The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the cafĂ© in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.

"Happy Holidays" and Christmas boycotts: Here We Go Again [en]

[fr] Joyeux Noël!

It’s the time of the year again. Christmas. I like Christmas. I’m not Christian. And like each year, the stuff that annoys me is the “let’s boycott Christmas” movement and the American “Happy Holidays” stuff.

Here’s a post I wrote two years ago which pretty much sums it up and is still valid today.

I think making a point of saying “Happy Holidays” instead of simply “Merry Christmas” only emphasizes the religious/believing dimension of Christmas, in a sort of weird Streisand effect: “ew, it’s a Christian celebration, I’m not Christian, I’m not going anywhere near it.” To me this kind of attitude actually smells of fear. What on earth is wrong with considering Christmas a secular celebration of love and peace for those who do not believe (in Christianity), a celebration which has its historical roots in the dominant religious tradition of Europe and America, and that we keep around even when it’s emptied of its religious dimension? (Er… like Thanksgiving, for example?)

And even if it wasn’t, what is wrong with wishing somebody with a different faith of yours a good celebration of something that’s important to them? I have no problem wishing Muslims a Happy Eid, or Hindus a Happy Diwali — or Christians a Merry Christmas. Why would I seize the occasion to point out that I believe that what they believe is not true? I don’t see the point.

But again, my argument is that Christmas has long since ceased to be a religious celebration (except for the more religious Christians out there) and is now mainly a family/commercial thing.

Which brings us to my second pet peeve: people who throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject all of Christmas and all of the gift-giving because of the excesses involved. Of course, present inflation sucks. But there are ways to reject present inflation without throwing out Christmas. You can decide to have less presents. You can put a price cap. You can decide to have only presents that have cost time rather than money. You can have a present lottery with one present given and received per person. There are options.

What irks me the most with the (mostly) American “Happy Holidays” is that I don’t believe that Thanksgiving gets the same treatment. Hullo? Thanksgiving! The pilgrims! Giving thanks to… who, already? I sometimes see the very same people who turn their noses snobbishly up on Christmas joyfully feast on turkey at Thanksgiving. Why the double-standard?

So Merry Christmas everybody. Whatever you believe.

Welcome to India! [en]

[fr] Arrivée en Inde!

“Welcome to India!” is a phrase I often use somewhat ironically. Like, when the Indian Consulate General sends back your visa application paperwork with a note saying “please apply in person” because you didn’t see that applications by post had been discontinued (despite the instructions for applying by post still being on the website), and so you end up on the train to Geneva with those very papers they had in their hands the week before, yes, because they stuffed them in your return envelope to send them back to you so you could bring them back to them in person… Yeah, welcome to India, indeed.

So anyway. All this to say that I’ve arrived. After a little airport adventure (a flight that didn’t exist, flying through Zurich instead of Munich, arriving nearly two hours before we were supposed to!) we made it to Pune. I managed to have a decent number of hours of sleep and still wake up before lunch (methi, Nisha knows I love it).

Sandy, house guest 1 Bruno, house guest 2

I got to meet the two canine house guests, take note of the advancement of the building works in Akashganga since last year, and this afternoon, was faced with the evisceration of the road leading up to the house. I hope nobody needs to take their car out these next days.

Construction works in IUCAA

My plans for the week? Not many:

  • make sure our waitlisted train tickets to Goa get confirmed
  • a couple of trips to the jeweler’s (one to drop off orders and stuff to repair, one to pick up)
  • pick up a SIM card *fingers crossed*
  • meet up with a few people, old and new
  • maybe go to the cinema for the latest Amir Khan movie
  • eat nice food
  • see if I can buy a pair of jeans (a challenge given my size and shape)
  • leave enough space for reading, writing, photography, chatting with my hosts, learning to cook nice food, and general unpredictability of Indian life!

Two hours later: the power is back, I can publish my post! (We’ve been without pretty much all afternoon and Nisha has been cooking by candlelight.)

Vacances annuelles de Noël à mi-février [fr]

[en] Annual vacation coming up, from Christmas to mid-February.

Ceux d’entre vous qui me connaissent le savent: je prends depuis quelques annĂ©es un “gros break” en hiver. Ça me permet de me ressourcer pour ĂŞtre plus productive et crĂ©ative le reste de l’annĂ©e. Et ça m’Ă©vite aussi de passer un mois de janvier en Suisse Ă  dĂ©primer dans la grisaille.

Concrètement, cela signifie que je ferme boutique entre NoĂ«l et mi-fĂ©vrier — je reprends après la confĂ©rence Lift, qui a lieu du 6 au 8 fĂ©vrier.

Je vais consacrer les deux semaines qui restent avant NoĂ«l Ă  mettre de l’ordre dans les divers dossiers en cours. Certains d’entre vous attendent des rĂ©ponses Ă  des e-mails, et vous devriez les avoir d’ici lĂ . Pour tout ce qui peut attendre mon retour, on verra ça dans deux mois!

Indian Stretchable Time [en]

[fr] En quelques mots? Pas envie que mes vacances se terminent.

You what what they say about time in India: IST doesn’t stand for Indian Standard Time, but for Indian Stretchable Time. I think it’s pretty obvious to anybody who spends enough time here that the perception of time is very different here than in Europe, for example.

Pune 142 Laxmi Road Shopping.jpg

Holiday-time is also different from work-time. Days stretch ahead when your holiday is long enough. You forget what day of the week it is. You lose track of how long you’ve “been here”. You spend a whole day in Lightroom and fooling about online without worrying about being “productive”. You get up when you get up, don’t worry too much about mealtimes (especially if that is taken care of by your hosts), forget about your upcoming plans and deadlines.

And suddenly you realize there is less than a week left before you’re back in Switzerland, back to work-life, back to processing e-mails, back to a catless flat, back to earning money and paying attention to how much you spend, back to the cold and grey winter, back to everything you left behind.

Let me say it clearly: I don’t want my holiday to end and I don’t want to go back.

Of course, I look forward to seeing my friends again — but I’ll miss the people I love here. And I am very grateful I took example (partially) on danah and decided to send all my holiday e-mail into the black hole — meaning I will be coming back to work without an e-mail backlog to catch up on.

But right now I really don’t want to go back to my life.

We had a really nice time in Bangalore and Mysore. My Bangalore photos are online now, but I haven’t got around to sorting through the Mysore ones yet, or writing all the articles I want to write — as if putting it off was going to extend my holiday. (Articles? Bangalore Walks, Hillview Farms Homestay, Security Theatre in India, some thoughts on Indian culture in the light of independence and colonial legacy, a whole bunch of Indian recipes…)

I’ll go back to reading my book or hanging out on Quora now, while Nisha makes lovely-smelling chapatis next to me and the dogs nap on the cool stone floor.

When You Can't Afford to Take a Break… [en]

[fr] Quand on est tellement stressé et occupé qu'on ne peut pas se permettre de prendre une pause ou des vacances... c'est là qu'il faut vraiment le faire. Apprenez à reconnaître ce signal d'alarme et à l'écouter!

…that’s when you really need to take one.

I’ve seen this time and time again, in me and others. The clearest warning sign that one is doing “too much” and needs to take a break, a day off, or even a vacation is this feeling that one has no time to do so.

The few times in my life when I’ve come near to breaking down from too much work and stress, there was the common feeling: “I really could do with a break, but there is no way I can take one now.”

To help gain some perspective, imagine that you fall so ill you can’t work, or get in an accident that lands you at hospital for 3 weeks (my experience is also that when you really need a break, there is a risk you might find a creative way to give yourself one).

So, next time you feel you’re so swamped you really can’t afford to take a break… listen to that warning signal, cancel some commitments, renegotiate that deadline, and take that break!

Retour Ă  la montagne [en]

[fr] Back to the mountains. First evening.

Il pleut, il fait gris, et il y a tellement de brouillard qu’on ne voit pas les montagnes d’en face. C’est reparti pour 4-5 jours au chalet, cette fois avec deux connaissances plus rĂ©centes, des “gens d’internet” Ă  l’origine, mais que j’ai dĂ©jĂ  rencontrĂ© “en vrai” (comme disent certains) une ou deux fois.

Quelques apprĂ©hensions, pas tant Ă  leur sujet en tant que tel (car je sais dĂ©jĂ  qu’ils sont fort sympathiques), mais j’ai peur qu’ĂŞtre avec des gens “du milieu” me rende plus difficile de dĂ©crocher complètement comme je l’ai si bien fait la dernière fois.

Les prochains jours me diront si j’avais raison ou non de m’inquiĂ©ter. Comme d’habitude, je suppose que la rĂ©ponse sera non.

J’apprĂ©hende aussi Ă©galement parce que j’ai peur que cette “deuxième expĂ©rience” n’Ă©gale pas la première, qui Ă©tait assez Ă©poustouflante, et que je sois déçue. C’est moi-mĂŞme qui tisse ma propre toile, lĂ .

Il est 23h30 Ă  peine et je suis Ă©puisĂ©e. Est-ce l’altitude? On n’est qu’Ă  un peu plus de 1000 mètres. Le grand air? “L’effet vacances”?

A nouveau, j’ai dĂ» partir en laissant certaines choses importantes en plan pour Going Solo. Je me rends bien compte que c’est inĂ©vitable. Vu la masse de travail et le temps qu’il reste, je ne peux que laisser des choses en plan, faire tarder encore plus des dĂ©cisions ou actions qui auraient dĂ» ĂŞtre rĂ©glĂ©es il y a des semaines, ne pas avancer aussi vite que je pourrais, si je veux prendre quelques jours de break.

Et Ă  voir ces derniers jours, c’Ă©tait juste le bon moment.

Demain, marcher, si le temps le permet.

Photos From the Mountains [en]

[fr] Quelques photos de mes vacances au chalet.

As you know if you read my latest posts (I’m going on a link strike, be warned, so it’s up to you to dig), I was up in the mountains for nearly a week, staying at my chalet with a friend.

And I took photos.

I’d been on a photo strike for ages, and I rediscovered how much I liked taking photos, and even sorting them 🙂

Here are the albums of my days in Gryon:

Feel free to tag my photos, add notes, or add questions. I know most of the places and mountains photographed, but it’s easier to add information as it’s asked for!

My sets and collections are somewhat out of control, of course, but there is some underlying layer or organization. Maybe ten years from now I’ll go through with my project to select photos for a book or an exhibition (maybe you can help me: tags forbook and forexpo — doesn’t hurt to try).

If you’re using Firefox, you might want to download and install the PicLens plugin.

Here are some random photos that I like.

Chalet and Surroundings 55

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 94

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 16

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 35

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 77

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 27

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 50

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 59

Day 1, Croix des Chaux - Taveyanne - Villars 080

Day 1, Croix des Chaux - Taveyanne - Villars 047

Day 1, Croix des Chaux - Taveyanne - Villars 049

Day 1, Croix des Chaux - Taveyanne - Villars 030

Day 1, Croix des Chaux - Taveyanne - Villars 026

Day 3, Bretaye - Col de la Croix - Gryon 23

Day 4, Solalex - Anzeinde - Pas de Cheville - Anzeinde 26

Chalet and Surroundings 12

Chalet and Surroundings 29

Chalet and Surroundings 42

Chalet and Surroundings 37

Chalet and Surroundings 65

Chalet and Surroundings 52

Chalet and Surroundings 79

Chalet and Surroundings 10

Chalet and Surroundings 66

Chalet and Surroundings 62: Steph and Bagha

I’m looking forward to my next holiday!

A couple more days offline [en]

[fr] Encore quelques jours à la montagne, et une réflexion sur l'e-mail.

Oh well — the text I wrote this morning was wiped by a computer crash. Maybe I should use a text editor with autosave.

So, back at the chalet after another day walking. About 4 hours today. 5 yesterday. The day before: raking, sawing, chopping, cutting, carrying branches — in short, transforming the jungle around the chalet into something resembling a garden. So, I’m physically exhausted, but I feel great. My brain on drugs. It must be all those endorphins.

I want to come here more, go walking in the mountains more, spend more time out of the city. I almost found myself wondering what kind of seasonly job I could find here — but it was just idle wondering, I don’t really want to do that. What I have done, though, is opened up iCal and blocked 3-5 days here every month. I wanted to do it before I left, because when I’m here I always want to come back more, but as soon as I go back to “regular life” all the “important things” get in the way.

I’ve been so busy doing physical stuff that my brain has been on hold these last days, which is a really good thing. I’ve tired myself out (went to bed and actually turned the light off before 10pm last night — something I hadn’t done in ages).

My time, when I haven’t been walking or cutting down trees, has been eating, looking at the view, chatting (a little) with the friend who came up here with me, reading, writing (this) and… sorting photos.

I’ve been taking photographs again. I think that one of the reasons I almost completely stopped taking photographs these last six months is that it had started to feel like work. Completely goal-driven, get the photos online, publish fast, sort, title, tag, sets, collections… I’ve known for a long time that one of my problems in life is that I’m too goal-driven. I don’t put enough energy into enjoying the process. Singing and judo are two process-driven activities I enjoy. But maybe I need more. And maybe I need to move most of my activities towards “less goal, more process”. Hmmm, maybe painting.

Being without e-mail has turned out to be easy. I had not decided beforehand if I would use my phone to access e-mail, chat and tweet while I was up here. I told everybody I would be completely offline, but I knew I had the possibility to “break the fast” if I wanted to. I think the first step was the most difficult one: the first evening here, I was tempted to check my e-mail, and almost did, actually. I think what kept me from doing it was that I had company. I could feel that the short moments when I was alone, I would reach for my phone and think about having a peek at my e-mail. But I didn’t. And right now, there’s no point. I mean, there is a pile of it anyway, and I’ll have to sift through it anyway.

I’m quite happy with how things have gone. In final, I’ve succeeded in taking my mind almost completely off my professional and personal worries, and when I think of them right now, typing away on the balcony with the mountains in front if me, they seem much more bearable. I guess that’s what holidays are for.

On the topic of e-mail, I have a theory about why it’s the first step that costs, and once you’ve gone without e-mail for a day, it’s easier with each day that passes (well, more or less). One book that I’ve been reading during my idle moments up here is Fooled by Randomness. At one point, Taleb explains how checking stock prices many times a day exposes one to the many ups and downs of random fluctuations. Lots of ups and lots of downs.

He also notes the psychological impact: if one is happy when the stock price goes up, one is unhappy when it goes down — but more unhappy. This is something I read about in The Paradox of Choice: losing 20$ makes you more unhappy than winning 20$ makes you happy. What this means, in Taleb’s example of constant exposure to random fluctuations, is that if the stock price at the end of the day is roughly the same as at the beginning, one’s psychological state, however, will not. All those “downs” take their toll, and the whole experience ends up making one more depressed or anxious.

Now, back to e-mail. For me, clearly, there is a “reward” factor in checking e-mail. We’re all familiar (I hope) with the intermittent reward reinforcement phenomenon which plays a part in how we train ourselves to check our e-mail more and more often. Good news, exciting news, a message from a friend we haven’t heard of in some time, a prospective client… all those are “reward” e-mails, “ups”. And then the downs: problems or simply… no interesting news.

So, imagine you check your e-mail 50 times a day, but you get about 10 “exciting” e-mails. That’s 10 ups for 40 downs. Now, imagine you check your e-mail 5 times a day. Even if your exciting e-mails aren’t spread out evenly during the day, there is a chance you might only experience one “down” (no news) e-mail check.

Should this argument be used to support the “check your e-mail twice a day” technique? I have a problem with that. E-mail is a rather high priority communication channel. Less than the phone or IM, though. I tend to deal with most e-mail either immediately (if it doesn’t require much processing or action), or within a few days. So… I’m not sure.

I do, however, think that this explains why it’s not very difficult to go another day without checking e-mail: I know that the next time I check it, there will be exciting news in it. And I don’t have the pressure of hoping to compensate for a series of “downs” due to checking it every five minutes on my cellphone for the last hour (particularly on a Sunday).

I also know that since I turned off Google Notifier for my e-mail, and put Gmail in a separate OSX Space, I’ve been checking my e-mail way less often (when I think of it, rather than when it thinks of me) and I’m much happier like that. I guess that if people send me an e-mail they need me to look at now, they can send me a tweet or an IM to tell me. (Assuming they’re Twitter- and IM-enabled, of course. But then, the people who aren’t probably don’t expect me to respond to their e-mail within an hour.)

This entry was back-posted upon my return online.

Second day offline [en]

[fr] Deuxième jour de vacances à la montagne hors-ligne.

My legs hurt. So do my feet. And my bum. We walked about 4.5 hours today. Not bad for two out-of-shape girls. The first bit was the steepest (quite steep actually) — about 45 minutes to the top of Chaux Ronde (I understood yesterday that there are two mountains around here called that, so this was the one with the cross). We sat at the top and just looked at all the mountains around us. A few yellow butterflies kept hovering around us and I got some photographs.

Bagha is settling down, after an encounter with his local “twin” (I got a photo with both the cats last time I came up here, about a year ago — even I mistake the other one for Bagha if I’m not careful). He’s not very enthusiastic about going out — quite out of character for him. But then, this isn’t his territory.

I’ve been completely offline today, except for a few TwitPics (wanting to make my offline friends jealous). A work phone came in and almost got me “worrying” about how to deal with it, but I quickly decided to put it out of my mind and deal with it when I came back to work.

It’s hard keeping my mind in “holiday-mood”. Well, not very hard actually, but every now and again I think about all I haven’t done for Going Solo and feel a surge of panic. Oh well. What’s not done isn’t done, and it will work out even so. I’ll be late for certain things, but hey, worse things have happened.

What’s important is that I’m realising how much I love being up in the mountains and the woods (we had both today). I’ve been in town way too long. I’ve been spending too much time in cities. I grew up in a house bordering the forest. After school fun was outdoors, playing with a few kids in the neighbourhood, but also flying my kite in the fields, howling like a dog wearing my home-made yellow cape at the top of our drive (and listening in delight at all the dogs answering me), running in the forest and building (rather unsuccessful) tree-houses.

Family week-ends and holidays were skiing in winter, of course, and in summer, walking in the mountains, sailing, or camping all over Europe (well, not always camping, and not quite all over Europe, but that kind of holidays — not hotels on the beach or city-life).

I spent an important part of my late teens with the scouts, making fires in the woods, camping, walking — again.

I love living in town. When I left my parents’ home at 22, I wanted to live in the city, near the centre. To be close to everything, instead of 15 minutes on foot from the closest bus stop. To be able to invite people over easily. It was great to be so close to everything, and I still love it, though when I came back from India, I moved to a more quiet and green part of town (still just 5 minutes from the centre by bus).

But somewhere along the way, I stopped going out of town. Once I had my own life (and wasn’t just following around my parents’) all my activities became more and more city-centric.

Over the last years, I’ve felt a need to get out a bit more. I ask my Dad to go sailing a few times a year. I keep telling myself I want to find some friends to go walking with in the mountains, like I used to do when I was a kid. And most of all, I remember that I own part of this chalet I’m staying in now, and that I hardly ever go there.

There are some family-luggage issues around it, of course. But my excuse is usually that it’s “too complicated”, specially now that I don’t have a car. Actually, as I experienced this time, it isn’t too bad. First of all, it’s one of the rare places I can take Bagha with me. Leaving Bagha behind when I travel is always difficult, particularly now that his health isn’t as good as it used to be, between FIV and old age. It’s 90 minutes by train from Lausanne, and with a taxi to the station it honestly isn’t much of a hassle.

There is also the fact that as I don’t come regularly, the chalet itself is not practical for me. If I came more often, I’d leave stuff here (or acquire it) to make coming here easier. Stuff as stupid as bedsheets (I have plenty at home) so I don’t need to bring back the “common” ones, wash them, and worry about how they are going to get back up to the chalet.

We’re hiring somebody to come and cut the grass (the garden is a real jungle, and it’s our turn this year to deal with the grass) and my brother is coming up tomorrow, so we’ll be spending the day armed with various tools to reduce the amount of greenery which is literally swallowing up the chalet. I looked at the garden with an owners eye for the first time, maybe (OK, co-owner). “If it was up to me, I’d knock some of those trees down.”

As we were walking down from Taveyanne to Villars, and I was realising I needed “more of this”, I made up a plan: come to the chalet for an extended week-end (3-5 days) every three weeks or so. Book in advance. Find a friend to come with me and go walking. I’ve half a mind to come back on the 9th of August: they’re calling out for voluntary help to remove bushes and saplings from Taveyanne on that day, to keep the forest from taking over the “pâturage” (no clue what that’s called in English).

A day of physical work, completely away from what my professional life is.

On the way up here, the friend who came with me was telling me she’d taken up cross-stitch (she started doing it to keep herself busy during the ads while watching TV). I thought of Suw and her lace and jewellery again, and the penny dropped. I need some kind of creative activity that does not involve words. Painting, maybe. I’m crap at it, of course, but I always enjoyed painting when we had to do it at school during art class. Mixing colours, putting them on paper. I wanted to buy a box of paint when we went grocery shopping, but unfortunately they didn’t have any.

Gosh, that’s a lot of writing for a day offline. I took lots of close-up photos of flowers — I’m looking forward to seeing them on the computer screen. But not today: I’m dead, and the grass guy is showing up tomorrow at 8am.

This entry was back-posted upon my return online.