INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Etihad Airlines

(يوم التنقيل (جزء الثاني — Moving Day (Part Two)

On an Emirati airplane surrounded by Americans, I settled in to watch the over-the-top Chinese game show “Just Go” and felt comforted by one of those observations that makes you feel like the world is small and we’re all just one big people after all: it sucked just as much as our TV.

So I changed to something English because there’s nothing like dry humor to compliment a wet martini.  I think I’ve already been spoiled by Pearl Class… to the point where felt the need to spy on even posher territory.  I snuck another look behind the Diamond Curtain, pretending to fetch something from my luggage.  A suspicious stewardess came to check on me just as I had gotten up from one of the velvety leather chairs that are more like couches than seats.  Chairs are so plebeian, don’t you know?  Uh-oh.

I can’t remember ever being in an airplane bathroom before with a window.  I’m over Iran.

I’m peeing over Iran.

It’s somehow comforting to know that I got to do what George Bush was trying to do for many, many years, and no one got hurt.

In English, the PA system told everyone to turn their beds back into chairs and to turn off all electronic devices.  To my delight, the Arabic announcement had come almost 10 minutes earlier.  Even at the hands of the super international flight staff, sky law is no match for Arab Time.

And then, by the light of a red sunset above the clouds, I caught my first glimpse of the Gulf.  And we descended and the triangle of Abu Dhabi stuck out into the water like a slice of baklava.  And dark came all of a sudden, eased by the moon not two hours from full, and the plane landed by the lights of the city.

And I was like, whoa, man.

I was met at the gate with my visa, taken to have my eyes scanned (for security reasons maybe, but probably as a way of saying “hey world, check out the gadgets Abu Dhabi has”), and then pulled through customs faster than you can say “thatstwiceasmuchastheamountof
alcoholyoucanlegallybringintothecountry” to find a gang of porters waiting to collect and push my bags on a cart.  And so classism presents itself in the ultramodern{1}, post-cosmopolitan world{2}.  Some push, others pull, and those lucky enough just sit.

Before I was taken to the car, I stood on the threshhold of the airconditioned airport and the merciless desert.  Al-Rahman Al-Rahiim.  Not so bad, I thought.
And then I took another step.
My mind couldn’t really take in what the rest of me said it was feeling.  My eyes said it was dark out and ergo it was cooler than the last day I had been in.  My skin said no, no no, I feel hotter than a camel’s… temper.  And my legs said run.

I checked in to my apartment, fully furnished and with too many electronics to plug into the staggering dearth of outlets.  Classic case of eyes-bigger-than-stomachs.  Like Dubai, maybe, but not Abu Dhabi.  No no, Abu Dhabi won’t be like that.

And then I plugged something in.  And fire shot from the walls.  And the lights went out.

But in the time it took to get a mechanic not quite fluent in Abu Dhabi’s unique language known as “Globalish” (think English without the hard words), I wandered the streets of my immediate neighborhood.  As the old joke goes, a man is promised the amount of land he can walk in one day.  If that was an Emirati joke, the man would have gained about half a block.

The midnight humidity was so strong camera lenses fogged within seconds.  You can feel it, but you can’t capture it.

And soon enough two men came to fix the electricity and turned the lights back on.  So I turned them off.

{1}{2} These words not used according to any real definition. They may be made up.

Moving Day (Part One) — — —(يوم التنقيل (جزء الاول

I just got to play the fun game you can only play a few times in your life completely sober — the one where you pop the window open and go, “where in the world am I?”  Turns out I was in London, or over London, after having reclined into my fully flat bed/massage parlor the “night” before above the islands of northeastern Canada (read: the real New England).  It’s like I didn’t even go anywhere at all!

But no, I promised when I left America eight hours ago that I’d give up making fun of Canada.  We members of the Global Community choose respect.

I’m over Brussels now.  I remember it having smelly parts.

The day began at six AM Something Standard Time in a cove near San Diego where I surfed my last American waves for what’ll be a while to come.  Hopefully the tankers chugging through the Straight of Hormuz make swells big enough to ride, but somehow I don’t know if that’s what they’re there for.

And then a car came.  “No crying until two miles from the airport,” the driver told my mom.  I like this guy.

But just as I haven’t yet had that “Holy ****!” moment where I see a map and actually understand what moving means, I don’t think my parents quite have either.  There are a lot of parts to this that make it hard to focus, hard to figure out exactly how we feel in any given moment.

Now I’m flying over Liege.  The world’s greatest waffle people.

My mom couldn’t let me leave the country without a little nourishment, so my last moments on hard american soil were spent eating peach yogurt with a spoon she pulled from her purse.  And not finding a trashcan, I left the half eaten thing on the curb, waiting for me.

If I understand my neuroses at all, I know I’ll have a flashback the day I return to the country.  I’ll nervously look around in line at immigration.  They’re coming for me.  They know about the yogurt.

In fact, they almost didn’t let me leave.  The tickets that had been booked for me were under a slightly muddled version of my first and last names, and the guy on my passport was close to getting left stateside while my single last-named doppleganger flew to Abu Dhabi in style.

But I’d had this kind of trouble before, and I knew what to do.  I knocked over the attendant with my one 65-pound suitcase and flattened her with the other before diving down the luggage chute and rolling out onto the Tarmac.  I knew the tail number of my flight and I made a dash, scampering up the massive wheel and into the cargo bay before they knew I didn’t even pay for the overweight.

Or wait… that didn’t happen.

I’m past Frankfurt — either I write very slowly, this plane is going very fast, or Europe is tiny.  I think maybe all of the above.

Before I boarded, I listened to the San Diego loudspeakers babbling the announcements of lost items and people.  It sounded like half the passengers on my flight were saying: “Yeah, so I lost my watch and my duffel and my six year-old.  And I’d like an upgrade to business.”

Then, after a run of bottomless gin and tonics on sleeping-with-gaping-open-mouth flight number one, I shuffled into the Etihad lounge in the Chicago airport to drink Chivas Regal and make a few last domestic calls from a cushy massage chair.  You can’t be an alcoholic if you’re going to a (nearly) dry country, right?  Well, okay, maybe not after the four bottles from duty free I’ll be wetting the sand with.  That’s not supposed to sound dirty.

The flight (so far) has been everything it was cracked up to be (by many Google searches), but I keep reminding myself not to get used to the “Pearl Class” treatment.  A flock of pretty women from East and Southeast Asia (is this offensive to say/notice?) guide us all to our seats and offer beverages from a tray.

Here’s how I knew I didn’t quite belong:
Attendant: Would you like a beverage?
Me: Yes, thank you.  What’s the orange one?
Attendant: Um.  Orange juice.
Me: Oh, I mean, the other orange one.
Attendant: Ohh, I’m sorry.  That’s carrot.

Whether it’s “I’m sorry, I misheard you” or “I’m sorry that you’re a totally helpless idiot,” you know it’s good service when someone apologizes to you for nothing in particular.

And then came the food.  And drinks.  And much exploring of Seat Reclination Possibilities (or SRPs, as I called them).  I snuck into the Diamond Class compartment to find the personal suites, with their arabesque sliding doors wide open, completely empty. I guess when no one can afford something, we all know we have something left to work for.  And maybe that was the UAE’s plan for expats all along, like your parent’s rule for when your friends were over when they were out of town: let ‘em get comfy, but no one gets the master bed.

And here, between Vienna and Zagreb, I think I’ll order breakfast.

[Just moved in to apartment, escaping sweltering heat even at night.  More to follow.]

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