zondag 25 januari 2009

A working week in January

The year has hardly started and we’re busy as ever, chasing around to convince customers to buy more of our stuff.

Jan, 19
Early rise and dropped the car off for 150.000 km maintenance (the last one). Back in time to start a gruelling one and a half hour teleconference with the team to discuss last week’s business, this weeks’ plans, quotes, projects etc. The rest of the day filled with emails, phone calls, reports, and quotes.
Although I specifically requested to have the car ready ASAP, the garage only calls me at 16:10. I finish what I’m doing and pack in a hurry to arrive at the garage close to five o’clock.
I decide to drive down as far as possible in the direction of Strasbourg and apart from the daily traffic jam around Brussels that costs me about 15 minutes; I make good headway although it rains continuously. While driving, I notice that something is wrong with my cellular. Scary if you know that, when travelling, your phone is your only communication instrument. Passed Metz and on the A36, direction Strasbourg, I stop at a gas station close to Carling to call for a hotel.
There is only one payphone and it works with call cards only! One of the shop attendants is friendly enough to lend me her phone and I call several Logis de France in my direction but they’re either closed or fully booked! It’s 20:30 and I need to find a hotel. In the meantime the rain has turned into a real cloud break and the noise of the rain falling on the Perspex roof makes it almost impossible to understand one another. We really have to shout at each other! The shop clerk tells me there is a hotel straight at the next exit in the direction “Europort” and I decide to go and have a look. The directions given are correct and I find the hotel and they have a room available. The hotel is at the edge of an industrial estate with some chemical refineries spouting black, grey and white smoke out of their many chimneys. Not the finest location! The room is simple but clean, the view from the window is a light grey blind wall and by 21:00 I’m down at the restaurant. The food is correct, the half bottle of Brouilly quite nice and the staff very friendly. I manage to refuse dessert and take the coffee at the bar that is now manned by the hotel receptionist who suggests that I just take out and re-place the chip in my cellular. To my relief, that simple stratagem succeeds and I’m back in the modern world. The bar is crowded by truckers from everywhere but mostly from Belgium and I escape the noise quickly and go to bed early after quite a long day. Room, meal, breakfast and taxes will amount to 105,40€

Jan, 20
After breakfast I have time to check emails and make some calls before I leave to Strasbourg, 125 km further south. My meeting with the customer goes OK. We booked a large order before year end on a their 5-year maintenance program and the only draw back is that 2009 will probably be a very calm year in terms of orders placed.
My afternoon call is in Duppigheim, 15 km south of Strasbourg. I have time to book my rooms for tonight and tomorrow and have lunch at Père Benoit in Entzheim. An address I can recommend to everybody.
Another good meeting that lasts until after four a clock and I leave for Ronchamp. The Logis de France in Belfort and Champagney were fully booked and beggars can’t be choosers. The weather has been cold but beautiful all day and close to Mulhouse on the motorway I stop to take a picture of the beautiful sundown. Another picture of the Konigsberg, famous for its Alsatian whites, not really excellent due to my camera, but I’ll post it anyway.
Hotel Carrer le Rhien (Le Rhien is a “lieu-dit” of Ronchamp and there is literally nothing there, believe me) lies in the middle of the woods, one and half mile away from the famous chapel. It’s the second time I’m staying there (on at least two previous occasions I called and it was fully booked); the boss and the staff are friendly as ever. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the food is excellent. I’m too late for the inaugural speech of President Obama and while I look to the news network covering the event I check my emails and work until dinner time. The hotel (only one I know) uses a network that is accessed via the normal power wall outlet and the quality is excellent.
This hotel is an incredible value for money spot! When I called the hotel the owner told me I had been lucky that somebody just called in minutes earlier to cancel a reservation and he had a room left for me. the dining room is well filled. Checking the wine list I remember that I had half a bottle of Savagnin 2000 from Paul Benoit - Pupillin. At my first visit it fitted perfect with the turkey on the menu. Luckily they have some left and this time it fits as well with the chicken. After the meal, it’s freezing stones out of the ground, I want to have a peak at the chapel built by Le Corbusier to make some souvenir pictures. Earlier in the evening it was visible from below as it stands beautifully illuminated on top of a nearby hill. Arriving there after a drive through the pitch dark forest all the lights had been doused and there is nothing to see. I settle for a panorama of the illuminated village of Ronchamp in the valley. Back to the hotel I retire to my room where on every channel it’s all about Obama. My total bill will amount to 76,00 €! (One wonders how they can manage!)

Jan 21
Another early start as my appointment is at 9:00 in Belfort and I want to make a picture of the chapel before I leave! It’s daylight but the grounds around the chapel are still closed and I can only have a peak through the heavy gate. Nothing again! Out of spite I make a picture of an old mine shaft that has been preserved as a witness of the industrial past of the region.
Leaving Ronchamp I stop on the N19 and make a picture (from too far) where the chapel is barely visible but I did not want to leave without it! I’ll definitely have to come back in spring or summer and make sure I have time to visit the grounds. At my customer I meet with both the technical and purchase people but I have still not achieved a breakthrough. Although we booked a first order for some of our products we are still not included in any of their major programs. More work to be done.

Arriving in Besancon the short road to Ornans is closed off for some reason and I have to make a 25 km detour to get there. Ornans is a small place and very dead at lunch time. No sandwich bar to be found and the few other places only serve hot meals which I have neither the time nor the inclination for. I settle for a coffee hoping that the local bakery will open in time, but no, they close between 12:30 and 14:30! At my customer I am meeting with a new buyer and we spend more time than expected with company presentations and projects on which they use some of our products. This division will never be big for us but it’s a part of one of our strategic accounts.
On the way back I have to make the same detour loosing considerable time in the traffic jam to get through Besancon and it is still a long drive to Dracy le Fort where, although listed on my GPS, I have some trouble locating the hotel. But finally I get there by around 18:30. Just the time to check emails, call the States and get some work done.
I can highly recommend hotel Le Dracy. At arrival they told me they had upgraded me to a larger room on the first floor and this turned out to be the best room of the week. Separate bathroom, separate toilet and a large room with a double bed and a sofa plus a small table and chair to put your laptop on. The upgrade was probably done because some elder people preferred a room on the ground flour. Although I am an ancient person, I can still climb a stair when I have to!

In Burgundy you mostly don’t worry about the quality of the food. The region has a great reputation. This hotel deserves it too! Another very good meal and the half bottle of Givry 2005, 1er Cru – clos de Choué from Chofflet-Valdenaire: hallelujah! I did buy some from de Villard but did not drink it yet and I sincerely hope it’s at least as good or even better as, I’m sure, it’s a lot more expensive! The more Burgundy I drink, the more I am surprised and confused by big difference in taste and texture of the wines from different regions. The last drops are finished with the plateau de fromages and I regret I did not ask for a full bottle! I paid 115,50 € for everything. Again to bed early as I have a very early start indeed in the morning.

Jan 22
Best breakfast in a long time in France! The French know everything about eating and drinking except about breakfast! In some places (mostly in the North and Paris region and in the South) you get 1 piece of bread, 1 croissant, some preserve and a cup of coffee. If you’re lucky yoghurt or corn flakes are available too. That’s it! Go work on this when it’s winter time! In more rural regions, Burgundy is one of them, they know you need some substance in your stomach to come through the long morning. A variety of cheese, ham, different kinds of bread, preserves, fruit, boiled eggs, coffee, chocolate or tea. They have it at Le Dracy.
Figure my luck! My appointment is at 8:15 and I am 35 km away from Le Creusot. I’ll make sure that next time I have more time to enjoy.
My meeting with my first customer goes well. Although they expected another supplier to arrive at ten, we stay together until 11:00 because they did not arrive in time. This gives us some time to talk about other things than just business. Both mr. Hubert and mr. Doucet are from the region and I end up writing down some vintner names that can be trusted for their quality.
I end up in Le Creusot city centre with a lot of time to kill as my next meeting has been postponed to 15:00. The first place I go to for a coffee is very cold and there is no signal available from the network to hook up the laptop. After many trials I decide to go some place else. I am luckier at the next one where it is warm; where my 3G card is picking up a signal and I can do some work.
At lunch time it becomes all of a sudden very busy. I decide to have the boeuf bourguignonne (12,80 including a starter salad and a dessert) because they have no sandwiches and I don’t feel like running the streets up and down to find another place. It has gone raining in the meantime. Lunch hour is like a fast tide. The place fills up in ten – fifteen minutes and empties an hour later in ten – fifteen minutes.
I am early for my second appointment as there has been a change of plans and instead of going home in the evening, I have booked a room in Ozoir la Ferrière and will go to our office in Serris on Friday morning and visit another customer on Friday afternoon in Petite Forêt.
The buyer lets me wait a little bit but we are having an excellent meeting where he calls in a technical guy to discuss the requirements for a new project which should start in September and last 16 months. Excellent news, therefore. The meeting ends at 16:30 and the first thing I do is call home to tell Htje about the change of plans. In addition I tell her that if I have to drive by Givry and can contact the winemaker, I’ll stop to buy 6 bottles. I then have first to go back to my first customer to give back the sample that I had taken to show around. And also to pick up the 6 bottles of Crémant de Bourgogne that I ordered from the family estate of mr. Ducoté who is responsible for production at my customer. Ducoté is a small winery in Saint-Amour (Beaujolais) that I visited on my previous trip in November. Their 2006 red Beaujolais was very good and I’m waiting another month to taste their 2007. I did not particularly like their white but the crémant is excellent. Their wine is excellent value for money.
It is almost 17:00 when I leave Le Creusot.
Not only do I drive by Givry, I stop at the exit and am lucky to hear that the owner is present at the winery. With the directions received, I arrive at Russilly in less than 5 minutes. Without the directions I would probably still be looking.
Givry comes in both white and red although I only knew that since this morning when mr. Doucet told me. In fact, Givry’s reputation was based primarily on white. But as customers’ taste dictate the market there is now far more red than white Givry. As I had never tasted it I wanted to start with the white and was immediately convinced. For the red I had to chose between the very famous Clos de Jus and the lesser known Clos de Choué. The vintner pointed out that in majority, ladies preferred the Choué and men the Jus. My feminine side won this one and I brought some Choué home.
In between I had to translate for the lorry driver from Holland who came by to pick up two pallets of wine and the owner, who complained that again, they’d come without bringing the empty pallets back and threatening not to give his wine if they did not bring the pallets back next time (as he had done on a previous occasion). He let him off the hook for this time and the guy loaded up. Finally, I had to pay and as neither of my credit cards was accepted by the machine, ended up in giving up whatever cash I carried and left with the promise to transfer the balance by bank.
350 km in stormy weather with winds up to 100km/hour or so later I arrive in

Le Pavillon Bleu at 20h50. Barely the time to freshen up and go to the dining room.
The rooms are OK but small, the food is excellent though quite expensive. Lowest priced menu at 23 €, another one at 40 € and the expensive one at 50 € with many dishes requiring a 7 or 10 € supplement. It is difficult to find something not too expensive on their wine list and I end up with half a bottle Pécharmant from 2003 that disappoints me. The one we have at home is really good and a perfect alternative for the otherwise too expensive claret. I regret I did not take the Saumur-Champigny which was only 1 € more expensive but it might have been a little bit light with the sweetbreads (10 € supplement) I had for main course. We’re close to Paris and that is noticeable in the prices, my bill adds up to 124,00 €.

23 Jan
The traffic slows me down and I arrive at 8:40 in the office in Serris. I spend the whole morning with my boss and 2 colleagues, trying to catch up with my administration.
I barely have the time to pick up my 6 bottles of Chablis 1er Cru Montmains that I bought last time but could not carry with me on the train and 6 bottles of Champagne that my boss bought for me together in one shipment for him and his family and friends in order to have a better price. Leaving too late, as usual, and fully loaded, I arrive at 14:15 in Petite Forêt where I have a meeting to discuss the technical parameters to include some of our products in my customers’ product database.
It’s close to 16:00 when I leave and I am now really hungry. The weather is still overcast and it rains now and then. On my way home I receive one phone call after another, forcing me even to stop for a while to concentrate on my conversation rather than on the traffic. All this slows me down considerably and I arrive at the Brussels peripheral ring in full rush hour. It’s 17:45 by the time I get home!
Fridays are sacred. After unloading the car I tell Htje all my adventures of the past week while she’s preparing dinner. We eat together and I leave at 19:15 for my weekly bridge-drive.
I’ll be home by 01:00 and since we ended up 2nd, I’ll have another glass of wine and go to bed. This has been a good week.

zaterdag 3 januari 2009

Koning winter heerst

Reeds de tweede werkdag van het jaar en alhoewel het stenen uit de grond vriest moeten we er alweer vroeg uit. Buiten is het nog donker maar alles is nog wit. Stijfbevroren.

Vannacht ging het tot -13°C en de hele dag zal het kwik ruim onder nul blijven. We klagen altijd wel dat er geen winters meer zijn maar als de weergoden ons weer eens goed te grazen nemen, vervloeken we met z’n allen harstgrondig alle weermannen en –vrouwen.
Gelukkig kon ik de hele dag van huis uit werken want het verkeer was meer dan chaotisch. Niet minder dan 400km file op onze wegen waar andere drukke ochtenden het moeten stellen met slechts 250 à 300km. Wat een zinloos verlies aan tijd en energie!
Dan maar genieten van de tuin en de omgeving. Het heeft al bij al flink gesneeuwd en door de lage temperatuur blijft alles glinsterend wit liggen. Zodra de zon schijnt ziet alles er stralend wit uit. Zelfs onze doordeweekse straat ziet er veel mooier uit dan anders. Helderder, duidelijker en minder dof. Op de één of andere manier lijken de huizen en de tuinen frisser. Ikzelf loop dan graag even in de tuin rond en zie dat alles goed is .

Eénmaal de zon op is, wordt onze tuin overspoeld door allerhande vogels die zich aan het eten wat door Htje kwistig ter beschikking is gesteld te goed te doen.
Mezen, vinken, mussen, spreeuwen, roodborstjes, merels, lijsters, eksters en af en toe een houtduif. De groene papegaai hebben we de afgelopen dagen niet meer gezien en de speciaal voor hem gefoerageerde zonnebloempitten worden zonder schroom door de anderen buitgemaakt. De meeuwen vliegen gewoon over, in het spoor van de ganzen en de sporadische reiger, op weg naar de putten van Hombeek.

Verblind door de zon vliegt een meesje tegen ons raam aan en blijft, verdwaasd door de klap, wezenloos op grond liggen. Gauw even opwarmen in Htje’s handen en dan even laten uitrusten in een doosje en gelukkig, na enkele minuten fladdert het beestje weer dartel weg. Htje hééft haar dagelijkse goede daad verricht.

Knoert kijkt wezenloos toe vanachter het raam. Ruim zestien en al wat trager en vadsiger geworden. De eens zo koele moordenaar kijkt nu nog amper op als de vermetelste onder de merels tot voor het raam de kaaskorstjes komt zoeken die wij na het ontbijt tot hapklare stukjes hebben versneden. Tegenwoordig gaat er geen dag voorbij of we moeten hem de eerste hulp toedienen en de wondjes verbinden die hij tijdens zijn dagelijkse vechtpartijen met de jonge buurkat oploopt. We hopen dan wel telkens dat het slechts Pyrrusoverwinningen zijn van die dikke tijger maar aan de sporen op Knoert te zien lijkt het steeds vaker uit te draaien op zijn Waterloo. Wij houden hem dan ook steeds vaker ’s avonds thuis; in de keuken is een plaatsje voorzien op een oude deken waar de oude krijger van zijn welverdiende rust kan genieten.