Monday, April 27, 2009

In-flight oenephiles

Cruising altitude is no place for connoisseurs. Even for an, uh, aficionado like myself, the alcohol served on international flights really only has two virtues: it's plentiful, and it's free. But somehow I managed to recently find myself seated--not once, but twice--by people who seemed to have mistaken the economy section of an Airbus for the plush lounge of a wine bar.

En route to Lisbon last Thursday, the man sitting in front of me called the stewardess over and handed the bottle of wine she had previously served him back to her, explaining in stilted English that the wine was French. And he wanted Turkish. (I know what you're thinking, and he was clearly not a Turk.)

Returning on a connecting flight from Geneva this weekend, I heard the stewardess patiently responding to the (alas, unheard) questions of someone sitting behind me that the wine was "from California... it's a blend of grapes... it's dry, but it's very nice."

But, apparently, not too nice to serve with a BBQ chicken hot pocket.

(Photograph by the great William Eggleston. Untitled, from the series Los Alamos, 1965­-1974)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Feeling estúpido en español

"You're not in Turkey anymore," this sign may well have read, and indeed I wasn't, spending a stellar 10 days touring southern Spain with a pinch of Portugal thrown in. While I exulted in many of the differences--there aren't many major Islamic monuments you can follow up your tour of with a heaping plate of cured pork--the change of language was a source of constant frustration for me. Here I was, traveling in a country whose native tongue I had studied for 5 or 6 years back in my high school and college days and I could barely spit out a "hello" or "thank you."

"Merh--er, ah, buenas dias."
"Teşekk-- uh, uh, gracias."

Though I never got past being completely tongue-tied, I realized after a few days that I could still understand a large part of what was being said to me (or, more likely, in my general direction, since my travel partner spoke Spanish well). Better yet, finding myself completely incompetent in one language reminded me that I had actually achieved competence (fumbling, bumbling, funny-accented competence, but competence nonetheless) in another, as I continuing found myself thinking not "I wish these people spoke English," but "If I was in Turkey, I could handle this, no problem."

So, sad as it was to bring the vacation to an end, I happily sank into the backseat of the car taking me home from the airport last night, relieved and pleased to be able to chatter away with the driver about how the weather had been in Istanbul, his theory that the city was hiding artifacts found during the building of the Marmaray tunnel so as not to hold up construction, and Topic A with Turkish cab drivers (and a not un-favorite one of my own), "Aren't you so happy about Obama?"