Billions of ants do it, why don't the French?

April 16, 2002 Last November, I bought a notebook. I'm on my third now. Each notebook has 80 sheets, is 4.5 by 3.25 inches and fills up in about six or seven weeks. I last used a notebook like this when I was in fifth grade. Yes, my notebook is not searchable or easily synched with Outlook. The ink smears, the pages wrinkle, the binding frays. I love it.

Carried in my shirt pocket, the accretion of project notes, shopping lists, to-dos, random insights, bon mots and new phone numbers reminds me who I am, where I'm going, where I've been, what I've accomplished and what I've forgotten. Or, to paraphrase Churchill, we carry notebooks and then they carry us.

So I appreciated Malcolm Gladwell's recent book review in the New Yorker praising paper. As Gladwell wrote, "paper facilitates a highly specialized cognitive and social process." Although Gladwell writes not to bury paper but to praise it, he does endorse paper piling. When your spouse/parent/colleague gripes about your multilayered desk, point them to Gladwell:

Piles are living, breathing archives. Over time, they get broken down and resorted, sometimes chronologically and sometimes thematically... the messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head.

***

I had lunch two weeks ago with Christophe Ducamp, who has spent the last 18 months jumping up and down trying to inspire France to blog.

With a few exceptions like Christophe, Emmanuelle Richard, Claude Cécile and Olivier Travers, the French don't blog. News came today that billions of ants march harmoniously from Portofino to Malaga -- why can't the French network spontaneously, which is to say without government subsidy or instruction? It may simply be a lack of network critical mass, or it may be cultural: parents and teachers steep French children in self-restraint, modesty and an aversion to praising oneself or others. (The ultimate praise is "pas mal," which doesn't make for good blogrolling.)

Christophe showed up on a huge green BMW motorcycle. While duffers like me drive 110KM/hr in the 10 KM of tunnels that lead under La Defense into Paris, Christophe is one of the guys who roars up behind you like a herd of elephants at 160KM/hr. He turns a rush hour into 20 minutes.

Christophe's incredibly dynamic and metaphorically adept. Made me feel old. We talked about the rise of the "raconteur" (versus the journalist or PR scribe), "every company will have a blogger," "all brainworkers will have blogs," "babillage/babillard"... and most importantly, "creating the new blogging metier." (I refer to my notebook in recalling our conversation.) I didn't confirm this, but his rhetoric makes me I suspect Christophe read a lot of science fiction as a child. Which may be true of about 30% of bloggers. I'm in that cohort.

Christophe said he's 40, and "my generation in France has its head in the trashcan." I suspect the same is true in the US.

(Speaking of our generation: my wife is deeply amused by my passion for blogging... or more exactly, she's amused by how weird her peers would think it is if she dared to tell confess. "I can't imagine what the other mothers would think if I told them you believe in blogs," she said. She pronounced "blogs" as though she were saying "dragons." The fathers of our childrens' friends are notaires, accountants, pharmaceutical execs, Alcatel salesmen, and auto engineers.)

Christophe and I had a great meal, sitting in the spring haze on the wide sidewalk outside a brasserie at the bottom of Avenue Carnot, with the Arc de Triomphe shimmering in the distance.

I ordered duck, then Christophe ordered salad. As the waiter was replying "we don't have salad," he was also marking a "2" in his pad beside my order. I could see this, Christophe could not. After a moment's hesitation, Christophe ordered duck. The waiter said, "I know."

The roasted duck leg, fries and breuilly were a perfect collision of warm and cold, fat and acid, sinew and soak. France may not yet blog, but it can serve a pleasant meal without breaking a sweat.

Henry Copeland in Paris, France





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