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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin SMALL WORLD

BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

September 1, 1984 -- Every once in a while I give in to a recurring urge to ventilate my files, to clean up the bits and pieces of paper that accumulate with unexpected rapidity on my desk. It usually happens in the depth of winter doldrums or over a warm-weather weekend marred by rainy skies. The items which follow come from a summer Sunday where not only the inclement weather kept me at home, but also the fact that it was Father’s Day, one of those maudlin phony commercial happenings that we have been conned into observing. I don’t mean to sound critical, different strokes for different folks, but this society could definitely absorb a Children’s Day, a Pet’s Day and possibly my all-time favorite, a day to honor the workers of the U.S. Postal Service.

Flying British Airways between London and Sri Lanka last spring I was struck by the random thought that BA offers excellent—if not dominant—frequencies to the Gulf States, an exceptionally vital area in today’s world. The flights in both directions stopped at the oil-rich island of Bahrain (where you are allowed to stretch your legs at the airport), and at Doha in Qatar (where you aren’t). Look at a map in your inflight seat pocket and you are sobered by the realization that these stops are a stone’s throw from the hostilities between Iraq and Iran, particularly the contested waterways where even neutral tankers have become targets.

It’s a small world indeed.

On the way east, I stopped off in London for a day-and-a-half at a venerable hotel that traces its existence back to 1837. Brown’s, in the heart of the city on Albemarle and Dover streets, has an aura that’s more like a private club than a public hotel. I can see Charles Dickens and some of his fictitious characters having their afternoon tea in these cozy quarters and, as a matter of fact, the likes of Alexander Graham Bell stayed here, Teddy Roosevelt was married on the premises, and Rudyard Kipling lived here.

Incidentally, Bruce Banister, the hotel’s general manager, set me right when I first inquired about having high tea. In England and Scotland this refers to a light late-day meal, cooked, at which meat is served. It replaces dimmer or supper. (You could’ve fooled me.) Afternoon tea, for which Brown is justly famous, is served with scones (flat, round cakes) and pastries.

Brown offers 125 rooms and 14 suites, draws an estimated 50 percent of its guests from the U.S., and is a member of the Trusthouse Forte hotel chain. It is not easy to book a room: it’s advisable to reserve well in advance. Ditto for afternoon tea and meals. Regulars to London should experience Brown’s at least once.

On the opening leg of this same trip, New York-London, I flew for the first time with Air India, a pleasant experience. The décor on the 747 was rich and exotic, as were the menus, which come in two forms: nonvegetarian and vegetarian. Let me provide several samples: first class entrees—lobster, Chateaubriand, capon or lamb curry; first class vegetarian entrée—rice pillau, malai kofta curry, spiced vegetable, masala dal, yoghurt, poories, papad, pickles, chutney; executive class vegetarian entrée—rice pillau, malai kofta curry, spiced vegetable, plus all the other condiments.

The meals were very good and attractively served. You won’t go hungry and the choices are generous. (I also liked the colorful garb worn by the cabin crew.)

A footnote on Heathrow Airport: On the way home there was a six-hour layover, the best connection I could make. It would be helpful if this major crossroads facility would offer showers and rooms by the hour for airports provide this civilized option; London’s main airport is civilized, if nothing else. Actually, every major international airport should provide this amenity on an optional (paid) basis; the frequent flyer would be grateful.

I’ll wind up this trip where it started: New York, New York. A reminder that this business capital of the planet is more than a pile of unfeeling concrete; it is also a magnificent feast for the eyes, at least from certain perspectives. Coming up New York harbor abroad a small cabin cruiser on a surprisingly crisp June Saturday—we’d been fluke fishing off Sandy Hook (NJ)—I absorb some quick impressions. The Statue of Liberty garbed for surgery; the impotent solar roof of the Citicorp Building pasted like an empty postage stamp against the blue sky; an imperturbable cruise liner moving down the Hudson past the handsome skyline of lower Manhattan; the World Trade Center separating into twin towers as we approach; the grand jumble of the midtown profile, dominated by the spire of the Empire State Building and, to a lesser extent, the Chrysler Building. The city is particularly attractive from the outside looking in; the lines and the look are clean and dramatic, a modern castle.

Stop me before I get to like this place.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.