Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful international airports. It is decorated in marble, with water fountains and palm threes. The amount of money invested to build such airport by far exceeds any other famous airports in the world. Nevertheless, every time our crew would land there, the airport would look empty. Wherever I travel, I make friends with locals. I do that, because the best way to learn about another culture is from the people who live in it. I looked at my address book, and found no one listed under Riyadh. The crew, passing the security, would have to leave the airport and go directly to the hotel. Gathering was not allowed. Each crew member would have to stay in their own room. Visits from outside were prohibited. Leaving the hotel was not allowed. Of course, alcohol was prohibited too. Arabic countries are dry countries. That was not much fun, I thought, although I never really understood why exactly all those restrictions were put in place. I was aware that terrorist attacks to the Royal family were quite frequent, but that is as much as I knew. Nevertheless, I find something fascinating in every tradition. So, I know little about Saudi people, as I could never spend time or talk to the one. However, there are moments that stayed fresh in my memory. When boarding the plane, women would be entirely covered up and had to wear their black robes from head to toe, which is traditional for Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Those are called jallabia. Today, they may come in colors and stylish decoration. I even purchased some on my own. As we would land to Amman airport in Jordan, some girls would remove their black robes right at the airport. Underneath they wore jeans and t-shirts. Who were those girls and how could they do that? It suddenly occurred to me that, perhaps, they were not that different, after all.
In my early career, as flight attendant, I naturally, traveled a lot. Since I was working in a small country that had only one major airport, all my flights were international. Third year into my job, I covered all the continents and many exciting destinations. As everything else, things are to be enjoyed in moderation. Too much travel has gotten me to the point that I was longing for a break and almost stopped enjoying my desirable destinations. I really wanted to stay home. I have to admit, I felt a bit guilty at times, knowing that many could only dream of visiting all those wonderful cities and countries that I already had under my belt.
One day, there was a strike in Paris. We waited and waited at the airport, thinking that it would end soon. As it turned out the strike continued for another three days. After ten hours of wait, we went back to the hotel. I was stuck in Paris! The next day, I left my room and I walked for miles. Suddenly I was at the bridge, looking at the Notre Dame Cathedral. It must have been around three in the afternoon. I walked for a long time, so I figured I needed a break and entered the cathedral. The cathedral was empty and quiet. This was such a strange feeling as one could always expect people in the place like that, a well-known tourist attraction. In a split second millions of thoughts went through my mind. I remembered Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and I thought, oh Lord, what if his spirit still lived! At that very moment, the most beautiful music filled up the cathedral. Notre Dame was famous for its organs. I set down at the bench and listened for good twenty minutes, relaxing in a soothing harmony that melody created, surrounded by the walls of the most famous cathedral. Somebody played the music for me. I wasn’t alone! My heart was filled with gratitude and love for all the things that I often took for granted. I was ready to walk back to the hotel and prepare for work.
Many years ago while I was in India, just out of curiosity, I visited a small Buddhist temple. I did not know much about the Buddhism and in all honesty, I don’t know much more now. I learned however, that Buddhism adheres to ten precepts that appeared to be very strict. The first five precepts are teaching you how to become happier and better suitable for meditation. To refrain from taking life, to refrain from taking that which is not given, to refrain from lying sounded really good, but how can one refrain from sex and alcohol and be happier? Doesn’t that mean, in some sort of way, refraining from love and fun? My experience, while talking to young Buddhists there, confused me even more. They appeared content with their life. They socialized well, understood my views and allowed me to take as many pictures as I wanted. Somehow, at that moment, I knew I was not as happy as I thought in my never ending quest for adventure. I still had lots of work to do to become truly happy. I realized though, that perhaps my western brain will never completely understand Buddhism, but there is something to be said about happiness that not necessary conforms to our established set of standards and can be found in various religions, cultures, continents and nature that surrounds us. I learned how to appreciate spirituality and the beauty of letting go of the material world. “Things cannot buy as happiness”, and it is true.
Buckingham Palace guard should not look around or interact with public in any way. It is funny how many visitors try to get their attention, just knowing this. While in a past, the security and the police were little more liberal when letting people express themselves in attempt to get the guard’s attention, I hear that is no longer the case. You may find yourself in a real trouble should you walk outside of the gate, for example, drunk or naked. In early nineties my job took me to London frequently. One day, I decided to get the guard to move. I set there, in front of the gate, for quite a long time, hoping that they would break the rules. I was counting on one picking the nose, or scratching the forehead, removing the hair from the face as it rains or wind blows, or any other gestures that humans usually do. And so it happened. The guard glanced at me for a very quick moment. It was a great sense of victory remembering how hard some people had to work to get that glance. I, on the other side, just stood there long enough. So, maybe, after all, the Buckingham Palace guard is not always that strict? Rules are there to be broken sometimes, so let’s unleash our awesomeness!
Some twenty years ago, as a young student, I was on the exploring side. I packed and traveled the World on my own. I spent a month in India. I learned about the culture substantially different. What was really strange to me, back in those days, that I saw so much poverty in the cities, but when I walked the wilderness, people that lived in small shacks and ran around half-naked, in some sort of villages settled in a jungle looking surroundings, all had smiles on their faces. How could they be so happy? – I asked myself that question times and times again. They lived in wilderness and they had nothing, I though. Now I understand that stress free, self – sufficient life style brings the sense of freedom and happiness. Life can be simple and enjoyable when having less, but living more!
Cass Gilbert was inspired by Roman design and architecture when he designed US Supreme Court building. Did you know that in ancient Rome lawyers were not paid for their services? They were upper-class patricians who studied rhetoric and then argued cases in order to gain a reputation, advance themselves politically and perform a public service. They would receive gifts from grateful clients, so they operated similar to non-profit organizations, on donations.