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Meanwhile, at Les 3 Elephants… Kolbay

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Meanwhile, at Les 3 Elephants, Kolbay is wearing a flashy yellow painting dress.

Let’s give a little bit of context to the picture:

Kolbay is not a painter, he came as a back up waiter for the monsoon. Actually, Kolbay is not a waiter either, he is a cook, working in Chilliout, very nice restaurant situated on the beach, around one kilometer away from our resort.

The Chilliout is our close friend Edouard’s restaurant. To explain how close friend he is, let’s just say that my wife and I first met each other at the 2000/2001 New Year’s Eve party he gave at his mother’s flat near Paris. Few years after having started the resort project in Cherai Beach, we told him that he should come and see the place. He had been working in Parisian restaurants for fifteen years, no real career plan there, and we guessed he could be a great candidate for expatriation, and for grabbing the opportunity of materializing his own tropical dream.

To make a long story short: it worked like a charm, the Chilliout is running well, in the process Edouard met Olga on the beach, married her, and they have a lovely little girl 😉 Lovely successful expatriation story!

Well, the restaurant is closed for the off season, so we are lucky to have Kolbay available, always smiling and dynamic, ready to dress up in yellow if there is some painting to do!

We are already sad thinking that we’ll have to let him go back to his regular job, once the rain will stop. Our waiter will come back, or not. It’s really hard to find, and keep, good staff in Kerala, for many reasons… But this will be the subject of another post.

Have a nice day!

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Meanwhile, at Les 3 Elephants… 10/06/2013

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Our daughter, Maya, she hates shoes…

Meanwhile, at Les 3 Elephants… A new series is born.

Les 3 Elephants Kochi
We are so proud of our perfect backwaters view.
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Les 3 Elephants Kochi
Happy guests, Kerala style.
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Monsoon view from Les 3 Elephants
Monsoon is here.
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Les 3 Elephants Kochi
Vishnavi, our manager’s daughter. Maya, our daughter, is hiding under the pink umbrella 😉
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Going through my photos, I realized that I somehow started a series…

I am planning to continue, more or less same frame, different photos 😉

So, one day, I decided to be happy. (5)

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I realize that my desire to write about happiness ends up as a little intimate philosophical story full of sadness… But well, these two twin brothers are like light and darkness, and “chiaroscuro” is one of my favorite style.

So, the stage is finally set. A young man, having everything to be happy, but lost in a sticky, smelly, dark swamp of vague despair and deep nihilism. The social and relational handicap that constitute this contagious cloud of darkness was dragging me downer and downer in a dangerous vicious circle.

I really don’t remember which day it was… I am very bad with dates, but also there was no particular event that led me to deciding that the situation had lasted long enough. Mainly I got fed up. Single for too long, painting sad abstract ultra complex monochromatic labyrinths, smoking too much, letting my flat turn to a giant garbage can…

I don’t remember the date, also because I did not expect it would work, just deciding to be happy…

No, that’s not exactly true. The general idea is correct but, Now that I make the effort to bring this moment back to my memory, two turning points however come to my mind. The first one is obvious, I think I took the decision to be happy somewhere in the beginning of year 2000. Afterwards, I have to suppose that the unconscious effect of the big millenium turn must have been some kind of incentive for a positive change. I did not make a 1st of January new year/century/millenium resolution to be happy. It came later, maybe end of March of beginning of April, first days of Spring, another symbolic time, propitious for change. Or am I reconstructing the whole thing in a Baudelaire-like forest of “correspondances”? Doesn’t matter, date accuracy is irrelevant, and any story is always a tale.

So, center Paris, first days of Spring 2000… Difficult to imagine a more romantic time and place for a new story or a fresh start (that’s why I suspect myself of idealised reinvention). I remember a nice day, still cool from the winter’s tail, but clear, sunny. One of these perfect first days of spring that inspire the lucky ones to go out for a walk, and tortures the others stuck in their greyish workplace. My work was being an artist painter… so I went for a walk.

The second turning point happened during this walk. It was as tiny as the new millenium was huge, but had on me a massive eyes opening effect.

I went out on this perfect day, not really to enjoy the sun, but rather to go buy some drawing material without the risk of the rain spoiling the expensive paper pad. Some 200 meters from my place, in the beginning of the Rue de Turennes, almost at the corner with the Rue Saint Antoine, carrying my habitual gloomy mood, I noticed a dead pigeon lying in the gutter, next to the sidewalk.

This dead pigeon, quite ugly, half rotten, literally changed my life…

It happened in two steps.

At first, the sight of this dead bird had a tremendous impact on me. It stroke me and ruined my day, as if this cadaver had been placed there only for me to stumble upon it, as a powerful stinking image intended to epitomize my life. I have a very cartesian mind and I have never believed in the magic of signs or any superior will sending me clues or sarcasms from above… If not this dead pigeon, something else would probably, sooner or later, have triggered the same process. I feel that every depressed person has his whole bunch of dead pigeons, these silly paltry details that suddenly makes you overreact, and crumble as if you had just learned the most dramatic life crushing news.

My whole day has been haunted by the dead pigeon. Then my night has been filled with rotten birds themed nightmares. Then I woke up. At first there was this uncertain moment, when you, at the same time, gladly understand that it was only a dream, and immediately moderate this positive feeling by mesuring how disturbed you must be, for generating such nightmares.

Then came the MOMENT OF CLARITY:

“You stupid bastard are the only cause of the problem. You basically created the dead pigeon! Yesterday was a beautiful nascent spring day, and you were looking at the ground. Would you have walked head up, enjoying the warm light of this sunny sky, that there simply wouldn’t have been any dead pigeon in your dreams…”

Monsoon’s blessing

Monsoon vie from Les 3 Elephants

“Kerala is blessed with two monsoons” is a common sentence tourists can hear in June/July or October.

If the rain comes as a welcome relief after the heat of May, if there is an undeniable beauty in a furious storm and even more in the amazing, truly unique, light bathing the wet, cleaned land, in between two downpours, the blessing is not that obvious after several weeks of monsoon.

Nothing ever dries, nothing escapes humidity, water disrupts everything. People suffer, buildings suffer, machines suffer, vehicles suffer, roads suffer…

But this is nature’s annual (rather thus bi-annual) feast. Kerala is an extraordinary green state. From the sky it looks like a never ending green carpet, as coconut trees rules almost without rivals. On the ground, green fills your sight more than the blue of the sky. We frequently joke about Tintin’s mysterious island, where some strange meteorite makes mushrooms grow bigger than Hergé’s hero. Tropical Kerala often feels the same, with ficus growing as actual trees, where some ants are the size of a penny and big jackfruits too heavy for me to carry alone.

Considering its latitude, without monsoons, Kerala would be a desert. During the dry season (five to six months) there is strictly no rain except the occasional hot season’s night showers. In barely three months, the state gets enough rain to remain plants heaven all year long.

The first monsoon is the strongest, coming across the Arabian sea, from the South-West, it reaches Kerala quite accurately in the first days of June. The enormous clouds hits the western ghats (the mountain chain dividing South India between Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and gives during two months a very large part of their water to the state. Tamil Nadu is much drier, rain being stolen from it by the Nilgiris (other name of the ghats).

The second monsoon, in October to mid-November) is designed as monsoon’s tail, usually a lot weaker, giving at night its remaining rains on its way back to the sea.

Besides being a blessing for Nature, monsoon’s rains are hugely important for a more contemporary concerns. In fact, Kerala produces most of its electricity from the dams baring the rivers down the mountains. Weak monsoon means less electricity, and thus many, too many, power cuts during the hot seasons, when air conditioning units are running, more and more every year, to fight the heat.

With a weak monsoon, electricity cost rises (except from imported goods – mainly scandalously overtaxed French wines 😉 – electricity is the only thing more expensive than in France), poor people spend fanless/sleepless overheated nights, richer folks and shops have their generators or cheap batteries serve as a highly polluting backup, and the Tamil farmers cry because Kerala can’t sell them vital water.

So we know that our resort will suffer, serious maintenance will have to be done for the main tourism season, our house will age three years in two months, some computers or harddrives might die and my car will rust. But we still wish for a good generous monsoon and will welcome its tail also, as the land is thirsty, Nature needs its blood, and the Electricity faery is running out of magic potion.

So, one day, I decided to be happy. (4)

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It’s already the 4th chapter of my “how i decided to be happy” story. I said in the beginning that it was not a matter as simple as my title could suggest. Well, I suppose everybody is aware that, except for some very rare naturally gifted people, happiness is nothing like a simple matter…

The difficulty of happiness is obvious for sad people, who struggle in vain to achieve this quasi myhical goal. I think it’s clear also for happy people, who, even if they sometimes make it look easy from the outside, actually work on a daily basis to preserve this so-called state of happiness.

Yet, I did not realize that this story would be so long to tell. In fact, in my mind, it really feels like a decision, clear and ponctual, that i have taken one day. So the whole story could really be summarized in it’s title.

The fact that happiness can be the fruit of a decision is important of course, it is the main fact I’m trying to share here, from my own experience. But without the context, the decision is meaningless…

I can not tell people: you should just decide to be happy, now. I have to explain what means “deciding to be happy”, where it comes from, where it goes, how and why it works – at least for me. Then maybe it can be useful to someone, and not only me bragging about my happiness like I would be showing of with a new car. It’s not: look at my shiny sportscar, you wish you had the same! It’s more: if you are interested, i will explain to you how I got this nice car, it’s not that easy, but not that difficult either.

Back to the context. End of last chapter, I was rich of marble cold philosophical truth, and poor as Job on how to live with this truth. My life was not hell, far from it. When your life is a constant struggle for food and shelter, there is not much space for philosophy. Philosophy itself is a luxury, quest for happiness also. Happiness as a goal is in fact a modern western civilisation concept. Living in India, I witness the rise of this happiness concept in the middle and upper middle class. But for the large majority, about a billion people (!), the goal is not about more happiness, but about less suffering, or even precisely about how to deal with the suffering that life is made of. Anyway, if you look close enough, every religion is traditionaly about how to cope with pain…

As a 25 years old white upper middle class parisian male, I had as they say “everything to be happy”. As flat and car were graciously provided by my father, and most of my clothes by my mother, a small income from my art was enough to live a confortable life in the center of Paris. Now that destiny’s wise and humbling tricks has confronted me with the harsh reality of the vast majority of Indian population’s daily struggles, I feel kind of ashamed to even express this abstract existencial suffering of my youth.

But comparing the pain, mainly when you don’t directly witness it, is generally useless. Whatever the reason, when you suffer it’s real, and others are not inside you to mesure it. Depression, whether a violent episode or a more subtil but lasting state of being, has to be aknowledge. When people deny it, it feels like a deep, mean, heartless insult.

So, despite my enviable life, I was carrying around this dark mood, vague despair, sticky nihilism, like a dirty coat or a bad haircut. Nothing ugly enough to keep me from having some social life or love affairs, but surely bad enough to prevent me from building real lasting relationship. Sadness is a contagious disease, not always obvious at first sight, but a pernicious one which utltimately push people away, in a natural reflex of self preservation. Sad people meet sad people, problems attract problems, the vicious circle slowly, but surely, digs your own social grave. Loneliness was a constant feeling, even in the middle of a crowd, mainly in the middle of the crowd. Using a too common, but so accurate expression: I was witnessing my life instead of living it.

And this has been lasting, and lasting… Too long.

Finally, I got fed up with being sad…

So, one day, I decided to be happy. (3)

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Famous graffiti, seen on many walls, metro seats or bus stand benches:

“God is dead.” signed Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.” signed GOD

Well, the supposed emptiness of the sky is a language shortcut. Looking for a comprehensive metaphysical “truth”, I studied seriously the Chaos theory. If the sky is empty, it’s because creation does not need to come from above, creation comes from chaos, the amazing self-organization implied by entropy. Disorder is the great creator, disorder creates what we call order, self organized structures.

I followed with passion the thin line between determinism and indeterminism traced by Nobel price Ilya Prigogine. He compared the Universe to a person, who, when it was young, could become a doctor or a lawyer, but not both. The whole subtilty is to figure out that, when I decide, the whole Universe decides at the same time. I am, we are, the Universe constantly evolving.

Needless to say that these type of considerations, as fascinating as they can be, does not usually make you shine in society. Loneliness is the burden of the seeker. It appeared to be also the burden of the finder…

This cold, objective, factual truth that I had progressively gathered, and which allowed me to shape my own philosophical system, very few people are interested to hear it. Most people are very satisfied with living in a magical world, so safely satisfied that they can react very aggressively, toward those who try to reveal the tricks behind this magic.

I have spent recently some time on a website called reddit.com, precisely on the atheists forum. I have been quite surprised to see how many of these atheists (mostly americans) think that regular religious believers are cheated into fake beliefs by their priests or by religion itself. That not correct: most believers desire to believe.
In fact, I know personally a few lost souls who have been wandering since decades from one religion to another, trying every guru or personal developement program they could find. They wish to believe. Believing is often a source of relief, sometimes even the way to save one’s life.

Whether there is or not some illusion involved, doesn’t really matter: most of the time a strong faith is a great chance.

So I learned to respect other people beliefs, and to keep my hard cold truth for myself…

Let me precise one thing, and then it will be enough for today. At that time of my story, I was a convinced atheist, silent but convinced. It was almost 15 years ago. My opinion is less black and white today. I still strongly reject superstitions, but i have understood that, for a large part, the main problem is a question of words. Some of the greatest religious thinkers give definitions of their God, that are so close to my idea of philosophical Tao, or scientific entropic process, that you could almost replace the words…

Well, when i reached around 25 years old, I had found what I was looking for, which meant figuring out a philosophical system, that could provide intellectually satisfying explanation for the world around me. And this left me alone, silent, with no clue about how to live in this world…

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Monsoon in sight…

Monsoon in sight...

This little baby blog has been nominated for two awards… I feel honored, and slightly embarrassed… I will complete this award duty, but keep procrastinating (not too much time available also… As an excuse for my laziness) So I post a nice photo of the rain finally approching Kerala: it’s unrelated to this award matter, I know 😉

So, one day, I decided to be happy. (2)

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Well, back to our quest for happiness…

At the beginning, a teenager, I had no idea that I was involving myself into a kind of quest, the goal was not happiness either. Actually, happiness came as a surprise, a last twist at the end of the way, like a shinning door unexpectedly found in the secret corner of a vast, dark, desperate labyrinth.

Well, like many teenagers, I was simply looking for answers about the world, with no clue about how difficult and complex it would be. My father is a Jewish, my mother is a Christian, I have no memory of any of them ever practicing religion or talking about it at home. Their beliefs are very blurry, and I couldn’t expect finding any answer around the dinner table. My Christian education coming from my grandmother and my school was exhaustive, but weakly impregnated, considering that obviously my parents did not care much.

So, unsatisfying biblical stories, no hope to learn more at home, I naturally turned myself towards litterature, arts, and very soon i was diving into the cold tumultuous waters of philosophy. Philosophy, precisely metaphysics and art philosophy (which I still think today are intimately connected), have been one of the great passion of my youth. I was gifted, motivated, eager to explore every corner of this field.

To spare you the details, let’s skip a few years. I did seven years of Philosophy studies in a French University. On the side, I have tried myself in many forms of arts. Poems, short stories, novels, movie scripts, directing short movies, drawing, painting… all with a constant absolute dedication and equal total lack of professional success. Looking back, it is clear that the work was of quite poor quality, clear also that I had (and still don’t have) strictly no talent for selling myself or my work.

This lack of success was not a problem by itself, I had a big ego, a generous father, and also this artistic practice was closely related to my continuous philosophical quest: the practice was at the same time feeding and questioning the theory, and vice versa. Maybe artistic success would have been a shortcut to some kind of happiness, maybe not. The deep black sadness I was carrying around was coming from something else…

The cold truth I was discovering along my philosophical journey was the main cause of my despair. I have been through many philosophers, many religious thinkers, many poets, many artists and many scientific books. Here is not the place to complete my unfinished PhD, and the best way to summarize what was occurring to me as the final Truth when I was in my twenties, is the too famous Nietzsche’s quote: “the sky is empty”.

From the most famous and destructive nihilist philosopher, to happiness, the way is not as long as it seems, but paved with many sharp rocks…

So, one day, I decided to be happy. (1)

I decided to be happy

 

I realize how this statement might sound, or rather look. This is not some personal development or guru-style advertisement… This is truly the beginning of the story, some twenty, or even twenty-five years ago, when absolutely nothing could let anyone suppose that I could be here, today, somewhere in South India, listening to the waves in the middle of the night.

So, it’s a long story, too long to be told in one night. For today, only the very beginning, the rest will  follow later, piece by piece, like small stones on the path.

We could say that it all started in a rich neighbourhood of Paris, when I was around thirteen years old; when I realized that all these Christian stories I had been raised with, were not satisfying enough as an explanation for the world around me. An old school priest would probably say that I was reading too many books, and not enough the Bible… Correct, in fact I was reading a lot of books, and never the Bible. And reading has this power: it brings more questions than answers.

From this young age, i filled myself with questions. In two years, almost all the main philosophical questions were settled in my head. Finding satisfying answers would take me 10 years of painful, dedicated, alienating quest…

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