Postcards from a family holiday get-away to half-way around the world.
How does one write something, much less a note about something mostly unserious, after last week’s devastating news? Trite maxims such as “if you don’t go on with your life, the bad guy wins” don’t come close to sufficiency. Yet as I sit outside my hotel room listening to the 36th hour of near-monsoon rains since my family has arrived on the other side of the planet from home, I am reminded that life does have methods of washing away at least the superficial signs of even the most horrific events, often leaving more permanent but less plentiful reminders which we all must come to terms with, as some combination of lesson and warning, in our own ways. I suppose, like many things on this earth, if it were any other way, life would be less worth living.
On the spectrum of ailments, jet leg earns somewhat more sympathy than excessive ear wax and somewhat less than a bad case of toe fungus. But even though I have traveled a lot — now having visited about 60 countries and six continents — I have never had jet lag like this.
A week into our “trip of a lifetime” family vacation — a welcome break from the early winter snows of the Colorado mountains we call home — I am yet to sleep for more than three hours at a stretch. Nearly halfway around the planet from the Rocky Mountains, our bodies and minds can’t seem to grasp that bed time is not two hours before lunch. If you often feel like having a 3 PM catnap, try it when 3 PM is 1 AM at your house. Then when you do take that nap, you will sleep for several blissful hours, only to realize that you have made it that much harder to adjust to the time zone because when you try to sleep that night, your body will think that is time for a short nap. And thus I type these words in a pitch black night-morning, listening to falling rain and waves breaking on the shores of Sri Lanka, feeling a strange combination of awake and disoriented by the unsteadiness of persistent sleep deprivation.
Sleep issues were not particularly helped by arriving at the first hotel of our journey, the Sheraton Abu Dhabi (that city being the capital of the United Arab Emirates), at 3:30 AM after 35 hours of travel and being told that no room would be available for us until 8 AM. Apparently, every room in the hotel was booked except for the unaffordable presidential suite, listed at $600 per night more than the total of the two regular rooms we had already booked. (It was shockingly difficult to find a hotel that would allow two adults and two kids in one room.)
After about two hours of waiting restlessly, watching TV and playing Bananagrams in a typically hyper-airconditioned UAE building, the front desk guy, taking something like pity on us as well as maybe having been happy to hear me say nice things about his home town of Mumbai, came up to offer us the presidential suite for only $180 per night more than I had already spent. Out of desperation to have something, anything, done — more to pacify my understandably anxious-to-hit-a-bed wife than out of my own impatience, which was tempered by my distaste at spending an extra $700 — we accepted and thus had several nights in what seemed more like a large two-bedroom apartment than a hotel room, complete with giant living room with sofa, chairs, tables, and a big flat panel TV on the wall.
The room overkill turned out to be a godsend, if a pricey one, because our mass jet lag had different people awake at different times, and yours truly awake most of the time throughout the night, entertaining the wide-awake kids, so my wife could at least attempt to sleep. So when one kid dozed off, I could put her (usually my daughter, as my son was more like a pinball bouncing around the place) in her own bedroom, king-size bed and all, where she had neatly arranged her art supplies and two small stuffed animals on the desk. She looks like me, but takes very much after my well-organized artist wife.
Driving into Abu Dhabi from the airport, even — or maybe especially — in the near solitude of 3 AM, one can’t help but think that this was an urban planner’s dream: a nearly blank canvas and a nearly unlimited budget, allowing beautiful wide roads with landscaping nicer than most homes have, pristine buildings housing government ministries and private offices and luxurious hotels, and miles of beautiful park, called the Corniche, along the ocean front. I am told that Dubai makes Abu Dhabi look small and cheap. Is it not amazing what barrels of liquified 300-million year old plants can be transformed into?
The other thing one notices as a tourist in Abu Dhabi, where you’re mostly seeing those who work in service industries like hotels, taxis, and restaurants, is how many people who live and work there are not from there.
I did not meet, as far as I know, a single Arab working in any of those places. Instead, we met dozens of people — mostly men — from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, with the women, especially hostesses in the hotel restaurant, being mostly young Filipino women. (The omelette bar at the buffet breakfast included lobster as an omelette ingredient option, after which retiring to the presidential suite seemed oh so appropriate.)
It seems that locals are either too rich — either through birth or through pacifying subsidy — or “above” taking such jobs and I imagine, though without any basis in knowledge, that that’s just how they feel.
Another observation: Everyone we met was remarkably friendly to our kids, as if patting a kid on the head brings good luck like rubbing Buddha’s belly is thought to in other cultures. But on the street, locals (as identified by their traditional Arab garb) would rarely look my wife or me in the eye, and even more rarely smile.
Our experience was different in Istanbul, Turkey, where we spent several hours during a 9-hour layover between flights. There, although one might be reasonably tempted to ascribe it to trying to sell us things, people were effusively friendly to all of us — though again especially to the children. We wandered the spice market and bought something similar to the Egyptian spice mix dukkah, which my wife is very fond of. We were warned away from the Grand Bazaar as overly touristy, though I was still tempted as it was the place where I first practiced intensive negotiation when I was there in the early 1970s at the ripe old age of eight. It must have rubbed off on me permanently, because I negotiate the way others golf: for the fun of it, and with great satisfaction at feeling as if I’ve won — or at least not lost.
We also visited Hagia (pronounced roughly as eye’-uh) Sophia, which was a major church from the 4th century to the 15th century, then a mosque until it became a museum in 1935. It is a remarkable place, and it is good to see its long Christian tradition not ignored in the Muslim country’s presentation of Ayasophia’s (the Turkish spelling) fascinating history.
Istanbul is an incredible city that deserves weeks, not hours, and we hope to return there one day, not least because its Business Class airport lounge is a place I could gladly stay for several days as it is full of good food, good drink, and interesting conversation such as the one we had with a man who works for the Austrian embassy in commerce and trade development and was recently transferred out of his posting in Damascus, Syria.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online