Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Siehst du den Mond über Soho?

Nothing makes the morning grechka at Casa Boyo crackle, pop and fume more agreeably than reading of the humiliation of BBC grandees - preferably at the heels of latex-clad Japanese twins, but the clammy maw of the British airport gulag will do.

David, the Teddy Kennedy of the dismal Dimbleby Clan, was caught trying to fly on Poteenair to some drab French burg the other day, and displayed an endearing lack of awareness by whining about the poor service - in short there was no flight - to the civilian, non-BBC world.

No gentleman flies in any aeroplane smaller than a jumbo or larger than a Learjet, unless it's armed and the Hun is up to his tricks again. Only the national carriers of monarchies are to be trusted - except the Dutch, of course.

I'm not a Calvinist, and so happily make an exception to this rule. That exception is a small Ukrainian airline of such radiance that the lustre has blotted out its name from the smooth surface of my mind.

It operated out of Lviv/Lvov/Lwów/Lemberg/לעמבערג, in the charming western fringe of Ukraine that's like Poland but with vowels and a sense of historical perspective restored, and may still do so for all I know.

I encountered Air Karpaty (I think) in Belarus. A glance at the map shows that Belarus is made up of the bits of Eastern Europe that none of its neighbours much wanted. When the accordion expired in the post-Soviet game of musical chairs, the bemused farmers, ballerinas and manufacturers of exploding television sets who live in the area found themselves with nothing to sit on but ther own polyester-clad rumps.

They tried to be independent for three years, but have since petitioned Russia to annex them as a sort of cabbage patch cum missle-testing ground for Smolensk Region. Muscovite rulers from Yeltsin to the little new chap in the insurance-salesman suit have toyed with Alexander Lukashenko, the bumpkin dictator of Belarus, like a tabby with a week-old kipper, and no one seems to mind.

As I recounted earlier, the Belarussian nationalists of 1919 could have been accommodated on a modest sofa, and their modern heirs would be lucky to find themselves perched on anything so comfortable - especially after their mitten-pawed attempt to oust Lukashenko in the "Potato Revolution" of 2006.

So what brought me to Minsk, its clod of a capital, in 2004? A need to cure myself of nostalgia for the Soviet Union. I was living in Kiev, a 24-hour booze'n'broads kind of town even before the Beautiful People beat the trolls in the Orange Revolution, and sometimes found myself pining for the old Commie joys of dancing in tiny kitchens with bulbous, floral-print women to the cardboard-guitar twang of a bearded vodka-blotter in a check shirt.

As a Marxist I am alert to the dangers of sentimental yearning for a past that never was, and booked myself a duty trip to Belarus at once.

The cure worked. Four days of being kicked out of one of the city's four functioning pubs at 1100 pm was a salutary experience, especially as the hotel bar was booked solid by the local Irritable Prostitutes' Convention.

The local beers rated poorly on taste and oblivion, but did treat thrush. Everyone was drunk in a borderline alarming way, and the two permitted television channels shut down at midnight after an evening of pornless war films and optimistic harvest forecasts.

So I turned up at Minsk-1 Airport, eager for the flight back to Sodom-on-the Dnieper. After all, the flight to Minsk from Kiev had been a display of one-upmanship on the part of Belavia, the Belarussian national carrier.

It had sent a massive Airbus to ferry eight people 45 minutes across the rotting tree stumps of the River Sozh, with sulky models dispensing Nescafé and a bun to each of us dauphins of the air.

In this way President-for-Life Lukashenko was telling his louche Ukrainian neighbours "Yes, we have no coastline or proper shoes, but we can send giant flying machines into the skies above your fancy capital with its street lights and shops! Flying machines empty but for the rustle of stockings on upholstery - stockings made by the Svitanak Underwear and Tank Parts Plant of Hero-City Brest! Behold the wealth and might of Belarus and think about it, you drunken Cossack bastards!"

The plane had just reached cruising altitude when it had to plunge into its descent to Minsk-2 International Airport. This cavern of golems is located so far from the city that the gas-powered taxi ride takes longer than the flight.

Belarus is a land of extremes, but only in terms of metropolitan airport location. Minsk-2 is virtually in Lithuania, while Minsk-1 is right in the city centre. It looks like a Stalinist bus shelter, check-in is conducted at a portable trestle table, the departure lounge is the corridor through which arriving passengers trudge with their treasured boxes of flour and radioactive chickens, and the runway seems to cross a school playground (no take-off or landing at lunchtime or mid-morning).

The whole procedures took 20 minutes. The border guard was so excited to see a real foreign passport ("You are not Ukrainian pervert!") that he brought his boss down to marvel at its possibly Papist lettering, colour photograph and non-smudge ink.

Then I and three back-bacon merchants from Zaporizhzhya picked our way through the battered toys on the runway to a stretch crop-sprayer with "Air KapRaty airlanes" crayoned over an "Ivanovo Petrochem Ltd" stencil on the side.

A blowsy blonde divorcée in what looked like a strippogram nurse's oufit goosed us up the steps into a cabin recently decorated by the Herat Guild of Blind Smackhead Carpetweavers. After some random Ukrainian hawking noises over the intercom, we bunny-hopped into the lignite haze above Minsk and off towards the parliamentary democracy and nude shushi parlours of Ukraine.

The maneating stewardess wiggled among us with plump fists full of vodka minatures as we settled into our purloined cinema seats. "Lunch is chicken or meat product. Which would you prefer, young man?" she breathed in a manner that suggested a correct answer would usher me into a world of unknown pleasures. I opted for the poulet and escaped with only minor harassment and glancing frottage. The plane bounced from hedgerow to arms dump at an altitude of 600-700 feet.

But that's not the best of it. We were airborne for about an hour. In that time we each received three vodka apéritifs, a reasonable cooked meal, and a choice of wine. "I'll have the white," I told the flight crew as she pretended two bottles of Moldovan plonk were her ear-rings in a performance of disturbing coquetry. She unscrewed the chablis with her teeth, winked, rubbed the merlot against her blouse "to warm it up" and gave me that too. I felt reassured that the other three passengers got both bottles as well.

Once the meal was over she came around again with more vodka. When we landed, the co-pilot wandered through the cabin doling out cans of Obolon lager and mumbling hopes that we had enjoyed our flight. "Yessir!" we replied, and asked him and his charming sister where else Air Karpaty flew. He waved his arms skywards. "Around," he said, saluted and sauntered off.

And they didn't even steal our baggage.


Gadjo Dilo said...

I initially thought you were referring to CarpatAir, a wonderful Romanian airline that does indeed fly to L'vuv, which is dashed decent of it.

If a airline stewardess had rubbed my merlot up against her polyester blouse I'd not have drunken it but taken it home and kept it and its sexy static forever in a sealed glass cabinet.

No Good Boyo said...

The airline is a genuine mystery. I ckecked CarpatAir and a so-called Hungarian carrier called Carpathian Transport Airlines, but couldn't find the jolly Cossacks anywhere. Mrs Boyo remembers them, and thinks they keep a low profile or else they'd be swamped with eager passengers. Can't be having that.

They also taxied to the wrong part of Kiev'sd Boryspil airport, and so I was able to walk straight out without going through passport control. Win!

Gorilla Bananas said...

I would have asked for the "meat product" out of genuine curiosity. I'm surprised you didn't get an invitation to the cockpit.

No Good Boyo said...

I salute your spirit of adventure, GB, although yonder lies the danger of cannibalism.

The Business Class passenger spent the entire time in the cockpit, and probably got to the fly the plane at one point.

Gyppo Byard said...

Ah - the joys of air travel in strange parts of the world. Your essay is in peril of inspiring my own reminiscences of prop-driven planes carrying baskets of chickens over, between and - regrettably frequently - into Sumatran mountains, old-school Garuda Indonesia stewardesses who would give you their private phone numbers and the joy of looking out of the window to see bits fall off the DC10 into which you were currently strapped.

No Good Boyo said...

Your public demands to hear more, Gyppo.

I remember an Uzbek yak-40 jet flight to Bukhara in which the radar was not engaged. The pilot simply followed the Zeravshan river until he saw the airport, and landed.

The Drinker said...

An old colleague of mine, who ticked many of the cliche boxes - drunken, scottish, journalist, dissappointed poet/novelist, near-professional-standard road cyclist - told me that the uber-luxe-super-duper-the-trade-delegation-is-here-send-Pyotr-back-to-his-cage - delicacy was pork fat wrapped in chocolate.

Lovely story Boyo. Library, Equinary, Flatpackery!

No Good Boyo said...

Chocolate salo is a gimmick for damn fool tourists, Drinker. Unadulterated pork fat with a sliver of flesh, deep fried and served with a bottle of vodka that the waiter produces from under his hat. That is class.

xerxes said...

Truly proletarian transport doesn't leave the ground, flying is for bourgeois revisionists, capitalist lackeys and paper tigers [what are they? Ed.]. Stick to the trains of New Jersey Transit for workers' solidarity.

The Drinker said...

Thank you Boyo - he was travelling under the protection of one of our lovely British local newspapers spewing the charitable donations of a readers' campaign and I suspect fueled by local spirit. I consider myself informed on this matter and many others now.

Salut, salo!

Ron Combo said...

Wonderful stuff. I once flew out of Ningbo Airport in eastern China (drunk, as if you need to ask) and found that a chicken had laid an egg in my lap. I asked the flight attendant if he could fix me a prairie oyster with it but got short shrift.

No Good Boyo said...

Staff, Ron. They make or break an airline. Communism had clearly sapped this young lady's sense of initiative.

You're right to develop an interest in salo, Drinker. Laid on black bread, it's the ideal accompaniment to vodka, especially when the bread is balanced on the buttery thighs of a go-go dancer from Odessa.

Inky, I've done Amtrak. It's a plot to keep the workers away from nice places. Stick to Greyhound, you meet a more interesting class of piss-stinking schizo and might get to see where he came from.

xerxes said...

But NJ Transit is different. The plastic on the seats means that, according to clothing, you either slide off them or stick to them. If you can get a seat, that is; if not, you stick to each other.

Are you sure you're not a running dog with your talk of Amtrak?

Gyppo Byard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gyppo Byard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gyppo Byard said...

Third attempt - a pox on The Sun for its links being too long:

Speaking of airline staff, Ryanair and whatnot (warning - link not safe for work or in presence of mem-sahib):


[followed by]


Key quote:
"A Ryanair spokesman said: 'What people do before or after they work for us is their business.'"

I'm jolly glad I did the search that I did (which was trying to track down the rumour that Ryanair stewardesses have to pay for their own uniforms) while Mrs Byard was away...

Blab said...

Gyppo I too have been the recipiant of the garuda experience circa 1980. I likied the way the arranged their smoking (all locals (clove cigarettes) and most others) and non-smoking sections (a couple of health freaks, probably american) which was to have them side by side (thus ensuring that the non-smokers got their full intake of second hand fumes) rather than the conventional "smokers at the back" arrangment common to other airlines of the time.

I have it on good authority that not only do Ryanair staff have a salary deduction to pay for uniforms but they also can't get a pen when at work to write down what you order. The reason? well hotels are full of free pens and if Ryanair are good enough to let their staff stay in one on a stop over the least they can do in return is to furnish the company with pens.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I recently flew Ryanair, Palma to Madrid. The in-flight meal was a small pebble removed from the stewardess's shoe, while drinks, available only upon request, came from the tears of our hostess's eyes, induced by holding up a document headed 'Ryanair Pay and Conditions'. A most dramatic, instructive and, I have to be honest, entertaining flight.

No Good Boyo said...

Many apologies for the long absence - Mrs Boyo's parents were visiting for the conference of the European Association of Unlicensed Practitioners and it's been a bit hectic what with lugging stuff from the cellar.

I hope to do some posting this evening, now that the concrete has set.

Ms Scarlet said...

Magic Karpaty? All carpets fly after downing a bottle of vodka...

Gyppo Byard said...

Blab - I think they also toyed with charging the non-smokers for the otherwise free secondary kretek fumes, on the grounds that only women, gays and mentals didn't smoke.

Mr Pop - had the pebble been removed from the shoe of the Czech pornstar there were presumably those who would have kept it,unwashed, about their person forever.

Scarlet - how do you get the carpet to drink the vodka in the first place?