It looks like one of those tiny twin-engine airplanes that Indiana Jones might fly in. It seats forty-eight, but there are only eleven of us on board: eight passengers, a stewardess, and two pilots. As soon as the large yellow snowblower clears the tiny Izhevsk runway, the big propellers whirr noisily to life, the metal chocks are removed, and — we're off!
As the small plane picks up speed as it bumps and sways down the runway, the two tiny wheels under the wing throw up a spray of ice and snow and the giant propeller outside my starboard porthole reaches a hysterical pitch. I am just starting to think, "We're not going to maaake it..." when — varoooomm! — we're in the air!
The tiny Izhavia State Air-Enterprise aircraft dips, jerks, and wobbles ("Where did I put my japa mala?") as we climb through the turbulence of the clouds over Izhevsk and head for Saint Petersburg, and I see the sun for the first time in almost two weeks. (It has been snowing ever since I left the Saint Petersburg temple on this eleven-day, five-city lecture tour.)
Did I say this plane was small? The flight attendant who welcomed us on board dressed in a smart two-piece uniform — a royal blue skirt and a matching blazer — slips out of the blazer to announce our flight details and destination at a microphone in the rear, then dons a red pinafore to serve us drinks and snacks. Now that's economy!
Then one of the pilots comes out of the cockpit and walks down the aisle towards the back of the plane. Where is he going? I hope he's not going to pick up a parachute, open the back door, smile, wave, and jump — like that pilot in the Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom movie... But (whew!) he's just going to the bathroom.
What? Who? Me? Huh! I wasn't scared! I knew all along that he wasn't going to jump! I just wanted to see how scared you were! :-)