By: Marty Leipzig Re: Well, I'm back...(for a short time) Hello, all. To quote Jerry Garci

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By: Marty Leipzig Re: Well, I'm back...(for a short time) Hello, all. To quote Jerry Garcia and company, "What a long, strange trip it's been." But first, the highlights: In slightly more than six weeks, I've traveled over 100,000 kilometers; and most of that was on Aeroflot. I've visited 6 countries and traversed so damn many time zones, I'm still not sure what the hell day it is today. But all has not been just for the pursuit of filthy lucre, oh no! Many tales of fundamentalism in it's many and wearied forms shall soon be regaled. Really, it all started innocently enough at Houston Intergalactic and the duty free bar/shop. Seems that there's an inordinate number of fellow travelers from Oil City that head east on a similar bimonthly schedule. Best part is, they're all rather convivial and all on expense accounts. The best booze is free booze (even if it is _only_ scotch). Anyways. After a quick few rounds of "Who can run up their expense account the fastest", KLM announced the departure of Flight 666 (I am _NOT_ making this up!) from Houston to Amsterdam. As luck would have it, dame fortune smiles upon tipplers and the gonzo, so that we were assuredly doubly blessed, and the 747-400 had only a mere 120 souls for the trip. Strange thing, it seems that virtually everyone opts for the front of the big bird, yet the assorted and sordid oil field trash immediately heads tailward. Closer to the heads and the dispensary, don'tchaknow. (This travel tip supplied free with your subscription to "'HolySmoke'; now an international fundy frying forum".) Soon, we're winging our way east, through the stratosphere (still damned few fossils there...) and well on our collective way to a colossal hangover. Someone produced a deck of cards, and an impromptu poker game (on company dinero) got underway. I had my trusty laptop, PIM, CD player and collection of fine dance tunes when I noted that one of our number had a set of small speakers (the kind that attach to Walkman type players). Soon, the poker game was going full tilt, as were the various liquor bottles, to the refined tunes of Pink Floyd, Mussorgsky and Tangerine Dream. Even the stewards sat in for a few hands. All too soon, the liquor ran out (Shame...) and we we're getting gear down and ready to invade Amsterdam. (Another important travel note: Schiphol Airport has the most wonderful Duty Free shops this side of Shannon, a simply wonderful casino and the absolute worst telephone system in the known world.) After infiltrating Netherlands customs, the Duty Free areas and the far too few heads; we, as a person, sallied forth to kill a few hours and errant brain cells at the Schiphol Casino. Let us draw the curtain on this sordid scene and pick up on the action some few hours later on the next KLM flight from Amsterdam to Moscow. About 15 of us had the same flight as previous and wrangled our way to the rear of the aircraft. It seemed rather strange that we were the only Caucasians inhabiting this part of the plane, and we alone we lacking the single monochromatic dot smack in the center of the forehead. Suffice to say, the stewards ran out of orange juice, apple juice and other non EtOh laced lovelies on this bunch of like minded world citizens. Pity. It saved all those nasty potables for the infidels, of which I was but one. I was relaxing in 14G, popping another goat damned Heiniken (one of the very few things I hate about KLM, their lack of beers OTHER than Dutch ditch juice...ah, well. we all must make concessions...) Ahem. I was working my way through a 6 pack when I heard the little olive skinned lovely in 14B say to her smallish, and equally bedotted offspring; "Look, dear. Over there. A heathen." I looked up to see 4 ocular orbs quite transfixed upon yours truly. In true HolySmokian fashion (we'd just been served what passes for in airlinese) "lunch", which, surprisingly, contained a couple of slices of ham. I tilted my beer in their direction, smiled, took a swig and chomped a hunk of ham, obviously to my relish and their abhorrence, and said to them, rather sweetly, "And not only that, I'm an atheist! We've come for your children, my dear!" Mere words cannot describe the aghast look and the physical imposition she put between her child and the bebearded and rather outsized apparition now asking for a double vodka and Bitter Lemon in the seat a mere armslength away. Fundies. Silly in any stripe (or dot). We arrive in Moscow (almost trampled by the True Believers trying to, as quickly as possible, exit the plane (hmm...I wonder why?...) and trundle off to passport control (Hell) and Russian entry customs (Hell^2). The only redeeming thing about Shermeteyvo-2 is the Irish Bar that is immediately to your left once you pass customs. After waving off hoards of taksee drivers, we collectively gather at the Irish Bar for the traditional Mulligan Stew (say adios to western cuisine) and a few pounders of Guinness. Here, the cadre of westerners broke, each heading their separate way. Me? I'm off to the Moscow Marco Polo Palace and dip in the jacuzzi. The next 43 days were rather uneventful, being spent in Siberia and what with it being winter and all. Apart from the banya excursions, ice fishing trips, vodka and beer; it was a fairly quiet hitch. One instance of note: we're shooting a 3-D seismic grid out in the outback. The only way around the countryside (now nestled serenely under a 2 m thick blanket of snow) is through the use of old Soviet armored personnel carriers (graciously donated by the military to the local Neftegaz groups after their stint in Afghanistan). The smaller recon vehicles (the GAZ 11) weighs in at only 6 tons, and, being a tracked vehicle, is the very height of fun to drive. The larger GAZ 20's tip in at around 11 or so metric tons, and are used by the seismic crews to drag around the skid-mounted drill rigs to prepare the 15 m deep shotholes. APV's, drilling rigs and explosives...what could be better? Anyways. After a brief stint in Ufa, Bashkiria (the *other* side of the Urals), on a plane flight where I was the one and only westerner (Newspaper headlines dancing through my head: "Russian plane goes down in Bashkiria. 350 Russians and 1 goofy American missing."), I return to the oilfields of Western Siberia and prepare for my departure to points west. So, it's another jam-packed, joyful-noiseful Aeroflot voyage back to Moscow. Interesting what patches of black ice on a runway can do to a IL-76 airliner. Never before have I been on a flight that went sideways after landing... Off to retrieve baggage and rustle up a driver for the 130 km trip from Domodedevo to Shermeteyvo-2 (domestic to international airport...gad, they do things strangely over there.) Taking a ride from one airport to the other in Moscow is a real experience; you get to see, up close and personal, the birch forests that surround Moscow, the dachas built in the waning days of the old Soviet Union by the swells and wheels of the Politburo (which are now for rent by western land rapers and defilers), the never ceasing construction and the constant parade of ancient, smelly, deisel-belching transport trucks that keep the city going. And the building...it seems that the Russians have elevated the architectural requine of "ugly concrete slab" to an art form. They pour 'em in forms by the hundreds of thousands and truck 'em to where ever they want to build something...anything. From apartment blocks, to retaining walls, to Metro depots...all the exact same size, thickness and generic *blahness* that only unfinished concrete can offer. Esthetics? Piss on that. I can only surmise that it works. So, finally after 2 hours of battling Moscow traffic (just you and 8x10^6 of your closest friends), I am relieved of $150 of good, American hard currency, and am unceremoniously dumped out in front of the airport. Doing the old bagdrag, I round up a 13'th century (or so it seems) wheeled cart and head for the upstairs bar (I have about 4 hours until my flight). It's exceptionally quiet for Sherm-2; but, then again, it's midweek. I decide to catch a flight to Ankara to visit Solly (I've got a load of software for him..."For evaluation purposes..."), then, after a couple of days R&R in Turkey, head to Amsterdam, and other points west. After a few hours duty-freeing it and schmoozing around the Irish Bar at the airport, I hear the flight call and I'm off on my way southwest. I board the flight and immediately notice all the freshly scrubbed, white starched shirt sporting and becravated automata filling near every seat on this flight. The mood in the plane is downright somber and, again, I wonder aloud as to what I've gotten myself into. Try as I might, I cannot help but overhearing my seatmates, near tears, complaining just how shabbily they were received: "We come over to their country to bring them the "Good News" , and they don't even have the courtesy to listen..." His buddy in the next seat over assents: "Yes. We take the time and trouble to bring them "Enlightenment" , and they won't even let us have an outdoor meeting." It is at that point that I realize that I have wandered into not KLM flight 252, but rather Fundamental Fruits Flight 011. Yep, there's your humble scribe, literally cheek-by-jowl with no less than 150 fundy missionaries who had recently been jettisoned gluetus-first from Mother Russia. Adopting one of my many nom-de-guerre personas, I decide to do a little espionage just for you folks out there in HolySmoke land (I figured this would be good for a hoot if not another installment of "Tales of the Indigent Rich" stories). Well, after getting some of the best service imaginable from the flight crew (I was apparently the only one partaking of the free booze; the rest of the plane's cadre didn't seem overly thirsty), I innocently inquired to the character over in 27B "Are you on some sort of package tour?" "Hmmmph. Package tour? No. We're Christian Missionaries ." "Did you have a good time in Moscow?", I entreated. "No. Nor in St. Petersburg, nor Riga, nor Kiev..." "Sounds ominous. What happened?", I asked oh, so innocently. "They nearly ran us off. Everytime, everywhere..." "What were you doing? Plotting insurrection?" "Not at all! We were merely trying to share the good news about our Lord Jesus Christ to these people...". "Did you ever stop to think that maybe they aren't interested in YOUR Lord Jesus Christ?" "But they MUST have an interest, or they'll be cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril (or something very close to that)." "Did it ever occur to you that they may not care for your brand of religion and have their very own that they're comfortable with, or even the lack of one, with which they're even more comfortable?" "But...!", (he was really frothing at this point), "They're wrong! We have the 'One, True Religion' ." Sound somewhat familiar, folks? I asked him if he had ever heard of Pascal, but all I got was a blank stare. I flagged down a stew and had another double bitter lemon and vodka, and settled in for a real-time version of HolySmoke. This had all the earmarks of a real good time; killing a few otherwise boring hours and flipping fundies the metaphorical finger. So, there I am. Ass deep in a planeload of disgruntled fundies, heading to Turkey. (I found out that since they got the gate in Russia, they were going to try and salvage a bit of the trip and try to convert the "Islamic heathens" (that's a quote there, folks) in Turkey and maybe get in a bit of sightseeing. Ararat, no doubt. Interested, I probed deeper into the intents and wherefores of the character sitting but a scant 2 seats away. Seems that this gaggle of glory seekers (all males, 22-30 years old and irrepressibly as white-bread as they come) had put up $5,000 per person to come on this "holy pilgrimage" to "spread the good news of their Lord Jesus Christ". Realizing immediately that I should go into the travel booking business for churches, I asked pointedly, "What church are you from?", as it seemed odd that even a church such as the First Baptist Church and Savings and Loan of Houston could pull enough strings to put together such a gathering. The response surprised even an old jaded rocknocker like me. "We're interdenominational.", he replied. "we are from all walks of life..." "Yeah.", I mused, "All walks of whitebread WASP society.", "...That want to share the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ (hereafter abbreviated "GNOOLJC", it's their favorite buzz-phrase) with all that might never hear it." "So.", I continued, ""You want to shove your version of morality, ethics and western religion down the throats of people whose own religious and moral conventions are a product of their, not some foreign, culture?" If looks could have killed, I would have gone out of there in a bucket. "But, we went there to help them!" "You mean, you went there to help yourself to some cosmic brownie points by parading your version of God to the poor, unfortunate souls who don't have the benefit of being born in the west?" "But, they've never even heard of John 3:16!" "I have. He needs a new watch." "So, you're not been Born Again, have you?" "Quite correct. I got it right the first time." "Oh. Oh. Oh...I suppose you're Catholic, then..." "Well, a long time ago, I was. But I got better." "Well, what religion are you then?" "I'm not." "You're not what?" "Afflicted with any religion." "You're not..." *gasp*... "Yep. An atheist. We're here for your children, buckaroo..." A good line never goes out of fashion. "You can't mean that!", he says, literally pounding on his ever present, but obviously seldom read, Bible. "With all my soul.", I reply. Thus endeth the conversation with this particular fundy. After all, it is difficult to converse with someone curled up into a fetal position. The remainder of the flight was rather uneventful, except for the pause I gave a number of them gathered around the fantail. They were gladhanding themselves about "how they were helping these people". I asked them how much food, succor or employment they brought with them to distribute amongst the masses. To which I got the reply, "We are sharing with them the greatest gift! That of the GNOOLJC!" After appropriating another beer from the stews, I informed that they, as I, think that your free gifts cost just too damn much. Needless to say, I made no new friends on that flight. Thankfully. We landed in Ankara and went out (gladly) separate ways. Solly met me at the terminal, cigars in pocket and beer in hand. "Damn.", I thought, "The only way to fly..." Turkey, at this time, was embroiled in their biannual elections. You think the Pats Robertson and Buchanan are bad? Shiite! You ain't seen nothing until you've seen the electioneering by the various parties wrangling for the upper hand in this country. You've got the Liberal Democrats, the Islamic Fundamentalists and half a dozen other fringe groups vying for control. The religious fringe is even more insipid than ours (if that is indeed possible), and no less subtle. I fully expected to see sword fights and mass bloodlettings in the streets, gauged by their rhetoric. We decided to forego all this nonsense and do some overlanding to escape the nonsense. Turned out to be a poor choice on our part. Since the local constabulary was busying itself trying to maintain some semblance of internal order, many of the roads out of Ankara and headed to points east were totally unguarded. Travel, as one police officer offered, was entirely at one's own risk. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we opted for a southern route to the Taurus Mountains (hell...been to Mt. Ararat already, got the T-Shirt...), and made a geological pilgrimage towards the Med. Past Lake Tuz, down through Konya and south to Antalya, to the beaches of the northern Mediterranean. Gad...this job can be rough sometimes. After 5 days of soaking up local culture, esthetics and copious amounts of locally distilled products, we tearfully bade the Med a fond farewell and returned to Ankara. We were pleased to learn that in our absence the Islamic Fundies had been thoroughly routed and sanity was once again ensconced into the political structure of Turkey. Seems that it's going to be a difficult as ever for foreign nutcases to get permission to despoil Ararat. I guess that 4 lane highway there is going to be quite unused. After a day or two at the university, I boarded a flight to Amsterdam and back into what passes for western culture. An uneventful flight into Schiphol greeted the weary traveler, as did the local Hilton. Leaving no more than $200 on the tables of the Schiphol casino, I again boarded a flight home and into what passes around here for reality. The upshot to all this is that I get to do it all again in the very near future. ... The nearer to the church, the further from God - John Heywood 1546 --- Blue Wave/Max v2.20 * Origin: A Little Corner in Time BBS (1:106/113.0)

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