Tag Archives: France

The Economic Consequences of the Peace

armisticeAfter the Armistice of November 11th, 1918, terminating the World War I in the west front, John Maynard Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference as a delegate of the British Treasury. It was at that time that he wrote the book “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” (released at the end of 1919) (1).

I read the book back in 2012, and hadn’t yet written a thorough review of it in the blog despite of being reminded of it every year on Armistice Day, a memory day observed in France. In the book, Keynes explained how the disaster in the making was about to be produced; due to lack of communication between representatives from USA, UK, France and Italy, the electoral interests of British representatives and the intention from Clemenceau of taking as much as possible from Germany.

“Moved by insane delusion and reckless self-regard, the German people overturned the foundations on which we all lived and built. But the spokesmen of the French and British peoples have run the risk of completing the ruin, which Germany began, by a Peace which, if it is carried into effect, must impair yet further, when it might have restored, the delicate, complicated organization, already shaken and broken by war, through which alone the European peoples can employ themselves and live.”

economicconsequencesKeynes advocated for softer terms to be imposed on Germany, not only out of justice for its future generations but out of pragmatical economic estimates that he discusses in detail in the book.

“My purpose in this book is to show that the Carthaginian Peace is not practically right or possible. Although the school of thought from which it springs is aware of the economic factor, it overlooks, nevertheless, the deeper economic tendencies which are to govern the future. The clock cannot be set back”

He criticized that from the very beginning, as laid out in the Fourteen Points outlined in a speech by Woodrow Wilson earlier in 1918, the spirit of the conference was not the appropriate one,

“The thoughts which I have expressed in the second chapter were not present to the mind of Paris. The future life of Europe was not their concern; its means of livelihood was not their anxiety. Their preoccupations, good and bad alike, related to frontiers and nationalities, to the balance of power, to imperial aggrandizements, to the future enfeeblement of a strong and dangerous enemy, to revenge, and to the shifting by the victors of their unbearable financial burdens on to the shoulders of the defeated.”

At that time there wasn’t the amount of available open data on economic figures, output, trade, etc., that we enjoy today. This did not deter Keynes in making the estimates himself of the economic provisions that a sound peace treaty should include in his point of view.

The German economic system as it existed before the war depended on three main factors:

  1. Overseas commerce as represented by her mercantile marine, her colonies, her foreign investments, her exports, and the overseas connections of her merchants;
  2. The exploitation of her coal and iron and the industries built upon them;
  3. Her transport and tariff system.

Of these the first, while not the least important, was certainly the most vulnerable. The Treaty aims at the systematic destruction of all three, but principally of the first two”

Under the provisions of the treaty Germany was demanded a yearly contribution to the Allies of 40,000,000 tons of coal. Keynes argued to what extent this, together with other provisions, put Germany in a dire state.

  • Pre war maximum output had been reached in 1913, with 191,500,000 tons of coal. Out of which 19,000,000 tons were consumed in the mines and 33,500,000 tons were exported,
  • This left 139,000,000 for domestic (pre war) consumption.
  • The nominally German output was diminished due to loss of territory (Alsace-Lorraine, Saar Basin, Upper Silesia), which meant a reduction of up to 60,800,000 tons out of 1913 figures… thus, a maximum theoretical output of ~130,000,000 tons.
  • Keynes argued that the destruction of the war, the reduction in working hours (from 8.5h to 7h) and loss of efficiency (due to operators lost in the war, those with deteriorated health, etc.) could account for a loss 30% of output… thus, a maximum theoretical output limited to ~100,000,000 tons.

Requiring Germany to contribute 40,000,000 tons would leave it with only 60,000,000 tons for domestic use, which even when allowing for the loss of territory, meant that its economic future was being jeopardized.

Every million tons she is forced to export must be at the expense of closing down an industry.

But it is evident that Germany cannot and will not furnish the Allies with a contribution of 40,000,000 tons annually. Those Allied Ministers, who have told their peoples that she can, have certainly deceived them for the sake of allaying for the moment the misgivings of the European peoples as to the path along which they are being led.”

A similar criticism is made of the chapter of the treaty that covers the “Reparation“, that is the compensation for the destruction of the war and loss of civilian lives.

“compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air.”

Keynes argued that the claims from the different Allies were much too high. He, again, came up with his own estimates, which he later validated with French output statistics of the time and suggested an early settlement, without entering in the painful exercise of calculating every minor detail.

Belgian claims against Germany such as I have seen, amounting to a sum in excess of the total estimated pre-war wealth of the whole country, are simply irresponsible.” […]

“While the French claims are immensely greater, here too there has been excessive exaggeration, as responsible French statisticians have themselves pointed out. Not above 10 per cent of the area of France was effectively occupied by the enemy, and not above 4 per cent lay within the area of substantial devastation. Of the sixty French towns having a population exceeding 35,000, only two were destroyed—Reims (115,178) and St. Quentin (55,571); three others were occupied—Lille, Roubaix, and Douai—and suffered from loot of machinery and other property, but were not substantially injured otherwise.” […]

“…it will be difficult to establish a bill exceeding $2,500,000,000 for physical and material damage in the occupied and devastated areas of Northern France. I am confirmed in this estimate by the opinion of M. René Pupin, the author of the most comprehensive and scientific estimate of the pre-war wealth of France, which I did not come across until after my own figure had been arrived at. […] but to be on the safe side, we will, somewhat arbitrarily, make an addition to the French claim of $1,500,000,000 on all heads, bringing it to $4,000,000,000 in all.

In this speech the French Minister of Finance estimated the total French claims for damage to property (presumably inclusive of losses at sea, etc., but apart from pensions and allowances) at $26,800,000,000 (134 milliard francs), or more than six times my estimate.” […]

(estimate for all countries) “I believe that it would have been a wise and just act to have asked the German Government at the Peace Negotiations to agree to a sum of $10,000,000,000 in final settlement, without further examination of particulars. This would have provided an immediate and certain solution, and would have required from Germany a sum which, if she were granted certain indulgences, it might not have proved entirely impossible for her to pay.”

A similar discussion is presented in relation to the Pensions and Allowances to be added to the Reparation chapter.

Keynes then turned to the ability of Germany to pay,

[…] “I reach, therefore, the final conclusion that, including all methods of payment—immediately transferable wealth, ceded property, and an annual tribute—$10,000,000,000 is a safe maximum figure of Germany’s capacity to pay. In all the actual circumstances, I do not believe that she can pay as much. Let those who consider this a very low figure, bear in mind the following remarkable comparison. The wealth of France in 1871 was estimated at a little less than half that of Germany in 1913. Apart from changes in the value of money, an indemnity from Germany of $2,500,000,000 would, therefore, be about comparable to the sum paid by France in 1871; and as the real burden of an indemnity increases more than in proportion to its amount, the payment of $10,000,000,000 by Germany would have far severer consequences than the $1,000,000,000 paid by France in 1871.”

A capacity of $40,000,000,000 or even of $25,000,000,000 is, therefore, not within the limits of reasonable possibility. It is for those who believe that Germany can make an annual payment amounting to hundreds of millions sterling to say in what specific commodities they intend this payment to be made and in what markets the goods are to be sold. Until they proceed to some degree of detail, and are able to produce some tangible argument in favor of their conclusions, they do not deserve to be believed.”

“… if the Allies were to “nurse” the trade and industry of Germany for a period of five or ten years, supplying her with large loans, and with ample shipping, food, and raw materials during that period, building up markets for her, and deliberately applying all their resources and goodwill to making her the greatest industrial nation in Europe, if not in the world, a substantially larger sum could probably be extracted thereafter; for Germany is capable of very great productivity.” […]

“It is true that in 1870 no man could have predicted Germany’s capacity in 1910. […] The fact that we have no adequate knowledge of Germany’s capacity to pay over a long period of years is no justification (as I have heard some people claim that, it is) for the statement that she can pay $50,000,000,000.”

The future in his view was then going to be bleak:

The Treaty includes no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe,—nothing to make the defeated Central Empires into good neighbors, nothing to stabilize the new States of Europe,” […]

An enormous part of German industry will, therefore, be condemned inevitably to destruction. The need of importing foodstuffs will increase considerably at the same time that the possibility of satisfying this demand is as greatly diminished. In a very short time, therefore, Germany will not be in a position to give bread and work to her numerous millions of inhabitants, who are prevented from earning their livelihood by navigation and trade”

In the last chapter, he offered some alternative measures, which were clearly not taken in 1919 but which may have influenced the Marshall Plan after the World War II.

“I do not intend to enter here into details, or to attempt a revision of the Treaty clause by clause. I limit myself to three great changes which are necessary for the economic life of Europe, relating to Reparation, to Coal and Iron, and to Tariffs.

Reparation.—[…] I suggest, […], the following settlement:—

(1) The amount of the payment to be made by Germany in respect of Reparation and the costs of the Armies of Occupation might be fixed at $10,000,000,000.

(2) The surrender of merchant ships and submarine cables under the Treaty, of war material under the Armistice, of State property in ceded territory, of claims against such territory in respect of public debt, and of Germany’s claims against her former Allies, should be reckoned as worth the lump sum of $2,500,000,000, […].

(3) The balance of $7,500,000,000 should not carry interest pending its repayment, and should be paid by Germany in thirty annual instalments of $250,000,000, beginning in 1923.

Coal and Iron.—(1) The Allies’ options on coal under Annex V. should be abandoned, but Germany’s obligation to make good France’s loss of coal through the destruction of her mines should remain.

Tariffs.—A Free Trade Union should be established under the auspices of the League of Nations of countries undertaking to impose no protectionist tariffs whatever against the produce of other members of the Union, Germany, Poland, the new States which formerly composed the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires, […] The adherence of other States would be voluntary from the outset. But it is to be hoped that the United Kingdom, at any rate, would become an original member.”

I strongly recommend the book. It not only gives an insight into the Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles, and how not to end a war, but it also gives a fabulous opportunity to read a very rich and readable book from John Maynard Keynes, a figure of which importance cannot be overstated.

(1) You may find it here at the Guttenberg Project.

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Forecasting France Euro 2016

I have a work colleague who not only is a tremendous negotiator and aircraft seller but also has a great sense of humor and manages in his free time late in the night to set up a contest for office staff to try to guess winners, matches’ scores, top scorers, etc., of major international soccer competitions. The France Euro 2016 which starts this afternoon could not be missed. Nacho managed to set up the contest in time.

In this post I am going to explain how I went about forecasting the results of the UEFA Euro 2016.

“when in doubt, build a model”, Nate Silver.

The readers of this blog may already know how much I do like to build models to produce forecasts, guesstimates, etc. In relation to forecasting this UEFA Euro 2016 there is some background that has shaped my mind in relation to the subject in the recent years, let me give you some hints:

Having shared this background, you may understand that I tried to remove all the beauty of guessing and my football knowledge out of the forecasting process (1).

I rather made use of:

  • ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI) ranking, introduced by the economist Nate Silver. I used its offensive and defensive scores plus weight for each of the scores based on a tip indicating that in competitive matches the defensive factor tends to be slightly more important (see “A Guide to ESPN’s SPI rankings”) (2).
  • The frequency of different scores in the group phases of the Euro 2012 and the World Cup 2010, the in the round of 16, quarter finals and semi-finals.


  • A few simple rules about how to allocate results given the difference between SPI ratings of the two nations playing each match. (3)
  • The total number of goals during group phases the latest Euro and World Cup. In order to cross check that the total numbers of goals that my forecast yielded was in check with previous competitions.

It may sound very complex. It is not. It requires a bit of reading (which most of it I did years ago), retrieving the latest ratings, giving it a bit of thought to set up the model and then, not even looking at the names of the teams, you go about allocating the scores based on raw figures. Let’s see how my forecast fares this time! (4)

Porra Euro 2016

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” (5), the Little Prince.

(1) In fact I have not watched a single national team football match from any country since the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

(2) See here the blog post I published yesterday in which I made a more thorough review of the ESPN SPI index.

(3) I set up rules like “if the difference of the combination of indices of the two nations is below this threshold, I take it as a draw, if it is between x and y as victory by 1 goal, if higher…”, etc.

(4) This way of forecasting allowed me to finish 4th out of 47 in 2010, 15th out of 87 in 2014. As it removes biases it allows to be better than the average, though it prevents you of guessing outliers, gut feelings, etc.

(5)”Adults love figures”.

Note: In the blog post from yesterday I mentioned that the latest complete ranking from the ESPN SPI index that I could retrieve dated from October 2015. That is the one I have used, therefore, Germany results as winner. Of the latest ranking, covering the Top 25 nations, only 13 countries of the 24 competing at the Euro 2016 are included. I could have set up an hybrid ranking taking the latest rankings and ratings for the top 13 from June and using the October figures for the lower 11 teams. I decided to go on with a single set of data. If I had done so, the maing changes would have come from the semifinals onwards. France would have appeared as winner instead of Germany. We’ll see if that was a good decision.

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Montech water slope (Pente d’eau) at Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi (1) connects the Mediterranean sea with the Atlantic Ocean. It was built at the end of the XVII century under the supervision of Pierre-Paul Riquet. At the time it was one of the most remarkable civil engineering works and that has deserved its recognition as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along the canal there are plenty of beautiful spots and some oddities. Some weeks ago, we visited one of the latter ones: the Pente d’eau of Montech, that is, a water slope. What is a water slope?

When two water streams at different heights need to be connected we are used to see water locks (think of the Panama Canal, or Suez). In the Canal du Midi there are dozens of locks (65 to be precise). However, engineers in the 1970s employed a time-saving different approach. Instead of having the boats go through 5 such locks at Montech they constructed in parallel a water slope, thus saving 45 minutes in the route.

Canal du Midi to the right, water slope to the left.

Canal du Midi to the right, water slope to the left.

See below the panel with the explanation of the concept at Montech:

Explanation of the water slope (in French).

Explanation of the water slope (in French).

See here the explanation given by the Wikipedia.

See below a couple of pictures showing the diesel locomotives and the canal.

See here a good scheme to ease the visualization of the concept prepared by the L’Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport (LACLES, see here their blog post with the complete explanation).

Water slope scheme (prepared by L'Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport)

Water slope scheme (prepared by L’Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport)

Unfortunately, the water slope is not working nowadays. Nevertheless it’s worth a visit to the place, to get a glimpse of such an engineering feat.

(1) To be precise the Canal du Midi (originally named “Canal royal en Languedoc”) connects the Mediterranean sea with the river Garonne in Toulouse. From there, another canal, the “Canal Latéral de la Garonne” makes the connection to the Garonne itself at Bordeaux, where it is navigable down to the Atlantic Ocean. The combination of both canals is called “Canal des Deux Mers“.


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Cauterets (skiing)

Since the birth of Andrea, there are some activities which are more difficult to undertake and plan, skiing being one of them. The last time we went skiing was in 2013.

The girls went this weekend to The Netherlands, so I took the opportunity to go skiing with the staff council skiing club. All my colleagues in the end dropped, so I would be going alone (meaning no known people among the half-loaded bus that took us to the resort).

The destination: Cauterets “Cirque du Lys”. It is a medium small resort in the Western part of the French Pyrenees. It has about 36 kilometres spread over 20 runs: 4 green, 7 blue and red, and two black.

Cauterets plan (2014-2015).

Cauterets plan (2014-2015).

I first had to remember the basics, and re-teach myself a little bit skiing. I went all the way up of the Grand Barbat and descended by the different blues: Aconit, Gentiane, Cretes… I didn’t enjoy much this last one, being a narrow corridor from top to the bottom, however the views from it were stunning:

North East View.

North East view.

South view.

South view.

Skiing version of self.

Skiing version of self.

Once I got confident again with the skiing, I was curious on measuring the speed. For that purpose I had brought my Garmin watch. See below the track I recorded (starting from Cretes and diverting to Dryade) and the speed profile, and here the complete record.





As you can see I was not descending that fast (maximum speeds just over 37km/h), but I went improving times with each descent, so at one point I decided not to measure any more and avoid taking risks at less than a month away from our next marathon.

At the end of the day I tried out a couple of the red runs: Malh Blanc and Ancolie, and it went well. Sometimes the border between blue and red is not so clear. Nevertheless, I did not want to take any risks and preferred enjoying more fluent descents so I kept myself to the blues.

Looking forward to the next opportunity!

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Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Le Bourget)

The Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, in Le Bourget (north of Paris), is yet another great aerospace museum. It reminded me very much to the Aviodrome (The Netherlands) in the chronological point of view of the visit and the local aspect to it (1), paying special attention to French aviation pioneers, flying aces, French fighter aircraft, etc. This is possible, as the role France has played in the development of aviation is, no doubt, crucial.

You may see the distribution of the museum and its galleries in the plan below:

Plan of the museum.

Plan of the museum.

I will now list some of the things that in my opinion make this museum unique (I will leave some anecdotes or details to future blog posts), accompanied by the respective pictures.

Model of Alberto Santos Dumont's Demoiselle (1908).

Model of Alberto Santos Dumont’s Demoiselle (1908).

Alberto Santos-Dumont was a Franco-Brazilian aviation pioneer (2) who with his 14-bis, “Oiseau de proie“, on the 23rd of October 1906, in Paris, performed the first officially witnessed unaided takeoff and flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft. In the picture above you can see him aboard another of his early models, a Demoiselle from 1908.

Workshop of the brothers Voisin (L’Atelier des Freres Voisin),

Workshop of the brothers Voisin (L’Atelier des Freres Voisin).

Some of the construction pioneers at the time were the Voisin brothers. The museum has model of how an aircraft construction workshop could look like at the time, “L’Atelier des FrèresVoisin” (this reminded me of the William E. Boeing Red Barn at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, see a post about it here).


Nacelle of a dirigible  Zeppelin LZ 113.

Nacelle of a dirigible Zeppelin LZ 113.

Not everything in aviation are heavier-than-air machines, above you can see the inside of a nacelle of a Zeppelin LZ 113 used in war operations.

Old Le Bourget airport hall ("8 columns hall").

Old Le Bourget airport hall (“8 columns hall”).

Le Bourget was the first civil airport in Paris, opened in 1919. It was in Le Bourget where Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of Saint Louis in on the 27th May 1927 when he first crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The museum today occupies part of the old airport. In the picture above you may see the main hall, designed by the architect Georges Labro in a tender made in 1935 the ministry of aviation. The building was inaugurated in 1937 (this hall reminded me of Berlin Tempelhof, you may see a post I wrote about it here).

Models gallery.

Models gallery.

The museum includes an aircraft models gallery. As a collector of models, I liked to spend some time wandering through these models. It also helps to test your own capabilities as a spotter without having to walk or wait a lot.

Inside a C-47 Skytrain Dakota

Inside a C-47 Skytrain Dakota.

In this museum you can get on board a C-47 Skytrain (Dakota being the British designation for the airplane). I believe this was the first time I was inside a DC-3 (an aircraft of which importance to aviation cannot be overstated (3)), as if I remember well, in the Aviodrome you could get inside a DC-2 not -3.

Cut out of a Dassault Mirage F1.

Cut out of a Dassault Mirage F1.

In other museums I had seen cut outs of engines, here in Le Bourget you may see a full size cut out of a Dassault Mirage F1, a wonderful entertainment for engineers and aviation enthusiasts.

747 and Ariane 5

747 and Ariane 5.

In Le Bourget you can see replicas of the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 (4). That allows you to get a picture of both in the same frame or to get them with a Boeing 747, as pictured above.

Inside of a Boeing 747 cut out.

Inside of a Boeing 747 cut out.

The Boeing 747 is legendary aircraft in itself (5) and the chances of flying in it are decreasing by the year as more airplanes are being retired from service. In Le Bourget, you get the chance to see it really from the inside, as parts of it are really cut out so you can admire its structure, systems, etc.

Concorde: prototype 001 and series airliner.

Concorde: prototype 001 and series airliner.

Some museums around the world have the Concorde as a highlight. In some of them you may get into it. Here in Le Bourget you may get into 2, one of them being the prototype 001, where you can see some flight test installations used for different experiments made with it.

I definitely recommend to visit this museum if you happen to be in Paris. It is located at Le Bourget airport and the entrance is free of charge. A ticket to get into some of the aircraft (747, Concorde, C-47) is sold for 8 euros. I would suggest to take no less than 4 hours to visit the museum.

(1) In the Aviodrome the local focus is put into the figure of Anthony Fokker.

(2) See in this post a review of French aviation pioneers.

(3) See more of the DC-3 in this post that a wrote as a tribute to Douglas Aircraft Company.

(4) So far, I had only seen a replica of the Ariane 5 at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, see here a post I wrote about it.

(5) See here a book review I wrote about “747” by Joe Sutter, the programme chief engineer.


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Chaudes-Aigues and Trail des Capucins

Some weeks ago Luca and I spent a weekend in the Central Massif in France, a plateau the size of Castile and Leon, with an average height of around 600m.

On Friday we went to Chaudes-Aigues where we wanted to spend the saturday in a spa. The village, in the region of Auvergne, has less than 1,000 inhabitants, a couple of hotels and restaurants and its famous for its hot springs. With over 30 different springs starting from 45ºC to 82ºC, the latter is supposed to be one of the hottest ones in Europe (if not the hottest as proudly announced in the signpost close to it).


Luca by the 82ºC hot spring in Chaudes-Aigues (arguably the hottest in Europe… the spring as well).

Another curious thing of Chaudes-Aigues is a network of hot water going through private houses built back in the year 1,332, which is still working today though only in those original houses.

On Sunday morning, we woke quite early to cover the distance to Nasbinals, another little commune in the region of Aubrac where I wanted to run a ~18km trail.

Start line of the trail.

Start line of the trail.

I started the trail in the back of the pack so I took the first kilometres without stress trying to run with the crowd and only overtaking other runners where possible and moderately easy. In that way I could enjoy at some points the views offered by the circuit of the trail, which at points was through closed forests but at some others was through open countryside.

Fields of Aubrac.

Fields of Aubrac.

I was running with the water bag and carried some vanilla-flavoured energetic gels, so I did not have any problems with supplies, I didn’t need to use those provided by the organization. One good point of the trail is that the route was very well marked, however, the measuring of the distance wasn’t. The trail was supposed to be 18 kilometres long, and when my GPS-watch indicated 17.75km I saw a signpost saying “Arrivée 2 km”. In the end I measured 19.60 km, but I guess the organization knows this, as in their own web, when showing the altitude profile, the distance they have measured is clearly over 19km.

Profile of the race “Trail des Capucins” (over 19km instead of the announced 18km).

Profile of the race “Trail des Capucins” (over 19km instead of the announced 18km).

It is not such a big issue, though you may have been managing your strength resources to have a last good kilometre and instead you find out that there are still 2 more to go! It would be as easy as to announce the trail as a 19km or 19.6km instead of 18km.

In the end it took me over 2 hours and 12 minutes, and ended the 255th out of 810 runners. A good run for a Sunday morning.

Even if not of very good quality, you can find below a short video I recorded around the 8th kilometre to give a glimpse of how these trails are:

I uploaded the video

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Trail des Citadelles: epic run in the mud

The Château de Montségur used to be a Cathar castle dating from late XII / early XIII century. For some time it was the centre of the Cathar church, though today only some ruins remain. The castle is at the top of a 1,200m-high rocky mountain, some kilometres away from the small village of Lavelanet out of which the Trail des Citadelles started.

This was my first long run and first race just 2 weeks after completing Rome marathon. I had only run 2 days between then and today, thus I took it more as a run in the nature than as a race, no stress from the departure. I even took the photo camera as I suspected I could take some nice pics.

The race consisted of 20km from Lavelanet to the castle and back, going as much as possible through the forest and as little as possible through paved roads (basically the first and last kilometres and little else). The rain of the previous days, of that precise morning and the passing of hundreds of runners left many of the paths impracticable, completely muddy and enabling the funniest situations.

Trail des Citadelles (20km) profile.

Trail des Citadelles (20km) profile.

Before having completed the 2nd kilometre my running shoes and socks were already completely soaked. Before the 3rd kilometre we had been running through some stretches in which the feet were covered up to the ankles with mud (chop, chop, splash!).

I love trails for they put you in close contact with nature, the variety of their landscapes, the absence of time pressure; even if I acknowledge that I am not particularly good with difficult descents which require some technique and equipment that I lack of.

Today I missed some mountain sticks. At the starting line I saw many people with them. I wasn’t sure if it was because they would walk instead of run. Indeed. The thing is that I would also have to walk a lot, uphill, through rocks covered with very slippery mud. Only during the race I understood why they brought them. Between the 4th and 5th kilometre we started to walk uphill more than run, and it lasted like that for almost the next 7 kilometres.

Montségur castle from afar.

Montségur castle from afar at the top of the mountain (notice the footprints in the mud). Picture taken at about km. 5

The mostly walking uphill took a full hour to cover about 5 kilometres to the bottom of the castle stairs.

Montségur castle from below.

Montségur castle from below.

Inside the castle.

Inside the castle.

The views from the castle are stunning. The picture below does not make enough justice so I took a panoramic video.

Views from the castle.

Views from the castle.

From the castle to the end of the race most of the time we would be descending. In theory, this should have made it easier. But that was only the theory. That is when the fun began (to call it that way).

The way down started with the same stairs of the castle, which we descended with much care. Then some hundreds of metres of going up and down over more or less dry surface and finally the same kind of very steep descent, sometimes along and others crossed by water flows, fully covered with slippery mud.

I lost count of how many times I slid without any control on the verge of falling down. I do keep count of the 5 times that these detours ended with me, my face, arms, whatever it was… in the mud. They were not especially painful, but left you with hands and face covered of mud, having to wash yourself in the next current of brownish water. Other times the sliding left you looking uphill to the wrong side of the race hands in the ground to prevent a full-blown fall. As I was not the only one going through this, you can get an idea of the image…

Eating at ~ km. 12.

Eating at ~ km. 12.

Around the kilometre 11-12 there was the only point of supply so I did a little stop to drink some Coke, eat some chocolate, etc.

After this stop, the mix of sliding / running continued for about another kilometre until we entered a forest of pine trees where the ground was a bit drier. There I was happy as I started running faster, less worried about falling and more focused on keeping the pace… until I bent my ankle… the same ankle I strained 3 times during winter. That one was painful. I had to stop and walk for some 2-3 minutes to recover from it.

It was then that I took the camera to film another short video as an update of the race so far at 13.4 km (in Spanish):

The making of the video, the self-deprecating humour of the situation lifted my morale. I tried the ankle, which responded positively, so I started running again.

During the last 5 kilometres, more or less flat, even if still going at times through water flows or mud, I tried to enjoy running a little. I think it was only at this point that I was overtaking others instead of being overtaken :-). I discovered then that instead of avoiding water flows and poodles, it was indeed better going through them as their bottom used to be firmer. The guys of the organization took it seriously and somehow made us literally run along the river for about 200m! That was another high moment of the trail, which I recorded here (excuse my French):

When arriving at the village, one final sprint and done. I mean, done

Finish line.

Finish line.

My performance: 2h49’16”, 201 out of 366 finishing within the time given of 3h30′ (see Garmin records).

PD: All this happened in the 20 km race; bear in mind that at the same time 2 other races were taking place one of 40 km and one of 73 km (the runners having departed at 6am to run… 9 hours? 12?). My admiration to all those heroes.


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Trailhounet (Gruissan)

Last weekend Luca and I went to Gruissan, a small village by the Mediterranean sea. I must say that in winter time it is not very lively (not by a night at least). One of the reasons for coming to Gruissan was to take part in the trail “Trailhounet” (18km), one of three races that would take during the weekend (the others covering distance of 25km and an ultra of 50km!).


Trailhounet circuit around Gruissan.

Trailhounet circuit around Gruissan.

I have often mentioned that running trails through the country side feels different from running on the asphalt of city streets. However, at some points the slopes in trails get too steep to run up, or too dangerous to go as fast as possible on the way down. This time, the circuit was covered to a great extent by small stones and rocks, this made it even more challenging and painful.

Profile of the race.

Profile of the race.

Let me share a couple of pictures from the start and the arrival:

Start line, using for the 1st time the new sweat band with the flag.

Start line, using for the 1st time the new sweat band with the flag.

Last sprint.

Last sprint.

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Skiing (Val Louron)

Before I took on skiing this year again, it had been already about 16 years without doing so! In the past weeks, Luca and I first went to Sain-Lary and then to Baqueira-Beret ski resorts. The experience was great, even if the weather was not the best.

This past weekend, we went to Val Louron with a group of co-workers. Val Louron is a small resort enclosed in the valley of the same name (which connects with Spain via Viella and where the Garonne river has its source). This time the weather was perfect, the views were impressive, the day was superb. This weekend I was reminded why I loved this sport so much years ago.

Skiing in Val Louron (France).

Skiing in Val Louron (France).

Map of Val Louron resort.


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Strategy 101 at play in EADS

EADS announced last month, on the 5th of December an overhaul of its Governance and Shareholding Structure. See the press release in which it was announced.

That press release had 7 key points. Each of them would deserve a long discussion. To be honest, I have had long discussions about some of them with colleagues.

The week after the release was made public, I had lunch with a couple of former colleagues, both former strategists and now retired. When discussing together our impressions of the changes and implications, we first talked about the share buy-back (part of the emphasis is mine):

2. Share buy-back

Subject to market conditions and to the approval of the Extraordinary General Meeting, EADS intends to implement a share buy-back program and subsequent cancellation of up to 15 percent of the outstanding EADS shares, divided into two equal and simultaneous tranches bearing the same terms and conditions:

– A first tranche of up to 7.5 percent, which shall be open to all of EADS’ shareholders, other than the parties to today’s agreement; and

– A second tranche of up to 7.5 percent, which shall be reserved exclusively for Lagardère SCA up to 5.5 percent. If the size of the tranche is higher than 5.5 percent, SOGEPA and SEPI will have the right to tender the remainder (based on their pro rata ownership of EADS shares unless they agree otherwise). In the event that SOGEPA and SEPI do not exercise their right, Lagardère SCA could take up to the full amount of the tranche. Finally, in the event that this tranche is not fully tendered by the above parties, Daimler AG will have the right to participate up to the full unused amount of the tranche.”

I have already shared on a previous post Buffett’s view about share buy-backs, thus I will not comment further about in this post.

Then, my senior colleague raised attention to another part of the release, to which I had not paid much attention the first time I read it:

“Certain specific French and German national security interests will be protected through the creation of “national defence companies” holding sensitive military assets, and including the rights of France and Germany to consent to three outside directors to the board of their respective “national defence companies”. Two of such directors of each “national defence company” shall be members of the EADS Board.”

In the release it is explained that France, Germany and Spain have agreed on a capped government shareholding and will have reciprocal pre-emption rights. The composition of the Board of Directors is changed, to 12 directors, with at least 8 independent and 4 coming from these “national defence companies” (2 from each).

Just as a remark, there is no Spanish “national defence company” holding sensitive military assets. There is not an agreement on any director coming from any such Spanish company, though some of the 8 independent ones could be Spanish.

Today two names appeared on the press:

As my former colleague said, let’s play attention to these moves, especially to the second kind of moves. We are going to at least learn a lot and even enjoy the process. Strategy 101 at play in EADS.


PD: To put the icing on the cake, let me finish the blog post as the press release is finished:


“In the context of this change of governance, and in a separate agreement with the French State, subject to the consummation of the above transactions, EADS has undertaken to consult with the French State before exercising its voting rights at the general meeting of shareholders of Dassault Aviation and has granted the French State a right of first offer / first refusal in case of the sale of all or part of its stake in Dassault Aviation.

The parties to today’s agreement are EADS, Daimler AG, DASA, Lagardère SCA, SOGEPA, Sogeade, KfW and SEPI.”

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