What’s certain is that the five-week tour will start with a lap of Tasmania.
Clockwise starting at Devonport.
That’s okay, but that’s not really the start. To get to the real start there’s some backtracking to do. Continue reading
What’s certain is that the five-week tour will start with a lap of Tasmania.
Clockwise starting at Devonport.
That’s okay, but that’s not really the start. To get to the real start there’s some backtracking to do. Continue reading
Everyone has a story, often it reads with how we want it to be but what it actually is, is the substance all others seek.
Alessandro, reported by his sister in Italy in September 2012 as missing, presumed dead, has a story.
Presumably the victim of the economy, saddened by the loss of his Father, he disappeared without trace. His home untouched, possessions all accounted for, bank accounts not accessed for more than a year.
On the Train
Stepping onto the train about to depart from Perpignan, I hung my bike on the hook, placing it so as not to have it flailing as the train leaned from side to side on the short journey to the sea.
About to take my seat a man tried to lift his commuter Dutch-style bike up through the door onto the train from the platform. Visibly, it was a struggle.
We organised bikes and sat on either side of the train, gazing from windows.
French in a thick Italian accent blurted out lively and amiably. Dressed in a track-suit and runners, carrying a small day-pack, this friendly chap and I exchanged pleasantries, Francais style. A bit of velo talk whilst noting the beautiful sight of a snow-capped Mt Canigou as it drifted by, interrupted by wisps of tall grasses slashing at the train.
Alighting at the same stop, velos ported, we bid adieu and were thankful for a trip lost quickly to a polite conversation.
Days later, a man in a track-suit stretched by the sea-shore, a small day-pack sat 50 metres away alone on a bench.
“Bonjour”. “Ahh Ciao, Bonjour”.
After discussing the randomness of the situation, a café meeting was organised for a few days time.
It didn’t take long to discover this man was into sky-running, an endurance form of running, on par with enduro mountain biking. Almost every second day he would run between 20-25kms through the surrounding claws of the Pyrenees. Not bad (ie, “pas mal”, such a typical expression in French) for a 47 year old.
The merits of endurance sports were parlayed and so it was the sky-runner sought to test the cyclist in a head-to-head battle over a 3km run.
Details were exchanged; let the fun begin.
From the outset the perception was such that things weren’t quite adding up. The bag was toted everywhere, the same attire permeated each day and the discourse was spirited, if not a little forceful. The challenge didn’t fit the scene comfortably.
Though given this perception, surprisingly Alessandro provided his full name.
So, what do you do when you meet a person who is reported as missing, presumed dead?
Have another coffee and chat.
Following the Course
Over the course of several café excursions, Alessandro introduced another fellow. Cesar, an Italian national, a man of probably about 70-something, now living in France. Most days Alessandro and Cesar could be seen talking wildly in Italian with copious amounts of vigour fuelled by vin rouge, each day to be celebrated just as the last.
In a mixture of Italfranglaise, mostly swearing in Italian, whinging in French and jokes in English, the story started to develop.
Cesar, once an avid climber/mountaineer, is now a little less nimble owing to an accident that provided him with a walking stick and a move to the sun and sea. He moved to the south of France for the climate, the culture, the food and the Catalan ambience. All very worthwhile features of the region.
Cesar though, after 10 years or more, has found himself facing up to what he sees as a mistake. The aura of the south has dulled, though he speaks three languages integration has not been possible. An insider still on the outside he travels from Perpignan to Collioure most days just to gaze at the sea for respite. Except in summer because the volume of tourists jam the transmission of vibes.
Coughing up a Lung
Between puffs and gulps, Cesar speaks in a throaty crackling deep tone, he would make an intense Actor, General or Tsar. Long long tales have you poised in anticipation and duress but throaty cackles lifts the weight and want to arrest your ears.
The Italians bemoan the state of their homeland, the economy and the running of the country. Both hail the ambience of the Catalan Med but sledge its closed doors. Each arrived to escape lands of which they had become resentful and distrustful. Finding the Promised Land, the growing tension between living in a place of Paradise but without their tribes has evoked a common spirit. It offers the chance to compare regions, customs and mores of the societies.
Sky-running Alessandro has all but lost faith and trust in his country. Without his job, without his Father, without a sense of security he lives without dependency on governments and financial institutions. Travelling light, he is afforded the luxury of freedom. Freedom from ties and traces.
Slowly the interplay between the gents develops. One man felt stuck and opted out, the other opted out and became stuck. Is it an Italian tragedy? The story could be so, but rather than that, it is merely but a rich story of substance. Things are as they actually are.
Cesar has found the medicinal powers of the Mediterranean satisfaction enough to continue his daily sojourns to the blue water and along the way met with a fellow that can in some way re-enforce that his homeland is suffering too. When you’re stationed on the Med and the problem is way over there, well, is that such a bad thing?
Alessandro weaved his way to the restorative powers of running over the mountaintops, taking flight from the Pyrenees Condors and circumnavigating a bull or two during various 4.5 hour episodes. He will return to his home soon enough, a new job in the health industry and his tribe await him.
In the End
Well and truly alive, the spirits of these two fellows truly shine and re-affirm for me that there is always another story that peers out from just beneath the surface.
How will your story read at the end of this year?
Much like the vision of a glamorous femme fatale sporting 3-inch heels on a bicycle, cupcakes exude a hint of luxury, decadence, quality-time shared with close confidantes. Or a brief escape to another era, someone else’s, or your own moment of fantasy.
It was with great pleasure that I became acquainted with a Montpellier bright star recently. Unbeknownst at the time, but a cupcake shaped star would shine soon enough.
Surrounded by bright industry leaders at the DigiWorld IT Summit a few weeks ago, it was only when the lights went down that I found myself walking amongst the stars.
These stars weren’t out to promote a new App, Device, Internet of Everything network communications package. Looking directly they tended to move about, but were always obvious in the periphery.
For another time is the introduction of the other stars Musee Transversal, developed by Didier and Corinne, here and now, it’s all about the cupcakes: Mary Cherry.
After Summiting DigiWorld over the mountains and valleys of forums, networking opportunities and gala dinners, I had a growing interest in discovering the real Montpellier. Beyond the strong university presence, a growing population, strength in design and animation (film), I wondered what really made it tick. Luckily, Mary Cherry offered to introduce the local’s view of Montpellier. Thank goodness, a real chance to avoid the city ant-trail.
What do you normally see on a city tour? This monument, that historic marker, that guy died there, that lady was born there, that thing was painted 18 times in the 15th century.
Not that that’s not important but what mesmerised me on Cherry’s Tour de Ville was passion for life.
The tour took place during the period of “Design Tour Montpellier” another summit of sorts for designers across fashion and interiors. (Mary Cherry has a piece on it here). Design is a big influence for Mary Cherry.
Whilst we toured…we talked.
During the tour, Mary shared personal favourite destinations and I could not have been more pleased.
– What must be the perfect template of a cafe mixed with retail operation: L’heure Bleue
– Street art by “BMX”
– Truly chic interior design using *gasp* Ikea furniture: In the mood for Ikea
– Cool art and interior design pieces at: Metropolitan
– Coffee by Fairview Coffee
– And the piece de resistance, the parcours to Parcours (This place blew my doors off. Due to be demolished, it was once a squat-house, now urban artist’s house of design.)
– Okay, one more, PapaDoble, driving innovation in cocktails.
Making your Mark?
But the real stand out was the conversation. The general theme was how does one make their mark in the world? Especially if you don’t subscribe to the ‘normal’ channels or blueprints of what’s on offer. Along the way I also met Manu, a marine biologist who also happens to knit extremely well. She was passing on her expertise (in knitting) to Fredric, a total fashionista keen to extend his capabilities. Talk of living by the sea intervened regularly.
Mary Cherry is a bright star working to create her own path, one that will provide endless satisfaction to the appetites of people from all over. You may think, well cupcakes, it’s simple. It’s not that simple when you’re working at being the premiere cupcake business in Montpellier. France is a conservative place, a grand protector of tradition and artisan style. Cupcakes are not French, they are American (and we all know how popular Lance Armstrong is with the French).
In Your Face
It’s like cycling in the south of France, you’re not just working against gravity up mountains, you’ve also got a 100km/h wind in your face and it’s 5 degrees. You may not think that’s ideal and you’d ordinarily take one of the three variables, but when there’s blue sky and sun shining, why wouldn’t you? And so it is, Mary Cherry’s mountains and wind are the forces of culture and bureaucracy, but the sun of innovation and blue sky of possibilities drive her spirit.
Mary Cherry will find her mountain pass, because she has a spirit that says “I have a duty to my art”. Her art is not an office occupation, a travel agent, a scientist or a teacher, it’s in visual and culinary delights.
The mountain pass lay fraught with hiccups, risks, challenges and a wrestle with the climb, but at the precipice awaits unknown rewards and a fast ride down the other side to the finish.
One’s Own Path
By choosing to create one’s own path, the responsibility for each boundary, each decision, each probe into the unknown, rests with you. There is no deference. Mary Cherry knows this. Making the decision to go it alone and try a different path has not been without its pains, for there is no template, no career ladder, no performance appraisal or structured dossier. It’s whatever you want it to be. Paradox of choice? Perhaps.
Once that decision was made by Mary Cherry, those things didn’t matter anymore, because they weren’t relevant to her mission.
Tour of Tours
As we moved through the streets of Montpellier scanning the environment for influences and eye-catchers, the true beauty of the untrodden path began to emerge. I’d somehow managed to convince Mary Cherry and friends to take part of the tour by bicycle, just like Paris’s Velib, this was Montpellier’s Velomagg.
Her acceptance represented the attitude of stepping outside comfort zones and not just eliminating barriers, but ignoring them. Mary Cherry was sporting some serious heels and her friend’s niece was just a smidgen shy of fitting on a bike by herself. No matter, a way was invented to make it all work. All with a ‘can-do’, ‘pourquoi-pas’ flair.
From what I gleaned during that tour of tours, the core of the cupcake certainly represented that attitude. A melange of singular decisiveness to take an unknown path, the wherewithal to consciously push boundaries outward or ignore them altogether coupled with a knack for accepting and synthesising influences across diverse interests for better outcomes.
And I can report that the ‘Mont’ in Montpellier is with good reason, indeed the city is built on a hill. No matter for my ardent new pals in 3-inch heels and porting a pint-sized passenger, these ladies literally rode up that hill into a headwind with the poise of the Paris-end. In art as in life.
The rewards for a day in Montpellier? Many. Plus a cupcake treat (okay, two).
Enormous thanks to Mary Cherry, her man Alex, her BFF Marine (and Niece) for Le Tour of Tours. Merci Beaucoup.
If you find yourself in Montpellier, be sure to follow the stars.
*Thanks to JC for additional inspiration, yet another star not shy of a mountain.
Extreme in its violence, it soothes you breathlessly on a summer’s day too. An unpleasant day in Le Vent once evoked mass thrashing on pedals down a 10% hill in the easiest gear at the grand total of 8km per hour.
The coastal route from Collioure to Cerbere in the Pyrenees-Orientales is quickly becoming a second reference to “Beach Rd”, the other one, a cycling mecca located in Melbourne, Australia. A rolling coastline it delivers 500m of altitude gain one way delivering vineyard pretties, terraced villas, longing vistas of the mediterranean and tours through seaside Catalan villages.
The benefit of residing in this area for some time means the usual detailed planning of the route, destination, timelines, GPS down/upload and packing of essentials can be discarded. Traveling light, just two bidons (bottles) and a bar, lightens the mind just as much.
Boundaries and Borders
There’s something different about heading to an international boundary as opposed to a state-border when out for a ride. Over the other side of the line is not just another set of rules and regulations, there’s hundreds of years of cultural differences, friction, atrocities, battles won and lost, tastes, sounds and visual elements. Previous regional subtleties in flavour suddenly sit at the head of the table.
The French-Spanish border is hallmarked by two towns, Cerbere on the French side and Portbou the other. Connected by road and train tunnel Cerbere was once an important trade hub for the transfer of goods between France and Spain. Advances in transport have since changed some of that. It is a pity, because sitting proudly at the entrance to Cerbere is the most evocative building I’d never planned on seeing.
Will I ever Get Home?
Returning by train from Girona (Spain) on a previous occasion, a pause in the train schedule awarded me a few hours to sit at the station and wonder if I was ever going to get home. The coastal towns are populated with around 1500-2000 permanent residents, not a lot of people, especially on the back-end of the high season and when all the tourists have well and truly departed. Many businesses follow the tourists and close quickly after summer, leaving the towns ghost-like. With hours between trains, it’s not ideal.
Is That the Titanic?
Wandering from the station and across the bridge my mind leapt, there along the tracks commanding a strong position was a curved grey monolith. Flashes of the Titanic, memories of QE2 sightings, visions of the Ritz Paris steps, little did I know what I was in for.
About a 1000 photographs later, the entry beckoned me. There was a note hand-written in French at the door and the door was ajar. Stepping into the foyer the 1930s engulfed me. Ladies dressed in sculptured dresses, wearing hats and looking like film-stars, black A-model Ford cars escorting guests to and fro. Looking decidedly unattended, if not abandoned, history invited me upstairs.
By the chess table, mouth agape at noticeboards and press-clippings, into the tea-room. Crowded with eighty years of bookings, stories and guests, the desire to be served tea in a white china cup and take a round of petite-fours was overwhelming. Sadly, a lady disturbed me in 1932 and I awoke in 2012 to a row of tables and chairs, a small photographic exhibition and a barrage of pleasant French that I really wanted to understand. One-in-five just wasn’t cutting it.
Gracious as 1932, Jakye Roubaix, the caretaker of Le Belvedere de Rayon Vert, took me under her wing for just a moment. Perhaps it was the look of wanton petite-fours all over my face, probably just the awe-struck and fumbling French dialogue that charmed her.
Intently engaging all senses as one does in the company of a gracious foreigner in a building that one shouldn’t have been, ears spoke of an impending gathering, nose noted delicious beef stew on the stove and eyes clipped trays of coffee mugs. Mouth tried to work out how to convince Madame Roubaix to take me on a tour.
Somewhere in the ether, someone calculated that I was to be rewarded with an unplanned guided tour. Mme Roubaix led me out of the tea-room, down the hallway across the colourful tiles towards the doorway “Interdit” (Forbidden).
Things were looking up. Mind your head she said, or just ‘votre tete’ as I heard it. Through a few wizard like doors, don’t mind the exposed wiring or the half-installed light-switch box hanging off the wall. Click! Click! Click! Mme Roubaix threw the switches and we emerged from the back-halls right of stage in the theatre. There sat the audience awaiting the curtain to be lifted for the show to go on. An audience of 20 years of dust unfortunately.
Mme Roubaix came and went a few times as I took front row seats under the dress circle for the full presentation. A ‘modern’ cinema screen whirred and rolled its way up to reveal theatre stage and tapered curtains. (Sidenote: A quick internet search failed to reveal another hotel with its own theatre).
Left to deliver a solo tour, Le Belvedere revealed a separate salon for black tie opulent occasions or perhaps intimate marriage ceremonies. On the upper floors, there remains a small number of rooms available for booking with an indoor courtyard for the 60 days a year that it rains in the region.
In its day the hotel Le Belvedere du Rayon Vert most surely would have been the Grand Dame of Cerbere, if not the region. It is fortunate that another Grand Dame in Jakye Roubaix now tends its place on the list of historic monuments.
Designed in Art Deco style it was built between 1928-1932 and even in its current state its a testament to those days. Who needs a time-machine.
Two Grand Dames
And that’s what’s drawn me to ride to the border a few times, just to whoosh past those Two Grand Dames and rejoice the day when time to spare between trains took another track. Is it the magnetism of the Belvedere or the magnetism of the reward of the unforeseen that fulfils the spirit on that route; calculation unknown.
Thanks to Avery for the inspiration for this article.
The passing of Elinor Ostrom on June 12th gives rise to acknowledging again not only she as the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics but the ability of all us to make a difference.
As mentioned in The Washington Post article, the tragedy of the commons suggests that individuals acting in self-interest will ultimately deplete a resource that is open to everyone.
In this short entry and by way of this informative and sometimes entertaining video presented by Elinor, it’s possible to see why Time Magazine recently named Dr Ostrom as 2012’s one of the 100 most influential people in the world for her work in this field.
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Way back on the 1st February this year, I despatched this prediction via Twitter, meaning that mindfulness is set to become mainstream during 2012.
<a name=""> What does that mean? Do you have to be surrounded by burning scented candles, in a dark quiet place or high up on a mountain in a temple refraining from speech to be mindful? Well no, it’s rather a state of mind than a state of being. But by doing so, it can help you to become more self-aware, to be in the present, to be more in direct contact with the world. 
The past summers I’ve spent my time in direct contact with the underwater world and after numerous random meetings face to face with these creatures, which resulted in either rapid ascent to the surface or near total loss of nerve, I wanted to change all that.
“Eagle Ray, Port Phillip Bay, VIC”
Then this video came across my desktop and exhibited the experience really sought.
Video: “Guillaume Nery base jumping (freediving) at Dean’s Blue Hole”
Maybe, you too are seeking a way of managing distractions or reducing mental clutter. Picture your mind as running multiple internet browser sessions or tabs, then imagine minimising or sending all those sessions to the task bar. They’re still operating, reduced to an icon or indicator, you’re totally aware of them, but now you can focus with unbridled fervour on the immediate task, thought or activity in front of you.
Think of it like the CNN news on TV, the Presenters are speaking but there is also a ticker tape running along the bottom of the screen, you can choose to engage with the information in that ticker tape, you can ignore it, or you can be aware that it’s there and have full engagement watching the Presenter.
This is mindfulness in operation.
Say you’re riding your bike in a large bunch or peloton of cyclists at 50kph, mindfulness is being aware of your position on the bike, position in the bunch, the effort you’re expending to stay part of the bunch, it is also being aware that someone is passing by your right shoulder (or left) and moving up towards the front of the bunch. There’s a lot going on. Now add in your thoughts about improving your position in the bunch and what you’re going to do to execute it. To act safely for the other riders, you must be mindful or aware of all these factors, but at any one time not giving all of them your fullest attention. Most are running in the task bar…
So, real life mindfulness, you’re onto it.
Now, take yourself away from these discrete, comfortable, potentially familiar instances. Put yourself into a new environment, somewhere that is incredibly uncomfortable, not your preference or ideal. Maybe it’s swimming 10m underwater with just a mask and snorkel whilst holding your breath. Perhaps it’s in a crowded bar full of inebriated patrons. Or, you’re about to deliver a keynote presentation to an audience.
The test is can you become settled and maintain full awareness whilst also utilising the raw energy or rush of adrenaline that builds up or hits you in this state of unknown. What can you do during this phase to maintain composure and not be upset by a random event. A stingray brushes past, your Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie approaches you for a chat, or a heckler in the audience wants to disrupt your well-rehearsed verbal gift.
Here’s potentially one way, let’s call it neural switching.
It may help accelerate competency if you’ve already got an understanding, if not a practice, in yoga or meditation, but it is not essential. The results will develop in any case, performance potential determined only by affiliation and connection with the practice.
To enhance my learning and adaptation (and general fitness!), I engaged the services of professionals in this space to create a structured program under which progress would be more readily tracked and traced.
The fun bits!
In the beginning… there were plates, plastic picnic plates. Here’s an indicative video to illustrate the type of movement:
The task was to undertake 1 minute of strenuous high-intensity activity. Cue the sprint starts on plastic plates (possibly the cheapest gym apparatus available ever). Perform 1 minute at maximum output, these look simple enough, but well, are not. Then as your heart rate reaches maximum, lactic acid is pouring through your veins, your chest is heaving, you then stop, and proceed to enter your focused, mindful non-judgemental observational state. A state of calm. This is the neural switch.
Then, repeat three times. 
A lot happens during these phases, your body is in high discomfort physically, your mind seeks to end the discomfort, telling you to stop the exercise or to keep pushing or a combination of both. There can be a lot of mental chatter, questions pop up “why am I doing this” etc.
As competency develops however, the chatter is reduced to the task bar, it’s there and can be engaged at any time, similarly the level of focus on breathing, on exercise form, on execution is also heightened, it’s your choice which. Then, in the ‘rest’ phase, the awareness of your physical recovery, your mental chatter levels and your overall presence, aka mindfulness, is more rapidly entered and a feeling of being centred and grounded envelops you.
So how does this apply to Brad, Angelina, your heckler and/or the stingray?
Your ability to maintain that grounded, centred platform despite the stimuli or inputs in your environment enable a far greater opportunity to maintain focus. Your ability to engage with the services running in your task bar are optimised, as is your ability to switch into an absolute state of focus. You can see the ticker tape, engage with the Presenter and stay completely focused on your task. It’s not just in that dark room or surrounded by scented candles, it’s anywhere and anytime. That’s big.
It’ll rock your world in a way that you’ve likely not experienced before and if you’re lucky you may never be the same again.
Some might call it being in ‘flow’, and it is, the difference is, it’s become your choice.
Have you made yours?
1. http://www.actmindfully.com.au/index.asp?pageID=41 “Definitions of Mindfulness”
2. http://www.actmindfully.com.au/index.asp?pageID=41 “The Benefits of Mindfulness”
3. http://www.neuralign.com.au/LIVE/N_overview.html “The Neuralign System”
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Keeping them a little bit wild
Why do we need to keep wildlife wild? Is it not exciting as a visitor to interact with wildlife, after all is this not one of the key reasons for a nature park in our suburbs?
Feeding the animals could disrupt an important behaviour sequence, that of the wildlife foraging for food. Lyrebirds, for example, find food by scratching with their feet through the leaf litter. This in turn helps new fern development as ferns do not sprout from seeds, but develop from spores which are more vulnerable than seeds as they lack a protective coating. By the Lyrebirds disrupting the ground cover, the spores are less exposed to the outdoor environment as they are able to penetrate the leaf-litter. A dynamic yet simple dependency.
If we as tourists feed the birds, we will create a new behaviour string: the birds will come to know people as a dependable source of food and perhaps reduce their natural foraging. A reduction in foraging decreases the opportunity for ferns to develop, which in turn reduces the natural cover and food which this plant species provides to a number of other organisms. A simple pleasure for us that potentially damages the life cycle of the birds and the broader ecosystem.
So it pays to keep the wildlife wild to ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem. But what about you? What could be impacting your ability to maintain your personal ecosystem?
Keeping you a little bit wild
What if inadvertently you had adopted a new behaviour influenced by a third party source that was eroding your personal ecosystem? What’s an example? Can you think of a new dependency that has developed in your life that’s eroding the sustainability of what was once an important behaviour or attribute?
Maybe it’s Friday night drinks that you never used to go to. Perhaps it’s a new 500km per week cycling habit you’ve collected. Or an always switched on FaceSpace social media account dinging and binging in the palm of your hand. You won’t need to scratch too deeply to find one, I’m sure.
But what if this behaviour is not limited to you. Say you do approach the Lyrebirds, well, because no one else is going to ignore the sign, are they? So why shouldn’t you just this once? It won’t hurt. Imagine everyone thinks this way. Now imagine everyone has adopted your new 500km per week cycling habit or FaceSpace addiction. Imagine the power of that. What has happened to the original habits, behaviours or cultural demonstrations of your natural ecosystem? Are you still nurturing the broader personal ecosystem by fulfilling and tending these new third party influenced behaviours?
Now imagine the power of not doing that across the population. That’s a pretty strong message, hey? So, by resisting these new third party behaviours or supplementary dependency, or by at least consciously deciding to participate and by how much, you’re not just keeping yourself just a little bit wild, you’re contributing to sustaining everyone else’s piece of wild and maintaining that cultural nuance that benefits us all.
So go on, scratch in the dirt a little and maintain your roots, and your community. There won’t always be a Ranger on the look out.
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