Let’s get this out of the way first, and not have to worry about it later. Every time I fly, I am struck by the realisation that Richard Reid, the might-have-been shoe bomber, doesn’t get the discredit he’s due as one of the 21st century’s leading non-politician villains. But for his attempt to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami three days before Christmas, 2001, countless tens of millions of shoes wouldn’t have had to have been removed as part of pre-flight security screening. May he go the rest of his life without tasting anything as delicious as the eggplant salad at our hotel on the Turkish Riviera, also known as the coast of Antalya.
It was our fourth visit to Turkey. We have yet to meet a Turk we disliked, though the tour guide in Marmaris who spoke English in an unpleasant accent acquired during his self-banishment to Australia had his unpleasant side, but it isn’t the populace’s cordiality that keeps calling us back so much as the fact that Turkey’s much less expensive than countries with a lower incidence of terrorism.
The downside being that one is frisked thrice when leaving the country via one of its uniformly unpleasant airports, once when entering, and then again before going through Passport Control, and then again before being allowed to board his or her flight. The male friskers — I am unable to assess those with whom milady deals – are generally less surly than their American counterparts, but being frisked is being frisked.
I will not pretend to have enjoyed the outgoing flight very much. There were around 200 of us, and, by the end of the first of our four hours in the air, only one functioning lavatory, at the back of the plane. For the final two hours, the queue for it extended all the way back to the cockpit. It is my nature to fret, and it occurred to me that if anything happened to our sole functioning toilet, the flight might be the least present of my life. I fretted needlessly.
Antalya’s economy is based on tourism. As one nears a town like Side, he marvels at the number of optik (that is, optical) shops and apothekes. If my calculations are accurate, every foreign visitor to the area is expected to lose 31.4 pairs of sunglasses during his visit, or, at the pharmacies, need to have 18.6 prescriptions filled, or replenish his or supply of sunscreen every couple of hours.
After major disappointments on our last couple of all-inclusive holidays, in Sicily and Crete, we were delighted to discover that the hotel into which we’d booked ourselves didn’t just live up to its nearly unanimous TripAdvisor rave reviews, but actually exceeded them. The food was delicious, and the staff implacably solicitous.
Which, as always, made me slightly uncomfortabe. The English, back when a lot of them still remembered life under the class system, were incomparably good at servility. They gave diners or prospective customers the impression that serving them gave the server or salesperson boundless pleasure. I’m genuinely pretty uncomfortable with being served, or even with being addressed as sir, though I prefer it, by a very small margin, it to mate or buddy. Obsequiousness makes me feel patronised, or even subtly ridiculed. But being served by someone who seems to be deriving pleasure from doing his or her job well feels fine and comfortable to me, and that was what one got at the Tui Sensimar.
I generally find it distasteful when people find non-English speakers’ English comical, but this is a little different. The serving staff seemed to have mastered only two phrases. The young assistants were forever whisking away used dishes after smilingly — ever smilingly! — wondering, “Can I take?” Several of the actual servers seemed able to say only, “Enjoy your meal,” in English. They’d say it as they poured you a glass of wine right after you’d seated yourself. They’d say it again if they noticed you lacked a fork with which to eat dessert. And again a third time as they poured you a meal-ending cup of coffee. Now, of course, Dame Zelda and I urge each other to enjoy our meals dozens of times per day, almost as a substitute for hello.