Wednesday 9 January 2013

I spoke too soon...

The Technical Dept could have carried on 'being busy' for a great deal longer, and it wouldn't have interfered with our travel plans one jot. As it was, we departed in good time for our flight, travelling through gloriously sunny streets on the way to the airport...and arrived to find that it was closed....'due to fog'. What fog? Where? The sun shone with undimmed brilliance, and bemused people could be seen wandering outside the terminal building from time to time to check for themselves that they were indeed correct, and that we were indeed enjoying a gloriously bright and clear mid-winter day. Which we were.

Whatever. Nobody was being allowed to go through security, and as more and more people arrived for more and more flights that were apparently not going to go anywhere, the departures hall got more and more crowded and chaotic. And, as the incoming flights that were circling somewhere miles overhead, unable to land (because of the 'fog') had to hive off to find other places to land before they ran out of fuel (generally either Genoa or Bologna), then the departing flights they were then supposed to become leaving Pisa once more were racking up as 'cancelled' on the departures board. One by one by one.  Although ours didn't. I checked, and saw that the incoming flight from Orly had been cancelled - which meant it must have been re-routed elsewhere - but the outbound flight we were still hoping to catch was still showing as 'live' on the departures board. It was possibly even encouraging that it then showed 'delayed' from 14.20 to 14.55...since this clearly implied it was still alive (to some degree) rather than unquestionably dead.

And then, at around 14.30, they suddenly opened the security gates once more, and everybody proceeded painstakingly slowly through the security chicane. By the time we were through, the departure time had shifted again, from 14.55 to 16.00 - but that wasn't too bad, since it implied we would arrive in Paris in plenty of time to get to our dinner in rue du Fauborg St Denis. So, we sat and waited at the appropriate gate.
And even when the sign on the gate suddenly announced that the gate was now for a flight to Malta instead, this didn't seem too bad, when the departures board indicated that we would still be leaving from the same gate, but at 16.30 rather than at 16.00, as previously advertised.

Only after that did things go irreperably pear-shaped.....when the departures board did a major hiccough, and now showed our flight leaving at 19.05 .....and again, ten minutes later, when 19.05 changed into 19.30. By which stage, we'd been at the airport already for nearly five hours, and there was no way we would be joining our party for dinner before they were already wielding pudding spoons, if not actually fending off waiters brandishing those things they use to scrape up breadcrumbs and general debris at the end of dinner. We considered ditching, and just going home, instead - but since this would have had a knock-on effect with future travel from Paris to London at the end of the week, we stuck with it. And sat there, as flights from gates all around us were taking off, regular as clockwork, to Bari and Munich and London ....and even, indeed, Paris (but not the flight we were on).

By the time we eventually boarded the plane, the cabin crew - who clearly viewed themselves as being on a rescue mission, and expected to be greeted with open arms by pathetically grateful crowds, pressing flowers on them in abject thanks, if only we could - found themselves with a plane-load of deeply (and justifiably) grumpy French. And, believe you me, the French can do 'grumpy' like nobody else, when they put their minds to it. Before take-off, some lumpy cabin steward chose to remove himself to a place of greater safety, somewhere up near the cockpit, after he'd been verbally attacked by a whole group of disconsolate passengers in the middle of the cabin, who expressed in no uncertain terms their level of unimpressedness with the way we had all been treated. And the sole francophone crew member on board - a girl called Lucy, who is probably perfectly nice in her own way - foolishly took it upon herself to try and  justify Easyjet's performance to irritated and lucid passengers who were Not Happy, and perfectly reasonably chose to tell her so as she moved down the aisle trying to flog something or other, or to collect rubbish.

Passengers: "Why were we stuck in that dreary terminal for all that time?"
Lucy: "The Plane was diverted and had to land instead in Bologna"
Passengers: "Et alors? It's a ten minute flight from Bologna to Pisa...we know; we've done it. Why did the plane not just proceed to Pisa once the weather had cleared?"
Lucy: "Well....the weather changes all the time, you know" (Risky business, this flying's clearly touch and go that one will ever arrive anywhere planned...what with this weather thing being so changeable, and all)
Passengers: "The airport was working again perfectly well from 3.30...all of the other flights managed to arrive and leave again on time. Why not this one?"
Lucy: (With a sincere tone appropriate to the gravity of her statement) "Ah, but you see, Easyjet is above all concerned with the safety of our passengers" (As though nobody else is, of course. Bless - the girl thinks that Dan Dare up at the front in the driving seat is actually intrepidly battling the forces of nature as he guides his craft through the silvered skies, and is constantly making split-second decisions on which the lives of his passengers depend...whereas any fule no that he's just driving a bus, and does what he's told to do, from time to time,  by air traffic control people sitting in relevant control towers....duh!). "And, anyway - by the time the weather improved, the crew were out of time"  (After an additional ninety minutes on their shift? I don't think so!)
Passengers: "No, Lucy. Easyjet is above all concerned with its bottom line - and we were left to moulder in Pisa Airport for six hours because some cretin in Easyjet's management made a crap decision, and we took the brunt of it."
Lucy: (Slightly snappishly, getting visibly rattled, and a little red in the face, as we were supposed to be being appeased by these soothing explanations from our own little Angel of Mercy):"Well, if you're unhappy, then you should contact Easyjet and talk to them" 
Passengers: "Oh Carolyn McCall ever actually anwers emails!"   (Roll of eyes indicating pointless discussion is now concluded...leaving the hapless Lucy to go and do whatever it is she's supposed to be doing  somewhere else in the cabin, and doubtless get harangued all over again by another group, as she does. NB Lucy, love...another time, when faced with passengers such as this, it would be better for all concerned were you merely to mutter that you're only a hired hand, employed to flog coffee and train tickets, and you really don't know nuffink about anything else. Leave the PR to the PR people - they're paid to get beaten up for lousy performance.)

Anyway, the upshot was that we eventually trundled through the deserted corridors of Orly airport at around 10.00, and were ensconced in Rue Montorgeuil sometime after eleven. Far too late even to think of joining the birthday dinner which had been our whole reason for travelling anyway...and so we went instead round the corner to Au Pied de Cochon,  where we dined not badly on foie gras and pig's trotters, and raised a glass of excellent gewurztraminer to absent friends.

And the lesson to be learned from this? Well, there isn't one really, as a passenger...except to understand that, although Easyjet manages to deliver reasonably well, a lot of the time - as long as they don't have to deal with adverse conditions of any kind or to make any decisions on the fly - they are LOUSY, when something untoward happens, and they have to try and apply a brain function of some kind to addressing an immediate problem. Their's is the lesson to be learned...although it would take a major leap of faith to think for a second that they actually might do so!

Monday 7 January 2013

And Christmas Past...

In fact, I'm not quite sure where it went to. Not five minutes after the tree had gone up, it seemed, it was coming down again (and is now planted over near the white grape arbour - although the apparent absence of any roots to speak of suggests both that this is an act of significant optimism, and that the tree appears to have managed to look as good as it did for the three weeks it was decorated and in its pot in the barn was more by luck than judgment!). Ebufana has come and gone, and now everybody has heaved a sigh (either of relief or of appetites satisfied) and the World, as of this morning, is now going about its business once more.

  In a period significantly dominated by Pheasant, and Partridge, and Guinea Fowl, and Tarte au Chocolat, and Marron Parfait, and Christmas Pudding, and Caramel Sauce, I did actually (probably necessarily) get a reasonable amount of garden tasks out of the way. Not only pruning all of the new fruit trees (which takes only minutes, since they're so small - but gratifyingly provides a sense of job-done at the expense of very little effort), but also managed to prune the large pear tree. This is one of the jobs I hate - it takes ages, and is very fiddly, and ends up causing back-ache and neck-ache, with significant risk to life and limb, as I clamber around amongst the upper branches. Fortunately, the Seminary next door is deserted at this time of year - had it not been, then I suspect some adolescent italian vocabularies would have been enriched by a variety of good old anglo-saxon expletives, by the time I was eventually finished. Until this time next year, at any rate.
More or less, the weather has been good. In Belforte, where we were for three days over Christmas itself, we spent days shrouded in fog, and stayed indoors, toasting the season in venerable vintages, and ourselves beside the blazing fire. Back down in Pisa, we've had days of intense calm and winter sunshine. Four-footed has had endless hours of chasing tennis balls, and getting himself gloriously dirty, as I've dug the new flowerbeds alongside the South Pergola and he has 'helped' - followed by a daily bath, which he adores...particularly the bit after he has patiently lifted his paws to be rinsed, each in turn, and then gets enfolded in a towel and energetically rubbed down.
The camellias are just starting to come into flower - and should remain so through March - but, apart from the blossom on the lonicera frangrantissima, everything else in the garden is resolutely dormant. I'm torn between wanting spring to get a move on, and wanting to have enough time to complete all of the 'winter' tasks which yet remain. Actually, I'm nervous that we'll have another cold spell like last February, when it was impossible to do anything other than stay indoors, and peer at the iciness beyond the frost-rimed windows. Oh, well - nothing one can do about it, either way....

Tonight's Dinner:

Is at the Brasserie Julien, in the rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. (If we manage to get to the airport in time - Technical Dept is deep in something else currently, so it might be a close-run thing!)