicating that she was not from there, I asked her if she wanted to have a drink.  Really smooth.  I wonder if this abrupt behavior on my part was influenced by the presence of the security guard a few steps away.

10. Place Félix Eboué
Place Félix Eboué is a square located at the former location of the Barrière de Reuilly, one of the barriers along the wall built around Paris in the late 18th century.  Formerly called Place Daumesnil, the square was given its current name in 1947 in the memory of Félix Eboué (1884-1944), a French colonial administrator and politician who was among the first people to join the Free France government led by General Charles de Gaulle during World War II.  Installed at the center of the square is the Fontaine du Château d'Eau, a large circular basin supporting three smaller ones and decorated with eight statues of lions spitting jets of water.

I met a girl while crossing the street on Place Félix Eboué.  No, we were not on the crosswalk, but on the platform on the middle.  When I asked her if she was from Madison, Wisconsin, she stated that there were few chances that I would run into someone from Madison in the vicinity.  Noting that, I asked her if she wanted to have a drink.  She said no and went on to cross the rest of the road, walking rather briskly.

Here are some other interesting scenes captured during the strolls:

Jardin Hector Malot, accessible from Promenade plantée

Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine in the direction of Place de la Bastille

Barrio Latino, a salsa spot on Sundays

Where rollerbladers and skateboarders meet on Place de la Bastille

Look, it's the Maison de la RATP!

The Cinémathèque Française in hiding

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir towards the 13th arrondissement

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir towards the 12th arrondissement

When metro line 6 crosses the Seine

Jardinière Avenue Daumesnil