Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reader, she married him

The bride dazzled, the groom grinned and both sets of parents looked relieved. In short, the wedding was fabulous. I say wedding, but it was more than just the ceremony on Sunday. The whole weekend was planned with military precision – there was hardly a moment that wasn’t pre-arranged. From Friday night dinner to a trip to the local art gallery to the rehearsal dinner on Saturday night. It was like summer camp, for adults. There was even a room laid on by friends of the bride’s parents, where guests could enjoy cake and coffee round the clock.

But I should start at the very beginning. I packed the case on Thursday night. After I’d zipped it closed I found the photocopy of my leyning [Hebrew text from the weekly Torah reading] that I was asked to sing at the Shabbat service. I had planned to carry it in my hand luggage. But then I thought that the American immigration authorities might be suspicious and wonder what it was. Maybe they’d assume it was some kind of terrorist tract or underground code. So I re-opened the case and packed the photocopied page in there instead. I felt like one of those women who used to visit refusniks in Russia under communism. Only, I was visiting the free west. Well, kinda free.

The journey to Gatwick was brilliant – Good Friday meant there was little traffic and I arrived 3 hours before my flight. Unfortunately, the flight was overbooked and even though I was at the front of the queue, the nice lady from BA told me she couldn’t guarantee me a seat on the plane. I resisted the urge to cry and I didn’t threaten to sue (I’ve seen Airline – the blubbers and the legal arseholes never get a seat). Instead I smiled sweetly (I can when I want to) and fibbed – I told the chap at the customer service desk that I was the best man and simply had to get on the flight. He upgraded me to world traveller plus (it’s the same as economy but you get a pair of socks and an extra movie).

I love the way aeroplanes are so unashamedly class conscious. First, business, club, world traveller plus, world traveller. Every class has its standard and every traveller knows his/her place. The airline forces all the passengers to board the plane from the front so that you have to walk through club and world traveller plus before getting to the cattle truck seats at the back. You are forced to see how the other half live before eventually finding your seat and fighting for a 10x10 inch space in the overhead bins. It’s like the airline are telling you “here’s what you can’t have”. Like Moses looking at the promised land from the other side of the River Jordan.

There is a certain routine that all passengers have to go through, as if by pre-arranged choreography. First, you walk up the aisle of the plane and tut loudly if someone blocks your way while they are putting their stuff in the overhead bins. (Why are they called bins?). Then, when you finally get to your seat, the shoe is on the other foot, and you resolutely refuse to let anyone pass until you’ve stored away all your crap (ah, that’s why they’re called bins) and are ready to sit down. Often, you have to get up at least twice before you can get comfortable. Usually so that you can get things from your hand luggage that you think you might need. Like the glossy magazines that remain unread, and the pack of cards that you won’t play with and will leave behind in the pouch in the seat in front of you. Then, when you’re comfortable, you have to blindly flick through the duty-free magazine, check that there’s a sick bag, press all the buttons, entirely at random, on the seat recline and the tv handset and finally, check out the other passengers.

I was sitting next to a young couple who unpacked all their things without saying a word to me, or each other, and began reading the bible the moment they sat down. The chap on the other side of me was also clearly a very nervous flyer. I was tempted to start doing the crossword and then lean across and gently ask, “Excuse me, how many ‘m’s are there in plummet?” But I resisted the urge.

Lunch was served at 11.00 am. (honestly – it’s like being in hospital) and the food was reliably grim. I didn’t order a kosher meal since I don’t really keep kosher any more. Which is faintly ironic. After years of eating kosher airline meals at university, it did strike me as odd that I shouldn’t order a kosher meal when actually on board an airplane. But I can’t face them. I still remember the feeling of acute embarrassment when my kosher meal, still on its airline tray, arrived at formal hall and all the other students would ask me what it was and why the hell I was eating it. And to make matters worse, the meals came in a double layer of heavy-duty plastic wrap which I’d roll into a ball and put on the table. Throughout the meal the ball of plastic would very slowly, and very noisily, unravel, getting bigger and bigger and knocking over the glasses and pushing the cutlery out of the way. Unbearably humiliating.

If revolting food on a plastic tray did not smack enough of being in hospital, after the meal the stewards turned the lights off so that we could all have a mid morning snooze. The air conditioning was so fierce that the cabin was freezing so we had to cover ourselves with the blankets. We looked like an airbourne old age home. Full-up on over-cooked chicken, sitting with blankets on our knees while we had a little nap and the nurses, sorry – flight attendants, brought us all cups of tea on a trolley.

But the heavy lunch (and the two glasses of red wine that I had with it) seemed to do the trick and I managed to sleep for a couple of hours. So I wasn’t too knackered by the time we landed and went through customs. For all the scare stories, it was not at all uncomfortable. My fingerprints were taken and a scan of my irises too. But nothing too invasive. There was a women in uniform at the front of the hall who walked up and down the queue of non-US travellers asking “Semen? Semen anyone? Any semen?” which I thought was taking things a bit too far. But it turned out she was looking out for naval personnel.

After a few cursory questions from the customs official - “what is the nature of your visit, ma’am”, that kind of thing, I was welcomed to the United States and invited to find my luggage. Which was waiting for me at the carousel. So no clichés about planes to Texas and luggage to Bangkok. Within minutes of walking through customs I was walking out into the Texan sunshine and on my way to the hotel and the first day of the wedding weekend. Of which, more later…..

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