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March 26, 2005

High Entertainment

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Johannesburg, South Africa

Friday - Saturday (morning), March 25 - 26, 2005:

I woke up early and spent a gray rainy morning running some last minute errands in Copacabana with Mara graciously accompanying me as Portugese interpreter. I then checked out of my hotel and made it to the airport a very cautious three hours early because of my paranoia that Varig would do something crazy at the last minute and change the scheduled 2:30 PM departure of my flight to Sao Paulo, where I would need to rapidly board my connecting flight to Johannesburg. Unlike the case with my flight from Buenos Aires to Rio, nothing had altered and so I had a comfortable gap of time to wander the airport's shops, have a light lunch and make my way through security, where the guard (who I could not understand) waved me away from the passport control line, which had only three people in it anyway.

The flight to Sao Paulo left on time and took an hour. Due to heavy cloud cover, very little was visible for the length of the trip. In the Sao Paulo airport I was relieved to find my gate for my South African Airways flight in a matter of minutes. The flight was to board in 40 minutes. I asked the attendant at the counter by the gate whether I was required to obtain an exit stamp. She just told me to go ahead and sit down and wait for the flight to board. No trouble came of this but I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have some explaining to do when next I try to obtain a visa into Brazil. In any event, the lax attitude stands in stark contrast to the uptight rigidity I experienced in Argentina. I mused on this as I waited for departure. But I missed Argentina and Buenos Aires and now I was about to leave South America entirely, 6 months to the day from my flight from Newark to Honduras (okay, in reality just Miami until the following day because of the hurricane). I felt the pangs of nostalgia in my gut. I resolved to bury this nostalgia under a roast beef sandwich obtained at a nearby cafe.

Finally I boarded a massive Airbus (8 seats per row; I was in row 55 over the wing) alongside a broad mix of other passengers --- white, black, Indian, Brazilian, etc... When I sat down, I was delighted to find that each seat had its own TV monitor above the tray table on the back of the chair in front of it and that there were stored movies, TV shows, documentaries, music albums, games and a flight map. Starved for this sort of fluffy garbage, I dove into it immediately upon take-off. There wasn't much to look at below anyway as clouds stretched out in all directions.

First off I listed to the new(ish) U2 album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I had heard that this was a great album and had read that Rolling Stone had given it four stars. I consider myself a fairly big fan of U2 and had been eager to hear this new effort for some time. After an hour, I wound up having to give the record a second listen to see if I wasn't mistaken about what I thought I had (and hadn't) heard on my first go through. I wasn't. What the hell happened here? Bono was promoting this thing as one of the best albums the band had put out since the mid-80s, but I cannot think of anything by U2 as bad as this --- ever. A complete disappointment, almost embarassingly so. Somebody needs to dismantle this.

Surfing through all of the other options available, I then noticed that I could finally see the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, which practically half of the backpackers I met in South America had raved about. It seemed ironic to be watched this story of a 23-year old Ernesto "Che" Guevara's 1951 -52 journey (of only semi-political awakening) from Buenos Aires down to Patagonia and back up through Chile and Peru to Venezuala as I was leaving the continent, but it was better late than never. I watched familiar images of Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lima flash across the screen along with the English subtitles (which I avoided looking at unless I didn't understand what was being said in Spanish). Overall the movie was excellent and reinforced my feeling that I would have to spend a lot more time returning to South America some day. Fortunately, I was able to further bury my re-surfacing nostalgia under a tasty dinner of beef pasta with red South African pinotage wine and, for good measure, a large bloody mary. I wasn't drunk with nostalgia but my nostalgia was starting to get drunk.

More than three hours into the flight, I wasn't the slightest bit tired. I needed to watch more television. The options on the system were incredible and I had been missing the ability to see all of this stuff for quite a long time. I felt like I was spending a night in the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue --- the luxury of the place could not be wasted on mere sleep. I checked the flight map ---we were only about half of the way across the Atlantic, flying at over 37,000 feet. Outside the moon was full and its light reflected surprisingly brightly off of the clouds below us, allowing excellent visibility across the night sky. I could just make out a trace of the curvature of the earth on the horizon stretching away in the distance.

I quickly got back to the business of glutting myself on entertainment. I watched Sideways, another excellent movie about two friends on a bachelor partyesque road trip through California wine country. I think everybody else back home probably saw this film many months ago, but I hadn't even heard about it until around the time of the Oscars a few weeks back. For me, the rant against merlot alone made it worthwhile. Unfortunately, it seemed that South African Airways had edited parts of the film and especially the language ("what the heck?") and so I am not sure if I missed any scenes --- I suspect that I did.

With only two and a half hours left to the flight after Sideways, I dared not start a third film. Instead I watched a documentary on travel through Kenya and India before turning to some of the sitcom drivel I was missing from back home. Reruns of Friends, Frazier, The King of Queens, for example.

At 4:30 AM (2 hours before landing) the lights came on and we were served breakfast. At 5:45 it became light enough for me to catch a first view of the land below --- broad swaths of yellow and brown veldt on the Western edge of South Africa, just over the Namibian border. A wide dirt road snaked through it. There were no cars or buildings in sight. As we flew toward the rising sun, a red and pink glow emerged in the East --- dim at first, it became nearly blinding within several minutes.

Then, almost suddenly, it was broad daylight. And we began to descend over flat brownish plains blanketed in shacks and tiny makeshift houses.

Posted by Joshua on March 26, 2005 06:43 PM
Category: South Africa

the new u2 album blows.

Posted by: ADam on March 30, 2005 10:39 AM

It really really blows.

Posted by: Josh on March 30, 2005 12:27 PM
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