Spirit of Innovation: The 2014 COMET Awards

By: Scott St. John

It's three o'clock on a breezy summer afternoon. It's Monday in Nice, France which played host to the 2014 COMET Innovation Awards.  The air is filled with the light mixture of lavender and sea air while the radiant azure-blue sky provides ample warming beams of sunshine to combat the pockets of cool air and shade.  The streets are full of people walking the Promenade des Anglais with some unspoken and seemingly common destination in mind.  The shuffle of bustling foot traffic accompanies a cacophony of traffic sounds which reach a crescendo when an ambulance speeds past trumpeting the distinctive tones known only to those who live or have ventured here to taste the city's unique and rich culture.

Soon the world's leading technical innovators will gather at Le Negresco, the 100-year-old palatial hotel that has been the sanctuary to European royalty, world leaders, musicians, movie stars, authors, artists and countless other luminaries.  This landmark hotel sits proudly perched on a picturesque bay of the Mediterranean Sea in the heart of the French Riviera. The halls and walls of Le Negresco are adorned with over 6,000 artistic masterpieces and furnishing that defy any corporeal comprehension or worldly value. Le Negresco's bellmen stand at attention just outside the entrance clad in their traditional red and blue uniforms, guarding and serving as a reminder of the country's glorious past. Inside, a small army of black-coat butlers, wait staff, bartenders, hostesses, and management scurry about the hotel with key members of Pipeline's team are ensuring every final detail is in place for the 2014 COMET Innovation Awards.

By five o'clock, a line has formed outside of the Versailles Room which lets out to the terrace that rests just above the pedestrians that walk just below. At a quarter past, the doors open and the sea air and sheer white curtains rush out into the lobby to meet the guests as they enter the room which is only illuminated by scant sunlight from the terrace and century-old candelabras that stand as a testament to innovation; having once been converted to electricity so long ago that perhaps only the hotel's lovely but elderly owner may, in a moment of clarity, remember. Madame Jeanne Augier, the hotel's owner and self-appointed curator of the ghosts and memories that still are very much alive inside this institution, is featured in several paintings throughout the hotel and can still be seen from time-to-time as she is assisted to her private elevator where she ascends to her apartment which is the 6th Floor.

As guests flow inside the room, they are transported to a bygone era of regality as they are greeted by a larger than life original portrait of King Louis XIV that looms on the wall opposite the entrance above the intricate, hand-laid marble floor.  A masonry floor-to-ceiling fireplace creates an intimate seating area to one side and rows of champagne are poised on the other. Guests make their way outside to the terrace where they join the company of their peers and a humbling thought enters my mind as I realize that those who are now causally sipping their drinks and engaged in polite conversation are also the ones who are transforming an industry and touching the lives of virtually everyone on the planet. I'm brought back for an instant to a childhood memory of looking at the stars with my first telescope and realizing that we are just one grain of sand in a universe of stars that make up something much bigger and more powerful.


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