The north comes south

It is funny how life is full of interesting coincidences. In the last 2 posts I described my experiences on various trips to northeast Europe – to Finland – as seen through the eyes of someone whose own family comes from the Baltic region. On arriving back in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay again [which I have posted on previously…] to see a new temporary exhibition that I was particularly excited about. It was called Âmes sauvages: Le symbolisme dans les pays baltes. Translated this corresponds to Wild Souls: Symbolism in the Baltic countries [http://m.musee-orsay.fr/fr/expositions/article/ames-sauvages-46485.html]. So here I found myself in back in Paris, revisiting some of the very same themes I ran into when I was checking out the art in Finland a few weeks ago! The exhibit’s advertising material depicts a striking painting by a celebrated Latvian artist, Johann Walter [1862-1932] entitled Jeune Paysanne, which was painted in 1904.

MuseeDOrsay_AmesSauvages_02

The art exhibit has been organized to celebrate & commemorate the 100th anniversary of the declarations of independence of the 3 Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania – in 1918. This period of freedom was shortlived – the 3 Republics were annexed by the Soviet Union during its imperialistic expansion. Fortunately, today the 3 countries have their independence once more.

As I already mentioned, the artworks featured in the Paris exhibit had themes common to those that I described in the Helsinki Art Museum exhibit of Finnish Art from around the same period in an earlier post. In the late 19th century, there was a cultural revival & a focus on ethnography & national identity in Europe, so many nations there were experiencing similar bursts of cultural activity. In images from the Baltic countries – including Finland – there is always the presence of the supernatural, including death in quite a few works. In one of the works from the Paris exhibit shown below, the moment that Death comes to visit & take an infant from it’s mother is depicted.

MuseeDOrsay_Rozentals_LaMort

This is a striking image on multiple levels. First, Death is depicted in white & as a woman – but her identity is unmistakable as she carries a sickle – a definitive cutting tool. Second, the look on the Mother’s face is depicted with incredible skill. I stood in front of this image for a long, long time contemplating it. There is the Mother’s look of incredulity as she looks directly upon Death & seems to not know how to deal with the situation. Yet, paradoxically at the same time there is an amazing gentleness to the scene. Death herself appears to be a compassionate being – the face depicts a calm, gentle demeanor & the white clothing does not have the negative association that typical images of the Grim Reaper dressed in black & traditionally carrying a scythe elicit. This is a classic painting created by the Latvian painter, Janis Rozentāls [1866-1916].

The exhibit depicts paintings & drawings showing scenes from real life, as well as from myths & legends – hence the symbolism label in the exhibit’s name. Here we come into contact with heros from epic poems, such as the Estonian Kalvipoeg.

MuseeDOrsay_Tuul_Kalevipoeg

The above image by Estonian artist Välko Tuul [1894-1918] depicts him in a battle [Kalevipoeg et Les Guerriers] & was painted between 1915-17. Despite being a hero, he does die [unlike heros in other epic sagas of other countries] – with the event being depicted by Estonian artist Kristjan Raud [1865-1943], entitled La Mort de Kalevipoeg . He suffers an awful death from having both feet cut off by his own sword in a strange twist of fate. The image below depicts the hero with a distorted & emaciated torso & of course, sans pieds – a very dramatic image to say the least.

MuseeDOrsay_Raud_LaMortDeKalevipoeg

There is a certain simplicity to the images & this makes them so much more impactful. For example, this painting from 1935 by Kristjan Raud entitled Sacrifice embodies this simplicity. From my interpretation, the image depicts a pagan ritual & the bowed heads, positions of the hands & poses struck by the bodies depict a respectful act of worship.

MuseeDOrsay_Raud_Sacrifice

The images can also capture a dynamic instant in time, such as the moment an archer lets an arrow fly on a breezy day in a painting by Rozentāls entitled L’Archer.

MuseeDOrsay_Rozentals_LArcher

As in the Finnish art exhibit I described in the previous post, the images in the Baltic countries exhibit in Paris also explored nature & landscapes. One of my favorites was an early spring landscape by Latvian artist Vilhelms Purvītis [1872-1945] entitled Les Eaux printanières, which was painted around 1910. It is a beautiful & gentle scene – in some ways minimalistically rendered – the verticalness of the birch & fir trees is a nice contrast to the horizontalness of the water with it’s melting ice & the surrounding land with retreating snow.

MuseeDOrsay_Purvitis_LesEauxPrintanieres

In another part of the museum there was a temporary exhibit of Estonian photography depicting scenes from life on the Estonian island of Kihnu – located in the Baltic Sea not far from the Estonian coast. I was able to enjoy those images as well on my visit.

Fortunately for me, these temporary exhibits did not seem to attract the tourists. They were busy on the museum’s upper floors checking out the impressionist classics that the Musée d’Orsay is so famous for (as the photos below indicate). Glad to say that I have spent considerable time in these permanent collections on previous trips to Paris, when there did not seem to be as many tourists… Tourist season is definitely here in Paris now that it is May. Note to self: I need to whip around to some other sites that will gets lots of tourist traffic before they get too crowded…

Despite my recent posts lauding late 19th century art, my favorite period & styles of art actually are early 20th century expressionism, futurism & surrealism.  The Centre Pompidou here in Paris has a permanent collection where you can check out some works from this period & the D’Orsay has some works as well.

What period of art & style do you feel most passionate about?

 

In search of street art

 

 

I am fortunate to be living & working in the 13th arrondisement of Paris – an epicenter for street art in the city. Why is this the case? I was told that the mayor of our district is a fan of street art. [Each of the 20 Paris arrondisements have a mayor, associated town hall  & services etc., as well as having a mayor & town hall for Paris overall.] Indeed, there is a formal initiative for street art in the 13th where major works in the form of murals have been commissioned from 22 very well-known street artists [see http://www.streetart13.fr/], including Shepard Fairey.  Fairey actually has 3 works here. [I know his Cincinnatti street art & also saw a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Cincinnati a few years ago. [http://www.contemporaryartscenter.org/]

Street art in the 13th is larger than life – huge murals on the sides of apartment buildings are typical. I was particularly struck by one work & that started my odyssey of actively searching out the various works in our district. We were at a Japanese restaurant with a nice outdoor terrace on a beautiful sunny day & I had a really good view of this one particular mural. My gaze kept returning to it many times, because it elicited an overwhelming feeling of familiarity – but I had no idea why. After I got back to work I looked it up & discovered it was a work by Fairey! What a lovely surprise. The image at left below is the work & at right is another Fairey’s other artistic offerings in the 13th.

 

So ever since that afternoon I have been dashing around the arrondisement either on weekends or on the walk home from work to find the various works. Indeed, there is even a work on the grounds of our Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital!

Most of the works tend to be on the eastern side of the district – this is typically where the new apartment buildings are. There are also some in the south part – again where newer apartment blocks are. [The part of the district I live in has older buildings, that typically have elaborate decorations. These do not provide the blank canvases that these larger than life murals need.] It is really nice to be looking at these works of street art now: trees are blossoming & complement the works very nicely.

 

Some of the works are more subtle than others & are nestled in in locations where they might not be seen at first glance. You have to hunt for them & that is part of the fun.

 

The themes are varied & many. They can include natural subjects & whimsical, if not somewhat twisted, views on human relationships…

 

Another interesting thing about this arts project is that there is also a permanent gallery space that features temporary exhibitions of these artists’ work. It is entitled Galerie Itinerrance [http://itinerrance.fr/]. Currently, the work of D*Face is featured in the gallery & I have to say that I find his work somewhat unsettling. But that is the power of art – it can make us react & think…

The presence of these large pieces of art have encouraged others to try their hand at street art – albeit on a smaller scale. As I understand it, these works are non-commissioned. There are some pretty talented people around, to be sure… here are a few nice examples.

 

StreetArt_Additional01

The cool part about the alley wall in the above photo is that new images are added to it from time to time, so I keep checking it every now and again. Someone recently added an artwork on the opposite wall of the alley. It is right across from the other images. I like the whimsy here.

StreetArt_Additional04

As I already mentioned, artists aim to get a reaction out of their viewers. Well I certainly reacted to the one below as I walked past it. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye & automatically crossed to the other side of the footpath without knowing why! Then I took a closer look…

StreetArt_Additional_12

…clearly my Aussie Huntsman spider template is pretty much still intact even after not living there for many years. 🙂

So which are my favorite pieces of street art? There are 50 commissioned works in total, so I may well change my mind when I see more of them. But here are my 2 faves so far. I really like how the image on the left has taken total ownership of the building. I also find the color pallette appealing & this is also why I like the image on the right as well. The image at right is on a smaller building & I like that it brings the art closer to the viewer. The detail on the black & white geometric patterns is also great [although you don’t see it so well in this photo].

 

Do you have street art in your neighborhood? Chances are that you do. Sometimes it can be tricky to spot…

When the cup of emotions runneth over…

In an earlier post I mentioned Antonio Damasio’s latest book – The Strange Order of Things. I have nearly finished reading it. During these months it has stimulated me to contemplate the nature of feelings & emotions & their importance for human primates. Recently, coincidentally, I have also found myself in a few situations where I have had to watch the emotions of others spilling out with potentially unsavory consequences:

  1. A lover’s tiff that spills out into the street.
  2. A man throwing out his ex & her belongings from his apartment in our building.
  3. A protest march where riot police are at the ready.

In the case of the first two situations, these were private affairs between individuals that unfortunately played out in a public space. When emotions run this high usually there is not much thought about the impact of one’s actions on others. In the third case, the collective emotions of a crowd were displayed, united by one cause. In all cases the situation has an element of unpredictability . How it ultimately plays out can also be influenced by the [in]actions of bystanders.

1. Anger exploding to boiling point: One Saturday afternoon my other half & I were having lunch in my favorite brasserie (image below) in the Butte-Aux-Cailles neighborhood.

LesTanneursDeLaButte_01

As we were finishing our coffees we noticed two men emerge from one of the businesses across the street, with the larger one starting to shove & punch the other one. The scuffle continued as they made their way into an apartment building next door. Then we saw a pair of legs on the ground through the glass door of the apartment building’s front door. At that same time one of the waiters from a restaurant next to ours rushed across the street to help out. What to do? As my other half went to pay for the meal, I stood & watched to see if the situation would escalate – and if I should call the Police. Thankfully, it looked like things had settled down – the big burly guy emerged from the apartment building. He saw me standing & watching inside. He made a very aggressive gesture at me – basically the equivalent of “what the hell do you think you are looking at”? The head & body went forward with eyes bulging, the arms went out to the sides in a ballistic manner. He was still clearly angry & wanted to take it out on someone/something… What to do? I made a non-confrontational gesture back – in slow motion & in a non-aggressive manner.  I spread my arms out, pointed my palms to him, put my head to one side & arched my body back a bit – to non-verbally say “whaaaaaat are you doing?”. Then I turned my back & walked over to the counter to the servers hoping that this had defused the situation. Sure enough. Nothing further happened. That said though, I figured that the servers would literally have my back – they would see if he was coming across the street to harm me. I told them what I had seen happen. They did not look particularly perturbed & actually rolled their eyes – it seems like this guy is a bit of a hot head, so there clear is a history to this. Apparently, he owns the business across the road. Note to self: do not go & spend any money there & aid his business…

I pity any customer who went to order food there that afternoon…

2. The bitter end to a relationship: One morning before work I realized that I had no bread: necessitating a quick dash to the boulangerie across the road! As I walked down the stairs I could hear a very loud & angry conversation in one of the corridors. I could hear it on the 5th floor already. Turns out it was all on in the ground floor corridor – the main corridor leading out of the building.

Couloir

A fellow was having an argument with his ex. Why ex, you ask? Because her clothing & belongings were strewn all over the floor in the corridor – the corridor that all of us have to walk through everyday. I did not say anything as I had to step over her stuff & also had to literally walk between them – there was nowhere else to go. Made me feel pretty uncomfortable, but they continued their argument unfazed. As I walked out of the building I was pinned down by the Gardienne who told me not to worry because the Police had been called. Yikes!

When I came back from the bakery, they & the belongings were no longer there. As I ate my croissant upstairs though, I could hear shouting in the street as the argument started up again. Then later as I went to work, I was dreading having to go thru that corridor again, but there was no-one there this time. Outside the building her belongings etc. had been neatly stacked next to the front door.  I wondered about her all day & whether she find somewhere else to go. The belongings were gone at the end of the day…

3. Emotional contagion & crowds: When we are in group or crowds we can be spurred on by others & our positive or negative emotions can be magnified those around us. Sporting events & protest marches are good examples where this can happen – where one ‘in-group’ confronts another – symbolically in sport, but literally in a protest march.

I was walking home from work one night I was struck by the number of people in the street. They were carrying signs & clearly were either going to (I thought), or coming from a protest march. As I walked further along the Boulevard de L’H’hôpital I realized that there was actually no traffic on that street – only loads of police vans with police with riot gear etc. That said, they did not look particularly perturbed  – they were just chilling out near their vans with their colleagues. I walked on to the large roundabout at Place D’Italie – a major roundabout where 7 streets come together. The traffic is always chaotic there at any time of day: cars, buses & scooters taking seemingly random lanes, yet somehow always making it through the intersection safely. The same can be said for pedestrians – I negotiate this roundabout twice a day because I live on one of it’s feeder streets. I am making sure I will not get mowed down as I listen to a podcasts. The image below does not really show the chaos, but hopefully you get an idea of the scale of it.

PlaceDItalie_pano_small

That day, however, the roundabout was completely clear of traffic! All the streets to the roundabout had been blocked off. Even though the protest was over, there were a large number of people still milling around in the roundabout with their signs, flags & other symbols of protest – even deckchairs! When I got to my street I was surprised to see that it was being used as a staging area by the Police. But again, no-one looked particularly perturbed, they were just hanging out chatting with each other.

Where was I during all of this? I asked someone about what was going on & was told that the march was definitely over. So I decided get some sushi at my favorite Japanese restaurant – a stone’s throw [pun intended] from the roundabout. So, here I am tucking into a nice sushi dinner watching Paris’s finest when I notice they start suiting up into their riot gear… uh oh…

…& then they all marched off towards the roundabout with their hard hats, batons & shields!

There was a lot of whistling & yelling for a bit by the detritus of the march. That said, motorists, motor cyclists & bus drivers were not impressed either – looked like they had been stuck waiting to pass through the roundabout for some time – it was peak hour traffic time around 7:30 pm or so. There was also a convoy of buses in our street going nowhere… The Police went over to open the roundabout up to allow traffic to circulate again. And it did.

In the end I had to wonder about how much role-playing/ritual was also going on that day. I say that partly because of conversations I have had with locals. Perhaps I am also cynical – but I did not get an overwhelming sense of really negative energy from the crowd: they had been able to have their protest & make their point. Indeed before long the Police came back to their vans & they did not particularly stressed & perturbed either.

In fact, after they took off their riot gear they hung out & chilled – some on cell phones smoking cigarettes, others vaping. Then they packed up & drove off. And at that point I had finished my sushi & also went home with now normal traffic in our street.

Even though the remnants of the crowd had made a lot of noise, it seemed to me that they did not really want an encounter with police in riot gear. Similarly, the police also had no interest in a confrontation either. Why? Might be because they are literally neighbors. The 13th arr. headquarters of the C.F.G. – the amalgamated set of unions who organized the protest in response to some of Macron’s reforms – is literally across the road from the 13th arr. Hotel de Police [headquarters]!

BlvdLHospital_Pano_small

So what did I learn from these three recent situations ? A couple of things: A. You realize that you are potentially quite vulnerable when you are not totally fluent in the local language when things like this happen. Happily, I have enough command of the language to ask someone what is going on… B. A situation where a person, or people, is/are very upset can turn on a dime – it can do so because of what others do or how they react. In the case of the first situation I was able to defuse it with a non-verbal gesture & in the second case, the best thing to do was to remain silent & go past & let it be. In the third case, the Police as a group had to show emotional intelligence & disperse a group of remaining protesters in a way which would not escalate the situation. This is a very difficult thing to do.

So how do we read the collective emotions of groups & crowds? We don’t really know. I thought a lot about my experience & how I gleaned information from the crowd. Somewhat ironically, this is a new area of research in my lab…

Postscript: We have also had student blockades of a number of universities in France in response to reforms announced by Emmanuel Macron. This also includes an institution of higher learning just near me [site du Tolbiac de l’université Panthéon-Sorbonne], where students had barricaded themselves in a building for 3 weeks & prior to that had been rioting & throwing projectiles at Police. Apparently, the Police stormed the building one morning at 5 am & took control of it by 6 am. Funny thing was, I heard none of this, despite the windows in my apartment being wide open since we are in the middle of a heat wave… Go figure.

There is never a dull moment here. I had forgotten what it is like to live in a big city again…

Postscript 02 MAY 2018: One of yesterday’s May Day marches here in Paris turned very ugly – with hundreds of people being arrested. There was a confrontation with riot police on the Pont Austerlitz & a McDonald’s restaurant was completely destroyed & cars were damaged [within a [cobblestone’s throw from our hospital]. From the reports on the nightly news & the newspaper stories this time it appears that a certain faction of the crowd were out for violence – marring the day for all of those people who wished to march peacefully. [http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/05/01/1er-mai-le-defile-parisien-perturbe-par-une-serie-de-violences-200-black-blocs-interpelles_5293042_3224.html]

Where were we during all of this? Fortunately, we were not at work – May 1st is a public holiday in France.

 

On gizmos & gadgets & devices

Throughout the history of humankind, humans have always tried to make their lives easier & more interesting by inventing different tools & devices. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Musée des arts et métiers [http://www.arts-et-metiers.net/], which is located in the 3rd arr. in Paris. This repository of inventions was originally created in 1794 as a Conservatoire national des arts et métiers by L’abbé [Abbott] Henri Grégoire. Grégoire was a very interesting man & was quite unusual by clergyman standards [https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Gr%C3%A9goire]. The museum has a number of very interesting collections – arranged according to 7 themes which are: scientific instruments [my personal favorite!], materials, energy, mechanics communication, construction & transport.

The collections are housed in L’église de Saint-Martin-des-Champs – a church that has been converted into an exhibition space, and an adjacent building which contains the bulk of the museum’s collection. The church exhibition space showcases various larger examples of transportation & engines – large pieces that do not fit in the main museum space in the building next to the church.

MuseeDArts&Metiers_Pano3_small

A prominent feature of the main museum are the various laboratory artifacts from Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794), a pioneer of chemistry.

MuseeDArts&Metiers_Pano1_small

The exhibit also includes a couple of his protective face masks – see the image of one of them below. He did dangerous work & I wonder if he ever had to evacuate his lab because he concocted something toxic or explosive?

MuseeDArts&Metiers_19

There is something for everyone in this museum – some tool or device will tickle your fancy to be sure. Which ones were the most fascinating to me? 1. It was interesting to see things such as early slide rules [yes, I hate to admit it, but I am old enough to have used one in high school]…

MuseeDArts&Metiers_06

… 2. a cyclotron, or particle accelerator, from the College of France from 1937 [they were invented in 1930 by E.O Lawrence in the USA]…

MuseeDArts&Metiers_22

… 3. a Cray-2 supercomputer from 1985! It looks so dinky [compared to when I think about our parallel computing facility at IU today]…

MuseeDArts&Metiers_25

… 4. an early camera owned by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (below left) – inventor of the daguerreotype, a method that allowed images to be created on silvered copper plates. Other precision cameras e.g. from Zeiss are also featured (below right)…

… 5. Volta’s original ‘pile’ cell & an example of a commercially available battery made in Paris in the 1930s… … 6. a Remington typewriter from 1875 & a portable Corona version from 1920!

What was the highlight of the collection for me? It was surely Foucault’s Pendulum, which is housed in the church. The pendulum was first installed for a short period in the Panthéon in Paris in 1851, as an experiment conceived by French physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation [he originally got the experiment working elsewhere but needed a larger space to demonstrate the effects of the earth’s rotation convincingly].

The original brass-coated pendulum bob was housed here at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers for most of it’s life. Apparently, one day the pendulum’s cable snapped & the 28-kg lead bob crashed to the floor – damaging not only the floor, but the bob itself. The one on the pendulum today is an exact copy of the original. You can see the action of the pendulum in the video below – should work if you click on it.

There are a number of versions of Foucault’s Pendulum around the world [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foucault_pendulum], but this one is special because this was the original one [well at least before the bob was damaged & the cable snapped].

I decided that I would have to make a return visit to check out some of the other curiosities in more detail another time. There is so much to see in each of the 7 categories of exhibit. If you are visiting Paris, do stop in there and check it out. Some of the exhibits are quite whimsical…

MuseeDArts&Metiers_Pano2_small

One last cool thing to check out is the associated Metro station – ‘Arts et Métiers’. Of the two Metro lines that service it, line #11 (the most superficial subway of the two) has been redecorated to channel the contents of the museum. It is a really handsome station. There is a lot of attention to detail – there is even a set of large cogs running down the center of the roof of the station. Very arty… … right down to the rubbish bins!

Metro_Arts&Metiers_02Metro_Arts&Metiers_01

On the subjects of mysterious red spots, visas & other paperwork (the sequel)

When one is granted a long-stay visa for France [see an earlier post for initial steps & requirements], the process is not fully completed until one actually reaches the country. There is an additional procedure where the visa holder needs to send off additional paperwork with details about one’s residence in France to the Office for Immigration & Integration (or OFII for short). OFII is the organization that processes the applications of long-stay visitors to France like myself, as well as those immigrating to France.

OFII

Once OFII has received your local paperwork you have to wait for an appointment, where you will be interviewed & a stamp/sticker will be placed in your passport – next to your visa. The additional stamp/sticker will cost you another 250 Euros – which was a surprise to me because I thought I had taken care of all the processing fees…

You need to provide evidence of your place of residence. This was tricky for me – since I do not have bank accounts in France and do not directly pay utilities bills [my landladies deal with that aspect of things, so that works beautifully]. This means that I have no receipts/bills linking my name to my current domicile in Paris. What to do? I had to get a stamped & signed letter from the apartment rental company confirming that I am currently living in my Paris apartment [a copy of the rental contract is not enough apparently]. So early this week I took myself off to the apartment rental folks to pick up said letter, so that I would have all the necessary paperwork. That said, I cannot thank the good people in the foreign scholars office at my research institute enough – they have shepherded me through the process & told me what paperwork is, and is not, acceptable.

Why is this paperwork so important? Without the stamp/sticker in your passport etc. you cannot actually leave the country during the duration of your visa. If you try to do so, you risk invalidating your visa… I had to travel back to the USA for work [as 2 of my PhD students were defending] before I had finished this process. In order to do so, I had to get a special letter from OFII stating that all my paperwork is in good standing & that due administrative issues they had a delay in processing my application. Thank goodness we were able to do that.

So this week I had my appointment with the OFII folks, so of course I was checking my paperwork over & over again to make sure I had everything I needed (& more!). OFII is located in central Paris – on the northeastern side of the Place de la Bastille. Very lively area – full of ethnic restaurants & lots of bars/cafes. Fortunately for me, not yet full with tourists – I think they are going to come soon though…

Bastille_metroPlaceDeLaBastille

The Place de la Bastille is in of itself interesting for a number of reasons. First, the location of today’s square is where the originally prison of La Bastille stood. Second, the square is at the intersection between three Paris arrondisements – the 4th, 11th & 12th. Third, in the center of the square is a magnificent column (Colonne de Juillet; The July Column) that commemorates the commemorates the events of the July Revolution (1830).

With respect to completing the processing of my French long-stay visa things did end happily – I now have a beautiful new sticker with stamp in addition to my French visa in my passport & I am good to go! [OHBM 2018 in Singapore here I come!!!] They also tried to convince me to stay for longer & were going to give me the paperwork for that, but I demurred – tempting as it was… …otherwise I may not have a job to go back to!

What a crazy week it was overall for me though. I woke up Monday morning covered in mysterious red spots – almost like a case of Measles [which I had as a kid many, many years ago. I still remember the discomfort & itchiness because I also had Chicken Pox at the same time & it was summer. I caught Chicken Pox when my Mother took me to see the doctor for my Measles. There was a kid there with the Pox & I caught it from him. Hmm, Boys!  Some of you might be wondering why my parents did not vaccinate me? We did not have the vaccines back then, so all parents hoped their kids got all the childhood diseases earlier rather than later. Going thru these kiddie diseases  – Mumps included – was really not fun & there were always risks related to complications. Why do parents today not vaccinate their kids? – I would not wish the agony of catching these diseases on anyone. Actually, I think I know why: the parents have never known how bad it was, because their own parents vaccinated them! For me not vaccinating your kid in this day & age is tantamount to child abuse. There, now it is said, out in the open.]

Sorry that I digressed for that little rant. What was the cause of the red spots for me this week, I hear you all cry? It was cough medicine. The active ingredient is a miracle substance named Carbocisteine [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbocisteine].

Carbocisteine

It is used widely in Europe, but not in the USA or Australia from what I can gather. It works beautifully, but there are side effects & one of those is an allergic reaction in the form of a rash. I used it for 3 days with no issues & it worked a treat on budging a nagging cough. I ended up going back to the pharmacist who gave me an antihistamine [with it’s own risk of a rash as a side effect!] & this really minimized the discomfort. I was very grateful for that, because sleeping was really difficult for a night or two. Times like this really do test your language skills though – all my very helpful local merchants do not speak English, so the onus is on me to make myself understood. So when there is a medical problem like this, a lot of information needs to be provided – mainly from my side. I realized that my French skills have really improved – something that I do not think about that often.

The ironic thing about all of this is that of all weeks that something like this had to happen was this week when I was going to OFII. I kept wondering whether they would drag me off to La Bastille & quarantine me, because I think I would have forgiven people for thinking I was infectious…

After my OFII appointment, I emerged into the gorgeous sunshine of a sunny, warm afternoon. I found a great bookshop nearby that had not only great books but lots of amusing cards as well. I bought this one, which made me laugh long & hard.

Cartoon
Voutch. Extrait de l’album “Le grand tourbillon de la vie” (le cherche midi) voutch.com

So this last week is not one I would like to repeat any time soon. But you have weeks like that don’t you? And if you did not, how would you appreciate the really good ones???

 

On the practice of cognitive control

BoulangerieLorette_05

If you are someone who enjoys good food & wine, & who also loves to cook, moving to Paris for 6 months is like having all of your dreams come true. I pondered this subject a lot when I returned back to the USA for some work commitments at IU recently. I was also astounded that living in Paris with all of this amazing food & wine allowed me to dump a couple of kilograms without really trying. How did that happen ? I realized that over the last few months I have been practising cognitive control & executive function.

I also contemplated this as I cooked a duck breast [in butter] for dinner to be washed down with a good Bordeaux on Easter Sunday evening…

Being surrounded by so much good food, either cooked food in restaurants or excellent produce at the farmer’s market & small speciality grocery stores is really wonderful. But at the same time, it also makes one think very mindfully about one’s consumption. This is something that I have always practiced – partly because as an omnivore I want to have as varied a diet as possible. Here of course this is taken to a bigger extreme. People here do seem to be doing the same thing. I have been trying to make the most of quality local produce that is only available in France. For example, when my other half was here a couple of weeks ago, I roasted a Bresse chicken [image below top right] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bresse_chicken] – which is completely different to any chicken I have had. It is more gamy & also very muscly with really solid tendons [would not like to try to bone one of these…] probably because it grows and stays out of doors, allowing it to scratch & do things outside that chickens are supposed to do…

Now that spring is here I am excited for a number of reasons. First, it is asparagus season & now I get to have both excellent green & white asparagus while I am here. This is one of my favorite vegetables – we have an asparagus bed at home & I have been thinking about that a lot recently…

Asparagus

Also, spring is the season that lots of raw milk cheeses are made – the cows finally get to go outside after being stuck in the barn during wintertime – and the new grass gives their milk a really strong & interesting flavor. So lots of soft raw milk cheeses are being made now. Because I live next to a fromagerie I am making an effort to try them – it is really wonderful!

Lots of other spring produce is appearing now too – leeks, spring onions, fresh herbs & strawberries! Meat is also good quality – I typically eat by steak extremely rare or even raw, so it is really nice to be able to get that here. I have yet to have meat or fish that is overcooked here, unlike other places in the world…

But, in my opinion, the really amazing thing here are the pastries. At home I am actually not one to enjoy desserts – they are too cloyingly sweet for me, consist of empty calories & are pretty uninteresting overall… But here patisserie offerings have fruit as their centerpiece – and the fruit flavors have been really distilled! Same thing applies for jams as well. I cannot get enough of these [& for the same reasons I like to eat lots of gelato when I am in Italy]. It seems like the sugar takes a back seat to the fruit – as it should be.

BoulangerieLorette_04

So, after viewing all these gratuitous images of food & wine you are probably wondering what the take-home message of this week’s post is. For me it is this: if you exercise your frontal lobes & use your executive function, practice cognitive control, chances are you will probably enjoy your occasional indulgences more. And isn’t that the aim of the exercise – maximizing enjoyment? The other cool thing is that you might also end up with more small change in your pocket as well…

 

 

 

 

Overcoming jetlag & springtime in Paris

I dread having to fly east across multiple time zones because my body clock will take longer to get back on track. Going west is so easy – couple of days & I am good to go. But going east, particularly in winter/early spring is brutal – doesn’t matter if it is from Australia to USA or from USA to Europe, it is always the same problem…

This week, as always when I travel, I have been spending as much time outside as possible without sunglasses  – trying to get that body clock back on track. Good thing about doing that now is that Spring is well and truly here – lots of flowers out!

Chocolate Easter eggs are everywhere as we gear up for Easter. I have even run across a chocolate Tutankhamen – that was really quite something – it was about 1 metre high.

Needless to say I am very happy to be here with all of this chocolate. Chocolate is a basic food group in our household, so much so that I am never without Lindt chocolate in the fridge [irrespective if which side of the Atlantic I am on].

Lindt_Chocolate

Bought a number of bags of Lindt chocolate rabbits in to the lab at the end of this week & we all got totally wired on coffee & chocolate, as evidenced by the prolonged increase in volume level in the lab for the day…

Speaking of the lab – I went to the Musée D’Orsay [http://www.musee-orsay.fr/] with a couple of lab mates on Thursday evening for the opening of a special temporary exhibition of works in the Art Nouveau style by students of the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, or EnsAD for short [https://www.ensad.fr/]. Interesting & whimsical works, which included clothing, furniture, sketches of architecture & animation among other things which were displayed in a classical & magnificent exhibition space. We were able to talk with the students about their work, while their proud family members watched or also chatted with us. It is always interesting to talk to the artists & designers about the motivation for their work & also the processes that it went through to make it to completion. Overall it was such a lovely ‘feel-good’ event. I will bet that this is also a wonderful launch pad for the future careers of some very talented designers.

I do like night museum sessions – the museum has a very different feel to the daytime. The Musée D’Orsay is particularly different, given how much natural daylight comes in through its open structure. There was also a performance event – a concert given by a DJ, Prieur de la Marne, whose specialty was electronic music. He included work by local young musicians – including that of a friend of one of our group. His performance took place on the museum’s ground floor – in the sculpture gallery. This was a really nice way to round out the visit to the museum.

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Afterwards, we went our separate ways out in the wind & the rain – had to hang on tight to my umbrella as I walked to the Metro station – so typical of Paris spring weather. On the Metro back I decided it was way too late to rummage up dinner at home, so I took myself out to dinner at a great sushi restaurant near my abode. It is open until 11 pm for dinner – nothing better for someone who is jetlagged & wants to eat late…

That night [of course] at 3 am I was wide awake. What to do? Instead of stressing out about not being able to sleep, I began to websurf local restaurants so that I could choose a place for dinner for Saturday night. [My cousin is coming to Paris with his girlfriend. We have not met up for aeons, so it will be terrific to catch up.] Cool part was that I was able to book it online too!!! Who needs to count sheep, when you can count forks, plates or Michelin stars instead? 🙂

MichelinStar