A year filled with a lot of travel with my partner Bette has left me with the lifelong gift of wonderful memories.
They’re the kind that no snapshot could capture and that no one could find in a Google search or a travelogue. Only face-to-face conversations or the written word can convey how we felt.
Three separate flights to three different nations exposed us to how other people react to air travel. In the United States, we are ho-hum about flying.
That wasn’t what we experienced in May flying from in Venice, Italy, to Moscow or in July going from Washington, D.C., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, or in the same month flying from Tampa, Fla., to Havana, Cuba. In each country when the commercial jets landed the more than 100 people on board each flight cheered wildly.
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It was as if something wonderful had happened like the Royals winning the World Series, the Chiefs making the Super Bowl, or an exceptional save or score in soccer. The passengers were that excited about each unremarkable landing.
Also on the commercial jets in and out of Moscow the Aeroflot flight attendants wore old-fashioned, vivid orange suits complete with hats. Unlike U.S. commercial flights, the Russian air carrier provided all passengers with complete meals.
Only on flights in China in 2013 did we enjoy that very un-American advantage. And the food wasn’t bad.
Despite the rules against passengers taking aboard alcoholic beverages, we were surprised by how tolerant the Aeroflot crew was when some people opposite us pulled out a bottle and began passing it around. Clearly one young man had way too much to drink, and when the flight landed he cheered a lot more than other people on the plane.
Bette and I were sympathetic toward the Russian woman who was with him. In any language the embarrassment of a spouse is unmistakable as well as her ire and us knowing he’d suffer a verbal blistering later for his international misbehavior.
In Tampa before the flight to Havana, people at the hotel warned our National Association for Multicultural Education tour group that the food in Cuba was terribly bland. That caused many in our 19-person group to grab as much salt, pepper and condiments as they could before we left.
The warning seemed fitting in a nation that for more than 50 years has suffered under a U.S. economic embargo and the stifling Helms-Burton Act. But Bette and I wanted to experience the Cuban-cuisine without enhancements so we didn’t stow any U.S. seasonings.
What we encountered at every meal was delightful, well-seasoned and wonderfully prepared food. Everyone in our group was pleasantly shocked.
Several people who love to shoot pictures of their meals enjoyed posting their “food porn” on Facebook when they got their turn on the one Internet-connected computer at our hotel.
The “Cuban” cuisine included a stop at a Chinese restaurant in Havana’s Chinatown. Chinese immigrants were brought to Cuba for the same reason they went to the U.S. — to build the railroads, and then they stayed.
The pedicab rides in Havana also were a hoot. The young guys who gave us a lift trash-talked each other about who was too old to get us quickly to where we needed to go.
Later in the summer, back in the States at dinnertime in New Orleans as we waited for a table outside the popular Praline Connection restaurant on Frenchman Street, a constant crowd of pedestrians moved by us. Then suddenly a group of young adults strolled by wearing no clothes at all.
Just as we were about to point and laugh, a young man rode by buck naked on a bicycle. Visitors’ guides warn against public nudity. But the police officer we saw on the Frenchman Street didn’t blink as he continued to write parking tickets under the streetlights.
Only in New Orleans.