Month: May 2012

Pig Foot

“Do you like food?”

The question was put to me, last night after work, over a glass of wine. Sebastien, bless his Teutonic sensitivity, was concerned that I hadn’t made Official Dinner Plans in Montreal. This is apparently a sin of some sort. Add to that, it was Friday, and well, he was concerned.

“What did you have for lunch?” he enquired. I answered — smoked salmon over a bed of lettuce with capers, onions, and two small blinis. “That seems awfully healthy,” he observed pityingly, “Not like Quebec at all.”

When he asked me, shortly after this, about whether or not I liked food, I laughed out loud — I am not anorexic, it’s pretty obvious I like food — but it was such a pitying, concerned way he asked it that I found it funny. I assured him I liked food — really, really liked food. And I had one real night in Montreal (the other one I had arrived into my room, straight from the airport, at midnight. Everything was closed.)

Sebastien had two recommendations: Chasse et Peche, and Aud Pied de Cochon. The first translates roughly as “Hunting and Fishing” and is a super-fancy restaurant for surf and turf. The second translates literally as the Foot of the Pig.  When we found that Chasse was sold out for the night and Sebastien just barely managed to get me room at the bar at Pied (“You can go at 7pm but you have to be out of there by 9:30, okay?”), he proceeded to sell me on it.

They serve poutine (gravy fries) with foie gras on them. “Because,” Sebastien said, “they can. It’s schweinemast.”  “Ah,” I said knowingly, “like Emeril Legasse. Pork fat rules, and all that.” “Exactly, exactly,” he said.

I did not have poutine with foie gras (the lady next to me did, and we discussed it in-depth). I did have duck tartare (and had a private little moment at the bar over it) and then had Plogue A Champlain, which is basically duck bits with foie gras over a pancake and syrup and hey, don’t judge if you haven’t tried it. This is what comes from listening to Sebastien over a glass of wine and then putting yourself utterly in the hands of the nice waiter person at the bar.

Yes I had dessert.

Yes I promptly went for a run this morning to try to ameliorate the caloric destruction of last night. Old Montreal is great for a run if you don’t mind a. taking your life in your hands at every cross walk and b. can find your way as quickly as possible to the waterfront where there are a few k’s of unbroken (or only moderately broken) running/biking paths. Montreal is a lot like the newer bits of Paris in terms of architecture (buildings 300 years old!), tons of little cafes here and there, and friendly people.

You read that. Go read it again. Friendly. People.

I had heard about Quebec — some of the kinder phrases said things like “all of the attitude of France with none of the scenery” — having been to France I can verify that the attitude was there (for I found France friendly), and it had its share of scenery. The only crappy bits were the tourists at my hotel during the manager’s reception (I went for a drink and left before having it — when you have 200 odd guests getting “free” drinks and only 3 servers and 2 barkeeps to attend, it’s a nightmare and people suck).  Even the airport was a pleasant surprise — a 2pm departure on a Saturday usually means get there 3 hours early to fight your way through security– which took all of five minutes.

And so here I sit in Cleveland — stop 1 of 2 stops on the way home (ooh, Philly is next!) having only marginal guilt about last night’s excess (it makes the not-eating of airport food easier to go by). Airports really are the least glamorous part of travel.

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Not So New Driver

And now we come to the part of the flight where the soporific effect of the hum of the engines has caused me to sleep through the food service. Damn.

I write (again, without wireless, and again, at 35 thousand feet) en route to Montreal, a first for me. It’s for work (naturally) and it’s of short duration (I arrive 10:30pm local, am in the office all day tomorrow, and fly out the next morning), but it’s exciting nonetheless.  Instead of being sandwiched between a large German and a larger Swede (as I was in my last flight), I’ve the enviable window seat and a surprising amount of leg room for economy. I have a 40 minute stop in Chicago, just long enough to change planes, so dinner will be elusive if present at all.

I haven’t written in this blog much, actually, since I started my current job. I’ve had jobs before where I thought I worked crazy hours, I thought I was busy, I thought I was stretched to my potential. It’s funny how, when you’re stretched that much farther, you look back at those previous thoughts and smirk at yourself.  In this job, I’ve had to go to 11.

It’s not that my hours are so much more, really, or so much more crazy – I’ve managed to keep them “normal” for the most part with the sloppy excess in the wee early hours, the very late hours, or the weekends when needed. When you average 36 meetings weekly, you’re going to be working at weird times to clear out your email inbox. It’s that the expectation levels and the number of things to keep track of are exponential – I previously managed semi-high-profile projects within Business Development, and had no direct reports. I now manage a semi-high profile (or very high profile, depending on who you talk to) department of 105-135 people (depending on contingent staffing) and their output, with two consistent major initiatives and a few smaller ones. It’s people, it’s projects, it’s resources, it’s allocations, it’s budgeting, it’s analyzing, it’s justifying, it’s explaining –oh, it’s a lot of explaining.

When I got into the job I was underwater the first 90 days, just trying to keep afloat and get to know what this department was about, what was (and would be) expected of it, of me, and where does this particular cog fit in that particular mechanism. I didn’t spend much time getting to know my teams (beyond my direct reports) and it meant I had only a very superficial knowledge of what they could do. It was like renting a Porsche. I knew, I absolutely knew, it could do more and better and faster and impress the hell out of anyone; but I was a newbie driver, not checked out on paddle shifters, and I hadn’t read the owner’s manual. So it was a tedious 90 days for the folks on my team, patiently explaining to me the why’s of certain things, the how comes of others, and the limitations of yesteryear.  A couple of times I put the gas pedal down way too hard, way too fast.

In the last 60 days, I’ve spent more time with people, and in the next 30 I’ll be spending even more. I’ve had a chance to take this Porsche out onto the track for a couple of initiatives and I have a *very* good idea of what it can do.  I know, for example, that it can corner like it’s on rails, even though we’ve only been asked to turn sharply a couple of times and at a slightly slower speed. I know it can brake on a dime even though we’ve been given a longer roadway to do so.  And when I look at the next 60, and 90, and 120 days, I know we’ll be set out to even more challenging tracks, and I know we can take the corners at full speed and I know we’ll be able to break to a full stop without engaging the airbags.  The Porsche itself is not new and hasn’t changed – I got lucky and inherited a team of really fantastic professionals, who are passionate about their work and the quality of it – but I think their driver is improving.   At least, I hope so.