Friday, December 25, 2009

Mathilde, Silvia, and Matteo (and Chiara from the 29) go to Kerala

Mathilde, Silvia, and Matteo (and Chiara from December 29) go to Kerala, the thin strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in Southern India.

We’ll start from Trivandrum, almost at the Southern tip of India, and then lead north. We’ll spend a couple of days in Varkala basically relaxing: swims in the Ocean, ayurvedic treatments, massages, and yoga. From Varkala we’ll go Alleppey, a Venice-like town set around a grid of canals. There, we’ll rent a houseboat and we’ll explore Kerala’s backwaters, an infinite labyrinth of rice paddies and coconut groves that from the coast develop far inland. We’ll then continue to Cochin, a melange of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Jewish, and Muslim influences, where we’ll meet Chiara. After having said good-bye to Silvia, we’ll move inland to Munnar, famous for its gentle hills covered by tea and spices plantations, and then we’ll conclude our trip in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, where we hope to meet tigers during one of our trekkings in the jungle...

Les M&M’s will be back on line on January 4, with plenty of pictures to show and stories to tell.

A very merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you. And a jingle from ‘Panjabiland’: *

(*) Thanks to Gislain for the reference...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Silvia é atterrata oggi sana e salva...

… e guardate un po’ cosa ci ha portato!!!

Dopo un viaggio-odissea cominciato nel gelo di Malpensa e proseguito tra interminabili code ai check-in, lotte con assistenti di terra delle compagnie aeree di mezzo mondo tra le urla di migliaia di altri passeggeri inferociti, incontri con hostess gentili e steward intransigenti, infinite attese nelle sale d’aspetto dei terminal di mezza Europa, etc. Silvia è atterrata questa mattina a Delhi, alla fine con sole sei ore di, tutto sommato, accettabilissimo ritardo.

Siamo molto felici che Silvia sia arrivata… e che il suo bagaglio non sia andato perso in questa epopea!

Souvenirs du Rajasthan

Thanks to Veronique for sending us the pictures of your trip to Rajasthan. A nice souvenir...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Delhi traffic

In one of my past posts I happen to say that the traffic in Delhi is the worst that I ever experienced. However, since then I kept on thinking what was making Delhi traffic worst than the traffic in Rome, Izmir, Bogotá, Accra, Lagos, Marrakech - or any other city where I drove...

Not the fact that vehicles do not respect the right of way (common feature in all these cities). Not the fact that cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts (and bikes, and dogs, and pedestrians) recklessly zigzag like restive horses (as above). Not the fact that it’s not infrequent to (almost) clash with other cars (or buses, or trucks) coming in the opposite direction in your same lane. Not the cows (and the camels, and the elephants) that roam in the roads (idem, idem, idem...)

For weeks I looked for an example that could show why Delhi traffic is different. And I finally found it.

Sewa Nagar, level crossing. Cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts chaotically line up on the left lane (here in India you drive on the left) while waiting the train to pass. The same happens on the other side of the level crossing. Minutes go by.

And then, suddenly, cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts from the rear of the queue start overtaking the line of cars in front of them and mass on the level crossing on the right lane. The same happens on the other side of the level crossing. In just a few minutes, on both sides of the level crossing, a hoard of honking cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts entirely occupy every squared centimeter of the road, from left to right, and for hundreds of meters behind.

Finally the train passes. The level crossing opens. And…


But don't worry too much. It is proved that any human system, in the absence of rules, automatically creates a subset of (tacitly shared) norms, habits, conventions to self-regulate. So, be reassured: that mess eventually got solved, and people in the end got where they had to go. That's India.

But to draw a lesson - The secret to drive (and survive) in Delhi traffic is to understand that set of tacit norms, habits, and conventions. In short, the secret to survive in Delhi traffic is to start thinking like an Indian… And it is with this attitude that every morning I approach my scooter. And consider every ride a learning experience. If the way people drive reflects their most profound nature, every ride on my scooter offers me an opportunity to get more and more into the soul of this country…

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to comment on our blog (a step-by-step guide)

After Pakto (our first - and still unknown - follower) and Clemence (the first friend who signed in our blog), les M&M’s welcome Mathilde, Laura, Brice, and Hu8o among their official ‘followers’.

Thanks to you and thanks to all those who discreetly follow our adventures. It’s our way to (try to) keep in contact with all of you. And thanks to those that through their comments cheer our days up, and - even from far away - keep us company…

Several of you complained that they wish they could comment our posts, but could not. I made a trial, and have to admit the process is a bit ‘farraginous’. But here below a step-by-step guide on how to post a comment on our blog:

- Click on “Comment” at the bottom of the post you want to comment
- Write the comment in the “Post a Comment” space (hope no problems until here…)
- Select your profile: you have several options. Choose “Anonymous” (this is the easiest option; below some more 'advanced' options*)
- Click on “Post your Comment”

!!! Careful here, here it comes the tricky part !!!

- Most likely you will receive a warning: “Your request could not be processed. Please try again”
- Do not desist: click again on “Post your Comment” (this is where most people get stuck)
- Now: a window with a Preview of your comment should appear, and a request for “Word verification”
- Re-type in the proper space the colored word that appears under “Word verification”
- Click on “Post Comment”
- Now your comment should be published**

(*) Select your Profile - Advanced options: You can also select the option “OpenID”, and write your name (or pseudonymous). Your comment would then appear as written by you (or by your pseudonymous). For those who have a Gmail or a Blogger account, you would probably find among the various profile options the one with your name. As above, if you select that option, your comment would result sent under your name.

(**) For the benefit of the meticulous, I leave you the link to a comprehensive ‘Beginner guide on how to comment on a blog’, found, just to be original, on someone else blog:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Joyeux anniversaire, Constance

Les M&M's souhaitent un très joyeux anniversaire à Constance! Gros bisous épicés!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our first Bollywood...

It has been more than two months we have moved to Delhi, but we have watched our first Bollywood only a few evenings ago.

The term ‘Bollywood’ comes from the blending of ‘Bombay’ and ‘Hollywood’, and is the informal term popularly used for the Hindi film industry based in Mumbay (Bombay). In line with the Indian epics and with the Sanskrit drama, Bollywood movies tend to be melodramatic, with plots that tell about lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, courtesans with gold hearts, dramatic reversals of fortune or convenient coincidences, and dialogues that evoke positive values: faith, family, duty, and self-sacrifice…

But it is certainly the ‘song-and-dance’ of Bollywood movies that made Bollywood a landmark worldwide. During the story in fact, the hero and heroine usually perform with a troupe of supporting dancers a dance to comment or highlight a specific action taking place in the movie. Songs-and-dances - a blend of traditional Indian folk music with MTV or Broadway styles - often feature unrealistic and instantaneous shifts of location or changes of costumes, and are often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architectonically great settings. The success of the film in many cases depends on the success of these ‘musicals’, and the soundtrack of the movie often becomes more popular than the movie itself.

Our first Bollywood was ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’, the story of a small criminal boss who decides to become a medical doctor to fulfill his parents’ wishes. However, while his skills at the medical college are minimal, he develops a method of treatment based on compassion and empathy towards those in needs. These people are treated by Munna with what he calls ‘the magic hug’ - a form of comfort that his mother used to practice to him when he was a child. In contrast with the science-based, impersonal medicine taught at the college, Munna is eventually forced to leave the school. However, the miraculously awaken of a brain-dead man from his vegetative state thanks to Munna's compassion and care, results in the resignation of the school’s Dean (Munna’s main antagonist) and the implementation of Munna’s less conventional methods of treatment by the new Dean. Happy end.

Our first experience with Bollywood was definitively positive: even though the movie seemed sometime a bit naïf to our tastes, and even though we have certainly not been able to appreciate in full the details and artistic features of it, we have enjoyed it and spent an entertaining evening. We’ll certainly continue our exploration of Indian cinematography, and if you have any ‘must-see’ to recommend, please do it…

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas shopping

While Europe and the US are in sight of a very white Christmas, there were 23 degrees Celsius in Delhi today. But consistent with the tradition, we spent our last week-end before Christmas doing our ‘last minute’ Christmas shopping. Together with Joshua, Anya, and the little Sofia - who visited us from Cambodia - we spent our day in Delhi Haat, Sadar Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Sunder Nagar and Khan Market.

So, be reassured: despite the distance, despite the very little Xmas atmosphere, you’ll receive your Christmas present this year as well…

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Luckily, we are not anymore in the 60s or 70s, and signing in and singing out (‘timbrare il cartellino’) at work is less and less the rule. Work is more based on results than on # of hours spent in the office, and flexibility arrangements at work to meet employees’ needs and facilitate a balanced work-life balance are becoming more and more frequent. And thanks to the increasing interconnectivity, "telecommuting" - a form of work arrangement in which employees enjoy the flexibility to work from a remote location by electronically linking to their company - is becoming more and more accepted and adopted...

We can’t deny that the fact that CI (Conservation International, Mathilde’s employer) agreed to have Mathilde telecommuting from India was the element (or one of the key elements) that made us finally deciding to come to Delhi. Although I knew how resourceful Mathilde can be, I sincerely didn't have in fact the guts to have Mathilde at home without something to do.

Well then, Mathilde seems not to dislike too much the new work arrangement... (see post below)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009


On Friday morning all Indian newspapers opened their first pages announcing that the Government was ready to pledge a 20-25% cut in carbon emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 2020 at Copenhagen. And forget about the fact that these targets would be ‘voluntary’ and ‘non binding’. Indeed, this announcement represented quite a radical (and in a way unexpected) shift from the negotiation position that the Government developed and maintained in the past few months.

But let’s do a step back. Many of you have asked me in the past weeks what I am doing here in India. Well, the short answer is that, as many Environmental or Natural Resource Management ‘specialists’ colleagues of mine, I am trying (or pretending) to recycle myself as a ‘Climate Change’ specialist. And so, after having solved the problem of land degradation in Africa, here I am to solve the problem of climate change in India…

Apart from the very noble nature of my new job, this position allowed me to follow a bit the discussions that have led the Government in the past months to define its stance vis-à-vis the negotiations that are about to start in Copenhagen. And have to say that I found these discussions extremely fascinating from both an intellectual and an ethical point of view.

The official position of the Government in the past months has been that India would not negotiate or agree to any emission target. This position was supported by two main arguments. First, that India was not and is not part of the problem. Not only India has not contributed to past emissions (whose responsibility is of the industrialized countries), but its current per capita CO2 emissions are extremely low: about 1/20 of those of the US and 1/10 of those of the EU and of Japan. And anyway well below the world average. According to India, it would be therefore immoral to impose any cap to its emissions, and, consistent to the above, India’s declared position was that it would not discuss any emission target until when its per capita emissions would reach those of industrialized countries.

The issue here is however how countries' responsibility for carbon emissions should be attributed - whether counting the per capita emissions or instead counting the total emissions. If in fact India is one of the least CO2 polluting countries in the world in terms of per capita emissions, it is on the other hand one of the most polluting countries in terms of total emissions. India is the forth-largest emitter in terms of total volume of CO2 - after China, the US, and Russia, and before Japan and Germany. As much as the 'nation' India is not part of the problem if we look at the average emissions of its people, the 'country' India is very much part of the problem if we count its total emissions. But here the ethical question: what should be considered just and ‘equitable’ in this context, that each country is entitled to emit the same, or that each person is entitled to emit the same? …

The second argument used to support India’s position in the climate discourse was that imposing limits on carbon emissions would prevent or limit India’s capacity (and right) to develop. Evidence seems in fact to suggest that per capita CO2 emissions are closely related to a country’s level of economic development (and in fact, historically, no country has improved its level of economic development without a corresponding increase in per capita use of energy - which implied an increase in CO2 emissions). Under the current circumstances (i.e. in a world that is very much dependent on fossil fuels for energy production) growth cannot be achieved without contextually increasing CO2 emissions. Imposing limits to CO2 emissions to a developing country would therefore implicitly imply limiting its possibility to grow and develop.

The key issue here is whether it is possible to conceive an alternative, less carbon-intensive, model of growth, which would allow countries to develop economically without overloading the atmosphere with green-house gases. Even though no country has yet proved it, scientific progress and technological innovation suggest that this could be possible by improving energy efficiency and by relying more heavily on renewable sources of energy. In short, by building a so-called ‘low-carbon economy’. But the question is: who should pay for this conversion? Well, you could easily imagine India’s opinion in this regard…

But let’s now get back to the sudden change in India’s conventional position, to the announcement that India would reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 20-25% by 2020. What’s really behind the few words suitable for the occasion, i.e. that India would like to be seen as ‘deal-maker and not as a deal-breaker’, that India ‘was not part of the problem but wants to be part of the solution’, etc.?

Well, of course nobody knows. Here there are two, absolutely personal, hypotheses. The first: that India is selling these targets (which would be anyway achieved by simply implementing its national programs) to gain 'negotiation' credits for other (more important for India) issues on the table, i.e. transfer of technology, access to patents and intellectual property rights, financial resources… The second: that India is projecting itself in 20-30 years from now - and what it sees is that it will be then where the US, the EU, Japan, etc. stand now. And with this perspective in mind, that India is trying today to well position itself at the negotiating table, and build the basis for the bilateral and multilateral negotiations of tomorrow…

Well, as we would say in Italy: "chi vivrà, vedrà - e intato io pago"*…

(*) “Those who’ll live, will see - and in the meantime, I pay…”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ravi Shankar

Do you remember George Harrison playing the sitar in ‘Love you to’ (Revolver) and ‘Within you without you’ (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)? Well, guess who his teacher was*...

Today Ravi Shankar’s concert at Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri has been... a ‘spiritual’ experience. All sit on a loan, hypnotized by this neverending, very intimate lullaby, that brought us to a different, very ‘spiritual’ dimension (no, no pot)...

Can’t say if I really fully understood this music, and if I appreciated it as I probably should have had - but can certainly say that I enjoyed this concert very very much. And from Agra to Fathepur Sikri, from 'The Argumentative Indian' (still reading it) to Ravi Shankar, I can’t stop thinking how rich is this culture...

(*) Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know the answer. I didn’t either until this morning...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Les "Chabbert sisters" sont parties...

After two intense weeks of India, the Chabbert sisters left us tonight.

We were very happy to have them here, and now sad to see their beds empty. We look forward to another visit next year to discover together another corner of India.

We also look forward to receiving Veronique’s pictures, so that we can tell their trip to Rajasthan.

Bon voyage, et… au revoir!

(PS: In the haste of running to the airport, we forgot to take a last ‘family’ picture…)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Heathrow Airport, on my way back to Delhi.

Rethinking to the past few days in DC: these have been hectic and tiring, but also - in a way - exciting and refreshing.

It was nice to be back and walk on those streets that I used to cover every day until a couple of months ago - and, looking around, trying to discover whether everything has remained as I left it, or if anything has changed. And it was nice to see again most of my friends and former colleagues, and somehow feel as if I had never left.

10,000 miles and twice 10.5 hour time difference in four days, but I left DC happy and re-energized. To use an oxymoron: it has been a ‘refreshing drudgery’…

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


At my arrival in DC, out of the airport after an entire day spent in planes and terminals, my senses have been woken by the crisp air of a sunny winter day. And while regenerating myself inhaling deeply this wintry air, I thought how nice is the succession of the seasons, and how much I will miss winter this year…

December 1st. As winter starts, I am embarking to be back to India, far from winter, far from Christmas. And wonder: where will we be next December?

(Above: Anna & Alex' Christmas tree)