Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On the road again

DSC02158 (1300x867)I think that my past six months have set a record for not traveling.  Still frenetic around the UK, my airline miles have fallen to taking only two trips in six months, unthinkable in previous years when a hundred thousand miles was the norm.

So, it was almost novel to be headed to Heathrow again, my prototype in hand, for a first visit to our corporate parent in Sweden.

It’s a good trip to be making.  I love Stockholm, it’s colorful, clean, tidy, a nice sense of history, the language similar to Dutch and lots of water and islands to contemplate.  The people that I meet are invariably capable, courteous, tolerant, modest, and happy; the food and transport is first class.  I’m looking forward to visiting more often.

But first, the ring roads.

Monday yielded torrential rains over southwest England, which led to slowings and accidents on the M25 around London.  I got an early start but made slow progress, first up to Braintree, then back down towards Heathrow.  I turned off into the inner roads near London which helped a bit, but traffic was dense along flooded streets and queueing into circles.

It’s good to practice patience and make the best use of time: I alternated between podcast lectures and business calls.  We’d like to bring people together at a new central office, need to arrange multi-center clinical evaluations, have to meet project deadlines for product samples and regulatory submissions.  So lots of my work is checking connections between people, arranging meetings and shipping, and dictating notes for online tasks for later on the computer.

It’s a bit Tyler Brûlé; it feels like I’m back in life’s fast lane.

DSC02145 (1300x867)Dropping the car into PurpleParking, I made a last check that the right things had been transferred into my carry-on, then waded into Terminal 2.   Once through screening and passport control (soon to get much worse if Brexit occurs), I looked for a place to settle in and work, but found only shopping and benches.  Airport culture is minimalist, mercantile, and aspirational, tailored to encourage consumption rather than production.  A good fit, though, to the global executives streaming through, all apart, well-tailored and intent on the next deadline.

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But I need a plate of nibbles, a quiet space to work, a glass of wine, free wifi and power outlets.  A bit of exploring turns up the Plaza Premium, offering the full package for two hours for a bargain £35.  It put a solid conclusion to my workday and provided a nice meal ahead of the flight.  ‘Recommended.

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It was 10 pm and still daylight when we skimmed the forests into Arlanda: midsummer night in Scandinavia.  In Copenhagen, they’d be burning straw witches and singing the traditional song at Tivoli.  The Swedes stay up late with friends and celebrate over drinks, semi-darkness only lasting a few hours before the sun rises again at 3 am.

A Kurdish taxi driver took me in to Uppsala along broad empty highways.  We made small talk about his home country and the difficulties of observing Ramadan during summer with a 20-hour fast.  The hotel was neat and trim despite being under renovation,  yielding a Spartan room a bit larger than a closet.  ‘Very different from the prior weekend.

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Arthur Frommer once remarked that Americans are poor judges of European accommodations.  We have no feel for the diversity and scale of rooms on offer as compared with the consistent corporate experience of US chains.  Still, it had a cozy charm, and the city outside was lovely at twilight.

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I took a walk along the river before putting final touches to my presentation and catching up with some reading.   Improbably, I’m working though Madame Bovary, assigned for my Modern and Postmodern course.  It’s a light book and I’m enjoying Flaubert's disparate visions of romantic love, characters circling one another.  But I’m getting frustrated with Emma and saddened for Charles: it’s hard to see that this can end well.

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