Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My year in music

This first song stands for the first 5 months of the year: It felt new, we saw Santogold at Coachella in April, the world was a very happy place for us: Astrid started pre-school, Rose a new career, I was planning my next chapter.

Then life happened. Or better, death. Both of my parents died within a few months. I travelled to Germany three times for a funeral, to see my mother for the last time and to find some closure. Surprisingly, my father's death hit me harder. As a mother's boy, I expected the opposite but sometimes we don't know ourselves that well.

A weird choice? Absolutely. After I saw my mother for the last time, I visited a dear friend in Hamburg, his kids were carrying around small speakers from McDonalds with this song on. Listening to it reminds me of these few months where old, scarred wounds were opened and I just felt raw. Observing my kid playing with his kid gave me a lot of hope and the necessary strength to deal with whatever was thrown my way.

Shortly after that, the economy tanked. I was in New York a few times during Lehman's bankruptcy, saw people leaving offices with boxes and plants in their hand, felt the despair in the air. And while everybody was frozen in fear, I started to feel hope. Sure, the Obama election helped. But, it was more of a personal feeling. Hope that out of the bad will come something really good. Something amazing. Something new. I don't really know yet what it will be but I'm confident about the future. Sure, 2009 will be a tough year but it's our job to seize opportunities: Opportunities to become closer with our family and friends. Opportunities to be helpful and add value to people's lives. Opportunity to make this world a better place. As Obama said: "This is the time." 2009 is here. Let's make it count.

A few more tidbits:

- Best movie I saw this year: Slumdog Millionaire
- Best performance: Richard Jenkins in The Visitor. Such a subtle performance, showing how one single person can change one's destiny. The last scene when contemplates about what could have been and takes it from there to make it his own is just brilliant.
- Biggest physical achievement: Dropping my waistline from 34 to 31
- Biggest personal achievement: Staying sane
- Best concert: The Police at the Hollywood Bowl. They finally delivered what they promised when they reunited.
- Best meal: Birthday surprise at Sona.
- Best purchase: A puzzle book that kept Astrid entertained for hours while traveling the world with her.
- Best book: Lush Life
- Best TV moment: 8pm PT, November 4th. Enough said.

Time to take in the last few moments of 2008. And create new memories.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why I love to travel

It gives me perspective. About the events shaping our lives. About the things that seem so important at home and ridiculous a thousand miles away. When I travel, I step away from myself and take a fresh look around. It's good for your mind; it opens you up to new experiences. The goal is to keep that openness around as long as you can. Even after 10 hours in the office and 2 hours on the freeway.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My favorite Christmas moments

- When I was around 6 years old, I was asking Santa Claus to bring me a train set. When we unwrapped our presents, I realized that there was no big package for me and there would be no train set. It took all my strength not show my disappointment or even start crying. My father asked me if I could get him a bottle of wine. While walking to the kitchen, I heard the faint sound of a train zipping around in circles. Yup, my father had fooled me. I can still smell and feel the heat of the train and how much fun I had with it.

- Going to midnight mass in the snow (happened just a few times) and walking through the quiet and empty city at 1 am.

- Going to the library and leasing the biggest books they had (War and Peace, Ulysses) and actually reading them.

- Extension of a Christmas holiday due to an ice storm. We couldn't go outside for days, there were inches of ice and people were breaking bones left and right.

- Stollen!

- Hearing my father's bad imitation of a Santa Claus voice, asking my mother: "How did the kids behave this year?" And, even as a teenager, awaiting the answer with anxiety.

- Reading Herman Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game' at the age of 12, not understanding everything but comprehending I read something really amazing.

- Wir warten auf's Christkind (We're waiting for Santa Claus), a TV show that ran around 3pm on Christmas Eve, especially designed for kids impatience awaiting the presents. (In Germany gifts are opened on Christmas Eve.)

- The lights.

- The worst Christmas record ever: Slow, boring and so perfect for Christmas Eve.

These are just some memories that I came up with while waiting for my wife and kid to come home. Just to create more memories. I hope yours will be very positive this year. We all deserve it.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

That's how it's done

It's sad to post a last farewell to laid-off employees as something positive one day before Christmas. But I wanted to share this because Charlie Rose, classy as always, shows everybody how to treat departing employees with respect and dignity. Every manager should learn from him.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Movie Opening

I saw this movie by myself at a midnight screening in a small place in Hamburg. It was one of those little theaters on the Reeperbahn (Red Light District) at a time when you could still smoke and drink in certain establishments in Hamburg. It's a rather annoying place to watch a movie, people come and go, talk and make stupid remarks and the smoke is just everywhere. But once I saw this opening, I was hooked and watched the rest of the movie without even knowing where I was.

What's your favorite movie opening? Here are a few choices

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dramatic changes

We tend to believe that changes happen slowly: growing up, mature, aging. Slow and steady seems to be the typical pattern but real-life events tend to challenge our assumption. Early this year, we didn't know that Wall Street would never be the same, that a young challenger would win the US presidency in a landslide and that we're moving again into a polarized world with the East battling the West.

Reminds me of West-German politicians sincerely communicating the durability of the German Wall for the next 1,000 years, just to see it fall a few days later. Reality is, we have problems understanding change. The complexity involved in major changes is too much for our human brain to grasp and understand. We hear many people say that things will never be the same after the failure of Lehman. Do we really mean it or do we just say it because it seems so complex and so hard to understand that we proclaim these changes without understanding them?

When the credit crunch was at its height, consumers heard about the problem but continued with their buying behavior because they didn't understand the implications. Once Paulson and the Bush administration played the dramatic fear card, everything came to a halt. Go to a mall now and you'll be often by yourself. It might not be a rational response to the crisis but who said human beings were rational?

Friday, December 12, 2008

This year's viral campaign?

Nice idea by Disney: Create a video, let people customize it and let it spread by offering embedding in your site or blog. Since one of my client's (Fleming's Steakhouse) new restaurant just opened in downtown LA, I thought they deserve their own video.

Monday, December 8, 2008

When life is slowing down

Thanksgiving I burnt myself: When I took the turkey out of the stove, the aluminum pan folded under the weight of the turkey and the juices splattered all over me. My left knee and foot and, more importantly, my right foot were burnt. The right foot was badly burnt, so bad that 11 days later I'm still limping and the pain is always present. I can't stand for a long time, need my right foot elevated or at least level all day. These minor inconveniences change your life: Suddenly a 5 mile run is an unattainable goal. Getting up in the morning takes 10 minutes more because of the impending pain, you stay longer in the bed, frightfully expecting the pain when you start moving. Little things like walking to coffee shop or entering a mall become major adventures. Everything just becomes a little bit harder, a little bit more arduous.

And, then you slow down. And you make choices: Do I really need to stop at the grocery store? Do I need the second coffee from Starbucks? Do I really need to run to this meeting or can I skip it? And, suddenly, you start to focus better. You take the time to read a book. You watch that movie you always wanted to see. You lay in bed just thinking. 

It's basically the body taking control of your existence. Just like when you have a cold or any injuries: the body has needs and it will take whatever it needs to ensure healing. Makes you think about the body-mind connection and how we are normally controlled by the mind. Just in emergency situations do we allow the body to take charge. 

Ironically, it's good for your mind as well. Too often do we forget to be grateful for what we have. To be able to run 5 miles, to be able to walk around without effort and enjoy the surroundings, to be able to wake up in the morning and jump right into to life - that's an incredible gift. I guess living through these experiences gets us ready for old age: Life will still be grand but things take a bit more time and effort. 

I can't wait. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cheech and Chong Stock Indicator

Minyanville just published a fascinating piece, explaining that the popularity of Cheech and Chong is inversely correlated to the movement of the United States stock market. Or as Minyanville says 'the more popular Cheech & Chong are, the less popular stocks are.'

Cheech and Chong Reunion Tour tickets went on sale 8/8/2008 and the resurgence in pot humor has been devastating for stocks: Down by 37%.

The article closes: "After a mind-numbing move of that magnitude, I would love to say that the Cheech & Chong indicator is finally forecasting a bottom for stocks. But no. These guys keep adding dates! They've got a concert film in the works. Creeping Jesus, they were actually roasted on television last Sunday night by Martha Stewart and Wilmer Valderrama! Where will it end?

With concert dates scheduled through at least February 2009, the Cheech & Chong Stock Market Indicator is telling us the end of this bear market is at least several months away."

So, please: put the bong away, throw away the joint and tear up your Reunion tickets. It's time to get serious and stop the bleeding on Wall and Main Street. Think about it: When Tommy Chong was in prison, the Dow Jones was around 10,000. How would you and your 401k like that right now? We should start an immediate investigation how those two stoners are rigging the markets. Treason charges should be looked into. Enough is enough.