Discuss longhaul
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Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

After 20 hours in bed catching up with a night's lost sleep and trying to reset my body clock to UK time I am a little fuzzy still so hope this makes sense and there aren't too many spelling mistakes.

So, LA; been there, seen it, bought the t-shirt. By the time we arrived I was so tired I would have stabbed anyone who thwarted my progress to my hotel room and bed. It was 3am for you lot and 7pm for the residents of LA. After a cursory glance around the four walls of my temporary home, noting the instructions as to what to do if an earthquake struck, I slept until the next morning. I'm pleased to say that the loo, although of much the same design as those on the east coast, behaved itself impeccably, though I treated it with caution and respect.

Sunday morning dawned cloudy and wet but armed with my kagoul and waterproof boots I decided to take an eight-hour bus tour all around the sights of the wider city - this being a fairly physically untaxing way of seeing where I'd landed. Many people choose to hire a car in LA but the combination of unfamiliar controls, wrong-sided driving, jet lag and scary scenes from movies where the cops haul you over and say "Stick 'em up" or something, made that option very unattractive.

So, by 10am I was in the hands of Eddie our tour driver to whom every new sight elicited an auto-response over the p.a. system of "Man! It's an in-cred-ub-ul place!"
The next few hours saw us hit such hot-spots as Santa Monica and Venice Beach, Beverley Hills - "Man! How 'bout that?!", Hollywood Boulevard "Man! Ya gotta see it!", Downtown and Olvera Street "Say! It's an in-cred-ub-ul place!" and the rest...... It is a long and tedious list of a fairly tedious places and my fellow tourists were also fairly tedious. The sight of Elizabeth Taylor's or Arnold Schwartzeneggar's over-opulent mansions in Beverley Hills elicited excited gasps from everyone else and got a stifled yawn from me. Hollywood is a horrible dump full of tacky placstic goods for sale and brainless morons taking photos of their favourite star's names written for posterity on the pavement - you've all seen it on the tv. If I was a star of the screen, the last place on earth I'd choose to live is Hollywood. Even though Beverley Hills has perfect houses, gardens and security to rival that of any airport you care to mention it is strangely artificial. In fact, that is my outstanding impression of LA - artificiality and predictability.

The vast concreted flatness where ordinary people live stretches away from the separate cities that make up Los Angels county and every few miles there will be another shopping area complete with MacDonalds, Blockbuster Videos, a Supermarket, a parking lot etc. Becuase this is California there will probably also be a plastic surgeon's offering ear, nose and throat jobs between the weekly shop and a burger at the drive-thru. You can also pop into an optician's for a spot of laser-treatment if you fancy risking your eyesight for life. Highways, freeways, malls, shopping centres, gas stations, glimpses of the sea or the distant hills, this goes on for miles and miles and miles. It is totally lacking in variety or surprises. You wouldn't stand a chance of getting anywhere interesting without a means of transport. (They say "transportATION here"). It all has a soporific effect and many days of it would make me feel desperate to escape or shake things up a bit. Perhaps all this homogeneity is what inspired the Beat Writers like Kerouac to rebel. I can see his point.

Eddie, the driver, with his limitless enthusiam for all-things-LA kept us amused with various anecdotes as we drove around. It was all planned-out down to the finest detail and it would have been impossible for any of us to get lost, hurt, or wet our pants all day long. I was practically forced into an abundance of restrooms every hour just in case. It's a good thing I was tired or I might have fought back.

Finally it was over and Eddie, having dropped nearly everyone else off at their various hotels, only had me left to talk to. By now I was feeling pretty negative about LA. I had the impression that the accumulation of stuff from the interminable shops and the covering of miles by car every day were what constitued life here for the average person. But talking to Eddie on his own was the thing which changed some of that for me. He stopped yelling "Man. Ya godda see it!" etc and started to tell me about his life which was humbling. He'd gone to Vietnam as a gunner aged seventeen and had seen friend after friend killed. In one instance the boy standing next to him had been shot in the head and Eddie had to pick bits of flesh and shattered bone which had belonged to this unlucky person out of his own cheek afterwards. Then he had spent most of his working life as a cop in Los Angeles Police Department, a job he got due to his amazing ability to hit a target dead-on from a distance. He also brought three children up alone after his first wife was killed in a car crash and the second did a runner. At just fifty-four, he was semi-retired and concentrating on staying alive for his now-grown-up kids after his high-risk working life. We talked about what he'd seen whilst being a Real-Live-LA-Law-Enforcer. The worst was a six year stint in narcotics where he saw kids as young as nine and grannies as old as ninety addicted to all sorts of drugs. Most of the crime he came across was white-collar-crime like fraud, or domestic violence. And after all this, did he still believe in God I asked? "Sure! I reckon he's the reason I'm still here honey! Otherwise I'd be as dead as the guy next to me in Vietnam."

These days he volunteers as a mentor for nearly fifty teenagers who get into trouble with the law, answering their pleas for help at all hours of the day or night and representing their cause in the courtrooms of California. I seemed to have met one of the City of Angels' Angels. He redeemed LA for me with his talk of the real things that go on and his very down-to-earth personality.

After a second earthquake-free night at the hotel, Monday dawned bright and breezy so I borrowed a bike from a storeroom in the hotel which has all sorts of gear belonging to BA (surfboards, wetsuits, tennis raquets etc) and paid for by staff not the airline. I headed south down the coast and the sun shone, the wind was pleasantly cool, the waves broke with a smack on the beach and threw salty spray up into the air. About thirty miles of cycle track run along the edge of the beach from Redondo right up past Santa Monica to whatever lies at the northern end of the LA coastline. As the day got later, the sun got hotter, the cyclists increased in number and were joined by pedestrians, a rash of geriatric joggers, mums on rollerblades pushing babes in strollers, gorgeous young men in wetsuits wielding surfboards, beautiful girls appeared in bikinis to play volleyball and all was merry and bright. To be honest it was absolutely blissful. Perfect weather, perfect sea, perfectly flat cycle path and perfect safety. Sometimes there'd be a sign saying cyclists should dismount and walk twenty yards through a tricky bit to manouver and as good citizens, we all did. On steep ramps up to the road level above the beach it was forbidden to rollerblade or cycle and of course, nobody did. There were no dogs because that isn't allowed inevitably. Hence no dog shit and also no litter, becuase men from the LA Fire Department patrolled up and down in a big fire engine collecting the smallest bit of chewing-gum wrapper before it had lain a minute in the sand. And the sun shone, the waves crashed, the people smiled and waved good morning to each other. Pleasantries were exchanged on the piers and jokes shared amongst strangers. It was the most benign environment I have ever been in. "Hey man! Everything's cool! Life is beautiful!" - this was the prevailing and very beguiling mood. I could see why people choose to come here and then don't choose to leave. You could get used to this utterly protected and sunny lifestyle.......but, would you have a mind left at the end?

Also, all in the garden cannot be rosey because every hundred yards stood a lifeguard's hut and on every hut was a sign warning women not to do something pretty terrible. To find out what you'll have to click on the photo I hope to upload at the end of all this. That's California I guess. A place of extremes. Prosperity and poverty, security and insecurity, happiness and desperation. It could all be fine until suddenly something goes wrong - you get shot, abandoned, your surgeon screws up, a shark takes you while the lifeguard was watching the bikini-clad lovelies.

A morning of perfect beach life was lovely, but LA, fascinating though it is - I wouldn't want to live there.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Off to The City of Angels tomorrow. California, home of stars, sun, beaches and botox. I packed my shorts and swimming cozzie, then checked the forecast and promptly unpacked them and replaced them with woolly jumpers and a kagoul. It is due to rain all weekend. Will the inhabitants of Los Angeles have ever seen a kagoul before? Oh well, I worked up quite a resilience to being stared at in Dhaka.

LA comprises lots of places you have heard of. Even I have heard of them and until last month I was a committed Ameriphobe; such as Hollywood (of course), Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Redondo Beach where I'll be staying. The latter isn't as nice as the other famous beaches to the north of it (Hermosa, Manhattan and Santa M) but maybe I can get a bus out of there. Apart from the fact it is a great sprawling mass of concrete, LA sounds nice in that it is on the coast and surrounded by mountains. I must admit, it still doesn't sound like my kind of place but I shall reserve judgement and if I'm not interested in celebrities, well there are vineyards aren't there?

I leave behind me one rather ill friend Bob in hospital down in Cardiff. I don't for a moment kid myself that the NHS runs to free internet access for its patients in these straightened times, but Cardiffians, if you read this give him my love and I hope to visit next week. Get Well Soon BOB!!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Nawabpur Road, Dhaka.jpg
Dhaka Family.jpg

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

I've just re-read what I wrote before I went to and once I was in Dhaka and the first thing to say is that I certainly did meet the smiling majority rather than the disenfranchised, criminal element. Majority fails to describe the teeming state of the Dhaka scene however. The place is heaving with people, mostly on foot or aboard rickshaws, packed onto buses like sheep would be in England with a fair smattering of conventional vehicular travellers too. The assault on one's ears adds to the general feeling of mad, colourful life being seized on all sides by all comers and shaken to get the last drop out of it. The noise of car horns tooting, and parping and rickshaw riders frantically ringing their bicycle bells every ten feet never lets up except possibly for about five hours during the night. The streets are mayhem and crossing a road is an act of faith rather than judgement.

Due to my usual poor grasp of anything concerning numbers, I completely screwed-up the arrangements for meeting my pilots (read chaperones) at our appointed time. They never showed up and after I had woken one of them up with an affronted phone-call, I realised that this wasn't surprising as I was all washed and ready to go at what was 2am UK time. But there was no way I could be satisfied with retiring back to my own bed, so I determined to venture out unprotected and see how far I could get. It was nearly 9am in Dhaka by the time I walked out of the hotel and the remnants of the morning haze were still in the atmosphere producing a slighlty yellowish, slanting light and not too much heat luckily. Within 50 metres from the trusty Sheraton Hotel I had entered another world and didn't see another white face for a further three hours.

"If you have time to do only one thing in Dhaka, then take a small boat out on the Buriganga River from Sadarghat boat terminal" - thus spake the Lonely Planet Guide to Bangladesh, so I decided to walk that direction if possible - south from the hotel with a few bends on the way (and roundabouts - a British legacy very much in evidence).

In the area of the Sheraton the streets are very wide and a battle ground of competing modes of transport and pedestrians. Just a minute's walk saw me pass people squatting in the gutter selling fresh produce from large round pans. Funny little stalls with men gathered round them seemed to be selling something to drink which required some kind of heating and involved you using the cup someone else had just used and without it having seen any kind of wash in-between. A minute and a half's walk lead me into a flock of rickshaws at the side of the street - very colourful and unwealdy-looking. Already I was attracting a lot of staring. A few minutes further on and the rickshaws seemed to have taken off as one, in a bid to follow me at walking pace just to get a better look. I began to get a fit of giggles as it was all so strange suddenly finding myself to be a pied piper. I tried not to stare back too much, but if I made eye contact, it usually produced an exchange of grins and a shout of "Hallo Lady!" or "Good Morning!".

I diverted into a park to escape the attention for a while and this was on the whole more peaceful. Lots of trees, a river with men bathing at its sides and washing their clothes (very modestly making sure their important bits were never on show) and a family of five who had followed me from the street and were delighted when I took their photograph and showed them the result on the digital screen it has. I also acquired three small child beggars who were skinny, almost naked and very mischevous. They were like little sprites around me until I got rescued by another man who called them off. This was to happen again and again the further I went. Not with beggars, just with curious new friends who, if I stopped for more than a few seconds anywhere would gather round me until I was pressed in from all sides with more and more joining and competing with each other to check who I was and whether I was lost, where I was from, if I was married, if I needed help or rescuing. It was half frightening, half funny but also very touching as apart from one incident I only met kindness and concern. I met no females though. I realised instinctively from the start that the chances of any women "noticing" me in this way were remote. In fact most women I saw were aboard rickshaws which provide a sort of hired temporary chaperone to an extent as well as a means of getting from a to b as I dicsovered later on.

In the end I wandered through a university campus, past the supreme court building, past a flower market at the side of a street, to the beginnings of Old Dhaka where the streets are narrow, even more crowded and frantic and every inch counts around you. I only came a cropper once, when a rickshaw and I hurtled into each other, luckily with no injuries to me, the driver or the passenger who grabbed my arm and apologised profusely in Bangla. Smiles and waves and they disappeared again into the pandemonium.

I admit that all this time I was quite scared. It was difficult to judge how I was being perceived, even though I got plenty of seemingly-friendly attention, I didn't know what those who hung back might be thinking about me. The feeling that a colossal misunderstanding could arise easily was always with me. I didn't go down any alleyways or into any bazaars, but stuck to the not-very-open road which in itself was only like an enlarged alley in the end. What happens in A Passage to India kept coming vaguely back to me and I know that not many other women I know would have done what I was doing, but I just couldn't resist it. Everything was as different as anything I have ever seen before and I was sucked along by it. I also kept saying to myself again and again that Jan Morris, the transsexual travel writer has written that having travelled all over the world as both a man and then a woman, she always felt much safer and had fewer bad experiences as the latter. I think what I was most scared of was coming across a fundamentalist muslim who found himself horrified at my audacity, clothing, nationality, whatever and decided to attack me for it. This may well be as unlikely a scenario as it happening to me in Central London - probably is, but I just couldn't grasp enough of the culture I had arrived in to know for sure how unlikely it was. Where is it that women have acid thrown in their faces if they aren't covered up enough? Not just Afganistan under the Taliban I don't think. Nothing has lead me to believe that Bangladesh is this sort of a country but it was my secret fear.

After at least an hour and a half of walking, I eventually did reach the Sadarghat Boat Terminal and paid my 10 Taka to get through the turnstile to where the ferries and private wooden boats are. For the last fiftteen minutes of my walk, I was accompanied by a tiny, bearded man who had somehow appointed himself my guide, though he disappeared like a silverfish once we arrived, which was quite a relief as I thought he might want my money, but it was just another instance of altruistic kindness. The amount of attention I got once through the entrance, down the ramp and onto the harbour-side exceeded anything I'd previously attracted. Even though huge, metal wrecks of ferries were disgorging countless families, travellers and even an few businessmen onto the quayside in great potches, I still found myself tailed by children and men. It was here that the only "bad experience" occurred between me and a Bangladeshi male. He produced a small pornographic pamphlet from his pocket and thrust it towards me at waist level. I caught sight of western tits and lipstick and then fired a stream of verbal back at my assailant which I hope got the message across. I wonder what it was about him or me which suddenly produced this action and what it was intended to elicit from me. Shock? It was very disrespectful in an atmosphere which I found full of respect the rest of the time. Even when I had perhaps fifteen or twenty men gathered round me all angling for a look at me and my Lonely Planet Guide, I only had to put out a hand and say "Excuse me please" and smile and they would immediately draw back and let me go. Very courteous.

Plenty of boatmen tried to persuade me to venture out onto the Buriganga River in their little wooden boats, but I felt I had achieved enough of an adventure for one day (or night as it actually was according to my body clock). Also the river was the filthiest grey I have ever seen. Like a London Puddle on a grand scale. I contented myself with taking a few photographs of the scene from the shore and then headed back to the maze of Old Dhaka.

My feet were killing me by now and I was hot, though partly from the stressfulness of being constantly on my guard. I acquired a rickshaw for the homeward journey but soon realised that in Old Dhaka, producing a map and pointing does little to hasten your ride. It was as if maps are rarely seen or used and everyone just looked confused when they pored over it. There was nothing wrong with the map by the way - it had seen me this far. Anyway, we got home by a very strange route and my rickshaw rider/driver(?) shoved me off my seat a few times to get directions and a translation from various poeple en-route. The most interesting of these was at a Catholic Mission where he posted me through a forbidding gateway and into the arms of surprised but smiling people who I presume were being missioned-to. One woman spoke some English but it didn't really get us anywhere.

After about forty-five minutes on the back of a rickshaw, many of which were spent stationary, wedged between the one on front and the one behind (they think nothing of bashing into each other at a stop - just exactly like on the dodgems), I did eventually get deposited back at The Sheraton. It cost me 200 Taka which is about £2 and I gave my rider a bar of chocolate too. I expect all this was some way over the normal price but I think I had been quite a pain in the arse as passengers go. A lot less notice was taken of me once I was rickshaw-mounted which by this time came as a relief.

The rest of my time in Dhaka was spent attempting to sleep or eating. My sleep patterns are completely reversed, as is shown by the fact that it is now 4.30 in the morning and I am up, writing this. Partly though, it was that every time I shut my eyes in Dhaka all I saw was brightly-painted rickshaws, swirling saris and whirling traffic and it was an overload of the senses. My head was too full of it for sleep to come. I have got some great photographs but still can't upload them myself. Again I put out a plea. Will someone volunteer to try to do this for me if I email you the images? Now, hopefully to sleep.....

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I was wrong. I wouldn't rather be in Cornwall. Dhaka is amazing! There are bicycle-driven rickshaws everywhere - brilliantly painted and weaving aroung bashed-up busses and pedestrians in all the streets. All the people have amazing faces and real beauty - both sexes. So far, due to the time change, I have not seen much in daylight, but I'm hoping to catch a rickshaw of my own in a few minuted time and head off down to the river to ride in a wooden boat. I hope I have persuaded my Captain and co-pilot that this is a good idea beacause I really don't think it is safe to be a lone female on the street even though I have covered up as much flesh as possible. Me and the Bangladeshi's - we just keep staring at each other in fascination. Last night most of the crew went out for dinner to a very posh restaurant by Dhaka standards and it was great. It cost about six pounds a head. I felt guilty for paying so little which I know is irrational. All the Bangladeshis I have met so far have been charming and friendly - even the ones on the plane. I have never been to Asia and it all feels like A Passage to India to me. More later...

Time-change-wise things are tough. I have had to switch to local time which means I have had 1.5 hours sleep last night, curry for breakfast yesterday and a gin and tonic at 12.30 midday. Not good. I have also just eaten an avocado and two cereal bars and it is midnight UK time. What's going on?!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Well blog-readers. Get this! Below, you see a charming picture of two blondes, taken in Glasgow over the weekend and uploaded to the site a few days late, but better late than never. To get to this point I had to email the image and my password to Steve at Blogger which is somewhere in The States and he uploaded it for me from there. All thanks to him, but frustating that he can achieve this from thousands of miles away and I can't manage it within my four walls. Brilliant job Steve, thanks. (But what about next time?).

ps. I have just spent the past two hours revising the Boeing 777 and am not feeling any less anxious about getting back on a plane. I've also discovered it is Friday the 13th tomorrow. Horrors. To get to Bangladesh it looks like we'll be flying across Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan India and Nepal amongst others. All very unnatural.
Strange job this is. After eight days off where my employer failed to find a way of filling my time for me, tomorrow looms dauntingly as my first day back on a plane. I'm off to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh and the past two nights have been filled with anxiety dreams about working in Club again. I hope the rest of the crew choose those working positions and leave me down the back with a simpler service to manage. In my dreams, planes become the size of mansions and inappropriate objects (skipping ropes and oil lamps for instance) appear before passengers board and I frantically wonder why they are there and where I am supposed to put them. Then people ask me for things I can't find and hours go by where I can't attract the attention of my colleagues for long enough to get an answer about where to locate a can of diet coke. It all has a horrible ring of truth about it. I'm dreading it. But as Jude assured me last night in the pub, I'll survive it even if it is awful for a few hours. Very true, hardly anything is ever as bad as you think it is going to be and seldom worse.

So, Bangladesh - here are some facts. As a country it is only the same age as I am and roughly the size of England and Wales together (which I know is one of Stuart's pet-hate comparisons as Wales is always employed for such uses and then never mentioned in any other context). The population is more than twice that of the UK, but outside the cities it doesn't feel crowded even though 80% of the population are rural-dwellers. It is very poor but not the poorest country. Many African countries are worse off. It is hot by our standards all the year round. This time of year it is nearly the end of their cold season and still it will be between 60' and 80' while I'm there. The humidity is currently 65% although that's nothing as later in the year it reaches 95%. Much of the centre and south of the country is just one huge delta area and most travelling is done aboard wooden river boats. There are river gypsies who live all the time on boats too and in the northern upland areas various tribes who are the indigenous people.

Yesterday I began to get in a panic about whether I should have been investing in head-scarves and long dresses etc for fear of attracting the wrath of the locals. I began to consider taking a trip to the ethnic parts of Luton to buy something in an Asian clothes shop, but in the end decided that if the worst comes to the worst I should be able to get something much cheaper and hopefully expeditiously once I'm there. I did engage a couple of likely-looking Asians in conversation in Boots and in a branch of Snappy Snaps about what I should be prepared for and both of them turned out to Indian and pooh-poohed the idea of too much panic. The man in Boots said "No problem. It's not a muslim country. Not like Saudi." This is strictly true in the sense that Bangladesh has a secular democratic style of government which is not linked to Mullahs and religious laws. But it turns out that 87% of the population are Muslims, the rest mostly Hindu with a smattering of Christians and Buddhists.

I went to buy a guide book instead of a Shalwar Kameez or Sari. In five bookshops there was only one guide to Bangladesh and it was so dusty and practically curling at the edges I got a pound off it. My misgivings about Bangladesh were increased by this evidence of lack of enthusiasm for travelling there. Having read most of the introductory stuff by now I am not exactly comforted by the contents. Political unrest, shootings of students, bombings, poverty, threat of earthquakes, poisonous snakes and Bengal tigers, tropical diseases, baksheesh at every turn, hoardes of staring locals following you in crowds wherever you go and the need to bargain for every single chapati. Sounds all very trying. I'd rather go to Cornwall.

However, the Bangladeshi's also have a repuation for friendliness and want guests to their country to be welcomed and helped out of sticky situations. This is no doubt true. Let's hope I meet the honest, smiling majority and not the pick-pocketing, bandit minority. Safely cosseted in The Sheraton, things will no doubt be OK but I don't fancy spending the whole weekend trapped inside a hotel room. Still, I've been craving a curry all week so I'm looking forward to my first really authentic plate of biriani.

The photos on the blog problem is not resolved. Blogger have done their best but we think it is a bug at their end and it only seems to affect me so I suppose they can't be bothered to sort it out. A great pity. I know a few of you who might be reading this are computer buffs. Any volunteers to tap into this blog and try and upload a picture at your end, please email me and I'll give you the password. Might be nice to have a guest writer anyway.

Back home on Monday and then off duty until Saturday 21st Feb if anyone wants me.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

A few days off and a trip up to Glasgow. Many thanks to Steph and Alistair who, as always, provided me with good company, delicious food and hospitality at their Glasgow flat. We shared a bottle of Jeroen's wine on Thursday to remember his birthday and then sampled a few whiskies from Alistair's personal shelftop stash of malts. Chilli, whisky and a warm duvet managed to defeat the cold I was nurturing too.

Then onto the West End of the city to hook up with Flip, Angelique and Caroline to help Alec celebrate his 40th birthday on Friday night. The latter had made striking changes to his usual appearance in order to make an entrance at his own fancy dress party. See the following photo. A good time was had by all and the later hours saw most of us cavorting on the dancefloor in our Wild West outfits. We were also introduced to Alec's dulcit tones via a karaoke machine. Oh!...lucky us.

Saturday followed with further eating, drinking and shopping. Altogether a "gezellig" weekend. Some of the attendees can be seen below. Steph, Alistair, Bob, and Susan, you'll have to wait for another time to see yourselves on the blog. But believe me, you'd thank me for not sharing the pics I took of you with the world for which blame the photographer, not your beautiful faces.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Jaffa Junk Shop
I am very grateful to a man called Steve at Blogger (the host of this site) for upgrading my blog free of charge so that I can now post images. It has taken me several hours to work out how to do this and now the picture is rather small having gone from too big to fit on the screen before. I'd prefer it if you didn't have to click on the images to view them, but hopefully I'll get a better grasp of this technology before too long. What do you all think?
Monica in Jaffa
Shalom one and all. Just dragged my weary self, suitcases and as it turns out, a dog shit encrusted right foot up the lane and it was as much as I could do to flop exhausted and stressed into the bath. On days like this I think it is a good thing I don't have a husband and children as right now I couldn't cope with another single demand being made of me. I don't think I've ever experienced the workload I've experienced today on any other flight I have ever been on. Truly, I was so confused, panic-struck, parched, demoralised and desperate at one point that I did in fact blink back tears whilst handing out a plate of cheeses and a creme caramel. I honestly think that the brain surgeons, astronaughts and stock-exchange traders of this world must have had a less demanding day than I had.

The cause of all this is the fact that unlike my trips to NY and Phliadelphia where I was thankfully working at the back of the plane ("cattle class" as it's known), yesterday and today I was in Business Class which we call "Club". The service is incredibly fiddly and complicated and I have been taught it on paper and no more. I couldn't find anything, I didn't know what to do with it once I had it, my hands shook with nerves and the pressure, my colleagues ran round me trying to fill in for my ignorance and mistakes but even though I could see this there was nothing I could do. My performance was uncharitably termed "a fuck up" by my immediate superior, who it is fair to say bore the brunt of my inexperience. It is not agreeable to be labelled almost worse than useless when you have worked for over five years at something. All very mortifying indeed really.

On top of this, the Israeli passengers certainly know how to make themselves unpleasant. I bent over backwards for them but they dished out the dirt in return. In fact they are about the most difficult set of plane-bound-beings I have ever encountered. As a caveat to this, there were of course some friendly and grateful types in amongst the snarling curmudgeons, but a far higher proportion of challenging individuals than I have ever come across within the confines of an aircraft.

I'm pleased to say that once in the country itself I met with nothing but courtesy and warmth and even a man who yelled at me on three separate occasions on the way out to Tel Aviv, broke into smiles and welcome when I admitted this was my first visit to Israel. He also yelled at his fellow passengers (I could understand this) and then turned to me and shouted "This fucking crazy religious family! Get them out of my cabin!". It's a wonder the whole thing didn't result in a proper bout of air rage and a bit of handcuffing and police involvement. But it seems the Israelis are used to volatilty between themselves as no one batted an eyelid except me.

In between the flights, I tried to explore the only old part of Tel Aviv which is called Jaffa and is just south of the main city. According to the Lonely Planet Guide, Jaffa is where Jonah came out of the whale, the apostle Peter stayed the night in a house that still stands, there are visible ruins going back to 3000 BC and it is the oldest port in the world. This all makes it sound more historic and interesting than it actually was. There were a few old stone buildings crawling up the hill away from the harbour but they weren't all that picturesque and inland it was like an extended slum. Various streets were filled with single story shops, all open to the pavement and full of the contents of a hundred million car-boot sales, or so it seemed. Lamps, metal dishes, rugs, jewelery, household junk - it was like Aladdin's cave and a charity shop all rolled into one. I went there with one of my colleagues, Monica and we agreed it was fascinating, but filthy dirty and from time to time a little threatening. It was a good job not many people spoke English as that meant we got a lot less hassle from would-be vendors. Interesting, but I don't care if I never go back.

Tel Aviv itself I hardly saw. It is a modern city, only built in the past 100 years, so there are lots of modern skyscrapers and it is all strung out along a beach. Next time perhaps I'll head north from the hotel and explore the lucrative and happening end of town. My employer's instructions about going out and about in Tel Aviv are pretty restrictive. They obviously feel they need to hedge thier bets so if we do get blown up by a suicide bomber, they can't be blamed for negligance. I felt fairly secure all day, but I think I'd be wary of catching buses or visiting popular shopping centres or restaurants in a more central area even though such events are rare in Tel Aviv compared to Jeruslaem.

I have the presence of Monica to thank for the fact that my whole trip wasn't one big dislikeable experience. She and I gravitated towards each other instinctively and this was great as it turned out she was from Hungary and a Hungarian folk music and dance enthusiast. She had been all round Transylvania dancing and exploring the culture of the very traditional and old-fashioned people that live there. Talking to her about her experiences was a lot more interesting than anything I actually saw all day. It doesn't happen too often that I meet someone I really like at work although we all rub along in an amicable and friendly fashion usually. It would have been a real ordeal without her there.

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