Aug 29, 2007

Cherche bouée de sauvetage...

The recently returned access to our showers has done wonders to improve my mood, as you would imagine. Settling in is still proving a bit more difficult that I would have hoped, though.

So, quick update on the most recent goings-on at Planet Fonty (I actually need to glance back at my schedule print-out to even remember what I've been doing over the past few days).

1) Registration: an overly complicated procedure which involved paying lots of money to lots of people (yes, that's right, more money...). I am now signed up for the gym (the eternal optimist), paid up to be painfully tested on my third language skills (more on that later), and the proud owner of both a Bain corkscrew and a McKinsey lounge-tunes CD (who was it that said life here was surreal?)

2) After about two days fully employed filling out forms and finding Indian IT specialists to help you configure your laptop, it was finally time for the "Opening Ceremony", a rather understated affair in which we all got to assess our classmates' fashion sense. Before they ran out of champagne. How do you run out of champagne at a business school? In any event, by this stage the more networking-minded of our class had met about half the students (sorry, "participants"). The rest of us had met whoever we'd staggered into at Sunday's first Montmelian chateau party.

3) Ah, now we get to today, the most glorious of Orientation Week days, the day when yours truly finally realized she was in Way Over Her Head (yes, I am a girl, despite what some of you presumed...) First off, the aforementioned third language exam, allegedly designed to test our "basic" skills in the language of our choice. Right. The only basic skills of mine being tested were my random-guessing-I-think-there-should-be-more-Bs skills, not to mention my uncanny knack at constructing a 200-word essay using only 12 different words, at least 4 of which were French.

4) Thus feeling suitably inadequate, and cheered only by the quality of the cafeteria food, I moved on to the "INSEAD club" fair. INSEAD clubs (of which there are surprisingly few) are divided into two distinct categories. There are those for normal people, centered around sports, eating, drinking, and mild networking activities. And then there are those for the select few, or as the elusive, secret-handshake-and-royal-title-only Renaissance Club puts it, the "right kind of people." Even the normal clubs involve an application form and an interview. Welcome to biz school.

5) Finally, after an enjoyable intro presentation by Dean Fattas (and an undeniably more frightening presentation by our student government representatives), it was time to start the homework for our first introductory module tomorrow. As a result, I've found myself spending the last hour reading up on the Swedish textile industry in the 1960s. As I said, very much In Over My Head.

Will someone please remind me why I left my cushy job, and even cushier year-long sabbatical, for the epic-scale mother of all deep ends?!

That being said, there are up-sides to all this. For example, I get to leave you now to make my way downstairs for our first house dinner, where Indian, Italian, Lebanese, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Peruvian, German and English food will be frantically prepared and enjoyed over numerous glasses of wine. Well, hopefully no English food, actually...

Aug 27, 2007


I finally moved to Fontainebleau yesterday, and our brand new, renovated-to-the-highest-standards house is already literally falling apart at the seams. None of us can shower without turning the hallway into Bangladesh during the monsoon season, and the glass partition in the shower just shattered into a million pieces, all but lacerating one of our housemates. And that's on top of the construction grime that is still covering every possible surface, the broken oven and a million other "details" that are still at the "almost sorted" stage.

Then there's school. 400 eager, smiley faces with 400 names attached to them. I'm already struggling to remember the names of my housemates. I think from now on I'm just going to call everyone Bob. If classmates wasn't overload enough, there's also endless forms to fill out, dozens of identical-looking halls to navigate in order to find lockers, the cafe, the amphis, the library, and whatever "booth" the IT-tech guys, social security salesmen and geeky blue badge providers are holed up in. The small suitcase-size pack of "reading materials" is a health and safety hazard in itself, and clearly the direct cause of native forest depletion.

So to all this I say "non." No, I will not go to another party to bond with people I'm clearly supposed to recognise but don't. No, I will not study for my third language test. No, I will not start reading through the material so I can be "on top of things" when classes start. No, I will not google search the members of my study group to see which one I can copy the financial accounting notes from.

Instead, I will do the unthinkable at INSEAD. I'm going to bed. Before 2 a.m. So sue me.

Aug 25, 2007

Organ donor wanted

I never thought I'd say this but, there are too many parties in Fontainebleau. Lacking the swimming pools, Indonesian beaches, and cutting edge bar scene of Singapore, our campus makes up for it by having house parties; there are a lot of houses, ergo a lot of parties. One on Thursday, I skipped Friday's, a Paris outing tonight and yet another house party on Sunday. As a consequence, I am severely sleep deprived and on the brink of liver failure. Somehow my body doesn't seem to be recovering like it used to when I was 18 (back in the stone age, as some would say). I cannot fathom how people expect us to actually go to class on top of it all.

In other news, I've now met 5 of my housemates. That's less than a third of the total expected number, but so far so good. No raving psychopaths or heavy metal fans as far as I can tell, so we should get along. Which is a relief as we're all living in rather cramped quarters with annoyingly thin walls.

Now please excuse me while I lapse into coma.

Aug 22, 2007

Cold Feet

Something strange is happening. First day of school is four days away now; I should be all tingly with anticipation, counting down the hours with glee while I happily over-pack. Instead, I find myself cowering under the blankets in dread. This makes no sense. I have waited months for this day, and gotten in debt up to my eyeballs for the privilege of attending "The Business School for the World", so there is no reason why I should need to be dragged kicking and screaming to orientation. And yet. This must be what the first day of kindergarten felt like. I want my mommy. And a Rainbow Brite lunchbox.

Big break-through today, though. I think I finally figured out the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement. Yes, yes, I know, you're wondering how the heck I got into this school without knowing that, but give me a break, I'm a lawyer, we're idiots. (If you want I can tell you the difference between rights in rem and rights in personam, or between the lex fori and the lex loci delicti, but you'd be bored and I'd have to charge you for the privilege.) Break-through aside, that Finance book hasn't gotten any more interesting. I'm starting to regret not having done the Business Foundations course, maybe this stuff is more exciting in class (plus I feel like I've gotten excluded from the cool kids club before school has even started. Next thing you know I'll be getting picked last in gym.)

That's enough random rambling out of me for the day, must be getting back to staring blankly at some balance sheets. Before I do, though, we have a new tidbit for our regular "couldn't have happened anywhere else but Australia" segment. Woman killed by pet camel, because said camel had a bit of a crush on her. You can't make this stuff up.

Aug 17, 2007

This is your brain on... Finance

I am twelve pages into my "Finance for Executives" book and my brain is already, well... fried. Granted, I am not helped by the fact that I know absolutely nothing about finance or its snazzy lingo, but come on: there's got to be an easier way to explain this stuff. It really seems to me that so far, all I'm getting out of it is learning an incredibly convoluted, barely English way to describe concepts that are just common sense.

Like this, for example: "A business proposal... will create value only if the present value of the future stream of net cash benefits the proposal is expected to generate exceeds the initial cash outlay required to carry out the proposal."

Say it with me, folks... groan.....

I am acutely aware of the irony inherent in a lawyer complaining about unnecessarily long and complex definitions designed to ensure that knowledge and power (and money) remain in the hands of the select few, trust me. That, of course, is not going to keep me from complaining.

All of this bodes well for the start of classes, which is in a little over a week. I must admit, there's a little (rather annoying) voice inside my head wondering if I've made some kind of horrible mistake. It's a good thing all of my classmates seem like nice people, and quite fond of raucous social gatherings. I think we're going to need those...

Aug 14, 2007

Stepping Back from the Fringe

The final reviews of the season...
Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath: As far as depressing theatre goes, this was pretty up there. A one-woman play, it tells the story of Esther (self-proclaimed housewife and poet) in the last moments before her death (having stuck her head in the over). The "effects" (a talking oven, and Esther's hallucinations and memories portrayed on screen with her doing all the voice-overs) alternated between clever and slightly annoying. All in all, though, a remarkable performance and a moving story. Someone hand me the kleenex, please.

Owen Powell: Show number 2 of the Sunday was Powell's 1hr exposition on "the two closest Starbucks in Britain." Using powerpoint slides, pie charts, video footage and barrista testimony, this quirky and rather endearing comedian took us along for an entertaining ride in his quest to find same-brand coffee shops spaced less than a hundred steps apart. And find them he did; now what does that say about our society? Some interesting potential MBA case-study there, I think.

Sting for Nolte: Last few hours in Edinburgh, last show, and last-minute contender for the hotly disputed Res Ipsa award. This play is about a young philosophy professor who loses his fiancee (and his mind) when he ditches serious research in favour of a futile attempt to convince Sting to remake all of Nick Nolte's films. Sounds weird, I know, but somehow it works. An acting tour de force and wonderfully quirky, although I wouldn't recommend it to Sting...

So there it is, fifteen shows in total (out of more than 2000...) and almost all of them wonderfully entertaining. And of course, all set in the fabulous city that is Edinburgh. Now if you're only interested in seeing the city itself (and you should if you haven't already), then August is probably the worst time to go, as you'll be battling with throngs of not-always-sober theatre-goers and hounded by desperate performers pushing their flyers onto the unsuspecting passerby. But if you enjoy theatre, music, comedy, and people doing strange things in the name of art, then this is a must-see event.

Now I realize that these past few posts have probably held little interest for any of my readers that are not already at the Fringe or planning to go over the next couple weeks, but hey, it's my blog and I do what I want. In any event, my INSEAD-minded friends need not worry, I'll be back to blog about statistics and fancy-dress parties soon enough. Before I do, though, I would like to leave you with a picture of a large upside-down purple cow, because who doesn't want to see that?!

And, at DTLF's request, a snapshot of my fellow buskers from Grassmarket on Friday night, as we happily massacred Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue":

And now, here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for, the 2007 Res Ipsa's Favourite Fringe Show award. I must have changed my mind about this a dozen times, but in the end, the award goes to... "Failed States" (with honourable mention to "State of Matter", "Out of the Blue" and "Sting for Nolte").

Aug 12, 2007

The Fringe of Reason

Lots more shows for me to review here, so let's "get stuck in", as the Fringe motto goes...

Breaker Morant: BM is a play about the court martial of an Australian soldier in South Africa during the Boer War, a sort of "A Few Good Men" for the Commonwealth. The acting was superb and the lawyer in me always enjoys a good courtroom drama, but I couldn't help feeling rather bored. Perhaps it's because I've seen so many original, quirky performances here that a traditional play just didn't seem quite right.

Failed States: With only 10 minutes rest between shows, I worried I might not be able to properly enjoy Failed States. I needn't have. A Kafka-inspired socio-political musical satire set at the time of the July 7th London bombings, this was an incredible performance. The lead (a Tom Hanks look-a-like) was amazing, the singing worthy of Broadway, and the story poignantly relevant. The overall effect was like getting slapped in the face and realizing it was just what you needed.

Stuart Goldsmith & Jimmy McGhie: On a whim, after a great catch-up dinner with a university friend, I decided to end the evening with this double-act stand-up comedy. Held in a room considerably hotter than the Nevada desert at high noon, the comedians more than made up for the discomfort by being very funny. The first was perhaps a bit funnier than the second, but that may be simply because his jokes seemed to be aimed directly at the specific market of people born precisely the same year as me. Good stuff.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped off for a quick drink at the pub, decided to stay to listen to the live music (there is live music everywhere during the festival), and ended up busking (badly) with a Scottish and an Irish guy. But that, as they say, is a story for another day...

Out of the Blue: Wow. This show, by Oxford University's male a cappella group, managed to put me in a good mood despite the torrential rain that beat down on Edinburgh on Saturday. It really put the whole American Idol thing in perspective; here are the guys with real talent. The performance (covering pop-rock history from the Rolling Stones to Green Day, from Michael Jackson to Green Day) was flawless and funny. Their rendition of "Mustang Sally", with audience participation, was a big crowd-pleaser, and the "Fat Bottomed Girls" finale absolute genius. I am seriously considering getting these guys to come perform at a future INSEAD party.

Game?: Blatantly copying from Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", this is definitely the most experimental piece of theatre I've seen here, or anywhere, really. Decidedly odd, and not a little bit disturbing, I can see why it has gotten some good reviews. But frankly, I just don't think I "got" it. One thing I can say for sure, is that that I'll never be able to eat a marshmallow ever again.

Aeneas Faversham Returns: Needing some light humour to get me over "Game?", I popped in to see AFR, which was not so much a play as a collection of sketches. Sort of like Monty Python's Flying Circus, but set in Victorian England. While the quality was a tad uneven, a few of the sketches were dead funny and did the trick, hopefully dispelling any lingering marshmallow nightmares.

Eurobeat: After an interesting chat with my new hostel dorm-mate (who's writing a book about his adventures hitchhiking through Britain), I set of for the much-hyped Eurobeat, a spoof of the infamous Eurovision song contest. Relative to other Fringe shows, this was a Hollywood big-budget production, with hundreds of people in the audience, a real set and snazzy costumes. Everybody really got into the spirit of things, cheering their allotted country (I was Iceland), waving flags, agitating plastic clappers and voting by text for their favourite songs. It truly was just like the Eurovision, with one notable distinction: these people could actually sing.

On my last day now, and frankly I'm a bit "showed out". The sun is shining on Edinburgh today, so it's a perfect opportunity to stroll through the cobbled streets and soak up the atmosphere... and catch a couple more shows, of course.

Aug 10, 2007

Living on the Fringe

Desperate for a culture binge before I drown in balance sheets and the intricacies of corporate ethics, here I am at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, living it up... at least until my loan officer has me arrested. And you privileged few will have the benefit of reading my daily reviews of all the shows I see. Let's get started...

Shakespeare for Breakfast: First up, Shakespeare for Breakfast, complete with free coffee and completely inedible croissant. A quirky comedy involving a selection of Shakespeare characters lost in the woods on their way to a movie premiere, it was a little like the Bard on magic mushrooms, with a liberal sprinkling of Harry Potter and Big Brother references. While I must admit I didn't quite catch every one of the jokes (heavy Scottish brogue doesn't help), it was a very funny way to start the day. The two girls who played Juliet's Nurse and Cleopatra were particularly good.

State of Matter: This was amazing. Performed by all-male 2Faced Dance company, the show ranged from ballet to break-dancing with some seriously nifty acrobatics thrown in (accompanied by a music track as eclectic as the dance styles). Being an amateur production, there was the odd timing error, but overall this production was moving, brilliantly original and just plain cool (and the audience went crazy for it). Definitely a serious contender for the little known but highly prestigious "Res Ipsa's Favourite Show" award.

Isy Suttie: The Fringe is the world capital of stand-up comedy, so I figured it was now time to see some. Turns out I didn't choose very well, and while a few of Isy's lines were smile-worthy, most of her stand-up musical routine was rather painful. In her defense, I should mention that the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it, so maybe it's just me.

Tony! The Blair Musical: My spirits were much lifted by my next choice, one of two Blair-inspired musicals at the Fringe this year. I don't know what the other one is like, but Tony! was a blast. Performed by a group of students who couldn't possibly be old enough to actually remember anything of Blair's 1997 electoral victory, the show featured some great one-liners, impressive acting (the guy playing the PM should consider a career as a Blair impersonator), very adequate singing and some inspired appearances by Diana's ghost, George Bush, and former Tory leaders singing barbershop quartet. The Res Ipsa award might be a close call...

Chris McCausland: Although a bit worn out from my show-filled day, I joined the hostel's pub crawl, which included a stop at a free stand-up comedy show. The pub crawl was rubbish, but the show was much better that the one I'd paid for in the afternoon. Self-proclaimed "only blind comedian in Britain", Chris had me in stitches, and I don't think it was just the beers.

I'm going to try for a slightly more quiet day today (only 2 or 3 shows, I think). I've spent the morning soaking up the Fringe atmosphere on the Royal Mile, where performers promote their shows with singing, a little improv comedy, and lots of gratuitous juggling. All good fun. Now if only the sun would show...

Aug 5, 2007

Art for art's sake

The best stories always emerge from circumstances involving an incredibly stupid person, with an incredibly stupid plan, scaring the bejeezus out of lots of other stupid people. Such a happy scenario occurred this week, when an "artist" from NY (and I use that term with a pinch of irony) decided to build himself what was meant to be a replica of an American-Revolution-era submarine (actually an 8ft, egg-shaped buoy made out of moldy plywood), superbly and accurately described by the NY Times as "something out of Jules Verne by way of Huck Finn, manned by the cast members from 'Jackass'." Apparently in his underwear and, one can only imagine, quite uncomfortable, our hero proceeded to creep up to the Queen Mary 2 in New York Harbour (perhaps intending to emerge from his hideout at the last minute with glitter and a feather boa and shout "surprise!"). He and two of his "accomplices" were promptly arrested, for fear that the man and his soggy wooden egg was launching a terrorist attack on the 150,000 ton, 345-meter-long vessel.

Let's take a moment.

To help you recover from this shocking news and once more achieve inner tranquility, I leave you with this view of the Fontainebleau forest:

Aug 3, 2007

The Big Day Approaches

OK, so there's a little more enthusiasm now. Had a great dinner with about a dozen of my future classmates (including two future housemates), which was the perfect way to get back into the spirit of the thing. Like last time, this was a friendly, well-travelled and energetic bunch of people, with some distinct, strong personalities (so maybe we won't all share two-peas-in-a-Hallmark-card love, but classroom discussions should be lively and entertaining). If this group is anything to go by, next year should be a blast. (Agreed, that wasn't quite the tell-all I promised, but it's hard to uncover valuable information on a first meeting. The subject of blogging did come up, though, and I am pleased to report that the general consensus was that DTLF "writes like a girl." It's the ultimate "you throw like a girl" insult for the internet-age, apparently...)

Then today I saw my room, and my house, for the first time. While not quite "ready" for human habitation (rant, rant) it's looking pretty good and I have my own balcony, so I'm pleased. But where on earth am I going to fit all my stuff??? There's a chance I may have to scale down packing plans; either the life-size Trojan horse replica or the home cinema entertainment system complete with popcorn stand and ice-cream making machine will have to go...

Aug 1, 2007

2 Days in Paris

Saw Julie Delpy's film yesterday, about a French photographer and her New York boyfriend, and their very un-romantic stay in Paris with her family, friends, and numerous exes. While there is an attempt to make a general statement about adult relationships, this is really just another re-hash of the classic "frog-eating, free-love-indulging, once-a-week-washing Frenchie" meets "puritan, hypochondriac, fast-food-obsessed, only-English-speaking Yank" scenario. It is the French that are the most vividly and somewhat cruelly portrayed, in the form of Delpy's neo-68, left-wing artistic entourage. Theirs is not the Paris of Amelie and her garden-gnome. Their Paris is rude, dirty, often obscene, and enjoys nothing more than laughing at the Americans' expense, especially if some frightening carcass of a formerly cute animal is involved. The cliches are all there, with a couple post-9/11 nuances thrown in for good measure, but they are taken to such outrageous extremes and replicated with such evident fondness by Delpy that, instead of being insulting, the film is for the most part really funny. It is a shame, though, that films about that complex, passionate relationship between France and America must always be reduced to slap-stick comedy.

Speaking of inter-cultural mayhem, tonight I have a second opportunity to meet my future classmates. The great tell-all will be posted tomorrow.