Wednesday, May 31

The Kiss

Tuileries Garden
Rodin was a sensuous bastard.

The Kiss portrays Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Divine Comedy: slain by Francesca’s husband who surprised them as they exchanged their first kiss, the two lovers are condemned to wander eternally through Hell. Now I make a joke about what's in store for Madeleine's suiters. Ar AR.

I return from a routine visit to Paris following a Bank Holiday Monday that correspondes nicely with Memorial Day Weekend. Paris is a jewel this time of year - there is no place I would rather be in the springtime or early summer.

Sunday, May 28


Sacred land
From Mount Scopus I look into Jordan - in the distance is the Dead Sea.

I go for a jog along the path which circles Jerusalem on the eastern border and passes the Arab quarter, which is dense and built into the mountainside. A gold balled minaret, maybe 15 stories high, is in the middle; a loud speaker drones of the injustices of the Jews which echo from the walls of the deserted concrete-block streets (the wailing begins at 6AM until Midnight).

The thing is, the Arabs are invited to live and work in Jerusalem; the Israeli Arabs make a large portion of the city and vote in the national elections. The Palestinians, by contrast, want the Jews out of Jerusalem and are not willing to share it. Therein lies the conflict.

I drive through the West Bank (the highway bifurcates the region) which is walled and prevents the flow of people.

Jerusalem maybe the size of the Bay Area yet looms large in our imagination if not our life.


Old Jerusalem
Despite the day's temperatures, the medina is cool.  The shopkeepers open by 10AM and I negotiate a few items to bring home.  There is Arab coffee, bread and fresh bagel stalls and fruit drinks or lemonade. All negotiated for a price, of course. 

My driver scores me a ticket to the Israel Premier League football championships between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Be'er Sheva. The dude knows the owner.  Though I am not vested in either team, it is world class football and fun to take in the good vibes. 

Prayer For The Living

God talks
The Wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple (517 BCE to 70 BC) by Herod the Great as the encasement of the steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. The temple hosts the Dome of Rock and is one of the most important religious sites in the world - it has been venerated as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity and Islam (during my visit the Temple is accessible only to Muslims for prayer, the entrance-way guarded by Israeli soldiers).

The Wall is open to all those who wish access, though the sexes are split to separate areas. Inside the tunnels of the ancient city are libraries of scripture where one can study the ancient prophecies; sermons in Hebrew attract the faithful, outside of the baking sun.

Wailing Wall

In Jerusalem I visit the Wailing Wall, part of the larger Western Wall in the ancient city, where I record the sounds of the Jewish scholars chanting in prayer. I am reminded all over again of the weirdness of life.

God is a serious business.

Last time I was here was 1984.

Tel Aviv

I arrive in Tel Aviv and am hit by the temperature: maybe 90 degrees.  It is a vibrant place, a mix of California, Western Europe and the third world. Dirty yet modern skyscrapers distributed across the skyline. I am in a grubby neighbourhood with the yuf about a kilometre from the beach, which beats the Four Seasons. Perfect to experience the action and people-watch, which is a mixture of everything, but mostly young. The blood of the world.

For an instant I am wistful for my 20s. I promise Madeleine to bring her here.

People live in Tel Aviv (population 4m) to make money, of course (unlike Jerusalem) but also to have fun. It is not a place to relax (I am told) and to "live and experience life."

I go for a run along the Mediterranean and pass this unusual couple, pictured. They are by themselves; it begs a story.

Ásgeir Trausti

Koko's club
We see Ageir in Cambden at the invitation of Stephane and Caroline, who are from Paris and relocated to London about 18 months ago. They are chic.

I give Stephane shit for being French, well, because he is French and deserves it, but Stephane is not a Frenchie-French. He is French-international. Big difference. Clever bastards.

Ageir, for his part, is a singer-songwriter from Iceland which is an unusual start. His music is haunting, even while the words unrecognisable to me. He seems surprised to be on stage before a sold out audience of fans who know the words to his songs.

The Manchester bombing kills 22, targeting young people at a concert. It is the new normal.

Tuesday, May 23

A Dog's Life

Sometimes I think the dog has one over on us.

I make a two hour hike of Richmond Park weighted down with my 65 liter back-pack loaded with tin cans to simulate the gear for the JMT.  I've sorted the kit but the food drops still have me worried. Two months to get myself sorted (as these Brits would say).

Madeleine and I go to the movies - totally irregular for a Monday school night but homework be damned, it's Alien Covenant. We settle in for a couple hours of alien gore. Not nearly so good as the first Alien, Ridley Scott's master work (watched at the Grand Oak theatre with my mom in 1979 btw), but still fun. Madeleine is Big into film and photography, with her photos taped on her bedroom wall.

The reason I love my blog is the randomness: for instance, I would have never recalled that Madeleine wanted to name her turtle 'Alonzo Smith' before choosing Eric and Nelson.

Sunday, May 21

Sonnet Tedx

Birthday Gal

Sonnet's birthday is celebrated by her with an early morning run around Richmond Park with her girlfriends (she does it every Sunday anyway). We go to a matinee in Barnes with Madeleine - how decadent on a sunny afternoon - and tonight we will have an early family dinner at the local gastro pub (Madeleine begs for sushi but me: No way).

Observing Madeleine, who is so cool and up for anything, who will make some guy a great companion, I appreciate how lucky I am to have shared the Adventure with Sonnet. Like mother, like daughter.

Madeleine texts me: "I am rediscovering old bands" and rattles off a bunch of groups from two years ago.


It's a queen size bed
Back in London I am reminded that we own a couple of teenagers.

Of course the weather grey and wet upon arrival home following a week in the mid 80s. But, after so many years, I appreciate Britain's temperate climate.

I recall a dude I worked with at Botts & Co., Michael, who, flying into Heathrow together, clucked his tongue and said "Good old Angleterre." (Michael also reminds me of an advertisement for a Jaguar sports car whose slogan read: "Turn mister average into mister universe". Shortly after Michael drove in with a Jaguar)

I crash early after the long flight and Sonnet retrieves Madeleine from Will's at a negotiated 10:15pm pick-up.  She reports that Will is playing guitar and the crew is singing.

Office Lady

The Japanese are famously polite. I am greeted by a row of similarly styled Japanese women (called "Office Ladies" or OLs); one (always standing) bows and takes my details. I am then greeted on the floor by another woman (bowing) who shows me to a conference room.  Afterwards, the same front desk women (all standing) bow and wish me on my way.

Meetings in Tokyo go well; for a few it is 50-50 whether I am understood. When the English dubious, my counter-party stairs furiously at the presentation and scribbles hard notes in Japanese. I know that if I crack a smile they will too. Or if I laugh for no reason they will join with equal enthusiasm.

Kallan informs that ex-pats get "the fever" when it comes to Asian and Japanese women.


A master
I love Tokyo. For a city so big - 26m people - it is clean and orderly, not a gum on the sidewalk nor a wrapper in the street.

And super modern - the high rise towers are destroyed and rebuilt every 30 years to remain earthquake compliant. I stay in the Roppongi district famous (I am told) for the affluent Roppongi Hill development and the popular night club scene. Of course sushi too.

We visit a restaurant where I have perhaps the best sushi of my life. The sushi chef slices raw fish with a longsword of valyrian steel so sharp it would cut through human bone and sinew in a whisper, separating a Lannister's head from his body in an instant. 

Some of the sushis are still living. There is a sea urchan of beautiful white and purple trim that arches upwards looking for air and perhaps some way out. The Japanese businessman contemplates it for a brief moment then down the hatch, followed by sake. Mine are a bit more tame but equally beautiful. 

Self Portrait XXXXXII

Early morning flight from Seoul to Tokyo; airport lounge
During my trip I am accompanied by Park Hill, our placement agent, who we have worked with on funds V and VI.

So (one might ask) what does one do on these road shows besides catch planes and eat Asian food? For starters, I am visiting fund investors who have supported Astorg in past funds (Asian limited partners account for 10% of Astorg VI). I am also setting up the base for the next fundraising, which will take place in 2019 (likely).

In London, Eitan works his way through the GCSE exams. The kid (Sonnet reports) is No Drama. Eitan now about half-way through the exam schedule with the worst part is over : It is no longer the unknown. Or, as I compare, a marathon not a marathon after the first step of the race.

Day 4 : Seoul

Fired up and ready to kick some ass
From HK I am in Seoul to speak at the Alternatives Summit Korea Global Private Equity & Debt conference (My subject is "Co-investment" which is increasingly demanded by limited partners as there are no fees on co-invest deals unlike on the fund).

The guys, pictured, represent over USD 1T of investment.

I am not quite prepared for the conference size - comfortably over 500 Asian delegates staring at me blankly - yet it goes swimmingly well. My words simultaneously translated to Asian languages and sent to ear pieces provided to the attendees.

Afterwards there is a formal dinner and we are treated to a Korean soprano who belts out: "I did it my way" (I did-a it my-ya wuay). With the right people next to me I would have busted a gut.

Day 3 - Hong Kong

High rising
Hong Kong is impressive. The first impression, on the drive to the island from Chek Lap Kok airport, is the density. Then the height. Racks of 40 story condominium towers fight for air space and not only that : arriving at night, they are all lit from inside. 100 pc occupancy which is so very different from, say, Toronto or, now Central London, where the real estate is a financial investment (and the emptiness a worry and a blight).

7 million people on 5 square acres.

The thing of it is - Hong Kong works. The city is amazingly efficient: Roads wind and weave about, connecting office towers to hotels to walkways and on ramps and residential towers. One pays for it though. Rent on a four bedroom family condo easily goes for USD 30,000 a month. A salaried man might live his life in 200 square-feet for 3k.

I meet the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. They are making investments of up to 500m a pop.


Joe and I reunited
From Taipei to Hong Kong.

I connect with Joe, who I worked with at First Boston. Joe has been at the clipper for 32 years which has to be a record for investment banking. He now heads m&a Asia and has lived in HK since 1993 - the first tour as a single dude living an expat lifestyle (I visited him in '94) and now as a married dude with three kids in their teens.

Joe and I have some good laughs which I can only share with a handful of people from those early years of banking - the urgency of the dealmaking and the stakes that seemed so high (I was informed, "This is not casual sex!" on some project by one particular jerk, which still gets mirth today).  It was exhausting and miserable and now, in the rearview mirror, an adventure. I hesitate to say 'fun' but it was .. something. And now a joy to re-examine it with those who lived it with me.


Night Market
I begin a week of Astorg meetings in Asia, starting with Taipei, Taiwan. 

Taipei is typical as far as Asian cities go: modern western buildings of impressive steel and glass design surrounded by sprawl and lush green ridgeways that make it feel .. unfamiliar.

In the urban jungle people are crammed together forcing a pace of lifestyle that rivals Hong Kong and New York, though the scale smaller in Taipei at c.3m population.

I visit the Night Food Market which is a jammed one mile row of cheap shops selling faux Nikes and food stalls making bubbling fried food: chopped octopus, fried crabs and shrimps, Chinese vegetables, chicken hinges and other unrecognised edible parts. I am told to try the 'Stinky Toffy' - it does stink and I don't try it.

Taiwan has one of the world's remarkable museums - The National Museum - about an hour's drive from Taipei - with 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. I have been but not this time.

Friday, May 12


After two and a half years we have white teeth.


Swanage Camp

Emanuel School backdrop
Lest we forget Madeleine during the GCSEs, our gal away to .. Swanage for a school field trip to explore nature (the name 'Swanage' gets an eye-roll. Sounds like "sewage" which is apt). She goes against her will, of course, and must suffer two nights in the cold and damp then up pre-dawn to watch the tides come in. How we suffer.

She is happy when we pick her up. Sushi.

Me: "Say something for the blog."
Eitan: "Um .. "
Me: "What peps you up?"
Eitan: "Looking forward to football camp this summer. Celebrating after GCSEs. Occasionally looking forward to getting some studying done."
Me: "That it?"
Eitan: "Yeah."
Eitan: "Food."

Saturday, May 6


The General Certificate of Secondary Education, or " GCSEs," are upon us. 21 standarised exams covering 10 subjects administered over a five week period.

The GCSEs, along with A levels at the conclusion of secondary school, determine where - and if - a student goes to university. In the UK, Admissions see the results and a one-page personal statement. That's it (For US colleges, a GPA is extrapolated from the GCSE). To suggest there is pressure is an understatement.

Sonnet and I aware of the GCSEs since, well, Eitan's birth. It has always been a curious and distant event, over the horizon and safely in the future. No more.

Eitan has done his preparation - perhaps not like the girls who grind out the hours - but he is organised and committed. Eitan projects no fear though we know the he is anxious.

And so they begin with a Bang - History, English and Drama yesterday

Monday, May 1

Eitan 24 Hours

Eitan wraps up the football season as Captain for the Sheen Lions, followed by a BBQ and send-off for the manager Jon, with the Lions for five years, who is relocating to Tampa Bay, Florida, in September.  Eitan gives a lovely speech. Shortly before, Eitan is selected "Player's player" by his team mates.

Today, the boy races the 800 in Tooting Bec and blasts a PB of 2:06.

All this between his GCSE studies.

Sonnet and I could not be more proud of him.

Marbred Moment

Nothing like a bummed cigarette
Eric is is emerging from his concussed haze, suffered from a traumatic bike accident six weeks ago, to resume work on his computer software project to carry the day for the common core states standards in mathematics initially backed by Bill Gates. He prepares to write a calculus and differential equations final for the Harvard Extension School on his triumphant return to Boston.

Abney Cemetary

We do what we love to do, which is walk. On Saturday we exit Waterloo Station and walk to Seven Sisters, crossing Holborn, The City, Shoreditch, Tower Hamlets, Dalston and through ethnic neighbourhoods which change every five or six blocks.

Abney Park cemetery in Stoke Newington (borough of Hackney), in the middle of all the concrete, is one of London's Magnificent Seven cemeteries, a historic parkland originally laid out in the early 18th century by Lady Mary Abney and Dr Isaac Wattas. (Nb. The "Magnificent Seven" is an informal term applied to seven large private cemetries in London that were established in the 19th century to alleviate overcrowding in existing parish burial grounds).


Pre concert
Eric arrives in time for Bob Dylan, who we see on Friday night.

Bob arrives on stage at precisely 8PM, plays two hours, takes a bow, and is gone without uttering a word to the audience. Unusually he sits at the piano instead of his normal blues guitar. He plays Blow'n In The Wind and Tangled Up In Blues from his youth, while the remainder is from his recent arsenal.

Dylan's voice is no longer the twangy voice we recognise from the 60s or 70s yet it is impossible not to juxtapose those times on the man now.

Me: "Are you going to work on the backyard like I asked?"
Madeleine: "No."
Me: "I will pay you."
Madeleine: "I'm not going to."
Me to Eric: "This is what happens when a kid is bloated with money. There is no incentive to work."
Eric, Madeleine:
Me: "How much money do you have in your account ? Couple hundred?"
Madeleine: "Yeah, so?"
Me: "When you're flush, you don't work."
Madeleine: "Whatever."