Friday, March 24, 2006

Las Vegas (II)

When I went to Vegas and I was sitting on the 22nd floor of the MCM Grand hotel, my memories brought me back to my childhood. I remember when, as a child, we went through the dessert-like landscape in Los Monegros, a county in Saragossa (Aragon) that resembles a lot the surrounding areas of Vegas.
I thought that it would be great that Catalonia starts to invest in Los Monegros and creates a "Las Vegas" type of set up with nice hotels, celebrity shows and "bullfight arenas".
You know that I am totally for banning bullfighting in Catalonia as soon as possible for two main reasons: first, it has nothing to do with our culture (we only have it now to satisfy the appetite of misguided tourists), second, because I think Catalans should not support an activity where people get excited watching an animal suffer. For those reasons I am hoping that the Catalan parliament will pass a law forbidding bulfighting in the Catalan territories (I assume this will happen soon after the new Catalan Estatut is approved. Doing it before that happens,would endanger the objective to have the Estatut passed in the Spanish parliament).
In the picture you can see a protest from the anti-bullfighting party (PACMA) staged in front of the seat of the Catalan government and the Barcelona Town Hall. Surprisingly, this is the same location where the Nativity scene was located. Remember that the "caganer" was banned from that display, what I interpret as: "you can pull down your pants, as long as you keep control of your sphincters".

So why would I like to have bullfighting in Los Monegros? I like Aragon and the people there. Setting up something like a "Las Vegas" there would create employment, would develop the area and would add some additional attractions to the vicinity of Catalonia without having to develop the oversaturated space in the Principality. We could have one or two days tours originating in Barcelona to attend a bullfighting show, a David Copperfield magician-like show and gambling for a while in Los Monegros. I would encourage Catalan businessman to invest heavily in Los Monegros, but do it low key. They should avoid the boycott (or boyCATt) prone hotel names as the Maragall Grand or the Carod-Rovira Imperial Palace. Just invest in hotels and give them standard names (I would even consider MeliĆ  Sol as provoking), theaters and other touristic attractions, link them with stays in Catalonia and we are all set.
Some of you maybe asking why do I support bullfighting in Los Monegros and not in Catalonia. Frankly speaking, I think that if bullfighting bulls were asked, they would prefer to continue to die in the arena, rather than being forced fed in overcrowded farms and killed slowly but surely hanging from a conveyor hook in a modern slaughterhouse. Therefore I leave it up to the Spaniards what to do with it, I just want it out of Catalonia. If one day, farm bulls and cows are roaming freely on the prairies for a few years and after that driven in stretched limos to the slaughterhouses, where they are killed through lethal injection after being sedated by an anesthesiologist, I may change my mind and campaign for a ban also in the rest of Spain. In the meantime, let's invest in Los Monegros (Saragossa).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I love Virgin

Do not worry! This continues to be a respectful political blog. Note the capitalization of the noun and the fact that is not plural. I am referring to Virgin Atlantic, the airline that belongs to Richard Branson, the eccentric millionaire.
In general, I never fly Virgin Atlantic because of two reasons, I hardly use its partners and its hub is Heathrow. I have tried to avoid Heathrow for 20 years. The terminals are far apart, you need to take a lousy bus to commute from one to another, security guards are very often rude and especially because I felt very offended by the signs at customs when I was there 20 years ago. One of the signs said “Europe and Gibraltar” and the other said “Spain and rest of Africa” (that’s at least what I recall, maybe in reality, it only said “Spain and Africa”, but who cares, the damage was done).
However, last month when I was in Malta, I was called back for an urgent meeting in Boston, and the only way to make it in time was taking Virgin through Heathrow.
Heathrow has not changed much, it is still a lousy airport and the buses are still there. Security guards are nicer, even one of them noted that it was my birthday (February 22nd) and wished me happy birthday!! (isn’t that nice?) and the signs at customs had been removed and replaced by the more neutral “E.U. countries” and “non E.U. countries”.
But that’s nothing compared to the Virgin Atlantic “upper class” (that’s the way they call it) lounge. It is like a high society club. You sit down and a waiter will come to take your order. He will offer you drinks, the menu and will recite the daily “specials”. While he brings you the food, you can help yourself at the Deli counter where I got some fresh sushi and sashimi after booking an appointment with the hairdresser (you can also have a massage, spa, manicure, etc.). All of this free of charge (in relative terms). Let’s say that this is included in the $4000 that you pay for the one way ticket from Malta to Boston. But the luxury does not end there. In the plane, the “upper class” features real individual flat beds (not the almost flat that you find in other airlines) with pillows, bed sheets and blankets. They give you a supercute black pajamas that almost everyone will wear (you change is the toilet, in case you are interested). In addition to that, a “Spice Girl” looking therapist will offer you her services that range from a head massage to finger acupuncture or even a manicure. At first, I politely refused because I had missed the word complimentary (and you know how stingy Catalans are and I was sure my company would not foot the bill), but when I realized that the Scottish guy lying next to me had accepted, I changed my mind while promising myself to work on my British English listening comprehension. After this experience, Heathrow moved twenty places in my airport ranking, I started to wonder whether I had actually seen the sign “Spain and rest of Africa” and I ordered myself a Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer card.
You must be wondering what these last two postings have to do with Catalonia Politics. I will try a hat trick. One of last points being debated in the Catalan Statute is the ownership of the airports. The Catalan government wants to manage them and the central government does not want to give them up. In this case, I fully support the transfer of the Catalan airports to Catalan jurisdiction. Looking at the current events, if we live them to the central government, Barcelona airport will become a provincial airport with a handful of European flights and no intercontinental direct connection.
If I were the Catalan government, I would fight for control and immediately after, I would partner with a good international airline like KLM, Singapore airlines or Cathay (or even Virgin), I would turn Barcelona airport into one of their European hubs and I would pass to them the management of the airport to convert it into a Schipol, Changi or Hong Kong airports. This would make of Barcelona an even more attractive city for leisure and business that would outshadow our archrival Madrid with Iberia that tops the ranking this year of European carriers that have lost more pieces of luggage.
I am now on my way to Sao Paulo in Brazil with United. No pajamas, no masseuses, no haircuts.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lufthansa, nie mehr!!!

Last Friday I had a terrible day at Frankfurt airport. It was snowing and the flight out of Stuttgart got delayed. My flight to Boston was gone when I landed in Frankfurt and that's when the odyssey started.
I proceeded to the gate hoping that the flight to Boston would also be delayed but it was not. The gate was deserted, no one greeting us, no one with our alternative boarding passes ready, nothing, not a single soul in the vicinity of gate A63.
I quickly proceeded to the business lounge to try to get an alternative routing. After waiting for about 20 minutes, the lady at the business lounge told me that they were not trained to carry out these complex changes (complex!?) and that I should go to the transfer desk in the main terminal. I went through security and waited for 20 minutes at the transfer counter until it was my turn. There they told me that they were not authorized to do this change and that I had to go back to the terminal. I had to control myself to keep calm. I went back through security again, unpacked my laptop, took off my belt, shoes, jacket and so on and went through immigration. It was snowing outside, but I was sweating as if I were in the Sahara desert.
I finally reached the transfer desk in terminal A that had no counter for business class passengers. I queued for three hours, till I got to the counter. In the meantime I missed two possible connections, one through Washington DC and the other through Detroit. After three hours of wait time in line, I got a good connection one through London. Only the people at the transfer desk were working, the rest of the employees servicing the gates, were basically idle, because the airport was operating at 20%. I even saw a policeman talking in these terms (in German) to an American tourist who understandably had lost his temper in the situation: "In Germany, we speak German and we do not need to put up with assholes like you" (the American guy did not understand German and I did not translate for the safety of both of us).
When I was already in the runway and about to fly to London, the pilot said that the de-icing equipment for small planes had broken down and that we had to go back to the terminal. I deplaned and ran to the terminal B transfer counter (someone in the plane told me that in terminal B, they had a transfer counter for business class passengers and it was true). There were hundreds of people in the tourist class line (maybe also 3 hours wait), but it only took me about 20 minutes to get to the service person in my line. I told him that I just wanted to get anywhere in the East coast of the USA, I would handle the rest. I got a flight to JFK late in the evening. I landed in New York at 9.30pm. The customs officers were so nice to me, I felt at home, I must have looked tired. My luggage was lost and is still lost. I had to make the lost baggage report. But I was close to home. A nice rental car was waiting for me with navigation equipment. Everyone was nice to me, everyone smiled at me. I felt happy to call USA my home.
I drove for 3 hours and 45 minutes through New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. At 2.30am on Saturday I got home and I had to wake up my wife, because my home keys were in the lost luggage. I went to my room and I saw my 2 little kids sleeping in our bed. It was really worth while so much effort to return home for the weekend.

I am going back to Germany in 3 weeks. I have changed my reservation to KLM. Lufthansa nie mehr!! never again!! or at least until the next airline screws up even worse.