Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Flying Cubicle

Due to the interaction of crossing the International Date Line from East to West combined with an overnight flight from the US to Australia, I have no Christmas Eve. I depart Los Angeles on the 23rd, and arrive in Sydney on the morning of the 25th. A whole day, gone, just like that. (I'll make it up on the return trip, of course.)

The flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, once I calmed down from all the excitement of wondering what was going to happen to me, was boring. Nice dinner (herbed chicken in some kind of apricot chutney sauce, with cous cous and sauteed spinach), several glasses of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and a couple of movies later ("Get Smart," "Bottle Shock") and it's time for bed. I recline the seat to its full laid-out flat position, and curled up under a blanket for a few hours. It turns out I slept off and on for about eight hours, which is pretty amazing, but that's the major benefit of traveling in a lay-flat seat. The plane from LAX to SYD is a newly-refurbished 747, with the vaunted new United First Suite.

It's like a cubicle in the sky. Everything is grey and plastic, with nondescript indoor-outdoor type carpeting. The overhead storage bins are a weird shape so people struggled with their carry-on bags, and there is very little storage in the seats themselves. Except for the large video screen and the actual US-style 110v plug, it's not any better than the old First Class product that United offers. In fact, I think the seats might be a bit narrower in this new configuration. Still, it's better than having to sit semi-upright for 13 1/2 hours, so I can't complain too much.

We land and I'm the first person off the plane. Everyone is very cheerful and wishes "Merry Christmas" to each other. I head through immigration (a snap) and on to baggage claim. I'm pretty sure my bags aren't going to show, and sure enough they don't. The baggage services people take my information and tell me that my luggage will be sent to Melbourne tonight, and that I should get it tomorrow. Domestic connections to Qantas are straightforward, and soon enough I am in Terminal 3 waiting to board my connecting flight.

Wonder of wonders, there are open shops in the terminal, and I pick up a cute pair of dark blue cargo pants and two nice t-shirts from the designed-in-Australia brand store Witchery. I'm ecstatic to so easily find pants that fit: usually anything that fits my butt is way too large in the waist. I guess this particular Australian company cuts their clothes for actual human women rather than fashionable stick figures.

I arrive in Melbourne and see my friend Grant at the gate. Huge hugs ensue, he picks me up and spins me around and my shoes come off. The weather is gorgeous, sunny, clear, pleasantly warm but not humid. I'm so excited to be here.

Grant spends the car ride to his home in St. Kilda explaining the basics of cricket. I swear it's one of the weirdest games ever, even more bizarre and pointless than American-style football. I draw a few parallels to American baseball, and sort of get the idea of how cricket works. I'll hopefully attend part of a test match later in the week: it's the big Australia versus South Africa game.

Grant's partner Kitt made the most amazing meal: a terrine of minced chicken and pork, brandy, garlic, thyme, cranberries and pistachios wrapped in pancetta; a potato salad with creme fraiche and two kinds of mustard; salad of fresh greens with figs, chicken, and buffalo mozzarella; and another salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese with a balsamic vinegarette. This repast is paired with a sparkling Shiraz -- utterly delicious.

Nykolai, Grant's son, received a Wii Fit, and is now demonstrating all kinds of crazy games. He's playing one now that involves psychopathic French rabbits racing dragster tractors around a farm. I want to try the ski jumping game later.

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