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eternal sunburn of the witless mind

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Part II of the Paris Air Show report: before I get to the planes and the flight displays, a little about the airfield and the facilities. All the general public spectators were crammed into a small section of the flight line – the area closest to the runway – though there was more space further back. I arrived not long before the flight display was due to start, so I went straight to the flight line and spent most of the afternoon there, taking pictures.

It was a very hot day, with almost no shade, and the organizers broadcasting warnings to everyone to drink plenty of water. Could you get water? At a price. A baguette (sub) with jambon et fromage (ham & cheese), a 500ml bottle of Coke, and a 500ml bottle of water came to €12 ($15), more than double the typical street price.

Airbus A340-600The displays had an element of unreality to them: the Airbus A380-800 was parked just in front of us, the last in a row of three Airbuses taking part. First the little A318, then the incredibly long A340-600. This thing just kept on going, long past the point where other planes would have stopped. Landing it must be a hair-raising exercise in centre-of-gravity and airspeed control.

The A380-800 is shorter, but its sheer bulk makes it the first plane to have a takeoff weight in excess of a million pounds (454 tonnes). The test pilots kept its flight display relatively sedate – it’s maiden flight was only a month ago, after all – and they didn’t even raise the gear, saying it takes 30 seconds of level flight to accomplish that. (It would have been halfway to Versailles in 30 seconds.) I didn’t get a good view of any of the landings, which was a disappoinment, seeing as the landing is the most crucial part of any flight.

After an hour I was fried, after two hours I was grilled, and after three I was roasted. By 4PM I decided I needed to get out of there. On the way to the hotel, however… describing this scene is going to stretch my descriptive vocabularly somewhat.

  • A veritable cornucopia of hot, tired, sweaty people, stacked 42-deep around the bus stops, and the show is not quite over. I couldn’t even see which queue I should join, not that I had a chance of getting the bus, so I joined the hordes slogging their way back to Le Bourget station.
  • At each intersection was a large, angry gendarme, clearly unhappy about spending his Saturday directing traffic and pedestrians. Loud whistles, heated disputation, wild gesticulation, oh my.
  • Two kilometres later, I arrived at the station to find the masses wending its way inwards. As far as I could tell, tickets were optional, with a sign telling people to buy €2 tickets for central Paris, and nothing else.
  • Hot, bothered, and distracted by all the commotion, I neglected to look where I was going and fell over a tree emplantation, so my right ankle is now in a state somewhere between “twisted” and “sprained” Cue much Anglo-Saxon swearing and quizzical looks from the locals. (A week later, considering how slowly it’s healing, I call it a mild sprain.)
  • Since I’m heading north, I limp straight through the gates on to the platform, and am mildly surprised to find I made the right choice, and could get on the right train when it arrived.
  • Whew, right? Not quite. I know I’m going to Villepinte, so I get off at the Villepinte station, before I remember not to do that. It’s a 1/2 hour wait for the next train, sadly, before I can head for the right station, Parc D’Expositions. Walking was not an option, with my painful ankle swelling up.
  • A hotel that was supposed to be quite close to that station turned out to be quite far, and I had to pull into another hotel for directions first. I must have looked a fright, but I at least got them to give me some cold water too. This other hotel was really close to the station, so guess where I’m staying next time, expense be damnedm if there is a next time.
  • The hotel I chose this time was really inexpensive, but was a painful half kilometer from the station. It was OK for one night, any longer and would I have sleep-walked my way out the window. It had some semi-permanent residents, welfare cases who put on a classic “white trash” performance for my benefit – heated arguments about money at 2am.

To add insult to injury; I managed to drop my iPaq later that evening. All my contact and appointment data was wiped after the battery came out, but at least it’s all on my home PC and work PC too. I don’t need any of that in my hand until I go back to work, and it can still play MP3s etc. I even took this opportunity to try Linux on it, which is also data-destructive. (Call it a work in progress.)

A week later, and the skin on my arms is still coming off in clumps, and I’m very red in the face. In my concern to get decent photographs, I neglected to carry a hat or sunscreen, didn’t I?

The holiday is almost over, and it’s back to work on Monday, at which point I’ll find out whether my trip to Germany is still on, or not. If so, it’s not back to regular work directly, and I have to prepare to deliver product training. The most flattering part, so far, has been hearing what my department will be charging for my services. That’s per day, multiplied by three days of training plus a day for travel and a day for preparation, plus costs for travel and expenses. (But it’s still much less than trying to buy this training from an external provider.)


Written by brian t

June 26, 2005 at 1:41 pm

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