Buffett in Paris--again!

This weekend I hopped on the train to Paris to meet Mom for her birthday. The very first time I took the TGV from Lausanne to Paris it was to be with Katie before the MBAT and now, the last time I took it (for a while, at least) was to be with Mom for her birthday. That train has done a good job of transporting me to be with the women I love. The 4-hour trip is quite scenic but I'm usually so excited about my destination that I can't focus on the French countryside outside my window.

Mom was there with a tour group from TCU, her undergraduate alma mater. Most of them were Texans and every one of them welcomed me to join them with open arms. Although there are many things I will miss about Lausanne, I will be quite pleased to return to Texas hospitality. After lunch on Friday at Le Petit Sommelier, Mom and I walked around Paris and went into the Rodin sculpture garden. Very impressive stuff, but I still prefer the Italian Renaissance sculpture of a few weeks ago.

Friday evening we dined at Aux Charpentiers, which remains the best value restaurant I have ever found in Paris, if not all of France. Fresh, delicious cuisine, a gracious staff, AND a special birthday cake prepared just for Mom--what a wonderful evening!

Saturday morning we joined the tour group at Musee d'Orsay. We had three art historian guides--two locals and one professor from TCU. This made for a very informative tour of a museum replete with stunning impressionist works. It struck me that art is like wine: the more you know about it, the more you appreciate it. Multiple times we spent 5+ minutes on an individual painting that I might have otherwise given just a glance. Learning about what made that painting so distinctive (sometimes the painting technique, sometimes the subject matter, sometimes the sociopolitical context, sometimes all of the above!) made it much more interesting.

After a morning full of Monet, Manet, Courbet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, we decided that we were kind of saturated. So we skipped the afternoon tour of the Louvre and spent the afternoon wandering around Ile de la Cite, including Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. I had never even heard of Sainte-Chapelle before but it was magnificent! Floor-to-ceiling stained glass made for a very luminescent experience and it housed 32 relics of the passion of Christ, including his crown of thorns, the spear that pierced him on the cross, and a piece of the cross itself. Wow!

Saturday evening Mom and I were in for a cultural experience of a different variety: a Jimmy Buffett concert! When we lived in Alabama we used to listen to Jimmy Buffett when we would head down to the Gulf beaches; he was part of the lifestyle there. Mom took me to my first Buffett concert at Auburn University when I was 8 and I've been to many since then. Therefore it seemed appropriate that I take her to her birthday Buffett concert in Paris!

It was a great show, as always--basically one big sing-along with the crowd. This year's venue, La Cigale, was significantly larger than last year's but there were still easily fewer than 1,000 people there. I ran into another Rice alum there (whom I had bumped into at last year's show as well), which was fun. Great show, great night, great birthday weekend.

Now Mom is cruising along the Seine and visiting important impressionist sites with the TCU group. I'm back in Lausanne for just three more days before I'm gone for good. The weather is beautiful and I already miss this place. However, I am so, so, so excited for this next chapter!


Family Time

The weekend was a lot of fun. Nick came into town on Friday so he, Katie, Cox, and I went to dinner at Indika for excellent Indian food. I accompanied mine with a Madras Mojito, featuring chili powder on the rim--awesome!

Saturday we took Nick's son, Aidon, to the zoo, which was a blast. I haven't been to the Houston Zoo since 1998 and I was happy to see that it's still a great place. We made our own Indian food for dinner and all crashed pretty early. Sunday Nick and Aidon returned to Florida pretty early so Katie and I spent the day just enjoying being at the house--something we'll do much more of in the near future!

Sunday night I took the red-eye to London and spent Monday in Oxford meeting with enistic's sister company. That night we celebrated our recent steps forward with dinner at Jamie's Italian. The food was all good but the CLEAR highlight was my main course: three orders of chips (fries): garlic and parsley, parmiggiano and truffle, and polenta chips with rosemary. I'm a fan!

Now I'm back in Lausanne and beginning to prep my apartment for the trans-Atlantic move!

Pics are in my facebook album.


An Early Win

As many of you know by now, I have stepped full time into founding a US-based green technology company, enistic. US businesses spend over $9b each year on energy for office equipment--$1b of which is for equipment that isn't even in use. enistic reduces office equipment energy consumption 20+% with wirelessly monitored power strips that you control over the Web, and that affect not just the equipment itself, but also human behavior.

I am extremely excited about this venture for several reasons. First, it is exactly what I have been looking for: a company that marries economic value with green value. The better we do, the better it is for our shareholders and the environment! I can't think of a better incentive to succeed. Second, the product already exists. It was invented in the UK and clients such as IBM are already experiencing energy savings of up to 27%. This is not a speculative technology development venture; it is a venture to commercialize an existing, excellent product in a new market. Third, this is a perfect fit for my background. My greatest successes have been in starting and leading US-based, information-driven technology companies that provide products and services to businesses--a profile that enistic, inc fits perfectly!

This week I have, for the first time, focused on enistic. I secured and moved into office space downtown. In the heart of the Theater District, my new office window looks out onto the Wortham Center, Jones Hall, the Alley Theater, and Bayou Place--the site of Katie's and my first date! It feels great to work in an area I love so much!

There wasn't any time to get settled, though, as Thursday was the Rice Alliance Energy & Clean Technology Forum. enistic was chosen to be one of 50 companies presenting its 90-second elevator pitch to judges comprising VCs, angels, and prominent executives. I really wanted to nail the enistic pitch because it would be our public debut. We're raising $1m to fund electrical certification in the US and a pilot rollout in Houston, one of our largest markets, so the pitch could provide some good exposure for us to potential investors.

Antmachine, the first startup I worked with, was one of the first companies ever to present at a Rice Alliance event back in 2000. Back then the organization was just getting started. Thursday morning, when I arrived at registration, I was impressed by how far the Rice Alliance has come! There were 650 paying attendees, 50 company presentations from all over North America, and great keynote speakers--the President of Shell Wind and Vinod Khosla.

The elevator pitch competition was great. The business ideas were as varied as the day is long and they were generally very well delivered. At the end of the event, awards were handed out and I was elated when enistic's name was called for the top honor of "Most Promising Company of 2009!" What an honor among such distinguished company! It has attracted some attention too as we have been contacted already by several investors.

Katie and I celebrated with some wine in the Village--what a great feeling! We can't stop here, though, we need to capitalize on this momentum and keep rolling. Still, I will take a break this weekend, as my brother and nephew will be in town and the weather is looking fine!


Victory Lap

What a truly wonderful week it has been! Katie and I arrived in Florence early Monday morning, just in time to catch the sunrise over the Arno. We found our hotel, which turned out to be a medieval tower in the center of the city, close to the Duomo--awesome! We dropped off our bags, got some breakfast, and then climbed to the top of the Duomo for spectacular views of the city. Wow, did I miss living there--it really is beautiful.

After spending the whole morning just walking around, we rested our legs at an outdoor cafe, where we had excellent fresh pasta and two Tuscan specialties: ribollita and fava beans. A full day of walking around after a not-so-restful night train with not-so-comfortable sleeping quarters meant that an afternoon nap was in order too!

Recharged, we struck out for the evening. First things first, we stopped by Art Bar for caprioska alla fragola (strawberry). We were informed, however, that peaches were in season, so we ordered caprioska alla pesca instead. Then we were informed that it was happy hour and drinks were half price--so we ordered the caprioska alla fragola as well! After all that fresh fruit, it was natural for us to want more so we headed to Salamanca for sangria and tapas. We then called it a night after a long, wonderful day in bella firenze.

Tuesday morning began with a visit to the Accademia to pay our respects to David. We then trekked up to Villa La Pietra, where I lived nine (Yikes!) years ago. The villa grounds were largely unchanged (as they had been for six or seven centuries!) and brought back a flood of memories. The villas from the 1500s, where I ate, slept, and took classes . . . the fig trees, olive groves, and vineyards, where I took long walks and contemplated what I wanted to do with my life . . . the rolling hills where I ran incline sprint workouts . . . :-) What a sublime place to spend several months of my life!

Tuesday afternoon we rented a car and drove to San Gimignano, which was as charming as I remember. We arrived there late enough that most of the bussed-in tourists were gone so we just walked around the entire town, analyzing menus to see what spoke to us. We finally settled on a little cafe in the square of the duomo, where we enjoyed some great pasta dishes and lots of Baroque violin from a street musician.

We then moved to a wine bar near our hotel. I remember San Gimignano's local wine, Vernaccia, as a simple, crisp, delightful white wine and, yes, it still is. However, at the wine bar we tasted several oak-aged riservas which were downright stupendous! Kudos to the local vintners for experimenting with some modern vinification techniques; these riservas could go toe-to-toe with some of California's best chardonnays--and for a fraction of the cost.

A description of our evening would be incomplete without mentioning the amazing gelato at Gelateria della Piazza. During our stay of less than 24 hours we visited the place thrice (It was maybe 20 meters from our hotel.) and savored its award-winning awesomeness. I wish I could remember all of the flavors we tried but here are a few: Vernaccia, violet, lavender, saffron, black cherry, raspberry & rosemary. So good!

Wednesday morning we beat the crowds to climb the Torre Grossa and take in the breathtaking views of Tuscan countryside. It was at this location that, nine years prior--almost to the day, I first looked out over Tuscany. I had seen pictures and paintings before but nothing could ever do justice to the beautiful patchwork tapestry of rolling green hills. There must be one hundred different shades of green in any given Tuscan landscape, each more beautiful than the next. I love Paris in the springtime but oh how I love Tuscany in September!

Wednesday afternoon we spent in Siena, walking around and sampling the local cuisine. The highlight was definitely the risotto at lunch. It was prepared tableside inside a huge wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The heat from the rice melts the inner layer of cheese as it's being mixed up and creates flavorful, gooey goodness.

For the next two days we resided at Villa Casabianca, another great find by Katie. In the middle of the Tuscan countryside, this complex of villas and suites was peaceful, serene, and absolutely beautiful. We were shown to our suite, "Suite della Musica," where sparkling white wine awaited us. We sipped it while strolling the grounds and listening to Mozart's Requiem in D. Dinner followed and we were very, very happy campers.

Thursday was dedicated to tasting Brunello di Montalcino. We began at Livio Sassetti's Pertimali estate. Livio's son showed us around the vineyards, explained their winemaking philosophy, and then showed us how they carried it out in their viticulture and vinification. Generations of passion for great wine came through in his explanations--and in the tasting that followed! This family loves its wine and I strongly recommend it.

We then visited Valdicava and dined at Boccondivino, both of which I covered in my post about my June visit. As in June we visited Castello Banfi, but this time Katie and I toured the winemaking operations. Banfi was the first winery in the world to be certified "green," which is a pretty cool distinction. They also use funky oak/steel hybrid fermenters, which I don't really get. However, there's no arguing with the end result; they make a damn fine Brunello.

After days and days of rich restaurant food, we stopped by a supermarket and assembled a picnic dinner of cheese, bread, and grilled vegetables. Of course we supplemented it with Castello Banfi 1998 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio al'Oro Riserva, which was gorgeous: rich and complex with undulating layers of taste and texture. First you were hit by the black cherry then along came the vanilla. After that the tannins were very smooth and the finish lasted forever. I like!

Friday we departed the villa after a lazy morning and wound our way through Chianti. We stopped for lunch at Castello di Brolio, where Barone Ricasoli "invented" Chianti centuries ago. We walked around the castle grounds and then stopped at the cantina for lunch.

Although our flight back to Switzerland was later that night, we managed to squeeze in some additional Chianti time. First we stopped by Greve in Chianti, where the annual Chianti Harvest Festival was just beginning. Scores of vintners were present in booths waiting to show you their wines and olive oils. The cost of admission bought you a Chianti glass, which you could then use to walk around the booths and taste. The glass came with a convenient necklace attached to it so that you wouldn't break it when you were too bombed to hold it any longer.

A short drive from the town center was the winery estate of my former professor, Count Niccolo Capponi. He is a descendant of the Florentine Capponi family and a fine historian. His brother runs the wine operations at Conti Capponi but Niccolo was able to sneak us down into the cellar for some barrel tasting. We caught up, reminisced about the Fall of 2000, and drank good wine--what a pleasant evening!

Finally Katie and I turned in the rental and hopped our flight to Geneva. Tomorrow we fly to Houston so that I can begin work on my new startup. Our grand Tuscan adventure is over, but oh what a week it was!

Pics are available in my facebook album.


The Next Chapter Begins--Sort Of

This week was really amazing. It began with my last day at Poken on Monday. After working all day to ensure that every last bit of my responsibility had been successfully transferred, we all went out for a drink (well, several). The team bought me a fondue set with which to remember Switzerland, which was really thoughtful. I was kind of hoping for a Patek Philippe, but this will do! :-)

Tuesday through Friday I spent catching up on administrative details related to my impending move and taking the the first steps down the green career path. This included participation in the GoBeyond Innaugural Cleantech Forum in Geneva and many, many Skype calls with potential investors, partners, and clients in the US. Due to the time difference, most of these calls happen late at night, which is unfortunate. I usually finish the calls very wound up and excited about the future, which makes it difficult to sleep. I think it's a very, very good sign, though, that this is the right move: the more I work on this, the MORE energy I have, not less. Bring it on!

Katie arrived early Saturday morning and we spent the day lazing around Lausanne. The weather was gorgeous so we packed a picnic and set up at a park overlooking the lake. The bottle of champagne lasted us most of the afternoon and we really, really savored the beauty of this wonderful country.

Today we took a trip to Gruyeres with my coworker, Bogdan, and his girlfriend. The quaint medieval castle town was absolutely charming and I will post pics soon. Naturally we tarried for fondue in the town square--anything less would have been inappropriate.

It was a great Swiss weekend but tonight Katie and I take the night train to my favorite September location: Tuscany! We'll spend the week touring about and enjoying the local wine festivals--la dolce vita!