29 November, 2015

Dona nobis pacem

The Wall for Peace
Ten days after the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, one of which targeted people enjoying a concert of music, the members of the Choeur Varenne and I were extremely proud to give their concert to a large Parisian audience.

The programme was all based on tango music. The highlight of the show was Martin Palmeri's Misatango, with the composer playing with us at the piano. I encourage you to listen to it; it is upbeat, soothing, melancolic and it sways beautifully all along.

Misatango, Martin Palmeri, downloadable online

Photo: Gregory Bastien

21 November, 2015

Be not afraid

By this time, every body with an Internet connection should know that Paris has been the site of horrible terrorist attacks last week. The victims were having some innocent fun with friends and family: drinking, eating, chatting, listening to music. These are all things dear to me too.

I was also in a concert on the other side of town listening to the British Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing Schumann and Mendelssohn. The concert was very enjoyable and soothing. It was over by 10pm. I walked to the Champs Elysées metro station, finding that the policemen at the Grand Palais police station were rather excited running all around with their guns and bullet-proof vests. After three years of security alerts in Nairobi and clear instructions to avoid all places where I could sniff a security threat, I did not stay on to watch what would happen and took the metro home and went straight to bed.

The next morning, I was taking an early morning train. The alarm clock did not ring but luckily, I got up naturally in time to jump out of bed and into the train in the nearby station. I dozed off again to be woken up around 8am by my mobile phone with a call from an unknown foreign number. It was my Singaporean Aunty Betty Teo calling from Australia asking if I was still alive! She was the one to break the news of the terrorist attacks to me. I then spent a good part of the train ride responding to numerous unread text messages and emails asking about my safety.

Thankfully, I had planned a long week end at my parents' country house so I spent three days away from the tense atmosphere in Paris.

On Sunday and Monday mornings I listened to France Musique radio to hear what musicians and producers of classical music had to say about what the attacks meant for the musical world and live cultural shows in France. The general feeling was that artists should not let themselves be deterred from putting themselves on show, nor should the audience stay away, as this would indicate to the terrorists that they had succeeded in terrorizing us out of what is an integral part of being Parisian: enjoying ourselves. Live music would continue, with enhanced security measures.

Having thought out this lesson in the train ride back to Paris, I found myself comfortable with this state of mind. So on Wednesday night I went to see my first show after the attacks where the audience was respectable for the Parisian premiere of City of Ashes, a contemporary opera on post-WWII Berlin, with a pianist and just three singers evolving on a 4 m² stage: the trademark of Opéra de poche.

So along with many Parisians, I still hope to enjoy food and music with family and friends in this admirable city. All are welcome to share this remarkable experience with us.

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
Georg Friedrich Händel, Messiah
Anne Sofie von Otter, Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert, Archiv Produktion

26 September, 2015

Près de Notre Dame

On top of Notre Dame actually.

I have returned to Paris at the beginning of September and started my new job at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). I am based in the Trade and Agriculture Directorate, Natural Resources Policy Division, where I will analyse the environmental impact of agricultural policies across industrialised countries and their emerging partner economies.

This is a completely new field of work for me so I hope to learn a lot. I am still investigating the options to keep on blogging about my work. It looks like it will be possible in principle as the OECD is also keen to have an online presence. If it happens, I will continue logging these institutional blogs here. However, the opinions I express and arguments I employ here are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the OECD or its member countries.

I have already joined the Choeur Varenne choir again and I look forward to enjoying many musical delights, both from a stage and in an audience. In the meantime, I am enjoying the variety of foods available and relishing the bicycle rides through this great city.

Sous le ciel de Paris
Edith Piaf, Hymne à la Mome best of, Parlophone

30 July, 2015

I have had to run days

These past four months have been rather frantic for me.

It all started end of March when I was informed that a USD10.5 million budget cut in ILRI's budget had led to my position being made redundant. Determined to find a new job within the six months' separation period, I started a job search while also closing shop at ILRI and in Kenya.

So from April to July I have spent many hours on the phone and skype selling myself to potential employers, flew to France for several job interviews, sang Mozart's Requiem with the Nairobi Music Society in Tony Davies' farewell concert, went to see the gorillas and chimps in their natural environment in Rwanda with a tour operator whose name reflected my state of mind, got a really painful food poisoning attack there, facilitated a joint ILRI-CIRAD research workshop, sold off all my electric appliances and curtains, organized and performed an emotional medley of songs with the Greenwood Singers, finalized six scientific articles and conference papers with the help of colleagues and research fellows, organized and performed my farewell concert of songs and melodies about livestock with some friends from the Greenwood Singers, managed to eat and drink up most of the goodies in my pantry with friends and colleagues, supervised the packing of my belongings, moved out of my apartment, ran 13 km for the first time in my life, sold my car, flew again to France for more job interviews, finished editing one book and four reports - all work-related - and sent them for layout before publication, took a safari with Douglas Nagi to visit Aberdares, Samburu and Marsabit parks, nearly went on duty travel to Rwanda and DRC, coordinated the finalization of my new job contract with all the institutional partners involved, ran 13 km for the second time in my life, walked all around ILRI campus to collect all the signatures needed to let ILRI release me.

My last night in Kenya yesterday was extremely enjoyable: I received an invitation from Claire and Christian Turner to their Residence for a private concert by the Nairobi Chamber Chorus. After three years of rehearsing with Greenwood Singers and Christian at his home, I did not get lost this time. It is great to leave this country with the rythms, harmonies and smiles of these extraordinary cultural ambassadors for Kenya in mind, and their latest CD in my bag.

The photos illustrating this blog are from the more sedate parts of this marathon: lilacs flowering in the spring in the lower French Alps, contented gorilla family in Rwanda's parc national des volcans, elephant bull splurging on palm dates next to the kitchen at Samburu Elephant Bedroom Camp and blocking the dinner service, view of Paradise Lake in Marsabit national park.

I fly out of Kenya tonight. Stay tuned to this station to find out my next destination.

Manic Monday
The Bangles, Different light, Warner Bros Music

13 May, 2015

Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?

Woman fattening goats in NigerWhere goats produce numbers and tell stories about women to statisticians.
Intrigued? Read more here.

Summer nights
John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Soundtrack from the original motion picture Grease, Paramount

Photo: ILRI/Mann

13 April, 2015

Various noises...

 I spent this past Easter week end in Singapore. It was an opportunity to see my mother's family there and to enjoy many of the delicious local specialties.

My Uncle Tom finally took me to see the orchid garden at the botanical gardens. We had always walked through the gardens every time I had visited in the past but never found the time to go into the special orchid section. We saw lots of colourful and inventive blooms. Unfortunately, as far as I know, only the vanilla orchid produces something interesting to eat.

Hot pot
The Tornados, Decca

Photos: Tom Teo

20 March, 2015

Find out what's going on there

A woman at a milk bar
Read about three different models of linking small dairy farmers to the vast milk market in Kenya here.

Sour milk sea
George Harrison, Jackie Lomax and various celebrities, Come and get it: the best of Apple records

Photo: ILRI

16 March, 2015

What do I do?

Emily Ouma and Shoreline Services partners analysing Ugandan pig value chain data
Read here about how agricultural economists can identify the complicated trade-offs faced by smallholder farmers in Uganda when deciding whether to join potentially lucrative marketing chains.

So complicated
Anna Graceman, track single available online

Photo: ILRI/Jo Cadilhon

03 February, 2015

And this little piggy stayed home - NOT

Pigs for sale at a market in Viet Nam
Read here how boring numbers translate into interesting findings about the leanness of Vietnamese pig value chains. It looks like farmers are not being exploited by traders in this very dynamic market.

This little piggy
Rasputina, Lost & Found, Instinct Records

Photo: ILRI/Simone Retif

12 January, 2015

Wonder what's cooking at home tonight

Last December, I used the most primitive and the latest cooking technology within the course of a week.

12 December is Jamhuri Day in Kenya celebrating the country's independence. Last year's holiday came on a Friday so we all had a long week end. I went camping with a driver-guide in Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks. I enjoyed spotting all the elephants and observing active hyenas for the first time in Amboseli. The bushy hilly landscapes of Tsavo West were very beautiful; very dense too, making animal sighting more difficult but very rewarding when we chanced upon them in the bush.

 It was my first experience of cooking on a camp fire. I had seen trek guides in Vietnam assemble small wood for a fire, light it up, wait for it to die down a bit so as to start cooking, with only a little pile of red embers needed to get a stir-fry going. It looked manageable. But on our first night in Amboseli, our camp fire was lit up with one sole enormous piece of a tree trunk. So the fire raged very hot and it was difficult to get any embers from it: I was either too far from the heat and the water would not boil or I had to get really close to the heat source and scorch my face and hands. That is when I discovered that corrective glass lenses do not like extreme heat. While I was negotiating the fire's heat, my vision suddenly blurred. I wiped my glasses but my vision was still out of focus. As it was also pitch dark, it was difficult to tell whether my eyes had suddenly gone wrong, my glasses were at fault or we had all entered into a blurry third dimension. But then I took off my glasses and the vision was better and looking closely at my glasses' lenses, I saw that they were all scarred useless. I had to continue the two other days of safari and drive home to Nairobi without glasses. Luckily, one of my eyes has near perfect vision so I managed without too much discomfort.

Back to camp fire cooking. On our second camp night in Tsavo West, we had a grill pit and my guide prepared the fire with smaller wood which made spreading out the heat below a flat surface easier. Yet, all the food still smelled very smoky and I also felt like a piece of smoked ham when I slipped into my sleeping bag on both nights. However, my guide and dinner companion was always delighted with the food; his Maasai mother used to cook by open fire.

And the week after that I arrived in my parents' newly refurbished country house in Southwest France. My mother had set up a large kitchen with all brand new modern equipment: oven, microwave, five-burner gas stove, and an impressive wide-surface cooker hood. I spent a lot of time trying out the different settings of the new oven, which of course were very different from the older oven she had. Fruit tart, sponge cake, vegetable gratin, lamb shank, and our Christmas day's duck à l'orange: all were cooked to perfection in the brand new oven. Only for the Swiss roll of the Christmas log cake did I keep to the original recipe's oven settings; it would have been horrible for that to go wrong.

I've seen the saucers
Elton John, Caribou, Universal