Come Fly Me: So those of you who know and care, which excluding my mum is no telephone directory, will be aware that last week was to 'close' what Gillette are to shaving - a whisker away! I had always intended to bail out of Kabul this weekend and head for a relaxing week in Lebanon, but after coming uncomfortably close to leaving the gene pool for good, I skipped bail and left three days early.
All of which has been most refreshing. I left Kabul early on Friday morning and flew with Fly Dubai. Fly Dubai are Emirates's budget airline and they have the same staffing policy as their sister outfit - namely cram the crew with as many nationalities as you can, and make a big song and dance of the whole darn thing once the passengers are fully on board - yawn!
If you fly with a budget airline in the UK, your expectations have been managed before you have even embarked. You are setting off for a weekend break to Stavanger or Tallinn, or somewhere it had simply never crossed your mind to visit before they built a runway and advertised the historic ruins and giddy nightlife for only £43 return plus taxes, and you simply couldn't resist.
You expect the sandwich you hadn't budgeted for to have the texture and appeal of sandpaper, and you also know the stewards will 'smile their prettiest' in a vacuous fashion and address you with a faux Mancunian lilt. And by the time the trumpet finally sirens as you land in Gothenburg announcing that you have arrived two minutes early, your expectations have been smashed into next year.
If I fly Emirates I have come to expect that each time I am attended to it will be by someone of a different nationality, ethnicity and sexuality (I always thought there were three sexualities, but increasingly I think there may be more if we include former Russian states). It's like sitting at a sushi bar and marvelling at what glides by next - 'my you are a long way from home' I muse, 'who'd have thought, a recruiting office in Bhutan'. Whilst it is a truism that many Emirate women wear chainmail, their airline is like an open marriage with a dust storm of narcotics thrown in - they are catering globally after all. And so it is with Fly Dubai, the poor second cousin. I sat in my seat and the Second Officer announced that there were indeed five different nationalities catering to our every need today, which for the 2.5 hour flight meant a cup of stewed coffee and a sandwich, all at extra cost.
The problem with this 'making the world a global village' business is that communication is rather key don't you think? Granted, if Ludmila from Latvia brings me chicken instead of prawn, it's not a major incident, I will absorb the blow, but you would hope that those in charge of 'up and down and left and right' would speak an international version of English that might just prevent us from spiralling to a watery grave. So my interest in the pilot was piqued when he made this announcement soon after our take off.
"Good morning ladies and gentleman, we apologise for the delay this morning, this was due to our arrival time in Dubai". I'm still not sure even to this day! This was followed swiftly by "The local time is now 8.45am and with a flight time of 2.5 hours we will be landing in Dubai just a little after midnight". And finally "We are cruising at 38 feet and the temperature in Dubai is 134 degrees". I was almost begging to get off at this point, but 38 feet seemed a decent enough drop and I had already tweaked the nose of death twice, so I kept my council and swigged my tea. I asked for coffee Svetlana, but thank you for trying...
Lebanon is a country of unexpected beauty, amazing people, we could do with realigning our perceptions.
History: So we popped over to a friend's house in Lebanon briefly one evening, and her father poured me a generous whiskey, is there any other kind? Her mother, who had not been alerted to our visit, greeted me in pyjamas and hair rollers (I think it was rollers though it could have been a stray pigeon), which I think she was slightly annoyed about.
I sat on the sofa watching football and making polite conversation with her father using mostly semaphore and violent pointing. He spoke Arabic and 'un petit peu Français', me a little French and some English. But we got on just fine, after all pointing and football are universal languages, I have bonded across the world by throwing my arms in the air and screaming "gooaaaal."
Between gesticulating and borrowed words we would occasionally stop talking and glance at the TV as our attention was diverted by a possible Real Madrid attack. Men are brilliant at this. A husband can show consummate interest in his wife's shopping expedition, oohing and aahing appropriately at all the right moments, "no your bum does not look big in the tent, pink can never be too pink darling, £70 each you say, no that seems very reasonable to me", and all the time in some distant corner of the room Theo Walcott has just put Van Persie through on goal and you turn your head and watch the whole thing unfold to nothing whilst keeping up the retail conversation with your beloved!
Genius, and indeed this was pretty much the essence of things here. In the corner of my eye I saw my friend speaking to her mother.
You instinctively know when you are being spoken about, smoke was billowing from my ears but it's polite not to enquire. I could see animated faces and then her mother would shoot me a stare that would turn into a disingenuous smile, and then look straight back at her daughter. I sipped on my whiskey, feigned disappointment when Ronaldo shot just wide and then waved my arms aloft.
"So what were you and your mum talking about?", I enquired after.
"She just said you seemed nice."
"Oh, that was it, nothing more?", I persisted
"She asked if you were a Jew!"
Well you can hardly blame her, can you!
Beirut, after New York, is my favourite city. The jewel in the Med!