The place was exotic. I sat in a silk dining tent adorned with Persian carpets and feather pillows, under a Moorish arch. Paraffin lamps burned on the table. They plied me with a spread of olives, dates and a glass of arak. Dinner was Shanklish goat cheese, lamb kebbeh, fried quail. There was a hookah water pipe with flavoured tobacco if I wanted to go the whole hog (opium being illegal in the country). The Lebanese cuisine was rich and abundant, meant to be consumed as a two- or three-hour repast. I was hungry, and wondered how I could be gracious enough not to blitz the mezzah like an unrefined infidel. A three-hour meal? I wanted to wolf it down in half an hour.
Then the Belly Dancer arrived.
Have you seen a belly dancer? I mean the real thing, not the sweating horde toiling away in the gym. I stopped eating. I may have stopped breathing too, because I found myself aching to see better in a tent that suddenly was too dim, although none of the lamps had burned out at all.
She was Turkish. She had been trained since the age of two. Impossibly slim, dark-eyed, with long, curled tresses that she tossed and flung expertly, to accentuate her every move.
Not that she needed to accentuate her moves. Her body parts flowed incredibly, her torso uncoiling north and west even as her hips swelled south and east. My eyes were riveted on her belly button, which remained fixed in the same point in space as her liquid body undulated and twisted all around it.
The music grew more insistent, and her hips began to jerk upwards above her waist (is that possible??). Her dancing became more insistent. She was no longer a meandering rivulet, but a tumbling stream rushing through stones, bending and backing on itself.
The food lay mute on the table. Completely forgotten.
Suddenly she was extending her arm to me. She wanted me to try.
This is something I will not write about. It’s humiliating. The effort was as pathetic as it was painful.
The music was over, and she had to go. She would be back for another dance in an hour. I began to breathe again. I looked at the meal spread out in front of me, and I knew that I would have no trouble stretching it out for another hour. No trouble at all.
An hour later, I was better briefed for the approach. I had fortified myself with recalled lessons from Meynard’s instrument flying course. As the dancer approached my table, I reverted to an Instrument scan. Pitch and bank, needle and ball, pitch and bank, vertical speed, pitch and bank. No longer was I dangerously fixated on her belly. I began to scan the rest of the vital indications — height, turn rate, knots. It was still hot, and my forehead perspired again. Maybe it was the spices in the lamb kebbah. Yes, that must have been it.
As her routine ended, I was totally visual, and came back to earth smoothly this time. I was back in the 21st century, at a 5-star hotel in the middle of bustling, cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur. I had to go attend yet another late night conference call.
She had pictures taken with me, before I left. So there I am, looking like a lost lamb.
Windwalker, an A320 Captain and one of the most passionate pilots I know, told me that the best part of flying hard IFR is that first cup of hot java back on the ground. So before leaving I had some Turkish (of course!) coffee, thick as quicksand, with a moat of ground coffee sediment at the bottom of the tiny cup. Windwalker was right about coffee.
And you all thought that this article had nothing to do with flying.