22 March, 2010

Oh happy happy!

Last Friday I went to listen to my second Parisian concert after coming back.

It was an evening of Haendel opera arias by a quartet of already famous young singers at the Theâtre des Champs Elysées: Sandrine Piau, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Philippe Jaroussky, Topi Lehtipuu and the Concert d'Astrée, all conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm.

I decided to go at the last minute. There were no more seats available in the room. So I bought a €5 seat at the box office. The Theâtre des Champs Elysées is nearly circular. The cheapest seats are literally above the stage in two small dark rooms on the left and right sides of the hall. The audience there can only listen. If one wants to see, one has to bend over the side of the open window and look down on the 10m drop over the stage: not for those who are afraid of heights. This would probably be banned in health-and-safety conscious UK.

My seat was at the back of the room so I was not even tempted to bend over to look at the artists. I had all seen them in the past already anyway. The sound in this small dark listening chamber was a bit muffled but pure. I closed my eyes and listened to the beautiful arias. I did find out I was missing out on something visual as the rest of the room was laughing at some points so although the concert was not staged, something must have been happening on stage.

One good thing with this position overlooking the rest of the audience rather than the stage, is that one can spot the seats left empty. At the intervall, I changed seat for one I had spotted right in the centre of the second balcony. Not only could I now see the stage and the singers, but all the harmonies in the voices suddenly came out much better. The ladies' voices in particular sounded much richer now. The comedy on stage came from singers playing with the height of the music stands between numbers.

A great baroque concert of runs, affects and fun. I went home completely elated on my bicycle, driving through nearly empty streets past the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars and behind Montparnasse back home. I was in such an intellectual high that I hardly noticed it was raining and that I was all wet.

Happy we
Haendel, Acis and Galatea
William Christie and Les Arts Florissant, Erato

10 March, 2010

Help me make up me mind

I've come back to Thailand for a week of work with FAO, facilitating the second workshop of a regional project on food consumer market research. The project involves researchers from four countries: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China. From the various interests of the national researchers, the objective was to come up together with a few common research problems that we might all resolve in the four different countries using the same research methodology.

To achieve this convergence, I proposed to use the world café method, which we implemented yesterday. World café involves breaking up into small groups seated at separate tables with a large sheet of paper on which to take notes. All groups discuss a common question separately. Participants then shift tables so as to share the findings between groups while one person - the table host - permanently stays at a table to report previous discussions to newcomers at the table. For more information, visit the KS-toolkit.

We are a small group of 14; I chose to set up three tables of four or five people. The common question to be discussed was: "What are the COMMON research problems that could be investigated in ALL four countries?" I had anticipated that the world café method would allow all participants to become aware of all the wishes of their colleagues, and we would use another facilitation method to do the convergence of views to select a few common research problems for all countries to implement.
In fact, the convergence process happened naturally through the world café. The sheets of paper on the tables were scribbled with all the various ideas coming up from participants but the discussions being held at the three tables also allowed everybody to spot the common research problems that would be relevant for all four countries and the three food products we were working on.
When the three table hosts presented the synthesis of their table discussion, we naturally ended up with just one common research problem to be investigated using one conceptual framework, which was illustrated in a graph form on one table and in a matrix form on another table. The convergence process happened naturally during the world café, which made the plenary discussion afterwards much easier. Perhaps the very precise question for the café helped; it already asked participants to set their minds in a converging mode.

The lesson I have learned: the knowledge café method is not just a useful way to share experiences and results, it can also be used to converge different views in order to take a common decision.

David Guetta
Choose, One love, Virgin Music

01 March, 2010

I'm waiting for your call

My parents live in Santiago de Chile; my father works there as Trade Commissioner at the French Embassy.

On Saturday afternoon, I got a call from my very distressed brother who had tried all day to call them from Hong Kong after he had heard about the massive earthquake in that country. I had been running errands and had been busy all morning and had not heard the news at all.

I called the "crisis cell" of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry. They had somebody very reassuring tell me it was normal that the telephone be down and the best thing to do was to send out an email. And indeed, we did so and my father replied he and my mother were both fine.

My brother had suffered anguish for a whole day. Thanks to my not following the latest news, I was only distressed for two hours. After hearing of my father's email from my brother, I phoned the rest of the family members in France to transfer the good news. Some knew exactly why I was calling and were anxious to get news. My brother's sister and aunt on the other hand were blissfully unaware of what had happened in Chile and so were happy to get the news without suffering the torments of anguish.

We only got phone calls from my parents on Sunday afternoon when the telephone lines were patchily being restored.

The lesson I have learned, once again: I should not follow the daily news too closely. Immediate information about world problems probably contribute to provoque a lot of unecessary stress. I say, "once again", because I missed 09/11 completely. I was working so hard on finishing my Master's thesis that I only noticed the next day that the army had taken over the streets and underground stations of Paris.

B.B. King
Waiting for your call, One kind favor, Geffen Distribution