Archive for May, 2016


Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

This year’s IFPEN visit took place a bit earlier than usual, in late April rather than June – because the IFP School was considerate and scheduled my four days of lectures to coincide with our Spring break at HNC. I taught both the ENM (French) and PEM (international) academic groups this year – and spent a lot of time revising lecture modules in preparation, given the new directions in emissions trading & carbon pricing after last Fall’s Paris COP.

My visit to Paris every year is always special, given the wonderful cultural opportunities on offer…. & this year’s targets were both new & old. New to me was a visit to the Musée D’Art Moderne, to see Raoul Dufy’s La Fée Électricité (‘The Spirit of Electricity’), a very colorful work that at 600 m2 is one the largest paintings in the world. Originally prepared for the 1937 International Exhibition on the Champs-de-Mars (& sponsored by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricité), it curves around the museum gallery, addressing electricity’s complete history…. including portraits of 110 great scientists & inventors who made significant contributions. With large crackling electricity bolts zapping the center of the painting & linking a power plant with the Greek god Zeus, it’s a big, bright & bold artistic tribute to a technological wonder – & exactly my kind of art!

Raoul Dufy’s La Fée Électricité

The older outing was a re-visit to an area of the city I had first explored in the late 1980s, on one of my first teaching engagements at IFP. Montparnasse is best known as a central location of French intellectual life in the period between the two world wars….. although according to the writer John Baxter, it was formerly a waste and rubble-strewn spoil heap sarcastically labelled ‘Mont Parnasse’ by Latin Quarter seminarian students (after the Greek mountain that was home to the Muses — & thus to poetry, music & learning). Baron Haussmann leveled the waste pile in 1860, but the name stuck. Baxter is an Australian who has lived in Paris for a couple of decades, and he has written a number of interesting & chatty books about the city; I followed the Montparnasse walking tour in his paean to its 1920s version, The Golden Moments of Paris.

The real reason I was wandering around Montparnasse, however, was that I had just finished reading Sarah Bakewell’s new book, At the Existential Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails, a truly delightful romp through the lives & thinking of Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Husserl, Heidegger, and many, many others. Her new book is an excellent follow-up to her equally fine How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, and she points out that existentialists – whatever you might think of their philosophy — think really big thoughts, and are philosophers about life itself & how we should live it:

Their philosophies remain of interest, not because they are right or wrong, but because they concern life, and because they take on the two biggest human questions: what are we? and what should we do?

I had last explored the streets & cafes of Montparnasse with my U. Penn dissertation advisor, co-author and mentor Stephen Feldman, back in those early days at IFP. We had enjoyed a seafood luncheon feast with our spouses at ‘Le Dome’ on Boulevard Montparnasse – the same café that in pre-existentialist days had had Lenin, Trotsky, Henry Miller, Man Ray & Samuel Beckett as regulars. All those late-1980s memories are even more poignant now, because Stephen was already quite ill…. & he would pass away very shortly after that, at the incredibly young age of 43.

On this trip, I visited the local cemetery site where both Sartre & Beauvoir are buried…. and reflected upon my own very good fortune. I can’t pretend deep philosophical introspection, but we all contemplate those very same questions — & I know that I’ve been given both time and the ability to appreciate this wonderful gift we call life.

Hong Kong

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

I had a brief visit to a rain-soaked & rather dreary Hong Kong…. to participate, however, in a rather nice UBS Asset Management Viewpoints Summit 2016, held at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. Professor Robert Falkner of the London School of Economics was keynote speaker, and I appeared on a panel immediately after his presentation to further discuss the important climate change/environmental topics he raised.

The trip to HK was a brief one, but it did give me a chance to meet up & have dinner with Doug Woodring, a former Wharton-SAIS grad I’ve known for many years. Doug set up one of my previous talks at the American Chamber of Commerce in HK almost a decade ago, and in recent years he has been very active addressing the problem of plastics in the ocean. He runs an NGO called Ocean Recovery Alliance, and was getting ready for the big annual ‘Plasticity’ meeting they hold every year – this time in Shanghai. Since we cover that same topic in my ‘Challenges in the Global Environment’ course at HNC, our ERE students were very interested — & Doug was extremely generous, providing five complimentary tickets for all aspects of the event (covering three days). I know from talking to them afterwards that it was an eye-opening agenda, for both the Chinese and international students.