Twenty twenty

What a weird, frustrating and transitory year 2019 turned out to be for me. If I were to have written this post a few months back, or even just a month ago, I can’t say I would have reflected back on the year and called it a “transition” one — because it felt mostly hellish.

Without getting into specifics — as those closest are aware of details — 2019 presented health challenges for me that I’ve never been through before. As an active, fit, “millennial”, it was quite devastating to find myself falling inside a seemingly endless pain spiral which knew no end. After months of searching for answers, followed by many more months of trialing different treatment protocols, it was extremely disheartening to seem like I was not getting any better. I’m actually not transparent at all when it comes to my personal life, at least over the internet, but I’ve come to find that writing has been a useful tool for overcoming certain mental stagnations and may be the final piece in my health and well-being jigsaw puzzle. But, the first sign of a breakthrough only came towards the end of November and really only in the month of December. And this is just the start of this chapter. But, I feel as if I’ve turned a corner and am, finally, on my way. On my way to doing all the things I’ve put on hold (like the baby-one-kilometer-run I went on today at 6:59/km pace) or missed out on. And now with the first day of the year (and decade) here, I’m eager to start it the same way I ended the last — up and at ’em. I’m so happy to be here.

And for 2020, and what the year holds? First and foremost striving for good health, and the upkeep of that. Everything else is gravy. I’ve got some big things lined up like my mindfulness-inspired ‘personal care’ project (more on that soon) and the resurrection of my email newsletter, The Considered (though the format might change). Also, travel. Lots, and lots of travels. As I said, though, these are gravy.

Let’s re-connect in 2020 (and in-person), and wishing you a year of health, abundance and gravy.

Timeless digital documentation

Photo taken on a walk this past summer at Østre Anlæg Park, in Copenhagen

Earlier this year I began a micro-writing project of sorts via a weekly email newsletter¹ which was sent to a few hundred people – most of them friends. I diligently adhered to my weekly deadlines for eight weeks, until I had to put the newsletter on hold for an entirely separate reason which I needed to prioritize. That was September of this year. And now, three months later I finally feel — since it requires a certain mental clarity — that I’d like to get back into some form of writing.

With the newsletter to the side (for now), I inadvertently had gifted myself some mental airspace to simply think these past few months. And for someone with an active mind, my day-to-day thoughts were turning into ruminations, and those ruminations were manifesting into late-night ideas. One of these thought-ruminations I kept coming back to was the notion of ‘timeless digital documentation’.

For most people nowadays, social media serves as their digital repository for life moments and events. And for this vast majority of people it’s a more than a good-enough system to house these memories. Though, as I continue to observe, for a growing minority of people — myself now included — these services no longer provide reassurance. For some, that reassurance might be a topic of privacy and for others it could be an issue of (data) ownership. Social media (and mostly Facebook and Instagram) ruined things for me personally once they became platforms geared towards advertisers and the continual promotion of user engagement (i.e. over-sharing). Digressions and reasons aside — and not the theme of this essay — the notion got me thinking about our long-term digital footprint and how we might wish to preserve it. In twenty, or even ten years from now, what should we be able to extract from the archives and what will we have selected to reminisce about?

A few months ago I decided to “remap” my folders on my computer². A big reason I wanted to reorganize the mishmash of files was because I wanted to go through a process of reduction so I could compartmentalize my years digitally in way that would make obvious sense for me, but for also anyone (for example: Year → Business Trip → Receipts or Year → Holiday → City → Photos). As a byproduct of the approach, organizing folders and subfolders by calendar years helped capture and assort my memories in a way that would make it easy and pleasurable to revisit in the future. Also, it was a good excuse to cull old photos which may have been taken poorly, were “dupes”, or matter-of-fact no longer needed retention.

Extrapolating this: What digital memories should we retain online, and publicly? Do we continue to increase our iCloud storage so that we retain everything? Are we meant to always click and agree to Instagram’s latest privacy policy update? Will product roadmaps of social media companies act in our best (future) interests or will they prioritize their own lifespans and profits?

When asking myself those sorts of questions I realized I needed a better online repository, one which was manipulatable and plastic enough to work the way I wanted it to work. The solution? The weblog³. Despite coming back full-circle to the humble blog it still represents the purest form of the internet to this day — a personal website. It’s a digital address devoid of any advertising, ‘likes’, or built-in audience⁴. It’s your corner of the internet where you can do whatever you want with it — a powerful capability should we stop to ponder that.

Memories are meant to be evergreen and we should give them a home befitting of that. What you choose to share (or omit) goes on to become your own digital artefact, and thus perpetuates a process of creating ‘timeless digital documentation’. Conscious Standard, the name for this blog, is my new (permanent) corner of the internet.

Thank you for stopping by.

¹ Please consider subscribing, since I intend to resurrect the newsletter early 2020.

² A 2018 Macbook Pro, which sadly needs a service as I’ve spilled water and coffee across it’s trackpad.

³ For anyone curious, this weblog is served through WordPress as I do not want to delve into a headless CMS (yet), since I’m still experimenting on what works (post frequency, storage needs, speed, etc.). My webpage is pure HTML/CSS/JavaScript, which is deployed through Github, and hosted on Netlify. There’s no ‘follow’ button or RSS, so please return as often as you wish, and feel free to email me if you want to get in touch.

⁴ The lack of built-in audience is a good thing. It’s important because your visitors (readers) ought to stop by on their own accord, and not because of some algorithm. When eyeballs aren’t guaranteed or publicly observable, we’re no longer inclined to share updates which might not hold future significance.

Conscious City Micro-Guide, Paris

Whenever I arrive in a new place irrespective of whether it’s by air, rail, or four-wheels, I often forget the infrastructure and systems we have in place today has not always existed. Probably the single most thing which symbolizes travel or tourism to it’s most compact form is the passport. And whilst we all understand what a passport is and does, it’s only a relatively modern travel protocol — a couple hundred or so years.

Tourism of the modern variety — travel for leisure — I assume it to have taken place by accident. By accident, I’m guessing it was a by-product of religious pilgrimages, those which necessitated interludes along a long-journey for rest, rejuvenation, and at times, medical recovery. I imagine the peoples of those in-between landscapes felt a duty to feed, shelter and entertain foreign passer-bys such that they would inform pilgrims, on the other end, making the reverse journey — to experience the same.

I assume many of you reading are well-versed travelers, and have your own reliable tools or local confidants to help you navigate a city’s nonsensical bus matrix or find the locals-only coffee baron. So, and instead, I’d like to offer a slightly different kind of city guide. One that’s biased to well-being (rejuvenation) and a bit of slow tourism. An incomplete guide that, I’d love to keep revisiting as the cities evolves (or me).

These micro-guides — as I’m coining for now — won’t cover a city from top to bottom, or follow right to left necessarily. They’re hurried notes, mental stickies, all which probably ended up in my iPhone’s note-taking app.

And with that, here’s my ‘Conscious City Micro-Guide’ for Paris, a ongoing piece I hope to do in each city I visit in the future.

It’s not hard to imagine arriving into Charles de Gaulle and being succumbed by the scent of French pastries. Then as you make your way to Gare du Nord, whilst sitting on the RER, you’re bumped by an accordion playing street-performer looking for his next Euro. Before you know it, you find yourself dropping your luggage at the hotel and making a beeline to the closest boulangerie to pick up a baguette to go with your French espresso. Then as the romantic Parisian architecture draws you in at each turn, irrespective of arrondissement, you quickly realize you’ve been eating carbohydrates for three-days straight, and forgotten what a vegetable is.

O.k., that might be a hyper-exaggeration, but it’s tough being a tourist in a city like Paris which doesn’t scream “juice bar” or “modern fitness studio” at every second corner — but that’s a good thing, right? And even though I was just passing through for an extended weekend, I was dreading I might have to eat gluten daily. So, my mission, was to find out what locals do for “health” in this great city.

This is the Paris Conscious City Micro-Guide, and probably best experienced over a weekend.

Ladda (32 Rue de Paradis, 75010 Paris)

Start your morning at Ladda, a wellness studio on the rooftop of a nondescript commercial building in the 10th arrondissement. Here you’ll find a self-care menu of: reflexology, yoga, and traditional Thai massage.

I attended a 90-minute Saturday yoga session (25€) taught by the instructor, Pam. The class was small (only five others), advanced (by my standards), and taught in French (mine is horrible)! But, I did just fine.

After your session you’re encouraged to spend time on their rooftop which features a sweeping panorama of the southern and western expanse of the city — with Sacré-Cœur in the distance. But, unfortunately it began to rain just as I emerged from my yoga class, so I spent some time inside studying their book collection instead.

Blanche (21 Rue Blanche, 75009 Paris)

If you’re seeking more vigorous exertion of your muscles (and joints) make your way to Moulin Rouge. And, once you’ve spent five-seconds at famous landmark, take a brisk five minute walk down Rue Blanche to the city’s newest premium gymnasium establishment in, Blanche. Blanche is a full-stack wellness club offering boxing, yoga, spin-cycle, personal training, weights, and a pool in the basement where you can sign up for aquatic classes. All of the equipment in the weights hall and spin-cycle studio is by Technogym.

The wellness club is set inside of a former mansion designed by Charles Girault (1901), and has an adjoining restaurant in, B.B. Restaurant, and part of renowned French chef Jean Imbert’s portfolio.

Café Citron (60 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris)

Simon Porte Jacquemus of the brand Jacquemus, opened a restaurant earlier this year housed within the new, Bjarke Ingels-designed, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées. The restaurant, as you’d expect, is perfectly on-brand with his fashion namesake: Summer, fruity, and very, Mediterranean.

Staying in the same building, Galeries Lafayette Champs Elysées has a food court in their basement (-1), which is worth visiting. The food court is “market” style, where various vendors, some known for their already successful establishments in the city, have abbreviated their healthy and seasonal menus for Galeries Lafayette. I stopped by the Maisie Café counter where they serve a bevy of healthy to-go options and juices, similar to their full-scale version near the Tuileries. I picked up a green juice to rehydrate me on my walk back to the hotel. Food court prices vary from reasonable to very-expensive.

Partisan (36 Rue de Turbigo, 75003 Paris)

If you’re looking to break up your café sittings and wander from the traditional French bistro, then artisanal coffee shop and torréfaction, Partisan, is where you need to go. Situated in the Le Marais (3rd arr.), the coffee shop has an industrial, minimalist, and calm soul. Coffee is served either traditional (Italian) or “new-wave” (current roast). However, beware, they have a slightly-loony one-hour laptop policy. Other restaurants and cafés have rules like this, but they don’t make you feel awkward when trying to enforce it. Basically, be prepared to be informed about the rule as you take your seat, first sip, and show any sign of reaching into your tote bag for your laptop. Thankfully, their coffee is good.

Ob-La-Di Café (54 Rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris)

If you’re a runner — casual or professional — you’ve likely heard of the brand Satisfy Running, which happens to be based in Paris. Their founder Brice Partouche (who founded April 77 too) also has a café in the Le Marais, Ob-La-Di, which you should visit. If you scroll Satisfy’s Instagram you’ll find the café often features as a meeting point for various runners and running clubs. The café is quintessentially Parisian small though, so be prepared to have your coffee to-go, but not before you snack into one of their healthy treats whilst waiting. I recommend the granola if you can secure a seat.

Café Kitsuné Palais-Royal (51 Galerie de Montpensier, 75001 Paris)

Kitsuné the French-Japanese fashion house has been serving coffee for years all around the world. Their penchant for just serving coffee (and the odd sweet) is something I respect. Too often these hybrid café-types try to serve full-scale menus which is hard to do reliably well if it’s not your main business, and that loses the appeal for me. O.k., maybe I spoke too soon, because Kitsuné is also opening a restaurant (next week) near their Palais-Royal café and if the menu looks as good as the initial interior concept, it should be just as satiably appetizing.

If you’re near the Louvre and need to find a hiding place to escape the tourist coaches and keychain salesmen, I advise you to pick up a cup of coffee from Kitsuné’s original espresso slinger at Palais-Royal, before finding patch of grass in the garden. Then people-watch or meditate, both can be rewarding. A quick tip, if you find the queue extending out of the entrance — like I did — pick up your coffee at Kitsuné’s newest location and just outside of Palais-Royal at 2 Place André Malraux.

Musée Rodin (77 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris)

Nearly ninety-million humans visited France last year — the most of any country. So, if you’re not visiting Paris for the first time, I highly recommend avoiding the overtourism taking place at popular attractions like the Louvre, and instead visit some of the lesser known museums, galleries and landmarks. Since my schedule was tight, I chose to visit Musée Rodin which displays the works of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), and all donated to the French state. The museum features his works chronologically with Rodin’s paintings first, followed by his famous sculpture work, before leading you out onto the expansive gardens where you can sit, contemplate, and just take a moment from the world.

Centre Pompidou and Atelier Brancusi (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris)

Another gallery of donated works is Atelier Brancusi which is part of the Centre Pompidou site adjacent to Châtelet (4th arr.). Even though crowds prohibited me from setting foot inside the monolithic Centre Pompidou building, I was pleasantly relieved to learn the studio of Constantin Brancusi was unremarkably tucked away externally and off-schedule. Brancusi, of Romanian birth, is another sculpturist who donated his works to the French state. The studio gallery is a 1:1 replica built by Renzo Piano, that features his living quarters and his artist studio. The sculptures, of course, are the originals itself which Brancusi masterfully constructed and arranged per his fascination with spatial relationships or “mobile groups”. It’s a small gallery, but the details and craftsmanship is, oh, so, heavenly.

Tadao Ando Meditation Centre (7 Place de Fontenoy, 75007 Paris)

Not far from Musée Rodin and still on the left bank, is the UNESCO Headquarters, or the World Heritage Centre as it’s also known. I wasn’t particularly looking to visit the centre but since it was en route to Rodin, I thought it might be nice to specifically visit the Tadao Ando Meditation Centre at the site, if possible. It was built in 1995 to celebrate UNESCO’s 50th anniversary.

Unfortunately access was closed on the Saturday I visited, so I can’t tell you what mysterious or calm enlightenment was to be found inside. Thankfully my Sony α7 III was able capture the building’s facade and do some justice for Ando’s work from afar.

Distance (13 Rue Cavenne, 69007 Paris)

Around the corner from Merci and at the top of the Le Marais, is a relatively new sports retailer called Distance founded by Stephane Summer in Lyon two-years ago. The concept store which stocks apparel, shoes, and accessories specifically for running features purposeful brands like Salomon, Ciele, Hoka One One, Satisfy, Patagonia and District Vision. The Distance community also regularly host events and runs right from their shopfront so it’s also a place to meet other enthusiasts. As for whether you should visit Merci, just scroll up to the part where I mentioned overtourism.

Buly 1803 (6 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris)

You’ve probably heard of the skincare and apothecary brand Buly by now. Since this micro-guide is about conscious commerce, if there is a single product which you should purchase, which is also inherently French, it’s Buly’s Pommade Concrète hand cream (35€). If you visit their Le Marais store (opposite Ob-La-Di), there’s also an adjoining café and florist’s corner where you’ll find a bird chirping by the name of Jean-Françoise.

Biologique Recherche (2 Av. des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris)

If you want something a little more substantial and luxurious for your face or body, head to Biologique Recherche at the Champs-Élysées for a skincare treatment like Cryo-Sticks or Second Peau. Their scientific formulation and generous concentrations is what sets them apart, along with the elevated retail experience. You’ll be able to purchase many products from their storefront too.

Hôtel Habituel (168 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris)

On this recent visit I stayed at two separate hotels, Hôtel Doisy (17th arr.) and Hôtel Habituel opposite Gare du Nord (10th arr.). My goal when booking accomodation is to find an establishment which offers more than just a place to sleep — if possible.

I wouldn’t exactly categorize either Doisy (pictured below) or Habituel as non-hotels, by my definition, but each presented good amenities, a modern remodel within an old Parisian building, and an above-average healthy breakfast menu without the overload of bread and pastries. Habituel was the cheaper of the two (starting at 120€/night), but was subject to the glitch you would expect being opposite the largest train station in Paris — noise. Luckily being on the top floor (6) it was a non-issue and my mind was pleasantly offset by the myriad of South Indian diners, like the humble vegetarian-only Saravana Bhavan, at my doorstep.

If you’re interested in hotels which are openly vocal about their sustainable efforts then two options I was recommended by others are, Hôtel Le Citizen (10th arr.) and Hidden Hotel (17th arr.). Each hotel has policies on waste disposal, energy conservation and plastic usage, yet don’t exactly present themselves as greenwashers and instead just like any other good hotel. Expect reviews of these in the future.

Good meditation resources

Until only a few weekends ago I had never even turned the dial of my camera (I use a Sony A7 III) to the video function. I think the reason for that is because I’ve always perceived the video medium to be technically challenging and huge in scope. But, perhaps it’s purely because videos compared to photography is so much more than just taking a good photo. It’s storytelling, it’s lighting, it’s audio, and it’s a far more extensive post-production commitment if you want to do it well. A software or app preset defined by a mathematical formula is simply not going to do the job for video — and definitely not in batches.

For all of those reasons, plus many more I’m not aware of, producing videos and more specifically films, is something I’ve admired by those who make them for a living — be it a humble YouTuber to Terrence Malick. As I’ve found out this week the effort and creativity required in filmmaking is exponentially greater than that of photography (apologies to any photographers out there).

On the note of storytelling and videos, more recently I’ve been thinking about what a visually aesthetic mindfulness video — or film — could look like. What I find within this branch of self-care is that most content servings focus on the stance of therapy or perpetuate an overly motivational theme through the curation of quotes or pseudoscientific thought-pieces. No surprise, neither approach speaks to me, and instead I just find them to be offensive distractions.

If I were to come up with a style-guide for what conscious content I would like to see more of, it would consist of well-produced videos which do not explicitly tell me what to do or how to feel — instead they would show me. I think it’s important for viewers, and thus mindfulness participants, to come up with their own interpretations about a technique or concept (after the basics) because we each have our own nuances and a one-size-fits-all approach might be disrespectful.

I really enjoy what Max and Tom over at District Vision (New York City) are doing, intersecting their eyewear brand (made for runners and athletes) with the practice of mindfulness, through highly evocative imagery and non-pretentious audio recordings. Then there’s meditation practitioners like Manoj Dias of A—Space meditation studio in Melbourne (he’s also on the Insight Timer app) who bridges mindfulness with: culture, political opinions, and (importantly) religious context, to give you a taste of what mindfulness should look like in ordinary-everyday life. Mindfulness content need not be about motivational one-liners, cliché subcultures, or one’s tool for self-advancement — it just needs to get to the point and offer calm.

And a few weeks ago I took a holiday — from my holiday —  to create a moment of respite and explore this very idea surrounding conscious media content. I decided to head south, and take a train to Switzerland because I find they operate a little slower than the rest of Europe. Ironically I was in Switzerland the same time last year, but this time around the weather was a stark contrast — wet and cool — and hardly any sign of an impending indian summer. Instead the temperate conditions made for ideal reading time overlooking lush Swiss greenery, daily walks to the lakes, and exploring that video setting on my camera’s dial. Enjoy.