01 November, 2019

A small house and an olive tree

I have spent my last two holidays in Mediterranean countries. I opted for short stints to get a quick feel of these places and their cuisine: just enough to want to return in future.

In September I visited my friend Simon Bordenave in Rome and we both went for a few days in Tuscany. We drove through the hilly landscape between the vine and olive groves and sampled delicious local food. I carried on with a few days to visit Florence and its cultural highlights. I was overwhelmed by the crowds in the city, preferring the quiet country lanes at sunrise for a morning jog.


In October I flew further South to Crete. My goal was to wander through the mountains on this long narrow island although I stopped at Knossos to visit the remains and frescoes of this Minoan palace. The food was simple but delicious. The vistas in the Amari valley were stunning. The warm Mediterranean sea being only one hour's drive away from the island's central mountain range, I managed to take a dip every day.




Green fields, golden sands
An other cup, Yusuf, Cat-O-Log Records

23 July, 2019

Gloire au berger !


I am spending my Summer holiday with my parents in their country house. It is quiet and I can rest all day. I need the rest because my evenings are exhausting.

I have planned this holiday together with my participation in the production of La Belle Hélène, an operetta by Jacques Offenbach with Opéra des Landes. We are on stage for five evenings and one matinée over a period of 11 days. All is going fine up to now: we have had good reviews from the critics; the audience is enjoying the show; and so are we in the cast.

The first act of the opera centres around the figure of a mysterious and intelligent shepherd. Everybody becomes quite obsessed with him...

Meanwhile in the real world, French shepherds are having a hot summer with difficulty in finding fodder for their flock. In the Southwest of France, it is feria time with traditional brass bands and dancing groups parading around towns.

Having been to the fêtes de la Madeleine in Mont-de-Marsan one day this week while being on stage in the evenings, I can compare the organised chaos of our opera's staging and the chaotic organisation of our local brass bands. Both lead to much amusement!



La Belle Hélène
Jacques Offenbach, Les musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, Marc Minkowski, Parlophone

Opéra des Landes Belle Hélène photo: Max Loubère

16 June, 2019

Miya sama, miya sama On n'm-ma no mayé ni

Here are notes - in the form of haikus - from my recent short visit to Japan.

Tokyo



Ever-disciplined crowds everywhere,
No rubbish bins, yet, a spotless city.
I caught up with a post-grad classmate established here.





Family reunion, Matsumoto



Steam twirling above the open-air hot pool
Grassy smell of the bedroom straw tatami
We enjoyed exquisite meals at Kai.






JR trains


The stops are always "brief" along the JR network
But crowds move on and off without delaying trains.
Sadly, there is no hot tea on the snacks trolley.


Kyoto 

I have enjoyed strolling, shopping, eating, even running in Kyoto's avenues and alleys
The handicraft is rich; the cultural sites breathtaking...
Pity the crowds!





Miya sama
W. Gilbert and A. Sullivan, The Mikado, Orchestra and chorus of the Welsh national opera, Sir C. MacKerras, Telard

29 April, 2019

Skies are blue

I have been on holiday to Yorkshire during holy week. I had gone prepared for spring weather in the North of England: cold showers. My corduroy trousers, wool pullover and duffelcoat came in handy for the first two days in the Southeast with temperatures below 7°C and hail in the morning.


However, to my delighted surprise, as I drove up North, the weather became warmer and warmer and the skies bluer and bluer. On Good Friday the title page of the Yorkshire Evening Post stated that temperatures in Leeds were warmer than in Athens! My heavy corduroy trousers were no longer adapted to temperatures above 20°C so I had to buy a pair of bermuda shorts.

I was also very lucky in crossing the paths of Graham Taylor and Dan Golden, musical friends whom I had first met 15 years ago in Bangkok and who were also holidaying in the UK from Tenerife and Bangkok respectively. We enjoyed good food and choral music together. Indeed, holy week was the right time to visit the UK to listen to religious choral music as all the cathedral choirs were involved in sung services throughout the Easter period. I got to hear the excellent choirs of Saint Paul's cathedral in London and York Minster. David Hope, another old friend from Ho Chi Minh City invited me to a Bach Saint John's Passion in English sung by musical friends of his in Leeds Minster.

My three quintessentially British highlights from this trip:

1) Hours of trekking among the sheep, hand-made stone walls and under the limitless blue sky of the Yorkshire dales.



2) A sunny day out on the roads of Northeast Yorkshire in David Hope's open-roofed car.

3) Afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes at Betty's. I visited their outlets in Harrogate, York and Ilkley over three days to try out several savoury and sweet delicacies together with their delicate tea blends.

Over the rainbow
Judy Garland, Naxos

25 July, 2018

E all' usanza teatrale, un' azion matrimoniale

Five years after my last staged production in 2013, I am delighted to have been able to take part in an opera production this past week. I joined the small choral ensemble for Mozart's Mariage of Figaro in a production of Opéra des Landes in the small coastal village of Soustons. It is not too far away from my parents' house so I took a week off work to rest during the day and sing every night for the festival.

We were sold out every night! The soloists were very good singing their solos and all manners of ensemble. They were particularly clever playing their part in the dynamic staging for this complicated story where everybody seems to be seducing one another. The original late 18th century plot was reset by the director as a Spanish 80s sitcom. The choir only had around seven minutes of stage time but it was still worth it to be able to listen to Mozart's wonderful music five nights in a row...

To compensate for the limited choir presence in the opera, the festival director also programmed a performance of Haydn's Creation with two combined choirs of 70 performers. All the artists including the orchestra and conductor wore white as the oratorio is sung by angels and archangels.

There were some real magical musical moments this past week in Soustons. However, I would like to highlight an instant of visual magic. When the choir was taking photos in our changing room, the second violin of the instrumental ensemble struck an impromptu pose as he passed by. The result: a photo I would call Nozze chorus with Rembrandt portrait.



Photo: Elina

Le nozze de Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Teodor Currentzis & Musicaeterna, Sony Classical

23 June, 2018

Where I wanna be with the surfers, sand and the sea

This post is the sequel to my trip along the Pacific Northwest coast. After my first week in a largely humid environment, my second week was spent in a largely dry Mediterranean climate. The limit from one ecosystem to the other was rather sudden. It had rained hard all night in Eureka, California. I drove South along Highway 101 among the tall redwood forests: every thing was dark green. At Redwood Valley, I turned on Road 20 towards Clear Lake and suddenly the landscape was very much drier, small brush on grey stony lightsoil. In Lakeport, I was already among the grapevines announcing the Napa Valley further South.

My first highlight from the Southern part of my trip was my lunch in Lakeport. The chef at the small Park Place Restaurant had upgraded the concept of the fish burger by replacing the battered fish with a battered whole soft-shell crap. Yuck factor: it looked a bit like eating a giant spider. But it was deliciously. I very seldom take photos of my food, but this original treat was worth keeping a trace of.

I then drove through the Napa Valley and its vineyards. However, I did not stop there to sample wine, preferring to taste a glass of wine here and there with my meals. Ironically, I drank a lot of water in Calistoga because I stopped in one of the local spas for a thermal mud and hot spring bath. Immersing myself in the thick hot mud bath was a strange experience, and I must say, rather oppressive after ten minutes with a very hot mud cask all around my body. This was followed by a HOT bubble bath and then a HOT humid hammam. I drank a lot of cold water to stay hydrated and avoid overheating.


I did not stop to visit San Francisco. I preferred to stay in rural and natural areas. I met up with my old university friend Martin Jambon who is now a programmer in one of the Bay Area start-ups. We spent a whole day trekking 18 km up and down the Muir Woods to Stinson Beach and back. However, the ocean was still too cold to get into the water.

Driving on further South, I visited Monterey Bay Aquarium and the following day dove into the bay with an 8-mm thick wet suit. My dive computer finally explained to me why I could not get into the ocean up to now: it was only 12°C at the surface and 10°C 10 meters deep! I cannot say it was pleasant dive: it took more than one hour for my fingers to be fully prehensible again. I was nonetheless delighted to see in their natural habitat most of the sea creatures I had seen behind glass in the aquarium, including a curious sea lion at the surface coming to see other large bobbing sea mammals.

In Central California, I was struck by the beautiful landscapes of the Big Sur coastline. The constrast between the ecosystems from one valley to the next was very sharp. When the coast was very dry and windy, just a stream going through a narrow protected valley was enough for a lush humid redwood forest to emerge. Further inland, the temperature rose dramatically to 38°C. I really wondered why the Spanish missionaries decided to establish San Antonio di Padua mission in the middle of such a hostile environment.



I finished my trip with the city lights and stars in Los Angeles and Hollywood.

This is where I finally managed to get into the Pacific Ocean and enjoy the surf at Santa Monica Beach!





Beaches in mind
The beach boys. That's why God made the radio, Capital records

15 June, 2018

On the range where the deer and the antelope play

I have gone on a road trip again. After the Australian West coast in 2016, I am now making my way down the United States Pacific coast in 15 days.



This blog post is also a way to circle the full circle. I started this blog eight years ago after following a course on knowledge management tools and methods. Our course coaches had encouraged me to start a blog and I did so. I have also taken every opportunity I could to facilitate knowledge sharing events, as I have related in several of the posts in this blog. So after all this time finding my own way in knowledge management with help from various friends, I was delighted to be greeted as I alighted from the airport train in Seattle, Washington, by knowledge management guru Nancy White. Nancy had been the principal facilitator of the knowledge management course I had taken so many years ago and she has managed to keep some links with many of her followers all these years, providing helpful advice and pictures of chocolate goodies all along. I started my road trip by settling in for a few restful days in the cabin Nancy and her husband Larry have purchased overlooking Skagit Bay, very close to the Canadian border.


The first week of my trip has been through damp, humid, even wet terrain in the North West and Northern California. I actually consider I have been pretty lucky with only one day and a half of actual rain. I only got really wet when hiking in the North Cascades national park, but I think it was mainly because of my own moisture staying trapped under the waterproof jacket, and the fact that my ten-year-old hiking boots had lost their waterproof powers! Otherwise, I have had glorious sunshine or only cloudy skies.

Here are some notes from this first humid part of my trip:
I have been amazed by all the beautiful landscapes I have passed through.

When the navy jet fighters would pass over Skagit Bay, I felt like I was in a Star Wars movie with space ships zooming past a wonderful natural landscape; only that today's jet fighters do not screech like in the movies.

I have encountered orcas just five meters away from me during a whale-spotting boat trip.

I have not managed to get into the Pacific ocean: it is too cold!

I have soaked several hours in the Sole Duc hot springs in Olympic national park: they are soothingly warm.

The giant redwoods of Northern California form a natural awe-inspiring cathedral.

I can only eat French fries four days in a row. I had to switch to pasta on my fifth day in the US. Despite all the variations on bread type and filling for my daily sandwich lunch, despite the differences in types of fries I had sampled, my stomach needed a break from deep-fried food. However, I happily went back to burger and fries when something really interesting was placed within the bread bun. Read more next week to find out more and for my highlights from the second drier half of my road trip.

Home on the range
Traditional, Roy Rogers, Home on the range, Vanilla OMP