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

03 December, 2017

As I wander on life's pathway know not what the future holds

I have made a radical career change and I have turned 40 recently.

Read here how I have managed to find real fulfillment from my work as a young professional for agricultural research and development up to now.

Looking forward to discovering new professional pathways beyond the pass I have just reached.

Precious memories
Waylon Jennings, Are you ready for the country, RCA

05 October, 2017

Dona eis requiem: Gill Corble

I have joined the choir of the local symphonic orchestra based in Pau but meant to cover all the Bearn countryside. This past weekend, we went on tour in two rural towns to sing a concert of choral blockbusters. I only had three weeks' rehearsal since I joined in early September but luckily, I already knew half of the pieces, these being blockbusters.

The first Saturday evening concert went very well in the quaint romane church of the small mountain town of Arudy. The small audience was enthusiastic and we gave a very good concert. So we were all very comfortable and pleased with ourselves before starting the second concert in the larger echo-y church of Sauveterre-de-Béarn. There were many small mistakes here and there; somehow we all seemed to be distracted on the Sunday afternoon. It had rained all day. I was feeling rather disappointed with myself coming back home on Sunday evening.

It is lucky I do not activate internet access on my mobile phone otherwise I would have been even more distracted and I may even have sobbed through the whole Sunday concert. When I got connected again back home on Sunday evening, I read an email from my good friend Frank Guthrie announcing the death of his wife Gill Corble. Gill, Frank and I had sung together with Canterbury Singers when I was studying for my PhD in the UK. Gill was not only the elected Chairwoman of the Singers, Frank and she were also both the cheerleaders of the group. Their never-dying enthusiasm made sure a small group would make it to the pub for a pint with them after our weekly practice. I was very grateful to both of them for their warm welcome of the young froggy tenor who had to sight-read through the very British and not always easy (Elgar, Britten, Tippett) repertoire that all of the other Singers already knew.

We have kept in touch ever since. For the past thirteen years we have visited each other in Herne Bay and Paris. We have exchanged musical news and went to listen to each others' concerts. We have sent each other post cards from the most exotic destinations. Because Gill and Frank were also great travellers, cycling through whole countries, trekking up and down mountains, exploring foreign lands in search of large smiles like theirs. I was really looking forward to host Gill and Frank in Pau to go hike together in the Pyrenees mountains. It will unfortunately not be the case for Gill who succumbed to a sudden surge of her latent leukemia. Rest in peace, Gill.

W.A. Mozart, Requiem KV 626
Wiener Singverein, Berliner Philharmoniker, H. von Karajan, Deutsche Gramophon

Photo choir: OPPB
Photo brèche de Roland, Pyrenees mountains: Frédéric A

22 August, 2017

They gotta be the luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin'

Three years ago I wrote a post about my friends Margot and Christophe starting a sheep and vegetable farm in the middle of the Southern Alps. Having become a co-owner of the land they were using to let their sheep graze in the mountains, I had been feeling very guilty that I had not managed to go visit them for the yearly summer co-owners' meeting and lamb barbequeue. I was starting to fear that my friends and the other co-owners would start thinking I was a selfish and absent landowner, uninterested by the lives of the farmers on this bit of land I co-owned. So this year I hired a car and drove across France from the Pyrenees mountains into the Alps through the Cévennes, Lozère and Ardèche mountains in the centre of the country.

It was a beautiful road trip. I really enjoyed driving through the narrow windswept country and mountain roads. The landscape changed along the way East from agricultural fields to chestnut forests, pine and fir trees, and finally heather moorland just below the Mont Lozère. After dropping down into the Rhone Valley, I climbed back up into the Alps on the other side to enter lush valleys where farmers were growing the fodder their animals would need in the winter.

In Glandage, although the paperwork for our co-ownership land association has still not been finished, the association has already bought the land with the monies we all invested. Margot and Christophe have thus expanded their farm: 0.8 ha give organic vegetables. They supply local villagers, their children's school canteen and an organic shop in the main town of the valley. Thanks to the land all their friends co-invested in, they now have 70 ewes (three got killed by wolves just ten days ago!), which give birth to one or two lambs every winter. Likewise, the meat is sold in local marketing and processing networks. Margot also harvests the wool, which is of good enough quality to be processed into clothing yarn.

My friends' agricultural project is essentially of a social nature. They wish to make the most of their social and direct marketing networks to sell off their produce. But they seem to be fulfilled, very busy and, now in their third year, they can actually make a small monthly revenue to spend on something else than just the farm or the essentials to feed and nurture five lovely and lively children! Their plans for the farm still include finishing off the paperwork for our land association...

But, they are much more excited by the possibility of clearing the trees from the mountainous pasture land to open up more land to grass, and using the funds left over to buy another smaller plot of land closer to their house where they could have the sheep graze in the spring. Finally, another young couple from Switzerland has moved into the neighbouring house and would like to join Margot and Christophe's farm business to improve the vegetables' productivity and possibly open a small processing enterprise to add value to the produce.

I am keen to see how all this will develop in the coming years.

As long as we got each other (theme from Growing Pains)
B.J. Thomas, Midnight minute, Warner Bros/Wea

07 August, 2017

Aqueras montanhas

After two years of a rather disappointing professional experience at OECD in Paris, I have decided to change job completely. From data-based policy research and evaluation in an international organisation, I have just moved to Pau in Southwest France to head a team of 30 staff whose main role is to administer the activity of local farmers for the local representation of the French government. It is an exciting and challenging professional turnaround for me. This being a governmental position, I am bound once more by the code of conduct and secrecy of the French civil service. I will have to explore avenues for professional blogging when I get a better idea of my new professional environment.

In the meantime, the musical and culinary scene in Pau are not to be disdained.

First on food, I am in the heart of a region famous for its ewe's milk cheeses, spicy chilies, Blonde d'Aquitaine beef, maize grain-fed poultry products, cured ham and all kinds of pork-based delicacies, sweet cherries, and pastries galore... Local wines from the Southwest of France are increasingly improving their quality and Bordeaux is not far away for the snobbish drinkers. I am looking for accommodation close to the central Pau city market, open from 7.30am where I can find cheap local produce six days a week, with a farmers' market on Saturdays for an even wider selection of fresh food. So I am not at all worried about the food part of my new duty station. I am also now only two hours' drive from my parents' country house so I can always drive back home to enjoy my Mum's Asian cooking if I run out of good ideas on what to eat.

On the musical side, it is a bit quiet now in the heart of the summer holiday. Still, I went to hear a very good French gospel group last night. Although their English pronunciation was not always perfect, the New Gospel Family had intensity in their singing, perfect and sometimes excitingly blue harmonies, and the characteristic groove of this moving musical genre. This region also has a local tradition of singing in harmony, both in the Bearn and Basque country mountains so I look forward to being moved by the close harmonies of this traditional repertoire. I hope to audition for the choir of the Pau conservatoire, which sings with the regional symphonic orchestra when vocal parts are needed. I also discovered a local opera company close to my parents' house, which produces a new show every summer with amateur and professional singers and intrument players. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to get back into a staged production.

And if all this fails to fulfil me, I have the Pyrenees mountains just 45 minutes' drive away for trekking, skiing and amazing vistas. So here it is goes for yet another new, colourful and delicious period in my life!

Aqueras montanhas
Occitan traditional song, Nadau Zenith de Pau 2017, Nadau

07 May, 2017

Goûtons voir si le vin est bon !

Last week end, I went on tour with Choeur Varenne to the wine-growing region of Burgundy. We spent a good part of the three days eating and drinking. Our first stop after two hours' coach ride from Paris was in the middle of the Chablis vineyard. And by 11am we were tasting the resulting wine from previous years.

We learned about the complexity of Burgundy wines and why it is important to try many different bottles before purchasing anything. The soil and growing conditions can be very different on vine plots just two meters apart on the same hilly slope because of varying sun exposure, soil drainage and depth, rockiness. This results in a great variety of wines although they are mostly all processed from the same grape varieties: chardonnay for whites and pinot noir for reds.

We visited historical buildings that had been hosting wine processing since the 12th century. We were treated to a fantastic red wine which changed aroma and taste each time I took a sip from my glass. It started off with red berries when we first tasted it at lunch time and had evolved to leather and cocoa notes by the evening when we opened left-over bottles with our picnic on the way back to Paris.

Of course, we also sang a concert. Electrified by the surprisingly large audience already waiting for us when we reached the rural church to give our concert, we gave one of our best tour performances. We, of course, celebrated our musical success with more eating and drinking at a restaurant in Dijon.

 Three days of eating, drinking, visiting, singing. No wonder I felt exhausted every day at siesta time.

Chevaliers de la table ronde
French traditional song

Photo of me napping: Caroline L.

10 December, 2016

I'm running running running running

I have just had a rather hectic week: some of it was planned, some of it was not.

Last Thursday I took a plane from Paris to Bangkok. The main reason for this trip was to sing with the choir for the wedding ceremony of my French friend Pascal Butel, with whom I used to sing in the Bangkok Music Society choir. Pascal had invited all his singing friends from various choirs we used to sing in to join the music-making for his wedding. When I got the invitation last April I immediately replied that I would come because it was also a golden opportunity to meet all my friends from the choir in one go. Bangkok-based singers had already started rehearsals throughout November. I had worked on my parts at home and arrived for the dress rehearsal two days before the actual ceremony.

My diary was already quite full with events related to Pascal and his lovely bride Ko Tammy: a dress rehearsal for the wedding's music on Saturday afternoon (including 1.5-hour one-way travel to the venue and another 1.5 hour back), drinks and light food on a yacht on the Chao Phraya river for the foreign guests on Saturday evening, an Indian wedding dinner ceremony on Sunday evening, departure at dawn on Monday for a final rehearsal of the wedding ceremony's music, the actual mid-morning wedding ceremony and the delicious Indian and Thai luncheon that followed.

The trip started to become hectic when I also inserted other activities into my Bangkok programme: visits to meet other friends who would not be part of the wedding on Friday afternoon and all day Sunday, Friday evening drinks and dinner with former colleagues from FAO's Bangkok office, my Christmas shopping at Chatuchak week end market on Saturday morning and in town the rest of my free time, and preparations for a few days at the beach in the Gulf of Thailand following the wedding ceremony. The two hours' delay of my incoming plane did not help; I arrived with my bags just in time for my first lunch appointment on Friday noon. Basically, my time in Bangkok was completely filled up. The guards at the apartment I was renting must have thought I was strange: every day of my stay I would leave in a hurry, come back in a hurry at midday and leave 20 minutes afterwards having changed clothes, but still in a hurry, and again in the evening. 

And then the unplanned elements of the trip kicked in. On the morning of the wedding ceremony on Monday, I read an unsettling email arrived during the night from my father informing me that my grand-aunt Yvette Laulom had just passed away at the very respectable age of 96 years old. By the time the wedding ceremony had started, I had already made up my mind that I would forgo Thai beach and seafood and fly back immediately to take part in the funeral. It was easy to find a good-value one-way ticket back to France that evening, and I bought a ticket for the next train to join my parents in their country house and help prepare for the Thursday funeral ceremony.

Grand-aunt Yvette was an important person in our family. Although she never married, she took care of her nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces, feeding us all when we came to visit, or handing us food, cake and biscuits to bring back home or to boarding school. She also patiently knitted clothes for three generations of babies in the family, and elaborate and colourful pullovers for the children and teenagers. As if taking care of her extended family was not enough, she would also regularly visit the pensioners of one of the old persons' homes in Mont-de-Marsan, talking away with them, running small errands and knitting woolen blankets for them. She would fondly refer to the ladies she was visiting as "the little grannies from the old persons' home"; but she was often older than them. She only joined an old persons' home herself in the Summer of last year. 

Having been asked to say a few words at the funeral service, I did some research and managed to insert the reading of Matthew 25: 31-46 into the service. Given the good deeds she had done all her life, there was no doubt for those listening on which side of God she would sit if His Kingdom came. For the final homage from our family, my parents asked me to find a more cheerful text. I selected the beginning and last section of a poem by Victor Hugo mentioning chirping birds; she liked walking outdoors and was a keen amateur ornithologist and botanist. My parents, two of my cousins and an aunt all thought the text was well chosen and well read.

After this busy and stressful week, I will take a few days at home to recover. Today my parents and I put up the Christmas tree, which we cut out from the forest behind the country house.

Gave me something
Jess Glynne, I cry when I laugh, Mis