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Sebastian Trzcinski-Clément
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"If your note bears a resemblance to your coat”

A small tunnel of foliage led to the garden of the Blanco Renaissance museum (http://goo.gl/35JISv for a previous post on the topic). Under a tree, a young man dressed in typical Balinese attire was tending to tropical birds. It wasn’t clear if this was really part of the museum’s attractions. I stood there and patiently weaponised my camera with my usual big telephoto lens.

I have mixed feelings towards parrots and parakeets, I don’t exactly know why. Have I maybe seen too many of them in zoos, parks, or in cages in Chinese markets? Is it because I feel they’re too often used as puppets, being sometimes forced to pose or play tricks? Or is it the slight fear of being bitten by their hard beaks when getting too close to them? Still, I can’t help but try to capture their funny expressions, their vibrant colours, or their round eyes which seem to suddenly close when it’s really too much work to simply sit there and stay awake.

Look closer. Wouldn’t you want to gently pat the forehead of that green bird? Wouldn’t you want to feel the softness of those delicate feathers which look like hair, or the hardness of that red beak? And what about that dark blue bird: don’t you find its sharply-curved beak quite interesting, making me wonder whether it’s having fun plucking random things, maybe balloons or something? The grey bird does seem a little bit more cunning: its beak seems to be smiling while its starkly-yellow eye expresses some malicious intent.

As for the rainbow-coloured parrot, it does look rather proud sitting on its branch. It’s not without reminding me of the most well-known fable written by Jean de La Fontaine, The Crow and the Fox, which almost all French children in their first few years in primary school have to learn by heart (together with Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, check this previous post http://goo.gl/55b6v6 where I mentioned it together with Borneo’s proboscis monkeys). Leaning poetry by heart is something that I remember doing at school well up to the start of high school. I actually loved it – maybe because I excelled in reciting poems, teachers over the years always trying to encourage me to get the highest possible grade.

In that fable, the crow, flattered by the fox, drops what it was holding in its beak. La Fontaine’s fables – each ending with a moral lesson – are very clear to understand, all the more an achievement for a 17th century writer writing in rhymes. But let’s hear it straight from the fox’s mouth, in an English translation that is pretty good at preserving the richness of the rhymes (here’s the original version in French: http://goo.gl/GzLJ5Z):

A master crow, perched on a tree one day,
Was holding in his beak a piece of cheese.
A master fox, by th’ odor drawn that way,
Spake unto him in words like these:
“Good-morning, my Lord Crow!
How well you look, how handsome you do grow!
Upon my honor, if your note
Bears a resemblance to your coat,
You are the phœnix of the dwellers in these woods.”
At these words does the crow exceedingly rejoice;
And, to display his beauteous voice,
He opens a wide beak, lets fall his stolen goods.
The fox seized on’t, and said, “My dear good sir,
Learn you that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of him who hears him out.
This lesson is well worth some cheese, no doubt.”
The crow, ashamed, and much in pain,
Swore, but a little late, they’d not catch him again.
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Mizeng
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The Red Nose Is Real

She didn’t believe I was “real”, whatever that meant. So I challenged her, also to prove to myself that I do exist: I’d give her five minutes of my time on the bridge next to the central railway station – and then I’d start my Sunday walk. She didn’t turn up – so much for the challenge. Maybe I was too ugly looking for her to dare approaching me. Had I forgotten to take away my mask (http://goo.gl/7076Dd)? Or maybe she didn’t exist. But my attention had simultaneously been attracted by the people swarming towards the lake. I set forth and followed them, only to be soon reminded of a tradition that is well alive every winter in villages and towns across Alemannic Switzerland: the carnival (or “Fasnacht”).

I had a bit forgotten about it, because of my frequent travels, also because I don’t always get out on weekends (when would I have the time to write and read and process photos otherwise?!). Yet it’s a fond memory of those first few years after I moved to Switzerland, discovering this tranquil country and its peculiarities, sometimes contradictory, which gradually made me attached to this adopted homeland (but where really is home? http://goo.gl/mE9wCO). Carnivals abound, celebrating the time before the start of religious fasting or alternatively welcoming the springtime, shooing evil ghosts and dark spirits away.

Just a year ago, I had attended the slightly disappointing Saint Patrick’s Day in San Francisco (http://goo.gl/wM7aXh). But the carnivals in Switzerland are truly joyful and musical moments, completely involving locals, hot drinks distributed and sweets thrown from the parade chariots, both free of charge which must be pretty much the only free things in Switzerland together with the air one breathes and the city bikes during the summer season. And unlike Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade (bizarrely having nothing to do with Shrove Tuesday, especially considering it’s a gay and lesbian festival – maybe it’s because French sounds better?!), there’s enough space along the streets to get up close… the only thing is that you would probably not want to get up too close, for fear of being grabbed by some monster or tricked by some other jester (http://goo.gl/BXkMRF).

For some reason, Zürich’s parade always includes a delegation of Peruvian and Bolivian dancers which is certainly a surprising and contrasting scene. I can however assure you that the costumes and dance steps were completely faithful to Latin American tradition, for having witnessed one of those very festivals in Cusco (http://goo.gl/JKRLz). It suddenly makes me want to travel back there, on a motorcycle à la Ernesto Guevara (http://goo.gl/hqV5Lo)... let me finalise that resignation letter.

I didn’t get harpooned by a monster or thrown into a rolling bathtub full of confetti, thanks to my photo-taking strategy of hiding behind innocent children. I did grab one of those red noses though which now allow me to “trick or treat” single women at their homes. Oh wait, that sounds creepy. Okay, let’s just say next time you see a man with a camera and a red nose, that guy is “real” – his lame sense of humour too.
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I had one red nose
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The Tipping Point

The warm rays of the sun were reverberating on my beautifully-tanned skin and piercing through my transparent-blue eyes. I parted the sea with my hands, elegantly stepping onto dry, white, soft sand. Beads of water sparkled as they dropped from the strands of my hair and trickled down my sculptured body. With barely a flirtatious wink at the pretty girls ogling me, I picked up my camera and started gracefully jogging on the beach, flexing my amazingly-shaped muscles. My run was precisely calculated so I would arrive at my sunset photo spot exactly on time.

ShkreeechShkreeechShkreeechShkreeech – that’s the sound of the VHS tape rewinding – because it’s not at all how it happened.

Imagine instead my right leg full of (thankfully healing) wounds from a scooter accident ten days earlier in the middle of the Cambodian countryside (a story in itself, maybe for another time), my left side with three visible warzone-endured-like scars (what, did I hear someone say “sexy”?!), and it wasn’t seawater sparkling but stinky and sticky sweat. Oh, and since I haven’t been allowed to practice sports in the previous months, I was panting with my tongue sticking out (okay, I’m exaggerating on that one, the rest is however true, quite unfortunately). And the only people who could potentially observe this heroic scene were a couple meditating in lotus position on the beach… and with their eyes closed.

Anyway, I picked up pace, keeping an eye on the rapidly declining sun on my right. Five months had already passed since my double pneumothorax surgery (http://goo.gl/7K93i8), yet I couldn’t avoid thinking about it as I was running on the beach. To this day, I still have a hard time realising this happened to me – one wants to believe in one’s invincibility – although I since had that minor scooter accident.

On this warm January evening, the only lingering pain in my wrist didn’t prevent me from enjoying the pleasant one-kilometre jog, carefully avoiding to trample on my new little friends, the sand bubbler crabs (http://goo.gl/H0QnGf). For I had earlier noticed a beautiful junk boat anchored near the beach, one of those traditional sailing boats which used to dot Halong Bay in Vietnam (they have since been replaced by nondescript white motor-propelled boats). I would picture in my mind a pretty sunset photo with the silhouette of the boat, drowned in a reddish atmosphere, not without reminding me of Louis Toffoli’s Istanbul painting (http://goo.gl/BcP6bW). Actually looking for a link to that painting made me discover a whole series closely resembling what I eventually photographed (http://goo.gl/aKnofM).

Of course I wasn’t the only one wanting to capture the “perfect” sunset shot, although I’m perhaps a little more stressed – let’s say, meticulous – than the average photographer: I strive to frame a harmonious composition, not just capturing the sun itself as in too many dull shots. Sometimes the sun doesn’t even need to be in the frame to render magical instances (see the picture in a previous post titled “Four elements”: http://goo.gl/8vkMIi). I was also very lucky: I didn’t think I had ever seen the circumference of an orange sun so distinctly drawn out in the sky, although examining my catalogue of photos more carefully made me realise I had already witnessed similar sights during my trips to India. Luck struck twice: I couldn’t remember having yet observed the ring of the sun touch the flat horizon of the sea, clouds or pollution obstructing the sun in most other places I had been to (for instance in Tanah Lot in Bali, Indonesia: http://goo.gl/63NjBL).

As the sun disappeared behind the planet’s horizon, amateur photographers headed back to their bungalows. Fatal mistake, the sunset light would still reveal some surprising scenes. To be continued...
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Nice
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The Secret Lives of Sand Bubbler Crabs

“The path to grandeur starts by assembling tiny forces” – Seb Tzu in The Art of Beach War

The cannonballs were ready, the trenches perfectly dug out. Thousands of cannonballs had been methodically prepared and lined up around the trenches, awaiting to be hurled at the enemy’s fortresses. The time had finally come for the army of tiny sand crabs to claim their territory back from the race of human beings by attacking their sand castles. And if any of those children dared approaching too close, the crabs would snap right back into their circular trench holes.

But the battle never took place.

The crabs and the little children suddenly realised that external forces risked overwhelming them. The minuscule crabs hid into their tiny burrows; and the little children ran to their mothers’arms.

The tide came back up and washed the sand cannonballs and fortresses away.

Interlude. The tide ebbed away.

“Knock, knock, anyone there? I won’t kick you, I promise!” It did take me some fourteen years to realise that those poor things do have a brain and actually feel pain (read comments on a two-year old post about Thailand’s beautiful hermit crabs: http://goo.gl/7Wwyn). “I’m just here to take pictures of you”.

I completely lied down on the sand – connected to Mother Earth if you will (I will stop with innuendos right away... bad, bad Sebastian). That section of Otres Beach, near Sihanoukville in Cambodia, was a clean stretch of white warm sand. I waited quietly for the adorable one-centimetre-wide crabs to reassuredly come out of their burrows again. Those tiny crabs only exist in parts of southeast Asia but one has to pay attention to actually notice them on the beach. In addition, the light of the sun is often so strong that they appear to be the same colour and pattern as the sand. But upon closer inspection, and some post-processing, it’s possible to discern that these crabs are actually… blue and orange!

The nervous crab I was waiting for cautiously checked multiple times whether it was safe for it to emerge from its circular hole. It then resumed its very peculiar feeding activity, for it had already finished digging its burrow out, having removed all the sand till the tunnel reached the water table. It therefore started sifting through sand particles, pushing them to its mouth with one of its claws, trying to find the even more tiny edible coating at the surface of sand grains. Yummy.

It became even more interesting afterwards. The crab rotated the sand in its mouth and once the accumulated sand became too big, the crab disdainfully kicked the neatly-created round pellet of sand behind it. The crab then moved on to scraping the next teeny-tiny chunk of sand nearby, moving radially away from its burrow. Those so-called “sand bubbler crabs” are actually quite ingenious: by creating little balls of processed sand, they thus make sure not to chew on the same sand from which they had already extracted all the organic matter from (see this short video for some live action: http://goo.gl/AIV5X0).

Suddenly, the crab sensed danger: the sea was near, once again. The crab instantly disappeared in its burrow.

The tide came back up and washed the sand pellets, and me, away.

Interlude. The tide ebbed away.

Many crabs emerged from their holes, as if they had synchronised their swift movements. They started creating and discarding little same-sized sand spheres once again, not without reminding me of Sisyphus’s rolling of a boulder all the way up a hill before seeing it roll back down again – except that the crabs at least fed themselves before the sea would disintegrate everything.

The radial motion of the crabs led to the formation of sand ball galaxies on the beach. Crab-drone technology had not been invented yet. The crabs could therefore not grasp the beauty of the ephemeral art they were creating. Individually, a crab’s output didn’t matter. Add another crab’s output and that collaborative harmony started looking meaningful, even pretty. There is something comforting in the aesthetic observation of the parallel movement of the industrious crabs and of the intricate patterns drawn on the sand.

Look too closely and you’ll only notice the individual sand pellets. Stand up and they become indistinguishable, leaving the observer’s imagination run free to interpret those gradually-emerging constellations. This improvised art reminded me of Pointillism, that nineteenth-century technique of painting in small, distinct dots of complementary colours, juxtaposed to eventually form an overall image. If you’ve never heard of that style, give a look at the very first work, Baigneurs à Asnières (http://goo.gl/YNJ8bG), of the creator of that technique, Frenchman Georges Seurat, although I find Paul Signac’s Palais des Papes (http://goo.gl/7O6Vi8) more pleasing to the eye.

It’s as if not mixing colours on a palette but instead keeping them separate allowed the artist to paint something more ”pure”, more powerful. There’s both an emotional and rational explanation for why some view Pointillism that way. Emotional because the colour blending is achieved by the eye and the brain as opposed to being achieved by the brush – and quite naturally the brain is considered as superior to mere objects. Rational because it’s the same optical principle used in TVs: mixing independent rays of light is additive since each coloured ray corresponds to a frequency; so simultaneously projecting red, blue and green lights produces a white light. On the other hand, mixing paint is subtractive since the resulting colour is made up of all frequencies not absorbed by each pigment; so simultaneously mixing cyan, magenta and yellow produces black paint.

Maybe there’s a lesson to be taken here: would it be perhaps worth preserving some independence between things or people, and find ways to complement them, hoping that something beautiful will emerge, instead of seeking to blend or unify them? Aristotle’s saying, "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, should perhaps consequentially be extended to express that this is only true when the parts are not merged? How can one also tell that the combination will be complementary, additive and not incoherent, destructive? Is it a risk worth taking? And what’s the real risk anyway: feeling disappointed or hurt? being laughed at?

Being mocked, hmm... for the related anecdote, the name of that painting method – Pointillism – was initially given by art critics to mock it, although even Van Gogh adopted elements from it. I don’t know why that name stuck though, even if the negative connotation has since disappeared: after all, Seurat had given a name to the technique, coining it as “Chromoluminarism”, which does perhaps sound a bit too technical.

I however like Seurat’s scientific approach to his art. According to him, colour could be used to generate emotion, just like music could use variation to obtain harmony (coincidentally, I discovered there’s something called “Punctualism” in music which then reminded me of this interesting graphical way of representing music: http://goo.gl/3Q7aVN). So neo-impressionist painters, as they were called, codified this art: joy and happiness would be depicted with warm colours and lines going up, while sadness would be painted with dark and cold colours and lines going down.

Connecting the dots, excuse the pun, or rather the sand balls, excuse the double pun, with my little crabs, they were for sure far from worrying about such artistic considerations. There is something a little distressing about the lack of appreciation of art though, let alone when it’s subject to quick disappearance (let’s call this “Snapart” maybe).

If Seurat had counted on leaving a legacy beyond painting, he would have been disappointed. Both of his children died at young age. In fact, Seurat himself died a mere seven years after he invented Pointillism, of the same illness that would then cause the death of his little son two weeks later. Seurat was 31.

The tide came back up and washed the little crabs’ art, and Georges Seurat, away.
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Good
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Four elements

Fire. The sun’s dying red light suddenly surged from behind the mountains. Its fire blanketed everything in an instant.

Earth. The mountains, so impressive during the day, retreated in a distant black curve along the horizon. They could no longer obstruct the incandescent glow.

Air. Clouds set ablaze but the air didn’t fill up with smoke. It remained cold, pure, silent.

Water. The lake, its surface ruffled by thunderous waves the day bygone, remained calm as if dumbstruck by such beauty. It could do nothing but reflect the skies.

I seldom share only one picture at a time. Not that one picture wouldn’t be enough but it’s often difficult for me to pick only one, or illustrate my stories with anything less than a few images. I also have so many (wonderful, of course!) photos that I would need multiple lives to be able to share them all, even if I posted one every single day (I do however have a few clones to help me – recurrent joke of mine...).

For this picture taken at Lake Tahoe in northern California, I had voluntarily selected a low ISO value to keep the dark ambiance of the falling night, and had no need to apply any post-processing. The atmosphere truly was this red. I was really impressed and you could hear me repeat out loud those dullish words multiple times: “it’s incredible, it’s so pretty”. It felt surreal, it felt warm, it felt good – an instant of rare tranquillity offered to the turmoil in my mind –, it felt so special I didn’t want the sunset to ever end. But it did.

PS: still haven't had enough of sunset photos? Check out my other ones taken in:
– Thailand: http://goo.gl/op8egW
– Arequipa, Peru: http://goo.gl/JNtMr
– Indonesia: Bali's Tanah Lot (http://goo.gl/63NjBL) and Java's misty sunset (http://goo.gl/ED6HyV)
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very beautiful
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Aural pleasure

I was standing behind her. As she took her jacket off, I put my hands around her narrow waist. She started swaying her hips with the music. I got closer, I could feel the smell of her tanned skin, my breath lightly caressing her neck. I, too, felt the music vibes in my body; I was tempted to execute a few dance steps... which would really mean stiffly and awkwardly bending my knees. Was it only a dream?

What certainly wasn't part of my imagination was the two flutes simultaneously played by the musician (Manuel Hermia) on the far left of the stage. The two other musicians – the slender guitarist (François Garny) and the chubby drummer (Michel Seba) – were equally having an excellent moment. Curiosity and proximity of the concert hall had pushed me to attend the show given by Slang, an unknown Belgian jazz band.

Just as creative was their use of many different instruments – I lost count of the number of flutes (transverse or bansuri – an Indian flute), trumpets, clarinets and other saxophones one of the musicians used throughout the concert. The drummer’s trancing joy (http://goo.gl/e3kfyc) was truly infectious as he moved forward to the centre of the stage on a couple of songs, including the melodic one called Essaouira (http://goo.gl/WuVQfV), the name of a bucolic port on the western coast of Morooco, known for its small blue wooden boats and its wood craftsmanship, a town that is close to my heart.

Jazz as a music genre  is considered difficult to define. Giving prominence to improvisation appears to be a key aspect of what makes the music. I would however have been hard-pressed to define Slang as a pure jazz group – their mix of “ethnic” sounds and even rock beats at times makes for a really diverse and enjoyable set of songs.

I dared to sit down on the floor of the central alley between the front rows, since only the seats at the very back had been left available – and shooting pictures of fidgeting musicians, at distance, in a dark hall with sharp light contrasts, is probably one of the most difficult exercises for amateur photographers. One is never too close to the stage in that case! I fortunately didn’t get expelled – this time again – from my strategic position.

So here was I, extensively playing with manual settings to capture sharp-enough pictures, also trying  to be a little creative, for instance by rapidly zooming in or out or rotating my camera during slow shutter-speed shots. I had anyway given up on dancing since most of the audience remained frigid and too hung-up, so I was quite happy to play with my camera while deeply enjoying the music. In fact, I probably experienced what one of their songs was audaciously titled – and I promise I’m not inventing the term (although I wish I had): "eargasm".
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Awesome....
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Have him in circles
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Options: Conversion, Slavery, Payment, or Death

Quiz time: which of the following statements are wrong?
– Islamic State fighters and supporters are not all psychopaths
– Islamic State supporters take religion very seriously
– the proclaimed caliph, Baghdadi, actually descends from the rightful tribe of the Prophet, the Quraysh
– the establishment of a caliphate requires all Muslims to immigrate
– your only options if you don’t submit to the caliph are: to die, be a slave, or pay a tax (you don't necessarily get to choose)
– the Islamic State will survive and likely continue to attract overseas fighters in droves, as long as it continues to expand its territory
– religion has to do with the motivations of the Islamic State, as much as other political, social and economic factors

If you believe that any one of the above statements above is wrong, then you’re in for a big surprise: they are all correct. This enlightening piece (http://goo.gl/iqkMty) by journalist Graeme Wood in this month’s edition of The Atlantic Magazine will give you a lot to think about. Why you should read it (you won’t because you’ll find it too long – makes me think I should finish my draft post on “the currency of paying attention”)?
– because the journalist couldn’t be ideologically further from the atrocities and ideology of the Islamic State, and yet got the informal stamp of approval from some of the group’s thinkers on his article
– because you will see how political correctness and a little brainwashing don’t make for a good understanding of what’s going on nor for elaborating the more relevant response
– because, alas, it won’t change anyone’s opinion and “those in charge will ignore” the prophecies written 1,400 years ago and rigorously followed by the Islamic State, “and screw things up anyway”

Yes, the Islamic State draws its roots from a literal and medieval-age, even learned, interpretation of Islam, that includes slavery, crucifixion and beheadings: it is undeniably Islamic. No, it’s not the only flavour of Islam – even al Qaeda’s version is different, to the point that its leaders are considered as apostates by the newly-found caliphate (the irony). Yes, it’s a perfectly coherent belief system, once one accepts its foundational axioms. No, nobody can tell for sure whether supporters of the Islamic State truly believe in what they profess but then nobody can say anything about anyone’s beliefs, so let’s just stick to what they say, write and do, shall we? Yes, other religions have also proven to be strong motivators for raping and killing and doing all sorts of other wonderful things. No, not all Muslims support the Islamic State, far from it (200 million Shia are already marked for death just because Shiism is considered an “innovation” for the Islamic State, and therefore regarded as apostasy).

The Islamic State is following the prophecy and example of Muhammad: it’s claimed, obsessively, seriously, across the board, loud and clear. No other group in recent history has been more faithful to the Prophetic model – and that’s what makes it fascinating. Of course, other political, social and economic factors have fertilised the soil on which the Islamic State has grown. But denying the millenarian group’s religiosity, to which legitimacy they have just as anyone else for their own beliefs, will simply lead us to continue underestimating it, devising absurd plans to counter its expansion. In fact, the group is completely predictable because it rigorously follows a known ideology: they are in “offensive jihad” – expanding into countries ruled by non-Muslims – an aspect of Islamic law that most Muslims thankfully don’t consider (yet) applicable. We should have identified those expansion intentions sooner. We haven't. Now we’re stuck with the least worst option: to slowly bleed it by containing its expansion with air strikes, constraining it to the almost-barren land it occupies, which will not kill its ideology but its emotional appeal. Invading on the ground? Don’t even consider it: past interventions in that region only opened up the space for such radical groups. In fact, the Islamic State would love to see Western soldiers on its soil, confirming their suspicion that the West is embarking on a “modern-day Crusade” to kill all Muslims.

So: claiming that the Islamic State is un-Islamic would be completely counterproductive. For most Muslims, slavery may not be legitimate in today’s world but it cannot be condemned without contradicting the example of the Prophet… which would be an act of apostasy. The debate is happening within Muslim ranks though (for it would be absurd for non-Muslims to tell Muslims how to practice their religion, even if it’s certainly worth reading the Quran before talking about it – http://goo.gl/pXBEW). But reform or other interpretations could take different paths – in fact, Salafism is another ultraconservative, uncompromising literal version of Islam, but it focuses (first) on personal purification, in principle detaching itself from politics, before considering the expansion the “land of Islam”. There’s perhaps not much point in debating on the ideological front though: people are already convinced, entrenched in their own opinions. But understanding what they believe in can help in opting for better solutions, while avoiding political correctness in the process.

Brace yourselves. We’re not at the end of terror attacks committed a little bit everywhere on the planet, including by people truly motivated by their beliefs, with the vast majority of victims actually sharing a different interpretation of the same belief. But that’s unfortunately part of mankind's history and implacable future – and in the case of the Islamic State, unlike al Qaeda (hoping it doesn’t join forces, just like Boko Haram recently did), its focus is on the “nearby” enemy, not (yet) some distant towers in another land. It doesn’t mean we can’t prevent some of those attacks but they will undoubtedly happen, time and time again. If at least political correctness – and perhaps ignorance – were not blinding most pundits and other so-called experts, if it were not leading states to stir things up and make mistakes, we’d perhaps be slightly less worse off. Just perhaps.
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you're right , it's long!! :) 
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(No) Home

I’ve become somewhat of an ascetic wanderer. While I do have an official residence in the administrative sense of the term, a place where I sleep and get my mail delivered, it’s a far cry from the kind of place I would call “home” – because I travel quite a bit for work and for leisure, I’m only renting my place, and I’ve even sub-let a couple of rooms. Perhaps the only location I could have described as “home” was the family house before all hell stopped breaking loose (http://goo.gl/MfEikt) and my mother was forced to give it away to be able to pay off ten years of half “rent” owed to my father, even if he had been forced out of the house upon court decision. By an ironic twist of events, the house is now exclusively his. But that house will have had anyway forever been anchored in the past of my childhood, and not in the present or the future of my own life.

Simplicity and minimalism are probably what define my style of living nowadays – my interests lie less in material things than intellectual and in the realm of lived, physical experiences, although I can still appreciate a nice piece of furniture or equipment. But I just don’t need to own it. In fact, I want to be able – I am able – to move anywhere pretty much instantly without worrying about a piece of property somewhere (yes, Bali is still on my mind: http://goo.gl/35JISv) or, by extension, worrying about any responsibility tying me somewhere.

It didn’t use to always be the case that I didn’t care so much about having a “home”. More than ten years ago, I would tear apart pages from home decoration catalogues to keep track of inspiring designs for a future home. And since my parents had built their own house, it was indeed on my mind to also architect my own cosy place: a big library with all the books I read and loved even if I paradoxically don’t like to read things twice (there are so many good books to read and extend my wisdom from), a warming fireplace for those cold winter evenings, a cinema room to appreciate a good old vintage film by Kurosawa, an acoustical room for playing the piano or appreciating music across all the audible frequency spectrum.

I was reminded of that old dream twice, in rapid succession over the past few months. First when I was fortunate to visit an extraordinary private mansion on the borders of a lake up in the mountains. Every room was opened by thick wooden doors rounded at their top, stone and wood were interlocked all around the house, an imposing chimney gave the impression that a single fire could keep the place warm all winter long, an impressive living room highlighted the largest TV I had ever seen and which I thought was perfect for screening films… until I entered the dedicated cinema room! Heck, there was even a lift inside the house and an outdoors jacuzzi (imagine watching the silent stars above, naked in hot water while the snow is falling). Yes, it was too grandiose (I haven’t even described a tenth of that mansion) but you had to hear my interjections of surprise every time I entered a new room.

The second time I was reminded of that dream of having a home – or is it more about feeling at home? – occurred shortly afterwards when I visited the Casa Batlló in Barcelona. Also a private mansion, originally built in 1877, it is nowadays open to the public for a hefty fee (more than twenty euros!). It’s special because the architect who completely renovated it in 1904 was world-famous Antoni Gaudi, whose masterpieces sprinkle Barcelona. The colourful ceramic-tiled exterior of the building is already quite extraordinary, as if coming out of a fairy tale. Interpretations abound: is it the surface of a lake with water lilies? Are these protruding balconies the skulls or masks of djinns trying to peer into my mind? Are these the big eyes of a dinosaur or of a dragon, which back is represented by the roof? Do watch this fantastic video of a light show projected on the façade of the building – and let your imagination wander with the help of the (mostly! you’ll see why) appeasing music: http://goo.gl/wIV8Um.

Gaudi also designed some of the furniture – check out the funky overhanging lights – and went to the extreme of crafting his own font to name the rooms (that’s an F on one of the pictures of the album). Retractable slits in wooden panels cleverly serve as natural ventilation system. And what about this romantic fireplace, with seats carved on each side of the chimney? There would be so much more to say, from the oval windows to the arched loft and the central blue-tiled well. Notice carefully how the blue shade of the tiles gets lighter as one goes down the staircase: less light reaching the lower levels, it thus allows to create a homogenous blue atmosphere throughout the well. How ingenious!

For some reason, I was attracted to the round corners of every room and ceiling: it was that detail in particular that made me wonder how it could be easily replicated in any other building (maybe through the use of some plaster?) to break the harshness of monotonous horizontal and vertical lines of any traditional room. In the back of my mind were the Blanco Renaissance museum in Ubud (http://goo.gl/35JISv), or the Guggenheim museum in New York (http://goo.gl/NBMafO), which interest not only lies in the works exposed but also in the architecture of their building. And then I was thinking of an old idea of mine about creating new “castles” or anything that would drive tourists to visit them – anticipating that countries like France may actually need to invest more on tourism infrastructure and attractions to better prepare for the inevitable demise of traditional powers in favour of the emerging ones. Anyway, it’s part of my political programme that will probably never come to light, another one of those buried projects that come back up to the surface every now and then, never wanting to completely die.

From Paris to Barcelona, from New York to Ubud, from Zürich to London, home to me feels nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It perhaps depends on whether that home is shared with someone special, I don’t know anymore. Or maybe it is that “one never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time” (Frau Eva in Herman Hesse’s Demian, chapter 7 – http://goo.gl/2gkW3B in German, http://goo.gl/RvM1My in English).
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❤~❤❤❤~❤ :) 
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Hiring!

Do you have the chops for working with me on a personal project? I’m looking for someone creative, resourceful, a little bit technical, and capable of being completely independent. Read carefully what follows before applying.

Motivation
I have taken 100,000 photos and written 200 stories, with many more on the back burner. Is there anything that could be done with them? The person I’d like to work with is expected to come up with creative answers – and execute on them – with me. I just don’t have the time to work on this on my own.

Context
Here are some data points which made me – and should make you – ponder:
– $0.20 per year per photo is what uploading some photos on a stock photography website seven years ago (and none since) earned me on average, although the amount has been dwindling downwards in the last couple of years. Of course, I can’t claim that my 100,000 photos are all worthy of being sold, although you’d be surprised how I was able to sell the same photo multiple times by only flipping it… You can do the math and see the potential of merely considering the sale of photos on stock photography websites.
– all of my 100,000 photos are tagged (with EXIF and IPTC metadata), most of them are also rated (from zero to five stars), and they’re all already uploaded privately to my Google Drive
– cross-posting a tiny selection of my photos and stories on a new blog hosted on Blogger, as an experiment, generated some modest advertising revenue
– 350,000 people follow me on Google+ although only a tiny percentage actively engages with my content (about 10,000 passively view the content and 0.5 out of every 1,000 followers actively engages with it). Even without increasing participation, is there anything I could provide of more value to that audience, or any other online or offline audience?

Goals
I don’t necessarily need the money this project could generate but it could for instance fund photography or writing contests, or the printing of photo books or photo canvases to be given away. Of course, I wouldn’t be unhappy if the project garnered enough momentum to be self-sufficient, beyond generously rewarding your efforts and results. I’m however more interested in doing something extra out of those existing and future photos and stories, seeing them live, be transformed, reused in creative and interesting ways.

Job description
The list is not necessarily exhaustive and not everything is expected to be achieved. I’m counting on your creativity to come up with what “needs” to be done at the intersection of your own passion and my goals:

Coding:
– creating a website or an app (exhibition-style, game, anything), or simply a storefront (preferably using existing photo storefronts or otherwise creating it from scratch)
– translating photo metadata into English (IPTC data are in French but you don’t necessarily need to speak French)

Processing photos:
– highlighting photos, grouping them by themes, post-processing them

Writing and being creative:
– adapting or transforming my 200 stories into new works e.g. designing mashups on Google+, creating an ad-based blog or website, printing photo books, canvases or cards
– helping me draft new stories or rewrite previous stories (in particular correcting grammatical errors)
– trying out cross-posting on various platforms, possibly adapting formats

Selling and marketing:
– proactively selling some of my content online or offline
– experimenting with different ways of increasing traffic and sales
– suggesting high-quality but still cost-efficient giveaways based out of my content e.g. photo books and canvases

Branching out:
– partnering with other photographers and writers on concrete projects
– launching a thematic exhibition (by country, style, etc.) or partnering with existing ones, in various countries (with an obvious bias towards southeast Asia)
– connecting this project with another of mine regarding cultural photo-tours (high-end tours in an exotic country to both be enthralled by the cultural guiding and learn how to go from automatic to manual mode on one's camera)

What you would get from me
A unique work experience – it may or may not be for you. People working for me either appreciate my demanding style or hate it. Beware, I have no tolerance for slack behaviour, even if this is a personal project. But I’ll be actively mentoring you, giving you plenty of feedback, and will be treating you as a sparring partner. Again watch out: the pace is going to be quick and intense, and that’s perhaps no surprise that I work at Google (http://goo.gl/DzATl1). I’m a perfectionist and that will drive you crazy if you’re not like me. I take things seriously so you have to find your fun in working on this project – and be able to recharge. One more thing: my humour is lame, but you’ll probably laugh because it’s so lame.

Requirements
Most importantly, you need to understand and embrace the goals I’m trying to achieve, as well as truly appreciate the content I produce. Without passion, I can do nothing for you. In addition, you need to:
– be able to work completely autonomously and move forward even without clear direction 
– have excellent English writing skills (correct grammar, absence of typos)
– be able to code in HTML, JavaScript, possibly also in PHP (I scripted my metadata tagging code in PHP) 
– have post-processing skills (Photoshop or Lightroom)
– suggest ideas which are both creative and feasible
– propose a ”reasonable” compensation structure (see below)
– ideally live in or near Zürich, Switzerland (but working remotely is also possible)
– ideally have access to a good Internet connection (for manipulating large volumes of photos)

Compensation
That’s up to you to suggest but I would expect it to depend on your time commitment or on the actual results that you’ll get. For instance, I could pay you a salary if you’re fully dedicated on this project for a period of time we’d agree upon. Alternatively, you may wish to be bold and be compensated merely upon getting results e.g. percentage on the gross margin of all sales and ad revenue on the first few months post launch. Be creative and we’ll negotiate.

How to apply
Send me an email at networkseb@gmail.com with a link to a well-structured Google document (please give me commenting rights) explaining:
– what you understood of the goals of this project
– why you’re interested in working on it
– the ideas you have in mind and how you plan to implement them (I do expect a clear plan with timelines and realistic projections)
– the time you are capable of committing, when you’d be able to start and in which timezone you’re located in
– a summary and brief examples of your coding abilities and photo post-processing skills
– your background only as relevant to the project
– how you’d like to be compensated

The deadline to apply is set on 31st March, 2015, at midnight GMT, after which I’ll possibly conduct interviews with a shortlist of candidates. To make it more fun, I’ll automatically exclude the last application I receive before the deadline. I also reserve the right not to select anyone, nor to reply to your application (even if one of my clones probably will). And no need to be upset if you’re not selected, I have a bunch of other projects in store for which I’m equally happy to pay for them to be launched.

PS: did you notice that the photo I attach to this post is that of an elephant?! I took that photo almost exactly five years ago at the Elephant Festival in Jaipur, India… a fond memory.
PS2: my clones are unfortunately not eligible to be considered for this role, they lack a little bit of that human creative touch.
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I'm looking forward to seeing how this develops. Shutterstock's premium ($500) stock photography site also comes to mind: http://www.offset.com/
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The People (8 years at Google)

Tick-tock, tick-tock, another year passed today, the eighth one for me at Google. As part of my yearly routine for the past three years, I’ll take a moment to reflect on the past years, on the last one in particular.

Once again, a lot of what I wrote before remains valid. I still love our products (year five: http://goo.gl/lti06), they’re indispensable to me, even if there are so many ways we could make them excellent; I couldn’t resist documenting existing quirks and four big areas where I think we should improve. Year six had been the year when I learned how to take quicker decisions regarding people’s performance and choosing which battles are worth fighting for (http://goo.gl/e7a2I9), a valuable experience that I still use today and coach others on. Speaking of coaching, that was a big theme for year seven (http://goo.gl/5c6sVJ) which made me question – and still makes me question – what is the best use of my time and energy, especially when it’s still not always easy to say “no”.

What have I learned from the previous year? Well, as can be seen in the underlying trend of my previous yearly posts, “people” are what makes all the difference, not only because I manage increasingly larger teams over multiple regions. Yet again, I won’t be at a loss for words and will speak quite openly about the topic. I had initially titled my post “the good, the bad, and the ugly” but after multiple revisions, I realised I had fallen in love with my title instead of acknowledging that I was exaggerating the negatives.

I’m certainly not claiming that everything is rosy, even at Google – but that’s also for me to not fall for silly tricks, for instance when it comes to internal politics which I think I became more exposed to over the past year than I have been used to. Jokingly, I can’t believe watching House of Cards during my post-surgery recovery (http://goo.gl/7K93i8) didn’t allow me to be better prepared to confront manipulation and childish attitudes, which coincidentally also perturbed my personal life at the same time. Maybe I thought I didn’t want to disappoint or upset, sometimes taking the blame even when there was no blame to be taken; maybe because I thought rationality, straightforwardness and kindness (what’s wrong with kindness, seriously...) are enough to convince the most hardened individuals of the value of playing ball, of accepting that not everything is black and white. But being afraid to disappoint is wrong, I have to accept not everyone is going to like me. At the very least, I try to stick to a principle of not putting my pride in the way – the way of always being available to talk things out in a direct fashion, leaving emotions aside, even if I can’t reach an agreement. That’s for me lesson number one.

The symmetrical aspect of having to deal with manipulative people and "takers" is enjoying working with great people. I gave eighty interviews over the past year, the most I have given in any given year, even though I’ve been out on sick leave for a little while. Interviewing is something I enjoy and which I’m hopefully not too bad at (at least the recruiters love my responsiveness and detailed feedback), even if most interviews result in rejecting the candidate (we do get more than a couple million CVs every year). But I’ve still hired a few excellent people for my team and for other teams. Working with smart and creative people really makes it so much more motivating and pleasant – and thankfully Google still attracts such people.

Interestingly enough, interviewing is “the most important skill any business person can develop” according to Google’s chairman and former CEO, +Eric Schmidt​, and according to Google’s former head of product management, +Jonathan Rosenberg​ (in How Google Works). That’s for me lesson number two. And yet many people seem to do everything they can to avoid being on an interview panel. It’s crazy considering how repeatedly interviewing candidates is the only way to ensure we get the best ones to join Google’s ranks. To be fair, conducting a good interview requires skills: understanding the role, preparing questions (I tend to reuse some questions to better benchmark responses), looking up details about the candidate, challenging them during the interview (okay, I have to admit that I omit to say I’m French myself when I happen to interview Frenchmen who then think they are “enlightening” me on the French market or their past experience in France!), seeing how they gained insights from their experiences, checking if they can themselves ask thoughtful questions (I’m still surprised how asking whether the candidate has any questions for me sometimes seems to be the most disconcerting question). It doesn’t stop there: delivering quality and prompt feedback in our recruiting tool, with a clear and strong substantiated opinion on whether to hire the candidate or not, is equally as important.

A previous manager of mine who had joined the executive ranks of a major company shocked everyone there when he asked to be on the last stage of the interview panel of every single person to be hired in his organisation. But is that so much of a surprise when hiring great people is essential to a performing work culture, which in turns is essential to retaining people?

Ah retention… I was sad to see a number of inspiring people leave or retire over the course of the past year, including folks who partly made me the way I am today, allowing me to better learn the ropes of managing people – and retaining them, by acting swiftly to remove the bad apples and showing my appreciation of the good ones.

On a personal level, it’s the same question every year of whether to stay at Google or not, especially when I can’t help but constantly think about new work-related and personal projects and businesses, partly inspired by my work and my travels (tuk-tuk-pooling anyone?). If only I could find the “off” switch in my brain to at least find some sleep at night… or be able to take a step back and feel satisfied enough with what I’m currently achieving. I guess that should be lesson number three: take the time to reflect, perhaps more than once a year, on what really makes one’s life feel fulfilled; and be a little more happy with the good stuff already accomplished.

Considering the title of this post, let’s finish it in music, with The People, a song by a British alternative rock band called The Music (how original!): http://goo.gl/SjQdgE. The song is not particularly impressive for its lyrics but it has a lively beat which makes my booty head shake. Okay, I’m strange but sometimes “people are strange” too! (http://goo.gl/dZwce)
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Congratulations on another year.  The musings of future direction are natural.  Don't tamp them down.  Explore them mentally, especailly with a few people whose opinion you trust and value.
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Call me nobody

Should I change my family name or not?

I always had to bear – and explain how to pronounce – that complicated name of mine, “Trzciński”, transmitted along the patriarchal line. Little by little, it became part of my identity. Don’t most of us feel over time that our names, our first names at least, really match with our personalities, in an inseparable way, as if any other name would appear awkward? In my case, there may even have been a little pride in having a fairly unique and complicated family name, very different from peers at school, in whichever country I studied in – the pride of someone with multiple cultural origins, as if it were a source of richness, which it can be if one becomes more open to others.

But here’s the catch: that family name is tightly connected to my male genitor. Having witnessed some amount of violence during my childhood (http://goo.gl/MfEikt) for which I'm still half-waiting for a sincere apology and which is probably still affecting me today, I felt compelled to adjoin my mother’s maiden name – ”Clément” – to my own name. I can’t remember exactly when I operated that unofficial change; it was certainly after “he” was instructed by court order to leave the family house.

Here am I today: half of my life has now been spent using that longer double family name. It made its way in most administrative documents, including info some official ones like my passport where I was able to add a note about the regular family name I use. I had indeed discovered that nothing prevented anyone, in France at least, to go by whatever name or nickname one decided for oneself, as long as official transcripts were still using birth names.

Should I today drop my official family name and only keep my mother’s maiden name, as my brothers have done? I would no longer have to explain the origins of a complicated name; and I’ve always felt more French – having mostly lived in France and knowing its culture and history better – than Polish, the Polish side of the family having almost completely rooted itself out of my life. I would no longer have to feel a little sad and ashamed that almost no one knows how to spell my last name, let alone pronounce it correctly (Frenchmen don’t even know how to spell my first name correctly, that’s saying something). I would even perhaps no longer be discriminated (I never had proof of that but studies are univocal). I would no longer have to be reminded of a particularly unpleasant past.

The past itself however doesn’t go away with a symbolic name change. The pain neither. Yes, I should accept my past – and be able to move on to focus on the present, on what needs to still be healed. While I try not to attach much value to symbols, I’m inevitably sensitive to something intrinsically linked to my identity and self-image. Maybe that explains why I would have people just use my first name, stripping out my family name altogether. I also tend to present myself as “Sebastian with a complicated last name” to make people laugh (and make fun of me). Despite its own length, my first name has rarely been shortened or replaced by a nickname – so I grew all the more fond of it. Is it a surprise then that my Google+ link is only made up of my first name?

One of my brothers recently went a step further in changing his family name, since our generation falls out of scope of a recent law that makes it easier for children to pick their family name among the names carried by their parents. After two years of process, he finally got his request accepted to officially change his – patriarchal – family name to my mother’s maiden name only. My other brother is going to follow suit. My sister doesn’t really care, as she would most likely pick up her future husband’s name (and she’s anyway too disorganised regarding administrative stuff, however much of a genius she is <3 – I know other people like that).

So I mulled over what I should do myself. One day I manage to convince myself to request the official switch. Another day I think the opposite, both for a question of identity, feeling it’s too late now in my life to change things, and for a question of practical consequences. For instance, I don’t trust administrations across the multiple countries I have worked and lived in to be able to correctly match my records when I’ll collect benefits or request personal data; and I wouldn’t be surprised that immigration officials would be more suspicious of people changing names, the Indian visa agency asking that specific question for example.

Oh well, I guess I’m not ready to make this complete name switch today. Until I change my mind again. You know what? Simply call me Sebastian.
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Me encantan tus imágenes 
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Nightly riverbank

I needed quiet on that mild October night. I found it on the other side of boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, opposite of the Latin Quarter, along the river Seine. It was by then already late in the evening, restaurants had closed, people were going home. A partygoer had left an empty whisky bottle on top of a wall, bokeh effects in the background giving the impression that particles of joy were lingering on.

A few passers-by were venturing out along the riverbank. Some had sat down on benches regularly spaced out, lit up by overhanging street lights. The scene seemed taken out of one of those black and white films from the 1930s, perhaps Fritz Lang's M with its characters, innocent and murderous, half-illuminated in the dead of the night (http://goo.gl/eYqqOe). Or maybe was the scene taken out from a Franz Kafka novel, pedestrians going left or right, sitting down, going back, going nowhere. A motorbike zipped by; a vaguely menacing group of silhouettes trod along.

Less threatening was this couple, embracing, right next to the locked book shacks. Was this “a town where the people known as Happy Folk lived” (http://goo.gl/RqmTfY)? Would Strange Folk disturb those rare instants of tranquillity?

Either the couple was very much in love or they were playing with me, feigning not to notice me with my big telephoto lens aimed at them as they continued to cuddle, unperturbed. Like that boat quietly gliding on the river, I had disappeared into the night.

Update: here's a voice-over video version of this post http://goo.gl/HAZ0GC .
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beautiful images... wonderful sketch... Thank you for sharing the Evening... and moments... :)
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People
Have him in circles
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Sharing the passion for technology, motivating developers and entrepreneurs, while leading teams across Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa
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Demanding. Passionate.
Introduction

What I write about

Most of my posts are true stories with pictures of my wanderings across the planet, from Peru to Thailand and many other countries in between. I don’t really have a permanent home anymore: I live with little and I travel a lot thanks to my exciting and privileged job at Google. Drafting those stories, selecting and processing photos take about three hours for each post – that is why I don’t spam you more than once or twice per week with my posts (and you won't see any annoying hashtag or ostentatious embellishment), and that is also why your +1s and comments are encouraging.

An index of all my posts, classified in many ways, is available for your perusal. If you can’t be bothered to go through that index, why don’t you take a look at my photos of various animals (hermit crabs and no, I don't kick crabs anymore; Andean condors; Borneo kingfishers; dolphins in Bali; monkeys in Thailand), stories of my family (my grandpa, my late grandma, the cord, Litsa), famous landscapes (Machu Picchu, Borobudur, Bromo volcano), awkward places (underground mosque, water palace, salt ponds, circular Inca terraces, Buddha's head entrapped in a tree, a hotel for bees, long-necked women), my most popular posts (Javanese dancers, Thai dancers, tropical birds) or just sunsets (in Thailand, in Indonesia).


About me

I can be sarcastic, I listen, I check facts (I'm Zetetic – I just love this word and love words in general), I'm an organisational freak, I read and I take humble stabs at writing, I watch movies, I cannot go on without music, I love photography (check my photo albums), I travel most of the time (otherwise my social life is mainly limited to playing badminton once a week when I'm not undergoing surgeries), I'm a citizen of the world, I pay attention and have come to deeply enjoy speaking in public, always trying to enthuse my audience. I don't drink (not even coffee), I don't smoke – and never did. I'm kind but I'm a bit stubborn (okay, maybe more than a bit – my siblings think I’m Sheldon Cooper while others say I have a vague resemblance to Tom Cruise).

I'm a quiet person but I am always bustling with (crazy) ideas and stories. I kiss slowly (I'm a Frenchman, but does being so mean anything? Maybe it does since I can relate to bleak chic) and I don't feel like having children. I'm somewhat of a tormented soul too – my school of thought is Camusian-Nietzschean-Cynic. Trying to be hedonistic too (I fail miserably), which is not contradictory with caring for and helping others, sometimes being a positive deviant.


How to send me a message

Click on the email icon (the one with the text lines, not the hangout bubble one) below my profile photo and name – note that you need to be logged in to be able to send a message. Alternatively, if you use Gmail, you can directly type my name as you compose a message, even without knowing my email address. Or use the email address that you can see on this page.
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