URSABLOG: Great Beauty


My apologies for the absence of a blog last week. I started it but I was not happy with how it was going. I had to fly out to Rome in the afternoon, and had yet to pack, and in the end I got myself so stressed that I couldn’t get in the right zone to finish it satisfactorily. So rather than turn out a piece of rubbish I decided not to post one at all. As it turned out it was a fairly wise decision. It had been a tough week anyway. We had some success and some failure in the office, but personally I was out of sorts, running around chasing my own tail.


I made my way to the airport looking forward to carrying on reading my book,The Portrait of a Ladyby Henry James, particularly because I had reached the part where Isabel, the heroine, was living in Rome.  I hoped to prepare myself by immersing myself in the place through the author’s eyes, but all I could do was stare out of the window.


The flight was uneventful, but I still had no energy or inclination to read. It was only when was off the plane and buying a train ticket for the city that I realised that I had left my reading glasses somewhere, probably at security. This was not an auspicious start to the trip.


I was going to Rome to meet all my siblings. My elder sister, her husband and two sons had flown in from New York. My brother, his wife and their two boys, my middle sister (sadly without her husband and two girls) and my youngest sister were all flying down from the UK. It was the first time we were to be all together for two and a half years, and we were all looking forward to it.


I love Athens and I am happy that I have made it my home. Athens in all honesty cannot be described as a beautiful city; you have to go looking for the beauty. That said sometimes you can be surprised suddenly: a view of the Parthenon in the distance as you come down Patision, or being confronted by the sea as you crest the hill in Ilioupoli, or simply the evening sunlight catching a row of cars going up the hill in Kastella. It has the power, like many things here, to momentarily take your breath away. Then real life intervenes, and the city folds you back into her concrete grip.


Rome however is different. Instead of having to search for beauty it is all enveloping, and almost slaps you in the face with every step. By the time I got to where we were staying some of the stress I had accumulated had begun to seep out of me. I was still irritated that I had lost my glasses, but I had decided that it was kind of a bonus, as I could see the city as it is, not continually viewing it over the top of my iPhone.


Later on, as I walked across the city to meet my elder sister and her family for dinner, a melancholy light rain began to fall. I found my brother in law in the Campo di Fiori, and he took me to see the rest of the gang recovering from jet lag in a flat down an alley nearby. After a very enjoyable dinner, I left them to meet the rest of the family as they arrived from the airport. I went to bed after catching up, and by the time my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep.


It had been decided that we would all visit the Colosseum on Saturday morning, then go for lunch and then see the Forum and the Palatine hill before wandering back for dinner near the Pantheon.  The crowds around the Colosseum were huge. For a short time I lost the rest of my family, but found them, all standing in a slow moving and long queue for tickets. I told them that it was a huge waste of our time for all of us to stand in line together. It would be far better for me to stand there and buy all the tickets, and then they could wander off and enjoy each other’s company more fruitfully. So off they went, and in five minutes they called me to say they were at the entrance to the Palatine Hill where there was no queue and they could buy tickets which included entrance to the Colosseum and the Forum as well. I wandered over and was able to enter straight away and see Rome from a completely different perspective. The added benefit was after lunch we were able to walk straight into the Colosseum without waiting.


The rest of the weekend was fairly chaotic, but great fun, with good food, wine, coffees, conversation and light sightseeing. The city played its part too and continued to surprise and flatter as we walked around. We parted on Sunday afternoon in good spirits; we all agreed we had had a great time, and vowed to do it again, in another city and soon.


On the train into Piraeus for work on Monday, with my spare reading glasses, I continued reading the book I left to one side over the weekend.I came across the following passage; Isabel is reflecting on the romantic desires of men in general:


Still, who could say what men ever were looking for? They looked for what they found, they knew what pleased them only when they saw it.


In a different context this is exactly how many shipowners behave when approached with potential deals. They may have an ideal ship or plan in mind, but the sale and purchase market is not a shipping supermarket: you cannot pick your ideal ship off the shelf. If you want to buy a ship, you have to choose from what is available, in the market or off-market, and then try and negotiate. Many owners are reactive rather than pro-active and rely on their brokers to bring them the right deals. They don’t know what really works until they see it.


Planning is good, but planning without flexibility can be counterproductive, just as following crowds can be a waste of time. That is perhaps why independent shipowners with fewer decision makers are able to make better deals than the powerhouse corporations with different layers of control and authority. The downside of decision making by yourself is the bitter loneliness of failure, but hopefully the upsides will make up for this in the long run. The security of investing by committee means that everyone has to agree, and by the time they do, the deal may not be as good as it was.


Sometimes the best decisions are those made by those men or women who are presented with a desirable opportunity that they had not previously considered in the grand schemes of their plans. Perhaps men are not so unwise or rash to react to beauty; it is the ensuing negotiations that will define the relationship. In business, and in life, many of the best laid plans have led to bitter disappointment as they turn out to be unfulfilled, or worse, just wrong. As the Jewish proverb says: Man plans, God laughs. Maybe instinct, or simply events, can be better guides. Being open to change is essential.


The loss of my reading glasses made me more appreciative of the beauty of Rome. Leaving one person in one line for tickets left the rest of the family free to find a shorter queue just around the corner. Maybe we should be more flexible and not stick to the master plan at all costs. Crowds exist for a reason, but it is not always profitable to follow their wisdom. And sometimes losing the ability to read the small print will release us so we can better appreciate the bigger picture.


Simon Ward