Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Could China blow-up?

Anything Chinese isn't very popular these days. From poisonous food and pharmaceuticals, dangerous toys, shoddy clothing to the bad treatment of Tibetans, the world is now looking at this immense country with reprobation. So what’s going to happen next; a war between this rising country and the rest of us? My headline may sound extreme, but this is precisely the outcome the West is envisioning to win the war against the Chinese. The entertainment forces (mostly American) will first take positions with their lamest films and TV programs and gradually seep into the Confucian minds, instilling the noble values of consumerism, selfishness and greed that we’ve been practicing assiduously for more than a century. The Detroit automotive commandos will then arrive and work at wrapping every single Chinese into a four-wheel box that spew CO2 and will bring massive gridlock into Beijing, Shanghai, the rest of the country’s cities and roadways. Finally the drink, food and drug armies will join the Marlboro cowboy to convert the 1.3 billion inhabitants from Mao’s Red Guards into Coke drinkers, Pizza Hut devotees and Big Mac addicts. Within a few years China will begin to bulge, turn into a humongous bubble and a large explosion will follow; so be well prepared; it might just blow us all up…

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Closing day at Snowbasin

Although a bit cool, this Sunday looked like a promising day and I convinced Evelyne that we ought to spend it in Snowbasin, skiing for a last time together this season. The temperature was starting to rise but the snow remained good while we skied until about 1:30 pm when we finally called it quit. There were lots of people skiing and riding, some in pretty wild disguise or skimpy attire in spite of the cool temperatures; after all these were great ways to celebrate the conclusion of a great snow year! We then enjoyed an excellent lunch in the magnificent, if not ostentatious base lodge, and visited the small and still unsophisticated town of Huntsville that stands in stark contrast with the luxury of the mountain lodges; that still rural community seats on the shores of a small lake some ten miles down valley. Unless Snowbasin develops its own accommodations at the resort and offers a significant critical mass in terms of available beds, this excellent mountain is only likely to remain a weekend playground for the folks living around Ogden and its luxury lodges will never really serve the well-to-do clientèle it was intended for…

Monday, April 28, 2008

“Juno” left us half-pregnant

When we went out to see the movie “Juno” on Sunday night, we had high expectations; we’d seen the trailer countless times, laughed at its good lines and thought the actual film would be quite entertaining. Well, that wasn’t the case. While the casting and the actors were quite good, what I’d call “script-overload” killed the desired effect. What I mean is that the dialogs were “over-engineered” and constituted a huge distraction to what could have been a great movie around an excellent theme. If you haven’t seen “Juno” yet and want to save the cost of a movie ticket or DVD rental, just watch the trailer that can be accessed from the official website, it contains the only smart dialogs of the actual production…

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bottle water follies

I was born in Thonon, France, a mere 5 miles away from Evian’s bottling plant. When I came to live in America thirty year later, I couldn’t believe that clever marketing and strong consumer demand were ferrying these ponderous bottles of water from France to North America. Talk about the new version of “bringing coal to Newcastle!” Ten years later, I read that consumer tests had determined that when compared to all bottled waters sold in the United States (at the time Evian, Perrier, Poland Water and San Pellegrino,) New York City’s tap water tasted the best and was the least harmful. Since that time, America’s infatuation for bottle water has grown unabated to the point that now environmentalists are crying foul and are raising awareness that these non-degradable empty bottles are becoming as huge a problem as the plastic grocery bags that hang on trees and end up blocking fish stomachs. Earlier in the week, Evelyne passed me a recent Smithsonian article that claimed that it took 17 million barrels of oil each year to make all the water bottles needed for the U.S. market, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year; that too is insane. Two days later, I was listening on NPR that Fiji, now the American’s best selling water that brings it all the way from the South Pacific, was “planting plenty of trees” to remain “carbon neutral” as a company; this statement would make me laugh if it were not so hypocritical. Add it all up: Oil to make the bottles, health risks related to these plastic containers, environmental issues and freight costs should make bottle water the next American villain after Marlboro. Well, in my opinion, snobbery remains the main the driver and vain consumers of fancy bottled water brands ought to be flogged for keeping up the demand!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guess who came for dinner?

Yesterday, Evelyne went to the Salt Lake valley to watch Finn. Late afternoon, when she called me that she was leaving to return home, I was delighted to hear that Finn and his parents would be following her shortly and joining us for dinner; the menu was simple and for once, I was fully in charge: We’d have raclette (with cheese, from Savoie, mind you, not Switzerland) and we’d all share a dandelion salad that I had painstakingly harvested a few hours before - we must still be too early in the season - but managed to get enough to feed four people. When Finn arrived, I found him changed a lot, even though the last time I saw him was just one week ago. I held him and he smiled many times back to me. I must be a funny guy. If you want to get your share of Finn, visit the photo gallery setup just for that; just make sure to see all the pages, bookmark it and enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ran over by his buddies

Once upon a time in Avoriaz, France, there was a steep couloir called “Le President.” It could be accessed from the “Crôt,” the main run leading down to Les Prodains where the tram base station is located. That run is now gone, overgrown by trees and thick bushes, but in the early seventies, it was impressive; the kind of narrow and steep path you had to descent to be considered a serious skier. To be precise, it was located just after the hairpin turn of the “Défaugt” and would plunge all the way down to the valley floor. With this in mind, rewind back to January 1971, picture a pack a young, adrenaline-charged males ski instructors without clients, skiing like crazy and always “pushing the envelope.” It was a wet deep-snow day, with giant snowflakes falling and marginal visibility. Jean-Claude Page was leading the group and suddenly veered right and plunged full-speed into the narrow “President” followed by the whole gang. At the top-third of the gully, Jean-Claude tumbled and fell, leaving his followers neither time nor choice to do anything but ski over their fallen comrade, all of them probably thinking they had hit a stump or a dead chamois… Thank God, the snow was so soft and so abundant that Page survived this exercise in lamination, instantly came back to life, got back up without thinking of dusting the snow that was filling his neck and back, and wondered why he felt he had carried the weight of the world for a few fast seconds. He, who would become the Avoriaz ski school director a few years later, had his first telling experience in leadership…

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Skiing Snowbasin

This ski resort is over one hour drive from Park City and is the place where both the Olympic downhill and super-G events were hosted in 2002. I had never skied there before, and this past Tuesday was the day I picked for sampling the place owned by the multi-billionaire Robert Earl Holding, Utah’s oil tycoon who also owns hotels and Sun Valley resort, up in Idaho. The entire mountain faces the morning sun, just like Mineral Basin in Snowbird, and that must affect the quality of its snow, but the little part of its terrain that I experienced was just fantastic. I say this, because yesterday only the center part of its slopes, served by the Needles Express lift was open. What’s unique about that particular lift is that each gondola has been named after an Olympic champion or medalist, and among a long list of names, I could see those of Jean Vuarnet, Stein Eriksen, Jean-Claude Killy and Toni Sailer with their respective country flags adorning the white exterior of each individual cabin. Skiing was limited to the center-third of the entire mountain but still offered 2,310 feet vertical and a large variety of fairly long groomed runs. As soon as the snow became softer, I jumped over to the closed mid-section of the “Grizzly” men’s downhill and experienced remarkable snow conditions with a “greasy,” dirty-grey, upper-surface, leaving clean, white tracks behind me. In all, I skied over 32,000 vertical feet and promised myself to return next winter to fully explore the mountain.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More on dandelion

My recent blog on that delectable food drew some comments from my good friend Jean-François Rosset in Morzine, France, who said in a telephone call that the picture used to illustrate the blog wasn’t consistent with the copy. He objected to the facts that one could see tiny strips of bacon in the dish as well as shallots, and adding the latter was not the best idea, as its strong flavor would overwhelm the subtle taste of the wild, tiny leaves. Well, Jean-François was right and I have to apologize for having misled him and the rest of our readers. In truth, I picked up a tiny dandelion salad Monday afternoon (the very first of the season) and we had it for dinner. So, to set the record straight, here’s a real picture of that meal. Oh yes, it was delightful!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Foreign accent, vocal cords and puberty

On chairlifts, Americans are much more social than Europeans; they engage into small talk or if you do they generally respond, making the five to ten minute ride that much shorter. Only a small percentage of folks won’t have a conversation, and trust me, I ski a lot so I know it! This brings me to my topic for the day which I find some time to be a major aggravation, when the person sitting next to me asks: “Where are you from?” I generally make these people work for the answer. I just give them three tries; about half flunk it, saying that I must be from Croatia, Germany or the Republic of Georgia. The rest get it after three or two attempts and the smartest minority deducts right away that I must be from France. That’s for the easy part; because often time a smart-aleck will ask after finding out that I’ve lived for over 30 years in America: “How come do you still have your accent?” I proceed then to “teach them a lesson” stating that if a foreign language is learned past puberty, chances are that the accent of origin - however mild - will stay forever. This is because, past the end of adolescence, the vocal cords lose their adaptability, become set in their ways and thus unable to adapt as they do for children who have an uncanny ability to take a perfect accent as they learn a new language. After listening to that impressive lecture, my fellow passengers nod their helmeted heads in agreement (at least, that's what I think) and seem thankful for a very informative ride…

Monday, April 21, 2008

I stop complaining!

Last night, we saw a very hard but highly inspiring movie, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” a 2007 film by Julian Schnabel that won the director’s prize at the most recent Cannes Film Festival. This is the remarkable true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a successful and charismatic editor-in-chief of French “Elle” magazine, who wakes up in a hospital room the victim of a sudden stroke. While the physical challenges of Bauby's fate leave him with little hope for the future, he begins to discover how his life's passions, his rich memories and his newfound imagination can help him to feel alive. After watching that story, I came out thinking that life and good health are so precious that I never will have the right again to complain about the little challenges and pains of life (in comparison to what Bauby faced) and that I better get on with the program, that is fully embrace everything that comes towards me and deal with it, without trying to escape it. A strong lesson indeed for someone as fortunate as me!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Looking for the first dandelion

Along with sushi, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is by far my favorite meal. I started eating it in salad as a kid growing up in Haute-Savoie and ever since considered it to be the ultimate delicacy. I came to sushi much later, somewhere around the late 70’s when I lived in New York. At any rate, I am impatient to see all the snow that’s still in our backyard melt as soon as possible to appreciate our first dandelion salad of the year. Evelyne prepares it like we’ve always done it in Montriond, my childhood village. Just a good dressing with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper, along with cut boiled eggs. Unlike many, we keep the recipe simple and as a result, we don’t add any strips of bacon to that. But the dandelion experience is much more than eating it; first and foremost it’s the pleasure of picking it when it’s literally coming off the ground (you don’t want to deal with old dandelions; that is gross and should be reserved solely for rabbits, not humans!) We start harvesting in our backyard; where there’s no chemical spraying and no roaming pets so everything is clean and edible. Then, as the season progresses we start gaining altitude and look for it higher up on the mountain. Usually, we can eat the long jagged leaves during April and May. With this year’s late start, we might still find a decent salad late in June. Cleaning it up is a bit of a chore but not for me; it’s an art form, or better yet, a ritual. It transports me back to my youth, reacquaints me with nature and just like yoga, is a great way to forget everything around me. Again, take a close look at the dandelion leaves and you’ll understand why I’m hooked; now, "bon appétit!"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Meet the “snow-eaters”

When I say the word “snow-eater” I immediately think of the classic admonition “don’t eat yellow snow” but have a hard time imagining the kind of creature it could be. Well, there’s in fact such a thing and it’s all “wind”. The name Chinook was given by the Chinook Indians to describe a warm winter wind that blows down the slopes of the mountains in western North America. Starting in Canada, these winds descend the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and in the United States down into the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota and Utah. These warm winds are not limited to the North American continent though; in the Alps they’re well known under the name of Foehn and you’ll also find them in the South American Andes where they’re called Zonda. Californians even have their own version of the phenomenon with the Santa Anna winds, notorious for causing terrible fires. As these winds descend a mountain slope, they get warmer and warmer as they drop and for people living in that area, this means a huge and swift increase in temperatures. Wind speeds also increase tremendously and can sometime reach hurricane forces. A few locals close to nature know a Chinook is approaching when they see an arch of wispy, white clouds following the mountain peaks as if they were glued in place. The clouds often look like ghost fingers dancing across the sky. How do these warm winds form? It’s a rain shadow wind which results from the subsequent adiabatic* warming of air which has dropped most of its moisture on windward slopes. As a consequence of the different adiabatic rates of moist and dry air, the air on the leeward slopes becomes warmer than equivalent elevations on the windward slopes. Chinook and Foehn winds can raise temperatures by as much as 54°F in just a matter of hours. Winds of this type are called "snow-eaters" for their ability to make snow melt - mostly through sublimation - quite rapidly. When snow was still a nuisance and not the "white gold" it's become these days, old folks from Haute-Savoie would say that ”one day of Foehn melts as much [snow] as 14 days of warm sunshine…” Because massive sublimation is involved, this is based not only on high temperature, but also on low relative humidity. To top it all, Chinook and Foehn winds are also said to have adverse effects on people’s health and behavior often causing headaches, anxiety and testiness. Within a few days, however, the warm sunny weather ends, winter weather returns, people get better and then complain about how cold and snowy it is once again. That I already knew; we’re all very hard to please…

* Temperature changing as we gain/lose altitude; the normal lapse rate of temperature averages 3 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good American Pizza?

In more than 30 years that I’ve lived in the USA, I have yet to eat a great pizza; you know, one like they’re making day-in, day-out, anywhere in Europe. I have eaten pizzas in Italy of course, in Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland; and in most cases, they all where quite good, with varying degrees of presentation, taste and refinement, but the vast majority of them was better than a so-called “great American pizza.” Last summer, our daughter Charlotte took us to Zachary's Pizza in Berkeley, which is also famous all around the San Francisco Bay Area. The ambiance, the patrons and the waiting were probably what made that experience the greatest, but fundamentally it wasn’t the quality of the meal. More recently, as Evelyne and I where shopping for some tiles to re-do our kitchen, we ran into Ozzy Fife at “Arizona Tile” who recommended Settebello in Salt Lake City as the very best. As a pizza lover, my mouth had been watering for months at the ideas of finally sinking my teeth into a decent slice of that fabled Italian meal. We had tried to go there with our son Thomas when Finn was born but the place was so crowded that we couldn’t get in (a good sign, you’d think?), so last night we went and had our long awaited pizza. It was not bad, but hard to justify a 40 minutes drive from our home and circling around the block forever to find a parking spot. Oh yes, I almost forgot; their “gelato” was divine!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pope Benedict meets President Bush

Yesterday, the pope met behind close doors with our president, and as luck would have it, I was invited to attend on behalf of the AFP, with the idea that I would soon leak the information, as this administration likes third-parties to do. Sitting in a corner (!) of the oval office was Dick Cheney, pretending to read the Wall Street Journal, but listening intently to the conversation. As an opening act, Alberto Gonzales came wheeling three plastic cases filled with 2 liter bottles of Evian, some rags, and was accompanied by Britney Spears. He was to conduct a quick demonstration of water-boarding and, in the process, attempt to modify the morals of the famous pop-singer. The show was a success as Britney declared, that this was not really torture, it just was “gross,” but was noticeable enough that she would, from now on dress more modestly on stage. When that was done and the guests gone, both Benedict and George opened up their briefcases and spread their paperwork and calculators on the Presidential desk and started to work. You see, both are pro-life, but George doesn’t use the same accounting method as his Vatican’s counterpart. That morning, the Pope had just received a text-message from Jesus updating him on the war-related Iraqis casualties since the U.S. invasion began, and added to that all the Texas death-row inmates that were approved by Mr. Bush when he was governor. The tally came to a whopping 637,732. The deal the Vatican wanted to make with the White House was reminiscent of carbon emissions trading; between now and the end of his presidency, George Bush would have to prevent the same number of abortions if his soul was to be saved. Current data available showed that he’d never be able to get these big numbers out of the U.S. alone. George immediately phoned Condi Rice and asked her about a way to fabricate the missing figures or perhaps suggest some other places where to get them. Without blinking an eye, she said: “China, Russia or Brazil.” That’s when Dick Cheney jumped into the conversation and suggested that a preemptive strike on Brazil would make a lot of sense, that Lula de Silva was friend with Hugo Chavez anyway, and that some extra barrels of ethanol would come in handy only weeks before the heavy driving season…

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Thirty five years ago around mid April, my friend François Chauplannaz and I were both eking a living, teaching skiing in Avoriaz, France. We actually had a lot of great times and never lost one single opportunity of thinking of some new ways of having even more fun. Back then, I had a pair of 213 cm Duret skis that I wanted to share with someone, just like a tandem bike. So I invited François for the ride, and we both mounted our own bindings on these skis (one pair of Marker Simplex and turntable for him and one pair of Look Nevada I and turntable for me.) I had picked the “brakeman” position on this apparatus and gave my buddy the leading post because he was a bit shorter than me and, that way, I still would be able to see over his shoulders. Because I was also heavier, it caused the entire setup to severely over-steer and it was one of these cases in which the “tail was wagging the dog.” One would have thought that like on a tandem bike, less effort would have been required, but it truly was hard work to stay standing on that contraption as we could feel a lot of torquing of varying intensity and seldom going in the same direction; thank god, the skis were strong! Another challenge was that we had to separate to ride the chairlift, taking with us half-a-pair of skis each. Riding the Poma - and we had quite a few at the time - required that you’d glide on a single ski, which also was quite tiring. At any rate, we used the ski-tandem several times, and mostly on the Arare, intermediate ski run where we literally were a show-stopper. For one thing, we were much younger and more handsome at the time and significantly less decrepit than we appear today. Unfortunately this new shared form of snowsport never really caught on, and for that - as an American now - I suspect a “conspiracy theory” was at work, in which we were strongly discouraged by a lift company fearful that too many tandem riders might only require one single ski pass to gain access to the lifts and thus dramatically affect their bottom line, or something like that. In retrospect, we may have lacked perseverance and had we stuck to riding tandem, François and I would be quite famous today, and after doing movies, writing books and making paid appearances, we’d probably be retired either in Hollywood or Las Vegas, but “c’est la vie,” no point of crying over spilled milk…

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring for… a couple of days!

Yesterday has been a wonderful day; blue skies, great sun and a temperature topping 62 degrees. After doing a lot of indoors and outdoors chores, Evelyne and I went for a four mile long walk, part on asphalt and part on snow (on a river bank trail where we normally run during the “good” season) and the effort of walking on snow and twisting our feet in all directions literally killed us. We had taken some light jackets but quickly had to remove them and here we were, walking on the snow in shirt sleeves! We already knew this wouldn’t last because today, the weather is going back to bad again, starting with rain in the morning and then turning to snow. The bottom line is that Monday’s idyllic spring weather will stay as a nice reminder that there is never such a thing as lasting springtime in the mountains!

Monday, April 14, 2008


I almost feel relieved to see the ski season over with our three mountains in town closing shop for the winter. No more ski temptation; I can now focus on my “to-do” list which has grown long under a thick snow cover that has barely started to melt. I have planned lots of tasks for today; like taking the ski racks off my car, washing it in the afternoon and cleaning up our living room deck. I also have plenty of phone calls to make, follow up on my taxes that are due tomorrow and on a few other pressing business matters. To top this all, spring seems to be finally with us for a while, with temperatures topping a balmy 52 degrees yesterday afternoon! Feels like we’re starting a new life and that we’re all rejuvenated. I also don’t feel bad about no longer skiing Park City; after all, Snowbasin stays open through April to fill my sporadic urges and after that, there’s still Snowbird for the entire month of May!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

In praise of ski mileage

“Overdoing” certain things can be good. If you drive a big truck across the USA as your full-time job, chances are you become a very skilled and well-rounded driver after twenty or thirty years of roaming the Interstate system, or if you simply lay bricks as a career and enjoy your craft, no one will ever come close to you when it comes to building a straight wall very fast. Skiing is exactly the same; the more you do it, the better you get at it. It thus becomes a matter of mileage and the more diverse the experience becomes (steeps, powder, bumps and crud) the more stable, skilled and rounded a skier you’ll be. Again, the more you ski, the more you learn, the more you become likely to encounter extreme conditions, experience the weirdest kinds of falls, the trickiest types of snow and learn from every bit of that moving target and ever-changing kaleidoscope that skiing really is. Of course, you need to put your heart into it in order for that theory to work; without a good dose of passion or enjoyment mileage won’t deliver its full bounty of benefits. As our three local resorts are shutting down for the season today and leaving at their summits some 120 inches of snow and more than enough to reach their bottom, there’s still plenty of mileage to be added to the odometer by hopping over the canyons and skiing Snowbird, until at least the end of May…

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Looking for the best terrain

Skiing is a highly visual sport; just try to remember how unpleasant the last time skied in the fog or even with marginal visibility was. Saying that seeing is everything is not a mere cliché, it’s an essential condition for a decent on-slope experience. In order to see everything however, it’s necessary to look beyond the “postage-stamp” area generally defined by one’s ski tips. I would even say that a skier should never see, let alone look at his or her shovels. Do we have to watch each step when we walk down a flight of stairs? Probably not; upon a preliminary glance, a message is instantly sent to the brain that in turn computes a path and immediately sends signals to both legs and feet to accomplish the appropriate job, that’s all. On the slopes, it should work the same way: One element intimately related with a skier’s ability to see afar is the stance; if the skier stays crouched, the only elements in sight are the ski tips. Standing more erect provides for a much greater view of the surroundings and plenty of time to anticipate the next move. It’s now possible to see the terrain and the feet can do the rest. In fact, it’s much more than that, because the view ahead defines how a skier will leverage the run and take advantage of particular its topography to scribe the most appropriate line into it. That’s when skiing becomes transcended into a motion that lets the skier espouse the most minute terrain features and use each one of them to speed up, decelerate, do much more with less, in fact become like an agile cat and blend in with the hill…

Friday, April 11, 2008

Learning from mistakes

Yesterday, I realized that I had made a big mistake in one critical measurement positioning the hood in our new kitchen. I had just missed to consider a key element on the drawing and started to panic about it; it wasn’t the “other guy’s” mistake, it was yours truly. After returning from dinner with friends, I tore down everything I had done, and at around 2 am, realized that there was another solution that had eluded me... Of course, I can’t say that I’m a real “handyman” and that particular work was a totally new experience to me. So, painfully, I learned something new. Learning in fact is a commonplace occurrence in my daily life. Not so much through the massive of information I receive everyday, but mostly through ventures into unknown territories and skills, where pitfalls abound and where errors generally hurt. I’ve found for a long time that painful emotions have a searing effect and generally make a life lasting mark on an individual. As we say, “no pain, no gain” and while I hate being in the situation in I was last night, this will never deter me from venturing outside of my comfort zone and trying something new. The rewards of discovery, skill-building and the resulting satisfaction are very well worth an evening of feeling down…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What makes a house a home?

For the more than 30 years that we’ve been married, we’ve lived in eleven different houses and apartments. Out of these many places, only two really felt like “home” to us; our cute little New England “saltbox” in Chappaqua, New York, and our current “tract home” in Park City. No residence is ever perfect, and between location, views, privacy, convenience, design, functionality, style and charm, there are only a few magical elements that can transform a house into a true home we become attached to. I believe that it’s very hard to ever find or build the true “ideal house.” There always will be something that isn't right or a few features that are sorely lacking and have ways to remind us every now and then. When we bought it, our current abode was intended to be a lodging of transition while we would build yet another “dream home.” Well, just after we moved in, we fell in love with its simple neighborhood and its compact size perfect for just two people; we then started to change a few things here and there, and before we knew it, we had improved the house so much that today it would be hard for us to leave it without having a much better alternative. Yes, we’re always open for something newer and much improved, but we’re in no hurry and we know that rare finds always take time…

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It takes always more...

…time, money, efforts, work or pain than anticipated! As an incorrigible optimist, I always figure that it will take me half the time needed to accomplish most tasks whether routine or new, and when all is said and done, I often miss the deadline. I know that I have a lot of company in that category but it’s a poor excuse to keep on underestimating... I must confess however that I’m much better at managing money than time. For instance, when I’m budgeting, I always overestimate expenses, underestimate income and end up in pretty good shape. And it’s not just budgeting; all other money-related issues see - most often than not - a positive outcome. So here I am; I’m not giving time the credit and value it justly deserves. I have absolutely no excuse because I’m the one who always preach about its sacred value. It’s now time for me to start walking the talk!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The real Olympic ideal

Reactions from the International Olympic Committee and from most western governments about the recent events in Tibet have shown that no one dares to put pressure on the Chinese and that the Olympic Emperor really has no clothes. Of course how are the United States to gave the Chinese any lessons in human rights when we’re now world’s famous for Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib and water-boarding? This certainly is old news; for quite some time, wise minds have known that the Olympic motto “altius, certius, fortius” should be replaced by “greed, cowardliness and double-speak.” Clearly, there is too much money (at least several billion dollars, but no one seems to know for sure) on the line for a widespread boycott of the games, especially with corporate giants like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Visa and GE, the parent company of NBC, which paid $894 million for the television rights. In recent days, however, pressures against China have come from the street in London as well as Paris, and – hopefully – today, in San Francisco. Short of having the athletes themselves boycott the games as they should, I plan to travel, go mountain biking, hike and work around my house instead of watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics of Commercialism.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Water seeks its own level...

For years I’ve been saying that when a worker makes $30 per hour in America or in Germany and only $1.00 or $2.00 in some developing nation, something will have to give… What does that mean? Simply that China and the rest of the developing world are quite likely to see their standard of living rise while America, Europe and Japan’s may gradually go down until pay scales, like water, seek their own level. This also means that for developed nations, things will become increasingly painful while conditions may get ever so slightly better in the rest of the planet. Cheap telecoms, widespread internet, containerized shipping and all other globalization tools have now leveled the playing field, and rich and poor nations alike are now headed to meet at some middle - perhaps more modest - ground, instead of ostentatious wealth for some and abject poverty for others. We’ve already started to see that sea change everywhere; foodstuff is much more expensive than it used to be, cost of energy is going up, simply because more people on the planet have access to these commodities and keep on wanting more of them. In the entire western world everyone now complains about a much higher “cost of living” and the only action we can take against it is consuming less. During the successive “oil shocks” of the seventies, rebounding was easy because the earth population was almost half of what it is today and the “third world” as it was called then, had not yet tasted consumption. Today, the situation is drastically different. The earth is overpopulated and all of its inhabitants want to consume more, so it’s quite unlikely that cost of key commodities will ever go down. As all this growing population becomes more educated and able to compete more effectively on the world’s labor market, competition for jobs will also stay on the rise. By accepting to see our real incomes as well as our standards of consumption and living go down a bit, we may finally be forced to do what we’ve talked about all along, but never really done: Sharing.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Demo day

From dawn to mid-afternoon, yesterday was big demolition time at our kitchen. We started early by staging the event and by 8:45 am, our neighbors Frank and Marianne Traczyk came to our rescue armed with their own tools of all shapes and forms, provided the ear muffs we didn’t even have, and brought their permanent smile and sharp sense of humor. We tore down cabinets, broke countless granite tiles and did all of that at great speed and without significant problem or damage. The Traczyks took everything to their home where our kitchen will get a second lease in life in the same neighborhood and a similar house. We only left the sink cabinet with its multiple accessories and connections to be taken apart by a plumber next week before it can rejoin its siblings one block away. We couldn’t have done as well and as fast without Frank and Marianne. Heartfelt thanks to both of them!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Day packed with pure ski fun

Yesterday, after doing some refinishing work on the kitchen wall early in the morning, Evelyne and I headed for Deer Valley to ski. There, we first met Jim and Jean O’Malley, our Florida friends, who had just arrived into town and skied with them for over an hour. Then, after warming up on Sultan Express, we both had a quick lunch and hooked up with Ken Block, Chris Hartley, Ingrid Niehaus, Roger Neiley and some friend and started to ski like crazy around Sultan, Mayflower and Wasatch. For most of the day, the temperatures remained quite cold, the skies were blue and the snow just incredible; well groomed and powdery, and it’s only at the bottom elevations, and at the very end of the day that it became a bit slushy and more like… April snow! There was a lot of very fast skiing, good laughter and great company. At three p.m. we were done and headed for home where some dry plaster was awaiting us…

Friday, April 4, 2008

Non-stop skiing

Do you enjoy watching a home movie and be incessantly interrupted by phone calls? Do you like reading a book and have to put it down every two minutes because your neighbor keeps on asking questions? Most likely the answer is no. The same goes with skiing. If you need to stop three times while doing a short run, you’ll ruin the whole “adventure,” break the whole piece into skimpy bits and you’ll have to start over again and again, thinking everytime “where was I, what do I do next, oh gee! I’m scared to turn here,” etc. I’m of course not suggesting that everyone should ski the Grands-Montets near Chamonix from top to bottom (6,700 feet vertical) in just one take, but if you’re a reasonably good skier, you should be doing between 750 and 1,500 feet vertical without having to catch your breath. Sure, snow and terrain conditions can make a huge difference; if you’re on soft “corduroy” you can descend 2,000 vertical without batting an eye, conversely, if you are battling mean moguls on a steep slope, a mere 500 might suck the best out of you and force you to a stop now and then. The point I’m trying to make with “non-stop skiing” is that it provides several great benefits. First, it gives the run a chance to “tell” its full story, from beginning to end without pesky episodes; that’s logical and makes plenty of sense. Second, it stretches a skier’s abilities to do a bit more and be more economical with both gestures and efforts. Third, it teaches to continually search for the best route, the ideal line as the run unfolds. Lastly, and of paramount importance, it inculcates a sense of automatic response making all moves much more instinctive as well as natural, and the entire practice of non-stop skiing constitutes a crucial step towards making the whole activity “second-nature.” So, next time you find yourself on the slopes, don’t pay too much attention to these cramped quadriceps; keep going!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Windshield, armchair and fridge

Most of my life, I’ve lived far into the future, stretching my neck in an effort to see what was coming next. This was a terrible way to hurry things up and compress time. Of course, it was also highly stimulating and filled with all kinds of dreams and plenty of “what ifs.” Those were my “windshield” years, when my glance was glued to the end of the road or to the next bend coming my way. These days were fun, but they robbed me of seizing the moment and fully appreciating the now and then. I’m not saying that I’m no longer looking ahead, but I mostly do it for convenience, for making my life easier or more fun, and no longer to satisfy my quest for advancement. What’s next is not my driver anymore and it has dwindled into a very limited influence.
Since I retired a couple of years ago, I suddenly realized that things should also be observed, tasted, smelled and listened to, and that too would give me immense satisfaction. I’m still in that discovery mode and learning everyday to better master that domain. I’ve come to appreciate the value of “slow time,” the wisdom of standing still and comfortably on the “armchair” of life. I still have to hone my skills in that department, but feel that I’m getting much better at it, and on my way to seize the day. The armchair is now where I live and spend most of my time. Carpe diem!

Finally, there's the "refrigerator" that you might also call the rear-view mirror, but I prefer the ice-box terminology because it conveys the idea of safeguarding. We saw a few days ago that it’s primarily used for keeping good memories and should only used for those. No room for recrimination or for the typical “shoulda, coulda, woulda.” The fridge sits mostly behind me and is only used for providing mental entertainment when I want it.

So now you have it. If you’re really want me, look for the armchair…

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A cold Clown’s Day

For us, April 1st has lots of meanings. First and foremost, it’s our daughter’s birthday, then it’s of course April fool’s Day, and at Park City Mountain Resort it’s also Clown’s Day. This year, that festive event started more like “arctic day” with early morning temperatures flirting with 0 degree Fahrenheit. I braved the cold and went skiing in the morning to catch a glimpse of some of the clown costumes; usually, that day is cheerful with spring weather and warm sun. Today was another bluebird day, but freezing cold with fresh powder snow. I sure saw a few shivering clowns but the spirit wasn’t too festive. So, by noon, when the skies started to cloud up, I returned home to my remodeling job. Next year, I’ll be prepared and plan to get dressed up for the occasion into a genuine burka, simply because regardless of the outside temperature, I’ll be able dress up or down underneath it and no one will see. I know that skiing with one of these can be hard. First, it's sleeveless, so you need to ski without poles or add two holes for them. Next, how do you load the chair, ski powder, tuck or do a kick turn without getting entangled in it? These are serious existential questions. Can anyone give me a deal on one of these blue robes? Even a slightly used one would work. I’m 5’10” tall… Email me!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Musharraf lands Deer Valley job

The rumor has been going on for quite sometime; with his party’s electoral defeat, the recent election of Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the likely reinstatement of the Pakistani Supreme Court, Pervez Musharraf has been busy applying for a working visa in the United States. It’s not that he wants to leave Pakistan permanently, but he’s just looking for some seasonal work during winter that would let him return home for the monsoon, his favorite season.

It now appears that the former ruler of Pakistan’s armies will begin working in Deer Valley starting next season as his H2B visa application has been approved. “I set my eyes on Deer Valley” said Musharraf “because I wanted to learn how to glide on snow, on the account of their Nr. 1 ranking with Ski Magazine and that none of my enemies will think of looking for me all the way in Utah.” When asked about this rather high-profile hire, Chuck English operations director at the resort said “We’re proud to have Mr. Musharraf joining our staff; we’re all for diversity, and he’ll sure bring a different form of leadership, plus our guests will recognize that our hiring policies have come a long way.” Unidentified sources have told us that the former general will load guests at the Mayflower lift; he originally had asked for the Sultan Express and Empire Express locations, but some high-ranking Deer Valley executives thought that “Mayflower” would be more appropriate for a newcomer to America.

English also told a reporter that originally, Musharraf had asked for either a snow-making position or a snow-grooming job, but Deer Valley’s president Bob Wheaton, thought - as he put it - that “giving Pervez access to snow-guns would be like playing with fire” and having him work amidst a fleet of snow groomers looking like tanks might someday “give our employee the false impression that it might be okay to invade neighboring Park City Mountain Resort or even Brighton” continued Wheaton. One thing is certain; Mr. Musharraf is pleased with his new appointment. “I’ve always been a friend of America and can’t really live without wearing a uniform, besides I’ll be able to see my son who lives in Silicon Valley a bit more often.”

Some photographs have already circulated showing him in the resort’s uniform and wearing his war decorations. Marketing director Colleen Reardon commented that “it would be alright since most visitors are likely to think that this decorative hardware is a neat row of ski pins or a remnant of the Olympics.” No matter what his employer’s representatives are saying, Pervez Musharraf is delighted; “these mountains remind me of Kashmir” he says. As president of Pakistan and short of seeing his election nullified by a re-instated Supreme Court, Mr. Musharraf still controls the nukes in his country. When ask as to whether he’ll bring the “nuclear briefcase” along to the Wasatch Mountains, he replied “I’m not going to worry about that; I’ll leave it home with my wife Sehba, and hopefully we won’t have to use it for the few months I’ll be working here...”

After falling from a mango tree when he was a teenager, Mr. Musharraf was extremely traumatized and as a result never learned to ski, but always thought that snowboarding was much cooler, more in line with his direct style and proffered that at the final Deer Valley job interview. Needless to say that this statement was rather awkward for Bob Wheaton and his management team to hear, as they have no desire to create a precedent just because a former Pakistani military leader might want to drags his knuckles on the way to work. A compromise of sort was found when a local Frenchman stepped out to resolve the situation by letting the new Deer Valley “lifty” use his monoski for the season and learn to get to and back from work on that special board. So everyone is now happy and Mr. Musharraf can’t wait to start next December…