Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy 2009!

Hello! Let me start by wishing you and all your loved ones a very happy and successful 2009. Unfortunately this new year is not starting in the most auspicious of circumstances, but hopefully you have all managed to avoid the worst of the credit crunch and we will see the start of the recovery before too long.

The upcoming presidential inauguration is certainly causing a lot of optimism in this country - a little too much, I think. There is only so much one man can do, no matter how brilliant, and I fear that the stratospheric levels of expectations surrounding Obama can only lead to a similarly high level of disappointment. The current economic problems are so deep and so widespread in their causes that there is no simple solution for them. It will take time to rebuild confidence and redeploy resources to where they can be most productive. In that sense, I fear that the ongoing support to the car industry will only prolong the pain.

On a more prosaic note, autumn was once again an opportunity for getting out of New York, at least for a little while. Luckily, the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvanya offer good opportunities for wonderful hikes just a short trip outside the city. One of the great joys of the Northeastern US is "fall foliage", a rainbow of colours that never ceases to amaze.

Other things that happened this autumn is that I got promoted to Engagement Manager at McKinsey, which means I'm the day-to-day leader of a project team. It's a big step up in responsibility (but unfortunately not in salary) and I'm still getting up to speed with my new role, but it's interesting and allows me to develop several new skills.

November brought some more trips out of the city, this time a bit further away. First came a visit to San Francisco and Berkeley for Rima and Hemant's wedding directly followed by Austin, Texas, where Wassim and Mariah are now both working at the university. Having never been to Texas before it was quite an experience. The landscapes around Austin are beautiful and I gorged on the excellent (if not particularly healthy) BBQ, Tex-Mex and Chili.

Finally Christmas was the opportunity to spend some time with my family in the Southwest of France. For those who haven't been following, we bought an old house there a few years ago that we are slowly renovating. It's coming along pretty nicely - by now we have fully renovated 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, the kitchen and the living room. Trips there tend to be busy as there is still much work to be done (including what appears to be a neverending supply of gardening), but I also took the chance to enjoy the wonderful food and surroundings. Below, Biarritz beach by night
I hope 2009 will provide the opportunity to see as many of you as possible. In the meantime, do let me know how you're getting along, and of course, should your travels bring you to New York, give me a shout!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Life in the Big City

Well, I just realised that it's been almost a year since I gave you all an update on what I'm up to in life. So I suppose that formally makes me pathetic at keeping in touch. However, that doesn't mean that the rest of you are any better! (With some honourable exceptions - you know who you are) Admittedly, part of the reason I haven't been writing is because I've been posting regular updates on Facebook, but since some of you have not yet embraced the brave new world that is Web2.0, I figured an old fashioned 1.0 update was in order.

Where do I start? I'm still in New York and likely to stay here at least until next summer but starting to get itchy feet (so anyone planning to visit should not wait too long). Work has been busy, and I haven't had much time off this year; a week home in France in May is pretty much it (although I also had a 3-day work conference in Grand Cayman, which wasn't too strenous). Work's also been causing me to travel a fair bit, with notable trips this year including 2 weeks to Singapore and a month in London. I'm gradually progressing into more of a project manager role at work, which is both interesting and challenging.

I am also just back from a few days in Ottawa. This is because the US government, in it's eternal wisdom, has decreed that visas can only be renewed outside the country. In other words, if you want to stay, you need to leave (this being the kind of logic that appeals to bureaucratic minds everywhere). Turns out Ottawa is not the most exciting place in the world, but Parliement Hill is pretty. It also allowed me to watch a Red Sox game commented in French, which is possibly the most surreal thing I've seen since the Republicans chose an open creationist who got her first passport less than 2 years ago to be VP nominee.

(Unbeknownst to most people on this side of the border Canada is also having an election - though those who know, and realise Canada is a separate country, are very excited that Céline Dion's husband could become Prime Minister)

I'll leave at that, and throw in a couple of pictures for your enjoyment - I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Vacation in France

New York sights

September 11 memorial

Ottawa (Parliament Hill)
And finally, your moment of Zen

Sunday, October 28, 2007

October musings

It is a glorious autumn Sunday in New York. Work is going well. The Red Sox are a game away from winning the World Series (thus partly mitigating the disaster that was the Rugby World Cup). Life is good.

I’ve just realized that in a little bit over a week I will have been in New York for exactly one year. And I must admit that since I’ve been here, I haven’t been particularly good at keeping you all informed. But then again, juggling between life at McKinsey and life in New York, I don’t usually have a lot of time left over!

Let’s start with McKinsey, or as everyone there uniformly calls it, the Firm (I know, it sounds pretentious, but it’s mostly just easier to say). After some rough initial months (bad project), I’ve really settled in, and am very much enjoying my job. The breadth of what I get to do is astounding, and hugely enjoyable – just a few weeks ago I was working in the aviation sector, and now I’m doing a study for a veterinary products company. Earlier this year I was working for investment banks and a pharmaceutical company, and next I hope to do something in high tech or telecommunications.

It’s true that the hours can occasionally get long (typical week is about 60-65 hours and at times it can get substantially more than that), and I don’t even want to know what my salary works out to on an hourly basis, especially if converted into Euro (gulp). But the learning and professional development are in my opinion unsurpassed by anything else I’ve seen. In other words, I’ll hang in there for a while longer :)

As for New York, well, it’s best described as sensory overload. It doesn’t do a lot of good for my sleep rhythms, but it sure as hell is a lot of fun. There is so much going on here that you need to make a conscious effort to remove yourself from all of it once in a while. I could fill pages describing the bars, the clubs, the restaurants and the sheer raw energy of the city, but really you just have to see it for yourself. As always, my door is open (given reasonable advance notice…)

As always though, I haven’t been just sitting in one place. Since my last update, I’ve been to quite a few places. In May, I travelled to Scandinavia for Tonio and Tove’s wedding (in Sweden, but I took the opportunity to swing by Norway and Denmark while in the vicinity).

Then, in August I went to a 3 week training course in Kitzbühel (fairly close to Salzburg - where this picture was taken - for those not familiar with Austrian alpine geography).

Being in Europe, I decided to take the opportunity to swing by France, first to spend a couple of days with my parents in the Basque country and then to Toulouse (below) to meet up with a bunch of old student friends, to celebrate that it was 10 years since we started our studies there. Cue another few days of much drinking and eating and little sleep…

From there I proceeded to Istanbul for a conference. I’d never been to the city before, so I stayed on for a couple of days to do a bit of tourism. It really is a great place. You can really feel the mix of European and Middle-Eastern influences, and it’s kind of fun to be able to cross a bridge or hop on a boat to go to another continent. We happened to be there during the start of Ramadan, which added another dimension to the city, with big banners added to the main mosques. Luckily, the Turks are secular (or business-savvy) enough to not shut down every restaurant in town from dawn to dusk, or we would have missed out on a lot of great food!

Finally, for those who would like to find out what I’m doing on a slightly more regular basis than once every 6 months, I encourage you to join Facebook and link to my account there. Despite my initial scepticism, I have found it to be an excellent notworking tool (no, that’s not a typo) and I try to keep it pretty up-to-date, including posting a lot more photos than I can possibly include here.

But if you’d rather not – shoot me an e-mail, give me a call, swing by New York or send me a messenger pigeon, but let me know how you’re doing :)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Spring is in the air

But unfortunately, it's not the air around NYC. It's about 5 Celsius (40 Fahrenheit for those who still haven't caught on to metric) and it was snowing on Thursday. Snowing, I tell you! Even in Norway it rarely snows in April...

It's now been about 6 months since I arrived in Manhattan, and if you haven't heard much from me so far, it's because I've been extremely busy, both in a good and a bad way. On the less fun side, some poor luck in the projects I've been assigned means that I've been averaging out around 70-75 hours per week since I joined McKinsey (I'm starting a new project in May and hope that it will be a bit calmer). On the more positive side, I've met a good group of people, and few weekend days go by without a party, a dinner, a brunch or some other event. Then of course, there was the 6-nations tournament, which involved meeting up with a bunch of Irish lads in the pub at 9am and singing "The Fields of Athenry" until we were hoarse, on repeated occasions :o)

The one major break from the routine was a trip down to New Orleans (or la Nouvelle Orléans, for the purists) to celebrate Carnival with two former colleagues from ZS, Christian and Lucas. The ambiance on Bourbon Street was absolutely incredible - I don't think I've ever seen so many people crammed into so little space, and everyone taking it with great humour, despite the rivers of alcohol dispensed pretty much everywhere you can see.

Essentially the nights were spent partying until we dropped (around 6 am or so), which obviously means that most of the morning was spent sleeping, and the early afternoon spent recovering. Luckily, New Orleans provides the perfect remedy for a challenging awakening: strong black coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde (a the same time we would be plotting were to get our fill of the wonderful Cajun cooking). The rest of our afternoons just soaking in the atmosphere of New Orleans. The French Quarter in particular oozes with a sense of past grandeur.

Unfortunately, "past" is very much the key word. Even the beating heart of the city feels like it has seen its best days already, and when you venture outside, especially to the parts that were affected by Katrina, the sense of decline is inevitable. It seems hard to imagine that the city will ever truly recover, and that one of America's cultural gems will be reduced to little else than a tourist attraction. Pray that I'm wrong.

Speaking of divine intervention, one of the most bewildering/amusing/annoying things about the US for a European is the tendency for religious activists to show up at any event where they suspect that someone may be having fun and do their best to remedy that situation. Now, I don't want to claim that all of these people are nut-jobs - that would be unfair on the about 2% of them that are merely naive - but who really thinks that showing up on Bourbon St during Carnival with a big sign lambasting "drunkards, fornicators andlewd women" (and much else beside, though I must admit to have been a bit flummoxed by "sports nuts" and "pot smoking little devils") is going to have an effect beyond having people either laugh at you or pick a fight? Luckily, the crowd was good-natured enough to prefer the former option, such as the guy in the Austin Powers suit who insisted on posing in front of one of these guys with his penis pump in hand. And, I must admit, we did also get an answer to one of the great questions in life :0)

Anyway, all that fun in the Big Easy was over a month ago, and I'm just about ready to get the hell out of New York for a while again. This is a great coincidence, given that I am travelling to Scandinavia in the last week of April/first week of May to attend a wedding in Sweden (congratulations to Tonio and Tove, aka T&T, "the explosive couple"). I will of course seize the opportunity to swing by Norway, where I will be (either in Oslo or Kongsberg) from Saturday April 28th until midday Wednesday May 2nd. If any of you are there I would love to see you, so please let me know!

Until then continue to have fun doing whatever it is you're doing wherever it is you are. As always, I'd love to hear from you, or even better, host you if you come to New York (but not all at once...)

Au revoir!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Caledonia to New York

Welcome to the latest edition of my newsletter! For those of you that are new subscribers (there are quite a few this time), I send around an email to all of my friends on a semi-regular basis (known in technical terms as “whenever I feel like it”). Those who claim I do this because I am too lazy to write to all of you individually are malicious slanderers, and besides I think most of you hear from me more frequently than the other way round…

Let me start of with a brief recap for those of you that haven’t been paying attention: I quit my previous job with ZS Associates in Boston at the end of September, then took five weeks off and arrived in New York in early November to start work with McKinsey & Company. My new address, at which I am happily accepting postcards, gift parcels and visits, is:

300 E 34th St
Apt 21A
New York, NY 10016

For those of you who were wondering, the E stands for East. First impressions of New York are that it is loud, dirty and incredibly expensive[1]. But it is also buzzing and energetic and strangely exhilarating. I’ll let you know more once I’ve had a chance to explore. My cell phone remains +1 617 888 2913.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my holidays (disclosure: the sole purpose of the next few paragraphs is to make you insanely jealous). First I spent 3 weeks in France, visiting family and friends[2]. My parents have recently bought a house in a village close to Bayonne in the French Basque country. They plan to move there once my father retires, but that is luckily still many years away, as there is much work that needs to be done! I spent one week down there, and most of my time was devoted to tearing down wallpaper, knocking out floors and repainting walls. Still, if you’re not too attached to your luxuries there’s plenty of room, and my parents have said they are more than happy to put up anyone who is willing to lend a hand for a day or two, so if the fancy takes you to head down there just let me know. I had never been to that part of France before, and I must say it is very beautiful, with a lot of culture and excellent food (always a big plus in my book!)

After that spell in Southern France, I left to spend 2 weeks in another, more distant part of France (technically). One of my former colleagues from Boston is originally from New Caledonia, a French-administered island in the South Pacific

He organised a trip for a bunch of his friends (15 all in all) to visit his island. Together we rented a catamaran and spent 7 days sailing around and camping on uninhabited tropical islands. After that we rented some cars and visited parts of the main island (known locally as La Grande Terre - the big land). I’m not sure that words can adequately render justice to what we saw[3], so I’ll just let you enjoy some of the pictures ;0)

Jealous yet?

If, by chance you're not, then I encourage you to go here where you will find a longer slideshow. If you don't have a Snapfish account, you can use as login and noumea as password.
That's all from me this time - I hope to hear from you soon!
- Brendan

[1] Let me illustrate: I live in a 400 sq ft (~40 m2) studio apartment. Last week I met a colleague from our Dallas office. He has just bought a 3000 sq ft house (+garden). His mortgage payments are substantially less than my rent. On the other hand, he has to live in Dallas.
[2] Antoine: the answer to your question is apparently the Prince of Lichtenstein (!)
[3] That said, nor can they render true justice to my 42-hour journey back to NYC, via Tokyo and Paris…

Welcome to my blog!


For several years, I've been sending out "newsletters" to my friends on a regular basis, to let them know where I am and what I'm doing (a state of affairs that changes on a very regular basis...) At first these were just pure text, but then I progressively started adding pictures. This made the letters more interesting (I hope!) but also made them quite large, with the result that they were starting to get routed to spam folders or simply not delivered at all.

Therefore, I have decided to created this blog. It will include the same basic content as the newsletters did, but hopefully will make it easier for everyone concerned. Anyway, I'm glad you're here, and hope you enjoy reading this. If you have any suggestions for how I could improve it, or simply want to say hi, don't hesitate to leave a comment.