Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adventures with Air France

So, I was invited to go to Spain and teach a workshop on the east coast by the Mediterranean Sea, in a small city called Tavernes, near Valencia. 

Where the most delicious oranges in the world grow.. 

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The company that hired me was INSTEMA, a small but good continuing manual therapy education company. Manual therapy is one of the few remaining human activities that requires some in-house supervision/teaching/learning. At least, we think that is the case, if we are unsure of what to do with our hands or to think with our brains.. Besides, every so often it's good to go to a class in case anyone has come up with some new tricks. Here are a bunch of photos from the class that a photographer took for the company.
I have a few self-evolved tricks to teach, but mostly I have an explanatory model I like to think covers all the bases, a model that most of the time is completely ignored by manual therapy systems. 

INSTEMA took care of booking me, booking the trip, the venue, the meals and accommodation. They prepared and printed the manuals for the students and supplied materials for the class. All of this was already in place, months and months ago.

So, when the time arrived, I got myself on the plane and off I went.
After arriving in Toronto midmorning I had to sit around all day there waiting for the airbus. It finally took off about 7:30pm Toronto time, flight 351.
We had been in the air 3 or 4 hours, were eating a meal, when turbulence struck. Violent turbulence. I only had two hands to do three things: hold down the food, hold up the glass of wine, keep the wine bottle from sliding onto the floor.
I chose to hold the food down and the wine glass up. The wine bottle was a) small, b) plastic, c) securely lidded. As things turned out, it slid around a lot but didn't fall completely off the tray table.
Why is it that turbulence seems to know exactly when you have the most exposed and vulnerable food display, to strike? I realize that turbulence has no agency, so just forget I asked that nonsense question.
Eventually it quieted down. My seatmate, a woman my age from Croatia, and I, were just glad to be able to finish eating, and not have to fly inside a cabin that had food falling down from the ceiling.
It seemed to be taking quite awhile for the flight attendents to come past to remove the garbage.. we saw them in the far aisle, all huddled around one passenger, looking worried. It looked like maybe someone was in trouble.
We found out later the passenger they were attending was having an asthma attack, possibly secondary to stress, possibly stemming from the horrible rough air. He did not have his most important inhaler on board with him. The crew had one, which they gave him, and he felt better.. but...

To make the story a bit shorter, they removed the passenger from his seat and moved him back to the galley section so they could deal with him more privately. Then there was an announcement: the plane had turned around and we were heading back to Canada. Arrangements had been made to land the plane in St. John's Newfoundland, so the passenger could be taken off the plane and given medical care.
We landed, and paramedics came on board. Four of them. Lots of gear. They brought a very narrow little wheel chair all the way from the front of the plane to the very back, where I sat beside the aisle. They removed him up my aisle. He looked sort of embarrassed and drained, but alive and breathing OK by then.
Anyway... then the rest of us sat in the plane for the rest of the night, while the crew figured out what to do next.
Which was dreadful. 

The sitting all night on the runway and not even traveling part, I mean.

Every hour or two, an announcement would come along. First, they were going to try to take off and go back to Toronto. Then they changed it to Montreal. Then, forget about taking off - the plane simply couldn't take off. The Newfie gale was too strong, and there wasn't any runway in any direction that would be acceptable for such a huge plane.

So, here's the thing: it was a big plane. It was capable of holding almost 400 people. I don't know exactly how many seats were filled, let's say at least 350. That's a LOT of people to deal with in the middle of the night in a storm. To add to the problem, airline headquarters in Paris seemed to be closed. No one there bothered to answer the phone. So there were no clear guidelines.
The flight crew and officials and bus drivers and hotel managers in St. John's all had to cobble up a plan, together, for dealing with 350 completely unexpected people arriving unexpectedly on a huge plane in the middle of the night in a storm.

These things take time. People need to be phoned and hauled up out of bed, need to be informed so they can sleep rubbed out of their eyes and get organized.

Nothing happened with us. We couldn't move. We just sat there until finally it was announced, about 5:30am, that enough hotel rooms had been procured, and buses arranged to take us to them, and meals arranged, and we could go somewhere and sleep horizontally. But, of course, I've been part of enough large crowds in my life to know that nothing happens quickly when logistics are being handled for a large crowd. We didn't actually get to a room until about 8:30am.

Meanwhile, there was no internet, and I didn't have a mobile way to contact the hosts. INSTEMA knew nothing of any of this.

As soon as I was inside the airport, milling around with the other 350 passengers, I emailed INSTEMA on my laptop to tell them what had happened. Later we sorted out that I would still come to Spain, but the last leg of the flight needed to be changed: instead of arriving a day and a half ahead of time to get over jet lag, there, I would arrive around midnight to Valencia airport, be picked up by the translator and the taxi would drive us an hour further south to Tavernes, where the class would start at 9am Spanish time later the same morning. They handled all of it smoothly and very efficiently.
I arrived in Valencia, was picked up by Maria Sanchez, the very capable, bustling, reassuring and friendly translator, and her cab driver Ernesto. It's likely above and beyond the call of duty to be at an airport at midnight picking up an instructor, and likely past her pay grade, but she did it anyway, with good humour.

It all worked out, by a hair's breadth. We didn't have to shorten the class. Thank goodness. And the jet lag wasn't as bad as usual, because St. John's is a good three or four time zones closer to Spain than where I live.. so I was already part way physiologically adjusted by the time I arrived. And the flight home was so easy by comparison.

The class was comprised of lovely young therapists with hands like butter who seemed to grasp the concepts easily without effort. I love southern Europe for that.. 

I got to see the Mediterranean Sea, for the first and possibly last time ever..
What a thrill.
The first book I ever chose to read, after joining the Trossachs public library, at age 8, was a collection of old sailing yarns from ancient cultures all set against a backdrop of the Mediterranean. It was all so exotic, compared to my boring life growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Reading was such an escape valve. It was always my very favourite thing to do. Escape.

Well, I'm happy to report to my eight-year-old self, hey! we finally got to lay our eyes on that very body of water that is so historically rich, so central to so much old and exciting literature. Sorry it took so long, kid.