June 08, 2005,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece appears in the June 20, 2005, issue of National Review.
“The King Hussein Center happens to be stocked with lissome young ladies,” wrote Jay Nordlinger the other day. He was reporting for National Review Online from the Davos Middle Eastern confab in Jordan, and, although he had many insightful observations to make about the big geopolitical socioeconomic questions of our time, it was the “lissome young ladies” who caught my eye, as evidently they had caught his. Jay’s no slouch at the in-depth investigative-journalism stuff, so, warming to his theme, he went on to report that many of the “hostesses” were wearing the uniform of Royal Jordanian Airlines.
Ah, yes, I sighed contentedly, as the memories came flooding back. In recent years, my flights to the Middle East have begun with a little US Airways twin-prop down to Boston or New York no “cabin service” at all; they don’t have any on their bigger planes either, but at least on the twin-props there’s no hatchet-faced “flight attendant” in shiny stretch pants and flat shoes shuffling along the aisle doling out mini-bags of mini-pretzels to remind you of all the “cabin service” you’re not getting. In Boston or New York, I switch to Virgin much better: proper “trolley dollies” in bright smart red skirts and heels and the best kind of peppy Estuary English accents that make you feel like you’re Austin Powers and they’re at least prepared to pretend you’re shagadelic. And then in London, for the final leg (as it were), it’s Royal Jordanian to Amman bliss: “air hostesses” in dapper stylish uniforms that, like Singapore and the other great Asian airlines, are an artful combination of native elements from local culture and retro cool from our own. East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet, but on the best national carriers from east of Suez they come pretty close.
The Royal Jordanian gals had our man Nordlinger waxing nostalgic. “These uniforms are a real throwback, to the America of the 1950s or so,” he wrote. “You remember that movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio played that conman, who posed as a pilot for Eastern or something? You remember that bevy of fresh, eager, fetching stewardesses (and in those days, you could use the word ‘stewardess’ ‘flight attendant’ was a long way off)?”
Catch Me If You Can, the DiCaprio caper in question, does a grand job of evoking that era the jet-age glamour of the air terminals with the flying-saucer shapes; Sinatra singing “Come Fly with Me” with that marvelous Billy May intro that sounds like an orchestral Boeing taxi-ing down the runway and taking off into the blue; and, of course, the gals. . .
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