Monday, July 17, 2017

Why is Hate so Popular? Airline Edition

In response to all the noise directed at Delta this weekend, I thought I'd maybe send some praise an airline's way, just to help balance out the universe.

Last fall I booked two tickets, Winnipeg to Madrid return, through KLM who organized the flights for us: Westjet to Montreal, KLM to Amsterdam, and finally, KLM to Madrid. I got such a great deal, I was worried something was going to mess it all up, and since I had several months (six, to be exact) before our flights, I had plenty of time to stew.
A couple days after booking, I got an email from KLM saying they rebooked my return flight to two days later, a Tuesday instead of a Sunday. Since one of us in this two-ticket relationship had to work on Monday morning, this would not work. I was ready to cancel the flight and book a new one, but the cost was about 60% more. Ugh. So I checked out KLM's contact info, and they said to get in touch any time via Twitter. So I did. 
I got a near-immediate response, they had a look at the new flight info, and confirmed to me that two days later might put a crimp in our plans, so they set to work trying to make things right. Half an hour later, they sent me new flight info that involved leaving Madrid at 6:00am instead of 9:40 am, not fun, but arriving home at 4:00 in the afternoon (instead of 11:45 in the evening), giving everyone an opportunity to get a good night's sleep before heading off to work the next morning.
Fantastic. I thanked them enthusiastically for fixing this quickly and to my great satisfaction.
The months passed.
When our departure date arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief that nothing else went awry. Before we left for the airport for our morning flight to Montreal, I decided to check my email one last time.

"Your KLM flight Montreal to Amsterdam has been cancelled."
Well, crap.
"KLM is now looking for an alternative…"
We're heading to the airport in ten minutes!
"…or you can choose a new flight yourself online."
In ten minutes!!
Fortunately, before totally freaking out, I read the next email that came from KLM.
"Dear Reymond, Attached to this email is your ticket to Madrid. Enjoy!"
I scanned the email quickly, reasonably certain that I understood it, and forwarded it to my wife's phone (as I live in the dark ages) so we could read all the remaining details later at the airport so we wouldn't be late for the flight to Montreal.

The long and the short of it ended up as follows: The flight to Montreal went off as planned. KLM booked us on an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Heathrow that left an hour later than our original KLM flight, and then an Iberia flight (which we had to run for, through the bulk of Heathrow, but no bother) to Madrid, that got us there thirty-five minutes later than originally scheduled. As I had planned our train out of Madrid at a time that allowed for delays at the airport, we had plenty of time to eat some lunch and explore the beautiful garden at Atocha Station in downtown Madrid.

It was a little bit of a crazy day, but KLM took care of us. They had a problem, and they made it right, and they did it with a smile on their face. I'm sure they took a significant loss on this, but they respected their obligation to us.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of KLM, we had a wonderful two weeks in Spain.
So thanks, KLM, from me to you.

ps. Other players in the effort to make our Spain travels enjoyable were: - a great way to book Spain train tickets online, easily and in English for those of us who are not well-versed in the Spanish language., where we found our accommodations in Seville and Granada, which were both excellent.

Hotel Santa Isabel in Toledo - fantastic rooftop view.

Hertz - rented a car in Seville and dropped it in Madrid; but for a few minor hiccups (someone was training that day so it took a little extra time, and the drop off at Atocha could be better marked or more easily explained when renters are planning to drop a car at Atocha, because Google's directions will take you directly into the taxi area, where the taxi drivers are not easily amused - not that I would know any of this), it was a reasonably streamlined experience.
Alavera de los Baños in Ronda - a fabulous hotel with character and wonderful hosts.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Travelling with Children - A True Story

At what point do you let your child decide he has had enough cantaloupe for breakfast, especially when you want to be sure everyone’s getting enough fruits and vegetables after all those ham sandwiches? Apparently, one piece earlier than I did.

The drive to Matera was a long and winding one. You know the kind, where the road turns sharply to the left and right, uphill and right back down before your stomach has time to realize it’s supposed to be going down with the rest of your body. Usually that sort of thing is kind of fun, but today we got what marketing people might call a “value added bonus” along that scenic drive.

So, that cantaloupe.

Matthew started making some noise about not feeling well, but managed to keep things under control for about fifteen minutes. Eventually though, the roads wore him down, and that cantaloupe needed release.

As soon as Matthew lurched forward, Jonas looked like he was trying to escape a house on fire, using all four limbs to propel himself out of the car, despite the fact that the car was still moving. All I could say was, Yup, pull over. As soon as possible please. And I reached back and put my hand under Matthew’s mouth. I have no idea why or what I hoped to accomplish. As soon as Matthew was done, he took a deep breath, one of those chest-expanding breaths that makes you purse your lips and exhale like Dizzy Gillespie blowing on his trumpet. That feels better, he said.

We pulled into what looked like a cross between a cafe and a repair shop, with two old fellas sitting on lawn chairs out front. Drinking beer. It was 9:30 in the morning. Laura helped Matthew get cleaned up while I stood with my (clean) hand on my chin, pondering what to do next as I looked at the floor of the car. The men rested their beers on their laps, and leaned forward slightly, curious as to what we were up to.

I figured the first thing I needed to do was deal with the sheer volume, pulsating on the floor where there should have been a rubber mat. I knelt down, and used my hand and forearm like a squeegee, pulling a surprisingly large quantity of breakfast over the lip and out the door, which landed on the ground with an impressive splat. At that point, the beer drinkers pretended to be looking nonchalantly in the other direction.
I cleaned my arm off with the remains of a kleenex, and ran across the street to the grocery store to get cleaning supplies. We did our best to clean out the car, and used a half-dozen air fresheners to deal with what remained.

Back in the car and on the road again, Jonas eyed Matthew like a hawk, wary of any suspicious movements or sounds. But with the foul cantaloupe eradicated, Matthew was happy as could be. I told him that when he is a teenager, any time he is annoyed with me, he must remember this precise moment, when he was throwing up in the rental car in Italy, and I was holding out my hand in a way that only a father could at a time like that.
That is love, Laura told him.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Portrait

Soundgarden first came to my attention at the beginning of my last year of fine arts, back in 1989. It was probably September or so, when I made one of my regular pilgrimages to Musiplex in downtown Winnipeg. I don't recall if they had those groovy, new-fangled listening centres set up yet, but one look at the cover of Loud Love, just sort of a mass of swinging hair, and I figured this was something that I could get into.
Back to my apartment I went, to my stereo, my over-ear Radio Shack headphones, and I sat and listened.
"Money can't give what the truth takes away."
"Trees fall down like dying soldiers."
Hands All Over is still one of my favourite songs.
His voice was just something else, you know, unrestrained power with absolute control, and he was just a kid! Not even two years older than I was.
When Badmotorfinger came along, Room A Thousand Years Wide and Jesus Christ Pose took my breath away. The song-writing was on a whole other level from what I'd normally listen to, but there seemed to be a deeper connection to things that were actually worth thinking about. Although this wasn't so much on my mind back then, ideas like these were among the things that I grew into caring about.
When Superunknown came along, things were changing rapidly for me. I was married, and my wife and I were expecting our first child. I sang Black Hole Sun and Like Suicide until I was hoarse, and then my son Jonas was born.
1996 brought Down on the Upside into the world, and I snapped it up like a metalhead dad looking for something that reminded him of something he wasn't really looking for anyway, but was eager for it nonetheless. And I brought it home and thought, ugh. I might have listened to it a couple times, and then it made its way to the bottom of the cd rack.
1997 gave us a second son, more responsibility, and less time for basketball, painting, and loud singing. But as kids do, they grew up, and as they did, this new life found time for some of the things from the old life, and with effort and practice, it started to happen more and more often. (Of course, a whole lot more happened in the intervening years - we travelled the world with our boys, we watched them grow into magnificent young men, I did a ton more drawing, and of course, I recorded a couple pretty awesome metal tunes, but that is for another story.)
Then back in May this year, I woke to the news that Chris Cornell had died. But wasn't he the same age as me?
I posted on Facebook that when I was in my twenties, I wanted to paint like Frank Frazetta, play basketball like Michael Jordan, and sing like "this guy," and I linked to the video for Black Hole Sun.
And then I listened to a whole lot of Soundgarden.
I rediscovered the reasons why I liked them in the first place, found my copy of Down on the Upside, and gave it a listen. And it wasn't nearly as terrible as I remembered it being. In fact, it was pretty good. Really good. Amazingly good. But I remembered why I was disappointed in it. Side by side listenings of Superunknown and Down on the Upside showed, to my ears anyway, a distinct drop in audio quality, even compared to Badmotorfinger from five years earlier. And in my busy life, that was enough for it to get lost in the pile of cd's.
But now I had time to listen, and the number of songs that I really liked numbered nearly as many as there were on the album. Tighter and Tighter I could listen to over and over and over again. And I did. And it reminded me that the things that are worthwhile just take some time. Sometimes they're just a little bit harder. And when you get past all that, it's what feels right, and was right, all along.
And that is how I found myself staring at that eight yard roll of Strathmore that had been sitting in the corner of my studio for a good five years, probably longer, still in cellophane. I cut off a hunk and hung it on the wall. I grabbed some coloured pencils and my General's pencils and did some preliminary sketching, trying to figure out how I would do this thing that I was about to do. I found the method that worked, and I got started on a portrait of Chris Cornell. After investing a dozen hours or so, it wasn't working out. I gave up. I abandoned it for a couple days, erased some of it, then just started fooling around with it, and I forgot that it wasn't working. And then with time and effort, and a lot of loud music, it got it to this stage where I can say I'm almost done. Some tweaks and tonal adjustments, and it will get there.
Loud music and drawing faces.
Sleep tight.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Pencil Sharpeners

Went to Staples a little while ago to get a new pencil sharpener. Turns out Staples did not have any Staedtler sharpeners when I was there, so I was stuck with the four-pack of Staples-brand sharpeners. The pros of the Staples-brand sharpeners are…well, "is" actually because there is only one. The pro is they come in four different colours: Metallic Blue, Metallic Green, Metallic Purple, and Metallic Metal. If they had one that came in Metallic Metallica, I'd have something to write home (or you) about. Alas, this was not to be. But write you I shall, to warn you that if you ever need a pencil sharpener for coloured pencils, steer clear of the Staples-branded sharpeners. 
This is not a word of a lie: after one sharpen, the blade was dull, and was rendered useless for any further pencil sharpening needs. In fact, it is so bad, you are quite literally better off using your teeth for further sharpening. Coloured pencils entering this sharpener are in for a bit of a surprise when they are expecting a mere trim, yet are returned to me looking like they were used to stab a wolverine. I suppose the wolverine was polite enough to return it to me when he was done with it. 
So now I'm working on this drawing hoping that my Chinese made Staedtler will last until I'm done, or I can get to Cre8ive Art Supplies and get a new one. Or ten.
Hundreds of sharpens in the last couple days alone, and still gets my pencils sharp as a pin. 
Okay, so I'm just about to take a picture to show you a sharpening comparison, and what do I see? The Staedtler sharpener device is indeed made in China. But the blade is stamped, "Made in Germany." I stand both corrected and amazed (that a story that I'd thought to be maybe partly true was maybe mostly true).

And further, after all my bluster, I notice the logo on the "Staedtler" sharpener is not the Staedtler logo after all. Does anyone know who made this glorious sharpener?
Never mind, the internet is an amazing thing (depending on your outlook and interest in pencil sharpeners). Google "e with a crown over it pencil sharpener" and you will find this link
in the number one position.
While I don't own the Eisen 402, I do own an actual Eisen sharpener, which I find both irrelevant and fascinating. If you read from the link, you will learn that Eisen did, in fact, move some of their production to China, but their more expensive sharpeners are still manufactured at their factory in Franconia, a region of Germany. While this may seem, at first blush, rather unremarkable, what IS remarkable is that "nearly all other German manufacturers in the pencil and sharpener industry (e.g. Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Schwan Stabilo, Lyra, KUM or Möbius+Ruppert)" have factories in Franconia. Which is a bit like saying all of the world's greatest artists and performers come from an area of Southern Manitoba that lies between Winnipeg and Brandon, and the 49th parallel (soon to be known as The Wall) and Dauphin. So it's like we're sister regions really! No wonder I have such an affinity for my Eisen. I always knew that our relationship was more than just artist-sharpener.