jeudi 28 février 2008

Leather bound lovely

My passport is feeling lonely. It hasn't been used this week, which is a rare treat.

I like my passport, and hate it when it's time for a change. At the moment I have two, which is always good for a laugh. Both have shocking photo's.

The older of the two is getting decidedly dogeared now. But she's still got another three years to go - I hope she makes it! She's currently looking lovely in a Mont Blanc calfskin cover - but underneath she's quite ropey.

My passports have been on some adventures over the years - left behind in Holland (I realised this when I found myself passportless in Switzerland, three countries later); confiscated in Jerusalem by an employer who feared I'd run off with the takings; examined to within an inch of it's life on the Chinese / Mongolian border and stolen (only to be recovered later - it was a joke, apparently) by Touareg tribesman in Timbuktu.

In their various forms they've been waved in the faces of border guards from countless countries and never questioned (apart from in Havana, where the officer went for a second and, worryingly, a third opinion).

They've seen me subjected to a rather nasty body cavity search in Haifa and been with me as I skipped across the Rafa border crossing from Gaza to Egypt (yes, the one that they recently knocked a whacking great hole through).

It's not surprising that they tend to wear out before their tenure is up.

So tomorrow, my passport is coming out again as we head together to the land of spices, temples and exotic locals.

We're heading east.

E14 to be precise, Isle of Dogs.

Big bang

My (god bless her, I'm going to say 'bewildered') mother just rang me to find out if I was OK, and to see whether I was missing any limbs. I didn't have a clue what she was on about (I rarely do, this is nothing new), so I checked out the BBC website :

"A gas explosion in the southern French city of Lyon has injured at least 17 people and there may have been fatalities, police say."

Gosh. Unfortunately, I was 'rocking out' to a bit of Dusty (In Private, just class) at the time, so I didn't feel the earth move.

No doubt this'll cause more mayhem and gridlock to add to the general hysteria of rush hour. The traffic situation here is quite delicate at the best of times, and it doesn't take much to tip it over the edge.

At least the locals will have an excuse to enjoy their favourite pastime of avoiding the busy roads by driving on the pavement.

Pedestrians beware...

mercredi 27 février 2008

Gehen sie nach links!

Well, for the first time, I've added links to the blogs that I read regularly and that keep me entertained.

Everything is there from French village life through to the daily grind in NYC; from the lowlands of the Netherlands to the open expanses of the Canadian west; and from nutritionists to political activists.

If you like variety, appreciate good writing and enjoy seeing the world from someone else's (often very unique) point of view, then you could do worse than click your way through this lot.

God bless you all. Go Hillary!


mardi 26 février 2008

Few and far between

I woke up at home this morning.

And I woke up knowing that I had a whole day at home, work to do, but at my own pace. I rolled over and slept a bit more.

I sat by the window, looked at the river and drank some coffee. I enjoyed the early morning sun on my face, and the peace and quiet.

Work came and went. Spreadsheets, forecasts, business plans. Using my brain and taking my time to do good, unhurried work, I remembered why I like my job.

I ate lunch next door at the Quai des Arts. Fish with a herby crust, bulgar wheat and aubergines. Washed down with San Pel. Simple food, but perfect.

I walked to the 'maison de la presse' and bought a copy of yesterday's Guardian.

Back at home I wrote some editorial copy for a Belgian magazine and went through my emails.

I put some music on, made dinner, and washed it down with a glass of red. I read the paper and listened to Rufus.

The end of the day saw me sitting where I started - at the window, in the fresh air looking out over the river. Glass of wine in hand, I realise that I am lucky.

These days don't happen so often - usually it's all about rushing and airports and deadlines and negotiations and conflict.

It's been such a luxury of a day. I go to bed a happy, relaxed, contented man.

lundi 25 février 2008

Stay outside

So, I forgot to go food shopping yesterday. Well, I kind of forgot, and kind of didn't want to and kind of found anything else to do.

In the UK this wouldn't be a problem. In France it's a near disaster. With all of the supermarkets closed (along with all of the other shops), and an empty fridge, I ventured out to see if I could find a corner shop that had a meal lurking within its shelves.

I found one open in the old town and I managed to find some mushrooms (that had seen better days), some onions that were about to take root, creme fraiche that was speeding past the sell by date at an alarming rate and some pasta from the 1980's. You get the picture.

Whilst paying, a guy comes in and goes straight to the head of the queue, effectively pushing in. This being France, no-one cares about this lack of politesse.

Anyway, he goes unnoticed until he starts shouting 'don't come into the shop sweetheart' and 'stay where you are, I won't be a moment'.

He's talking to a little girl (I mean little, no more than four years old) who is stood outside the shop door.

'Your daughter can come in' says the shop assistant, helpfully.

'No, no, no - she's fine outside' says the father.

'There's no need for her to wait outside'

'There is' he said 'she's holding my cigarette'

On closer inspection the little girl is indeed stood there with an inch of lit cigarette in her hand, looking at it bemusedly.

'Don't smoke it, sweetheart', said the loving father, 'remember what happened last time...'

vendredi 22 février 2008

Low country lows

Well it's been one hell of a tough week...

It wasn't enough that I have back-to-back miserable meetings with underperforming Belgians; business dinners with Dutchmen with ego's bigger than a very big house; and negotiations with Germans who seemed to have missed all of the points, not just the finer ones.

No, this wasn't enough.

Amongst all this rubbish I also had to deal with a lovely Dutch guy that I had started to quite like, and who had decided that he was going to tiptoe through my tulips in a pair of size eleven clogs.

Suffice to say that the big dutch squeeze otherwise known as DC is now well and truly off the scene, and I am well and truly back on it (so to speak).

Lord, is it always going to be this difficult? Maybe I should try the personal ads...

The view from above

I moan a lot about travelling, I know. I used to love every minute of it, really couldn't get enough. But I guess it's like anything - familiarity breeds contempt.

Recently, there seems to have been a concerted effort by the airports, airlines, governments and (to use swearing mother's words) the bloody terrapins to take all of the joy, the fun and the glamour out of the travelling experience.

Today at CDG I would quite happily have lamped the third person within 20 paces who asked to see my ticket and passport. When I asked him if he was, indeed, doing the same job as his two previous colleagues he said 'no, I am more important'. How do you argue with that?

Sometimes, however, a sight from an airplane window will remind me of the reason why I fell in love with air travel, so many years ago.

Take, for example, the view of Mont Blanc on the approach to Geneva. At sunset, on a cloudy day the mountain seems to sit on top of the clouds, everything - clouds and mountain alike - turned pink by the last rays of the day. Spectacular and moving.

How about the endless red desert as the plane crosses the Red Centre of Australia, en route for Sydney or Melbourne? The sheer scale amazes.

Or the fantastic view when coming in to London City, as the plane scrapes the rooves of the Canary Wharf towers?

Anyway, I'm throwing this open for you to tell me about your favourite views from airplane windows. I'd love to hear about the view that brought a lump to your throat, the one that says 'home', the one that makes you smile to yourself.

For me, the absolute favourite has to be the sight of my front door, clearly visible on a westerly approach to Lyon....

lundi 11 février 2008

I'm not cut out for this

You know me well enough by now.

I’m sure you can imagine that I quite easily find myself in situations that are not only beyond my control but also often beyond my comprehension.

A few years ago a friend had set me up on a blind date. Now, I’m not usually one for the blind date – there’s usually a reason they don’t want you to see them beforehand – but this was a good friend with (normally) pretty good taste.

Anyway, me and blind date met in the city centre and we got on well. We started with dinner and the evening developed - from restaurant to bar; bar to club; club to cab; cab to his place. It was going great and I was convinced that my friends had come up trumps.

The blind date was a really nice guy – great conversation, good looking, steady job – and in the cab back to his yuppie flat in Edgbaston, I was quite happily contemplating where this would all lead. Little did I know that it was all leading to a very strange place indeed.

We get back to his and he makes me coffee.

We installed ourselves on his sofa and – as you can imagine – neither of us drank any coffee.

It must have been fifteen minutes or so later when he took my hand and led me towards another room.

“There's something I want you to do” he said.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of what that 'something' might be. How wrong I was.

He took me through the door into what must have been the spare bedroom. There were other people in there. Lots of them. I was unnerved, and he dissappeared.

But no, hold on, they’re not real people… They’re cardboard cut-outs.

And it was even worse than that. The room was populated by life-size cardboard cut-outs of WWF wrestlers. Oh yes. Oh no.

I turned to blind date and he had two lycra leotards in his hand.

“I want you to wrestle me”, he said, making a growling noise as he approached me.

Had I not been so drunk I might have said no.

mercredi 6 février 2008

Geneva Airport Bingo

I've arrived early for my flight. The plan is that I sit in the fancy lounge and get some work done.

Well I'm sat in the fancy lounge and, to be honest, I'm not sure about the whole work thing...

I'm easily distracted, and as airports go, Geneva is quite fascinating - the mix of people passing through is unlike any other airport in the world. On any given day, you can see the following:

1. Russian millionaires, with wives ordered from the slutty section.
2. Tarquin and Jocasta, heading back from Val d'isere with Mummy (Daddy is already back in the city).
3. Libyan men in safari suits, waiting for the ever-delayed Air Afriqiyah flight to Tripoli.
4. French sorts looking lost, much gallic shrugging.
5. Posh British girls heading home from finishing school.
6. A Bennetton ad of UN kids on their way back to LSE.
7. An Oxfam type, usually female, usually badly dressed. Going home after speaking at the UNHCR.
8. A posse of braying bankers. All nationalities. All vile.
9. Chinese woman frantically waving her UN 'laisser passer' at immigration.
10. A scruffy 'bloke' or 'lad', always English, with his leg in plaster.

You get the picture.

Sure, it's fascinating, but I spend my whole time here hoping that the passenger next to me is not on this list....

mardi 5 février 2008

Lyon morning

Looking out of my window I can see the hill of Fourviere, with the cathedral and the TV tower crowning it. The light at this time of day is surreal, not yet daylight, promise of great things ahead in the air.

On the Quai below the window, people are heading to work. Walking, cycling, in buses and in cars. I'm not one of them. My Lyon commute is to the desk in the corner of the lounge.

The river is still dark, the days colour not yet decided. Some days it's grey and dull, others it's a range of blues, turquoise, beige. The big barges head up and down during the day, taking cement, gravel, goodness knows what to the ports of the Saone and the Rhone.

I sit on my window ledge looking down at it all and warm my hands on the coffee mug I'm holding. I like my life here. We rub along quite well together, Lyon and me.

The phone rings. It's the allotted time. The phone call is the first in a series of interviews for a job that, if I get offered it, will see me returning to the UK. Leaving Lyon behind.

I'm in two minds about answering.

lundi 4 février 2008

Moving in with the Mistress

Having arrived in London on Friday evening, and having been been whisked straight out for cocktails, it was obvious that Saturday would start with a hangover.

Luckily it also started with a few hours to myself. So, I took myself off through the foot tunnel to Greenwich. Once safely on the other side, I stood at the railings looking back at the Isle of Dogs. With a tall skinny latte in hand, I pondered on a London life.

I have had so many amazing times in London that I often wonder about living there.

But when I consider the realities of living in London - the cost of buying/renting somewhere to live, the tube in rush hour, the cost of going to the cinema, the fact that distances are measured in time not miles - I think again.

It makes me realise that being a visitor to the great city is the best way to appreciate it.

My London friends enjoy the city, embracing fully all that the capital has to offer - they eat out a lot, they go to the theatre, to the ballet, to the opera. They get tickets for the visiting exhibitions, they're in the wimbledon ticket lottery. They go to the proms (and never, ever the last night) and they have good, full, London lives. Luckily, they all earn good money to be able to do these things.

None of it makes me want to live there though. Some cities are for living - Lyon, Rotterdam, Birmingham, Berlin. You know by now that these are the cities I love. Cities that have everything you could want, everything you could need and where life isn't too much of a challenge.

Other cities - Paris, New York, Tokyo, London, Barcelona - are there to entertain us.

To make a home in any of them would be like moving in with a mistress - a good idea in theory, but as you get to know her more and more, you start to wonder why you left the wife in the first place...