A Little Star Over Bangkok

A Christmas Story

[After Elephant Polo and Post-Polo Photos.]

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Technically, I'm not supposed to be on the hook again until tomorrow ... when we reach Bangkok. But, Tilman appears to be walking around Kathmandu not with a note pad in hand; instead, she seems to be consulting a Christmas gift list. Now that won't make good reading, will it? OK, I've got a little filler here that rather nicely offsets that IHT piece about French Commies and their hate of Coke.

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1924: Paris Christmas

PARIS - It is a nickel-plated American who feels no homesickness these last days before Christmas. Paris, city of fashion, gaiety and sophistication seems suddenly to have taken on a new and naïve charm. Some of the most popular toys with French shoppers this season are of American origin. Small boys in Parisian tam o'shanter and pinafore have been seen confiding to father that they would rather have the complete Indian suit with feathered headdress, tomahawk and beads than anything on display. With the cowboys' revolver, sombrero and chaps as a possible second."

I had no intention of sucking any of Wescott's saints back into the picture until after I returned to Bangkok (after all, he IS in storage there!). But, since I have set a precedent by playing around with time frames and calendars, no qualms should stem my pen about this optimistic (flaky?) bishop:


According to St. Gregory the Great, this Bishop of Piacenza, at a time when the Po was in flood, asked one of his deacons to warn it to stay within bounds. The reasonable deacon would not undertake any such hopeless business. So the bishop himself wrote a letter to the river, emphasizing especially the inviolability of church property, had it sworn to by a notary, and threw it into the flood; and the great stream did as it was told.

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

NEWNES'S wake up call was somber:

And, even gloomier for Indians:




There is a very big hole in this paper! Paul is going to have a major problem trying to plug this with just little bits of gum and tape from Shamane, Suz, Annie, Stephani, Cindy and me. It's not going to look right. I mean the first two weeks of December can't just go missing.

The people who staff the Thai Airways lounge at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport thoughtfully provided this morning's IHT.

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899: Tunnel to Africa

PARIS - A tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar is the latest project of M. Jean Berlier, the well-known engineer who a year or so ago made a small tunnel under the Seine from the place de la Concorde. M. Berlier is of the opinion that a tunnel under the strait of Gibraltar would do more to develop Africa and extend French commerce than any amount of expeditions. M. Berlier considers there would be no danger of the tunnel leaking, the ground underneath the strait being compact rock. The tunnel, according to M. Berlier's estimate, could be made in seven years.

1924: Today's Traffic

NEW YORK - Traffic conditions in New York for several months have been rapidly approaching the millennium described by a fiction writer who pictures New York as having all of its streets filled with cars, end to end so that there was no room left to circulate. Even before the Christmas rush a pedestrian was obligated to halt for three minutes at every block, this being the time allowed to permit the choked cross streets to disgorge their roaring contents.

How pleased I am! I am back at The Oriental. And I am again living in the John LeCarre rooms with their gunmetal blue color theme. The only difference this time around is that the suite now supports a Christmas tree, albeit a somewhat scrawny and bent one. But it IS a real live (or, once was) tree.

Five hours earlier, the last four members of the Screwy Tuskers left Kathmandu. Annie and Tilman returned to Seattle; Stephani flew to Los Angeles. I came here.

I'll be here for another 10 days ... until a few days after Christmas. Tomorrow morning Linda Santarelli will catch the first of a series of flights that will eventually park her in Bangkok just in time for start of another round of Oriental license and pleasure. But, that is what the holidays are all about. Right?

Thursday, December 16, 1999

NEWNES notes that exactly a century ago:

And, in a tight race for the big event award:

Actually, Dingaan probably viewed it as a decidedly bad day. You see December 19, 1883 was the day when the Boers crushed the Zulu King Dingaan. Though any day that comes up annually is almost certainly a day worthy of popping open a can or pulling a cork. And, since presumably Dingaan is dead, there is probably every reason to drink to his health.

Today's saint did so much in his long life that, thankfully, Wescott apparently does not know where to begin. So, he makes it pithy and passes on to who comes up next.


A Burgundian teacher of sacred and profane sciences, the author of a famous martyrology, and of a history of the world, from the beginning of time up to date.

Thank you Glenway Wescott! I mean it. Dear reader, as you know, we are constantly in this life asked to fill in forms that in one way or another get around to asking us what is our occupation. Immigration forms immediately leap to mind. I am always crunching letters into these little boxes… at the last minute, just before the airplane lands or while standing in the line for "foreigners". Most of these flimsy pieces of paper are never read by anyone.

From now on I shall forget publicly that I am an Attorney at Law (anyway, far too many words for those cramped spaces). I am going to be a Martyrologist! And, there is way more upside to this ... nobody shoots martyrogists ... no one makes up jokes about them…they never have to keep track of CLE credits ... Shakespeare didn't have them on his 'first kill' list. This list of plusses is almost endless.

It is easy to tell when Thanksgiving Day has run its course in Bangkok. Everywhere merchants are dressing up the place for Christmas and its other curiously linked days of fest. This is particularly true for Bangkokians who are masters of western pulse taking. Nowhere are the subtleties of this great western holiday binge more treasured than at the confluence of the mighty Silom and the great Patpong. It was as if some magnificent alien God, with a roaring sense of humor, cast aside his poking stick, dyed his beard, dressed himself in funny clothes and asked the little folks around him to have fun, all at the expense of his birth and death.

But the Golden Award for Seamless Holiday Blending must surely go to the girls charged with decorating the entrance to their Happy Lips Bar. They brilliantly juxtaposed (what was to them) two great festive icons to form an irresistible 'welcome-mat' to their den of delights. Without doubt it had to be a pleased God who snorted his approval at the side-by-side Christmas tree and Easter Island head.

This Great Season is fully prized by the working girls of Patpong. Nimbly clad in gala and sensitive-to-the-season colors, the streets are awash with their elfin chirps of joy. Never lacking a magnet for every leaning, the forever-entrepreneurial Patpong is equally at ease with ladling out Karaoke for one dish and Country Western for another. It is a wonderful buffet!

Friday, December 17, 1999

Dearest Tilman, my thoughts are with you today.

Why, Alf?

It was just some little piece in this morning's IHT that caught my fancy ... and with an inexplicable quirky side step of gray matter the whole thing took on the shape of a pizza. A nano-second later this vision of bubbling hot cheese turned into the fireplace at Tiger Tops. And, without a single off-stage cue the sound track kicked in; and I heard Peter Prentice, using his best sexy slur, introduce the Screwy Tuskers: the team from "the United Sates of America, the greatest country in the world and may God bless it with perpetual bounty."


Well, don't you see where I'm going?

Not really.

Remember how happy you were, when we got to Pokhara, to find pizza on the menu? And, not only pizza; but also french fries? Yes, yes ... I know ... it really wasn't the French who invented fries ... nor for that matter did pizza have its birth in Italy ... they all originally came out of kitchens in the Bronx or from push carts on Michigan Avenue ... and the foreigners just copied them and tried to pass them off as their own. Yes, Tilman, we don't have to listen to that again, do we?

So, where is the fucking connection?

It's pretty obvious. Don't you think? You're off in some third world country; putting up with local dirt, eating strange food, being pissed off because the action of a bunch of thugs in your home town may drive up the price of your WTO imports. Honey, you were ripe for something from HOME.

Cut the crap! Just print out the goddamn article!


[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899 - Into Africa

PARIS - This century might well be styled the age of colonization, since it has made most marked progress in this direction. Lands unknown to our forefathers have been transversed by men of our day, and there are white men now in regions where a century ago there were only aborigines. The most striking example of this kind is furnished by Africa. Until the present century this great continent was virtually a terra incognita to Europeans and Americans. It may truly be said that in the entire history of colonization there is nothing more remarkable than the manner in which this continent has been colonized and civilized during the present century.

Funny, NEWNES must also have been thinking of Tilman when thumbing through his necro-list:

Alf, what is this? Bug Tilman Day?

How's the journal coming?

(Alf turns to face a different camera and teleprompter)

Wescott's saint of the day, unlike the bulk of his haloed characters, is best known for his lucky choice of friends.


The man whom Our Lord raised from the dead, the brother of his closest friends, Mary and Martha. They all emigrated to France; and he introduced the faith into Marseilles, and had his head cut off.

In the fifth century there was another Bishop of Marseilles named Lazarus; his mission may have been confused with the more glamorous legend. But, when strictly historical evidence is lacking, the least probable traditions of the church should not be dismissed.

Linda Santarelli has been either flying or sitting around airport lounges for the past 22 hours. And, she has another six hours of flight to go before she will land here in Bangkok; which means that TG733 has probably just left Narita after acquiring a fresh crew.

Saturday, December 18, 1999

A hundred years ago, according to the IHT, the same answers were given:

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899 - The 20th Century

PARIS - Apropos of the discussions recently conducted by the readers of the Paris edition on when the twentieth century begins, a canvass of the leading American astronomers shows that they are unanimous in the opinion that the century begins on January 1, 1901.

NEWNES, digging deeply:

I wonder about myself.

The big things don't really bother me too much; they seem to take care of themselves: investments lead a life of their own, girlfriends walk out without warning, my house doesn't blow away in even the biggest of storms. Maybe it is because these things have so many pieces. They are not simple ... so what is the point in worrying about them. But, also, I am oddly amazed that "things" stand up ... people with heavy briefcases get tired standing in line; why doesn't the Empire State Building just give up and fall down?

Today it was the calendar that went on my list of frets that I desperately wanted to put behind me. Not the "calendar" as in some really big global or infinite time measurement sense ... no, just an uncomplicated 12 month long piece of plastic or cardboard. The thing that you tack on the back of the closet door, hang above a desk, stick in a wallet or just keep in a drawer. I wanted the best one for me.

A current Amari Airport Hotel ("Bangkok Mini-Stays") plastic calendar has slept behind my ATM card ever since I first came to Bangkok. My wallet has never known anything else. Now, this is not something that you can order out of a catalog. You can't write to the front desk and ask the clerk to send you one. And, you can't find them in any other building in the whole world; you just have to pick one up in the lobby of the Amari Airport Hotel in Bangkok. Also, the timing has to be right; they are not available before November and by the time January is half over they are all gone. But, when they are there they are free.

Linda's flight from Los Angeles was scheduled to arrive in BKK's Terminal 1 at a minute before midnight. Due to absolutely nothing it was delayed until 1:05AM this morning. The Amari is one footbridge away from the arrivals hall. I got next year's calendar ... and I had some fun with someone.

Breakfast came to our room just after we went to sleep.

A Swedish massage at the Spa followed a visit to the Fitness Center.

Then lunch loomed.

Now a nap.

Dinner later.

Does this routine sound inviting?

With typical Bangkokian shyness, the glossy pamphlet promises December 19th to be "As grand as the Brazilian Carnival at Rio ... and as notable as the New Orleans Mardi Gras ... comparable to the German Oktober Fest." The Silom Bangkok Carnival 1999 will run from noon until midnight. I might have missed the whole thing had one of Linda's Patpongian playmates not pressed the leaflet into my hand. Perhaps I would still be ignorant of what is in play for tomorrow had I not confessed that Linda was booked into town for the weekend. Her friends here like her.

More later, perhaps. Given that Linda is sleeping on Florida time, I am not certain if "later" will ever come back anytime today.

Sunday, December 19, 1999

Forget NEWNES ... and Mr. Wescott can go get himself stuffed! Well, at least for today.

Shamane, this one time secret is just for you. But, had you not scored three Screwy Tusker goals I am not sure that the Dessert Chef would have parted with this.

I have, here in my freezy hands, the recipe for The Oriental Hotel's Coconut Ice Cream. Ready? Here goes, verbatim ... as the chef jotted it:

Serves 4 - 6 persons



  1. Warm the coconut water in a small saucepan, and pour into a mixing bowl.
  2. Sprinkle on the gelatin and stir until completely dissolved, then set aside to cool.
  3. Add the coconut cream, sugar, salt and grated coconut and blend thoroughly.
  4. Pour the mixture into a deep dish and place in the freezer. Allow to partially set, then remove and stir briskly.
  5. Replace in the freezer and repeat the stirring process three more times at approx. 20-minute intervals.
  6. Finally, allow to firmly set and top with roasted grated coconut.

Today's morning Bangkok paper shines a light on an odd proposal; one that wants to charge into unknown territory. And, will suburban malls be next?

Mr. Heuft's daring proposal, if implemented, should give pause to the minions who normally toil so unthinkingly in corporate travel departments. Will ticket routers unquestioningly permit Schiphol's airport code to fall between that of LAX and Rio's?

From today's Bangkok Post:

Amsterdam - A Dutch brothel chain hopes to open a branch at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport next year to cater to stressed travelers.

"Passengers will be treated to a luxury welcome with champagne and caviar and can opt for a relaxing massage," spokesman Theo Heuft of Yab Yum brothels said.

The Yab Yum Caviar Club would target those in transit with time between planes or early arrivals looking to unwind after a stressful flight.

"They could pop in before going home to the lady wife," Mr. Heuft said. - Reuters

I think that the Yap Yum cartel might be better served with a subtler spokesperson.

Afternoons in Bangkok drift by so effortlessly ... ...

It's time for Carnival.

Monday, December 20, 1999

Julia would not have had happy teenage years in Bangkok. Her declining years might have been better.

Julia of Rena

Striving to be humble, this aristocratic girl went to work as a servant, but she found that there were satisfactions of vanity even in this humble station; so she took the veil. Then she happened to save a child from a fire, and began to be regarded as a nun of some consequence. This exasperated her, and she withdrew into a little hut far off in the country and saw no one for thirty years. Of course her life did no one any good; but it was perfect of its kind - a model for scrupulous mystic egoists and a reminder to those not so scrupulous.

NEWNES notes a couple of Russian contributions:

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1949: A Kick at Stalin

PRAGUE - A man who pushed his foot through a picture of Josef V. Stalin was arrested today [Dec. 19]. The man was in a group of people who alighted from a streetcar. He dashed for the curb, where a workman was preparing to hoist the picture and other decorations in celebration of Premier Stalin's seventieth birthday. The police claimed the man's act was intentional and malicious, a violation of the Czech law for the defense of the republic to insult the head of a friendly state. The man's claim that he was in a hurry and stumbled through the picture was unavailing, spectators said.


The following link to photographs and film clips has been PASSWORD PROTECTED. Please do not try to guess the password. Linda and I thank you for your restraint and the respect of our privacy.

Click HERE, only if you know the password.


Please continue your leisurely read, just as if nothing had happened.

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

NEWNES sees today as a triple play, so to speak:

Not content with announcing the obvious, NEWNES plucks these rarely fêted birthdays from his fat list of obscure people:

Confidently moving on to look briefly at ever so queer skirmishes, NEWNES unearths:

Does Wescott give us what we really want to know about "Doubting Thomas"? I doubt it. For someone whose name has been closely associated with disbelief, skepticism and a too questioning mind, this little canned blurb shades more than it reveals. My own Jesuit teachers, during my school days, always managed to put a good gloss on the lives of those who hung around Brian, or whoever he was. Any spiritual or character flaws they once displayed were eventually mended or amputated away as soon as the divine torch showed them the path.

Did Thomas die with a whole bunch unanswered questions on his slate? I doubt it.

If the tomb door was ajar and the coffin was empty ... well ... what's the man supposed to think? That the inhabitant sprouted wings and flew the coupe? Probably not. Grave robbers at work…the person was not really quite dead yet and she just got up and walked away…or,maybe Thomas looked in the wrong tomb? Any of those explanations sound more likely? Probably.

His doubts about going to India during the First Century? Who wouldn't have them? It's bad enough in the 21st century ... what with the nasty tap water and all that; can you imagine what it was like a couple thousand years ago?

The missing gold and silver? The palace that he was supposed to design here on earth? The construction team building the place on the wrong lot? It sure sounds like Tom was pulling his own fast-one. But, can you blame him? It's only natural to want a bit of revenge after being traded to an Indian merchant for a few coins.

Then there is his death. A hunting accident or a hit?

Thomas the Apostle

It is said that not only our Lord, but other members of the divine family were indulgent toward the great doubting disciple. He was unable to attend the ascension of the Virgin to heaven; and when her tomb was opened and found to be empty, he took the attitude which was natural to him, for which he was famous. The Virgin let fall her girdle from above, to set his mind at rest; scraps of it are preserved in a number of churches.

When the apostles drew lots for their various parts of the world, Thomas drew India; but he doubted his strength, and protested, saying that he did not care where he went, so long as it was not India. But Our Lord appeared, and sought out an India-merchant who needed a carpenter, and sold the doubter to him for twenty pieces of silver.

St. Francis Xavier found traces of his mission in the Far East. He is believed to have baptized the three Magi. He was an architect; and Goddophorus, King of the Indies, provided him with a great deal of gold and silver to build a palace. The saint gave it all to the poor, and therefore was thrown into prison. But the king's brother died, and came back in the king's dreams to say that the building had been erected after all, in heaven.

One day, in a place on the Coromandel Coast now named after him, St. Thomas was on his knees praying, beside his hut, in the shadow of tropical branches; and a flock of peacocks hid him from sight with their great open tails. A native shot an arrow at one of the vain birds and killed the skeptical saint.

[from The International Herald Tribune] 1899: Shorter Skirts

NEW YORK - A Chicago "Times-Herald" editorial on women's frocks commends the golf skirt, and says, further: "The fact is, the 'rainy day skirt' has come to stay. It is going to stay after it gets through raining. As a matter of fact, it is no longer a rainy day skirt; it is a common sense skirt for the twentieth century woman for every day of the year."

1924: Reckless Affection

BALTIMORE - One of the major pleasures of automobiling has been brought to a summary end by the decision of Magistrate Lamkins in the case of a man driving a machine and hitting a street-car under circumstances that were distracting. The distracting circumstances consisted in the man driving while a woman's arms were around his neck. The judge declared that any man driving thus handicapped shall be guilty of reckless driving, no matter whether the affectionate one be his wife, daughter, aunt or sweetheart.

Wednesday, December 22, 1999

From today's Bangkok Post:
Haircut Police

KABUL - Afghanistan's Taleban religious police have punished 39 beard-trimmers in recent days, the official Radio Shariat said yesterday. A number of people who did not attend the required prayers five times a day in the mosque and some drivers who were listening to music were also punished, the ruling militia's mouthpiece said. The religious police minister Mawlawi Mohammad Salim Haqani has already said beard trimmers face up to 10 days in jail. In an interview with the official Heywad daily, published Tuesday, Mr. Haqani said his anti-sin teams were also giving enforced haircuts to young men in Kabul. "Those boys who follow western fashion are captured and given proper haircuts in the nearest barber shops," he said. - AFP

NEWNES pulls from his hat:

And, NEWNES, in his best scolding voice, reminds lax minds everywhere that not all battles go on and on and on and on until everyone is dead:

According to Wescott, today is the Feast of Themistocles. But, in my opinion Themistocles was but a Third Century minor character in a field of otherwise very worthy saints. One would have thought that Our Lord would have bracketed His Own Day with someone stronger…but, he didn't in this case. Though a shepherd in the mountains of Asia Minor, Themistocles only claim to fame was in allowing himself to be tortured to death by imperial officers.

Tomorrow's saint will be more laudable.

Today's real feast was far more interesting that anything that NEWNES or Wescott could ever cook up ... as you can see.

Before ...
After ...

Thursday, December 23, 1999

Sigh ... yet another day of room service ....

From today's Bangkok Post:

BAGHDAD - An Iraqi icecream maker paid 35 million dinars (665,000 baht) for a monkey after he was led to believe the simian's hairs could be sold for use in the princely sport of falconry, a newspaper reported yesterday. He persuaded the icecream man the monkey was really worth 50 million dinars and then several days later sent round an accomplice with what was probably the same animal. The victim readily paid the 35 million dinars in the belief he could make 15 million dinars selling it to the fraudster - AFP

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1924: Advertised Bride

PRAGUE - A girl of Blumenbach-Strany, a small village has become the wife of a wealthy American. She forwarded a matrimonial advertisement to an American newspaper, and in response came an offer for her hand and heart. When he turned up at the small village, he proved to be a man of fifty-nine years of age, and with six children, who, he said, were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new mother. The beautiful girl agreed to marry him.


A paralytic beggar who lay all his life in the porch of the church of San Clemente in Rome. As he lay dying, his friends - if a beggar may be said to have friends - or those who saw in his death, after such a life, an edifying occasion, gathered about him and sang hymns. But, he made them keep still, crying, 'Don't you hear the music in heaven?'

NEWNES, still in a militaristic mood, salutes:

Switching quickly, NEWNES nods toward the useful:

Friday, December 24, 1999

This evening The Oriental Hotel will produce its annual Christmas Eve Festival. During this season all of the hotel restaurants go out of their way to create something special for their guests. For the past few days the staff have been decorating each venue in a unique motif. It is sort of odd to see all of this taking place.it is like not being a part of it..yet being very much a part of something.

Perhaps I'll try to capture some of this with my camera. I don't know.


St. Gregory the Great's maiden aunt. After her death, her knees were found to be 'as tough as the hide of a camel,' due to her diligence in prayer.

NEWNES, somewhat out of character, observes:

Reverting to the odd, NEWNES spots:

Several weeks ago ... I think that it was on the first day of this month ... (anyway, it was the day when I left The Oriental for Kathmandu) ... I showed you a photograph of a little stick. It was a tiny stick; and I positioned it next to a box of hotel matches.just to give it some size perspective. At that time I asked you, dear reader, if you knew what it is for. Have you given it any more thought? Probably not! Anyway, here is another photographic clue: in the picture the little stick is positioned to do what it does best.

This afternoon Linda and I hired one of those long thin fast boats for a quick spin around the backwaters of Bangkok. Today we took the reverse of the same route that Stephani and I followed just several weeks ago. In other words, we saw everything from finish to start.

After the jaunt in the long-boat we bolted back to our room to get ready for tonight's festivities. The view from our balcony looked very inviting; during the few hours that we were gone the hotel staff had fashioned rough plywood into something quite grand. And, there was even a Christmas pyramid, for Linda, which was left under our tree.

The buffet never stopped ... and the band played on ... and then there were fireworks.

Saturday, December 25, 1999


NEWNES overlooks:

But, back in form, NEWNES records:

Linda, totally unsatisfied with the way that her hair looks, has booked a noon appointment with the hotel hair salon.

[from The International Herald Tribune]

LONDON - A dispatch from Pretoria says that Mr. Winston Churchill escaped from custody. He had written to General Joubert a letter in which he declared that he was a newspaper correspondent and had not taken part in the engagement. General Joubert wrote that Mr. Churchill had been detained owing to reports that owing to his bravery the British armored train at Chievely had escaped. The General added that Mr. Churchill was unknown to him personally, but that he would take his word that he was a non-combatant, and ordered the correspondent released.

Linda and I have been invited to a Christmas cocktail party. Other than that we don't have a great deal on our menu.

As this is our last full day in Bangkok - we catch the 12:45AM Thai non-stop to London on Monday the 27th - we are going to return to our favorite foods and say a few goodbyes to some friends. We probably will skip the manager's cocktail party, as that function is usually just an occasion for people who have nothing in common to pretend that they have something in common.

While Linda was enjoying her outing at the hair salon I spent the noonish hours over at the hotel Fitness Center. It was a futile attempt to negate the damage that I did to my body at last night's Christmas Eve bash.

Her haircut looks great! The last time she had this look was when she had a girl cut it while we were in the Virgin Airlines' Upper Class lounge at Heathrow ... about two months ago ... when we were on route back from Bangkok.

By the way, in my mind the very best way to return to Miami from Bangkok is not via the shortest route. Forget coming back to Anytown, USA via LAX or SFO. Using the American west coast just forces you on to one of those tedious transcontinental Delta or American flights. The best way to go is like this: make a serious left turn when you leave BKK and fly non-stop to London. With just one additional non-stop flight, Mr. Branson's Virgin Air will carry you from London to Miami. And the choice fillip in this neat package is that Thai #910 keeps you in the air all night long (racing with the darkness); that way you are in London with plenty of time to catch almost any morning connection to the USA.

In our case we are going to spend about a week in London before we return to Florida. We were able to book a room at sort-of-the-last-minute (roughly six weeks ago). Even though the year 2000 will hear its first "tick-tock" on the Greenwich meridian, apparently there still are empty hotel rooms in London. A year ago every property claimed to be fully booked for New Year's Eve. Not so now.

What is really odd is just how many people want to be at the place where the suns rays first hit the ground on January 1st. Apparently, that is some place in Antarctica…and also along some giant up and down arc. As I write this, there is a Russian icebreaker anchored just off that part of the Antarctic coast where the first ray will hit. Aboard are a hundred or so paying passengers who will greet the morning with Russian vodka chilled by 30,000-year-old glacier ice. Cool? Not really. Because it won't be 2000 there. Sure, it'll be year 2000 somewhere ... thousands of miles away; but, not there. The people who man the telescopes at Greenwich have guaranteed the world that the first year before the next millennium will commence at some instant between 23:59:59.99999999999999999999 and 00:00:00.00000000000000000001. And it will start on the Greenwich meridian, just east of London. The earliest sunbeams that hit the earth after that ballyhooed "tick-tock" may very well glint off a Russian anchor, but they won't be from the 2000 vintage.

For our last dinner in Bangkok we revisited The Sala at Baan Rim Naam, on the western bank of the river. It was like a return to the courtliness of Sukhothai - the ancient capital of Siam. Really the soul of Thai cuisine enhanced by traditional dance, music and architecture. As we have taken at least half of our major meals here, the staff has memorized our likes and timings. They gave us a very special holiday greeting card when we left the restaurant.

Click here to see heaps of photos of beautiful Thai faces. Can you tell which of them are guys and which are girls? I bet not. My camera lens concentrated on their faces, so this should make the gender identification even more difficult. This whole concept of the "third sex" is something that remains rather foreign to our own shores.

Sunday, December 26, 1999

NEWNES never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge of the giants of musicology:

But, NEWNES brings sadness with this otherwise benign reminder:

Sadness? Why that? Alf, are you waxing maudlin again?

Not really! By now you should know that I become this way just for a change of pace. Perhaps when I am bored with routine? Do you think?

Oh, get on with it.

Do you remember on what day our committee planned to announce the choice for a stand-in Screwmaid? That impatiently awaited revelation of the identity of this proxy Screwmaid (a Denise clone) was scheduled for broadcast to the panting world on November 21st: the 156th anniversary of the date on which the vulcanization of rubber was patented. Because that date came and went while I was living incommunicado in a leaky tent in Pushkar, the world was kept waiting a further five days; until the 130th anniversary of the birth of Queen Maud of Norway rolled around. Only then was the word shouted to the masses who clogged the Internet highways.

Jesus, you are sounding like a bad parody of the BBC. So, what does this have to do with the discovery of radium? If anything?

Today I raise the curtain on a very unexpected and gloomy scene. The new balloon is on stage, the Previas are standing by with engines idling, eager crews are fumbling with ropes, pilot lights flicker in anticipation ... and the new Denise pauses on the snowy field. She is looking right and left, up and down. Hark! Yes, another Screwmaid has gone missing. Christen, that striking blonde of our hope-to-be-floating duo, has disappeared somewhere in that little American state of Rhode Island.

There is no time for another look-alike contest! A search is out of the question. The catchy adverts, the solicitation of offers, the shuffling of resumes, the gathering of photographs, the psychological profile studies, the focus groups, the sampling techniques ... all of that goes into the trash. It boils down to just this: Are you a pretty blonde with a passport and a lot of free time? Write to me at: alf@corkscrew-balloon.com

What time is your flight to London?

Monday, December 27, 1999

NEWNES again:

It was really early this morning when we left Bangkok. Thai #910 pulled back from gate 27 exactly on time, at 12:45AM. For all relevant purposes Linda and I were the only passengers aboard this Boeing 747. Because we were traveling on a weekend that fell between major back-to-back holidays the entire first class section of the plane was empty ... apart from us. For almost 6,000 miles and 13 non-stop hours the nose cone of this plane was ours. Normally, the front section of the aircraft would be loaded with returning business people who had successfully convinced their bosses and their families that they had some legitimate trade to conduct in Thailand. Not tonight.

One drawback to taking this nocturnal arc through Asia and Europe is that the only thing you can see of the world below is the moving map. Rangoon, Delhi, Moscow and Hamburg are but words on a screen. The movie choice is pretty much the same as what you get on any LAX to Shanghai flight. The in-flight magazines all run the equivalent genre of free-lance articles ... and their ads offer the identical brands of smokes and Scotches at pretty much the same dollar prices.

Dawn dawns late in London at this time of year. We had already checked into the Inter-Continental Hotel when the sun pretended to come up; by that time it was after 8AM. And, that same sun is going to say goodnight before 4PM: an eight-hour working day.

Our clock is 7 hours away from Bangkok, and 5 hours on the other side of Fort Lauderdale. We'll be living at this midway point until January 4th. Perhaps we are so awfully jet lagged that we'll sleep through any of the terrorist's activities that are planned for Americans this holiday season. Actually, I'm rather sanguine about being in London even if our State Department wants all of us to fret about being near crowds. I just can't see the Taleban authorities tipping the Millennium Ferris wheel into the Thames. And, I think that Pakistani grudge holders have better things to think about than interrupting the Queen's opening of the Millennium Dome. As my daughter, Annie, so sagely put it: "maybe they'll crumple the Seattle Space Needle into a pile of flaming rubble ... a surprise finish to the night of planned fireworks."

Next up: Our London New Year

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