Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strawberry Sunday

This is Strawberry season, and if you have a palate, you'd better run away from the giant soggy store strawberries and head to a nearby farm to pick your own. We elected Homestead Farm, up against stupid-pretentious-mansion-land along River road, in the hope that a wealthier farm will mean less stupid mansions around. And also because they have lots of fruits to pick all summer. We managed to pick only 10 pounds of strawberries, a feat compared to previous years..

Then, what do you do with 10 pounds of strawberries?
  1. Pies: we tried a strawberry-banana-pecan pie that's fully cooked and a classic fresh strawberry pie with a baked crust covered by a cream-cheese / heavy cream mixture covered with fresh strawberries. YUM.

  2. Berry booze! We tried a small bottle of strawberry vodka last year and had the good idea to try it before get the berries: we are making a lot more this time!!

  3. Eat the leftover strawberries with cream. Organic heavy cream, because it has so much more taste.
And don't forget: next month is cherry season...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

...we play endlessly

I have long been aware of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, known for slow post-rock ballads full of sadness and all, as displayed in the cover of their first internationally released album.

So it came as a bit of a shock when I stumbled upon a more recent album claiming to be from the same guys, with a bunch of naked guys running around in the countryside on the cover, and titled "With the sun in our hearts we play endlessly". Far from dark introspection, that title could even be a good motto for Parkour. And the music is, well, unexpected. A mixture of the original melodic ballads of the past with loud explosions of joy and an overall happiness difficult to ignore. It's even gotten to the point that the main singer, Jónsi, released an even-more-so-happy solo album to avoid tarnishing the band's former gloom aura! So definitely worth checking, and you can sample a lot of their songs for free on their website, as these gentlemen are decidedly very nice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fun experiment for bikers!

In my daily bicycle trips to work, I discovered a fun new game: when you're biking and stopping at a red light, notice how you usually put your right foot down to stabilize yourself. Now, here's the game:

instead of the right foot, put the left foot down every time you stop on your bike.

And be careful the first time you try it, as you're likely to... fall over! If you've never done it before, you will be surprised to see how an apparently simple mirroring of movement is difficult. And then if you try to do it repeatedly over, say, a week, you will quickly find the source of the difference: that small muscle on the outside of your left calf that is now throbbing in pain is the culprit, and clearly is not really used all that much even when you do something as varied as Parkour training.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lessons from the President's Challenge

This spring I took "the President's challenge", an initiative to push people to exercise and log their workouts. I was curious: how does my practice of Parkour fit into that idea, and how fast and far can I go?

Turns out I found a few more things than I hoped. First, logging my workouts made me realize I don't work out much at all. On a regular week, I only train about 3-5h, with a maximum of about maybe 10h. That's not much time, and so my progress was much slower than I expected because the most important factor logged was time rather than intensity of effort (a few had 'vigorous' ratings, but nowhere could you log a 'brutal' workout).

The second interesting point is that the most important single part of my exercising is biking to and from Union Station every day (almost 40% of my activity), because Parkour couldn't be logged (with reason) under a single category. Other interesting stats: children games took 10%, climbing 10%, gymnastics 15%, calisthenics 10%, and then lots of other things came in, which is a pleasing reminder that Parkour is just a lot of different activities. Interestingly, there was little running and jumping involved, though.

So, what I learned was that: 1. regular, light exercise has a more direct impact; 2. efficient training doesn't require much time, but intensity and focus.

Monday, April 26, 2010

News from the madhouse

I recently got a new job for free, meaning I'm doing the job of two persons for the price of one (the lowest price, of course) on top of teaching Parkour classes and commuting 3h a day. So while the madness slowly subsides, blogging is going to be slow in part because there is not much happening to me besides. I'll try to keep updating once a week, see how it goes.

So for this week, yet another silly and entertaining webcomic: FeyWinds, a good-old dungeon fantasy story that doesn't take itself too seriously. The updates are once a week, but there's already a good archive, so that should keep you occupied till next week!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ze Easter Bell

So apparently in the US all you got for Easter is a rabbit running around with a basket of eggs... In France, we have the Easter Bell, flying through the skies and showering the countryside with delicious Easter Eggs. I shouldn't brag, but it's a bit fancier, as demonstrated by this Scary Go Round excellent story. I have to mention that this webcomic might be my favorite webcomic of all times, which is quite a recommendation given that I've read a lot of those. The author has since then decided to move toward more traditional stories with much less zombies, robot diplomats, mystical creatures, and more young teenagers. Still good, but not quite the same. But dig in his archive, there is a lot of stories, probably enough to get you through the Easter egg hunt while everyone else is looking for that one last missing egg.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harp rocks

I usually enjoy weird, atypical music, but Joanna Newsom definitely stretched my limits, in a very good way. Her second album, Ys, is pretty much her and the harp, singing 10 minute songs about meteorites, bear and monkey stories, and many things that appear to have no connection whatsoever. And changing tune, mixing in a full orchestral outburst for a few moments, ignoring all standards of usual songwriting is not a problem either here.. but the result is really mesmerizing, and difficult to shake off. With her new album, Have one on me, the only big change is the appearance of many instruments, contrasting with the former sparsity of the harp and voice only. And yet, the album spans 3 cds, talks about spiders and other apparently random things, changes at every turn of every 10 minute song. Oh, and there is also a few harp and voice songs, to comfort the Ys fans. And the magic happens again: even though there is not a single song you can move your head to, it's hard to stop listening... so have a try, courtesy of NPR as usual (you can hear the album or a recent concert), see how atypical you can handle and actually enjoy!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The mystical arts of Callus Shaving

Here's one of the weird things Parkour brought to my life: a callus shaver. At first, I was all proud of the thick calluses building up on my hands from all the QMs and climbing, thinking that the thicker they were, the better my hands would cope with various surfaces.

Until one of them broke off.

After cleaning up the embarrassing amounts of blood and waiting for the hole in my hand to heal, I started shaving my calluses religiously. A callus shaver is basically a bent razor blade on a stick, and you gently scrape the hardened skin off with it. The most usual spot for calluses is the place you grip things with at the base of the digits. With time, they also appear at the base of the palm (heel of the hand), on a straight line around the middle (lower part of the ball of the hand), and along the first phalanges. So far. I end up shaving the larger ones 2-3 times a month, the smaller ones on occasion, whenever I start feeling them while exercising. It's kind of a weird habit, but it beats having bloody gashes in your hand anytime!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monkey family

I had the chance to check out the new exhibit on Human Evolution at the Smithsonian in the company of anthropologists, and I can say I was very impressed with the result. A lot of information, from the high level brush strokes to details coming from freshly published research, a complete wall of casts to make you appreciate the variety and homogeneity of human ancestors and relatives, and some striking artist reconstructions of our family tree, full of life. Oh, and some of the actual remains from Cro-Magnon and other famous places, displayed publicly for the first time. Definitely worth a look!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Strawberry-Pecan pancakes

What is better than fresh, homemade pancakes, mm? fresh, homemade Strawberry-Pecan pancakes, that's what! And, wait for it... with heavy cream and maple syrup sauce, it's even better!! Proof is, that all that was left when I managed to put down the fork long enough to take a picture. The recipe is basically your good-old pancakes, with bits of strawberry and pecans thrown in before cooking them. Eaaasy. And for the cream and syrup sauce, guess what? yeah, just pour some heavy cream, some syrup, and eat until you can't!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ia Ia Parkour Fhtagn!!

I got this idea from Eugene wanting a shirt with Happy Elder Gods on the front and 'not amused' Elder Gods on the back. But Elder Gods are always having fun (because they can), so it made more sense for them to be jamming and showing their best Parkour moves to drive us insane. Or something like that.

And yes, I made a T-shirt out of it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pi Day

Happy Pi Day everyone!! For the occasion, I highly recommend checking out this Belgian comic book about a cow sleuth called Pi (it only makes sense in French) going around the world and solving incredible mysteries, half-way between Indiana Jones and James Bond.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The joy of webcomics

I spent much of my teenage life immersed in comic books (yes I'm the genuine geek; although to my defense French and European comic books have diverged quite heavily from the American hyper-rigid world of super-heroes stories, more on that later), and one of my new joys is to find good webcomics. Often mixing genres and references, my favorites blend in a lot of humor and healthy self awareness. Plus, many of those guys just started for fun and got caught in the process of their own success quite unexpectedly.

So here's one of those I just rediscovered a few days ago, and it's all good:
so far the main story line (Hob) is a weird mix of anime, sci-fi, and randomness, and the "singles" are awfully clever.. check it out!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Parkour vids

While making a small video to ward off cabin fever during the Snowpocalypse, I took the opportunity to dust off and put a couple of older vids on youtube for your entertainment. Here they all are:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Do I need to say more? one of the most insane recipes from the Barefoot Comtessa, like a pecan pie except the pie crust is replaced by shortbread and the pecan/syrup top by a pecan caramel. Main ingredient: butter. Most important trick: use a really big tray or your oven will end up looking like a caramelized battlefield. Doh! my tray was too small..

Friday, February 26, 2010

Intermission #1

I already mentioned those crazy 'make a film in 48 hours' competitions; here's one of the best results I have seen. First the rules: everything had to be done within 48 hours, and to ensure that the story wasn't prepared in advance there were three key elements to feature in it (Character: Marty or Mary Quinzani - second in command; Line: "Yes! I mean, I hope so."; Prop: Magnet)

The result is, well:

I would never have guessed. Pink Lemonade...
Make sure to check the outtakes too!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Le geste naturel

Yep, another of those Hébert quotes:
"The development of the organism and the technical improvement of movements alike cannot be attained by bits and pieces broken down by convention or using procedures that simply activate mechanically an organ or some muscles without envisioning the essential part, that is the true target of the organ or the practical use of the movements.

Everything holds together in the organism. Localized action are only local in appearance. The slightest voluntary movement requires sometimes, besides the intervention of the nervous system, a complex muscular action very pronounced in a given area (the most apparent) and secondary or even minimal, but necessary, in other parts.

Both the technical improvement of movements and the generalized development of the body must be done synthetically and not analytically. The human body is not comparable to a factory where division of labor reigns to obtain the best yield."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gotta catch'em live!

One of my favorite concerts recently was an opening act for Blind Pilot by The Low Anthem, which I hadn't come to listen to and didn't know of. The band is composed of two stocky-looking guys sporting long hair and a serious moustache sharing a bunch of varied and unamplified instruments and a young lady with a clarinet and a bizarre set of bells she played with a bow.

They started with mellow and beautiful songs, fragile and all, then leveled up like overexcited Pokemons, mixed in some blues-rock-folk and became very, very loud. Probably the loudest concert I have seen since running away from Modest Mouse (and those guys had amplification all over the place)!! The band kept jumping all over the place, singing at the top of their lungs, pulling more and more sound out their instruments. Their albums did capture some of that amazing energy, but catch them live if you can next time they come to town. I for one will be there!

If you want a preview, check out their weird video about Charlie Darwin and a pretty cool tiny desk concert they just did at NPR, where they pulled that awesome trick with the cellphones. Once again, that's only their mellow side.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I recently came across a Facebook group "I bet I can find a million people who believe in Evolution", no doubt in response to a similar initiative from flat Earth creationists or Intelligent Designers. I almost joined the cause, but then I was bothered: I don't believe in Evolution. And frankly, the whole debate is a bit hard for me to wrap my head around coming from Europe, where it's not an issue at all.

The thing is, no matter what I believe, no matter how many people believe in it or not, it is a fundamental law of the natural world and you have no choice. The same goes for Electricity: if I can find a million people who don't believe in Electricity, do the lights go out? Personally, I do find Electricity a bit hard to believe, what with all the tiny thingies called Electrons that are supposedly everywhere but we can't see them and then they move in coordinated fashion and voilà: the light switches on.

Isn't it a bit far-fetched? well, it is, but tons of hard scientific evidence have given us more and more clues about how Electricity works, and we more or less have a pretty good working model by now. Sure, Evolution has the drawback to be slow, you can't observe new species pop into existence like you flip a switch. Think more like plate tectonics. Do you feel the continents shifting around under your feet? so maybe it's time to make a "I bet I can find a few people who understand that Evolution / Plate Tectonics / Electricity is a fundamental law of the natural world whether or not they believe in it" group...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sports vs. Physical Education

Just in time for the Superbowl, here's some of Georges Hébert's contrary views on sports:
"In terms of physical education, any exercise, even performed in a stadium or a gymnasium in artificial settings, must maintain as much as possible of an utilitary character. In the contrary, when considering sports, following the current trends, complete abstraction is made of the conditions of application in practical life situations; everything is conventionally regulated or subject to exceptional execution conditions.

Thus are formed brilliant specialists, remarkably skilled at an exercise that has no utility, superior experts in a technique with no practical value. Such is one of the reasons why these specialists barely stand out from the average when circumstances place them, among others who do not practice sports, in front of common situations."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Heart of Darkness cookies

If the snow is going to bury us in cold whiteness, let's fight back with warm yummy Darkness. These are easy to make: in a big bowl, mix 1 stick (~125g) softened butter with a fork (15s in the microwave will do the softening for you). Add 1/4C sugar, 1/2 Dark brown sugar, 1/2t baking soda. Mix well with said fork. On the side, slowly melt in a saucepan 1/4C Dark chocolate with a dollop of butter (you can use some of your chocolate chips, or some Darker stuff if you have some). Let it cool down a bit while you add 1 egg and 1/2t vanilla extract or rum in the bowl. Mix in the cooled chocolate, then "clean" the saucepan. Yum. Back to the recipe, beat in ~1/6C powdered cocoa and 1C flour, making it smooth. Add 3/4C chocolate chips, preheat the oven at 375F, drop rounds of cookie dough unto a baking sheet, cook for 8-10 min. Done!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Age of the Electron

I was watching TV, about to go online to post something here, buy some new shoes and all that when the entire block blacked out. No power, no light, as far as I can see... After fumbling for the flashlight and some old candles, I went instead for a book by the candlelight, how romantic and all.

After a few moments sitting quietly in the near darkness, I got struck by how much our modern life is slave to the power of the electron; how different must have been the life of our great-grandparents having no choice but to gather around the fire, light a few candle or just head to bed with the sun. So I will remember this, turn off all the lights and electronics once in a while, and let the darkness sink in.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Natural method: revenge of the massive stack of books

One of my hobbies recently has been to translate into English the early works of Georges Hébert, who developed the "Natural Method", a very thorough and practical approach to physical education, starting in the 1910s. Guess what I found under my Xmas tree?

That's right, almost all the tomes of the full Natural Method at its most detailed development in the 1940s (thanks, A!). Where the previous book was a mere 600 pages, this (even incomplete) collection towers around 1500+, with many illustrations that, in themselves, convey huge amounts of extra information, and the low quality WWII paper used in the printing would certainly not enjoy scanning, so I will preserve my sanity and won't try to translate it. Which is too bad, because this is so much richer and more elaborate than the earlier version. But as I plow through this, I will try to quote a few paragraphs that particularly caught my attention. Stay tuned for some of Hébert's accurate and sometimes unconventional views in good old-fashioned French style!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monkey in Hawai'i

I haven't been posting for a couple of weeks because I was away from the internet. It felt great, and I recommend the experience to anybody at least one week a year, to get a better sense of your own alienation to the cyberworld. Mine being dangerously elevated, postings will resume shortly.
Also, Hawai'i is totally awesome.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Film Noir

In the past few months, a few groups of unrelated friends all decided to go into filmmaking. Not so unusual in this day and age, if they were not all doing Film Noir stories. The first one comes from Miami, FL, starring a bunch of very talented traceurs from APK and the Tribe in a classic tale of heist and deceipt:

Once you made the equation 'film noir + parkour = success', why stop? Ben Cunis in DC didn't hesitate, and piled up zombies and ninjas on top of it:

Finally, Trammel Hudson has been working on several 'make an entire film in less than 72 hours' competitions where you build everything from beginning to end in a very very dense week-end. One of his latests is another slightly atypical turn on film noir:

All this spontaneous film noir trend must be a sign of the times: dust off your pin-striped suits, borsalino hats or retro cocktail dresses, and start investigating!!

Monday, January 11, 2010


Quadrupedal Movement (QM) is an integral part of Parkour training, because it involves:
1) looking funny,
2) while being in an awkward position,
3) while in front of other people.
Oh, and it also improves strength, coordination and flexibility of the arms, legs and core all at once. So here's one of my current favorite QM moves: the Inchworm (and yes, it involves steps 1 to 3 above). The inchworm is actually as hard as you make it, so it's a great exercise to scale up or down.

The principle is very simple: start standing, reach down in front of you until your hands reach the ground, flat.Then, walk you hands without moving your feet, as far as you can. Then walk your feet in, keeping your hands in place. The hard part is to keep your legs straight, and of course to not touch the ground with anything but your hands and feet, both flat (no fingertips!). After that, it's all about how much you can spread out and fold back in, like an inchworm. Decide beforehand of a distance to cover, nothing too long at first (that's a pretty slow way to move, and body parts will start complaining pretty fast). The further you can spread out and fold in, the fewer moves you need to make to cover a given distance. But it's harder. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

I recommend warming up your shoulders before doing it as this requires a good range of motion (e.g. do a few shoulder circles or pull-ups). It's a great exercise for building up core strength, but you should figure that out pretty quickly!

And did I mention it looks funny?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lhasa is gone :(

Here's some sad news: the excellent singer Lhasa de Sela passed away.

For those who don't know her music, she blended traditional music from Central and South America with her own modern style, telling beautiful, entrancing ballads in three languages (Spanish, English and French) on sparse but warm melodies. I had the good fortune to see her play live; she introduced many of her songs with a personal story and completely possessed the stage (not a simple feat for a quiet singer in front of Parisian concert goers, one of the worst behaved crowds you can get). Her albums La Llorona and The living road have been continuously on my playlist for years. Even though she was a stranger, I realize I will miss her.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alcool de vieux garçon

For some reason, I have become well-known for my "special berry alcohol beverage", a treacherous drink that has been known to provoke undesired shirtlessness, extreme reddening of the skin, voluntary loss of memories or inability to operate shoelaces. Today, I will share with all of you the incredible secret recipe of this entertaining drink (you've read about some of the risks, so consider yourself warned of possible disastrous effects):

  1. Acquire fresh fruits of the -berry family (rasp-, straw-, blue-, black-, boysen-) or other delicious fruits (peaches, cherries, etc) in season. Quality is the key here, because a flavorless fruit will not improve with age. I recommend going to a pick-your-own farm for added fun.
  2. Make a pie first, because you picked too much anyway and it would be a shame to waste all those freshly picked fruits into something you'll have to wait half a year to enjoy.
  3. Fill a small bottle with the rest (I like iced tea bottles of maple syrup bottles; you want glass, a large enough neck to stuff the berries in, and a tight cap) to the rim, but without mashing them.
  4. Add a single spoon of sugar, white or brown, to help start the fermentation process.
  5. Top with your favorite alcohol (vodka, rum, possibly gin or whisky depending on the fruit and your taste, other strong but neutral alcohols can work). As blindness is not a fun side effect for this recipe, choose some good quality alcohol, not the cheap stuff. Cheap booze may pack all sorts of unusual stuff that do strange things given time. Stick to the good stuff.
  6. Tighten the cap, write the name of berries (they sometime become hard to identify, especially after a glass), alcohol (it soaks so much of the fruit flavor it's difficult tofind that hint of pepper or sweet cane) and year (most important part) on a piece of paper and tape it on the bottle.
  7. Put the bottle in a cool place far from your eyes, and wait a full year.
  8. Drink in small quantities among select friends.
As you see, the only hard part here is step 7. It takes a solid few months for the fruits to start losing their color and blend their flavor with the alcohol, and then the taste grows in power over time. Wait at least until the year on the bottle doesn't match the one on the calendar, it's worth it. With more time, the alcohol turns sweet and fruity, and the fruits become unbelievably alcoholised. I said it's worth it, so screw that cap back on and put the bottle back on the shelf.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Take a walk on the Weak Side

Have you ever noticed how bilateral symmetry is a bit of a myth? When training parkour, how everything is easier on one side, sometimes to the point you can only do a move confidently from one side of your body? time to change this! Through our lives, we usually pick a side and stick with it. We write with it, we cook with it, we use it to jump, to land, to pull our body around. Traceurs, go have a look at your shoulders in a mirror: are they the same size and shape? probably not..

So if like me this state of things bothers you, here's a few ideas to strengthen the Weak Side. Basically, they come in three categories: forcing your brain to use the weak side (and improve its neural pathways); building up strength assymmetrically (on the weak side); training moves specifically on the weak side.

1. When sitting cross-legged, cross your legs the other way. Same for the arms.
2. Brush your teeth with the other hand. Try with shaving next.
3. Switch your computer mouse settings to the other side.
4. Reverse your hand posture when cooking, etc.

5. Work on assymmetric push-ups and pull-ups; you can start with shifting your weight to one side when doing a rep, then progress to lift part of your hand off the ground or bar; if you're really motivated go to one arm.
6. Perform unequal numbers of reps for one-sided exercises: leg raises, balancing, hopping, T push-ups, side push ups, side QMs, rolls, safety and speed vaults, tic-tacs, etc.

7. Control your footing on symmetric moves: if you do a straight vault (e.g. a kong vault), you probably jump and land almost always the same way. To force yourself to use the weak side, count two or three steps before the jump and always start from there, remembering which foot went first, so you can then use systematically the weaker of the two options.

With regular practice, you might discover that you can be symmetrical if you choose to be.