Sunday, December 6, 2009


One of my favourite features of Londinium is the river Thames. As far back I can remember I have always been fascinated by urban rivers, which I explain by the fact that my hometown's river, la Senne, has been built over. I have crossed most London bridges, at least once, by foot or by car. It doesn't matter, as long as I can admire the continuous and calm flow of the Thames. Rivers are sacred for me.water is the source of life, historically and biologically. Most civilisation have developed along a river that provided them with food, drink, power and transport. Biologically, they support a great deal of wildlife, macro- and microorganisms, forming the food chain. Symbolically, they are very important to me. A long time ago, a total stranger I met in MachuPichu, and who could read me like a book (to this day the encounter remains a mystery to me), advised me to look at rivers to understand life. I pretty quickly tired of looking at the Urubamba River, and didn't think of it until seeing the Ganges in Rishikesh, where it comes to the plains from the hills. We followed it uphill, and the thought came back, making sense now... The water always get around the stones to eventually reach the sea. I believe the flow of life is very similar.

Friday, November 27, 2009


It's winter and cold. I feel ravenous most of the time. My primal instinct of hunter-gatherer has resurfaced. And London is a paradise for foodies. Walking certainly helps me to conceive food for thoughts and to discover places for foodies. Best coffee in London is sold at the Algerian Coffee Store in Old Compton Street. Check their website, you can buy on line. Italian deli, Lina Store, sells the best fresh ravioli. My favourite are those stuffed with crayfish. It makes a perfect quick lunch with a simple rocket salad. I try to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables in farmer markets. They taste much better than any (organic or not) that has been stored in a fridge for several weeks. The best part of it all is talking with small shop keeper, who will oblige and reveal food tips and cooking secrets...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A date with Leon

Yesterday I had an exciting date with my friend Leon. He is the 20 months son of my "Vals" friends, whose hospitality I abuse without shame. A date with Leon is always exciting. He is a breath of fresh air, and he forces me to take a different look at life. We went for an afternoon walk to the pond in Kensington Garden. The goal was too stare at the ducks and other water foils. The walk from the gate to the pond took us at least three times the time it would usually take me. Leon walks with a purpose: the ducks, but it doesn't stop him to look and marvel at everything. He has a curious mind and sees everything. Like most children he is fascinated by the squirrels, and approach them as close as he can. But his favourite game is too push down worm cast, or running away from us to show his disappointment as we didn't bring any stale bread to feed the birds.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hanway Street

Not long ago, as I was botanising and sociologising (I know it is not a verb but I like it!) on the asphalt, I got side tracked to Hanway Street. Number 22 was playing a good tune of old rock & roll, the door was open, and I could not resist but go in. I had a brief encounter with the owner, Tim, and even bought a second-hand book on rock journalism. Nick is a character, and I decided to go back, take a picture, and have a chat with him. I found some time this afternoon, and this is the result. He wasn't reluctant about the pic or the chat, which was the funniest I've had in a long time. Tim has been selling records in the shop since 1979, and it is my idea of Ali Baba's sesame... To my question "Why did you open a music record shop?" he answered: "Bad luck..wrong time,wrong place...prison sentence" (giggles) -"what do you mean?" - "I live my life in a box, but could be worst like Mc Donald" ( more giggles) -" You must have seen so many people in 30 years" -" I don't recognise people" -"What you did not recognise me today?" - "How could I forget you?" (very sarcastic giggles)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Indian Horse Chestnut

Aesculus indica is one of my favourite horse chestnut. I have a special relationship with this tree and I can't forget its name or its appearance. Some may think because its country of origin - the Indian Himalayas - and it may well be one of the reasons. The story starts at the end of my first year in Kew. The flowers had long withered, and the unripe fruits were dangling from its branches. An old couple of visitors asked me the name of this tree, rightly pointing that the fruit looked like a fig, but that all other features were far from any fig tree they knew. I didn't have the time to look for the label when I heard Greg, head of the training section, shouting with contempt: "It is an INDIAN HORSE CHESTNUT". It was so shameful , I will never forget. The only thing I can tell is that I took a very close look at the tree, and went back to learn all its seasonal features. I was reward as I recognise it everywhere last year in the Himalayan foothills. The conkers are very similar in shape to the European Horsechestnut (A. hippocastaneum), just darker and rougher. A smaller eye - I like to call it the third eye - is drawn within the buckeye's white centre. This tree is, to my taste, the finest of the genus. The flowers bloom a little later than most species, and the summer foliage is a lustrous dark green that changes to orange/red in autumn. This tree has an undefinable poise. I have often observed its resistance to the Horsechestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella), which is another good reason to be planted. And sometimes, when I look at a flower like that, all the misery and nonsense vanish, as by magic...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Columbia Road

Sundays are buzzing in Columbia Road. It is my favourite market in London, not last because of the flowers. It is colourful and lively, and the community is friendly. My friend Sonia lives here, and I have rediscovered this street over the summer on the quieter week days. I love to mooch in this area, make new friends. If you happen to be here on a Sunday, a few shops are worth visiting. My friend Mark keeps Far, a lovely antique shop that sells, at fair prices, Indian and African furniture and bric-a-brac. If you are looking for pots and planters, don't go further than The Red Mud Hut. I got to know Simon, who very kindly stored two planters I could not take away. He's a green fingered jewel maker. And they all let me advertise my business for free, helping me to find new customers. Last Sunday, I discovered a new folk/blues band basking on the street. Check out for their dates. Sadly, they haven't loaded any tunes on their page. I bought the album, which sounds like red maple leaves falling in a ray of autumn sun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


In Physics, equilibrium is the state of an object when no part of it is accelerating. And it is happening everywhere. Are we fed up with the speedy pace of modern life? Lately I have randomly met people who are more interested in emotional balance. Last Friday, my cousin Rodolphe very kindly took me out to the Eagle in Farringdon (check it out, the food is delicious!), and I met a Swedish girl, as I was reading Healing without Freud or Prozac by David Servan-Schreiber. My expression, as I was reading, striked her, and she wanted to know what I was reading. We talked for at least 10 minutes about the importance of developing one's EQ. It was totally surreal, and both her boyfriend(?) and my cousin looked puzzled that two total strangers could talk, as if they had known each other for ever. The following day, I was buying some food supplements in a west London shops. A client said that he had to do something to the shop keeper, who rightly replied: "No man you don't have to do anything, don't put such pressure on yourself.". I backed him up to the great surprise of the other. And it is true, we are free to chose what we want to do. There is no absolute truth, it is only a way to stop us from being ourselves, and self-pressure, only contributes to violence and terrorism. Something is changing fast, everywhere. I walk up this morning and was humming - anyone knowing me knows I constantly sing without noticing it anymore - the song Am I black enough by the Chosen Few. And it goes: "We gonna move on up one by one...we ain't gonna stop 'till the work is over. We gonna move on up two by two, and this all world is gonna be brand new..." I am still humming with a broad smile on my face...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tied to others

London is an individualist city, where one can easily lost him/herself, and feel lonely. Historically, it is a trade city where people run after wealth and riches. Every big brand promotes their products on the ground of originality, when really everybody is dressed with the same poorly made clothes, eats the same industrial food. Something is changing though, life certainly is a battle in this world but one needs to go beyond survival to give it a sense. Lately, I have interacted in the street with strangers, and have started to think differently. This charming lady from the Balkans stopped me walking - or should I say running - to ask me, with a strong Russian accent, if the buses were running. She'd obviously waited for a long time. And of course, I couldn't resist but take a picture. Today, I was waiting for a friend at the corner of Electric Avenue, and a charming Jamaican old man kindly asked if I could hold his canvas bag for him to put a carrier bag in. And he rightly pointed that we need each other. My mind drifted on the meaning of freedom. Is it just independence, self-expression and originality? Or does it go beyond that? Independence, when isolated, makes one lonely, and therefore loses all its sense. I am experiencing the benefits of interacting with members of the urban community, without being tied to a group. I experienced that interaction can serve my professional and personal life. On Saturday, I was shopping at my local hardware store, and was telling my business plans to one of the shopkeepers. A client, who was eavesdropping, gave me some useful advice. I later learnt that he was opening a bakery round the corner from me... a new coffee place in South Island Place. It came as a great news for the days I feel to lazy to make my own breakfast...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Harlequin Glorybower

I love Autumn. Colours are beautiful. The light is constantly changing, and the landscape looks different throughout the day. In my opinion, autumn is the best time of the year to peep into front gardens. I know I am a sad person, but I can't help myself. Front gardens reveal so much about their owners personality; pleached trees and immaculately clipped box squares to match the big white cubes one can guess looking through white curtains, or messy and spontaneous gardens of old roses poking behind a wall too high to reveal the interior of a house. Walking around the other day, I came across one of my favourite plants Clerodendrum trichotomum. This shrub originally hails from Eastern China and Japan, and to tell the truth I haven't seen yet in its native habitats. Overall, it is a rather unattractive plants. It only caught my eyes, as it was standing by itself, braving trained and clipped plants in the surrounding gardens. And I've never resisted the beauty of its fruits: star-shaped with five reddish arms hugging a metallic blue centre. One can use a hand lens to observe this autumnal gem. And if I add the sweet fragrance produced by its summer flowers, the I am a very happy gardener indeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eldorado of Modern Times

Supermarkets are packed with food and crammed with people. They either walk purposely towards their prey. They, more often, blankly stare at the shelves, confused by so much choice. One is amazed how little interaction happens between strangers. Sometimes people argue when someone jumps the queue at the till, or when the 'self-service check-out' (horrible thought and word) has broken down. On such occasions, one can hear a very loud rosary of fuck this and that. Supermarkets and the lack of contact are at the antipodes of independent food stores or markets, where the cashier -even when he is very rude - doesn't offend my hears half as much as a bleeping machine. I once needed to find some ingredients for a new recipe, and didn't know what a groundnut was. I was determined to come back home with what seemed essential to a food venture's success , and asked around me to quiet shoppers. A Swiss couple did their best to help me in my quest, without success, as they did not know more about groundnuts than I did. Some people looked offended to be spoken to by a stranger in a supermarket, and gave me dirty looks for not minding my own business, like everybody else! This sociological experience reinforces my belief that mankind increasingly prefers to talk with machines than with their peers. And, if like me, you don't know what a groundnut is, a very kind gentleman, looking sceptic at my question, eventually gave me the answer: "It is a peanut".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Northern Line

I hate being on the tube at peak hours, hesitating as to jump on the train now or to wait for the next one that will be as packed - if not more. Tonight, I took a leap of faith and jumped on an overcrowded wagon. To my surprise, I was followed by a rather attractive man in his fifties, who closely escaped to be beheaded by the doors closing. I gasped and pushed him forward to avoid a drama. He thanked me and said "No senses, no pain", which was the beginning of a conversation on how insensible we were, that if I was a cow - I could detect a little sarcasm in his comment - I would not be allowed to travel like this. I wasn't surprised we shared the same thought; anyone sensible would agree on the inhumane conditions of travelling. The conversation drifted to the obvious question: "You are not English, aren't you?". To pretend I am English would mean to stay mute and miss on the nonsense of such rare moments, sounding like pirate recordings. A tube journey, at this very uncivilised time of the day, can be thoroughly enjoyed. Rescue a charming and witty stranger from the doors closing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Green light for city walker

After a long lethargic year I am back, walking the streets and country lanes with my camera. It is my favorite exercise, so much too see. Take a stroll, explore the nook and crannies of places I think I know. Any place can surprise me, a toothless smile, a graffiti or just a monument. I always feel like missing out on something if I cannot walk. Walking is a human pace, the only one when all my senses are open. Awake by something that transcends rationality. Smell can make me drift to some place in a distant past, sound can carry me across places I don't always know, feeling stones or metal, and tasting flavors I didn't know existed. It is my relationship to time and space that changes when I walk. It opens my senses, transforms my vision of the world. Sometimes, when I stop, I encounter some strange characters, who can tell me tales about a place and its transformation, or someone randomly met on the street, who recites me nonsense verses (that still make sense). In my opinion, driving and cycling are way duller than walking. Get your boots on...just for the sake of it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Clapton Park Estate

Multidisciplinary practitioners, who focus on breaking down boundaries between professional and amateurs, contribute to productive landscape. This can foster new attitudes and places for sustainable community development, offering the citizens an opportunity to be responsible for their local environments, and therefore acting as the glue that binds urban communities together. In densely populated urban settings social and natural dynamics are equally important. Gardens may be one of the settings were multi-cultural persons of all ages learn about each other's culture and the local ecology. Integration of the broad community into the development and management of its surrounding can reduce social issues and promote the respect of cultural distinctiveness. Design becomes a medium that allows social change and flexibility. Clapton Park Estate, in East London, is highly susceptible to vandalism and the landscape budget is tight. But, still, it is a lab experimenting how to bring nature in some of the harsher urban settings and how the local public interacts with it. On the estate edible crops and amenity specimens are growing side by side, involving and benefiting the muticultural community.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Architecture without starchitects

The sense of rythm and the playfulness of Jantar Mantar set in the midst of something looking like a park in Delhi (the gardener- too busy imagining all play opportunities the place offers- didn't even notice there was a park). One of the five astronomical observatories built by Jai Singh II between 1724 and 1727, the gigantic astronomical instruments are unsurpassed. The abstract- and now functionless- architecture reflects a passion for mathematics...numbers in space that have passed the test of time. Black stains and white crack, marks of time and weather, scar the red wash on the masonry. Successful structures as they fit in their surrounding and resist the challenge of climate (and topography?). No line drawn between sculpture, architecture and landscaping...same feeling when I sneaked in the Isamu Noguchi's Japanese Garden in Unesco HQ, Paris or makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater where these three elements are inseparable. As opposed to the obsolete and pointless feud between some landscape professionals and architects, which sounds like a cacophony of the ego... I much prefer the symphony of anonymous architecture like stalactite caves or communal architecture. My cousin Felix, when looking at my pictures, recommended me the excellent book Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky (ISBN 978-0-8263-1004-0), une invitation au voyage...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas IV

Letting my mind drift as I passed from one scenery to another was the best part of sitting on the back of a bike. Being an easily distracted driver it surely was a wise solution to stay alive. Man made landscapes...aren't they all? Better like that. I can't agree with some purist ecologists idealising an untouched natural world and leaving humans outside the equation...what do they mean, anyway? Don't they realise that man has had an impact on nature for thousands of years? Maybe they'd rather be eaten alive by some giant spider while raving on the beauty of nature left to its own device... Jurassic Park, tres peu pour moi, I much prefer a tamed the Dutch. When Philip II of Spain suppressed all political and religious freedom in the Seventeen Provinces, the protestants- led by William of Orange- revolted and declared the independence of the Seven United Provinces, also called the Netherlands. The period between 1550 and 1560, when the Dutch political identity was established, coincided with an alteration of the landscape made watertight for survival of the people. This tradition of creating land explains why Dutch landscape architects are good at landscape design but poor garden designers while the opposite holds true for their British probably also explains why landscape is the only English word that takes its origin in the Dutch word landschap. By the way, the best place to visit Holland is Holland Village, in the outskirts of Nagasaki, Japan...

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas III

Set beside the river Jata Ganga and amidst a forest of Deodar Cedars (Cedrus deodara), Jageshwar houses over 100 temples devoted to Shiva, with the oldest dating back to the 8th century. The smell and noises, so different to anything in the west, contribute to the timeless feeling of the place. The moss and lichens growing on the stone took me back in time, and as I stepped bare feet on the wet and cold paving my imagination differently examined the landscape...this place felt like a mirror, a journey through time, a way of going beyond the concrete moment...time watching the flow of everyday human activities set in parallel with the physical and topological as both nature and architecture are so perfectly merging into each other. And I can't help thinking of some projects where architects have designed something very similar to a spaceship that has landed on the wrong planet...Ah! my mind's running deep today. Anyway if stopping through this place, make sure to first get the key/authorisation at the Forestry Commission in Almora for their lodge in looked quieter and better than any hotels there.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas II

The only picture I took of a plant during this trip... The Chir or Imodi Pine, which is named, in Latin (Pinus roxburghii), after William Roxburgh (1751-1815) who served as a surgeon in the East India Company and is considered as the father of botanical studies in India. He later (1793-1814) was superintendent of Calcutta Botanic Garden (the oldest and largest in South Asia), which holds a 400 years old Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) covering 1.5 ha. This pine is known as "Salli" in the local dialect of the Jhaunsar region of Uttrakhand. And the locals use the red bark plates to carve lids for vessels or to fuel the blacksmith's furnaces. The fallen dried needles serve as bedding for the cattle and the hand brooms seen in the dhabas are made of the green needles. Locals use the cones as domestic fuel. I saw it everywhere in the hills flanking the Himalayas. If you are interested in more Indian trees, get Kothari, A.S. A Celebration of Indian Trees. (ISBN 81-85026-83-1)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas

I wish the purpose of the exercise wouldn't have been arriving somewhere...but keep on riding. Travelled on a bike with Arnoud and Tenzin, sometimes giving them a hard time, forcing them to look at trees...but also telling them stories about the same trees... I wish I could go back now to see more. And here are just a few stories without pictures about the ones I saw...nothing scientific or botanic as it put me to sleep...just their stories or histories. The Blue, Chir and Chilgoza Pines, Deodar Cedar, Himalayan Poplar, Grey and Brown Oaks, Indian Horse Chestnut, Pipal and maybe some others if I can remember them but for now I am feeling rather lazy...