So you guys know that I was away recently right? On this little jaunt, I went to London and Barcelona. It’s funny, I remember a conversation I had with my friend Toks earlier on this year and we were talking about plans for the year 2015 and how we thought it might pan out. I remember saying to her that I didn’t anticipate any travel for myself this year and that I had so much work to do and so much to accomplish that I didn’t foresee any opportunities to take time out to travel. I remember being completely certain of what I was saying at the time, and being more than a little dismayed at the practical implications of that certainty.
At that point, the only visible features in my forecast were traffic, more traffic, no light, nincompoops, stress, brown water, petrol shortages, traffic, and more traffic. I saw only work punctuating the pauses in between those commas. But how wrong I was. And thankfully so. This year so far I have been to the Dubai, Nairobi, Barcelona and London. That may not be awfully exciting for all you awon here there and everywhere folks; but for a little workaholic grubiddo who wasn’t anticipating any excitement whatsoever, it is very exciting indeed!
It just goes to show – you make plans and life happens anyway. Funnily enough, each of these trips has taught me huge life lessons, and I have felt a distinct theme or focus or lesson emanating from each individual trip and the experiences thereof. Anyway, before I get too deep and kum bah yah as is my natural tendency, let me not lose sight of the topic at hand, which is to tell you guys about how for the first time in over a decade, I ate a full meal on board. I did not plan this, but events conspired to show me that perhaps I should consider giving plane food more of a chance.
It happened on this recent trip to London. I was booked to fly Air France. I chose Air France because I flew them to Florence last year and I enjoyed the experience so I thought I might try them out further. I didn’t eat anything on board last year, but I liked their style and wanted to get to know them better; so I decided that I would try them out again whenever next I travelled in the direction of Europe to see how they held up.
Anyway, so here I was booked on Air France, and once the hustle and bustle of Murtala Mohammed International Airport was behind me, I settled into the lounge and had three cups of tea back to back before I felt calm. That is how tired and stressed I was – I had been working so hard before I left. I usually always go to my faves at Gabfol lounge before I board any flight because once I load up there, I can say deuces to whatever shitty plane food comes along; but on this particular day, I was exhausted. Exhausted. And the thought of hitting two lounges was more energy than I could muster. I could not even move.
So then we were called to board and I settled into my seat. I fell asleep for a bit (not before a nice cold glass of champagne which I believe i this case was Bollinger’s relative, Ayala) but was awoken by severe hunger pangs just after take off and I mentally kicked myself for not honouring my usual pre-flight food ritual.
I inquired of my body: ‘can we survive this flight if we just sleep and bone this meal as per usual?’
My body replied: ‘bitch, you crazy?’
As it happened, they had begun to serve food and so when they came to me to ask what I wanted, I shrugged, feeling inexplicably angry (hunger does that to me) and restless. So the flight attendant lady plonked a tray in front of me and I surveyed it with a sneer in my heart.
‘Ehen’, I said to myself, ‘see these French people and their story. I have probably entered one chance.’
When I say I don’t ever eat plane food, you guys don’t know how serious I am. I don’t eat it means I don’t even let them put the tray in front of me and I don’t get involved. Or if I do pull out my tray, I let them place the food on it so I can for curiosity’s sake peek at the food, poke disrespectfully at it, maybe eat just the bread roll, and then leave the rest of it conspicuously intact. While the whole aircraft is chomping away, I watch a funny film to distract myself from their chewing or I just plain sleep. Watching people eat so greedily, at such close quarters to 300 strangers, looking so shameless and entertained and self-satisfied at the same time makes me sick. And then the predictable line for the loo post meals – don’t get me started on that. I wonder how it is that people can allow themselves to be so basic and predictable. I object intellectually to every bit of that demeaning cycle.
Anyway, so here I sat, staring at this meal tray and feeling my stomach kicking me, and feeling afraid that the taste and texture of the food would be so dreadful as to make the hunger pangs feel like a day at the spa. Maybe this was the hunger talking, but I’ve been on a bit of an exploration thing recently so I decided that if life had conspired to bring me to this humbling point, then maybe I should go with the flow and just try the damn food. To eat or not to eat? It felt like a grave moral dilema. But I decided to power through it. I looked at the tray. The tray looked at me. Na so we look awa selves. There I saw jollof rice and chicken and dodo staring at me. My heart swelled and I nearly burst into tears.
Jollof rice is not new on planes leaving these shores, but this is the best version I have seen on a plane so far. Trust the French to nail it. ‘West Africa forever and ever,’ I shouted in my head. Who knew that jollof rice would be such a great cultural export! It was all I could do to keep calm and carry on, as they say. I was not expecting it to look or smell so good and my resolve was crumbling fast. I looked left and right. No one was watching. I judged myself silently. Then I picked up my fork and tucked in.
Half way through my meal, I decided to try the pepper sauce that came with it. I looked at it and thought, ‘yeah right – pepper sauce indeed’ as I slathered some onto a piece of chicken. I was shocked because it was wonderful. Piquant, hot, and modest all at the same time. I looked left and right again and then I dumped the entire pepper pot onto my food. At this point, I decided that the airline had demonstrated good faith and that I would suspend my sharp, vinegary aversions for the moment. Mehn, I cleared that food.
But I made sure not to make eye contact with a single soul while doing so because that’s the bit that annoys me; the bit where people are strapped into this jet-propelled metal tube above a slumbering North African town whose name they will never know, stuffing their faces and exchanging convivial glances with strangers with whom they have nothing in common except the smug realisation that they are partners in crime in this momentary escape to ‘the abroad’ and that this somehow unites them in some sort of bond of kinship. The kind of kinship where people eat and sleep and pass gas in the exact same space; where turbulence-inspired juice spills are ignored, and the sticky remnants attract the adhesion of crumbs and blanket fluff – I want no part in it.
So anyway, I powered through that jollof, deciding that on this occasion it would be main course first and everything else after. I then proceeded to fell two bread rolls with the starter which was the shrimp timbale with bell peppers and curry as well as the herbed cheese with crisp vegetables.
By this time, I was a very happy bunny indeed and decided to get my courses back on track. So onto dessert I went. The dessert, rather ambiguously named ‘Cappuccino Dessert’ gave me some relief because its cloying sweetness reminded me of my justified avoidance of plane food, and made me appreciate even more the miracle that was the normal tasting jollof that I had just enjoyed. Was it a trifle, was it a cake? What culinary concept did the pawpaw pieces on it address? I could not tell. It stuck to the roof of my mouth and reminded me not to discard my suspicion. So after one mouthful plus one extra to make doubly sure of my verdict, I abandoned the offending confectionery and moved onto the cheese with which I took down another bread roll but split equally into two this time.
One half of the bread roll went with that gorgeous French butter, and one half with the delectable cheese. It is so interesting how different French and English butter taste – can you guys tell the difference? I can. I’d be grateful if anyone can explain to me the reason for the difference because though I love them both, they each have a distinct charm.
At this point, equilibrium had been restored and you can tell that because I was back to deliberating existential things like the ethnicity of butter. I was also able to notice that the tableware was designed by the very talented French architect/inventor Jean-Marie Massaud. I sat there smiling to myself. I wonder if the flight attendant noticed the radical change in my demeanor. She probably thought uh-oh, there’s a psycho sitting in seat 3J. Hahaha!
Now, regarding all this bread (I have now lost count of how many rolls I had) you can judge me all you like. But before you do, I would like to remind you of this: up there in the sky, there are two cardinal rules. The first rule we have covered already, which is have some dignity for goodness sake and don’t make eye contact with fellow passengers while they are so eagerly masticating because it is disgusting. The second is more of a fact than a rule and it is that way up there in the clouds, bread doesn’t count. One roll or three – it makes no difference – and so therefore carb-loading guilt does not exist. Those are the two cardinal rules of flying.
To go with the coffee, look what they had – Valrhona dark chocolate made with cocoa from Ghana! That made me so happy. Good on you, Ghana for continuing to export your world class cocoa and bringing your A-game to that commodity market, good on you Valrhona for declaring the origins of the cocoa, and good on you Air France for sourcing appropriately.
After this most uncharacteristic departure from normal acceptable air plane behaviour, I set about my usual airplane facial routine (inspired by Beauty in Lagos). Then I flattened out the bed, snuggled down, and fell solidly asleep until morning.
Even more demeaning to me than having dinner on board, is having breakfast on board right before you land. Oh my goodness. How greedy can you be, to have stuffed your gills with rich food so late at night, and then acquiesce to do it all again at 5am when they wake you up and begin to prepare the cabin for landing.No, no, no. That is not okay.
So when the nice flight attendant lady tapped me for ‘breakfast’, I glared at her, and commanded every cell in my body to convey my disapproval. She moved on, and I went back to sleep.
We landed in Charles de Gaulle and I waited for the connecting flight to London. I radomly made a new friend as we were disembarking (a first for me, as you now know what a grump I am on board) and we had an amazing time at the airport just gisting away. She is an older lady with a lovely, gentle demeanor, an adventurous spirit and a passion for travel. There wasn’t quite enough time for me to leave the airport and head into Paris to meet my friend Wande for lunch as I had planned 🙁 so me and my new friend bummed around duty free, raided the perfume and beauty counters (especially Guerlain), had a painfully overpriced lunch at something like €12 for a simple ham and cheese sandwich plus extras (heaven help us) and then killed some time at a tasting bar that was set up for Moet’s Ice Imperial, their new summer champagne. She was tasting champagne to decide what to serve at her son’s upcoming wedding. I was there because I am a good sport when you need me – LOL. But we both agreed the champagne was yummy. I liked the all white packaging and the fact that it is designed to be drunk with ice in the glass. Imagine how great that would be for Lagos beach runs? This place is hot, man. Bubbles on ice? Sounds perfect for the tropics.
Anyway, after that, I became weary of walking around and weighed down by my duty-free loot. So I went to the lounge, found myself a comfy perch, poured myself some more champagne, grabbed some crisps, whipped out my laptop, and did what all good bloggers do – write, write, write.
Then I boarded my connecting flight to London and promptly fell fast asleep. When I landed, and on the drive home, I gazed out of the window of the car.
There in the clouds was a beautiful formation. It looked like a stallion leaping over the sun; and I knew, I just knew that that was a special message for me. Life is full of signs, if you care to notice them. So I took this message and tucked it away in my heart. There and then, I knew what the focus/theme for this trip was going to be, and as I read this post in retrospect, I daresay it was spot on. I sat back, dug out my pack of Hula Hoops which I procured from WHSmith the moment I landed, and enjoyed the rest of the drive home.