Tuesday, December 31, 2019

the mastery of love

Hands down one of the discoveries of the year, if it is not THE discovery ...

It's all in the title, of this book by Don Miguel Ruiz.

My favorite quotes are several in number, and they include the following two:

Love in action can only produce happiness. Fear in action can only produce suffering.

The whole world can love you, but that love will not make you happy. What will make you happy is the love coming out of you.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

my red nose (3)

Ever since picking up the red nose again, I opened my mind up to new places where I could take it to.

With each new place visited, I felt more comfortable with the nose in public. Naturally, I started dreaming up other uncomfortable situations. As a guide, I chose those situations where I did not completely give in to that thing that made me really uncomfortable. For example, consider the following question: When is a good time to leave the office for lunch wearing the red nose? Around 1pm, when most colleagues have already left for their break? Or just before noon, when the office space is pretty much still full? I will let you guess which situation is more uncomfortable. If you are having difficulty, here is a hint: my desk in the open space is the farthest from elevator area.

My adventures in discomfort included (in chronological order) :
  • a lunchtime walk from one end of a mall to another, in the business district where I work
  • a trip to the bookstore to buy some language learning material
  • a lunchtime visit to the cafe inside my work building (I queued up for a salad to go)
  • a trip to the open-air market where I usually buy fruits
  • a wait at the bus stop with other people
  • a stop at the supermarket to buy some groceries
  • a lunchtime visit to the cafeteria inside my work building (I sat down to eat in the middle of the dining room full of people)
  • a trip to the pharmacy to buy some prescribed medication
The idea behind the above adventures was to expose the red nose to as many people as possible while doing everyday things, such as waiting for the bus and shopping for groceries. I wanted to put myself out there, people often say. Myself in the red nose, of course.

The adventure at the bus stop was a breakthrough of sorts. I could not remember the last time I had felt as free in public. I played around with the red nose, putting it on and then off and then on again, receiving some strange looks in the process. But I couldn't care less about that, because in that moment, I was free. And with that same feeling of freedom, I boarded the bus when it arrived. Once I got off in my neighborhood, I greeted people whose paths I crossed with smiles and thumbs up. Such bliss I was in.

As I got the red nose more exposed, I got some unexpected reactions from familiar people, including the following.
  • A fruit seller at the farmer's market thought that I had caught a cold
  • A colleague thought that I had drunk a little too much and gone cuckoo
  • Several colleagues thought that I had lost a bet
  • A random lady told me : "C'est très beau"
And then one morning, after arriving at the office in costume, I decided to put the red nose to rest.

What happened?

What happened was that I discovered that I had become very self-conscious. That is to say, my mind was too occupied with the idea that I saw myself different from others when I wore the red nose. I felt like the red nose pushed me to channel too much of my attention inward, and that bothered me. Moreover, I got the impression that I was creating a distance with people, since wearing a red nose in public was something that people could not relate to and I was not really open to interactions that could make that more understandable. In other words, it was as if I was telling myself: "Yes, you stand out, but you are all alone." I felt even more alone than I was when behaving "normally" in public without talking to anyone.

Since the morning that I made this discovery, I have not worn the red nose, with no regrets.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

views of the outdoors from indoors in courbevoie

La Défense

Almost a year after publishing a blog post on outdoor sketching near my work building in Courbevoie, I did not expect to write a companion piece showing other sketches of the Courbevoisien outdoors, but this time from indoors.

Yet after finding myself with three such sketches, the opportunity to bring them all together and to share the fruits of the labor was too exciting to pass up.

I took my time on these sketches, which were done inside my work building over several days, at lunchtime or in the evening after work hours.

Immeuble en chantier, Courbevoie

Above is a building in construction along the train tracks joining Paris (terminus Saint-Lazare train station) to La Défense.

Boulevard de la Mission Marchand, Courbevoie

Above is the track for Tram 2a along Boulevard de la Mission Marchand. This tram line joins Paris (terminus Porte de Versailles) to La Défense.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

dead flowers

Five months ago, I brought home a bouquet of hortensias from the local florist.

Today, they are dead.

Actually, they have been dead for while. If I had to guess, 4 months?

But ... they seem to be holding up quite well. I mean, just take a look at them at five months old.

I'll admit it, I am not a pro with flowers. Habits to keep my apartment floral on a regular basis have been difficult to put in place over the years. Each time, I start off with a lot of enthusiasm and get some momentum going, and then somewhere along the line, I get swamped up by other "more important" things in life.

Truth be told, I have always been lucky with hortensias. I bought one of my first ones, a single stem, about seven years ago. Would you believe that I still have that same stem in my apartment? It stands tall in a transparent single-stem vase. Dry, yes. Very. But tall. And proud.

That makes me a proud owner of some pretty dead flowers.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

les sacs des parisiennes (2)

After starting again a few months ago to take photos of bags in Paris, I have become a more sensitive and almost desperate character.

My eyes are always out and about, darting from left to right and back to left, focusing on the slightest sighting of any bag carried by a woman. What is on it? Are there words, or just a bunch of images? What are the words? Are they saying something interesting? How do I feel about the message? Have I already taken a picture of this bag before? These are questions that I ask myself often and very quickly in order to decide whether to act or not.

Paris might very well be the world capital of all things French, yet the majority of bags that one finds on its streets have inspirational messages written in English. Granted, that is the case for the bags that I see and the messages that resonate with me. On one occasion, the girl carrying the bag did not seem to know what the words in English meant (see bag no. 9 below). She must have paid little attention to the message, the bag merely being a tool for her. She even admitted that she was "nulle" in English. Fortunately, I was able to convey the message after translation. "Ah, c'est beau", she said.

Here is a second collection des sacs des Parisiennes.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

several weeks, 100 people (1)

As a member of the Urban Sketchers community, I have become familiar in recent years with an annual global initiative called one week, 100 people.

The goal is to draw 100 people in 5 days (Monday to Friday).

Sounds simple, right? Indeed. Except that I could never get around to drawing just one person in a whole week. I do not draw people in general, and besides my workweek is too busy to try drawing something I prefer not to draw.

Yet, in the past several months, with a will to improve my technique, I started a habit of drawing one hour per workday. As it turns out, it's easy (and quite interesting) to fill up minutes of that hour sketching people in the metro, train, or bus during my commute to and from work. It is actually a matter of killing two birds with one stone.

Armed with a Fabriano sketchbook and a few Staedtler pencils, I went hunting for drawing subjects every morning and evening. Drawing in the subway and other public transportation vehicles will undoubtedly draw reactions from nearby passengers. Whether it was muted curiosity, verbal praise, a "thumbs up", or simply indifference, I just kept piling 'em heads up. At some point, I realized that I had gathered a bunch of them in several weeks.

Below is a collection of 100 of them.

Which ones are your favorites?

Friday, July 19, 2019

la lune

All I wanted was to take my inner artist out on a date. An opportunity to take the next morning off came up at the last minute, and I took it. It was decided: we were going to the exhibition LA LUNE : Du voyage réel aux voyages imaginaires (literally "THE MOON") at the Grand Palais in Paris. I really wanted to see this exhibition even though I did not really know what to expect. Maybe it was the words in the title that evoked beautiful things for me : lune (moon), voyage (journey), imaginaire (imaginary). Maybe it was the blue in the promotional poster (yes, blue is my favorite color). Whatever it was, I was not going to pass up the occasion to check out this exhibition, which would end in four days.

This decision-making happened yesterday, and the exhibition ends on Monday.

So I showed up at Grand Palais this morning. Just moments after entering the exhibition space, I discovered something when I read the first text display. It was the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon!

Indeed, that historic event took place on July 21, 1969 and today is only July 19, 2019. But still!

Recognizing the total coincidence of my visit, I went on to celebrate history and appreciate some moon love in the exhibition.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

love your dragon

I don't know much about How To Train Your Dragon or Game of Thrones, but I have taken a liking to dragons as they are described in the film Finding Joe.

In this documentary, the dragon is used as a metaphor for those things that scare you. Sharing your truth with your parents or initiating a conversation with a stranger are two of my current favorites. For some people, perhaps it's about speaking before a large audience. For others, it may be the idea of dancing at a party whereas everyone else is sitting down. I do not think that scary things are necessarily problems, unless we spend a lot of time thinking about them and yet avoiding them in the end.

Perhaps giving lots of attention to the dragon ‒ via thought and avoidance ‒ is a sign that we should face it?

Gay Hendricks, a psychologist featured in Finding Joe, thought similarly. He suggested that by facing the dragon, or more appropriately 'your' dragon, you would develop a larger sense of yourself. Yet he thought that loving your dragon was a more efficient approach. Possibly because, like we all know, love is something positive and powerful.

Rather than facing our fears, let us love our dragons. In doing so, we become able to love ourselves more.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

in color

One Sunday last month, I branched out like never before. After five steady years of subtle persuasion from sketcher friends, I took my first steps in urban sketching in color.

I joined several members of the Urban Sketchers Paris group on Quai d'Austerlitz that day with the intention of breaking in the watercolor set that my colleague Purnima had gifted me. Even though I brought some paintbrushes, which had also been gifted, I was really lost on what to do. Using the technique that Anne suggested to me and the paintbrush and water container that Blandine lent me, I was able to do something with the view of Port de la Rapée.

It took me just fifteen minutes to fill the A4 page, whereas it would have probably taken three hours to do the same with my black pens!

We'll see how the watercolor exploration unfolds ...

Saturday, June 15, 2019

the art of saying bonjour (2)

Upon entering the "take off your shoes" area at the local pool last Sunday, I said Bonjour to a man as I took a seat close to him on a bench. The Bonjour just came off spontaneously; I was not working my smile as much as when I make a conscious effort to say Bonjour or to interact with someone. As soon as I began removing my shoes, I sensed that this man was looking insistently at me, as if he was trying to get my attention. I looked towards him and indeed, he was about to ask me a question. So I took off my earbuds to listen to what he had to say. "On se connaît ?" ("Do we know each other?"). I replied no. I could read some surprise on his face before it gave way to something more relaxed. He then said something that I was unable to register. The only thing I could make out was "C'est poli" ("That's polite"). I smiled, he smiled too, and then I was off to the changing rooms ‒ but not before we shared a "Bonne journée !" ("Have a good day!").

Ah, good ol' Bonjour. I have learned during my time here in France that it is common to say "Bonjour" to people that you more or less know or that you need to get information or something else from. But never to random strangers that you don't intend to have a conversation with. I will not go as far as to say "That is a shame", but I will say this: saying Bonjour to random people merely for the sake of doing it can be therapeutic. Both for the giver and the receiver. But especially the giver.

It is surely for this reason that I aim to give out bonjours to fifty random people each day in Paris for the rest of the year. Outdoors, indoors, in the metro, and almost anywhere else.

The more love I can put into each bonjour, the more I can heal. Hopefully at the same time the receiver can heal too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

les sacs des parisiennes (1)

Women are such bearers of good messages and one ought to respect both ... women and their messages.

Four years ago, I got the idea that when during my life in Paris I got a glimpse of a woman carrying a bag with a message that I found interesting if not meaningful, I would go up to her and ask her if I could take a photo.

In three months, I got three photos. The following three years, nothing. The idea had ended up in the burial ground.

Just recently, the idea reemerged. Somehow. Maybe it knew that I was finally ready to embrace it.

Here is a collection des sacs des Parisiennes.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


While browsing through magazines in the WHSmith bookstore in Paris ‒ for images that would make up an autobiographic collage ‒, I came across the one below.

I did not realize it at the time, because all I cared about was what was potentially inside the magazine ‒ images that evoked things that I cherished. Things like adventure, drawing, nature, travel, well-being, and the rest. But as I later found out, the cover itself summed up those more abstract themes that I cherished even more, in the same one line that appears at the top of every issue.


I was in heaven.

It was only even later that I discovered that the title of the magazine bore the name of one of my favorite books of all-time.

The really funny thing is that the "flow" book ‒ in its presentation of an approach to achieving happiness by transforming life into a unified set of optimal experiences ‒ encourages the celebration of creativity, imperfection, and life's little pleasures.

Could it be a coincidence that both magazine and book are called "flow"?

I would like to think not.

P. S. The magazine did not disappoint ‒ it was chock-full of wonderful images. What I did not expect was that it had many other interesting things to look at, to read, to play with.

Monday, April 1, 2019

silly kindergarten ditty

Art is your voice,
That innate natural part of you.
Art is your choice
To let your life reflect that which is you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

why i love paris (11)

One Saturday in January, I took up an invitation from my friend Anne, a fellow urban sketcher, to meet inside Eglise Saint-Etienne du Mont to draw. I had never been inside this church just beside the Pantheon, and I almost certainly had not heard of it. But after stepping inside, what a beauty to behold!

I joined Anne in the back row facing the central balcony and got to sketching the view in front of me. The initial goal was to let loose a bit by doing without my usual measuring points on the paper and feeling out the proportions more instinctively. Which I accomplished. After that, the penchant for detail caught up with me. As the sketch was taking shape, I took more interest in it -- so much that I came back the following day to the same spot to fill out the double page of my sketchbook with the rich, lovely matter that laid before my eyes.

It turned out to my first sketch ever in a church, and I am glad it happened in Paris.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

Marianne Williamson

Several years ago, I stumbled upon an article by Steve Pavlina that had this to say:
A friend of mine, who seems pretty happy in his current career, calls this "embracing your own fabulousness." He said that people who are unhappy fail to recognize and embrace how fabulous they are, so they can’t express or share their fabulousness with others. I completely agree.
It's a lovely concept that I also find in expressions such as "loving yourself", "unique ability", "do more of what makes you awesome", and the like. And I think that they are all good.

But there's just something about "embracing your own fabulousness" that hits the spot.

Even better, the word "fabulous" itself.

I'll take that.

fabulous [ fa-byə-ləs ] adj.
♦ COMMON. Implausible albeit real. ⇒ astonishing, extraordinary, fantastic, unbelievable, prodigious
♦ (EMPHATIC) Enormous. ⇒ astronomical, colossal, exorbitant
♦ INFORMAL. Uncommon. ⇒ exceptional

Saturday, January 26, 2019

my red nose (2)

It took almost three years, but the red nose has finally returned.

It is currently colder than it was on that morning of April, 1 2016, but discouragement cannot be an option. The weather is not responsible.

After five red nose outings so far this year, with progressively challenging rules, I feel less and less anxious putting on and wearing the nose. I should wonder why the anxiety anyway since people generally do not seem to care much about what you look like. And if they do seem to care, they will most likely end up not say anything. For the most part, all you get is a curious look, a warm smile, or a repressed laugh. But no talking, at least not to me. Because ‒ and you know this ‒ you do not talk to strangers that you have no (good) reason to talk to.

Having the nose on in public has been an interesting experience. There is indeed a feeling of discomfort, but it has been nothing close to troubling. I don't necessarily feel happy nor sad. Even though I don't initiate conversations with anyone (at least not yet), my mind is more open to the environment. That is, unless I happen to be reading a book, because objectively, wearing a red nose does not really change much ‒ it's like wearing a pair of glasses. And after the nose goes off, there is not much a feeling of victory or success as there is of calm ‒ compared to the suffering that would have happened if the opportunity to wear the nose was passed up. It's like either you're in or you're out : there is no such thing as a neutral choice. And it's rather too late to say "I was not aware of this, so it's not like there was a choice to make."

But the bigger change that comes with the experience appears to affect your mind. Your perception of what you feel capable of doing and that of what you think about people's judgment of you changes. For the better. Put another way, you feel more liberated of your thoughts on what people would think and more able to do what you would not have dared previously.

The general public, in the metro or on the street, is one and the same: people you don't know. You get used to them more or less quickly. Rather, it is the colleagues at work that really make the anxiety go up. Perhaps it's the fear of stepping out of a very comfortable role in which they are used to seeing me and the fear of presenting something that is out there, something that others do not do. Oh no, what would they think? So far so good, they seem to find it amusing for the most part. And all this time I was fearing ridicule and disapproval. Silly me!

Beyond the fear, I am mostly trying to honor the idea around the red nose so that it does not end up in the wastebin like many before it. Repression has to stop winning this game.

Honoring the idea is essential given the charge that the idea carries. Firstly, the idea is mine. Secondly, it is unconventional. Thirdly, there is a sentimental aspect : the nose was gifted years ago by Corinne, theater instructor extraordinaire, who I joined wearing the nose in public for the first time when we took the metro after class one evening (and yes, I also love Corinne). And finally, the nose is red, so what does not fit in is made to stand out.

Here are some interesting reactions that I have gotten so far:

1) Just seconds after putting on the nose on my way to work, I ran into a lady.

Lady: What is that? ... What is that?
Me: In your opinion?
Lady: Is it to protect you from the cold?
Me: No, I love it!
Lady: Oh, ok!

2) While exiting a RER station, I got stopped by a journalist who had seen me some moments prior.

Journalist: Are you wearing that red nose in response to the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests and in solidarity of the (supposedly pacifist) gilets rouges (red vests) movement?
Me: No, it's personal. It's a personal expression.

He showed support for what I was doing, which I appreciated.

3) A colleague met me at the elevator on the ground floor at work.

Colleague: So, what is the punishment?
Me: No, it's an embellishment!

4) While I'm seated in the metro, a lady sees me and smiles. I smile back. She walks through the people separating us and comes up to chat.

Lady: Do people see that ... ?
Me: Well I don't know what people see ... I am not "people."
Lady: And why ... ?
Me: It's just a means of expression.
Lady: Well we see that and it makes one smile.
Me: That's great! Thank you!

She was lovely. And courageous.

5) While waiting on a metro platform among a line of people, one metro rolls by and it is full. The doors open up and I see a lady inside standing next a child, and she notices me. Smiling, she gestures to the child to look in my direction. He looks, and then smiles. What else to do? I smile back.

Friday, January 18, 2019

love and fear

When you are doing something that you love enough, you really are not thinking about fear.

You are just doing it. It's all love.

The next time fear visits while you are trying to achieve a goal that you consider worthwhile, take a moment to ask yourself the following question:

Maybe this is a goal that I should love more?

The best part is when you end up loving the thing that you initially feared.

Fear for a linchpin is a clue that you're getting close to doing something important.

‒ Seth Godin

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.