Thursday, June 9, 2011
On the way to Kuwait
If I want to tell the story of my visit to Kuwait I must begin the tale in Barcelona, where the whole saga began in 1996. At 10.00 a.m. one morning I was standing on the flight deck of HMS BATTLEAXE in a light drizzle, waiting for a car and driver. She was late, but eventually arrived with a screech of brakes and a scowl. Had I already spoiled her day? Interrupted her mid-morning beauty sleep of which she needed none? Who knows? I was driven to the airport with speed and attitude, the latter probably something to do with the fact that government contracts involved no “tips”, whereas civilian airport rides were extremely lucrative. We parted on cold, indifferent terms. She with her highly polished, sweet-smelling Mercedes, me with my two worn, navy issue bags.
It took the bored Alitalia desk staff thirty minutes to find my reservation, but when they did I was pleased when they bumped me up (interesting phrase, that) from business class to first. Good, I thought. A comfortable nap on the way. And that I enjoyed for a couple of hours until the plane landed in Rome. It was to be an overnight stay in a pre-arranged hotel, and I had the address in an official signal. I got off on the wrong foot at the airport however because although I was expecting the customary car, I walked out of the wrong arrivals door and was persuaded by a limousine driver that I was his expected fare. Of course I didn’t realize that I would have to pay him directly until we were traveling at a hundred miles an hour on the highway into central Rome. Not a time to argue, especially as he often took both hands off the steering wheel to make a point. At least he spoke good English, and was extremely friendly and helpful. His fee was actually not that expensive.
It was dark when we pulled up to the hotel and I checked in without any problem. At least they were expecting me. Would I require a drink? Of course. Dinner? No, I said, I would find something locally. The clerk’s eyebrows should have alerted me to something. My room was small, simply decorated, yet included all creature comforts. The bottle of wine had already been delivered and was breathing on the dresser. Although it was after sunset I wanted to see what view lay beyond the closed curtains, and was astounded to be faced with a breathtaking view of the Coliseum, floodlit in all its glory. I spent a perfect ten minutes sipping my wine, regretting that I would have no time to explore this ancient building which had been such a part of my study of classics in school. Perhaps another time – but to this day I have not returned.
Walking out into the street, scouting for a sign that would indicate a restaurant or café, I soon became aware that I was the only one moving around. Others were there, in doorways or other shadows, but they were deliberately still. Passing close by one such local I immediately matched the short red dress with the lip-gloss, and it then dawned on me that I was in the middle of a red light district, and that food was really out of the question. Nonchalantly I turned around, and looking directly ahead covered the hundred meters back to the hotel with as much dignity as I could muster. Fortunately the night clerk was now on duty, and there was no problem in getting me sandwiches at that hour. Minutes later I was happily munching away and pouring more wine, thinking that an early night might be a good thing before transport picked me up at 6.00 a.m. to return me to the airport. Still I gazed on the Coliseum, and wondered.
Posted by Tim Lewis at 10:40 AM