Sunday, May 6, 2012

Moon Over Dubai (Part I)

"Ice is way too dangerous for airplanes . . ."  The conversation with my little brother seemed a distant memory as I sat shivering in my airplane seat with nothing more than a thin blanket to cover my lap.  I'd been carefully following the route on the screen in front of me, and we were just southeast of the dot that represented the Northernmost place on the planet.

Although my seat in this Boeing 777 was an aisle seat, it was toward the rear of the airplane.  So only the aisle and two seats separated me from that little window which offered a real-world peek of the Arctic.

The people occuping those two seats were a couple -- tall, blond, Nordic-looking.  They wore matching white sweaters and khaki pants.  They did everything in a strange kind of synchronization, including consuming massive quantities of red wine.  I lost track of the number of mini-bottles they'd consumed, but luckily for me, they also visited the lavatory simultaneously.  When they were away, I surreptuously scooted over and peeked out their window.

And there it was: a real, live Arctic view.  Jagged white islands dotting white water with a vein or two of icy blue.  It looked exactly like the beginning of one of those Discovery channel specials featuring polar bears, only instead of being way up there at the North Pole like I'd always imagined it, it was merely miles underneath my feet.

A short while later, the Nordic pair returned to their seats to refuel on wine.  When they started gushing to the stewardesses, I wished my seat had come equipped with earplugs.  

No earplugs, but headphones.   It was time to start making use of those in-flight distractions.  

Another peculiarly: my body clock estimated the time to be well after midnight, but morning sunshine poured through the airplane.  According to the flight tracker, we were scheduled to land in Dubai slightly after 7 PM in only 6 hours or so -- but the sunshine out the window was clearly early morning sunshine.  It just had that quality.  I tried to do the math in my head, but when I remembered I'd been up since 3 AM PST, everything just kinda blurred together like a strange nightless dream.  

As it turns out, I wasn't completely crazy.   Airlines have only recently been granted "permission" to fly over the North Pole.    

For the next few hours, I attempted napping, but nothing like sleep was had.  I watched as the computer airplane icon flew over Svalbard, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Volgograd, the Caspian Sea, Tehran.  A full day elapsed during those 6 hours, and it was indeed dusk when we eventually arrived in Dubai.  The last minute of the flight was the most surprising; the airplane touched down with gentleness.   


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