Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Deliveries

It's supposed to be freezing cold today but no-one said anything about the hurricane force wind. The laundry room door is blasted off its hinges again. This time there's no saving it - will have to remake it over the next week.

I'm up early but Marcia is sleeping in late today - the banging shutters kept her awake while I was snoring away in my bedroom. Reheated coffee, cut a slice of the chocolate cake and relatched some of the shutters and doors so they banged less and Marcia could sleep more.

Drove over to Bordighera to share Christmas with my mother and brother, who live there while Paul teaches some students there as part of an EU funded program. Good to see them, in good health and in the warmth of a wooden cabin on a campsite there. Much better than the damp, cold, concrete apartments of recent years.

Lots of presents, of food, of drink and of talk later, headed back home in the evening to a slightly chillier Marcia, who hates it when I visit the other side of my family.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Duty

I began dishing out the presents after dinner of the 24th, as is custom in Norway. This process took long enough that it was almost midnight by the time we opened Marcia's 'present to the house', which was the most popular Nintendo Wii. Unpacked, working, superb on the new LCD TV, we played bowling, tennis, boxing, golf and surfing till past 2am. Brilliant fun start to Christmas Day!

Of course that meant I woke late - like waaaay late - in the official morning. Just in time to call my brother to say I'd be over for lunch at his and my mother's place, some 60km away. Could we all have spent Christmas in one place? No. That's a long and unhappy story.

So anyway by lunch I was with my mother and brother in their rented cabin in a campsite in Ventimiglia. The presents I had bought in Dallas and Zurich on the way over were bang on. Marcia's gift of a hairdryer also. The basket of goodies - well the liquid portion for sure, but the snacks I carried back with me at the end of the day (OK they were the type of things I munch on when entertaining, but still).

Even though I had slept nine hours and had been up but five, I still managed a short siesta there. Reckon more to do with letting myself relax after checking everyone is still OK and in one piece. Paul continues to work, Mother is hanging in there, Marcia holds the fort so I can fight another day. The project in Brasil may terminate tomorrow but I have enough to get through the year ahead. All is well today.

End of the evening and I head on back home. Cheered up Marcia, who feels down as always when I visit the others.

I've done my duty on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve and the sun shines bright through the window again. Quick check of the internet and I'm down for a coffee, fix the garden gate, move TVs and wrap presents.

My next door neighbor tells me water is leaking through one of the terraces (I know already) and gives me a bottle of home made white wine for Christmas. Marcia gets upset and goes into one of her withdrawals, which is really unfortunate. I know she manages the distance and separation very well, and looks after everything the very best she can (which is a lot given my unfailing ability to leave things an unfinished mess).

It's very hard for a lovely women of 34 to live an isolate life in an unfriendly country, with little social life and an inability to find and hold good friends. Not what either of us intended those fifteen years ago when we first met on a warm, sunny beach in Copacabana.

The sun has gone, low clouds cover the sky. The wood fire is lit, the lights glisten on the tree. A cake is in the oven, soon to be followed by a roasting duck. Italian TV is showing 'Sissi' again for the ten millionth time.

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm home

I'm home. The sunlight is coming through the small window of my bedroom, Marcia has come on up with a cup of fresh coffee and I can stretch out in my bed and look at some familiar things.

Some of the work I did on the top terrace has created some problems; so that's something to do. The garden door needs fixing too. Plus several doors are jammed thanks to the humidity and rains these last few weeks. The list grows...

First it's some last Christmas shopping, stuff for my mother and Paul, stuff for the house. Marcia's been after this for some time, as have I : an LCD TV. So finally, in the rush of promotions for a Christmas sale, I bought a 32" LG monitor. Everyone was happy - only to find the dumb thing didn't work, provoking my frustration at the product and friction with Marcia, who was determined to make it work (on the shared conviction she has the patience to get these things to wok, and I do not). In the end she gave up at my insistence the TV was defective, so I tossed it back into the box and drove back to the store. Sure enough it was defective (hah!) so I got the showroom replacement which, of course, worked first time.

Don't know why, but in these last years I anger quickly at things that don't work, packets that don't open, things that block my way and slow me down, people who don't think or do their job as I think they should. If I'm not getting old I'm sure getting crotchety.

We settled down and flipped through channels, controls, input options and everything else you do when you buy a new gadget. Bu I'm concerned I've broken the magic of the last two days, which I desperately don't want to do.

Up to my bedroom and, once my head hit the pillow, I didn't feel sleepy, so I watched a movie Marcia had downloaded - "Get Smart", another spy spoof where the guy who always screws up gets to be the hero. There' s some input by Mel Brooks, so it was humorously loopy. Good thing to go to sleep on.

Monday, December 22, 2008

From Chicago to home

Three hours late taking off, the apparent reason being the ice on various panels was delaying the unload and load of cargo, bags etc. Maybe. Like it isn't always cold up in the air and isn't snowy and icy in Zurich and Chicago during winter ..

This time I was stuck in the middle of the middle section of the seats and, naturally, the guy to my right was ugly and fat, a man who couldn't stop splaying his legs and elbows into my space. Fortunately on the other side of me was a chatty, humorous and happily non-conformist young woman. Family all over the place, conversant in at least three languages, confident enough to, in true American fashion, tell all in 15 minutes (something I'm always criticized for doing). Zany enough to laugh at my sense of the ridiculous. I enjoy traveling, notwithstanding my constant critiques of increasingly crappy service, and meeting people like this is always fun.

Like the transient sand art of Tibetan monks, part of the pleasure is in knowing that this is the one contact I will ever have with this person.

I managed to sleep most of the flight; the movie I saw was "Wanted", entirely forgettable and definitely not worth paying money for, either at the theater or as rental. Not even worth downloading.

The plane arrived way too late for me to connect to Nice. All of these airports now sprawl so much that it takes upwards of 20 minutes to get from gate to gate. I checked the transfers and fortunately could still get to Nice the same day, arriving about 4 hours later than the original schedule.

I went to the Swiss Air lounge and, surprise, I was allowed in. Not only that, but I was able to take a shower too, which after two days travel was a godsend. Chilled out there, wandered around the concourse, bought some more presents, went down to the departure gate and boarded the flight for Nice.

The sun was just setting, as we climbed, the dark silhouette of the Alps was framed by a deep red strip proclaiming the end of the day, slipping away from the indigo of the night. Some lights were visible in the valleys before they were lost beneath low lying clouds. It was a very magical flight down to the sea.

Got through pass control and customs very quickly and within a few minutes Marcia had arrived. We drove into the center of Nice, had a dinner at Buffalo Joe's, a Texas-style restaurant franchise that makes tasty food. Then we went home, where Marcia sohowed me all the things she had done for Christmas, including decorating the tree solo, wrapping presents. Marcia is very precious to me.

Within a short while, I was in bed and deep asleep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

From Rio to Chicago

I can't believe it! I managed to get through Miami pass control, pick up bag, drop it off at connections, get through security control and get to the gate for the Dallas flight all within 25 minutes! That's stunning. I was fully expecting to lose the flight to Dallas. Instead I boarded with ease. I'm overwhelmed.

On the shuttle to pass control and again going through security I came face to face with a noted Brazilian comedian whom I've seen many times on TV. He was on the same flight from Rio as me also. I thought of getting him to autograph a book I've bought Marcia as a present, but I've never done that type f thing and any way he was in business class and they'd have thrown me out (and of course he was probably trying to sleep, as was I). In the shuttle he was most quiet, obviously avoiding eye contact with the several people who recognized him also, and keeping attentive eyes on a young girl I would take to be in granddaughter. I'm not the fan type of person - I'm happy to let him be private when not performing.

Flight out of Miami was fine, the guy next to me not so fat that he invaded my space. Looking out, it was a delight to see the Beach, the strip up towards Boca Raton and the way in which the condo developers have been able to introduce lagoons, islands, channels and canals in the design of their gated communities - it might be plastic commerce but at least its different and I'm sure more pleasant to see from the ground.

Strangely you can see something of the same thing flying into Dallas. The developers hare have used waterways, lakes and pools to create different vistas in their communities also. Must be a fashionable trend - and to be encouraged. Bringing water into a landscape is an old practice - the original paradise of the Persians had such features - and is infinitely pleasurable to see.

Landed in a fresh skied Dallas, to instantly feel the chill in the air. My bag came through almost straight away (twice in one day!), the shuttle turned up as I walked into the hall and I was checked in to the flight to Chicago instantly. Something just has to go wrong here. Sure enough, I was given a 'special search' code on my boarding card so my handbags were swabbed, but I'm used to that - it's happened at least five times this year.

Strolled through the shopping areas, bought magazines for myself and presents for Marcia, Mother and Paul. Grabbed a coffee and muffin at Starbucks and connected the Mac and iPod to power to charge myself for the next jump.

The flight to Chicago was delayed by almost two hours; fortunately my flight from Chicago was late enough in the evening that this wasn't going to matter. The reason for the delay, I thought, was the snow storm passing over the mid-west and through New England. In this case it was the consequence of a Continental flight going off the runway at Denver and bursting into flames the previous night.

Landing in Chicago the effects of the storm was evident however, with snow shovelled off roads and runways of the airport. Walking out into the boom from the plane my breathe froze in a cloud before me. Definitely below zero...

Finding my way to Terminal 5 was most frustrating. In this terminal signs represent the way things were before they restructured everything for security reasons.

So you find yourself going in circles. I grabbed someone, who was kind enough to show me the way and commiserate with me - and yes she had to do the same several times a day. And here I am criticizing the airports in Brasil. Chicago O'Hare is right up there with them ...

Got through controls in time for the scheduled Swiss Air flight to Zurich - which of course is also delayed 'thanks to weather conditions'. And in this area of the concourse there is no area to eat or relax; just the usual seats and the floor, where I 'camped', connected the Mac to power and wrote up this blog.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

From Belo to Rio

I didn't sleep at all well during the night - having bad nights for many weeks now. Even dreaming that I'm dreaming and within the dream. All to do with work, stress, eating badly, no exercise and all that stuff.

Worked on a few things on the computer, downloaded some more old books about voyages from Google and Gutenberg.

Went back to bed, woke up a bit later than normal, struggled with things to do that were of any use.

Sun broke weak and what strength there was was soon masked by light clouds. At least it isn't raining today.

Remembered just in time to take the sheets to the laundry, shopped for useless snacks to munch on so I didn't have to cook lunch. Drank too much Chilean wine, packed and headed for the airport.

What would look like the usual chaos of travel at Christmas time greeted me. The difference was the milling crowds weren't milling because there was an excessive number - just that check in for three flights was being handled by three people.

I managed to select a slightly shorter queue in 'domestic' even though my flight was connecting to an international flight in Rio de Janeiro.

Of course then there was the x-ray check and pass control. Another long queue that went in fits and starts. Eventually I discovered why: there were only two x-ray machines for three international flights. And after them, in the same small hall, pass control.

Which of course was also being handled by two people. At every stage no-one really seemed to know what they were doing and were constantly asking their colleagues.

I already know from bitter experience how disorganized Sao Paulo airports are, and how dishevelled Rio's are. Belo's airport was obviously designed, built and equipped by the same company that has done airports in Italy. Same soulless metal, p[astic and tortured 'work' flow. It always amazes me that so many architects never seem to live in the same world as those who must suffer the consequences of their 'innovative, advanced, concepts'. In Brasil its worse as they all seem to suffer from the Niemeyer Syndrome - man reduced to automaton by swirls of brutal concrete wastelands.

One thing for sure is that in every airport I have been in in Brasil, even the idea of organization and service is non-existent. 'Ordem e progreso' - order and progress - the motto on Brasil's flag, can only mean disorder and decline when having anything to do with its transport network (amongst other things).

We landed, way too late as the plane waited for people to dribble through the controls in Belo, in Rio. Where of course there was absolutely no help and no support.

By the time I had worked my way through the entire length of its two terminals, the gate was closed. Fine - if ever I am in Brasil again, I will not fly TAM (for what that's worth - Gol/Varig are just as bad. Its like flying in Italy. Avoid it if possible.

No matter in the end - OK to take the even-later (1am) American Airlines flight to Miami and then Dallas. Wandered around the brutally desolate departure area in Rio's airport, bought Marcia the recipe book she wanted, a tasteless coffee for me and found a power outlet for the Mac so I'm OK for part of the flight.

The American Airlines plane arrived a little late, but not so much to delay departure significantly. AA still uses old planes on these flights - old heavy monitors with their worn out color, scuffed and rubbed chairs and tables. Who cares? I'm going to sleep.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas spirit

I'm not using this blog for work, but it is good to recount that some things that the people I work with were hoping for apparently is coming to happen - and with it the rains stopped after two weeks and the place 'lit up' literally and figuratively.

On the spur of the moment, since I was back doing things in the office after an enforced absence, I went out and bought Christmas presents for the staff, these presents to add to the ones everyone had bought everyone else as a 'Santa gift'. I've not seen this custom before: everyone buys one gift for one other colleague then, gathered in a circle, each gives the gift to the other after first making a short speech of appreciation.

By evening it was back to dark storm clouds again, keeping me inside the apartment until a break allowed me to escape and go to the supermarket to buy something. That was not to be, as a generator had blown and the place was closed down.

So I went to the local sushi bar, selected a sushi/sashimi mix which, with a small flask of warm sake, made the end of the day very comfortable.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Everything is bleak

Everything is bleak - work, play and the environment. Rains are washing down off the buildings in torrents; what there is of a skyline in Belo is blotted out by mists and squalls.

Thanks to a series of events I'm working from the apartment these last few days, so in spare time I've been doing things like setting up a couple of other blogs (which seems a better place to put these things than on Facebook), figuring out how to do things in FileMaker (it's not bad once you get used to it) and downloading copies of books from the 17th through 18th centuries about voyages to the East Indies from two sites: Gutenberg, which I know from before but have 'discovered' the HTML versions are better than the .txt versions; and Google books, which are both PDF and text (at least before you download them).

That's fun.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Staying in Belo

Haven't done much this week. Had planned to go to Iguazu over the long weekend but that isn't going to be possible: I have to count the pennies in case things go sour.

It's lousy weather anyway, so I doubt any trip would alleviate the general gloom at present.