By: Marty Leipzig Re: Well, I'm back...(for a short time) Hello, all. To quote Jerry Garci
By: Marty Leipzig
Re: Well, I'm back...(for a short time)
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).
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...)
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
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?
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
"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?"
"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
Needless to say, I made no new friends on that flight.
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)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank