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Unlocking Serenity By Turning Off The Chatter, 1,000 Luxurious Miles From Civilization


Uproxx

We’ve all felt it. That need to disconnect, live in the moment, and “achieve mindfulness.” To shut off everything and just be, man. Those feelings — which come and go for most everyone alive in 2017 — seem to always linger in me. Guiding a digital outlet that strives to illuminate “the culture of now” chains me firmly to the news cycle. Opportunities to break free are so scarce that I’ve gotten in the habit of shrugging off my need to disengage. Instead, I’v clung to the very real possibility that I lack the willpower to seize such an opportunity, even sour grapes’ing myself into believing I might not enjoy it.

But the week after election night, the urge to escape hit me like a MOAB-level payload. I was tapped out; I needed a break. Not a break from America or her future, which I believe are worth experiencing and fighting for, but from the analysis and discussion of America and her future. A break which could not happen within her borders, where every story and conversation was suddenly built around Donald Trump, who won the presidency by simultaneously imploring America to (1) erode its faculty to empathize by mainlining circumstance-forged loyalty to indifferent institutions; and (2) treat its every division as a crude loser-goes-home face off.

No doubt, these principles make for great theatre (every March, this country is transfixed by a college basketball tournament that runs on, basically, those same bylaws*), but post-election this conversation took over our culture. I was contemplating whether the world’s biggest story could be avoided anywhere, when I was presented with an opportunity to find out: An assignment to cover an American musician’s attempt to bring pop music to a country it had historically failed to penetrate: Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The story shared themes (a bubbling uprising in the face of long-held conventions) and elements (the UAE’s official state religion, Islam, played a role in contentious campaign promises) with the dominant one I was escaping. But geographically, it was a world away, requiring one of the longest non-stop flights you can take from New York City. Culturally speaking, the assignment would take me even further. It was exactly what I’d been looking for: a departure in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.

As my trip took shape, I realized that my business class plane ticket would also hit precisely the right comfort coordinates. By leaving America in a time of turmoil, I was very aware I was acting like a pants-pissing toddler. That being the the case, I thought, I might as well go all in and be pampered like one.

Little did I know, the opulent flight to the Emirates would provide the spark my psyche needed — though the breakthrough would have nothing to do with decadence.


In The (Fully Reclined) Lap Of Luxury



Etihad


You know that thing in animated movies where a school of tiny fish flock together to look like a big fish, and it’s gorgeous? I experienced that in real life as I approached my gate at JFK. I knew something beautiful had formed before I was close enough to identify its individual pieces, which would turn out to be Etihad Airlines flight attendants of every gender, color, age, and nationality. Be-scarved and standing at attention, the massive gathering was seemingly a convention of every Etihad attendant in the tri-state area. But as I got closer to my gate, and a monstrous Airbus A380 reared into view, I realized the entire flock would be working my flight. All these attractive and hopelessly upbeat people flying through the air in one chunk of metal? Seemed like an unnecessary risk that humanity hadn’t properly weighed.

Boarding the flight did nothing to diminish my sense that, “Hey, maybe we should spread some of this nice stuff out instead of wadding it up and throwing it across the Atlantic.” Smiling people with diverse accents (Persian, French, Scandinavian, and … was that a hint of South Jersey?) guided business class passengers to their own private concourse, through the plane’s wood-paneled lounge, complete with international newspapers fanned across a pristine marble countertop, high-end coffee machinery, and cabinets filled with sparkling silverware and dishes. To be presented with my seat (not so much a “seat” as a “personal pod”) was to confront the perfect confluence of luxury and leisure. In the space of a typical three-seat row, I had both a chair that reclined to be parallel with the floor, and a personal table with compartments and outlets to keep my belongings organized, charged, and within arm’s reach. A flat-screen entertainment module hung at eye level across the cavernous leg space (I couldn’t reach the screen with my foot — I tried). To my right, a me-sized window; to my left, of course there was a retractable wall I could expand for maximum privacy.

The time I had spent packing essentials for the 12-hour flight instantly felt like a waste, as Etihad supplied a capable — if not superior — replacement for everything. Forgot your headphones? Etihad gives a noise-canceling set to each customer. Neck pillow? Etihad had a full-size pillow at the ready. Reading material? See the aforementioned newspaper collection; also there’s a fully-stocked magazine rack at the front of each aisle. Forget to load your device with movies or TV shows? Your personal flatscreen has all that, plus live news, and access to feeds from cameras on the plane’s nose, tail, and even one pointing straight down (I highly do not recommend that last viewing option). Pajamas? An impeccably-wrapped package waits on each seat, containing a full set of linens: pants, pullover half-zip shirt, slippers that fit disturbingly well.

Etihad even knew my preferred sock fit (“melted butter poured between my toes”) and offered full turn down service:


Ryan Serhant / Etihad


For the passenger who can’t be burdened to lug their carry-on belongings through the airport, Etihad has a fascinating service which allows customers to buy stuff online and have it waiting at their seat. And not just basic carry-on necessities. Boutique is like Skymall on designer steroids (and that designer is haute couturier Elie Saab), selling everything from perfume to diamond bracelets to projectors.

The downside to the aforementioned linen collection: Once the genie’s out, even a maniacal origamist couldn’t get it back into the air-tight bag. So, oh well, you might as well wear the super comfortable pajamas. That, coupled with the airline’s “Signature Welcome” — a flight attendant takes each passenger’s drink order while delivering a steamy-but-not-scalding towel — resulted in me sipping whisky in uber comfortable pajamas within minutes of taking my seat. All the tranquility of drinking in the womb, with, presumably, far less risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. (Also, it turns out, a decent setting for Googling “what to do with hot plane towel”.)

Etihad’s “Signature Welcome” proved to be a perfect thesis for the airline’s service, which deftly straddled the line between “surgical helpfulness” and “annoying-ass pestering.” Perhaps that efficiency is owed to a flight attendant hierarchy complete with fancy titles for select crew members (the paper menu has a lineup section listing an “Onboard Chef,” “Cabin Manager,” and “Food & Beverage Manager”). Maybe Etihad just hires good people. Maybe they have an excellent training program. Or perhaps good looking people are just so pleasant to deal with that you can’t help but overlook their flaws. When the blue-eyed Frenchman assigned to my section asked if I’d pushed the help button (I definitely hadn’t), I may have melted just a little. I also may have, upon depuddling, entertained the idea that his question was just a ruse to talk to me (it definitely wasn’t). But chances are his looks had nothing to do with his service level, and he deserves credit for his efficiency and over-the-top politeness.

I mean, he did say “thank you” whenever he dropped something off.

All The Benefits Of A Buffet, Without The Pesky Effort

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTgCS5QFCU6/

And drop things off, he did. The flight’s extensive menu featured plenty of drool-inducing items (even the ones I couldn’t pronounce sounded delicious). But its best feature was its “Dine Anytime” status, the benefits of which are two-fold:

(1) It eliminates cart anxiety. No worrying about whether you’ll fall asleep and miss your chance at foodstuff. Plus the flight attendants serve one traveler at a time, balancing meals on a single tray, so you don’t have to fear the cart destroying your elbow or kneecap as it whizzes by. (2) You can eat during the entire goddamn flight. It’s like living at a buffet! Without all the annoying standing up every time you want more food! The seared cod, gulf chicken bachboos, and paneer pasada were all finalists for my first meal of the trip, but I instead opted for a quick homage to home: the New York striploin with roast garlic potato mash, mushrooms, red onion, tomato, and veal jus.

Super-refined culinary take: it tasted good.

Ryan Perry / UPROXX Life

While eating that first meal, I heard a loud crash towards the front of the plane. “Probably just some thousand-dollar plates shifting inside this airplane’s gaudy China cabinet,” I thought, having adjusted completely to my absurd setting. As I resumed eating, I realized the plane was finally moving. I had changed clothes, gotten somewhat tipsy, and eaten, all before takeoff. And I’d done it without opening my laptop, mindlessly scrolling on my phone, or blasting music into my ears. In fact, I hadn’t even had the urge. Suddenly aware of the welcome development, I ruined it by analyzing why the normally-automatic impulse to jam technology into every orifice of my existence hadn’t taken hold. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten alone without reading or looking at a screen. Public transportation without the aural-and-social barrier of noise-canceling headphones is basically my nightmare. Yet here I was, content to just be. It was odd, but it was also what I wanted, right?

So I decided to keep the streak alive by braving the entire 12-hour flight without digital nourishment.

Now Arriving At Your Final Destination

Ryan Perry / UPROXX Life

My comfort in this long-estranged analog world persisted through the flight, but the mystery remained. Did it take a setting this cozy and luxurious to get me over my digital addiction? Did the nice French gentleman slip something into my drink on his way back from Etihad’s in-flight boutique wine cellar?

At one point, while crossing the Atlantic, with 1,000 miles (more, if you want to be a stickler and pythagorize the plane’s altitude) separating me from civilization in every direction, I took a more complete stock of my environment, wandering into the airy hotel-inspired lobby for a drink and rigorously testing the fancy soaps and lotions in the spa-level bathroom. Back in my seat, I realized my luxurious surroundings weren’t significantly less annoying than a standard flight, yet I was reacting in a much more subdued manner.

Screaming baby? Meh. Obligatory guy on every plane who reads an entire newspaper and makes a production of every page turn? Whatever. Person probably dying from a coughing fit? Even more indifferent than usual.

A long nap did nothing to spoil my sudden tranquility, which was — in a slap to the face of every conceivable definition of tranquility — making me uncomfortable. The only thing that got me riled up all flight was the revelation, flaunted by an ad played on the flat screen in front of me, that this flight featured an unseen echelon of luxury: freaking apartments, complete with Italian leather furniture from a world-renowned luxury designer. Clearly my placement in a lowly personal pod rather than a three-room suite complete with shower was bullshit, a cosmic slight I had every right to take personally, but it was nothing a course of freshly prepared Arabic mezze (above, delightful) couldn’t quell.

As with everything Etihad, the deboarding process was a breeze (business class passengers are given a “FAST TRACK” pass allowing us to zip through Abu Dhabi International’s immigration counters). Everything was moving so quickly that it wasn’t until I reached the baggage claim that I instinctively — as we all do when faced with a moment of basic observation or reflection — reached for my phone.

Before I could pull it out of my pocket, I made the conscious decision to gently relax my grip, keeping my hand perched as I contemplated the dense ramifications of sliding a piece of notification-flooded glass in front of my face moments after arriving in a new place, with new people to meet, new sights to see, and a whole new culture to experience.

A jolting, even cheesy revelation — rendered cliche by lame movie voice-overs and social media images drenched in stylized text — hits me for the first time ever: the answer I’ve been chasing for so long, this time halfway across the earth, was within me the whole time. Dorky, typical, but true. Living in the moment doesn’t require physical distance, forced disconnection, or new and ornate distractions. It’s accessible all the time. It just takes a little restraint… and maybe a nice pair of socks and a tumbler full of scotch.


*Said tournament always ends with a single victor traipsing over the charred ruins of every other participant, but surely that’s not applicable here.



This post first appeared on Meet The Cast Of The ‘Game Of Thrones’ Porn Pa, please read the originial post: here

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Unlocking Serenity By Turning Off The Chatter, 1,000 Luxurious Miles From Civilization

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